CHAPTER 1: THE SWORDSMAN
Xena had been on her way back to the amazon village to meet Gabrielle. Ephiny had summoned the princess to her side for a negotiation with the neighboring tribe of amazons.
Xena was proud of her young lover. Not only could Gabrielle tell moving stories, but she made one very good diplomat. Her voice could soothe any situation and lend reason to an otherwise hopeless situation.
So wrapped up in the pride she felt for Gabrielle, she barely heard the arrow fire, too late, it caught her in the left shoulder. The force knocked her from Argo and she landed on that shoulder.
"Ummph!!" Xena rolled to her side and regained her footing. She reached down and snapped the arrow out of her shoulder, wincing at the pain. It shouldn't have hurt that badly.
"Nooo!!" A figure ran across the road and attacked the archer. "I wanted a fair fight!! You hired me to beat her and take her to your king! I said I would, now get out of here!!" The archer ran in terror, disappearing into the night.
The figure turned to face Xena and held a hand out to help her up, Xena took the hand and felt the arrowhead twist in the wound. She eyed him mistrustfully as he helped her to a tree stump.
"You'll forgive me for being suspicious. But did I hear you say that you saved me from an assassin to kill me yourself?" The warrior asked the dark figure.
"I'm no assassin! Or a murderer, unlike some." The figure let the statement hang as he walked over to his saddlebags, he had no horse, just walked. She saw the tattoo on the back of his hand and was amazed.
"You're a ranger? One of Artemis's chosen?"
"Was a Ranger. But you took that from me."
"I took that from you? I've never met you before in my life!!"
"Not here, but at the village of Peiros, six years ago, you and your army trampled our village and the preistess who was to be my bride. Pylia was a beautiful woman, but when your armies horses trampled her? One could never see the beauty there before. She deserved better than that death! I had just received Artemis's blessing, but when she saw how I wanted revenge on you?
She stripped me of her gifts. Now, I'm going to redeem myself by killing you and make Artemis see that I can protect the innocent from scum like you!!"
"I hate to tell you this, but I don't do that thing anymore. I'm sorry for your loss. I can never replace what you lost that day, but I am trying to make up for all the harm I've caused and help people now."
"You lie! Defend yourself!" The man drew an unusual sword, it had a single cutting edge and slightly curved, it had a ring style hilt and he spun it in a dance of death and pain.
Xena had never seen such a gifted swordsman and fought as hard as she could, but that shoulder made things difficult. Not only that, the figure would alternate between using both hands and then only his right. This made it difficult to gauge how strong he was.
She made a low slash at his knee, but he leapt into the air, spinning, as he brought his left foot around in a devastating kick to her abdomen. She felt the ribs crack and she brought her sword up to defend herself from the follow-up. An overhead slash that shattered her sword.
The moon was obscured by thunderclouds as the swords both exploded as if made of glass. The figure looked on in awe as Xena collapsed from the force of the blow. He quickly brought out a similar sword and lowered it to her throat and urged her to her knees.
"Now, I suppose you want me to beg for my life?" Xena spoke softly, blood trickling along the tip of the blade against her throat.
"No, a callous murderer like you wouldn't do that."
"Maybe not before, but I will now." She said softly.
The swordsman backed away, shocked. The woman he thought incapable of emotion had just spoken from the depths that he could only suppose was her heart. How could this be? Could he have been wrong? He needed to hear more before he could decide.
"Why? Why would you beg for your life?" He looked into her eyes and saw to the depths of her soul. He was sickened to his heart. He had been wrong!!
"Because, I have a reason to live now. Someone who made me see that love is the way of the world. Not anger, fear, or hate. Redemption doesn't come from a simple changing of one's mind, but their heart."
"Who is he? He must be a very good man." The swordsman lowered his head in defeat. He couldn't kill her then sell her corpse to that king, not now that he had saw into her heart. Xena smiled at his statement.
"*HER* name is Gabrielle. And she is a very good woman. Strong, capable, wise, and beautiful beyond words." She reached into the armour that Gabrielle had helped her make for herself. A design that was less cumbersome and showed more of the warrior's beautiful frame. She held out a simple leather cord with a brass ring holding a small braid of honey-red hair.
