Amazon Bonding (part 1)
An Awakening III
Disclaimers: once again, let us recite the bard classic statement: I don't own Xena, Gabrielle, Hercules, etc etc etc. I wish I did (some seasons would have been different, thanks!), I would also have enough money to be sued for. This story is written for entertainment purposes, not for money, and no copyright infringement is intended. Don't bother suing, haven't got much, not even my sanity.
Subtext/Alt Fiction/Sex: yup. This story contains a loving and sexual relationship between consenting adults of the same gender. If this is illegal in your state or country, please leave - either the story or the region you live in or change your laws. If you are under 18 or 21 years (depending on who thinks you're an adult), leave and come back when you're "legal".
Violence: hmmm, very little. Probably even less than your usual TV episode.
Storyline: This is the third story in my Awakening set. As I said before, I didn't intend on writing sequels but it worked out that way and who knows where these will end up. I hope that each story stands on it's own but you might want to read "A Visit Home, An Awakening," and "Discovery, An Awakening II" before this one.
Feedback: Definitely! <beg <beg, wait a minute, do I beg? Yup, for feedback and behind closed doors. LOL Let me know what you think.
Amazon Bonding, An Awakening III
The knock on the door caused the warrior to yelp aloud and Solan to grin. Cyrene placed a comforting arm on her daughter's arm and smiled at the expression on Xena's face.
"It's okay, Xena." Cyrene said softly. "You'll be fine."
"Mom," Xena nervously pulled on her tunic hem. "I'm nervous." the warrior admitted.
"You're scared," Cyrene corrected.
"Okay, I'm scared." Xena admitted softly. "Why? This is the best day of my life."
Cyrene laughed again. "It's all right and expected. You're taking a very big step."
The knock sounded again and Cyrene quickly hugged her daughter and then went to the door. She motioned for Solan to join her as they opened it.
"Hercules, as Kumbada to my daughter Xena, you are welcome here and I entrust her into your hands." Cyrene said formally.
"As if I need protecting," the warrior mumbled.
Xena turned and was pleased to see her Kumbada standing in the doorway with a stunned expression on his face. The warrior felt herself blushing.
"Xena, you.... you look beautiful." he finally stammered.
"Thank you," she replied. "You look great."
He did, too. In formal blue dyed leather, he was the perfect picture of a Greek God and Xena almost lost her breath. The grey leather of his trousers fit nicely and the gold wrist bands set off his brown hair well, she thought. A small circlet of gold shined across his tanned forehead. He beamed at her and extended his arm for her. With a moment's hesitation the warrior took it and they walked out of the dressing hut.
The drumming and singing stopped for a moment as the couple was caught in the rays of the setting sun. Then a cheer rose up from the dancers and singers and they surrounded the couple, each wanting to hug the warrior in congratulations and good wishes before the trek to the sacred grove. After a moment the drummers and singers gathered round the couple and her escorts of Mother Cyrene and son Solan and together the small band began to move through the village, drums and chanting setting the pace.
Solan leaned over to Cyrene. "I don't know much about a traditional Greek wedding," he admitted. "We have things a little simpler with the Centaurs and Amazons. What's a Kumbada?"
Cyrene smiled and took his arm as they walked behind the couple. "The Kumbada is usually the best friend of the groom, but in this case there'll be two Kumbadas. The rituals and ceremonies will be a combination of the traditional and the Amazon, to help satisfy the outside families like me and Hecuba. The Kumbadas will escort the couple to the sacred grove for the bonding ceremony and ensure that things flow smoothly. It's a very important role. Usually, later in the marriage, the Kumbada acts as godfather to any children." Cyrene hesitated a moment, "Can I ask you something?"
"You know about Amazon customs, right?"
"A lot, since the treaty the Centaurs and Amazons have been studying each other's ways. My father says that it's important, we'll probably have to become stronger allies in the future. Both groups aren't the most popular in the outside world."
"The enemy of my enemy is my friend?" Cyrene smiled.
"Right. What's the question?"
"Why is there an armed escort for Hercules, he is an honored guest of the wedding couple."
"Well, you may also notice that I have a shadow." he grinned and pointed to a smaller Amazon female that was never far from the young teenager. "Any male on Amazon territory is escorted by an armed Amazon. No matter who it is."
"Oh," Cyrene nodded. It had been an interesting week for her and Gabrielle's family. Not the least was Xena trying to explain Solan to her and then insisting that Solan not know the truth yet. Cyrene had argued with her daughter about that one. Cyrene felt that Solan should know his mother, especially since she had changed so much and he was obviously very fond of her. Xena had countered that it was difficult enough that Gabrielle was often used against her, she didn't' want Solan becoming a target that she couldn't protect. It was hard for Cyrene to interact with the boy without letting him know that she was his grandmother. She was becoming quite fond of him and proud of the young man he was going to become.
As they approached another hut a cheer went up from the drummers and singers surrounding that hut and the two groups merged. Xena stopped and Hercules continued to the door of the hut and knocked.
The door was opened by Hecuba
and Lila, Gabrielle's mother and sister.
Gabrielle shifted nervously and readjusted her wrap around skirt for the 10th time. Her mother, Hecuba smiled and wiped a tear away from her eye. The bard spotted her and tried to smile.
"Don't you start!" Gabrielle warned. "You'll get me going!"
Lila, watching from a stool in the corner of the dressing room, giggled and the bard glared at her little sister. That made Lila giggle even more.
The knock on the door caused all three women to jump considerably.
"Oh gods!" Gabrielle whispered, feeling her heart sink into her stomach and her courage take a quick exit.
Hecuba, looking much like she did twenty years before in her white linen, sleeveless dress trimmed in a green that matched her daughter's eyes, quickly hugged the bard.
"You'll be fine. It'll be over before you know it." Hecuba reassured her daughter.
"Gabrielle! I hear them coming!" a male voice called from the other side of the door.
Hecuba and Lila went to the
door, reaching out and holding hands as they opened it.
They looked great, Xena thought.
Both were dressed in traditional white linen, trimmed in green and gold.
Lila had a crown of flowers and Hecuba had a crown of orange blossoms.
Both wore gold bracelets and necklaces of feathers and beads. Xena looked
over at her mother and thought once again that she looked just as radiant
in her white linen trimmed in blue.
Gabrielle turned and saw Iolaus standing in the doorway holding a sword and belt. He started to say something and then stopped dead, beginning to stammer.
"Wow, I... uh. You're gorgeous."
Gabrielle felt a familiar feeling of blush coming over her face.
Then she was across the floor and hugging the blond man tightly. He grinned and hugged her back and then moved out of her arms and began strapping the sword around her waist. He was grinning from ear to ear.
Gabrielle again reflected that
he was quite handsome with his blond hair and blue eyes. He was about
her height (one of the few people she knew that wasn't taller than she was)
and today he was dressed in a formal leather tunic dyed green to match the
trim on her skirt and sleeveless tunic. Grey trousers were tucked into
fur boots and cross laced with green leather thongs. Gold wrist bands
decorated his wrists, a gifting from Gabrielle's tribe and a simple gold band
circled his forehead.
Hercules addressed the mother and daughter, "It is the wish of Xena of Amphipolis, to wed your daughter, Gabrielle of Potedaia. She pledges to care for her, provide for her and, most importantly, to love her. Do you accept this?"
Cyrene leaned over to whisper to Solan. "Traditionally the Kumbada bargains with the bride's family, settling the dowry and lands exchanged and all that."
"We do with open hearts." Hecuba
and Lila answered.
Gabrielle swallowed visibly as the sound of drumming, singing and cheering got louder, getting closer.
Iolaus grinned. "Are you going to get sick?" he teased.
"No," Gabrielle lightly punched his arm.
"Herc did." he whispered loud enough for everyone in the room to hear.
"Hercules got sick the day of his wedding?" Hecuba asked in an awed voice. She was still getting accustomed to dealing with Amazons, Gods and demi-gods.
"Yup," Iolaus grinned. "Got so nervous that he lost his breakfast."
"Iolaus, thank you for being my Kumbada." Gabrielle said quickly as the sounds outside grew very loud.
Gabrielle was pleased as well
with Hercules and Iolaus both acting as Kumbadas for the ceremony. Since
this wasn't a traditional ceremony but a combination of traditional, Amazon
and quite a bit of adaptation, Xena and Gabrielle had decided on each having
a Kumbada for the rituals they were facing and had instantly chosen Hercules
and Iolaus. The women also agreed that they couldn't find a better pick
for the traditional role of best man for their bonding, nor better godfathers
if there were children later in the relationship.
Iolaus, dressed the same as Hercules but his leathers were dyed green, stepped forward from behind Gabrielle's family and approached Cyrene and Solan. His blue eyes dancing with delight.
"It is the wish of Gabrielle of Potedaia to wed your daughter, Xena of Amphipolis. She pledges to care for her, provide for her and, most importantly, to love her. Do you accept this?"
"We do with open hearts." Cyrene knew that Solan also agreed, even if he didn't know it was his Mom getting married. He was overjoyed to be included as a member of the family of Xena and was beaming.
The two families then approached each other and exchanged hugs, tears and laughter. Iolaus and Hercules then exchanged the wedding bracelets that Xena and Gabrielle would use. Passing them back and forth between each other three times.
Solan looked puzzled and looked to Cyrene.
"We're not sure why they rings
or bracelets are exchanged three times. Tradition." she whispered.
Gabrielle knew that in a traditional wedding, the Kumbada would be bargaining with the bride's family for the dowry, monies and land exchanges and not love pledges. She was grateful once again to her mother for holding Gabrielle's father back from insisting on marriage at a young age for her oldest daughter.
Gabrielle had always been curious as to why Hecuba had fought back against Herdoctus about marriage for Gabrielle. Now that the bard knew her true father was Apollo and she was destined to have met Xena and, the gods had hoped, save the warrior from the darkness that had consumed her. The bard had been meant to save the world.
