Name: Del Robertson
TITLE: THROUGH THE EYES OF THE REGENT
Disclaimer: The characters of Xena, Gabrielle, Ephiny, Eponin, Solari, etc. are owned by Universal Studios and Renaissance Pictures. The other Amazons were created by me - because you can never have too many Amazons. No infringement is intended and no profit is being made.
Fandom: Xena Warrior Princess
Pairing: Xena/Gabrielle Ephiny/Eponin
Summary: A feast honoring the return of the Amazon Queen as reflected through the Regent's point-of-view. This is intended as part of a series entitled "Through The Eyes" as the same event is recounted through four different pov's. It should make no difference as to which order the four pieces are read in. Spoilers for Hooves and Harlots and The Quest.
THROUGH THE EYES OF THE REGENT
By Del Robertson
I consulted with Solari, checking the latest scouting reports with her. We conferred at the edge of the clearing, well away from the heat of the bonfires and the noise of the feast. She told me there was still no word, but that she was headed back out towards the northern perimeter to check in with the scouts there.
Tightening her cloak about herself, she turned to leave. I stopped her with a well-placed hand upon her shoulder. Turning with a questioning look in her eyes, I explained away my actions.
"Be careful. It's a full moon out," I gravely warned, "And, all the insanity seems to come out during the full moon."
"Don't worry." She flashed me a toothy grin. "I'll be back long before you've had a chance to miss me."
"Yeah? Well, make certain of that, huh?" I tossed back at her, "A party just isn't a party without you."
"And don't you forget it!" She started off, then turned back, suddenly dropping a chaste kiss on my lips before darting off into the thick underbrush where she was quickly swallowed up by the dense forest.
Shaking my head, wondering at the uncharacteristic display of affection, I made my way to the Queen's table located at the far end of the ceremonial fields. The formal ceremony had long ago been concluded and the real party had begun in earnest. Starting with the feast, where our Queen ate truly regal amounts of food while the rest of us looked on in sheer amazement.
Then, even though she'd just eaten, she allowed some younger amazons to lead her off to participate in the Dance of Artemis. The dance dedicated to the Goddess was the first dance of every feast to honor the blessings the Huntress had bestowed upon her people. And, it was required for the Queen to participate. I'd suffered through every single blessed dance in Gabrielle's absence, I mused, it was only fair that she had the honor while she was in residence.
To my amazement, not only had Gabrielle participated in the first dance of the evening, she'd stayed out there to participate in every dance since. Ah well, let her get twenty or so of these feasts under her belt and we'll see how eager she is to dance, then.
Glad for my reprieve from the duty, I gratefully sank down onto the low stool positioned at the end of the table. Flanking me on either side as I sat down was the Weapons Master to the Amazons and Xena, Warrior Princess. And, both were well on the way to becoming seriously plastered.
Anytime these two got together, it turned into one big contest of egos to prove who was the toughest, the smartest, the fastest and the baddest in the village. Anything was fair game, from archery contests to tracking missions to flat-out footraces. One time, they'd even chased the women away from washing the village laundry in the stream to prove who could stonewash the most pieces in a candlemark. Tonight was a contest of endurance.
To see who could drink the other under the table first, apparently. My gaze flicked to Eponin, eyes coolly appraising the shorter Amazon. Ep was short for an Amazon. And, I know that bothered her. But, we grow them tall down here; so compared to other, regular women I've seen, she's pretty average. Look at our Queen; Her and Ep are about the same height.
Whatever Pony thinks she lacks in height, she more than makes up for in stature. Her arms and legs are like banded coils of steel, the muscles beneath her flesh rippling with every movement she makes. Her midriff . . . my breathing quickened just thinking about the night during a drunken wager we'd actually bounced dinars off her abdomen.
She was all toned and tanned muscle, not an inch of fat to be found on her body anywhere. She worked and trained long and hard in her duties as weapons master every single day. And, she looked damn fine doing it, too.
My mind flittered back to conversations I'd overheard at the communal baths. True, there were private baths available for the royals to soak in. But, those were secluded in the foothills on the outskirts of the village and it was quite a fair walk to reach them. Not to mention someone from the royal guard was always tagging along, lurking just out of sight in the bushes in case some peeping amazon tried to spy on a naked regent in the bath. Of course, that begs the question Who keeps the royal guards from peeking?
No, sometimes it was just too inconvenient to bathe in the royal springs. Not to mention all the best gossip was to be had in the communal baths. Such as the rumors about the weapons master. For as long as I could remember, I'd heard women speculating about who Eponin was bedding. It was no secret that more than half the women in the village would give their eye teeth to have just one night with the dashing weapons master. As a matter of fact, there were some rather rowdy discussions that popped up about how toned and muscular Pony was. And, the raunchy suggestion was made more than once that her training all day had to lead to some fantastic stamina. Many an Amazon confessed she'd like to personally test Ep's endurance - and her prowess with a staff privately.
That illustrative comment played over and over repeatedly in my mind, rearing its ugly head at the most inopportune moments. Like when we're on the practice field - and my mind would wander - only to find myself flat on my back with Eponin's staff pressed firmly to my throat. The one she used for practice, not the one the chattering hens in the bath fantasized about.
Although, truth be told, that had often been a fantasy of mine, as well. Alone in my hut at night, the covers pushed down to my hips, fingers buried deep inside myself, I would imagine Eponin walking in, catching me in the act of self-pleasuring. My punishment for being caught would be staff practice. I'd watched in wide-eyed amazement as she stood at the end of my bed, her hooded gaze raking over my exposed flesh as she rubbed the visible bulge apparent beneath her skirt. I'm not sure if it was a sense of fear or anticipation that would make me gasp as she removed her leathers, showing me her weapon of choice. But, I'd lay there, helplessly writhing on the bed, unable to find the strength to get away - or even close my legs - as she liberally lubricated the length of her staff with a handy bottle of oil.
"Eph?" Eponin's boot nudged me beneath the table. "Staff practice tomorrow?"
"Hunh?" I was startled out of my reverie, a heated blush rapidly flushing my cheeks. "Oh, yeah. Staff practice," I nodded, "Of course."
"Good." Ep gave me a toothy smile, a firm nod of her head in acceptance.
I felt my blush deepen. Not because I was embarrassed by my fantasy, but because I'd so easily slipped into it while in the presence of the very woman I'd been fantasizing about. Even though the Amazon Nation was devoid of a male population and most women preferred it stay that way, there was no harm in admitting that occasionally, some of us craved more than tongues and fingers. Not that we needed a man for that, either. No, our craftswomen were very creative and had long ago discovered the best materials for making long lasting, durable phalluses.
