by The Bumbling Bard
aka Nancy Ann Healy

Teaser: This story begins more than 10 years after the death of Xena. It is a story of relationships, questions and unavoidable truths. It is also an adventure. What happens when Lucifer organizes the legions of hell and recruits the Phoenician Gods to be his emissaries on earth? Lucifer seeks to bring hell into the mortal realm and to rule beyond his own domain, both heaven and earth. How will heaven respond? Can the warrior princess return and how will that impact Xena's family? A story of friendship, love, passion, loss, power and the belief in something greater than oneself.

Disclaimer: The majority of characters in this story were imagined by the creators of the television show, Xena: Warrior Princess. Xena is a copyright of NBC / Universal and Renaissance Pictures. No copyright infringement of profit is intended from this story.

Additional Note: This story is neither sexually explicit nor is it violently graphic. This does include the representation of both same gender and opposite gender relationships in what I hope is a respectful manner. As a writer, I will do my best to imagine a new set of events and circumstances while attempting to respect the voices of the original creators, directors, writers and actors on the show. I hope that I have accomplished that. BATTLE ON!


Chapter One: Mourning

It was still difficult for Gabrielle to believe that more than 10 years had passed since she lost her soul mate on that mountainside. Every year as the anniversary of that day approached, she felt a sense of dread. The sadness was with her every day. It took her many years to learn how to navigate the loneliness. While there was a degree of comfort in knowing that she would one day be reunited with her lover in another life; the time alone in this one could still be nearly unbearable. After the warrior died she had traveled south as they had planned to the land of the pharaohs, but when she arrived she found herself consumed with an emptiness that she could not describe. She sent word to Eve in Chin that she was heading to Amphipolis. There was nothing to the south that held any desire for her now. The journey had been all about the two of them together. She could fight with a sword, wield the chakram, battle with a staff, or inflict damage with a sai; almost as well now as her teacher once did. Those battles had become easy. Too easy. Her sadness and her anger put her at risk, Xena taught her that. Without her partner to balance her; she was constantly in danger. It was time to confront reality; time to let go. She needed to go home. And it was Amphipolis where she had felt the most at home for many years now. That was where Xena and she often found comfort; and where they had 'family'.

Gabrielle paced the floor of the tavern, recalling when she had first arrived back here. She had been waiting for Eve and Virgil then too. She needed to see them both; so that the coldness of news in scrolls could be replaced by the truth in her voice. As she walked back and forth now, waiting for them again, she felt as though she were transported back to that day all those years ago. Looking at the door she could almost see them as they walked in that day so long ago.

Virgil entered first. Gabrielle came from behind the counter and greeted him with a hug. His eyes were filled with concern for her. She pulled away and smiled sweetly at the handsome young man in front of her, "I'm all right," she said quietly brushing some dust from the journey off his shoulder. His head cocked slightly, searching her eyes for what he knew to be the truth. Gabrielle's smile grew, "you remind me of your father." She touched his hand gently.

It was then that she caught sight of Eve in the doorway. Eve looked beautiful. She had her mother's eyes. Their eyes met at a distance with a knowing expression as both moved toward the center of the room. "I'm so sorry, Eve," Gabrielle closed her eyes and pulled the woman close. It was so strange. In fact, they were only a couple of years apart in age, yet for Gabrielle; this was her child. She loved Eve. She loved Xena. Holding onto Eve now was the closest she'd felt to family in months.

Eve stepped back and lifted her hand to Gabrielle's face, "No, Gabrielle, I'm sorry," she said with a tear in her eye. "Mother loved you." Gabrielle tried to hold the tears in, to be strong, but hearing those words, seeing the worry and compassion in Eve's eyes; it made her feel as though the bridge she had been walking across buckled and she began to crash. The tears welled further as she found herself picturing the moment that Eve was born. It was Gabrielle who had first held her and put her in Xena's arms. The tears fell faster and the young woman before her pulled the bard into a tight embrace. "I know," she said, "I know."

Gabrielle wiped a tear from her cheek, took a deep breath and closed her eyes. 'They'll be here soon,' she thought. She was glad that they were due to arrive soon. She didn't have the opportunity to see them as often as she would like. They reminded her so much of she and Xena; traveling together constantly; Eve spreading Eli's message and growing the Elijan following with Virgil at her side, protecting her and recording their journeys. She felt a sad smile wash across her face and fell into another memory.

She thought about Xena - the day they had met for the first time. How she had been struck immediately at the sight of the warrior; in awe really. The feeling that had come over her was so foreign to the young girl. It was as if lightening had struck her; her entire being hummed with energy. She had thought about that many times all these years. How every time she would lie next to the warrior, every time their eyes would meet; she felt lightening course through her body. Lost and found all at the same time. Sometimes she could swear, even now, the she could hear Xena talking to her – usually as she sat in front of the fire. It was almost as if Xena reflected to her in the flames. Her smile faded slightly as her body gave over to a slight shudder and she closed her eyes, inhaling the thought and the feeling, 'I miss you, Xena," she spoke softly aloud as if she hoped there would be an answer. As always the silence was deafening.

Eve was sitting in the back of the wagon when she felt it begin to slow. 'We're getting close,' she thought to herself. Traveling to Amphipolis was always filled with emotion for her. To nearly everyone looking in; Eve was the picture of serenity; offering those who chose to follow Eli's teaching a pathway that consisted of light and love, peace and understanding. She was deliberate in presenting herself calmly and confidently to all those that heard her speak or sought her counsel. In truth, she was never far from her warrior self. She recalled those years of blood in battle often and understood that it was the forgiveness of her God that allowed her some semblance of peace in her life; that, and the abounding love of her parents. It was that love that allowed her to embrace Eli's teaching. It was, in many ways, that love that gave her this wonderful man as her husband, and it was certainly that love that taught her how to be a mother. Watching her mother with Gabrielle had always amazed her. The way Gabrielle could calm the warrior with only a glance or the touch of her hand. The way her mother would watch Gabrielle as she moved about a campfire, a room – or when she sat fixated on one of her many scrolls. She understood, completely, why her God had chosen them, why he had now chosen her. Without their devotion, to each other and to her – she could never have had the strength to become who she was now.

The slow pace of the wagon continued as it came to a complete halt. She could see Amphipolis just over the horizon. They were close now. "I thought you might want to stop for a few minutes and catch your breath," her husband spoke softly as he turned to face her. Eve was struck by the gentleness in his face. The gentleness of his forgiving soul. It was still amazing to her; his capacity to forgive her; to love her. He had learned that from his parents as well; learned that from his father; devotion, compassion. She smiled at him and sighed.

"Come on," Virgil beckoned to the young boy sitting beside her. The boy's eyes were sleepy and Eve prodded him gently.

"Gabriel," she said, "Go with your father." The boy huffed a bit but pulled himself from the back of the wagon and met his father's encouraging glance.

"Just going to take a short walk down to that stream we just passed," Virgil said. He thought it best to give his wife a few minutes alone before they made the last leg of their journey, the part that would allow her to watch her parent's home arise in front of her gradually as they moved closer.

She touched the back of the boy's head, meeting his strong hand there and gripped it gently, "Thank you." He tightened his grasp and smiled coaxing the young boy to follow.

The boy stopped and looked back, "Mother?" he asked.

Eve smiled. "Your mother is going to stay here for a few minutes, Gabriel," Virgil said as he put his arm around his son. "We won't be gone long." And they were off.

Eve walked to the front of the wagon and leaned against it. Amphipolis had grown into a thriving town again over the last few years. She knew that Gabrielle's presence had made an enormous difference in the effort to truly revive the village. People loved to hear stories of the Amazon Queen, the Warrior Princess and their travels. No one could tell a story like the Battling Bard of Potedaia. And, it had helped that the bard had the skills of a warrior, wisdom of a queen, and heart of an angel. It brought a smile to Eve's face. She missed her mother. Missed her every day. Thought of her every day and wished that she could feel her arms comforting and reassuring her in her moments of doubt. She wished that her mother could see them; her family. She imagined her son and his grandmother. She chuckled, "You would love that," the words passed audibly, "a young grandmother you would have been." As much as she missed her mother, she was forever grateful for Gabrielle. And she was anxious to see her, even if it always invoked a certain sadness and longing for Xena, for them both. "I'm coming home, Mother," she whispered aloud.

"Are we staying with Auntie Gabby?" the boy looked to his father who was standing beside him skimming rocks across the water.

Virgil smiled broadly. "We are."

The boy's face lit up and Virgil could swear that he could see his father there. He was all too aware of the love his father always held for Gabrielle – just like his son now. As much as his father had loved his mother; Gabrielle had always claimed a piece of his heart. When he had lost his father, Virgil felt inclined to reach toward the bard, himself. It took them descending into darkness for Virgil to understand that his love for Gabrielle was quite different than that of his father's. His thoughts drifted like the stone he had thrown across the water.

Gabrielle was beautiful. She was everything Joxer had always described. Amphipolis had become a center of sinful delight in those days. Virgil fell prey to the desire sweeping the town; he desired everything and he desired her, to travel where his father never could. In the midst of his grief and the intoxicating lust that filled the air, he had tried to seduce the bard. It wasn't simply the spell of hell that had been cast. He wanted to take something – maybe even something from Xena and certainly from Eve. When Xena finally threw Lucifer into the pit of hell and the spell had been broken; he looked into Gabrielle's eyes and knew he had gone too far. He looked across the room at his father's best friend and saw the pain in her eyes. His heart began to ache. He worshiped his father. His father had worshiped Xena. Virgil loved Gabrielle, but it was so different from the love his father once held. When he turned that day from his father's best friends to begin an attempt to clean at least part of the mess he felt so responsible for, Eve had followed him. She, too, had seen the look in her mother's eyes and knew it was a time for the warrior and the bard to be alone.

They had learned how to speak to one another, Virgil and Eve. He was still reeling from his father's death; a death that had come at her hands. Regardless of what she called herself now Virgil could not help but see Livia when he looked at her. But as they quietly began reordering the temple he couldn't help but be overtaken by the peaceful look in the once brutal warrior's eye. He was moving a bench when he heard her slight cry of pain from across the room. When he reached her she smiled nervously, holding her left hand in her right.

"What happened?" he asked

"It's just a cut," she said, "I've had much worse."

He didn't even think; at all; as he reached for her hand. "Let me see," he coaxed.

They were both focused on her hand where a large piece of glass shard remained embedded. Virgil found himself gently stroking the back of her injured hand. "We have to get that out," he said. They both remained centered, focused on her hand. When he finally lifted his head to speak to her again, he found that their eyes met. They stayed locked, frozen, looking into each other's eyes… one begging forgiveness and filled with regret, the other praying for the strength to forgive and filled with a sudden burst of compassion. He still did not know how long they had stood there, staring at one another, searching, before they proceeded with the task at hand. It was a turning point for them. The dam that broke and allowed them to speak more freely. It would take more than another year for him to realize that he loved her. It was Eve that had captured his heart.

It wasn't until they had seen Gabrielle in the tavern that day. The day they all mourned together, that he began to understand. They spent that week with the bard, cleaning the tavern, sharing stories and sitting in silence. At night Gabrielle would become quieter than usual; staring into the fire silently for hours. Then she would rise and smile at them both, silently touch both their shoulders and head to the room that she had so often shared with the warrior. He would sit with Eve, the silence continuing and they would often hear her tears when she thought they must have retired. Little was said between them. He couldn't be sure what Eve was thinking.

On their last night, Gabrielle followed suit except that he had noticed she had kept her gaze on Eve a great deal that evening and when it would usually be time for her to rise she spoke instead of continuing in silence.

"I am glad you both came," she said softly, a tear falling slowly. "I wish we could have seen you both grow up," she continued. "Your father," she looked at him, "and your mother," she looked at Eve, "They would be so proud of you." Then she rose as she always did and placed her hand on Virgil's cheek, "You are so like him." He felt his own tears begin to rise. She smiled softly and made her way to Eve. It seemed to him that they stayed locked in a compassionate gaze for an unusually long time, and he saw Eve's eyes begin to fill, the water shining an orange glow from the fire as it reflected in them. Gabrielle seemed unable to speak as she took Eve's face in her hands and gently wiped the young woman's tears. A smile, loving and gentle - a smile he had seen his own mother and father give him so many times, overtook the bard's face now. "I'm proud of you," she whispered as her own tears began to fall. She tenderly kissed Eve on the head as you would a small child. With that she was gone to her private place.

Both he and Eve remained still, no words, only tears. Both understanding now exactly how alone she must have been feeling. So many that she loved were gone. His father, her own parents, Cyrene, and the love of her life. The children they should have watched grow, already old enough to have their own. And, they realized, for all of her loss, for all of her pain, she was the strongest person either had ever known. Neither could stop their own tears as they fell silently. He reached across the short distance and took Eve's hand. "I'm sorry," he said so genuinely to her. "I am too," the woman whispered. All he knew in that moment was that he loved her. Eve had his heart and somehow, in spite of everything, that seemed to make sense.

Chapter 2: Chapter 2 - Family

Chapter Two: Family

When Gabrielle heard the wagon pull up, she felt her heart skip a beat. She had missed her family. Occasionally she would travel to Potedaia to see Lila, or Lila would make the journey with Sarah and her family to visit Gabrielle in Amphipolis. Most of the time the bard was busy. Busy with the tavern and busy with the town. Her skills as a warrior were well known throughout Greece; as well known now as her scrolls. Her experience with the Amazons as their queen was also now common knowledge. All of her journeys and experiences with Xena made her an understandable asset at the negotiation table. Her presence also helped keep bandits and warlords at bay. She was grateful for the business of her life. And, she even enjoyed the occasions that warranted her skills as a warrior. It kept her from being idle and it kept her from the loneliness that she so often felt.

Eve and Virgil seemed to travel as much as she and Xena had. It was Eve's path to be the messenger of the word of Eli and his God. Although Eve had never met Eli; she had gained a deep understanding and a sincere devotion to his teachings and his God. A God, like all Gods, that Gabrielle had all but abandoned. She was glad to still have the friendship of Aphrodite, but the few remaining Greek Gods were becoming less powerful by the day in the minds of the people and she feared that Aphrodite herself might soon become but a memory. For her, in her heart, the Gods had all abandoned them in Jappa. She believed in the greater good, she'd seen heaven, tasted hell, traveled to Tarturus and back again, but she felt no sense of responsibility to any God that would take them from their daughter for so many years, take their children, and after all of their sacrifices, take her lover. Gods were not something she talked about, not even with Eve.

The door swung open with more force than anyone could've anticipated. Gabrielle's gaze focused out the door expecting to see Virgil or Eve, but before she could even lower her sight she felt the exuberance of small arms wrapping about her waist.

"Gabriel!" His father called, "Slow down!"

The bard was instantly filled with joy. There he was, this small toe headed boy. How he ended up that way, she wasn't sure, but he was the light of her life now. He had hold of her harder than she could believe. Her smile filled the room as she crouched to look in his small blue eyes. "My Gabriel," she said. "I have some stories for you,' she winked, "and some tarts too," she whispered. She rose to greet his parents, all the while delighting in his never ending cling to her.

"Hi Gabrielle," Virgil smiled leaning in to kiss her on the cheek.

"Virgil," she glowed. "Is that a gray hair," she tugged at his short locks.

"Funny," he glared.

Eve was making her way through the door. Virgil bent down and gently peeled their son from his favorite auntie. They had decided that Auntie was best, Gabrielle was far too young it seemed to earn a grandmother title. She could easily have been the boy's mother herself had her life taken different turns.

"Eve…" she sighed, her smile never fading. Their hug lasted several minutes. Gabrielle finally broke the embrace to place Eve squarely in front of her. "You look beautiful," the bard kissed her on the forehead. Eve was so glad to see the light in Gabrielle's eyes. It filled her with a sense of hope.

"So," Gabrielle began, "Why don't you get your things settled down in the house. We'll have dinner here in the tavern tonight and catch up….. I have a surprise for all of you," she gloated.

"Is it nut bread?" the small boy jumped.

All three laughed. "No, sweetie, that's not the surprise," she answered receiving a disappointed hang of a small head in return. "BUT," she said, "I think there might be some in the kitchen." The boy sprang back to life. Eve laughed.

"Can I have some?"

Eve just nodded. Virgil interjected, "It shouldn't take us long to unpack," he said.

"I want to stay with Auntie Gabby."

Eve smiled again. She knew that this was Gabrielle's favorite thing in the world. "Well, Gabriel," she said, "You have to ask Auntie Gabby if that's okay."

"Is it?" he blurted. His energy reminded the bard of Xena, not to mention that at the ripe old age of seven he had figured out how to pull ALL of her strings.

"Yes, but you have to help me with the surprise. Deal?"


The bard smiled and waved his parents off to get settled as the boy pulled her in excitement toward the kitchen.

"They're home, Xena," she whispered as the kitchen door closed behind her, "They're home."

Chapter 3: Chapter 3 - Celebration

Chapter Three: Celebration

Gabrielle was determined that this year the occasion would be a much happier one. That is what Xena would have wanted and she knew it. She also knew that she was lucky. For all that had been lost, she had a good life now. She longed for Xena, but she knew that Xena would have been happy to see how her life had settled, and yet, how she was able to work toward all of their goals. Amphipolis gave the bard balance. She had briefly entertained returning to the Amazons or Potedaia and even thought of staying on the road; but this was the place she felt the closest to Xena. It afforded her the opportunity to be all of the things she was, warrior, bard and leader. The only thing missing was Xena; and she needed all of the other things in order to fill that gaping hole; if only for a few moments a day.

"Gabriel," she said, "Take these to Adera," she handed the boy eating utensils and napkins.

"ADERA!" He ran through the swinging door. Adera had worked for Gabrielle for six years now. She was a trusted friend and a welcome companion for the bard.

The woman was slight, only about Gabrielle's height. She had long brown hair, and a soft, peaceful smile. Sometimes she reminded Gabrielle a bit of Lila. "Your boy there dropped all the napkins," Adera laughed grabbing a fresh stack of linens. "He is going on and on out there about his Auntie Gabby, the Amazon Queen."

Gabrielle's eyes twinkled and she shook her head in amusement. "Do they have any idea about the surprise?" the woman asked.

"I don't think so," Gabrielle smiled taking a loaf of bread from the large brick oven. "If I pull this off until tonight I will be shocked," she laughed.

"Well, I think it is very sweet."

"Yeah, well, when they realize there are no customers in here they are sure to get suspicious."

Just then a voice called to her from the back door of the kitchen. "What are you doin' with that bread! EHH! Good Gods Gabriel," a voice creaked from behind her.

Gabrielle spun around and set her eyes upon the older woman. "Meg," she smiled.

Meg's hair had now gone completely gray and she had a few extra pounds. Still, when Gabrielle looked at her she couldn't help but wonder if Xena had lived into her sixties, is this what she would look like? "That boy get here yet?" Meg asked.

Gabrielle was unsure which boy she meant, Virgil or Gabriel. She knew that Virgil had not seen his mother in a several seasons. "They are all here," she answered.

"Aphrodite?" Meg asked.

"Not yet," Gabrielle answered.

"Lila and Sarah?"

"Yes," she smiled. "I just sent Virgil and Eve down to the house to settle in. Hopefully, that will keep them occupied until dinner."

"Grandma!" A young voice bellowed thumping into the older woman. "Auntie Gabby made nut bread!"

All three women laughed at the child's overwhelming excitement over nut bread.

"Eh, I see that," Meg chuckled.

"Father never said you'd be here!" He exclaimed, turning now to his auntie.

"Your father and mother don't know, Gabriel," Gabrielle knelt down beside him in front of Meg. "That's part of the secret," she whispered in his ear.

"Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhh," he whispered back. "I won't tell Auntie, I promise," he said earnestly crossing his heart with his hand.

"I know you won't. Why don't you help your grandmother with her things?"

"Okay," he skipped to reach for a bag that was nearly as big as he was. They all watched as he heaved in determination and budged the bag only about an inch. Adera went to help the boy lift it, but Gabrielle grabbed her arm and stopped her. She saw the glint in his eye. She saw herself there. Those first days with Xena, how she was determined to prove herself. "Give him a minute," she whispered. Gabriel lifted and lugged, his frustration growing but never outweighing his determination to complete the task.

"Uuuuh," he groaned. Gabrielle kept a watchful eye but let him move the bag three of four feet before she intervened.

"You have gotten very strong," she said to the boy with a very serious look on her face.

"I'm as strong as an AMAZON!" He exclaimed, "''Cept they're all girls," he moaned under his breath.

"Yes, they are," the Amazon queen agreed. "You know, those stairs are really pretty steep," she looked at him as though very concerned, 'I'll bet grandma could use a STRONG pair of boy's hands to help her up to her room."

"I CAN DO IT!" He brimmed with excitement.

"Well, good then," Meg groaned. "Get to it, boy!" she directed trying to hide her smile.

"Coming Grandmother," he took her had sweetly and firmly and began to lead her away.

Meg paused when she reached the bard and smiled, "She would have loved him," Meg touched Gabrielle's hand in a show of her tenderness that few outside her family saw.

Gabrielle's eyes were bright, no tears only happiness as she watched the young boy pull at his grandmother with some impatience. "Yes, she would." Her attention never wavered as the boy led his grandmother to the top of the stairs. "Last room down the hall," she called to him.

"GOT IT!" he bellowed.

Just then a face appeared on the stairs making its way toward her. Lila had arrived the evening before with her daughter Sarah and her two children. Gabrielle was delighted to have spent an evening with her sister alone. They had talked about the family. Talked about the children, both had lost their daughters for an unthinkable amount of time. Both had loved well and lost that love prematurely. Truly they were sisters. Gabrielle had laughed a great deal as they chatted and reminisced. She recounted some of her first days traveling with Xena and how the warrior struggled to deal with the young bard.

Lila never asked much about what had happened. She never asked much about the relationship that Gabrielle and Xena had, she just accepted it at face value. But last night she asked a nagging question in her mind, "When did you fall in love with her?"

Gabrielle responded as she always did to questions about her love for Xena; she stared into the crackling fire and pictured the warrior in its flames. "I don't know," she said. "I've thought about that many times." She was searching for the answer, "I suppose the truth is I loved her the moment I saw her."

Lila did not seem stunned. "Perdicus?" she asked gently.

Gabrielle smiled. "Oh," she let out a long sigh, "Of course I loved him. He was such a kind and gentle man. But, even that night, our wedding night, my thoughts were consumed with Xena; where would she go? Did she miss me? Was she safe?" She looked up at the ceiling and continued, "I do miss her, still," she confessed.

Lila took her sister's hand and Gabrielle had been filled with a sense of 'home'. She had gone to bed and for a few minutes as she drifted away she could feel the warrior holding her. It comforted her, even of it was her imagination, "Always," she heard Xena's voice and she drifted off happily thinking that the next day would truly be a celebration.

Chapter 4: Chapter 4 - Happy Memories

Chapter Four – Sweet Memories

The afternoon progressed just as the bard had hoped. Meg got settled, Aphrodite finally popped in and things were on schedule. It had been a very long time, 'Too long,' she thought to herself, since they had all been together in one place; all the people she loved. She was sorry that Autolycus could not be with them. His health had been failing for some time now. She had visited him a few moons back and expected word at any time that he had passed. She simply hoped it would not be delivered now.

Gabriel scampered about the kitchen taking care of any and every little task he could for his Auntie Gabrielle. Lila helped the young boy, Adera prepared the tavern and Meg, in true form, took over in the kitchen. The bard found herself watching everything unfold and realized that she was happier than she had been in many years. Her thoughts traveled to the night before her life turned on its head and sent her to Jappa, a memory she had not allowed herself in many, many moons. She and Xena had been traveling for some time and had stopped to make camp. They had deliberately made camp in a spot that held fond memories for them, someplace that she knew they would stay for a couple of days before deciding where to travel to next. Eve was away in Chin, the Gods were no longer at their backs and life had entered one of its rare, uneventful phases. A phase much like the one that had finally allowed them to express their true feelings; crossing the bridge into a new and wonderful life together.

They were doing all of their normal things; together. Xena had said she wanted to go and catch some fish. Sometimes Gabrielle thought Xena should have been a fisherman. She laughed out loud often at that thought.

"You coming in?" Xena beckoned her.

The bard smiled and shook her head, "Not now," she said.

"Ahhh.. why not?"

Gabrielle shook her head. "Xena, this is your thing," she laughed. "I am the spectator."

"MMMMM," the warrior grumbled and she was suddenly gone to the depths below.

SMACK! The fish hit Gabrielle in the face as she shot her lover a look of playful disgust. Xena's grin was wide, ever pleased with herself for hitting her intended target. It was a game that she had played for many years.

"A hah," the bard began, "It's NOT going to work."

"Gabrielle," the warrior said attempting to convey a serious tone of concern, "I have no idea what you are talking about."

"Mmm, Sure you don't, Xena."

"I'm just fishing," she continued, disappearing again and rising to fling another fish in the direction of her partner.

After many years, Gabrielle knew this routine well – she no longer had the reflexes of a young, inexperienced girl and caught the fish mid-air, gloating and giving Xena a little pout, "Oops," she mocked.

Xena's eyes narrowed as she realized she might not be victorious in this game after all.

"You're going to need to wash all that off. You know," the warrior raised an eyebrow.

Gabrielle just sat still and made no change of expression. "Not coming in, Xena" she said.

"Hummph," the warrior grumbled seeming more like a child than a fierce some fighter, or grown woman for that matter.

Gabrielle snickered and got to her feet, turning to head back to camp.

"Where you going?" Xena called sounding a bit disappointed by the sudden turn of events.

Gabrielle turned with amusement. "To start dinner. That's what I do, then you can be the spectator," she quipped.

She heard Xena playing in the water as she went to grab hold of the fish and leave. She was startled by the feeling of cold, wet hands sweeping her off her feet, literally.

"Don't you dare," she warned, "Xena!" Xena was off at break neck speed, "Xena!"

There was no point in her protests. Before she knew it she was wiping her face from the cold water, Xena standing before her with a brilliant smirk of satisfaction. Gabrielle bit her bottom lip and squinted at the warrior.

"What?" Xena pouted, "The fishies were lonely."

"I suppose they told you that."

"Well, maybe they did," the warrior splashed her companion.

"Funny," the bard glared playfully. "Do you know how long it is going to take this to dry?" Gabrielle scolded.

Xena sighed raising her eyes in their sockets. "Guess, you really should take it off then, huh?" She winked.

Xena was incorrigible at times and Gabrielle loved the banter. She started to shake her head and make her way back to land when she felt Xena's arms around her, pulling her close. "I think you should stay," the warrior whispered in her ear.

Gabrielle closed her eyes. Xena always took her breath away. No matter what happened, how many seasons they were together, who tried to interfere in their lives; all it took was the slightest touch or a simple embrace and the bard became helpless. "Worried about the fishies?" Gabrielle whispered.

"Something like that," the warrior grinned spinning the bard to face her. Gabrielle brushed the warrior's thick, raven hair aside from her face, admiring the way the droplets of water fell from her forehead.

"Poor fishies," Gabrielle laughed and with that gave over to her lover's kiss.

It was a happy memory. A day they had spent in playful banter and an evening they had spent wrapped in the warmth of each other's embrace. Gabrielle felt complete, grateful; happy.

Her face flushed as the memory fled and she was brought back to reality. Aphrodite smiled at her. "Good thought?" she winked.

Gabrielle blushed slightly. She thought it was funny how even after all this time and all she had been through; battles, war and death – a simple memory of the touch of her lover could make her feel like a young girl. "It was," she winked. As she gathered herself now, entering the tavern through the kitchen door, she felt a sudden warmth overcome her entire being. "She's here," she whispered to herself.

Chapter 5: Chapter 5 - Surprises and Stories

Chapter 5 – Surprises and Stories

The group had gathered near the fire place; Lila, Sarah and her two children, Iris and Simon, Meg and Aphrodite. It was an odd grouping in many ways, but then nothing about Gabrielle's life was ever truly "normal" and she learned to both expect and appreciate the unexpected nature of that life. Gabriel stayed close to his auntie's side. He was excited about all of the company and looking forward to surprising his parents. The next week would also be their anniversary, 9 years now. Gabrielle thought that this was the perfect time and the perfect reason to have a happy gathering. Enough sadness had befallen all that were gathered. Time, she had learned, if not a wonderful healer, was a great teacher.

At the sound of footsteps outside the door, the small boy pulled hard on Gabrielle's shirt, forcing her to bend over to his height, "I think they're here, auntie," he whispered, his face radiating his lively energy. She smiled and nodded. Virgil was facing Eve as he opened the door, in the midst of some conversation, when he noticed an expression of utter shock in her eyes. Her jaw had nearly dropped to the floor and she found herself completely without words. Virgil looked at his wife in confusion and slowly turned, immediately catching a glimpse of his mother. His grip on the door loosened, sending it flinging back and nearly hitting him in the face before he awoke from his daze and stopped it. The stunned look on the couple's faces elicited hearty laughter from the group as Gabriel howled a loud, "SURPRISE!"

Virgil and Eve both smiled. He immediately set forth to greet his mother and welcomed the slap on the back that she had for him. "Good Gods, boy," she said, "I have to travel across Greece to get to see you."

He smiled, "I know…. Sorry."

Eve hugged Lila and Sarah and patted Simon and Iris on their heads, "They sure grow fast," she said.

Simon, who was all of 4 looked up at the woman in awe, "You're bootiful," he said. Eve chuckled at his sweet compliment - and his difficulty with the word.

Aphrodite stood with her friend the bard. In all of her existence she had never had a mortal friend that she loved so dearly. At times she wondered if she really understood love before she befriended Xena and her companion. She had her life now because of that friendship, and she was aware that without them, her existence would have had little meaning after the fall of the Gods. After Gabrielle decided to settle in Amphipolis, Aphrodite became a frequent visitor. The truth was that both were lonely and were trying to find their way in a world that seemed completely foreign to them. The goddess had worried about the bard and she was delighted to see that this occasion was turning out as her friend had hoped.

After a great deal of hugs and hellos Eve made her way to Gabrielle. She looked at the bard's face and saw a light that she had not seen shine quite so brightly in many years. The one exception being when Gabriel was in her presence. "I can't believe you did this," Eve smiled.

"It was time," Gabrielle answered. "I knew you expected to come home and to grieve your mother, again….there is too much to celebrate now. I wish she was here, but I know she would have loved this."

Eve looked deeply into the eyes of this woman who had always stood by her. She never told Gabrielle how she felt about her. It was a topic that neither truly knew how to approach. But, now, looking at the bard, watching her own son cling to the woman, she found herself wondering what life would have been like if her parents had been there to raise her. She was filled with happiness, but there was a tear in her eye.

"What is it?" Gabrielle asked with concern.

"My mother IS here," the woman answered.

"Yes," Gabrielle said, "I think so," she felt her smile widen.

Eve looked at the floor and then looked at the beautiful blonde woman who so many knew as a warrior, a bard or a queen, "No," she said firmly and then continued, "I came home to see my mother."

Gabrielle felt as though her heart had stopped. She couldn't be certain what Eve had just said or what it meant. It was as if time stood still and all of their friends, all of the sound faded into nothingness.

"I love you," Eve said as she moved to embrace the woman before her. Gabrielle understood.

"I love you too, always," Gabrielle kissed her on the cheek.

That was all that needed to be said. It had lingered for years in both their minds, always knowing and yet always wondering what the other truly thought.

"So, time to eat or what?" Meg called out.

"It is," Gabrielle said as they made their way to the long table.

It was a wonderful evening of memories, stories and laughter. There were tales of Xena pretending to be a princess and Gabrielle masquerading as a fence for stolen goods, laughter over the silliness of Joxer and his many antics and a great deal of interest in the many battles the warrior and bard had fought and won. Gabriel did not want it to end. "Another one, auntie," he begged. But, sleep was overtaking many of them. Meg had nodded off in a chair by the fireplace and was snoring loudly, the children were all fighting back yawns, even as Gabriel and his young friend, Simon pretended to trade swords.

"Okay, one last story," Gabrielle said, "But you have to promise to be quiet and go to bed as SOON as it is done."

"Promise," he said.

"Me too," a small voice echoed from across the room. Simon sat in front of his mother, Iris in Lila's lap, and Gabriel made his way to his auntie. This was HIS auntie, the Amazon Queen.

He didn't need to ask permission, he climbed right up onto her and settled against her chest.

"What's the story about, Auntie?" he asked as he looked into her eyes full of wonder.

Virgil chuckled. The scene reminded him of the many nights he had taken up residence in his father's lap for some tale about Xena and Gabrielle. He thought of his father and how he wished he could be here to see his grandson cuddled into his best friend's lap. 'Strange world,' he thought to himself. Here he was married to the daughter of his father's best friends. Joxer was forever tied to his companions. It seemed to Virgil, as Eve had said many times, that there is always a purpose in everything. If he hadn't lost his father, Eve might never have found Eli. If Xena hadn't died he might never have known Eve's love. Looking a Gabriel now, surrounded by these people he loved, he found himself grateful for everything; even the sadness.

"This is a story of a Mighty Warrior Princess, The Father of the Gods and the birth of a Prophet," Gabrielle began.

The entire group was enthralled as the bard told the tale of her trip with Xena to Tarturus to steal Hade's helmet of Invisibility. How they had met Solon and how Hercules had fought his father, Zeus to save the child of the warrior princess. She talked about the warrior's determination and strength and how in spite of her pain and fear she fought the Prosidici. It was a daring tale of adventure, risk and triumph. Even Meg, who had awoken during one of the bard's dramatic descriptions of Zeus's rage and Hade's fireballs, could not help but listen for an ending. It was an ending they all knew.

The ending was different than she had told it in the past. She detailed how Zeus threatened the birth with a lightning bolt and Hercules stopped him with the rib of Cronus, but then she continued.

"And the bard looked down at the tiny fingers and the tiny toes. The warrior's face softened and she took the bard's hand. It was the most beautiful thing either had ever seen. This tiny baby, perfection. The warrior held the baby to her chest and looked at the bard. And for once, the bard could not find any words to say. She had never known love like the love she had now. The most beautiful child ever to be born and the most beautiful woman she had ever seen," Gabrielle looked at Eve, paused and then continued, "And in THAT moment, there were no warriors, no queens, princesses, bards or Gods… there was just a family and it was the greatest gift the two had ever known."

Eve smiled softly, her emotions full. Virgil caught Meg wiping a tear from her eye and as he scanned the room he noticed Lila, Sarah and Aphrodite doing the same. There were no tears from either his wife of Gabrielle, it seemed this was a memory somehow just for them and both were at peace.

Chapter 6: Chapter 6 - Uninvited Guests

Chapter Six – Uninvited Guests

"NO MORE FIREBALLS?" Gabriel gasped at the end of the story.

"Nope," Gabrielle smiled lifting him to the floor, "Time for you to go to bed," she said.

As the group began to rise Gabrielle paused, Eve paused, and then Virgil paused... all looking at one another with intent.

"Sarah, take your mother and Meg upstairs," Gabrielle's voice was deliberate and controlled but intense, "Aphrodite, take Eve and the children and get out of here," she motioned to Virgil who promptly headed to a cabinet she kept behind the counter to arm himself and to get Gabrielle's sai.

"I want to stay with you," Gabriel cried.

"Gabriel," she began, momentarily shifting her focus to Sarah, Meg and Lila before returning to him, "You go with your mother and Aphrodite," her voice had a firmness about it the boy had never heard.

Eve was corralling him now and leading him to Aphrodite. "I can FIGHT!" he exclaimed.

"GABRIEL," Virgil yelled, "That's enough."

The boy began to fight his tears. Gabrielle took a deep breath as Eve took hold of her hand.

"Go now," she instructed allowing much like an Amazon Queen would, "Aphrodite will take care of you," she nodded.

Eve looked at Virgil who nodded with a pensive smile of agreement.

"Be careful," Eve said as Aphrodite took them away. These were the times that Eve felt tempted to give in to her warrior side. The father of her son and the woman she had just called 'mother' for the first time were left alone to fight an unseen and unknown enemy. She had heard the approaching horses as well and part of her wanted to grab a sword and fight. But, she had made her choice and she knew that Virgil and Gabrielle could handle themselves in battle.

Virgil looked at Gabrielle, "How many?" he asked.

"Maybe seven or eight," she answered assuming a defensive position. There was an enormous crashing sound and then the sight of boots flying at Virgil through one of the planked windows. Virgil spun and kicked the large warrior in the chest knocking him across the room. At the exact same moment a rustle of thatch resulted in two large men collapsing through part of the tavern's roof. Gabrielle ducked and threw a rib shot at the first. He immediately countered by pulling his sword, but the Amazon Queen had anticipated that move and hit his arm with a high kick sending the sword flying into the wall. Virgil was backing up into the center of the tavern trying to anticipate the next move. It came quickly.

It seemed that in an instant there were 4 more large men in the room. Gabrielle and Virgil were back to back preparing for whatever they needed to do to stop the attack. Gabrielle had never learned Xena's trick with alcohol and fire, it was one of the few things she was always too afraid to attempt. She wished she had right now. There was a fire burning inside her. As one of the men lunged toward her she jumped onto a long bench that was placed at one of the tables, landing on its far end. The bench began to tilt upward quickly as she rolled out of the way allowing it to connect with the full body of one of the attackers.

Kicks flew, the sound of Virgil's clanking sword filled the room. He pushed back on his opponent, seeming to gain the advantage when he found that he had another person behind him. He didn't see Gabrielle as she disarmed the large goon that was ready to stab him from behind. She picked up a broom that had been leaning against the bar and struck him in the face, then below the knees, sending him onto the floor so hard she thought he might crack the boards beneath them.

Virgil swung around with the grace of a warrior and stabbed his assailant in the stomach, thrusting the sword backwards behind his own back, dropping the man in a small pool of blood.

"Who are they?" Gabrielle asked with a strong and annoyed tone.

"I don't know," Virgil said as they both studied the men on the tavern floor.

"Well, we're going to find out," she said indignantly. She reached down and pulled one of her attackers to what was almost a sitting position.

"Who are you?" the queen asked. He just looked at her defiantly. "Okay," she said, "That's fine." She moved as though she were going to walk away but swiftly turned back and struck the man's neck. Virgil was awe struck. He had never seen Gabrielle do this; only Xena.

"So…. She began, "You have about 30 seconds to tell me who the hell you are and why the hell you are here or that blood trickling out your nose will seem like a summer picnic."

Gabrielle had only used the pinch that Xena taught her twice in the last 11 years. Both times were in battle. Now the battle was in her space. She wanted to know WHY.

"Okay," the man croaked his answer, "Baal. Baal sent us to look for the warrior princess."

"WHAT?" Gabrielle shook the man. "Xena's been dead for 11 years."

"Baal thinks she's here," he choked, "in this tavern."

Gabrielle was stunned and angry. She shook her head in frustrated disbelief and released the pinch.

"You tell your God that Xena is dead, but I am not. And I have no fear and no use for him or any another God," She pulled him close to her face as she said the words in disgust and then pushed him away hard.

As the remaining attackers came to and began to flee, she studied them, what they wore and how they wore it.

"What was that about?" Virgil asked as he made his way to check the man he had driven his sword into. "Dead," was all he said.

Gabrielle seemed to be scanning every inch of the room as she answered his question, "I don't know," she said, "but I don't like it."

"We need to get rid of this body," Virgil remarked.

"Take it to the stable," she said still searching.

He began to lift the large man but stopped to ask her, "What are you looking for?"

"I'm not sure," Gabrielle said, "Something doesn't fit…I'll know it when I see it. We need to get Eve back here soon," she said. Virgil looked puzzled. "Not to fight," she continued, "She thinks like Xena."

Virgil nodded and flung the body over his shoulder.

Gabrielle stood there surveying the wreckage. "Something is wrong, Xena," she said out loud as if Xena were in front of her. "I have a very bad feeling about this."

Chapter 7: Chapter 7 - Enemies and Angels

Chapter Seven – Enemies and Angels

Gabrielle continued pacing the tavern, looking at every detail. Something about this attack did not make sense. What on earth would a Phoenician God be doing attacking in Amphipolis? And why would he think Xena was here? News of Xena's death spread like wildfire through every realm; mortal and immortal – it made no sense. If this was, in fact, the work of Baal – what was he after? Was it Eve? The Amazon Queen felt a shiver remembering the lengths they had gone to in order to protect Eve from the Olympians so many years ago.

"Gabrielle?" A voice called from the stairs. It was Lila with Meg at her side. "Are you all right?"

As Gabrielle started to answer, Virgil returned and she turned her focus to him momentarily.

"All set for now," he said.

"Good," she picked the bench up and set it straight then turned toward Lila and Meg. "We're fine. I think it's safe for tonight," she continued. "APHRODITE!" She called.

In an instant the Goddess appeared.

"I think it's safe for now to bring Eve and the children back," Gabrielle began, "BUT, I think that you should all stay at the house," she gestured to her sister.

Aphrodite nodded – popped away and was back with the entourage in tow in moments.

It was Gabriel who noticed the small trail of blood on his auntie's arm. He ran to her, eyes wide, "Auntie…"

Virgil looked and then noticed it too, "Gabrielle, you're bleeding."

The Amazon Queen looked at her arm, "so it would seem," she said calmly.

"It's all right, Gabriel. I'm all right, see?' she reassured him, "it's just a cut."

Eve looked at her with concern.

"Lila," Gabrielle started, "Go and get Sarah and then you should head down to the house. There's enough room… just have the children 'camp' on the floor." Lila nodded. Gabriel ran to his father to check him for any "cuts".

"I'm fine, Gabriel," Virgil smiled reassuring the boy, "Just a little excitement."

Gabrielle took hold of Aphrodite and pulled her aside. "What do you know about Baal?" she asked.

"Lightining God.. powerful… Zeus would have known better or Athena. Not my cup of tea, why?" Aphrodite answered.

"Apparently he thinks Xena is here."

"What? What's in the Phoenician tea?" the goddess quipped.

Gabrielle shook her head with worry. "I don't know.. see if you can find ANYTHING out. Anything at all."

Aphrodite squinted with doubt, "I'll try sweetie, but you know… things aren't…"

"Like they used to be…" the bard finished her thought, "I know. Just try, please."

Aphrodite nodded again and she was gone. Sarah, Meg and Lila had finally made it to the door with the children. Eve crouched down to Gabriel, "I have to stay here with your father and Auntie Gabrielle for a few minutes, okay?" He looked worried but nodded his understanding.

Gabrielle smiled. "We'll see you for a BIG breakfast in the morning," she faked a big smile – and they were gone.

As soon as the door shut Eve spoke, "Baal?"

"So it seems," Virgil said as he put his arm around her.

Eve watched Gabrielle, trying to gauge her perception of the event. Gabrielle was calm, but she continued scanning the room as if she expected something to jump out at her suddenly. Eve knew that the bard felt they were safe; if not she would have left them with Aphrodite. It was something else. Something was bothering Gabrielle.

"It's not Baal," Gabrielle said, "or at least it's not JUST Baal. It's something else."

Virgil looked at Eve and released her from his grip. She slowly made her way to the bard. "What? What is it?"

Gabrielle seemed to be having a difficult time mustering the words. "They were looking for your mother. Looking for Xena," She said biting her lip.

Eve could not speak. Gabrielle continued, "Something else is going on. Baal wouldn't come to that conclusion on his own."

Eve sat down on a chair. "Who?"

"I was hoping you might have an idea," Gabrielle shook her head. Eve shook hers simultaneously.

"No. None of the mini Gods have much power anymore, " Eve said.

Virgil interjected, "Maybe that's it… they're trying to…"

"Consolidate power…." Eve finished his thought and he nodded.

"No." Gabrielle was deliberate. "Aphrodite might be a bit flaky, but she keeps her ear to the Godly ground. I wish it was that. Whatever or whoever.. it is powerful. I feel it," She took a deep breath trying to focus her thoughts. "Powerful and fears Xena…." She shook her head again.

Suddenly there was an enormous burst of light and word that seemed to pierce through it, "Yes, POWERFUL," the voice was deep and commanding. "Who would hate Xena and Fear Xena.. in this place?" the voice continued.

Eve nearly fell off her chair, "Messenger.." it greeted her.

"…Michael…" Eve whispered.

Gabrielle stood impossibly still. She could feel her blood churning. "Yes…. Michael. To what do we owe this honor?" she asked.

"Gabrielle," he said calmly, "Good to see you too."

"Please," the bard answered. "What is this all about? You know who was behind this? They want Eve?"

He stared at her as if pinning her to the wall. "No. And, Yes. Who would come here? Who would think Xena might be HERE? Who would have enough hatred and yet enough desire to see her?" he asked, his expression never changing.

She kept her stare equally locked on his. Suddenly her eyes dropped. She stayed in a brief moment of thought before raising her head and speaking, "Lucifer…" she said slowly. The angel nodded.

"Why? Why now?" she asked. "He knows Xena is dead," there was anger in her voice.

"Because," the angel began, "It is his opportunity. People have moved away from their gods, even from heaven itself. He's tasted earth, you know that. Tasted its pleasures. Xena showed him all that before she cast him into hell," he looked at the bard with no expression, just cold fact.

It was true. When they first returned together to Amphipolis after saving Eve from the grips of Rome and the influence of Ares; they found the tavern, the town, possessed by hell itself. Xena had summoned Metastopheles, the king of hell and fought him right here. The warrior had a choice then, take the demon's place in hell or find a replacement. Lucifer was her offering. He may have been an angel but his vanity, his ambition and his lust for all things earthly were evident from the moment he arrived. She HAD tempted him – with food, drink, jealousy, power and with herself. That was many years ago and both the warrior and bard had always believed that even Michael saw Lucifer's flawed being.

"That was nearly twelve years ago. Xena is dead," the bard said.

Michael remained silent.

"I don't understand," Eve looked at Michael with reverence. "What is it he hopes to gain?"

"Heaven and earth," the angel answered.

Gabrielle looked at him with disgust. And shook her head.

"The people need a sign. Something to point them to faith, to heaven. They need hope. They need to believe in redemption," Michael said. Gabrielle's lips were pursed now, tightly, as she attempted to hold her speech. "He is gaining power every day, every day that people move father away from…"

"From their Gods?" Gabrielle asked angrily. "Isn't that what you wanted, Michael?"

"Gabrielle," Eve urged gently. The angel remained silent.

"Well, isn't it? The fall of the Gods for the one all-powerful God. Right?" Silence.

Gabrielle shook her head with a sarcastic smile.

"Even now he is organizing the legions of hell and he has enlisted the Phoenician Gods as his emissaries here on the earth," the angel explained.

"How are we supposed to fight the King of Hell?' Virgil asked not sure who he was directing his question to. "Love isn't enough for that."

"First," the angel began, "You have to move to your faith. You have to believe what you are fighting for," his eyes remained completely fixed on the bard, "You have to find the purpose…"

"Purpose?" the bard yelled. "Don't you dare talk to me about PURPOSE. God…" she exclaimed exasperated.

"Gabrielle, you've been to hell… and to heaven, you know…"

"Don't talk to me about heaven and hell. Gods. Purpose. Yes, Michael – I have been to heaven and I have lived in hell – lived in hell for 11 years. Purpose? How dare you! What kind of purpose is it? You tell me… You take our children… Solon. …. Hope?... You take our daughter from us for 25 years?"

Eve reached out for Gabrielle, "Gabrie…."

"No. Eve. No. I want to hear about purpose. I do. Tell me, Michael. Everything we sacrificed. All we lost…and you make her pay for something that she never even intended?"

"That was Xena's choice."

Her fury was rising, "Oh, I see. It was her CHOICE to die? And, of course you could have done nothing to prevent THAT, right? Only when its serves YOUR purpose. You are UNBELIEVABLE."

He took a deep breath, his eyebrows coming to a point. "You need to let go of this anger. Would you have Eve? Would you have Gabriel?"

"I can't do this."

"What would Xena say?" he asked. "If she saw you right now."

She let out a bursting laugh of sarcasm. "I don't know. I'd ask her, but she's DEAD. Is that enough PURPOSE for you?" She moved close to him and placed her hands on the armor of his chest and her voice become quiet with an anger she had never felt. Her voice was almost a whisper. "You. This 'purpose'… she was my purpose. You took her. You took EVERYTHING… I gave you everything – and you took it all…." She threw her hands up in disgust, bit her upper lip, looked him in the eye and she was gone….

Chapter 8: Chapter 8 -When the Path Comes to an End

Chapter Eight – When the Path Comes to an End

Eve was still reeling from the entire experience. Her head was placed against Vigil's chest. They had been lying together in silence for what seemed like hours.

"Do you think that we should go look for her?" Virgil whispered.

Eve hesitated in answering. She had never seen Gabrielle so angry and she was still trying to process the amount of pain she saw in the bard's eyes. It reminded her of when they had traveled to save Sarah from Gurkhan. Xena had been there to pull Gabrielle from that dark place. And Eve knew what that emptiness felt like. She remembered it well. It had permeated her life before her parents returned and helped her to find her own path, replacing the emptiness with love.

Eve had accepted her role, accepted her path and she understood, even if it hurt her, the purpose in all that had happened in her family. Watching this woman she loved so dearly she realized the depth of suffering that she had been through. Eve loved Virgil, but she also knew he was part of her path; HER path was Eli's message. Gabrielle's path had always been Xena. In her silent thoughts the messenger suddenly felt a greater understanding of all that had unfolded. She could not imagine what her life would be without her "path" to act as her compass. The truth was that she wanted to go find Gabrielle and tell her that she loved her. She understood the anger. She understood the pain and it was breaking her heart.

"She needs some time," Eve said allowing her fingers to trace the skin in her husband's chest.

"I can't…" he began and stopped himself.

"I know," Eve said as she sat up in the bed. "It's pain." Eve looked to the ceiling. Both she and Virgil understood that Gabrielle was the most compassionate person either had ever known. She was the balance in Xena's life. They sometimes forgot that Xena had been the balance in the bard's. Even after all this time, for the bard something was missing that no one could replace. Gabrielle was careful to mask her anger and pain in front of them. She gave them all the love she always had but she avoided conversations about the Elijans or the Gods. They knew that as well.

"What are we going to do?" Virgil asked gently caressing Eve's back.

Eve sighed. "Give her time."

Now it was Virgil who sighed. "If Michael is right," he began.

"He is. We are all in danger," Eve remarked as she rose to her feet. She reached for her wrap. Suddenly she thought better of her actions. She needed to see Gabrielle. A few hours had passed and she was fairly sure that she knew where she could find her now.

"Where are you going?" he asked. Eve turned slowly, bent over him gently allowing her fingers to explore his cheek. She smiled a peaceful smile. The smile that he had fallen in love with. He was lost in her. 'What would I do without you,' he thought to himself as his heart began to swell. He wasn't quite sure if the words had escaped his lips or if he had just thought them. She looked at him knowingly and kissed his forehead. "I love you," he whispered.

Eve just continued to smile warmly as she pulled away from him. "I have to…"

He understood. Enough time had passed. There was only one person who could reach out to Gabrielle now. It had to be Eve. "Go," he said. She nodded and headed for the door. As she began to pass through it, she stopped.

"What is it?" he asked.

She turned to face him. It was as if she had some realization that he was not a part of. He looked at her with questioning and concern.

"I tried to tell her she was my mother," Eve said.

Virgil sat up. "Gabrielle?" he gently inquired.

She looked at the floor. He understood. This was the worst time for this to happen, especially for the bard.

"What stopped you?"

Eve shook her head unknowing. "I did tell her; I just didn't say the words to her."

Virgil took a deep breath and crossed the room to his wife. "Eve," he took her face in his hands, "Just tell her. You're not betraying…"

"I know," she answered him. "Everything is about to change," she said.

Virgil wasn't sure what Eve meant. She was able to sense things that he could not; things about people, things about the future. He knew better than to question and simply attempted to comfort her with a smile.

"Go. Talk to her." He kissed her and she was gone.

Chapter 9: Chapter 9 - Crossing Over

Chapter Nine – Crossing Over

The tavern had grown cold in the night. Gabrielle sat in front of the large fireplace. The fire's roar had slowly begun to spiral to a flicker. She threw another log on, watching the flames claim it slowly and begin to rise again. She had walked for what seemed like hours, wanting to be anywhere but here. So many images were flashing through her mind in those hours. So much loss. She had just begun to feel peaceful; maybe even allowed herself to feel hopeful; and yet again her happiness would be taken and challenged. She was calm now contemplating all that had transpired in front of the flames almost as if allowing them to claim her memories and emotions.

She heard the door open slowly, "Gabrielle?" a voice softly inquired.

Gabrielle shifted her gaze to the door.

"I thought I might find you here." Eve made her way to the fireplace where Gabrielle had again turned her attention. The younger woman sat down on the same large bench as the bard. She watched the woman closely. Usually she could see one of Gabrielle's many personas taking the lead; the Amazon, the bard, the warrior… Now, it seemed as if they were all one, fused into the woman before her as never before. She was struck by the faint glow lighting Gabrielle's face. She seemed softer now than hours before. She was silent and reflective.

"I'm sorry, Eve," she spoke.

Eve wasn't quite sure what to say. No apology was needed. She understood the anger, though she had to admit to herself she would not have expected Gabrielle's earlier reaction.

"I'm not sure what we are going to do," she continued. "I can fight like Xena. I can even think like Xena," she stared endlessly into the flames, "but I am NOT Xena."

Eve felt Gabrielle's apprehension.

"So much of my life," she continued, "My path… was supporting Xena; in everything. I learned along the way. Learned that to treasure peace you have to understand war… She took the lead. She was the teacher and I was the student."

Eve studied the bard as she let her thoughts flow freely.

"My path was loving her. Always. That was the word," a smile that was both filled with sadness and great reverence crept onto her face, "Always."

Eve looked into the fire now too. "Earlier…" Eve began.

Gabrielle turned to look at the woman beside her.

Eve looked straight into the flames and gathered her thoughts. "I know you aren't mother," she spoke in a hushed tone. Gabrielle closed her eyes, the words seemed to dig into her soul. Eve continued, "but you are still my mother," she said quietly.

Gabrielle was surprised. It was not what she anticipated Eve would say. She placed her hand on the younger woman's back lovingly, "and you are my daughter," she smiled. They sat for a few moments absorbed in their acknowledgment of a bond that neither could truly explain. In many ways it was Gabrielle who had been Eve's teacher. Xena was gone so suddenly. Ripped from them both. Gabrielle had always tabled her grief with Eve, supporting her, encouraging her and loving her. Eve had only had her mother for a short period of time. It was this woman, this slight blonde who never quite fit the warrior's appearance, so gentle and so compassionate, that had filled that role. She had been deliberate in focusing their time on stories about Xena, always searching to bring Eve closer to her mother even after her death. It was when Eve had Gabriel that conversations began to take their own course more frequently. It was Gabrielle who delivered the boy. Gabrielle who comforted her when Virgil had been seriously injured a few years ago. Gabrielle who nurtured her all these years. Eve understood the woman's strength. She also knew that what was about to come was something that both would have turned to her mother to solve.

"Do you have a plan?" Eve asked.

"No." Gabrielle admitted. "It isn't safe here," she continued. "We need to get you and Gabriel out of here tomorrow."

Eve had sensed it too. "And go where?" Eve asked.

"I want you to go stay with the Amazons for a while. You'll be safe there. Baal is all but powerless in Amazon lands and Lucifer….. Well, we know where he will make his appearance."

Both women kept her sights on the fire, deep in thought.

"Where did you go?" Eve asked. "When you left tonight?"

Gabrielle looked toward the ceiling as if it might be transparent. Her eyes seemed to be searching for something. "Nowhere. I just walked. And walked."

Eve looked at her now. "And walked some more," the bard continued. She paused, searching the orange and yellow before her again. "I stopped at a large tree. I kicked it," she let forth a slight chuckle at the absurdity in her action. Eve smiled a knowing smile; the need to just attack anything. "I don't know. I thought about when Perdicus died."

Eve raised her head to look directly at Gabrielle. This was one topic that the two had never discussed. The younger woman knew the story only through a few comments her mother had made when she was alive and from Gabrielle's scrolls. She also knew that it had been Callisto who took his life. Gabrielle never spoke of her brief marriage to her daughter; not even once.

"When he died," the bard continued, "I was filled with such rage. I wanted to kill Callisto." Eve recalled Gabrielle's anger when she learned that Gurkhan had beheaded her parents. She imagined this had been similar.

"I was so young," Gabrielle continued. "So inexperienced… in everything…. In life. We had been best friends since childhood." She stopped and looked at Eve. Eve looked deeply into Gabrielle's eyes urging her to continue.

The bard took a deep breath. "I begged Xena to teach me to fight. Teach me to use a sword. Anger burned inside me. She found me beating a tree half to death with a sword….. I begged her. I yelled," She paused for a long moment, "Seeing her standing in front of me – telling me 'no'… I wanted to lash out at her. I put the tip of the sword right into her belly. She didn't flinch…. I saw this pain in her eyes….looking at me.."

Eve looked at her, "but she did teach you."

"No. Not then. No. It took years….Later that evening I found her in a small clearing. I watched from a distance as she prayed. She prayed for me. She prayed for me to heal – for my innocence."

"She loved you," Eve said.

Gabrielle smiled, "Yes. She did. I didn't want her to."

Eve looked puzzled. Gabrielle continued, "I knew in that moment that she loved me. I felt like I betrayed her. Betrayed him. Betrayed myself. All I could see was vengeance in that moment." Gabrielle smiled. "I hit that tree tonight and I heard her voice as clear as if it were standing over me. Her prayer. I sat there for a long time…I think I half expected her to sit beside me," she laughed. "I understood the message."

Eve put her hand in Gabrielle's. "Someday," Gabrielle said, "I will go to her. Not now. There are things I have to do."

Eve struggled to hold back a tear. "I wish…"

Gabrielle knew where her daughter's thought was headed. "Your path is the way of love, Eve. So is mine, but mine is my love for her. My love for you. My love for this family. It always has been. Your path is Eli's. I tried that path. It is not what is meant for me. I am part of that journey, but I am not its messenger." Eve knew that, though she had never heard Gabrielle speak so clearly.

"I need to talk to Michael," Gabrielle continued. "If the legions of hell are truly looking to surface…"

Eve held her breath as Gabrielle continued, "Well, we will need heaven on our side." Eve squeezed Gabrielle's hand.

Gabrielle rose and kissed Eve on the head. "Go and get some rest," she said. After breakfast I am going to head to meet Aphrodite, see what she found out about Baal." Eve smiled as the bard turned toward the back of the tavern and the stairs that led to Xena's room. Gabrielle stopped at the bottom, paused, and turned back, "I love you, Evey," she smiled. There was a resolve in her voice that Eve immediately recognized. Perhaps Xena was here after all.

Chapter 10: Chapter 10 - Parting Company

Chapter Ten – Parting Company

Morning came quickly for all of them. As promised, Gabrielle had a large breakfast ready. Her mind was racing and the ability to fill her morning with other things was welcome. She thought about how funny her propensity for early rising was as she waited for all of them to fill the tavern; she always hated mornings. She would stay up late with her scrolls and find that her thoughts would wander through the heavens above when she finally tried to lie down. Having Xena close always helped her settle her thoughts and rest, but she never seemed to acquire Xena's love of rising before the sun was up. Since the warrior had been gone that had changed. In fact, it changed almost immediately. She thought that perhaps it was because every morning, still, she hoped to open her eyes from a bad dream and see Xena packing up Argo. Whatever the reason, it was just another imprint that the warrior had made on her life.

Gabriel ran through the door as bright eyed as ever. He bolted to make sure that his auntie really was okay, immediately looking for the cut on her arm. It was endearing and Gabrielle put her hand on his soft blonde locks with a smile, "My Gabriel…. Are you hungry?" Seeing that the Amazon Queen was herself and was, in fact, safe - he brightened even further and nodded an excited 'yes'.

Virgil and Eve followed with Lila and Meg close behind. Sarah was still at the house trying to get the little ones "motivated" Lila explained. Eve immediately began helping Gabrielle who had sent Adera home with orders to stay there the evening before.

Conversation at the table was a bit strained. Eve hadn't told Gabriel that they would be leaving after breakfast. He seemed ready for another day with his hero chattering about all of her battles. It filled Gabrielle with an amazing sense of love. Gabriel represented everything that she had always wished to share with Eve and Xena. And, she could often see both her lover and her best friend in the boy. He had Joxer's propensity for silliness and incessant chatter, but he had the determination of Xena and he had her eyes – the same blue from Mother to daughter to son. It was tearing at her to know that somehow the chaos of their formers lives had now broken through into his.

"Gabriel," Virgil looked at his son. "Your mother is going to take you on a little expedition after breakfast." The boy may have been young, but he knew his family well. This was code for he had to leave and his face showed his displeasure with the announcement.

Meg put her hand on the boy's head and whispered something in his ear. His muscles only tightened further and his eyes narrowed to a point where they were almost just slits. Gabrielle had to hold her laugh. She had seen THAT look many times over many seasons. Eve thought she might have caught just the hint of a little sparkle in her younger mother's eye.

"Well, Gabriel," the bard said as she began picking up some of the plates on the table, "You well get to see where I became a queen…"

His ears perked and he looked at her quizzically. She continued, "You know, your mother is an Amazon Princess."

His eyes were getting wider by the second. He had heard this, but somehow hearing his auntie say it out loud filled him with pride.

Eve was smiling quietly as she listened to Gabrielle expertly turn the boy's skepticism into enthusiasm for the coming "adventure", that's what she called it. She still had a mastery of words. Eve had often joked to the bard that boy had her completely wrapped around his finger, but it was a mutual relationship that began from the moment he was born.

Eve had a difficult pregnancy and labor and had been quite sick when Gabriel was first born. Virgil had to leave to deal with another threat to their small group of travelers and Meg still had Virgil's younger sister to look after. Gabrielle had been the one to care for the infant. Eve would watch her sometimes as she sang to the boy when he would fuss, as she would rock him and tell him stories about his grandmother. He would look up into those green eyes and smile and coo – and Eve would wonder if that was how it had been with her. Her heart ached for Gabrielle, knowing she had always wanted a child of her own. Gabrielle never said a word about that. Xena had confided that to Eve not long before they had parted company. It had weighed on her mother for many years. There were times, Xena had told her, when she felt still, that she had led Gabrielle away from a better life. Watching the bard with Gabriel, then and now, Eve knew that was not true.

"Are you coming with us?" the boy grabbed his auntie's arm as she walked by.

She smile gently. "Not this time, my love."

His yes became downcast. Eve pulled him closer to her, "Auntie Gabrielle is going to go see Aphrodite. That's an important adventure too."

He looked up at his mother. He was very sharp and very sensitive for a boy of seven. "Only girls live with Amazons," he said indignantly. At seven, the only girls Gabriel had any interest in were sitting at the table now.

Eve laughed, "MMMmm," she said, "BUT, I'll bet they can tell you a lot about your auntie," she whispered. He attempted to suppress his curious grin.

As Eve rose from the table she instructed her son to say goodbye to his grandmother, Lila and his auntie. Gabriel hugged Lila hard, who gave him a warm smile. He ran to his grandmother full force and kissed her on the cheek - and then he stopped. Gabrielle was standing by the bar watching as he dramatically said his goodbyes. He stood there for a moment almost as if his young mind suddenly understood that this was not just an adventure to meet Amazons. She was protecting him. He stared at her hard and long. She had seen that stare too. Now he walked, very calmly and very deliberately to her.

Gabrielle's smile never faded. She looked down at him and narrowed her gaze. He reached up and pulled her ear to his small mouth, "Auntie, he whispered, "Please be careful." She should have been surprised at his perception, but she wasn't. She crouched down to meet his eyes. "My Gabriel," she said, "No matter what ever happens…I will always be with you. Don't you ever worry about that. Do you understand?"

The boy tried to act strong but there were tears in his eyes as he glanced again at the long cut on her arm and then looked to the floor. Gabrielle had no intention of assuring the boy of any happy outcomes; only that she would always be part of his life – somehow. She had seen too much and lost too many, Xena included, to build up certainties for Gabriel when she knew that life could be so unpredictable.

"You are strong like your mother," she said, "and you are clever like your father. You must take care of them as they take care of you."

"And I am brave – like you," he said firmly.

"Yes, you are. If you need me – I will always be with you… always," she took his face in her hands and looked into those steel blue eyes and saw his resolve.

The boy nodded, stood straight and began to walk to his mother. He was determined to be strong, but after a few paces he stopped and turned and ran full force back into her, tears streaming. "I love you," he said.

The bard smiled to reassure him. "Take care of your mother. You will learn so much where you are going, even if they are girls. I love you too…. Always…"

Chapter 11: Chapter 11 - Facing Gods

Chapter Eleven – Facing Gods

Gabrielle saddled her mare. "Sappho," she stroked her gray mane. "Ready, girl?"

She heaved herself onto the mare. Her bond with the horse had become strong. It was not nearly that of Xena's with Argo, but she felt she understood that connection better now. Virgil rode up behind her. "Ready?" he asked her just as she had asked her mare.

Gabrielle looked at his clear and focused eyes. "As I will ever be."

They rode for a few hours with very little conversation towards Athens. There was a small temple honoring Aphrodite on the way. Gabrielle was anxious to see what, if anything, her friend had been able to find out about Baal. She had no intention of confronting Michael again until she had some more information. Lucifer would need to make his appearance in Amphipolis. That was all she knew. How the Phoenician Gods fit into his plans she couldn't be sure. She couldn't imagine what he was promising them. And, she had to admit she was surprised at Ares silence. Ares loved epic battles. She had heard very little from the God of War since Xena's passing. And, she wasn't sure where he would side in all of this should she need to call on him. They had come to a silent understanding. She knew that he loved Xena and he knew that Xena loved her. His ambition, particularly to conquest Xena, was something that always frustrated Gabrielle. But, she knew that even now, despite all of his professions about power and how he cared nothing for anything BUT Xena, he would be hard pressed to actually let anything happen to the people Xena loved. The warrior was always his one soft spot. And, regardless of anything he claimed, Gabrielle knew that what truly made him LOVE her, was her softness, not her fighting skills.

"Is that it?" Virgil asked.


"Not much to look at," Virgil offered.

"No. Things have certainly changed." The temple was overgrown with vines; not the type of greenery that was meant to be lush and decorative, the type that took hold when few were left to care for a building. Gabrielle and Virgil dismounted and made their way through some overgrown brush to the entrance of the temple. It was dim inside, hardly what the Goddess of Love would expect to command. There were a few offerings on the altar. Some flowers, a few animal skins, some perfumes and of course, Aphrodite's favorite thing: fish. Gabrielle laughed, "Fish," she muttered.

"Aphrodite!" The bard called. In an instant the beautiful, blonde goddess appeared.

"I heard that," she scowled.

Gabrielle attempted to be regretful, but even in the tension of the current situation, Aphrodite made her laugh. "Nice," the goddess chimed sarcastically. "Look at this place," she said with disgust, "I can't even complain about the fish anymore."

Gabrielle raised her eyebrow. For a few seconds she had felt as though she had been transported to a time past; a time of much greater happiness, when they had all been together as friends. Xena pretending to be annoyed by Aphrodite's flakiness and Aphrodite not paying attention to anything that Xena said. She shook off the memory with a smirk.

"Did you find anything out?" She asked the goddess.

Aphrodite was thumbing through the small number of offerings and had picked up a fish, looking at it as though it were horse dung on the side of the rode. She threw it aside with a shiver as she answered, "Not much. It seems like he's been promised dominion here."

"In Greece?"

Aphrodite looked at her friend, "On Earth…."

Gabrielle seemed to be searching for some reason as her eyes lifted. "It doesn't make sense. What's in it for Lucifer?"

Aphrodite shrugged as she sprayed some perfume on herself and snorted at the fragrance.

"Heaven," Virgil chimed in.

Gabrielle held her breath. "Any thoughts on what Baal might be planning?"

Aphrodite paused. She sat down on a small step that led to the altar. "He is to remove the threats."

"You mean, Eve…." Gabrielle commented.

Aphrodite nodded in agreement. "Not just Eve," she cautioned.

"All the Elijans," Virgil interjected.

Again the goddess nodded. "And, "she said, "all the other Gods….and..." she looked at Gabrielle.

"Me?" Gabrielle inquired.

"I'm sure," the Goddess said playing with her wrap, "but you are not as much of a threat as…."

Gabrielle's breath left her body, "Gabriel…" she said. Virgil's hand tightened on the handle to his sword.

Aphrodite looked at the floor for a moment and stood. "I don't know much else," she looked at her friend noting the resolve and the fear in her eyes. "I do know that he will move soon."

Gabrielle sighed. "He won't move on the Amazons," she looked at Virgil who seemed a bit skeptical.

"Maybe I should call Ares," Gabrielle muttered to herself.

Aphrodite took her friend's hand. "He is a shadow of himself," the goddess said. "And, he knows little about Baal. Athena would have been a great asset to you," the bard noted the slight sadness in the goddess's voice.

"I'm sorry about Athena," the bard offered momentarily leaving her own worries to the side.

Aphrodite gave her friend a half smile. "Baal may not attack the Amazons, but Anath will."

Gabrielle felt her entire body shudder. She and Xena had never had to deal with Baal or Anath, but she knew of Anath. And she knew that the virgin goddess of war was powerful; and she was a woman with legions of female warriors. She would be a formidable opponent. If she was involved they needed to leave right away. The Amazons were smart and they were strong but they had diminished greatly in numbers over the years as old ways died. Slowly villages and cities grew, creeping into the outlands and forests where the Amazon tribes had always found shelter and seclusion. Their steadfast female hierarchy also made it more difficult to increase their numbers.

Virgil looked at Gabrielle. There was urgency in his voice. "We have to go."

Gabrielle looked at him with silent agreement. She felt sick. She had sent them there for safety. How she wished that Xena was here. She could use her counsel now. Fighting Gods was the warrior princess's terrain, not the Amazon Queen's. Gabrielle looked at Aphrodite. The goddess was truly the goddess of love. She radiated it, and her love for Gabrielle was like that of a sister. Gabrielle could see the wariness in her friend's eye. "I have to go," the bard said as Aphrodite grabbed her hand.

The goddess acknowledged the statement only with her eyes. As the bard turned to leave she felt the goddess's hand tug her backward.

"Listen," Aphrodite said, "I don't know her, but seek Eshmun," she said.

Gabrielle was puzzled this was not a name she knew.

"Phoenician Goddess - a healer… wise, much like Athena. All I know is she has little use for her siblings."

Gabrielle clutched Aphrodite's hand and gave a slight nod, "thank you," she said softly.

Chapter 12: Chapter 12 - Return

Chapter Twelve – Return

They rode hard and fast toward the Amazon lands. Gabrielle had not been there in quite some time. She had hoped that Varia would be able to keep Anath at a distance until she and Virgil could arrive. Even at that she wasn't sure what they would do. She did not know all that much about the goddess, but she certainly knew how gods reacted when threatened with mortality and how they responded to conquest; particularly war gods.

It was beginning to grow dark and their pace began to slow a bit. Virgil looked across to his friend, "Gabrielle," he called, "Do we stop?" He was anxious to get there, but he was not as familiar with this territory, nor did he have any first-hand knowledge of the village. He knew that Gabrielle would do everything she could to protect Eve and Gabriel and he trusted her judgment.

Gabrielle slowed Sappho to a slow trot. "No. There's a stream a few paces ahead. We should stop and rest the horses for an hour or so, catch our breath. If we keep going we should be there by morning light."

Virgil seemed pleased with the answer. He was worried about his family. He expected Eve to be a target. It was not really something he could grow used to, but it was a reality that he accepted and that he understood from the very beginning. He was more concerned about the focus on Gabriel. Was he a target because Baal wanted Eve out of the way or was it something else? He was just a boy.

The stream came upon them quickly and both were relieved to get some fresh water and to sit for a short while. Gabrielle had become secure on Sappho, more secure than she had ever been on Argo; but riding was still not her favorite thing. It was a necessity of life. She filled her wineskin with some water and sat down on a flat rock.

Virgil followed suit and sat nearby sharpening the blade of his sword. The scraping of stone on metal was comforting to Gabrielle. She often feel asleep to it nights when she and Xena were traveling. It was an odd sound to find soothing, but that is what it was for her; soothing. It actually helped her to think more clearly.

"Virgil," her voice was quiet, "I've been thinking that once we have Eve and Gabriel safe – maybe you should take them north for a while." He looked at her bewildered. "Eve has been there. She will understand. Xena has powerful allies in the north and I have good friends."

"You're talking about the Valkyrie, aren't you?"

Gabrielle tried to gather her thoughts. "Yes."

Virgil stood up agitated. "That's so far."

Gabrielle looked up at him. She understood his reluctance. "Look, Virgil…. I don't like it either, but Odin still has control in the Norselands. He still has some power. It's complicated, but you would all be safe there; at least until I get this figured out."

"What if you can't?"

Gabrielle looked at him astonished at the question.

He continued, "We hide forever?... I can't do that. How are you going to defeat Lucifer?"

Gabrielle looked at the stream listening to it ripple across the rocks. "I don't know, Virgil. The truth is I don't know. BUT, Lucifer is NOT the immediate problem for us. He is Michael's problem for right now. I'm hoping that if we can neutralize Baal and Anath; then maybe Lucifer will have to regroup."

Virgil understood her plan, he just couldn't help but worry. The last time hell's portal opened in Amphipolis things got crazy. There was no leader in hell then – now the King of Hell wanted more. Lucifer had been dangerous as an archangel; now he had all of hell to command. Virgil feared that his influence might go much deeper than a few Phoenician Gods.

The truth was that Gabrielle held all the same fears. However, she had learned to trust her instincts and everything within her told her that right now they needed to get to the Amazon village and get Eve and Gabriel out. Something was gnawing at her. She was unsettled and all she could fully understand was that they needed to reach Amazon Lands as fast as humanly possible.

She also felt a surge of reality crashing down on her. This had been what her life with Xena had always been like. There were moments, brief moments, when they were able to find some peace and tranquility, but those moments were inevitably uprooted by some crisis. Someone needed their help or someone had some grudge against the warrior; someone was trying to seduce Xena or to persecute them. Peace was something they had learned to find in each other, in the moments alone, in each other's eyes, each other's arms. And, they found strength in their bond, in the knowledge that even in death they would somehow be connected until the next lifetime and again and again.

Gabrielle looked at the soft reflection of the moonlight on the creases in the water as they washed over the rocks. For a moment she thought she might have seen Eli's face and she sighed. It was time. Time for her to face the reality that she could not bring herself to stare down all of these years. It was time for her to let go. That piece of her the warrior had fallen so deeply in love with; her resilience – her ability to see light and love in the deepest and darkest places in life. It still existed within her. She felt it when she looked at Eve, when Gabriel sat in her lap and as she looked at Virgil now; she was sure that it was Joxer who spoke to her; at least in her heart.

The bard rose to her feet and looked at her friend. Virgil noted that there seemed to be something different in her expression. He wasn't quite sure what it was. It seemed like she was almost looking through him, to some place else. She smiled.

"I need to do something," she said softly.

Virgil was confused, "Do you want me to make camp?"

She shook her head very slightly, "No. I won't be gone long," she put her hand on his shoulder and gave it a firm but gentle squeeze, "Rest for a bit," and she slowly began to walk away along the stream's edge.

He looked at the horses and spoke, "Well, this feels familiar," and he smiled. He felt the old Gabrielle in that moment. The Gabrielle that traveled with Xena always at her side. This is what they would do – there one moment and off somewhere the next - he chuckled. He had been feeling sick inside with worry and seeing the expression in his friend's eyes suddenly gave him a renewed confidence. "It was just a matter of time," he said quietly to himself. It had taken so much longer than anyone could have imagined, but it was inevitable; her return to herself. Virgil too, thought he might feel his father in that moment. He missed his father every day. Joxer was more than his father, he was his best friend, his hero. Virgil loved his mother and loved his brother and sister but the truth was that he felt closest to his father when he had been with Xena and Gabrielle.

Joxer's friendship with the pair was something far deeper and more important to all of them than most could understand. He filled the void of a brother lost for the warrior, a loving and compassionate friend for the bard, and for Joxer; he had a place that he knew he would always belong. People who accepted him as he was. People who loved him and always would. That is how Virgil felt with the pair. He was more like a son to them in the end than a friend. Gabrielle was particularly protective of him. He suspected it was because it had always torn her apart that she could not return his father's affections. She loved him deeply and hurting him broke her heart. She had once told Virgil that she would pray at night for Joxer to find love and when she saw Virgil she knew he had. Virgil was the light now in Joxer's eyes. It filled the bard with hope and it filled her with sadness for all that she and Xena had missed; but she always suspected that their absence allowed Joxer to move on – and it helped her find purpose in that long absence.