The little bard now understood why her mother had been so surprised when she came home and announced she was marrying Perdicus but pleased. Hecuba had been hoping that her daughter had saved Xena from her dark future but had broken away from the dangerous life being with Xena would mean. Gabrielle couldn't blame her mother for that one, marrying Perdicus should have been safe. A calm and secure but hard life as a farmer and healer.
When Callisto killed Perdicus day after their wedding, Hecuba had quit struggling against what the gods had said was inevitable: Xena was Gabrielle's soulmate. Gabrielle's mother was just surprised that it took both the bard and warrior so long to figure it out. Gabrielle grinned to herself, everyone around them seemed to know it except themselves.
"Sometimes for a bard you can be a little thick," she muttered to herself.
Then her heart skipped a beat as Iolaus came back to the door and offered his arm.
"Oh gods," she whispered and
went to join him, adjusting the necklace of blue-green feathers and beads.
Iolaus emerged with Gabrielle holding his arm. The crowd went silent and both Hercules and Xena lost their breath in reality.
The bard was breathtaking. Xena couldn't think of any other words. The sight of her love brought tears of joy to her eyes and she quickly wiped them away and noticed that Gabrielle's eyes were also bright with tears of joy.
The Amazon Queen was dressed in a white sleeveless leather tunic that was trimmed in gold and green, a green to match her eyes. A white wrap around skirt was also trimmed in green and fur. At her wrists were matching green leather bracers and gold bands decorated her upper arms. Around the bard's neck was a strand of blue-green feathers and beads. To complete her outfit a ceremonial sword hung at her side.
The surrounding Amazons broke into a cheer and went to their knees and bowed their heads at the sight of their Queen. Gabrielle blinked as the cheer from everyone surrounding the hut washed over her and she self herself blushing again. Then her eyes caught sight of her mate and her heart skipped a beat again and she felt her eyes filling with tears of joy.
Everyone except Xena and Cyrene went to a bended knee for the Amazon Queen. Xena and Cyrene bowed their heads as Gabrielle began to approach them.
The warrior was dressed the same as Gabrielle was but her sleeveless white tunic was trimmed in blue and gold, to match her piercing blue eyes. The wrap around white skirt came down to the top of Xena's blue dyed boots that were laced up with white leather thongs. Matching blue leather bracers covered Xena's forearms and silver bands decorated her tanned upper arms. Around the warrior's neck was a necklace of black-blue feathers and beads. The sword at the tall, black haired woman's side was a silver ceremonial sword.
Gabrielle stood in front of
her chosen mate and lifted Xena's head to look into those blue eyes.
"You are so beautiful." Gabrielle whispered. "I love you."
"You take my breath away, little one." Xena whispered back. "I love you too."
Gabrielle took a place beside the warrior and everyone rose. Hercules and Iolaus went to a tray being held by an Amazon and carried two goblets to the couple. Each woman took a goblet and drank half the wine. Then, with grins, they each dropped a coin into the goblets and returned them to their Kumbada's.
"Wine, the sweetness of life and the coin represents that they each pledge to care for each other." Cyrene whispered to Solan.
Everyone cheered and the drummers began drumming again. Both families fell into behind the couple and the Kumbadas began to lead them towards the sacred grove of the Amazons.
Along the way the couple's hands sought each other and interlaced together. In their other hands they carried sprigs of ivy to symbolize the eternity of their love. Along the way the members of the tribe lined the path and tossed blossoms and grain at the wedding party.
As they neared the grove the party passed through an archway of ivy and holly and through the smoke of two smudge pots on either side of the archway.
Solan leaned over to Cyrene. "We pass through the smoke of sacred herbs to cleanse the body. Xena and Gabrielle have already gone through three days of purification. A day of sweating in the sweat hut, a day of fasting, and a day of meditation."
"Is it true that they couldn't see each other during that time?" Cyrene whispered.
"Yup, also heard rumors that Xena tried but Ephiny caught her." Solan giggled.
"I believe that of my daughter," Cyrene grinned back and she could see Xena's face begin blushing and remembered her daughter's uncanny hearing abilities and that she had heard the conversation. Cyrene bit her lip to keep from laughing at her daughter's discomfort.
As they reached the edge of the trees everyone stopped and the drummers and singers went silent. An Amazon, the shaman stepped forward, sword in hand.
Cyrene started to lean over to Solan but he put up a hand to stop her question.
Hercules and Iolaus started to move forward and Solan moved around the two women to join the men. As they knelt in front of the priestess Gabrielle felt a swelling of pride and could feel the same emotion radiating from the warrior next to her for the young man. Gabrielle had heard the argument between Xena and her mother about the boy. Once Cyrene knew Solan was her grandson she had wanted him to know that as well and get to know the boy. Xena had been firm that he shouldn't know the warrior was his mother yet. The warrior had tried to convince Cyrene that it was just too dangerous and that he was better left in the dark and with the Centaurs. That argument hadn't been settled yet, Gabrielle knew. The bard could see where Xena inherited her stubborn streak from. Cyrene moved closer to her daughter, curious.
The three males knelt on both knees before the priestess and lifted their heads. The priestess, not speaking, placed the point of the blade against their throats and then moved to the next male after a moment. She abruptly handed the sword to an attendant Amazon and took a bowl from the attendant. She approached Solan first and dipped her finger into the liquid and smeared a streak across his forehead and moved to repeat the gesture to Hercules and Iolaus.
Another bowl was handed to the priestess and she smeared the cheeks of the males with this liquid.
"Xena?" Cyrene whispered.
"Males aren't allowed into the Sacred Grove without being purified." Xena whispered as Gabrielle was whispering to her family by her side. "First with the smoke, then blood and finally spring water." "The males have to be purified before entering the sacred grove of the Amazons, dedicated to Artemis, our patron goddess. First with the smoke that we passed through and then with the blood of one of the forest animals and finally with pure spring water to signify rebirth." Gabrielle whispered to her family.
The priestess nodded to the males and stepped back and into the shadows. The three rose without a word and resumed their places in the group.
The drummers and singers in front parted to either side of the path and joined other tribe members and the members of visiting tribes waiting in the grove. The family members moved off to the sides as well, in front of the other guests.
"It's rare for a male to be granted the privilege." Solan whispered, awe in his voice as he leaned next to Cyrene's ear.
"Xena loves you very much." Cyrene commented and watched the young man stand even taller.
The drummers and singers in front parted to the side of the path and joined the tribe members waiting in the grove as the wedding party approached the altar and Ephiny. Xena grinned as she heard Solan behind her, "Wow!"
The warrior had to agree with the assessment. Standing on the stone platform that held the altar, the Regent Amazon looked amazing. The chestnut haired was in complete royal outfit. Her white leathers gleamed in the setting sun and the leather and feathered mask made her look somewhat terrifying. In her hand she held a sword and an Amazon stood on either side of the altar, both in ceremonial clothing and with notched arrows, symbolizing Artemis. All the tribe members were in their very best clothing and ceremonial masks.
Xena glanced over and found Hecuba and Lila's eyes wide at the sight of the fierce and almost fabled warrior women. Not many outsiders had seen an Amazon ritual before, especially a private bonding ceremony.
Two of the Amazon warriors approached the wedding party and guided the family members off to either side, Solan included.
Hercules and Iolaus approached the altar and knelt on one knee before Ephiny. They placed the wedding bracelets on the altar and waited.
Ephiny motioned for the two warriors to rise. Hercules and Iolaus moved slowly and lifted the crowns off the altar.
"The crowns represent that a wedding is a royal occasion, no matter the status of the couple. Xena and Gabrielle choose silver and gold, representing the Moon and Sun." Cyrene whispered to Solan.
Hercules and Iolaus walked around the altar platform three times with the crowns, holding them high for everyone to see. Solan looked to Cyrene for an explanation but she merely shrugged, much like her daughter would. "No one knows why three times."
Xena and Gabrielle moved to
the altar and placed their twigs of ivy that represented undying love on the
altar and knelt. The men approached them and placed the crowns on the
heads of the women with a kiss on top of the head. After a moment of
silence the men then switched the crowns. After the third crowning the
two men moved aside and left the crowns. Gold for Gabrielle and silver
for Xena. The Sun and the Moon. After
the third crowning the two Kumbadas moved aside and faced the altar with the
"Tribe members! Family and friends of the couple!" Ephiny's voice carried to the far ends of the grove. "Tonight we honor two friends, two loved ones, and one of our tribe in a bonding ceremony. They have committed to each other and have faced trials together. Tonight is a ritual of something that already exists. Tonight we honor the love between Xena and Gabrielle."
Ephiny stepped around to the front of the altar and held the point of the sword at Xena's throat. Even though Cyrene knew it must be part of the ritual, still she felt her heart skip a beat at the threat to her child.
"Do you enter freely into this bonding, warrior?" Ephiny demanded, her face hidden behind the mask.
"I enter freely of my own will and desire." Xena answered strongly.
Ephiny removed the sword and placed it at Gabrielle's throat. "Do you enter freely into this bonding, bard and Queen?"
"I enter freely of my own will and desire." Gabrielle answered in a strong voice as well.
Xena smiled to herself. It had taken some explaining to Hecuba and Lila about the Queen part. Like the situation with Solan, Gabrielle didn't let too many people know that she was the Queen of the Amazons, it could lead to problems with her family. They were still in shock over the exact nature of their daughter being an Amazon. They had known that she had become a member of the Amazon tribe before, the Queen part was still a shock.
Ephiny handed the sword to an attendant and then pulled out a dagger. With a quick stroke she had cut a lock of the young woman's hair from behind the girl's neck and then quickly cut a lock of the warrior's hair.
The Regent moved behind the altar and held the hair for all to see and then mingled the locks together in her palm. "I offer this hair of the marriage couple to Artemis as sacrifice and ask that she bless this union of Gabrielle and Xena."
Xena and Gabrielle both threw their hands up and Ephiny jumped backwards as a sudden burst of light filled the altar area. Everyone went to their knees when they realized that Artemis was standing behind the altar next to Ephiny. Then with more bursts of light several new figures joined the ceremony. Xena wasn't sure whether to curse or welcome them as she took sight of them in.
Apollo, Cupid, Aphrodite, Zeus, Hera, Demeter, Persephone and Hades.
