A Conqueror's Winter

By cornwel


This is my first attempt at fanfic, I have always admired XWP fanfic and I would not have stayed away for long.

Disclaimer: The are not my characters of course...they belong to who they belong to. You would think I've read enough disclaimers to actually be able to recite one like a cop recites Miranda Rights. Go Figure.

I can explain the sex part though, there is a scene equivalent to what we call today a date rape....but hey you say potato I say patato. Gabs and Xena get pretty steamy but there is no graphic sick and it all turns out in the end, am I right?

To email me and tell me how awful I am try cornwel@hotmail.com

And please stop by to read my original fiction at the Sapphic café.

Blessed Be and Battle On!


I.

The Amazon Bard

It was the beginning of winter in the city of Delphi; a strange band of men entered the marketplace of the city not many miles away from the sacred oracle of Apollo. They crowded into the local tavern and threw around gold and silver coins from the mint of Lord Xena Conqueror of Nations, the currency that bore her angular face on one side, the hawk and three stars on the other.

The men demanded food, wine and entertainment, the local whores would have usually been enough but these men called for a bard. Their leader Dagonine would not be appeased when a musician was found, or dancing girls, or jesters and jugglers. Just when the tavern owner thought the men would tear his establishment to splinters a merchant entered and claimed that he was somewhat of a bard.

A youngish man eager to please, Paulus had a drink of wine and took a place in the middle of the room.

"I sing a song of the Amazons" he began and was immediately interrupted.

The men erupted, pleased at the choice of story, Dagonine clapped his hands,

"Now this is a bard," he said.

"I sing a song of the Amazons" Paulus began again, "And the story of Queen Melosa the great noble warrioress and her sister Princess Tareaus"

He continued telling the story of the Amazons, and their fateful alliance with a young warrior princess, the future Conqueror of Nations who betrayed them. The story was a great tragedy but Paulus told it with a light heart, explaining the battles in great detail, taking the time to stop and talk of well turned Amazon figures and beautiful faces poised in feline grace as they fought.

Paulus was sure the story would earn him some extra coin, and he could prove to his wife that there was some profit in being a bard, though with two small children he still doubted he could ever give up being a merchant.

He finished the story and took a bow, but no one clapped. Paulus swallowed and looked around the room, the warlords had been peculiarly silent during the story, now their faces were stone, calculatingly cold.

"Sweet muse Polyhumnia what have I gotten myself into?"

A clap made him turned his head, at the doorway was a cloaked figure, slowly applauding him.

"A fine story, bard" the stranger came closer, and Paulus gasped to see the Lord of the Land, the Conqueror of Nations, Xena the Warrior Princess. She was dressed in a long black fur-lined cloak, underneath she wore a breastplate of burnished brass that molded to her body like a second skin, she wore tight leather breeches and black boots that came past her knees, on her arm she wore her famous silver gauntlet. Her men were the hawks of the empire from Corinth the city of the gauntlet.

"I especially enjoyed the part where that...oh how did you put it? Oh yes, 'That cowardly, black hearted Xena left the beautiful Taraeus to die at Corinth'"

"I-I" Paulus fell on his knees, "Please forgive me Lord Xena"

She walked closer her eyes the color of Zeus lightning bolts flashing like His fury, with two swift movements of her hands she struck Paulus at the base of his neck.

He gasped and fell forward rolling over onto his back, he felt a great pressure in his head.

"Now tell me bard, you know so much of my legend, what have I just done to you?" she asked.

"Yaa, youshutofftheflow... of blood" he stammered and grabbed at his neck.

"Yes" Xena crooned, "You have thirty seconds to live...now tell me where did you hear that story?"

"From Gabrielle" he gasped, "The Amazon Bard"

"I figured that" she answered producing a scroll from her cloak,

"She tells it much better"

The men laughed finally entertained.

"Who sold you this scroll?" she asked.

Paulus gasped his eye lids drooped.

"Bards" Xena shook her head and removed the pinch.

Paulus vomited on the floor, she kicked him in the belly.

"Who sold you the scroll?" she asked.

"I bought it in Athens, the owner of the shop told me that he got the scrolls directly from the Amazon Bard, and copied them to sell" Paulus explained.

Her eyes narrowed,

"What do you know of this Gabrielle?"

"She is described as the very soul of goodness, she is wise beyond her years, a warrior and a healer"

Xena grabbed his already tender neck and squeezed,

"I've heard this trite description before, I'm looking for physical attributes, this Gabrielle is real" she shook the scroll in her other hand, "I see her mark on this awful scrolls I've confiscated, I smell her on the parchment"

"Please" Paulus begged.

"You're trying to protect her, an amazon harlot you have never met, is she worth losing your business? Your wife and children?"

"No, not my family" he rasped "I have seen her once when I was stuck in Sparta, there was a storm and I took shelter in one of the buildings not destroyed....she told a story to calm some children while their fathers and mothers were off trying to keep the city from flooding" he shivered and was dropped to the floor.

"Start talking" Xena said.

"She dresses in the Amazon way, she is short of stature, blond, she has green eyes" he explained.

"And?" Xena asked.

"I have told you everything," Paulus cried.

"You're a bard, tell me what you thought of her, bore me with all the petty details like you bored my men with your Amazon tale" Xena continued.

"I don't-" he began but she struck him.

"You're a big fan I take it, I think you fell in love with her that night, you're weak enough to do such a thing, you were impressed by her kindness" she spat out the last word.

"She is striking, you will know her when you see her, she carries herself like a queen, but she is truly an angel, she has a dark brown mare with a white stripe down the face, she calls her Rabbit"

Xena turned away,

"Now that wasn't so hard was it?" she began to walk towards her men, "This Gabrielle is a thorn in my side, I will personally hunt her down and kill her, let it be known that she is an enemy of the people, an enemy of the throne"

.................................................................................

A chill breeze lifted and parted her hair tingling her scalp she shivered, and sent the horse into a brisk trot. The cold chilled the tip of her nose and her cheeks red. The sooner she got home the sooner she could get next to a cozy fire in the company of her mother Melosa.

Gabrielle petted Rabbit's neck and the mare tossed her head, it had been a year since she had last visited the Amazon Nation, five years since she struck out on her own to be a traveling bard. If most amazons were lucky they got to travel as far as Athens, but Gabrielle had been from Britannia to India, and one day she hoped to go to Chin.

The forest canopy was thick but persistent threads of sunlight seeped through the leaves she lifted her face to greet them and smelled cooking fires.

"Home" the blond smiled to herself.

Feathered masked figures began to fall from the trees Gabrielle stopped Rabbit and raised her arms in the gesture peace.

One of the women removed their masks.

"Princess Gabrielle, what a surprise" Velasca said not bothering to sound very enthused.

"Regent Velasca" Gabrielle gave a small bow of her head she greeted the others who regarded her coldly and went on her way.

She had been born an amazon but her soul was a bard's soul, no one ever understood that not even her own mother. Gabrielle had learned all the ways of the amazons, she respected the sacred traditions, but she never quite fit in. She was always a loner and there was no such thing as a lone amazon

She rode fast through the crop fields, to the sparring fields where Queen Melosa was overseeing the weapons training of a group of young amazons.

She watched from afar as Melosa singled out a girl in staff training.

"If that's what you call fighting, Kai, you'll be dead in no time" she gave the girl a small shove and called for a staff, which was promptly thrown to her by Eponin.

"Now" she began a drill, "Up, down, up, down"

Kai copied the Queen's movements that steadily went faster, finally Melosa bent her knees swung the staff low and knocked the girl off her feet.

"Disgraceful" the Queen said as the girl slowly picked herself up off the ground face crumpled in humiliation.

Gabrielle sighed and called out to the Queen.

"Mother"

Melosa looked up the expression of disgust disappeared and she grinned,

"Gabrielle"

She dismounted Rabbit and met her mother halfway across the field in an embrace.

"You're home" she beamed.

"Yes, Mother for awhile" Gabrielle ran a hand through her mother's black wavy hair, she remembered watching her mother spar when she was eight Winters old and realizing what it meant to be an amazon beautiful, graceful, and strong.

Melosa hugged her daughter again.

"Kai take the princess's horse" she ordered the humiliated girl.

Gabrielle retrieved her things and gave the girl a reassuring smile before handing her Rabbit's reins.

"Well what adventures has brought my bard back home?" Melosa asked as they walked away from the sparring field.

"None really, not since last year when I went to India" Gabrielle sighed, "I think I've run out of adventures"

Melosa laughed heartily,

"That would be a dream come true for me"

Kai soon parted with them to take Rabbit to the stables Gabrielle watched her go.

"Kind of rough on the young one" she said.

Melosa looked skyward,

"They'll never learn, back in my time we fought with all of our hearts, there was war, we had to, we worked hard for the peace the later generations enjoy now"

Gabrielle sighed,

"I agree we must learn to fight, but not everyone's path is that of a warrior, there are artisans, musicians, healers, scribes, and bards"

"Of course" Melosa said, "Now lets see if we can rustle up some nut bread"

..............................................................................................

Gabrielle stretched in front of the fire with a mug of warm wine. She bit a chunk of nut bread and sat down on fur-lined chair.

"Nothing like the comforts of home?" Melosa asked.

"Nothing" Gabrielle agreed.

"Why don't you stay" Melosa asked, "It's not safe out there alone, I worry"

Gabrielle sighed, it was a shame no one got a chance to see the maternal side of Melosa the side that worried, only the tough drill instructor.

"The younger Amazons could learn a lot from you, as well as your peers, you could finally settle down, choose a mate..."

"Have a few dozen grandchildren" Gabrielle finished.

Melosa smiled,

"That would be nice...the royal line has no chance without you Princess Gabrielle"

"I know Mother" Gabrielle said, "How about a deal?"

Melosa perked up.

"I'll travel for one more year, then I will return" Gabrielle said, "Though I'll make no promises about a mate so soon"

"I agree" Melosa stood, they clasped hands and hugged,

"I'm so happy Gabrielle"

"Me too, Mother" Gabrielle said, "Now I will go for a walk, explore"

Melosa smiled,

"I never could keep you still for long"

Her belly pleasantly full Gabrielle left the Queen's hut and walked around the village, she got the usual greeting from the amazons, she smiled and stopped to talk to those whose names she could remember. She felt a little guilty for not being around, she wondered if she would ever feel at ease among them.

Gabrielle found her way to the stables, she greeted Hara the keeper of the horses, steeds, she bred, birthed, trained and put the horses down when they were too injured to be healed or old and feeble.

"Princess Gabrielle, Kai brought in your horse but I was not expecting you so soon" she was a ruddy, tall, jolly woman with two red braids down her back, she wore her leather apron and the sweat of the forge

"Hara, how are you?" she asked.

"Fine, fine a bit of stiffness in the chest, I'm getting old Princess" she used pincers to pick up a shoe from red-hot coals.

"It's hard to believe, you still look refreshingly strapping" Gabrielle grinned.

"Princess" Hara wiped her brow, picking up their old game of flirting, "You'll stop this old heart with those words"

Gabrielle laughed and went to check on Rabbit, Kai was in her stall brushing the horse vigorously as she munched on oats.

"I have not seen her coat so shiny in a long time" she said startling the girl.

"Princess" Kai gave a bow of her head, "She is a very good mare"

"Skin and bones" Hara admonished, "You should get her hay an oats more often"

Gabrielle petted Rabbit's flanks she raised her eyebrows at Hara and cast a quick glance to Kai.

"I'm almost done with the new shoes Kai, I want that coat to gleam" Hara said and took her leave.

"I saw you sparring earlier," Gabrielle said.

Kai's face dropped,

"I'm not very good with the staff" she sighed, "Or the bow, or the sword, or the chobos"

Gabrielle laughed.

"No one is very good with the chobos"

"Queen Melosa is" Kai said.