No, there was no shame in admitting the occasional - need - for deeper penetration. I just didn't want my fantasies spilling out of my mouth and embarrassing me in public.
"Here." A deep voice tinged with just a hint of mirth pulled me from my musings. "Looks like you need this more than I do."
I gratefully accepted the mug of wine the warrior princess passed me, studiously avoiding looking in her eyes as I did so. And noted that despite her statement that I needed it more than she did, she still found an extra mug and poured herself another from the pitcher on the table. Eponin stretched across the table, offering up her own mug, holding it steady as Xena liberally poured in the contents.
Settling back on my stool, I raised my mug to my lips, feeling the cool refreshing liquid pass over my parched lips and work its way down my throat. The heady mix of alcohol burned my throat going down, then dissipated in my stomach as my thirst was slackened. Feeling the edge come off a bit, I shifted my gaze, openly studying the profile of the warrior princess. Sensing my eyes on her, she looked up, offering a lopsided half-smile as she took another hearty swallow from her mug. That's certainly a change from the first time she caught me staring, I thought, reflecting back upon our initial encounter near our border.
To tell the truth, I'm not certain what my first thought of Xena was. There were so many. She was confident, arrogant and cunning. She was formidable muscle and steel, a legendary warrior. But, beneath the raw, animalistic nature, there was a keen intelligence radiating behind startling blue eyes. The dangerous predator made the hair on the back of my neck stand on end with just a glance. I may not have known what to think of her, but it was clear right from the start she didn't much care for me. Remove those eyes, Amazon, or I'll remove them for you.
My hand had instantly gone to the dagger at my side, fingers closing reflexively on the bone handle. My intent had been to draw that knife and press it to her throat in retaliation for that comment. That was when all Tartarus broke loose and the first of the arrows hit the ground mere inches in front of us. In hindsight, that was the only good thing that happened in that attack. If those arrows hadn't struck at that precise moment, I'm quite certain I would have drawn my knife and the warrior princess would have taken great pleasure in killing me.
Warrior Princess, forged in the heat of battle. Her, we knew about. Her reputation had a tendency to precede her in those days. What we knew nothing about, though, was the little slip of a girl who was to become an Amazon Princess before the next full moon.
Speaking of which -
I turned my attention back to the ring of dancers. Our young queen was firmly ensconced in the center of the group, doing her best to keep up with the frantic beat the big drums were demanding. Her hair flew wildly about her neck and shoulders as she kept up the tempo. A thin sheen of perspiration was working its steady way along her body, accentuating curves we never suspected she had beneath that peasant dress she was wearing when we first brought her to our village.
When I was commissioned by Queen Melosa to instruct Gabrielle in the ways of the Amazon, I was livid. After all, she was an outsider. A little slip of a girl outsider who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. She'd been too slow to save the life of my princess. And, now through an awkward twist of fate, not only was she to become an Amazon, she was to take Terreis' birthright, her position and all her possessions.
Terreis was my best friend and I loved her dearly. There had long been rumors in the village that when she came of age, she would choose her bondmate - and it would be me. It was also rumored that I'd already taken Terreis while on a hunting trip down by the river. Only I knew that the amazon she gave herself to in the forest that day was Solari.
Melosa would have been enraged. Not because Terreis had taken a lover before her bonding ceremony. No, that was common practice among the Amazons. After all, if it was tradition to wait until you were bonded to bed a potential partner - let's just say Artemis would be ruling over a tribe of devoted Hestian virgins instead of fierce warriors. What would bring the Queen's blood to boil was the identity of her sister's lover.
Solari had a reputation as a terrible flirt and a womanizer among the tribe. And, deservedly so. It was common knowledge amongst the clan that the scout had taken not one, but both of the healer's twin daughters to bed. Individually. And, later, in the same bed at the same time. Rumor was the very next night, she also took their younger sister. Their inexperienced younger sister.
What wasn't common knowledge - what only I knew - was that Terreis loved Solari. And, Solari did truly love Terreis. No one else noticed, but for a period of about nine moons, Solari didn't bed anyone. Expect Terreis. It was during that short span of time that the young lovers had eyes only for each other. Of course, the rumors still plagued Solari. This amazon or that would brag, laying claim that Solari shared her bed the entire night. Only Solari and Terreis - and I - knew the truth.
During the time they were lovers, Solari didn't so much as look at another woman. And, Terreis knew her scout was faithful. After Terreis' . . . after Terreis' death - after all these years, even in my own private thoughts, I still stumbled over that combination of words - Solari should have laid claim to Terreis' possessions. As her lover, it was her right. But, she came to me, pleaded with me not to mention it to the Queen. She felt that Melosa wouldn't have accepted her while Terreis was alive; she certainly wasn't going to welcome her with open arms after her beloved sister's death.
Solari made me vow to never tell. Anyone. And, to this day, I never have. I swore on Terreis' memory that this - this non-Amazon may possess her rite of caste, her sword and her other possessions - but she would never possess me. She would never have my loyalty - or my friendship. Those were things that I had freely given to Princess Terreis - and couldn't be simply handed over to another princess. Especially an outsider who knew nothing of our ways.
The irritation that had been rankling at me since Melosa ordered me to train the upstart princess reached the point of no return when I entered the hut to find Gabrielle getting dressed . . . in Terreis' clothes. I had planned to take the young woman to the library, to get her familiarized with Amazon law and history. I thought that would be a good way to instruct her without having to listen to her chatter on aimlessly.
I don't know which blow hurt the most. Seeing Gabrielle being dressed in my friend's clothes - or who her attendants were. My blood ran as hot as I ever recall it getting in those days. To think that this - this little girl - had commanded the tribe's two best warriors to assist her in dressing rather than the customary royal attendants!
Then, I saw the way Magdelus and Eponin were fawning over her, listening with rapt attention to every word that came from her mouth. Add to that the rakish, longing looks and the lingering, somewhat inappropriate touches . . . My jaw clenched in anger as I realized these two warriors had dismissed the regular attendants and taken their places. It was Gabrielle's first day in the village; she didn't know who these two women were that were flanking her on either side.
She'd already taken Terreis from me - now she had her sights set on Pony - Suddenly, I wanted her to suffer. Gone was my plan to take Terreis' replacement to the library. In my mind, the harmless scrolls evaporated, replaced by deadly sword drills and a particularly brutal lesson involving chobos.
"Come with me," I commanded through tightly gritted teeth.