The swordsman touched the braid and smiled wistfully, and helped her lay down as he pulled out a dagger.
"Do you trust me? That archer used War barbs. They spin into the wound, ripping the muscles. It's good that he only got your shoulder." At Xena's nod, he cut a small incision into her shoulder and removed the unusual arrowhead. It had a single edge with curved hooks along the underside. Xena nearly bit the leather strap in two. He was so gentle, then wrapped her ribs and helped her onto Argo. He handed a pouch to her.
"This is an herbal paste. It's made from certain mosses and poppy seeds, it will speed the healing of the muscles and prevent infection."
"There's quite a bit of it. Why so much? And why change your mind?"
"In our line of work? You'll need it later. The recipe is on the wrap. You only need to press a spoonfull into the wound and wrap it. And, as you said, I didn't change my mind. I had a change of heart. I've lost someone dear to me. As much anger as I feel toward you? I couldn't do that to her." He points to the necklace around Xena's neck and smiles faintly. "If she loves you as much as you her? I would have done something far worse than your army did to me. I couldn't live with myself if I did that." He starts to walk away.
"Wait! I don't even know your name."
"Amadeus. I hope I get to meet your Gabrielle sometime. She sounds really special." He turns to leave.
"She is. She'll never know how special. But I'll try to make her see." She smiled as she turned Argo to the amazon village. The moon was bright and she could make out the border as an hour's ride away.
END CHAPTER 1
CHAPTER 2: A TIME FOR HEALING
Gabrielle was waiting, Xena had promised to be here this morning, and here it was edging into early night. She thought the thunder heralded a storm, but as quickly as it came up, it vanished.
She heard a commotion as the amazon border patrol returned. She heard her name and the word 'princess' several times. When she made it to the door, it burst open as Nadria, and her mate, Sia, led a battered Xena into the hut.
"Xena?!" The little amazon ran to her lover's side and with a new found strength, took the two amazon's precious burden onto her shoulders. After gently depositing her warrior on the bed she turned to the two amazons who handed her the saddlebags from Argo.
"Thank you. You can leave us now." The two amazons nodded and left.
Alone, Gabrielle walked over to the bed and looked down at Xena who had a smile on her lips. She shook her head, Xena was obviously in pain, but didn't want to show it.
"What? Why are you smiling? Aren't you in pain?" Gabrielle leaned down to remove the bloody wrap around Xena's left shoulder.
"Yes. But seeing you, and how beautiful you look at this moment? There is no pain." Xena looked her lover over again. Gabrielle was wearing an indigo colored top with emerald green laces, it was similar to her other one, but the color was so much better. It made Gabrielle's figure even more dazzling.
She wore a soft rust colored skirt with an indigo colored leather belt with a brass clip to hold it in a seductively cut line, making a 'vee' that hugged low on her hips. It was slit up both sides, offering freedom of movement. Her lovely honey red hair had a braid in front of each ear, that rested on her shoulders, dipping towards her breasts.
"Xena? I'm going to take off your armour and get you cleaned up, okay? Then, I'm going to dress your wounds and get you in bed."
Xena nods as she watches the vision that is Gabrielle move around the hut. She felt her heart thundering as Gabrielle reached for the molded brass plate that covered Xena's breasts and unfastened the black leather strap that wrapped behind her neck and felt soft fingers trace down to the swell of her breasts. She smiled at the sight of Gabrielle's eyes, full of love and desire.
Gabrielle kissed the exposed flesh and worked her way up to Xena's lips, whispering endearments to her as she removed the rest of the leather and her boots. She led her to the tub and sat down behind her, feeling the muscles she loved so much tense, then relax as she bathed her cherished warrior.
"I've missed you. Care to talk about it?" The bard asked. Xena just shook her head and Gabrielle let it go. Xena would tell her in her own time. After bathing, they got ready for bed and slept, wrapped in each other's arms for warmth.
A few weeks later, Xena is stronger and her wounds have healed. Gabrielle listened in wonder as Xena told of her fight with the swordsman and how their swords exploded in a shower of sparks and shattered steel.
"And he stopped fighting? Why?" Gabrielle was amazed that someone as determined as Amadeus seemed didn't go through with it.