"She is not as hard as you think," Gabrielle said, "She just wants you to be able to defend yourself and your sister amazons"

Kai shrugged at ease with the princess,

"Artemis knows I try, I'm just not swift enough"

"Don't try. Know" Gabrielle said, "Believe in yourself and you can do anything"

Kai nodded,

"Are you any good with the staff?'

"Not always, and I still can't hit the broad side of a Cyclops with a bow and arrows, but I did find these during my travels in the east" she stooped and removed her sais from her boots.

"Neat" Kai reached out shyly to touch them, "It looks like it would be hard to fight with them"

"It is, but they called to me like every Amazon's true weapon of choice does, become sufficient with the staff and you can move on" Gabrielle smiled, she backed off and took a fighting stance, she flipped the sais in her hands and lashed out in a quick maneuver.

"Cool" Kai grinned.

"Gabrielle" they both looked up to see Ephiny, regent to the Queen and both blushed.

She was Gabrielle's best friend, it had hurt her when she left to travel the world, time had passed and she missed her as much as Melosa.

"Ephiny" she pulled her into a quick embrace.

"Velasca told me you returned this afternoon. You look good, I mean it's good to see you" she gave a small smile.

"So do you" Gabrielle said, she turned to Kai, "I'll see you around, remember what I said"

She and Ephiny walked out of the stables.

"Queen Melosa told me you two have a deal"

"I knew she would get to you first," Gabrielle said.

They walked in silence.

"I want to go with you Gabrielle" Ephiny said, "I will go wherever you go, we can return a year from now together"

She was stunned usually Ephiny talked of how corrupt the outside world was how she wanted no part of it.

"I doubt my Mother would let her best regent go for so long," Gabrielle said.

"I don't care" Ephiny said, "I love you Princess Gabrielle"

"I love you too Ephiny" the Princess answered with a smile.

"No Gabrielle, I love you" she was beginning to lose her temper, "Enough to follow you to the ends of the earth, all the rest of your silly little adventures"

"Silly adventures?" Gabrielle asked, "You barely acknowledge our friendship in front of the others but when I decide to settle down you love me all of a sudden"

"I always have Gabrielle" Ephiny said, "Now that you are finally getting all of this running out of your system I feel more comfortable about building a life with you"

"Lucky me" Gabrielle said and stomped away she went to her mother's hut and sat down. Velasca was there discussing a hunting excursion with Melosa.

"Gabrielle will you be joining us?" the queen asked, "I feel like a good hunt"

"Sounds fine," she said.

Melosa sensed something was wrong,

"Leave us," she said to Velasca.

"My Queen" Velasca bowed, and added as if in afterthought, "Princess"

Melosa waved her out.

"Why did you tell Ephiny?"

"She's your friend, the only one you've bothered to make around here" Melosa said sternly.

"Well she practically asked me to marry her not five minutes ago" Gabrielle said.

Melosa smiled,

"And what is so bad about that?"

"I don't love her...in that way" Gabrielle said, "She called my adventures silly"

"Don't be a child Gabrielle" Melosa said, "It's true Ephiny loves you she has told me many times, I think you should take her up on her offer"

"So you've all but betrothed me?" Gabrielle asked, "That's just great Mother, you've encouraged her"

"You leave and we only hear about you in Athens's scrolls, you alienate yourself from your tribe, it's a wonder anyone wants to be joined with you" Melosa said.

"So I should just take what I can get?" Gabrielle stormed out of the hut.

Velasca was waiting outside,

"You'll break her heart you know"

"My Mother's or Ephiny?" Gabrielle asked.

Velasca wavered,

"You've broken the Queen's heart many times, she can take it as long as you're not killed, but Ephiny she truly loves you, she's the best Amazon in the nation, devoted, faithful she should be rewarded for that"

"I am no one's prize for being a good Amazon" Gabrielle walked away dusk was settling on the village, the women were preparing for nightfall.

Some small girls were kicking a ball around and she joined them, the game was called dribble, a leather ball was kicked from one end of a small field to another, there were no hands involved.

"I never see grownups playing ball" a girl commented.

"I felt like reliving some old memories" Gabrielle said, these little girls had no idea she was the princess, and they were at ease with her like Kai. One by one they were called home to dinner.

Gabrielle decided to go home to her own Mother.

"I thought you'd left" Melosa looked relieved when she saw her daughter.

"No I'm still here" she sat down to the dinner being served.

"Velasca and Ephiny usually eat with me, is that ok tonight?" Melosa asked.

"It's fine" Gabrielle gave a small smile.

She sat in silence while the three planned the hunting excursion they broke up early to get some rest.

Gabrielle slept in her old bed in her mother's chambers it was a comfort to hear her snoring not to far away, murmuring in her sleep. She went to bed wondering why her mother had never chosen a consort maybe being a loner was hereditary.

....................................................................................

The small hunting party raced up the slow rolling hill, Gabrielle lagged behind enjoying the scenery. The other amazons were competitive everything was a race to go faster, to show more skill.

Melosa rode back around,

"Come on Gabrielle you'll let an old woman beat you?"

"You wish" Gabrielle grinned and sent Rabbit into a flying gallop she quickly over took the rest of the amazons and raced into some trees. She dismounted when she noticed deer tacks and removed her bow from her saddle. She had to get close to deer in order to catch one and she needed an early start, the amazons were stealthy but they were as clumsy as mules compared to the famous Amazon Bard. She tracked the deer for a half candle mark

She heard a horse galloping her way, and her name. She ran to find Ephiny on horseback.

"Gabrielle we must get you to the village"

"Why what's happened?" she asked.

"Lord Xena the Conqueror" Ephiny said, "She's looking for the Amazon Bard, and it sure isn't me"

"Rabbit" Gabrielle said.

"We'll get her, c'mon we have to hurry" Ephiny said, Gabrielle took her hand and mounted behind her.

They raced through the woods back to the village.

"Now what does Xena want with you?" Ephiny asked, "Your scrolls piss her off?"

"Most likely, I've never met her" Gabrielle worried, they went to the Queen's hut, Ephiny moved a great chest against a wall, there was a trap door beneath.

"Get in there" Ephiny said.

"I'm not hiding, how dare The Conqueror barge in, Mother will send her away" Gabrielle said.

"Until then get in there" Ephiny said, "Queen's orders"

Gabrielle raised the door and jumped into the crawl space beneath.

"You'll see," she said as Ephiny pushed the chest back over the door.

...........................................................................................

Moments later Queen Ephiny entered, Xena behind her, hidden below them Gabrielle saw through the wooden slats the tall dark haired warrior dressed in black.

"What is this about an Amazon Bard?" Melosa asked she settled on her throne and leaned forward a bit,

"I know of no such woman"

"Of course you do Melosa" Xena said flexing the hand that wore the silver gauntlet, "Her name is Gabrielle, she is very skilled in the arts of healing, and she is an exceptional bard"

Melosa shrugged inside unsettled that The Conqueror of Nations had just spoken her daughter's name.

"She could be posing as an Amazon"

"This woman is a real Amazon she knows the legends, and she also tells the story of Tareaus, a story in which she slanders my name. I want justice" Xena said walking to the queen's throne.

"I figured you had no use for politics," Melosa said.

"These days I must, this bard rallies the people, rouses them-"

"To have their own thoughts and opinions besides being told by you and your nobles?" Melosa finished for her.

"Peasants have no use for knowledge," Xena said grabbing Melosa's arm and nearly pulling her into a standing position,

"Don't change the subject, harboring this Gabrielle is harboring a fugitive and that is against my laws"

Under the floor Gabrielle gasped she had never watched the Queen handled roughly.

"I do not know of her" Melosa jerked her arm out of the Warrior's grasp.

"You were always a bad liar Melosa" Xena said, "I've heard that Gabrielle is a great beauty, perhaps you have a soft spot for her, is she your lover?"

"No"

"Then its war you want" Xena said, "I've let you Amazons get away with a lot Melosa, I protect your lands from men, it is against my law to kill an Amazon and you do this to me, if the girl means nothing to you then tell me where she is"

"Xena" Melosa began.

"Yes?"

"She is my daughter" Melosa confessed.

"You?" Xena asked, "Have a daughter?"

"You've been away a long time Xena" Melosa said, "After Tareaus was killed I begged Artemis to bring her back, she could not instead she offered me a child, one not born of man's seed. Who could not refuse such a gift?

Later in the year I gave birth to Gabrielle, while I was in labor Artemis came to me and told me she would grow up to be a maker of peace not only for the Amazon Nation but the world, then Athena came and told me that she would be wise, and clever, then Aphrodite came and told me that my child would change the world with love˛the muses blessed her too, Xena."

"Figures" the Warrior, answered, "Only the Gods could make such trouble for me"

"She plans to settle down Xena, she'll no longer be of any trouble for you" Melosa said.

"Where is she?" Xena asked.

"She has not been through here for months" Melosa said, "But when she does return it will be for good"

Xena grumbled not satisfied.

"Is she as beautiful as I've heard?" she relented.

"You have to see her, she's the pride of the amazons" Melosa beamed, "Xena you are a true Amazon, we're lucky to have you as our ruler"

"Just hope she doesn't cause anymore trouble for me Melosa, and hope she comes home before I catch her" Xena said and left the hut.

The queen sighed with relief,

"The Goddesses certainly do favor you my little one" she said and followed the warrior.

..............................................................................................

When Lord Xena and her procession were well on their way from the Amazon Nation, Ephiny moved the chest and let the anxious bard out.

"Well troublemaker still feel like continuing your adventures for another year?" she asked.

"I'm not afraid of the Conqueror" Gabrielle said, "I can't believe the way Mother acted around her, not like our queen at all, after Xena practically murdered Tareaus"

"Xena is more powerful than I am her army could decimate us, all she has to do is snap her fingers" Melosa appeared.

Gabrielle frowned,

"I'm still not afraid of her"

Ephiny stared at the floor and excused herself.

They watched her go.

Gabrielle walked to a bunch of scrolls and snatched an empty one,

"If she thinks what I have been doing is slander wait until I tell the truth, that Xena Conqueror of Nations is a bully, driven by her own insecurities"

"You'll do not such thing" Melosa said closing her hand around her daughter's, "Gabrielle she wanted your blood if you weren't my daughter I would have given you up, you'd be on your way to Corinth on a cross"

"I don't care Mother" Gabrielle said, "It's not right"

"Darling promise me that you will end it here, stay and be the Amazon Princess you are" Melosa asked, "If Xena gets her hands on you I could never forgive myself"

Gabrielle sighed,

"I promise Mother" she put the scroll down.

"Fine" Melosa said, "Now I'm starved"

"Me too" Gabrielle said.

...............................................................................................

Dear Mother,

I know I made a promise, and an Amazon never goes

back on her promise. I have made a promise to myself, never to compromise my work, no one not even Xena can keep me away from my last year of travel. I will return to you Mother, and be Amazon Princess, in one year.

I Love you.

Gabrielle

She finished the letter and sighed, she stood fully dressed with a bag packed and left her Mother's hut. She went to the stables and retrieved her mare; Rabbit was excited at the prospect of travel and pranced in place.

"Princess Gabrielle, are you leaving?" Kai appeared rubbing her eyes.

"Do you sleep out here?" she smirked.

"Sometimes" Kai smiled, "Today was such a good day, I did better"

"Great" Gabrielle said.

"There is talk that the Conqueror came looking for you" Kai said, "Is it true?"

"Yes" Gabrielle said, "I must leave now"

"You're very brave" Kai said, "One day I hope I can be as brave as you"

"Thanks Kai" Gabrielle said and left.

She instantly felt better out on the road, she flew away from Amazon territory taking an erratic path no one would never be able to track her.

When dawn's rosy fingers began to crawl across the sky she slowed down, and stopped by a brook, she ate rations and took out a scroll and began to scribble.

...........................................................................................

II.

Captured or Deus ex machine

Melosa never had been a very good liar; she used the story of Gabrielle's birth to distract from her lie. Xena pretended like she left with her army but she doubled back, sure enough in the middle of the night a rider flew from the territories.