She'd just cocked her head to one side and responded with, "Excuse me, you must have me mistaken for a pet."
Magdelus' amused grin and Eponin's warning glare reminded me of my place. Deservedly or not, this irritating blonde was an Amazon Princess. And, it was required she be treated accordingly. Even by me. Rolling my eyes, I swallowed my words of retaliation. Instead, I demanded she pick her first weapon and barely tolerated her process of selection.
When she at last settled on the staff, I snatched it from her grasp, barked out Eponin's name and hurled the weapon at her. Unperturbed by my animosity, Pony caught the staff one-handed and proceeded to run through a series of drills. While I stood by and watched the looks of marveled astonishment play across the enthralled princess' face.
I ordered Eponin to train her. Then, I stormed out, needing to disappear into the dense forest and kill something. A hapless stag was my victim. The cooks were pleased with my offering and vowed to save the antlers and the hide for me. My anger somewhat appeased, I returned to the training grounds to find the princess and the weapons master.
They'd drawn a curious crowd of onlookers, mostly Amazons looking for their first sighting of the new princess. There was a fair amount of training going on. As well as smiles and laughter. And flirting. I frowned at the close proximity of the two. And, I noticed the way Gabrielle's eyes roamed over her instructor's body as she demonstrated move after move. When Gabrielle conked herself on the head again and it looked like Eponin was moving in to offer her a comforting breast to suckle on, I stepped in, demanding a report.
Eponin had looked startled at my brusque tone. And, I'm almost certain I saw her flinch when Gabrielle said that her lessons were fun. And, when I grabbed a staff, going through a demonstration of how to take down a Centaur, she turned to cast a worried glance at her new princess, honey colored eyes raking over the young woman in concerned appraisal. As I finished the demonstration, I waited for Gabrielle to begin crying like an infant with a soiled breechcloth - and I thoroughly expected Eponin to offer to change her swaddling for her.
To her credit, she didn't cry. Instead, she looked at me with this - sad - expression on her face. And made me feel like a heel. I tossed my staff to Magdelus and turned away, having every intention of disappearing into the forest until after the initiation ceremony.
Strong fingers clamped down on my upper arm two steps before the thick undergrowth surrounding the village could swallow me up. Irritated, I looked down at the powerful hand, followed the prominent veins and tendons up a muscular forearm. I thoroughly expected that hand to be connected to Xena's arm. I was surprised when I discovered it belonged not to the warrior princess, but to the weapons master.
She immediately lit into me, demanding to know what I thought I was doing, terrorizing the new princess that way. My defense was she shouldn't be coddled just because she was a princess. Ep accused me of being intentionally cruel to her and told me it wasn't Gabrielle's fault that Terreis had died.
Those words had hurt. And, I struck back accordingly. "That didn't stop her from moving in and taking over Terreis' position and her possessions and everything else. She's not Terreis and she can't take her place! She can't just have everything that Terreis had!"
"Maybe she won't," Eponin smirked, folding her arms across her chest, flexing her biceps, making the muscles beneath toned, tanned flesh dance.
"What does that mean?" I demanded to know.
"One princess has already had you. What makes you certain this one will want you, too? Could be one of us other warriors will have a chance at this one."
My outrage erupted in an explosive fury. It almost got the better of me and I almost blurted out that Solari was Terreis' lover, not me. Almost. But, in a rare moment of self-control, I clamped down on my tongue, biting off my words. Instead, I settled for an open-handed slap across Eponin's face. Followed up by a leg sweep that had her off her feet and on her backside in the bushes. Then, before I could do further damage, I ran off into the forest as fast as my legs could carry me.
Coming back to the present, I focused my attention on my two companions. Eponin and Xena were still seated across the table from each other. Or rather, slumped across the table from each other. Four empty pitchers of Amazon wine stood on the table between them. The fifth was being poured into the warrior princess' mug, an unsteady hand tilting the pitcher all the way up to get every last drop out. An observant serving girl noticed and swept by, depositing a fresh pitcher on the table and removing several of the empties.
I reached across, intent on snagging the pitcher before either of the two warriors could abscond with it. My fingers were just about to close about the handle when I felt a hand clamp down firmly on mine. Confused, I followed the hand up a bronzed arm and higher until I was looking into a set of eyes the color of honey - slightly glazed over, but honey colored nevertheless.
My hand still firmly trapped beneath hers, she gave me a slightly skewed smile, a goofy expression on her face as she waggled her eyebrows at me.
"I got it," she slurred, picking the pitcher up and aiming it at my mug. With my free hand, I tried to hold my mug steady as she poured. Then, realizing how unsteady her aim truly was, I ended up chasing the stream of burgundy liquid in a ludicrous attempt to catch it before it was poured out all over the table.
As the wine filled the goblet halfway, I told Ep that was enough. When it was three-quarters of the way up, I gently told her again that was plenty. My eyes widened as the wine neared the top, threatening to crest over the edges.
"Pony!" I screamed.
Ep's eyes abruptly raised, meeting mine. "Huh?" was the response I got.
"PONY!" I shouted again, leaping back, shaking my hand as the wine poured freely over my fingers, making a burgundy puddle on the hardwood table. The back of my hand caught the underside of the pitcher, threatening to knock it loose from Eponin's grasp and send it tumbling.
In a comedy of errors, Eponin scrambled upon the bench and across the table, trying to right the pitcher and reach my mug at the same time. Suddenly aware of the danger the wine was in, the warrior princess reached out, snatching the pitcher from Eponin's grasp. Her right hand suddenly freed of the weight of the container threw off Pony's sense of balance and she fell hard on the table. Her momentum, aided in no small part by the slippery wet caused by the spilled wine, sent her sliding headfirst towards the end of the table.
Where she collided with me. Along with the entire contents of my mug that she managed to spill down my top. And, sent me sprawling backwards off my stool, landing in the soft grass with a decidedly hard-muscled weapons master laying on top of me.
Eyes closed, I lay there for several heartbeats, trying to catch my breath. Chortling laughter broke through my senses, forcing me to open my eyes. I found myself pressed nose to nose with Eponin, staring deeply into her eyes. A hair's breadth closer and her lips would be touching mine. As I limply lay back on the ground, struggling with the morality of taking advantage of a drunken Pony, that same obnoxious laughter invaded my senses.
Turning my head to the side, my nose brushing across Ep's, I peered over the weapons master's broad shoulder. Xena was straddling the bench she'd been perched on, both hands clutching her sides as she openly laughed at my situation.