"When I told him I would beg for my life." Xena smiled.
"What?" Gabrielle couldn't beleive what she had heard. Could Xena have been that afraid of this man?
"Yes. When I told him that I had found a reason to go on living? I told him I would beg for my life so I could be with you. When he heard my description of you? He dressed my wounds and let me go."
"Oh, Xena. I'm sorry."
"Sorry?" Xena looks at her lover intently. "Sorry for giving me the one person who I'll love till the day I die? For giving me the only reason I need to keep living? Gabrielle? I'd get on my knees and beg for the chance to show you how much I truly love you, and I would a thousand times over. Do you beleive me?"
Gabrielle nods her head as she wraps her arms around the warrior in front of her.
"I could never be that brave." The amazon bard whispers.
"What? Gabrielle, you are far braver than I. You fell in love with me and stood by your love and made me see that I loved you as much as you me. That's a far braver thing than anything I've ever done."
Gabrielle smiled through the memory of that first time she admitted to the warrior that she loved no other more than she loved Xena.
END CHAPTER 2
CHAPTER 3: THE FORGE
Gabrielle watched Xena spar with the four amazons. It never ceased to amaze her that Xena could be so beautiful, even in combat. Xena was doing well, until the dark haired amazon delivered a thrust kick to Xena's side. The warrior went down in pain. Gabrielle watched as the amazon kicked Xena twice more. She ran in between them and glared at the amazon.
"What are you doing?! This is only sparring! Xena? Are you allright?" Bracing herself on her staff, Gabrielle turned her back to help Xena up.
"She's gotten soft! That kick shouldn't have taken her down so easily." The amazon spoke icily.
Without saying a word, Gabrielle spun her staff around and downward, clipping the amazon's knee. She went down, holding her leg in pain. One could see that the knee was dislocated.
"Rest and recover. Then you had better start practicing harder. Wouldn't want you getting soft, would we?" Gabrielle's voice was cold and denegrating as she turned to help Xena to their hut.
"A little harsh, weren't you, princess?" Xena quipped.
"Don't start, Xena. She knew you were still recovering, but attacked your ribs anyway."
"Yes, 'Brie." She felt the amazon shudder at the mention of her warrior's pet name for her. "And their will be people we fight who won't care about my wounds and take advantage of them anyway."
"Okay. So what were you wanting to do now?" Gabrielle asked.
"Well, I need to forge myself a new sword. Bella said I could use the forge and her steel to forge one."
"Why not just ask for one? I'm sure that the armory has one they could give you." The bard said.
"Yes, but you have to build a bond with your weapon, like you have with your staff. What better way than to forge it myself?" Gabrielle nodded as Xena led her to the forge.
The shop was enclosed and it was dark save for firelight and what little sunlight that filtered through the roof. Bella was gone. Xena removed her leathers and put on the leather stockings and apron of a smith. She selected the steel ingot and began heating it as she poured cold water over it, murmuring a blessing to Artemis as she worked.
After several hours of work, the steel had taken a vague shape as Xena pounded with broad strikes of the hammer. Gabrielle watched with awe as Xena's muscles flexed and worked at the steel. The blade becoming more prominent as she worked. Gabrielle paid little attention to the steel but the sweat covered body of her lover. It ran down her back and over her bare hips. Her breasts glowed in the firelight as sweat shined. Sparks cascading over her muscles as she struck hammer to steel again and again. When the blade was finished, she looked into her lover's eyes, smiling.
"Come here." Xena whispered. Her voice floating to the bard across the flames of the forge. She set the finished blade down to cool and began working on the handle for the new blade. She had discovered that a blade inserted through a snug handle with a pommel screwed down over the handle's end held the blade fast and made a solid peice. This made it easier for repairs.
Gabrielle was entranced by the sight of her lover, covered with sweat and soot from her work. Gabrielle thought Xena was radiant and in her element. She watched as Xena poured some water over herself to cool and clean herself as Gabrielle came to her.
"Here, take the tongs." Xena pressed Gabrielle's back to her breasts as she wrapped her arms around the slender waist of the bard. Gabrielle did so.