Following her was tough, but Xena liked a challenge, in the moonlight she saw the white-blond hair whipping around the small figure's face.

As day broke Xena was able to see the Amazon Bard in living color, she was indeed very beautiful, blond, muscular, but feminine in her movements, curvy, her skin the color of heavy cream.

She pulled out a scroll and began to scribble; Xena felt her anger like a flash of inspiration. She crept forward. Something made her stop.

"Aries?" she asked and turned to see another blond scantily clad in a pink gauzy material, she frowned.

"Aphrodite?" Xena asked.

"You stay away from her Conqueror," she said.

"Interesting" Xena, said.

"Sis" Aries appeared, "What seems to be the problem?"

"You keep her away from Gabs" Aphrodite told him.

"Xena is my chosen" he said, "She sees something she wants, I'm not going to stop her"

"Unfair" Aphrodite whined, "I won't let this happen"

A sword appeared in Aries hand,

"You and what army?"

Aphrodite gave a mewl of anger and disappeared in sparkles of light.

Aries laughed,

"Go get her tiger"

"Thanks" Xena pulled her chakram from her belt she gave a war cry and flipped in the air.

.............................................................................................

Gabrielle heard the cry, a chill went up her spine, she stood dropping her scroll and grabbing her sais turning to see the Conqueror Xena flying towards her.

"Stop"

Athena the goddess of wisdom and war appeared in her silver armor, her arm up raised and stopped time, Xena stayed in the air four feet from landing, Gabrielle poised for a fight.

Aphrodite and Artemis appeared behind her.

"What is going on here?" Aries asked.

"I can't allow Gabrielle to be hurt," Athena said with much authority.

"You're taking up for a bard?" Aries asked.

"She is my child" Athena said.

"And mine" Aphrodite said.

"As well as mine" Artemis said a bashful look crossed her face.

Aphrodite laughed,

"All the A's, cool."

"If you don't want Xena hurt you'll tell her to back off," Artemis said she was dressed like an amazon, her red hair tied into one braid.

"Is that a threat?" Aries asked.

"It sure is big bro," Aphrodite insisted.

"You don't think they could fight it out without our interference?" Aries asked.

"Of course Gabrielle could mop the floor with Xena" Artemis said, "She's an Amazon after all"

"But she's not as heartless or experienced as Xena" Athena said.

"Plus she's had her Mummies looking out for her, I've always wondered how she's traveled from Britannia to India without being murdered" Aries laughed.

Aphrodite frowned,

"You help Xena"

"I give Xena rewards, she gives me power" Aries "What does Gabrielle give you" Aries asked.

"Hey she's gonna change the world one day buddy" Aphrodite said.

"How?" Aries laughed, "All I've seen are some drivel on some scrolls"

The goddesses were riled and he knew it, Athena stepped forward,

"Ok Aries a challenge, Gabrielle will conquer Xena but in a different kind of battle" Athena said.

Aphrodite stepped in front of her,

"No way Athena"

The goddess of wisdom put a hand on her sister's shoulder to quiet her while their sister spoke.

"We'll let Xena capture Gabrielle but you must put a spell on Xena make her not want to kill Gabrielle to keep her alive" Artemis said.

"What are you getting at, what kind of battle?" Aries asked.

"Love silly" Aphrodite said, "If anyone can get that jerk Xena to love its Gabrielle"

Aries threw his head back in laughter,

"You're insane, the three of you, Xena is incapable of love"

"Then you'll take the bet," Artemis said.

"No wait I haven't agreed to this" Aphrodite said, "Xena's a monster, she'll hurt our Gabby"

"No interference?" Aries asked, "None at all. None of Eros's arrows"

"Except the spell" Athena said.

Aries smiled,

"What do I get in return, you get Gabrielle is she can make Xena" he paused to laugh, "Love. What do I get?"

"I will give you Athens" Athena said, "It will become your city"

"Hotdamn" Aries grinned, he waved absentmindedly at Xena stuck in the air, a blue halo surrounded her head for a moment then disappeared.

"Fine" Athena said, "And no interference. Artemis" the Goddess of the hunt nodded in agreement, "Aphrodite?" the Goddess of love reluctantly agreed.

"The thing is done" Aries said, "But this I have to see"

"We'll stay too" Athena snapped her fingers and Xena landed on her feet.

..................................................................................................

As she landed her knees buckled a bit, a wave of dizziness tried to take her but she shook it off. Xena threw her chakram at the bard who ducked; the weapon hit a stone in the brook and bounced back into her hand.

"Gabrielle, the Amazon Bard I presume" she said to the blond.

"The Conqueror of Nations" Gabrielle answered, "You look taller when you're threatening my mother"

"I hear you're somewhat of a fighter," Xena asked ignoring the comment.

"Somewhat" Gabrielle answered.

Xena flipped high over her head, Gabrielle turned and her sais locked with the Conqueror's sword. She pushed the smaller woman back with her gauntleted fist and kicked her in the chest.

The bard fell to the ground but was up again ready Xena grinned manically and came after her sword swinging. Gabrielle attacked her hand, rapping her knuckles with the handle of one of her sais.

The Conqueror grinned.

"No one's ever done that"

She did a jump-spin kicking the bard in the chest she flailed and kept her balance, she struck with her sais but Xena jumped back she dropped to a crouch one leg extended knocking the bard off her feet.

She was on Gabrielle in a split second pinning her arms, head butted the young bard once, and then twice.

Xena grunted, she sat up hands on her hips still straddling the unconscious Amazon,

"Short and to the point" she said standing.

She removed a short dagger from her breastplate and put it to the bard's throat, the sharp blade contrasted with the soft tender skin at her throat.

Xena frowned; sighed and stood she bent and hefted the bard over her shoulder.

"Gods you're heavier than you look," she said.

.........................................................................................................

Gabrielle moaned and came to a bit, she found herself thrown over Rabbit's saddle. Her arms and legs were bound, she wiggled and yelled, or at least she tried only to discover that she was gagged.

Aphrodite appeared, and Gabrielle's eyes widened, she was not sure who the woman in pink was, but she implored her for help.

"I'm sorry punkin," she said placing her hands on either side of the bard's face,

"Go to sleep ok?"

Gabrielle fainted away.

"No interference Aphrodite" Aries warned.

"She's hurt" the Love Goddess pouted, "You know I don't like this at all"

"Neither do I" Aries said and laughed, "Not"

They vanished as Xena came out of the woods fixing her breeches. She looked around suspiciously then mounted her horse turning to make sure the unconscious bard's horse was still tied to her own.

"Ha" she sent the horses into a gallop.

By nightfall the bard was awake, Xena set up camp and helped Gabrielle off the horse and onto a nest of furs.

She moaned in pain from riding in a saddle on her stomach.

"What do you want with me?" she asked the Conqueror.

She frowned puzzled,

"I really don't know" she said her eyes sparkled in the firelight "Consider yourself lucky I didn't kill ya"

Gabrielle shivered, simultaneously her stomach growled. Loudly.

Xena looked up,

"Forget about it I'm out of rations"

"Out?" Gabrielle asked, "The Conqueror of Nations who rules from Chin to Britannia, who has coins that bear her face, is out of rations?"

"What part of 'out of rations' don't you understand?" Xena asked, "I ran out this morning, its too dark to hunt...I don't mind going hungry...there's worse pain, and plus it reminds me where I came from"

"Where did you come from?" Gabrielle asked scratching at her nose with her bound hands, "There is a legend that Aries cut you from his calf"

Xena laughed,

"Yeah or there is one where Zeus got really bad gut cramps squatted and shat me out"

The bard frowned,

"Or that one"

"No Amazon I came from a man and a woman, from Amphipolis a mediocre place" Xena said staring into the fire, "Unlike you a gift from three goddesses, I was surprised to hear that you know, makes you more interesting"

"Is that why you didn't kill me?" Gabrielle asked.

Xena shrugged still staring into the fire,

"Maybe"

"My Mother tells me they watch over me, but I've been in some scrapes where some higher intervention would have been welcome, I sure wouldn't be in this mess" the bard said, and suddenly remembered the busty blond in pink.

"I see Aries all the time" Xena said, she had never revealed this to anyone, and few people knew she came from Amphipolis, she was surprised that she was telling so much to the young Amazon.

"He can be a real pain in the ass"

Gabrielle gave a little smile and looked away when their eyes me, Xena swore she saw a blush.

"Maybe Melosa is lying, she can't stand men, but to have a baby you need them, so she finds a secret lover and has you, and makes up that lame story" Xena said.

Gabrielle frowned,

"My Mother is too noble of spirit to concoct stories"

"Like daughter like mother" the Conqueror hissed.

"You know I bet all I have to do is call on the goddesses and they'll come and save me, I mean I pray, I do good deeds, all I need to have is faith in something other than myself" Gabrielle said.

The Conqueror gave a mock expression of sympathy, then turned to stone,

"Go on try it"

"I will" Gabrielle said and cleared her throat, "Artemis, Goddess of the Moon, the Hunt and all things Wild, of Virgin Maids..."

Xena chuckled, and Gabrielle blushed but went on.

"Hear me, I Gabrielle the Amazon Princess call upon you in my time of need. Save me from Xena Conqueror of Nations and restore me to your Mother Queen Melosa of the Greek Amazons"

They sat silent for a while listening to the woods.

Xena gave a snort,

"Bard if you're done making a fool of yourself, I'd like to get some sleep"

The Conqueror crawled under her own furs and soon began to snore.

"Artemis" Gabrielle whispered, "I don't know what she's going to do to me, for the first time in my life I am truly afraid...I want to keep my promise to my mother...please"

A solitary tear rolled down her cheek, she lay on her furs and closed her eyes tight.

"Please help me"

............................................................................................................

As the Amazon Bard fell asleep Artemis appeared and stroked her hair,

"I am here Gabrielle," she sighed, "There is a long journey ahead, and you must use all the gifts we bestowed upon you at birth...I would help you, but you need to do this alone for the fate of the world"

Aphrodite appeared,

"She doesn't call for me when she needs help, I would say Aries can have Athens I want Gabby to be safe"

Athena appeared next to her,

"She will succeed Aphrodite, as long as Xena cannot kill her"

"There's worse" Aphrodite said and narrowed her eyes, "That Conqueror, I can feel the lust in her heart, what's crossed her mind-"

"Yeah very entertaining" Aries walked from the trees, "That's Xena she never could look away from a well-turned-"

"Gabrielle is not that type of woman." Artemis thundered, making the two mortals stir in their sleep.

Aries backed away,

"Yeah I know, goddess of virgin maids, you've sent her chastity out like a lamb to slaughter"

"No" Artemis said, "Only her true love-"

"Not as long she's around Xena" Aries said and disappeared.

Artemis went to Gabrielle and picked her up,

"I'm taking her home"

"No" Athena said, "Sister wait, if she is to love the Conqueror-"

"I don't care" Artemis said, "If Xena hurts her in that way I can't be responsible for what actions I'll take"

Athena put a hand on her shoulder,

"Then who will take Xena's place? Callisto her general or the insane Shamaness Alti?"

Artemis sighed defeatedly,

"They would destroy the Amazons"

"Exactly" Athena said, "Put her down, everything will be fine"

"My wise sister, not even your love for Gabrielle will cloud your wisdom" Artemis placed the young Amazon on the furs.

The three stood over the bard and finally vanished.

...................................................................................................

"Hey Amazon get up"

Gabrielle opened her eyes and murmured;

"Mother?"

"Naw it's just me the Conqueror of Nations. Get up" Xena said.

Gabrielle sat up slowly, her blond hair tousled.

A knife appeared in Xena's hand, the bard gasped startled; in one swift motion her capturer cut the ropes that bound her legs.

"You get to ride sitting up today Amazon" Xena led her to her own horse, and helped her on.

"I can't" Gabrielle said wearily, "I'm starved out of my mind"

Xena grunted and mounted Rabbit,

"Home is close by, be there by noon if we hurry"

The Amazon's stomach growled in protest,

"How can you go so long without eating?"