Pointing a finger at me, she cackled, "Eph, you should have seen the look on your face - " before launching into a fresh round of hysterics.
The raucous laughter served to draw Eponin's attention and she squirmed around to see what all the fuss was about. Her movements caused a thickly muscle thigh to press solidly between my legs. My eyes slammed shut and I elicited a sharp gasp at the sensation.
I heard the noise, felt the sharp exhalation as Ep apparently slipped and her upper body slammed into me again. Biting off a curse, I attempted to ignore the pain caused by the sudden impact of two-hundred plus pounds of muscle colliding with my upper body.
"What's going on here?"
Inwardly groaning at the sound of the voice, I unscrewed one eye, rolling it upwards until Gabrielle's smiling visage came into view. She was standing over me, both hands on her hips, gazing down curiously. Suddenly, a goofy smile spread across her face and she covered her widening smile with her hands.
Confused, I opened the other eye, now using both to follow the direction of her gaze. Eponin was still sprawled out on top of me, her nose firmly ensconced in my cleavage. Suddenly, I felt something decidedly wet slather across the stickiness that was coating both breasts.
"Pony!" Eyes widening, I reached out, capturing her ebony locks in my grasp and forcefully lifting her head away.
Unfocused eyes peered unsteadily at me, the dopiest grin I'd ever seen plastered on Eponin's face. I saw the wine liberally coating her lips and around her mouth, running down her chin and I couldn't help but return that goofy smile. Then, she caught sight of the red leather boots impatiently tapping on the ground beside us and her eyes slowly wandered up. I tracked her progress, watching her changing expressions as her eyes traveled over the tops of those boots, over bare legs, past a leather skirt, lingering on an impressive midriff, pausing longer on a set of pert breasts before ending up at the face.
Still sprawled across me, neck craned at an awkward angle as she gazed up, a broad smile emerged. "M'Queenie!" she slurred out.
"Why, Eponin, I do believe you're smashed. How much have you had?"
A look of utter confusion spread over the weapons master's face as she tried to compute the total. Then, she looked at me and with a rakish grin, answering, "Only a little," before lowering her head back towards my cleavage.
"Pony," I growled out between gritted teeth, using my handhold on her hair to prevent her from reaching her target. Honey colored eyes blinked up at me. "Get. Off. Me. NOW!"
Eponin hastily scrambled to comply. Gabrielle extended her hands, offering both to her weapons master in support. After several awkwardly uncoordinated attempts, she had managed to pull Pony into an upright position and almost had her on her feet before she lost her balance and slid down to her knees, pulling the Queen with her. All the while, the raucous laughter from the warrior princess echoed in the background.
"Xena!" snapped Gabrielle, "NOT helping!"
Finally spurred into action by her bard's disapproving tone, Xena slowly lifted herself off the bench and took several tiny, controlled steps towards us. When she was within reach, she bent over, latching one large hand onto the scruff of Pony's neck and lifted. My eyes went wide as with the ease that one might pick up a sword, the warrior princess lifted Ep and held her dangling with her feet off the ground for several heartbeats before putting her down.
With her hand still firmly clamped on the back of Eponin's neck, she guided the weapons master on unsteady, staggering legs back to the table. Harshly, she slammed her down onto the bench and I winced as I heard Pony's tailbone solidly connect with the hardwood.
Almost immediately, Eponin started to get up, only to discover she lacked the coordination. About to fall off the bench, hands flailed wildly, seeking purchase to keep herself upright. Fingers firmly caught in the leathers of Xena's skirt and the sudden downward tugging motion threatened to send the mighty warrior princess to the ground. Suddenly, it was my turn to laugh at Xena's expense.
But, not for long. With a fearsome scowl shot my direction, Xena effectively wiped the smirk off my face. Then, with as much dignity as she could muster, Xena pried Eponin's fingers from her skirt and slapped both of the weapons master's hands palms down on the tabletop.
Keeping a firm grip on Eponin with one hand, she snaked her other down to Pony's waistband, removing her knife and thrusting the blade halfway to the hilt into the table. Then, she took one of Ep's hands and forcefully wrapped her fingers about the handle. "Stay!" she firmly ordered.
"Xena," I ventured, finally able to stand with the help of my queen, "Do you really think giving her a sharp weapon to play with is a good idea?"
The former Destroyer of Nations shot me such a disparaging look that would have made Ares piss his pants in fright. "Would you rather I let her find something else to occupy herself with?" she asked pointedly staring at my halter.
Wordlessly, I righted my stool and gingerly sat down, propping both elbows on the table and cradling my aching head in my hands.
"Guys, I thought this was supposed to be a feast to honor the return of the Queen," Gabrielle's whine broke through the silence that had descended upon our table.
"It is," I protested, pausing in wiping the sticky stuff off my upper chest with the wet cloth one of the serving girls had brought over.
"No, it's not," insisted my young queen in that same pouty tone. "It's turned into a drinking party."
"Yeah," agreed Xena, hoisting her mug and declaring, "Good times!" before lifting it to her lips and chugging down.
From where she was slumped over, one cheek leaning heavily on the hardwood surface, Eponin lifted one hand in agreement before it fell limply back to the table. To my relief, the fingers of her other hand were still firmly wrapped about the knife just the way Xena had positioned them.
"Xena, as Queen of the Amazons, it's unacceptable that all I do at a feast in my honor is drink the night away." She straightened her shoulders in as regal a manner as possible. "My reign means so much more than a drinking contest."
The warrior blinked at her companion. "You want an eating contest?" She slurred, already looking around for a serving girl.
"NO! I don't want an eating contest!" Then, pausing with her mouth wide open for a pregnant pause, she finally conceded, "Well, maybe later."
"You wanna - " Xena waggled her hand back and forth, nodded her head towards the bushes.
"No!" Gabrielle looked even more shocked by this suggestion.
I had to fight down the smirk that rose on my lips in direct proportion to Xena's befuddled expression.
"I want to dance," Gabrielle firmly declared.
"You've danced half the night away."
"I want to dance." She leaned across the table, capturing Xena's fingertips, gently waggling them. "Come on, Xena, dance with me."
"No." At the pleading, pouting look, the fierce warrior lowered her voice to a whisper. At least, she thought she was whispering. To me, her protest sounded as loud as a trumpet call. "I told you; Not in front of the Amazons."
"I wanna dance," Gabrielle declared again.
Eponin's head shot up off the table, glazed over eyes peered in the general direction of the queen. "I'll dance wit' you, m'queen," she managed to slur out.