As Gabrielle walked along the stream's edge she let her thoughts wander. She let her emotions run. She did not try to focus them, control them, justify them… she just let them roam freely. She saw Eli lying in her arms and Xena standing over her, she saw Eve in her arms, she remembered Joxer tripping and falling into a tree, she saw her father, her mother, heard Cyrene's voice and saw her wide smile as she wrapped the bard in her motherly arms, she saw Perdicus, and she heard Xena. Heard Xena's voice. She couldn't understand words and she couldn't explain it. She seemed to be whispering some truth in Gabrielle's ear. She paused and drank in all of the feelings that were racing through her. Just ahead was another small clearing. She sighed heavily, closed her eyes. She needed to gather herself. Slowly she made her way there. Part of her still did not want to let it all go; her past, her anger, her love…

Deliberately she knelt, slowing her breathing she closed her eyes again and tried to picture Eli's face. It was something she had not done in many, many years. She could see him in her mind now, sitting across from her in a Roman prison, she could feel the cold stone beneath her as if she were there. His face was bright, almost glowing. She saw his lips move, but it was not his voice that spoke the words, "perfect love," the voice said. She slowly opened her eyes, releasing her breath at the same time. There he was, standing before her. His armor shimmered in the moonlight, his tight jaw line broke into a faint smile and he stretched out is hand to help her back to her feet.

"Michael," a tear fell as she spoke his name in barely a whisper.

He smiled more widely now. It was a comforting smile. "I wondered," he began, "when I would see you again."

Her slight snicker made him tighten his grip on her hand. She looked at the ground gathering her emotions before meeting his eyes again. When she finally met his stare again she was smiling. She did not speak. There was nothing to say. Everything was known. Her pain, her anger, her resentment, her fear, and her loneliness. For so long she had denied herself peace and now she understood why. It was as if silently the reason had been given to her. She was determined to never betray Xena, their bond, her love. The angel smiled.

And then she spoke. "Michael…." She paused, "Gabriel…"

He interrupted her thought. "He has his own path."

"He's a child."

"But he will not always be," Michael said.

Gabrielle looked at the angel. She had a bond with him, a bond formed in heaven. He saw within her the strength and purity that so few have. She had a capacity for love that only heaven can grant. That is why she and Xena had been led to Eli. There was a strength and a purity in their connection that transcended the human world and there had always been purpose in that. Xena strengthened Gabrielle physically and mentally and Gabrielle balanced Xena emotionally. It was a delicate and intricate dance; one intended by God. One that could defy Gods. She would need to draw on that now.

"Michael," she turned her back to him for a moment as she attempted to find the right words, "Anath…"

"Yes," he acknowledged, "her army is on its way to the Amazon lands now."

"For Gabriel?"

"For them all. They represent strength for you. You lost your faith, Gabrielle…"

Gabrielle shook her head and looked at the ground.

"They intend to keep it that way. YOU are the greatest threat to Lucifer. Gabriel has his path, but he and Eve are vulnerable; easy for Lucifer… unless…"

"What?" she asked.

"Unless you return to yourself."

She looked at him, frustrated and confused. Her tone strengthened, "Michael… she is my faith…"


Gabrielle felt a surge of frustration that normally only Xena could compel within her. "Yes, Michael. I don't know how to defeat Lucifer… I can organize the Amazons to fight Anath, to fight Baal… send Gabriel and Eve to Odin…"

"No. You must not send them away."

"They are in danger! Isn't that what you want me to do; protect them?"

The angel did not speak, he simply looked at her with an expression of strength and determination.

"You already know the answer," he said firmly, "you wouldn't be here if you didn't."

Gabrielle felt her body begin to tremble, partly from a lingering anger and partly from the wave of understanding that was crashing over her.

"And," he continued, "You have already resigned yourself to it."

"It's not enough."

He smiled at her. "Gabrielle, it has always been enough. You have to trust in it again. Trust in love. They are with you, always…"

Her body shivered. It was Michael standing before her, but that word. That word… "Always." That was Xena's word. "Always." She looked at him.

"We can hold Lucifer between heaven and hell for now. He is seeping through here, though. The more temples Baal manages to have erected to himself, the more strength Lucifer gains. He has tied himself to hell – to Lucifer. Guaranteed immortality. You need to go."

Gabrielle's stare told the angel all he needed to know but she spoke to him anyway, "What if…"

Michael smiled, "You are already there. Go. Just love her… in your heart…that is your strength," he gave a smiling nod of respect and stood erect – allowing himself to be taken back to his own realm.

Gabrielle stood completely still. Her eyes closed. She tried to picture Xena in her mind. She tried to imagine her there. She would have to fight now… and there would be no running, no hiding. Even Odin could not hide them from hell itself. She shook her head. She had thought that this part of her life was over, or did she? This was her life; at least in this lifetime.

"Xena…" she whispered, "if you can hear me…" she stopped, "I need you." With that she released a single tear and began her journey back to Virgil. It was time.

Chapter 13: Chapter 13 - Lessons

Chapter Thirteen - Lessons

When Gabrielle returned to Virgil, she found him napping. She sat down beside him and decided to give him a bit longer. She studied him. It was funny. He looked like both his mother and father and she fought a hearty laugh. Meg was truly Xena's double. It was an amusing thought… a child of Xena and Joxer. A laugh broke forth and Virgil opened his eyes.

"Sorry," she was still laughing.

"Did I snore or something?"

She was still laughing a bit, "No…"

He looked at her for a moment as if he thought she might have hit her head. There was a lightness about her that he could barely recall. If he hadn't known better he would have expected to see Xena standing behind her. In eleven years the only time he ever heard her laugh like this was with Gabriel. He looked at her with some concern for her state of mind. Gabrielle could read his thoughts and she smiled widely.

"I'm fine." She said. "We need to go, though. Michael confirmed that Anath is on her way to the village."

His mouth opened, "You talked to Michael?" Suddenly her behavior made a little more sense. She would not have been able to call him to her if something hadn't been resolved – he knew that.

"Yes. – and we won't be sending anyone to Odin."

He thought about questioning this sudden change in her tactics, but there was a presence about her that told him he should just follow along.

"If we ride hard," she continued, "We should make it there in a few hours." He nodded his understanding and they were off.

Gabrielle pushed Sappho hard, harder than she ever had. She felt a confidence she had not in a very long time, but she was still worried. If she and Varia could hold off Anath, she would still have to come up with another plan. The North was out. Whatever the reason, Eve and Gabriel were meant to stay here. That made her slightly angry. She never wanted the boy to experience what Eve had. To be thrust into the violence in the world. He had seen his share, but nothing like what Eve had to experience. In her mind she kept talking to Xena. It was different somehow. She wasn't asking questions, wasn't longing for her in the same way. She sought her counsel, her strength. Gabrielle had become a great tactician, but Xena could always anticipate the actions of the Gods and warriors far better than the bard. The bard knew how to navigate a situation, how to leverage it. Xena knew how to plan for it – it was just another compliment in their relationship. It had saved them many times. Now, Gabrielle would have to be both, the planner and the navigator.

Virgil's horse hesitated, grunting. "Someone is here," he looked at Gabrielle.

Gabrielle looked into the trees and a faint grin appeared on her face. In an instant and with just the hint of a swishing sound through the leaves, they were surrounded. Gabrielle raised her right hand slowly.

"Queen Gabrielle" a voice broke through the heavily armed squad of Amazons. The woman was tall and muscular. Her long brown hair adorned with small, tight braids. She stood with confidence and slowly approached them.

"Lysandra." Gabrielle said.

"Your daughter is here. She is with Queen Varia," the Amazon looked at Virgil. "You must be covered."

Virgil looked at Gabrielle with a tinge of fear and an overwhelming confusion. Gabrielle laughed. "It's all right. You cannot see the pathway to the village; it is forbidden….You are no Amazon," she winked.

As Lysandra approached him with a hood Virgil looked again to his friend, "You have to be kidding…" Gabrielle just shrugged in amused satisfaction. The village was a short distance now.

Now in the dark, Virgil attempted to speak, his voice muffled, "How I am supposed to stay on this horse?" His weight was shifting and tilting from side to side as he held onto the reins and attempted to keep himself centered. He looked like a sack of apples that was about to spill all over the ground.

"Oh…you've fought cannibals and Persians," Gabrielle snickered, "A little blind horseback riding should be easy ." The bard was thoroughly amused. In this moment Virgil truly reminded her of his father. There was something endearing about his awkwardness and it helped to lighten the mood.

"Any movement at the borders?" Gabrielle asked Lysandra as she dismounted Sappho and handed her to one of the younger Amazons to lead.

"No. Not at the borders. The queen sent out some scouts - it seems there is some movement in from the North."

"Any idea how many?"

"No. They could not see the ranks only track some traces. I would believe that is a good sign." Gabrielle's eyes had a severe look in them. "What is it?" Lysandra asked the queen.

"I suspect it is anything but good news," Gabrielle answered. "Baal is more that the God of lightning – he also is the God of Earth. If Anath is working at his behest..," she paused and studied their surroundings for a moment. "If Baal is helping Anath….the ranks will be disguised."

Lysandra was confused. She looked at Gabrielle puzzled, but Gabrielle was completely engaged in studying the trees and bushes. "You mean disguised like Amazons," Lysandra inquired.

"Yes. He would use the surroundings as a natural protection; just as Amazons…. "

Lysandra was an intelligent, cunning and strong warrior. Gabrielle suspected that at some point she may be an Amazon Queen herself. She was still young, about 19 seasons, but she had been learning and fighting for many years. She had a presence and a posture that far surpassed her years of living. Gabrielle was glad that she had Lysandra's ear now. The Amazons had great respect for the young woman and Lysandra had great respect for Gabrielle. The Amazon queen knew that Lysandra would be a major asset in the hours to follow.

As the village came into view, Gabrielle grabbed Lysandra's arm and stopped their forward pace, "Listen, Lysandra," she began, "Whatever happens – to me, to Varia… even to Eve… I need you to keep the boy safe…"

Lysandra was stoic but she felt a twinge in her stomach. Gabrielle clearly was concerned about this attack. "You mean Gabriel."

"Yes. I need you to promise me that you will keep him safe, If they get past me, past Varia.. they will head straight for Eve, and then for Gabriel."

"What about your daughter?"

Gabrielle allowed a deep breath to fill her lungs and looked directly at Lysandra, "Eve does not want to fight. She will fight if she has to – to protect him."

"But, she is the messenger…" Lysandra was young; very young. She had only been a small child when Xena and Gabrielle brought Eve here the first time and Varia recognized her as Livia. To Lysandra, Eve was the picture of peace and calm. Even if the Amazon had heard stories about Livia; she would not be able to comprehend them. "Are you sure?"

"I am." Gabrielle said firmly.

Lysandra was concerned. Eve was not only the messenger of Eli; she was an Amazon Princess by right – she was to be protected. "Queen Gabrielle…. Even if the messenger knows how… she is peaceful…this, this will require…."

Gabrielle gave the young woman a motherly glance. "Lysandra….many years ago someone told me a story. She looked around and to her left was a large basin of water – she pointed to it. "See that water?"

Lysandra nodded.

"What does it look like?"

The young Amazon was confused. "Describe how the water looks – how it moves," Gabrielle encouraged.

Lysandra thought for a moment, "It is still…..calm."

Gabrielle smiled, reached down and picked up a small stone from the ground. She cast it into the water with some force causing the water to move and churn. The Amazon warrior looked at the queen inquisitively.

"What does it look like now?"


Gabrielle did not expect that description but it worked. "Watch the water. What happens?"

Lysandra was not following the point of this story but she went along. "It becomes still."

"Yes…..but as my friend told me many years ago it is forever changed. It looks as it once did, but it is not, that stone, that violence; it lies underneath. If we were to bring it to the surface the water would ripple again. Understand?"

Lysandra nodded. "She is peaceful, but she cannot forget the violence."

"Something like that, yes…. Eve will be able to handle the situation. She is as good a fighter as any I have ever met. She is…. Well, she is Xena's daughter."

Lysandra nodded again. Gabrielle resumed their pace. "Just concentrate on Gabriel. Stay close to him."

"I understand," the Amazon answered.

Gabrielle felt a hand on her shoulder; Virgil was free from his hooded prison. She smiled and led him into the queen's hut. Varia was quick to rise and greet the queen with a warm embrace, "Gabrielle…"

"Varia," Gabrielle said. "Where are …"

"I gave them Myrrine's Yurt."

"Lysandra," Gabrielle turned, "Can you please take Virgil to Eve?"

Lysandra smiled and looked to Varia for confirmation before leading Virgil away to find his family.

"So…," Varia began, "Gods and Goddesses."



"They will use nature as we do. They also don't think we know that."

"Use it to our advantage."

"Yes…. God or not Baal does not know Amazon lands… he can certainly help keep their march hidden, but they will expect us to be ready to wage a ground war. We need to disarm as many as possible before they reach the ground," Gabrielle explained her plan.

"The trees…."

"Yes, but Varia …. We will need a presence on the ground at the same time. They have to think that we are unaware."

"Make then think they have the advantage," Varia concluded.

"That's the idea," Gabrielle said.

Varia smiled, "Xena would be proud."

Gabrielle smiled. Varia had matured into a wise and extremely adept queen. Xena had taught Varia a great deal. She had shown Varia that strength comes in overcoming not overpowering. The two amazon queens were a formidable opponent for any attacker, God or otherwise.

Varia looked at Gabrielle, "I can have Lysandra lead the contingent into the forest."

Gabrielle sat in a large chair. "Varia," she began, "I do not wish to overstep you…"

"What is it?' the younger queen asked.

"I asked Lysandra to stay close to Gabriel."

Varia walked toward her friend. "That is why you had her head to the yurt."


"You are worried – about the boy…"



Gabrielle's expression tensed, "Eve will fight if it is needed."

Varia felt her body shiver. The thought of Eve in battle conjured an image of the Roman Livia in her mind. "Are you sure that's a good idea."

Gabrielle was silent for a long moment. "She will only fight is she has to, Varia…. She doesn't even know that…"

"But you do? How can you be sure?"

"He is her son. There is nothing, Varia… no force in heaven or Hell, not any God or demon that can stop a mother from protecting her child."

"Speaking from experience?" she smiled.

Gabrielle gave just the hint of a smile.

Varia continued, "She was worried for you," she said. "I could tell."

Gabrielle looked about the hut, gathering her thoughts. "I know."

"Perhaps you should go to her?"

Gabrielle understood Varia's concern and she appreciated her friendship. "Varia," she began, "Eve and Gabriel are the most important things in my life now," she paused, "Eve knows that… I need to be here now… to be ready."

The truth was that Gabrielle did not want the distraction of the emotions she knew she would feel if she went to Eve now. She also expected questions – about her meeting with Michael… about Lucifer… about the change in her plans. If there was one thing she had learned it was that Eve and Gabriel could cloud her focus. And now, more than ever – her focus was an imperative.

Varia looked at her friend, the Amazon Queen, who was so deep in thought. "I will take care of the ground…"

Gabrielle stood and headed for the door. "I will take care of the assault," she said.

As the bard turned to leave the hut she stopped and turned back to take it all in. She thought of Ephiny. She wished that Ephiny were here now. Wished that she could confide in her. Wished that she could seek her advice. Wished that she could have her to organize this battle. She respected Varia, but Ephiny was special to the Amazon Queen – another friend lost far too soon to the brutality of this world; a loss that had wrenched her soul. Looking over the hut – the Queen's quarters, she thought that she might have caught sight of her friend sitting there. She closed her eyes for a moment and let the vision fill her.

"Gabrielle," a gentle voice called, "Do you remember that day? That first day with Terreis?" Gabrielle could see Ephiny before her and she was sure that the touch she felt on her shoulder was that of her friend, "You didn't think. You didn't plan. You didn't run," Ephiny's voice was clear, "You FELT. You loved. You became an Amazon."

Gabrielle heard the words and she recalled the moment. She wasn't sure what Ephiny was trying to tell her now, "I don't understand…"

"You love Xena, Gabrielle. You are not Xena. You cannot replace her. Just love… love her.. love them…that has always been your strength...Gabrielle,"

Gabrielle answered, "Yes?"

"Are you all right?" Eve had a firm grip on the Amazon Queen.

"Eve…. I ….I'm fine."

"Varia needs you."

Gabrielle turned to face her daughter. She looked at the woman with an expression that Eve could not quite fully understand.

"Are you sure your all right… Virgil said…"

"I'm fine, Eve," the bard had transformed fully into the queen now. "Just needed a reminder. I've been so busy giving lessons….I guess I needed one myself."

Eve rubbed the woman's shoulder, looked at her and somehow understood. Whatever had transpired between Aphrodite's temple and here; it was between Gabrielle and God. But as the messenger looked into the eyes of the queen; she felt a renewed confidence that somehow everything would be as it should.

"I have to go," Gabrielle looked at her daughter with reassurance.

"I know," Eve smiled as Gabrielle let go of her hand and began to head to leave. As the queen turned to leave, Eve gently grabbed her arm.

Gabrielle turned to face Eve who had the slightest hint of a tear in her eye.

"Thank you."

Gabrielle smiled and squeezed her daughter's hand. "Always…."

Chapter 14: Chapter 14 -Rescue

Chapter 14 – Rescue

Morning came quickly. Gabrielle carefully planned the attack from above. It seemed to make sense that they would want the ground defense as far away from the major tree coverage as possible. The idea was to go on the offense above and be prepared to take a defensive position below. If all went as planned they should be able to reduce the number of Anath's forces. The lingering question in Gabrielle's mind was whether or not the goddess herself would make an appearance. The best scenario was that this was simply in support of her brother and not an attack the goddess herself was vested in. Over all the years, however, Gabrielle knew to expect the unexpected.

The power of all of the gods had been decreasing rapidly. People were tired of the gods. They had even begun to stray from Eli's teachings. Seasons had been difficult, there had been several long droughts and a number of volcanic eruptions that had decimated once fertile farmlands over that past few seasons. Nature's wrath coupled with the continued power of Rome and Persia had taken its toll in the majority of small villages and people had begun to put their faith in what they could touch. Gabrielle understood that. She also understood that a god's power is truly derived from the faith of mortals; without that any god was at risk. Lucifer was not a god, everyone had a dark side and tapping into the current insecurities made sense. He offered continued immortality to Baal and whatever gods chose to take up his cause. Immortality itself is power. This was a dangerous time and once again the bard found herself and those she loved at the center of it.

"I think they are ready," Varia said. Gabrielle took one last long look around and nodded her agreement.

"Where is Eve?" she asked the younger Amazon Queen.

Varia pointed to the Queen's hut, "It may be the best place, easier to defend."

"Let's hope we don't have to."

"Gabrielle," Varia paused, "it's a good plan… but I think I should take over the assault now. They need to see you on the ground. It will help to distract them."

"I agree," the bard answered. "Give the order."

With that Varia let out a cry that sounded a great deal like a large bird. In an instant Amazons pulled themselves into the green coverage above. Varia and Gabrielle stood face to face now looking intensely at one another. "Good luck, my sister," Varia said as she crossed her chest in an Amazon sign of respect and sisterhood.

Gabrielle returned the sign and bowed her head slightly to her sister queen. With that Varia disappeared into the trees above. Gabrielle organized the remaining members of the tribe into lines within the training courtyard and began having them go through basic exercises. She had a staff in her hands. It had always been her weapon of choice and it would now be her signal to the Amazon defense to fight. Virgil had finished constructing several traps on the perimeter. If Anath should try to invade two ways they would be able to slow both assaults. Gabrielle also wanted to capture at least a few of the incoming warriors. There was no way to know if any would give up information, but the majority of these fighters were mortal and they were women; warriors. Gabrielle was counting on the fact that even some within the goddess's ranks had begun to become disillusioned with service to any god. If Anath did not appear she was hopeful that they could at least get information on future plans.

"Where do you want me?" Virgil asked.

Gabrielle smiled. "With Eve."

"What?" he was angry now. He wanted to fight in order to protect his family, "Why? She's in the Queen's hut? Lysandra is there with the best fighters in the village. No one is getting through to them unless we completely fail out here."

Gabrielle's expression changed abruptly. It was time for the bard to embrace her Amazon rank. "Virgil." She said firmly, "Lysandra is a gifted warrior but Eve and Gabriel are not her family. If Anath is here," she paused at moved closer to him, "If she is here they will get through our ranks, at least some of them."

Virgil was still angry but he found himself frozen. Gabrielle was stoic and focused now. And, he could tell she was not convinced that the plan would work as well as she hoped. The queen's sight began to search the trees above.

"Gabrielle," he began.

"Be quiet," she warned quietly.

"What is it?" he held his breath to try and hear whatever it was that she clearly sensed, "Gabrielle…"

"GO!" her eyes remained focused, "NOW!"

The urgency in her voice told him everything he needed to know and he immediately ran toward Varia's hut. Gabrielle faced the Amazons in the training yard and raised her staff to the height of her chest and as she did each assumed a defensive stance, weapons ready. It was a sight to behold – the sound of swords being drawn simultaneously was chilling. The queen turned and faced the forest… ready and waiting. She kept her breath deep and quiet listening to every rustle of the wind, every branch crack and every leaf fall; just as Xena taught her. "Almost here," she whispered to herself.

Above them the sounds of battle were growing.

Varia was high in one of the trees, looking down on some of her most beloved sisters. Lysandra's sister Charmion was directly below her. Suddenly the faint sound of leaves blowing became heavier. Gabrielle had been right. Baal could hide the warriors, but he could not make them masters of nature. Their clumsiness gave them away within 100 paces of the Amazons. Varia gave her call and the assault began.

Amazons learned from their youth how to be one with the nature that surrounded them. They swooped gracefully through leaves and intuitively knew how to find braches that could support them. It was almost as if they were part of the trees; braches themselves. The oncoming forces were many in number. Varia knew immediately that her Amazons were grossly outnumbered. She swung from a vine directly at one of the warriors she had quickly identified as a leader. She and Gabrielle had discussed that disabling as many of the strategos, or generals, as possible was crucial. These would be the most loyal and presented a greater threat. The less organization and less leadership for the legion – the weaker it became.

Varia made contact with the Phoenician in what seemed like a split second. The woman was strong, but not large in stature. As Varia's body moved within inches she was able to see the woman's dress. It was similar to Roman armor, but instead of the signature Roman red – this warrior was draped in purple with a golden emblem that ran through the intricate fabric beneath the golden armor, "no doubt for that bitch goddess," Varia thought as her legs wrapped around the neck of the foreign warrior. The Phoenician reached for Varia in an attempt to defend the attack, but her balance was lost and she could not breathe. Varia squeezed the warrior's neck with the full force of her body and snapped it sending her into a freefall to the ground below.

Similar scenes repeated above. The Phoenicians had no time to reach for their weapons and they were no match for the Amazons in hand to hand combat in this arena. The Amazon offensive was effective. Varia landed on one large branch and looked below. She saw Gabrielle ready to raise her staff over her head as the bodies continued to fall. "She was right, Xena," Varia whispered on the wind itself. As the words escaped her lips the inevitable began, as Phoenician warriors managed to break through the offensive above. "It's up to you now, my queen," Varia said as she resumed her assault.

Below Gabrielle had taken note of Varia's successes. Things were going as expected so far, but she wondered when the wild card would be played. "It's too simple," she thought to herself as she raised her staff over her head. With that motion the Amazon defense began. The sound of metal on metal was deafening and Gabrielle could smell the blood as it began to spill. They were sounds and smells that she never got used to and she prayed she never would. She abandoned her staff and took hold of the sai. Her sights were set of finding Anath is she was here. She had no idea how she would disarm a goddess, but she knew that she was the best hope. She had hoped Xena's chakram might be the answer and she had it at the ready.

She felt a blade graze her shoulder and immediately spun and kicked a large woman attacking from behind. The woman stumbled but retaliated quickly with a kick of her own, and what seemed to be a sly smile. The Phoenician did not draw her sword. She opted instead for hand to hand combat and she seemed to be enjoying it. Gabrielle aggressively pursued the woman but she just smiled wider with each kick and punch. And then she spoke, "So, I have the pleasure of the queen… or is it the bard?'

Gabrielle felt her anger rising. This smug Phoenician would feel her wrath. She spun and kicked the women squarely in the jaw. The warrior woman lifted her hand to her jaw – straightening it with a grin, "No… I must have the mourning lover," she quipped. If Gabrielle hadn't known better she would have sworn it was Alti. But, she understood now the tactic. She was stalling Gabrielle from SOMETHING. The realization came with a renewed power. Gabrielle swerved to her left ducking a kick and thrust the sai simultaneously into both shoulders of the warrior eliciting a grimace and cry of pain. As the warrior slumped to her knees, Gabrielle withdrew her weapons and moved her body in close. "You win the bonus… you get all three," she whispered threateningly in the warrior's ear. "Now, where is your washed up goddess?"

The warrior could not control her grimace as she let forth a sarcastic chuckle.

"MMMM." The queen nodded, "Such devotion…" With that she swiftly utilized the tool Xena had been so reluctant to teach her all those year. The warrior gasped. "You know so much," Gabrielle whispered, "You know what's happening. You love that goddess so much to die? ….About 20 seconds left…"

The voice croaked and it now croaked with more than an element of fear; but also with a tinge of respect for the strength and resolve of the Amazon queen, "She is an Amazon… to the boy…"

Gabrielle felt her entire body go numb and then immediately shake violently inside. She knew. The goddess had been here among them. The attack was her diversion, her warriors expendable. She was probably in the hut now. The Amazon queen leaned in and softly whispered, "You forgot….bard, queen, lover all beatable…" she moved to breathe directly in the warrior's ear, "it's the mother you need to worry about.." and she released the pinch swiftly heading for the hut.

The run could not have taken more than a minute but it felt like a lifetime. It felt to Gabrielle as though she had become totally alone. She heard the sounds around her but she had absolutely no recognition of what they meant. The only goal was to reach Varia's hut and to reach it quickly. She did not see Lysandra outside but she heard loud and disturbing bangs inside as soon as she reached the door. There was no time to think as she entered.

Anath had Lysandra by the throat… Virgil was on the ground and Eve was crouched behind Varia's platform, shielding Gabriel. Gabrielle couldn't tell immediately how badly Virgil or the five Amazons lying scattered about were. Anath's stare met the queen's and she tossed Lysandra across the room with such force that she hit the far wall and caused the plank in the window to fall out. "Well, you do not disappoint, Queen Gabrielle."

"Anath, I presume," the queen answered.

"Ahhh… Smart… I heard that. Very smart," the goddess nearly cooed.

"What do you want?" The queen asked firmly maintaining her stoicism.

"I think you know, my queen," the goddess smirked. Of course, the queen was completely aware of the goddess's agenda. She also needed time to assess the situation and the options and if there was one thing Gabrielle knew how to do from the day she was born – it was stall.

Anath was dressed as an amazon. She was tall like most of the Amazons but she had no dirt about her. Her hair was dark, almost as dark as Xena's, but through the middle ran a soft steak of auburn. Her eyes seemed to Gabrielle to be like pools of dark brown glass – they reflected the room within them. Gabrielle had not seen her in the village and she suspected Varia had not either. Both queens would have known that this woman was no Amazon on sight. At her side was a sheath. Gabrielle could not see what it held. It was an odd shape; something she had seen before in the land of the pharaohs. Out of the corner of her eye, the queen noticed that Virgil had begun to stir and she could hear the shuffling of Eve's feet as she attempted to position herself to see what was transpiring now. Somehow she had to neutralize this and get Eve and Gabriel to safety.

"My brother," the goddess began, "He needs some assurances. It seems you have those." She walked toward Eve. "What's a messenger?" the goddess quipped dismissively. "Messengers… all these are messengers… everywhere…" As Gabrielle saw Anath closing in on Eve she reached for her sai, but with the slightest flick of the goddess's wrist she found herself disarmed. Gabriel saw the burst of blue light heading for Gabrielle, "Auntie!" he screamed ready to run for her position before Eve stopped him.

"Gabriel – stay there…. Just stay where you are," Gabrielle instructed calmly.

"How endearing," the goddess commented. "You have family… I have family…we are not so different."

Gabrielle searched her surroundings.

Virgil was attempting to crawl to his knees and saw Gabrielle's eyes motion toward the platform. It was a sign to cautiously look for the opportunity to grab Gabriel.

"Tell yourself that…."Gabrielle said with disgust as Anath inched toward Eve. When she reached the platform Eve raised her hand to strike but Anath just scoffed at her attempt and grabbed her under the chin, lifting her to the platform itself.

"I am sorry my queen," the goddess said to Gabrielle. She then turned to Eve and gently touched her cheek, hovering her face above the messenger's, "I have a message for you…"

For some reason all Gabrielle could think of were Ephiny's words. She needed strength now. Ephiny was right. "Xena," she thought to herself, "help me…"

Eve was as obstinate as ever, "Really?" she asked with dripping sarcasm, "What message might that be?

"Time's up," Anath whispered.

Gabrielle watched as the goddess moved to her sheath. The queen's reaction was immediate. She took hold of the chakram and fired it at Anath's rising weapon. As expected it made full contact but it did no damage, instead the goddess's scimitar deflected the charkram. Worse it did not return to the Amazon Queen leaving Eve staring into the crooked weapon.

"Now that's just not nice," a voice from behind called, "Picking on a defenseless woman. The Gods have only gotten more pathetic."

It was a familiar voice. It wasn't possible. Before Gabrielle could turn the chakram was in flight again – this time swiftly knocking the scimitar from the goddess's hand and sending the goddess backward about 10 paces. Eve dropped to the ground. Stunned, the goddess looked up and took in the sight before her.

"Been a long time since I killed a God… feels like it might be a GOOD day to change that," the voice said. Virgil had reached Eve and pulled her behind the platform with Gabriel. They were both looking past Gabrielle in astonishment. Gabrielle closed her eyes. This had happened earlier when she was here – she had seen and heard Ephiny. She dared not turn as the voice continued to move closer. She knew this voice….

"Now, I suggest," the voice continued, "That you run along home to whatever pathetic cloud or mountain or… well… cave you are living in these days and tell your brother that I have a message for him."

The voice was now even with Gabrielle and passing her. Slowly and deliberately this figure – clad in black leather, shining metal armor that fitted perfectly – moved toward the goddess. As the figure reached Anath the answer came…

"The message?" it said. "Don't mess with my family – you'll get hurt." The confidence in the voice was enough in that moment – Anath was gone in an instant.

Gabrielle had closed her eyes. She was certain that when she opened them Varia would be standing in front of her just as Eve had been earlier that morning.

The voice was moving closer again, "Gabrielle…" it said softly. "Gabrielle…" it edged closer. "Open your eyes…"

Chapter 15: Chapter 15 - Miracles

Chapter Fifteen – Miracles

Gabrielle heard the voice. She could not move. She dared not move. This was a dream she had become accustomed to for so many years; that voice. Sometimes she could feel Xena there, smell her leather, but when she opened her eyes she was always alone and left feeling emptier than before.

"Gabrielle," the voice was soft – close but yet so soft it seemed as though it might be hovering somewhere above.

Eve and Virgil had reached their feet. Virgil with a firm grip on both his wife and son. Silent tears streamed down the messenger's face as she looked upon the scene unfolding before her. Her heart was breaking and soaring at the same time… so many emotions coursing through every fiber of her being. Virgil's grip was strong and he struggled to fight back his own tears.

"Please, Gabrielle…"

Slowly, more slowly than she knew was possible, the bard began to allow her eyes to open. She tried to take in as much air as she could as the sight before came into focus. How could this be?

She looked almost the same. Tall and strong. Blue eyes penetrated the bard's soul and she felt her body as it quivered and closed her eyes again. This was a dream. It was this place. It was this time. Somehow she needed to see Xena and when she opened her eyes again reality would certainly come to her.

Again the voice spoke, "Gabrielle…"

Gabrielle opened her eyes and looked into the eyes she had lost herself in for so many years. Xena was still there. Tears began to fall, no sound and her hands lifted questioning whether or not this form in front of her had substance.

"It's real," the warrior said.

Gabrielle felt her body give as her emotions consumed all of her strength. She could not breathe, could not stand, and as her knees gave way she felt strong arms lifting her, pulling her close. She breathed in the leather, felt the warmth that she had craved now for so many years, but even in the warrior's embrace she trembled; afraid that this was just more dreaming and she would wake to find a hole, open her eyes and find Virgil or Eve holding her up.

Eve watched unable to control the tears that fell. Somehow she understood. Understood why this was happening. She had spent all of these years learning how to connect to Eli and his message. She had hoped that someday Gabrielle would let go of her pain and anger and truly understand how much love Eli and his god held for all of them, and particularly for her parents. She had grown to fear that Gabrielle would never accept her mother's death. Now, she understood. This too had been a necessary part of their path.

Eve had been given to them because in all of eternity heaven had not seen such compassion and devotion between two mortals. They had forgiven each other everything, loved each other so completely; understood one another so fully that they were able to forgive the unthinkable. They embraced Callisto's pain, both of them, and released their anger into forgiveness. It was that love, their trust, that unbreakable and indescribable bond that existed between them that brought Eve into their lives. The greater good was found between them – a dance between dark and light, certainty and uncertainty always balancing one another with forgiveness and acceptance. It was the greatest power on earth, the greatest power any mortal could possess. Now, Gabrielle had accepted that and it was returned to her. Their bond was the hope that was needed, the sign. It would be the beacon of light and strength as it had been for so many in the past. It was the power that was needed to fight hell itself.

Xena held Gabrielle tightly, keeping her steady. And like a newborn child Gabrielle began to allow herself to look into this new world. She looked at the face before her, raising her hands to hold it – touch it – convince herself it was real. She felt Xena's skin and tried to still herself. There were no words. The love between them, it seemed somehow to have grown even stronger. The bard felt as though she were being absorbed into the warrior's soul.

Xena brushed the long blonde hair from Gabrielle's face, never removing her deep gaze into the pools of green that searched her continually and then brushed away the bard's tear, "I missed you," the warrior smiled.

The tears broke into a sob as the bard finally gave over to this reality. "Xena..." she whispered through her tears.

Xena's smile was gentle and compassionate. She lifted the bards chin, lost and found all at once. "I'm home," she said as she lovingly guided the bard's lips to her own.

"I love you," the bard whispered losing herself in her lover's kiss. She thought as she felt the depth of love pass between them, 'another miracle.' Why should she be surprised?

Chapter 16: Chapter 16 - All Together Now

Chapter 16 – All Together Now

Eve began to slowly make her way to her parents. She was unsteady, overwhelmed. She had missed her mother, spoke to her every day in her thoughts. She knew that her mother would have wanted her to care for Gabrielle, as much as her mother knew that Gabrielle would always care for Eve. She squeezed Virgil's hand but she could not divert her attention from the women at the center of the room. Tears were streaking silently across her mother's cheeks. Gabrielle stood just continually searching her mother's form as if still in disbelief. Gabrielle was trembling so hard that Eve could see her hands quivering as they moved across her mother attempting to convince her mind that what she felt, what she saw was truly real.

Xena turned her head to see Eve approaching. She looked at Eve with such love and such pride. Eve smiled nervously. She knew this was real, but she understood how Gabrielle felt. It was unfathomable after all this time; here she was. In her mind she could not put off the question, 'Why do you keep taking her away?" Eve felt like a small child.

Xena stretched out one arm to her daughter and kept the other firmly on Gabrielle. Gabriel looked up to his father's eyes. He was an intuitive young boy but this was confusing to him. It was so quiet, everyone was crying but everyone was all right. At the same moment Lysandra began to come out of the unconscious haze the goddess had left her in, and the sounds of fighting outside began to quell.

Xena's voice was cracking now as well, "Evey…"

Eve collapsed into her mother. Gabriel tugged at his father, questioning. Virgil's tears were falling freely and his eyes were red. He looked at the boy and held the small head lovingly to his waist. He looked back at the three women, wrapped in each other, it seemed a faint laughter had begun to break through their tears. Xena was kissing Eve's head and holding Gabrielle's head close to her. His heart was so full. He wasn't even aware that he was speaking, "Thank you, Eli," he whispered through his own tears.

As he drank in the moment himself and lowered himself to Gabriel's eyes a voice broke through all the emotion.

"OH MY…XENA?" It was Varia. She had a fairly large gash across her forehead and was covered in a fair degree of both blood and dirt. She thought she had survived the Phoenician's attack but now she was not so sure, "Am I dead?"

Lysandra struggled to her feet. Her vision was still fuzzy, "Xena?" she repeated in disbelief.

Varia could not close her mouth. "How on…"

Xena kept her family close but finally a wide smile crept across her face, "Don't ask, Varia, it will only hurt your head more." Gabrielle continued playing with the warrior's armor, not able to pull away or even speak. Eve laughed.

Gabriel pulled his father with more urgency. His eyes were wide. "Is that…?" he whispered.

Virgil took a deep breath, "That's your grandmother…."

The boy's heart jumped in his chest. Almost as if instinctively knowing, Eve turned to see her son's expression and offered her hand, "Gabriel," she encouraged, "come here, there is someone I want you to meet."

Gabrielle looked up at Xena. Xena smiled at her as her tears began to subside, "Our Gabriel," she said quietly. Gabrielle smiled now and allowed Xena's embrace to loosen.

Gabriel wasn't afraid, but he felt a bit unsure. It wasn't even that everyone had told him this person was dead; somehow he seemed to understand she was real; but he had always imagined his grandmother, the warrior, fighting and being commanding. Here she stood in her armor, but she was softer than he expected, more like his mother he thought. Tentatively he started making his way closer.

"It's all right," Eve assured.

Gabrielle pulled away a bit farther from Xena and looked directly at the small boy before them. Eve looked at the bard and knew that this was her moment. It was something that Eve understood almost from the moment her son was born. He had an attachment and trust in Gabrielle that she could not explain and she would never try to. The boy had been as much a gift to the bard as to his parents. Virgil had often joked that he thought Gabriel came through them but that he really was Gabrielle's. He even looked a bit like the bard with his light hair and the green flecks that sparkled in his eyes. As strange as it may have seemed to others, Eve accepted the way miracles occurred in their family. Each of them was tied to the other in a way that few could understand and that bond, she understood, was rooted in the love that her parents shared.

Gabriel looked at his auntie, still a bit unsure. Her emotions were overflowing, the people she loved most in the word before her now. This moment reminded her a bit of the moment she had placed Eve in Xena's arms for the first time. Her smile was wide now and there was a lightness about her. The small face smiled back, "Auntie…" he said as if asking her permission to continue.

She stretched out her hand to him and he picked up his pace reaching for hers.

"This is your grandmother," Gabrielle said leading him to a position before the warrior. Gabrielle placed her hands firmly on his shoulders and looked at Xena. She couldn't help but allow a chuckle at the thought of Xena being called 'grandmother.'

Xena looked down into the curious eyes before her and she saw recognized what Eve had always seen immediately. His expression was Gabrielle's. It reminded her of the first time she met the bard and she felt an incredible surge of love rise through her. It was as if, somehow, a piece of Gabrielle had traveled through Eve and taken up residence in this small boy. If she had ever allowed herself a doubt that Eve belonged to them both; it was gone now.

"Hello, Gabriel," she grinned extending her hand.

He titled his head backward to gain encouragement for his hero. Gabrielle gave him and encouraging raise of her eyebrows. "Hello," he said more shyly than any of them had ever heard.

Eve could not contain her laughter. Xena was an imposing figure. "This is my mother, Gabriel," she said.

He had begun to gain his confidence. "I know." He stated plainly. His parents and grandparents erupted in laughter.

"Yep," the warrior said scooping him up, "You are definitely your auntie's boy." Gabrielle gave the warrior a playfully cross gaze.

A crowd had gathered outside and in the doorway.

"Ummm," Varia began, "This is all very touching….. but uh… what about this goddess?"

Gabrielle looked at Xena as she had so many times – they would need a plan and she knew it. Xena knew it as well, but here in this moment that was tomorrow's problem. The warrior was very aware that her return to her family came with certain expectations. Once again they would have to fight gods, fight Lucifer, not only to preserve the greater good, but to preserve this family – and this time she had no intention of losing them again.

"The goddess is tomorrow's problem, Varia," she said plainly as she set the boy back on the ground. Gabrielle looked at Xena with both surprise and with gratefulness. The time apart had clearly left an impression on them all. They were together again and if they were to have the strength to prevail in this battle; they would need each other's love and trust and support. Time and separation had broken a piece of them all and this moment was for healing, not fighting.

"Varia," Gabrielle began.

Varia shook her head. She realized that she had just reacted with the impatience of the young Amazon that Xena had been so deliberate in teaching about humility and resraint. "No…." she began, "Lysandra, go and prepare a yurt for Eve and Virgil. Gabrielle, you and Xena will stay here."

Gabrielle gave a nod of thanks, "Listen, Varia… we need to help the wounded."

Xena took Gabrielle's hand and squeezed it. Varia took note.

Queen Varia answered, "No. Myran is a gifted healer, we will tend to that. You're assessment of the attack was right. We fared much better than expected. I will have Lysandra make certain you all eat. Tomorrow, as Xena said."

Xena put her arm around Gabriel and Eve. "Thank you, Varia."

Varia nodded her understanding and respect. "Until tomorrow," she said.

Chapter 17: Chapter 17 - Eternity

Chapter 17 – Eternity

Please note that this chapter depicts an intimate relationship between the two main characters. Why that WOULD offend anyone, I don't know.. after all its IS Xena..;) BUT if it does skip it.. it is not crucial to the plot.. It is NOT explicit. I have great respect for these characters and their relationship.. it is meant to show the love between two people... their connection - not to be purchased in a store that needs paper on its windows.. LOL.. so if that's what your hoping for... probably not the best bet either... I would rate it R.. but in 2013 - it probably is PG 13.. :)

It was a wonderful evening and a wonderful reunion. There was no discussion about how and no questioning why; at least not for now. The family, their family was together. Gabrielle asked Lysandra to have dinner brought for all of them to the Queen's hut. She had to confess, at least to herself, that a part of her just wanted to be with Xena – alone. It had been so long since she was just able to hold her lover, since she was able to touch her and to feel that immense sense of comfort and belonging that only existed in Xena's presence; in her arms. But, the other part of her did not want Eve, Virgil and Gabriel to leave. So many nights she would talk to Xena aloud over the years telling her about Eve and Virgil; their wedding, their travels, how proud she was of them and how she wished Xena could be there. They had kept her sane, loved her, gave her something to live for without Xena and she loved them, all of them more than she could express. She wished that Xena had been there for all of it – to see the family grow.

The night Gabriel was born, Eve was so sick and Virgil could not stay. Gabrielle kept watch over Eve, constantly bathing her in cool cloths to reduce her fever and reassuring her that the baby was all right. When Eve would finally drift off into sleep, Gabrielle would sit and rock Gabriel. Every time she was with the boy, even now, he would ask to sleep in his auntie's room if he could. He would cuddle up beside her and fall asleep listening to one of her tales about Xena and their travels, twisting her long blonde hair between his fingers unknowingly, just as he had as a baby. Eventually he would fall asleep nestled against the bard and she would talk to Xena. She would imagine Xena was right there but she would describe everything about him to the warrior as she looked upon him in amazement. From the moment he was born Gabrielle could not take her eyes of Gabriel.

Now, Xena was here. She was here to see all of them. She could hear their stories and share their adventures. It was more than Gabrielle had thought possible just hours earlier. And, that is how dinner was spent. Gabrielle encouraged Eve and Virgil to tell Xena all about their travels over the last years. As the night was beginning to wind down Eve began talking about Gabriel and his birth.

Gabriel had been sitting quietly through most of the evening just studying this woman who was suddenly the center of everything. Gabrielle suggested they move away from the table and sit near the fire as was their tradition over all of the years. As they rose for the short jaunt across the room Gabriel followed his normal ritual and headed straight for the bard. Xena had been ready to go and sit beside her lover, but Gabriel grabbed his aunt's hand and pulled her toward the queen's chair that lay near the fire. Gabrielle made no move to change that direction and accommodated the boy happily. Xena sat across the way on a large platform chair and watched in amazement as her grandson situated himself onto Gabrielle's lap. She could not take her eyes off them. They had lost Eve so young she wondered if this is what she had missed; what they had missed. And, although she had always been close in these years, she realized how much life she had missed with her family.

Eve started her story about the threat from a new Roman faction toward the Elijans and how Virgil had to leave suddenly in order to protect her and the small group that traveled with "the messenger." Gabriel was tired and this was not his favorite story. Like most young boys hearing about his own birth, his coos and his cries, was mortifying to him. He was tuning out. Xena watched as he fought his sleepiness and his hand somehow became wrapped in his aunt's hair. He clearly didn't even realize it. Had he known he was doing it he would have stopped immediately, but he had positioned himself somewhat on his side, his head resting on Gabrielle, twirling away until his eyes were completely closed. Xena looked at Gabrielle as she held the boy. She had her arms around him and there was a glow about her. Xena was trying to listen to Eve's words, but when Gabrielle caught her stare and their eyes met she became totally lost. It was if there was no sound left in the room. She watched this woman, this person she loved more than anything with this child that adored her and she was happy to let the rest of the world fall away.

Virgil felt his smile growing uncontrollably as he watched them looking at one another. Eve stopped talking and nudged her husband. "I think it's time for us to go," she whispered.

He agreed and took her hand. "So, I think we could all use some rest," he said. Neither Xena nor Gabrielle answered or even moved. They were completely locked on one another now.

Eve made her way to her mother. "Good night, mother," she smiled taking hold of Xena's shoulder and snapping her out of her daze.

"You're going?"

"I think so."

"You don't have to go."

Eve just looked at her mother and raised an eyebrow as her mother often did. Xena smiled and took her daughter into a warm embrace. "I missed you Evey," she said.

"I love you, Mother," Eve answered.

Virgil had made his way to Gabrielle and was attempting to take Gabriel into his arms. Gabriel clung to his aunt, still asleep but not willing to let go as his father gently pried him from Gabrielle's arms. His sleepy voice muttered, "Stay…" and Virgil smiled taking hold of him, "Not tonight, buddy," but the boy had completely surrendered to sleep by now anyway.

"Goodnight, auntie ," Virgil joked to Gabrielle.

"Good night, Virgil," she rubbed his back lovingly. Eve smiled at Gabrielle who responded with a wink. Gabrielle followed behind Virgil as they headed to the door catching Xena on the way. As they opened the door to leave Virgil turned to the women a final time. Gabrielle bent over and kissed the small sleeping boy on the head, "Goodnight my, Gabriel," she whispered, Xena's arm now around her.

"I'm glad you are home," Virgil said to Xena. Xena smiled at him and nodded her agreement. "We missed you," he said as he followed his wife through the door.

Now it was quiet. They were gone. Xena turned to Gabrielle and drank the sight of her in. She was a beautiful woman, as beautiful as ever. Her hair had grown long again and she had laugh lines that graced her eyes. Xena thought that Gabrielle was the most incredible vision she had ever seen. She did not want to top looking at her.

Gabrielle moved toward the warrior. Even after all the hours that had passed, a part of her was still afraid that this was some dream or some elaborate trick in her mind. She looked at Xena and though her smile was genuine, a tear fell from her eye. The warrior was stunning. More beautiful than Gabrielle remembered. She studied every curve of her face, of her body, her eyes, her everything. Xena wiped the tear from Gabrielle's cheek and caressed the face before her, tracing her nose, the small creases next to her eye and her lips. "Are you really here?" Gabrielle questioned.

Xena held the bard's face in her hands once more and looked into her eyes. "I've always been here."

Gabrielle held her breath and closed her eyes. "I missed you every day."

"I know."

Gabrielle bit down on her lip. "Why? Why did you leave me?" she choked on her tears.

Xena felt a tear fall from her own eyes. "I'm so sorry, Gabrielle."

Gabrielle sighed. "It doesn't matter anymore."

"It does," the warrior answered. "Gabrielle," she paused overcome by the emotions coursing through her body, "I…"

Now it was Gabrielle who placed the warrior's face in her hands. "Don't. Don't say anything. You don't need to say anything…" She felt Xena's lips touch her own softly and gently. Tears falling between them. Her body felt as though it were being pounded by gentle waves, over and over. Xena's arms were around her again and she felt safe. She felt loved. She felt: complete.

Gabrielle led the warrior to the large bed. It seemed as though time suddenly evaporated. All that mattered was this moment, a moment both had waited so long for and had come to believe would have to wait for another lifetime in another place.

They had made love so many times but now, here, after all they had been through it was something completely different. They could not get close enough to one another. It wasn't playful, not even passionate, every touch that passed between them, every kiss, gentle caress, exchanged glance felt like they moved one step closer to becoming one person, inseparable.

"I never thought I would feel you again," Gabrielle whispered as Xena laid her back onto the bed slowly.

Xena could hardly breathe. Just having physical form was enough to overwhelm the warrior, feeling Gabrielle next to her, feeling the warmth of her skin, her kiss, her touch – breathing in the scent of her hair, there was nothing on earth or in the heavens that compared to the feeling that Xena had now. She thought she might die again as she felt the bard's lips travel down her neck.

Slowly, softly they made love… just allowing the other to completely surrender to the safety of this sacred place. The one place both had always known no one could come between them. This was that place. Gabrielle felt Xena through her entire body, moving in time with her, with her need to know that the warrior was real, was flesh…. Slowly but steadily Gabrielle gave over to the warrior again and the warrior gave into the bard, perfectly timed, perfect rhythm, perfect… all of it…the waves grew larger and stronger like a sea that is building the perfect storm. Gabrielle held onto Xena so tightly that she could see her fingerprints in the warrior's flesh.

"I love you," the bard whispered, "Don't leave me," she struggled to gain her breath to speak.

Xena could barely speak, "I'm here," she kissed the bard softly, "I will love you forever," she promised as the waves seemed to carry them both away.

"For eternity?" the bard gasped and begged of the warrior as tears of happiness resumed and the waves finally consumed them both.

"Longer than eternity," her warrior promised, "Longer than eternity…."

Chapter 18: Chapter 18 - Getting to Know YouAgain

Chapter 18: Getting to Know You… Again

Morning came much too quickly for either the warrior or the bard's liking. The sun was streaming through the small cracks in the hut's walls. Xena has been awake most of the night – she really felt no fatigue. 'Being dead sure gets you rested,' she mused to herself. She had no intention of waking Gabrielle and no intention of letting go of her until she had to. Reality would grab them both soon enough – again. She was so grateful to be back – to have this chance. But, she had to admit to herself she also felt just the smallest hint of resentment. The truth was that heaven needed them again. Their love was everything to both of them but it came at a very high cost sometimes. She had watched Gabrielle all these years, felt her pain and every tear, every sleepless night penetrated the warrior's soul. All the years trying to protect Gabrielle and there was one thing she could not shield her from – that was their separation.

Xena knew that this was not going to be an easy battle. It would be long, there would be many small battles before they faced Lucifer – and she was certain that was going to come to pass. She did not create Lucifer, only introduced him to his own truth, but in the process she had increased his lust for all things and most of all for power. A part of her could not understand why Eli had seemed to abandon them both for so long. They had always fought to protect the greater good, maybe if they had been here things would not have escalated to this point. All of these thoughts passed through her mind as she lay there.

She shook off her ramblings and looked at Gabrielle sleeping on her chest. She missed her so much and she felt selfish. All she wanted to do was stay right here and thumb her nose at the rest of it. Gabrielle had cried herself to sleep in Xena's arms. It was a release that Xena knew the bard needed. Eleven years of living without her warrior were shown on her face. Xena closed her eyes and inhaled the feeling of holding Gabrielle again in this moment, and prayed that they would not be separated again. There was so much that still needed to be said. Why couldn't this just be their life? Another battle had to creep in. And yet, without this coming battle she would not be holding Gabrielle now. Again – love tied to upheaval. It was their path – at least in this lifetime.

Gabrielle began to stir slightly and Xena felt the bard's grip tighten on her. She hadn't opened her eyes yet. Her hands seemed to grip the warrior's flesh – exploring it and holding her tighter.

"I'm right here," Xena kissed her on the head.

Gabrielle swallowed hard. She was terrified again – that she was imagining this. It had all been a dream, a wonderful dream, but a dream. Xena held her tighter, "I'm here. Gabrielle."

Gabrielle opened her eyes and took a deep breath as she looked up into Xena's smiling eyes. She felt as though she should say something, but there were no words that were adequate. And, suddenly it all felt so familiar – waking to the serenity of Xena's arms and knowing that the day would bring something else – that there would be some battle to endure before she could reach this place again.

Xena saw the look in Gabrielle's eyes. She understood and smiled.

Gabrielle smiled, gently placing her head back on the warrior's chest. "It's only a matter of time," she said tracing small circles on Xena with her fingers. "What are you thinking?"

It was strange, the warrior thought, how they seemed to glide back into this life that was so familiar to them both; so natural. Most people whispered sweet nothings in these moments – they planned for battles. "I'm not sure," Xena admitted. "It will take more than this…"

"I know," Gabrielle said continuing to gently touch Xena.

"Ideas?" Xena asked.

Gabrielle sighed. "I don't know, Xena. The way of love… it requires protection, but it's hard to make the Elijan's understand that. Fighting is a betrayal of their beliefs…but their commitment to peace is helping to diminish their numbers."

Xena ran her hands through Gabrielle's hair as she considered the statement. "Your hair got so long," she said out loud without meaning to and eliciting a quiet laugh from Gabrielle in the process.

"My hair is not the solution," she joked.

Xena laughed as well. "We need an army, Gabrielle. The Amazons aren't going to be enough."

"I know," the bard answered. "We need to talk to Virgil."

Gabrielle could feel Xena looking at her inquisitively, "Virgil?" Xena asked.

Gabrielle pulled herself up to look at the warrior again. Xena brushed Gabrielle's hair from her eyes so that she could search them. "Xena, Virgil has become a strong fighter. He's become a good organizer. He's had to – to protect them. He's not the same boy he was."

Xena's eyes became a shade darker. Being close was not living. She had not been with them all of these years and that reality began to press down on her now. Her daughter was a mother, Virgil her son in law. Gabrielle had assumed the role of parent fully. She had led this family and now, it was her bard that knew them best. She had a lot to learn – about all of them.

Gabrielle saw the heaviness in Xena's eyes. "We will get through this, Xena. We will. I'm not going to lose you again," she said forcing the warrior to look at her.

Xena looked into her eyes – so filled with love – and saw her resolve. "No, you won't lose me," Xena said. "Where do we start?" It was now the warrior to defer to the bard.

"We start like we always start," she kissed Xena. "We get up. We find our family. We eat together. We figure it out… together."

Xena smiled. Gabrielle was right. Gabrielle lived in this time, they would need her allies, Virgil's contacts, the relationships that had been built and fostered in Xena's absence to pursue this. Xena would be able to develop plans and strategies, to fight as she always had but it was no longer she who had old friends to turn to. Most had long since passed and the few that were left were warriors no more.

Gabrielle pulled herself from the bed and kissed Xena on the head as she made her way to dress herself for the day to come. For once it was Xena who remained still, looking at Gabrielle with admiration for all that she was, all she had survived and had become. Gabrielle felt her stare and turned, "What is it?" she asked Xena.

Xena just closed her eyes.


"I missed you, Gabrielle."

Gabrielle smiled. "Well," she said, "Let's not do that again, okay?"

The lightheartedness in the bard's voice seemed to embed itself in Xena's heart. They were back. She rose to her feet and started getting ready herself. Gabrielle noticed that Xena's hands were trembling and she was struggling with her armor. She made her way to Xena and took over the task deliberately.

"Are you all right?" she asked with concern.

"Of course," the warrior answered.

"Xena…" Gabrielle thought about when Eli had brought them back all those years ago. Xena knew what she was thinking.

"I'm all right, Gabrielle, I swear. I am me…"

"What is it then?" the bard asked as she finished fastening the last piece of the warrior's breastplate.

Xena hesitated. Gabrielle searched her now for some clue. "Xena? What?"

"What if they…"

Gabrielle lifted her hand to Xena's face, "Always worrying," she smiled.

"I don't even know…"

Gabrielle kissed the warrior reassuringly. "No worries now. They love you."

"Gabriel… I don't know…"

Gabrielle kept her touch on the warrior's cheek. "He will love you…he just hasn't figured you out yet. You're a puzzle to him. He is so much like you… stubborn… strong…" her face beamed as she spoke of the boy.

Xena looked at her lover. "Ummm…. Like me, huh?" Gabrielle smiled as Xena continued "I think you might be missing something there… he sounds a lot more like his namesake to me…."

"Are you calling me stubborn?" Gabrielle playfully scoffed at the warrior.

Xena shrugged.

"Mmmhmmm," Gabrielle groaned. "Let's go… I am sure they have been waiting for hours."

Gabrielle turned to make their exit.


The bard turned and saw Xena standing in the same place. Xena continued, "Thank you."

"For what?"

"Putting up with me – dead or alive."

Gabrielle smiled. "Quit stalling…." She winked. Xena chuckled and took the hand that was reached out to her and let the bard lead her away into this new world.

Chapter 19: Chapter 19 - Laying Plans

Chapter 19 – Laying Plans

Xena was nervous and Gabrielle knew it. It wasn't about the battle to come, it was about facing her family. Again, Xena would have to enter a world where time had moved on without her. Gabrielle knew that the warrior was thinking about all of the years she had already lost with Eve, now she had lost more and lost the chance to see Gabriel born. As they approached the fire outside in the courtyard Gabrielle stopped and pulled Xena to face her.

"What is it?" the warrior asked.

Gabrielle smiled for moment and then kissed the warrior. Eve was sitting with Virgil and Lysandra watching carefully.

"Not what I expected," Lysandra said tossing a piece of a stick into the fire.

Eve laughed, "What did you expect?"

"Not THAT," Lysandra said. The rest of the group chuckled. Lysandra had really only ever known Gabrielle the Amazon Queen. The Gabrielle who visited this village in Lysandra's memory was commanding and strong, determined and direct. And, Xena. Well, Xena was a mighty warrior. "They don't act like a warrior and a queen," she offered.

Virgil put his hand on Lysandra's back. "They are."

Eve saw Lysandra's doubtful expression. "You should feel honored, Lysandra," she said looking back at her parents. "Gabrielle must trust you a great deal to allow you to see this part of her life."

Lysandra did not understand. She knew that Xena and Gabrielle had been together, but in her youthful imagination it was a passionate, almost violent love affair; roaming the countryside defeating Romans and warlords. It certainly was not THIS. Gabrielle seemed suddenly "soft" and the warrior – well, she just seemed fixed on Gabrielle. What about the gods?

Eve just kept smiling softly knowing that time would tell the story it had so many times. Virgil took Eve's hand as the pair watched their son run headlong toward the warrior and the bard. Gabriel was running so fast towards them that he knocked Gabrielle off balance.

"Good morning, Gabriel," Gabrielle beamed.

He took her hand and looked up at the tall woman before him who was gazing down on him with a broad smile. "You are going to stop that goddess," he said assuredly.

Gabrielle looked at the boy and then at her lover knowing that Gabriel had crossed his bridge.

Xena crouched down to his height. "You bet," she said putting her had on his young shoulder. He nearly threw himself into her arms. Catching his own display he stepped back and looked at the warrior with determination in his eyes, "I can help," he said firmly.

Xena smiled and put her hand on his blonde head, "I am sure you can," she guided him toward his parents.

"Good morning," Eve greeted them.

Xena sat down in front of the fire next to her daughter and Gabrielle tapped Lysandra on the shoulder, Gabriel at her side. She bent down to the boy, "Gabriel," she said, "I'll bet your grandmother would love it if you would go sit with her for a while." He looked up at her quizzically. It was almost as if he was afraid to hurt the bard's feelings. She acknowledged his concern with a wink, "You know…she missed you…." He looked over at the woman he had spent so many hours in his young life hearing about and imagining. She was a puzzle still to him in so many ways, but he liked puzzles. He looked up at Gabrielle and give her an affirmative nod.

Lysandra stepped to her feet as Gabrielle watched the young boy cautiously approach Xena and maneuver himself in front of her knees. Eve smiled at Gabrielle knowing who was responsible of the display.

"Lysandra," Gabrielle began, "I need to speak with you and Varia."

Lysandra looked worried.

"It's all right," Gabrielle continued, "I want to give Xena some time with them," she gestured to her family, "We need to have a plan, though. We've bought some time but they will be back." Lysandra agreed.

"I am going to go see Varia," Gabrielle told the family.

"I'll come with you," Xena began to move.

Gabrielle shook her head, "No… stay here with Eve. I won't be long." Xena looked a bit hurt by Gabrielle's independence as she turned to follow Lysandra.

Eve watched Gabrielle as she became smaller in the distance and then turned to her mother. "She'll be back, "she laughed putting her hand on her mother's back.

Xena snapped to attention.

"What's it like to be dead?" Gabriel broke the tension with his direct yet earnest question.

Xena laughed out loud pulling him onto her knee. "Quiet, Gabriel…. It's very quiet."

He seemed to be considering the answer.

Virgil hesitantly broke into the moment. "Why now?"

Xena took a deep breath and searched her surroundings. "I don't know. Michael's worried. That I know. This Baal," she looked at him, "Do you know…."

Virgil picked up the question midstream, "Not much. They have never interfered before. I do know he is one of the few left with any following…."

Eve spoke, "There have been a number of temples built to him in recent moons."

Xena's grip tightened on the young boy. "Virgil…." She began.


"How much resistance…"

He looked at her knowing. "Resistance to fighting is high among the Elijans."

Eve closed her eyes.

The warrior continued, "We need…"

"An army," Virgil finished her thought.


Eve looked at her mother and Xena looked at the daughter she had missed now for so many years; again. "Eve, even heaven has an army."

"I know."

Xena looked now into the eyes of the messenger. "Sometimes," she said quietly, "you have to fight to be able to love."

Eve shook her head as Virgil squeezed her hand. She looked at Xena.

Virgil looked into the fire, "We need to travel south."

Xena looked at him questioning as he continued. "The Elijan following is growing in Egypt. It is not so passive."

Xena licked her lips considering his statement. She and Gabrielle had planned on heading south just before her death and the thought of traveling there now instantly conjured an image of their parting. She sighed. "South it is."

Gabrielle and Lysandra had finally reached Varia who was by the riverbank.

"How was your evening?" Varia asked the bard.

Gabrielle took a deep. Cleansing breath and sighed.

"Mmmmm the Amazon Queen smirked.

Gabrielle just smiled. "It's hard to believe, isn't it?"

Varia just shook her head and cast a stone into the river, "If it was anyone else I would say yes…"

Gabrielle laughed. "Varia," her tone changed, "She will come back…even if we leave…she knows…."

"I know," Varia answered throwing another stone into the water before turning to her counterpart, "What do you suggest?"

Gabrielle sat down on a large rock and put her hands on her knees, "I am betting that Virgil suggests we head south."

Varia's worry was obvious. The amazon tribes had become even smaller the further south one traveled. They also were an odd mixture; quite old and very young – she doubted that many of the women were truly even Amazons. They were not well trained or well fit.

"I know," Gabrielle said plainly. "But, Varia…..I have powerful friends to the south….Virgil does as well," she paused, "And….if anyone can build those tribes…. Well….it's you."

Varia's expression was stern. "They are not even Amazons."

Gabrielle rose to her feet. "Varia… one time neither were we." The bard walked toward the edge of the water and then turned to Lysandra. "Do you remember the story I told you?"

Lysandra nodded.

"The tribes to the south are peaceful – very little war in recent years. But, they became tribes because of war, because of constant threats. We need to bring that to the surface now – before Anath figures out our plan…." she turned to Varia, "and you need to show them HOW."

Varia sighed, "Lysandra," she said taking command, "Gather the tribe. We need to prepare. We head south tomorrow at dusk."

Chapter 20: Chapter 20 - The Reality of Parting

Chapter 20 – The Reality of Parting

Gabrielle returned to the village with Varia. As they entered the center of the village a brief and eerie silence ensued. The sight of the two Amazon queens together was still overwhelming for the majority of the young women who had come to make their home with the tribe. The two commanded both attention and respect on sight. Varia motioned to one of the older women in the tribe as the two queens approached Xena and company.

"Varia," Xena said.

Varia smiled, "Must feel good to be back in the land of the living."

Xena looked at Gabrielle, "Yes. It does."

"Sorry it had to start with a war," Varia continued.

Xena gave a half-hearted chuckle. "Well, at least it is familiar."

Gabrielle smirked as well. "I think," the bard began, "that we should see Aphrodite, Xena."

Xena looked a little puzzled. "Aphrodite?"

Gabrielle looked at Xena in a way that no one else could and the warrior understood. "She won't come here," Xena started.

"She will," Gabrielle answered, "If I call her…. She will."

Xena's face tightened slightly as she gained a new understanding. Aphrodite had always had a soft spot for Gabrielle. The way the bard spoke now it was clear that the goddess had become her confidante'.

Gabrielle continued her thought, "We may need Ares," she said carefully.

Xena sighed deeply. She understood why Gabrielle was saying this. Baal was powerful and Anath was a war goddess. Dealing with Ares was always unpredictable. Xena knew that as well.

Eve looked at her parents with a great deal of concern. "Is that really a good idea? Ares?"

Gabrielle looked at the messenger. "Well," she began, "I don't know. I don't know it we have any other choice right now….But, before we even consider that I need to talk to Aphrodite." She turned now to Varia and Lysandra. "Get the tribe ready for tomorrow. Xena and I will head outside the village this afternoon. At least I can see if she know where Anath is heading."

"Varia," Xena offered, "It would be wise to send a few scouts ahead. She will anticipate that we will head either due north or die south. It will not occur to her that we would take any eastern route…"

"You think we should head east?" Varia said with surprise.

"I'm not sure," the warrior continued, "I don't know Anath. I suspect she will expect us to do the simplest thing and avoid any direction toward Phoenicia….I'm betting she will have no offensive strategy to the south east."

Varia understood. Xena continued on. Looking at Virgil. "Virgil and I will head this evening directly south. If she has gathered any force in that direction we will find it."

Gabrielle looked at Xena. Her face twisted in fear. Once again they would need to separate. The thought of that reality even for a moment was overwhelming to the bard. The insecurity in her voice was unmistakable, "You're leaving?"

Virgil turned to Eve and Gabriel and rounded them up to head toward their yurt.

Xena looked a Gabrielle knowingly. She felt her heart drop. "Gabrielle, we'll meet you tomorrow…..we have to disable any offensive she is mounting, you know that."

Gabrielle looked at the ground. Lifted her hands to her face and rubbed her eyes in frustration. "Now, Xena?"

Xena just looked at her lover in silence. Reality had returned to them both. This new opportunity, being together gain, it was not without its risk. It was not a guarantee. Eve and Virgil quietly left the women and Eve looked over her shoulder to catch a glimpse of the bard's expression. She turned to her husband, "It's not fair," she said firmly. Virgil detected a hint of anger in her voice, something that rarely surfaced within Eve.

"No, it's not," he agreed. "We will be fine," he reassured his wife, "I promise." She smiled knowing that this was most likely the truth and also knowing that there was always that chance that they would not return to her.

Varia watched for a moment as Gabrielle and Xena stood locked in their gaze. She could see something brewing within the bard. "Lysandra and I will determine the route for the scouting party, "she said imploring Lysandra to follow her.

Xena took a deep breath and kept her focus calmly on the bard, "Gabrielle, you know that I will always…"

"Don't you dare," Gabrielle said in a low voice, "Don't even say it."

Xena sighed heavily, "I'm coming back."

Gabrielle let forth a sarcastic laugh, "Well, I heard that before." She felt sick. In her heart she knew that Xena would be all right. She knew that this was inevitable; the fighting, being separated, and she knew it was necessary. Selfishly it made her angry. They had not even been together a full day and here they were having to part company. She hated the idea in every way. In spite of what she knew and understood; she could not help but feel afraid. Losing Xena again would be unbearable and she knew it.

Xena moved slowly toward Gabrielle and lifted the bard's face into her hands. "I will be back, Gabrielle."

Gabrielle looked at Xena and attempted to smile. "I can't lose you again," she said quietly. She felt guilty for even having the thought, but she couldn't help herself.

"You won't," Xena said firmly. "Virgil and I have a plan. You have to trust me."

Gabrielle looked into Xena's eyes, "It's not you I don't trust."

Xena understood. "Let's go see Aphrodite," the warrior said.

Gabrielle nodded. They began to walk when the bard suddenly stopped grabbing Xena's hand and forcing her to a halt. "Xena…promise me…" she gathered herself, "promise me….no matter what happens – you will not sacrifice yourself again."

Xena looked at the bard. "I can't promise you that, Gabrielle….." she closed her eyes, "Can you promise me that?"

Gabrielle tried to take a breath but it felt impossible. She knew Xena was right. Either of them would gladly give her life for Eve, Virgil, Gabriel or for the other. It had always been that way and that could not be changed. She squeezed the warrior's hand. "You're right, "she admitted quietly as they resumed their pace.

"Let's hope Aphrodite can help," Xena said.

Gabrielle nodded. "If she can, she will," the bard said firmly. "That is one thing I do trust."

Chapter 21: Chapter 21 - We all Need Someone

Chapter 21 – We All Need Someone

Virgil was packing a satchel with some basic necessities as Gabriel sat on the floor and watched his every move.

"Where are you going?" the boy asked.

Virgil was focused on the bag in front of him and his mind was preoccupied running over possible scenarios that he and Xena might confront. It was imperative that they stop Anath in her tracks and the warrior was convinced that the goddess would have a formidable alliance immediately to both the south and the north. Anything that they did would only buy some additional time and Virgil knew that as well. He was worried about Eve and Gabriel and he was worried about Gabrielle. Since he first met the bard he had considered her his best friend. He grew up hearing about her, hearing her stories and seeing the gleam in his father's eyes every time that he spoke the bard's name. Virgil was determined that he and Xena would succeed and return safely. He could not imagine having to deliver news to the bard that the warrior was not coming back.


Virgil turned now to look at his son. He made his way to the boy and pulled up a piece of floor beside him in order to look him directly in the eye. "Gabriel," he said with a serious tone in his voice, "Xena," he paused and realized who Xena really was, "Your grandmother," he could hardly believe the words as they escaped his lips, "we need to take care of something…. To make sure that Auntie Gabrielle can get you and your mother to our friends."

The boy looked at his father. His eyebrows seemed now to meet in the middle of his young forehead as he considered his father's statement. "Will you have to fight?"

Virgil thought for a moment. He tried to shelter Gabriel as much as he could from the danger that often threatened their lives. Now, he felt he needed to be more honest and forthright. No matter what happened he knew that this time Gabriel would confront the reality of the world. It still amazed Virgil that so many saw Eve and the Elijans as a threat, but they did. The peacemakers were constantly forced to face the war makers. This time the perpetrators were immortal and that made this threat both more frightening and inevitably more violent.

"Gabriel," Virgil started, "sometimes…. Sometimes some of us have to fight… that people like your mother can make peace."

The boy looked at his father and squinted. He loved the stories his Auntie told him. He loved hearing about Titans and Amazons and armies, but this did not make sense to his young mind. "But," the boy said, "How can you make peace if you make war?"

Virgil smiled. The boy was right. He remembered thinking that so often as a child himself. He had heard Eve and Gabrielle talking about that. It was a conundrum. The reality of war in order to preserve peace. It made no sense. Gabriel was right. Unfortunately, there were always those that only wanted power and that meant that if peace was to have a chance it needed protectors.

"Well," Virgil said, "That is a very good question, Gabriel…..You are a very smart young man….. Some people, Gabriel…" he paused and pondered his answer, "Some people don't want peace….so … sometimes we have to fight to keep the peaceful people safe."

Gabriel nodded. After every story Gabrielle told him she had been certain to explain that it is never best to fight, but sometimes people had to. "I understand"

Virgil smiled. "I will be with you in a day or two…. Xena… she is the best fighter there is."

The boy's eyes became wide. "Not better than you," he said decidedly.

Virgil laughed out loud, "Yes, Gabriel…. She is even better than me," he patted his son on the head and jumped to his feet catching the sight of Eve standing in the doorway smiling softly. "Hey," he acknowledged her presence as she made her way into the yurt.

"How's it coming?" she asked going toward their son who rose to his feet to meet her.

"All set."

Eve continued as Gabriel collapsed against her. "Are you leaving tonight?"

Virgil looked at his family and smiled. "No, but before dawn."

Eve gave her husband a crooked grin. That made sense. It was her mother's typical plan. And, she was certain that her mother would want to be with Gabrielle as long as possible before they had to part company. "So then, "the messenger said, "What do we all think of a swim before they get back?"

Gabriel lit up and Virgil nodded, "I think that would be perfect,' he answered watching his wife set their son free as he ran out the door to the courtyard to wait for his parents.

Virgil looked at his wife standing before him. She had this incredible ability to calm him. He moved toward her and took her in his arms. "We won't be gone long," he said.

She looked at him sweetly, "Just be careful," she said. "We need you."

Virgil brushed the hair from Eve's face and looked at his in wonderment. He knew that Eve loved him but he sometimes found himself questioning if she really needed him. While she had a calming and peaceful presence and traveled most often with people around her; she remained fiercely independent in many ways, confident and determined; truly a mixture of the women that she called parents.

"You," he said still looking into her eyes, "Are the strongest person I know."

Eve shook her head. "You are wrong." He looked at her as she continued, "We both need you….I just don't tell you that enough."

He kissed her gently and as he pulled away he noticed a tear beginning to fall from her eye. He gently wiped it with his thumb. "You don't need to tell me anything," he said quietly.

She brushed his cheek with her hand, "Yes…..I do….Watching Mother look at Gabrielle…"

He interrupted her, "I know," he said with a smile. It reminded them both how precious time together was. They often left words unsaid, perhaps too often.

"Time for that swim," she smiled. He returned the expression grateful for this one afternoon with his family. As they made their way to catch up to their son he thought about how he hoped this might be the last big battle. He was tired of fighting. Poetry was always his first love. He was ready for some time with his family without running, defending or fighting. With Xena here he felt maybe, just maybe that chance would come.

Gabrielle and Xena had reached a small stone outcropping just a short distance from the Amazon village. Gabrielle immediately called for Aphrodite. It was less than an instant before the goddess arrived, immediately placing her hands on the bard's shoulders in concern. "I am so glad you are all right," she said.

Xena stood behind the goddess watching the earnest and deep concern she expressed for Gabrielle. Gabrielle smiled at her friend, "I'm fine," she said. "I had some unexpected help," she gestured over the goddess's shoulder.

Aphrodite turned. Her mouth flew open and she stared.

"Aphrodite," the warrior greeted.

Aphrodite turned back to look at Gabrielle whose gaze had fallen again upon Xena in the distance. The goddess was still in shock but seeing Gabrielle's expression as she looked at Xena, Aphrodite knew this was real. She spun back to face the warrior.

"I don't believe it," she said.

"Tell me," the warrior laughed. "It is good to see you, Aphrodite."

"Not as good as it is to be seen, I'll bet," the goddess quipped invoking laughter from all three.

"Aphrodite," Gabrielle said as she made her way to the warrior who promptly placed her hand on the bard's shoulder. "Ares…."

Aphrodite's eyes flew open, "He is going to FREAK!" she exclaimed.

"I'm sure," Gabrielle continued, "But will he help?"

Aphrodite pursed her lips, "Listen, girls," she said, "You know I love you both…and this bitch Anath… she really deserves an ass kicking….but Ares…..he isn't like he used to be."

Xena's eyes narrowed, "What do you mean?"

"Well, Sweat Pea… you know him…. After you died and well, you know…people just stopped worshipping… he sort of well…"

"He lost it," Gabrielle said calmly.

"Uh yeah….that's an understatement…I'm not sure what he will do when he finds out you are back….I don't even know if that's enough….."

Xena nodded her understanding, "Well, we may have to take that chance."

Gabrielle sighed, "Aphrodite, we are going to head south…but Anath…"

"Say no more," the goddess said. "I will talk to him. It's better if he hears it from me," she said.

Xena agreed. Aphrodite took one of Xena's hands and one of Gabrielle's. She looked at Xena. "She missed you," the goddess said with an honesty and compassion that penetrated Xena. Aphrodite truly loved Gabrielle.

Xena looked at Gabrielle, "I know…I missed her…"

Aphrodite felt as though she might cry herself. "I will do what I can," she promised.

"Thank you," Gabrielle.

"Anything for you, little one," the goddess tightened her grip on both before breaking away and disappearing with a snap of her fingers.

"What do you think?" Xena asked the bard.

"If anyone can reach Ares its Aphrodite," she said. "It's strange, they are so opposite…"

"But he loves her," Xena said, "I know… they are each other's balance."

"Do you think that is why he can love?" Gabrielle pondered.

"Hummm….I don't know. I never thought about that….but yes, probably," Xena said. "Let's just hope he will help."

Gabrielle turned to face the warrior. "Xena…"

Xena looked down at the bard's face. "Hum?"

"Promise me…even if you can't…" Gabrielle stopped and looked at Xena, "Promise me you will meet me in Egypt."