"Discipline. The body can go a few days without food, I mean without getting too weak to even stand. The need of food, the stopping and eating, or even worse catching and preparing is a distraction" Xena explained, "I train my armies to go days without food, snatching what they can as they go, roots, berries, grubs, there is even a soft kind of bark that is good to eat"

Xena turned to look at the bard, she was actually listening, and she was always listening. The Conqueror grunted.

"I can't tell you how many armies I've got the drop on during breakfast, or dinner, war does not stop for meal times Amazon"

"Hard to get used to" Gabrielle said.

"I learned at an early age, practically grew up during a great famine. I'm talking about tough times Amazon, not like you, I can tell Melosa still coddles you, back then in Amphipolis it was literally eat or be eaten" Xena turned and sighed as if she were talking about fond memories.

"How barbaric" Gabrielle commented.

"I'm grateful, every night I thought I would die of starvation, but every morning I woke up. My father was weak, he died and I had to take charge, I learned to bend people to my will Amazon" Xena stopped the mare and turned to face Gabrielle,

"I learned that life has to be beaten into what you want it to be, that is how I got where I am today, not Aries, not my fighting skills or my fierceness, but my will"

"Ha" she heeled Rabbit into a gallop, the other horse followed jarring Gabrielle's tired bones.

The day brightened but remained chilled, the cold seeped through Gabrielle's coat and pricked her skin.

When the sun was high over-head she spotted the walls of Corinth.

The dark warrior grunted and called for the horses to go faster, as they approached the gates four armed guards stepped on to the road, they wore the burnished brass hawk on their hard leather breast-plates.

"Halt. What's your business here in the Palace City?" one of them asked.

"I live here" Xena hissed.

The soldiers all fell to one knee.

"Lord Xena"

The Conqueror turned to Gabrielle,

"Welcome to Corinth, the Palace City"

They rode on through the gates soldiers pouring out of the woodworks to flank them, men and women bowed their heads and peered up at Gabrielle curiously. She held her head high not bothering to look into the eyes of the people.

"You ever come here in your travels bard?"

Gabrielle shook her head.

"Well it's a pretty nice place to live, that is if you're in charge"

They rode through the city to the Palace compound, more guards stood watch over a great wooden door with a great X across it. The door creaked open and a blond on a sandy colored horse rode out to meet them.

"Lord Xena, Hail"

"Hail General Callisto" Xena answered.

"Is that who I think it is?" the gray-eyed blond asked she wore a gauntlet too though it was not as impressive as the Conqueror's,

"She's stunning"

"Ask her yourself" Xena said and turned to Gabrielle, "Introduce yourself Amazon"

"I'm Gabrielle Amazon Princess Bard," she answered haughtily.

"In that order?" Callisto asked smiling, She turned to Xena, "M'lord if I may be so bold as to suggest a public crucifixion?"

"Not this one" the Conqueror replied dismounting she went to Gabrielle knife drawn, "She's going home... I want you to go to the Amazon nation"

She pulled Gabrielle roughly to the ground and cut off a tuft of blond hair.

"Give this to Queen Melosa, tell her I've already harmed more than one hair on her daughter's head so she'd better come quick to discuss the ransom"

Callisto grinned menacingly taking the hair and smelling it with relish,

"Lovely"

............................................................................................................

III.

A Sacrifice or First Fruit Soup for the Warrior's Soul

"Amazons" the people whispered, "Look there Amazons"

Queen Melosa raised her chin, she led the line of the most elite Amazon Guard through the streets of Corinth, they were flanked by what seemed to be the most lecherous of Xena's hawks.

Velasca and Ephiny rode behind her,

"Commoners" the red head hissed, "I hope we can fetch the Princess and leave here quickly"

"Savages" a woman called out.

"Harlots" a man called out and threw an egg from the basket he carried, the rank broke as the egg splattered on the cobbled streets.

"Steady girls" Ephiny said, "Almost there"

They were led through the palace gates to the main courtyard where Xena waited with her renegade Amazon shamaness Alti and the crazed General Callisto.

"Melosa" Xena said in greeting.

"Where is she Conqueror?" the Queen asked, Velasca and Ephiny behind her.

"She's fine" Xena answered, "Now can we sit like civil leaders and talk"

Melosa snorted,

"I apologize Lord Xena, I must know that Gabrielle is safe"

Xena waved her hand,

"This way"

They walked through her stone halls marked with black tapestries woven with silver threaded X's. The group reached a great room with a long table. The Amazon guard lined up against the wall while Velasca, Melosa and Ephiny sat. Xena and her regents sat across from them.

On the table was a map of Amazon territory, marked in red was the river that straddled the territory, it was slow moving and wide enough for ships, it led out to sea.

Melosa looked away and her heart sank,

"Whatever you want Conqueror just give me Gabrielle"

Ephiny and Velasca exchanged looks Xena caught their gaze and smiled.

"Go get our guest of honor Callisto"

"Yes Lord Xena" the regent rose and left.

............................................................................................................

Gabrielle shivered and tried to remember the last meal she ate; venison, spicy, juicy, no trace of fat, wine, leafy greens, orange roots, roasted apples and plenty of nut-bread. That had been the night she stole away from home so sure she would see it again the next Winter, perhaps she could see it again, but at what price?

Her stomach had long ceased to growl it had been properly disciplined. Xena's dungeons were as cold and dark as her heart, at least a bit of grimy light seeped through a dusty crack. Sometimes a shadow would pass it, and sometimes Gabrielle smelled horses, she figured she was near a stable.

There was a creak in the darkness that made Gabrielle start, she had heard the sound two days before when she was thrown down into the darkness.

"Amazon" Callisto crooned.

Gabrielle stood and blindly shrank away from the crack of light.

"Now don't be that way" Callisto purred, "Your Mommy's here to bargain, and if everyone plays nice you're going home"

Gabrielle inched towards the sound of the General's voice, hands seized her hair suddenly and she was pushed to the floor.

"C'mon now" Callisto urged her to her feet, "Everyone's waiting"

The light beyond stung her eyes, even the mellow glow of torchlight was jagged she closed her eyes and leaned on the General.

They seemed to walk an eternity, Gabrielle soon heard commanding voice of her mother and began to weep. She opened her eyes and saw them, her mother the queen, the regents Velasca and Ephiny, she realized she was filthy and defeated like something wild broken. She felt ashamed.

Gabrielle staggered and fell to the stone floor.

Melosa came and gathered her daughter in her arms,

"It's ok my darling, I'm here now"

"Mother, I'm so sorry, I'm sorry," the bard cried.

"Don't worry about a thing" Melosa stood gently urging her daughter to her feet, turning a fury on Xena.

"You said she was fine, she's weak and cold as ice"

The Conqueror shrugged,

"Consider it her punishment for the slander of my name"

Melosa snorted,

"Ephiny"

The regent came and held Gabrielle while Melosa went to look at the map.

"The River of Light, I suppose I can give you access to it," the Queen said.

"Oh, you will Melosa" Xena grinned and extended her hand to bind their contract.

"No" Gabrielle pushed away from Ephiny and stood on her own, "Don't make any deals with her Mother, don't let her use me to get the upper hand, if you do the Amazon Nation is dead"

"Gabrielle please" Melosa said.

"You don't have to do this. I will come back to you. She is the Conqueror of Nations, capable of only chaos and ruin; you can't make any deals with her. Please"

Gabrielle begged.

Xena caught Callisto's gaze and gave a quick look to Gabrielle, the blond in black punched the Amazon Princess in the back of the head, the bard crumpled to the floor.

Ephiny flew at her sword drawn Callisto drew her own blade.

"Enough" Xena said, "Melosa"

She extended her hand and the queen stepped forward to take it but paused.

"If you leave Corinth she will be mine to do with as I please Melosa" Xena warned, "I will make it punishable by death to even speak her name, I will pay a prince's ransom for any scroll with her name on it, I will make it so she never existed"

"I cannot Conqueror, she is my daughter and I would give my life rather than see her fate in your hands, but I cannot trade the Amazon Nation's fate for hers" Melosa cast a glance down at her unconscious daughter, her face crumpled in grief.

"I must go" she raised her hand and the guard began to file out of the room.

"So this girl has not made you so soft" Xena said, "Don't worry I'm not going to kill her, I'll just make every day she lives a torment"

"Do what you will" Melosa left the room followed by Velasca who wore a look of triumph and Ephiny who was in tears.

"Sonofabacchae" Xena growled and pounded the table with both fists.

"Should I kill them all?" Callisto asked.

"No let them go" Xena hissed, "That girl will pay for this"

"Kill her Conqueror" Alti spoke, "Kill her now or you will perish"

On the floor Gabrielle moaned.

"Shut up Alti" Xena went to the Bard stooped and grabbed a handful of her hair and picked up her head, she leaned close.

"Do you think what you've done is noble?" she asked, "DO you think the pain I have in store for you will not hurt you because you have sacrificed yourself? I will make it my duty to make sure you regret sending your mother away from here"

"If you want the Amazon Nation then take it" Gabrielle murmured, "It is one land you cannot conquer because you respect its people, you care for them"

Xena dropped her head and looked up at Callisto.

"Take her back down to the dungeon, I must think"

........................................................................................................

"Wake up Amazon"

Gabrielle woke up and saw Xena in the darkness.

"Today you meet your public, all your fans are waiting" she hauled the bard to her feet but she was too weak to stand.

"You stink" Xena said, dragging her across the cold stone. Outside the daylight was blinding she could hear shouts and sounds.

"Tie her" Xena let go of her and the bard fell to the ground.

Men, Xena's hawks rolled her on her back, she felt a stiff plank of wood against her back, her arms were stretched wide apart, her legs tied together then bound to the plank.

Her eyes focused at the sudden horror of realizing she was about to be crucified.

She began to weep.

"No you don't get off that easily" Xena said, "Load her into the wagon"

The men lifted the cross and put it into a wagon, Gabrielle watched the sky above her, the clouds, just like the ones that floated above the Amazon nation.

"You alright in there?" she heard Xena call as the wagon stopped.

Gabrielle was unloaded and found herself in the town's square a crowd had begun to gather to watch.

There was a hole lined with cement into which the base of the cross fit. To her left she saw a stockade to her right an iron cage in the shape of a man, tall enough to fit any man but not so wide.

"Attention people of Corinth, my loyal subjects" Xena began raising her gauntleted fist, the silver and brass caught the sun, the reflected rays refracted glowing like the power of the gods,

"I come to you this day to present an enemy to me and you" she paused, "An Amazon Princess"

The crowd rippled with murmurs.

"You have heard of her I'm sure, her name is Gabrielle, and she is a bard" Xena began, "From this moment it is against my law to read or be in possession of any scroll bearing her mark, any one in violation is a traitor and will be put to death"

She stepped away from the cross and entered the crowd, Gabrielle watched her stand among them, and look up at her.

Something sharp struck her outstretched arm and she jumped.

"Amazon whore" someone yelled.

"Traitor" came another yell and another stone hit her in the stomach.

The rest came in a short barrage stopped by the Conqueror.

"Enough" she said, "Go back to your business"

The crowd dispersed, Xena remained looking up at the amazon bard.

Gabrielle struggled to catch her breath.

"I hope your Amazons appreciate what you've done for them" she called.

"You can silence me" Gabrielle said, "But there are other amazons bards, and one day when you're old and gray you'll hear my story, how I gave myself so that the river that led to the sea would always belong to the daughters of Artemis"

Xena regarded her coldly, then turned and walked out of the square.

............................................................................................................

"This is just the beginning Aphrodite" Aries appeared behind his sister who stared up at the bard on the cross. Night had begun to fall and the temperature dropped, though the goddess of love was not affected by the elements she knew the cold was getting to the bard.

"Xena is a genius when it comes to breaking someone down"

"Oh my poor punkin" Aphrodite said.