"You don't dance." I pointed out. At the disbelieving looks from both Gabrielle and Eponin, I reinforced my statement. "Pony doesn't dance," I declared, staring into the green eyes of my queen, then added, "Besides, she's so plastered she can't stand up, let alone dance."
Incredulous, befuddled looks passed between the queen and her weapons master. Then, with a shrug, Eponin reached over, snatching a mug from the center of the table and refilling it. All while keeping one hand firmly on the hilt of the knife still embedded in the table.
Disheartened by the sudden knowledge that Xena wouldn't dance with her - and Eponin couldn't, Gabrielle's bottom lip pouted out impossibly more. Rolling my eyes, scarcely believing the words were coming out of my mouth even as I was saying them, I offered, "I'll dance with you, Gabrielle."
Suddenly, her youthful face lit up with all the exuberance of a child opening her biggest present on Solstice day. Then, she eyed me warily. "Hold on, Ephiny." She skewered me with a glare. "HOW many drinks have you had?"
"One." I didn't hesitate with my answer.
"Okay, two," I relented. "The one I drank and," I made a pronounced gesture of wiping the wet cloth across my breasts, "the one I decided to wear."
That's all the response it took before Gabrielle was off the bench and grabbing me by the hand, pulling me along after her. Snatching the cloth from my hand, she tossed it, hitting Xena squarely in the face. The warrior princess slowly dragged the damp cloth off her face, openly scowled at the bard.
"Since you won't dance with me, Ephiny will," she decreed. "You keep an eye on Pony." Then, she was tugging me towards the dance circle, pausing only long enough to yell another order back over her shoulder, "And, try to sober her up!"
We'd been dancing for over a candlemark with no signs of Gabrielle slowing down. By the Gods, I don't know where she gets her boundless levels of energy! Then again, I smirked, traveling with the warrior princess would no doubt build up anyone's stamina.
My mind was following that lusty thought down the River Styx when suddenly the beat of the drums changed. Glancing over, I realized the big drums had been retired for the evening to be replaced by the softer sounds of the smaller, handheld drums. My eyes raked over the perimeter of the dance circle, where several Amazons were going about, extinguishing every other torch.
Immediately, the tone of the dance changed. The beat was slower, the lighting dimmer. This was the midpoint of the feast, a time after all the younger Amazons were put to bed for the night. A chance to dance intimately together inside the circle - and socialize affectionately outside the dance, as well. A time for pairing up and choosing bedmates for the night. A time for lovers - new and old alike.
Self-conscious, acutely aware of the compact body I held, painfully sentient of the nose and mouth pressed against my collarbone, I felt my arms reflexively stiffen about Gabrielle's body.
Sensing my sudden unease, Gabrielle shifted in my arms, tilting her head back to look up at me. "What's wrong?" she pressed.
"Are you sure we should - " I cleared my throat, " - I mean, do you want to - "
"Shush." She placed a calming finger against my stumbling lips. "It's fine."
"It's just that . . . " I sucked in an deep breath, fortified myself to ask, "Does she know?"
"About us?" Gabrielle cocked her head in contemplation. "No, I don't think so. I certainly haven't told her." A mischievous grin formed on her lips. "Why; have you?"
"NO!" I exclaimed, "Gods, no!"
"Then, there's nothing for either of us to worry about."
With that, Gabrielle settled her head back down on my shoulder, her hands splaying across the expanse of my back as we continued to move to the soft beat of the drums. Around us, other couples danced, seemingly lost in the romantic setting. I willed myself to relax, to just enjoy our time together.
Still, I couldn't let it go.
"Are you sure you're comfortable with this?" I pressed. "I mean, I don't want to take advan - " the word slowly began to trail off as I realized what I had just given voice to," - tage."
Gabrielle lifted her head to look at me. One hand came up, fingers stroking through my unruly, curly locks. "Hey, it's okay." Her voice was low and reassuring. "You didn't take advantage. You comforted me." Then, she added with a rakish grin, "Besides, I enjoyed what we did together."
Then, just like that, as if the matter was suddenly closed, she laid her head back on my shoulder again. I willed myself to relax beneath the tempo of the drums and the light stroking of her hands across my back. Closing my eyes against the sensation, my thoughts took me back into the past.
It had been during that whole uprising with Velasca. She had killed Melosa in what the council had ruled fair combat. There were murmurings that she had tricked Melosa, slipping contaminated water from the River Lethe into her drink. Under the influence of the drug, Melosa was helpless against the younger, faster and decidedly stronger Amazon she'd raised as her adopted daughter.
The Nation was in upheaval. I was targeted by Velasca; she threatened to name me a traitor to the Amazons unless I consented to be her willing bedslave. She graciously gave me the span of three days to think over my answer. I knew her interest in me was solely because she thought I was Terreis' bedmate. And, she wanted everything the former royal had possessed. The crown, the power, and the woman she thought her aunt had favored. If she succeeded, in her mind, it would be the crowning achievement of her coup.
When Gabrielle came back to us, it was a bittersweet blessing. We had heard from the scouting parties of the death of Xena and Gabrielle's quest to return her body to Amphipolis. When she stumbled across our territory on her trek, we greeted her with open arms. Everyone except Velasca, that is.
The motivation behind my offer for Gabrielle to stay with me was many-fold. She was confused, tired and hurting. The ordeal of Xena's death and her sudden responsibility was such a burden on her young shoulders. And, the pain and suffering showed in the shadows of her once-bright eyes. I wanted her to have a place she could stay without worrying about politics and subterfuge and coups. Despite my best efforts in the beginning, we were friends now and I felt she needed me. And, it sent a blatant message of refusal to Velasca's unwanted offer of seduction.
Seduction. Even as we danced in the center of the amazon village, arms loosely clasped about each other, her head tucked beneath my chin as we slightly swayed, that word kept reverberating through my skull.
Seduction. Had I knowingly seduced Gabrielle?
Late at night, the sounds of her crying had woken me. Not the soft sobs of a woman who has lost a friend. But, the jagged cries of a woman mourning a lover. My heart went to her. And, so did I.
I'm not even sure she knew of my presence in her room, watching her for long heartbeats from the doorway. Nor, am I certain she heard me padding across the floor on bare feet. Or, recognized the rustle of the thin sheet as I lifted it off her body or feel the movement of the bed as I eased myself down beside her.
Cognizant of my presence or not, no sooner had I laid down than she turned into my arms, laying her ear over my heart. I allowed her to listen to the beats, my hands stroking over the length of her back in a reassuring pattern as I cooed soft words into her ear. At the time, I was focused solely on providing my friend solace. And, I didn't think of the ramifications when I told her of the Amazonian way to provide comfort.