Xena took the bard's face in her hands, "Gabrielle….I have no intention of losing you again…..I need you to believe that."

"I need you," the bard answered.

Xena smiled. Her heart was full. She loved Gabrielle more now than she ever had. It had always been that way, every day that passed seemed to strengthen her feeling for the bard. She could not imagine being without her again. She hated even a day apart, but she would do whatever she had to in order to preserve this second chance. "No," Xena kissed the bard's forehead, "You held this family together – built it…..we need you…..I need you."

Gabrielle looked deeply into the warrior's eyes as their lips met. Her resolve strengthened and she thought to herself, 'Never again."

Aphrodite reached Ares Hall in record time, even for a goddess. He was sitting in his chair blowing up fruit on a table with the flick of his hand and laughing maniacally.

"SIS!" he yelled, "Watch this." He blew up a large melon of some kind… in its new form Aphrodite could hardly tell what it had been.

"This place is disgusting," she said tiptoeing through squashed remnants of various foods, vases and a few things she could not be sure ever had form at all. "What are you doing?" She asked with disgust.

"I am waging a war."

The goddess shook her head. "Ares, I need to talk to you."

Ares just blasted a bunch of cherries across the room.


"What? – You wanted those cherries?"

Aphrodite sighed. "Listen, will you!... It's Xena."

Ares chuckled in a manner that could frighten any god. "Xena is dead."

"Ummm…. That's the thing…. See….." Aphrodite winced…"She's not…"

Ares looked at his sister. "Dead, Sis….. Dead….ask Gabrielle if you don't believe me…. Been dead."

"Ares, I know… Xena was dead for years.. but now she's not….see?"

Ares got up from his perch on a large padded chair and walked menacingly toward his sister.


"I'm not being funny…..She's back… I saw her….It's Baal….."

Ares took his hand now and swiped the reaming fruit on the table across the room with tremendous force.

"Baal brought Xena back?"

Aphrodite sighed, "No….she is back because of him….and Anath…"

Ares anger seemed to grow. Aphrodite wasn't sure if Ares now believed her or not. His descent into madness seemed complete. It wasn't simply losing Xena although that had certainly not helped. Wars were waged, but none were in his name nor required his might now. Zeus and Hades, Artemis and Athena were all gone. They were very much alone… Love and War… people had now learned how to do both without them. Aphrodite had Gabrielle and that had helped her immensely. Ares had Aphrodite. He loved his sister but love, quiet love, selfless love was foreign for him. He could not allow himself that - he was a God or power and strength, chaos and violence. Even his purest emotions were corrupted by those needs. She had caught her brother watching Gabrielle not in an attempt to harm her, but at a distance quietly. She understood Ares better than anyone, ironic perhaps, but true. He never hated the bard. He envied her. She was always strong, she could fight but she could love, completely and selflessly. He understood why Xena loved her. He loved Xena but he couldn't help but marvel at the woman that had captured the warrior's heart. It broke hum further. He could never be, simply by his nature, what he wished to be.

"Ares?" Aphrodite prodded, "Are you all right?"

The God of War sat down on the floor and put his face in his hands. "What does she want?"

"Xena?" the goddess asked.

"Gabrielle, what does she want?" he asked.

"Ares, Xena…"

"I head you," he said. "I have no place with Xena…if she is back."

Aphrodite was shocked at her brother's response, "I thought you'd..."

"Want her back?" he asked. He laughed. "I want her…. I do want her…." He looked at his sister now. Ahe was so beautiful and when she looked at him he felt a sense of calm and balance that he could not feel outside her presence. "I can't get her back…..I never had her."

Aphrodite knew that was true but it was not something she had ever heard Ares admit, at least not to anyone else.

"I will do whatever she needs…tell Gabrielle….."

"Do you want me to tell Xena…."

He held his breath and stood. "Xena is gone," he said. He knew that his sister was telling him the truth. He needed Xena to stay dead….but he knew that she needed him somehow too. "Tell Gabrielle I will do what she needs. I'll find Anath…"

Aphrodite reached for her brother's hand, "Ares…."

He looked at her and for a moment she saw a glimmer of the brother she had once known so well, "Tell Gabrielle that Xena loves her…..and I know why…..I love Xena….But I know why….."

He turned and he disappeared. Aphrodite stood there for a while. She knew. She understood. He needed to do this. This was his time and she suspected she might not see him again. "I love you Ares," she said.

Faintly in the distance she heard his voice, "I love you too, sis."

Chapter 22: Chapter 22 - Who We Are

Chapter 22 – Who We Are…

Xena watched Gabrielle as she expertly addressed the Amazons. She had matured into a woman with a commanding yet compassionate presence. There was a confidence that seemed to emanate from her bard. The Amazons had always held great affection for Queen Gabrielle, but their attentiveness also showed their deep respect and trust in the woman as a leader. Even Varia appeared captivated by Gabrielle. Varia was walking toward the warrior but her focus was set upon the other Amazon Queen. She averted her gaze and looked at Xena.

Xena's expression was unmistakable. Varia smiled knowingly. "She is something," the Amazon Queen admitted.

Xena sighed. "She is."

Varia looked at the warrior. "Xena," she began, "Do you really think you and Virgil can handle this Phoenician bitch alone?"

Xena finally removed her focus from the bard and looked at Varia. "We'll be fine, Varia…I hear Virgil has evolved into quite the cunning warrior himself."

Varia nodded. The Amazon village rarely saw men but Varia had fought beside Virgil before at Gabrielle's request. She respected Virgil. She also knew that he held a love for his family that made him a formidable opponent to anyone seeking to do them harm. "He is," Varia admitted.

"Do I detect a note of admiration?" the warrior asked jokingly.

Varia was a bit put off by the insinuation that she admired any man. "I respect him," she said firmly.

Xena smiled. "Varia," she said, "I'm going to go and see Eve while Gabrielle is dealing with this."

Varia looked at the warrior. The truth was that Xena had not spent any time with Eve since her return. As much as she loved her daughter she longed to be near Gabrielle and she really wasn't sure what to say to Eve. On the way back from seeing Aphrodite Gabrielle had raised the point.

"Xena, I think you should go spend a little while with Eve when we get back."


"Xena," the bard said firmly but with encouragement.

"She'll want to be with Virgil."

"Mmmmm. Yes. I am sure that's true," the bard stopped their forward progression taking Xena's hand and looking directly at her. "You can't keep avoiding her."

"I'm not avoi….."

Gabrielle raised her eyebrow.

"All right, maybe I am…. But I don't know what to say… I…"

Gabrielle chuckled. "You worry too much."

Xena laughed. That was a fact that no amount of time changed. She always worried about Eve's approval of her. For so long Gabrielle had struggled to determine her role in their family and now Xena found herself understanding that emotion in a very tangible way. She smiled at the bard; as usual Gabrielle was right and the truth of the matter was that Xena wanted talk to Eve. Gabrielle had filled in the holes about Eve and Virgil, but she wanted to know about Gabrielle as well.

Varia smiled at Xena. "They went for a swim a while ago… I ran into them…..I'm sure they are back by now."

"Thank you," the warrior began to walk toward the center of the village. Gabrielle saw her movement and momentarily paused in her dissertation to the Amazon tribe. She was pleased to see Xena heeding her advice.

Xena was growing more nervous as she approached the small hut and saw Virgil outside gathering some wood for the evening fire that would soon be needed. She smiled at him and he returned the gesture.

"Virgil," she began to address him. She felt a slight sense of guilt for wanting to take time away from him with his wife but Virgil's smile only broadened.

"She's inside," he said continuing to smile. "She'll be happy to see you."

Xena nodded with some doubt in her expression and Virgil shook his head. There was a vulnerability about the warrior around those she loved, particularly Gabrielle and Eve. He had always seen that. Gabriel came up carrying a small log clearly excited that the warrior was visiting and ready to follow after her. "Not now," Virgil said with a firm gentleness. "You and me… we are going to go check out what your auntie is up to." Gabriel's disappointment faded at the mention of seeing Gabrielle. He was accustomed to being with her whenever the family was together and since Xena's return he had been kept at a distance from his aunt. Although the boy was fascinated by his warrior grandmother, he loved Gabrielle. There truly was no one he preferred to be with. Virgil smiled at the boy's reaction knowing what was passing through his son's heart and expecting that the bard would return the sentiment.

Xena edged her way into the hut. She felt a bit anxious. So much had been taken from this family; so much time. It seemed every time they began to get to know one another the world would tear them a part, literally. She attempted to catch her breath wondering in her mind why she was so nervous to spend time alone with her daughter. The truth was she felt like a stranger. She felt guilty for leaving AGAIN. She couldn't help but wonder if hidden somewhere beneath the happiness of her own return there lingered some resentment.


Eve turned from her task of packing some of Gabriel's things to see her mother standing there. The sight of this tall, strong warrior with a sheepish grin on her face made the messenger chuckle. "Hello, Mother," she said softly. She knew this was coming. Even if her mother had intended to avoid her forever, Gabrielle would never have allowed it. "Come in, she offered gently.

"I don't want to intrude on your time," Xena said quite genuinely before taking a brief pause. Her daughter continued to smile quietly and await the warrior's intention. "But…..I was hoping we could talk."

Eve needed to say nothing she simply headed toward one of the four chairs in the hut and gestured to her mother to sit in another. Eve poured each of them a mug of water and took her seat.

Xena offered a crooked smile that indicated her slight apprehension. "Thanks…" she said taking the mug and fingering the lines embedded within it as a means of offering any distraction.

"Mother?" Eve prodded.

"Eve…. I'm sorry."



Eve allowed the slightest hint of a chuckle to spring forth. "Somehow I always knew you'd be back. You're a difficult woman to kill."

Xena could not help but laugh relieved that Eve clearly was harboring no anger or resentment at her long time absence or at the fact that the sacrifice had been her own decision. In these last days she had begun to ask herself if the cause of 40,000 souls had really been worth all the pain it had inflicted upon those that loved her the most, "I didn't want to…"

Eve interrupted her mother's thought, "Mother…. We all know you didn't want to leave." She stopped and regarded the expression on her mother's face. There was anguish evident there and Eve immediately knew what her mother was thinking. "Gabrielle knows that," she said reaching for her mother's hand.

Xena lifted her eyes only slightly and Eve could see the tears that had begun to fill them. She would not lie to her mother. Xena's death and absence has devastated the bard. That was true, but Gabrielle's love for Xena transcended even her anger. Eve remembered watching the bard in front of evening fires as Gabrielle's gaze would linger in the flames recalling Xena. Early on Virgil and Lila had both made their recommendation that Gabrielle might find solace if she could find companionship in another. Eve scoffed at that idea knowing that the bard would never give herself to another for companionship or for any other reason.

Xena finally allowed her stare to leave the table fully and looked at her daughter. "So, you and Virgil?"

Eve chuckled. "Yes…"

"I'm not sure I would have imagined THAT."

Eve nodded, "Why not? Because I killed his father or because I am the messenger….. or because you always thought he desired Gabrielle?" The messenger smirked.

Xena could not help but raise her eyebrows and shrug, "MMmm… maybe all three."

"Well, I don't know…" Eve said. "It just made sense. I don't try to explain it. We just 'fit'."

Xena understood that feeling better than anyone. She had felt it since the first moment she saw Gabrielle. She knew, in spite of everything that befell them Gabrielle was meant to be with her and she was meant to love the bard. Reasons mattered very little once she had fully accepted that truth. "When did you know?" Mother asked daughter.

Eve sighed. This conversation would not be easy. It meant discussing and revealing Gabrielle's pain and Eve knew that this would be difficult for her mother.

"When Gabrielle sent for us….to come to Amphiplois…." She hesitated searching for the right words and inflection to deliver this tale, "Well….. We spent several moons with her. It was…..well…it was quiet… night it was so quiet," she said solemnly looking at the floor as she transported herself back to that time.

Xena looked at her daughter and was fully aware at the emotional pain that had suddenly taken hold at the mere thought of the memories but she needed to know. She needed to know what she had missed, what she had been unable to repair for all of them all of these years, and she needed to know about the joy as well, how this family came to be what it was now. "Go on…" the warrior said compassionately.

"The days were all right. Gabrielle was determined to make the tavern into a successful establishment. We were busy with tasks…" she stopped as if attempting to remember the truth of the time. "She talked as if you were away….. On a journey, a trip…. Days we lived in this world where maybe you would walk through the door in the evening. I suppose that we all needed that."

The warrior looked at her daughter as Eve's fingers now played about her own mug searching for some distraction that would help to quell the pain in these memories. "But," the messenger continued, "In the evening it all changed…..It got quiet. Cold and quiet."

Xena felt tears begin to stream down her cheek. She could feel the suffering emanating from her daughter. "I'm sorry."

Eve attempted a smile but could not yet look at her mother and she continued her diatribe without verbally acknowledging the apology, "At night… we would sit in front of the fire just like we always did… all of us. Virgil and I waited for the stories to begin….her tales… where you had gone… what you had done…..but they never came. Just silence," Eve's own tears now fell freely. She knew her mother needed to hear this and she knew it would break Xena's heart but she continued, "She would stare into the flames…sometimes she would recall a moment with you…or with me….but mostly it was just quiet. After a long while she would rise and smile at us both and take her leave with just a sad smile…Virgil and I would just sit….I didn't think about it then….I felt so much safer with him there…just there – even in the silence. After a while..." Eve stopped and looked at her mother afraid to continue.

"After a while?" Xena urged in a whisper which is all she could muster.

Eve closed her eyes attempting the courage to continue. She took a deep breath and then exhaled. "We would hear her… in the distance…..sobbing….. Sometimes calling for you. And we would just sit. Just sit watching the flames as she had."

Xena's eyes were closed and she was finding it hard to breathe now. Hurting Gabrielle was the worst pain imaginable for the warrior.

Eve looked at her mother, "Our last night there… she broke her silence. It was unexpected….. "

"What did she say?" Xena asked.

Eve raised her head and a smile crept onto her face. "She said…she said she wished you had both seen us grow up…."

Xena's tears began to fall much harder now and she feared that they might overtake her composure.

Eve took her mother's hands, "She said you…..Joxer….you would be proud of us…"the messenger paused and closed her eyes. A sense of love and understanding that she felt that day suddenly washed over her. The truth was it was that evening that she not only realized she loved Virgil; she realized that Gabrielle was as much her mother as the warrior, that her affection for the bard ran much deeper than she had allowed herself to admit when Xena was alive. As the thoughts passed through her, her face began to soften and a peaceful smile replaced the sadness on her face.

Xena looked at her daughter with curiously. This had been a very difficult recollection yet somehow there seemed to be a renewed peace within Eve.

"You knew than that you loved him?" her mother inquired.

Eve did not speak immediately. She scooted her chair closer to her mother. Xena was no warrior in this place. She was a parent. She was Eve's mother, Gabrielle's partner…just a woman who needed to know that her family loved her as much as she loved them; that she still held a place here in this time and in a reality that had grown to function in its own way without her. Eve placed her hands squarely on top of her mother's and looked so deeply into Xena's eyes that Xena thought she might truly see her soul.

"That night…"she began… "Gabrielle left us and we just looked at each other. We were both crying….neither of us could say anything…funny…neither of us needed to."

Xena looked at her daughter and offered a genuine smile knowing the Eve was not finished but seeing in her daughter's eyes a truthful happiness that she felt with this man.

Eve continued, "He took my hand….just took my hand… that was all." The messenger stopped for a moment and as a faraway gaze overtook her momentarily, almost as if she had somehow left the room without physically moving. Xena watched her daughter waiting for her revelation. "I realized two things that night," Eve said returning her stare to her mother's eyes. "I knew that Virgil and I would be together and," she stopped wondering what her mother would say when she offered the truth, "and…..I realized that Gabrielle…."

"Yes?" Xena asked seeing that Eve was having some struggle to continue. "What, Eve? You realized that Gabrielle what?" Xena feared that Eve was about to tell her something tragic about her partner.

Eve squinted with the gravity of her emotion, "that I…..that I love Gabrielle just like I love you…."

Xena's look of concern faded immediately to a knowing happiness that glowed on her face. "You realized she is your mother," Xena said quite plainly.

Eve nodded. "You don't sound surprised," she said.

Xena shook her head and rose to her feet . She needed to gather her own thoughts now. Eve watched her mother circle the floor for a moment before she returned to her seat and took Eve's hands as only a mother can. "Why would I be surprised?" Xena's smile was so soft. It transported Eve to a feeling of almost infancy. "It took me a while," Xena continued, "Longer than it should have, frankly…to realize that you were not meant solely for me. I am not certain that Gabrielle still understands that…but I do. You may have come through me… I may have been your protector, but you were meant for us both."

Eve knew as well that this was a truth and she suspected that her mother was correct. Gabrielle loved Eve as if she had given birth to the woman herself but she never truly allowed herself to believe that she was actually Eve's parent no matter what Eve said.. and no matter what Eve knew. "I told her," Eve said.

Xena looked at Eve inquisitively, "Told her?"

"That she is my mother," Eve said.

Xena smiled. "What did she say?"

"I think she was happy….she said I was her daughter….but I knew…knew how she meant that…she still doesn't really…."

Xena nodded. "I should have told her so long ago….that it wasn't just sentiment. Maybe it would have made the loss…."

Eve stopped her mother with a forcefulness in her voice, "Nothing could have made you death easier, Mother, not even me."

Xena's tears feel silently. "I am so sorry, Eve."

Eve wiped her mother's tear. "I know. She is all right…. She is so strong…just….she was lost without you….even when she seemed happy…..she was just so…."

"Alone" Xena said in a hush.

"Yes…. But when Gabriel came along…. I don't know….it helped. Whenever he was there – it just seemed to quiet that longing."

Xena smiled. "He is so much like her."

Eve laughed out loud, "Yes…. He really is…..and he worships her….sometimes it's actually a little annoying… … kind of like you said it was with Joxer…" the messenger laughed again.

Xena laughed as well, "Yeah…. He's abit like his grandfather too I imagine."

Eve smiled… "That's what Virgil says."

"Thank you , Eve."

"For what?"

"I think you know," the warrior said. "I have a favor to ask."

"What is it?" the messenger could not imagine what her mother would be needing.

"Could I take Gabriel for the night… spend it with Gabrielle and I…..I mean.. you and Virgil…"

Eve stopped her mother's rattling by squeezing her hand. She knew exactly what was going on and she was more than happy to oblige the request, "I think I know a young man who would be very happy with that idea," she winked.

Xena offered a crooked grin, "Do you think Gabrielle…"

"Gabrielle will welcome it," Eve said with not an ounce of doubt.

Xena sighed with some relief. She needed to be with them together. She needed Gabrielle to understand their bond; all of them before they parted company again; even for a short while. There was no way that words would be able to covey it alone…Gabriel….Gabriel was the key and the warrior knew it. He was the reason that she was back. He was the link that somehow now bonded them all…. And he, somehow this small boy held the answer to why all of this was happening.

"Eve….I promise that I will…"

Eve stood and walked her mother toward the door. "Go find Virgil and Gabriel," she said. "I know you will be back."

"You do? How do you…"

Eve just smiled knowingly… "I will see you in a day or two."

Xena smiled and made her exit.

Eve thought quietly to herself as her mother left.

This is some family – I wouldn't want anyone else's…. and she chuckled to herself.

Chapter 23: Chap 23 The Best Defense is an Offense

Chapter 23 – The Best Defense is an Offense

It had been a long time since Ares had seen any real battles. He had become a distant memory in this generation; at least to most; and he knew it. People still craved power and countries and warlords waged their wars but none did it for his glory; they did it for their own profit and power. The days of reveling in the worship he once enjoyed were gone. It seemed that in an instant he had lost everything. He lost the power to be a God and he had lost the will to even attempt to think like a mortal.

Xena's death rocked the God of War nearly as much as it did the bard. Unlike Gabrielle, Ares had struggled to believe that Xena's death was true. He was certain that this was either some plot that the warrior and the bard had concocted or that if it was true, it was a temporary setback that would be rectified. He spent months believing that until he decided to see Gabrielle. He had intended on his usual smug entrance until Aphrodite emphatically warned him to be cautious. It was not Gabrielle that she feared for, it was her brother. The bard was devastated and heartbroken but she understood that Xena was gone. She was grieving. Ares was calculating and Aphrodite feared that when he learned that no amount of plotting or brooding could change the circumstance; he would descend even deeper into the madness that had begun to overtake his mind.

Ares waited several seasons before making his approach still convinced that Xena would reappear in time. That night he lingered in the corner of the tavern disguised as a merchant traveling through Amphipolis. It was hours before he even saw the bard make an appearance. He watched her every move carefully searching for any clue as to the motive behind Xena's disappearance, gauging what she might be planning or for any hint that Xena was actually somewhere doing something that neither wanted him or anyone else to know about. He was struck by the bard's expression and demeanor. There had always been a fire in her young eyes. A fire that he hated to admit he greatly admired. Her love for Xena was so deep and he was all too aware that over the years her passion for the warrior had come to equal his as well. When Gabrielle would look at Xena she seemed to somehow take on an unearthly glow and when Ares appeared her eyes burned with flames of warning. As she made her way across the tavern that evening the God of War could not believe this was the same woman. To those who had not known her before he was sure she appeared confident and charming. All he saw now was a scar…..a deep scar that connects to the soul. He'd seen that many times. He'd inflicted it. He'd relished its evidence in others. Now, he felt sick. Xena was gone. There was no scheme, no plot and no plan. She was dead – dead to them both.

The most surprising thing for the God of War was what overtook his senses that evening. His heart was broken, but it was not just for himself. Like it or not the lives of Gabrielle and Xena had become forever entwined with his own existence. He had developed not only a respect for the bard; he had affection for her. Watching them both over so many years he understood that they had become inseparable. Even he could not break their bond; not with seduction, not with guilt, not with war…nothing worked. Now he saw what success would have rendered for the bard and he felt empty. Neither of them had the warrior now and both were left with an indescribable void.

Ares tried to shake off the memories of that evening now. He watched carefully as Anath's troops gathered by the river's edge. There were many. He had expected that her army would remind him of Artemis's but looking upon the rank and file he was reminded far more of Athena. These women were strong and commanding. He kept watch for Anath herself. It would be best if she was not in this place. He had a plan. He understood that Anath was only the strong arm of Baal. For his plan to work he needed to make a statement that would grab Baal's attention without sending them immediately into direct conflict.

The women seemed to be well armed. He wondered what Gabrielle was planning. IF Xena IS alive… she will come this way and send Gabrielle another. He knew the warrior. Somehow he would need to disarm this offensive. Back away from the river bank was a line of catapults. He strained to count them…one, two….five…. it appeared there were about 9 in total. In front of them was amassed an infantry of archers about five lines 20 across and then right at the river's edge were the swords. He searched the surroundings further for anything that might be an asset. A God of War is powerful even with delusions but Ares knew that without an army he would need to clear his mind. It was Ares the tactician that was required in this endeavor, not the mighty warrior.

He kept scanning the area and then he saw it, the chink in Anath's armor and it was in the most unexpected place; her own ranks. He peered closely at the lines of women who all seemed to stand at the ready, but something was amiss. The warriors, in spite of their physical prowess and all of their armaments were unfocused. There was a chatter amongst them that almost seemed to make the surrounding forest hum. Ares had seen this before. These may be warriors and they may have been seeking a battle but they were not here for Anath or her cause. It was something else. Given Xena's long absence it could not be a vendetta with the warrior princess and Gabrielle had commanded great respect over the years, it was unlikely this had to do with her. Perhaps it was about the Elijans… or perhaps, and even better…it was about profit. If so, the leverage Ares needed was right in front of him. He could disarm Anath with her own army. It was brilliant. For the first time in many years the God of War felt a tiny glimmer of himself surface. My turn….times up…. Going to have to teach you…. The best defense is an offense…. he muttered with anticipation.

Chapter 24: Chapter 24 - The Ties That Bind

Chapter 24 – The Ties That Bind

Gabrielle was just finishing speaking to the tribe when she caught sight of Virgil and Gabriel. Lysandra and Myrrine were standing before her taking their last orders when Gabrielle noticed that Gabriel was trying to pull away from his father. She winked at the boy signaling her permission that he should proceed toward her. Virgil, upon seeing the exchange, let go of the small boy and laughed to himself as Gabriel barreled toward his Auntie Gabby. Within seconds he was at her side, her arm encompassing him against her. He nestled against her side silently and listened to her finish giving her commands. There was an instinctive nature to their relationship, as if physically and emotionally the two were somehow joined… much like the bard and the warrior. It was a connection that Gabrielle always just assumed existed because of the boy's connection to his warrior grandmother. But, for the boy…this woman was his hero. Gabrielle was his family. Gabrielle was his grandmother.

"I need you both to make certain that the supplies are divided and that they are not kept together. Be certain some are at the head of the march and the rest spread throughout. It is a long journey south, we want to be certain that we do not risk losing everything in one attack or one mishap." Her voice was strong and insistent; a strong contrast to the grip that held the boy to her, which was firm but gentle and loving. The Amazon Queen represented a balance that few possessed. Gabriel filled a void for her. If she could have, she would have been with the boy every day. The same was true for Gabriel, with others he was now at an age where he longed to appear independent and strong, but in the presence of the bard he succumbed willingly to his childhood and found contentment there.

Lysandra watched Gabrielle's hand unconsciously caress the small boy's head and looked in his eyes to find an expression of complete contentment. She had lost her mother very young and had heard tales of Queen Gabrielle since her own birth. It had been many years since she first met her hero, the bard turned Amazon Queen. Looking at Gabriel she was reminded of their first meeting nearly 11 years ago. She was not much older than the boy when Gabrielle came to the village to see Varia. It was the bard's first stop on her way back to Amphipolis after the warrior's death. Gabrielle, hearing that Lysandra worshipped her and being given the details of the young girl's past; had invited Lysandra to her yurt one evening. Lysandra remembered listening to her tales and being mesmerized by the compassion and strength that shown in the Amazon Queen's eyes. She remembered Gabrielle covering her as she fought Morpheus's hold and fell into sleep in front of the fire. In that moment of twilight she recalled the firm and gentle touch of the Amazon Queen tucking her in. A smile now crept to her face as she looked directly at the boy.

"Lysandra?" Gabrielle began, "Are you all right?" Myrrine had already taken her leave and Lysandra was frozen.

Snapping back to the present Lysandra looked at the Queen. Gabrielle searched her; unsure of what was on the young amazon's mind.

"I'm sorry," Lysandra said.

Gabrielle shook her head. "No need to be sorry….are you all right?" she inquired with genuine concern again.

Lysandra smiled and nodded, "I will take care of things," she answered returning the subject to the tasks that lie ahead.

Gabrielle smiled and looked down at Gabriel as Lysandra turned to leave.

"So, my Gabriel," she said, "what have you been doing?"

"Swimming," he answered.

"I see," the bard answered. "Did you see any fish?" she asked with a slight chuckle.

"Only father," he laughed.

Gabrielle's laughter grew as Virgil finally reached the pair. Gabrielle looked at her friend knowing that he was attempting to give Xena some time with Eve, but also aware that Xena would be looking for her bard sooner rather than later.

"Why don't you and Eve spend some time alone?" the bard suggested.

Virgil looked more than a bit surprised. He was certain after such a long separation Gabrielle would want to be alone with Xena as much as possible.

Gabrielle closed one eye and pursued her lips, "It's all right, Virgil…. Go on."

"Are you SURE?" he asked.

She looked down at the blue eyes that were looking up into hers. "I'm sure," she answered never removing her glance from the boy's.


Gabrielle looked at her friend now and then returned to the boy. "Gabriel," she began.

"Yes?" He asked in anticipation of her request.

"Why don't you do me a favor and go find Alida at the food hut? See if she has some berries for us?"

Gabriel smiled broadly and scurried off to find Alida who was the resident cook and one of the Amazons that had taken a true interest in the boy.

"I'm sure that you and Xena…"

Gabrielle put her hand on Virgil's shoulder and coaxed him to follow her to a nearby log as a seat.

"Virgil," she said, "Xena needs to get to know Gabriel. She needs to spend time with Eve….she's lost too much time already."

He understood but he still had concerns about imposing on the couple. "I can come and get Gabriel…"

"Don't worry about Gabriel," the bard said. "And don't worry about me and Xena either," she laughed. The truth was that Gabrielle wanted time with Xena, but she wanted Gabriel to be a part of that time, particularly now before they needed to go their separate ways. She was certain that Xena and Virgil would return; as certain as she could be; but she would no longer take time for granted.

"Are you sure?" he asked again.

"Completely," was her definitive answer. "Go…I'm sure mother and daughter are wrapping up by now."

"Thanks," he said. Although he understood that he benefited from her request, he knew he was also fulfilling her need as well.

"I will see you soon," she answered as she hopped to her feet. "And, Virgil…."


"Be careful."

He nodded his understanding and turned to leave.

By the time Virgil had gotten back to their yurt Xena was leaving.

"Where's Gabriel?" the warrior asked.

"With Gabrielle," he began, "I hope you don't mind…"

Eve shook her head and rolled her eyes.

"What?" he asked unsure what was so funny.

Xena smiled. "Where are they?"

"Last I knew the food hut," he offered.

Xena looked at her daughter and they both giggled. Gabriel loved to eat, much like his auntie.

"There's a surprise," the warrior laughed exchanging a knowing glance with her daughter.

"Mmmmm…" was all Eve offered.

"See you in a few hours," the warrior said to her son-in-law.

He nodded and watched as the warrior and his wife exchanged a silent expression. He couldn't be certain what the two had discussed; only that somehow it involved the bard. That's how it was. Gabrielle and Eve had always discussed Xena as their main topic until Gabriel was born. It only made sense that the main topic was Gabrielle.

He made his way to his wife and watched the warrior make her exit.

"How was your visit?" he asked.

She looked at him but said nothing.

"Eve?" he was a bit concerned at her lack of response.

"My mothers," she said stopping and considering the words she had spoken, "are truly my mothers."

He was completely confused. "Uh huh?"

She shook her head and turned from him before continuing, "I mean…..really…..they are….. I think…."

He was stull puzzled. "You already told Gabrielle that."

"No…. I don't know…." She said. There was true happiness in her voice paired with just a hint of worry.

"What did Xena say?"

Eve took a deep breath and let out a forceful sigh. "There is more going on here, Virgil…..I mean with Gabriel…."

He searched her for her meaning with his own concern beginning to swell.

Seeing the look in his eyes she reassured him. "He is totally safe with them…..that I know," she told her husband.

"Something is on your mind," he said.

"Virgil…you know how we always joke about Gabriel….I mean being so much like Gabrielle?"

He lifted his hands and cocked his head as if asking for clarification.

"Well….. I think…it's because she really is…. She is his grandmother…."

Virgil's eyes narrowed as he attempted to understand exactly what his wife was saying. "Of course she is," he said. "I would never think otherwise….just like she would have raised you as…"


"No? No, what?"

"She wouldn't just have loved me as her own…. I am hers…he is…."

Virgil rubbed his face in his hands. "What are you talking about? I mean… you know that Xena and Gabrielle…"

"I know that I was divinely given to my mother…"

"Okay… and so she is your mother and Gabrielle is hers…. So they are your parents…"

Eve was having a hard time explaining. It wasn't something anyone could truly explain. She had felt it. She had sensed it….but even she could not fully grasp it. It was that night… that night that Gabriel was born that she completely understood somehow that she loved Gabriel as a mother because she was her mother…every bit as much as Xena. "They come through us, Virgil….they are not us…"

This he understood. Children were a part of their parents, but each was his or her own person.

"All I know is that I don't have a father…."

This was something that was never spoken about partly because it was so hard to fathom. Callisto had been the force behind Xena's pregnancy with God's blessing. Eve was distinctly feminine. She had the heart of a warrior in so many ways…but she was tempered by forgiveness, created by the love that only forgiveness can bear. Eve was only now, just as Xena… truly understanding that. That forgiveness….the force that allowed Xena to forgive Callisto… the force that opened Callisto – it had come from Gabrielle. Without the bard there could never have been that forgiveness or that love or…Eve.

Eve sighed again. "All I know," she looked at her husband, "is that part of her is in me….part of her is in him…not just because she loves us….. Because it created us….just like my mother's."

Virgil still was confused but there were a few things he had learned in his life. One of the most important things; and his father had told him this about Xena and Gabrielle long before they crossed paths with the bard and the warrior; life in this family was not like life in other families. There were things that just defied logic, defied the mortal world. And, somehow all of those things always connected to the relationship that Xena and Gabrielle shared. They were mortals who had killed Gods, been crucified and resurrected, been archangels, fought demons and defied time. With the warrior and the bard anything at all was not only possible, it became likely.

Virgil moved to Eve and put his arms around her. "I'm not sure all that really matters," he said.

"It matters," she spoke softly and looked into his eyes. "It matters for Gabrielle."

He looked at his wife and this, what she spoke now, he understood. And now, he realized what this visit had been about. "She asked to take Gabriel tonight too, didn't she?"

Eve smiled and nodded. Virgil released his breath and closed his eyes with a new understanding. "Do you think she will believe it?"

Eve touched his face. She suddenly longed to be closer to him. She felt this overwhelming desire; something she could not explain.

He looked at his wife and saw emotion there; need.


He looked deeply within her and he knew what she truly desired. They had tried for many years to conceive another child. Maybe there was some miracle within all of this that would grant them that wish now. He brushed her hair aside and kissed her knowingly. "In this family," he said to her, "anything is possible."

Chapter 25: Chapter 25 - As You Were

Chapter 25 – As You Were

Gabrielle was sitting at a long table with Gabriel, picking at some berries. Xena stopped in the doorway of the large hut that often hosted banquets and celebrations. The sound of Gabrielle's laughter lifted the warrior's heart. She couldn't hear what the boy was saying but she could see that his lips were moving at an exhausting pace. His hands lifted above his head and made all sorts of gestures and the more animated his movements, the more boisterous the bard's laughter became. The warrior waited to approach. She was enjoying her silent observation of the pair with a new understanding. She had known for a long time that there was more to Eve's birth than simply the need of a protector or even Callisto's need to repair the damage they had done to one another. When Eve had left them for the final time all those years ago on her journey to Chin; Xena had struggled. They had already spent so much time without one another. Gabrielle had constantly reassured her that the separation was only temporary and that Xena would see Eve again before she knew it. That never happened.

Eve was constantly on the warrior's mind those days. One night, not long before the pair made their final trip together, Xena had come back from hunting and found herself frozen, watching Gabrielle before the fire. She was doing the most simple of tasks; a task Xena had seen her complete millions of times over the years. Gabrielle was just tending the fire, poking at it to try and get the flames to burn hotter in preparation for dinner. Xena noticed her hands, the way she held the large stick she was using as a poker, the way she moved it. She had seen Eve do the same thing one of the first nights they had all made camp together, and she had seen Eve do it every single time Eve tended the fire after that; exactly as she was watching Gabrielle handle the task now. She lost all the air in her lungs in that moment. There was no possible way that Eve could have learned that from watching Gabrielle. They barely knew each other when Xena had first noticed Eve's concentration on the fire. For some reason they both seemed to delight in this mundane task. How could she have been so blind? All this time she spent trying to make Gabrielle feel she was part of the family, part of Eve's family…there was nothing to reassure her about. Somehow she was.

Now she stood and watched her grandson and all she could see was the young bard when they first began travelling together. Gabrielle would rehearse her stories on the road with great theatrics. Xena would fight to suppress her laughter. Gabriel was exactly like that, full of youthful exuberance; animated, excited and extremely verbose. Xena could not help but laugh as she moved toward them.

"So…." The warrior began, placing a firm grip on Gabrielle's shoulders, "What am I missing?"

Gabriel's smile grew wide at the sight of his warrior grandmother. Gabrielle reached up and took the hand that rested on her shoulder gently caressing it before feeling its grip loosen and feeling the weight of the warrior as she sat down and leaned against the bard.

"Gabriel was just telling me about Virgil trying to fish….like you," Gabrielle explained.

"Oh…" Xena narrowed her gaze. She had a visual in her head that was quite painful. "He didn't hurt himself, did he?" Xena chided.

Gabriel laughed at the expression on Xena's face. "NO!" he exclaimed. "But he sure got muddy."

All three laughed. Gabriel looked at the warrior and the bard. "I wish I could fish like you," he said.

Xena raised an eyebrow, looked at the bard who returned a smile and then focused on the boy across from her, "How about a lesson?" she suggested.

"Really? …. When can…."

"No time like the present I always say."

Gabrielle shot the warrior a look of playful disbelief, "You always say…do you?"

Xena smirked as she stood and helped the boy to his own feet. "Yes, as a matter of fact…I do….." her voice became quiet, "Now…."

Gabrielle shook her head. Xena was as incorrigible as ever.

The threesome began the short trek to the river with Gabriel running ahead in excitement. Xena reached down and took Gabrielle's hand. It was not a customary action for the warrior. Gabrielle welcomed the affection but she had to admit it surprised her a bit. Nonetheless, she accepted the gesture and squeezed her partner's hand with mutual admiration.

"He'll sleep tonight," Gabrielle said.


"He's very excited to get to spend time with you," the bard continued as they reached the water's edge.

"Go ahead and wade in up to your waist," Xena instructed the boy. She turned to Gabrielle and looked at her for a long moment, searching her eyes as she had so many times before. It was her way to attempt to convey all that she felt without any words. Gabrielle just smiled and returned the gaze. "Gotta' catch us some FISH!" Xena exclaimed breaking her exchange with her lover and splashing into the water like an overgrown child.

Gabriel screeched with delight at his grandmother's playfulness. Her splash had successfully drenched the bard who admonishingly squinted at the warrior. "Heh," she whispered to her grandson, "She ain't seen nothin' yet…"

He giggled excitedly and Gabrielle knew she was certainly the butt of the joke.

"Come in auntie!" He implored.

"MM…mmmm…. I am a spectator… Ask your grandmother….. She does the catching and I do the cooking."

"True enough," the warrior confessed.

She looked at Gabriel with a serious frown, "Now listen," she said to him as he focused intently on her eyes. "You have to trick the fish. You have little fingers….you have to make them look like little worms," she wiggled her fingers and tickled his sides evoking a hearty laugh.

Gabriel mimicked her and wiggled his own fingers, "Like this?"

"Just like that."

Gabrielle found a fairly large log nearby and positioned it a few feet from the river so that she could watch the lesson. Her heart felt as if it might explode. How was this even possible? Why would she even ask that question? Just be grateful . She reminded herself. She thought nothing at all about Xena leaving with Virgil now. Watching Xena with Gabriel filled her with such a sense of happiness she could not find a word to describe it. He was listening to the warrior with as much concentration as any seven year old could possibly muster. Xena would take his hands and place them under the water directing his movements and pointing out fish as they swam by.

"Now," the warrior's voice became a whisper, "If you want the fish to believe you're a worm….every single part of you has to be still…..except your fingers."

Gabrielle couldn't help but feel a laugh ready to explode. How Gabriel was going to be completely still she could not begin to imagine, but if anyone would be able to coach the young boy it would be Xena. Gabriel stood perfectly still as his grandmother disappeared below the surface.

SWISH…. a familiar sensation overcame the bard, a familiar, slimy sensation. She wiped her cheek with the palm of her hand and poked her tongue against her cheek in mock disgust.

Gabriel's stunned expression erupted into laughter while Xena playfully cowered in the water with a cheesy smile aimed toward shore. The boy was laughing so hard he collapsed backward into the warrior who had to support his weight to keep him from falling under the surface. Gabrielle could not contain her own amusement at the sight before her. Gabriel had just gotten a glimpse into the real life of his grandparents. This was Xena's favorite game. It had been all the years that they were together. Gabrielle had forgotten the joy that it gave her warrior. She laughed equally hard now.

The afternoon continued with Xena trying to teach Gabriel her 'techniques'. Gabrielle wondered if the boy would be disappointed if he if he failed to catch anything, but just as the bard was preparing to call them both to her she was met with a thunderous announcement. "LOOK! Gabrielle… LOOK!" Xena was so excited, pointing to a small trout that rested on Gabriel's whole hand. "Throw it to shore," she whispered as he complied. The two fishermen made their way toward the bard. Xena was beaming with pride almost equal to the pride that emanated from Gabriel.

"Auntie…..I DID IT!" He thrust his wet body full force into the bard who bent over and kissed him on the top of the head caring nothing about her now drenched condition.

"I knew you would…."

Xena looked at the pair and her heart swelled. She had always imagined they would do these things with Eve one day. It had been painful for the warrior accepting that so many years and so many memories were lost to them all. Somehow, right now, it felt as though that hole had been closed.

"Well," Gabrielle said placing Gabriel in front of her and pointing out the condition all three were now in, "I think it's time we headed back and dried off…..besides all the fishing must have worked up an appetite," she winked.

"Do I have to…" Gabriel was afraid he was headed back to his parents and he really did not want the afternoon to end.

Xena put her hand on the boy's shoulder, "How about a ride back?"

He looked up at her questioning?

"Well?" She urged. "You can walk to our yurt if you want….but it's a lot farther than your mom's."

His face lit up at the realization that he was staying with them and nodded his head excitedly in agreement. Xena helped him onto her back and they began the trek back to the village.

Being Queen had some excellent advantages. As they approached the hut Gabrielle saw Lysandra approaching.

Lysandra turned to the young Amazon walking beside her and said something before the Amazon scampered away in the direction Gabrielle and Xena were heading.

"So," Lysandra studied the trio, "I don't think I want to know what you were doing." Not only were they wet but they were also filthy. "I instructed that you have baths waiting….and the fire should be set by the time you are done," the Amazon took the sack of fish from the Queen. "You know we have plenty of food here," she said.

Gabrielle rolled her eyes. "You don't know Xena very well," she whispered.

Lysandra did not completely understand but it seemed that the Queen was quite happy at this moment and Lysandra was pleased to see that, if nothing else.

"Xena," Gabrielle started, "I am going to go take Gabriel and get him washed up…we'll meet you back here in a candle mark or so."

Xena smiled and agreed. This would be an interesting evening. Somehow she would make Gabrielle understand….that this family she had held together was… truly….her own.

Chapter 26: Chapter 26 - Grace

Chapter 26 – Grace

Xena was milling about the yurt waiting for Gabrielle to return. Lysandra had told the warrior that she would be happy to bring them dinner but that was not at all what the warrior wanted. She had a campfire going outside to cook the fish from their afternoon adventure together. She had instructed Lysandra to keep the Amazons away from their hut for the evening. Lysandra was truly puzzled by the request knowing that Gabriel would be staying with them. Xena knew that to the young Amazon this probably seemed strange. The fact was that the warrior's life with the bard had been spent largely in front of campfires. Tonight she wanted Gabriel to see them as they truly were. Not a warrior, not an Amazon Queen, a bard or any other distinctive title someone had given them. Tonight they were just Xena and Gabrielle, two best friends who had realized the depth of their love so long ago; that their very souls were connected and that had embraced their own unique family.

Xena was just heading through the door to check on the fire outside when Gabrielle and Gabriel began walking toward her.

"Grandmother!" He yelled. Xena was a bit taken back at the greeting. 'Grandmother?' she thought to herself. 'How on earth did THAT happen?' She shook off her initial reaction and smiled at the boy.

"I thought we'd have those fish we caught for dinner?"

The boy nodded with enthusiasm. Gabrielle smiled at the warrior. "I don't suppose you started that dinner?"

Xena's lips tightened and she gave an innocent shrug. "I caught 'em and I even cleaned 'em…. Like you said….you cook 'em…"

Gabrielle rolled her eyes. "I did say that, didn't I?"

"You did."

Gabriel grabbed Xena's hand, "Auntie Gabby makes the best dinner," he insisted.

Xena raised her eyebrow as if she doubted his claim…"Are you sure?" she said.

"Uh huh.." he insisted… "and the best nut bread too." He was so earnest in his praise of the bard. Xena nodded her understanding.

"Good to know some things never change," she said exchanging a loving glance with the bard.

"I'll say," Gabrielle chimed in as she readied the frying pan for dinner. "I don't suppose you asked Lysandra to bring me anything from the kitchen?"

Xena shrugged again.

"Figures," Gabrielle griped slightly. This was indeed like old times. Good thing the bard knew how to improvise. "Gabriel," she called him to her, "Go inside and get me that small red bag on the table."

"Yes ma'am," she said politely and scurried off to complete his chore.

Xena looked at Gabrielle as she carefully placed the fish into the pan and set it aside. Then she took a long stick and began to poke at the fire. Xena watched her closely. She held the stick with her right hand at the top and her left just below it as a guide. Her thumbs would occasionally run up and down the wood turning the stick as though revealing some unconscious thought she was having.

"Do you know," the warrior began to speak, "That Eve does the exact same thing?"

"Huh?" Gabrielle turned to look at the warrior who had a bit of a pensive expression.

"When she stokes the fire…..she does the same thing…"

"Pokes it?" Gabrielle laughed and rolled her eyes.

"Very funny… yes she POKES it…. She holds the stick just like you….and turns it with her thumbs."

Gabrielle really did not understand the point of the observation. "Never noticed," she replied not seeing anything in the conversation except an attempt at small talk while they waited.

Gabriel reappeared just then and handed Gabrielle the bag she has requested.

"What's in there?" he asked.

"Ahhh….something special that Lila brought me."

Xena laughed. She knew what that meant. It was Lila's special 22 herb rub. She watched as Gabrielle sprinkled it across the fish. The night was getting even better.

Dinner was ready in a short period of time. Gabriel took up residence on the ground facing the two women. He studied them closely. His whole life had been filled with stories about the warrior. His father and mother had told him many tales about his Auntie Gabby and his grandmother the warrior princess. And, his Auntie Gabby had regaled him for hours about his grandmother. She told different stories than his parents. She told him funny stories, silly things about the warrior too. He was happy to just be with them both now. He watched the women eat and he listened to Xena's story about the first time Gabrielle tried to ride Argo alone. How she had gotten her foot caught in the saddle and went flying into a huge puddle. He laughed and laughed and laughed harder when he saw his Auntie Gabby smack the warrior's hand.

He took his turn now telling his own story. He started with a tall tale that grew with each word; about how he climbed a tall tree, taller than his father, taller than Xena, even taller than the yurt; just to see his Auntie riding into Potidaea on Sappho. How he watched her fight off two bandits with no weapons and how she flew through the air like a bird. Gabrielle listened with a wide grin. It was partly true. He had been about to turn five, and ever the adventurer he had climbed a small apple tree to watch for her arrival. They had all agreed to meet in Potidaea for his birthday. It was an equal distance for all to travel at that time. There had been two young men, thugs more than bandits, and she hadn't need to do much more than scold them strongly to get them to flee, but his rendition of the events that unfolded was entertaining and she loved the way he told his tales.

Xena listened attentively watching as her grandson acted out the bandits and his Auntie Gabby, his small fists throwing punches left and right. She contained her amusement aware of his pride in the tale and his pride in his Amazon auntie. "Gabrielle," the warrior turned to face the bard, "you certainly have acquired many skills…" her expression was clear to Gabrielle. Gabriel had flair for dramatics much like she once did and very much like his grandfather. In these moments she always wished Joxer could be with them.

"Well, I had a good teacher…"

"Mmm," Xena hummed as though thinking deeply, "and so apparently did Gabriel," she winked. The boy grinned wide believing this was an enormous compliment.

"Why don't we head inside," Gabrielle said tipping her head and raising an eyebrow at the warrior. "Gabriel," the bard began, "Go in the other room and put these on." She was happy to have the Queen's hut as it had an additional room for bathing and an additional room for meetings. She handed him a long shirt and pair of short pants. "It gets a little warm in here at night," she explained as he accepted the clothing and followed his instructions.

Xena walked up behind Gabrielle and put her arms around the bard. Gabrielle closed her eyes feeling Xena against her. It felt so safe. It was hard to believe now that they had spent so much time without each other to hold, to hear, to touch. "He is so much like you," the warrior whispered into the bard's ear.

Gabrielle held Xena's hands around her and breathed in her words. "I have spent a lot of time with him," she said happily.

"Yes," Xena said, "I can see that." Gabrielle detected something a bit strange in Xena's voice and began to turn to her when Gabriel returned.

"Can you tell that story…."

Gabrielle looked at him seeking more specifics.

"You know…."

"What story?" Xena asked.

"The one about Zeus…and Hercules…"

Gabrielle looked at him and rubbed her eyebrow. For some reason he loved this story. It was always the story that ended the evening.

"Zeus?" Xena looked at Gabrielle.

Gabriel continued, "You know!...when you went to Tarturus and saw Solon and stole Hades helmet….and then you got back and Zeus was throwing lightning bolts but Hercules had the rib of Cronus… and then Auntie Gabby had to help you with mother…..and you named her Eve because Solon told you to…"

"I think you just told the story," Gabrielle declared.

Xena looked at the bard and the boy. He was pulling at her with great force urging her to the fire.

"You tell it…." He implored. "Please?"

Xena felt a tear rising. It wasn't a tear of sadness. It was the knowledge that this had been Gabrielle's tale to the boy all these years; Eve's birth. It was a great tale to be sure, but Xena knew there was a greater reason behind the bard's affinity for it. She listened as Gabrielle spun the tale, expressing the details with exciting and beautiful imagery. Xena felt as though she were watching it all unfold again.

When she was done Gabriel looked at Xena. "Was Solon like me?" he asked.

Xena took a deep breath. Gabrielle looked at the warrior.

"Well, Gabriel….he was; a bit."


Gabrielle wasn't sure how Xena felt about this new line of questioning but it seemed the warrior was quite at home with it, which surprised her a bit.

"Well, let's see….for one thing he like to climb trees," Xena smiled.

Gabrielle nodded. "That's true, Gabriel… he did."

"Hummmmm," The boy considered the answer, "I'll bet he could climb high," he said and then seemed to lose interest in the subject.

"It's getting late," Gabrielle said.

"Awww…come on…. One more?" he pleaded.

"Gee, I don't know… I don't have many you haven't heard."

Xena looked at Gabrielle. "There must be at least one," she winked at the boy.

The boy nodded his agreement.

"How about the one when we got hit by that Tsunami with Autolycus?" Xena suggested.

Gabrielle shook her head and looked at Xena who raised both her eyebrows simultaneously and gave an encouraging nod. "That was an interesting time, Gabrielle," the warrior winked.

Immediately Gabrielle understood. It had been just after the event that she and the warrior were forced to admit their true feelings, to face the reality that their friendship was something much more.

Gabrielle closed her eyes for a moment and thought back all those years. She pictured Autolycus, the ship and she got ready to begin. Xena was sitting against a large block that Varia used as a surface for sharpening her weapons. Gabrielle moved across the room to grab a pillow for Gabriel. Xena patted the floor next to her.

"Come on you two," the warrior insisted. Gabriel grabbed hold of his auntie and pulled her down next to his grandmother. Gabrielle leaned up against the warrior and Gabriel snuggled his head onto her lap.

"All right," the bard began weaving the tale. Gabriel fought to keep his eyes open as the bard described the water rushing in and the ship sinking. His eyes closed and he struggled to pry them open as she illustrated vividly their ascent to the surface drawing breath from wine skins filled with air. As she watched his eyes continue to flutter, she softened her voice gradually, telling the tale so softly that it became only a whisper in his ear.

Xena watched as the bard stroked the boy's hair with loving admiration. "Sleep well, my Gabriel," she whispered, kissing him gently on his head.

Xena rose and looked down at the woman and the boy before her. She scooped him up. He barely even flinched at the motion. She laughed. "Just like you," she looked at the bard who was pulling herself to the standing position and following her. Xena laid the boy on the bed and Gabrielle covered him lightly.

"No…Xena… he is like you….from the moment he was born….I could see it…see you there."

Xena gathered her thoughts.



"Maybe that's what you needed to see."

"What are you talking about, Xena? He is…. Determined, stubborn, adventurous, intelligent…"

The warrior picked up her trail, "Has a way with words, loves stories, and has a little temper….. Blonde curls and curious little flecks of green in his eyes…"

Gabrielle looked at the warrior. "Well…..I don't know about any of that…"

Xena looked back at the sleeping child. "Why do you think he is a threat to Lucifer?" the warrior asked.

"I don't know, Xena….I've been over it a thousand times…. Eve is the messenger.."

"Is she?"

"What do you mean?" the bard asked with nervous energy.

"I mean that we saved Eve from the Olympians but we didn't raise her."


"So…. She is on her path now, but she is not who Eli originally intended…she fell…"

Gabrielle was getting frustrated. "What are you talking about? She was given to you…as healing… as a promise and you are her protector…"

"No….she was given to us. "

"Okay…. In a way…."

"No.. not in a way , Gabrielle….."

The bard was starting to feel her anger rise. She loved Xena but right now she remembered how much the warrior could infuriate her. "Xena…. What are you getting at? Is there a point here…. About Gabriel?" The bard was overwhelmed with fear for the boy's safety. She was doing everything in her power these last few days to keep that fear under control.

Xena sat on the large block. "Gabrielle…. What if…..what if Gabriel is the messenger?"

Gabrielle covered her face with her hands. "What do you mean?"

"I mean exactly what I said….think about it… Eve has balance now, but Gabriel has been raised with it. It isn't only within him; he has always been surrounded by it… Eve, Virgil…you…"

Gabrielle sat on a large chair and released a sigh. She looked over at the sleeping boy and wiped her hand across her forehead. There was a long silence.



"Don't you see it?"

Gabrielle closed her eyes and licked her lips.

"Don't you know why he is so attached to you?" The bard looked at the warrior. Her expression was stern.

"Xena…he is attached to me because I spent so much time with him… Eve was so…"


"Excuse me?"

"No, Gabrielle….he is attached to you because you are his grandmother."

"Yes… in a way…"

"No… not in a way ."

"Xena… yes… I love Eve like she was my own… and I consider her my daughter….I love Gabriel…."

Xena was now standing squarely in front of the bard and looking directly into her eyes, "She is your daughter."

"I know she feels that way…and I…"

Now it was Xena who was frustrated. "You can accept that Callisto can give me this child…this miracle….but you cannot believe that she is in any way meant for you?"

"No…. she is meant for me because I love you."

"Gods… Gabrielle.. you are so blind sometimes."

"I am not…"

Suddenly a faint light appeared in the doorway. It glowed. At first Xena thought it was Michael, but as the face began to come into focus she realized it was something else. "Eli?" she questioned in a whisper.

Gabrielle felt her stomach drop and looked over at Gabriel.

"It's all right, Gabrielle….he is safe here…safe with you both."

The bard's bond with the prophet had always been strong. She thought of him often even now but she had not heard of him making any appearances, not even to Eve and that filled her with anxiety. Gabriel was her priority… keeping him safe and keeping Xena alive.

"Gabriel has a special place in heaven," he said. "He is the harbinger of goodness and light….he represents the ultimate balance…the power of love to create miracles…the power of forgiveness to create understanding….and the strength and courage to fight when called upon….but he is incapable of hatred…completely…."

"That's why he is a threat to Lucifer"

"Yes…" Eli responded.

Gabrielle, while happy to see the prophet in any form remained confused and frustrated. "I don't understand, Eli…"

"Don't you?' His form moved toward the boy. "Do you remember…remember the day that you learned how Xena came to be with child?"

"Of course," the bard answered. Xena moved to her side.

"Do you remember what I said to you? When Callisto and I came to you that day?"

Gabrielle tried to recall his words but the emotion of that day seemed to obscure what they had been.

"I said," he looked at her now, "I said that your enduring faith in one another was the greatest miracle of all." She looked at him. "Callisto….Callisto healed you both…with my mortal hands…she found compassion and forgiveness because of you both…together…just as I said that day…..Gabrielle…why must you question what you know? After all you have seen…"

Xena took the bard's hand as Gabrielle spoke, "He's just a boy…"

"No…" Eli smiled moving toward the pair. "He is a seed…the seed of faith…planted by you both…by your faith in one another, in your bond…in your love…that is what brought Eve to you…healing so much pain and creating new life."

Gabrielle's tears began to fall as she realized what Eli was telling her.

"He is a miracle," Eli smiled filling the room with a sense of peace and serenity.

"Eli… Why…why now?" Xena asked.

He smiled at the pair. "Why return you now? Or why tell you now?"

It was Gabrielle who responded, "Both…"

He let a slight chuckle break forth and shook his head gently. "You two have not changed….it will require that faith you have –renewed in one another to conquer Lucifer. If he succeeds in removing Gabriel the seed of hope will not have a chance to be planted here fully and Gabriel will not realize his ultimate destiny."

"Like Eve…"

"Yes, Xena.. like Eve…Eve became tainted by hatred without you both to nurture her…Gabriel is pure…"

Gabrielle looked up and closed her eyes.

"As for your other question," he looked at the bard, "You have always known…you accept what is between you solely on faith, yet somehow…these blessings that spring forth from many of them…you need to explain. Just love…love is the way; even for those who fight to preserve its ability to flourish…these children…they are God's gracious gift to you."

He smiled. "I love you both," he said, "Love your children…your family and you will prevail…"

He was gone in an instant leaving the warrior and the bard speechless.

Chapter 27: Chapter 27 - No Explanations

Chapter 27 – No Explanations

Eli was gone and a painful silence lingered. Xena was not certain what Gabrielle was thinking. So much in their lives was difficult to comprehend. As grateful as she was for all of the second chances they had been given, for Eve…it remained almost impossible to fathom. It had been the same after Eli had healed them both; returned them from heaven. There was an awkward silence then as well. The pair struggled for their minds to catch up to the reality that had already pierced their hearts. This, what Eli said, Xena understood was true. Eve was not an ordinary child and neither was Gabriel. This was not about biology or even birthing; it was about connection; Xena's connection to Gabrielle, Callisto's connection to them both, their connection to Eli….and Gabriel? Virgil had forgiven Eve for the unthinkable; Joxer's death; that forgiveness led him to love her. Gabriel was blessed in so many ways, the result of so much abiding faith and love. So much of that had always radiated in the bard. Xena looked at her now. She was a well. She was the well that had nourished Xena's soul, just as they were bound to one another for eternity, so they were also bound to this family and this family to them both.

Gabrielle was sitting on the edge of the bed. Her attention seemed to focus on the boy that sprawled across it. She contemplated him, his face, his movements. Her hand faintly traced his form. Tears stained her cheeks, but no words poured forth from the bard. She had always seen Xena in him, from the moment he was born. This small boy somehow connected her to the warrior. She could feel Xena surrounding her when she was with Gabriel. It was as if he bridged the past and present. Now she had them both. And, now…now she felt a battle waging within her, guilt confronting elation. How many times she had secretly allowed herself, if only for a moment, to believe that Eve was hers. Every time she was filled with such love and then overwhelmed by such guilt. It was not her place. She would be a pathway for Xena and Eve to reach one another; that was her purpose now. She had no right…

Xena watched Gabrielle. Her heart soared and her heart sank. She needed to reach out to her. "Gabrielle…"

Gabrielle was still immersed in her own thoughts and her exploration of Gabriel.


The bard held strands of blonde hair between her fingers. She spoke softly. Her voice was barely audible, "I love you, Xena….more….more than…."

Xena's eyes instinctively closed and she inhaled deeply. This love between them, it was something that no one could truly understand. It took the warrior years to realize that it completely defied any understanding or explanation. Gabrielle was as much a part of the warrior as the air in her lungs. It just was. The warrior slowly began to cross the room. She stood over the bard, watching silently for a moment and put her hand on her lover's shoulder.

"I promise you," the warrior said, "Somehow…it will be different this time."

Gabrielle looked at Xena. The bard's apprehension was evident. "I can't lose you…"

Xena knew that meant the family, not only her. She carefully moved the boy to the side of the bed and guided Gabrielle down next to him suspecting that the bard needed this evening to just be close to them both. "I love you, Gabrielle, always."

Gabrielle sighed. In a few hours they would part. They would part with a renewed and profound sense of their purpose and their relationship. She felt Xena's arms encircle her and the warrior's hand come to rest on the small boy that had cuddled back into her own arms. She had no words. Xena understood. This moment was much like the moment Eve had been born. It was new life, new possibility…and at the same time gravity.

"Sleep now," the warrior whispered kissing the bard's head. Tomorrow was inevitable and for now the realities that awaited them needed to remain a distant dream.

Chapter 28: Chapter 28 - When Gods Intervene

Chapter 28 – When Gods Intervene

Ares moved carefully toward the ranks. He listened to the chatter as it became words and thoughts more clearly.

"And so… we will be given the province," a woman said. "A province without interference from Baal…"

Ares began to smile with satisfaction. Mortals….so naïve' No God would ever keep that promise and he should know….least of all Baal. His suspicions were correct. There was no love lost between these mortals and Anath. They had an agenda. Most likely desperate for a reprieve from some hardship imposed upon them, they had agreed to fight for Anath. He continued his stealthy exploration of Anath's army. It was far more rag tag than it appeared in the distance. He was certain that in order to hold positions in multiple locations; the goddess had spread inexperience throughout her forces. That made sense from her tactical point of view, but it also gave the God of War a distinct advantage. The more experienced warriors were also more likely to see the flaw in the goddess's tactics and that made them ripe for the picking.

Ares wandered off a bit into the forest. "Aphrodite," he beckoned.

The goddess appeared with a look of amazement and disgust. "What am I doing HERE?"

"Good to see you too, Sis."

"Wasn't sure I'd see you again," she admitted.

"I need your help."

"YOU… You need my help?...Ares if this is about Xena…"

He rolled his eyes in frustration. "Would you just listen, please?"

She extended her palms to the sky, "Listening…"

"I need you to go into the ranks over there," he motioned to the army just beyond the tree line.

"Yeah…..okay, Ares?...I knew you were crazy….but now you've gone INSANE."

He huffed in exasperation. "I don't want you to fight …I want you to talk. "

"You seem to be chatty enough…..why me?"

"Ummmm….LOOK, Aphrodite…."


"Look….I can't ask Gabrielle…they'll know her instantly."

The goddess turned her back to her brother and contemplated his suggestion. "What do you want me to talk to these heathens about?"

"I want you to convince than that following the Greek God of War is a better bet…."


"Listen….Aphrodite…I have to get them to fight each other."

Aphrodite shook her head. "You want me to trigger a battle?...Ares! I am the goddess of love….I'm not Artemis… for Zeus sake…"

Ares cocked his jaw to one side. "I thought you wanted to help Gabrielle?"

"That's not fair," Aphrodite whined.

"Well, you know what they say, Sis… all's fair in Love and War….that's you and me…and we're about all that's left."

"Fine," she grumbled. "What do you want me to say?"

He gestured to the rear of the swordswomen. See that tall woman?

Aphrodite smacked her own face with both hands in frustration, "Tall woman? Seriously, Ares?"

He let out a forceful sigh, "The one in the middle with the breastplate that is different."

Aphrodite nodded, studying the woman in the distance. "Why don't I just cast a love spell?"

Ares shook his head and ignored his sister's suggestion, "I want you to tell her that the Greek God of War will protect their province…that he is amassing an army to march on Phoenicia."

"Are you NUTS? – you don't even have an archer…"

His jaw tightened. "Just go and start talking… find out why they want Baal out of their province…and then make the overture."

"Where are you going?"

"I need to get something."

"You are not seriously going to leave me here….ALONE?"

"Aphrodite… you will be fine… I will be back before you even get to tell her about ME."

He was gone….

"Great…" the goddess sighed. She snapped her fingers and looked over herself. "Ugg…warrior fashion is so passé." She snapped her fingers again stilling the moment so that she could pop in next to the warrior without arousing suspicion.

The woman was talkative for a warrior, "Droughts…floods…all this just to force us to build temples to him," the warrior spouted.

"Well," the goddess chimed in, "What makes you think he'll keep his promise?"

The warrior kept her gaze forward. "Why wouldn't he?"

Aphrodite gave a hearty laugh, "Haven't met too many gods, have you?"

Now the warrior turned. There was a distinct expression of anger in her eyes.

"I'm just sayin'…" the goddess said feeling the heat of the warrior's gaze.

Suddenly the warrior seemed to get a distant look in her eyes.

You know..she's right…these gods…immortals…what do they know about death…destruction? He doesn't care…think about Anath…. Oh…yes….she fled …fled when that warrior appeared….ahhhh…..

The warrior shook her head with some force. Ares stood in the tree line gloating. It was working.

"What's wrong with you?" the goddess looked at the warrior with a sense of aversion.

"Why do you think the goddess fled? ….In the Amazon village."

Aphrodite was unsure what the warrior was referring to, but even she could add one plus one, "Xena…"

Ahhh yes… voices swirled in the warrior's head like a whirlpool sucking her own thoughts into oblivion. Xena…. Xena….back from the dead…killer of gods….she was afraid….gods…you can't trust gods…remember...she left you there…left you all….

"You know," Aphrodite said as she played with the sheath at her side, "I heard Ares is getting ready to attack Phoenicia."

"I heard Ares was dead," the warrior laughed.

"Oh no," the goddess said with confidence, "You know he was Xena's lover."

Ares….Ares will defeat Baal….she's right….you should follow Ares…anything for the warrior princess, everyone knows that…..

"Why would Ares want to help us?"

The goddess thought about the answer for a moment. The pause lingered as she struggled to find a believable answer when Ares appeared before them.

"Because," he looked at the warrior with steely resolve, "Greece is mine. My right. My dominion. Anath and Baal have overstepped for the last time…..I care nothing for Phoenicia…only for his demise."

It made sense. The warrior could still hear faint voices echoing in her mind, calling her…telling her to follow Ares…

"So, you defeat Baal and you leave us alone."

"That's right. You have other Gods – I have no quarrel with them. Greece is mine...and I have the warrior princess on my side."

It was clear that Anath feared this legendary warrior, whatever the reason. "Can she really kill Gods?"

Ares wasn't certain if Xena had regained that power, but that made no difference here, "She killed my sisters, my brothers to protect the messenger…"

"Her daughter," the warrior said to herself.

"Yes." He circled behind the warrior and placed his strong hands on her shoulders; leaning into her he breathed his words, "Do you think she will do less for her grandson now?"

The warrior stiffened and Ares felt a sense of ego and strength momentarily return to him. "That's right," he said in a hush, "Together we will take them…by force…"

The warrior released a cry and a swath of her ranks surrounded her.

"We are changing course," she announced. "Ares will lead us… for Greece… for Phoenicia…death to the lightning God!"

"I hope you know what you're doing," Aphrodite whispered and she was gone leaving the God of War to realize his plan.

Chapter 29: Chapter 29 - Words and Weapons

Chapter 29 – Words and Weapons

Xena hardly slept. She drifted off once or twice but she didn't want to miss another moment. Few people could imagine the truth of the warrior's heart, how vulnerable, how compassionate it truly was. It was even more so when she was in Gabrielle's presence. It always had been that way. Gabrielle had fallen asleep quickly, drained emotionally from the last few days. So much had happened, so much revealed to her and so much still to face. Xena didn't want to leave her. She held her and inhaled the scent of the bard's hair and lost herself in her own memories. She wished again that they had never been separated. Time had been cruel to them both. Here they were in this time…grandparents. Gabrielle should have been raising small children of her own. Xena tried to shake off that thought knowing that this was their family. Still, watching Gabrielle with Gabriel, holding them now, she wished in her heart that Gabrielle could have that experience, not only emotionally but physically.

The warrior stirred knowing the time to set off on her mission was approaching. She maneuvered as gingerly as she could, trying not to disturb the bard.

"Xena?" a sleepy voice called as a hand reached for her.

"It's all right, Gabrielle…go back to sleep."

"Are you leaving?' Her grip tightened on the warrior's arm.

"Not yet. Soon….Sleep…I promise I will wake you before I leave." Xena kissed her on the forehead and pulled gently away.

The warrior began packing up the last few things she thought she might need. She saw a scroll on the far table. It was partially unraveled and she picked it up. She lit a candle on the side table and held the scroll close enough to allow a faint glow to illuminated the words. The ink appeared new. This was something the bard had written recently.


I wait every day. I think I will wake and find you here, that somehow this was all a dream; a nightmare. I am so sure in my sleep that you are holding me. It's as if I can feel you there. But then, the light begins to break, just slightly. I reach for you, but you are not there. I rise early now, before the sun touches the trees. There is nothing to linger for; no touch… no warmth without you here to wake me. All these years….all these seasons. I miss you more every day that passes, never less.

How am I supposed to fight this battle without you? Lucifer? Gods? I can sense them. You taught me so much. How to listen. I can hear sounds between raindrops. I can sense hoofs at a field's length. I can wield weapons. But….I am not you, my love. I am not the protector. In truth I am just a bard. Just a woman who fell in love with a warrior. Just a person lost without a piece of her soul. How can I protect them?

I am so afraid. And only you could understand that. This fear I have. I am not afraid to die. Even now, I welcome it. Just to be with you….but Eve, Gabriel…..I cannot leave them. I cannot allow harm to come to them…I know you would want me to… to protect them. What if I can't? How could the Gods abandon us? Eli? Why would they take you from me, from us? To atone? This anger, it burns as hot as my fear swells. I know I must let it go now. I don't know how to do that without you either. I am so out of balance. Time cannot seem to alter that reality.

Xena…I wish you could hear me. I need you. If only you could answer. I love you…eternity was supposed to be a blessing now it feels like a curse, an eternity without you. There has to be a way to fight them, but how?

I love you, Xena. I miss you. I need you…..

Xena's hands trembled as her tears fell. She looked over at the beautiful woman she had loved for more than a lifetime, "Gabrielle." She placed the scroll back in its home and walked toward the bed.

"Gabrielle," she called tenderly, tears still slowly falling across her cheeks.

Gabrielle loosened her grip on the boy and turned to the warrior. She struggled to pry open her eyelids and squinted to bring Xena into focus. "What's wrong?" Gabrielle asked wiping the tears on Xena's cheeks.

"I have to go."


"Virgil will be waiting."

"What is it?" Gabrielle searched the warrior in the dim light for any clue that might explain these tears.

"It's all right, Gabrielle…I just don't want to leave."

Gabrielle closed her eyes and gently kissed the warrior. "I know."

Xena stood and steadied herself. "I will see you in a day or two, Gabrielle."

"I know." Gabrielle propped herself on her side and watched Xena finish fastening her breastplate.

"You know," Xena said straightening the armor, "Your gift has always been words."

Gabrielle was confused.

"They have always been your greatest weapon, not the staff or the sai."

Gabrielle looked at Xena curiously. "I doubt my words will deter Anath…much less Lucifer."

"Don't be so certain," Xena said as she headed toward the door. "You could disarm heaven itself, Gabrielle, if you wanted to." The warrior smiled at the bard.


Xena pivoted back, "Yes?"

"I love you."

"I know. Take care of our daughter." Xena began to leave and then turned back a final time. "I love you too, Gabrielle…always."

Chapter 30: Chapter 30 - Back to the Battlefield

Chapter 30 – Back to the Battlefield

Virgil kissed Eve and slowly let go of her hand. Xena was at their door. He opened it and saw the imposing figure before him.

"Morning," he greeted the warrior.

Xena's face twisted its acknowledgment. "Virgil…"

He took one look at the warrior's face and decided to make himself scarce. "I'll get the horses saddled."

"Fine…I'll be right there."

Eve looked at her mother knowing that something was weighing on her mind. "Mother?"

"Eli came last night."

"Eli?" Eve felt her knees grow weak.

"We were right," Xena said. "But Eve…."

"What is it?"

"I don't know…not exactly. Just keep them close to you."

Eve understood and it sent a shiver up her spine. "If I have to, Mother..I will…"

"I know. "

"Are you worried about Gabrielle?'

"No… I am just being cautious. Gods and demons, prophets and angels are a dangerous mix. That's all."

Eve knew that was true. "Just be careful, Mother."

Xena's face contorted a bit trying to hold back a smile. "We'll be fine. Been though much worse."

"Like death."

"Mmm..for one..."

Eve giggled and hugged her mother goodbye.

Virgil was already to mount his steed when Xena entered the stables. "Everything all right?"

"Sure." Xena said.

She mounted her mare and looked across at Virgil. "They'll be near water, Virgil, and we'll need to make the water our ally."

He nodded his understanding. "Any idea where to look…"


Ares stood in the middle of the river bank and watched feeling exhilarated. The sound of swords clashing, metal scraping on metal, was almost deafening. For most it would have been unsettling, frightening, but for the God of War it felt like air…just filling him, finally. He had managed to convince a good number of Anath's best warriors that following the Phoenicians was a mistake. He cackled with delight as a large woman flew in front of him and landed in the river. Arrows littered the ground almost like leaves at the turn of the seasons. He stepped over bodies, some alive and groaning – others clearly cold. He made his way to the warrior that first grabbed his attention. She was tall and lean, muscular and agile. He stood before her contemplating. She was beautiful. She was strong. Her auburn hair fell just over her shoulders and her eyes seemed to change from brown to green from moment to moment. He imagined she had mesmerized many a man, many a warrior; but she was no Xena. She would serve his needs, however. She clearly commanded respect and he would need that if they were to progress toward Baal's territory.

"They are on the run," he said.

"They'll head to meet up with Anath in the Northern Territories," the warrior explained.

"Fine by me," Ares said. "We are heading east…gather your troops," he ordered. "This…this was just a play date."

"Anath will come," she called to him.

"I'm looking forward to it."

Xena and Virgil rode for hours in silence. The warrior was determined to keep her focus on what might lie ahead. She ran through strategies in her mind. She replayed old battles, considered ways in which to use nature itself. No matter how hard she tried, Eli's visit was haunting her. It was something he said. One thing Xena knew was that EVERYTHING Eli said had a meaning. She just wasn't sure what he meant.

She slowed the mare to a trot and Virgil followed suit. "What is it?" he asked searching the woods around them.

She looked forward studying the tree line ahead. "You and Eve…." She said allowing the thought to trail off a bit.


"Is it because of how sick she was…I mean…that you haven't had any other children?'

Virgil was stunned, not because he found the question intrusive. He was more than a bit surprised that this would be on the warrior's mind now. "No…not really…maybe at first. Some things just aren't meant to be, I guess."

"So you would?'

"Of course," he said.

Xena considered his answer and changed the subject. "Over that tree line," she pointed.

"How do you know?"

She smiled at him and raised an eyebrow, "Some things, Virgil… you just know… "

He shook his head and snarled a bit, "Yeah, if you're YOU."

She laughed. "Look…" she instructed.

Virgil looked closely now. Some of the trees seemed to have lost their tops. "What in the…"

"Catapults…" the warrior explained.

"But who?"

"I don't know that…but whoever it was they did battle…only one way to find out…. Come on…"

They rode at a steady pace for a short while before Xena began to slow their progression.

As the river came fully into view, the sight of bodies, of blood, of broken weaponry and broken dreams engulfed the warrior princess. It was a sight she had learned to respond to with a coolness that sometimes felt eerie even to her. But, now, after so much, she felt her senses overload. Death was an unsettling sight but it also came with distinct smells and subtle sounds. She stopped and scanned the scene, attempting to quell the emotion within. This is one thing she would be happy to never see again. It was the reality that she so desired to protect those she loved from and yet somehow it always spilled into their lives. Her silence spoke volumes.

"Xena?" Virgil looked at the warrior princess and saw her expression. He had seen that only once before on the warrior - many years ago. They had entered a small village following Livia's trail. The ground then too was littered and the sky dotted by innocent men and women hanging helplessly on crosses. It was an abominable display of disrespect for life and it had twisted the warrior's senses in a way that she could not hide her disgust. "Xena?" he prodded carefully.

Xena closed her eyes for less than a second, filling her lungs with air as deeply as she could. Her jaw tightened and her body became rigid. She did not speak only moved to begin their descent to the river. Her eyes scanned the display before her examining every minor detail. She was not concerned about attack. She wanted to know what had caused this; who had caused this.

"What happened here?" Virgil asked. "Too far out for Romans."

"It wasn't Romans," she steadied her mare and dismounted. She bent over and picked up an arrow perusing it with her fingers. "It wasn't anyone."

Virgil made his way to her side. His eyes scanned the long line of carnage. "What do you mean?"

Xena sighed. "There was no assault…they fought each other…look…"

Virgil had, indeed, become a savvy fighter. He may have had his father's sense of humor, but he possessed what Joxer had always longed for; keen senses and exceptional coordination. He learned a great deal about assessing a situation and much of that he learned from his short adventures observing the warrior princess. He looked closely at the position of the women warriors that lie about them. It was evident. They often seemed to face one another. He moved to view the distance. There was no evidence of tracks approaching them. Somehow these warrior women had turned on one another. "Why?"

Xena kept walking. She was hoping she would find some injured, perhaps a voice to reveal the events, but there was little to be heard but some faint moans of women crossing the edge of life into death. She fought to still the shudder she felt rising. "Ares…."

"Ares? What?…Xena…Ares hasn't been heard from in…You've got to be kidding – now we have to deal with Ares too?"