"Cut her down, take her home" Aries said, "Athena will lose her city but she'll get over it. Gabrielle will be safe"

"Athena, Artemis, I'm getting her down" Aphrodite announced.

The other two goddesses appeared.

"Look" Artemis pointed to Xena riding into the square.

The warrior ordered the guards to cut Gabrielle down; she set the bard on her horse and led them out of the square.

............................................................................................................

Under Xena's supervision she was bathed, her wounds tended, and redressed in a Roman style black dress of silk.

"Arrange her hair" Xena told the female slaves, "In some way presentable"

Gabrielle was barely aware of anything as she was sat on a bunch of cushions.

"We're having a guest for dinner" Xena said, "So try to compose yourself, you've not spoken a word since I got you off the cross"

Gabrielle shuddered as she thought sharp rocks flying at her, biting her skin.

"It wasn't so bad" Xena said, "If I'd have let them go on you would have come done in pieces"

She walked around to inspect the bard,

"Perk up we're going to see a real fan of yours, he'll be disappointed if you're not your usual dynamic self" Xena stooped licked her thumb and rubbed at a spot on the bard's face under her eye,

"They got you good there, thought I put you high enough where your pretty face wouldn't get bruised" she stood, "Alright girls that enough, c'mon bard"

She was led to the same room where she had last seen her mother; Gabrielle faltered in her step but was supported by the Conqueror. The table was laid out in a sumptuous feast of fruit, cheese, bread and wine a great steaming pot was brought in by a strong-armed female.

Gabrielle's stomach rejoiced and she did not silence it.

A man stood by a chair, his head down, he was young but shook like an old man, he looked up at Xena and Gabrielle, his eyes had been beaten shut, he was bruised and dirty, his hair matted with filth.

"Paulus" the Conqueror said, "You remember Gabrielle the Amazon Bard"

He nodded and lowered his head.

"I'm sorry" Gabrielle said, "I'm afraid I don't remember you"

"S-sparta" he said, "The storm, you told the story about the flood"

"Oh the Hebrew story" she gave a small smile and looked at the Conqueror who smiled pleasantly enough.

"Shall we sit?" she asked and they did, Xena watched as Gabrielle tried to make small talk, she seemed to know that whatever she had been through was not as bad as the man Paulus. Xena wanted to laugh, the bard actually bothered to pity the maggot, she did look striking though paler than the first time she saw her at the river.

The servant ladled out soup it was thick and red, Xena watched as her prisoners began to tuck in before drinking some of the broth.

Gabrielle slurped she had never tasted anything so delicious, she felt the strength return to her body as she ate.

Paulus sloshed his soup around; his hands trembled as her brought the shallow porcelain bowl to his lips.

The bard watched the bruised man over the lip of her bowl she turned her eyes to Xena who watched her intently, she looked away from the Conqueror down at her soup, there was a pale meat inside, and vegetables.

"Paulus" Xena said picking out the delicacies with a knife, "Tell the bard here about yourself"

"Uhh, I'm uhh" he trembled, "I'm a merchant, but I like to tell stories"

Xena nodded and turned to Gabrielle,

"He also has a wife and two children"

"Sounds like you have a fine family" the Bard smiled warmly.

Paulus smiled back he had lost some teeth and the spaces were bloody,

"Gabrielle I thank you, I must say you surely are the very soul of kindness, and quite beautiful"

She blushed.

"Thank you Paulus"

Xena leaned back in her chair,

"Speaking of children, do you remember the famine of Amphipolis I told you about Gabrielle"

She nodded refusing to look into the eyes of the Conqueror.

"Well it seems despite the lack of food babies continued to be conceived, a fever struck, many people died, they were too weak to fight off the slightest thing anyway, there was a great sick camp where they went to die" she got that same look in her eye as if memories of death were fond,

"Anyway in those camps you would see men and women attempting still to satisfy their lust, and the women would get pregnant, they would die the mother and the babies, but me and my gang we were so hungry, starving, we would wait around and when a mother passed and her baby was left at her cold teat we'd snatch it, drown it and eat it"

Gabrielle pushed her bowl away, her appetite gone.

"I acquired a strange taste since then, a baby's flesh is most tender, very sweet amazon. Every now and then I still indulge" Xena said pushing the bowl back at the bard.

Gabrielle spied the remnants of her meal, hair thin strips of pale meat,

"What are you saying?" she asked.

"I'm saying that I had some men go to Delphi make some inquiries, find Paulus's wife, take away her children, bring them to Corinth and have them made into soup" the Conqueror said.

Paulus gave a mournful cry and flung his bowl to the floor he lay his head on the table and sobbed.

Gabrielle stood to run but her legs failed her, she fell on her hands and knees and began to vomit.

"Guards" Xena called pounded a gauntleted fist on the table, "Get these two out of my sight"

............................................................................................................

In the dark dungeon of the Conqueror Paulus cried in her arms all night, she told him the Hebrew story, anything to take her mind away from the fact that she had eaten the flesh of children and had began to recite Homer before falling asleep herself.

Gabrielle woke up to the sound of boots on stone she and Paulus were hauled outside by to men to a circle of guards they parted to reveal Xena at the center, there was a block iron the height of a table with shackles connected to it.

"Good morning" Xena said hefting an axe in one hand, "Who wants to die first?"

Paulus began to struggle.

"Buck up man" Xena said she winked at Gabrielle,

"Chain him up," she said to the guards.

"No. No" Paulus pleaded as he was chained up.

"What reason do you have to live? You ate your children last night and didn't have the decency to throw 'em back up" Xena laughed cruelly.

"No it's not his fault, he was starved" Gabrielle spoke up "and you killed his children Lord Xena, you sent men to Delphi, you have that despicable thing done"

"No actually I didn't" Xena said and jerked her head, the guards parted again and a small brunette and two children were brought into the circle by Callisto.

"Paulus" the woman screamed the children clung to her skirts and began to whimper for their father.

Gabrielle gazed into the Conqueror's eyes,

"Don't do this"

Xena shrugged,

"If I give this man's fate to you amazon, what will you give me in return?"

Gabrielle shook her head,

"I have nothing but my life"

The dark warrior seemed satisfied,

"Let me get this straight, you'd spare his life so he could go home to the old ball and chain, and the rugrats and mommy won't have to see him lose his head?"

"I would" the bard answered and shivered.

"Naw no thanks" she raised the axe.

"No." Gabrielle stepped forward, "What do you want from me?"

"You" Xena answered, "In my bed, your first fruits of passion, for you to be my bed slave"

"Fine" the bard answered and gave a defiant look opening her mouth to speak.

"Yeah, yeah I can have your body but not your soul, I will never have your heart, blah blah blah, insert virtuous mumbo jumbo here" Xena grinned, she looked down at Paulus.

"Unchain him, give him some money and send him back to Delphi, he's done me a great service"

............................................................................................................

To Gabrielle's relief she was not thrown back in the dungeon, she was cleaned up and shown to a tiny room, with a soft bed, a chair, a table and a small barred window. The same thick-armed servant who had ladled out soup brought bread, fruit, wine and water.

Gabrielle fell into the food, and found that the bread had tiny berries baked in; she devoured the entire loaf in seconds.

"Good huh?" the servant asked, "Thought it up myself, Lord Xena loves those little berries, calls them ack-berries"

"Ack-berries?" Gabrielle asked.

The servant shrugged,

"You might know them as goose berries, but its against the law to call them nothing but ack-berries...I'm Minya by the way"

"I'm-"

"Yeah I know Gabrielle Amazon Bard, the Amazon Bard, I heard the queen of the amazons came to barter you back but you refused...I saw them amazons, you know which one was the queen?"

Gabrielle smiled,

"Queen Melosa, tough looking, muscular, stately, black wavy hair..." her smile broke and her face distorted from grief,

"My Mother"

"Oh dear" Minya put a large hand on her shoulder, "I sorry, she's very beautiful though, like you sweetie...oh dear don't cry"

"I'll never see them again," Gabrielle sobbed.

"Of course you will, just have faith," Minya said softly.

"Faith?" the bard asked, "I've been beaten, starved, tortured emotionally and physically and now..."

"I'm sure it'll be ok," Minya said.

"What's going on in there?" the door opened and Callisto was there, "Slave are you fraternizing with the amazon?"

"No General Callisto" Minya lowered her head and scooted out.

The blond turned her sights to Gabrielle,

"Aww" she dramatically bent the corners of her mouth down, "Gabwielle don't wanna lose her precious virginity to the big bad warrior?"

The amazon quickly wiped her face with the backs of her hands.

"A waste of time, I would have killed you long ago, your scrolls really pissed Xena off, she wants to see you suffer...hard and long"

Gabrielle shivered and the other blond laughed.

"Ta, next time I see you, you'll be a woman so to speak"

............................................................................................................

"Well listen to my story 'bout Gab-ri-elle cute little gal that's looking damned swell perfect hair such a sexy lass nice round breasts and a firm young ass" Xena belted at the top of her lungs as she bathed,

"Big finish" she hooted, "Nice round breasts and a firm young aaass"

"Xena" Aries appeared, "I like what you've done with the bard"

The Conqueror got out of the tub and quickly covered herself,

"What can I do for you God or War?" she asked.

"Nothing" he answered and laughed, "That making her think she ate children bit, that's a real work of art"

"What can I say?" Xena went behind a silk screen to change.

Aries watched her shapely silhouette lose the towel and dress in a robe.

"You're not actually going to go through with this first fruits thing?"

Xena walked from behind the screen,

"I am" she said, the robe was black and trimmed in silver, "This bard has taken a lot of my time, and its her fault I lost the river, its time she gave something back"

"Well I only asked because Artemis is breathing down my neck she thinks I should stop you" Aries said.

"Tell her not even her hounds could chase me away from that particular bard tonight" Xena clapped her hands and picked up a brush from a dressing table and took it through her black hair, she picked up a bottle of some amber liquid poured a drop in her hands and slapped her hands on her neck,

"How do I look?"

"Good enough to eat" the God of War said.

"I was going for a 'coming for your first flowers' look" she shrugged and left.

When she was gone three angry goddesses appeared,

"No interference Bro" Aphrodite said, "Why are you trying to talk Xena out of going to Gabrielle?"

"He knows that Xena is already falling for her and it's only a matter of time before he loses" Artemis grinned.

"Hey I'm trying to look out for Gabrielle just like you, she's practically family" Aries said.

Gray-eyed Athena shook her head,

"This is only the beginning, Xena will definitely do the most damage to Gabrielle's psyche tonight, if she does fall in love with her our daughter will have to love enough to forgive"

Aphrodite whimpered,

"Poor punkin"

"I can't wait to see this" Aries clapped his hands together, Athena put a hand on his shoulder and he fell asleep. She looked at her other two sisters and shrugged.

............................................................................................................

Gabrielle sat trembling nibbling on more of the ack-berry bread, she had been taken to Xena's chambers a candle mark ago, and still there was no sign of the Conqueror.

The bard sighed and suddenly a wave of dizziness caught her, she fought it and took another bite of the bread.

"Hello" Xena seemed to appear out of nowhere, she wore a black silken robe that little to the imagination, her breasts bulged beneath the thing material and every step revealed a shapely leg. Without her armor and famous gauntlet she looked more powerful to the bard's surprise.

"Lord Xena" Gabrielle gave a quick bow of her head and blushed then to her surprised she giggled.

A dark eyebrow shot skyward and the Conqueror of nations sat down on her bed.

They stared at each other Gabrielle fondled what was left of the bread in her hands she realized that her own robe was just as revealing and blushed.

Xena could not wait to have the bard at her mercy begging for pleasure, that untouched amazon body was all hers. Melosa had practically abandoned her, as had her mother goddesses. She watched a blush travel from the amazon's face to unseen parts of her body.