It wasn't until her warm mouth closed about my full breast that I realized exactly what I'd instructed her to do. Yes, it was the Amazon way, but in my need to provide consolation, I'd forgotten that my princess - my queen - was not born an Amazon. But, my mind rationalized even as I fought against my growing desire that swelled right alongside my rising nipple in her mouth, she's doing a mighty fine job of learning to be one!
It was long candlemarks later when her hot tears had dried upon her cheeks and my upper body. Her breathing slowed, the beat of her heart beneath my palm calmed to match mine. And gradually, her suckling at my breast changed, becoming deeper, her tongue coming out to explore the expanse of my chest. Little mewling sounds were escaping her throat and she was beginning to writhe against the length of my thigh.
I coaxed her into raising her head from my breast. Eyes that had been so dull in the muted canopy of the forest now shone brightly by the light of the moon. The fingers of one hand stroking through her hair and over her cheek, I silently asked if this was okay. Her soft lips tenderly pressing to mine in our first kiss was her answer.
The rest of the night evaporated in the unhurried mist of time. We were unrushed in our lovemaking, hands and fingers and mouths and tongues seeking and providing comfort. And sometime during the night, as I pressed my fingers into my queen's womanhood, I discovered firsthand that Xena had not yet been Gabrielle's lover.
The light of day found us still in bed, me laying on my back, her curled about my body. The fingers of one hand lightly stroked through her blonde hair as she slept. It took the last of my reserves to find the strength to prop myself up on one elbow to place a tender kiss on her forehead before falling exhausted back onto the pallet. Entangled in her dreams, she snuggled closer, pressing the warmth of her body against mine. And, contentedly sated, I found myself drifting towards sleep once more.
When next I woke, she was gone. I silently dressed, wondering if I had offended her. Leaving my hut with my heart in my gut, I went off in search of Gabrielle. When I found her, she was talking to Xena's coffin, speaking to her as if she could still hear. She seemed calmer this morning, more - resigned, maybe. But, she was obviously still in so much pain. And would be for quite some time. I felt my heart breaking for her.
It was then that I shifted, the beads falling over the doorway alerting her to my presence. She turned, her body language suggesting she was irritated at the intrusion. Upon spying me, though, her lips curled into a tiny smile and she declared that she would take Xena's ashes home to Amphipolis and then return to rule the Amazons as their Queen.
The subsequent theft of Xena's body and her later resurrection was - words could not describe it. While I was saddened at the loss of the potential partner I'd found, I couldn't envy her the happiness she'd regained. She'd had the greatest love of her life returned to her. I couldn't begrudge her that.
No matter how much it might have hurt.
I sensed another presence. Much too close, moving too fast to be another couple of dancers. Looking up, I spied Solari slowing to a jog as she approached. Stepping back, I released Gabrielle from my embrace, surreptitiously blinking back a heated tear that had surfaced along with my memories.
"Solari?" Gabrielle voiced the question first, "What news?"
"My Queen. My Regent." Punctuated by a salute and perfunctory bow on one knee. As she rose, the scout flashed a dazzling smile. "The scouts have just reported back in. The Northern Amazons have agreed to a meeting to discuss merging our two tribes."
"That's fantastic!" Gabrielle's entire face lit up at the report.
"And, it's all because of you," I added, feeling the muscles of my face working themselves into a broad grin.
"I had a little help from my regent." Gabrielle pulled me into a fierce hug. Then, laughing and crying at the same time, she grabbed Solari around the waist, firmly tugging her into our embrace. "I'll announce it to the tribe in the morning," she declared.
I was still firmly entrenched in a three-way hug between myself, Gabrielle and Solari when I heard the thunder of running footsteps. Now what? I wondered, barely having time to glance about the perimeter before I was being forcefully yanked out of my queen's embrace. Just as suddenly, palms were cupping my cheeks and lips were solidly locked on my mouth.
I roughly pulled away, staring incredulously into the eyes of my . . . attacker. "Pony?!? What in Aphrodite's name do you think you're doing?"
"Declaring my intentions." She folded her arms firmly across her chest, looked me directly in the eye.
Fists balled on my hips, I asked, "Your intentions of what?"
"Of my love."
"Love?" My head swam with lightheadedness as I stared at Eponin in open-mouthed dismay. "For?"
"You." Instantly, she dropped to one knee, deftly pulling her sword free from the sheath across her back, laying her prized weapon at my feet. "As a loyal Amazon, I swear my loyalty to Nation and Crown. As Weapons Master of the Amazons, I pledge my life to you, my Regent. And, as the woman who loves you more than life itself, I promise my heart to you."
Shocked, my heart in my suddenly too-dry throat, I felt myself unable to respond. My eyes darted about, instantly taking in my surroundings. All the couples had stopped dancing, halting to watch as this unorthodox tableau unfolded. The drummers had stopped, hands held above their drums in rapt fascination. Around the perimeter of the dance circle, Pelagia and her royal guards stood at the ready. Solari openly stared, her wide eyes rapidly darting back and forth between me and Eponin. Gabrielle looked on, a tight-lipped smile and silent tears on her face.
"Ep - "
"I love you, Eph." From her kneeling position, she continued to gaze up at me. "I'm asking you to be my bondmate. And, I'm not taking no for an answer."
She moved so quickly, she caught me by surprise, unable to react. Her large palms caught me at the back of my knees, her shoulder connected with my stomach. I felt myself doubling over, had a sense of falling, then a wave of vertigo as I was suddenly lifted off the ground.
"Pooonnnnnnyyyyyyy!!!!" I shouted as she hoisted me over her shoulder like a sack of turnips and hauled me off the dance circle and across the field.
Frantically, I twisted about, looking this way and that. Cricking my neck at an odd angle, I could just make out upside-down images of Gabrielle and Solari and the rest of the amazons present staring on in varying degrees of astonishment. The royal guards made a move as if to intercept us, but a signal from Pelagia had them standing down.
My shouts and protests and struggles continued until we were well away from the feast and firmly ensconced in the seclusion of the surrounding forest. At last, Eponin relented, gingerly lowering me to my feet beneath a large tree. Her large hands came up to briefly cup my shoulders before moving down the length of both arms, the calluses on her palms sending a tingling sensation over my flesh. Then, her hands were holding mine . . . for just the barest of heartbeats . . . before she was releasing me and stepping away.
We stood there in the darkened woods, the only illumination coming from Artemis' full moon high overhead. Faintly, the sounds of the night animals and the gurgling of a distant stream could be heard above the beating of our own hearts. Shallow breaths were visible in the chill air away from the warmth of the village fires.