"I'm not surprised Ares isn't here," Gabrielle whispered to her lover and Xena nodded. Gabrielle knew she had to be relieved of that small favor. The warrior was still tense, just as Gabrielle would expect, Xena hated dealing with the gods.
"I thought Apollo was kidding about coming to the wedding," Xena muttered under her breath and the bard bit her lip to keep from laughing at her warrior.
The gods and goddesses took up places on either side of the area, along with the families.
"Because of the good these two have done for world and the gods, we all offer our blessings to this union and encourage their love. Know this and let all witness our proclamation, their love is destined to span all eternity and beyond this reality. The love between Gabrielle and Xena is rare and it is a soul mate bonding. I call for a blood joining if they are willing to accept their fate." Artemis announced.
Everyone was obviously stunned by the presence of the gods and the announcement from Artemis but Ephiny quickly recovered. Gabrielle was stunned, she felt Xena squeeze her hand tightly.
"As you wish, my Goddess." the Regent stood and faced the wedding couple. "Do you accept this, Xena and Gabrielle?" she asked simply.
The two women looked at each other, each sinking deep into the other's eyes. Both reached out at the same moment to caress the other's cheek. Gabrielle, with her empathic gifting, felt the love pouring from her lover and and the bard felt like her heart would burst with joy. Blue eyes began to fill with tears of joy, matched by Gabrielle's.
"We do," they answered.
"Friends and family," Ephiny faced everyone. "The gods have blessed this union and have called for a blood bonding. This is a rare binding of soul mates, by binding their blood together in front of the gods they are binding their souls together. It is the ultimate commitment anyone can make, god or mortal. From this point, no matter what happens between them, their souls will be joined."
Xena and Gabrielle each squeezed their hands tighter, reaffirming their decision with each other. Gabrielle felt tears beginning to escape her eyes. She leaned against Xena's strong arm, wanting to be closer to the warrior. Xena squeezed her hand again.
The shaman priestess stepped out of the shadows and approached the couple slowly. Wordlessly, she peered out from under her ceremonial headdress, her hazel eyes piercing into blue and green ones. She drew a dagger from her belt and Gabrielle and Xena extended the hands they had been holding together, palms up.
The priestess turned back to the couple and held the dagger over their palms for a moment and then, with quick and deft strokes, sliced open the palms of both women's hands. A bowl appeared from somewhere within her robes into her hand as she caught a portion of the blood from both hands. She handed the bowl to an attendant, who also seemed to appear from nowhere, and then clasped the hands together again.
Gabrielle's breath caught in her throat at the sensation, the intensity. The bard heard Xena gasp as well, it felt like lightning was flowing through their veins. Gabrielle threw her head back with the surge of power and her body began trembling, she felt Xena's body responding the same.
Regent Ephiny knelt before the Goddess Artemis and the Goddess of the Hunt, patron of the Amazons, extended her hand over the bowl in blessing. Ephiny then stood and poured some of the blood into a wine goblet on the altar. Raising the goblet high, Ephiny chanted an invocation and blessing and then walked down from the altar to stand in front of the couple.
"Your vows, warrior." Ephiny instructed.
Xena turned to Gabrielle and took a deep breath, her eyes beginning to fill with tears of joy again. "You saved my life, my heart and my soul. They are all yours, my love. I pledge to be yours for eternity."
"Your vows, my Queen." Ephiny instructed.
"You gave me life and opened my heart and soul. They are all yours, my love. I pledge to be yours for eternity." Gabrielle said, a tear escaping her eyes.
Ephiny handed Xena the goblet. "With this wine and blood you pledge your soul and blood to each other. You will be joined beyond this life."
Xena drank half the wine readily and handed the goblet to Gabrielle. "With this wine and blood you pledge your soul and blood to each other. You will be joined beyond this life." Ephiny repeated and smiled behind her mask as Gabrielle easily drank the rest of the wine/blood mixture.
Ephiny took the goblet back to the altar and faced everyone. She held up the bonding bracelets, interwoven strands of gold and silver. "These are the bonding bracelets chosen by Gabrielle and Xena, they symbolize their commitment to each other."
Hercules and Iolaus both approached the altar and took the bracelets from Ephiny, each handing Xena and Gabrielle a bracelet. Artemis pointed her finger and the leather thong fell into pieces at their feet. The two women placed a bracelet on the other's wrist.
"You are bound before your family, your tribe and before the Gods. May you never regret this decision." Artemis announced.
"Speak total truth, Daughter," Zeus spoke up and both Gabrielle and Xena turned to him with a surprised look. "You were destined to be together whether we agreed or not. We are pleased, though and you have our blessing."
With that Zeus, Hera, Demeter, Persephone and Hades were gone. Aphrodite, Cupid and Artemis looking pleased.
"Gabrielle, you are my Chosen and an Amazon and have my special blessing. Because of your binding to her, you have my blessing as well, Xena." Ephiny was left staring at the space where Artemis had been.
"We're glad you finally worked out, girls. Catch you later." Both Aphrodite and Cupid were gone.
Xena breathed a sigh of relief and Gabrielle elbowed her in the ribs.
"Behave," the bard hissed with a smile.
"With that many gods around, I'm just surprised nothing went wrong." Xena smiled back.
"Friends, family and tribe, I proclaim this part of the bonding ceremony over. The families, Kumbadas and escort will accompany the couple to the wedding hut on the far side of this grove. Beginning in the morning we will begin the reception of the delegates from surrounding cities and nations to honor our Queen, followed by a dinner tomorrow night. Then we'll send them all on their way and hold a week long festival here among ourselves and our honored guest and family members." Ephiny announced. With the announcement over she let out an Amazon celebration cry that was picked up by all the members of the tribe as well as the visiting Amazons from other tribes. Even Solan joined in the shouting.
Still holding hands the two women followed their Amazon warrior escort and their Kumbadas with their families following behind. As they approached the hut the escort broke off to take up positions on either side of the hut door. Hercules and Iolaus stopped and turned to face the two women. With wide grins they each kissed Xena and Gabrielle and hugged them.
"Thank you for choosing us as your Kumbadas," Hercules said.
"I wouldn't think of anyone else." Xena smiled.
Hecuba and Lila joined Gabrielle by her side. They were then hugged by the bard tightly. "I love you both," the little Amazon said simply.
"We love you too, Gabrielle, and couldn't be happier." Hecuba smiled and hugged her daughter again.
Cyrene and Solan also came forward to hug and kiss Xena. The warrior wiped a tear of joy from her mother's face. "I love you, Mom."
"I love you too and I couldn't be more proud of your match."
Xena looked down at the teenager and then hugged him tightly. "I love you too, squirt."
"Yeah," he said simply.
Then the families took turns hugging their new daughter-in-laws. Finally, everyone moved aside and the escort opened the door for the couple to enter the hut.
Holding hands once again they crossed the threshold.
As the door closed behind them the bard felt herself swept into her taller lover's arms for a long and lingering kiss. Gabrielle wrapped one arm around the warrior's neck and the other around Xena's waist. As the kiss refused to lessen for either of them, the bard found her knees go weak and her body trembling.
"It's been a long three days, my warrior." Gabrielle complained as they broke apart slightly. The bard began to trail her kiss down to the warrior's neck.
"Yes, it has." Xena agreed, pulling the bard closer to her by lifting Gabrielle up into another kiss.
Gabrielle took advantage of
the wrap around skirt and surrounded her legs around her warrior's hips and
ducked her head down to bite Xena's neck. Xena grabbed the bard's nicely
shaped ass and pulled the bard tight against her as she groaned and whimpered.
Gabrielle answered with a growl of her own as they fell against the wall of
The two Amazon guards outside the hut tactfully ignored the thump and the moans that were increasing in volume inside the hut. All the Amazons had been very aware of the sexual energy between the two women during their stay in the village before the wedding. Ephiny complaining to her own mate that she hadn't gotten a solid night's sleep since the two women had arrived.
Hercules and Iolaus moved into the tree line a short distance from the hut. They sat down and leaned against a tree.
"They were beautiful," Iolaus commented softly, pulling out his sword and laying it across his lap.
"Yes, very beautiful." Hercules agreed.
"Herc," Iolaus began slowly. "Do you ever regret letting Xena go?"
"No. I love her and she loves me but we're not in love with each other. She is a remarkable woman, though, and stunning." Hercules commented, almost wistfully. "How about you?"
"No, that was just lust." the smaller man grinned.
Hercules lightly shoved his
friend and they settled in for a long night. Xena and Gabrielle might
not be a traditional Greek wedding couple but Hercules and Iolaus were prepared
to complete their roles, including protecting the wedding couple on their
bonding night. Besides, Hercules was worried. Where in Tartarus
was his half-brother?
Gabrielle moved back from Xena's neck back to the warrior's lips, both tongues fighting back and forth, the bard's hand lacing through the warrior's hair, holding the woman's head tightly into the kiss. Gabrielle felt Xena regain her feet and move them to the bed in the center of the room. The bard kept a tight hold on the warrior as they fell to the bed and with the agility of a cat, flipped Xena over onto her back.
Gabrielle was pleased when her mate yelped in surprise and then moaned in pleasure as the bard begin tugging at the laces of the warrior's tunic. With a growl she pulled the restricting cloth from Xena's body. Tears almost sprang to the bard's eyes as she slid down the warrior's body; position a leg between her lover's legs. The feeling of Xena's body melding into hers felt like a melding of fire and ice, intense heat that sent shivers over her body. She wasn't sure who was moaning more or louder, herself or her mate as she took a nipple in her lips, lightly rubbing her teeth over the tender flesh. Xena's hands in her hair captured her head in place as the bard began devotions at Xena's breasts.
The last thing Gabrielle expected was to be hitting the far wall of the hut with her back and the back of her head. Everything went black for a moment as she slid down the wall. The bard shook her head in time to see someone reaching for her, grabbing her by the collar of her tunic and lifting her off the floor and high on the wall, feet nowhere near the ground.
The bard blinked, staring into intense brown eyes and familiar beard.
"Ares!" she hissed.