Gabrielle grabbed her head and shook it,

"You drugged my ack-berry bread" she frowned, "Dirty trick Conqueror, then I should expect something like that from you"

"But its good bread" Xena nodded and patted the bed beside her, "Come lie down and I'll tell you a story"

The bard looked mistrustful but the henbane in the bread melted her inhibitions away, "Alright but only because I like stories"

She lay next to the Conqueror and stretched,

"Your bed is much more comfortable than mine"

"I'm the Lord of course my bed is softer but you may enjoy it every night" Xena said she lay on her side intoxicating Gabrielle more with her scent, the bard quickly broke their gaze.

"I don't like that look in your eyes, it's a hungry look like you want to eat me" Gabrielle said.

"Oh but I do bard, first I'll tell the story" Xena snuggled closer, to her surprise the bard allowed this,

"It takes place just before the famine, things started getting tough, we were living on dandelion green and goose berries. I had two brothers back then, and the youngest, he was younger than me, he hated gooseberries, every time he put one in his mouth he'd go 'ack' and spit it back out" Xena laughed, "That pissed my old man off, he would say 'soon they'll be nothing to eat boy so eat up, gooseberries a-plenty' and he'd sing a little song, 'Let me tell you my story about goose ber-ries, they're tiny and they're red and they'll give you gas, so dance a jig me boys and my pretty gal, and we'll have toot and toot a-plenty'"

"That doesn't rhyme" Gabrielle said taking another bite of bread, "But you have a nice voice Lord Xena"

The Conqueror grinned,

"Well anyway when Dad's back was turned we called them ack-berries"

"So why did you make it the law to see ack-berries instead of goose berries?" Gabrielle asked.

"Because I miss my brother, I want them to live forever somehow, so every time you say ack-berries instead of goose berries my brother's star shines all the more in the heaven" Xena explained.

"What about your other brother?" Gabrielle asked.

"I don't remember much about him, but one day I will change something for him" Xena said, "He sure liked girls a bunch and they liked him, and he liked to play ball"

The bard smiled up at her,

"You miss them"

"I do" Xena leaned closer until their lips touched, she moaned pressing until the bard's lips parted.

The ack-berry bread thudded to the floor. Xena leaned over the bard straddling her gently. She was surprisingly receptive of the kiss, and gave a moan of her own when the Conqueror's tongue entered her mouth.

Xena lifted a bit and unbelted the bard's robe, without breaking the kiss to see the tender flesh she ran her fingers up the bard's torso to her breasts. Her skin was the supplest Xena believed she had ever touched. She broke the kiss and the amazon gasped air as the Conqueror nuzzled her neck and tasted the skin there while her hands continued to explore the soft, firm breasts.

She parted the robe and lowered her mouth on to a pert nipple, and clamped it between her teeth. Gabrielle moaned and parted her legs offering up the Conqueror of Nations her first fruits.

............................................................................................................

Gabrielle woke the next morning in the Conqueror's bed she saw Minya looking at her and quickly sat up only to discover that she was naked

"Are you ok?" Minya asked.

"I-" Gabrielle ran a hand through her hair, "What happened?"

"Must have been some night, you look great though," Minya said.

The Amazon Princess slowly began to recall bit and pieces of the night before,

"Gods" she jumped out of bed wrapping the sheet around her, "I need to get dressed"

Minya shrugged,

"Can't help you there, I just bring breakfast" she lifted a bowl of porridge.

Gabrielle grabbed the skimpy robe shuddering to put it on and smell the scents that clung to it, her own sex, and another strange piquant scent.

Belting the robe securely she left the chambers, she stalked down the hallway passing Callisto on the way.

"Hey you look good"

Gabrielle extended an arm and clothes lined the blond as she passed.

She found Xena in the courtyard swinging a sword in lazy circles whistling that ridiculous berry tune.

"Hey Amazon you look-" she began but Gabrielle's fist stopped her, she fell back onto the stone floor.

"You're a monster, you didn't have the backbone to fight me for my first fruits you had to drug me and trick me into giving myself to you willingly," she kicked Xena in the side,

"Damn you Conqueror, Damn you"

She stamped off in the direction opposite she came.

Xena stood shaking off the pain of the punch, Callisto came shrieking in one hand at her throat.

The Conqueror played off her punch,

"What happened to you?"

"Amazon" Callisto shrieked.

..........................................................................................................

Gabrielle lay curled up on her narrow bed, locked up in the tiny room, she was done crying for the rest of her life she decided if she was going to be Xena's bed slave she would have to toughen up, wait patiently and one day the Conqueror would let her guard down.

"Then she's dead," the bard said, she heard the door being unbolted but did not bother to sit up.

"Well" Xena said as she entered, "If you're trying to get Callisto to kill you in a rage you certainly succeeded, my General is not used to being clothes-lined, any other slave would be severely punished" Xena burst out laughing, "But the look on her face blasting around cursing the Amazon nation that was gold"

"I struck you though" Gabrielle did not turn.

"Well no one saw that, you're lucky or else everyone around here will want a piece of me" Xena sat on the edge of the bed, "Hey I brought you a present"

"Is it my Mother? My first fruits? My horse? My scrolls? My sais? My old life?" Gabrielle asked.

"No just ink and scrolls" Xena said.

The bard sat up and turned around regarding the fine jar of ink and the loveliest parchment she had ever seen.

"I can't take those" Gabrielle said, "I'm not a whore"

"Stop being such a baby" Xena yelled, "Your first fruits had to go sometime, and I'm the best lover this side of the Euphrates"

"Is that how you justify raping me?" the bard asked.

Xena stood,

"It was not rape because you are my personal property to do what I please with"

"Like tartarus I am" Gabrielle shouted, "I'm an Amazon Princess, a bard"

"You're a pleasure slave a damned good one too" the Conqueror said, "And you'll never in your life be anything else"

Gabrielle buried her face in her hands and shook with sobs.

She heard the Conqueror leave.

........................................................................................................

"So did you strangle her?" Callisto asked.

"No" Xena said they walked down the hall a few paces, the Conqueror paused and jerked a tapestry bearing her mark off the wall and punched the bare stone,

"Sonofabacchae" she grunted, "What's wrong with me?"

"I've been asking the same question" Callisto looked bored, Xena shot her a look.

"I was going to kill that bard, and then just like that I didn't...why do I need her of all people as a pleasure slave when women throw themselves at me constantly" she sighed, "It's like I'm under some sort of spell"

She stood stock still,

"A spell it makes perfect sense...Aphrodite was trying to protect the amazon, I saw her like I see Aries, but then he came and she backed off but-" Xena paced, "She could have put a love spell on me to spare the bard's life"

"Makes perfect sense Lord Xena" Callisto rolled her eyes behind her boss's back.

"Get Alti, she'll tell me," the Conqueror said.

"Yes Lord Xena" Callisto left.

A quarter of a candle mark later Xena the Conqueror of Nations lay flat on her back on a stone slab as her shamaness chanted and stuck her with hair-fine needles and set them on fire.

"Ow" Xena said, "Is that really necessary?"

"Shh" Alti said, "There is no spell on you Lord Xena"

The Conqueror moaned,

"No love spell?"

"May I speak frankly?" Callisto asked.

"What?" Xena asked, "Anything"

"Perhaps you are not in love with the bard, perhaps you're just lusting after a firm young amazon body, you'll be sick of her in a moon or so and life can go back to normal around here" Callisto explained.

Xena sat up she resembled a smoking pincushion,

"Yeah then I'll cut her pretty head off and send it to Melosa in a box"

"Now that's the Lord Xena we all know and love" Callisto winced as the Conqueror ripped the needles from her body and bounced out of the room.

"She's losing her senses" Alti said, "Now she's unsure but our Xena will never be the same"

"What are you talking about?" Callisto asked.

"Soon she'll be getting in touch with her emotions, experiencing self-reflection-"

Callisto looked appalled,

"No"

"-regretting her cruel ways, trying to make amends, actually doing good deeds" Alti continued.

"Not Lord Xena" Callisto put her hands over her ears.

Alti nodded putting a hand on the General's shoulder,

"She's going to fall in love with the bard, she'll be weak, then you and I will rule the land"

............................................................................................................

"No" Aries stamped his foot, "Not my Conqueror of Nations"

"It begins" Athena smirked, "Xena is falling in love with Gabrielle"

"I don't lose just yet" Aries said, "She's got to say it, admit that she's been conquered by love, Xena will never do that"

The deities were gathered in a large room full of different cloths, mirrors and a loom.

"We'll see" Artemis smiled, "Gabrielle is very special"

"Too bad she hates Xena's guts" Aphrodite said.

"Too bad" Aries said, "As long as she does Xena will never admit anything"

"We'll see" Artemis vanished.

The Royal tailors Salamoneus and Vidalis were fitting Gabrielle for new clothes, Minya had described them as the biggest fops this side of the Euphrates.

"This is way too much" Gabrielle inspected a new black and white winter gown in the mirror Salamoneus held up,

"If Lord Xena expects me to dress like this from day-to-day-"

Vidalis smirked,

"These garments are lined from the finest silk in Chin, trimmed in the fur of white foxes, a rarity of Britannia."

"I can barely walk" Gabrielle said.

"I think you look great" Salamoneus said, "Its all the rage in Rome"

"I'm sorry if they're not buckskins and leather" Vidalis snorted, "You can take the amazon out of the wild but you can't take the awful fashion sense out of the amazon"

Gabrielle narrowed her eyes,

"I'm in no mood for your insults, you can just tell Lord Xena I want my old buck skins and leather back or nothing at all"

"Really" Vidalis turned up his knows, "A bit husky isn't it? This whole threat thing? And that posturing you look like a scrub woman"

............................................................................................................

As Xena walked towards her quarters she heard the second shriek of the day, she grinned and remembered the night before, a bit off pitch but she knew the voice of her lover.

Salamoneus burst from the room; Vidalis behind him long robes gathered so not restrict his get away.

"Lord Xena" Salamoneus gave a short bow and paused to lean against the wall wheezing to catch his breath.

"She's insane" Vidalis stormed, "Never in my life-"

"Hey"

They all looked up the hall to see Gabrielle.

"I'm not done with you"

"Good day Lord Xena" Vidalis gathered his robes and trotted up the hall.

Salamoneus hid behind his Lord,

"Really she is quite breathtaking if you like the wild, blond, and ill-tempered type"

Xena walked towards the bard cautiously as if trying to coral a wild mare.

"You look stunning like the Empress of Rome before I beheaded her"

"Thanks" Gabrielle said, "I think"

"I've decided to retire the rest of the day" Xena said she extended her gauntleted arm and Gabrielle took it.

In her chambers Lord Xena took a seat by the fireplace and began to remove her boots. As she struggled Gabrielle watched from a far corner her heartbeat quickened, throughout the day snatches of memory came to her and she strung them together recalling the night before.

The Amazon Princess Bard had been in love before, never with other amazons, but women who were amazons in every other way but birth, brave warriors, poets, and bards, there were a string of broken hearts from India to Britannia. They were all kind women though, not so powerful, or ruthless or as strange as Xena Conqueror of Nations.

"Well bard get over here and sit next to me" she said indicating the chair next to her with a nod of her head as she unbuckled the leather straps of her gauntlet.

Gabrielle did as she was told wary of the other woman, flashes of memory bombarded her she recalled Xena's hands all over her, lips in places other women had only been succeeded in promising if only the bard would let them closer. She had always told them that as an amazon it was her duty to save herself for her betrothed, though she had none. Sharing herself physically with someone was sacred to her, she had always known that, and it had frightened her, depending on someone even as a lover.

"Wonder what she's thinking?" the Conqueror asked herself, she stood and went to a table where various bottle sat, she took two small cups and filled them with a clearish liquid.

"You ever try sake?" she asked holding out one of the cups.

"What is it?" the bard asked warily.

"A drink from the island of Japa" Xena said.

"I've never heard of it" Gabrielle was intrigued though she was sure she should not be speaking to the Conqueror but could not help herself.

"Its even further east than Chin beyond is the edge of the world" Xena said.

"Really?" Gabrielle asked.