"Now. Take the hammer." Again, the bard did as instructed. "Withdraw the steel." The whisper ignited a flame inside her. Done. Xena wrapped her strong hand over the bard's, holding it firmly to the anvil. "Now, strike hard and at an angle."
Xena smiled as Gabrielle struck the heated metal at the precise angle. The whispers at her ear further enflamed her. Xena instructed her to turn the ingot and reheat it after every 10 strokes. After a few hours, the handle and cruciform hilt had been formed and set aside to cool.
Gabrielle relished the feel of her warrior's body against her back. Her lover's breasts against her shoulder blades made her breathing quicken. She felt those strong hands trail down her stomach to her skirt. Gabrielle never knew blacksmithing could be so sensual.
"You'll make a fine smith, 'Brie. The fire loves you. But not as much as I do." She whispered as Gabrielle turned in her embrace, kissing her, tasting the sweat and passion of her lover. She sucked on her lover's bottom lip as Xena sat her up on the work table, a solid marble slab.
She gently unlaced the indigo top and folded it neatly and sat it aside as she began removing the skirt and boots of her lover. Gabrielle's empassioned words urging her on, Xena kissed the toned thighs and worked back to the lightly tanned breasts, taking time to kiss each one lovingly before possessing her lover's mouth once more.
Gabrielle's hands fell to her lover's hips, unlacing the apron and pulling it over her warrior's head to discard it. She slid her hands down to Xena's hips, squeezing the firm flesh, and began unbuckling the leatherstockings and let them fall to the floor. Xena's hands trailed through the long honey-red hair before brushing across her lips.
Gabrielle smiled as her lips locked around Xena's index finger, eliciting a low moan as she sucked on it gently. Xena kissed her throat and felt Gabrielle release her finger as her hands trailed down to the toned abdominals, tracing her navel.
Xena reached down and removed her boots as she fell to her knees, kissing her lover's inner thighs before tasting the sweat around her navel. Gabrielle pulled her up, kissing her deeply as she moved her lips down to taste Xena's breasts.
Gods! Drenched in sweat and water, Xena was even more beautiful as Gabrielle kissed down to her stomach, resting her knee against the damp curls of dark hair between her lover's legs. She gently ground her knee against that spot as Xena's knees weakened.
Xena, before losing what control she had left, gently ran her hands down to Gabrielle's hips and pulled her forward. She then fell to her knees again, with her hands wrapped under and around Gabrielle's thighs, resting them on her broad shoulders. She began lightly kissing and tenderly sucking as she found her lover's clitoris, gently, she bit down as she continued to suck on it.
"Ohh! Xeeenaaa! Please--more!" Gabrielle knew her lover better than anyone. Xena needed times to let her passion run wild, and she relished every moment of these times. Xena made her feel like the most beautiful, desirable woman in the world. Xena had told her before, but Xena preferred actions to words. And what actions she used to convey her love!
She slid up Gabrielle's body to kiss her once more. Gabrielle could taste herself on her warrior's tongue and sucked it gently before Xena returned to her breasts, sucking the erect nipples as she felt Xena's fingers glide into her. The pressure was so strong, yet gentle, sending Gabrielle into sensory overload
"I love you, my sweet Gabrielle." These words, spoken so softly from her lover, made her fall into an abyss of pure sensation as a series of orgasms rocked her compact frame. Xena held her hand there, feeling the small spasms and quakes rage through her lover's beautiful body. She kissed Gabrielle's breasts once more before taking residence at her mouth again. Gabrielle was weakened beyond beleif as the quakes subsided.
"Rest, now. When I finish my sword, we can go to bed and leave tomorrow." Xena watched with undying love as Gabrielle nodded and lay down to sleep. Xena placed the leather apron over her lovely amazon's body and went to the other table where her new sword's peices lay.
Xena gathered the four peices. She slid the blade through the hilt. locking it in place at the base of the cutting edge, before sliding the handle over the tine. She then twisted the pommel onto the handle, using the tongs to twist it into a locked position. She then used the forge to heat the pommel and pounded the stub of the tine into a decorative ball at the base of the pommel.
Her sword finished, she practiced a bit. Bringing the sword around in spinning arcs and whirling crazy-eights. Perfect.