Xena bent over and attempted to comfort a young woman as she clung desperately to life. The woman could not have been more than 18 or 19 full seasons. Her hair had a slight red tint to it and it fell softly below her shoulders. She looked up at the warrior princess. Her eyes gaining some strange comfort in the expression in the steel blue that conveyed deep understanding and compassion. Xena fought her own tear. This slight woman now in her embrace, she reminded the warrior so much of Gabrielle when they first met. Such waste. All this violence. Xena smiled. It was soothing to the young woman. She could scarcely have been a warrior. Xena took a deep breath, "Close your eyes," she tenderly instructed. "There is nothing to fear…close your eyes, child." The young woman grasped Xena's hand and complied allowing herself to slip into the realm that awaited her.

Virgil watched Xena. Instinctively he knew what the warrior was thinking. He could see the resemblance as well. He lifted his fingers to the bridge of his nose and pressed with force attempting to understand all this senselessness himself. Xena laid the young woman back down gently and as her eyes began to follow their physical response to this transition, Xena carefully and lovingly closed them again. She stared at the lifeless form before her for a moment and rose to her feet.

"He must have summoned the furies."

Virgil looked at the warrior. "I don't…"

"It's all right Virgil…..he's on our side…..I think I know what he's planning."

Virgil was beyond confused. Ares had been missing in action since before the warrior's death. It was common knowledge that the God of War had slipped into a deep madness. But, he knew Xena and Gabrielle and if anything could force the God of War to resurface it was Xena's return.

"Now what?" He asked.

"We follow the plan."

"What plan?"

Xena finally turned to Virgil and looked at him with a motherly expression, placing her hand on his shoulder, "We return to our family…..this is done."

"Aren't you worried that…"

Xena bit her bottom lip and rolled her tongue against her cheek. "We have other things to worry about. If I'm right…and I know Ares, he has bought us some time. Assassins are more likely right now, Virgil. Gods can be brash…Lucifer…Lucifer will be subtle."

Virgil felt his body tense. "You think they are in danger."

"Not immediately…..Besides, Virgil…..Gabrielle and Eve can handle just about anything Anath throws at them. Lucifer won't react…..he's smarter than that…but I still think we should move quickly."

Virgil agreed. As they mounted their horses Virgil turned to Xena. "Can I ask you something?"

Xena returned his gaze and nodded her permission.

"Why Gabriel?"

Xena exhaled with some force as they began to move. "Virgil…." She considered her answer, "This is no ordinary family." He looked at her. This he knew but he still could not understand what his son had to do with all of this.

Xena chuckled and shook her head, "He is no ordinary boy."

"What does that mean?"

"Well, Virgil…I don't exactly know…Eli was a bit unclear…"


"MMMmm…see what I mean?"

"You saw Eli?" he said.

"Not really that surprising, Virgil…..he did return me form the dead…twice."

Virgil shook his head, "He's just…"

Xena stopped her horse, "Virgil…he is anything but just a boy. You know that. Eve…Eve isn't like other women…and Gabriel…well…..he is the product of all the same things…love and forgiveness. Forgiveness few could understand."

Virgil looked at Xena. "Just trust me, Virgil…'ll never really understand… I don't… just have to learn to accept it." With that they continued their journey toward their meeting place.

Xena let her thoughts roam. She was not certain of much at this moment. She was certain there would be more battles, more threats. She was aware that danger surrounded them all. Mostly, she was relieved to be going back to Gabrielle. That young woman on the riverbank struck something deep within the warrior. She needed to see the bard. How could there be anything left to say after all these years and all that they endured? But, there was…so much left to say, at least for her. Somehow she would have to find a way to tell her, tell the bard what she had always struggled to put into words. And she was determined that this time they would prevail…what Eli said… "Love your children…" it was time they did. Somehow...

Chapter 31: Chapter 31 - What We Fight For

Chapter 31 – What We Fight For

The village was humming as the Amazons prepared for the trek to the south. Gabrielle was outside cooking breakfast when Lysandra came up carrying a small basket full of goose eggs, herbs and vegetables.

"Honestly, why do you do this?" the Amazon asked.

"Do what?" Gabrielle inquired going about her task and accepting the basket with a nod.

"You're an Amazon Queen."

Gabrielle smiled at the young woman, "Oh, Lysandra…I guess this is just who I am, Amazon Queen or not," she lightly touched her friend's hand. Gabriel poked his head out of the hut.

"Good morning, sunshine," Gabrielle greeted. "Why don't you run over and get your mother?"

The boy stretched and yawned before looking at his auntie with some concern.

"I promise… no eating until you get back…"

He smiled and began a halfhearted sprint away, still a bit groggy from his sleep.

"Lysandra," Gabrielle said as she mixed some herbs in a bowl, "stay… have breakfast with us."

Lysandra could not hide her pleasure at the offer. Catching her own reaction she forced her face to twist into a stern gaze, "There is much to prepare."

Gabrielle attempted to suppress her giggle and stoked the fire never raising her sight to the woman, "There is also breakfast to eat," she said. "Here," she handed Lysandra some onions and tomatoes, "Cut these up for me."

Lysandra took the vegetables and stood perfectly still. Her nose crinkled and her eyes became small, "I'm..."

"Lysandra, don't make me pull rank on you," Gabrielle raised her eyebrow. The bard watched as Lysandra began to busy herself with the task the queen had commanded and shook her head lightly turning back to the fire. Lysandra was special to Gabrielle. She remembered the first time she'd seen her as a child. Gabrielle was sitting across from Varia. She was on her way to Potidaea before ultimately planning to settle in Amphipolis. Xena had been gone only a season. She had visited the Land of the Pharaohs as they had planned, but it had only served to increase her feelings of loneliness. She felt a strong sense of responsibility to see those they loved the most and a desire to be as close to Xena as she could. Amphipolis was the only answer.

Lysandra had come into the Queen's hut nervously carrying a tray of food. The platter rattled in her hands as she stared at Gabrielle. She had not yet turned nine and was completely enamored with the bard. Varia had whispered that Gabrielle was the girl's hero and Gabrielle felt compelled to invite the child to spend some time with her. The evening that Lysandra came to Gabrielle was the first time the bard had managed an honest laugh since the warrior's death. Ever since that evening the two had a special connection. In truth, Gabrielle thought of Lysandra as a daughter in many ways. Whenever Gabrielle came to the Village she spent a great deal of time with the girl. Lysandra had even traveled to Amphipolis with her hero on several occasions when she was younger.

Gabrielle recognized that Lysandra always wanted to impress her. She tried to be like Xena in so many ways, learning the art of sword play, mastering the staff, developing her senses. But, the bard knew the girl's heart was much softer than her exterior, just like the warrior's. Often, as Lysandra grew, she reminded Gabrielle of another young Amazon she and Xena had adopted, Amarice. The similarities tugged at her heart. Amarice had been lost in battle, only a still a girl in many ways herself. She worried for Lysandra, still. Balance was important. Her youthful exuberance was endearing in many ways, but it also could serve to put her at risk. There was a time for battle, a time for training, a time for traditions, but there was also a time for friendship and family, for peace and for love. More now than ever before, Gabrielle understood that. Eli's brief visit seemed to be washing over her. While they needed to prepare and to plan, to strategize and to fight; there was an equally urgent need to remember what they were fighting for. That was evident. She longed for Lysandra to understand that.

Eve saw Lysandra grumbling over the vegetables as she approached. "Very smart," she whispered to herself. She was certain Gabrielle had forced that issue. Eve was very aware of her younger mother's affection for Lysandra. She had been grateful that Gabrielle had Lysandra to pour her motherly energy into. It distracted the bard from other realities, moreover, it made her happy. "I see you've been put to work on the most important preparations for the queen," Eve joked to Lysandra.

"Eh…" was the only response. Eve could not hide her delight at the entire scene.

"Good morning…. Mother," Eve said quietly. Gabriel looked at his mother, his jaw open wide. He had never heard her call his auntie that.

Gabrielle surprisingly didn't flinch at the endearment Eve offered. She just smiled and touched Eve's arm. "Good morning."

"I see the mighty Amazon over there is getting a lesson in hearth and home?" the messenger laughed.

"MM…." Gabrielle responded, "Stubborn…"

Eve laughed out loud.

"Lysandra…bring those over here," Gabrielle called. Always wanting to be included and helpful Gabriel anxiously outstretched his hands to Lysandra for the basket. Seeing his enthusiasm she willingly handed it over to him to bring to the bard. Perhaps this would allow her to make her escape.

"I'll let you all visit," the Amazon turned to leave.

"Sit down, Lysandra," Gabrielle said firmly. Eve looked at the ground struggling to conceal the smirk on her face.

Lysandra complied but was acting almost as fidgety as Gabriel. He was picking up rocks and throwing them into the woods as hard as he could and she was kicking the dirt nervously in front of her to unearth more ammunition for the boy. The Amazon queen rolled her eyes to the top of her head, "Honestly, you two will be the death of me… Lysandra…why don't you take Gabriel and grab some tea for us to make before everything gets packed up? This will take a while anyway."

"Come on, kid," Lysandra said. "I'll race you."

"You're bigger than me," he said indignantly. "That's no fair."

Lysandra put her hands on her hips and pouted slightly. "Well…. I'll give you a head start," she said. "See that barrel down there?"

He nodded. "I won't start until you reach that barrel."

"Deal," he yelled.

"Wait….but if I still beat you…you have to carry the stuff back…..and NO whining."

"I said DEAL," he mocked her.

Eve could no longer contain her laughter at the display and looked at Gabrielle who had placed her hand to her cheek observing the interaction with her own amusement. In another instant the Amazon and the boy were off.

Gabrielle continued with her tasks placing the cut up vegetables into the frying pan with some herbs and some water. Eve watched her as she had so many times before. Somehow it felt like she was seeing this woman with new eyes. No one could really explain it, she knew that…but somehow Gabrielle was bonded to her and knowing that was a truth, not just a feeling, seemed to fill Eve with a sensation she could not describe. Gabrielle was truly Eli's dearest friend at the end of his life; his most trusted confidante'. It made sense in its own way. Eve thought that in many ways even she could not comprehend his message as well as Gabrielle did.

"Fire's getting a little low," Gabrielle commented.

Eve picked up a long sick and began poking the logs. She was lost in her thoughts as she used her thumbs to twist the stick back and forth and round and round. Gabrielle stared. "What?" Eve asked catching the bard's concentration on her hands.

"Oh…nothing," Gabrielle smiled taking a seat next to her daughter. "Something your mother said…"

Eve shrugged. Neither was completely sure what to say. Without the distraction of Gabriel and Lysandra the conversation stalled.

"Are you surprised?" Eve asked very quietly almost as if she was afraid to hear the response.

Gabrielle rubbed her lips. "About you?"

Eve kept poking and Gabrielle watched her hands. "About you and me," Eve said keeping her concentration on the log.

Gabrielle took a moment. She reached slowly over and took the stick from Eve, placing it in her own hands and resumed the chore of prompting flames. Eve looked at Gabrielle's hands and she realized that she was doing the same thing, turning the stick. Eve had done that since she was a child in Rome. She always loved to sit in front of a fire and she would catch herself rolling the stick, poking for flames, imagining faraway places in their glow. It suddenly felt as though years of questions spilled in silent thought were answered in one crashing wave.

"I couldn't love you anymore than I already did," Gabrielle finally said.

Eve knew that was also the truth. "You know," Eve started and then stopped herself.

Gabrielle looked at her daughter. "What?"

"I just feel…"

Now Gabrielle felt uneasy. What did Eve think of this revelation?

"I feel grateful… but I feel so guilty."

Gabriel knew that emotion. She wanted so badly for so many years for Eve to be hers, truly be a part of them both. It cut at her, more than she could or would ever let on to Xena. She loved it when Xena would say "our daughter", but she could never bring herself to say those words herself without feeling intrusive in some way and it made her heart sink.


"Well, I do. I should have known so much sooner."

Gabrielle sighed and laid the stick down. She shook the frying pan and placed her hand on Eve's knee. "Eve, none of us can really understand all that we've been given," She looked skyward. "When I met Xena…"

Eve looked at Gabrielle sensing that she was about to share something she seldom did.

"I knew when I saw her…it was like lightning shot through every inch of my body and then rested in my heart."

Eve swallowed hard determined to remain composed. Gabrielle was truly a bard. She had a way of expressing emotion, of explaining life; that Eve had never found in anyone else.

The bard continued, "It took us years…years to admit what we always knew. Years to accept it. To believe that it was real," she paused and a smile came to her face, "We lost our children, we even lost each other for a moment…I often wondered if we had just accepted what was in our hearts… BUT, I know that is not true. Everything we went through. Battling ourselves, battling each other," she laughed a bit, "Fighting wars…all the people we met, we loved…we lost….." She looked at her daughter with a gleam in her eye that Eve had never seen, "All of that brought you… and you… you…" Gabrielle's tears began to fall and Eve followed suit.

"You… were… and are the most precious thing in the world… to either of us. Nothing Eli said changed that… if a part of me is in you… well just as much of you is in me…."

Eve's tears almost turned to sobs. Gabrielle pulled the woman's head to her chest.

"I love you," Eve said through her tears.

"I know that," Gabrielle said. "I love you too, my sweet Evey…and I will do whatever I have to, to keep you safe."

Chapter 32: Chapter 32 - Amazon Justice

Chapter 32 – Amazon Justice

Evening fell quickly. Gabrielle helped to boost Gabriel up onto Sappho in front of her. Eve mounted another mare and trotted up beside them. Lysandra walked up in front of the trio and addressed the queen, "My Queen," she said, "Queen Varia is ready for you to give the command." They had decided that Varia would take the rear. An attack was most likely to occur from either above or behind. Varia had suggested placing Eve and Gabriel in the middle of the ranks but Gabrielle was steadfast in her assertion that the three would stay together regardless of Varia's concerns.

"Gabrielle, be reasonable."

"The discussion is over."

"You are being foolish," Varia insisted. "You know as well as I do that tactically the safest place for them is in the middle….. Surely Eve knows that."

Gabrielle's resolve was evident. "Varia…listen to me…My daughter stays at my side. Gabriel stays with us. …. I appreciate your concern. It has been this way since she was an infant… I have no intention of changing it now."

Varia could not fathom the reasoning. "As Queen – as a warrior…you know…"

Gabrielle looked stoically at her counterpart, "This is not about being a queen or a warrior, Varia. Eve is my daughter as Gabriel is her son… there is no safer place than together…. Now, I don't wish to discuss it any longer. We will take the front….. Between Eve and me; we can sense a great deal. You head the rear. This is a young tribe, you and I both know the pace I set will be exhausting…they will need both your encouragement and your prodding."

Finally Varia conceded.

Gabrielle looked at Lysandra. She was so proud of this young woman. Now Gabrielle needed to assume her own role as the Queen of the Amazons, but before raising her hand to begin the journey she needed to address the Lysandra as she saw her in her heart, not as an Amazon.


"Yes, My Queen."

"I want you to know how proud I am of you."

Lysandra looked at the Queen and then at the messenger. Eve's face was serious and focused now. Lysandra was struck by the way Eve now looked at the Queen.

"Be careful Lysandra… think before you act."

Gabrielle moved Sappho several paces ahead of Eve. Lysandra looked at the messenger. She was confused by Gabrielle's words.

Eve watched Gabrielle move ahead and looked down at the Amazon with a softened expression.

"She loves you, Lysandra… like a daughter," Eve smiled.

Lysandra could not move. Eve continued looking ahead at her mother's form astride Sappho. "You are lucky," Eve said, "You got the benefit of her as a child. Remember what she taught you." Eve moved forward.

Lysandra turned and watched as Gabrielle lifted her hand in the air and beckoned the tribe forward. Horses passed, her sisters passed, but she remained impossibly still. When Varia finally reached the young Amazon she knew that Gabrielle must have said something. Varia knew Gabrielle well and she was very aware of the connection the two shared.

"Let's go, Lysandra"

Lysandra snapped out of her haze and mounted the mare that Varia led beside her.

They traveled for hours in the darkness and Varia consistently urged the women in front to keep pace. Lysandra normally was talkative, rolling battle contingencies off her tongue and making observations about the surroundings. For hours she had been silent.

Varia looked over at the young woman. "What did she say to you?"

"What?" Lysandra asked.

"Gabrielle, what did she say?"

Lysandra looked forward, "Nothing... to be careful."

"You're quiet because she told you to be careful?"

"I don't understand why she is at the front… with Eve … she should have let me take them to the middle of the ranks."

Varia nodded. "Losing battle, my friend."

"It's foolish."

Varia laughed. She had agreed but after mulling it over she realized that Gabrielle knew what was best for her family. She also knew that Gabrielle was far more intuitive than tactical. "She knows what she's doing."

Lysandra looked at Varia. "Eve doesn't…"

"Eve can fight, Lysandra."

"She doesn't fight, is my point."

Varia pulled her attention away for a moment to listen to the woods around them. "Listen to me... I've known Eve a long time. Believe me she is her mother's daughter."

Lysandra was not sure what that meant. "You mean she is like Xena."

"Of course."


"What?" Varia asked.

"She seems more like Gabrielle to me."

Varia shrugged. "I suppose in some ways she is. That's the side you know… there is another. And besides, you've never seen The Queen in a real battle, Lysandra… I have. Queen Gabrielle is no one to be toyed with, believe me."

Lysandra had heard the stories and she knew Gabrielle could fight but she had always been nurtured by the queen, not trained. "I hope so…"

"Stop worrying about Queen Gabrielle and Eve," Varia said with some ferocity. "Pay attention to where we are. "Besides, I pity the idiot that makes a move on them. I really do."

Just then the lines began to break and Varia noticed that the horses ahead were rearing their heads and pulling from the line.

Lysandra felt her heart drop… "Gabrielle…." She kicked the mare and began to take off for the front of the line.

"Lysandra! Stop!" Varia pulled the mare alongside the Amazons who were on foot and pulling the majority of supplies. "Pull the munitions to the center and the supplies," She ordered forcefully. It was imperative that they protect their resources. Whatever was happening ahead Gabrielle and Eve would have to handle it.

"Eve!" Gabrielle screamed and turned Sappho about sharply. Eve had dismounted and she was reaching in a large satchel on the side of her mare. She pulled out the sword. It was strange how it fit in her hands so comfortably even after all of these years. The woman in front of her threw a knife straight toward the queen. Gabrielle covered Gabriel accepting the blow willingly in her right shoulder. She grunted at the pain. The woman looked like an Amazon. She swung the sword however with a grace and precision that Eve knew was taught in a well-trained army, perhaps even in a Coliseum.

Eve twirled the sword in her hand effortlessly. It felt natural, much like the feel of the stick in the fire.

"Does the messenger have something to tell me," the woman dripped with sarcasm.

Eve's smile was precocious and sly. She saw Gabrielle hunched over her son and she felt an angry resolve brewing within her that she had not experienced in years. She cocked her head to the side almost playfully and expertly turned the weapon in what seemed to be almost a dance, "Not feeling much like talking," she quipped, circling the woman gracefully.

Metal met metal within an instant as the swords clashed above their heads and then clanked beneath their knees. Eve stood taller than this woman before her and the messenger's experience and prowess on a battlefield was evident. The smaller woman thrust forward but Eve simply flipped backward, much in the style of her warrior princess mother.

"Not bad for a messenger," the small warrior offered. "Too bad I have to kill you."

Gabrielle sat up on Sappho and checked Gabriel, "Gabriel, close your eyes, do you understand me?'

"Mother is…"

"Your mother is a fine swordsman… do as I say."

"Auntie…you are…" he was beginning to panic at the sight of the knife in Gabrielle's shoulder.

"Gabriel, you need to be brave. Close your eyes … right now…"

He shut his eyes as tightly as he could hearing the urgency in his auntie's voice. She leaned over him and whispered, "Do not open them until I tell you, do you understand, my love?"

He nodded his head violently. Gabrielle winced at the pain in her shoulder and looked over at her daughter with the warrior.

Eve didn't have time to think, not about being a messenger. Right now she was a mother and a daughter and instinct was her ally. The most important thing Gabrielle and Xena had taught Eve was to follow her heart. That was her parent's ultimate gift and her heart told her to protect all she held dear right now. The message depended on their lives.

Eve rolled her tongue visibly inside her cheek. The warrior advanced again and Eve's quick footed response sent the woman stumbling. "I said," Eve began. "That I didn't feel like TALKING." Now the messenger made her own advance kicking the warrior in the thigh and knocking her backward.

Lysandra had finally made it to the head of the line. She was stunned to see Eve aggressively pursuing the woman dressed as an Amazon. She knew immediately Anath had plants within the tribe. She looked over and saw Gabrielle. The Queen was struggling to stay astride Sappho and had a firm grip on her grandson. Lysandra pushed her mare forward to Gabrielle.

"Lysandra, you should be securing the supplies."

Lysandra did not care at all what Gabrielle said or what The Queen thought right now. Her only concern was Gabrielle's welfare. She grabbed Sappho's reins and began to lead the horse to the side.


"You can lecture me later," the Amazon answered sternly. "Gabriel, are you all right?" There was genuine concern in the young woman's voice. He nodded and jostled himself firmly back into Gabrielle.

Eve continued her advance. The warrior was getting tired. "This is what the mini gods have left to offer," Eve said with disgust, "Pathetic." The warrior started to raise her sword again and Eve answered with a crushing blow from her own. She slapped the warrior's sword with such force that it sailed out of the warrior's hand and landed a good distance behind her. The warrior struck a defensive pose.

"You can't win," the warrior said kicking Eve in the face. Eve shook off the assault and spun the sword again. "I said I didn't feel like talking," she repeated, "I never said I didn't have a message." Eve kicked the woman in the chest sending her flying into a bush. The woman scrambled to try and reach her feet but Eve was far too fast. In an instant she had hit the woman with the handle of her sword, knocking her unconscious. "Message delivered."

Lysandra was lifting Gabriel off of Sappho. He still had his eyes closed tightly as Eve made her way swiftly back to her family. Gabrielle was losing a great deal of blood and was pale. Myrrine rode up to assess the situation just as it came to a conclusion. She hovered now over the defeated warrior. She went to draw her sword when she felt a hand on her arm. It was Lysandra' and her grip was strong.

"No, Myrrine."

"She attacked the Queen…you know what Amazon Justice..."

Lysandra looked to Gabrielle who offered her a faint smile. "You know Queen Gabrielle will not stand for that. That brand of justice faded long ago when she came here. Stop, think…"

Myrrine lowered the sword and looked at Lysandra. There was a maturity about her that seemed to take hold.

Eve looked at her family. Gabrielle winced and whispered, "It's all right, my Gabriel… open your eyes."

He did so slowly and saw his mother give him a loving glance but then he saw the fear in her eyes. She looked at Gabrielle who was fading.

"You've lost a lot of blood already."

Gabrielle smiled as best she could, "I've had worse."

Eve was not convinced as Gabrielle slipped into unconsciousness. "Mother…" she whispered….

Chapter 33: Chapter 33 - Healing

Chapter 33 – Healing

The ride to the Southern tribe was brutal for Gabrielle. Eve and Myrrine did their best to stop the bleeding after removing the knife. Eve stitched it tightly and made certain it was clean. The wound was deep and Eve was concerned about infection. There was no telling how dirty the knife had been. She was anxious to get to the village and hoped that Xena fared better than they had. She had instructed Lysandra to ride in the cart with Gabrielle and Gabriel. She trusted the amazon and she knew that her affection for Gabrielle would make her both a comfort as well as a strong protector.

"Wake up," Eve coaxed Gabrielle who had become so weak she could not keep her eyes open. She leaned into her ear, "Mother… you have to…. Gabrielle… wake up…. Gabriel is watching… wake up."

At the mention of the boy's name the Amazon Queen forced her eyes open.

"I have to take the knife out," Eve said. Gabriel was shaking. He couldn't cry. He couldn't remove his eyes from his auntie. "Lysandra, take Gabriel and clean him up." The boy had blood all down his back from Gabrielle's wound.

Lysandra went to take the boy's hand and he shouted, "NO!"

"Gabriel," Eve counseled strictly, "Go with Lysandra."

Gabriel was as strong willed as any member of the family and he planted his feet firmly on the ground folding his arms in protest. "I'm not leaving Auntie Gabby," he said forcefully.

Eve watched as Gabrielle fought to stay awake. "Gabriel," Eve began again.

A crackly voice picked up her thoughts, "My, Gabriel…" Gabrielle called to him, "Come here."

He tentatively leaned into his grandmother as she reached out and took his small hand, "You listen to your mother now… go on… I'm not going anywhere, my love… I promise. Go on."

Eve covered her mouth with her hand. He nodded his understanding but his reluctance to leave remained evident. He looked at his mother for reassurance. "I will take care of Auntie Gabby," Eve said touching his face. "Go with Lysandra."

When he was out of sight and well out of earshot Eve looked at Gabrielle.

"Is he away?" Gabrielle struggled to whisper.


"Do it, then."

Eve's hand began to shake. She knew that the moment she released the knife the blood would begin to flow again, but leaving it in increased the risk of infection. There was no choice. Myrrine grabbed cloths from a satchel and stood at the ready to apply pressure. Eve looked at Myrrine to insure she was prepared. "All right…on three…." She leaned down again into Gabrielle's ear, "I'm sorry." Gabrielle just offered a crooked smile. "One…two…three..." she pulled with force and the knife came out. Blood spewed in the air as she feared and Myrrine moved into position to cover the wound, firmly pressing the queen's shoulder.

Tears spilled as freely as the blood, but the pain was so intense that no sound, almost no air could escape the bard. Eve put her head on Gabrielle's. She felt sick. They needed now to pick up the pace even more. Gabrielle needed a healer and she needed rest. Travel was not an asset in her condition and Eve knew it.

The ride in the cart was uncomfortable for everyone. Eve resumed the position at the front with Varia driving from behind. The tribe had a renewed sense of purpose and a renewed energy. Keeping the pace proved less difficult than Eve had feared. She hated being separated from the family but she knew it was necessary. Just as Gabrielle had been willing to do anything to protect her; she would give her life for her family.

The cart jostled and hopped. Gabriel sat next to his auntie. He stared at her. She hadn't stirred in some time and even he could not seem to get her to rouse even with his attempt at constant chatter. He looked over at Lysandra and she smiled at him. He was embarrassed to admit he was afraid, but the amazon could see it in his small eyes. "Is she going to die?" he asked looking back at Gabrielle.

Lysandra swallowed hard. She was thinking of her own mother. She didn't remember much about her except her eyes and the hole that she felt for such a long time after she had passed. Losing Gabrielle was unthinkable. "No, Gabriel. Your auntie is tough… she just needs rest." In another circumstance Lysandra would have thoroughly believed that to be the truth, but she knew the longer it took to arrive the greater the chances that Gabrielle would not fare well.

"You look tired," Lysandra said. "Take a nap for a while."

He touched Gabrielle's hand. It was enough to make her stir slightly and she squeezed his finger. She couldn't open her eyes but she could hear the entire conversation. He leaned into her and whispered, "Auntie?"

Her lips curled slightly, "Lie down, my love," she answered hoarsely. Lysandra watched as the boy placed his head against the queen's chest and the queen seemed to take on a peaceful presence that masked her pain for a moment. The amazon wiped a tear and prayed… prayed to the god of Eli that everything would be all right.

With little to carry and no battle to fight Xena and Virgil made record time reaching the Southern Amazons. The scouts had arrived a day earlier and the tribe was expecting the arrival of Varia's tribe. Xena, was of course, a legend here as well. It was a good thing because Virgil seemed to be quite the commodity. The inexperienced young tribe found a male presence fascinating and during the two days the pair waited for their party to arrive; Xena had to act as his 'defender' more than once.

The sun was just beginning to break when the sound of hoofs and wheels penetrated the small village. Xena was up and about as usual tending the fire in front of the hut that she and Virgil were given. A wide smile began to creep across the warrior's face in anticipation. She was relieved at the sound and anxious to see Gabrielle. Just a few days apart had been too long. She called to Virgil and headed for the path that led out of the village.

Immediately her heart sank. It was Eve, alone at the front of the march. She was riding Sappho and her command of the horse told the warrior everything she needed to know; Eve the messenger, had needed to be Eve the warrior. And only one thing could have caused that to happen. Eve saw her mother's expression and bowed her head slightly in acknowledgment as she approached. Virgil was running to catch up to Xena and calling to her, "Hey… geezzz…" his tone immediately changed at the sight of his wife astride Gabrielle's mare.

"Eve?" Xena questioned with urgency.

Eve looked at her mother. "She's alive." Eve could see her mother release her breath. She motioned behind her. Xena nodded her understanding and sprinted through the lines to the cart, leaving Virgil with his wife. He stared up at her and she sighed. He offered his hand and pulled her to him as she dismounted. "What happened?" He asked.

Eve just shook her head, "Not now."

Xena reached the cart and peered in. Lysandra swung her legs to the side to exit and allow the warrior access. Gabriel was still asleep on the bard. Gabrielle was frighteningly pale. The color in her face almost completely gone. Xena climbed into the cart and gently shook the boy.

"Grandmother?" he sighed. She smiled at him as best she could. "Auntie Gabby got hurt."

"I know." Xena replied. "I need to see, Gabriel, okay?"

"Are we there?"

"Yes, you're here… go find your mother. I promise I will take good care of your auntie."

He looked at Gabrielle and back at Xena. Xena could see that the boy was afraid to leave and she widened her smile, "I promise, Gabriel."

He bent down and kissed Gabrielle on the cheek. "I love you, auntie," he whispered.

Xena felt a tear fall as the boy wiggled out of the cart. She climbed in next to Gabrielle and touched the bard's face.

"Oh, Gabrielle…. Lysandra." She turned to the Amazon standing at the front of them, "What happened?"

Lysandra shook her head. "I didn't see….she took a knife in the shoulder shielding Gabriel."

Xena gently lifted the bard and removed the loose covering. "Whoever stitched it did a great job…. Looks like Gabrielle's handiwork."

"Eve…" Lysandra offered, "Eve did it."

"Of course she did…Lysandra we need to get her into the hut. She's warm. She needs a poultice and we need to find a way to hydrate her."

Lysandra moved to the cart's opening. "Xena… is she…"

"She'll be all right as long as we get her treated."

Lysandra helped Xena gently move Gabrielle to the edge of the cart. Xena gently lifted the bard into her arms.

"Xena," Lysandra began, "let me get you some help."

Xena looked down at Gabrielle's face, "I'm fine, Lysandra, really." She carried Gabrielle past the Amazons and to the front the line where she met Virgil and Eve. Virgil looked at the sight of the limp bard in Xena's arms and felt his stomach turn.

"Oh God, Gabrielle," he could not contain the thought.

"Virgil, go get the bed set." He took off running. "Eve – I need Glistritha to make a poultice. That will also help the fever."

Eve was walking beside Xena now. "All right," the messenger answered.

"Gabriel, you come with me," Xena said.

Eve looked surprised but Gabriel followed Xena's direction and dutifully followed. "Gabriel, run ahead. You will see you father in few paces at our hut."

"Mother, Gabriel might distract…"

"Eve, trust me… just get the herb."

Xena kept her pace steady until they reached the hut. She laid Gabrielle back on the bed and for the first time heard a slight whimper. The contact of the bed and the wound had roused the bard slightly. Xena bent over the bard and stroked her hair, "Like old times…hang in there, Gabrielle." She kissed the warm forehead. Virgil brought in a large basin of cool water. Xena soaked several cloths in it.

"Gabriel, come here." The boy moved slowly to his grandmother's side. She squeezed the cloth hard and handed it to him. "Listen…I want you to take this," she showed him the cloth, "Wipe your auntie's head gently with it until you feel it start to get warm," she demonstrated. "When it feels warm…. Dip it back in the cool water and squeeze it out….and do the same thing again. When the water feels warm to your hand…tell your father and he will get you more." The boy looked at the warrior wide eyed. "Do you understand?"

"Yes ma'am," he answered.

"Good man… you take care of your auntie now." He felt proud of his new role and he wanted to help. He started the process exactly as Xena told him too.

Virgil stood in the corner watching everything. "Virgil….get me that satchel."

He handed her a large satchel while keeping watch on his son with the bard. Xena was rummaging through looking for various herbs she had packed before they left the Amazon Village. Gabriel was intently repeating what Xena had showed him. He was silent at first but then Virgil could hear his whispering voice.

"I'll take care of you Auntie…like you took care if mother… you know in that story…"

Virgil started to head for the boy when Xena grabbed his arm. "Let them be."

"Xena… Gabriel will keep going…all day," he whispered.

"I know," Xena answered returning to the task of mixing herbs.


"Go get the boy some fresh water," Xena smiled.

Eve was entering as Virgil left shaking his head. "What's that all about?" Eve questioned. Xena just gestured with her head to the bed where Gabriel was prattling on to Gabrielle about some story.

"Oooohhh," Eve smiled.

Xena finished making the poultice and headed for Gabrielle. "Gabriel, now I want you to go and get some fresh cloths and some more cold water…very cold this time." He nodded and ran.

Xena called Eve to her and lifted Gabrielle up to rest against her. "Put the poultice on…if there is any infection or even any hint of poison, this should cure it…it will help with the pain a bit too." Eve positioned her mother's handiwork and Xena carefully led Gabrielle back down. "Easy, love," the warrior whispered.

"What do you think?" Eve asked.

Gabriel returned with a small bucket of icy water and two clean cloths.

"We've got to get her hydrated." Xena soaked a cloth and squeezed it gently leaving a good deal of water in it. She gently placed an end on the bard's lips and allowed it to drip slowly. It took several minutes but Gabrielle's lips started to part slightly allowing the water to seep in. "She'll be fine…just needs some rest…and so do all of you," Xena said.

"They have a hut all set for us," Virgil said to Eve. Gabriel got visibly nervous and tugged at Xena. "Come on, Gabriel," Virgil urged gently.

The boy looked at Xena with tears in his eyes and she sighed. She looked up at his parents. "It's all right Virgil… let the boy stay with his auntie. It's all right," she placed a hand on his small shoulders.

Eve grabbed Virgil's hand. She understood. Gabrielle would want to know that he was fine when she woke, and not just physically, and Gabriel needed to see that she was safe as well. "I'll meet you outside," Eve said. He acknowledged her with a quiet look of understanding.

Eve went to the bedside and looked at Xena. "Mother…"

Xena smiled. "Oh, Evey…I'm sorry this happened… I'm just glad you were there."

Eve smiled and leaned over to Gabrielle. "You know," she whispered, "I expect to hear a story in the morning….sleep well, my mother….."

The corner of Xena's mouth curled and her eye narrowed as it often did when something truly touched her heart. Gabriel reached up to his mother. "I love you, Gabriel," she said.

"I love you too," he said accepting her kiss.

Once they were gone Xena was able to relax a bit and that comforted the boy.

She pulled a large chair that somewhat resembled a sinking disk over to the bed. Gabriel was yawning but he very clearly did not want to take his eyes off Gabrielle. Xena lifted him to her lap for a better view. "She'll be all right, Gabriel. Really, she will."

He leaned his head against the warrior. "Grandmother?"

"Yes, Gabriel?"

"Why did my mother call Auntie Gabby, Mother?"

"Hummm…. She never did that before, huh?"

He shook his head as his eyes grew wide.

"Well, Gabriel… I guess because your auntie is her mother… and maybe she just needed to tell her that."

"But you're her mother."

Xena laughed. "That's true."

"But you can't have TWO mothers…that's impossible."

Xena laughed again. "Why is that?"

"Well, because… everybody has a mother and a father and everybody knows THAT."

Xena attempted a serious face. "Well, your mother doesn't have a father, does she?"

He thought long and hard. "I guess not."

"Hummm. Gabriel, what do you think makes someone a mother….or a father?"

"I don't know," he shrugged. "They just are."

Xena squinted. There was no need to explain the birds and the bees or any other combination that would explain how parents came to be parents. "That's right… but why is that? When you think of your mother and your father…what do you think of?"

He shrugged again. "Ummm… they take care of me…. They tell me what to do….sometimes they are bossy…"

Xena bit her bottom lip to contain her laughter, "…and…"

Another shrug, "Well… they love me."

"Mmmm. And even when they are… well…. Bossy, you say? You love them…"

He gave yet another shrug and nodded.

"So…then why can't your mother call Gabrielle, Mother?"

He thought long and hard, and oddly enough so did Xena. All this worry, all this time about who was what to whom and all the answers were in front of each of them.

"Then Auntie Gabby would be my grandmother…like you and Grandma…"

Xena pulled the boy close, "And you don't think that?"

"No… I know she is."

Xena was puzzled. "Gabriel, if you think of Gabrielle as your grandmother, why are you asking about your mother and Gabrielle?"

"I don't know… it's just different is all."

Xena laughed. Strangely enough his logic made sense to the warrior. All the adults in his life had by their own worry was confuse things. He knew all he needed to know. He understood better than all of them. If they hadn't been so cautious about names and ages, descriptions and titles… well, he never would have even thought to ask his question.

"Thank you, Gabriel."

He looked at the warrior in astonishment. "What did I do?"

Xena just pulled him closer again. She looked over at Gabrielle who was moving on and off now. Amidst the chaos of their lives there remained great healing that occurred. So many years of pain and then healing… sitting with her grandson in her arms, looking at the woman she loved as she slept, the battles all seemed to fade. There would be days ahead that required healing again, for them all. As the warrior drifted away with the boy against her chest she knew, for once they would do their healing as a family.

Chapter 34: Chapter 34 - Messengers and Amazons

Chapter 34 – Messengers and Amazons

Varia sat across from Lysandra and Cynara, the Queen of the Southern Tribe. She was still frustrated with Lysandra for leaving her position in the line.

"I did what I had to," Lysandra said forcefully.

"No, you did what you wanted to."

"The Queen was in trouble."

"And your stunt solved that? ... Eve handled that like I told you she could."

Lysandra was angry, "Aren't you at all concerned that this is the SECOND time we have been attacked from within?"

Varia responded coolly, "Of course, I am. BUT, that is all the more reason you should have STAYED where Queen Gabrielle told you to. What would have happened if we had lost the supplies, Lysandra? Would that have helped Gabrielle? Eve? What would Queen Gabrielle have told you to do?"

Lysandra's face was becoming flush partly with guilt but mostly with anger. She slammed her fists on the table and stood. "You may be Queen, Varia, but there are some things you just will never understand." She stormed away.

Cynara looked at the other Amazon Queen. "What was that?"

Varia shook her head. "Perhaps I should have waited until Gabrielle was up and around…"

Cynara shook of the incident and shifted the conversation, "Do you think there are others?"

Varia stretched her arms over her head and sighed, "Likely."

"How are we supposed to protect them if we can't trust each other?"

Varia rubbed her face in her hands, "That IS the question it seems … I don't know. I am fairly certain Xena will have some thoughts on that. If anyone can figure out how to get to the root of this it's Xena."

Cynara looked worried. "Varia, I still don't understand how…"

Varia laughed out loud, "Cynara…. When it comes to Queen Gabrielle and Xena…. And well, anyone they know…. You are better off just accepting it as it comes." She shook her head. "Believe me… it's just safer."

"Safer? For who?"

Varia shrugged. "I understand your concern. Believe me… you will learn quickly... for now, I think we need to assess who we know we CAN trust. Who has been here the longest? We needs eyes and ears. If something seems 'off' – we need to…"

"Turn on each other?"

"No, but we need to be careful…"

Cynara's expression grew dark, "What of this woman you captured? The assailant?"

"I think we'll let Xena handle that tomorrow ... I doubt Queen Gabrielle will be up to it. Xena has a way of getting people to talk," Varia responded.

"So I've heard," the other Amazon Queen said.

Varia laughed, "She may not need the pinch after what Eve did."

Eve was outside washing Gabriel's shirt. She needed a few moments and to keep her hands busy. Her head was swimming with the sounds and the emotions of her brief battle. She had not been forced to use a weapon in a long time. It still came naturally and in many ways that reality bothered her. She also was preoccupied thinking about Gabrielle and Gabriel. Virgil had expressed his concern about burdening Xena with the boy while Gabrielle was still so ill, but Eve understood all of her mother's reasons. In many ways she was relieved. This gave her at least one night to recuperate herself and put her actions into perspective. She looked up from the large basin and saw Lysandra muttering and throwing rocks at a large barrel. She kept a distant watch for several minutes before deciding to approach.

"Hey…what did that barrel ever do to you?" Eve asked trying to lighten Lysandra's mood.

Lysandra looked at the messenger. "I should have had you both in the center… she should have let me…"

Eve's face became pensive and she pulled her lips tightly together. "Lysandra, Gabrielle will be fine."

Lysandra looked at Eve. Eve could see the fire in her eyes. "That's not the point, Eve. If you had been in the middle… she would not have had to…"

"If we had been in the middle, the attack would have come anyway. I would have had to try and fight and protect Gabriel. We don't even know if there are others….. We could have lost the supplies and lost Gabriel."

Lysandra looked away as Eve continued, "Gabrielle knew this might happen. That's WHY she wanted us at the front… it kept the assault isolated. It also made it more difficult. The front was littered with horses. She had to break those lines to reach us… if there are others; that helped to make them unsuccessful. That was the hope."

"You're telling me that she knew this would happen?"

"No… but she knew it was a possibility and so did I."

"Why would she put herself in that danger?" Lysandra was furious now.

Eve sighed. "Why did you leave your position when you thought Gabrielle was in danger?"

"I had to protect the Queen."

"Ooohh," Eve said with obvious disbelief, "Of course you did….. There weren't nearly a hundred amazons closer."

"I didn't know if you…"

"If I'd fight?" Eve leaned against the barrel. "Well, I suppose that's fair…but that isn't why you broke ranks with Varia and raced to the front."

"Of course…"

"Lysandra…you were afraid for Gabrielle… your instinct was to protect her… not because she's Queen, because she's Gabrielle…..That's the same reason she had Gabriel… that's why we stayed together."

Lysandra was silent as she contemplated the messenger's words.

"I'll bet Varia was pretty angry," Eve gently suggested.


"Mmm… she'll get over it."

"I don't know…"

Eve smiled and took the rock that remained in Lysandra's hand away. "She will… she's not as hard as she pretends to be."

"Gabrielle is going to hate me…"

Eve smiled and shook her head, "I doubt that," she winked. Lysandra looked at the messenger for reassurance. "I have never known Gabrielle to HATE anyone… and she certainly would never hate you… for what? For loving her? You know that's not true."

"She won't be happy."

Eve laughed, "Well, she hasn't always been happy with me either… but she still loves me."

"It's different."

Eve smiled. "Mmm… well…I guess it is, a bit… but if the worst thing you do, Lysandra is follow your heart… I think you can rest easy that all will be forgiven."



"Were you afraid? ... Fighting today?"

Eve closed her eyes to summon the answer, "No. But that isn't necessarily a GOOD thing, Lysandra.'

Lysandra nodded. "I didn't know…"

"We all have a past, my friend… all of us. Today mine may have saved my family's life. Ironic, really."

Lysandra was puzzled. "There are bigger things to worry about now, Lysandra. Get some rest. This is far from over," Eve touched the Amazon's hand and headed back toward the hut she was sharing with Virgil. "And, Lysandra…. I meant what I said to you earlier…"

Lysandra did not understand and searched the messenger for her meaning. "I am lucky to have my parents… you're right it is different… but you got something from my mother that I would give anything for…"

Lysandra peered at the messenger with a questioning gaze, "You may have had a rough start… but as a child; you got Gabrielle… I got Rome… if you want to know why I wasn't afraid and you… you were… that's why… Be grateful." And she was gone.

Chapter 35: Chapter 35 - The Warrior Peacemaker

Eve was restless. Virgil knew that she was struggling with the reality if the trip, with her need to raise a weapon, with Gabrielle's injury and Gabriel's exposure to all of it. But, how to reach out to her was not clear. Eve could be very reflective and quiet but even with years of quiet meditation she had a temper. He understood that her emotions were raw and he needed to proceed cautiously. She was sitting on the bed fidgeting with the blankets and furs.

Virgil slowly made his way to her with a cup of tea. "Here," he offered it to his wife, "Help you relax a little."

Eve graciously accepted and watched him walk over to his sword and place it safely by the bedside table.

"Do you really think we need that next to the bed?" she asked.

Virgil looked at his wife tentatively and sat down next to her. "After hearing what little I know and seeing Gabrielle… yes, I do."

Eve sighed and shook her head in disgust.

"I'm sorry," he said earnestly, "I just feel better knowing it is within my reach."

"Someday," Eve started as she laid back and rolled to her side, "I would just like to sleep with no weaponry in view and no need of it."

Virgil rubbed his forehead as if trying to compel his thoughts and words forward from his mind. "Do you want to talk about it?"


"Okay….I am just glad you and Gabriel are safe."

"Well… Gabrielle paid for that… and are we? I mean really, Virgil – are we safe? Are we ever SAFE?" Her voice was calm and low but her disgust permeated every syllable.

"What do you mean?

Eve let out a breath of exasperation. "Sometimes, Virgil…. I honestly wonder if we would all be safer with Livia the Conqueror of Rome than with Eve the Messenger of Eli."

He felt his stomach knot and rise into his chest, "You don't mean that."

She sighed and turned to face him. Nose to nose she responded, "No… I don't. But…."

Virgil caressed her cheek. "You did what you had to do."

"I hesitated…." She said.


"Gabrielle sensed the attack before I did… she brought Sappho about to shield Gabriel and give me time to…" her thoughts trailed back into her mind, "I wasn't ready…if I had been…."

"Stop. You know better than anyone that Gabrielle would be furious if she heard you… if you even thought that her injury was your fault."

"Not my fault , Virgil.., that rests with the Phoenician…..But my responsibility… and don't patronize me… you know what I mean."

He kissed her on the forehead. "Maybe when this is over… now with Xena back…"


Eve got very quiet and closed her eyes.

"What are you thinking?" Virgil asked.

"Gabriel…. And Lysandra…"


She opened her eyes again. "I wonder what I would be like… who would I be if they raised me, Virgil…..You see it…. The way Gabrielle is with Gabriel…. The way she is with Lysandra…"

He interrupted, "The way she is with YOU…"

"Yes," Eve confessed, "But I was not a child with them… Did you see my mother today with Gabriel? The way she gently calmed him and let him nurture Gabrielle?"

"I did…"

"I never had that… I had swords. I had books… I had lutes and lyres, I played with daggers and learned to kick and throw… how to be fast and protect myself…. That was Rome… there was no nurturing… no compassion… I was raised to BE Rome, by Rome, Virgil…"

"Eve…. I know… but you're, you are their daughter…"

"Of course…. That isn't what I am saying….. "

"I'm sorry…Eve… I…"

She out her finger to his lips and continued, "Lysandra asked me if I was afraid… if I felt fear fighting that warrior." Virgil waited as Eve gathered herself, "I didn't…. I should have… but I didn't… once that sword was in my hand…I only felt its power… my power – Rome."

Virgil looked at his wife and she was surprised to see him smile. "But, Eve… you aren't Rome… you forget that you hesitated… you just told me that."

"Well, yes, but once…"

"Do you think after all of these years when I pull my sword and have it in my grasp – when Gabrielle pulls the sai… that we feel fear? We can't… we obey instinct… We never want to draw them, but once we do we have to be confident it was the right decision…. That's what happened today, Eve….. you could have killed her… you didn't … not because of tactics… because that is not WHO you are."

Eve stroked her husband's face. "You are…."

"I love you, Eve… Rome may have taught you… but your heart was always your mother's."

"Which one?"

Virgil laughed, "Both… We will get through this…. I promise… We will… all of us…"

She smiled and collapsed into his arms… "I hope so," she whispered to herself.

Chapter 36: Chapter 36 -Like Old Times Sort Of

Chapter 36 – Like Old Times – Sort of…

The sun was just beginning to peek through the small cracks in the hut when Gabrielle opened her eyes. She could feel the deep ache in her back and shoulder and decided it was best to move slowly. She brought her hand to her eyes and wiped the sleep from them. Xena was asleep; the boy comfortably wrapped in the warrior's embrace. Gabrielle couldn't help but smile. "Xena the early riser" she laughed quietly to herself –"Guess we know now what a young boy can do to that. "

Gabrielle adjusted herself in the bed and tried to force herself to the sitting position. The pressure of her hand beginning to support her weight sent a shooting pain through her back and a groan escaped her lips. Xena jumped, startled. Gabriel was unflinching. "Gabrielle…" the warrior called with concern.

Gabrielle continued her motion upward and winced at the warrior, "Morning…."

Xena positioned Gabriel back onto the large chair. He huddled in a ball, never once opening his eyes.

"What are you doing? Xena asked making her way to the bed.

Gabrielle smiled at her warrior. Xena continued, "You took a good shot there."

"Mmmm… yeah … I can feel it," the bard chuckled with a hint of pain.

"You need to rest."

"Xena… we need to figure out how this happened." The bard gestured to the boy. "This is the second time that an 'amazon' has attacked…I don't have the luxury…"

Xena shook her head, "I know… I know you are worried… but, Gabrielle… we need you at full strength… you can't push it too fast…. You lost a lot of blood. You are likely to be weak for a few days."

Gabrielle could see the concern on her lover's face, "Old times, huh?"

"You heard that?"

Gabrielle gave a wink and nod and took Xena's hand. "I can't just lie here."

Xena let out a forceful sigh, "I know… I just want to…"

Gabrielle smiled. "I love you, Xena."

Xena showed her surprise by Gabrielle's words in the moment.

Gabrielle's smile only grew wider. "Well?" the bard asked. Xena looked at the bard, unsure and Gabrielle repeated, "I do love you…"

Xena gave a chuckle. "Mmmm…." She raised her eyebrow. "I am going to be watching you closely," the warrior promised.

"I am sure…"

Xena kissed Gabrielle on the head and let her lips linger for a long moment. The bard reached for Xena's hands and held them, closing her eyes and drinking in the healing feeling that Xena's touch always commanded. "I love you, Gabrielle… I wonder if you know…"

Gabrielle pulled the warrior's hands downward forcing Xena's eyes to her own. She wanted to speak, but she was immediately lost in the pools of blue before her. They had only been back together for a few days and already they had faced gods, had to part company, battled and dealt with injury. 'Why?' the bard wondered in her silent thoughts, 'Couldn't we just quietly make love… just for these first days?'

Almost as if reading her thoughts, Xena understood. She looked at Gabrielle and raised an eyebrow.

Gabrielle raised her own and pulled the warrior in for a kiss.

"Auntie…"a small muffled voice called.

Xena shivered at the response whispered in her ear, "to be continued... later."

Pain or not, the bard made her point very clear before turning to the child, "Come over here, Gabriel," she said.

"You're awake!"

"Yeah… it appears that way, doesn't it?" Gabrielle assured as Xena lifted the boy on the bed to sit next to her.

"Does it hurt?"

"Yes, Gabriel… it does hurt," she ran her fingers though his hair. "But I am all right… you took very good care of me."

He looked at Xena, eyes growing wide. "She hears EVERYTHING," the warrior winked.

"Like YOU," he exclaimed.

Xena laughed, "Yeah… maybe better sometimes," she raised an eyebrow at the bard who returned her affectionate glance.

"Are you hungry, Gabriel?" Xena asked. The boy gave his signature enthusiastic nod… "And what about you, auntie? …. Think you can manage something?"

Gabrielle's appetite, for once, was nonexistent but she knew that she needed to regain her strength and she was certain Xena would force rest even longer if she refused. "I could eat."

"All right, then – we have some work to do my boy."

A knock came on the door. "Gabriel – go let your mother in," Gabrielle instructed.

"How do you know it's my mother?"

Xena laughed… "It's your mother…"

Gabriel complied and to his delight his grandmother's had miscalculated… it was his father.

"See!" he said.

Virgil looked puzzled. "Come in Virgil," Xena looked at the boy conceding her momentary defeat, "You win."

Virgil tipped his head and shook it slightly in confusion. "Looks like you are feeling better," he said to the bard, "Gave us all a little scare there."

Gabrielle acknowledged him with a sigh and a smile, "Sorry about that."

"Eve will be here any minute," he explained. Xena looked at her grandson and gloated slightly which invited Gabrielle's laughter. Xena was even competitive with their grandson; some things would never change. Her laughter sent a jolt of pain through her shoulder and her body twitched slightly in response.

"Auntie?" the boy quietly questioned with concern.

She just smiled at him. "Where's Eve?" Gabrielle asked.

"She left early with Varia. Said she would bring breakfast when they were through."

Xena's look grew pensive and she looked at the bard. Gabrielle knew what was on the warrior's mind, but she also knew Eve. She suspected the time with Varia was not about battle plans, at least not entirely.

"Gabriel," Xena began, "Why don't you help your father get a fire started outside? I'll help your Auntie Gabby get up."

"Okay" he agreed grabbing his father and pulling him to the door.

Virgil turned back to Gabrielle, "Gabrielle…"


"Thank you."

She squinted and pursed her lips. There was no need of thanks. She and Eve had worked together to protect Gabriel and the bard would willingly give her life for either of them without hesitation.

As father and son made their exit, Xena turned back to her lover. "I was serious about you taking it easy," she scolded as Gabrielle managed to find her feet.

"Xena…. I cannot rest….. I can't…. not now. I need to talk to Eve."

Xena took a deep breath and rubbed her chin in thought. "Eve is all right."

Gabrielle stumbled slightly with a brief flood of lightheadedness and Xena flew across the room to catch her. "Gabrielle…" she urged with a whisper.

Gabrielle looked up into the warrior's eyes, feeling the strength of Xena's arms around her. "I wish you would never let go," Gabrielle admitted. It was selfish, she thought, but it was true. Everything disappeared, even the thought she was in the middle of the moment Xena's arms encircled her.

Xena looked at her tenderly. "You can't save them if you can't even stand….."

Gabrielle looked at her again and Xena continued, "I am not going to lose you again, Gabrielle."

The bard understood. "No, you are not."

They looked at each other for a long while, the warrior supporting the bard's weight before either spoke. "Xena…" Gabrielle paused and touched the warrior's cheek, "They need to see… all of them… that I am on my feet. This tribe is young… and this goddess…well, she's penetrated the trust… I have to…"

"I know," Xena understood what Gabrielle was saying. She was the queen of legend, whether that is what she desired or not. They had to see her stamina, her strength and her resolve. Distrust was likely to begin to spread amidst the amazons. The older would suspect the younger and the younger, less prudent might react foolishly. "All right, but you are to keep one of us with you…"


"Gabrielle, don't argue with me…"

"Don't you argue with me, Xena. I have been doing this for eleven years without you… I know how to handle myself," catching the hurt expression on the warrior's face, Gabrielle realized the harshness in her words. She sighed and leaned her head into Xena's chest, "I'm sorry… I didn't mean that the way…"

A tear fell from Xena's eyes, "No… Gabrielle… it's true… I just still need to protect you… I don't know any other way…"

Gabrielle pulled back slightly and looked at Xena. "I don't want you any other way."

Xena closed her eyes and tried to still her emotions. Truth was passing between them now. The warrior's absence was devastating for her lover. That was a reality that neither could deny. There was still so much to say, so much they needed to express to one another. They'd barely had time to begin to reconnect when Xena left again. And, they were used to being alone so much of the time. Now, they were surrounded by what they always wanted in their hearts, but never learned how to navigate; a family. "I am so sorry, Gabrielle," Xena said choking back her emotion as best she could.

"No… enough with sorry… I need you to understand… I want you with me… but you need to work with Eve and find out how this happened… and who… I need to work with Cynara and Varia and build this tribe's confidence before I approach anyone in Egypt." Xena looked at the bard with glowing pride in the woman that she was. Gabrielle continued, "Get Lysandra…she will stay with me…"

"Umm.." Xena said. It made sense to have an amazon with the queen but Xena knew there was more to this, "Worried about our young friend?"

Gabrielle smiled, "No… she would make a fine queen one day… but she still needs guidance."

"Mmm…thinks with her heart…"

Gabrielle smiled, "Yes…" Gabrielle pulled away and grabbed a fresh top and Xena helped her get dressed, carefully avoiding contact with the gash on her back.

"You inspire that in people, you know," Xena answered tying off Gabrielle's halter.

"Speaking from experience?" the bard playfully responded as she made her way slowly toward the door.

"I am… As you wish, My Queen…" Xena joked, "But you promise me… you will rest if needed… and early days…" Xena began to follow

"I think I told you already," Gabrielle turned and smiled as she headed out the door, "I already have plans for the evening…"

*** Author's notes:

Some thoughts based on reviews and feedback..

As the story continues there will be an increase in violence and some mild scenes that depict intimate relationships. I appreciate all the feedback I have gotten both here and on my website.. I don't write explicit scenes between Xena and Gabrielle for several reasons.. the primary one is that I see their relationship as one that holds great reverence for them both... that it is a connection that transcends sexuality itself. I believe this is at its heart... the show even - a love story.. not sure it was intended that way.. but the relationship between the two main characters, in my opinion as both a fan and a critical observer and writer - is anything BUT subtext after season 4. Whether or not the characters were intimate - or when is truly secondary to the the fact that they are in love.. pretty evidently...lovers seems the only logical this may get a little spicier.. but I doubt it will ever be NC 17.. LOL maybe a mild R rating and that could be any prime time show at this point!

Children play a large role in the motivations in Salvation. The show actually deals with that issue quite often, roles... relationships.. worries about parental abilities... the loss of Hope and Solon.. and in reading fan fictions.. it is obvious to me that people want this to be a family... IT IS.. I believe it always look for that theme to continue..

As for religion and spirituality... this is another thematic piece of Xena... one of the things I love so much about the show is the creative way in which the writers incorporate Bible stories, mythology, Eastern philosophy and good old fashioned Hollywood film making...Spirituality.. the notion of connection and redemption are central pieces of the series.. and Salvation also has that at its core...I hope..

So, please keep sending you comments and your PMs.. They are ALL appreciated. This is a wonderful journey for me as a writer... both exploring characters I have such affection for and creating new relationships, characters and adventures in the process.. Battle on.. the Bard...

Chapter 37: Chap 37 Interrogations and Negotiations

Chapter 37 – Interrogations and Negotiations

Xena entered the hut slowly. The Phoenician was tied to a poled at its center. The warrior stopped at a distance and regarded the woman. She was small in comparison to most warriors and Amazons and she was stocky. There was an air of inexperience surrounding her that Xena immediately could sense. She approached the prisoner slowly.

"So… had a busy day the other day…"

The woman looked up at the leather clad warrior but did not respond.

"That's okay," Xena said. "I don't think I need you to say much. Let me just tell you a little story."

The woman struggled against her bindings.

"So…. Crops have been…. Well… less than abundant….. People are hungry and when they get sick they tend to die quickly…. Most of the skilled tradesman have left the village….." Xena circled the pole as she spoke, keeping her gaze ahead and never looking at the woman. "BUT… those Gods… they need their temples…you build them…. And you wait... for better weather….better health…lots of promises… but nothing…. Just more temples." Xena turned and faced the woman, "How am I doing?" She got close to the woman who tried to kill her grandson and left the love of her life with a gaping hole in her back. "So… now you fight… you kill…. Whatever they ask…anything…"

The woman fought to keep a stern face but Xena could see the truth in her eyes. This was no warrior, no priestess, not even your run of the mill combatant. Eve entered and stood in the corner watching her mother skillfully handle the assailant. "So," Xena said, pacing again, "How many are you?"

The woman said nothing. "MMMMMM – I see," the warrior answered herself.

"You're not an Amazon," the woman said.

"No… no I am not an Amazon."

"Who are you?"

Xena rubbed her hands together. "I am the woman you are going to tell how many others are here."

There was no response. Eve began to edge forward and Xena could see the woman begin to grow more restless.

"You've met, I believe…"

Eve stared at the woman. She focused on the task, and in her mind she tried to picture Eli. All she could see was Gabrielle slumping over Gabriel and she could almost feel the weight of the sword in her hand. "Not formally," Eve smiled.

The woman was fidgeting and straining to turn her head away but the bindings and the pole made it impossible.

"Oh… well… let me make the introduction then," Xena said formally and with mock sincerity. She looked directly into the woman's eyes, "This is my daughter….Eve….Eve, I would introduce you to … uh…. Well, I would introduce you, but our new friend isn't feeling very…. Well…..friendly, it seems."

Eve smiled and looked at the woman. "You know," she said with as much gentleness as she could muster, "My mother is not feeling very patient right now… she's a little…. distressed."

The woman looked at Xena with fear growing in her eyes now fully understanding that she was, in fact, facing a legend.

"Oh no," Eve looked at Xena and then back to the woman on the pole, "Not that mother…"

As Eve spoke Gabrielle entered with Varia and Cynara. It was painful for the bard to even move but as she approached there was no evidence of her discomfort. She concealed it completely and walked with a confidence that overrode her physical stature. She was THE Queen. Gabrielle approached and Eve moved to Xena's side. Warrior and messenger were both stoic, but inside quivering, hoping that the bard could physically handle this.

"So…." Gabrielle began, "Xena thinks….Perhaps… you are just lost… desperate…That you've fallen prey to the gods…" The Amazon Queen now repeated the warrior's earlier action, circling the pole and gazing ahead as she mused. "I'm not so sure…..You pretended to by my sister, an Amazon….You attacked my daughter…tried to kill my grandson…..we once followed gods…Amazons…." She stopped now with her back to the woman, the bandage on her back in full view. Slowly she turned and moved her face into that of her attacker's. "And we learned…. The hard way…. No one can satisfy an immortal."

The woman looked at the Queen before her. There was something about this woman. She was commanding, but an honesty seemed to pour from her. Gabrielle continued, "Attacking an Amazon Queen is an offense that is punishable only by death….. Unless the Queen issues a pardon….and why? Why should I pardon you? …. You do realize…. As I do….If Xena IS right… your death will do nothing to secure the safety of your people. It will only increase their suffering."

Eve watched Gabrielle. This was not something she had ever seen the bard do. There was an art to her tactic and Eve could tell it was working.

"So," the Queen turned away again, "You hit the jackpot… you have THREE Amazon Queens to judge you for your attack, not only on the Queen but on the Amazon Princess… my right of caste…Now… Why don't you consider Xena's question again?... I promise you, your death here will be quick….I do not believe in suffering, even for the most loathsome … Your people? … At the hand of Baal…. At the hand of Lucifer …." Gabrielle saw the panic in the woman's eyes and brought her face so close that their noses were almost touching, "THAT will be slow, slower than you can imagine… and FAR more painful." She pulled back and turned to face Xena. "I'll give you some time to…. Think….I suggest you use it…. Queen Varia will see that you get some water."

Gabrielle exited with grace and strength. Xena and Eve looked at the woman and smiled slyly before following behind. Xena walked through the door to see Gabrielle leaning against the hut, trying to catch her breath.

"Okay, Queen Gabrielle… that's enough for one day." The bard was in far too much pain to protest. She had managed to meet with Varia and Cynara and to execute Xena's plan. She might be stubborn, but Gabrielle knew her limits. She looked at the warrior with willing surrender.

Eve looked at Gabrielle who had grown a bit pale from the pain. "Are you all right?"

"Mmmm," Gabrielle half sighed, closing her eyes and simultaneously touching Eve's face. She opened them and looked at the woman before her. "Eve… I didn't get to tell you…"

Eve smiled and looked at the bard. Much had passed between them in recent days and now, amidst all the chaos, Eve was glad that it had. "Don't say anything," the messenger said. Xena moved behind Gabrielle and supported her weight lovingly. Eve studied them both. "I am just so glad," Eve said, a childlike quality taking over her expression and demeanor, "That you are my parents."

The warrior and the bard looked at one another and then at the woman who was their daughter. There was no need to respond. Xena smiled and Gabrielle grasped Eve's shoulder.

"I'm going to take the queen and put her to bed," Xena announced.

"Ah hah," Eve grinned.

Xena rolled her eyes. "See you later, Eve."

Eve gave a tilted smile and turned to make the journey back to her family.

The warrior carefully guided the bard slowly and softly toward their quarters. "Xena?" Gabrielle said slowing their pace momentarily.


"You know those plans I had?"

A mischievous smile crept onto the warrior's face, "Yes, Gabrielle… I do."

"I think we might need to take a…"

Xena laughed and kissed Gabrielle's head. "You just REST… I will make dinner… and…"

"On second thought…" Gabrielle began.

"Is that a jab at my cooking?"

Gabrielle laughed. It was true, Xena's culinary skills could occasionally inflict a pain all their own.

"You rest…. I'll go GET dinner…" Xena smiled and resumed their pace.


"Yes, Gabrielle?"



Chapter 38: Chapter 38 - When Queens Collide

Chapter 38 – When Queens Collide

"Don't you think we should have pressed more?' Cynara was anxious to get information about the tribe from Gabrielle's assailant.

Varia looked at Lysandra who was filling a wineskin with water to take to the woman.

"Lysandra is going to do what Gabrielle promised… You need to be patient Cynara."

Cynara was clearly unhappy with the response. While Varia did not always understand Gabrielle's reasoning for things, she had come to understand that generally, the queen was right. Rushing this might have worse consequences.

"I can have someone else take water to that traitor…Lysandra is too…"

Varia grabbed hold of the younger queen's hand, "No, Cynara. This is exactly why Gabrielle and Xena want to be careful… there are others here. You can be sure of it. What you can't be sure of is who they are…there are gods involved… things may not be as they appear. Lysandra is trustworthy. We keep this within the royal circle."

"Lysandra is not royalty," Cynara responded. "I will take it."

Varia was growing impatient. "Cyanara….I understand how you feel but…"

"BUT, just last night you were blasting her for not following orders and now you trust her to handle a spy… an assassin?"

"Yes, I do." Varia looked at Lysandra and gave her a wave to continue with her assigned duty. Lysandra bowed her head slightly and made her way out the door.

Varia knew that training and developing Cynara's tribe would be a feat under the best of circumstances. This tribe was highly inexperienced and although Cynara was Amazon by birth; she lacked the mentorship and the guidance that Varia had been given. Gabrielle had traveled here whenever she went south to her friends in Egypt, but a few days now and again were not enough to truly shape the tribe. Cynara's immaturity as a leader was showing now. There was a respect that was called for given Cynara's title, but the safety of the Amazon Nation as a whole and the preservation of their culture were more important than making niceties and Varia was quickly reaching the limit of her patience.

"Cynara…I don't expect you to understand. There is a reason that Gabrielle commands the respect of the tribes. There is a reason that she trusts Lysandra. Now…. I am still not happy with Lysandra's actions during our journey. However…. She acted out of loyalty and love to the Queen."

"YOU are her Queen…. How do you know she isn't the…"

Varia's gaze narrowed. She turned her back to the queen and calmed the anger that was surfacing. "Cynara….I have known Gabrielle and Xena a very long time. I dare say I would not still be queen without them…Lysandra means a great deal to Gabrielle….a great deal. Lysandra has always been determined to be a warrior… to be hard and unbending… she is not….she is still young and sometimes imprudent… but her actions were out of love for Queen Gabrielle, not as a measure of disregard to me. Gabrielle trusts her life to that girl…and I have no doubt she would give her life for Lysandra…that is good enough for me and it is good enough for you. We follow the plan."

Cynara stormed out of her own hut. Varia sighed. This was not going to be easy. There was already so much to deal with and Queen Varia was growing concerned that reaching the younger queen was an impossibility. If reason would not work, Varia was resolved that she would take control of the tribe herself. She did not want to issue a challenge, but leadership was paramount now and if need be there would not be any regret in doing so.

Chapter 39: Chapter 39 - Just Us, Right Now

Chapter 39 – Just Us, Right Now

Xena got Gabrielle to their hut and helped her get comfortable. "I think we should put a new poultice on that," she said.

"I'm okay… really."

"Mmmm…Well… you didn't look so okay a little while ago… you are still pale."

Gabrielle smiled but Xena could tell that she was right. The loss of blood, the pain and the fact that the bard had refused to take at least one day and rest had completely drained her. She needed to stay off of her feet, eat, drink and relax. Xena started working on a fire in the fireplace. They were fortunate to have a large hut, one of the few that had any amenities at all including a tub and the fireplace, which was really more like a hollowed pit in the wall.



"Do you really think she'll talk…. This woman… I mean… if you are right there's really no solution for her."

"Gabrielle, there is always a solution…you taught me that. No, there are no good options, but I suspect that we might have a slight advantage right now with Ares."

"Ares? ….Did you see him?"

"No." Xena continued adding wood to the fire. "But when Virgil and I finally found Anath's line – they were dead… well at least half of them anyway…"

"And you think Ares…"


"But, Xena …Ares doesn't have an army."

Xena put a pot of water on the fire that was beginning to burn and turned back toward Gabrielle. "He used the furies…. At least I think so… there was no evidence of any one else attacking them….if I'm right… it's bought us some time and it may have bought us a way to turn these women over….if they think Baal and Anath are at risk…"

Gabrielle was somewhat stunned. "I should call Aphrodite," She started to edge herself to the side of the bed when she felt Xena's presence blocking her.

"YOU… should and are going to stay right here."


"No more arguments, Gabrielle."

"Are you going to go talk to her again?"


"You are honestly going to wait until tomorrow?" the bard couldn't believe Xena's response.

"Give her more time to sweat it out… literally, it's hot in there…. And I have more important things to attend to."

Gabrielle shook her head, "Xena… I am fine, really."

"Yeah, well… that may be so… but I'm not leaving tonight… other than to GET that dinner for you… I am staying here."

"You know," the bard said, "I will be all right if you leave for a while."

"Mmm.." Xena was checking the pot of water. She made her way to a small satchel on the table. Gabrielle watched as Xena silently went about making her tea. She was grateful that Xena wanted to stay but she also did not want to be a distraction. So much was at stake. She would recover and Xena knew that. Gabrielle wasn't certain why the warrior was so insistent on staying.

Xena walked over to the bard and handed her the tea. Gabrielle smiled, "Thanks."

Xena took a deep breath and looked at the bard. Her face grew serious, almost as though sadness were overtaking her. "Gabrielle…" she began and then stopped abruptly in an attempt to find the right words.

Xena looked at her hands and Gabrielle grew concerned, "Xena, what is it?"

She looked up at the bard. Her eyes were filling slowly with tears. "Did it ever occur to you… that maybe I need to be with you… just for now?"

Gabrielle's insides seemed to shift. Her heart was pounding. She suddenly felt so selfish. This could not have been easy for the warrior either, coming back, being pulled apart even for a short time, dealing with a whole new world, and then finding Gabrielle injured. "Xena...I…"

The tears were starting to fall from the warrior's eyes now; "When I saw Eve on Sappho…" she began to choke on her words.

"You thought… You thought I was dead, didn't you?"

Xena took a deep breath and looked back at Gabrielle, "I thought I…"

"Ohhhh… Xena… I'm sorry… I didn't even think…"

"Why would you? … No… You are right, Gabrielle…I've been gone a long time. You've learned how to protect yourself… how to protect this family… and I just… I don't know where…"

Gabrielle edged forward and handed Xena the tea to place on the table. "You belong right here… right here with me… like you always have," her voice became a gentle whisper, "and you always will."

Xena looked at Gabrielle. "I'm tired, Gabrielle….When we were in Jappa…"

Gabrielle looked at Xena with a pain in her eyes that Xena had only seen once, on that mountain.

"Please… let me say this." Gabrielle took a deep breath and held it for a long moment before releasing it and nodding to Xena to continue. "I thought I was doing the right thing… the good thing… what we fought for… what you taught me…"

Gabrielle could not hold back her tears. "Now… I don't know.. was it? To leave you? To hurt the person I love more than life? Is that worth any amount of souls? – Your happiness… I don't.."

Gabrielle took the warrior's face in her hands, sighed and searched the blue eyes before her. "Xena..I didn't teach you to be who you are… you always say that… I just helped you uncover it… just like you allowed me to be who I am," she hesitated and then continued, "You and I…. nothing could ever change what is between us… nothing…. You know that as well as I do. You have to stop condemning yourself for everything. You are not responsible for all the evil in this world… far, far from it."

Gabrielle wiped Xena's tears. Xena let out the hint of an uncomfortable chuckle, "I'm afraid, Gabrielle."

"Of what?"

"What if this is just…"

"Don't… Don't do that… don't say it…. Don't even think that….you are not going anywhere… and neither am I… not now.. not this time. This is not about your redemption. You have paid that price a thousand times over…"

"And so have you…"

"Yes, I have. We all have. I'm not going to lie to you. That is the truth. Loving you….it has a price… and that was losing you… not only for me…But this is not about you… it's about Eve and Gabriel….it's about the future, Xena… not the past."

"I don't know what I did to deserve you."

Gabrielle smiled, "You loved me… all of me…. And I love you… all of you."

Xena kissed the bard gently. "I just want to take care of you," the warrior confessed.

"You will… you are… But you have to let go of the past… we all do."

"I promise you when…"

Gabrielle took a firm hold of Xena's hands, "Don't promise me anything… just that you love me… that's all I need. No more promises. We both know things can change."

Xena looked at the bard and tried to change the course of the conversation now, "I need to get you something to eat."

"Right now… right now… all you need to do is hold me. That's all. Just sleep beside me."

Xena took off her breast plate and let it fall. She lowered Gabrielle back into her embrace; the bard's head resting soundly and perfectly on her chest as it had thousands of times before. "I promise I will love you... Gabrielle…I promise you that."

"Mmm… I know that. Just sleep now, Xena. … I want to forget the past right now… just for right now… I don't want to think about the future…not even a moment from now… I just want to be with you… just the two of us now… no more talk, alright?"

"Alright… I promise…"

Chapter 40: Chapter 40 - The Truth Passes Between Us

Chapter 40 – The Truth Passes Between Us

Gabrielle woke up feeling the dull ache in her back. She pulled herself up and looked at the sleeping warrior. So many things were running through her mind. Xena was sleeping so peacefully. It felt to the bard as though it had truly been a lifetime since she just watched Xena sleep. The feelings coursing through her were so intense. She meant what she had said. She wanted the rest of the world to fade away into complete nothingness. She was tired too, just as Xena had confessed.

They had been on so many adventures together and the bard would not change that, but the price was high. If life with Xena was difficult; life without her was nearly unbearable. She just kept watch, remaining silent, drinking in the presence she had missed for so many years; the presence that somehow seemed to complete her. Truth was not always the easiest thing. The truth was that one day they would be separated again. The likelihood remained that one would pass before the other; leaving whoever was left with a grief and loneliness that was indescribable. This was something that the bard understood all too well. She gently let her hand touch the warrior's hair and kissed her head. Xena still did not stir.

Gabrielle kept her watch for several more moments before resuming her position, lying gently on Xena's chest. Xena put her hand on Gabrielle's back and pulled her closer. Neither knew the time and neither seemed to care. It had grown dark. Dinner had certainly passed. There was a stillness in the air that neither had felt in what seemed like eternity.

"We need to get you some food," the warrior finally said.

Gabrielle caressed the warrior's hand, "I think that time might have passed."

"Hmm… well, you need to eat," Xena shifted to look at the bard.

Gabrielle smiled. The room was dim but she could see Xena's eyes searching her. "I don't want to go anywhere."

Xena held onto the bard. Still, it had only been days; days that they were able to see one another, hear the words that the other spoke, feel each other's touch. Xena wondered if anyone had ever felt the way that she did in this moment. It seemed to her that something always interrupted these moments; the moments when the only thing that seemed to exist was these two souls. She closed her eyes and drank in the feeling that consumed her. Everything she had said was true. No amount of souls, no amount of darkness; no amount of guilt seemed worth the price of their separation now. What she knew and what she felt seemed worlds apart now.

The warrior combed through her own thoughts. The night before they were pulled to Jappa… another ghost from her past threatening their safety and happiness; she had felt exactly as she did right now. She had held the bard in her arms and let the world fall away; a world that was foreign to them; a time they had done their best to navigate, but a place that they were never supposed to be. Now, here she was again; the same truth. Time had never been their ally, but when they were alone, time itself disappeared. She felt Gabrielle hold her tighter and held her breath. What words could she possibly say? They had passed through lifetimes together and would pass through lifetimes to come. She was no bard. She didn't even feel like a warrior here.

"What are you thinking about?" the bard said softly.

Xena toyed with the long blonde hair that cascaded next to her. It reminded her of a place they had traveled so many years ago, the first time she had held Gabrielle; truly held her; confessed the depth of her feelings as best she could. She had always been better at showing her emotion than speaking it. "I don't know," she replied.

"I was remembering," the bard started, "the first time you died."

Xena exhaled with some force. That had truly been a lifetime ago now. She had heard Gabrielle's thoughts then, so long ago, felt the pain that emanated from the girl's soul, and fought to answer her pleas to return. She knew in that moment that Gabrielle loved her; truly loved her. It would take her more than another year to realize that she could not protect herself or Gabrielle from their own hearts. They would have to descend into a chasm of regret and pain, fear and jealousy before they could finally allow themselves to find THIS place; the place they were in now. Thinking back to that time the warrior wondered how they had managed to survive it all and somehow love each other more.