Without looking back he snapped a fist back and caught her mate along the jawline, sending the warrior flying backwards to the floor next to the bed.
"Hi, can't say I'm sorry to break up this little scene. I need you to disappear for a couple of days, what say we get out of here?" he grinned.
"Never!" Gabrielle hissed and the God of War smacked the bard's head into the wall in response. The bard clawed as his arm, knowing it was useless.
Both the bard and War God looked down in surprise at the blade sticking through his stomach. For a moment Gabrielle had hope that this might be over but he merely brushed aside the sword, breaking the blade off and backhanded Xena again.
Gabrielle, seizing his momentary distraction, jammed two fingers in his eyes when he turned back to her. With a howl of rage and pain Ares dropped the bard to the floor. Gabrielle quickly got to her knees and started to dive past him but was surprised with the speed of his recovery, receiving his downward fist blow at her temple and eye, sending her to the floor.
Before she could even blink and realize she was bleeding, he had lifted her up again and the bard was thrown across the room with the force of his blow to her mouth. The bard lay stunned.
As the darkness tried to claim
her, the bard her Xena screaming in rage and the sound of blows.
Hercules and Iolaus found themselves on their feet and running before their minds had caught up with their instincts a few minutes later. They blinked as they ran, taking in the sight of the God of War sitting on his tailbone in front of the wedding hut. He was sitting on the door that someone had just thrown him through.
Before the two male warriors reached the small yard Ares had stood up only to find himself pierced several times in the chest by arrows from the Amazon guards. He snarled and broke the arrows off.
Everyone stopped when Xena bounded out of the hut, broken ceremonial sword in her hand. Hercules and Iolaus started running towards the fight again, ignoring the fact that the warrior woman was dressed only in her wrap around skirt and missing her tunic.
"Sword!" the warrior hissed and one of the Amazon guards quickly drew her sword and handed it to the Warrior Princess.
Hercules and Iolaus ran in between Xena and Ares. "Let us handle this, Xena. Amazons, see to your Queen," Hercules instructed.
"All right, enough of the games!" Ares snarled. "Either way you want it, Xena. I was just going to take the irritating little wench for a couple of days. Her absence would be enough to start some minor wars between the delegates, but since you object so strongly - I'll settle for your death or hers, either way works for me right now!"
With a flash of his hands both Hercules and Iolaus went flying backwards into the walls of the hut.
Ares and Xena met in the center of the yard, swords clashing, sending sparks flying between them. Hercules shook his head and looked up at the fighters and shook his head again. The sword strikes were moving faster than he could even follow. He stood up and helped Iolaus up.
"Protect Gabrielle, whatever you do, don't let him near her."
"You got it." Iolaus disappeared into the hut.
"No!" Hercules screamed as Ares reached behind his back and pulled out a dagger. Before Xena could counter the sword and dagger the God of War had sliced her sword arm and followed through with a sword strike that knocked the sword from her weakened hand.
A sword point at the warrior's throat stopped Hercules.
"Xena, it doesn't have to be this way." Ares said. "Come back to me, leave the wench here and everyone lives."
"I'd rather be dead." Xena answered calmly.
"Ares, you do this and I'll track you to the ends of the universe and find a way to kill you myself." Hercules warned.
"Oh shut up, brother." he turned his eyes back to his former Warlord. "You married her?" he demanded.
"Worse than that, Ares. We are blood bonded." Xena held up her hand to show him the bandage.
Ares' face turned extremely red with rage and he raised his sword with a scream and Hercules began moving again.
"Don't you dare hurt my mother!"
Xena looked up in time to see Solan launch himself from the nearest tree and land on the God of War's back. Ares screamed with rage and when he turned Xena saw a dagger embedded in the back of his neck. If he had been human his spinal cord would have been severed.
With a scream the God backhanded the young teen, sending him flying across the yard and into a nearby tree where he sank unconscious. Hercules grabbed Xena from launching herself at Ares.
"See to Solan, I'll take care of him."
As the warrior knelt beside her son, the God of War found himself grabbed by the ankles and lifted over the head of Hercules. With a yell of rage, Hercules slammed Ares right into a tree. Without releasing his hold, Hercules swung Ares over his head and into another tree.
By now a large number of Amazon warriors broke into the clearing, armed to the teeth and ready for battle. With another yell, Hercules rammed Ares to the ground. The God of War lay in the dust stunned.
"You leave Xena and Gabrielle alone or I will keep ramming your head into things until you can't even remember your own name!" Hercules threatened.
Before Ares could respond Hercules had grabbed him by the ankles again and began swinging him around and around until he had built up quite a bit of speed and then released the War God, sending him flying over the tree tops with a yell.
The large demi-god quickly ran over to where the Amazons and Xena were gathered around the young teen. Solan opened his eyes with a groan and found himself in the arms of the Warrior Princess.
"Hey, you're crying." he whispered.
"Are you okay?" she answered.
"I think so, that kinda hurt,"
he admitted. Ephiny and Xena helped the young man stand up and then
steadied him as he swayed on his feet. Xena quickly ran her hand over
the young man's body and looked in his eyes. Satisfied she stepped back
and looked at him.
When the bard's vision cleared she found an Amazon warrior bending over her, checking her pulse and head and Iolaus standing right beside the warrior. Then the Amazon Queen noticed another Amazon guard standing next to her, arrow notched with two more in hand ready.
"What's happened?" she whispered as Iolaus reached out a hand to help the small woman to her feet.
"What do you remember?" he asked cautiously.
Gabrielle's eyes narrowed and her jaw clenched. "Ares!" She quickly shoved past her Kumbada and saw a small crowd of warriors at a nearby tree. Through the crowd the bard saw her mate bending over someone.
"Xena!" Everyone turned to see Gabrielle standing in doorway of the hut, flanked by the two Amazon warriors and Iolaus. With a smile she ran into her mate's arms.
Ephiny frowned and approached the two, lifting Gabrielle's face from her mate's chest. All the Amazons muttered or growled when they saw the black eye and the trickle of blood from their Queen's lips.
"I'm all right," she reassured them. "Ares wouldn't take no' for an answer." The Queen looked over at the shaken Solan, realizing that he had somehow been involved with whatever had happened with Ares. "Are you okay?"
"Yeah, a little bruised, I think." he shrugged, instantly reminding the young bard of the boy's mother, Xena.
Iolaus stepped forward and handed the warrior her tunic. She grinned at his blush.
"I thought you might like this back."
The warrior stepped out of Gabrielle's arms and slipped the tunic over her head. "Ephiny send word to our families that we're fine, I'm sure they heard the commotion. Let's have the healer take a look at Solan and Gabrielle too."
"I'm fine," both the teenager and bard said at the same time.
"For me?" blue eyes pleaded with both of them and they finally nodded. "Go on, I'll be there in a moment."
Together her son and mate began walking with the Amazons towards the healer's hut with Ephiny explaining to the bard what had happened with Solan filling some in.
The bard shook her head, realizing how close she, Xena and Solan had come to possibly dying at the War God's hands. It sent a chill down her spine for her warrior. She had no idea what Solan's or her death would do to the warrior. Gabrielle didn't want to find out.
The healer quickly looked both the teenager and her Queen over carefully and put some salve on the cut above the bard's eye and pronounced them fit. Ephiny sighed with relief and gave Gabrielle a quick hug.
Xena placed a hand on Hercules' arm. "Thank you, my friend."
"Any time," he grinned. "Go see to your mate."
With a grin the warrior was off at a trot to the healer's hut. Then she stopped dead at the door before entering. Solan had called her Mom.'
"Oh gods," she muttered and then took a deep breath and entered the hut, walking slowly past the armed guards at the door.
As they waited for Xena to
join them Solan became very quiet and withdrawn.
After a hectic candlemark of explaining what had happened to Ephiny and both families, having the healer check both teenager and Queen, and finally getting everyone to settle down, the warrior found herself sitting at a table in the healer's hut, alone with Solan and Gabrielle.
Solan sat with his head lowered and Gabrielle could see something different about her warrior, her new wife. What was it? Xena was nervous? The bard was suddenly very curious as to what was up.
"Solan," Xena began slowly and was surprised to see the young teen blushing.
"I'm sorry," he stammered.
"For what? You saved my life." Gabrielle leaned over and hugged the boy and he seemed to relax a bit.
"I've been practicing my stalking in the trees. When I heard the sounds of a fight I knew it had to be you," he explained in a rapid sentence.
"Of course it had to be Xena," Gabrielle agreed with a grin.
"I'll get you for that, bard." Xena threatened with an answering grin. "Go on, Solan."
"I made my way through the trees. I know I'm not supposed to enter the grove, but I was afraid you were in danger!" his eyes looked panicked and she placed a hand over his in a calming manner.
"I was." Gabrielle knew how hard that must be for her warrior, to admit that she had been in trouble, that was quite an admission.
"I saw that man, Ares, about to strike and I didn't think." Solan dropped his eyes, as if expecting to be scolded.
"You saved my life," Xena repeated. "I might have been able to fight back, probably not."
"You certainly weren't dressed for the occasion," Gabrielle giggled. The bard was very sorry that she had missed the fight with Ares with her half naked mate.
Xena glared at her and then grinned.
"I think it did distract him for a moment. Besides, who got me in that condition?" Xena countered and then turned back to the boy. "Solan, you said something as you struck Ares," she hesitated, wanting to see what he meant by the cry he had sounded out.
Solan began blushing even more and wouldn't meet Xena or Gabrielle's eyes. Xena leaned over the table and raised his chin to meet her eyes.
"I'm sorry, I know you didn't want me to know." he whispered.
"Solan, what do you know?" the warrior whispered back.
"That you're my mom."
"Whoa," Gabrielle muttered and started to get up.
Xena caught Gabrielle's surprised eyes and motioned the bard to stay, when her mate began to stand up. "You're my mate and my family. Please stay", she asked and Gabrielle sat back down. "How do you know?" Xena asked.
"I figured it out. Dad said that my mom was a warrior in your army, who had died giving birth to me, but I felt it. Every time you were near it just felt..... it felt right. And I have your eyes."