I didn't know what to say. I didn't know what to do. Of all the stunts Eponin had pulled over the years, this one -
"Why?" I finally settled on.
Uncertain caramel eyes wavered. "Because I love you."
Hands outstretched, she took a step forward, "I've loved you since forever . . . "
I held up a hand to forestall her advance. "Why did you decide to . . . declare your intentions now? All these seasons and you've never said a word. What made you suddenly charge across a crowded feast, profess your undying love and carry me off over your shoulder like some barbarian?!?"
"I - uh - " Her gaze abruptly dropped as she was suddenly very fascinated with the fine workmanship that went into making her pair of Amazonian boots. Fists clenched and unclenched at her sides as she audibly swallowed.
"Pony - "
"I - " She winced almost painfully as the words of confession came tumbling out of her mouth. "Xena was razzing me about being alone at every feast she's ever attended. She accused me of . . . " Here, her words trailed off.
"Of?" I asked. When no answer was forthcoming, I prodded, "She accused you of what, Eponin?"
"Of . . . " Here her normally deep timbre was reduced to a shameful whisper, "Of liking . . . " eyes darted about the forest as if to ascertain that not even a wood nymph would hear the horror of her sordid words, " . . . men." This last part was said so low I almost missed it as she dropped her guilty gaze.
"Men?" The confession stunned me. "Men?!?" I repeated, my voice going up an octave. "Xena actually accused you . . . the biggest, baddest Amazon warrior in the entire Nation of liking men?" Air snorted out along with my laughter.
"Well, I'm glad you can find the humor in it."
Weakly, I gathered my strength from where I had been doubled over with laughter. Standing up, I held onto a nearby tree for support as I gathered my dignity. Looking at Eponin with her big arms folded over her barrel chest, her muscles flexing, the thunderous scowl of righteous indignation on her face . . . I suddenly burst into uncontrollable hysterics again.
"Sorry. Sorry." I managed, wiping the tears from my eyes, bringing my breathing back under control. "I'm sorry." She eyed me warily as if she expected me to have a relapse at any time. "Okay. After she accused you of - " I couldn't say it " - of what she accused you of, which we both know is blatantly false, and you denied it, what happened next?"
"She kept harassing me, claiming it was true. And, she wouldn't leave me alone until I told her which Amazons in the village I found . . . enticing."
"Amazons?" Plural? As in more than one? The smile abruptly fell from my face. "And your response was?"
Her voice dropped even lower as she admitted, "I finally just said you."
"So she would stop teasing you?" I guessed.
"Because it was true," came the soft-voiced reply.
I stared unblinking at her for several long heartbeats. "Then what?"
"She kept teasing me. Saying I'm a wimp for not coming straight out and telling you how I feel."
This from the woman that died and went to Tartarus and came back again before finding the courage to admit to Gabrielle that she loves her. I rubbed my fingertips against the blinding headache that was beginning to throb at my temples. "And?" I prompted, unsure I really wanted the answer.
"Well, she just kept going on. About how warriors aren't supposed to be afraid of anything. And we're supposed to be strong and brave and unflinching in battle."
Admittedly, at this point my brow furrowed. I had no idea how Xena could compare a battle to - to - I shook my head as I tried to figure out exactly what Xena was trying to compare with a battle.
"And, then she said how love is like a battle."
"And," My usually stoic weapons master was very verbose under the influence of wine and warrior princess this night, "You can't retreat and you can't surrender. And, even when it looks like you're hopelessly outnumbered with no chance of victory, you have to sometimes just wade into the thick of things and lead the charge."
Hands on both my hips, one eyebrow arched in dismay, I stared at Eponin in open appraisal.
"And," she stammered on, "She told me how she'd just taken the field and thrown down her gauntlet and challenged Gabrielle." Even as she said it, her words were slowly starting to wind down. "And . . . it all made perfect sense . . . when she was saying it . . . " A hand came up to nervously clutch at the back of her neck.
"So, like some great conqueror," I advanced on her, the tone in my voice sounding menacing even to my own ears, "You decided to rush into battle and - What?!? - Take me like I was the spoils of war?"
Light colored eyes blinked at me with a clarity I hadn't seen all evening. "Well, when you say it like that," she shrugged, "I guess it does sound pretty stupid."
I didn't know what to say. How do you respond to something like that? So instead, I chose to say nothing at all. The heartbeats stretched out, the moment lengthening as we stood in the middle of the forest, both staring at each other.
Pony broke first. Lowering her gaze, dropping her arms to her sides, she slowly backed away. "Look, Eph. I'm sorry . . . really, I am. I . . . ummm . . . I'll - " She audibly swallowed, continuing to back away, eyes remaining lowered as she took each step " - I understand if you don't want to spar with me anymore. Or you don't want to talk to me . . . or see me . . . " At this point, she backed into a tree. Abruptly spinning around, she sidestepped the pine, fleeing deeper into the forest.
Inexplicably, my legs began to move on their own. And, before I knew it, I was chasing after her and catching her, my hand closing about her bicep. I knew I didn't possess the strength to make her turn around. Or, even to stop her.
But, at the touch of my fingers upon her flesh, she did stop. In mid-step. And remained frozen in place as if she were suddenly turned to stone. Only the rise and fall of her chest gave her breath away.
Slowly, hesitatingly, as if each movement was deadly painful, she turned about, still refusing to meet my gaze. Reaching out a shaking hand, my fingers connected with her strong jawline, tracing the rigid set of muscles in her tightly clenched jaw. Fingertips working their way beneath a proud chin, I lifted, bringing her gaze up to meet mine.
Tears blurred my vision, reflecting the unshed ones that clung to thick, ebony lashes. In all our seasons, I'd never seen the heroic weapons master shed a tear. Not even when Solari accidentally struck her with that arrow during target practice that time. My trembling fingers edged higher, one fingertip catching a lone tear as it broke free and slid down a sun bronzed cheek.
"Pony, what you said at the feast - " I somehow found the strength to find the words, " - did you mean it?"
"Oh, Eph." She swallowed hard, staring at me longingly as she struggled to maintain eye contact. Not because she was ashamed to look at me, but because we were both crying so much by now that both our visions were fuzzy. "Every word."
Then somehow, we were kissing. Tenderly at first, then our passions growing as our tongues stoked the fuel of our desires. She was holding me in her arms, rippling bands of sinew beneath my fingers as I gripped her tightly. Her powerful hands were on my hips, fingers clenching at the bare flesh exposed above the waistband of my leathers.