"I guess I have done that a bit too often," the warrior allowed in her usual attempt to add a bit of levity.

"I guess so," Gabrielle gave a slight giggle of admission. "I still can't believe you are here."

"I know," the warrior confessed.

"What you said…"

Xena pulled herself up to hover over the bard. "What did I say?'

"That part of you wishes…"

"All of me wishes things had been different, Gabrielle."

"I meant what I said….about letting go of the past."

"I know," Xena looked deeply into Gabrielle's eyes.


Xena could hardly breathe. She closed her eyes and attempted to control the emotions that washed over her; crashed between them now; it was as though they were being carried by ocean waves. Gently they drifted and then violently they crashed. That was the nature of their life together. She felt Gabrielle's hand reach up to her cheek and linger. It was a familiar touch that somehow always seemed new. Here they were… so many things that she had wanted for them both, for so many years, for this woman before her now. And in a few short days the truth had been revealed to them in new ways. Perhaps they had always known, deep in their hearts, the connection that they shared was truly sacred. Anger faded now. Fear evaporated. All the warrior could feel was the warmth of the bard's touch; the strength of her love for this woman who had opened her heart and changed her world. So much taken from them, yet now she understood; so much more given; always so much more given.

Xena opened her eyes and watched the bard search her. "Gabrielle, I ..." Xena struggled to find words.

Gabrielle lifted her finger to the warrior's lips and pressed gently. She was transported back to that memory. She remembered mourning Xena for the first time. Emptiness overwhelmed her soul in a way that she did not expect. She had known that she loved Xena, but in those days she realized that there was something far greater between them. She too, had tabled her emotion. She told herself so many lies…anything to convince herself that this was the delusion of a star struck young girl for a powerful woman warrior. So much time passed. She thought about Hope and Solon; the pain that seemed to penetrate them both as they were forced to lose their children. In just these few seconds passing between them now; the past flashed through the bard's mind as if God were sending her a message; the truth. And now, after all the loss; here they were. There was Eve and Gabriel… part of them both, part of the truth that always passed between them; unyielding passion, unassuming acceptance, unconditional forgiveness. Gabrielle saw Xena's smile slowly begin to overtake her. It was a tender smile that always radiated more in the warrior's eyes as they softened to a gaze that no one else could command.

"You don't have to say anything," the bard reminded the warrior now.

Xena slowly lowered herself to kiss the bard. It was so slow that Gabrielle felt her breath completely leave her in anticipation. She could scarcely believe that Xena was really here; still. But the truth, the truth now passed between them, through them both. Gabrielle understood. She was right, this moment would wash away the past. There was no past, no future, not for them; every moment of every day they were bound to one another. Gabrielle gave into her lover's kiss and felt the surge of the waves that lifted them both. She wondered if anyone had ever loved so completely.

The feel of Xena tenderly touching her was indescribable. It had always been that way. Somehow now, it was different. She could never have believed that it could be stronger, this pull, this need to be consumed by the woman before her. Willingly, she would allow herself to disappear knowing that Xena would find her, discover her; transport her to a distant place that existed only for them. It was never just a physical experience… when Xena touched her; her soul soared; almost as if she could travel through them both and then watch from above.

Xena's touch seemed to linger as if she needed to feel every part of the bard. Gabrielle closed her eyes and inhaled all of the emotion Xena communicated in her touch, in her kiss. She opened her eyes and looked at the warrior, not a warrior now, just Xena…her lover, her partner, her best friend, her soul mate.

"I love you," the bard sighed with some difficulty.

Xena smiled and kissed her again. There was nothing for her to say now. She would convey everything in her touch. Xena wondered if it was possible to have this moment never end. There simply was nothing that could compare to feeling the bard against her; to feel her surrender so completely, trusting everything in the warrior's touch. Xena held Gabrielle's hands as they grasped the warrior's; the need to be steadied in the waves of passion that tossed them both about violently at moments. How could such tranquility and peace exist amidst the powerful force of these waves? It did. The strength of the touch that kept them grounded even when they seemed to be lifted into a new reality; always a delicate dance, a balance.

Gabrielle struggled to control her breath as Xena brought her closer to the sacred place that they shared together; the destination that required no explanation and no apology…the moment of total connection and understanding. She could not even call to the warrior now, only grasp her hands tighter. As she gave over to the woman she had loved forever, it was Xena who finally spoke. "I will never let you go, Gabrielle…never…."

Gabrielle caught her breath and felt her tears fall. "I know, Xena…I know…"

"I know…I think," the warrior began, settling back next to the bard and taking the beauty in her eyes into her soul, "I know the truth…"

Gabrielle smiled… "You do?"


Gabrielle brushed the hair from her lover's face. "What's the truth?' Her smile did not fade.

Xena just looked at her and let her gaze linger. They were connected. Eve was their proof; no one could take that away; not even death itself. Now there was Gabriel… their love would last far beyond their own lifetimes…it was part of the greater world. Gabrielle understood as well. The 'we'…the 'us'…it had grown…

"I love you, Xena…"

Xena kissed the bard and collapsed against her knowing that they would somehow prevail.

Chapter 41: Chapter 41 - Family Plans

Chapter 41 – Family Plans

Morning came much too quickly for either the bard or the warrior. When it did arrive, there was a renewed sense of understanding and acceptance. Gabrielle was feeling better, though still a bit weak. She woke to see Xena getting dressed and lingered in the bed enjoying the sight before her.

Xena turned and looked at the bard, "Did you get some sleep?" the warrior raised a playful eyebrow.

Gabrielle raised her own and gave a crooked smile. "Mmmm…sleep…."

"Well…I do think we need to get some food into you this morning."

"I agree."

Xena laughed and made her way to the bed. "How are you feeling?"

Gabrielle kissed the warrior and then looked at her for a moment. "Sore… but better….you are right – I do need something to…"

"Feeling a little weak?" Xena asked with some concern. While their evening had been wonderful, she felt a bit of regret for not forcing the issue of dinner.


"Mmmmhmm….. Let's get you up and get you fed." Xena helped Gabrielle to her feet.

"When are you going to go…"

Xena was helping Gabrielle get her top on. "We'll make our plan over breakfast, okay?"

Gabrielle squinted at the warrior with questioning.

"Gabrielle," Xena said as she turned the bard about to face her, "Whatever we do, whatever we plan… we do it together… and you need to get your strength back."

Gabrielle saw the resolve in the warrior's eyes. "Yes…I do…"

"So," Xena began leading the bard to the door, "I think we should go find Eve and Virgil and eat breakfast…say hello to Gabriel and decide who and when to approach this woman today."

Gabrielle stopped in the doorway. Xena was normally all business first thing in the morning. "What's gotten into you?" the bard joked.

Xena looked serious, "Nothing except the truth."

Gabrielle cocked her smile and closed one eye… "Okay then…"

The pair headed slowly across the village toward Eve and Virgil's hut when Eve caught sight of them. The messenger smiled. Xena had her arm around Gabrielle and there seemed to be a sense of calm about them both. Eve had seen it before and she suspected that whatever needed to be said or shared between her parents had come to pass.

"You look rested," Eve greeted as she stoked the fire outside the hut.

Gabrielle couldn't hide her slight smirk.

"Oh…I see," Eve returned the expression.

"Well, somebody needs to eat," Xena gestured to the bard.

"You're in luck then," Eve smiled. "Virgil already started on breakfast." Virgil appeared in the doorway heading to the fire with several fish in hand.

"Where's Gabriel?" Xena asked with some anxiousness. Gabrielle exchanged a smile with Eve.

"Oh… he'll be along… Lysandra stayed with him down at the river when I headed back… He wanted to show her the fishing skill his grandmother taught him," Virgil explained.

Xena's pride was evident as she sat down next to Gabrielle on a log.

"How are you feeling?" Virgil asked the bard.

"Apparently, hungry," Eve answered for her.

Completely missing the joke that was passing between the three women Virgil answered, "Well, you are in luck then!"

"So…" Eve said taking a spot across from her parents, "What are you thinking?"

Xena looked at her daughter. "I think we let Gabrielle finish the 'talk' with our friend."

"Me?" Gabrielle said with complete surprise.

"Sure, why not you?"

"Because, Xena.. you usually do the interrogations … I do the sensitive chats…remember?"

Xena laughed, "Well, you did a pretty good job interrogating yesterday… a little role reversal I would say, no?"

"You really think Gabrielle should…" Virgil was cut off by the warrior.

"Yes, I do…. Eve and I will walk in part way through….Start a little 'rough'…direct… wait for us to soften it…"

"All right," Gabrielle agreed. "Not going to be that difficult to be 'direct', as you put it."

Xena nodded, "That's why I want you to do it…"

"…..see…and then you have to be really, really quiet…like you can't even whisper, Lysandra…not even a little bit because the fish will know you are there and if they know it's you they won't believe that your fingers are worms… so you can only move your fingers and nothing else…not even your feet…"

The group all struggled to hide their amusement as Gabriel's instructions rattled off to Lysandra. To everyone's surprise and delight; the boy held a fairly good sized trout by the lip. He was clearly very proud and so were his grandmothers. Eve watched as Xena and Gabrielle looked at each other and then back at the boy. Something, she knew, had truly transpired in the last few hours. There was a definite feeling from both women of confidence that she had not seen since before Gabrielle lost Xena.

"Look!" He exclaimed holding the fish high above his head. "It's as big as Father's!"

Virgil narrowed his gaze and took the fish from his son. It was true. It was actually a bit larger than the couple of fish Virgil had caught earlier. "Humph," Virgil playfully griped to his son's delight, "Well…I guess it's a good thing…Gabriel… apparently your Auntie is pretty hungry this morning…and we all know…"

"Hey!" Gabrielle scolded him as the group laughed.

Gabriel was happy to see his Auntie up and about and looking more like herself and so too, was Lysandra. Gabriel ran over and wedged his way between Xena and Gabrielle and Gabrielle caught Lysandra's worried glance. "Come sit down," Gabrielle said to the Amazon.

"Yeah…Lysandra," the boy started, "tell Auntie how you tried to catch a fish too but you wiggled your whole hand…I told you ONLY your fingers… right grandmother? Only your fingers or the fish will know it's you… and you can't dive for 'em either.. you have to let it come to you…"

Xena noticed the mud in Lysandra's hair and laughed, "Not so easy…huh?" she poked at the Amazon.

Gabrielle smiled at Lysandra as the Amazon tentatively took a seat next to the queen. Eve glanced over at them both as if to convey something secretly to the bard and Xena immediately understood the signal between them. Gabrielle's bond with the young Amazon was evident to the warrior and she knew they needed to talk now. Things had changed for everyone in what seemed like a brief moment.

"Gabriel…" Xena lifted the boy to stand in front of her, "What do you say you and I go clean that fish?" She leaned in to whisper to him now, but made certain Gabrielle could still hear, "You know your Auntie will probably eat the whole fish..."

His eyes grew wide and he looked at Gabrielle who pressed her tongue against her bottom lip and gave a stern gaze to the warrior, "Funny…"

"No… just 'true'." Xena scooted Gabriel along playfully and directed Virgil to follow. Eve looked at the bard and handed her the large ladle for the pot, "Do you mind? I really don't want to miss THIS…"

Gabrielle knew this was Eve's graceful way of making an exit. "Not at all…it's what I do."

Eve smiled and took her leave. A silence lingered for several long moments as Gabrielle stirred the pot slowly.

"I'm sorry," Lysandra said under her breath.

Gabrielle took a deep breath and let it out.

"I shouldn't have left Varia…"

Gabrielle interrupted the young woman gently, "Lysandra…You did what you felt was right. If it had been you at the front…I would have done the same."

"No…you wouldn't have."

Gabrielle looked at the Amazon. She regarded Lysandra as a strong and capable woman, much like Eve; but just like Eve; when the bard looked at her she still saw that small girl whose hands shook delivering a tray of food to the Amazon Queen. She saw the innocence of the girl she so often covered with a warm fur after she fell asleep in the middle of a story. "Yes, Lysandra… I would have…"

"Why?...You told me to stay…"

"I did… but I knew you wouldn't if something happened."

"Then why tell me…"

"Because the right order was to have you stay with Varia….This tribe needs you, Lysandra. You have a great deal to offer them…and the most important thing you offer is your heart. That's something you cannot be taught…"

"Varia is still angry and Cynara…"

Gabrielle cut her off, "Lysandra, Varia has made her share of mistakes and miscalculations over the years… You don't remember Queen Marga… that is before your tribes merged fully….Xena had to work very hard at controlling Varia after Marga's death… When we love someone… we need to protect them."

Lysandra was completely silent and fighting her tears. She had never told the queen how she felt about her and never would have expected the queen to say such things to her.

"I didn't mean to…"

Gabrielle laid the ladle on the pot and turned to face Lysandra. "You need to let it go now. You did what your heart told you to do…. I told you I was proud of you and I am…of WHO you are, Lysandra." She paused and looked into the flames as they crackled, "There is a great deal I need to tell you…. And you should know it all before we face what is ahead."

Lysandra was puzzled.

"For now, what you need to understand is that you are part of this family…as much as anyone else is. Families are not just about blood, Lysandra…they are about connections…"

The young Amazon looked at the queen quizzically. Gabrielle seemed to take on a maturity that was far beyond her physical years.

"Today…hopefully….we will find out how severe this penetration of the tribe is… and we will need to trust one another. That is something I know….." She picked up the ladle and resumed her task, "You know, Lysandra… Virgil and Eve… they are only a few years younger than I am…and yet, they are my children….It's so strange. Sometimes it has been so hard for me to grasp. But, now… with Xena back…" her thoughts trailed.

"Gabrielle?" the amazon urged her to continue.

Gabrielle remained set on the chore of stirring the pot as if she were stirring her own thoughts to rise to the surface. "You are like a daughter to me, Lysandra… and I know that Eve thinks of you much as a little sister. She is concerned for you and protective of you…you need to trust that you are part of us… and welcome here… because we need you as well…I need you…"

Lysandra looked at the flames and could no longer control her tears. What was Gabrielle saying and why?

Gabrielle let out a long sigh, "I lost two daughters. Lysandra…two… one to darkness forever and one for what seems like an eternity sometimes. I never got to see them grow…to see them become the women they could be… to shape that… to nurture it." Gabrielle turned back to Lysandra, "But I love them both.. Despite the darkness… the loss… Hope and Eve… my daughters…"

Lysandra looked at Gabrielle for some purpose and clarification. Eve was like a daughter to the queen, she knew that… and Hope she had only heard of in scrolls… but she never imagined from those stories that Gabrielle would consider either truly her daughter and she was completely at a loss for how she fit into this equation.

"I don't…"

Gabrielle let out a slight chuckle of understanding, "You don't understand what I am telling you?" She sighed. "Lysandra… one day someone will replace Queen Gabrielle and Queen Varia. That is just a fact of life. … It can't be Hope…. And it won't be Eve…. That is not her destiny…not her path."

Lysandra swallowed hard as Gabrielle continued, "When this is done; however it ends; my place is with Xena…and with Eve." She looked at Lysandra, "But the Amazon nation is my family as well; part of my soul… part of my life… and I need to know that someone who understands my heart…who also has a piece of my soul will carry it on with grace and with humility…..that is you…"

Lysandra froze, "I am not your…"

"I was not even an Amazon when I received my rite of caste."

"But Eve is…"

"Lysandra… listen to me right now… don't try to understand what I am saying… to figure it all out." Gabrielle shook her head put the ladle down again and looked skyward as if begging Eli to send her the right words, "Eve IS my daughter…. I think I always knew that, somehow… I knew part of her was in me…I just could never believe part of me was in her…." She looked at Lysandra. "It IS different than you and I… but that doesn't mean that part of you is not now part of me… and part of me left in you."

Lysandra looked at the queen with loving admiration, "You're saying that Eve…"

"I am saying the Eve is as much my daughter as Hope ever was… as she is Xena's …and I'm saying that you should consider her your sister – not as an Amazon… as a part of me. Eve already knows what I am going to say to you…"

"You told her to give me her rite of caste?"

"No….I didn't have to," Gabrielle smiled and took the amazon's hand. "You know this now… who I am… who you are to me… to this tribe and to this family… that IS your rite of caste. I need to know that you will carry that with you now….It's only a matter of time, Lysandra, before the losses begin to grow….Xena and I….we have traveled this road before…knowing that you are a part of something greater gives you the strength to withstand it…to survive and to keep your hope…That is why I am telling you…"

Lysandra picked up the ladle and stirred the pot for Gabrielle. She suddenly understood something she had never truly allowed herself to feel before…this was her family and she would protect them with all she had…the Amazons were her home and her sisterhood and the only mother she had ever really known was telling her that she would lead them one day. There was no choice. She needed to be strong. She needed to be ready…whatever came to pass. "I promise I will…"

Gabrielle smiled, "You remind me of Xena right now," she laughed. "You don't need to make promises, Lysandra… just know… and let it guide you now…"

Lysandra nodded and Gabrielle saw Eve making her way back.

"So…" the messenger said seeing the tear stains on the young amazon's cheek. She looked at Gabrielle who smiled and nodded. Eve sat down with the two women. "Some family, huh?"

Lysandra could not control the smile that inched slowly upon her face.

"Well, mother," Eve said, "At least we've got someone else to stir the pot…"

They all laughed a bit as the rest of the group returned.

"What is so funny?" Xena asked.

"Nothing,' Eve bit her lip.

Xena looked at Gabrielle who looked at Lysandra and then gave Xena a slight nod.

"Well… let's eat so we can go get this wanna be warrior off our plate," she looked at Lysandra, "Seems I have some fishing lessons to give this afternoon if we hope to keep this crew fed."

Gabrielle smiled and mouthed a simple "thank you" to the warrior.

At least they would all be together. Whatever was to pass in the hours and days ahead, they had found each other and nothing could change that.

Chapter 42: Chapter 42 -Players and Pardons

Chapter 42 – Players and Pardons

Ares stopped shy of Phoenician territory. He had been successful these last few days recruiting skilled men, even a few former warlords. The ranks of his army were growing daily. As he had suspected the level of discontent in Phoenicia and the outlying provinces was severe. Few had any real use for Baal or Anath. He was certain that he could use the disillusionment and anger to his advantage.

Naida had now become Ares eyes and ears within the troops and the villages. He recognized her strength and her intelligence. The God of War knew better than to ever fully trust anyone, but as much as he could trust a mortal; or a god for that matter; he trusted Naida. "Anath is still out there," the warrior offered, "Don't you think we should head that way before entering Phoenician lands?"

Ares stood on a small hillside looking over a large field that led to the Phoenician border taking stock of the troops he had amassed. "No… we will draw her in."

"You want to fight them both?"

Ares turned and looked at the warrior. "Naida…" He approached her deliberately, "I have my reasons….Yes…I want them together. It is the plan…the only plan."

Naidi did not understand the god's logic, but he had so far proven true to his word. "Is it true?"

"What is that?"

"You and the warrior princess…is that what this is really about?" she asked plainly.

His look grew menacing at first but when the warrior remained steadfast his anger subsided. He turned away from her. He cracked his neck and stretched to gain control before turning back to face her. "Is it true? True that we were lovers? True that I love her?" He stopped and looked at Naida directly. "Yes. It's true…Xena is dead…this is my war..."

"Xena is not dead," the warrior said.

He turned away again and closed his eyes. "She is to me….No more talk of Xena…Get the leaders ready for their regimens. We are leaving in the morning."

Naidi watched the god carefully. His posture remained stiff and tall, but there was something he was not telling her. She knew how to read people; and Ares at the mention of the warrior princess, seemed to become amazingly human. She noticed the faraway expression in his eyes. Whatever was driving the God of War it didn't matter to her as long as they were able to regain some control of their villages. She was tired of the destruction in her homeland and disgusted with their gods.

Ares kept his watch on the field below. "Almost time…almost…"

Gabrielle was glad that they had waited to complete the interrogation of her would be assassin. As they approached the hut where she was held, Gabrielle stopped and closed her eyes. She took in a deep, cleansing breath and pictured the woman tied to the pole and then she pictures Eve holding the sword as she expertly disarmed the woman.

"Are you all right?" Eve asked.

Xena smiled at her daughter. "She's getting ready."

Gabrielle let her breath out and opened her eyes. She was the Amazon Queen now. Xena had seen this transformation before; Gabrielle leaving behind as much of her sensitivity as she could bear and steeping herself in conviction and strength.

"Give me a few minutes," the Queen said. "Varia…Cynara…you follow me…do not speak – just keep your eyes on her – no matter what I do…no matter what I say…do not allow your sight to leave her. I want your sight to burn her…sear her skin…do you understand?"

Varia nodded. Xena closed her eyes. She knew this was the right thing to do and she hated it; making Gabrielle assume this role. Gabrielle did not turn back to her family, "A few minutes, Xena… just a few," she began the short walk to the entrance of the hut.

"Varia… you and Cynara first…block her view of me…let her see your wineskin, Cynara." It was somewhat cruel. The hut was hot and they had not given the woman water in many hours, but Gabrielle needed this woman to be as vulnerable as possible.

Varia and Cynara entered, Gabrielle close behind them. So close, in fact, that Varia could feel the queen's breath at her back. It was steady and slow and deliberate like everything about the queen's demeanor now. Varia walked squarely in front of the woman on the pole. She looked tired. Sweat beaded on her brow and her breathing was somewhat shallow, a result of exhaustion and the heat. Cynara turned slightly to make the presence of the wineskin evident. Varia saw the woman's gaze focus directly on it as she unconsciously licked her lips and moved apart a distance from Cynara to reveal Gabrielle's presence.

Gabrielle stood completely still and stared at the woman. Her eyes were harsh. She felt the anger within her. This time Xena would give the compassion. She would give the forcefulness. She stood, staring, burning the depth of her disgust into the woman's consciousness before she began. "So…you've had some time….time to think.

The woman looked up at the queen. Gabrielle was not a large woman but she was imposing now. "I," the queen continued, "Spent the morning with my family... Do you have a family?...Hmmm...Perhaps not…. Am I to feel sorry for you?...You lost them, maybe…. Famine… Illness?... War?" She hunched over and lifted the woman's chin to look in her eyes. The eyes before her were dull, almost too defeated to feel fear; almost. Gabrielle could see it behind the glaze that overcame her eyes.. It was there…fear.

"Your goddess…the one who failed first…. To kill my daughter….my grandson….the one that sent you in her to finish what she could not herself…." She pulled away from the woman now, "Her troops fought one another… killed each other… decimated their own army." The woman's breath became more ragged and Gabrielle could hear it skipping. Varia and Cynara stared directly at the woman showing no emotion. "So… I suppose once that word spreads here…I have little to fear from any others…. With no army why should they risk their lives to harm us….who will save them?" She turned back to the warrior on the pole. "Gods….what fools you are," she turned now to Varia… "I need nothing else…schedule the execution." Varia struggled to maintain her composure at the words as Xena and Eve entered the hut.

"Wait.." the woman spoke, "You don't understand…"

Xena approached now. Gabrielle replied without the courtesy of so much as a glance. "What do I need to understand?...I understand completely."

Xena now picked up the conversation, "Gabrielle," she said with some urgency, "Let's just hear her? What could it hurt?" Gabrielle looked at the warrior, masking all the love she felt, she narrowed her eyes and puckered her lips. "Fine…"

Xena approached now. "What don't we understand?"

The woman looked to Xena s if pleading. "She has taken things… taken our…" she choked to get out her words.

Xena looked at Cynara and stretched out her hand for the wineskin. She looked at the woman and sighed. "How many?" she asked.

The woman stared at her and then closed her eyes, "At least 10."

Xena looked at the woman, "What don't we understand?"

The woman looked past the warrior to the queen with fear in her eyes. Xena watched. It had worked. The compassionate queen taking the role of the strict leader had rattled the woman sufficiently. "What?" Xena asked gently.

"She took our children… our younger brothers and sisters. We don't know where they are."

Xena felt a fury rise within her. Even Ares was not so cruel. "Alright," Xena said as she offered the woman water. "Do you know who is here?"

The woman shook her head, "No.. we were kept hidden from one another… that is the truth… but they are all like me… that I know… women separated from their children. That is Anath's way…. If they hear that the troops are fighting each other…. They may flee…try to find their…"

"Their children," Xena finished. "Loosen her bindings." She rose and went to Gabrielle. "Gabrielle…"

Gabrielle sighed, "I know, but Xena… I don't know how we'll…"


Gabrielle thought. "When we were first attacked in Amphipolis….Aphrodite mentioned another goddess, Eshmun…. A healer I think…."

Xena walked back to the woman on the pole, who showed some amount of relief. "What's your name?"

The woman looked at the warrior and fought to swallow, "Halima… I am Halima."

Gabrielle and Xena looked at each other in surprise. Xena turned back to the woman, "Halima? That's Egyptian."

"Yes…my mother… she served the Egyptian Queen many years ago, when she was a girl…after the queen…well.. she was sent to a family in Sur."

"The Queen? You mean Cleopatra?"

Halima nodded. Gabrielle looked at Xena again. Xena looked at Varia… "Get her unbound and get her some food."

Halima looked at Xena is disbelief. "I thought…"

Gabrielle edged forward and took a deep breath, pretenses now behind her. "Halima," the queen began, "The others here cannot know that you have been shown any mercy."

Halima nodded her understanding as Gabrielle continued. "You must die."

Varia looked at Gabrielle in shock. Xena nodded her agreement.

"I understand," Halima said softly.

"Varia," Xena began, "Behind the stable – under the hay there is a body. Get it."

"Where did you?"

Xena looked at Varia, "Never mind.. it was insurance… I had Virgil bring it back from Anath's line."

Varia now understood. "You must do it under cover of night. They must believe it is Halima."

Varia nodded. Xena looked at Gabrielle, "We have to get her to our hut."

"Eve," Xena called, "We need Virgil."

Eve smiled and acknowledged her understanding as she left silently.

"Virgil? What do you need a man to …"

Varia was tired of Cynara's questions. "Virgil can bring her in… as an Egyptian."

"That's right," Xena said.

"That's crazy…have you all lost your minds?! She is an assassin."

Now it was Queen Gabrielle's turn. "She is a woman, Cynara.. a woman whose child has been taken from her….This is not a simple game," She turned now to Halima with a softness in her eyes, "Xena will get you to Virgil this evening when the tribe is distracted by the body's removal from the hut and the burning of the funeral pyre…. Virgil will get you back in – to us… in the morning."

Halima could not understand the compassion she was being shown, "I…I am sorry…I"

Gabrielle touched her attacker. "Your throw…. The knife… it was high…even for a beginner. It would not have missed Gabriel anyway."

Halima looked down. Gabrielle continued, "I wondered why…why you aimed it at me," She shook her head. "Do you speak Egyptian?"

Halima indicated with a slight bow that she did.

"Good," Gabrielle said as she and Xena turned to leave.

"How can you trust this woman?" Cynara screamed.

Varia held her tongue ad her breath. Xena stepped up to the young queen. " have a lot to learn…not just about Amazons and warriors."

Gabrielle looked at the young queen and spoke firmly. "There is one role, Cynara,that trumps all…that is the role of a mother. Someday you may get to understand that. Now… we have at least 10 people among us who are mothers or siblings believing they must protect a child….that is far more dangerous than you can imagine…for all of us."

Xena turned to Varia. "Time to make the story known, Varia."

"Understood," Varia relied.

"What story?" Cynara asked.

"Let's go, Cynara," Varia said. "I'll explain on the way to find Lysandra."

Xena went back to Halima, "I am sorry I have to bind you again…. Gabrielle's…well… Lysandra will be here shortly. She will stay with you until it is time."

Halima looked at the warrior, "I don't know what to say."

Xena's lip curled and she turned to Gabrielle and took her hand. Halima watched. As they left Xena turned back to the woman, "Your mother… what was her name?"

"Shiana…her name was Shiana."

Chapter 43: Chap 43 Past Deeds and Future Endeavors

Chapter 43 – Past Deeds and Future Endeavors

Gabrielle and Xena sat together at the river's edge in silence. They needed to be someplace where they could talk freely. Virgil was preparing to carefully remove Halima once the evening settled. There were risks and both the warrior and the bard knew it. Xena had not seen Shiana since Eve was an infant and they had traveled to Egypt. The trip had not gone as either had planned. Xena had intended the trip to be an escape for them to reconnect. She even had her mother travel with them. They were in Alexandria preparing for a trip down the Nile when the message came from Cleopatra. When they arrived, the queen was already dead. Xena assumed the role and the identity of Cleopatra. Shiana was Cleopatra's most trusted servant; her friend and her aide.

Things had taken a difficult turn for the bard and the warrior on that trip. Shiana had grown to become a trusted and protective friend of the bard. Xena had tested the boundaries of their relationship in those days at the palace; a test she would never again repeat. Egypt and its majesty were a place that Gabrielle loved. Xena had always wanted to take her back; to make it the trip she had once hoped.

They had planned to finally make the journey back to the Land of the Pharaohs when Xena was called to Jappa eleven years earlier. The warrior had been wrestling with the realities of their life together; what they had been given and what they had lost; always on the road. It seemed to her that it was time to settle and let adventure find them as she knew it would. Greece held little for them anymore. Eve had left to deliver Eli's message in Chin, their parents were gone… It was time. Time for a new life together and then it all fell apart; just when the warrior believed it would all come together. She still wasn't sure if Gabrielle fully understood what her intentions were for their planned trip south.

"Did you hear anything about Shiana when you went south?" Xena asked, throwing a rock across the water.

Gabrielle just shook her head. "No... not really. It had been almost 27 years, Xena. Things had changed.

Xena took a deep breath. "I can't believe it."

"Well, if it's true…"

"You don't think it is?" the warrior asked. She was usually the one to be skeptical, not the bard. Time had definitely changed some things.

Gabrielle moved to Xena's side, "I don't know, Xena. It's possible. God knows anything is possible….I just think we need to be careful."

Xena agreed; anyone, particularly a god or goddess could easily have found out about their time in Egypt all those years ago. Gabrielle was right to be cautious.

"So… what are you thinking?" the bard asked.

Xena looked at her and smiled. "Varia will make it known that Virgil and I found Anath's troops slaughtered; by their own hands. We'll see if that flushes anyone out… we find out; if Halima is who she says…does she know who Eshmun is… it could be an advantage…her ability to communicate in the southern provinces and her knowledge of the Phoenician Gods."

"Xena… if she is telling the truth…"

"I know…. The children."

"Who would do such a thing?" The bard asked.

"You know as well as I do that gods will do almost anything when they are desperate. And with Lucifer dealing the cards…"

Gabrielle felt her body shudder. It was as if all these pieces of their past were converging.

"Xena, can you…"

"Kill Gods? I don't know, Gabrielle. All I do know is that somehow we may have to."

"What about Ares?"

"Ares can hold his own even if he is mad. He may even be able to defeat, or at least completely disable Anath…but Baal? Lucifer?... Baal is far more powerful….I don't know…"

Gabrielle heard something behind them. She turned.


The angel had made a quiet appearance. "Gabrielle. Xena."

The warrior greeted him with civility, "Michael."

The bard looked at him, "What are you doing here?"

He began to pace slowly. "I'm here to answer some of your questions…point you in the right direction."

"All right...point," Xena said definitively.

"First… the question of Halima…. Her story is true… Anath has taken the children…. and she is the daughter of Shiana."

Xena looked at Gabrielle and both attempted to absorb the reality. Michael continued, "The children…I don't know. Baal has a powerful presence now. He is probably keeping them in a temple somewhere."

"Michael," Gabrielle began to breech her real concern.

He turned and faced her and then looked at Xena. "No… Xena cannot kill gods."

Gabrielle shook her head in disbelief, "Then what are we…"

He stepped toward the bard, "You can."

"I can what?"

Xena stood and walked to Gabrielle, "You can kill gods, Gabrielle."

"That's ridiculous, Xena," Gabrielle scoffed.

"Is it?" The angel answered her doubts with his own question.

Gabrielle laughed nervously, "Of course it is... I can't kill gods… that's…"

"You can kill gods because Gabriel can kill gods," Michael stated firmly.

"Gabriel? Gabriel is seven years old, Michael."

"Yes… he will not always be…I have already told you that."

"This doesn't make sense…"

Xena looked at the bard.

"Why bring Xena back?'

Xena looked at Michael.

"Because of Lucifer?" the bard asked in frustration.

"Yes," he answered. Gabrielle opened her mouth to speak but he stopped her, "but also because you need her."

Gabrielle looked at Xena who was watching the bard closely.

"So how can Gabriel…"

"As you said," Michael answered, "He is only a boy. That power is not something he is ready for."

"Then how can I?"

"Have you looked into the boy's eyes?" the angel said.

She was at a loss.

"You don't see yourself there?" he asked.

"What are you talking about?"

"Gabrielle," Xena steadied her partner.

"Your bond with Gabriel is special. It was ordained. He has your light…and you have always understood his. As long as you keep him with you…you can kill gods if it is necessary….Xena can disarm them… you've already seen that. They will expect her to hold the power…that is your advantage."

Gabrielle collapsed onto a large rock and put her face in her hands. "This is crazy, Michael."

The angel smiled at her. "Gabrielle… it is not crazy… one day Gabriel will hold a place in heaven that even I cannot imagine… the son of the messenger, the grandson of Eli's best friend. The boy is endowed by the way of love."

"What about Ares?" Xena asked.

"Ares… Ares cannot be allowed to take control of Baal's army…Xena.. you know what Ares would do with the kind of power."

"I can't kill Ares," Gabrielle said.

Michael smiled. "You may not have to…. Even if you can defeat Baal now, Lucifer is continuing to gain strength – he will be able to resurface here soon. And he likely has already found a way to send forth emissaries from hell itself."

"Great," Xena said in her normal sarcastic tone, "Just another day."

Michael looked at the warrior admonishingly. "I will not be able to return to you… heaven is in its own battle now with Lucifer." He looked at them both, "You have learned so much…accepted who you are… now you have to trust… Eli has told you… I have told you….it is up to you now…" He bowed his head to them both and disappeared.

Gabrielle looked at Xena and shook her head. "I can't…"

Xena took the bard into her arms, "You can." She kissed Gabrielle's forehead.

Xena held Gabrielle while they both soaked in their reality. If tonight went as planned they would begin to train the Amazons in earnest and Xena and Gabrielle would need to get ready to head south. It would take a much larger army than the Amazon tribes to defeat Baal. Xena hoped whatever Ares was doing; he was sane enough to carry it through. The needed as many allies as possible and if there was one thing Ares could do it was forge armies and form alliances.

"Gabrielle, we'll get through this."

Gabrielle pulled way and nodded. "We have to," she answered.

Xena put out her hand. "Let's get started then…"

Chapter 44: Chapter 44 - Off We Go

Chapter 44 – Off We Go

Gabrielle said very little for the rest of the afternoon. Word was traveling quickly through the tribes about Xena and Virgil's discovery that Anath's troops seemed to have split. Xena and Varia were taking careful stock of the reactions. Most of the women were showing relief, even a degree of excitement; determining which 'amazons' seemed nervous was a good indicator of a possible Phoenician plant.

The warrior and the bard headed for Eve's hut in preparation for the evening. They agreed that they would not tell their daughter about the encounter with Michael or about Gabrielle and Gabriel's ability to kill gods. The fewer people that knew the truth; the better. In an odd way this was very familiar territory for them both. Xena walked through the open door to find Eve cleaning up a scrape on Gabriel's knee. "What happened there?" the warrior asked.

"Jumping across rocks at the river," Eve answered as she washed the boy's knee. He winced at the stinging sensation but shed no tears.

"I made it across," he said triumphantly.

Gabrielle laughed, "Mmm… I'm sure you did." Gabrielle could not help but almost stare at the boy. It was undeniable that she shared a special bond with the boy. He held her heart, in some ways like no one else; not even Eve or Xena. The connection had been immediate and it had never wavered.

"Are you all right?" Eve walked to Gabrielle noting an expression in the bard's face that she could not completely identify.

Gabrielle smiled. "Yes, of course."

Xena looked at the bard and then turned to Gabriel. "Well, no fishing this afternoon I am afraid… I have to help Queen Varia with some things and Lysandra is busy…"

He looked at the floor in disappointment. "Gabriel," the bard coaxed, "I was thinking that you could help me for a while."

He looked up at the woman he had worshipped all his life, "What do we have to do?" he asked.

"Well," Gabrielle said, "You father is going to bring a special guest back with him… IF we're lucky….. I need to get the hut prepared. ….You know… I am still a little…"

The boy nodded one deliberate nod, "I can help you, Auntie."

"I knew you could," she winked at him. She turned to the warrior now. "I will meet you here in a few hours."

Xena smiled. "You will."

"Come on, Gabriel… help this old lady get her chores done."

"You're not OLD auntie… You're a queen."

She laughed and led him out of the hut. Xena watched them leave and could not seem to remove her gaze until they we well out of sight. She watched their banter and saw the bard lighten with each step.

Eve stood behind her mother and watched her; watching. "Mother…"


"What aren't you telling me?"

Xena rolled her lips back and forth and then closed them tightly as she turned to face her daughter. "Eve… it really is nothing you need to worry about. Everything is fine."

"MMMmm – you are not a good liar, Mother."

Xena snickered at her daughter's observation. The warrior was not really that surprised by Michael's "revelations" and if she had every confidence in Gabrielle. She looked at her daughter and smiled widely, "It's all right Eve…."

Eve shrugged her shoulders realizing that this was a battle she would not win. "So, what are we doing?"

Xena smiled. "Well, we watch…hope that when Halima dies in the heat of interrogation…well…we hope that someone breaks…"

"And then…"

"And then… we follow…."

"And where do you hope this leads?"

Xena looked at her daughter, "To the source."


Xena smiled.

"And then what?" the messenger asked.

"And then…. We kill a god."

Chapter 45: Chapter 45 - Mothers and Daughters

Chapter 45 – Mothers and Daughters

Lysandra sat on the floor of the hut and stared at Halima. She trusted Gabrielle and Xena but she could not seem to tame the anger that still brewed inside her. She could still see Gabrielle with the knife sticking out of her back. The memory took her breath away. Realizing her stare she abruptly looked away.

"You care a great deal for the queen," Halima offered.

Lysandra looked at the woman but did not speak.

"She is impressive."

Lysandra's gaze became intense.

"…and beautiful…" the woman offered again, wondering if Lysandra's emotions might be driven by a desire for the queen.

The amazon shook her head in disgust.

"Hmmm….," the prisoner mused, "so not 'admiration' then."

Lysandra pulled herself to her feet and walked away from the woman a short distance and then turned back to face her, "The queen," she began, "has the 'admiration' of everyone here…"

Halima smiled a bit at the young woman's emotional defense of the queen, "…and love?"

Lysandra shook her head and took a long moment before responding, "Yes."

"And you…" Halima was still curious, "do you love the queen?"

Lysandra turned away from the woman. 'Yes,' she thought and then spoke, "not as you imply."

"Ahh…. Because of the warrior?"

Lysandra turned around and faced the woman, "No…and why do you care?"

Halima looked forward and gathered her thoughts. "My mother knew them….many years ago."

Lysandra listened.

"She was a close friend to the queen."

"You tried to kill Gabrielle."

"Gabrielle?... that's informal…"

Lysandra let out a sigh, "That is how she prefers it… so you tried to kill your mother's friend? ... I'm sure she'd be proud."

Halima looked at the floor, "No…"

"No you didn't try to kill her or NO, your mother would not be proud?"

Halima lifted her eyes to the Amazon. She still was unsure who this young woman was. "Both….I did what I had to do."

Lysandra looked at the woman leaning against the pole who was now only loosely bound now. She could not understand how Gabrielle and Xena could put their trust in this person.

"You don't trust me…"

Lysandra's face tightened.

"Well," Halima started, "I can't expect you to understand the bond between a mother and her child."

Lysandra looked at the woman sternly.

"You don't have any children…"

Lysandra stared at the woman rolling her eyes slightly at the statement.

"And probably never knew your mother…" This was a fact of life in the Amazon tribes. The majority of women who were amazons now were orphans raised by the tribes. It was one of the reasons they had been able to sustain themselves. Halima looked at Lysandra's expression. She saw Lysandra's eyes grow dark at the assertion.

Lysandra looked at the woman and gave what appeared to be a half-cocked smile.

"Perhaps I was wrong," the prisoner remarked.

Lysandra thought about the morning, everything Gabrielle had said to her, and she suddenly felt a deep sense of pride. It made no difference what anyone said or thought now. Since the first time she sat with Gabrielle so many years ago she had loved the queen, not only admired her. Gabrielle had taken an interest in her, listened to her, taught her to do more than fight; to think, to care, to love. She had a family. She knew what it was to have a mother and she did not need to explain that to this woman; her smile grew and she let a slight chuckle pass her lips.

Halima studied the young woman. She had an innocence that seemed to pour through her, but she was poised and determined. She carried herself with a sense of strength. "Well… she is lucky to have such devotion…"

Lysandra licked her lips and pulled them together tightly.

"Someday," the woman said to the amazon as he closed her eyes, "you might understand what a mother would do for her daughter…a daughter for her mother."

Lysandra did understand. Eve had taken up a sword. Gabrielle had sheltered Gabriel. She had disobeyed her orders. Family was very clear to Lysandra now. She smiled. She could not help her skepticism about this would be assassin. The woman before her had attacked her family. But, she trusted her family and if Gabrielle believed this was the right course, the amazon would follow carefully and watchfully.

Lysandra looked at the woman who had grown pensive, "You have a daughter?"

The woman nodded slightly.

"How old is she?" Lysandra asked, cautiously allowing herself to soften.

"Eight," the woman answered.

Lysandra noted the tear in the woman's eye. She watched for a moment and recalled the moment she first met the queen. She sat beside the woman, "I was eight when I met the queen."

Halima looked at the amazon as she continued, "She came here to see Queen Varia….right after…"

"Xena died," Halima picked up the thought as it seemed to trail off.

"Yes." Lysandra said.

Halima sighed. "My mother…she spoke of them often when I was small….she said she had never seen two people who were more…"

Lysandra interrupted, "She was so sad….But she took me to her yurt….after Varia told her about me…she told me stories about them, where they went, who they met…."

Halima watched the faraway look overtake Lysandra as she recalled her time with the queen.

"I thought that would be it…but every time she came…every time I stayed with her. She brought me to Amphipolis for a summer…."

Halima understood. She had seen the compassion in the queen's eyes that morning. "I see," she smiled.

Lysandra looked at the woman before her. "They will find your daughter."

Halima smiled, "Perhaps."

Lysandra shook her head, "No, they will."

"You love them very much," Halima said in a motherly tone.

Lysandra looked at the woman that she had felt such hatred for a few short hours ago. She saw a tenderness that she had not seen before. Lysandra's inclination was always to protect; to fight; Gabrielle had worked very hard to help her temper that. As she looked at the woman in front of her; she understood why. Gabrielle had once said that understanding people was like peeling an onion; there were many layers.

Lysandra smiled. "I do."

Halima nodded her understanding. "Family is important….there is nothing more meaningful than the love between a mother and her daughter."

Lysandra rose to her feet. "They'll find your daughter…just…"

Halima continued to smile, "You have nothing to fear from me…"

Lysandra turned to face the woman who continued, "And neither does the queen…."

Lysandra acknowledged the promise with a slight nod when Eve entered and immediately noticed the emotion in the air.


Lysandra looked at the messenger. "Are you all right?"

The amazon nodded. Eve looked at Halima who was studying the two women before her.

"So," Eve continued, "Lysandra… you are to formally call for the queen in a few candle marks. When they arrive, Gabrielle will enter first, then Mother…and then the declaration will be made to the tribe that the prisoner is dead."

Lysandra nodded her understanding. "Where are they now?"

"Mother is with Varia in the center… they are running through training exercises. She will stay with Varia until I come back from checking on Virgil…."

"Gabrielle?" she asked

"Gabriel is with her helping get prepared for their 'visitor'."

Lysandra looked concerned, "She shouldn't be lifting and…"

Eve smiled and put her hand on the younger woman's shoulder, "Lysandra, you know mother.. queen or bard she is stubborn," she laughs, "But, she knows her limits. She's not like… well…"

"Your other mother?" Lysandra laughed.

Eve shook her head, "Yes. Though they are both stubborn as a Centaur."

Halima watched the two women as they interacted. She could not be certain what all of the relationships were here. The only thing she was certain of was that there was deep devotion. It raised her confidence. Perhaps the young amazon was correct. Perhaps the Amazon Queen and the Warrior Princess could find her daughter.

Eve noted the expression on Halima's face and moved toward her. "I understand," she began, "why you attacked. My parents…most people think they are warriors…."

Halima looked at the messenger as she continued, "They are; both of them. But, they are mothers first…just like me…just like you…."

Halima swallowed hard as Eve moved closer, "So…I understand…they understand….but you should know this….I raised a sword for my son….I would do no less for my mothers or," she looked to Lysandra, "my sister…."

Lysandra's eyes widened. There was an intensity in Eve that she has only seen during her brief battle with the prisoner and her heart quickened at the endearment the messenger had just offered her.

Halima looked at the messenger conveying all of her understanding in a glance.

Eve stood straight and walked to Lysandra. "I will see you shortly," she smiled and put her hand on the young woman's shoulder. She began to make her exit and turned back to the women, "Be careful," she said to Lysandra gesturing to the woman on the floor, "Mothers will do anything to protect their children….anything…." and she left.

Chapter 46: Chapter 46 - Shall We Dance?

Chapter 46 – Shall We Dance?

Ares watched closely as Anath's troops formed a line around Baal's temple. They were many in number and well equipped. He looked at Naida, "This is good," he asserted.

"I do not understand," the woman responded.

"She has no idea," he continued, "that we are coming."

"How do you…"

"Look closely," he continued.

While they were many in number they were relaxed. He had yet to catch sight of the goddess herself, and he was anxious to have the opportunity to size her up. And, he was looking forward to confronting her…personally.

"So," Naida began, "What do we do?"

"We watch."

Naida was growing more confused. "Wouldn't it make more sense to take them off guard?"

Ares had a gleam in his eye as he studied the scene below unfolding. "No…I want them to see their goddess fall…"

"We don't even know if Anath will…"

"Oh…she'll show…."

"How can you be so sure?"

Ares let his gaze remain fixed on the troops but his lips steadily began to curl into the hint of a smile, "Oh… Naida.. you have so much to learn…..Gods are very predictable….and I should know…"

"Then won't she know that we are coming?"

Ares let forth a haunting cackle. "You see…that's just it, Naida…I have been a mortal… I have been a God…I sealed the fate of my siblings…when I did…everything changed…"


"Mad?" He laughed again and turned to her, "I am that… yes… I am….but THAT is our advantage now, my dear… that is our advantage."

"How are you going to…"

"Naida," Ares grabbed the woman firmly by the shoulders, "War is like a dance…just like love….one leads and one follows in anticipation…..there are steps…there are turns…it takes two…two to dance…shifting balance….but unlike LOVE… in WAR the dance is meant to end…one standing while the other falls away…"

Naida watched as Ares expression grew darker. "I have something I have to do," he said.

"You're leaving…what if?"

Ares turned to her, "I just told you, Naida…it takes two…I have every intention of taking the lead…Wait here…"

In an instant the God of War was gone.

Gabriel was helping Gabrielle move a small cot into the far corner of the room.

"Who is coming, Auntie?"

Gabrielle smiled through a slight twinge of pain as she positioned the cot and sat on it. "Oh…well, Gabriel… in a way…an old friend."

"Is it someone in your scrolls? Is it Pili?" He began to run through Gabrielle's stories of her time in Egypt, "Or Anpu… I know – is it Kesi…

"No…Gabriel," Gabrielle laughed. "It's not any if those people…though you may get to meet some of them soon."

"REALLY? I want to meet Anpu… he is strong and he is brave. I'll bet he could even fight that goddess. You remember how he fought those Persians?" Gabriel waved his hand as though he had a sword, "He ducked and he bobbed and he jumped and he took two of them at once, then four of them, then BAM you came and you hit that big guy behind him and…"

Gabrielle shook her head and smiled, "well.. something like that anyway…Anpu is a good friend. He is very brave and very strong…but do you know what makes him a great warrior, Gabriel?"

"Yeah…he's fast and he knows how to…"

Gabrielle pulled the boy down onto the cot, "No…Gabriel… Anpu would never fight unless he had to. Great leaders understand that war is never the best way to solve a problem… they fight when it is the only way."

The boy looked at his auntie, puzzled, "But you fight…"

"Yes, when I have to. But….I would never choose to fight. When you fight, Gabriel, someone always gets hurt." The boy studied Gabrielle as she held his stare. "It is never one person who gets hurt Gabriel… there is always more…"

"I don't understand," he said earnestly.

"Well," she continued, "When the knife cut me the other day…..was it only me who got hurt?" He searched her for her meaning, "You were upset….your mother was upset…Lysandra…your grandmother…"

"Lysandra cried…I saw her," he said softly.

"Mmmm…you see, Gabriel…Love and War are very similar. When we love someone that love spreads..."

"Like you love me?"

"Well, yes… I love your grandmother…. And that is how we came to have your mother; and your Father loves your mother and they came to have you…and yes, I love you…and then I found Lysandra and you love Lysandra…"

He pondered his aunt's wisdom as she continued, "Do you see what I mean? When we fight and someone is hurt…all the people that love them…they are hurt too."

"Like why you were sad when grandmother died?'

Gabrielle took a deep breath and put her hand under the boy's chin, "Yes, exactly like that."

"But…auntie…you have to fight sometimes… even mother had to fight…"

"Yes, my love, sometimes I do…sometimes we all do…but that is not what makes us strong. War is never a good thing, Gabriel…. Love is always a good thing."

"Are you scared, Auntie?"

Gabrielle looked at the boy and narrowed her gaze, "Sometimes I am… yes… and it's okay to be scared."

He looked down at his feet, "I was scared…I was scared you would die,'" he fought his own tears.

"Gabriel, my love," Gabrielle smiled and put her hand on the boy's knee, "Life is like a dance. Sometimes we are led and sometimes we follow…sometimes we spin away on our own…almost like we hear a completely different song than everyone else." He lifted his eyes to hers, "and like every dance…at some point it must end – the music changes or it stops and we are led to something else."

Gabriel looked at his auntie and could not hide his tears. Gabrielle smiled at him softly, "But, Gabriel…you always remember the music; the tune that you danced to," she watched him struggle with his tears. "I have danced a great deal in my life," Gabrielle laughed.

"I don't want you to die."

Gabrielle sighed, "Oh my Gabriel…I love you so much…and someday…someday I will leave you…but not today, my love…"


"Yes, Gabriel?"

"If you are my grandmother – why are you my auntie?"

Gabrielle looked at the boy and smiled, "That's an interesting question, Gabriel."

"Well…you are…aren't you?"

"What we call each other doesn't change how we love each other, does it?"

"I guess not," he shrugged.

"What made you ask that?" Gabrielle wondered after all this time why this question entered his mind.

"I don't know."

"Mmm… well, Gabriel… I will tell you what…I would love you no matter what you called me," She whispered in his ear and pinched him, "unless you called me a gorgon…or a Cyclops…or a.."

He laughed, "Auntie!"

Gabrielle smiled. "Come on… we need to go meet your grandmother." She stood and offered her hand to him.


"Yes, Gabriel?"

He stopped their motion and pulled on Gabrielle's arm. "I'm glad you're my grandmother."

The words seemed to embed themselves in the bard's heart. She had always known how intuitive Gabriel was; how smart and how sensitive. He was the music that kept her dancing now for so many years. Looking into his bright blue eyes, for the first time she admitted it to herself. All of it was worth it…just to have this little boy in her life. Gabrielle smiled; gently prompting their forward motion, "And I am glad you are my Gabriel."

Chapter 47: Chapter 47 - You Are - Who?

Chapter 47 – You Are - Who?

Lysandra looked at Halima, "It's time." She rose to her feet from the floor and opened the door to summon the guard that was posted a short distance away in the courtyard, "the prisoner wishes to see the queen."

The amazon nodded and turned. Lysandra re-entered the hut and looked at the woman who was still bound to the pole. She felt her insides churning. This was an enormous risk and she was suddenly realizing how much of a risk Gabrielle and Xena were taking.

The young amazon guard beckoned to one of her sisters, "Lysandra has sent for Queen Gabrielle," she said. The woman nodded and turned to make the short trek to Eve's hut.

Gabrielle sat on a large chair in the corner of the hut while Gabriel sat in the corner whittling a stick. Xena was pacing the floor.

"Would you sit down, please? You are making me nervous."

Xena looked at her partner. "I'm just thinking."

"I know," Gabrielle said pulling herself up. "You always pace… it won't make her come any faster."

Xena smiled a crooked smile. "Mmm.."

Eve walked in, "Lysandra has called for the queen."

Gabrielle took a deep breath and looked at Xena. They stood facing each other for a moment. Eve watched the expressions pass between them. No matter how many times she watched her parents she was always amazed at their ability to communicate without any words at all. Gabrielle lightly touched the warrior's hand, "Here we go."

Eve looked at Gabriel, "You are going to go with Varia for a little while."

The boy looked at his mother and stood still. "Gabriel…let's go," she urged.

Xena looked at the boy whose focus had turned to Gabrielle. The warrior tugged on her lover's top to turn her about. "Xena…" the warrior gestured to the boy. Gabrielle looked at Gabriel. She understood immediately that he was afraid. He could sense things; things about people and he had sensed the tension in the room. After their discussion earlier, the bard was aware of his insecurities.

"Gabriel," she said as she outstretched her hand. He stared at her intently; almost as if he was angry. The bard took a deep breath and licked her lips. She looked at Xena and then turned to Eve, "Give us a minute," she instructed. The two women quietly left the hut and Gabrielle journeyed across the room to her grandson.

"What is this about?" She asked him. He just stared at her.

"Gabriel," she said confidently but gently, "I love you…but I have to go right now…"


Gabrielle smiled, "Do you remember what we talked about today?"

He looked at her and his expression began to soften and show his fear.

"Listen…I am coming back. I'm just going across the courtyard."

He looked at her and spoke with his own assuredness, "Grandmother is afraid."

Gabrielle sighed, "Well, sometimes we are all afraid, Gabriel. I told you that earlier. ….BUT, sometimes we are just careful…not afraid…just aware…and that helps keep us safe. It helps us keep you safe…do you understand?"

He looked at her and squinted. "Why can't I protect you?" he said with some ferocity in his small voice.

Gabrielle smiled widely and took the small face in her hands, "You, Gabriel…you protect me every single day and you don't even know it. I promise you… and you know I never make a promise I can't keep….I will be back with you this evening."

He huffed and studied her. "Are you?"

"Am I what?"

"My grandmother…"

Gabrielle took a deep breath. She knew that Gabriel already had this answer but it seemed he needed her to say it. There was something that the boy needed…to know who they all were, perhaps it was the confidence he needed that she was truly bound to her word as she was bound to him. The bard sat on the chair in front of the boy and looked him in the eye. "Gabriel…listen to me now. What you want to know is whether or not you are a part of me…and the answer is yes…yes. You have always been and will always be a part of me. Nothing will ever change that…not anything….I know all of this is scary. I know things in this family are…well they are confusing sometimes…even for me…. But we are always a family. And you are my Gabriel…always."

He looked at her and stared, his young mind racing. He loved this woman more than anyone in his life. He trusted her and he wanted to protect her every bit as much as she could ever want to protect him. Gabrielle stretched out her hand to him again and he accepted it this time. "Come on…"

He walked with her out the door. When they reached Xena she turned to him. "Gabriel," she said and she looked at Eve with the hint of a tear in her eye before turning back to him, "The moment I met your grandmother I started to dance…the moment I met your mother … well, I learned to sing… and the moment I met you….I knew the music would never end."

Xena looked at her daughter and then at the pair before her; one tall and one small, both with piercing eyes and blonde hair. She was overcome with emotion as she listened to Gabrielle weave her words as only a bard could hope to do.

"I will back, Gabriel. I promise."

He looked at her and put his small arms around her waist, "Someday I will protect you."

Gabrielle smiled as she stepped away and took Xena's hand. "I told you…you already do, my love."

Varia appeared and surveyed the scene for a moment. "They're waiting," she said as she turned to the boy.

"Take care of my grandson," Gabrielle said to Varia as Gabriel's eyes widened.

Varia could not hide her surprise at the words in Gabrielle's direction. The bard smiled at the boy as she turned to leave with Xena and Eve.

"What happened today?" Eve asked as they began the short walk to see Halima.

"Oh…He just needed to know…who he was, I guess."

Xena smiled. "He already knew," the warrior said.

"Of course he did," Gabrielle laughed. "Sometimes we all just need to hear that," she looked at Eve.

"Yes… we do," Eve agreed.

Lysandra was growing more anxious. Now came the hard part; convincing the tribe that the prisoner was so worn and tired that she succumbed to the heat and stress and died from her injuries. That was the easy part – then they had to get her out of the hut to Virgil and substitute the Phoenician that was already wrapped in sack cloth. The slightest hint that the prisoner actually lived could cause an upheaval in the tribes that threatened everything; not only their plans; but their lives.

Gabrielle entered slowly and looked at Halima. She allowed the door to shut behind her. The Amazon Queen looked at Lysandra and smiled. "Are you all right?" she asked. Lysandra nodded. "All right then…it is going to get very loud in here shortly….Lysandra….get Halima's face wet… very wet…"

Lysandra complied by grabbing a soaked towel from a bucket and wringing it over the prisoner's head.

"Now, go to the door and let Xena in when I say," Gabrielle approached the pole and hovered above the woman that still lay tied to it. "Close the door slowly so that the guards can see Halima's face….I'm sorry," she said to Halima, "It has to look as though your injuries are worse than they are."

Halima nodded her understanding. Gabrielle let forth a painful expression as she took hold of small piece of chain and wrapped it around her fist. She nodded to the prisoner and whispered, "It will hurt, it must bleed and it must be under your hair line…they cannot see it when you return."

Halima again nodded her understanding. "Now, Lysandra," with that Gabrielle struck the prisoner in the head sending out a scream of pain as the blood began to trickle forth. Gabrielle expertly let the chain fall as the scream erupted so that no one would hear its contact with the ground. "Is this what you brought me here for," the Queen screamed.

Xena entered slowly and took her place next to Gabrielle. Lysandra let the door hover open until Xena screamed, "Shut the door. NOW."

Lysandra let her breath out. The first deed was done. Xena untied Halima.

"Lysandra," Gabrielle said, "Now – go to Varia's hut. That is the signal for Eve to get Virgil."

Lysandra hesitated and Gabrielle turned to her, "Go… now…"

Lysandra took a deep breath and began her journey outward as Xena's voice became louder screaming allegations and questions so that the village could hear. One of the guards looked at her.

"Did you talk to the prisoner?"

Lysandra took the question in. She found it curious that an amazon would ask this. "I don't make a habit of talking to traitors."

The guard continued, "You were in there a long time."

Lysandra looked at the woman and regarded her closely. "You are from Cynara's tribe."


"Ummm.. and you are, who?"


"I see… well, Kaia… Queen Gabrielle did not ask me to engage the prisoner…only watch her."

"And you always do as your queen says?"

Lysandra moved closer, "I do." Immediately, Lysandra knew who this was and she was not an amazon. The plan was working already.

Chapter 48: Chapter 48 - Father Knows Best

Chapter 48 – Father Knows Best

Ares walked about the tribe. It was not generally his style to conceal himself. He felt it best here, and he wanted to know what Gabrielle and Xena were planning before he made any move on Anath. The screaming from the hut where Halima was being held was completely audible; every word. And Xena's voice was unmistakable. The God of War felt weak from the sound of her voice; so powerful and commanding. He could hear Gabrielle as well. He knew what they were up to. This was no real interrogation. Those who knew them, truly knew them, would know that this was not their style – not their way. Whatever they had discovered it was clear to Ares that they wanted the prisoner alive. He was certain that Xena had seen his handiwork by the river and understood.

He stood near the guards and watched. Lysandra came out of the hut and headed across the courtyard. He studied her as she stopped and the guard engaged her. She was tall, almost as tall as Xena. She carried herself with confidence. As she addressed and analyzed the woman before her; the God of War inspected her closely. She was an Amazon; there was no doubt about that in his mind. Her tight brown braids pulled the hair away from her face and revealed deep brown eyes. Eyes that almost looked black as she moved in closer to the guard that was questioning her. He pondered their expression. They were fierce, but behind them was compassion. It reminded him of Athena a bit. He missed his sister. Although he did not regret his actions; healing Eve and Gabrielle; he still felt the pain of the loss his actions caused. Athena always had his respect and his admiration; just as Aphrodite, though his opposite, commanded his love and devotion.

Lysandra pulled away from the guard and he noted that her jaw had tightened. "She's figured something out," he mused to himself. He studied the guard now, raised his hand invisibly over her and scanned her memories, "Ahhh… I see," he lowered his hands. He turned again and watched the young amazon enter a hut across the way and he followed, trying to tune out the haunting echoes of the warrior princess's voice in the distance.

Lysandra entered the hut where Varia and Cynara were in the middle of a heated discussion.

"You will do no such thing," Varia commanded.

Lysandra bowed her head slightly.

"Lysandra," Varia quieted her voice, "Are we all set?"

Lysandra nodded. "Queen Cynara," she began.

"What is it?" Cynara snapped.

"The guard… outside the prison hut..."


"Yes… I believe she is not an Amazon."

Cynara's temper began to flair. "That is ridiculous….Kaia has been a trusted friend to me."

Varia looked at Lysandra and saw the resolve in her eyes, "How long has she been here, Cynara?"

"Almost a full season. She came to us with a small number of amazons from one of the western tribes after a battle with the Romans."

Varia's expression grew stern, "Cynara…"

"You accuse me of placing a Phoenician as a GUARD?"

Lysandra spoke carefully, "She inquired about the prisoner…if I had spoken to her."

Varia shook her head, "Thank you, Lysandra."

"So… what then?" Cyanara said, "She asked a question and…"

Varia's jaw cocked to the side and she stepped closer to the younger queen, "She asked what no amazon would ask, Cynara…your placement of her and trust is not in question. There is no reason you would have known…however, your disrespect of Lysandra is questionable… you question the amazon Queen Gabrielle has entrusted most in favor of a woman you've known but a season?"

Ares observed the conversation as it unfolded. There were spies here. That meant there may be spies within his own ranks. He knew now that the goddess had taken children, he read that from this guard they continued to discuss. Parents always wanted to protect their children. He would need to keep that in mind now. He watched as Lysandra scanned the room; the two queens continuing their argument. Her expression was beginning to appear more worrisome.

"Where's Gabriel?" she asked with some urgency.

Varia pulled herself from the conversation. "Wasn't he out front?"

Lysandra's heart began to pound. She turned and fled the hut in a panic.

Ares followed close behind. Lysandra looked about silently and then shook her head as if some wisdom was suddenly granted to her. She made her way quickly through some trees out of sight and headed in the woods back toward the hut where the voices had just begun to quell. "Oh… Gabriel," she said aloud with some frustration. Ares followed her gaze to the back of the hut where a small blond head could barely be seen in the bushes.

Lysandra moved carefully but quickly through the brush and came up behind the boy covering his mouth with her hand. She turned him about, "Your mother is going to kill you…much less Gabrielle."

The boy's forehead wrinkled and his eyebrows came to meet in the middle. "I'm staying HERE."

"No… you are not. Just what do you think you are doing?"

"I'm watching."

"Watching what?"

He gestured to a tree line that was about 50 paces behind the far side of the hut. There were two women there; dressed like Amazons, but clearly watching. "I followed them," he said.

Lysandra felt her heart sink. That was the pathway Virgil intended to take. She had to do something and she had to do it quickly and quietly. "Gabriel, listen to me… go and get Varia… only Varia… do you understand me?"

"I'm not leaving… I can help you."

"Gabriel… I mean it… get Varia… that's how you can help me… please…"

He sighed but he was at least happy that Lysandra needed him. He started to crawl backward to make his way back to the hut.

"Gabriel," Lysandra called in a whisper and he turned to her, "Just… just be careful… don't tell Cynara…"

Ares watched the young amazon. "Think Lysandra…think…what would Xena do….. uh… what would Gabrielle do…"

"Talk," the God whispered, "Gabrielle would talk…"

Lysandra shook her head hard. It was as if she felt a distant breath in her ear. "Talk… Gabrielle would talk to them…but…"

"Pretend you think they should be there," he whispered…. "That it is part of Xena's plan…"

Lysandra stood and readied herself. She moved quickly through the tree line to come up behind them looking for any sign of Eve or Virgil and hoping they would see her as they approached and stop.

"You can be seen here," the Amazon directed to the women who were started, "Xena will not like that…"

Ares watched for a moment as Lysandra began to talk. She had them under control within seconds and had them believing that she thought Xena had put them there. Confident that this was under control for the moment he headed for the hut. He could not enter normally and he could not hide from the warrior or the bard…they would sense him. There was no choice. In an instant he was before them.

"Ares…" Xena stood in disbelief.

"What are you doing here?" Gabrielle said with force.

"Nice to see you too… looking… well ALIVE….I don't have time… there are spies in the tree line behind the hut…"

Gabrielle looked at Xena, "That's where Virgil and…"

"How do you know that?" Xena asked with her usual skepticism.

"Does it matter?" he said with contempt. Xena's stance grew defensive and her face became taught, "Oh… well..of course it does," he continued, "Yes, well….your grandson seems to have found them…"

"Gabriel.." Gabrielle felt her heart quicken.

"He's fine… the young Amazon…she sent him to Varia – she is with them now."

Xena bit her bottom lip, "Lysandra went after them by herself?"

"Oh relax," The God said… "She's convinced them that she thinks you put them there. She's bought you some time."

Xena looked at Gabrielle, "Gabrielle…plan's changed. They need to see Halima… they know something."

Gabrielle rubbed her face.

"Ares…" Xena said.. "Look… I know.. I need to…"

Ares looked at Gabrielle. "I can transform the body…but I cannot transform the prisoner. It will take too much energy…and I need that for Anath."

Gabrielle looked at the God and then at her lover. She could not understand why he was addressing her.

"Ares.. if.." Xena continued.

"Gabrielle… yes or no…" he said.

"Do it," the queen answered.

The God of War lifted the sack cloth from the body; placed one hand over Halima and one over the dead warrior…within an instant the warrior had taken on the prisoner's appearance. He looked at Gabrielle, drained.

She took a deep breath… "Can you…"

He looked at the Queen of the Amazons. "Varia and the young amazon…they will clear the path…you don't need me for that." He turned away.

Xena looked at Gabrielle. She was unsure what Ares was thinking and what his motivations were. He would not even look at the woman he had professed his love to for so many years. Gabrielle spoke, "Ares, I don't…"

"Parents," he said, "They will do anything to protect their children….it makes for a dangerous situation."

Xena looked at Gabrielle with confusion and Gabrielle shrugged. They knew this, but there was something in the god's voice. He continued now without turning to face them, "The amazon…Gabrielle…you love her…like a daughter, no?…like Eve?"

Gabrielle looked back at Xena. "Yes…"

"Hummm…. Fathers love their daughters too, Gabrielle….be careful…" He was gone.

"What the hell was that?" Xena asked.

Gabrielle stood frozen. A deep pit in her stomach was telling her that the God of War was trying to convey some truth. "I don't know…but I have a feeling we're going to find out."

Chapter 49: Chapter 49 - Let Me Make it Clear

Chapter 49 – Let Me Make it Clear

While neither the bard nor the warrior was completely certain what Ares' visit had been all about; both had to admit that they were grateful he had made it. As expected a group of Cynara's guards asked to see the body. Ares' trick passed the test with flying colors; this was the Phoenician that had attacked- without question.

Gabriel had reached Varia quickly and she was off to assist Lysandra with the task of disarming and removing the women behind the hut. It had been easy once Lysandra had convinced them that they had her trust. It did, however, change the plan again. Virgil decided it was best that he took Halima south with him to wait for Xena and Gabrielle to arrive. He wished that he did not have to be separated from his family for any length of time but it was the safest course of action. And, it would give Halima some time to heal and Virgil time to gauge her sincerity and her abilities before the warrior and bard arrived. Lysandra left with him. Decisions had to be made quickly. The women in woods needed to be removed and taking them south made sense as well. Virgil and Gabrielle had powerful friends in the Land of the Pharaohs that could secure the women.

Xena stood beside the funeral pyre and watched the flames claim the woman that lie upon it. Her thoughts wandered. She thought about all of the souls they had released this way, Ephiny, Marga, Yakut… Gabrielle's thoughts were consumed with Ares. She had seen very little of the God of War since her return from Jappa. The few occasions when they had crossed paths had been brief and quiet. It was strange, but in many ways she knew it was Ares who understood her grief best. She could not understand why he had been so dismissive of Xena. She had expected him to vie for her affections immediately. It was true that his state of mind was in question, but his love for the warrior princess had always trumped anything and everything; madness, mortality; Xena was always his greatest passion. His words lingered with her.

Xena looked at Gabrielle who had become engrossed in the flames; her eyes flickered with some type of distant journey. Xena took a deep breath. She moved in behind Gabrielle and put her hands on the Amazon Queen's waist gently. Her movements were not that of comfort. They were meant to clearly portray her connection to the queen. It was a display of affection that was generally reserved for moments when they were alone and it caught the attention of the entire tribe. Xena lifted her head slightly in a show of confidence. There was still a threat here, lurking, and she wanted to be certain that these women understood who she was. Her devotion to the queen, the queen's devotion to the messenger – these were unbreakable bonds and they SHOULD be feared.

Gabrielle did not recoil from the warrior's affection. For her part, she was done with any pretenses. Danger always found them, threatened those that they loved. That was just a fact that they could not change and could not avoid. They were all brought together for a reason and Gabrielle was through with worrying about what people might perceive about their family. This family WAS her path. That was completely clear to her. Xena's path was the greater good, Eve's was Eli's message, Gabriel's was heaven's future, Virgil's was Eve, and Lysandra's was to eventually lead this tribe. Gabrielle's was no longer just Xena; it was all that her love of Xena brought into her life; it was this family. That was also a fact that she realized had forever been her truth.

Gabrielle turned to Xena, "Let's go."

Xena looked at the Amazon Queen. "Now?"

Gabrielle looked deeply into Xena's eyes. The fire was burning down now. It would soon be only embers and ashes. Eve had taken Gabriel to the hut to sleep hours earlier. The tribes stood now; dancing halted; watching the flames as they dwindled. It was their custom to be still as the release of a spirit became complete. Now, they were all intently focused on the queen and she knew it. She continued her study of the warrior with a solemn face. Her hands took hold of the warrior's. Xena looked at her and held her gaze. The next few days would be difficult as they empowered Varia with the tribe and headed south.

Gabrielle wanted the tribe to understand the bonds as well. She had every intention of Lysandra taking a leadership role in her stead. She wanted them to know, unequivocally that the warrior was by her side in ALL things, "Now."

Xena looked out at the tribe. She looked at Varia and spoke clearly and with formality. "I am taking the Queen to our hut….Queen Varia… please make certain our daughter and grandson come to us first thing. We will be planning our trip south as you take command of training here." There was still uncertainty who traveled among them. For the next few days Gabrielle would need to assert herself as the queen. There was reason to doubt Cynara now and should Varia need to challenge the younger queen; Gabrielle needed to be prepared. She would be Queen Gabrielle unless they were in private and until their journey south began.

Varia understood the assertions and their purpose and bowed at her understanding.

Ares returned to his hillside camp and settled in front of a fire. He was certain the coming days would bring him into direct conflict with Anath and he welcomed it. Naida approached the god noting that his demeanor seemed far more reflective than commanding; more mortal than godly she thought. She was surprised that it prompted less concern in her than it did curiosity. He sensed her presence. "Sit," he said. The warrior woman complied. She sat across from him studying his expression as the god stared into the flames before him.

"You asked me about Xena earlier."

Naida just kept her watch and waited for him to continue.

He let out a sigh. "I loved her… yes… …but," he stopped and threw a stick into the flames. "Her heart belongs to someone else."

"The bard?" Naida offered cautiously.

Ares jaw tightened. "Ummm…. Ahh… the bard…. But Gabrielle… she is so much more than a bard, Naida."

The warrior was puzzled. She assumed he would have a hatred of Xena's lover.

"For many years I thought that… that she was simple… she was weak… a love sick puppy really…" He stopped himself again. "You see, the thing is, Naida…. I thought I was the stronger one…. The smarter one… eventually Xena would see that… see her own darkness and strength…I underestimated her."


He looked up briefly to catch her gaze, "No…Gabrielle." He looked into the fire again.

"You speak almost as though you love her."

His cackle at the statement was almost violent. "Ha… mmm… Xena loves her….and I know why…I have always known why….and now… Well… war is unpredictable."

"You're immortal."

"Ummm. There is no such thing anymore… not as you see it, Naida… not for me… not for Anath."

"You think that you might die?... Anath can't…"

"All things come to an end, Naida… my father once told me that….he could never accept it though and he lost everything because of it… even almost all of his children."

"If you think … why would you…"

Ares rose to his feet and straightened the belt around his waist. "Anath and I have a date with destiny… and as for my immortality… well… I will live on... rest… it won't be long now," he walked away and stood on the edge of the hill looking at the temple that was lit faintly below. The warrior looked into the fire. She did not know what this God of War was telling her, but she was certain that he expected a major battle and she was certain that he was not telling her something. He sensed her anxiety, "I will do as I promised… we will defeat Anath and weaken Baal…You can be sure… of that, you can be sure."

Chapter 50: Chapter 50

Chapter 50 - Warriors and Queens

Gabrielle struggled to open her eyes. The prior day's events had left her drained. She was concerned about Ares and about Lysandra having to leave the tribe. The last thing that they needed was for anyone to get suspicious about Halima and although Varia was doing her best to cover; there was a deep division beginning between those loyal to Cynara and those loyal to Varia. Gabrielle would be leaving in a few days and somehow they needed to regain control.

Xena pulled the bard closer to her, "What's wrong?"

Gabrielle closed her eyes again and allowed herself to feel the comfort of the warrior's arms around her. She sighed, "I don't know about this tribe, Xena… Cynara… something doesn't feel right to me."

Xena rested her chin on Gabrielle's shoulder, "I know… I've been thinking the same thing. I think we need to talk to Varia this morning… Hopefully, Lysandra will be back by nightfall."

"I hope so," Gabrielle said jostling herself about to get closer to the warrior.

"Are you worried about Lysandra?"

Gabrielle thought for a long moment before turning herself in Xena's embrace. She looked at the warrior and her eyes narrowed, "If Varia has to challenge Cynara…"

Xena brushed the hair from Gabriele's eyes, "Varia will defeat Cynara if it comes to that… I am sure of that..."

"I think so," Gabrielle paused, "But if she doesn't than I…"

Xena looked at Gabrielle, "Gabrielle… you will not need to challenge Cynara. What is really bothering you?"

"I need to talk to Eve."

"About your rite of caste…"


"You want it to pass to Lysandra…"

Gabrielle smiled into the warrior's knowing eyes.

"You know that Eve will agree with that," Xena assured the bard.

"I do…I just… if anything happens when we…"

"Listen to me," the warrior said looking deeply into the bard's eyes, "I promise you that whatever comes to pass – Lysandra will be ready. I will make certain of it."

Gabrielle smiled at Xena. Both understood that there was likelihood that Cynara had formed some allegiance with Anath. It didn't make sense that anyone knew about the plan with Halima unless someone on the inside had told them. The longer Lysandra was away the greater the risk became.

"You know," the warrior began, "There is an advantage in Lysandra being away."

Gabrielle sighed, "You're thinking that Cynara may tip her hand."

"It would solve some problems…if we could expose Cynara as a traitor to the Amazon nation there would be no reason for a challenge to be issued."

"That's true," Gabrielle said quietly.

Xena looked at her with compassion, "You are hoping that we are wrong… about Cynara."

"Of course."

"I know," Xena whispered. "I wish we were." She kissed Gabrielle on the forehead. "We aren't."

Gabrielle closed her eyes and inhaled, "I know."

"I love you, Gabrielle."

Gabrielle smiled at the warrior. "Xena," she paused, "I'm so tired," she admitted.

The warrior looked at the bard and stroked her cheek.

"I'm tired of fighting… of not being able to trust people… of just…"

Xena put her finger to Gabrielle's lips, "Listen to me… we will get through this… we will… and then…"

Gabrielle kissed the warrior, "No promises… remember?"

Xena smiled. "I remember," she said as Gabrielle began to make her way out of the bed.

"I need to go and see Varia," Gabrielle said.

"All right," the warrior responded getting to her feet.

They readied themselves in silence. As they began to pass through the door Gabrielle turned to the warrior.

"What is it?" the warrior asked.

The bard just smiled, "I love you, Xena."

Xena looked puzzled for a moment.