"And my stalking talent." Xena grinned and then grew serious. "Solan, I...."
"I figured it out, with Dad's talk about alliances and the treaties. You're afraid for me, aren't you? Is that why you left me?"
Gabrielle felt tears springing to her eyes and wasn't surprised when her warrior stood up and grabbed the boy from across the table, hugging him tightly. The bard knew that hug; it was the same one Xena had given her when Gabrielle had crossed back over from dying.
"Solan! I always wanted you!" Xena whispered. She pulled back from the embrace but kept both hands on the boy's arms, keeping her eyes locked with his. "I was the Warlord when you were born. I couldn't take you with me. I would have been killed and you would have been killed, as well. At the very least, someone would have hurt you or kidnapped you to get to me. I wasn't a good person and I wasn't fit to be a mother. I left you with the Centaurs because I knew they would protect you, and no one would figure it out." Xena tried to explain.
"I kinda figured that, but you've changed. You do good stuff now, why didn't you tell me?"
"The danger is still there! Ask Gabrielle how many times someone has tried to use her or hurt her because of me. I love you, but you can't be with me." Xena looked to the bard for confirmation but Gabrielle refused to answer. She had Xena had gone through that argument enough on their own. The bard had flatly refused to leave Xena, even when it was dangerous. She watched Xena brush a tear away.
"I know that, but can't you just visit a little more often?"
Again the warrior crushed her son in a hug while Gabrielle gave her a tired smile.
When the two finally separated, Xena ruffled the boy's hair. "You bet, kiddo. Now, go back to bed. I don't think Ares will dare come back tonight."
Solan reached out and grabbed Gabrielle in a hug. "This means you're my mom too."
"You bet." she agreed, her heart filling with even more love for the young teenager.
With a grin he scampered out the door, his Amazon escort close behind.
Xena ran her hand through her hair. "Gabrielle, I'm sorry about all of this. It isn't exactly how I wanted our wedding night." She ran a hand over her jaw, beginning to swell from where Ares had caught her twice with his fist.
Gabrielle laughed and grabbed her lover's hand, leading them to the door. "I know that, but I just married Xena, Warrior Princess. Am I surprised things got a little exciting?"
Xena managed a smile at that, then frowned, sadness clouding her eyes as she touched the beginning bruise at Gabrielle's eye. "I could kill him!" the warrior hissed, her eyes turning an angry ice blue. Gabrielle reached up with her own hand and stroked Xena's cheek and was pleased when Xena's eyes softened at the touch.
"I know, love, but let it go tonight." Gabrielle asked softly.
"For you, anything."
"Then let's finish what he interrupted, thank you." Gabrielle whispered as she leaned up and grabbed one of the warrior's earlobes in her teeth and lightly pulled.
Xena growled and picked Gabrielle up off the ground into her arms. The bard yelped and clung to her mate, laughing as Xena began carrying her across the village common grounds.
Ephiny, watching from the shadows of her hut, smiled approvingly. She was also cursing Ares and thanking the gods for Hercules and Iolaus being around. She knew that without the demi-god things would have gotten bloodier than they were, probably with several deaths.
She shook her head and followed behind the couple, keeping to the shadows. It wasn't like Ares to make such a bold move. To actually attack the couple? Ephiny knew he was usually more subtle. To actually be willing to kill Xena, that was new. The Regent of the Amazons realized that Xena's bonding with Gabrielle must have rattled him more than they had thought it would.
"Could he be more attached to her than he lets on?" Ephiny wondered to herself.
Xena knew the Regent was behind them but didn't mind. She also knew that warriors filled the trees along the path and around the wedding hut. For once the warrior was grateful that Ephiny was cautious.
Gabrielle spotted several Amazon warriors in the trees and knew there were many more surrounding the hut in the shadows and trees. She had also seen Ephiny following behind the couple when the bard glanced over Xena's shoulder. In her lover's arms and surrounded by Amazons, Gabrielle felt safe.
Xena grinned at the sight of Hercules and Iolaus trying to replace the door to the hut that she had kicked Ares through. The sound of him smashing through the door had been satisfying for the warrior; especially when she was seeing nothing but red. He had struck Gabrielle twice, after knocking Xena across the room.
Hercules and Iolaus spotted the couple approaching and with an exaggerated gesture, moved the door aside so they could get through. Xena grinned and bowed slightly to their Kumbadas and entered the hut. The two men attempted to replace the door as best they could to ensure privacy.
Xena and Gabrielle were quite sure they were going to be on guard, along with the Amazon warriors.
Gabrielle yelped as Xena tossed her onto the bed and then grinned when the warrior joined her, half pinning the bard to the bed.
"Now, where were we?" Xena asked and then began nibbling on the bard's neck.
"I think I had your tunic off and your breasts in my mouth." Gabrielle whispered, tugging at the tunic.
Xena groaned and let the bard pull the tunic off and arched her back as the Queen took a nipple into her teeth.
"Oh gods, I think that's about the point," Xena agreed.
With an answering moan, Gabrielle agreed. She reached down and undid the belt holding Xena's skirt together. Unbuckling the restricting leather, she tugged the leather skirt aside and pulled Xena close to her. Xena broke the contact long enough to pull Gabrielle up into a sitting position and lift the bard's tunic off. The warrior sat back for a moment, marveling in the beauty of the body in front of her. Gabrielle reached out tenderly, as if afraid to touch a dream, thinking the same thing about Xena's body. The bard could see the same emotion in her bondmate's eyes.
"Gods, it's always like I'm seeing you for the first time. You are magnificent!" the bard whispered, running her hand over the perfect breasts, sending shivers down Xena's spine. "When I look into those eyes of yours it feels like I'm falling into the sky."
Xena smiled and touched the Queen's cheek. "I'm always here to catch you", she promised. They came together for a kiss that seemed to last a lifetime, between them. Everything faded away as they lost themselves in the feeling of each other, the first true kiss of their blood bonding. Xena melted into her bard and was able to put aside the worry of Ares reappearing and Gabrielle, or her part, sank deeper into her warrior and forgot about the politics facing her the next day. Finally, nothing existed for either of them but the other.
"My Queen, if you're going to grab breakfast and bath, you need to get up now." a voice called from outside the hut.
Gabrielle moaned and threw an arm over her warrior's stomach. She muttered something about another few minutes of sleep. She and Xena hadn't slept much with the excitement of the attack from Ares, discovering Solan knew that Xena was his mother, calming the families down after the attack, and then a very long session of love making, the bard was tired and her muscles were refusing to move.
Xena opened her eyes slowly. It had been a long night and she would prefer to stay in bed as well.
"We'll be right there, thank you." she called out.
"Hmmmph," Gabrielle answered.
Xena grinned and moved her bard's arm to the side and leaned over her grumpy Queen. She began kissing the bard from the back of the neck and down the spine.
The bard's senses began waking up when she felt Xena's soft lips slowly beginning to kiss a trail up the bard's spine from her neck to her lower spine and then began working her way back up again. Gabrielle moaned in pleasure, her body stretching. The bard arched her neck as she felt Xena's lips reach it and then felt a gasp torn from her as Xena's hand reached between the bard's legs, Gabrielle's body instantly responding to her lover's touch as the talented fingers began dancing between her folds and over her clit.
"Oh gods, you definitely know how to wake someone up!" Gabrielle whispered, her body instantly responding to Xena's touch.
"I can't stop touching you," Xena whispered back and half turned the bard over to kiss her roughly, her fingers entering her lover, causing Gabrielle's body to begin trembling. Then her teeth sank roughly into the bard's neck and Gabrielle grasped the edge of the bed with a whimper, her body rocking to a rhythm with her warrior. The Amazon Queen began a series of cries that escalated with the warrior's strokes in and out, and with the thumb caressing her swollen clit.
"Gods, Xena!" Gabrielle hissed, biting into the blanket twisted under her body.
"Yes," Xena whispered and then resumed biting and working the bard's neck. The warrior's eyes were dancing with delight behind her eyelids as the bard's body stiffened and clamped down on the warrior's hand, attempting to capture her fingers totally, as she climaxed. The bard screamed out her name and then continued trembling, as wave after wave shook her body.
Xena wrapped her arms around the smaller woman, holding tight, as her mate regained her breath.
"You are incredible," Gabrielle whispered, turning over to face her mate.
"So are you, little one." Xena smiled back.
"I love you."
"I love you. I wanted you for so long, now I can't get enough of you."
"When did you realize you were in love with me?" Gabrielle asked, running her fingers through Xena's hair and down the warrior's arm, sending shivers over the warrior's spine.
"I thought you were cute from the start. I realized I was attracted to you very early. I remember feeling a twinge of jealousy when we dealt with the Titans."
"You mean, when you thought I slept with a man?" the bard asked, a teasing lilt to her voice.
"Yup," Xena agreed. "Then I had to face, it down the line, that I wasn't only attracted to you. That I could deal with; but that I had fallen for you, as well. That was a little more to deal with."
"I don't remember exactly when I realized what I was feeling for you. All I knew was that I was thinking of you all the time and my feelings were definitely beyond the friendship thing."
Gabrielle stroked her lover's arm, a frown coming over her face.
"What is it, little one?" Xena asked softly, stroking the bard's face.
"You were in love with me when I married Perdicus, weren't you?" Gabrielle whispered.
"Oh boy," Xena muttered. Gabrielle knew this was uncomfortable for both of them but she wanted the answers they had both avoided. She as feeling guilty about Perdicus' death and having Menestratus, his brother, try to kill her and Xena didn't help those feelings.
"Why didn't you say anything?" Gabrielle whispered, sinking her head down into Xena's chest.
"I thought you would be better with him and I didn't think you could be interested in me. Did you marry him knowing you wanted me?" the warrior asked softly.
Gabrielle felt tears beginning to well up in her eyes and fought them back.
"Yes," she admitted, finally giving it voice for the first time. "I didn't think you wanted me. You treated me like a kid a lot then."
"That doesn't explain why you married him." Xena muttered.