"Beautiful." Xena smiled at the whispered word. She turned to see Gabrielle had awakened, dressed and was waiting.
"Ready for bed, my love?" Xena asked.
All she got was an energetic smile and nod of the head. She knew that they would get very little sleep tonight.
Gabrielle collapsed in an exhausted heap ontop of her lover, Xena's muscles barely obeyed her as she held her lover close. She brushed sweat soaked hair from her amazon bard's face and kissed her forehead as Gabrielle kissed her way to Xena's breasts oncemore, tasting their sweat and the flavor of Xena's skin.
"Sleep, my love. Tomorrow, we leave."
END CHAPTER 3
CHAPTER 4: FINAL REDEMPTION
Xena and Gabrielle rode into the village, smoke and fire greeting them. It was very apparent the fighting was over. Xena's eyes narrowed as she saw a familiar figure.
"Xena?! Thank the gods you're here! I can't handle this alone." Amadeus walks up to the two lovers.
"Amadeus. What happened here?" Xena surveyed the village and saw the dead and wounded.
"A warlord named Sarna. She destroyed their defenses and took the male children, the small ones. the infants and small boys."
"Sarna." Xena's eyes were cold and were filled with memory.
"Sarna? Xena? Who is she? Why did she take the children?" Gabrielle asks, unsure if Xena will answer.
"She used to work with me. But when I found she was stealing the children from the villages we raided? I confronted her. It turns out that half her army are children from other villages we raided. No one will attack a child, even if it's wearing armour and carries a sword."
"What are you doing here, Amadeus?" Gabrielle looks at the former ranger with distrust. She doesn't like the fact that he recently humiliated her lover and won't likely forgive it.
"I'm here to help. If we beat Sarna and her brat brigade? We can take all the children home." He smiles.
"Come on, we need to make plans and figure out how we're going to do this." Xena wants the children returned soon.
"It's good to meet you, Gabrielle. It's nice to meet the person who changed Xena. You must love her dearly." Amadeus looks away from her, suddenly uncomfortable.
"I didn't change her, just helped her see that she wasn't evil. Just lost. And yes, I do love her." Gabrielle walks away. Xena notices that Gabrielle didn't smile or shake his hand as she does when meeting someone new. She follows her to the stable.
"What's wrong? He needs our help." Xena is puzzled by her lover's cold nature toward their new ally.
"I'm sorry. But first he tries to kill you, and now? He asks for your help? I'm sorry, my love. But I'll never forgive him for that! What gives him the right to ask for your help?" Gabrielle is full of anger.
"Because he's had a change of heart. Gabrielle.."
Gabrielle cuts her off. "So? A change of heart and all is forgiven? I'm sorry, but a change of heart doesn't forgive that sin!"
"But, you've forgiven me mine? How is he different?" Xena asks, her heart aching for the knowledge her lover holds.
"Because he tried to take you from me. Xena I could forgive him anything but that!" The bard starts shaking as she speaks, she turns away, ashamed. "Xena? I love you so much, it scares me sometimes to think of my life without you. And he came so close!"
"Gabrielle? He did, but he had a change of heart. He knows what I did was wrong, he knows what he did was wrong. Let it go. Please?" Xena wraps her arms around the shaking amazon and kisses her lips softly, and repeats it. Soon, they're hands start the sensual dance over one another's bodies.
"We'd better go, or I'll not stop until we're both to tired to help him. We will help him, won't we?" Xena looks at her amazon bard, knowing she can't resist a good adventure.
"Okay. I'll help him, but I don't have to like him." With that, they walk out to meet him.
"They went east. If we leave now? We'll catch them at dusk and get the kids back." Amadeus points out as he grabs a horse and mounts up.
"Agreed." Xena mounts up Argo and helps Gabrielle mount up in front of her. When Amadeus starts out, they follow.
As the sun sets lower in the sky, a plan is formed.
"Xena? You and Gabrielle head around the left, take as many of them out without hurting them as you can. I'll be doing the same on the right."
Xena left to do some reconnaisance, leaving the bard and swordsman alone.
"You don't like me, do you?" Amadeus asks, knowing the answer already.
"No, I don't." Gabrielle whispers, keeping her anger in check.