Gabrielle smiled knowing that her profession seemed out of place at the moment, "I promised myself that I would not let one morning or evening go by without telling you that," she explained.

An understanding smile crept onto the warrior's face. "Let's go see the queen," she said offering her hand.

Varia was by the river as was her usual morning routine. She was not surprised to see the pair heading toward her. The queen quickly surveyed the surrounding area before making her verbal greeting.

"Glad you two decided to join me for a morning swim," she called at a slight distance.

Xena took a moment to inspect the surroundings, "Been looking forward to it," she called back, squeezing Gabrielle's hand.

Gabrielle smiled and kept her eyes ahead. The message had been received clearly; someone was watching. Xena squeezed Gabrielle's hand a bit harder as she heard the rustle of a bush behind them. Gabrielle returned the grip assuring the warrior that she understood and she made her way to the water with Xena following behind but remaining at the edge of the river.

"So," Gabrielle said as she reached Varia, "Cynara?"

Varia laughed out loud not wanting the surveying party to know what they were discussing. "Clearly," she answered.

The two decided to swim farther to the middle of the river where a large flat rock was protruding. Reaching the rock Varia finally spoke more freely. "I think we need to draw her frustration out in front of the tribe….She is waiting for you to make your exit."

Gabrielle nodded her agreement, "Let's tell her that I have decided to stay with the tribe. That should frustrate her."

Varia laughed now in earnest ay Gabrielle's playful suggestion. "That's an idea," the amazon queen quipped… I've been thinking…"

"What?" Gabrielle asked.

"What if we told the tribe about the infiltration?"

Gabrielle took a deep breath and sighed. "You want to make it known to everyone…"

"Well, it would certainly force her hand… make a challenge easier… I think the challenge should occur before you and Xena leave."

Gabrielle agreed but her uneasiness was evident, "when?"

"This afternoon," Varia said, "I will have Cynara meet with me to call the tribes together to announce our plans for departure."

Gabrielle nodded her agreement and looked to the shore where Xena was continually scouting the area with her eyes. "I will tell Xena."

Varia's expression tightened. "Gabrielle… Will you be taking Lysandra with you when you leave?"

Gabrielle shook her head, "No… Lysandra will stay with you when she returns. Xena and I will leave with eve and Gabrielle as soon as we can…. You need Lysandra here."

Varia' smile showed her appreciation. "She may not like that."

"She understands," Gabrielle said plainly as they headed toward Xena at the river's edge. Gabrielle looked at the warrior, "We will call a tribal meeting today… and explain our plans for moving south," she looked at Varia.

Xena pursed her lips, "I think that is a good idea," the warrior offered. She held Gabrielle's gaze for a moment, "I am going to take a ride this morning. Sappho needs a workout… don't you agree?"

Gabrielle smiled knowing the Xena's real intention was to look for any sign of Lysandra approaching. "I do," she answered still aware of a presence nearby.

The time was approaching. Cynara would either concede her complicity in the plot against the amazons or she would be challenged. Today would begin the war that all expected and it would begin within.

Gabrielle looked at the two women before her, "Varia… I will call the council together… you gather the tribe." She gave a slight nod and headed off with the warrior.

"Gabrielle," Xena began, "Varia may have no choice but to…"

"I know." Gabrielle said firmly. "It doesn't mean I like it."

Xena did not answer. The reality was that there would likely be one less Amazon queen at the table by nightfall.

Chapter 51: Chapter 51 - Challenges

Chapter 51 – Challenges

Xena didn't want to admit to the bard that she was relieved to have a couple of hours to ride freely. Sappho was a beautiful mare and she smiled as her gallop increased at the knowledge of what a fine rider Gabrielle had become over the years. Just being on Sappho, riding through the forest unaccompanied, was liberating for the warrior. Xena was grateful for her life now; to be returned to her family; to Gabrielle; but she remained fiercely independent and this was a needed break for the warrior. The time apart from the chaos of the village and the overwhelming emotions that continued to course through her by the minute was welcome and it was necessary. It had been a struggle these last moons to keep her composure and she needed the space to center herself now.

The fact was that being around her family was emotional for the warrior. Many moments she felt out of place. She had not even shared that with Gabrielle. The only moments she felt truly balanced were those when she and the bard were alone. That was a reality that she was accustomed to; but even in those moments the warrior was at war with her emotions. The need to be close to the bard was powerful and the warrior would never admit to Gabrielle the fear that she felt. The possibility of losing each other again, of losing Eve… of Gabriel… it was wearing on the warrior. Looking for Lysandra was hardly a necessity to any of their plans, but it gave Xena some time; time to calm her inner questions and feelings.

Gabrielle prepared to convene the small council of elders. She felt sick inside. She hated admitting to Xena that she was fatigued, but that was the truth. The idea that Cynara might be conspiring against the Amazon sisterhood both saddened and angered the bard. She had spent many days here with Cynara's tribe over the years. She could not imagine what would make the young woman fall into legion with Anath; if that was the case. She hated to admit that it was the most likely scenario. It conjured images of Varia's betrayal at Helicon so many years earlier. Gabrielle wondered if Cynara thought that her actions would somehow guarantee the safety and survival of the young tribe. If that was the case, the bard asked herself, how she could have failed to make the young queen understand that Gods could not be trusted so easily. What else could she have said?

In such a short time life had been turned once again onto its head. Xena was back and all Gabrielle wanted to do was be with her family now. As it had always been, there was upheaval, danger and even now – betrayal. Varia would almost certainly have to challenge Cynara and Gabrielle would again have to witness a fracture in the Amazon sisterhood and the likely death of a woman she had considered a friend. It was an exhausting reality and one that she could not escape. As he headed to the Queen's Hut to meet with the elders the bard found herself wondering how many more battles they would need to face; how many more surprises? Ares was still on her mind. Something about his demeanor and his actions concerned the bard. Soon they would have to face Anath and Baal. Who was on their side? How could they plan a war when they couldn't be certain who their allies were?

Varia and Cynara walked toward the center of the village. "I don't understand why you feel we need to address the entire tribe about our plans to move south," Cynara said.

Varia kept her voice as steady as her pace, "I think that the tribe needs to understand -that while there are three queens among them; there is only one voice – one purpose."

"Are you suggesting that the tribe does not understand that?"

Varia did not look at the younger queen but answered, "I am." She could feel the tension and the anger rising in her counterpart. The question now was what Cynara would do with her brimming anger.

Gabrielle stood before the small council. The bard had been put aside; she was now the Amazon Queen.

"As we speak Queen Varia has met with Queen Cynara and is beginning to gather the tribe at the center of the village…. As you all know… I will be leaving the tribe within a few moons to head to the south and forge a stronger alliance for our nation. This alliance is the only way to ensure that our nation continues not only to survive, but to thrive and to grow. There MUST be trust among us before the rest of the tribe departs. And… there must be trust among those who agree to ally with us," the Queen stated clearly to the elders gathered before her.

One of the eldest women in the room spoke. Her voice was soft but her tone was determined as she called Queen Gabrielle to come closer, "My Queen," she began. Gabrielle moved closer to the older woman whose eyes seemed to dance as she spoke, "You have led this nation through times of great despair. We…and I believe I speak for the council… we believe that there is a presence within the tribe… a presence that does not belong here."

Gabrielle did not change her expression. This council was comprised of women she had known many years. They were intelligent and well versed in both combat and diplomacy. She was not surprised that the group had already surmised the issue at hand. She spoke calmly and deliberately, "Your assumptions are correct." Gabrielle took a step toward the assembled council. "We are aware that there a number of 'amazons' here that are serving Anath. We also have reason to believe that Cynara may be working with the goddess."

The older woman's gaze narrowed at the queen, "That is a serious implication, Queen Gabrielle."

Gabrielle's jaw tightened, "It is. However, we have taken two women into our custody that were watching the prison hut. That is why Lysandra is currently away from the tribe. Queen Varia and Lysandra were forced to disarm them during the final interrogation of my attacker."

The older woman squinted at the queen with one eye, "If this is true… will you issue a challenge?"

Gabrielle lifted her chin and looked directly at the woman before her, "This afternoon… Queen Varia and I will announce to the tribe that we are aware of multiple spies in our midst, and that we suspect they have a leader…. How Queen Cynara reacts will determine the issue of a challenge. Should that be necessary, Queen Varia will issue it at that time."

Another woman, younger than the first, but clearly Gabrielle's elder spoke now. "Queen Gabrielle; that will leave Varia alone to lead the tribe in your absence…. That is a daunting task."

"I will appoint Lysandra to lead in my absence."

"What of Eve?" the woman asked.

Gabrielle smiled slightly at the women before her. "My daughter has a different path; one determined for her as much as it has been by her own decision…Lysandra will receive the rite of caste before we leave…she will act as I would. I have every confidence in that."

There was no disapproval by the council as the eldest rose to her feet and approached the queen. "Gabrielle," she said now softly, "The council supports your actions and expects the challenge to be issued…. The challenge is, still, a fight to the death."

"I know,' Gabrielle assured, "However, should it be possible to spare the young queen… I would advise Queen Varia to do so."

"That is not our way."

"Our ways must change as the world changes around us….Cynara has information…that is far more valuable than her death."

The older woman looked into the queen's compassionate eyes. There was resolve and confidence there; but also deep compassion. "The council will support your judgment, Queen Gabrielle. You must understand… that while we look to Queen Varia for her strength…this tribe will look to you for its direction."

Gabrielle took hold of the woman's arm, "Varia is a fine leader, old friend, you must put your faith in her now… as I have learned to over these years." The queen looked to the rest of the council and gave the amazon sign of respect before turning to leave. She was relieved at the outcome but could not deny the heaviness in her heart as the afternoon approached.

As she left the hut she caught sight of Xena approaching leading Sappho, "How was the ride?"

The warrior smiled, "No sign of her yet."

"Mmhmm," Gabrielle raised an eyebrow.

"What?" Xena asked shortly as they walked toward the stable.

"Xena….you didn't really go looking for Lysandra…"

"Of course I did."

Gabrielle could not help but smile as she shook her head.

"Well, say what you are thinking…" the warrior grumped.

Gabrielle took Sappho's reins and stopped their movement. She looked at Xena as she stroked her mare's nose lovingly, "She's a wonderful horse."

Xena cocked her jaw, "You've become quite the rider…"

Gabrielle laughed, "I had a good teacher…. I know you needed to get away from here, Xena…. I understand."

"It isn't that…"

Gabrielle smiled, "Xena….I know you better than anyone… you have always needed to feel free… to roam…. I know that all of this is…"

Xena took the reins from Gabrielle, "I just needed to clear my mind."

"I know."

The pair began walking again toward the stables. "How did it go with the council?" the warrior asked.

"As I expected," the queen answered. "I just hope Varia can disarm her…"

"Gabrielle…. You know…."

"Xena," the queen said firmly, "Of course I know… I have to believe we can take a different course… if I don't then why fight at all? What do we leave Gabriel then?"

Xena led Sappho into her stall. "Some things never change," the warrior said.

Gabrielle smiled, "No… they don't."

The two shared a knowing glance as they headed toward the village center. Each had confronted her inner fears and questions and now, together, they would face the challenge of the Amazon nation and all that was to come.

Chapter 52: Chapter 52 - Setting the Stage

Chapter 52 – Setting the Stage

The afternoon sun was beaming and Ares was focused on the movement below. The lines were shifting and the troops seemed to be stiffening in their resolve. Naida approached him studying him as he surveyed the scene below.

"She's coming," he said.

"How can you be sure?"

Ares tilted his head from side to side cracking his neck, stretched his back and turned to the woman. "I have been fighting wars longer than Phoenicia has existed. She is coming." He began to walk back toward the camp. "Prepare our troops. You will need to lead the head of the advance."

The warrior looked at the god, "And where will you be?"

"I will search out Anath. Without the goddess they will have little to stay and fight for. Surprise is my asset. She cannot know that I am coming."

"How will you find her?" the warrior asked. "Look at their lines – she could be anywhere."

"She will be in the temple."

The warrior was unconvinced, "How could you…"

Ares interrupted the woman, "She is coming to call on her brother… I want to reach her before she does."

The warrior took a deep breath and headed for the contingent of archers that lined the back of the encampment.

"Come on," Ares whispered. "I'm waiting…"

Xena and Gabrielle headed back toward the hut so that Gabrielle could change into Amazon attire. Eve met them half way with Gabriel in tow.

"Gabriel," the warrior said, "Want to take a walk to the river?"

"Are we fishing?"

"Well, you could show me how you caught those big fish the other night."

"Just like you taught me!"

Gabrielle laughed, "Just make sure she doesn't teach you some of her other tricks."

Xena glared playfully at the bard.

"What tricks?" Gabriel asked with excitement.

Eve shook her head as Gabrielle bent over to the boy, "You just keep those fish in your hands," she whispered. Eve laughed out loud.

"Are you coming?" Gabriel asked his mother and the bard.

"Not this time," Eve answered, "I am going to help Auntie Gabrielle get ready."

His lips curled for a moment. But then he looked at the warrior who had her eyebrow raised at him and he shrugged pulling her hand with a forceful jerk to head toward their destination.

Eve shook her head again. "Oh boy…"

Gabrielle gave a slight chuckle. "That may be more dangerous than an Amazon challenge," the bard joked.

As they entered the hut Gabrielle turned to the messenger, "Eve… I need to talk to you about something."

Eve smiled and reached for the bard's hand. "No… you don't. Lysandra will make a fine queen one day."

Gabrielle's eyebrows met as her gaze narrowed. She sat down beside her daughter and took a deep breath. "Eve…"

"You don't need to explain…that is not my path."

"No…I know that… but listen… if anything happens… to me… to Xena.."

Eve shuddered, "I don't…."

"Listen….Eve… someday it will… you and I both know that. We have lived it…Lysandra needs guidance… even now."

Eve took Gabrielle's hand, "Don't worry… As much as you are my mother… Lysandra will always be my sister."

Gabrielle smiled and rose to her feet. She looked squarely at the woman before her. "You are so much like your mother."

"Which one?" Eve laughed soliciting a laugh from the bard.

"Mmm…I do see her in you every day, Eve."

The messenger touched the bard's hand, "Let's get you ready."

Gabrielle nodded her agreement.

The lines below broke slightly and Ares felt the hairs on his arm stand up. He turned back and looked for Naida. The warrior caught his expression and turned to the troops, raising her hand in the air and signaling that the time was at hand. She walked toward the God of War as he walked toward her. "Now?" she asked for clarification.

"On my signal," Ares answered. "When you see my gauntlet reflect from behind their lines…move." He began to turn from the warrior and stopped when he felt her hand on his arm.

"I will meet you here."

The God of War's expression tightened and then softened. He placed his hand over hers. "You return to your village," he said.

"What about…"

The God smiled now, "I have other business….You are a fine leader Naida…you possess something that I never did… patience." He released his grip and turned away. In an instant he was gone.

Gabrielle stood ready as Xena approached with Gabriel holding a fairly good sized trout. The Amazon Queen's eyes were fixed on the boy as he held up his trophy. "I see you held onto it," Gabrielle smiled. Inside she was quivering, but to the rest of the world she was the picture of confidence.

Gabriel beamed as Eve took his hand, "Let's go get that ready… maybe we can have it for dinner." She turned to her parents and smiled.

Gabriel looked at Gabrielle. He cocked his young head to the side and studied her for a moment. Then he took her hand and pulled her to him, "I will see you for dinner, Auntie."

Gabrielle smiled, "Yes, Gabriel…you will," she squeezed him and smiled at his mother. Xena stood just behind Gabrielle watching as Eve led the boy away.

"He is so much like his grandmother," the warrior offered.

"Which one?" Gabrielle laughed still watching the pair as Gabriel pulled at his mother.

Xena poked her tongue at her cheek and then answered, "You amaze me every day," the warrior said as the bard turned toward her.

Gabrielle smiled and took the warrior's hand. "Let's go," she said softly. The warrior smiled solemnly as they made their way to the village center.

Naida looked on; scanning behind the lines for Ares signal. Ares was moving about in concealment behind a wide band of archers and swordswomen. He watched the temple closely and then he saw it; the figure moving toward the temple deliberately. He moved toward a small break in the line and revealed himself so that his gauntlet could pick up the sunlight and then concealed himself again immediately. Naida have her signal and the rapid advancement of Ares army began its trample of the ground below.

Ares watched the goddess pace the temple looking above her and taking in the grandeur of offerings and artwork that adorned the building. It felt more like a palace than a temple, the God of War thought to himself. The goddess stopped before a wide pedestal and fondled a silver bowl. Ares maneuvered himself directly behind her as the noise of the impending battle outside broke forth.

"Well… not what you expected, I gather," he whispered in her ear as she turned and jumped backward.

A deranged laugh broke the quiet of the temple and Ares revealed himself.

Anath was taken back and struck out with a blast of energy directed squarely at the God of War's chest, but he reacted quickly and deflected her meager attack with his gauntlet. "Tisk… tisk… now is that any way to greet a fellow God."

Anath's anger showed plainly. "And another God of War… at that," he continued. "MMMM… my father taught me more hospitality than that," he continued as he circled the temple and lifted an apple from an offering tray taking a bite of it.

"Who are you?"

The God of War placed his free hand over his chest mocking a sense of deep hurt at the goddess's slight. "Who am I? ….. Oh my dear…. Dear Anath… I have been waging wars longer than your people have had Gods to worship."

He moved toward her and she spoke harshly, "Ares… what do you want?"

"Oh… there are many things I want," he said tracing the offerings that lie about the temple with his fingertips. "From you?" he laughed. "You made a mistake…"

"I don't think so," the goddess answered watching him carefully.

"No… no … you wouldn't think so… you pissed off the Amazon Queen… mmmm… mistake."

The goddess scoffed at his assertion, "Were it not for the Warrior Princess the Amazon Queen you so warmly refer to would be dead."

Ares chuckled and looked up at his Phoenician counterpart, "Ohhhh… you are just a child… I thought as you once… foolish child… Xena.. Xena will prevail…. She always prevails… even in death."

The goddess was becoming distracted by the commotion outside and Ares could see her tension rising.

"Oh…." He smirked, "That?... Don't worry about that…. That would be my army kicking your ass all over Phoenicia…"

The goddess became enraged and threw another bolt of energy toward the God of War but Ares simply ducked and avoided her assault.

"You really should stop doing that," he said flatly. "I am giving you some sound advice…..walk away… walk away from this…"

Anath looked at him with disdain, "Why would I do that?"

"Well… if you don't… I'll have to kill you… That's a pretty good reason."

The goddess laughed now. "Kill me? We both know that will not happen."

"Ohhh… do we? Walk away, Anath… as a fellow God of War I am giving you this chance…you are being used…"

"And you're not? What is this about, God of War? That bitch warrior you have been pining over all these years?'

Ares took a deep breath and released a loud sigh, "Oh… mmm… she certainly can be a bitch… ah… yes.. but no, no… this is not about Xena…Listen to me… you have no idea what you are into here…you cannot win… not against them….and not against me."

Anath moved slowly closer to Ares. "You will never give up your immortality to kill me… and we both know that is the only way…"

Ares set down his apple core. He shook his head, "I did warn you," he fired off a blast of blue energy knocking the goddess backward, "And you really don't know me very well...mortality doesn't scare me."

The entire tribe was assembled in the center of the village as Xena and Gabrielle made their way toward the platform where Varia and Cynara stood. The Amazon Queen kept a firm grip on the warrior's hand. It kept her steady now. Xena walked ahead onto the platform and reach out to pull Gabrielle up from the steep stairs. The Amazon Queen stopped at the edge of the platform and took a moment to search the blue eyes before her. There she would find assurance, comfort, strength… home. The warrior tightened her lips and looked deeply into her lover's eyes. She held the queen's hand firmly and led her to the center of the platform. Varia and Cynara acknowledged Queen Gabrielle's arrival with the traditional sign of Amazon respect. Gabrielle was the senior queen and the respect and love that she commanded from the women in the tribe remained unparalleled. Gabrielle let go of Xena who moved to the back of the platform and returned the sign to her fellow queens before offering it to the tribe as a whole. The tribe erupted in shouts of excitement at the queen's gesture.

Gabrielle quieted them and moved forward to speak. The council of elders positioned at the front and right of the platform, watching closely.

"Amazon Sisters," Gabrielle began, "For many years I have traveled within this sisterhood. I have seen our nation grow, our nation fight, our nation struggle… Or villages, our sisters have been my family…they offered me shelter, acceptance… the opportunity to grow… they offered me love…and most of all.. an enduring trust. Today I stand before you with a heavy heart….knowing… knowing that in our midst stand women that claim our sisterhood as their own…. But they are not truly amazons. Their loyalty lies with the gods of a distant land."

Gasps erupted from the tribe as they began to search one another.

"Lies…" a voice erupted from below.

Gabrielle did not change her position nor did she shift her gaze. Calmly she continued, "I have been aware of this presence since the attack was made on my grandson and I was wounded….But… after our interrogations I am certain that there remains a presence among us...sisters who hide their truth and a sister who dares to lead them from within our family."

Cynara shifted her weight and answered the accusation with one of her own, "Where is Lysandra then?" the young queen asked.

Gabrielle struggled to conceal a reaction to the dagger that she felt pierce her chest with those words. The answer was now clear. Cynara's statement was all the evidence the Amazon Queen needed. Xena looked on intently. She was certain that no one else would have noticed the momentary change in Gabrielle's posture, but to the warrior it was unmistakable. Gabrielle was now convinced that Cynara was involved and possibly complicit in the very attack that was engineered against Eve and Gabriel. The warrior felt her heart sink at the knowledge of how deeply this would hurt the bard.

Varia looked at Cynara. She expected a reaction; but to make an accusation against Lysandra? Gabrielle turned slowly toward the young queen as the tribe watched. Gradually and deliberately she walked toward Cynara now, the betrayal in her heart shown plainly in her eyes as they fixed on Cynara's.

"Lysandra is on route back to us as we speak, Queen Cynara. She left at my direction with Queen Varia's knowledge after she discovered two of these supposed sisters lurking behind the prison hut while Xena and I interrogated my attacker. As you know…. Queen Cynara…. Xena and I had planned to spare the attacker and attempt to use her knowledge without the consultation of the elders…..had Lysandra not found these women….it is likely that one of us would have been injured or worse. Unfortunately, my assailant did not survive and FORTUNATELY… Queen Varia and Lysandra were able to disarm and capture these women. They are already in the south….held by my friends and being interrogated by my son-in-law now."

"You have no proof of that – why send Lysandra away if not to hide something?" Cynara yelled in her own defense.

The tribe was growing skeptical of the young queen's claims and the tension mounting was palpable.

Gabrielle moved past Varia and stood toe to toe now with Cynara. She spoke in a hush directly in the young queen's ear now, "You disappoint me, Cyanara…. I loved you as a sister… you attacked my family…my daughters… my grandson…I cannot help you now." The Queen turned back to the tribe.

"Queen Cynara has levied a charge against Lysandra and I believe that is to deflect her own guilt," Gabrielle looked out among the tribe and saw Lysandra approaching slowly from the left near the stables. "Lysandra… Lysandra has been known to me for many years… and here before you I declare that she is as much my daughter as Eve…my rite of caste….to call her loyalty into question is also to call into question my own."

Varia stepped forward now and faced the tribe, "Queen Gabrielle's loyalty is above all question."

The tribe roared its approval as Varia continued, "You," she turned to Cynara, "Are no Amazon Queen." Varia turned back to the tribe and looked to the elders, "I issue a challenge to the throne and the rights of Queen to Cynara, Queen of the Southern Amazons."

The eldest stepped forward and answered the request, "The challenge is valid and the challenge is recognized. A fight to the death for the throne and leadership of the Southern Amazons will take place at sunset…in the light of the full moon – here."

The tribe erupted as Varia made her way back to Cynara, "You had your chance," Varia whispered.

Chapter 53: Chapter 53 - Immortality

Chapter 53 – Immortality

Xena watched as Gabrielle glared at Cynara. The young queen seemed to be frozen as Gabrielle lifted her head and tightened her expression. Cynara began to pass and Gabrielle just shook her head. Cynara slowed as she passed the woman who had once been her mentor, "I did what I had to do."

The elder Amazon queen closed her eyes and took a breath before opening them again to speak. "Betrayal never ends well, Cynara… trust is the most precious thing in any relationship…you have misplaced your trust." The fear in Cynara's eyes showed as plainly as the sun in the sky as she continued past Gabrielle to ready herself for the challenge. Varia passed next giving Gabrielle a sad smile as Xena approached from behind. The senior queen kept her composure and remained stoic as her counterparts left the platform and the warrior's hand reached her shoulder. Gabrielle again closed her eyes and inhaled. Lysandra looked on from below as a tear began to fall from her eye at the sight of the woman she so admired fighting to maintain her composure.

"I'm sorry, Gabrielle," the warrior said softly.

Gabrielle turned to Xena, "Well… at least we have the answer."

Xena frowned, "But why?... Does it make sense to you?"

Gabrielle looked to the heavens as if urging some answer, "It doesn't matter, Xena."

Lysandra stood now at the foot of the platform listening to the conversation above unfold quietly.

"That doesn't sound like you, Gabrielle," the warrior said.

Gabrielle sighed. "I hate this Xena…. You know that… I have always hated this….but the tribe," she paused to still herself in her resolve, "Our family….I have to protect…."

Xena pulled her into an embrace and noticed Lysandra watching. The warrior looked at the young amazon with compassionate eyes realizing that the bard's pain was evident to Lysandra as well. "Let's go," Xena whispered. "I think you should spend a little time with Lysandra before dusk."

Gabrielle looked up at the warrior and gave a halfhearted smile, "I think we should all go see Eve and Gabriel until its time."

Xena squinted and then smiled. "All right then…."

Anath hopped to her feet and fired another blast at Ares hitting him in the right leg and momentarily knocking him off balance. "Nice shot," Ares quipped as he regained his balance and shook off the attack. "You are going to have to do better than that."

The goddess reached for her sword and began her advance. The sound of scraping and clanking metal from outside the temple walls had begun to mix with cries of pain and screams of determination. Anath's sword clashing with Ares's sword blended into the sounds that seemed somehow to surround them. Ares moved forward aggressively nearly disarming the less experienced goddess. As she lost her footing and stumbled backward, he twirled his sword playfully and slowly paced toward her. "Now… now…I am giving you a chance….God to goddess…Walk away."

The goddess guffawed and flipped her sword from her left hand into her right. "Everyone knows you are mad, Ares… just a shadow of the God of War you once were…look at this temple? Does it make you long for the past?" The goddess dripped sarcasm.

Ares shrugged, "Hah… but this is not YOUR temple, my dear child." He moved closer and gave his sword a strong thrust against hers.

"You can't win," the goddess assured him.

Ares simply tipped his head and smiled as he increased the power in his advance. He drove the goddess backward methodically, never slowing his aggressive progression forward. The goddess fought to keep her footing. Ares saw her weakness and exploited it with a strong kick to her hip sending her through the air into a large pillar at the foot of an altar. He laughed as she shook her head, but she quickly retaliated with an unexpected blast and sent the God of War to the ground, reeling.

Anath now pressed forward and swung her sword directly at the God of War. He rolled to his side to avoid her strike but she caught his side leaving a gash. Ares winced and then hopped to his feet.

"Not healing so well these days, I see," Anath observed with pleasure.

"MMM… it's nothing," he said. "So… I guess this means you won't take my advice."

"I don't think you are in any position to offer advice," the goddess laughed.

Ares nodded and with a twisted expression of disgust on his face. "Oh…just a child…"He lifted his sword but fired instead a strong blast from his ring. Anath had no time to react and sailed into the bottom of the altar, leaving her stunned. Ares wasted no time; he followed with a forceful attack wielding his sword. The goddess tipped and wavered as she defended herself but Ares made a strong a willful attack that was unrelenting.

As the God of War pressed forward the sounds from outside began to soften to a murmur. Anath battled with all she could muster swinging her sword as she now held it with both hands to combat the power from the God of War's attack. Trays fell and offerings crashed to the floor. Ares continued forward, striking with another bolt of energy and then followed with a blow from the blunt end of his sword sending the goddess to her knees. He bent over the goddess who knelt before him, now helpless. "I gave you a chance…."

"Why?" she asked in a muffled voice the questioning evident on her face.

He leaned in as he positioned his sword at the ready for his next move, "You have much to learn…"

"You will become a mortal…" the goddess practically begged.

Ares released a deep sigh, "You should have taken my advice," he thrust the sword into the goddess as a flash of orange light encompassed him and drove him to his own knees before her. His face nearly touched hers as he spoke; "Now you are mortal… I told you… you cannot defeat them…they understand immortality… and so …so do I." The goddess gasped and griped his arm as she slipped away and faded into nothingness in a blast of small white lights.

Ares fought the weakness that overtook him to get to his feet. "Aphrodite!" he called. He swayed slightly as he attempted to maintain his footing and called again, "Aphrodite!"

A swirl of white lights appeared as the Goddess of Love emerged to see her brother bleeding and battling to stay on his feet. "What happened?" she asked attempting to support his weight. "You're bleeding….Ares… you're…."

Ares looked at his sister and grabbed her shoulder to steady himself, "I don't have time to explain, Sis…I need you to get me to Gabrielle."

"Ares….she's with the…"

"I know where she is….please…."

Aphrodite looked at her brother as a pleaded with her. There was urgency and honesty in his voice that she recognized immediately, "All right."

Gabrielle was quiet throughout dinner as the family awaited the coming challenge. Lysandra sat beside her silently. The young amazon was unsure what she should say to the queen that claimed her as her own daughter. Gabriel grabbed Lysandra's hand and pulled. "Come on, Lysandra…come see the slingshot I made." Lysandra looked at Gabrielle who gave her an encouraging smile and dutifully followed the boy.

The bard stared into the flames of the fire as the sun began to lower on the horizon. Xena stood with Eve by the hut watching Gabrielle quietly. "Do you think Varia will be able to spare Cynara?" Eve asked.

Xena kept watch over the bard, "I don't know…. But there may be other problems."

"Do you think that there might be an attack?"

"I'm betting on it," the warrior answered, "And so is she," she gestured to the bard.

Eve looked at Gabrielle and rubbed her eyes. "That look."

"What look?" the warrior asked turning to her daughter.

"It's that look… the one she had when we met back in Amphipolis."

Xena sighed. "Betrayal…"

"I didn't mean that you betrayed…"

"No…but I did," Xena said. "So much betrayed us."

Eve took hold of her mother's arm, "She'll be all right, Mother….she's the strongest person I know."

Xena smiled and gazed at her lover as Gabrielle picked up a large stick and twirled it about in the fire. The warrior smiled, "Yes… she is… fighting has never been easy for her. Betrayal is worse."

Gabrielle laid the sick down and stood. She closed her eyes, lifted her face to the sky and took a deep breath. After a moment she exhaled and walked to the two women.

Xena looked at her with concern. "No… Xena," Gabrielle cautioned, "I am all right… it's time."

"Gabrielle," Xena began, "If there is a way to spare Cynara then…"

Gabrielle smiled, "Just be ready...I am going to get Lysandra."

Eve and Xena looked at one another for a moment. "I hope you are wrong, Mother," Eve said.

"That WOULD be nice," Xena chuckled as Gabrielle emerged with Lysandra.

The three women said their goodbyes to Eve and headed back to the village center. Varia had already arrived and the crowd was growing by the moment, filling every inch of space that surrounded the roped off area. "Gabrielle," Varia began, "I can't promise…"

Gabrielle took hold of Varia's hand, "You do what you need to do….We will keep watch."

Varia bowed slightly, "I didn't want…"

"I know," Gabrielle said.

Xena scanned the crowd and the surrounding trees. "What are you looking for?" Lysandra asked.

"Listen….Lysandra… I want you to stand toward the middle of the crowd. Gabrielle and I will take the right behind the council…..if we part there will be suspicion."

Lysandra understood and began to head toward the center of the crowd. She hesitated and turned back to the warrior, "Should I…"

"Just be ready…. For anything," the warrior instructed. Lysandra continued on her way as Gabrielle reached Xena.

The drums began to beat loudly as Cynara entered the circle. Gabrielle stepped forward into the circle and looked at the two queens before her. "A challenge has been issued and the right to that challenge granted. This is a fight to the death. The winner claims the throne of the Southern Amazons. Do you understand?"

Cynara and Varia simultaneously nodded their understanding.

"Queen Varia…do you wish to proceed with your challenge?


"Queen Cynara…do you wish to relinquish your throne?"


"So be it. The weapon chosen is swords." Gabrielle turned back to the gathered tribe and stepped from the circle raising her hand to the drummers. She walked to Xena as the beating grew faster and louder and took a staff from the warrior's waiting hands. As the beating pounded she lifted the staff above her head and dropped it abruptly to her waist signaling the challenge to begin.

Varia held her sword confidently and turned it about in her hand. Cynara gripped her weapon with hands, circling the area and awaiting Varia's first move. Varia moved closer, but backed away again as if teasing the young queen. The dance continued for several moments as Cynara's impatience began to show more and more. The young queen thrust toward the older queen with her blade, but Varia deflected the move scraping the side of Cynara's sword and producing a sound that somehow seemed to overcome the drumming. Cynara moved closer and kicked at Varia's leg but Varia answered with a kick of her own and propelled the young queen backward three or four feet.

Xena continued scanning the crowd as did Lysandra while the deafening sound of drumming blended with screeching and scratching metal. The warrior looked at Lysandra and was relieved to see the young amazon alert and aware of her surroundings. Gabrielle looked on as her friends battled for their lives. Cynara was bleeding from her right leg and Varia from her forehead. Varia lunged at Cynara and managed to pierce her shoulder with the tip of her blade. The young queen screamed and winced in pain.

The warrior princess turned abruptly at the sound of a slight shriek in the crowd to see Lysandra drawing her sword. Varia looked up and Cynara took advantage sending the tip of her blade into Varia's side. The older queen grabbed for the wound as Lysandra's sword met that of another amazon in a burst of energy and urgency. Three more women appeared from behind and Xena flew into action. The warrior cry was unmistakable as she flew into the air and landed beside Lysandra. Xena kicked one of the women and simultaneously disarmed a second with a swift sway of her sword. She looked back to her right to see Gabrielle taking a defensive position behind the council and noticed the blade that rose behind the bard. There was no time to move her position, she reached for her chakram and flung it with a powerful motion sending it directly through the blade and snapping Gabrielle to an awareness of the attacker behind her. The bard spun with the staff knocking her assailant across the knees and drilling her into the ground with force.

Cynara moved stealthily toward Varia with a cockiness that seemed to drip from her blade. Varia was staggering and bleeding. She fought to remain on her feet. Cynara advanced again sending her sword into Varia's other side and laying her flat on the ground unconscious.

Aphrodite popped into the middle of the chaos with Ares at her side. "Get out of here," he ordered.

"I'm not the one in danger," she angrily pointed out.

Xena was defending an onslaught of two large women as the sound of battle encompassed them. It was impossible to tell who was an ally and who was an enemy until someone attacked. One of the women kicked at Xena and landed a decent strike on her left thigh knocking her sideways. The warrior shook it off and smiled. "Nice… they teach you that in dance class?" Xena spun in the air and kicked the woman in the chest so hard that she knocked over three other amazons. The warrior princess turned swiftly to her left and struck the other woman with the handle of her sword knocking her unconscious.

Lysandra battled back a sword attack of her own and managed to disarm the woman with a high kick to the face sending the blade flying through the air and landing near Ares. Ares grabbed it and looked about.

Varia was still on the ground. Cynara, believing she was victorious began battling another amazon. Gabrielle ceased the opportunity and ran to Varia. "Varia.," she lifted the queen's head, "No… Varia… come on… Varia…. Wake up…."

Cynara caught sight of Gabrielle holding Varia. She thrust her blade into the amazon before her and headed to a position behind Gabrielle.

Ares saw the move and began his sprint. Cynara stood behind the bard now. "Two for the price of one," she said with malice.

Gabrielle turned her head to look at the young queen, "Why?"

"Because," the young queen raised her blade at the defenseless queen, "I am the Queen." She began to drive her blade forward when Gabrielle noticed a sharp edge suddenly protruding from Cynara's abdomen.

Xena spun and immediately saw the blade hovering over Gabrielle's head. She swung her sword sideways taking out another opponent, "GABRIELLE!"

Lysandra heard the warrior's cry and turned to witness Cynara's attempt on Gabrielle's life. It felt to her as if everything were in slow motion. She could not move. They were both too far away to thwart the attack.

Gabrielle looked at the blade that poked through Cynara and she heard a voice, "You are NOT the queen."

Xena could not believe her eyes. Ares was directly behind Cynara. She traced the handle of his sword to the tip of the blade that now penetrated the young queen. Cynara fell to her knees as the fighting seemed to stall suddenly. Ares withdrew the sword. "When will you all learn," he said with an anger and disgust in his voice that sent shivers through the bard in spite of her shock.

Cynara stayed on her knees for a long moment. She twisted to face her attacker. Now face to face with the once mighty God of War she laughed as blood trickled down her lips, "I am the queen," she said reaching to her side. She thrust a dagger into his chest and twisted. As she pulled it out she smiled and fell to the ground.

"ARES!" Aphrodite screamed.

Xena looked at Lysandra as the Goddess of Love flew to her brother's side. Xena and Lysandra followed as the Amazon nation looked on, stunned into silence.

Gabrielle looked at Ares. "Ares…your bleeding."

"Hah," he coughed as blood began to pool in his mouth. "Yeah… kinda' happens to mortals when they are stabbed."

Aphrodite reached her brother and held his head as Xena and Lysandra finally managed their way to the group. Gabrielle looked at Ares's wound and then at Aphrodite. The goddess's eyes seemed to beg her friend. Gabrielle looked at Xena at then back at the goddess in disbelief and sadness. Ares looked at the warrior, "Bet you never thought you'd see this."

Xena smiled sadly at him, "No," she said as a tear fell freely down her cheek.

He looked back at the bard and held her stare. "Ares… why…."

The God of War took the hand of the Amazon Queen, "Anath is dead," he said.

"You gave up your immortality.." Gabrielle said looking to Xena, "Why?"

He looked at the young amazon standing beside the warrior princess and then at Xena and he smiled, "I understand now….why you always win."

Xena looked at her former lover with deep compassion and affection, "Balance…..patience, love…." He laughed and coughed up some blood as he grew weaker. Aphrodite held him tighter, her tears flowing. He turned his gaze toward the Amazon Queen and reached for her hand again, "You… that is why she always wins… patience…love… the key to immortality."

Gabrielle looked at the God that she had warred with for so many years. "Ares, I don't…"

He struggled now to maintain his breath but looked back to the young amazon who watched him with great curiosity and turned back to Gabrielle, "Gabrielle….fathers will do anything for their daughters…just as mothers will." He fought to lean closer, "Take care of her….as you have….." his eyes closed slowly and his breath became shallow.

The village was so still that Xena could clearly hear the tears that fell from everyone's eyes. She looked at Lysandra who stood frozen, staring at the God who lay before the only mother she had ever known.

"Your father learned something I never thought he would," the warrior said making no effort to hide her own emotion.

Lysandra turned to the warrior with questioning and pain in her eyes as the warrior continued, "We live forever through our children, Lysandra…through love." She placed her hand on the amazon's shoulder and looked at Gabrielle.

Aphrodite laid her head on Ares and wept. "Gabrielle…."

Gabrielle comforted her friend with a knowing touch. There simply were no words. The God of War was gone, his legacy left to the keeping of the most unlikely person he had ever known.

Chapter 54: Chapter 54 - Where Do We Go From Here?

Chapter 54 – Where Do We Go From Here?

Gabrielle paced outside the Queen's hut while Myrrine and Xena tended to Varia. Her mind was racing. Aphrodite sat nearby on a bench, her face in her hands. Gabrielle looked over and saw her friend. The day had unfolded in ways she could never have expected. She walked over to the bench and sat beside the goddess placing her hands on her knees and looking forward. She let go a heavy sigh, "I'm sorry, Aphrodite."

The goddess lifted her head and looked toward her friend. "He never told me…Why wouldn't he tell me?"

Gabrielle thought for a moment. The heaviness in her heart was overwhelming. She turned toward Aphrodite and closed her eyes attempting to find some words that could give her friend solace. She opened her eyes and gently shook her head, "I don't know...I wish there was something I could say."

Gabrielle lifted her hand to her friend's tear stained cheeks. "I am alone now," Aphrodite said.

Gabrielle's heart sank as she looked at the beautiful, timeless face before her. "You're not alone, Aphrodite."

The goddess let the hint of smile reach her face. She loved Gabrielle. She trusted the bard and she was grateful for their friendship now more than ever. Xena appeared in the doorway of the hut and watched as Gabrielle attempted to comfort the goddess. The warrior took a deep breath. In all of the wildest scenarios that she had played through in her mind; she had never imagined the scale of the infiltration and certainly had never dreamed that Ares would give his life to protect their family; to save Gabrielle. She slowly began to travel the distance that separated her from the bard and the goddess.

Aphrodite saw the warrior approaching and wiped her cheeks with her hands. Gabrielle looked up to Xena who smiled a crooked smile at her.

"Varia?" the bard asked.

Xena rubbed her eyebrow. "All we can do is wait. She lost a lot of blood, Gabrielle."

Gabrielle shook her head and rose to her feet lifting her hand to her forehead in frustration. "I don't understand any of this," she said, the anger in her voice obvious.

The warrior let forth a lengthy sigh and tried to catch her breath to speak. She looked at Aphrodite and placed her hand on the goddess's, "I am sorry, Aphrodite." The goddess acknowledged the warrior's sentiment with a sad smile. "Gabrielle," Xena called gently to her partner, "You need to address the tribe."

Gabrielle looked at the warrior. Her eyes glistened with the tears that continued to well uncontrollably within them. Her distress was written across every line in her face. "And say what?...God, Xena…What am I supposed to do with all of this?"

Aphrodite looked at the warrior and stood. She leaned into Xena's ear, "I am going to go see Lysandra," she said turning to look at the bard. Grief hovered above and between them all.

Xena's posture stiffened at the sight of Gabrielle and the anguish that she could see washing over her lover. "I don't know…..I don't know….but they need you now," the warrior gently urged.

Gabrielle ran her hands through her hair. She wasn't certain if her grief or her fury would win the day now. She exhaled with force and shook her head, "Xena…I have no idea…"

"Gabrielle," the warrior's spoke with tenderness now as she moved toward the woman she loved, "Yes, you do," she lifted Gabrielle's chin with her hand and wiped a falling tear with her thumb. "You always find the words."

The bard could not open her eyes as she felt Xena's hand brush her hair aside. "Ares…I can't even…"

"Ares finally realized what he needed to do to live forever…. He realized why he could never win the things he desired most…. His father's approval…. Control of Greece…..Me," she continued softly, "Look at me." Gabrielle opened her eyes and searched the pools of blue before her for some healing; some answer. The warrior smiled and continued, "He saw YOU… finally."

"I'm not…"

"You are my balance….you taught me about real patience… you loved me...You took a broken family and held it together…..a small willful girl and taught her about compassion and family….Don't underestimate the affect you have, Gabrielle."

"Xena… I could only do any of those things because of you….because of us."

"And I'm still here… I will always be here, Gabrielle… you know that."

"How are we going to fight Baal….the tribe is…"

Xena raised an eyebrow at the bard, "We'll work it out… we always do."

Gabrielle couldn't help but chuckle, "If Varia…"

The warrior put her fingers to the bard's lips. "Let's cross that bridge IF we come to it."

"What about Lysandra? ... What am I supposed to say?"

"Lysandra loves you, Gabrielle…. She will be all right. But, we will need to delay the tribe's move south….I think I should head south to meet Virgil."

Gabrielle turned from the warrior at the suggestion. She felt her stomach rise into her chest and tried to control her rising temper. She spun back on her heels, controlling her volume but conveying her disapproval of the warrior's suggestion clearly in one word, "No."


"No, Xena…I mean it." The firmness in the bard's voice quieted the warrior's intended explanation as Gabrielle continued, "No…we are not separating… I will ask Aphrodite to go."


"I said no, Xena… not now… this is not about the greater good… it is about this family."

"You know that Baal could look for…"

"Xena…" Gabrielle closed her eyes and bit her lip. She moved toward the warrior and lifted her hands to hold Xena's face, "Baal will wait," her voice took on a tenderness and honesty now, "I need you….I need you here."

Xena looked at the bard and became lost in the green eyes that always managed to pierce her soul. She reached up and held the bard's hands, "You're right."

Gabrielle kissed the warrior softly. "The only thing I am sure of right now, Xena, is that we have to do this together."

Xena nodded her agreement. "He will probably need to regroup," the warrior said. "Based on what Ares did tell Aphrodite we may have a gained a bit of time."

Gabrielle shook her head, "That is tomorrow's discussion….You are right…We need to get Lysandra and Eve and gather everyone before the funeral pyres."

Xena agreed. Tonight they would release the spirit of a former queen and a former god. One who lost her way completely, the other who finally found his way home. There was no way for either the warrior or the bard to know what was to come. They would stay here until they could be certain that Varia would recover; or until Gabrielle became the only remaining queen. Xena feared Baal's retaliation, but she knew Gabrielle was right as they headed to Eve's hut to retrieve their family. She thought about Ares. Gabrielle needed Xena to balance her and Xena needed the bard to keep her steady. Together it was. The truth was painful – betrayal, loss, war… but they were still all together. Xena looked at the bard as they approached the hut, "I love you," she said to the bard.

Gabrielle drank in the words. "Thank the gods," she let out an uncomfortable giggle thinking about what faced them behind the door, "I love you too, Xena." They reached the door of the hut where their family waited. "Together?" the bard asked.

"Always," the warrior answered.

Chapter 55: Chapter 55 - All in the Family

Chapter 55 – All in the Family

Eve watched Lysandra fiddle with the mug in her hand. "It's not going to drink itself," she coaxed.

The amazon looked up at the messenger with insecure eyes. Eve frowned at the expression as Lysandra lost herself, gazing endlessly into the mug before her. The messenger traversed the short distance across the hut and sat beside the amazon. "Lysandra…"

Lysandra swallowed hard, "Does that mean I am a murder? Is that what I am?"

Eve gathered her thoughts and gently removed the mug from the young woman's hand. "You know….Ares was a lot more than just the God of War…"

"Yeah… apparently."

Eve attempted to suppress a smile at the amazon's sarcasm. "Well… yes it appears he also has a daughter that meant something to him," she licked her lips and bit down trying to formulate the right words, "You're not a murderer, Lysandra…. Ares… well… he was who he was meant to be…and there are parts of him that he could not change….even if he wanted to….but you are part of a family already."

The young woman looked at the messenger and shook her head with sadness, "Am I? Really?... Gabrielle is not my mother…"

"Huh….really? Why is that?" the amazon looked into the messenger's eyes, "Because she didn't give birth to you?" Eve laughed. "She didn't give birth to me either."

"It's different."

"Apparently your father didn't think so," Eve titled her head and squinted.

"Huh…my father… great."

Eve sighed as the door opened and Aphrodite entered. The messenger looked at the goddess and raised an eyebrow edging herself to her feet in order to allow the goddess some time with the young amazon. Aphrodite looked at the young woman solemnly and carefully sat down across from her. "Did you know?" Lysandra asked, staring at the table.

"No," the goddess answered quietly. "Ares….well…. he could be unpredictable…even for me," she chuckled softly as memories surfaced in her mind.

"I don't understand why he would do that…. What's the point anyway?"

Aphrodite ran her teeth over her bottom lip. "Ares…well…he was my balance, my opposite. But, Lysandra…even in war there is love."

"Yeah…I know…he loved Xena."

Aphrodite closed her eyes. "He did…yes…for many years…but he also loved me… and he loved you…..and he learned what that meant." The amazon looked at the goddess encouraging her to continue her thought. The goddess smiled. "Oh… Lysandra… Ares was lost for so long…. He wanted so badly to love…to be loved...I think you made him realize that to love you have to be selfless… can't force someone to love you…you can't bribe them or bait them."


"Yeah, I know…weird, huh?...He's got to have had thousands of kids all these centuries," she shook off the thought and continued, "Mmmmm….but only one that calls Gabrielle mother."

"He hated Gabrielle."

Aphrodite laughed, "Well…I am sure that is what she is thinking too…. Ares never hated anyone…power…the God of War was created for power and strength…not hate."


"Oh Lysandra…none of my siblings were created to hate mortals...We all fear them."

"That doesn't make sense."

"Sure it does, sweetie… you live for thousands of years and then imagine dying. Gods are not stronger than mortals….and not luckier either…..I don't expect you to understand," Behind the table the door began to quietly open as the bard and the warrior entered and Aphrodite continued, "But, Ares didn't hate Gabrielle….he was jealous of her for a long time…..but….well, you changed that…..Truth is, little one…our days are numbered. He just figured that out. It makes sense now…I caught him keeping watch on Gabrielle more than once….He knew she would help you to grow to be…"

Lysandra interrupted the thought abruptly and energetically, "So what? What am I supposed to be?"

"You are supposed to be Lysandra," the bard answered as she walked through the door immediately commanding the attention of the room as she walked toward the young woman. "There is a reason that you are a good leader, Lysandra… a reason you are a quick learner with a weapon…your father gave you those abilities."

Lysandra shook her head. "You must hate me."

Gabrielle furrowed her brow and shook her head. "I told the nation that you are my daughter…I meant that, Lysandra….Ares and I….well," she looked at Xena, "We… we were in love with the same person." The bard moved next to the goddess and touched her shoulder gently. "And…she cared for him…I always knew that… and I resented it."

Xena looked at the bard and closed her eyes. It was an honest admission that the warrior felt tug at her heart. "But," the bard continued, "She loves me…as I love her," she looked back to Xena who gave the faint hint of a smile, "And…well… that hurt him….but we never hated each other…. And one thing I do know is that your father could love…selflessly. He gave up his immortality twice… and both times he saved me….this time… well… he saved himself."

Lysandra looked at the bard as she fought to control her emotions. "Saved? He's dead."

Gabrielle reached across the table to the young woman, "No…he lives on in you…. We all die, Lysandra…all of us…and we all come back to each other eventually." Seeing the amazon's doubt displayed in her expression the bard continued, "Even Zeus died…But he lives on too…Our children… they carry us into tomorrow as well…That is the way love works."

Lysandra struggled to hide the tear that escaped her eye. Xena walked toward the table as Gabriel came busting through the door with his sling shot in hand and a good sized shiner.

"What happened?" Eve gasped looking at her son as the room turned to take in the sight before them.

He huffed and headed toward the young amazon ignoring the question. "Why are you crying Lysandra?"

Lysandra looked at the boy and touched the side of his face, "I am okay Gabriel… did you shoot that thing at one of the roofs?"

He grumbled something and shuffled his feet slightly, "I told you the rock might bounce back," the amazon said.

"Yeah…well…" he raised his voice slightly, "There was a duck… and I thought…"

"There was a duck on the roof?" Lysandra asked with some skepticism as the rest of the room began to laugh.

"There was!" He insisted.

Xena smiled and put her hand on the boy's head, "We believe you, Gabriel… Looks like that duck might have fared better than you, though."

"It flew away," he said with disappointment.

"Ducks are tricky," the warrior winked, "Why don't you go outside and put some cold water on that. I'll be right there and you and I can go see about catching some dinner."

"Can we go find a duck?" he perked up immediately.

The warrior's lips twisted and curled playfully, "Mmmm….as long as it's not on a roof… maybe."

"Okay!" He started to run back out the door and turned back to the amazon, "You coming with us?" he asked Lysandra excitedly.

Lysandra looked at the boy and then at the bard. Gabrielle smiled, closed one eye at the young woman and pursed her lips.

"I'll meet you at the river," the amazon promised.

"All right…hurry up grandmother," he urged as he flew back out the door.

Xena laughed, "Where does he get that energy?"

Gabrielle looked at the warrior nearly cross eyed, "I can only imagine," she mocked.

Eve and Aphrodite both laughed. "Very funny…that must be why he's such a comedian," the warrior responded.

"Yes.. I imagine it is," the bard smirked, "Smart too…"

"Uh huh," the warrior answered, "Smart enough to get hit in the eye with his own rock."

"Humph," Gabrielle responded. "Well, he just hasn't perfected it yet."

Xena laughed. "You see Lysandra," Xena said as she began to turn for the door. "You are stuck with us… you might as well get used to it. Gabrielle's stubborn as a mule."

Eve burst out into laughter and put her hand on Lysandra's shoulder, "Spend a few more days with my parents together and you'll be begging for a visit to Mount Olympus," she joked.

"Hey!" Aphrodite mocked offense, "I'm right here!"

"Oh… yeah…" Eve pretended to cower.

Gabrielle looked at Lysandra with a peaceful and understanding glance. "Being my daughter….well let's just say this family can have as many challenges as the Amazon nation."

Lysandra smiled at the bard, "Gabrielle…I…"

"You better move along," the bard winked. "Xena moves at a good clip."

Lysandra stood to leave and looked back at the three women now around the table, "Thanks…"

All three smiled. Gabrielle looked at Eve and then Aphrodite, "Welcome to the family…."

Chapter 56: Chapter 56 - Love, Life and Death

Chapter 56 – Love, Life and Death

The pyres stood prepared as Gabrielle stepped before a bruised Amazon nation:

"I stand before you….as your Queen. But more than a queen…I am your sister. The Amazon Nation is a sisterhood, a family," She looked over at Xena who stood proudly with the unlikely group she called her own family; Eve, Lysandra, Gabriel and the Goddess of Love, "Families," she began again, "Families are not born from blood….They are formed in love and strengthened by trust. As your sister I would gladly give my life to protect any one of you – as your queen I would give my life to preserve this family; this nation."

Xena watched and her heart swelled. Gabriel had seldom seen his auntie like this and he stood tall, watching with pride. He gripped his mother's hand and she smiled leaning down into his ear, "She is really quite something, isn't she Gabriel?" He looked up at her and nodded, eyes wide and then turned back to watch the spectacle unfold.

"Today we witnessed two things…Two very opposite things...Betrayal and loyalty. The first can break us…the second…The second can heal us." Xena smiled at the bard. She thought back over all the many years they had traveled together, to that young woman, so innocent, that first insisted on following her; seeking adventure and telling stories. Gabrielle had endured so much, much of it with the warrior and so much of it alone. Here she was, a woman, strong and proud…through all of it; even the loss and the betrayal; she always found her way back to love and it never ceased to amaze the warrior; the capacity of the bard's heart for love an forgiveness. Xena looked at Gabriel and Eve. She thought about so many of the faces they had called 'family'; a Hodge-Podge of personalities; Tara an Autolycus, Amarice and Ephiny, Meg and Leah, and Joxer; not to mention their own family now. Without the bard at her side, Xena thought now, "I would never have had any of them in my life." Her emotions overwhelmed her and she fought to catch her breath.

Aphrodite looked at the warrior and then to the ground, understanding fully what was racing through the warrior's mind. She picked up her head and leaned into Xena. "She loves you just as much," she whispered.

Xena let out an uncomfortable chuckle and then looked at the goddess, "Aphrodite…I don't know that anyone has ever loved someone as much as I love Gabrielle," she said.

The goddess smiled and linked her arm around the warrior's. She looked back at the platform where Gabrielle had momentarily shifted her gaze to the family in some curiosity. "One person…Xena…one person does."

Xena smiled and focused on the bard who caught her gaze and locked onto it as only she could before turning back to the tribe.

"Tonight we commit two spirits to the next life. We set them free. One lost her way… left her family….the other gave up an old path to find a way home. It is our lesson. We live as we love, my sisters. War is inevitable. It is not my choice. It is not my desire. It is brought upon us and we will fight, we will defend our family…..If you cannot commit to this…to the trust that is required….that will be given to you as you give it to your sisters….then you are free to leave and I ask that you do so now."

The tribe stood at a standstill. No one could be certain if there remained women loyal to the Phoenicians or not; but Gabrielle hoped now; knowing what she did; that they would align willingly with the sisterhood. No one moved. No one left.

"So be it," the Amazon Queen said. "Light the pyres."

The Queen slowly exited the platform. She kept her focus on Xena as Myrrine walked to the pyres and began to light them. Gabriel looked up at her waiting for her to acknowledge him. For once in his life she remained intent on another. Her eyes completely enraptured by the bright, beautiful eyes that searched hers. Eve pulled Gabriel to her and bent down to speak to him. "Gabriel," she said, "You are a very luck boy."

He turned in her embrace and looked at her inquisitively. Gabrielle move closer to the warrior and the warrior placed her hand on the queen's cheek.

"Not very many people," the messenger said, "Ever get to know what it's like to be truly loved," she looked at her mothers.

Aphrodite smiled and looked at the young boy, "It's true, kid…believe me."

He looked at the warrior and the bard. Gabrielle held Xena's gaze as Xena spoke through a silent tear, "I have never loved you more," she said without any attempt to conceal the statement.

Gabrielle reached for the warrior's hand and stroked it gently. Her smile was soft and loving. Behind them the fires began to burn, but the somehow the rising flames seemed eclipsed by the brightness that burned between them now. "I think I understand," the queen said just as plainly leaning in as the warrior bent over and kissed her.

The fires raged, but the bard and the warrior seemed to have disappeared. It was long moments before their embrace broke and they came back to reality. Lysandra looked at Eve as if to ask what was going on. The truth was that even Eve had never witnessed their affection and their intimacy so vividly until now. For her, it was wonderful. She just smiled at the young Amazon.

Xena cleared her throat slightly realizing that they had just completely forgotten where they were. She raised both eyebrows as Gabrielle finally reached down and caressed the small blonde head that stood at her waist. She felt no embarrassment and no regret for their display. Xena was her partner, her best friend, and her lover. That had been their reality for so many years and it was the reality that brought this family together. There was no need to conceal that from anyone.

She looked down at the boy who seemed the least affected by the kiss. "My Gabriel," she said, "You are a very lucky boy to be in this family."

"I know," he said pressing against her now as she turned to watch the flames claim the woman she had once considered family and the god she had so long considered an adversary; their roles in death completely reversed.

"Auntie?" he began watching the flames, "Where will they go?"

Gabrielle watched the flames dance and the sparks rise. She felt the warrior's hands tenderly grasping her shoulders, "They each have their own journey, Gabriel…but one day they will both return with the lessons that they learned here…in this life….just as we all do, my love."

"Does that mean they aren't really dead?"

Xena smiled at the boy's question. Gabrielle lifted one hand to the warrior's and kept the other firmly on the boy, "No one ever really dies, Gabriel…because no one is ever really born…we just change…move. If you can love…even one person… than you will always exist in their heart…. Your grandmother taught me that."

They stood silently now, all together, this unlikely family watching the fires burn. Each left to his or her own thoughts and each knowing that the other would never be alone or the same again.

Chapter 57: Chapter 57 - What's Normal

Chapter 57 - What's Normal?

Xena closed the door to the hut as Gabrielle walked to the center of the room and turned to face her.

The warrior said nothing. The bard remained silent. They just looked at one another from across the room. Xena felt her body begin to shudder and her breath become shallow. It felt as though she were looking at the bard again that first night; the night Gabrielle confessed her feelings for the warrior. She closed her eyes and opened them again slowly to see the bard approaching. Xena smiled at the bard. So much had transpired for them today and right now all she wanted was to be with Gabrielle. There was a distant look in the warrior's eyes as Gabrielle looked up into them.

The bard smiled at the warrior and spoke softly, "What are you thinking?"

Xena just looked at Gabrielle and kissed her. Gabrielle broke the kiss and searched the blue eyes she so often lost herself in, "What is it?"

The warrior gently touched the bard's hair, watching her own fingers glide through it and entwine gently with it. Her voice was quiet. "I was remembering a campfire by a stream," she said.

"Which one?" Gabrielle raised an eyebrow.

Xena looked at her with a grin that narrowed her gaze.

"Ohhh… I see," the bard teased. "That seems like a lifetime ago," she smiled.

"Maybe more than one," the warrior responded.

"Mmmm…I remember it well."

Xena caressed the bard's cheek, "What do you remember?"

"All of it," Gabrielle answered, "Every moment of it…every feeling."

Xena closed her eyes to catch her breath and looked back at the bard, "I remember you looking at me…just like you are right now."

Gabrielle touched the warrior's face, "I remember being so afraid that I would disappoint you somehow."

Xena's lip curled, "Gabrielle, you could never disappoint me."

"Yeah, I think that's what you said then…" she searched the warrior's expression.

Xena leaned in and kissed Gabrielle. It was so gentle and soft, so loving; Gabrielle wondered if anyone could believe the tenderness in the warrior. Even she was still amazed by it. The way that Xena held her gaze, the way the warrior held her, kissed her, made love to her. There was great passion between them, but it was always gentle. Always. Being with the warrior always left the bard both breathless and comforted. Exhilaration and safety, all at once.

The day faded now into the distance for them both as Gabrielle felt Xena's lips move over her neck and linger there. She held onto the warrior as Xena picked her up and carried her across the room. There was an unmistakable gleam in the warrior's eye as she softly laid the bard onto their bed. Gabrielle looked up at her lover inquisitively. Xena kissed the bard again and began her exploration of the woman she loved so completely. She felt Gabrielle holding onto her, the gentleness of the bard's touch about her body as they became completely entwined in one another. She pulled the bard close to her as the waves that crashed between them both began to overwhelm them, "I love you, Gabrielle."


"I love you…"

Gabrielle pulled herself over the warrior and looked at her. There was a tear streaming down Xena's cheek. "Xena, what is it?"

Xena closed her eyes tightly and wiped the tear from her eye. She looked up at the bard looking down at her, "I wish I could have given you everything, Gabrielle."

Gabrielle's gaze narrowed into a momentary frown. She knew exactly what the warrior was referring to. As she answered her frown broke into a smile, "You have."

Xena looked at Gabrielle, unconvinced. This was a conversation that had repeated over many years.

"Stop," the bard demanded firmly. "How can you even think that now…knowing what we know?"

Xena's heart was both soaring and sinking. She could not help but wish that Gabrielle could have had a child. It's the one thing that the warrior always felt she had denied the bard. The truth was that Gabrielle often spoke of Hope in her dreams, when her sleep talking became audible. "I know that you…"

"Xena…did you hear anything I said today?" The warrior looked at her as she felt Gabrielle's hand wipe away her tear. "You have tortured yourself all these years with some crazy idea that you have denied me something. I would not change anything…not anything. This is my family…you are my home. How many lifetimes will we have together?"

Xena looked at her and smiled as she continued, "Eve is our daughter, Gabriel – a part of all of us…You and I, Joxer and Meg, Eve and Virgil…It's time to let this go."

"Always the bard," Xena smiled pulling Gabrielle down to lie on her chest.

Gabrielle laughed, "Always the worrier," she poked at the warrior.



"Knowing that Lysandra is…"

"It doesn't change a thing, Xena… In some strange way it all makes sense."

Xena laughed, "It's never normal, is it?"

"What's normal anyway?" Gabrielle chuckled. "I don't know what that word means, but I'd rather have our family than anyone else's….."

Xena pulled the bard in closer. "Remember that you said that…"

Gabrielle poked the warrior's side again, "Good night, Xena. You'd better get some sleep…you promised Gabriel fishing in the morning."

"Yeah… I did, didn't I?" She kissed the bard on the head.



"Please don't teach Gabriel to throw fish at people."

Xena's smile grew wide, "Good night, Gabrielle

Chapter 58: Chapter 58

Chapter 55 – Dangerous Alliances

Bursts of light filled the temple. Fireballs incinerated offerings and an angry howl echoed through the chamber. "ARES!" Another blast and then another.

"I warned you," A soft voice broke through the spectacle that filled the temple.

"WARNED ME? Our sister is dead, Eshmun…" Baal screamed as he hurled another lightning bolt at a large pedestal.

The goddess stood in stark contrast to her brother. Baal was dressed in a black robe that was adorned by silver studs and speckles of sapphire. The goddess was draped in white with small amethysts and diamonds embedded throughout her robe. He stood over 6 feet tall and had jet black hair and olive skin. Dark eyes and long lashes marked his violent expression and his biceps bulged underneath his robe. She was slight, and petite, standing not even to his shoulder. Her long red hair complimented her creamy white skin and her crystalline eyes were so blue that the temple reflected in them as if they were water. They were opposites in every way.

"You signed all our death warrants when you got in league with that demon," she said firmly but never raising her volume.


Eshmun looked at the spot where their sister fell. "I'm sure you believe that, brother."


"You know he cannot come into this place," she said.

"I am going to kill Ares now that he is human."

"That might be difficult," Eshmun answered gently gliding her hand over the burn in the temple floor that marked her sister's demise.

"Why is that? You're referring to that bitch Michael returned and her pitiful love struck queen?"

Eshmun sadly looked at the floor one last time and responded gently, " will be difficult because he is already dead."


"Yes… that pitiful love struck queen as you refer to her; he saved her life."

"That's absurd… this is your way of trying to make me…"

"I am simply arming you with the facts, brother. The Greek Gods are all but dead. The strength of the mortal realm grows stronger every day," she said plainly.

"All the more reason for our alliance with Lucifer," he argued.

She laughed a bit, quietly, and turned to him, "You are a fool, Baal. What do you think? That he will give you the earth to rule?...When did you grow so ignorant? Or are you just that afraid to die?"

"I am not afraid of anything, Eshmun. I am Baal, God of Earth and God of Sky."

"You," my brother, "Are like us all….expendable….. I am warning you….now… stop this before we all pay the price much sooner than need be."

"Stay out of my way, sister. If you cannot fight beside me then leave me now."

"Your choice…though I must say it is a poor one….I will leave you to your madness," she nodded. "Farewell, my dear Anath…may the winds carry you beyond the farthest star," she smiled and disappeared.

Chapter 59: Chapter 59 Life Goes On

Chapter 59 – Life Goes On

Gabrielle stood over Varia looking upon her with grave concern. She took the other queen's hand. "Varia, you have to fight…listen to me…the tribe needs you….you…"

"Gabrielle?" Lysandra's voice broke the bard's thought. The bard turned to the young amazon who looked unsure; almost afraid to approach the injured queen. Gabrielle looked at her carefully and noticed the fixed gaze she had on Varia. She tightened her lips and took hold of Lysandra's arm. She had never noticed it before, but it was a look that she knew well. She led the young amazon across the hut to a seating area and directed her to sit, taking the seat next to her and clasping both of Lysandra's hands with her own.

"Does she know?"

Lysandra was still looking at the sleeping Queen, "What?"

"Oh…Lysandra…I know that look….I've given it a thousand times….and seen it returned to me."

Lysandra returned her attention to Gabrielle and swallowed hard. Tears were welling in her eyes.

Gabrielle looked over at Varia and then back at the young woman she considered her daughter. "You are in love with the queen," Gabrielle raised an eyebrow.

"I…no….I just…I…"

Gabrielle shook her head, "Oh don't bother….it's written all over your face."

Lysandra looked at the floor and tried to breathe. She was embarrassed. She had never considered that her admiration of Varia was anything other than that until the day before when she saw the queen lying on the ground. She felt as though she herself had been stabbed in the stomach.

"Lysandra," Gabrielle bent over to try and get her attention, "Talk to me."

Lysandra just shook her head, "I can't."

Gabrielle sat back up and looked over at Varia. She thought about how much time Varia and Lysandra had spent together over the last few years. And, she remembered how long it was that she had looked at Xena before she understood what it was she saw; what it was she felt and finally what she both needed and wanted from the warrior. She let out a sigh. "Lysandra…I understand."

"It's stupid…I'm like a child to her."

Gabrielle smiled to herself and scratched her eyebrow trying to suppress a giggle. She still felt that way every now and then with Xena. "I don't think Varia sees you as a child."

"It doesn't matter."

"Of course it matters," Gabrielle said.

Lysandra looked at Gabrielle now, "What if she dies?" the pain on the young woman's face crashed over the bard like a giant wave. She felt the girl's pain and she understood it all too well.

"Varia is tough...she'll pull through this," Gabrielle wasn't certain who she was trying to convince more. "You know…maybe you should just go sit with her for a while."

Lysandra looked at the bard in sheer terror.

"Tell her…tell her how you feel." Gabrielle thought back many years to the first time she briefly lost Xena. Even now she could trace reality back to that moment. No matter what either said; and although it was long after that before they could admit it to one another; both she and Xena knew after that experience that they loved each other, and not simply as friends.

"Lysandra…even if Varia is not in love with you….I know she loves you. Tell her…just tell her," she thought about the previous night lying in Xena's embrace, "Don't waste another moment. No matter what comes to pass, don't let it go unsaid."

The young amazon looked to the woman who called her daughter, "But…I'm just…I mean she's…"

"Older than you?" Gabrielle laughed. "It happens. Right now this isn't about Varia…it's about how you feel about Varia…tell her, she'll hear you." Gabrielle stood to leave and Lysandra grabbed hold of her arm.

"I'm scared," she confessed as any child would to her mother.

"I know," Gabrielle grasped her hand. "We all have to face the truth sometime, Lysandra. Sometimes things work out better than we ever imagined and sometimes…well, sometimes we feel heartbreak. If you can't face the truth, if you can't take those risks….well, you may avoid some pain…but you lose far more in the process…..I love you….go….sit with Varia…say what you need to or don't – that's your decision, just make sure it's a decision you can live with tomorrow." Gabrielle kissed Lysandra on the forehead and took her leave.

Eve saw Gabrielle walking out of the hut and approached her curiously. "That was fast."

Gabrielle gave her daughter a solemn smile.

"What is it? Is it Varia?" Eve asked.

Gabrielle glanced back at the hut before turning to Eve to answer, "No….it's Lysandra."

"What's wrong with Lysandra…I thought she was doing better with the Ares 'thing'?"

Gabrielle's cheeks filled with air and she released it in an uncomfortable rush, "No…it's not about Ares…it appears our young amazon is in love."

"Lysandra's in love? With who?"


"WHAT? Are you serious?" Eve couldn't believe it. Gabrielle just nodded. "Oh God," Eve said sitting down on a large rock.

"I know."

"She told you?" Eve asked.

"No…she didn't have to…it was written all over her face when she walked in the hut." Gabrielle sighed again.

"Do you think Varia…"

"I have no idea. Varia is extremely independent. If she did…she would never have told me….and she would never have acted on it."

"Where is Lysandra?" Eve looked at her mother and Gabrielle pointed to the hut.

"Ohhhh," Eve said.

"I told her she should sit with Varia…talk to her." Gabrielle stared at the hut in the distance.

"You're worried…. About Varia…or about what happens when Varia finds out?"

"Both," Gabrielle answered. "Either way Lysandra might get hurt… even if Varia does love her… I'm afraid she will deny that."

"Speaking from experience?" Eve joked a bit.

"Mmmm….it took Xena and me so long…"

"Too long?" Eve asked genuinely curious.

Gabrielle chuckled, "No… but I'm glad it didn't take any longer. It was right after that – that everything….well…that Hope resurfaced…and we were separated….I can't imagine having gone through that without having known…that she loved me."

Eve looked at Gabrielle as Gabrielle continued to focus on the hut in the distance. "You never told me that."

"I never told you a lot of things," Gabrielle looked at her daughter with a raised brow.

"Do you want me to talk to her," Eve asked gently, "Like a sister."

Gabrielle smiled widely. She thought about the conversation she and Lila had in the tavern before everything went crazy again. "I think that would be wonderful. I am glad she has you, Eve."

"Mother?" Gabrielle looked at the messenger, she still was not accustomed to that word and whenever Eve found the occasion to say it she felt as though her heart would explode. Eve saw the reaction and smiled, "Still not used to that…are you?"

Gabrielle gave a nervous chuckle, "No."

"Well, I think she is lucky to have you…just like me…"

"Eve," Gabrielle said with a broad smile, "With all this insanity in our lives I forget sometimes…"


"How lucky I am….to have you both." She patted Eve's shoulder. "I have some Queenly duties to attend to," she rolled her eyes. "If you see your mother tell her I will be in the armory with the council."

Eve nodded. "And Eve….remind her NOT to teach Gabriel that fish throwing gag."

Eve laughed as Gabrielle walked away. In the midst of war and sadness, life continued. She thought about Virgil as she waited for Lysandra to emerge. She was glad they would be leaving soon. Gabrielle's words reminded her how lucky she was, to know love, to be loved. She was anxious to see him. He always made her laugh and he could comfort her doubts with just a smile. "Oh Virgil," she whispered aloud, "I wish you were here."

Xena playfully dunked Gabriel under the water. He laughed as he surfaced. "Any fish own there?" the warrior asked.

"I couldn't see! My eyes were closed!" he exclaimed.

"WHAT?" she said jokingly, "Gabriel…if you want to SEE the fishies you have to OPEN your eyes!"

"It stings!"

"Awww… just try it… it only stings for a second…you'll see."

"Ohhhh Okay." He dove under and then resurfaced again wiping water from his small face. "I did it!"

"Did ya' see any fish?" Xena asked like an excited child.

"NAH… too dark."

"Hummmm… guess we're back to finger bait!...Now listen, Gabriel….I am going to tell you a secret."


"Yes… I am going to teach you my secret trick….but don't tell Auntie Gabby or your mom."

"Why not?"

"Because if you do – we can't surprise them with it!"

"OKAY!" he agreed with excitement.

Xena waded out of the water. "Where are you going?" the boy called after her.

The warrior held up a finger and climbed onto the riverbank. She looked around until she found a good sized log and she pulled it to a standing position a few yards back from the river's edge. She turned around with a smile of satisfaction, "There! That's perfect," she said standing next to the boy and framing the log with her fingers at a distance.

Gabriel looked at his grandmother unsure of what she was doing. "See… that's our target, Gabriel…right there." Eve had given up on Lysandra emerging form Varia's side any time soon and decided to see what trouble her mother and Gabriel were causing. She had made it to the tree line, just within ear shot and stopped before to listen before revealing herself.

Gabriel looked at Xena and nodded. "I used to get Lyceus all the time with this trick!...and your Auntie Gabby," she laughed.

"Who's Lyceus?"

She looked down at the small earnest face and took a deep breath. "Lyceus was my brother, Gabriel…and my best friend…well until I met your Auntie Gabby."

"Where is he?"

Xena's gaze narrowed, "Well, Gabriel…. The truth is he died… a very long time ago…"

The boy looked at his grandmother and saw a tear in her eye, "I'm sorry Grandmother….don't be sad."

The warrior put her hand on the boy's shoulder, "I'm not."

"But you look sad…"

"Mmmmm…" she paused and bent down to his height, "Sometimes I miss him….he was so much fun, Gabriel, like you….he made me laugh all the time…and after he died…well…for a long time I couldn't laugh. I was sad and I was very angry."

"What happened?"

"Well…I met your auntie…and everything changed."

"Because she's funny?"

"Well… she does make me laugh… but she is also kind, just like Lyceus….always seeing the good in everything and everyone," the warrior began to lose herself in a memory, "And one day we were at a river, just like this…not long after we met….I saw her sitting there…against a rock….and she was so beautiful and so peaceful… I just felt happy….so," she snapped back to the moment, "I threw a fish at her and hit her SMACK in the cheek…WHAMO!" Xena laughed. Eve stood at the distance and felt her smile overtake her. She was still amazed every moment by how much her parents loved each other and she realized more now than ever how much she loved them both.

Gabriel laughed so hard he could barely stand, "Was she mad?"

"Eh… yea…she was a little mad," Xena laughed, "But deep own she knows…it's because I love her."

"Like Mother loves Father…"

Xena smiled at the boy, "Yes, Gabriel – exactly like that."

"How do you know…I mean if you love someone?"

"Well…that's a good question…sometimes your heart beats a little faster and you even feel dizzy…"

"Like when you hold your breath too long?"

"Well, yeah… kind of…but really…when you just can't stand to be apart from them…even when you have to be…and all you want is to see them be happy…that's how you know."

"But Auntie Gabby isn't happy when you throw fish at her…"

Xena laughed, "Well…in her own way she is…that's part of love too…letting the other person be who they are….even when they throw fish at you," she winked. "So you ready to learn?"

He nodded his head with excitement.

Eve watched for the next several minutes while her mother taught her son how to heave fish at a log; that evidently was standing in for Gabrielle. Then she slowly stepped out. Xena saw her and Eve pursed her lips; scolding her mother with her eyes.

"Come on Gabriel," Xena said, "I think you've got it." She leaned into his ear and whispered as they went ashore, "We'll practice more later." He smiled and headed up the hill waving to his mother.

Xena scooped up the fish and threw them in a bag with Eve staring at her shaking her head with both brows raised. "What?" the warrior attempted an innocent defense. She held up the bag of fish, "Lunch AND dinner."

"Uh huh," Eve said following her mother up the hill, "Don't knock on my hut when she sends you to the stables.

Chapter 60: Chapter 60 The Enemy of My Enemy

Chapter 60 The Enemy of My Enemy is My Friend

"We cannot wait," the god bellowed at his priests.