"He loved me very much and I was fond of him. I thought I could fall in love with him and we had a good start on a friendship. I thought it would be better than my parents if I couldn't have you." the bard whispered, beginning to cry.
"It's not your fault he's dead." Xena held her wife closer.
"I know and yet it is." Gabrielle insisted. "It's mine, yours, Callisto's, Menestratus' and even Perdicus himself. If I had told you how I felt maybe he'd be alive."
"He'd still be a soldier and maybe dead." Xena reminded her of Perdicus's chosen profession. "It's not your fault, little one."
know, it just hurts knowing I married him for the wrong reasons."
"Those reasons are better than most people have when they enter a marriage, you know that." Xena said simply.
"I know, I feel so guilty about his death! I'm sorry he's dead but it brought me back to you!"
Gabrielle felt the warrior's arms tighten around her and the bard finally let the guilt pour out. After a few moments the bard felt drained but better. Xena was stroking her head and holding her tight.
"I know, little one," the warrior whispered. "I have the same guilty feelings. I wanted you happy but I thought I would die when you left. I didn't know how to go on without you."
"I love you so much!" Gabrielle hugged her mate tightly.
"We're going to miss breakfast," Xena reminded the bard.
"For once, my warrior mate, I am willing to miss breakfast." Gabrielle grinned and began to kiss her warrior from the lips, down the chin and throat. Xena relented, rolling onto her back as the bard covered her, and slowly worked her way down the warrior's body. The tall woman found herself clutching at the blanket as well, as fingers began dancing across her stomach and nipples, while the bard's loving lips and tongue moved lower, beginning it's own dance between Xena's folds.
Gabrielle moaned with pleasure as her lips and tongue found her lover's wetness and she lovingly began a rhythm with her tongue. Moaning from the feeling of entering her lover with several fingers, Gabrielle almost missed her warrior moaning as well. The bard glanced up and saw Xena's head thrashing back and forth on the bed, the warrior gritting her teeth as her body began shaking uncontrollably.
Xena was surprised to hear herself cry out loud when the bard entered her with several fingers and her tongue began dancing around the woman's clit. The bard's other hand kept up it's dance between Xena's nipples, working them torturously until the warrior was thrashing back and forth on the bed, gritting her teeth as her body began to shake.
"Gods, yes, Gabrielle!"
The bard moaned herself as she drank in, of her mate. Again nothing existed for the two of them except each other and the sensations being aroused. Gabrielle felt herself giving over to the passion of her warrior, whimpering as Xena arched and then sat partially up to grasp the bard's shoulders. As the warrior's fingers dug into her skin the bard felt her own buildup beginning and increased the speed and intensity of her own devotion to Xena's body. The younger woman felt like she could make love to her mate for all eternity, and never get enough. Gabrielle often thought that this must be what paradise would feel like, akin to the emotions and overwhelming joy that grabbed her heart and soul and body as she made love to Xena. The bard thought this must be what true worship of a Goddess was, total connection, total love.
Gabrielle felt Xena's body stiffen and begin the strong spasms. She gasped herself as fingernails broke the skin on her shoulders and began leaving slight furrows. The bard looked up at her warrior's face.
"Let go," she whispered and was rewarded with Xena falling backward with a scream of the bard's name, her body arching and spasming, over and over again. Gabrielle moved up Xena's body and held her lover close.
When Xena regained her strength, she moved so the bard could snuggle in her arms, a comfortable and familiar position they often slept in. She frowned and brought her hand up to her face.
"Oh gods, Gabrielle!" she exclaimed, starting to sit up but was stopped by the bard. "Your back!"
"Don't worry about it, my love. I enjoyed every minute of it." Gabrielle whispered softly with a smile, pushing her warrior back down.
"You're bleeding!" Xena insisted.
"Yup, I think you marked me." Gabrielle answered simply.
"Besides, my love, when you get a look at your neck, I think you'll find that I already marked you." the bard smiled a mischievous grin.
"This will look good for the delegates." Xena complained with a smile, settling back down with her lover.
"Oh well, they can go to Tartarus if they don't like it."
They both jumped at a pounding at the door.
"My Queen, I must insist!" Ephiny's voice carried through the broken door. "You just have time to get dressed before receiving your guests!"
"I guess we better get up, little one." Xena suggested with a laugh.
"Be right there, Ephiny!" Gabrielle called out.
Ephiny, meanwhile, noticed the guards wouldn't meet her eyes. "How long have they been awake?" she demanded and watched her two sentries shift uneasily on their feet.
"Uh, a little while now." one finally answered.
"Those two! I swear they can't hold off for ten minutes!" she muttered.
A candlemark later and Gabrielle was in clean clothes and sitting with Ephiny while she and several Amazon elders ran down a list of visiting delegates and small details about them. After another candlemark the bard found herself rubbing her eyes and neck, lack of sleep and politics were giving her a headache. She glanced over and saw Iolaus nodding off in the corner, almost about to fall off his stool.
She reached out and threw an unlit candle at him and tried to keep from laughing as he fell off the stool backwards, hit his head in the corner and slid down the wall. The Kumbada looked up at his responsibility and grinned.
"Go on, get out of here. Ephiny and I will be talking for a bit longer." Gabrielle ordered and the man quickly scurried out of the hut, his escort right behind him.
Ephiny grinned along with her Queen and elders. She had to admit that Hercules and Iolaus were good friends to the Queen and her Champion and Ephiny had to like them for that.
"Ephiny, remind our escorts that they should be like shadows, I want the delegates to be comfortable. The more comfortable someone is the more they talk." the bard grinned.
"Yes, my Queen." Ephiny grinned back. Over the seasons of being Queen, even an absent Queen, Gabrielle had impressed the life long Amazon. At first Ephiny had resisted the small woman, she hadn't been trained as an Amazon, she wasn't Amazon royalty and here the outsider was her Queen. Ephiny had come to respect Xena as a warrior and Gabrielle as an intelligent young woman who was up to the challenge of the office of Queen. Ephiny pitted anyone who underestimated her Queen on any level. "Did Rome send a delegation?" Gabrielle asked, almost holding her breath.
"Yes, my Queen. A Cohort of Praetorian guards, led by Brutus of Rome." one of the elders answered.
"Thank the gods that Caesar didn't decide to come," Gabrielle breathed a sigh of relief. Just the sight of a Roman uniform would probably send her warrior reaching for her weapons, the bard knew.
That was one point Gabrielle didn't think she'd ever get Xena to let up on, the warrior's hatred for Caesar. The bard knew that the Roman had betrayed Xena's trust, love (or was it lust) and had the warrior crucified and her legs broken on a cross. Gabrielle knew that was something Xena wasn't likely to get over until Caesar was dead and she knew the warrior was hoping it would be at her hand.
"Ephiny, have someone keep an eye on them. Xena's not known for rational thinking when it comes to Romans."
"Yes, my Queen." the Regent called an attendant over and whispered to the young girl who was off out the door with a dash.
"I take it Xena doesn't care for Caesar?" one of the elders asked with a smile.
"No, if Caesar were here we'd have to tie her to a bed to keep her from wringing his neck." Gabrielle smiled back.
Xena had reluctantly separated from her mate for the first part of the morning. All the warrior had to do for the morning was bathe and get dressed for the long day in front of them. Gabrielle, on the other hand, had to bathe, get dressed and go over once again with Ephiny, and some of the Amazons versed in politics, which delegates were coming and little details about their dealings with the Amazons and with each other.
Xena grinned, hopefully Ephiny would take pity on her little bard and have something brought in for the Amazon Queen to eat while studying the politics and politicians. Xena felt the bruise at her neck and felt herself blushing remembering exactly how she had gotten that bruise that night and why the little bard had missed breakfast, a rarity, indeed.
Xena's thoughts were abruptly shattered into stunned silence when a Roman stepped in front of her. His Amazon guard on alert, watching his every movement.
"Brutus?" she whispered, hand instinctively reaching for her chakram. The Roman held up his hands to show he was unarmed.
"Easy, Xena. I'm a guest here." he smiled and pointed to his escort who also had her hand on her sword. "They don't let us have weapons here, remember?"
"I didn't know who they were sending from Rome or if anyone would even come to the wedding." Xena commented simply. The Roman fell into step beside her and his escort behind them.
"I got the lucky duty. I'm here with a small Cohort of Praetorian Guards from Caesar," he grinned at her expression and the darkening of her eyes. "I see his name still gets a reaction out of you."
"Caesar....." the warrior began in a low growl.
"Pax, Xena. I didn't come to trade insults or threats about Caesar. I'm here to offer Rome's official congratulations on the Amazon Queen's wedding," he continued as they entered the eating hut and followed her along the food table. A quick look around told Xena that several delegates and their parties had arrived all ready and were sitting around, eating and eyeing each other. The energy in the place was stifling. Not actually wishing to leave Brutus, Xena led them to a table near some of her favorite Amazon warriors.
"Tell me, warrior. Do you know the Queen?" Brutus asked as he bit into one of the celebration cakes being offered.
"Yes, I've known her for some time. I'm good friends with a large number of this tribe." Xena answered carefully and Brutus merely acknowledge with a nod.
"Why do they keep her identity a secret?"
Normally Xena would suspect that the Roman was trying to get information out of her but she knew that almost every delegate in the room would be asking that question sometime during the next few hours.
"The Amazons adopted that policy awhile back. Sometimes the Queen moves and travels outside the territory and it makes it easier and safer if no one knows who she is." Xena answered, biting into her own food, careful to seem unconcerned about the questioning.
"But you know her," Brutus observed.
"Brutus," Xena warned, eyes flashing.
The Roman laughed. "No, I'm not asking you to tell, warrior. Just baiting you. I personally hate these functions. Everyone tripping over themselves to be noticed and out intrigue each other. I hate politics."
"I thought Rome was politics," Xena smiled and the Roman shrugged.
"Comes with the territory," he agreed. He looked around and then back to the warrior. "Where's your friend, Gabrielle?"
"She's around, why?"
"I'd like to see her." Brutus shrugged when he noticed Xena's questioning look. "She's nice and it's not often we get to meet nice people, don't you agree?"