Xena tossed back both of the small cups to prove there was no henbane in them.

"Here go pour yourself some"

Gabrielle took the cup and stood,

"What is it like in Japa?"

Xena grinned grimly,

"All the people there have a great sense of honor" she perked "And they write beautifully, I mean their style of writing, and also the poetry, that's where the ink I gave you come from, I know you think India has the best but Japa's is much better"

The amazon poured some of the liquor and took a sip,

"Kind of strong" she wrinkled up her nose.

Xena came close taking the cup from her hand,

"I figured it would for you, amazon wine is so tame"

"But the taste is so sweet" Gabrielle said wistfully, "Especially when its warm"

The Conqueror wrapped her arms around the bard she leaned down and kissed the corner of her mouth.

Gabrielle stiffened.

"Your lips are so soft" Xena told her, "The softest I think I've ever tasted, and your skin I can't describe it"

The amazon tried to back away but the Conqueror held on.

"Please" she said, "Just relax and I promise that I will share with you one of the greatest pleasures a mortal can claim"

"I can't" Gabrielle bowed her head, "This is wrong. Don't you see?"

"But you belong to me bard" the Conqueror said her hand began to gather the new gown Gabrielle wore raising it higher,

"You made sure of that, I know you're tired of fighting, if you just let me take over, submit to me I can stop all the pain, you will be mine"

Gabrielle opened her mouth but Xena kissed it closed roughly.

"Don't give me an answer yet" she had hiked the bard's dress up and now her hand was gliding along the smooth skin of her thigh, she grasped the flesh there and felt the muscles ripple beneath, her hand traveled high.

"Let's just tonight explore the possibility that you agree to my terms, we already know what happens when you do not" Xena purred, "It'll be a game just for tonight, you'll play the lusty bard, and I'll play the ravenous warrior"

With her hand Xena discovered that the amazon's center had gone hot and moist.

The bard moaned,

"Just" she breathed, "Just for tonight"

.........................................................................................................

Gabrielle picked up the parchment and tested the ink; it was finer than any she had come across in India she began to write.

I sing the song of Xena not the Conqueror of Nations, or even the Warrior Princess but the girl of Amphipolis who grew up during the great famine there.

A knock came at the door and Callisto entered.

"I came to tell you that Lord Xena requests you to join her for the afternoon meal"

Gabrielle stood primly and stepped past the General.

The Conqueror was taking her noon meal in the kitchens, they were warm and cozy, she was busy studying a map spread out on the table as she ate.

"Bard" she said without looking up, "Sit down"

She did smiling a little at the warlord and their game from the night before. Minya brought a bowl of thick soup, brownish, the opposite of what she had been served with Paulus.

"Looks good huh?" Xena asked, "Its peasant stew, my favorite, Minya knows how to make it just right"

Gabrielle smiled as she tasted the soup and nodded.

"We're going on a trip amazon, a boat ride to Roman country, Boadecia and her rebellion have marched down and I never miss a chance to face her" Xena grinned.

She put down her spoon,

"I'm going?"

"Of course, you're a warrior if things get rough you can fight, anyway I don't want to go off and leave my favorite new toy" Xena said, "I've had Salamoneus and Vidalis reconstruct your old clothes my own little amazon"

Gabrielle smiled,

"I thought Boadecia was imprisoned"

"She escaped the clever witch" Xena sighed, "Got an army together in less than a moon, I don't know how she does it"

"She's very charismatic" Gabrielle said, "I hear"

Xena shrugged,

"An older version of yourself, but I caught you and I've caught her, maybe instead of imprisoning her this time I'll send her here to the kitchens with Minya"

The bard frowned,

"Boadecia is a very noble woman"

"You've met her?" Xena asked.

"Once or twice, I wrote a scroll about her" Gabrielle said.

The Conqueror stood suddenly,

"More the reason to put her out of commission for good"

...........................................................................................................

"I never thought a man could make amazon clothes" Gabrielle remarked, the clothes were exact down to her boots and cuffs.

"It doesn't take much imagination, just a bit of buckskin and some rawhide thread" Vidalis snorted, he tossed her coat over his arm, "Here, I put extra fur in the lining, winter is upon us you know, the collar is higher to keep the chill out"

"Thank you Vidalis, I'm sorry about the other day-" Gabrielle said.

"Don't worry about it girl, Minya told me everything" he took on of her hands into his, "I still refuse to retract my scrubwoman statements"

Gabrielle laughed and he left.

She put the coat on and went to meet Xena in the main hall; she waited in the courtyard with her own horse and Rabbit.

The mare was glad to see her owner and the feeling was mutual.

"That horse has a healthy appetite she'll eat us out of house and home" Xena commented during the tearful reunion.

They rode out to the palace gate where war wagons of weapons and supplies were waiting along with the soldiers who were to accompany them.

"I've never sailed before" Gabrielle said.

"You'll be fine," the Conqueror said distractedly around her men she acted a lot like Melosa, barking out orders, sometimes being downright cruel. Gabrielle sighed; it was going to be a long journey.

........................................................................................................

IV.

Boadecia or Real Smooth Xena!

Xena stood at the prow of the ship her hair flying in the sea's breeze, all around her crystal blue waters sparkled.

"It's something isn't it Bard?" she called.

Gabrielle clung to the side of the boat her eyes squeezed shut; she suddenly tossed her head overboard and emptied her stomach overboard.

The Conqueror made a face and went to her amazon catching her by the wrist.

"Here, hold two fingers just right here" she showed Gabrielle with her own fingers, the bard's skin was like ice.

The amazon turned an interesting shade of sickish, green then copied Xena, she straightened.

"I feel better"

"Pressure points, not just for making someone die a very ugly death" the Conqueror said, she caught some of her men watching and growled, they returned to work.

She was beginning to regret bringing the amazon along, the looks she got from the sailors, and her men.

"How about some sparring bard?" Xena asked reaching into her cloak and bringing out Gabrielle's old weapons.

"My sais, nice and polished too" she grinned and flipped them around in her hands.

"Ooo" Xena said and then frowned there was just something about seeing the bard armed,

"Still don't see the point of those things, except for throwing"

Gabrielle stepped back and bent her knees, poised low,

"Come on and I'll show you"

Xena grinned and drew her sword and swing at the bard who immediately caught the blade in one of her sais, she whipped her neck and butted her head with the Conqueror's.

"That's payback for when you captured me," she said stepping away, taking her same stance.

Callisto had come on deck and laughed,

"This kitten has claws"

"No" Xena shook off her daze, "Just a very hard head"

She lunged at the amazon again sword raised, instead of striking with the blade she extended her leg. Gabrielle moved but not in time, the kick grazed her shoulder.

"You're all defense bard, even when we fought that day I captured you" Xena said relaxing.

"I'm not usually attacking someone" Gabrielle regained her balance.

"Well I got a present for you" Xena said, she jerked her head at Callisto who went below deck.

The bard frowned.

"I was thinking you'd be no good with a sword, but a staff would do better," Xena explained.

"Staffs are beginners weapons," Gabrielle snorted.

Callisto returned with something wrapped in black velvet she handed it to the Conqueror who unwrapped it revealing a hammer as long as a staff, with a short narrow head of engraved silver.

"Pretty no?" Xena asked.

Gabrielle wrapped her hands around the handle and tested the weight; she let it rest again in the Conqueror's hands.

"It's kind of heavy," she said.

"You're swift, that's what's saved your live every time you've fought but you need strength to wield a sword" Xena explained.

"You don't understand" Gabrielle said holding up her sais, "I choose these for a reason, I could never take a life"

Callisto began to laugh Xena shot her a look.

"You mean to tell me throughout all your travels you've never taken a life?" she asked.

"No" Gabrielle took the hammer, "I accept your gift though, I rather like it" she stood resting the base by her foot, the head ended just at her elbow, she kicked the end and flipped it around catching the end and swinging it in a full circle over her head turning with it.

Xena and Callisto stepped back the force of the hammer's head cutting the wind startled them.

"Impressive isn't she?" the Conqueror asked her General.

Callisto watched the bard intently,

"Insane is more like it"

"Look at the way she swings that hammer" Xena said, "Like a fish to water"

The General left her commander to bask in the bard's glow.

............................................................................................................

In a wooded area just beyond Rome, Boadecia sat in her tent sharpening her sword when Varia one of her command came in.

"Boadecia, Xena has arrived," she said.

"Damnit" she stood, "'Round up the men-"

"No, Xena has arrived. Here" Varia said as the tall dark warrior strode in.

"Nice to see you again Boadecia" Xena said.

The other warrior drew their swords.

"Peace, Peace" the Conqueror grinned, "I came to make a deal"

"Unless it involved freeing the people from your absolute tyranny then I want none of it" Boadecia said.

Xena frowned,

"You're getting old Boadecia, once you're gone the cause will fade"

"You're not immortal Xena, just because you command the largest army in the world does not mean you'll live forever," she said.

"I'm offering you a peaceful life, to be one of my nobility, an estate all the horses you like, and any woman or man you choose to have join you" Xena told her.

"Why this offer of peace?" Boadecia asked, "If was so weak to take it..."

"You're a noble woman Boadecia but these pitiful resistances you keep springing up annoy me, but I have to admire your persistence"

"I spit on your offer" she snorted.

Xena shrugged,

"As we speak that village you convinced to harbor most of your army is being burned to the ground"

Boadecia straightened narrowing her eyes,

"How did you-?"

Xena grinned and shook her head,

"You should know me by now, I can't believe you would endanger and innocent village"

The other woman looked defeated,

"It looks as though I am beat"

"Yeah" Xena said as Callisto entered armed with a crossbow.

"Busted" she sang.

............................................................................................................

Gabrielle dozed nuzzling deep into the furs, she was glad to be on dry land again.

She hummed the berry tune to herself a bit she did not hear Xena come in only felt her slip underneath the furs. She stiffened and rolled over.

"Hey there" she growled softly wrapping her arms around the bard's waist,

"You gonna sleep in all those clothes?"

Gabrielle avoided her gaze,

"S'cold"

"Not for long" Xena snuggled closer she was quite naked.

"Please, I'm very tired" the amazon said softly.

Xena frowned,

"It's been soo long, Bard and we'd made so much progress"

Gabrielle curled up away from the dark warrior,

"You call that progress?"

Xena sighed,

"I thought amazons were fearless, now here's one afraid of her own passions"

The bard began to squirm in an attempt to get free, but the Conqueror held on.

"You're certainly not afraid of me-"

"No I'm not," Gabrielle said still struggling.

"-Or is it a good fight that puts you in the mood?" Xena asked.

Gabrielle turned around to face her,

"I will never give myself to you willingly, I've always wanted to be in love, and I blew the chances I had because I was looking for true love, but now I wished I'd have just gone and done it...if I'd have known...I would have shared myself with someone I wanted"

Xena quickly maneuvered so the bard was on her back and she was hovering above her,

"Fine be that way...the other night you finally let go, and it was like the Goddess of Love came out of the sky and graced me. I will not let you go because you are the source of that feeling"

Their gazes locked the fires of lust burned in the Conqueror's eyes, a smoldering passion in the bard's eyes.

"No one's ever" she looked away, "You don't mean that...you're just-"

Xena stopped her with a kiss; giving a soft moan the bard broke the kiss.

"I..." she began, "I'm really tired, and my muscles are sore from swinging that axe"

"That's to be expected" the Conqueror said, "Turn over"

Gabrielle looked away.

"I'm only going to relieve your muscles" Xena said, "Take off your top"

The bard turned over but did not remove her top.

The Conqueror grinned and removed it herself the bard's skin was a dream she gave her back an initial caress before probing with her fingers smoothing out knots. The amazon groaned and grunted and finally began to snore.

Xena smiled and planted a trail of kisses down the bard's back

............................................................................................................

Gabrielle left the tent and walked into the cold morning, snow flurries fell and she giggled in spite of herself tilting her head to the slate colored sky.