"The troops are not…"

"We have the advantage… the time is now….they expect nothing." Baal answered.

"They are in Amazon Lands….in the south…you cannot…"

"I cannot enter – but our army can…before they move we must strike."

"We will likely loose many…and should they…" one of the priests began.

"ENOUGH WITH YOUR ARGUMENTS!" the god blasted through a large pillar in the temple in anger, "Prepare the offensive."

Xena was heading toward the armory when Gabrielle emerged. "Hey," she called to the queen.

Gabrielle smiled and walked to meet her. "So…what's this I hear about Lysandra?" the warrior asked.

"Talked to Eve I take it," the bard said.

"Yeah…so…..what do you think?"

Gabrielle shook her head. "It complicates things."

"Mmmm….I suppose it does," the warrior admitted. "Are you thinking about delaying the rite of caste announcement?"

Gabrielle sighed and glanced at the warrior as they kept walking, "I don't know, Xena…We don't even know how Varia is going to heal…or if she is going to heal. Certainly not the best time to put added pressure on Lysandra."

"Hummm," the warrior mused to herself.

"Well?" Gabrielle asked looking over at her partner again, "Say what you are thinking."

"Have you considered that Varia might feel the same way?" Xena asked.

Gabrielle let out another sigh. "Xena…you know Varia as well as I do…"

"That's the thing, Gabrielle…I don't…..maybe I did…but I've been gone for a long time. You are the one that has been with them….have you seen any signs?"

Gabrielle hated to admit it but she paid little attention over the years to the affections between people. She was even oblivious to Eve and Virgil for much longer than she would have been had Xena still been alive then. Her pain had consumed many things and one of them was her pension for being a matchmaker. She frowned a bit at the question without responding.

Xena watched her expression and then looked ahead towards their destination, "I see."

Gabrielle just gave a sad smile acknowledging that the warrior's perception was right.

"Gabrielle," Xena paused and took the bard's arm stopping the walk, "I think we need to consider the possibility that Baal might respond."

Gabrielle grew concerned, "Baal can't enter the territory."

"No…but think about it….he has to know by now that we have suffered some heavy losses…..and he surely knows about Ares involvement…his sister is dead…"

"Well.. that's all true…but, Xena…"

"Look," the warrior looked squarely into Gabrielle's eyes. "I know things are crazy here right now…I think we need to move out….we need to go South…all of us."

"She's right," a voice echoed almost as if it were in their own minds.

The pair began to search when Aphrodite appeared with another figure neither had ever seen.

"Aphrodite?...I thought you were with Virgil?" Gabrielle asked the goddess while Xena cautiously pondered the other figure.

"I was...listen girls…. I think you need to listen…this is Eshmun."

Xena's expression became taught. She had little trust in any gods, particularly those of the Phoenician variety.

Eshmun noted the warrior's skepticism and addressed her directly. "I understand your concern. My brother is ….well…insane."

Xena's lips curled. Her mind raced with the knowledge that the Phoenician Gods had tried to kill her family. She simply stared; daggers shooting from her eyes.

"I have tried to reason with him….there is no reasoning."

Xena nodded her head with her lips pursed. "Why would you want to help us?"

"Because…it is my nature to heal as it is Aphrodite's to love and Ares's to war and Baal to rule…. He will come… and he will come with force."

"Well," Xena said with bitterness in her tone, "thank you for your concern," she began to move when she felt Gabrielle's hand on her arm.

"Xena," Gabrielle said cautiously but with conviction, "I think we should at least listen to what she has to say." Gabrielle trusted Aphrodite implicitly and at this point she felt they needed to keep all of their options open. From the beginning Aphrodite had suggested Eshmun might provide a resource for them. If she was here now, Gabrielle was certain there was a reason.

The warrior's jaw tightened as she looked at the bard who raised her eyebrows and leaned forward slightly as if to coax the warrior's agreement.

"All right, "Xena said sternly turning back to the goddess, "Let's hear it then."

Eshmun looked at Aphrodite who gave her a nod of encouragement. "Baal believes that he will be given all of the earth…on its totality…"

"From Lucifer?" Gabrielle asked.

"Yes…" the goddess began to answer.

Xena interrupted, "That will never happen. Lucifer is the king of hell – he does not play well with others. He desires only more for himself and anyone working with him is simply a pawn working for him."

"Yes," Eshmun said, "I know."

The bard spoke now, "So….why help us, though…I mean – you can understand our…."

"Of course, Queen Gabrielle…but you must understand…my existence is tied to healing…to fertility and life…I cannot align myself with Baal. We were created at the same time…he is my equal, but I cannot take a life only heal them. My world is tied inextricably to that of the mortal realm."

"Yes….but without war what will you heal?" the warrior interjected with continued doubt.

Eshmun smiled now. There was a peacefulness about her. It reminded Gabrielle of the wave that overcame her when she felt Callisto wipe her tear away in heaven; when she forgave the unforgivable. She understood.

The goddess took a step closer to the warrior and the bard and looked back and forth between them allowing her gaze to gently linger on the bard before turning to speak to the warrior, "Xena….you have taken life and you have given life….you have died and been reborn…..surely you realize that there are many kinds of healing. Sickness and death is not that which requires my care the most….but heartbreak," she looked at Gabrielle momentarily, "Fear….loneliness. These are the scars of war. The wounds that linger."

Xena took a deep breath. She did understand. Still, she was a warrior. Her instincts told her to remain guarded, but she also knew that what the goddess spoke was truth. "So, what then?" Xena asked remaining stoic.

Aphrodite stepped forward, "Eshmun can help you as you leave….and…she can help Varia…..I can't heal anymore…not anything the likes of Varia's wounds anyway…but Eshmun…"

Gabrielle understood and it also dawned on her the Aphrodite's visit was well timed. She looked at Xena who understood what the bard was thinking.

"Very well," Xena said. "But know…I am not convinced…..and I will not allow anyone to harm my family."

Eshmun stood eye to eye with the warrior, "I would expect no less," she said.

Chapter 61: Chapter 61 - Search Within

Chapter 61 – Search Within

Gabrielle led Aphrodite and Eshmun to a vacant hut. She pulled her friend aside near the outdoor fire pit to talk while the Phoenician goddess headed inside.

"Gabby," Aphrodite said, "Xena seems…"

Gabrielle smiled broadly, "Xena is Xena, Aphrodite. She doesn't take things for granted and she knows to expect the unexpected," she nodded in the direction of the hut where Eshmun was settling in.

"Are you worried?" the Goddess of Love asked.

Gabrielle let out a strong sigh. "I am…mostly I am worried about Lysandra."


"Well, because she is in love with Varia for one thing."

"Yeah…no duh…where have YOU been…Geez she's like your kid…I mean…"

"Thanks for your support," the bard joked, "It's not as if I don't already have huge inadequacies as a mother," she finished as her tone grew more pensive.

"What are you talking about?...Have you been hitting the Henbane?" the goddess asked.

"Funny, Aphrodite…I'm serious… Lysandra's…"

"Oh…forget the little amazon for a minute… good grief….she'll be fine… Varia loves her."

"She does?"

"Well, Yeah…. But you know those Queenie types…" Aphrodite caught herself as Gabrielle's gaze became a glare. "Oh – you know what I mean…I'll work on it….let's talk about you…"

"About me? Why? I'm fine," the bard asked with genuine confusion.

"What is this about you being 'inadequate'?" Aphrodite was concerned.

Gabrielle put her hands in her lap and grasped her knees, "Honestly, I have no idea what I am doing."

Aphrodite pondered the statement. "Hummm…..Listen, sweetie… I know a thing or two about kids…cupid was a royal pain when he got a little older…I also know a thing or two about mothers… you know the Goddess of Love isn't all flowers and kisses."

The bar chuckled, "I know that, Aphrodite."

"Look… I hate to be the one to have to tell you this, sweetie…but you need to figure out what's really bothering you," Aphrodite raised her brows. The goddess stood up, stopped and looked at the bard. "You know….Gabrielle…I may be a flake, but I hope I am your friend…"

"Aphrodite, of course you are."

"Well… then let me give you a piece of friendly advice…tell that warrior what you are feeling."

Gabrielle shook her head, "How can I tell her when I don't know myself?"

"I think you should spend a little time with our new Phoenician friend," the goddess suggested.

"Why?...Aphrodite," the bard gave a nervous chuckle, "I'm fine…really."

"Sure you are…. I'm going to go see that crazy amazon girlie of yours….Just think about it…"

Gabrielle sat on the on the log next to the empty fire pit and put her face in her hands. She was worried about Lysandra. She was worried about Eve and Gabriel; and for some reason she had been dreaming about Hope the last few days. She wondered if she had spoken in her sleep again and that was what had prompted the warrior's words the night before. The truth was that she did feel inadequate. She was afraid. Why would she be chosen to have the power to kill gods? She heard what Michael said, but she still thought it was crazy. She heard Eve call her mother and it made her heart soar; but somehow she still felt it wasn't her place; not really. The truths of her emotions were pressing in on the queen now.

Eshmun lingered in the hut's doorway, considering the queen and sensing her pain. She watched Gabrielle's mannerisms and allowed herself to connect to the woman's emotions, separating her many personas from the person; the bard, the queen, the leader, the mother and the lover; to reach within the recesses of the woman. That was Eshmun's gift; how she healed and why she could not ever be in league with her siblings.

The bard, for her part, was trying to breathe. She felt tightness in her chest and a lump in her throat. Now they would have to move south. She could not avoid what was to come; more violence, more danger, more questions. Secretly, she just wanted to be still. There was a sense of resentment and insecurity that seemed to be surfacing from within her that she had thought she had conquered.

The goddess approached the woman slowly now. "Queen Gabrielle…" she started softly. Gabrielle raised her head to meet the comforting glance of the goddess. "May I sit with you?" she asked.

Gabrielle gave a crooked smile and nodded her permission. She looked directly at Eshmun and unconsciously sighed.

"I understand," the goddess conceded, "Why you doubt my intentions, Queen Gabrielle."

Gabrielle nodded again, "Just Gabrielle is fine," she said.

"Very well, Gabrielle… I do not want to betray my brother, but I cannot betray myself. His need for power and control blinds his capacity to feel. It is that way with gods."

Gabrielle looked at the figure before her curiously, "But not with you?"

The goddess chuckled, "My needs are for peace and for tranquility. It is neither power nor control that guide me, but empathy. I did not make it that way – it is what I was created for."

Gabrielle studied the goddess now. There was sincerity in her voice that the bard could not deny. She smiled softly, "I hope that you can help Varia," she said.

Eshmun squinted at the queen and nodded. "I will see your Queen Varia this evening once Aphrodite has spoken with the young amazon…..But it is you that I am wondering about," the goddess admitted.

Gabrielle let out an uncomfortable sigh. She was certain that the goddess had sensed her turmoil.

"You are allowed to feel as you do," the goddess offered.

"I don't know how I feel," Gabrielle conceded.

Eshmun took a moment and then spoke gently to the bard, "You love deeply, Gabrielle; far more so than most. That is why Aphrodite is so drawn to you. And…why you have always been drawn to her. It is why Ares sacrificed himself for you…it is why you are so many things to so many people."

"I don't know what I am….who I am," Gabrielle closed her eyes and fought her tears back.

"Hmmmm…. You are thinking about the queen, the bard….the mother, the lover….the many roles you play for others….I am thinking only of the woman."

Gabrielle looked at the goddess, "I have to be the queen; it is part of who I am."

"No, Gabrielle…it is part of what you are to others; who they need you to be. And, because you love so deeply you will always strive to be that which they seek in you." The bard felt a tear fall as the goddess continued, "And… because you love so much and so freely, you fail sometimes to realize how much you are loved…by so many….not only the warrior."

Gabrielle looked into the goddess's eyes, "How can I lead these women when I am lost myself?"

Eshmun closed her eyes, placed her hand on Gabrielle's and began to breathe in the emotions and thoughts that were racing through the bard. She opened her eyes and gave the bard a solemn, knowing smile. "Hope…I understand. You… feel… that you failed….failed your daughter…failed your lover…you should have found a way," the goddess shook her head, "My dear child, you cannot save everyone no matter how much you love them."

"I know that," Gabrielle said.

"Of course you do," Eshmun agreed. "But you are a healer, Gabrielle….very much like me. You fight only because you love…there is great pain in you…so many questions….I feel them all."

"Can you take them away?"

Eshmun narrowed her gaze and smiled, "Yes."

Gabrielle searched the goddess, waiting.

"But….I do not think that is what you want… your questions have answers…you do not need me to heal your pain, Gabrielle. You simply need to feel… and let yourself be loved."

Gabrielle was confused. She felt love. Eshmun saw her question, "You have never released that pain to her… What did you tell that young amazon? About Varia?" The goddess closed her eyes and took in a deep breath, searching the bard's thoughts, "Ahhh… 'say what you need to or don't – that's your decision, just make sure it's a decision you can live with tomorrow.' Wise words."

Gabrielle looked at the goddess as she rose to her feet. She was beautiful and had a peaceful, calming presence. She understood somehow what Eshmun was saying and she felt a sudden, complete trust in the goddess before her; who sensed her conversion and her understanding.

"Gabrielle…I will be like all of you one day…as will Aphrodite. It will not be a battle that takes us from our immortal realms…it will be the reality of people…people like you…who understand that we are part of you, not the opposite …and then…you will not need us anymore." Eshmun touched the bard's hand and smiled. "I am going to see your Queen now. Perhaps I will find Aphrodite there….Go to her."

As the goddess took her leave, the bard felt an incredible sense of understanding wash over her. It was time.

Chapter 62: Chapter 62 - What I Meant to Say

Chapter 62 - What I Meant to Say

Xena an Eve were sitting by the fire outside Eve's hut as Gabrielle approached. The goddess's words were echoing in her thoughts. She had decided to take Sappho for a ride to clear her mind and process her emotions. All her ride had seemed to accomplish was to raise more emotions within her. Most moments now it felt to the bard as if Xena had never left. That was wonderful and that was difficult. She had come to understand and embrace her place within her family; her place with Eve and her place with Gabriel. Part of her felt as if she should step away a bit. Xena needed time alone with them. She needed to reconnect to Eve and to get to know Gabriel. It reminded her of when Eve was an infant and she struggled to find her place in their lives. It wasn't that the bard doubted Xena's or Eve's love; she just never wanted to overstep her boundaries. She had always felt it was her role to help them nurture their own relationship. Perhaps, she thought, that would have been different had they been able to raise Eve together. Perhaps then their family would have found its way together more naturally.

She found herself remembering the time she spent with Eve in Amphipolis when she had first returned there. Her heart was broken and her spirit in so many ways was crushed. Days were made bearable by the business of everyday tasks, and the only thing that seemed to truly bring her comfort was Eve. She could see Xena reflected in her daughter's eyes. She would watch Eve and Virgil as the three sat by an evening fire and wonder what it would have been like to watch them grow up. Sometimes she would lose herself in the flames imagining the pair playing as children. She and Xena had missed so much. She was always able to bear that burden with the warrior beside her, but in those first few years of learning to live without the comfort of her lover's companionship; she found the realities of their past nearly unbearable and often wondered how she would navigate the future.

When Eve and Virgil married things began to change for the bard. The tavern was beginning to become a popular destination for travelers on their way through Amphipolis. She had Varia and Lysandra whom she visited often and her bond with Eve had begun to take on its own unique personality. Their conversations were no longer consumed by talk of the fallen warrior and when they did discuss Xena it was with affection more than grief. The two had always been close; but Xena was always at the center of their relationship. With Xena gone, Eve began to lean on Gabrielle more; to confide in her about so many things and to seek comfort with her younger mother.

Gabriel's birth only served to strengthen their relationship and it was the event that marked the greatest turning point for the bard. As she rode Sappho she was overwhelmed with memories of their time together. Gabrielle had never told Eve the fear that rushed through her in those hours; delivering Gabriel. Her love for Eve was always that of a mother for her daughter, but watching Eve struggle physically was devastating for the bard. The possibility of losing Eve had become as terrifying as losing Xena. For Gabrielle, watching the strong woman lying in the bed, struggling to deliver this child; racked with fever and overwhelmed by pain; was heartbreaking. Eve may have been a grown woman but when Gabrielle looked into her eyes she could only see that innocent baby she had placed in Xena's arms and it reminded her of the daughter she could not save, her tiny eyes looking up at the bard's from a basket.

Eve's recovery had been slow and it afforded Gabrielle a great deal of time with Gabriel. Over the years Gabriel often came to stay with her for several weeks at a time; just the two of them. She adored him. She relished in every moment she had with the boy. When Gabriel was with her she felt a sense of peace and healing that she did not think was possible. It did make her miss the warrior, but she always felt Xena was present in those times; somehow lingering nearby. When he would fall asleep she would speak to the warrior aloud and muse about what life would have been like if they had been able to watch Eve grow; if Xena were there to watch Gabriel.

Now, as the bard approached the woman she loved more than her own life and the daughter she had grown to consider a best friend; she wondered how she could tell Xena what was in the depths of her own heart. She understood that everything had a purpose, but part of her just could not accept that. If she and Xena had not been taken from their lives for those twenty-five years it was likely that Joxer would never have married Meg and there would not have been Virgil. If Xena had not died perhaps Eve and Virgil would never have been brought together and there would be no Gabriel. She knew that. She also knew that Hope had been corrupted completely by evil. She knew that she had done the only thing she could in the end. She knew all of these things but right now what she knew mattered very little. What she felt had risen to the surface in these last days and it was overtaking her.

Gabrielle took a deep breath and made her way to the pair. The expression on the bard's face and her demeanor immediately caught the attention of both her lover and her daughter. The truth was that both Xena and Eve knew the bard better than she knew herself at times, or at least they understood what Gabrielle never wanted to admit to them or to herself. Eve looked at the bard and gave a slight sigh. She touched her older mother's knee and rose to her feet and then walked directly to the bard. She stopped in front of Gabrielle and looked in her eyes. A smile crept onto her face and she said quite simply and plainly, "I love you." She turned back and headed for the hut leaving her parents with one final knowing smile.

Gabrielle took a deep breath and looked deeply into the blue eyes that were looking up at her. "I was thinking about a night by the river," she said.

Xena knew this evening was inevitable. The fact was that she had wondered when it would happen. It was long overdue and not just since she had returned. Gabrielle had given away many secrets in her sleep over the years and many truths about her emotions in moments of sickness or delusion. Xena knew that Gabrielle never wanted to say anything that would hurt the warrior; she also knew that one day their passing glances and unspoken acknowledgments would need to take form and that day was today. She nodded her understanding. They needed to be in a place that would comfort them both; a place where there were no queens, bards, warriors or mothers; just Xena and Gabrielle. "I'll get things ready," the warrior said.


Xena tied up Sappho and made sure she was fed and settled while Gabrielle set about laying out their bed roll and cooking dinner. It was a familiar routine and although the bard felt her heart pounding and remained dizzy with the thoughts and emotions swirling within her; the familiar routine did bring a certain sense of comfort to her. This, after all, is how the pair began their journey together and when she thought about the journey's end; she preferred to recall the last evening they had spent together exactly like this. In these simple moments; even now as Gabrielle struggled with her questions and her pain; she loved Xena in a way that was indescribable. This was a sacred place to them both; simple but sacred.

"Ohh…Sappho, girl," the warrior stroked the horse, "I hope our bard can say what she needs to." Sappho nudged at the warrior's hand and Xena chuckled. The horse's affectionate gesture and the smell of Gabrielle's cooking in the distance transported her back to another time. She looked back at the horse and thought about Argo letting out a slight sigh. "I do miss her," Xena said to the mare. Sappho responded with a slight side step soliciting another guffaw from the warrior. "Mmmm…you know," she whispered to the horse, "She wasn't always the rider she is now." Xena looked away toward the camp. She couldn't see Gabrielle but she didn't need to. It was easy to imagine the scene that was unfolding there; she'd watched it a million times. She continued the conversation with her silent companion, "She has always been quiet about her fears," Xena shook her head, "Never wanted me to know…her doubts." The strong warrior felt a tear well in her eye and looked at her lover's mare, "I loved her the moment I saw her… I could never walk away… even when I thought I should." Sappho nudged the warrior again and she smiled, "Oh…don't worry, Girl… there isn't a force in heaven or hell that could take me away from our bard." She patted the horse a final time, "Wish me luck," she joked as she headed off.

Gabrielle was stirring a pot over the fire as Xena approached. The warrior took a deep breath before speaking. Gabrielle was the most beautiful thing she had ever laid eyes on; and never more beautiful, she thought to herself, than when she sat by a fire doing the most mundane task. The fire light highlighted her hair and reflected in her eyes. Xena could barely breathe as she took a seat across from her lover. It never ceased to amaze her that no matter how many years passed, regardless of upheavals and losses; nothing – not time, not gods, not even death could diminish her love for this woman. "Smells good," the warrior offered.

The bard peered over the pot at the woman across from her with a sly smile, "Familiar, huh?"

Xena nodded, "It is."

The pair sat in silence for a long while as they ate, occasionally exchanging some chit chat. Both needed some time to prepare and some time to just be alone. There were many things both cherished in their relationship not the least of which was their ability to enjoy both chatter and silence. Gabrielle began to poke at the fire with a large stick, prompting its flames higher. Xena grabbed another log and threw it in. The warrior watched as the bard's thumb guided the stick in a circular motion; just as their daughter always did when she was lost in thought.

"Xena," Gabrielle began softly as she glanced up momentarily from her exploration of the campfire. The warrior narrowed her gaze in anticipation as the bard returned her focus to the flames and continued her thought, "Do you think," she paused attempting to will the words to pass her lips.

"Do I think what?"

Gabrielle took a deep breath and sighed, "Do you think if Hope…well…if I had been able to save her….well…do you think we would have Eve?"

Xena took a deep breath. This was the conversation she had waited years for. "I don't know," she said very gently.

Gabrielle nodded and continued poking the fire. "I think that's why…why I never could have another child."

"You do have another child," Xena said.

"Do I? I mean…really, Xena? …I don't deserve another child," the bard said looking directly at the warrior.

The warrior felt a tear fall own her own cheek, "There is nothing you could have done to save Hope, Gabrielle. It wasn't your fault…it was mine."

Gabrielle shook her head, "No…it wasn't…" she said returning her gaze to the fire.

"Yes…it was. I was blinded by my hatred for Caesar. If I hadn't been we would never have been in Britannia."

Gabrielle shook her head again, "Maybe…but you didn't put that knife in my hands."

Xena inhaled as deeply as she could, "Gabrielle…you trusted someone and you tried to protect that person…innocence is not a sin. He used you… what Dahak did…you can't…"

"Can't I?" Gabrielle looked back at her lover, "I mean, Xena… No matter what Hope was my daughter too…I know what you think… That she was just evil… spawn of a demon god… but she was my daughter….I failed. I failed her…I failed you…"

"Gabrielle, you NEVER failed me…never… and you did not fail Hope. If Hope had a choice…it was hers to make.., you loved her…and in her own way maybe she loved you, but you did not make her into what she was…"

"Yes, but I chose you…not Hope…"

They were the words that Xena always knew Gabrielle needed to speak, but hearing them now cut through her heart like a knife. "I didn't give you a choice."

"Hmm…we both know that's not true…there is always a choice, Xena. Always. What if I had fought you harder rather than putting her in a basket in some river? Would Solan be alive? "

"Gabrielle…stop…Solan is not your fault….And… we both know some things happen for a reason. He wanted us together. You can't continue to carry that… We have Eve… and Gabriel… and they love you."

"Yes… I know… I do… but Xena… I can't help it… I wonder…I mean… I always thought someday…"

Xena stood and made her way to the bard. "Oh…Gabrielle," she said taking the bar into her arms, "I know that… I've always known that…but our children…they only come through us; they are not us. And Eve… Eve has come through you as much as she did through me. I know that you know that…I wish you could accept it."

Gabrielle's tears fell. "I don't know who I am, Xena….who am I? Really?"

Xena struggled with her own tears, "You are Gabrielle… you are the most compassionate and loving person I have ever known... the one person I am meant to spend eternity with."

"Xena…" Gabrielle choked, "I couldn't save my own daughter… I couldn't save you…"

The warrior took the bard's face in her hands, "You did save me…long before we ever went to Jappa. That was not your choice…it was mine. And, Hope? You did save Hope.., you loved her in spite of everything and you let her go…away from an existence where evil would have ruled her life; even if she did want to love you – she couldn't….and Eve? You've saved Eve more than once… You fought to forgive Callisto long before I traded places with her in hell; and you forgave her again – even when you thought you had lost me…There would be no Eve, Gabrielle…there would be no Xena as you know her, no Gabriel… not without you."

"I wish I could believe that," Gabrielle sighed into the warrior's chest.

Xena stroked the bard's hair and considered her words carefully, "Why did you go to Eve all those years ago? When she was Livia…behind my back?"

Gabrielle let out a heavy sigh, "I could never let you hurt Eve…I knew how that would affect you…not if I could help it…"

"MMM… Gabrielle…You risked everything because you love me and because you love Eve," she looked skyward, "You understood that pain…because you lost Hope…and I never…even though I knew that loss would hurt you…I never tried to find another way."

"Xena… you were right…there was no other way. I know that but it still hurts."

"Maybe there wasn't, but if our roles had been reversed…you would have looked much harder and much longer to find one…. This idea you have that you are not a good mother…you are so wrong, Gabrielle… Hope could only feel the little she may have because she came through YOU…and it's your compassion and your gentleness that shine through Eve every time I look at her."

"Xena," Gabrielle looked up at the warrior, "I don't know where I belong…except here…I just don't know."

"Gabrielle… I've waited so many years for you to tell me this… all of it. Maybe you should stop trying to figure everything out and just be Gabrielle. This is where you belong. It always will be, always."

"If I can't protect my own family, Xena… how can I lead these women?" Gabrielle let out a nervous and frustrated chuckle, "I feel like I am in a dream, you know? It's like….I don't know where I fit anymore."

"Nothing has changed, Gabrielle and everything has changed at the same time. I know that. You made this family a family – without me…and now here I am… and you think you should walk a step behind… like you are a what? A sidekick?" Gabrielle looked away and Xena guided her face back, looking into the green eyes that held her soul, "You have never been a sidekick, Gabrielle. Not from the moment we met… And, certainly not in this family. If anyone should walk a step behind it's me. Always has been. Anyone can learn to fight… few people can love the way that you do. That can't be taught. It has to be felt…"

Gabrielle could not find any words as Xena wiped her tears, "I love you. I have always loved you… and I will always love you…I have no idea what lies ahead," a tear fell from the warrior's eye and Gabrielle brushed it away, "All I know is that we will face it together. And Gabrielle…" the warrior paused to inhale the presence of the woman she loved and search her eyes, "One thing I do know… anything is possible…especially if it's us," the warrior raised her eyebrow slightly.

The comment solicited a needed laugh from both and as the warrior's lips met the bard's; Gabrielle felt a lightness overtake her. She had carried so much within her. Her questions, her fears; they had not vanished; but they were not hers alone to bear any longer. "I love you, Xena."

"I know," the warrior smiled, "I love you too, always."

Chapter 63: Chapter 63 Compromise and Condemnation

Chapter 63 Compromise and Condemnation

Xena prepared the tribe to leave while Gabrielle made her way to Varia with Eshmun and Aphrodite. Eshmun had healed the Queen, but Varia remained weak and both the goddess and the healer demanded that she rest. Lysandra was sitting outside the hut on a large rock. Gabrielle excused herself from the group motioning for them to continue inside without her. Her mind was far clearer than it had been a day ago, but she worried for Lysandra. There would be no romantic professions of love from Varia and Gabrielle knew that. Varia might love the young Amazon as Aphrodite had said, but her friend understood the need for clarity in times like these and the bard knew that no matter what Queen Varia felt she would remain focused. She also knew that in spite of Lysandra's skills and maturity as an Amazon; the young woman remained an innocent and naïve girl when it came to love; much like Gabrielle at her age.

"What are you doing?" the bard asked soliciting a shrug from the Amazon. "I see….You know…you could just go see her."

"I can't."

"Lysandra," Gabrielle's voice was firm now. As always she conveyed compassion, but it was time to speak truth and to center the young woman. "You can't avoid Varia any longer. She's awake and she knows how you feel about her." Lysandra began to speak but Gabrielle continued, "If she returns your affection – it will take time. It will not be now. There is too much at stake for her to cloud her judgment."

"But…you and Xena…"

"Mmmm… Yes... But it wasn't always that way, Lysandra. It takes time. And, there have been many times when my feelings for Xena…or her feelings for me, for that matter, have compromised us in battle. Love and war are a dangerous mix. In war we have to lead with our minds….Love is led by our heart. You need to pull yourself together and see Varia. Don't expect anything and don't ask for anything…be as you have always been with her and if it's meant to be….you will find each other."

"What if it's not? Meant to be?"

Gabrielle smiled, "Then you will mourn that loss and you will move on….that's just life, Lysandra. Love is never a guarantee of forever. You love because you love…not because you expect it to be returned," she touched the Amazon's hand. "I'm going to see The Queen…when I leave…I suggest you follow suit. You can't avoid it forever."

The bard made her way into the hut leaving the young woman to ponder all that she said.

Xena was directing the tribe; packing supplies and securing munitions for the day's journey south directly into the Land of the Pharaohs when Eve approached. "So…"

"So what?" Xena responded heaving a large sack of food into a wagon.

"What happened last night?" Eve said picking up some smaller bags and helping her mother.

"Eve…she just needed to say some things, that's all…she's all right." Xena turned to another cart and began to inspect some of the weaponry, "There's not that much here," she shook her head.

Eve caught her mother's expression. "You're worried."

"Well… the goddess thinks Baal will attack and I agree…I just hope we can reach Virgil before that happens…it certainly would make me feel better of Varia was up to snuff."

Eve sighed, "Have you seen her yet?"

"No…Gabrielle want to see her….Eve," Xena turned to her daughter, "Do me a favor and go and talk to Lysandra…make sure she is focused. We need her head in the game."

"Don't you think Gabrielle will…"

"Yes, I do… but Gabrielle is not you…I think Lysandra has romanticized some things," Xena offered. "Eve... I want to send Lysandra and Charmion ahead to Virgil."

"Are you sure that's a good idea right now?" The messenger hated to question her mother but Lysandra and her older sister were two of the best fighters in the village. If the group was attacked they would be enormous assets.

"There's no choice…no good one anyway. If he attacks before we reach Virgil and we do not fare well; his forces will press onward. We need to assets ahead and ready."

Eve understood. She agreed that Lysandra had romanticized some things since meeting the warrior. The messenger could clearly see what her mother was taking about and she knew what Gabrielle saw in the young woman; determination, loyalty and strength, but also a young woman still hopeful and compassionate. If Ares and Aphrodite could have had a child together; Lysandra would have fit the bill perfectly. Which side surfaced now would have an impact on their success. No one understood better than Eve what it meant to completely vacate a part of the person you were to become the person you needed to be. That was something she knew her parents had also come to master. It came at a price; an emotional cost; but in order to preserve all that they loved; her family had accepted that reality.

Eve looked at her mother, "Mother?"


"I will fight."

"Let's hope you don't have to."

Eve's face grew dark, "I will have to. We both know that."

Xena bit her bottom lip, "I suppose we do."


The heat of the morning sun was overpowering already. Virgil ducked into the stone building he had learned to call home these last few days. Halima was boiling some water over a small fire as he took a seat on a low stool in the corner. He studied her, still unsure about his trust in the woman.

"You still doubt me?" she asserted ladling some water into a cup for tea and passing it to him. He nodded his thanks silently. "I understand," she continued. "I would. We do what we have to do to protect our children. At least we try."

Virgil took a sip of the tea and then looked at the woman. "What are you protecting them from?" He asked. She looked at him in surprise. "Death?" He sighed. "I do understand…I have a son. I wonder what we are protecting them from sometimes with all this war. Are we saving them or are we condemning them?"

The woman looked at him, questioning him with her eyes. He shook his head, "Death befalls us all, Halima…sooner or later. My father…. I remember when he died… the victim of hatred, violence…corruption." He took a deep breath. "He taught me something though, that day more than any other. Love is the most important weapon."

"You are married to the messenger of peace," she observed, "You would see it that way."

He laughed. "The messenger of peace was once the harbinger of death, Halima."

"Yes, I know…Livia of Rome…she was a great warrior."

He set his tea down and his eyes began to become smaller. "She was… she was a child raised by violence. A woman steeped in anger. That is what she was."

The woman regarded his expression for a moment, "You speak as if you knew her."

"She killed my father." Halima had heard rumors about the messenger and her family, but most people chose not to discuss the messenger's past. Virgil continued, "My father… he would have loved Eve… he did love Eve," he looked upward and closed his eyes. "He always thought he wanted to be a warrior….fighting….taking on warlords and armies like Xena. But," he paused to return his gaze to the woman, "He was a warrior in a different way. He would fight if he needed to…but his weapon was kindness. Just that… it's why he fell in love with Gabrielle, I am sure… He would rather have died at Livia's hand than see anyone he loved harmed, even her," he chuckled slightly, "She was, after all the daughter of the two people he loved most...well, other than his own family…. No…Halima… I don't know what we are accomplishing. Is hell made by gods; by Lucifer?…Or are we creating it …. Right now….is that what we leave to our children? Is that how we save them?"

The woman was nearly speechless. There was reason and truth in what the man said now. "You have a way with words," she complimented him.

He smiled. "I need to go and see Akil. I suspect we will have visitors soon," he began to leave. "Halima," he said stopping in the doorway, "As much as I hate fighting…you should know…I will not hesitate to raise my sword for my family; not now."

She looked at him and understood the warning as he continued, "Xena and Gabrielle…they have been through more than anyone I know…Eve…Gabriel….they deserve the family – the kindness they were never afforded. I had that. I had my father and my mother. I will not allow you…or any god; even my own to deny them that again."

Chapter 64: Chapter 64

Chapter 64 – And We March On

"I can ride," Varia asserted.

"Very well," Gabrielle said, "Far be it from me to argue with The Queen," she laughed. She looked past the horses and saw Xena approaching the two.

"How are you feeling?" the warrior asked Varia with genuine concern.

"Like an army of centaurs ran over me," she smiled.

"Good then…at least it wasn't a giant…you must be on the mend," the warrior laughed.

Gabrielle shook her head. "How are things progressing?" she asked the warrior.

"Should be ready by dusk. It will be slow, but the darkness will serve us…..I need to speak to you both."

Varia looked at Gabrielle whose gaze remained set on the warrior. "All right," the bard said.

Xena stood as she always did when she was taking command. There was an air about her that exuded both confidence and control. Gabrielle knew that her lover was shifting her mindset to the battle that lay ahead. "We need to send Lysandra and Charmion ahead to Virgil."

Gabrielle took a deep breath. She understood the warrior's logic. She didn't love it; but it was the best tactical decision to make. They could trust the pair and both were formidable fighters. Charmion was Lysandra's elder by 10 years. Her mother had become an Amazon shortly after her birth after Charmion's father was killed in battle. The older sister was far more focused than the younger, less impulsive and more methodical. Gabrielle agreed with the decision. Varia's reaction, however, surprised the bard.

"No," Varia said emphatically. Gabrielle looked to the queen at her side and realized her response had little to do with tactical concerns.

Xena remained stoic. "Varia…we are not many in number, we don't know if there are those among us still loyal to the Phoenicians and our arms are running low…I understand your concern…Lysandra and Charmion must move ahead and help Virgil prepare. They should leave soon. Riding hard they can reach him by mid-morning."

Varia's eyes revealed all the warrior and bard needed to know and Xena looked to Gabrielle for support. "Varia," Gabrielle spoke softly, "There have been many times that I have had to watch Xena ride away. Many times…every time I felt a piece of my soul ride with her…every time a part of me wonders….if she'll return." Xena felt a lump in her throat. It was a reality of their life together that would never be easy to accept. Gabrielle continued calmly, "You nearly died… those moments we realize how much we love…I know…this is what we must do. And if you wish to love Lysandra…as Xena and I have learned; then you will both have to make a choice. If you are to remain an Amazon Queen and she is to accept my rite of caste… this….this is just part of your reality. You cannot always serve both masters. You have to learn to love…even if you might lose."

The Amazon Queen nodded. Varia knew that Gabrielle was right. It had been much easier a few days ago; knowing that Lysandra loved her made things more difficult than the queen had anticipated. No one understood that better than the warrior princess. There were many times she wished Gabrielle didn't love her so much; it made it impossible to insure the bard's safety and impossible not to compromise her judgment in battle. She had learned over time, with Gabrielle as her partner; how to balance her emotions and her responsibilities. Now, Varia would need to learn that as well.

"I'll go tell Lysandra," Gabrielle said.

"No," Varia answered.

"Varia…." Gabrielle began believing the queen was about to wage another protest.

"I will tell her," Varia said. "It should be me…now more than ever." Xena pursed her lips to try and conceal her knowing smile. In many ways she and Varia were kindred spirits and the queen was right. Lysandra had been under Varia's command and she commanded the queen's heart. It was her place. Xena nodded her understanding as Varia took her leave.

Gabrielle watched her walk away and shook her head, "That should be interesting," she mused.

"Gabrielle," Xena lightly grabbed her lover's arm.

"What?" Gabrielle saw the pensive expression on the warrior's face. "What is it?"

Xena exhaled forcefully, "There's still the children….If things go badly…even if they go well II don't see how we can travel to Phoenicia."

Gabrielle sighed. "I know. I've been thinking about that too."

"I think we should send the goddesses."

"You want Aphrodite to look for the children?"

"Think about it for a minute…Baal will be distracted…Eshmun knows him and can sense pain…she knows how Anath thought…and Aphrodite can help insure that the children are secure somewhere.…"

"Xena….I understand …..I want to save the children too, but without Eshmun here and her healing abilities…we may suffer far greater losses," the bard cautioned the warrior.

"I know." Xena looked into Gabrielle's eyes and smiled, "We both know, Gabrielle… there will be losses…and we both know what we are fighting to protect."

Gabrielle closed her eyes and took Xena's hand, "Yes… we do…. You're right. They are the future…and that is what this is about."

Xena gave the bard a sad smile. "Those children…. They will need both healing and love…it's the right thing…"

"I know," Gabrielle said softly. "I know it is."


"Varia, no….and leave you and Gabrielle?" Lysandra was furious.

Varia took a deep breath and looked at Eve who had been spending some time with the young Amazon. The messenger smiled and clasped Varia's hand as she left, "Good luck," she whispered to the queen with the signature eyebrow raise her family seemed to have mastered.

The queen watched for a moment as Lysandra brushed her horse. "Lysandra…"

"What is this Varia? ... I tell you I love you and you send me away?"

The queen had expected that response. "No."

"Really?" the young Amazon's impatience was evident.

"Lysandra… there are things that you and I need to discuss…but now is not that time."

"Oh… so maybe we should wait until you're almost dead again." Gabrielle had decided it would be wise that she see Lysandra after Varia spoke to her. She could hear the conversation in the distance as Lysandra's frustration carried her volume louder. She stopped and waited behind the stable door, amused at the young Amazon's response. A response she could have imagined herself giving the warrior many years ago.


"No…Varia…just… say what you really want to say."

The Queen took a deep breath. "I wish this was different. I wish I could give you all the answers you want right now. I can't. …. Right now we need to deal with this move. And…I need you to lead…"

Lysandra's face tightened. "You need me to lead?"

Varia closed her eyes and her voice softened, "Yes…please…Lysandra...I promise we will talk about this… all of… I need someone I trust… I don't like it either. It is what we need to do...there is more at stake than you and I," Varia took the young Amazons hand, "I…"

"It's fine…I understand," Lysandra said. Her face spoke otherwise. Varia sighed and nodded. "I will see you before you leave."

Gabrielle waited until Varia had passed and made her way to Lysandra who had returned to brushing the horse, muttering to herself. She didn't speak just walked into view and squinted at the young woman. "I suppose you heard all of that," the woman said. Gabrielle gave the hint of a shrug and tried not to smile. "She's unbelievable…she almost dies..I tell her I love her – and she sends me off like some errand girl."

Gabrielle could no longer contain her smile as she shook her head. "I am certain that she does not see you as an 'errand girl'…. Look, Lysandra..whatever Varia feels for you…you can't force it. You have to let her come to you in her own time and in her own way…..She is the Queen…she needs to lead her people and if that means she has to table her feelings…she will. That's who she is."

"It's stupid. Xena would never send you away.."

"No? "Gabrielle laughed. "Oh… Lysandra… Perhaps I told you too many romantic tales…You think that our lives were easy… that we were never challenged?" She shook her head. "We lost each other more than once…left each other more than once…it has been a very LONG road to be where we are now. Xena would never send me away? … She sent me on a wild goose chase the day she died. Sent me away. And then… she refused to let me bring her back." The bard closed her eyes feeling a hint of the pain and anger from that time. "She had others to protect… that was her path. I had to let her go."

The Amazon looked at her. "Why stay with her then?"

"Because, Lysandra… I love Xena…I fell in love with her the moment we met, it took me a while to understand that….accept it. I love her for who she is…and she loves me for who I am….even when we don't agree….Varia is who she is. You are very young. I was that way once. I almost got Xena killed in Chin because of my jealousy and my fear…You're going to have to decide… can you love Varia as she is… or not." Gabrielle touched the young woman's hand and began to leave.


"Hum?" the bard turned.

"I…well… I know that you…."

"Lysandra…what is it you want to say?"

Lysandra looked down. "Thank you."

Gabrielle chuckled, "Don't thank me… just be careful."

Chapter 65: Chapter 65

Chapter 65 When We Say Goodbye

Xena checked the packed wagons a final time and then headed to the stables. Charmion greeted the warrior with a smile and gestured to her younger sister who was saddling her horse. "Hey," Xena called to Lysandra who responded with a silent nod. "Beautiful mare," the warrior mused stroking the horse's mane.


"Lysandra," Xena paused. "Look… I'm sorry that you have to go ahead."

"I understand."

"I know you do. I also know it is very hard."

"Did Gabrielle send you here to make sure I was all right…or was it Varia?"

Xena nodded slightly. "No one sent me. I wanted to tell you something before you left." The young Amazon was curious. "Actually, I want to thank you."


"Caring so much for Gabrielle." Lysandra shook her head with a bit of embarrassment. Xena sat down on a bale of hay and picked up some straw. "You know…this…this battle…we are going to lose people, Lysandra. None of us… no one is really safe…that's a reality in war." Lysandra looked at the warrior and was surprised that her expression revealed what seemed to be some sadness; and even more surprised that she was speaking to the Amazon this way.

"I know…If you're worried about me, Xena…"

"No…Lysandra…I am worried about everyone." Xena looked directly at the young woman. "If anything were to happen …. To me… I…"

"Xena…look…it's none of my business but you'd better not let anything happen to you."

Xena laughed a bit. "I don't intend on it. I just wanted you to know…Gabrielle loves you…like her own daughter and you may not realize how much that really means….but trust me…it means more than you will ever understand…I just wanted you to know that I am glad she has you." Xena said standing to leave.

Lysandra was unsure what the warrior was trying to say. "Xena?"


"You really love her, don't you?" the Amazon asked curiously and with deep emotion.

"More than my life, yes."

"Then why would you leave her?"

The young Amazon's words cut through the heart of the warrior. "It's an excellent question, Lysandra."

"The greater good? That's what she says…but…"

Xena closed her eyes. "Lysandra…Varia is not me. She doesn't have my past." The warrior sighed. "I wish I had an answer for you…a long time ago I would've told you exactly what Gabrielle did – it was for the greater good."

"But not now?"

Xena just smiled. "Be careful, Lysandra. Tell Virgil we will be close behind." The warrior began to walk away.

"Xena?...Would you….leave her again…for the greater good, I mean?"

Xena stopped dead in her tracks considering her answer carefully. If she answered what she honestly believed it might jeopardize Lysandra's agreement to leave. If she lied; that was perhaps the greatest disservice of all. She chose the ambiguous truth. Without turning she responded. "There has never been a greater good in my life than Gabrielle and there never will be."

Gabrielle was wishing Lysandra good luck as she headed to see Lysandra and Charmion off.

"Are you coming?" Varia asked.

Gabrielle offered a gentle smile, "No…Varia, this is your time. Your place. Not mine." Varia nodded and walked off as Xena approached. The afternoon sun was high and the village humming as the Amazons prepared all the final details for their departure in a few hours. "Hey," Gabrielle called to the warrior.

"Hey, yourself."

"Where were you?" the bard asked.

"I had some things to do."

Gabrielle studied Xena closely. "What's going on?"

"What do you mean?" Xena asked.

"I mean the last time I saw you – you were in commander mode and now…"

"Now what?" the warrior quipped.

Gabrielle stroked her chin. "Xena…"

"Fine…let's go inside."

"Xena what is going on?"

The warrior sat down on a stool. "Gabrielle…I'm sorry."


"Leaving you."

"Where are you going?"

"No…I mean in Jappa."

Gabrielle let out a heavy sigh. "You did what you had to do."


"Xena…this is no time to doubt yourself. Where is this coming from now?"

The warrior needed to be in control and she knew that. She also knew that there was something she needed to say to her bard before she could regain control. "I need you to just hear me before we leave."

"All right."

The warrior continued. "The truth is, Gabrielle…I'm not sure any God can redeem us …or any action." The bard looked at the warrior understanding immediately where this was headed and why. "Here I am…and I am grateful…but it is not a reward for my sacrifice."

"What do you think it is?"

"Necessity….that's what it is. I threw Lucifer into hell and now I will need to again...The truth is, Gabrielle I'm tired. Tired of fighting. Tired of war. Tired of death. That's the thing about being dead…you learn a lot about LIVING."

The bard sighed. "Xena…I …"

"Oh, Gabrielle….I don't intend on dying and I certainly don't plan on letting anything happen to you…or Eve or Gabriel, for that matter…..that's the point…I know what I need to protect now…I can't leave you again," a tear fell from the warrior's eye.

"You won't have to."

"I shouldn't have left you."

Gabrielle sat beside her lover and held her. "I always knew we would part one day, Xena…I accepted that when we first came together….I just selfishly hoped it would be me to leave first."

"Why would you say that?" Xena asked.

"Because, Xena…You are my path…my light…Living without you is just…well existing…..but I love you because of all that you are, and even all that you were. I wouldn't have you had you not been that person. I understand, I do. I was angry and I was lonely…but Xena…I accept you…us…all that comes with it… and you need to know that now."

"I do know it, Gabrielle…That's why I needed you to know; before we leave…I am sorry."

Gabrielle sighed. They had both said what needed to be said now. "What do we still need to do before we leave to prepare?" the bard asked.

Xena smiled and kissed her lover. "Be alone." The bard smiled and agreed with her kiss.

Chapter 66: Chapter 66 - Changing Plans

Chapter 66 - Changing Plans

The warrior did not want to release the bard from her embrace as the sun began to set. Time had never truly been an asset to the pair. Knowing that; Xena wished she could just freeze the moment. The irony in her thought made her laugh. "What's so funny?" Gabrielle turned in the warrior's arms.

"I was just thinking I would love to freeze this moment forever." Gabrielle looked at Xena curiously. "And then," Xena laughed again, "I realized I'd better be careful what I wish for," she raised her eyebrow. The pair broke into laughter thinking back to the frozen cave they once awoke in.

"Do you know how much I love you?" Gabrielle said smiling.

"Mmmm…I dunno," Xena shrugged.

"Really?" Gabrielle closed an eye at the warrior. Xena laughed. There was lightness between them that neither had felt in a very long time.

"Perhaps I should show you…" Gabrielle flirted. Xena felt her heart skip as the bard kissed her neck sensually and lowered her kiss gradually.


Gabrielle sat up and smiled with satisfaction, "Some things just HAVE to wait," she pulled herself up. "Oh well…duty calls…come on…"

"That's how you show me you love me?" Xena huffed playfully.

"Well… it'll give you something to contemplate ," Gabrielle winked as she made her way across the hut and started getting dressed. The bard jumped when she felt the warrior's arms encircle her from behind.

"See…the thing is…I've never been much of one for contemplation, Gabrielle," she kissed her lover's neck. "I am more…action driven." Gabrielle closed her eyes wishing that they were in a different place now with no obligations and no expectations; just one another. She relaxed into the warrior for a moment and indulged in the sensations and emotions that only Xena's touch could produce. "You have to act to produce the results you desire…See what I mean," Xena whispered.

"MMM…I do," Gabrielle fought the desire to forget everything but the moment. "But," she turned and stroked the warrior's cheek, "Action requires planning." She kissed Xena and stretched to whisper slowly in her ear "So, I suggest you start mapping out your 'plans' now." Gabrielle pulled away, ducking under the warrior's arms and receiving a 'huff' in protest. "It's nice to know," the bard laughed as she finished dressing, "that even time can't change some things."

Eve found a smile sweeping across her face as she watched her parents approach. She had no idea what her mother was saying to Gabrielle. Xena was not quite a pace behind the bard, leaning over her shoulder whispering every few steps and receiving either a standard roll of the bard's eyes or a playful whack. "Haven't seen that in forever," Eve took a deep breath and sighed.

"What's that?" Varia asked. Eve gestured to the approaching pair.

Varia smiled, "She looks so happy."

"Yeah," Eve grinned. "I'll be glad when this is over," she said a bit solemnly. "I'm glad we're leaving though."

"Missing Virgil?" Varia asked.

The messenger turned to her friend. "I am…it's funny…a bit."

"Why?" Varia asked genuinely curious.

"Oh…I don't know….Virgil and I are apart so often. It's just the way it has always been…sometimes just days and other times…" her thought trailed off as she recalled his injury a few years ago. She sighed, "But being with them again…together….I don't know…I guess it makes me realize how much time we waste."

Varia tightened the ropes on a wagon and looked again at the pair approaching. They had stopped momentarily and Gabrielle was waving a finger at a smiling warrior. "I don't know…" Varia began with skepticism in her voice.

"What?" Eve asked.

"How they do it. In all this mess…how do you love someone in all this?...She was alone for so long…how do you even…" the queen pulled on another rope to insure it was secure.

Eve grabbed Varia's hand. "Varia…is this about Lysandra?"


"Uh huh…that's what I thought," Eve chuckled.

"I'm fine, Eve."

"Yeah…Look, Varia…here's the thing…there is no guarantee." She looked at her parents. Gabrielle was lightly poking Xena in the side. "Gabrielle never stopped loving her…..never. Sometimes I almost wished she would. She couldn't….If you asked her, Varia…she'd tell you she wouldn't change it…that I know."

"Just seems like a lot of heartbreak."

Eve touched the Queen's shoulder and laughed. "Sometimes it is. What they taught me is you can't avoid that….your still going to love her…you'll be more miserable if you avoid THAT…if you don't believe me ask my mother….either of them." She laughed harder at her own reality.

"What is going on here?" Gabrielle asked immediately aware that she and Xena were at the heart of some conversation. The warrior stood behind her, still grinning.

Eve laughed. "Nothing," she looked at Varia and winked causing the queen to avert her gaze.

"Ooookaaayyy." Gabrielle answered and looked to Xena as her face tightened slightly, "You ready?"

The warrior sighed and nodded as she placed her hand on the bard's cheek. "All right," Xena said; motioning for Varia to follow, "Let's get this over with."

"Are you all right?" Gabrielle asked Eve as a small blonde head barreled into her.

Eve smiled as Gabrielle held Gabriel to her. "I'm fine," the messenger said.

"Eve…..we will get to Virgil…I promise," Gabrielle assured taking hold of Eve's arm.

"Can I ride with you?" a pair of small blue eyes pleaded to the bard.

Gabrielle narrowed her gaze at the boy playfully, "I don't know….."

"Please?" he begged as his mother laughed.

"I suppose you can," Gabrielle winked leading him forward to find the warrior.

Xena smiled as Gabriel reached up to her and she placed him in front of the bard on Sappho. There was an unmistakable expression of happiness on Gabrielle's face whenever the boy was with her. The warrior was grateful for simple moments like these. They were quiet, peaceful moments that existed even amidst the constant danger that seemed to plague their lives. It reminded her of when Eve was a baby and the solace and joy that just holding her always seemed to evoke. Xena climbed onto her mare and looked over to her left and her right. To her left, Gabriel leaned into the bard grinning ear to ear. To the warrior's right; astride an elegant white mare; sat the beautiful woman she had never had the chance to see grow. It was all so familiar and yet so foreign. So much she had missed and a steely resolve that she would not miss another moment with her family.

Varia motioned for the line to begin to move and trotted her mare alongside Xena who now road several paces ahead of her bard and her daughter. The warrior glanced across the Amazon queen. "What is it, Varia?" The queen remained silent; eyes forward. Xena sighed, "Varia….we will reach Lysandra." The queen looked at the warrior in surprise and Xena attempted to suppress her knowing smile. She glanced behind and caught a glimpse of Gabrielle leaning over Gabriel whispering and saw the gleam in her lover's eyes. "Varia…..whatever you decide….it won't change how you feel about the girl," she laughed. "So… you either have to make peace with the idea that you are going to let her go….or you have to accept that loving her means you could lose her."

The queen nodded and looked at Xena. "Do you wish…." She stopped herself.

"I wish," the warrior took a deep breath, "That I never missed a moment. That's what I wish."

The ride continued for several hours in virtual silence. Gabriel fell asleep against his auntie; her arm cradling him gently when Xena began to slow her mare to a gentle trot. "What is it?" Varia asked attempting to sense whatever seemed to be grabbing the attention of the warrior.

"Gabrielle…" the warrior called back as the bard rode up slowly to meet her. Xena gestured into the forest behind some trees and Gabrielle nodded her understanding. Xena dismounted and took Gabriel from the bard placing him in front of his mother. Eve closed her eyes knowing somehow what was transpiring. "Stay here," Xena instructed the Amazon queen.

Varia was confused, "Where are you…."

Gabrielle smiled and reached for Varia's hand. "We'll be right back, Varia…just wait," she assured taking the warrior's hand and disappearing into the forest.


A few paces past the tree line the warrior and the bard found the small clearing where Michael stood. He offered them a solemn smile which both acknowledged in much the same manner. "What's wrong, Michael?" Gabrielle asked.

"Lucifer….we've managed to hold the gates of heaven; for now," he began.

"But?" the warrior interrupted.

"Amphipolis…" his jaw became taught.

"What about Amphipolis?" The bard asked; the worry in her voice palpable.

The angel's stoic nature seemed to break slightly. "It's begun," he said, "Worse than before and spreading fast."

Xena stepped toward him. "We should reach Virgil by morning….I expect Baal is not far behind."

"He's not," the angel stated plainly. "But even if you defeat Baal now…Lucifer has become powerful. He will rise….and it will be soon."

Gabrielle looked at Xena and then back to her old friend. "Michael….how are we supposed to," she shook her head in an attempt to gather her thoughts, "We have to go to Virgil." The angel stared blankly at the bard. "What? What are you trying to say?...Michael?"

Xena took a deep breath. "Baal will follow us…he's almost there, isn't he?...You want us to turn…head back to Amphipolis….isn't that right, Michael?" The angel did not respond.

Gabrielle ran her hands through her hair. "What? NO! We are not turning for Greece… no…This is crazy…we have to get to Virgil and Lysandra."

"You can't do anything for them now," Michael said plainly. The Phoenicians are upon them. Their battle is already beginning…..The best you can hope is to defeat them in Amphipolis."

The bard's fury was rising much as it had when Michael first appeared to her again. "You want me to tell Eve that we are going back to Greece…..leaving her husband to fight a god? You have lost your mind, Michael." Xena stared at the angel remaining completely silent. Gabrielle grabbed her hand, "Xena…tell him. We are not turning…..Tell him…"

"We will need to send some ahead. We can't traverse some of the passes in the dark…it's a different path…it will still take us several moons to reach Amphipolis," the warrior kept her eye on the angel.

"What?" Gabrielle grabbed the warrior and stepped in front of her. "Xena… we cannot leave Virgil and Lysandra…"

"I don't think we have a choice, Gabrielle." The warrior finally lowered her gaze to her lover, "We can't reach them in time….we can send Myrrine and a few ahead….Virgil and Lysandra are on their own now."

Gabrielle looked back at the angel. "When is it enough?" she asked; her anger burning again. Xena took her hand. "Gabrielle," she said softly, "Don't….there's nothing he can do. We need to talk to Eve and Varia." She looked back at the angel. "Michael…when this is over…."

He stretched his neck. "Let's hope it ends as you intend," he said acknowledging the bard with a nod and returning his stare to the warrior before taking his leave.

"Xena….how are…."

"Gabrielle…we both know there is no other way. Virgil's smart...we have to worry about Gabriel now…and Eve. That's what he would want us to do….so would Lysandra."

Gabrielle sighed, covering her eyes with her hand and shaking her head. "I promised her," she said.

Xena took a deep breath and exhaled. "I'll tell Eve."

"No." Gabrielle said plainly. "No…we'll tell them together."

Xena forced a smile. "I love you, Gabrielle."

Gabrielle put her head on the warrior's chest. "I never want her to feel that….that loss…"

"I know," the warrior said kissing the bard's head. "I know…..let's hope she never has to." Xena put her arm around Gabrielle as they slowly made their way back to their family knowing that the news they would deliver would be met with both anger and fear; and knowing that as it was so often they had little choice in the path that they must follow now.

Chapter 67: Chapter 67 Love and Sacrifice

Chapter 67 - Love and Sacrifice

Eve watched as her parents approached. Gabrielle's gaze was fixed on hers; a silent tear gracing the messenger's cheek. Eve stood perfectly still. Her eyes closed as she felt the bard's hand tenderly take hold of her. "Eve," Gabrielle began in nearly a whisper; her own heart breaking.

The beautiful dark haired woman before her took a deep breath and opened her eyes to face the gentle woman who had nurtured her for so many years now. Xena stood just behind the bard but Eve's eyes met only with the green in front of her. A sorrowful smile crept onto Eve's face; the Amazon Queen standing just behind the messenger; watching intently. "We aren't heading south," she said quietly. Gabrielle tightened her grip on the woman's hand searching the blue eyes begging comfort from her.

"What are you talking about?" a stern voice broke the hush from behind. Xena looked at Varia to convey resolve and understanding while the two women she loved more than her own life remained silently locked in whatever emotion was passing between them.

"We can't go south," Eve offered with sad understanding in her voice as Gabrielle reached for her cheek to comfort her.

"What? We have to get to them? They can't…" Varia felt fear completely overtake her.

"We won't reach them in time," Eve said holding the bard's hand as it pressed to her cheek. Gabrielle closed her eyes; a pain coursing through her that she had not felt since the evening she had lost Xena. "I understand," Eve said attempting to comfort the bard at the same time. Xena looked at the two women and felt a tear pass from her eye. There was a bond between them that she could never have imagined; a love that had grown into a connection forged by her absence. Eve took a deep breath and released Gabrielle's hand; turning to face the Amazon Queen. She took Varia's hands and spoke gently, "Varia…you have to have faith now….faith that they will find their way back to us."

"This is crazy. They are waiting for us….how are they…"

Xena was ready to speak when Eve continued, "They will do what they have to; just as we would." Gabrielle closed her eyes in a silent and private prayer; imploring Eli to protect Virgil and Lysandra and return them safely.

"We need to go," Xena said firmly. "Eve, you ride with Gabrielle and Gabriel at the rear….Varia, you and I will address the tribe and take the lead." She searched her daughter's eyes and was met with a nod and a forced smile. The warrior reached for the bard's hand as Gabrielle turned to face her. There were no words to speak. As it had been for many lifetimes; every emotion and an eternity's commitment was realized in just a glance. This was their life; here and now. They had traveled this road before and would lead those they loved again forward into the uncertainty of battle.


Virgil looked to Akil. The sound of hoofs approaching was growing by the second. He looked skyward; knowing. Xena and Gabrielle would not make it to them. Akil nodded his understanding and ran from the small stone building to hit the large gong in the courtyard signaling the infantry to gather at the perimeter. Lysandra stood and grabbed her sister; both grasping their swords as they followed Virgil through the door. She stopped in the door way and closed her eyes, "Varia…" she whispered before exhaling and continuing her journey forward.


The ride had been silent. Gabriel sat in front of his mother now. Gabrielle lost in her own private thoughts. She spoke in her heart to her friend:

Eli….please…if you can hear me…keep him safe….not Virgil….so much has been taken from her. Too much. Not that. I know there has to be a reason…Eli….please…tell me….what reason? Help me understand what you need from us….from me…what is the way? Love? How can love be the way with so much loss? So much fighting? You would return Xena to me to take Virgil from Eve? ….Please…Eli….just bring him home….whatever you need to take from me….just don't break her heart….

The bard could not shake the sinking feeling that she had inside. It reminded her of the emotion that passed through her when she found Xena's chakram covered with blood in the forest; something inside her shifted; an unexplainable sense of knowing that her life was going to change. She looked over at Eve and immediately saw that the woman was having the same reaction. Eve had mastered poise even in times of great fear. It was a piece of her role as the messenger. That just made it worse for Gabrielle.


Light filled the Egyptian courtyard in what seemed like an instant. Flames began to spread as the rolling sound of hoofs filled the air like thunder during a storm. The screeching of metal scraping on metal was deafening as flames seemed to flicker against swords raised in the air. "Arrows!" Virgil shouted; directing the archers to let loose with an assault. He swung his sword over his head with force pushing back the large Phoenician in front of him. Gaining the advantage he kicked the man in the chest with tremendous force and followed through with a swift cut of his blade. Behind him more swordsmen approached and he regained his footing running full force toward them with determination. His sword echoed in his ears as it clashed with two others in front of him. He remained focused and watched every move of each warrior's foot anticipating where each would move next. His foot met the thigh of one while his blade swiftly ran through the other. Again he spun and ran into the continued onslaught of purple clad men.


Reaching one of the first narrow passes; Xena stopped the march forward and instructed the tribe to set up camp alongside the equally narrowing pathway in a grassy field. Gabrielle and Eve set about their normal tasks in an attempt to shield Gabriel from the stress that both were consumed by. Varia had disappeared down a small trail. Xena looked at the bard and felt Gabrielle's hand tenderly caress her own. "Go," Gabrielle said with a soft and loving smile; sending the warrior off to speak with the Amazon Queen.


"Virgil!" Lysandra ran toward the man at the center of the courtyard; her back now against his. "There are too many," she shouted for him to hear her over the booming and clanking that surrounded them.

"Take as many as you can," he instructed. "The more we take the less he has to pursue them." That was the goal now. There would be no winning this battle and Virgil understood their role. Diminish the numbers of the enemy at whatever cost. Protect his family.

Lysandra pushed forward into a line of purple stained with red. Images of Varia and Gabrielle passed through her mind as she felt the tip of a blade cut her right arm. "Father!" she unconsciously beseeched the God of War to give her strength. She could swear she saw his face and she felt a burst of energy that seemed to travel through her and manifest into the force with which she now wielded her blade. She hit the sword in front of her with such momentum that it flew from the hand holding it. She showed him no mercy; her blade running him through and leaving him in a pool of red liquid as she continued her stride forward.


Varia was sitting on a log. She was staring forward into the trees. "Varia," Xena approached. The Amazon Queen did not answer. Xena stood behind her looking into the forest herself. "You have to believe she will make it back."

"And if she doesn't?" Varia asked quietly.

Xena took a deep breath. "Once…a long time ago….many years before you were born….I lost Gabrielle…Gabrielle lost me. It was the first time of more than I care to count." Xena paused and stilled herself as she recalled how the bard's thoughts and words had pierced her soul. "I heard her…every plea for me to return…every tear. Every time I left her; I felt her…I heard her. Say what you need to say, Varia. Say it in your heart…no matter what….she will hear you."

"I should have told her."

Xena let out a soft chuckle of understanding. "Some things, Varia….some things are beyond words."

Varia closed her eyes, "Why do I feel so lost?"

"Tell her…right now…in your heart, Varia. It takes more strength to love," the warrior touched the Amazon Queen's shoulder. "I know… also gives you more strength…..even when it hurts…Just tell her." Xena tightened her grasp momentarily. Feeling her friend begin to release some of her emotion; the warrior released her gentle hold and turned back to find her family.


"Virgil!" Lysandra yelled as she disarmed a large warrior. She gestured with her blade to a catapult that had been positioned closer. He nodded.

"Akil!" he screamed grabbing the attention of his friend. The man swung his sword over his head commanding a small band of men to follow him through the lines as a blast of light and a loud roar took over a nearby building in flames.

Virgil kept pushing through the line of men that held his force behind the perimeter from the catapults. He thrust the sword behind him throttling an assailant as he felt the sting of metal in his side. He spun to his left and kicked the offender; immediately plunging his blade into the man's stomach. "Down!" he yelled momentarily grabbing his wound to see the blood before pressing onward.


Gabriel was sleeping against his mother. Gabrielle sat watching the fire; Xena's arms around her as they had been so many nights in this lifetime. The bard looked skyward at the stars and closed her eyes. "Xena…"

"I know," the warrior said.

"I have this awful feeling."

Xena pulled Gabrielle closer as the bard looked over to the sleeping pair nearby. "Not this…"

"He'll make it back, Gabrielle."

The bard looked into the warrior's eyes. "When I found your chakram that day…before I found you…"

Xena tried to stop the conversation, "Gabrielle…that…"

"No….listen…I felt this sinking. Like I was being pulled under…just like that time we were with Autolycus. I knew I was breathing….but, Xena….it was like there was no air….I…"

"Gabrielle," Xena took the bard's face in her hands, "Virgil has his own path…they are not us."

"No…but they are part of us, Xena…this life…Eve missed having you….Gabriel…."

Xena kissed the bard gently. "Gabrielle…everything happens for a reason….everything….you taught me that."

Gabrielle closed her eyes again and shook her head, "I know that…I just find it hard to believe right now."

Xena smiled. "I watched you…with Eve," the bard looked at her now as she continued. "The way you were with her…the way she looks to you…if I had been here…"


"Listen to me, Gabrielle….I never left you…you know that. No matter what I have always been with you; part of you…and Eve…that is the proof…right there. Just like Virgil will always be a part of Eve….no matter what happens…and that is right before us too."

The bard smiled as she caressed the warrior's cheek, "When did you become a bard?"

Xena looked into the green eyes that held the secrets to her soul. "I'm no bard, Gabrielle…I have only learned from loving one for so long."


The roar and heat of the flames that now surrounded Virgil and his Egyptian allies was growing in intensity by the moment as the bone chilling sounds of cries and the smell of burning embers permeated the air. Virgil kept pushing, the blood still trickling from his side. Lysandra screamed as she watched her sister fall in the distance, "NO!" She ran for the woman's side falling to her knees beside her, "No…. NO!" Charmion did not move. Lysandra rose to her feet; anger and conviction driving her. Her sword spun and waved high and low. She no longer desired to defend but to assault and she pursued the purple adorned enemy with a fervor that would have made her father cringe.

Virgil twisted his sword at his side impaling one warrior behind him and using the force to strike the man in front of him with its blunt end as he finished his stroke. The Amazon was moving toward him again as Akil and his men began to break through the lines for the catapults. "Get them through!" He screamed. Lysandra looked to her left as a large warrior moved toward her friend. Virgil was engaged in a forward battle and he was pressing the man backward as hard as he could. His head was beginning to spin from the loss of blood and fluid. He squinted to keep his focus.

Lysandra screamed, "VIRGIL!" She spun on her heels to run toward him and felt herself knocked to the ground. She struck the man above her in the knee caps with her foot and jumped to her feet embedded her blade in his chest before withdrawing it. It was as if she were moving in slow motion. She pushed warriors aside, Egyptian, Phoenician; running at fell pace for her friend. The blood spurted from his side as his sword slowly dropped from his grasp. He looked toward her; his hand reaching forward as if to try and touch her. "Virgil….Virgil…." She ran faster than she ever had and felt as though she were standing still. She felt a deep cut on her back but kept pressing on.

"Lysandra!" He screamed and she turned to face her attacker; smacking him in the face with her elbow and using her sword much like a staff to knock him to the ground. She felt another sting as she reached his hand.

"Virgil," she whispered. "Hang on ….hang on…Virgil…."

He smiled at her; a small trail of blood traveling over his lip. "Love them….Lysandra… love them…tell them I love them…"

Tears fell from the young Amazon's eyes, "No… Virgil… Come on…hang in… hang on…. Virgil…open your eyes!" The sound of clanking metal was slowly diminishing as Akil reached the catapults and Baal's forces began their retreat. "Virgil…" she cried as she held him in her arms.

He grasped her hand, "They're your family," he said. "Protect them…" Lysandra closed here as his softly closed. The flames flicked and the smoke seemed to swirl around her now. "Virgil." She opened her eyes and swallowed her tears… "Gabrielle…" she whispered, "Help me…."

Chapter 68: Chapter 68 We Are Never Alone

Chapter 68 – We are Never Alone

Xena woke to find that Gabrielle was not sleeping next to her. She pulled herself up and squinted to bring the night back into focus. Gabrielle was sitting in front of the fire. The warrior could see her twirling the long stick with her thumb. Eve was next to her mimicking the same motion with a stick of her own. Silently, the warrior observed as the pair sat together. She waited to see if one would speak. Each woman seemed set upon her own thoughts; gazing into the flames; endlessly twirling. And then, as if from nowhere she heard tears begin to fall. They were not Gabrielle's and as she rested her hands on her knees, she could see Eve's head gently fall into the bard's embrace and the object that had occupied her hands be claimed by the flames before the pair.

At first she could not make out Gabrielle's words. She could only see her daughter holding onto the woman she loved. How much she had missed; so much time with them both; she thought again. She listened; wanting to know all that she had missed. Part of her wanting to badly to comfort them both and the other part reveling in the sight before her. She heard the unmistakable voice; the soft and gentle tone that so often calmed her in times of anger or doubt.

"Eve…. Eve….it's all right…let it go….just let it go…"

"I can't…I…"

"Yes, you can…"


Gabrielle pulled the woman closer and stroked her hair as if she were a small child. "You know...your mother today," the bard paused and brushed the woman's hair from her eyes, "She reminded me… why I love her so much." Eve looked at the bard. "Every time I look at you I remember why I love her so much…you are so like her," Gabrielle said.

The messenger's heart was heavy with the knowledge of how much time she and Virgil spent apart and how often. "It's hard sometimes… to be alone," Eve looked to the bard.

Gabrielle smiled and kissed Eve's head. "You're not alone."

Xena felt a wave of emotion course through her body as she listened. This conversation was exactly as it had been between her and Gabrielle so many years ago when the bard first followed the warrior to Amphipolis. The young bard; just a girl then; had found the warrior in the family mausoleum talking to her brother as if he were before her. Xena recalled what she had said to Lyceus, "It's hard to be alone." A soft voice; tender and compassionate; called to her from behind, 'You're not alone.' Often the warrior recalled that moment; the voice that somehow traveled through to her heart, the eyes that smiled at her and carried her soul in an instant. Before her now; history seemed to repeat as if replaying an old memory right before her eyes.

Eve's tears were flowing freely as Gabrielle softly rocked her. The bard felt the warrior's gaze but she did not turn; knowing that the woman in her arms believed they were completely alone. She simply held her daughter and let her cry; tenderly reassuring her. Xena heard her daughter as the tears finally began to quell. "I love you," she said to the woman still keeping her close.

"Oh Eve," Gabrielle sighed, "I love you too, Evey… always."


Gabrielle kissed Eve on the forehead as each turned to make her way back to the person sleeping next to them. The warrior had her eyes closed and her hands behind her head. She felt the familiar sensation of soft hair on her skin and the pressure of her lover's head slowly relaxing onto her chest. "I know you are awake," Gabrielle said as she draped her arm over the warrior's middle and held her.

Xena sighed. "Do you remember when you found me in the mausoleum?'

"Which mausoleum and which time?" The bard joked as her hand lightly began to caress the woman next to her.

"Hummm.. .. the first time," Xena answered.

"Mmm…I know," the bard responded. "Of course I remember."

Xena remained quiet for a long moment. "I loved you then."

Gabrielle smiled. "I know...Xena…I…"

"Gabrielle….he might make it back… they both might." There was no response. "Gabrielle?"

"Xena… I can't….I want to believe that….I do," she said as she gripped the warrior tighter. "Virgil…he's my best friend….he's Joxer's son….Gabriel's father…..Eve's husband….I have to…"

"I understand," the warrior said. Gabrielle needed to be prepared; for Eve, for Gabriel. The warrior felt a tear on her skin. Only here would the bard release any of her own emotion; only in this place. "I'm here," Xena assured the bard. "Always."

"I know," Gabrielle said. "Maybe I say it too much…"

"What's that?" the warrior asked pulling the woman she loved closer.

"That I love you."

Xena smiled, "Gabrielle…I promise you… however long we are both here…I will never let a day go by again without telling you that …and I will never grow tired of hearing you say it."

Gabrielle cried softly into the warrior's chest. It was the safest place she knew; Xena's arms. The place she was no one but Gabrielle; the place where everything else faded to nothingness. "Xena?"


"How am I going to kill a god?"

"I don't know, Gabrielle…I don't know...but we'll figure it out when we have to….sleep now."

"How can I…"

The warrior lowered herself to capture the bard's lips in a loving kiss. "Sleep…tomorrow is a new day. Just sleep."

"I love you, Xena."

"I love you, Gabrielle."


Morning came quickly and found the warrior and the bard being awakened by a small, bouncy boy. Gabriel was anxious to do something; to do anything. His boundless energy made more potent by the stress that was surrounding him. Eve called after him but it was hopeless. The warrior grabbed the boy and pulled him down, tickling him mercilessly. His laughter filled the air and brought a renewed sense of possibility to all three women. All three understood that Gabriel's happiness and Gabriel's future rested with how each of them would respond to whatever might lay ahead in the days to come.

"All right," the warrior said getting to her feet. "Let's go down that path and catch something for breakfast. Whatcha' say?" The bard smiled and started to rise. "Come on…Queen Gabrielle," Xena joked.

"Oh no…I'll stay here."

"No you won't," the warrior smiled mischievously. "This is a family affair…let's get going."

Varia had crossed the campsite and was listening, "Shouldn't we get moving?" the Amazon Queen asked as calmly as she could manage.

"Varia…it will be a hard ride today. Everyone needs to eat and to rest before we move. We'll leave mid-morning; either way we will have to stop at the next pass. There is no way we can navigate it in the night with the wagons." The truth was that Xena knew that Gabriel needed to feel secure. And, while she did not want to say anything; she hoped that Myrrine would have reached Virgil and Lysandra by now. If she had; and if they rode with little to carry; they might be able to meet at the next pass. She still held out hope for a reunion. Regardless, all that Xena said was true. They would have to stop again anyway. It made no sense to push their pace until they passed through the next valley.

Gabriel ran ahead on the path, pulling Gabrielle along and chattering about how he was going to catch a giant fish. Eve walked slowly beside her mother. "Eve," Xena began. The woman beside her looked to her with sadness in her eyes. "I know that you must…."

Eve stopped her mother. "Mother….Virgil and I….we have been through this so many times. Maybe that's what makes it so hard. Every time he's made it…every time…"

"So…then you should be…"

Eve took her mother's hand. "I hope he does, mother. But…I know…know what he would do to protect us…to protect you and Gabrielle."


Eve smiled now. "You know…well, maybe you don't know," she mused to herself. "Virgil spent his whole life listening to stories about you and Gabrielle…"

"Joxer…" Xena smiled sadly. Eve nodded. "He loved Gabrielle so much."

"Yes…and he loved you….and so does Virgil….more than you know….He would never want to see you two parted again…It nearly killed him watching her," she gestured ahead. A smile took over her face as she continued. "When Gabriel came so much changed…for all of us….but strangely…mostly for Gabrielle." The warrior looked at her daughter. "She started to laugh more, smile more… Virgil always has said he thought Gabriel was somehow meant for her." She looked ahead and saw Gabrielle smiling as Gabriel waved his hands; carrying on about whatever he was telling her. Xena watched and nodded. Gabriel was a bit like Joxer; always talking and always making up stories. And, she thought, he was a bit like Gabrielle; wide eyed to the world; taking everything in and seeing wonder in everything. She chuckled as Eve continued. "No…Mother…I know Virgil…I just do." She stopped and closed her eyes. "I can feel him…." Xena understood. She looked ahead at Gabrielle and her grandson.

The warrior smiled broadly as the boy splashed into the water beckoning her forward. She complied happily; looking to the shore to see the two women she knew better than anyone sitting side by side observing. "Gabriel…" she whispered. "Remember the log?" He nodded with a grin. "When I say," she grinned.

Xena threw several fish to shore and Gabriel one large one. As the warrior had learned over the years, Gabrielle had grown a bit bored by the fishing spectacle and had turned to Eve. "Now…" she whispered like a precocious child. Gabriel felt beneath the water; wiggling his small fingers and listening intently. He pitched the trout in the air. "Heads up!" The warrior yelled in delight as the fish flew in between the pair; the head tapping Eve and the tail smacking the bard across the face.