Xena had to laugh at that in agreement.
"She's so unusual," he continued. "She travels with you and yet she's.... hmmm, what words to use?"
"She's like the light of the sun compared to the darkness we live in?" Xena offered and was actually pleased when the Roman grinned.
"Exactly! Now don't get pushed out of shape, warrior. I know how protective you are of her, I mean no harm to her."
"I think I believe you, Brutus," Xena countered. "Because if you did, you wouldn't live long."
"I know that. What is she up to?"
"She's helping with the preparations. Gabrielle was adopted into the tribe a couple of seasons ago."
"Really?! The Amazons don't take in adult females often." he whistled. "Tell me, do you know if the Amazon Queen is marrying a man or woman?" he changed the subject.
"Thought so, then it's probably not a political marriage." he nodded to himself.
"No politics involved at all." Xena smiled.
"Good, that answers one of the questions that everyone coming today will have. You know how these damned petty tyrants get," he complained, waving his hand around to indicate the majority of the room. "Afraid that one might marry into a more powerful family, everyone has been buzzing about this all morning. Since no outsiders know who the Queen is they have no idea who she's marrying. They're all afraid that the wedding couple will come out and they'll find one of their worst enemies is marrying into a very small but powerful nation."
"Can't they figure that out by noting who's here and who isn't?" she grinned.
"Nope, some have only sent delegates, others are here themselves, but not talking. To them, it could be any of them. I'm the only one not in consideration!" he grinned.
"Why is that?"
"You know Caesar would never let me marry someone that powerful and you know damned well that he'd never marry an Amazon. You scare him enough, as it is."
Xena's eyes flashed again. "Good, let's keep it that way."
Brutus laughed. "He may be my friend but I have the feeling that you two will settle this one day and I don't think I want to be around when you do."
"Is Caesar anyone's friend?" Xena countered.
Brutus lost his smile and held up his hand. "Xena, let's not get into this, please. I was enjoying breakfast."
Xena allowed her eyes to soften. "You're right, Brutus. Pax." the warrior stood up to go and Brutus held up his hand again.
"Xena, you're well known here. Can you do something about this damned shadow of mine. Gives me the creeps to have someone half a step away from plunging a dagger in my back and I'm unarmed. I'm not here to hurt anyone." Brutus complained.
"Sorry, Brutus," Xena grinned, rising to her feet. "Even Hercules gets an escort."
"You don't." he grumbled.
"I'm female." she grinned even wider.
"Why do I get the feeling that you'd be more of a danger to their, uh, feminine natures than I would?"
Xena felt a blush coming to her face and was considering throwing the Roman through the wall. He grinned and then laughed. "Nice bruise, warrior," and he rose himself to take his dishes to the cleaning room.
Xena felt the blush complete itself and willed herself not to touch the bruise on her neck that she knew he was talking about. Xena knew that it would be obvious to anyone seeing her that day how she had spent the night. She found herself almost uttering a prayer that no one would figure out with whom she had spent the night with outside of the Amazons and her family.
After another candlemark Gabrielle called a halt to the session. She knew she had absorbed about all the information she could at that point. Ephiny grinned as the elders left and pointed to a cot alongside one of the walls.
"Grab some rest, I'm going to find out what the delegates have been talking about and send you some food. Seems my Queen missed breakfast this morning." Ephiny teased.
Gabrielle smiled in return and rubbed her eyes, looking at the cot longingly.
"Go on, I'll be back in half a candlemark, you can get some energy back before dressing for the ceremony."
Gabrielle sank onto the cot with a sigh and was asleep instantly.
Xena suddenly felt tired. When she was a Warlord she was accustomed to everyone around her being a threat and being threatened. It came with the territory, as Brutus had said. Trusting no one was the best advice anyone could give a Warlord. Xena's eyes narrowed in thought as she carried her dishes to the cleaning room. She didn't even notice the kitchen help thank her for carrying the dishes in.
Xena remembered when she had trusted someone in those days. She had ended up on a cross. She especially remembered Caesar's face and voice when he had ordered her legs broken and then left her to die. It had taken years for her to trust anyone.
Xena, still deep in her memories, walked across the common yard towards the bathing hut. The first person she had ever really trusted after that was Gabrielle. With a smile the warrior remembered how she had fought against that, too, and how she had fought against her feelings about the little bard.
The warrior's head came up at the voice and smiled when she saw Ephiny heading her way. The Regent looked tired and hurried.
"Glad I found you. You were with Brutus, what did he ask?" Ephiny got right to the point.
"Basically, if I knew who the Queen was, who she was marrying and if I'd tell him." Xena grinned. "The other stuff was how terrific Gabrielle is and Caesar is his friend."
Ephiny almost dropped her mouth open. "He talked about Gabrielle and you let him live?"
"Must be getting soft," Xena agreed with a smile. "Everyone is interested in the identity of the Queen, of course. They're also dying to know who she is marrying. Seems the delegates are all afraid it's a political marriage and one of them might end up with more power than the others through marriage."
Ephiny nodded. "That's what our escorts have been reporting. We've caught two delegate members trying to give their escorts the slip and spy on the wedding hut. Fortunately, they were caught and our Queen isn't there right now."
Xena noticed how they were both using the title and not the name of the Amazon Queen while in the open. The warrior had the feeling that they would be doing that for the rest of the day.
Ephiny shook her head. "I'll be glad when this part of it is over. I hate having all these people here!" she growled.
"Especially the men?" Xena teased and Ephiny glared at her.
"What did you tell Brutus?"
"The truth. I know who the Queen is and who she's marrying, and that I wasn't going to tell him. I did tell him that it wasn't a political marriage, it was to a female and no power was involved." Xena answered, continuing along with Ephiny towards the bathing hut.
"Good, let's hope they all figure that out soon enough. Go bathe and get dressed. Stay close to the main huts and I'll send for you when it's time to get ready for the wedding ceremony and reception." Ephiny started to move away.
"Ephiny, how in Hades are you going to keep the Queen's identity a secret? She's not exactly unknown to some of the delegates."
"The wedding couple will both be in ceremonial clothing, masked and neither of them are going to say a word." Ephiny grinned.
"The Queen not say a word? I want to see you pull that one off!"
Ephiny laughed and trotted away.
Xena found Hercules and Iolaus sparring with some of the Amazon warriors in the training yard and stopped to watch. The warrior was pleased with the Amazons, they had actually worked up a sweat on the demi-god. Iolaus was breathing very hard and looked like he had been on the wrong end of several blows.
The smaller man spotted Xena and held up his hand to stop the session for himself. With a warrior's handshake to his sparring mates, he grinned and walked over to Xena, leaning against the fence, watching Hercules with her.
"Hey," he said simply.
"Hey, how's the Queen?"
"Got a headache, I think. She took mercy on me and let me out of that damned hut. We're about to go clean up, it's getting about time for the royal stuff."
"Yup. You looked good out there," she commented.
"Yeah, sitting on my tail, mostly." he laughed. "These warriors are good."
"Yes, they are. Let's hope it stays peaceful today."
"No sign of Ares, Caesar stayed home, might work out." Iolaus grinned.
Xena spotted a runner signaling to her and quickly hugged the small man over the fence. "Got to run, I think the Queen would like to see me."
"See ya around the tables."
Gabrielle became aware of the body next to her, lightly running a finger up her thigh and under her skirt. The smell of leather was reassuring to the bard and she snuggled into the arm under her.
A frown crossed the bard's face just as a hand reached her sex. Gabrielle opened her eyes.
"Ares!" without a thought she shoved the god right off the cot, dropping him on his tailbone next to the bed. She quickly swung upright and, again without thinking, tackled the warrior, hitting him up each side of his head while he threw up his forearms to block her blows. He finally grabbed her arms and threw her back onto the cot and stood up, holding up a warning hand to keep her sitting down.
"Hey, can't blame a guy for trying!" he protested.
Gabrielle could feel that her face was an extreme shade of red. "What do you want?!" she hissed, regretting that her staff was by the door, all the way across the room.
"Just a friendly discussion," he smiled, holding up his hands in a gesture of peace. Gabrielle's eyes narrowed suspiciously.
"What do you want all ready?"
"What would make you happy?" Ares asked, sitting down on the edge of the table.
"What?" Gabrielle looked puzzled.
"What would it take to make you leave Xena?"
"Oh gods, you have got to be kidding! When will you ever give up?" she demanded.
"Never and I have a long life ahead of me. Why don't you give up? You know the darkness in her is mine and that she'll eventually go back to it."
"Never! Why don't you just leave before Hercules adds some more bruises?" Gabrielle snapped.
"Careful, or I'll add some more to yours," he hissed.
"Try it!" the bard tensed her muscles for a spring, not intending on being surprised again. "Artemis is probably really pissed at you right now."
"She's always pissed at me. I'm not giving up, you know." Gabrielle blinked, staring at where he had been.
"Oh gods, why can't that god get a life other than us?" she muttered.
Within minutes, Xena found herself in her mate's arms, losing herself and her surroundings totally. The two finally broke apart when Ephiny coughed to get their attention.
"Sorry, you two, but you need to get dressed." Xena grinned and noticed her bard blushing. "Your families are already dressed and, to keep everyone safe, both mothers and Lila are in masks and Amazon clothing. No outsiders will know they aren't Amazons. Solan is with Hercules and Iolaus and no outsider knows who or where he comes from."
"Thank you, Ephiny." Xena said simply.
"Get dressed and I'll send an escort for you both. Remember, Hercules and Iolaus will do the speaking for both of you. Too many people know the two of you throughout Greece, and several kingdoms outside of that. It wouldn't be hard to figure out who the small blond and a tall dark haired warrior getting married are if they hear your voices or if you wear your traditional weapons."
Xena reluctantly stepped out of her mates' arms and loosened her chakram and handed it to Ephiny and then her sword.
"Brutus knows I'm here and I'm sure several other delegates also recognized me, won't they miss me and put things together?" Xena asked.
"I'm going to have one my tall warriors dressed in your armor and your weapons with a mask and cloak on. Hopefully, they'll figure it's you. We'll keep her away from most everyone, especially the delegates."