"Then why are the two of you here?" He looks at her plantively.
"Because Xena says you've had a change of heart. But listen to me. I know you tried to take her from me. If you try to hurt her again? Artemis's chosen or not? I'll not rest til I've killed you myself. Understood?" The bard's voice is soft, but carries the weight of a warhammer.
Xena enters the clearing and the two look at her. "Ready?" she asks.
'Yeah, you?" Amadeus asks.
Xena nods as Amadeus gets up and walks into the night.
"Where are you going?" Xena asks. Amadeus smiles at her.
"To pray. I hope Artemis is in the mood to listen."
"Me too." The warrior said. Before she left, she pulled the amazon bard into a feirce hug, kissing her hungrily.
"Be careful, my big dumb warrior." The bard smiles faintly.
"Always, my irritating bard." As she went around to the extreme left, Gabrielle positioned herself at the close left. When Amadeus arrived, the semi-circle would be complete.
After about two hours, Xena sees Amadeus and his signal. She heads into the camp, Gabrielle does the same.
None of them expected the teenaged boys to be so well trained, and were thoroughly surprised. But Xena had made some progress. She stood toe to toe with Sarna.
"Xena. Are you here to join my army?" Sarna snarls at the warrior, her auburn hair whipping in the wind.
"No. I'm here to take these children home. To their families." Xena retorts.
"But they are home. I am their family. The only mother they have ever known. They would die for me." Sarna smiles wickedly.
"Yes, and you would let them." Xena smiles that smile she has during battle.
"Of course, a good leader knows when to cut her losses. And if a soldier or two fall? So be it?" Then, it begins. The duel.
Steel flashing on steel, sparks flying as the two women dance in a flashing web of steel and sparks.
After several moments, Xena catches an opening. She spins around, dropping to the ground, sweeping her opponent's leg from under her, she rolls on her shoulder and drives her sword through the woman's side. Not a fatal wound, but a devastating one.
At the sight of their 'mother' downed, the soldiers stop fighting.
Gabrielle starts walking to Xena's side and suddenly Amadeus shouts.
"Get Downnn!!" Gabrielle and Xena both turn as Amadeus knocks Gabrielle to the dirt. An arrow peircing his back. Reflexively, Xena lets fly the chakram and it smashes the archer's bow and knocks him unconcious.
Gabrielle crawls over to her savior's side and tries to remove the arrow.
"Noo! Don't! It's a spiral war barb. It's punctured my lung. I'm done for! Xena?" Amadeus has blood pouring from his mouth as the warrior looks down at him.
"We saved the kids? Tell me we did it." He's choking on his blood.
"Yes. We did it. The children are safe." Xena looks around at the children assembled.
"Why? Why did you do it? I--I hated you. I didn't even know you, and yet when I thought you would take Xena from me? I hated you. Why save me?" Gabrielle feels tears on her cheeks as Amadeus speaks softly.
"I had to prove I was capable of redemption. That I wasn't some selfish person who didn't deserve life. Gabrielle? I'm sorry for trying to hurt Xena. Take care of her. I know how much she loves you." Amadeus's eyes fade as the glimmer of life dies.
"We aren't going to let you do this! We're family! Our mother won't let you take us!!" One defiant child stands in front of the allies, berating them.
"You call this a family?! Someone who steals children from those who love them most? You call that a family!?" Xena points over to Sarna, lying on the ground.
"Fine. You can have it!!" Xena wraps Amadeus up and puts him in a wagon with the smaller children and ties Argo to the back, driving it back to the village.
Surprisingly, the other children follow. When they reach the village, the magistrate agrees to take care of the children until messangers can notify the other villages that their children are here, waiting for them.
Xena then drives the wagon to the forest and builds a funeral pyre for Amadeus's body. As they watch it burn, Xena feels Gabrielle's arms wrap around her hips pulling her back into a tight embrace.
"What's this for?" The warrior asks, enjoying the closeness of her lover.
"Because I love you." Gabrielle kisses the broad shoulders and squeezes Xena tightly again.
"Mmmmm. That's the only reason I'll need ever hear." Xena smiles as she leans back into the strong, gentle arms of her amazon bard.
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