Xena walked behind the bard and wrapped her arms around her,

"How'd you sleep Amazon?"

"Fine" she said primly a blush rising in her cheeks.

Xena pinched the side of her chin,

"I like that"

Gabrielle smiled.

"I like that too" Xena pulled her into a kiss that the bard did not break she even put a hand gently to the warrior's elbow.

"Can we get on with this" Callisto asked.

They parted to see her standing there a dagger in her hand, behind her were a group of men in chains at their feet was Boadecia.

Gabrielle gasped,

" Lord Xena what are you doing?"

"I'm going to execute Boadecia," she answered leaving her side, "I'm afraid this is going to be the last time you meet"

"You can't do this" she followed her to the fallen warrior.

"You remember the Amazon Bard?" Xena asked her indicating Gabrielle.

"It would be hard to forget the woman who holds the key to my heart" Boadecia answered casting a forlorn look at Gabrielle.

"Now this is an interesting turn," Callisto announced.

Xena did not think so she kicked the red head and knocked her on her back, she kicked her in the side.

"You lie," she growled.

"Xena stop" Gabrielle said, "She's telling the truth"

The Conqueror ran to the bard grabbing her by the shoulders.

"So when you speak of love, its her you would give your heart to?"

"Why not?" she asked, "She's kind, she stands up for those who cannot stand up for themselves, I would gladly fight by her side"

Xena pushed past the bard.

"Then you can die with her"

"No" Boadecia rasped, "This is between you and me Xena, I asked Gabrielle to be with me and she would not whatever brought you two together-"

"Nothing brought us together" Xena said, "I captured her and I have claimed her as my own. I am the Conqueror Lord of lands from Britannia to Chin"

Boadecia shook her head,

"And you're a fool Xena, you're trying forcefully to capture a woman that not even the most tender soul could claim"

"Aren't you a little too old for her?" the Conqueror asked, then shook her head, "Callisto kill her."

"No" Gabrielle shouted running to Boadecia, she removed her sais from her boots.

"I won't let you Xena"

"Won't let me?" the Lord Conqueror asked.

"Just don't kill her," Gabrielle said, "I'll do anything"

Xena grinned and quickly tried to wipe it off,

"Yeah?"

Callisto erupted,

"Wait a minute this is the second execution she's interrupted"

"What would you give me for this woman's life?" Xena asked.

Gabrielle faltered,

"My hand"

Xena grinned,

"Now this is interesting"

"I'll be your wife, uhh, in every sense of the word," Gabrielle said.

"You don't have to do this" Boadecia said, "My bard, the keeper of my heart, I'd rather die than go back to jail again"

The amazon put her sais away, Xena walked towards her hand extended, Gabrielle went to take it. The Conqueror grabbed her hand and pulled her close, with her other hand she let her chakram fly.

A strangled cry rang through the air they turned to see Boadecia fall again this time for good.

Gabrielle screamed and broke free from Xena running to her friend.

"Boadecia" she sobbed.

"Tell me...a story," the warrior asked.

The bard sniffed and kissed her cheek,

"There was once a very foolish girl, an amazon bard who happened to meet a great warrior a noble woman who declared her for the girl..."

"But the bard was young wild and free, most of all she strived for peace in an evil world and later as the warrior lay dying she wished she had succeeded in making peace" Boadecia finished.

"And the bard was glad to have known such a valiant woman, and missed her very much for the rest of her days" Gabrielle said as Boadecia's eyes closed.

Xena smirked watching this, beside her Callisto laughed.

There was a rumble like thunder but the dying Boadecia, and the soldiers knew the sound of a charging army.

The Conqueror ran to retrieve her chakram as her victim breathed her last breath.

"You ready for a war Amazon?" she asked Gabrielle.

Soldiers charged them from either side, they had been waiting and the murder of their leader brought them out for vengeance.

"Stay close to me" Xena grabbed the bard's hand; she drew her sword fighting off the first of the attackers.

Callisto drew her sword and cried her shrill war cry killing several men with ease.

Gabrielle stayed close to the Conqueror their backs pressed together fighting off Boadecia's army.

"She had more men than I thought" Xena grunted cutting off a man's leg, he fell screaming.

The bard fought the death of her friend still fresh on her mind, she took a cut to the shoulder, Xena turned and killed the offender.

"Get in the game" the Conqueror; told her, "This is war"

"I can't" Gabrielle sobbed, "I-"

Xena scooped her up in her arms,

"C'mon"

She walked through the fallen soldiers holding the crying bad.

A man rushed at them his sword drawn.

Xena growled bracing herself.

A woman appeared in front of them in silver armor a sword drawn, she fought off the man, and anyone else who tried to attack the Warrior and the Bard.

Xena whistled for her horse, she helped Gabrielle on then mounted her self and riding away from the battle.

She took the bard into the woods and helped her from the horse.

"You could've gotten killed out there," Xena told her she peered through the trees at the battle,

"If it weren't for...who was that anyway?"

"You killed Boadecia" Gabrielle sobbed, "I would have...and I wouldn't have minded so much if you would have shown some mercy"

Xena shrugged,

"My men have come all the way out here in the cold for Boadecia's head, if I let her live again...well it would have made me look bad"

Gabrielle shook her head.

"You stay here" Xena told her, "I'm going to finish this up and we can get back to Corinth"

The bard watched her go, shivering from the cold and the grief.

"Pretty chilly out here huh?"

Gabrielle turned to see a man dressed in black leather, she snatched her sais from her boots ready to defend herself.

"Not that I feel the cold" he said, "I'm Aries, God of War"

"What do you want?" Gabrielle asked.

"To help you get home as a favor to my sister Artemis" he said, "You are one of her favored you know"

"Why didn't she come herself?" the bard asked.

"You want the help or not?" he asked he snapped his fingers and a black horse appeared.

"He's loaded with gear, enough to get you home" he said.

Gabrielle stepped away from him wary.

"So what you want to stay here with Xena?" he asked, "She will eventually kill you just like Boadecia she'll grab her chakram from your body and she'll move on to more conquests"

He then vanished.

"Thanks" Gabrielle said.

............................................................................................................

The camp had become a killing field, mostly Boadecia's men.

"Where did she find this group?" Callisto asked surveying the damage.

"An army on the run" Xena said from her horse, "I'm going to get the bard"

"Why not just leave her there?" the General called.

The Conqueror ignored her and rode to the woods,

"Hey amazon" she called, "Let's get going"

"She's not here"

Xena turned her horse to see the woman in silver armor,

"Athena, I should have known one of you would come for her"

"No she escaped on her own" Athena said, "Aries helped her, he wants Gabrielle for himself"

The Conqueror narrowed her eyes,

"Is that so?"

"Yes" Athena said, "I suggest you go after her before she falls into his trap"

Xena nodded and rode back to camp to organize a search party.

............................................................................................................

Darkness smothered and brought an icy chill, she urged the black horse faster sure that the Conqueror would be on her heels.

The distant cry of a child stopped her though, she sat in the dark and listened, she could hear more cries. Riding towards the sounds she found a road sheltered by the woods, in the distance there was the glow of a torchlight she hid and waited for the owner of the light to pass.

An old woman held the torch and behind her trailed a line of women and children, cold and miserable. Gabrielle rode out of the shadows.

"We're just women and children on our way to the next village" the old woman said.

"I mean no harm" she said, "My name is Gabrielle. What has you out on a night like this?"

"Boadecia and the Lord Conqueror Xena are fighting, our village was burned to the ground, but I suspect that you are part of one of the two factions," the old woman said.

Gabrielle shook her head,

"No, I can make us a fire and I have food"

The old woman looked suspicious,

"Why do you want to help us?"

"Listen those children will freeze to death on a night like this" the bard said, "Please just let me help you"

"I'm Mycia, and I doubt if you have enough to feed this little army" the old woman smiled her face weary.

"We'll just see" Gabrielle brightened.

The god of war was right horse was loaded with supplies enough to feed all the children and women. She made a blazing fire for them and they all sat around and Mycia even led them in a song.

The Amazon Bard was sure that Xena would find her, but it seemed better to help these people with a gift from the god of war than to escape. She recalled the Conqueror's hands roaming her body, traveling up her thigh.

"Are you Boadecia?" a small dark haired child asked, he chewed at his thumb nervously.

"No, I'm a friend of hers though" Gabrielle explained.

He smiled,

"I knew you were on our side, Boadecia she's going to defeat the Conqueror and make our village into her capital city, they'll be schools and everything"

She gave a little smile in return she did not have the heart to tell the child that his hero had failed that once again evil had triumphed.

The boy was called away by his mother and Gabrielle was left sitting,

"Why does evil keep winning?" she asked aloud.

"War will never vanquish evil" a woman walked out of the shadows, she dressed like and amazon with a bow of an impressive size on her back and a quiver of arrows, two large brown hounds flanked her.

"Who are you?" Gabrielle asked.

"I'm Artemis," the woman answered.

The bard bowed her head,

"I've always wondered how you looked"

"Gabrielle how did you get out here?" the goddess asked.

"I was captured by Xena the Conqueror, she's done awful things to me, she's made me her bed slave, and forced me to come to this war˛but I thought you knew this, Aries said-"

"Aries?" the goddess of the hunt asked.

"He gave me a horse and supplies to escape back to the Amazon Nation," she explained.

"Gabrielle the god of war is not your ally" Artemis said, "Do not trust anything he says"

The amazon sighed,

"I figured as much, I used his supplies to feed these people, Xena will probably find me by morning...Artemis my goddess there is something that I have been mulling, Xena is so evil it seems, but sometimes I see a glimmer of good in her, its so small..."

"But its there" Artemis said, "That is your answer to evil, not war, not killing innocents, it is love...love Xena and you will stop evil in its tracks"

"Love Xena?" Gabrielle asked, "Lord Xena? The Warrior Princess? Conqueror of Nations?"

"Yes" the goddess answered.

"She manipulated me out of my first fruits, she killed my friend" Gabrielle said.

"Love is the Way" Artemis said and vanished.

"No wait" the bard stood startling everyone in camp, "You can't just leave me here"

Getting no reply she sat down on the cold ground and sighed.

............................................................................................................

The morning brought a bitter frost, the amazon knew the only way to keep the party from freezing was to keep them moving, she rode ahead to make sure the path was clear of soldiers.

The broad black horse Aries gave her snorted and steamed complaining in his own way about the cold.

"Are you an enchanted horse?" she mused, "Or a real horse? Were you once a foal or did you appear with a wave the god of war's hand?"

She shrugged,

"You seem normal to me"

"Normal enough to be mine,"

Men stepped out of the woods they were a group of Boadecia's men by their rag-tag armor.

"I'm a friend of your commander" she said, "I'm helping a group of refugees to the next village"

"We've already pillaged that shit-town" one of the men said, "And Boadecia has no friends she was killed yesterday by Xena the Conqueror"

"You're supposed to be fighting to save these people not make their lives worse," she said slowly dismounting.

"Its no use girl, the Conqueror rules the world and will until someone else comes a long, fighting for good is for fools, survival is in taking what you want, and I want that horse" the man came closer.

Gabrielle removed her sais noticed another man with a crossbow aimed at her, before she could move a familiar war cry rang through the woods.

The man with the crossbow pulled the trigger, the arrow flew burying itself into the bard's upper chest, she fell to her knees, her sais in her hands sank into the snow. Instinctively she wrapped her fingers around the shaft of the arrow, she felt very warm suddenly, her chest on fire.

Xena's Hawks swooped out of the woods quickly dispatching the men led by their leader. Gabrielle reached out one bloody hand at the blurring image of the fighting warrior.

"Xena" she gasped, "Help..."

The dark warrior looked up and a puzzled look crossed her face followed by an expression of alarm of grief. She ran to the bard falling on her knees in the snow.

"Help" Gabrielle begged crumpling into the warrior's arms.

.........................................................................................................

To be continued in part two... Love on the Run or Who in Tartarus Left the Gate Open?

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