"XENA!" Gabrielle yelled. Gabriel laughed hysterically as his auntie stood wiping slime from her cheek and his mother shook off the initial stun of her assault; that he fell into the water holding his sides; the warrior shrugging as though she couldn't understand how he had learned that.

Gabrielle scolded the warrior from her position, "Very…funny…Xena.." she put her hand on her hip. Eve suddenly broke out into laughter as the pair sheepishly headed to shore. Xena pouted her innocence as she approached the bard with her arms extended; Gabriel still making his way up the small embankment. Seeing Xena headed for her Gabrielle warned again with a finger, "Xena…no…Xena.."

With a wide smile the warrior scooped the bard into her arms and swiftly ran her into the river. Eve looked skyward, "I wish you were here, Virgil," she said unable to contain the momentary happiness she felt as her parents looked into one another's eyes and her son giggles in delight. Whatever was to come…they were not alone.

Chapter 69: Chapter 69 - Two of a Kind

Chapter 69 – Two of A Kind

Bodies were scattered about the center of the small village. Smoke lingered in the air as Akil made his way toward the young Amazon. Lysandra held Virgil's head in her lap. She could not move; her eyes completely fixed on him as Akil stood over her shoulder; the pain and the shock of the day circling through the young woman. "I tried to wake him up," she strained to speak.

Akil felt for the man's breath. "He's gone," he said quietly; gently touching Lysandra's shoulder.

"I have to take him to Eve," she whispered. Akil tightened his grip in understanding. "Will you help me?" She asked. The man offered her a compassionate smile when the sound of approaching horses startled them both; Akil drawing his weapon again. Lysandra squinted and raised her hand to grab onto his. "It's okay," she said as Myrrine and her small party came into clearer view. "They are friends."

Myrrine caught sight of Lysandra and slowed the horses to a steady trot. She dismounted at what had been the perimeter defense just hours ago and handed her reins to another woman; slowly making her way to her Amazon sister. Akil took hold of Virgil as he motioned for another man to approach. "Go," he instructed the young woman. Lysandra kept a firm grip on her friend as if thinking that simply holding onto Virgil might somehow will him back to them. Akil's eyes softened. "Go, child…he is with you…go." Lysandra slowly loosened her grip; watching as her new friends carried Virgil into one of the small remaining buildings. She turned just as Myrrine reached her. The older Amazon looked into the younger woman's eyes. Lysandra's cheeks were stained by tears and there was heaviness about her as she looked across the courtyard to her sister that lay lifeless.

"There were so many," she said softly to the older woman. "There are fewer now," she said; the disgust and resolve notable in her voice.

"Lysandra," Myrrine began.

Lysandra took a deep breath; closing her eyes and stiffening her posture. She pictured Gabrielle in her mind. She pictured the father she had never known and then she pictured Varia. The images manifested in her expression and her face revealed her determination as she opened her eyes. "We need to take them back," she said plainly to Myrrine. Her friend nodded her understanding. "Where are they headed?" Lysandra asked beginning to walk toward her fallen sister and finally surveying the damage that had been done; to both sides of the battle.

"Amphipolis," Myrrine answered.

Lysandra nodded her understanding. She had seen the Phoenician offensive and she understood their tactics and their fighting style. Her knowledge would be beneficial now when an assault came and she remembered what Virgil had said to her ' They are your family; protect them. ' "We need to leave soon." She looked about. The food storage building was smoldering as was the small building that was used to store munitions. Lysandra sighed. "When did they leave?"

"They should reach the second pass tonight," her sister offered. "Xena will stop there."

The younger amazon knelt beside her older sister. "We can reach them if we ride hard and light." Myrrine agreed. "Water the horses. I will see Akil and make the preparations."

"Lysandra?" The younger Amazon raised her gaze to meet her friend's. "I am sorry about Charmion and Virgil."

Lysandra regained her footing and took the woman's hand. She felt a strange sense of understanding. Virgil could have taken a defensive pose. He knew. She understood now. One day she would be Queen. Now she needed to carry that mantle back to her family and carry her sister and her friend with pride. Her heart ached for them. More, her heart ached for the woman that called her sister before she left and the little boy whom she loved. She needed to return him to them with pride and with love; not with sorrow. "I know," she said.


Gabriel sat in front of Gabrielle on Sappho with Xena riding beside them. Just behind, Eve rode next to Varia. "Eve?" Varia spoke cautiously. The messenger looked across to her friend. "Lysandra and Virgil are good fighters; both of them."

Eve sighed and offered her friend a sad smile. She considered her words carefully. Something in the messenger told her all she needed to know. Virgil would not return to them. She couldn't explain how she knew that; but she knew. It was as if she had felt him pass through her somehow. She understood. In truth her heart was breaking. She looked ahead at her parents and her son and felt the love she had for them; the love her husband had for them all. He was selfless; truly. That is why she loved him so much. He was like her mother; the mother that struggled to accept her role in their family. He was her Gabrielle and Eve was grateful for him. She spoke carefully. "Varia," she paused and took a deep breath. "Lysandra will make it back…I am sure." She was sure. If for no other reason than her knowledge that Virgil would have made certain of that.

The Amazon Queen tilted her head at her friend, "Eve…."

Eve smiled. "It's all right, Varia….some things are beyond words."

Varia's eyes grew wide. Xena had said the same thing to her yesterday. Some things are beyond words. The Amazon Queen contemplated the women that rode with her now. There was something within this family that Varia could not explain. Her words began to escape without thought, "I don't know why I didn't tell her."

Eve chuckled. "Varia…she knows. We all know." She shook her head and then thought for a long moment. "I will miss him," she said; feeling a tear gather in her eye. Varia looked over and was surprised to see that in spite of Eve's pain she was smiling. Eve caught her astonished gaze. "Varia," she said gesturing to her parents, "I have been more loved than any person ever has…Virgil wanted me to know that….and I do."

It was true and it was a truth that Eve understood now more than ever before. She worried for Gabriel. Loss was difficult for everyone. This would be his first real loss; his father. As she watched Gabrielle gently play with her son's blonde locks and whisper in his ear; she smiled and allowed the tears to gently and silently fall. She turned to her friend, "You can only mourn because you love, Varia. I've lived without love. That is far more painful in the end."

"Well, you are the messenger," Varia observed.

Eve laughed. "Only because of them," she gestured forward again.


Xena slowed the progression and motioned to the left. Gabrielle nodded. She recognized this place. They had been here before many years ago with Eve on their way back to Amphipolis; this exact place. She smiled at the warrior. There had been happy memories here for them. It was a fitting place to stop. She turned Sappho to face Eve and saw the woman's smile. Eve seemed to remember too. There was a large tree to the right that all three noticed. It had a large branch that touched the ground and then curved its way back skyward. It had changed very little in the years that had passed. The women exchanged a smile as the warrior dismounted and walked to Varia.

"We're only a short distance to the pass," she said. "There's a lake down the hill over there. You can take the horses; we'll take the rest and set up for the night. The sun was still up but slowly dipping. Xena wanted to be settled before nightfall.

Setting up a campsite was relaxing for Gabrielle. It always calmed her. The actions of the familiar routine put her nerves and her emotions at ease. She unpacked some of their cooking gear and looked over at Xena who was encouraging Gabriel to climb a small apple tree that had somehow managed to thrive nearby. She shook her head as Xena demonstrated her incredible climbing prowess. The warrior was ever the competitor. The sight of the small blonde head and the tall, commanding warrior racing to climb a branch filled her with happiness as she rolled her eyes. She turned to look for Eve and her heart stopped.

Eve had frozen. The pot that had been in her hand fell and tumbled across the ground. Six horses approached. Four had riders astride; Lysandra at the head. Gabrielle could see the gash on the Amazon's cheek and the scratches that adorned her forehead; even in the distance. She swallowed hard as the sight of the other two horses came into view. Noticeably absent in the saddle were Charmion and Virgil. Her heart dropped and she moved to Eve; her hands tenderly grasping both shoulders. The silence itself was deafening. Xena's laughter abruptly stopped as she lowered herself from the tree and reached up to guide her grandson down; placing him squarely in front of her and holding him tightly to her.

Lysandra stopped the group and jumped from her horse handing the reins to Myrrine. She walked deliberately and confidently to the two women standing before her. She saw Gabrielle but she left her eyes upon the beautiful dark haired woman in front of the bard. She took a deep breath and offered Eve a solemn smile. Eve closed her eyes. Reality had come. There were no more questions to ask; Virgil was gone. Gabrielle held onto Eve as Lysandra spoke; her words pouring through the hearts of both women. The young Amazon spoke with an understanding and compassion that related the maturity she had grown into. "There were many. Many. Virgil led the attack. That was the decision. No defense. We would weaken them; and we did. He did." She paused and took a breath. And then she placed her hand on Eve's as the woman opened her eyes.

Eve forced a smile of understanding and looked into Lysandra's eyes; noticing that Charmion also was not riding, "Lysandra…I am sorry about your sister."

Lysandra tightened her grasp on the messenger as Gabrielle watched and listened. "Eve," Lysandra began, "I am an Amazon. I have many sisters….but none…none that I love more than the one I stand before now." Gabrielle closed her eyes and inhaled. Eve allowed a tear to fall as the young woman continued. "I promised him…You are my family. That I will protect with my life; just as he did for me."

Eve nodded feeling Gabrielle's loving touch sooth her pain; if only slightly. Eve touched Gabrielle's hand and turned to find her son and her mother; leaving the young Amazon to face the only mother she had ever known. Gabrielle was overcome with grief and with pride in the young Amazon she had nurtured; but most of all with love. "You have grown, Lysandra," she raised her hand to the face before her. "There is someone you must go see…life is short, my daughter." She kissed her on the forehead and made her way to Myrrine. "Take them by the lake. Xena and I will meet you there." The Amazon nodded her understanding.


Xena stood before the funeral pyres waiting to light them as the sun finally set. Eve held Gabriel to her. She couldn't help but think about Gabrielle; understanding now in truth what it had been like for her to lose Xena. The bard stood next to her; her own heart churning as she thought of Virgil, thought of Joxer, and thought of the woman and boy beside her whom she loved in a way she could not describe. The sound of Xena's voice committing their spirits and the crackling of the flames that began to burn hotter consumed the bard. The flames reflected in the water beyond and the sparks danced above like stars in the sky. It was so familiar and still always foreign.

They stood for a long time as the pyres slowly began to dwindle. Gabriel's cheeks were flushed from the heat of the fires and his eyes red from the tears than continued to fall. Eve looked at Gabrielle needing no words to convey her question. The bard put her hand out to the boy who threw himself into her embrace. Gabrielle looked to Xena who nodded. Each had someone they needed to comfort now. Xena stood next to her daughter, and Gabrielle thought silently how much alike and how beautiful they both were. The glow of the fire highlighted each one's face and reflected tinges of red and gold in the dark hair that fell past their shoulders. So much sadness filled the moment and so much love in Gabrielle's heart for them both. It was a sight she never thought she would see; the two of them together; side by side. It filled her soul as much as the burning embers before them broke her heart.

Gabrielle made some tea and sat own on the bed roll with Gabriel. He sipped her offering but stared hopelessly between his small legs. "I will never see him again," he said to her.

The bard took a deep breath and thought about the women they had just left. "Gabriel," she began, "Look up at those stars." He slowly followed her instruction. "See all of them?" He nodded sadly. "They can't see us right now…but we are here." He looked at her. "Hmmm….they reflect to us from far away….When you grandmother was gone sometimes I felt like you do right now…and even you're your grandfather was gone….your father and I sometimes would talk about him and miss him." She stopped again and thought about Xena and Eve. She sighed. "Then, I would look at your father and see your grandfather…I would look at your mother and see your grandmother….and now I look at you and I see your father….just like those stars…they reflect right back to me."

"But he doesn't know…"

"My Gabriel," she said pulling him to her and letting him cling as he had since his birth. "Your father will hear everything you tell him…even if you only say it in your heart. And when you look at your grandmother…and even at your mother…you will see him…because part of him is there…just like it is in you."


"Yes, Gabriel."

"Will you die?'

Gabrielle tried not to chuckle. His innocence was so refreshing. "Someday, Gabriel…we will all die."

"Will you hear me?"

"Gabriel… nothing could ever take me from you. All you ever have to do is think about right now…and look up at a star and no matter how far apart we are – if you remember me…I will be with you."

The boy let out a few tears as Gabrielle held him and his hand reached unconsciously for her hair; twirling it as his grandmother and mother often did sticks in a fire. "I'm glad you're my grandmother," he said earnestly having no way to know what that statement would mean to the woman holding him.

Gabrielle felt her own tears flow. "And I'm glad you're my Gabriel," she said as he fell asleep in her embrace.

gxgxgxgxgxgxgxgxgxgxgxgxgxgxg xgxg

Eve and Xena slowly made their way back up the hill. Neither was tired and both took a seat by the low fire facing the sleeping bard and boy.

"Two of a kind," Xena laughed.

Eve smiled. "They are. Always have been."


Eve was lost twirling a stick in the fire. "It's all right Mother."

Xena sighed. "No. It's not."

Eve looked over at Gabrielle and Gabriel and shook her head. Her heart was heavy. "I wish we had been able to have more children," she said thoughtfully. "He loved children." Xena understood that sentiment all too well. Looking across at the woman she loved holding her grandson she couldn't help but feel the same way. She wished they could have had that time with Eve; together. She wished Hope had been different; that Solan would have lived. She wished Gabrielle would believe she was truly Eve's mother and she knew her bard was still afraid. With that small boy; there was no doubt; not for the warrior. She would have given anything for Gabrielle to feel that. Eve saw the glistening tear in her mother's eye. "Same thought, huh?" she smiled.

Xena sighed. "Mmmm….she still…."

"I know," Eve said glancing over. "Virgil," she laughed, "When I first told him I was pregnant…he didn't believe me…I don't think he believed Gabriel was real for about 2 years." She laughed again. Somehow Eve seemed to understand Gabrielle's reluctance to embrace their family's reality more than anyone.

"I don't know why…she…"

Eve smiled. "She knows, Mother…she just loves you so much…that she doesn't want to take anything away from you.

Xena shook her head knowing that was partly the truth. No matter how many times Gabrielle said she understood; the warrior knew she still was reluctant to truly see herself as Eve's mother and she knew part of that was that she did not want to come between Eve and Xena. But, Xena knew there was more. She looked at her daughter. "It is…but it's Hope too…I know that. I wish she could see herself sometimes." Eve laughed a bit continuing to twirl her stick and soliciting a head shake from her mother. "Twirly," Xena mustered.

"What?" Eve asked.

"All three of you….Twirly…" Eve looked at her Mother as though she was crazy and Xena started to laugh in earnest. "You and Gabrielle….twirling the sticks in the fire….and stretch over there." She pointed to Gabriel whose fingers were entwined in Gabrielle's hair.

"Stretch?" Eve asked.

"Yeah… stretch."

"Why stretch?"

"Don't you ever watch him? He's always stretching his back, stretching his neck." Eve shook her head with a smile. "What?" the warrior asked.

"Oh nothing."

"What?' Xena said getting up to grab a log and stretching her back on the way. Eve laughed out loud stirring Gabrielle slightly. "What's so funny, Eve?"


"What I do?"

"Really, Mother?" Xena shrugged not understanding. "You stretch your back constantly.

"I'm old, Eve."

Eve shook her head and laughed. She sat for a moment and then looked to the stars. "I will miss him," she said with a tear running down her cheek.

"I know," Xena said. "We all will."

Eve smiled at her mother. "I'm glad he got to see us all together again." Xena smiled at her daughter's words. "Thank you, Mother."

"For what?"

"I'm just glad you're my mother."

Xena smiled. "Remember you said that, Eve," she winked.

Chapter 70: Chapter 70 - My Treasure

Chapter 70 – My Treasure

Gabrielle awoke and saw the small boy still nestled against her. She kissed him on the head. "Oh, my Gabriel," she said as she closed her eyes for a moment. She gently removed herself from him and went to find Xena. She needed to see the warrior now. Xena was sleeping nearby a few feet from Eve. Gabrielle leaned over and looked at the woman; the love in heart nearly bursting it open. Tenderly she caressed Xena's face arousing the warrior from her sleep.

"Gabrielle?" Xena whispered. The bard offered a soft smile. Xena looked at her and immediately understood. "I'll get Gabriel," Xena said. She headed for their bed rolls and lifted the small figure bringing him to his mother's side. Gabrielle bent over and kissed both Eve and Gabriel on the head; studying them both with her tears silently beginning to fall. Xena put out her hand and Gabrielle accepted it. The warrior grabbed one of their blankets and led her bard away. Silently they walked away from the camp until they found a spot near the water.

The moon and the stars reflected in the water casting a beautiful glow about them. Xena sat down and set Gabrielle between her legs so the bar could rest against her. "It's beautiful," the bard said looking out at the water and the sky.

Xena took a deep breath. Her gaze remained fixed on the woman in her arms as it always did. "Yes…it is," she said as if speaking to herself.



"I can't remember when I didn't love you."

The warrior held the bard's hands and rested her chin on the woman's shoulder. "Gabrielle…I don't think there was ever a moment I didn't love you….I know there never will be again."

Gabrielle closed her eyes and drank in all of the emotions that ran through her soul. She felt Xena's lips kiss her head and linger. She turned in her warrior's arms and looked into the eyes that held every secret of her own heart, her soul and her mind. "Xena…" a tear fell across her cheek.

Xena smiled. The moonlight reflected in her eyes. Gabrielle could see the heavens in the pools of blue before her. She wiped Gabrielle's tear with her thumb as she took the loving face before her into her hands. "You are so beautiful," Xena said; her eyes glistening with the overflowing love that she felt for the woman in her arms. Gabrielle brushed the warrior's cheek as their lips met slowly and gently. Xena's kiss took the bard's breath away. The way that she held Gabrielle; the softness in her touch whispered the truth to the bard. Xena carefully lowered them backward; never releasing her hold on Gabrielle.

There was something in this moment that neither could fully comprehend. Somehow it was as if the truth had suddenly washed over them both; who they were, what they had been given. Gabrielle had looked at Gabriel and she had seen a piece of herself for the first time. Xena had watched them sleeping together and had been filled with a renewed sense of hope. It was as if Virgil somehow was imploring them to see. They had missed nothing; not ever. What existed between them had brought them everything. Xena felt a need to make love to Gabrielle unlike any she ever had. She needed to communicate the truth to her; what she sensed Gabrielle had finally begun to truly understand. There had to be a way to show her; show this woman she loved so completely; that they were truly bonded; forever.

Gabrielle closed her eyes and inhaled every touch. She touched Xena slowly and tenderly seeking to convey in every instant the depth of the love she felt. Xena lost her breath; lost her reason. All she knew in this moment was that Gabrielle was a part of her. They could never truly lose one another. Gabrielle's hands searched for Xena's to hold to steady her emotion and the need that seemed to be carrying her across a threshold she had never before crossed. 'I love you' would never be enough. There were no words; not even for a bard. Gabrielle closed her eyes as she felt her body being lifted. Her spirit seemed to follow as if she could almost see herself; as if she were able to feel the love emanating from them both from somewhere above.

"Gabrielle…." Xena whispered as her own body and soul began to soar. "Always…Gabrielle….always…"

There was no more either could say as they lay in one another's arms looking at the stars mirrored in the water. The morning would bring them into another journey. It would lead to another battle. That was understood. "Xena…"

"Yes, Gabrielle?"

"Thank you."

"For what?" the warrior asked as she stroked her lover's hair.

"For loving me."

Xena felt a tear fall across her cheek. "Gabrielle….You are more than my life…my soul."

The bard smiled and held the woman she loved tighter. "You are all of my prayers answered."

Xena closed her eyes. She understood what that meant. Gabrielle understood. She pulled the woman closer and happily drifted away with little care for what the next day might bring; eternally grateful for her greatest treasure; the love between them.

Chapter 71: Chapter 71 - Together We Begin

Chapter 71 – Together We Begin

Gabrielle woke before the warrior as the sun was just rising over the water; casting a new and enchanting glow over its surface. She inhaled and smiled. She had no idea what today might bring. What she did know was that Xena was beside her; her daughter…HER daughter and Gabriel. There was a sense of hope in the bard that she had not felt in many years; a deep and abiding love and hope that filled every part of her being. The light on the water seemed to glow a bit. Gabrielle closed her eyes. "Thank you, Eli." She recalled his words about Gabriel, ' He is a seed…the seed of faith…planted by you both…by your faith in one another, in your bond '. She smiled; indeed he was.

In the distance Gabrielle caught sight of two figures walking along the water. They looked almost like silhouettes. She concentrated and realized it was Lysandra and Varia; hand in hand; oblivious to anyone else in the world. She roused the warrior and silenced Xena's groan with a press of her finger to the warrior's lips. The bard pointed off in the distance toward the edge of the water and the warrior smiled; still holding onto Gabrielle.

"Remind you of anyone?" Gabrielle chuckled.

Xena laughed a bit. "MMM….we were never like that," the warrior joked. Gabrielle laughed and Xena took her back into her arms; kissing her.

Lysandra turned slightly and caught a glimpse of the bard and the warrior kissing as only two people in love can. She bumped Varia and nodded in their direction. Varia smiled and squeezed Lysandra's hand. There was something unique about being in the presence of Xena and Gabrielle for all that loved them. Their love overflowed and it seemed to cleanse and bathe everyone they touched in a way that was unexplainable. Lysandra's heart sang.

"You love her very much," Varia said to her new lover.

Lysandra fought back a tear. "She's my mother," she said with an honestly that took her own breath away.

Varia smiled. "Not sure that's so good for me," she poked.

The younger amazon laughed and looked into the queen's eyes. "I love you, Varia."

"Yep…you must be hers," Varia laughed. Lysandra shook her head an accepted the queen's kiss.

Xena broke their kiss and gently stroked Gabrielle's cheek. "They're watching," she smiled. Gabrielle laughed and pulled herself up outstretching her hand to the warrior. The pair began the short trek toward Lysandra and Varia who were headed up the small hill toward the warrior and the bard; the four meeting with a quiet knowing exchange between all.


Eve was sitting by the fire with Gabriel stirring a pot when the foursome walked up the hill. Gabriel ran toward the warrior and the bard and was greeted with Xena lifting him in the air and placing him on her back. Eve smiled and spoke silently to her husband, 'I love you, Virgil,' she said.

"I need to go get things ready," Varia said. Lysandra started to follow when the queen stopped her. "No…you stay here…we'll be leaving soon enough. " Lysandra was surprised but nodded her affectionate appreciation.

"I'm going to go check on the horses and the wagons," the warrior said as Gabriel slid off her back and to the ground grabbing onto Lysandra's hand and pulling her. Xena kissed Gabrielle on the cheek and smiled at their daughter.

"Can you help me with my slingshot?" Gabriel implored the young Amazon. Lysandra smiled and nodded. She was relieved to see that Gabriel was all right and was happy to comply with his request.

Gabrielle sat down next to Eve and picked up a stick, poking the fire and turning it between her thumbs. She wasn't quite sure now what she should say. "Twirly," Eve said with a slight smile.

"What?" the bard asked.

"Mother called us Twirly."

Gabrielle laughed and kept at her task, "Why?" Eve gestured to the stick in Gabrielle's hand. "Oh," the bard nodded. "Well…I guess you get her eyes and my twirls," the bard laughed.

Eve was surprised at the tone in Gabrielle's voice. For some time Eve had tried to suggest subtly to Gabrielle that she was truly the messenger's mother. She wondered what had changed. She decided to test the waters again. "Mother?" she asked.

Gabrielle took a deep breath and smiled. "Yes, Eve?" Eve's face lit up. Gabrielle had crossed her bridge and somehow Eve knew she had Virgil to thank. Gabrielle giggled seeing her daughter's reaction. "Ummm…I know…"

"What?" Eve asked.

"Well…let's just say stubborn runs on both sides of your family," the bard raised an eyebrow.

Eve nodded. "Can I ask you something?"

"Of course," Gabrielle said.

"My sister…"

Gabrielle took a deep breath. "Hope…oh Eve," Gabrielle sighed and looked to the sky. "Hope was so lost…so lost…but…I will always love her. That's how it is with our children. It doesn't matter - some part of me was in her and so some part of her remains in me."

"Do you miss her?" Eve asked earnestly.

Gabrielle turned to her daughter and considered the expression on the messenger's face. "I miss the person I wanted her to be."

Eve smiled. "Thank you."

"Eve…I've told you before – there's nothing to thank me for."

Eve nodded. "There is."

Gabrielle kissed the messenger's head. "I'm going to go find Varia…keep those two out of trouble, will you please," she pointed to Lysandra and Gabriel. Eve nodded with a laugh.


Xena stood next to Sappho and looked up at Gabrielle. She held onto the reins silently; looking at her lover.

"What is it?" Gabrielle asked.

Xena shook her head. "Just a feeling." Gabrielle nodded her understanding. She felt it too. They did not have that much farther to travel once they made it through this pass. She was concerned what might wait on the other side as well.

"Just be careful," Gabrielle said.

"Always," the warrior smiled.

Eve rode up alongside Gabrielle and the bard noticed that Eve had a sword at the horse's side. "Eve?"

Eve sighed. "It's my family. I won't be unprepared," she said firmly. The bard understood. Xena reappeared with Gabriel and lifted him onto the front of Sappho. Eve looked at the pair beside her, "Here we go," she said.


"LEFT!" the commander yelled through a sea of purple. "I SAID LEFT! We do not want them to see us immediately… LEFT….behind that tree line."

The lines of warriors shifted into the cover of the trees. The path approaching the tree line was narrow. It meant that any procession of travelers would only be able to forma line two or three across. This gave the Phoenician's an enormous advantage. The Amazons would walk into a wide open space and have no time to react when the Phoenician attack broke from behind the cover of the forest ahead.

A bellowing voice broke through the chatter of warriors and commanders. "HIRAM!" The commander broke through the tree line as the god appeared. "You will stop them… as many as you must…and if you can - the boy…he will be with the Queen or the messenger. Kill him. That is the objective."


The sound of horses in the distance startled Gabrielle. She stopped Sappho and took hold of Gabriel tightly with one arm. "Xena!" She called ahead.

The warrior had heard it too and was already headed to Gabrielle's position in the middle of the line. "I'll go," Xena said.

Gabrielle broke the ranks and looked behind them. A black stallion was gracefully trotting at the head of a steady procession. Gabrielle smiled. Xena looked at her with confusion. "Anpu," the bard smiled. Anpu was one of the bard's dearest friends. He had taken her in and had been a wonderful confidante in her first days in Egypt after the warrior died. His father had been one of Cleopatra's royal guards and he and his brother, Akil had sheltered Virgil, Eve and Gabrielle as various times over the last few years. Gabrielle had fought at his side and even came to his aid when his wife needed care and he was away.

"Anpu?" the warrior questioned soliciting a smile from her daughter as Gabrielle trotted ahead to meet her friend.

"It's a good thing, Mother," Eve said. "Anpu is a good friend…and a skilled fighter." Xena watched closely; always apprehensive of people she did not know.

The bard returned riding side by side with her friend. Gabriel was beaming. He had never met Anpu but had heard many stories about the man from Gabrielle and his parents. "Xena," Gabrielle smiled, "this is Anpu…a good friend."

Anpu was a large man. Xena placed him in his mid-forties. He had dark skin and strong arms. What she noticed immediately, however, was the kind twinkle in his deep brown eyes. It set her mind as ease. "It is an honor to meet the warrior princess," he said.

"The honor is mine," Xena returned his compliment. "Any friend to Gabrielle is a friend to me."

The man bowed his head in understanding and turned to the messenger. "I am sorry about Virgil, my friend."

Eve sighed, "thank you."

"But," he looked to Gabriel, "I see we still have him here." It was true; Gabriel had a twinkle about him that often reflected his father's mischievous energy. Eve smiled broadly at the affectionate recognition of their son. "So," he turned to Gabrielle. "Where would you like us to be?"

Gabrielle looked to Xena. "The front, with me," the warrior instructed.

He nodded and reached for Gabrielle. "She is more beautiful than you described, old friend."

Gabrielle beamed. "She is." He followed the warrior to the front with his men as Eve and Gabrielle returned to their positions.

"I'm glad they came," Eve said.

Gabrielle smiled. "Eve…"


"Don't raise that sword unless you have to."


"Eve….if you have to…only if you have to." Eve nodded her understanding. Now it was time.


"Off of me!" A large man threw a smaller customer across the table.

"HEY!" Adera screamed.

"Shut up – wench!" He yelled at the woman.

Adera picked up the remnants of a broken chair and cursed to herself. "I wish Gabrielle was here. What is wrong with everyone?" A mug flew across the bar, hit Adera in the face and left her nose bleeding. "This is ridiculous," she muttered. "There won't be anything left by the time you get back, Gabrielle," she shook her head; grabbing a towel to try and stop the blood.

She stepped outside to catch her breath. The scene was just as bad outside. A street brawl had erupted and was growing by the minute. Adera could see a barn not that far in the distance was burning. Amphipolis was in chaos. "Wench… drinks!" A voice screamed from inside the tavern.

"About the only good thing here is how much ale we're selling." Adera rolled her eyes. "Gabrielle…Where are you?"

Chapter 72: Chapter 72 - The Warrior's Way

Chapter 72 – The Warrior's Way

Amphipolis was tearing at its seams. Adera felt her own anger brewing. She kept talking to her friend in her mind. "Gabrielle…what is going on here? I thought you'd be back by now." Every time she picture Gabrielle she was able to calm herself; if only slightly. The bard was a good friend. Adera was grateful for that friendship. Gabrielle had not only given Adera a place to work; she had helped her secure a small home on the far side of the fields and had included the woman in many of her dealings and gatherings. Adera was quite a bit like Lila. She was soft an gentle and sometimes very idealistic an having her around made the tavern even more of a home for the bard.

Now the tavern was at risk; as was the entire town it seemed. Adera did not know what to do. The town elders ha come looking for Gabrielle days ago. Adera wasn't even certain where to send word now. She was growing more concerned by the day. She stood behind the bar; watching the customers as they argued, flirted, gambled, ate and drank to beyond contentment. All of this was typical for any tavern but the need to act out and the need to consume all things had become ravenous in recent days. Adera even tried calling Aphrodite; but the goddess did not respond; not even when Adera's pleas were that of concern for Gabrielle. The goddess was a frequent visitor to Amphipolis and her failure to make an appearance even after Adera had expressed she feared for Gabrielle's life was surprising. The town needed help. Even the ground seemed to be shifting. She considered that Ares might be up to something; but no one had heard from him in a long time. Now she wondered if her friend was unable to return somehow. Her doubts were beginning to overtake her.

A young man; not much older than a boy; ran into the tavern and tried to take shelter behind the bar. "What is it?" She asked. He pointed to a much larger an older man walking purposefully and angrily in; his sword drawn.

"You took my wife?...BOY…my WIFE!" He pointed his sword over the counter. Adera stepped in front of the boy. "MOVE, woman."

"Calm down," Adera put her hands up.

"I will calm down when that Heathen is dead!" He continued.

"No one needs to die…have a drink…we can…"

"I said…MOVE….or you'll join my wife on her journey to Tarturus."

Adera stood firm. "He's just a boy…please…"

"He is a HEATHEN…a scoundrel….MOVE.." Adera instructed the boy to run as she felt a sharp pain roll through her body. "You women…."

Looking at the blood that now covered her dress she whispered, "Oh..Gabrielle…"


Xena turned to Anpu as the pass began its final turn. "What lies ahead?" He asked.

Xena's jaw tightened. "Open space…gradual open space."

Anpu understood. "The objective?"

"Get past them to Amphipolis. Keep Eve and Gabriel safe."

Anpu noded, "And…"

"That's all. Look….Anpu…I'm not certain if Baal will be here…but it is a possibility."

"You sound as though an attack is imminent," he observed. The warrior looked to her knew friend. "I see," he responded. "We will pursue their line…what do you know of their tactics."

Xena turned and motioned to Varia. "Lysanrda," she said to the queen who bowed her head in acknowledgment as Xena slowed the march to a stop just shy of the ending of the coverage they now enjoyed between rocks and trees.

Lysandra rode up behind Xena and the warrior turned to face her. "They are aggressive," Lysandra began. "Relentless. Not as good of swordsmen as you might expect…but aggressive."

Anpu looked at the young woman. "You are Akil's friend, no?" Lysandra nodded. "I did not have much time with him before I headed on to you all. He asked that I give you this." The man pulled out a small medallion on a chain. Lysandra accepted it and looked to him with curiosity. "Yes..the woman that you brought there? Halima?" Xena looked carefully at Anpu now as well. "She was killed in one of the fires….She gave this to him…to give to you…a reminder of mothers and daughters is what he said."

Lysandra swallowed hard and looked at Xena. Xena eyes were narrow and her lips pressed firmly together. "Lysandra," the warrior began, "You and Varia stay with Gabrielle and Eve until you cannot any longer." Both women silently acknowledged their understanding.

Lysandra went to turn her horse and stopped; turning back to Xena. "What about you?" she asked with concern.

Xena looked past the young Amazon where she could barely see the bard and her daughter. "We must get through to Amphipolis. Anpu and I must disarm their catapults."

"Xena…what if they don't attack here?"

The warrior's resolve was evident. "They will…that is why I chose this route."


Varia reached over for the young Amazon. "Lysandra…"

"Varia…we're walking into a trap…you knew?"

Xena took a deep breath. "No…Lysandra…they are walking into a trap. They are going to come no matter what…this is our best chance. If we proceed as planned it will be difficult for them to mount any offensive in Amphipolis. Believe me…you do not want warriors in Amphipolis right now."

"I don't…."

Varia grabbed the reins in Lysandra's hands. "Now," she said more gently than the queen normally would. Lysandra sighed; shaking her head but following.

Xena exhaled. "All right," she gestured to Anpu. She closed her eyes for a quick moment and thought of Gabrielle. It was a custom she had acquired many years ago. Before ever battle; in her heart; she told the bard what she could never say enough, "I love you, Gabrielle."


Xena and Anpu began to break through the wooded area slowly. Xena held up her hand and stopped the progression forward just behind the last line of leafy bushes and trees. She pointed ahead in the distance and Anpu strained to bring into focus the quick reflections and glimmers of sun streaking off armor. He nodded. "We can only proceed for the first twenty or thirty feet in pairs." She looked behind her. "Anpu and I will start forward at a gallop…follow behind us at a steady pace – when we reach the widest part of the opening; fan out as wide and far as you can and increase your speed….Archers!" she called…fan to the right and center your arrows…the majority are behind that left tree line. They will not expect you to be off center."

The progression started and Gabrielle took a deep breath; her grip on Gabriel firm. Eve looked at her mother. "Are you all right?"

Gabrielle offered the most convincing glance of reassurance she could. This was something she never grew used to. There was a major difference between responding to an attack or a situation and the reality of planning and executing one. The latter always unsettled her. It reminded her of Rome. It reminded her of Helicon. It reminded her of Persians. She hated war. Now she had her family; and that seemed to be all she could think about. The bard understood as an Amazon Queen; as a woman who loved a warrior; the realities of battle. There was always loss – always. "I will never grow used to this," she said to Eve.

Eve let out a strong sigh. She understood. She too had seen death and destruction; like her warrior mother she had once been its hand. She had no desire for it. It was; at times; her reality. She had lost herself to it, lost her mother to it for an unthinkable amount of time and now she had lost her husband to it. As much as the messenger believed in peace; she had no intention of losing her parents or her son to it now.

Xena stroked her horse's neck. "All right, girl…this is for Argo." She motioned to Anpu and they were off like shots from catapults. Varia watched carefully and commanded the rest of the horses and archers as Xena instructed. Xena veered left an Anpu right as the catapults fired into the Amazon ranks. A wave of purple descended on the approaching Amazons. A large fire ball erupted at nearly the center of the approaching Amazons, knocking Lysandra from her horse. "LYSANDRA!" Varia yelled. Behind the young amazon a large purple clad warrior on a stallion approached. The messenger pushed her hose forward drawing her sword immediately and reaching Lysandra's assailant in what seemed an instant. She swung her sword with incredible force and knocked him from his horse. Swiftly she turned the mare and reached for Lysandra's hand. "Up!" Eve yelled to the woman she considered a sister as Lysandra gained her footing and accepted her sister's hand.

"Eve!" Lysandra caught sight of Xena now on the ground her sword in the air. The warrior remained an impressive fighter. Her body sailed above a group of attackers and landed behind them. Gabrielle shuddered at the sound of Xena's war cry knowing it meant her lover was in the heat of a battle. Above Xena two warriors were about to descend from the trees.

Varia flew past Eve her stallion at a full gallop. "Xena!" The Amazon queen yelled.

Anpu hear the all and looked to his right. He ran full speed and reached the warrior's back. "ABOVE!" He warned. Xena cocked her head and smiled as the two men dropped and she moved gracefully two paces back avoided the attack. "I wondered when you were going to drop in," she quipped. One of the large goons moved menacingly toward her but Xena was unfazed. She bobbed right and avoided the first blow her set forth. He came at her with another swipe of her blade and she gracefully ducked. "Oh…I'm sorry," she smiled at him. "I didn't bring my dancing shoes." She tipped her head again and aggressively pursued him. "Take the catapult!" Xena yelled to Anpu and he set off running the next 10 paces or so focusing on the men at one of the catapults.

Varia reached Xena and dismounted in a flying jump. "Sorry it took me so long."

Xena smiled. "Seems we have some dancing partners." Varia offered a head tilt akin to the warriors and the two continued their advance.

Eve's sword was flying air as swordsmen on horses approached attempting to gain ground toward Gabrielle and Gabriel. "Gabriel," The bard spoke in his ear. "Close your eyes." He followed her instructions and leaned as closely into her as he could. "I love you, Gabriel," she whispered. She reached to her side and withdrew her sais. Another large blast hot Sappho and knocked the pair off balance and to the ground; Gabriel about three feet from Gabrielle. Gabrielle shook off the momentary stun… "GABRIEL!" she screamed and headed for his location. He opened his eyes to see a large gloved hand lifting him in the air. Gabrielle's heart dropped. She felt the sting of a blade in her back and turned with a strong kick to her assailant.

Lysandra looked left and saw Gabriel being lifted with Gabrielle desperately attempting to reach him. She didn't think. The Amazon jumped from the horse and set off running for the boy grabbing Eve's attention in the process. Lysandra flew into the air and landed a kick in the middle of the large man's back. His purple vestment blowing in the wind as he lost his balance and the small boy tumbled to the ground. A bellowing voice broke through the fighting. It seemed to almost echo in each person's ear. "THE BOY!" it called.

Gabrielle thrust the sai into the side of a young warrior. She had no time to think; only react as she made her way to the young Amazon that was battling with everything she had. Eve reached Gabriel and pulled him up in front of her. "Mother," he cried a bit.

"You're all right, Gabriel," Eve assured. She looked over at her younger mother and Lysandra. Gabrielle's turned and eve could see the blood trickle down her back. Any trace of the bard was gone now. Gabrielle was the Amazon Queen. She fought with a tenacity that resembled Xena.

"Mother!" Gabriel cried to Eve seeing Lysandra accept a blade to the arm. Eve pushed her horse to them and quickly disabled two of the offending purple clad men. Lysandra's sword arm was injured. Eve jumped from the horse. "Take Gabriel…now," She instructed the young Amazon. Lysandra looked shocked. "Now!" Eve ordered pushing Lysandra onto the horse and moving to Gabrielle's side. "GO! Head for my mother!" Eve ordered her.

Eve's order signified the ultimate trust anyone could bestow and Lysandra gathered herself in an instant to follow her sister's orders. If Eve the messenger was the picture of peace and tranquility; Eve the warrior rivaled both the warrior princess and the Amazon Queen in the ability to intimidate any attacker. "Gabriel," Lysandra whispered, "They'll be all right. Hold on." He leaned back and allowed the Amazon to support him as they rose at a break neck pace.

Gabrielle was moving through the line of warriors at a steady pace with Eve at her side when Eve accepted an arrow in the thigh. "Dammit!" the messenger yelled.

"You all right?" her mother called.

"Never better," Eve answered sarcastically.

"I hope your mother gets those catapults soon," Gabrielle said wincing a bit as she thrust another forward blow into an oncoming assailant.

Anpu and three of his men swung the catapult to the left and began to push it forward rapidly. It took several minutes but the mean managed the position they sought. "NOW!" he ordered. They fired directly into the line of Phoenician archers and disabled to of their adversaries catapults in the process.

"Hahah!" Xena yelled as her kicked a line of three warriors. She saw Lysandra approaching with Gabriel and her heart dropped for a moment.

Lysandra yelled, "They're all right!" as she approached.

"HIRAM!" the voice bellowed. "Take them!" The commander shuddered. "NOW!" Baal ordered. Thunder broke and Baal disappeared momentarily in a flash of light. In an instant he was in front of the warrior. "You have something for me?" He asked.

"For you?" Xena quipped. "No."

The god fired a lightning bolt nearby Xena. She stood still as Lysandra came almost even with her and Xena motioned for her to get behind the warrior. "I've seen that trick before," Xena offered dryly noticing that both Gabrielle and Eve were only a few feet behind the god now.

"Zeus was weak."

Xena laughed. "Zeus is dead. He wanted to kill my daughter…might be a lesson there," she winked at him in sarcasm.

"You are too confident," he laughed. "That is your weakness." He raised his hand again and pointed directly at her. "You cannot defeat an immortal, warrior princess."

"NO….I guess I can't."

He smiled broadly and began his arm's motion forward when something knocked him off balance and the light in his hand dissipated. He reached for his shoulder and pulled the sai from it; turning. "Maybe she can't," Gabrielle smiled. "But I can." She fired the other sai at his opposite shoulder and he dropped to his knees.

"Fools," he chuckled as if not caring. "There is one much stronger than us all." He disappeared.

Anpu fired another several rounds at the archers and catapults as the violent and thunderous sounds of battle made their way to the quiet and eerie whisper that always followed. Xena looked at Gabrielle and Eve. "You two are a mess," she smiled.

"It's not over, Xena," Gabrielle said plainly. "I didn't kill him."

"No…I imagine our friend Lucy will want to dance tomorrow and we can be sure there will be some uninvited guests."

Eve made her way to Gabriel and Lysandra. "Thank you," she said to the Amazon. Lysandra smiled as Eve lifted Gabriel to her and held him close.

Gabrielle and Xena began to walk and survey the damage with Varia and Lysandra following closely behind. Gabrielle stopped amidst a sea of fallen warrior as closed her eyes. At least half the Amazons were gone and at least, if not more than half, of the Phoenician contingent. The bard shook her head and put her face in her hands. "When will this end," she muttered.

Xena took a deep breath and put her hands on her lover's shoulders. Lysandra looked at Varia as she attempted to comprehend the carnage that lay before them. "What are we going to do?" She asked the queen who tenderly touched her cheek.

Xena answered. "We're going to end it; Gabrielle and I."

"You can't go into Amphipolis alone," Varia said.

Xena did not answer. "Varia…get the wounded you can. We'll make camp just beyond the trees. Collect the Phoenicians as well."

"What?" Lysandra said.

Gabrielle moved slowly to Lysandra's side. "This is a different battle, Lysandra; a different adversary. Do as Xena says."

Xena took the bard's hand. "We need to stitch that," Xena winked.

"Just another day, huh?" Gabrielle forced a smile.

"Mmm..let's go."

Chapter 73: Chapter 73 - Acceptance

Chapter 73 – Acceptance

Gabrielle had insisted that Xena take care of Eve's wound before she took care of the gash on Gabrielle's back. The bard sat with The Amazon Queen waiting for the warrior. "What's wrong?" Gabrielle asked Varia. "Everything all right with Lysandra?"

Varia nodded. "Why would you go into Amphipolis alone?"

Gabrielle took a deep breath. "Varia…I won't be alone. I will have Xena and Eve and Gabriel."

"We can help you."

Gabrielle shook her head. "No. You can't. War is hell, Varia. But hell is worse than war….and far more dangerous."

Varia saw the resolve in her friend's eyes. "Lysandra will want to go."

Gabrielle smiled. "Lysandra has someplace else she belongs now, Varia…You love her?"

Varia was uncomfortable with the dialogue but she knew it was unavoidable. "I do."

Gabrielle smiled and pursed her lips. "She is very idealistic…she will give you a good run," the bard chuckled. Varia looked at her friend curiously. "She reminds me of someone I once knew…who thought she could change the world." Gabrielle laughed to herself. "She left home for adventure and to see the world." The bard shook her head lost in her recollections.

"And she did…" Varia offered.

"Mmm…yes…She became and Amazon, A Queen….A bard…she fell in love with a warrior…lost children…died…saw heaven and hell… and witnessed miracles."

"I doubt Lysandra will do all that," Varia laughed.

Gabrielle looked deeply into her friend's eyes. "She will. You will. We all do…we just don't always pay attention." Varia didn't understand and Gabrielle could see her confusion. She offered her sister queen a pat on the knee. "Oh…just love her long enough, Varia…you'll understand."

Xena was just reaching the pair and she saw the sparkle in her lover's eye. "You ready?" the warrior asked.

"Do I have a choice?" the bard joked.


Gabrielle laughed and took her lover's hand. "Get some rest, Varia. We'll see you tomorrow."


Eve sat on the bedroll with Gabriel. He was unusually quiet. "Gabriel," Eve coaxed the boy to her lap.



"Do you miss Father?"

"Of course I do, Gabriel."

The boy stayed quiet for a moment. "Mother?"

"Yes, Gabriel?"

He looked up at the sky that had become dotted by stars. "Do you think he can see us?"

"I think so, Gabriel."

"Me too." He paused and then looked at his mother. "You have two mothers."

"Yes, I do."

"And you had a brother…Solan."

"Yes…and I had a sister, Hope."

"You did?"

"Yes…but I never knew either of them, why do you ask?"

"Grandmother had another baby?" he sounded surprised.

"No…Auntie Gabby had a baby."

"She did?"

"Yes…Gabriel, she did. A very long time ago."

"Will you have a baby?"

Eve chuckled. "Oh…Gabriel… I wish you had a brother or sister…just like I wish I knew Solan…and even Hope….but no, sweetie…I don't think I will have a baby."

"Why not?"

"Well, Gabriel…because you father is not with me now…and we tried...we were just so happy to have you." She touched his head.


"What?" she was amused by her son's line of questioning.

"I think you should have a baby."

Eve laughed. "Well… I think you should get some sleep."


"Yes, Gabriel?"

"You have Lysandra."

Eve smiled, "Yes..I do, Gabriel…and so do you….go to sleep."


Lysandra lay with her head in the queen's lap. "I wonder what my father would think"

Varia sighed. "What Ares would think about what?"

"That I think of Gabrielle as my mother."

Varia ran her fingers thought the younger woman's hair. "I think he knew that."

"I guess…I still don't understand."

"What's that?" Varia asked studying the young face before her.

"Why you love me," Lysandra said honestly.

Varia smiled. She thought about her conversation with Gabrielle. "Why wouldn't I love you?"

"I don't know…you're a queen, Varia….I am just a…"

Varia bent over and caressed Lysandra's cheek, "I love you, Lysandra…you are the daughter of a god who was adopted by a queen. You underestimate yourself."

Lysandra smiled. "I wonder if she ever felt this way."

"Who's that?" Varia asked.

"Gabrielle…with Xena… you know."

"Maybe you should ask her," Varia laughed.

"Maybe I will."

"How about tomorrow?" Varia suggested kissing the young woman.

"I would never argue with my queen," Lysandra agreed.

Varia laughed. "Somehow, Lysandra…I think we both know that's not true."


"Should be all set," Xena said.




"I think we should leave before dawn."

The bard sighed. "I know. Have you told Eve?"

"Yes, and Lysandra." Gabrielle looked at Xena with surprise. "Did you not want me to ask Lysandra?"

"No…I'm just surprised."


"Well…Xena… I just expected it would be the four of us."

"Gabrielle…you love that girl like she came from you…I see it every day. And Eve…well.. Lysandra should come."

"Varia will be furious," Gabrielle said. "She'll probably follow."

"Yeah… she'll want to…but she won't. She's needed here. Besides…she's going to have to learn that Lysandra has her own mind," Xena rolled her eyes a bit.

"What was that?"



Xena chuckled. "Oh… I think you know." Xena lowered herself down beside the bard and accepted Gabrielle's head onto her chest.

"I guess I do," Gabrielle admitted. "Xena…it didn't kill him…the sais."

"I know."

"What if I can't kill him?"

"Gabrielle…we'll figure it out. I just hope Eshmun and Aphrodite find those children soon," the warrior said.

"Do you think that will weaken him?"

"I don't know…but I'd be happy to see them right now."

Gabrielle traced lines on the warrior's chest, "never thought I'd hear you say THAT."

"What do you mean?"

"You'd be happy to see gods."

Xena laughed. "Well…I would…I just wonder what we're walking into." Gabrielle's exploration stopped abruptly. "What is it?" The warrior asked.

"Xena…I just realized… we haven't been in Amphipolis together since…"

"I know… it's been a long time."

Gabrielle pulled herself up to look at the warrior. "What do you think your mother would say?"

"About what?"

"You know…Eve…"

"She loved Eve."

"Xena…I mean Eve…being our daughter."

"Oh…" Xena mocked.

Gabrielle shook her head and put it back down. "You really are impossible sometimes."

Xena laughed, "I think she already figured that out."


"Probably…she was my mother."

They both laughed. "I love you, Xena."

"I know…I love you, Gabrielle."

Chapter 74: Chapter 74 - The Seed of Faith

Chapter 74 – the Seed of Faith

Xena lifted a sleepy young boy up in front of his mother. "You ready?" She turned to the bard.

Gabrielle smiled as Xena mounted Sappho and offered her hand to her lover. "Just go easy on her," Gabrielle reminded the warrior as she positioned herself behind Xena; wrapping her arms around the warrior.

"Like old times, huh?" Xena said.

"Except it's my horse," Gabrielle whispered with a wide grin and soliciting a slight grumble from Xena.

"All right…Lysandra… listen….do not raise a weapon unless you have to when we reach Amphipolis," the warrior instructed. Lysandra looked confused. "Look…Eve and Gabrielle understand – they've see this before too...good people are affected when hell rises. The more anger, the more lust, the more greed….the harder it will be to fight him. Stay as calm as you can." Lysandra nodded her acceptance of the warrior's explanation.

The foursome rode for many hours until the sun was midway in the sky and the heat from the day began to take its toll on the horses and their riders. "Xena…good time to stop for a bit, don't you think?" Gabrielle offered hearing the sound of a stream nearby.

"I do… All right. Let's water the horses and get something to eat…rest for a bit." The group was happy to comply. Gabriel was getting antsy. Sitting on the horse for hours was boring and he'd been awake for a long time now. He ran toward the water and started skimming rocks across its surface.

"I'll take the horses," Xena said.

"I'll help," Eve offered.

"Guess that leaves us," Gabrielle laughed. "Gabriel," she called as he moved closer to the stream. "Don't go in until Lysandra gets down there." He waved back and Gabrielle smiled unpacking a satchel with a few items and gathering some wood to start a small fire to cook.

"Gabrielle?" Lysandra asked.


"Can I ask you something?"

Gabrielle looked at the young Amazon and could see the apprehension in her eyes. "Grab me that log," the bard said. "What's on your mind, Lysandra?"

Lysandra took a deep breath, handed the bard the log and looked at the ground. "Did," she hesitated, "Did you ever feel…I don't know…worried with Xena?"

"Worried? What do you mean…about her safety?" Lysandra shook her head. Gabrielle fought to suppress a chuckle. "Oh…." Gabrielle got the fire started and sat down momentarily diverting her attention to Gabriel, "Gabriel…just wait for either your grandmother or Lysandra….not IN the water." She turned back to the young woman and let out an audible sigh. "You mean did I worry that she might want to be with someone else…" Lysandra shrugged. "Mmmm….yes…of course." The young Amazon looked up at the woman she knew as a queen in surprise. "That surprises you?" Lysandra shrugged again. "She's Xena," Gabrielle laughed.

"But you're an Amazon Queen," Lysandra said plainly.

Gabrielle chuckled again. "Yes…I guess I am….but she is the warrior princess." The bard stopped, checked again on Gabriel and bit her bottom lip lightly. "Xena…well….Xena had many lovers, Lysandra…I had one…I was younger, inexperienced in everything – in life. She was older and stronger, she'd fought wars, had a child…of course I worried."

"So…what did you do?"

Gabrielle took a deep breath. "What could I do? I loved her. She is who she is and that's who I love. I knew she loved me…it took time…we had our moments for a lot of years….she'd pull away…I'd run away… she'd push me away and I'd go off on some adventure of my own not really thinking how she felt about it….you just have to love Varia, Lysandra. You can't control the rest of the world and you can't control her. She loves you…that's all you need to know."

"I guess."

Gabrielle laughed. "Lysandra…just be happy. Don't over think it. I did…it got me nowhere…I ended up where I was supposed to be anyway." Gabrielle caught sight of the warrior headed back and tipped her head slightly. Xena nodded and she an Eve headed for Gabriel.



"Are you afraid?"

Gabrielle took a deep breath. "Of Baal and Lucifer…. or of Xena," she winked. Lysandra laughed a bit but Gabrielle could tell the young woman was still nervous about everything. "Yes…I am afraid of Baal and Lucifer…as far as Xena….Xena is the safest place I know…no matter where we are." Gabrielle touched the woman's hand as Eve made her way toward them.

"I'm gonna' go help get some fish," Lysandra said as Eve approached.

"She okay?" Eve asked.

"Yeah…just missing Varia I suspect… and feeling a little insecure about the queen."

Eve nodded. "Mother?" Gabrielle smiled and shook her head slightly. "Are you all right?" Eve asked.

"I'm fine, Eve. It's just strange to hear you say that."

Eve put her hand on Gabrielle's shoulder. "I guess I just feel like I missed that…you know?" Eve said.

"I do know," Gabrielle said; her voice cracking slightly. "I just….well..."

"You're not worried about Mother, are you?"

"No," Gabrielle smiled, "No….I'm not. I'm worried…about Baal…about you and Gabriel."

"I know." Eve rubbed her mother's back slightly while Gabrielle twirled a stick in the fire. "Whatever happens…." Eve started as Gabrielle's eyes met hers, "I just….well…I love you."

A tear fell onto Gabrielle's cheek. "Eve….you are an amazing woman." The messenger smiled at her mother's compliment.

"OKAY! - You two get to cook em!" Xena threw three fish in front of the sitting pair. "Less twirly more cooky!" Gabrielle rolled her eyes at the warrior. It was strange, she thought to herself. They were about to go into a battle that could be their last; in a place they had both considered home. Yet, somehow when they were all together everything else faded away. Whatever was to come in the following hours; the bard was grateful for this moment. She closed her eyes to try and imprint it in her mind.

"Gabrielle?" Xena called as she saw the bard's eyes close and Gabrielle tilt her head skyward.

Gabrielle opened her eyes and smiled at the warrior. Xena's lip curled a bit and she raised an eyebrow. Nothing more needed to be said; just stay in this moment as long as possible. That was the silent message.


Amphipolis was slowly coming into view on the horizon. Gabriel had nodded off against his mother. Xena caught a glimpse of her daughter's expression. The messenger's jaw had become taut and her eyes narrowed. "Eve?" Xena called gently.

The messenger was lost in a thought about the last time she had looked out at Amphipolis. Virgil had stopped so that she could gather herself before the last leg of the journey home. They had been so happy for a brief time; everyone together. She missed Xena but it had been of the only times she had felt real peace in years…even as the messenger; and now here they were. Xena was back, she had Gabrielle…but Gabriel was in danger and Virgil was gone. Now it reminded her of the first time she came back after Xena's death. That feeling she had when she saw the town come into view. She was so anxious to see Gabrielle; her heart was breaking; and more for the woman she longed to call Mother than for herself. Eve mourned her mother and she worried for the bard. The knowledge that she would never again see Xena was so painful. That last night in the tavern when Gabrielle spoke and then Virgil took her hand; everything changed. How could this be happening now?

"Eve?" Xena repeated.

"I'm all right."

Xena came even with her daughter. "Are you sure you're all right?" Gabrielle looked over at the messenger as well.

"I'm fine, Mother…just the last time I was here….so many times I was here…."

Gabrielle leaned into Xena. Now reality was raining down; the reality of loss. Xena nodded. "Eve…I am sorry."

"You have nothing to be sorry for, Mother."

"Yes…I do." Xena looked out at her home on the horizon. "Let's end this. It's not his home…it's ours."

As the group moved closer the smell of burning crops became almost stifling. The sun was just beginning its slip from the sky as they moved through the first fields. The fields were deserted; no one in sight. Some crops seemed to have withered while others were scorched. Just as the horses reached the entrance to the town square a man appeared, running toward them. "Gabrielle! Gabrielle!"

"Cletus," Gabrielle called to him. He was a young man; no more than twenty. His shirt was dirty and blood stained and his eyes were red. Gabrielle felt her heart sink. The town had fallen to the mercy of Lucifer already. She could see it in his eyes. So much innocence lost there now. "Cletus…what happened?"

"Adera…Adera…" he said. "People...they…" he tried to catch his breath. "They've been fighting over everything….fields…land…money…" he shook his head and bent over to grab his knees attempting to fill his lungs with air.

"Cletus…you go…get out of town for now."

"Adera," he said again looking at the bard with tears in his eyes.

"Who's Adera?" Xena asked.

"Where is Adera?" the bard asked. The young man's eyes filled with tears and he shook his head. "Cletus…where?"

"The tavern…but…..outside the tavern….."

"What about the tavern?" Xena asked.

"The ground it shook…it…."

Gabrielle felt ill. History was repeating. She took a deep breath; her grip on Xena's waist tightened slightly signifying to the warrior her fear and stress. "Cletus…you need to go." He looked to her again and she and she offered him a nod. He stood for a brief moment and then turned to run through the fields.

"Mother…" Eve called over. Xena turned and looked at Gabrielle. All three women understood what now lay ahead. Lucifer was likely already here and that meant they might have to face both a god and the King of Hell together.

"What was he talking about?" Lysandra asked.

"Nothing good," Xena said. "Remember what I said…Lysandra…Eve…no killing….understood?"

"But what…" Lysandra began.

"No," Xena said. "Do what you need to put down any attacks – but be careful." Slowly Xena urged Sappho forward. A few buildings were damaged and there were remnants of carts and wagons in the street that normally was lined by merchants. They passed only a few people as they approached the tavern. Two men were involved in a scuffle over what appeared to be a bushel of fruit. A woman was running past the blacksmith toward the far edge of town, but there was little sound until they reached the tavern. Yelling and even laughing could be heard inside. There was no sign of Lucifer yet or Baal. The ground had swelled outside and torn. Gabrielle and Eve both shuddered at the recollection of a time long ago; a time when evil had penetrated this place. It had festered for years and driven the town to madness. In the process it had taken the life of Xena's mother; a light in the warrior's life and a presence that all three women revered.

Gabrielle felt the warrior's body stiffen and she pulled Xena a little closer. The warrior took a deep breath accepting her lover's momentary embrace. It was a needed gesture for both. Gabriel sat wide eyed on his mother's horse and was surprisingly quiet. He had been here many times. This was his auntie's home. It was the place he begged his parents to take him and now it was almost unrecognizable. In a short time vines had taken hold. They seemed to sprout from the small fissure in the earth. The door was cracked and the pots full of brightly colored flowers that just a few weeks earlier had decorated the entrance had all withered. "Mother?" he whispered.

Eve swallowed hard, "Yes, Gabriel?"

"What happened?" he asked sheepishly. Eve sighed. She had no idea how to answer.

Xena and Gabrielle reached the ground and Lysandra followed. The warrior walked to her daughter and accepted Gabriel's small arms so that Eve could dismount her horse. "Lysandra…you an Eve tie the horses….Gabriel…you stay with your Auntie…do you understand?" The warrior said.

The boy nodded and Gabrielle offered him a comforting smile. She bent over to him as Eve and Lysandra passed. "My Gabriel," she said as she took his small face in her hands; Xena watching closely. "You listen to me…if I tell you to run…you run as fast as you can away…all right?" He nodded but his eyes showed a fear Gabrielle had never before seen in them. They implored her to reassure him.

"I don't want you to die," he admitted; his small voice cracking with emotion as he looked into her green eyes. Xena closed her eyes trying to quell the feelings that his words produced.

"Gabriel," Gabrielle crouched to his height. She looked at him seeing his innocence. His eyes spoke as Joxer's once did to her many years ago; long before Virgil, before they had lost Eve. "I love you…Gabriel...remember what I told you about the stars?" He nodded and she smiled. Both Gabrielle and Xena knew better that to ever guarantee anything. "No matter what ever happens…I will always love you…and I will always be with you….right here," she pointed to his chest. He nodded. "Now come on…stay with me."

Xena looked over at the bard and pursed her lips. The interaction between the boy and her lover had served to strengthen her resolve. "Get this bastard," she muttered. Eve and Lysandra returned. Lysandra was shaking off a man who kept trying to grab her. "All right…stay close," Xena ordered.

The foursome entered the tavern to little attention. There were about ten men inside. All were drinking and it seemed they were involved in some gambling adventure. Gabrielle's eyes set about the tavern for Adera. There were several men on the floor. Xena checked them, "Passed out," she explained.

Gabrielle stepped around one and she saw it; the bottom of a blue dress. "Adera," the bard shuttled Gabriel to Xena and stepped over one of the men to get to her friend. "Oh….no…no…Adera….Oh," Gabrielle pulled the woman's head to her lap.

Eve covered her mouth with her hand and Lysandra looked at the woman she loved as a sister in disbelief. Xena looked over at Gabrielle who had tears in her eyes. Again the truth was driven home; life had moved on without the warrior. This was clearly someone dear to her bard. As Gabrielle's eyes met the warrior's images of Eli and Joxer flooded her thoughts. She gathered her strength, holding onto her grandson's shoulders tightly.

"Oh….how touching," A voice broke through with a gush of air. The men at the long table ceased all chatter immediately. "Lovely place you have here," Baal chided.

Xena began to seethe. "It is, isn't it?" She sarcastically answered as the god milled about the tavern. He moved his hand and a large table blew across the room; the men near its center now finding their feet and fining the exit as quickly as possible.

"Cowards," Lysandra muttered receiving a warning glance from her sister.

Gabrielle made her way to the warrior's side. Baal fired off two sais in their direction; Xena catching them mid-flight. "You forgot those," he laughed. "What is it you think you are going to do?" Baal asked. "He," he pointed to Gabriel, "Is mine…"

Eve felt her hand reach for her sword and Xena grabbed her arm to stop the motion. "He is not yours." The warrior said assuredly. Gabriel moved next to Gabrielle and leaned into her hip.

"Oh…how touching…..the queen finally has a baby," he said mockingly. Xena's anger was beginning to burn hotter. Gabrielle glared at the god. She studied him as he moved closer to the entrance of the tavern. "What will you do? Kill a god?" There was a thunderous quake. The building shook violently. "Oh….my friend is here," Baal gloated.

"Your friend?" the messenger scoffed.

"MMMM…" Baal laughed as the door blew open.

"Lucifer…" Xena whispered.

The King of Hell was a frightening display and Gabrielle pulled Gabriel closer to her. He was more than six feet tall. His skin was grayish and his horns rose high above his head. When he spoke it was as if bull horns were embedded in his throat. His chest armor was bright sliver and when he offered an evil smile his yellow teeth became apparent. "Ah…Xena…it's been a long time since we danced," he laughed.

"Not long enough," the warrior quipped.

"Why don't you just make this easy?" he asked drawing his sword. Baal smiled and leaned against a table; keeping his gaze on the bard.

Xena reached for her sword and Gabrielle grabbed for the sais at her sides. "Gabriel, you go with your mother." He looked at her. "Now, my love…." Eve took hold of Gabriel and looked at the woman she had wished for so long was her mother; her eyes questioning. Gabriel needed to be near; her mother told her that before they left. "Eve," Gabrielle said grasping her weapons. "This is our fight…you three go…keep everyone away from here….go…" Eve hesitated; still feeling for her sword. Things had become clear to both the warrior and the bard. Gabriel was with them…he did not need to be in harm's way. "Eve…go…" Gabrielle said again.

Lysandra moved toward the bard. The god laughed. "All so touching," he mocked.

"No…Lysandra…you take care of Eve and Gabriel… go…this is our fight," Gabrielle repeated her orders. "I mean it."

Xena began twirling her sword. "Listen to your mother…both of you." The warrior gave a cockeyed smile to Lucifer as Eve and Lysandra slowly made their way to the door. "So you want to dance?" Xena smiled." Let's dance, Lucy…" she tipped her head as their swords clashed in mid-air.

Baal moved toward Gabrielle and Gabriel saw the god raise his hand. He bolted from his mother and ran for Gabrielle's side. Gabrielle pulled him behind a table as a burst of energy landed nearby shattering a chair. "Gabriel! What are you doing?"

"I'm not leaving you!" he said indignantly. Gabrielle tried to quiet her frustration and anger. Eve began to fight back through the door when the god let off another blast. Lysandra threw Eve to the side and jumped back in the tavern.

Gabrielle made her way toward the Amazon. "Gabriel…you go… go with Lysandra…trust me…" he looked up at her and she smiled at him. He was so like them all; his mother, Xena, his father…and Joxer. He was so brave and so determined….and so loving. The bard couldn't help but smile at him. Seeing his grandmother's affection he followed her direction reluctantly.

Xena was pressing back on Lucifer. He flew through the air and landed atop a table. "This is more fun than I remember," he bellowed.

"Don't get used to it," Xena replied letting out a war cry and landing across from him. She momentarily looked to Gabrielle and the bard understood. They needed to get them outside.

The bard stood and offered the god a sarcastic smile. "So… lightning? That's your claim to fame?" The bard shook her head. He threw off another burst but the bard avoided it; jumping closer to the door.

Xena let Lucifer press backwards on her. "Oh…being dead left you tired." He laughed. Xena just shrugged.

Within a few moments both the bard and the warrior had passed through the entrance and into the courtyard. "You want to play outside?" the god laughed maniacally.

"Unless you plan on cleaning up your own mess," Xena responded still trading blows with the King of Hell.

"You can't win, Xena…just give up….think of what you could have…with me ruling the earth," Lucifer offered.

Baal took note. "You mean ME ruling the earth."

Lucifer laughed harder and ignored the god. "Xena.. you and I… here…the whole world as our kingdom…"

Baal's anger was growing at the King of Hell's diatribe. He looked at the bard. Gabrielle smiled and shrugged. "LUCIFER!" Baal screamed throwing a lightning bolt in his direction.

"What is it with you pithy gods?" Lucifer called as he accepted a kick from the warrior.

"Pithy?" Baal fired another blast in Lucifer's direction.

"Inconsequential….pathetic…can't even kill a boy…" Lucifer bellowed.

Baal's anger rose. "You are only here because of me!"

Lucifer moved toward the god. "Fool…weak…stupid…Fool."

Baal hit the King of Hell with a blast of energy that merely deflected off his chest. Xena looked at Gabrielle. The answer was clear. They would defeat each other; at least mostly. The warrior reached her bard, "Near the fissure," she whispered.

"You two look like you could use some time alone," the warrior suggested.

Baal fired again at Lucifer knocking him backward. Lucifer gained his footing and picked up the god throwing him about five feet in the air. "I will deal with you later," Lucifer turned back to Xena. Xena and Gabrielle could see the god approaching. Baal's focus was not the bard. It was the King of Hell. His blast knocked Lucifer to his knees right where the earth had buckled and Baal was approaching the position fast.

"Now," Xena said to Gabrielle. The pair moved swiftly forward. Xena raised her sword and Gabrielle her sais.

"What?" Lucifer began as he saw the oncoming attack.

"Pathetic," Xena said. "Give my love to Caesar," she struck him full force in the breastplate as Gabrielle simultaneously fired her sais at Baal as he raised his hand over the King of Hell. Blue and green light spilled from the opening in the earth. The two began to be pulled downward as the force from the women's attack propelled them into the lights.

"This is not over!" Lucifer called.

"It is over," Xena said watching in disgust. "You have nothing," she said as he faded from sight and the earth closed above them. Xena looked at Gabrielle and put her arm around the bard. Lysandra and Eve began their approach while Gabriel barreled away and into his grandmothers.

"I don't understand," Lysandra said. "I thought you had to kill them."

Xena looked at Gabrielle who was tenderly holding Gabriel to them both. The bard looked down at the boy. "So did we…they only get power when we give it to them…Baal…Lucifer."

Lysandra did not understand. "What does that have to do with Gabriel?"

Xena pulled Gabrielle a bit closer as the bard spoke, "They exist on fear, Lysandra… our fear of loss… of death…of loneliness….all of them…. Our desires…for love and power…"


"Gabriel," Gabrielle stroked his head, "He's the opposite of all of those things…love, forgiveness…family…a part of all of us. He is what we are meant to be…a seed."

"A seed?" Lysandra asked.

"Of faith," Gabrielle smiled.

Xena looked at the young Amazon. "Lucifer is just like all the other gods… he is only immortal because we make him that way. They know nothing but what we teach them…they betrayed one another. There's nothing for them here…not here. They can't love…or war or heal…unless we seek it. They destroy themselves if we don't seek them."

Eve smiled. It was her message that her parents spoke now so eloquently. There was only one power meant to last on earth; the way of love. That; she heard them now say; was embedded in the small boy she gave birth to. He was a piece of her and Virgil, a part of her parents, of Joxer and Meg and of the hand of heaven itself. His existence was born only from love…only from forgiveness; the love that runs through everyone and everything; her son. He needed no god to bestow that upon him; only love.

Light broke forth suddenly. And a voice could be heard. "Gods that was messy," a slightly dirty Aphrodite appeared with Eshmun at her side and a rather large group of children.

"Aphrodite," Gabrielle smiled happy to see her friend.

"Here's your kiddies," the goddess laughed.

The light that surrounded them became more intense and Eshmun looked to the Goddess of Love with a solemn smile. She walked to Eve and put her hands on the woman. "I am sorry for all that you have lost, child," she smiled. Eshmun's touch was soothing and Eve could feel her healing energy.

Aphrodite smiled at Xena and looked down at Gabriel. Xena scuttled the boy to her and the goddess faced her best friend. There was just a hint of a tear in the beautiful crystal eyes that looked upon the bard lovingly. "Thank you, Gabby."

"For what?" Gabrielle said smiling at her friend.

Aphrodite said nothing. She embraced her friend and whispered in her ear, "I will always be with you, my friend." The light surrounded all of them in a blinding blast; so bright that it was impossible for eyes to stay open. As it faded and the scene came into view it was clear. The goddesses were gone and the children. Eli had intervened. The mini gods' reign was over.

Gabrielle closed her eyes and felt Xena's arms around her shoulders, "Aphrodite," she whispered.

"Where did they go?" Lysandra asked?

"I don't know," Eve said softly. She looked to the heavens. "I imagine Eli has that well in hand," she smiled.

Xena took a deep breath. "You serve food in this place," Xena pointed to the tavern.

Gabrielle laughed. "Not one of its finer days."

"Yeah…well…looks like we have some work to do," Xena offered. "Gabriel?" The boy looked to his grandmother. "Whatya' say we go catch us some fish?" He made his way to her side happily. "There's this stream just past those trees…" Gabrielle and Eve watched as Xena leaned over the small boy excitedly describing where she and Lyceus always fished together. The warrior turned for a moment, "You coming Lysandra?"

Lysandra looked at the two women before her. "Oh just go," Gabrielle laughed. "I guess Eve and I know what we'll be doing." Eve chuckled. In an instant life had changed again and yet stayed amazingly the same. "I think we'll eat down at the house," Gabrielle motioned.

"Mother?" Gabrielle looked at her daughter. "How did you know?"

Gabrielle smiled. "I think we all knew, Eve…sometimes we just spend so much time looking at everything we don't really see what's in front of us."

"Are you sure you're not the messenger?" Eve smiled.

"No," Gabrielle answered as they reached the small house, "Only her mother."

Chapter 75: Epilogue - Faith and Grace

Epilogue – Faith and Grace

A small energetic boy came bursting through the tavern door almost tripping Lysandra. "Slow down, Gabriel," Xena laughed.

"They're here!" he exclaimed as Gabrielle made her way through the kitchen carrying a small bundle and laughing. "Lila and Sarah!"

"Okay…Gabriel…Go get your grandmother. She's in the kitchen with your mother," Gabrielle directed.

"Where does he get all that energy?" Xena asked heading for the door.

"I can't imagine," the bard joked.

"Xena…" Lila smiled and reached to the warrior for a hug. "You look well."

Xena smiled. "Lila….Sarah…it's good to see you."

Eve made it through the kitchen door with the tug of a small boy's hands; Meg following looking down at a small package in her arms.

"Lila…" Gabrielle called softly. The two women met at the center of the room.

"So….let me see her…" Lila said with excitement.

"Faith…met your Aunt Lila," Gabrielle peeled back the blanket and revealed the soft, gentle face that had been slightly hidden.

"Oh…Gabrielle," Lila said looking own at the infant, "She's beautiful." Sparkling green eyes looked up as the tiny baby smiled and cooed.

"Yeah…and already talking," Xena offered lovingly at the coo; receiving a playful admonishing glance from the bard.

"Eve…" Lila hugged her niece.

"Lila…what do you think of my sister?" She beamed.

"Mmmm…this is certainly a busy house!" She smiled at her Gabrielle who nodded in amusement.

Gabriel gently pulled his grandmother forward. "I got a sister too!" he exclaimed.

"I heard that," Lila smiled. "Hello, Meg."

Meg smiled and Lila peered in at the baby in her arms. Eve spoke. "This is Grace."

Meg could not take her eyes off the baby, "She has his eyes," the woman said lovingly.

Lila felt her heart drop. Losing a child was the worst pain imaginable. "She does look like Virgil." Meg smiled at Lila's observation.

"All right," Xena said… let's get these babies settled… I'm hungry! - Plus I heard there might be nut bread here."

Gabriel looked at Gabrielle who gently handed the baby to Xena. "Why is it I have to feed EVERYONE in this house?" Gabrielle winked.

Xena laughed. "Hey…I did my time," she pointed to Eve.

Gabrielle shook her head, "Come on Gabriel…Lysandra you too… let's get these people fed."

The group sat through dinner laughing and fawning over the two little babies that seemed to emanate complete joy through the tavern. As dinner began to wind down Gabrielle suggested they all move by the fire. "Will you tell a story?" Gabriel asked Gabrielle.

She smiled. "Okay…only one…" she winked. Xena sat against a large bench with Gabrielle between her legs holding Faith. Gabriel moved in front of his mother and she gently placed Grace on the boy's lap; holding them both. The rest of the group settled in to hear the bard's tale.

"Many years ago there was a young girl who set off to find adventure," Xena's hands held Gabrielle's on the baby. "She met giants and warlords, rode with centaurs and traveled to distant lands. She dined with queens and fought with Amazons…." Gabrielle described some of the moments of her journey with Xena; how Xena liberated villages and how the bard became a queen. Then she grew quiet. "But the greatest adventure was falling in love." Xena was surprised at the bard's words. "She fell in love with a warrior…who was as compassionate as she was strong….she fell in love with a little girl who would grow to be a prophet….she fell in love with a blue eyed boy that stole her heart." Gabrielle looked over at Eve and then at the baby in her arms, "and the daughter she never really lost…that somehow returned to he through a best friend's love to give her Faith and the healing of a pure soul to find Grace." Lila wiped the tears from her eyes as she watched Eve look across to her parents.

As the group retired Gabriel came over and kissed Faith on the head; then he looked at Gabrielle. "My Gabriel," she said. "You are my light." A tear fell down her cheek.

"Good night," Eve said.

"Good night," Xena answered. "Goodnight, Gabriel…and Grace," the warrior smiled.

Eve stopped and bent over kissing her small sister on the head. "Sleep well, Faith," she whispered, "We have the best parents in the world."

Gabrielle lifted her hand to the woman's cheek and smiled.

"Tired?" Xena asked the bard.

"No." Gabrielle said leaning back into Xena.


"Yes…just happy." She looked at the baby, "and grateful."

Xena kissed the bard's head and looked down at the daughter they shared; two daughters...two miracles. Four children now filled their lives and their days. A time neither ever expected even if they could have dreamed it so. There was no thought of a battle. There was no warrior and no bard. Just two people who loved beyond measure; beyond reason and whose love and enduring faith in one another produced the greatest miracle of all; life.

"I will love you for eternity, Xena," Gabrielle whispered through a tear of joy as she looked at their daughter.

"I love you, Gabrielle….Longer than eternity, longer than eternity."




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