As her tongue foraged in my mouth, thrusting into the warmth and retreating repeatedly, realization slowly dawned on me. Eponin was unhurried and methodical in her technique. Her touches were sensual, yet carefully choreographed so she retained her self-control.
Noble to the last, the weapons master was following my lead, allowing me to set the pace. She wouldn't proceed any farther until she was certain this was what I wanted. That I wanted her.
Determined in my seduction, I backed her against the nearest tree. My tongue deep in her mouth, my hands came up, closing about the hide covering of her halter. My hips rocked repeatedly against her thighs as I soundly pressed into her.
Later, as we lay snuggling on a soft bed made of leaves on the forest floor and she gently chewed at one of my nipples, a lecherous grin crept across my lips, followed by a deep chuckle.
"What?" she asked, pausing in her ministrations just long enough to look at me and mouth that one word.
"Well, I'm certainly glad we proved you don't prefer to bed men." A growl and a sharp bite at my nipple was her only response. Playfully, I tousled her dark ebony hair, then ran my fingers through, stroking each lock back into place. "So, I guess in a way, we have Xena to thank for this."
This time, Pony did pause in her suckling and ravening, releasing my thick nipple from her mouth with an audible pop. "Yeah, I guess so," she begrudgingly acknowledged.
"Although, I think we still owe her one for how she went about it." I briskly scrubbed both hands over my face at the memory of how Eponin had carried me off. By morning, every Amazon in the village would know that Ep had taken me for a lover. And, I meant literally taken. Gods! How were we going to show our faces for breakfast?
As if suddenly able to read my rampant thoughts, Pony visibly cringed beneath my gaze. "You got something in mind?" she asked.
A slow, evil smile spread over my lips and I remembered the sound of the stream happily gurgling nearby. I was quite certain between the two of us, we'd be able to haul a couple of buckets of ice cold water back to the village. And, given the amount of wine Xena had been drinking, it would be fairly easy to sneak up on her while she slept it off.
My glee intensified as I explained my plan to Eponin and she eagerly agreed to lend a hand. Leaving our quiet little nest and tugging on our clothes, we prepared for the trek back to the village to retrieve the buckets. Oh, yeah. One thing the warrior princess seemed to have forgotten in her little "Love is war" analogy is that sometimes battles are won not by only by frontal assaults, but also by stealth and sneak attacks!
As good warriors, it was our duty to remind her of that. And, if our Queen should happen to get caught in the crossfire - well, that was just a risk we were willing to take.
We stole into the village with all the stealth you could expect from two Amazons on a covert mission. In all honesty, looking at the state the village was in after the feast, we could have probably charged a dozen horses through the center and not waken anyone. But, this was Xena we were tracking; and neither of us were going to take any unnecessary risks.
I waited outside the hut, just off the porch, watching as my lover nimbly climbed onto the thatched roof. My eyes appreciatively raked over her form as she caught the edge of the roof, legs and lower body hanging in midair as she braced herself on her elbows and forearms.
Pony is pure muscle and sheer strength. But, there's also a quiet fluidity to her movements that never fail to impress me. I moved beneath her for a better look, catching a peek under her leathers as I did so. A wicked smile stole over my lips; we'd have to sneak back into the forest later and find her missing underwear.
Eponin's legs and feet disappeared from view. A heartbeat later, her head popped out from over the edge of the roof. She flashed me a goofy grin and the all-ready signal. With a wink, I carefully passed the nearly full bucket up to her.
Taking a resolute deep breath, I stepped up onto the porch and to the window nearest where I knew Gabrielle's bed to be. If they were running true to form, Xena would be sleeping closest to the window. With any luck, I'd drench the warrior and my queen would escape relatively unscathed.
I flung the contents of the bucket as far and as fast as I could. An immediate gasp from a warrior let me know I'd successfully hit my target. An answering scream from Gabrielle announced that she'd gotten hit with more than a droplet or two. A daring peek through the window confirmed that I'd gotten Xena. She was hovering over Gabrielle, rapidly shaking her body like a wet animal.
Dropping the bucket, I backed away from the window. I was laughing so hard, I could barely pull myself down the stairs and off the porch. I'd just given Pony the signal to stay back when six foot of naked, dripping wet, ticked off warrior appeared in the doorway. Behind her, my tiny queen appeared, attempting to look as regal as she could with a wet sheet wrapped about her body and hiding behind the bulkier frame of her warrior.
A new fit of laughter took me.
“Amazon, you’re gonna pay for this – “ Xena growled, every vein in her neck standing out.
Oh, I'm sure I will. “Only if you can catch me,” I taunted, jogging backwards, my steps carrying me away from their hut.
I stopped in the center of the courtyard, standing my ground, continuing to taunt Xena. I had to get her riled up enough that she would pursue me. Without her suspecting a trap. I resisted the urge to check Pony's readiness. A movement like that would be a dead giveaway.
Finally, her stride stiffening with anger, she took another menacing step towards me. The look on her face as that bucket of ice cold water was poured down on her! Gabrielle let loose another shrill shriek as she was caught in the deluge.
With a sputter, Xena slowly wiped the hair out of her eyes and menacingly looked up. Perched on the edge of the roof, Eponin stared down at the royal couple, the empty bucket swinging from her grasp.
"My Queen. Xena."
“Ep – “
“Now, now, Xena.” At the sight of my lover wagging a finger at the warrior princess like she would a naughty child, I lost it to another round of giggles so fierce that I had to lean against a tree to brace myself. “All’s fair in love and war, right?”
Deciding it wouldn't be wise to hang around until Xena could pick her stunned jaw up off the ground, Pony made a leap towards the tree located just off the Queen's hut. As I watched Ep scurry from limb to limb and tree to tree, I imagined Xena personally chopping that tree down come morning. Looking up, I watched in appreciation as my lover lowered herself to the ground, coming to stand no more than two paces from my side. Reaching out, tugging my hand, she urged me back into the safety of the forest.
Listening to Xena sputtering and growling, I just couldn't resist one final taunt. And, Ep joined in, “Love may be a battlefield, Xena! And, you may be a military genius! But, you forgot to watch for sneak attacks!”
“EPONIN! You traitor! I’ll get you for this!” Curiously, our Queen's voice wasn't heard as we raced into the depths of the forest. No doubt, she was busy trying to calm her champion's murderous rage. I briefly wondered if there was a remote cave around that Pony and I could take refuge in until it was safe to return to the village.
In about a moon or so.
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