Xena frowned at the sight of her weapons moving away from her, but sighed and began tugging at her armor.
"Let me do that, my warrior." Gabrielle grinned, and began the familiar task of helping Xena out of her leather armor. She reached up and kissed the back of the warrior's neck, and probably would have kissed more and longer if Ephiny hadn't growled.
Gabrielle hurried, with a blush that only matched Xena's.
"You two!" Ephiny complained with a smile.
Xena hated royal functions. It was one thing that she had liked about being a Warlord. She could do away with all the fluff stuff and get right to business when she wanted to. Now, she felt trapped, and she was sure that Gabrielle probably felt the same.
They had been brought in from opposite sides of the yard by armed escorts, knelt before Ephiny at the altar, and had suffered through the speech required of the Regent. Ephiny had spoiled everyone's suspense, by stating that the wedding couple's identity would not be revealed to the outside world. Xena had resisted jumping to her feet instinctively at the rumbling of the crowd. Ephiny had insisted on silence, stating that the protection of their Queen was more important than anything else.
To help relieve the situation, Ephiny had stated that the marriage was a love bonding and not a political one. Knowing that most of the delegates and royalty in the crowd probably wouldn't know a loving relationship if it bit them, she emphasized that this was a wedding and not a political battleground.
Most of the grumbling settled down when it was announced that the wedding couple would not be exchanging lands or political/royal offices. They were told, the Queen's mate, who was already her Chosen Champion, was becoming her Consort. Ephiny explained that this role had privilege, but no political power, in the Amazon nation.
By this point Xena was getting quite tired of kneeling. Her hand reached out and found Gabrielle's hand seeking hers as well. She leaned her head over onto the bard's for a moment in reassurance. She knew Gabrielle couldn't see her attempt to smile because of the mask but trusted that her mate could feel the love pouring from her. The bard squeezed her hand in return.
Xena had been impressed with their ceremonial clothing. The feather and leather masks effectively covered the entire face, even the eyes were difficult to see and the feathers continued over the head and down the back, hiding even the hair.
Xena had been concerned about her height and noticeable black hair. She was easily recognized, especially since a large number of the outsiders had seen her before. She was a little more reassured when she knew that the only thing really noticeable about her was her height. Even her manner of walk wasn't totally unusual among the nation of warrior women.
Ephiny then turned to the couple and raised her hands over their heads. The Shamaness approached and walked around the couple, carrying a bowl of smoldering incense and spread the smoke over them. Then she sprinkled several drops of spring water over them. Then she disappeared back into the trees.
Ephiny motioned the two Kumbadas forward and Hercules stepped next to Xena and Iolaus next to Gabrielle. Together the men reached out and grabbed the crowns off the altar and placed them on the heads of the wedding couple and then exchanged them three times before leaving them. Then the two men helped the women to their feet.
Both Xena and Gabrielle drew their ceremonial swords and handed them to their Kumbadas. Hercules and Iolaus held the swords up to Ephiny and then turned to the crowd and held them aloft.
"These sword represent the power of the warrior and the spirit of our tribe members. Together this couple have expressed the desire to enter into a bonding." Ephiny spoke ritually.
Hercules stepped in front of Xena and knelt before Gabrielle, holding the sword aloft over his head in his hands and bowed his head.
"It is the wish of your Champion, Queen of the Amazons, to be wed to you and become your Consort. She pledges her life, her heart, her soul and her love to you. To symbolize this, she offers you her sword." he spoke loudly.
The Queen leaned forward and took the sword from his hands and held it aloft, over her head.
"The Queen accepts this token of love, this pledge of loyalty, honor and trust." Iolaus spoke and Gabrielle sheathed the sword at her own belt. Hercules stood and moved back beside Xena.
Iolaus stepped in front of Xena and repeated Hercules' movement. "Healer, Shaman and warrior, it is the wish of the Queen of the Amazons to become your mate and to take you as Consort. She pledges her life, her heart, her soul and her love to you. To symbolize this, she offers you her sword." he also spoke loudly.
Xena leaned forward, took the sword from his hands, and held it aloft, over her head.
"The Consort accepts this token of love, this pledge of loyalty, honor and trust." Hercules spoke and Xena sheathed the sword at her own belt. Iolaus stood and moved back beside Gabrielle.
Xena again was impressed with Ephiny's planning. By using the titles of healer' and shaman' before her traditional one of warrior,' the Regent was hoping that it would be more difficult for the outsiders to identify the Warrior Princess. Not many knew her roles in life as healer and shaman.
Xena found herself holding her breath for a moment when Ephiny invoked and sacrificed to the gods, wondering if they were going to make a second appearance. She finally began breathing when it was apparent that they weren't. Gabrielle grabbed and squeezed the warrior's hand again. Xena grinned under the mask, knowing the bard was thinking the same thing. The night before had been exciting enough with a large number of the Gods and Goddesses showing up to personally bless the marriage of the bard and warrior. And then Ares had shown up later to protest the bonding.
Xena reflected that not many of them had slept much.
As Ephiny chanted her prayers Xena found her thoughts drifting to the night before. Ares getting pounded into the trees by Hercules, Solan admitting he knew that Xena was his mother, and then the bliss of her lover's arms. It had been quite a night.
Finally the prayers were over and the couple held up their arms to show their bonding bracelets to the crowd.
"Last night, this couple was joined in a bonding ceremony of the Amazons and were blessed by the gods. Let it be known, that our Queen has taken a Consort."
The Amazons let out a shout of celebration and the other members of the crowd began clapping. Hercules and Iolaus escorted the two women to the wedding table, leading them around it three times and then sat on either side of the couple. Solan had looked to Cyrene for an explanation of the table thing but she merely shrugged.
"Another three thing," he whispered to himself.
For the next candlemark the couple shook hands with each delegate and their party members, accepting their congratulations. Hercules and Iolaus voicing their acceptance.
Finally everyone was allowed to begin eating. Then came the toasting and it seemed to the wedding couple that every single person, especially the delegates, had to get a toast in and didn't want to be outdone by the others.
Both Xena and Gabrielle were actually grateful after awhile for the masks, it hid their boredom, frustration, and finally their weariness.
After the toasting and the meal the wedding party was delighted when the Amazon drummers and singers took up the pace and a large number of Amazons leaped into the center of the yard and began dancing and leaping about. Traditional Greek dances were also included and quite a number of the delegates joined in the celebration. Then the area cleared and the wedding couple stood up, escorted by their Kumbada to the dance area. The drummers took up a beat that was akin to a heartbeat and which both women found very erotic and inticing. The Kumbada bowed and moved away from the couple as they began their courtship dance.
Xena wasn't much for public dancing but she knew her little bard delighted in it. The warrior found this dance different. She wasn't sure if it was wine she had been drinking, the sensual beat or the masks hiding their identities and lending an air of anonymity, but she was enjoying the dance. Gabrielle was obviously enjoying it as well and Xena found herself totally flushed with a heat that began in her loins and quickly traveled throughout her body as the Queen moved in close to her mate, bodies almost touching and then moved away, moving to the beat. Xena almost groaned in response.
Xena found her body responding and matching Gabrielle's moves until they moved as one, each dancing and teasing, drawing the other into the other's space and world. Gabrielle spun around and fell back, letting her lover's arms wrap around her, catching her and protecting her. Their bodies continued moving with the beat and Xena suddenly wished they didn't have the masks on, she wanted to nuzzle Gabrielle's reddish blond hair and nibble at her neck very badly right then. By the way Gabrielle's head arched back into her lover's breasts, the warrior knew the Queen was wishing the same thing. So did everyone else.
Xena resisted the urge to move her hands in either direction over the bard's body but it was a challenge. Then Gabrielle grabbed one of her hands and spun out of the warrior's arms and then back into them, holding her lover close as the drums slowed to a stop. The two women held each other for what seemed an eternity, each looking deep in the other's eyes through the masks.
Cheers, howls and whistles from the Amazons and guests brought the couple back to reality and they bowed to everyone, acknowledging the end of the dance.
The crowd began filling the dance area again as the couple started moving back towards the feast table. Several delegates and Amazons stopping them along the way to congratulate them again and wish them the best. Xena grinned under the mask, somehow Gabrielle hadn't spoken a word yet.
Xena was surprised when Gabrielle, still holding her hand, stopped before they reached the table. Xena turned and suddenly wished she could see the bard's face. The smaller woman was standing near the table and Xena couldn't see Gabrielle's eyes because of the mask. She was about to break her silence when Gabrielle crumbled to the ground.
Brutus, standing very near the couple, started to rush and bend over the fallen woman when a voice stopped him.
"Touch her and die," the taller of the wedding couple threatened.
"Everyone stand still or die where you stand!" a shout went up over the beginning commotion.
Xena, bending next to Gabrielle, looked up and saw Ephiny standing on the feast table, sword in hand. Xena glanced around and saw the area ringed with Amazon archers, each with arrow ready.
"Consort, your Queen to the healer's hut!" Ephiny ordered as Xena gathered the small woman in her arms. She quickly moved through the parting crowd with Hercules and Iolaus following, swords drawn.
Once in the healer's hut Xena quickly tore her mask off and removed Gabrielle's. She hissed when she saw the bard's face.
Gabrielle was covered in sweat but was deadly pale and cool to the touch. Xena's face showed her terror as the healer entered the hut, followed by Ephiny. Together the healer and warrior examined the unconscious Queen while the Regent looked on, a look of concern and fury on her face.
Gabrielle's eyes fluttered open but seemed unfocused. "Xena?"
"I'm here, Gabrielle. Can you tell us what's wrong?"
"I don't know. Everything started spinning and then went black. Everything's fuzzy." Gabrielle closed her eyes again.
"Gabrielle! Stay with me!" Xena begged, rubbing the bard's hand.
Gabrielle opened her eyes again but was having trouble keeping them open.
The healer reached out and touched the warrior and motioned for Ephiny to move closer. She held up the bard's hand so they could both see a slight scratch across the back of the bard's hand, red streaks beginning up the woman's arm.
"Poison." she announced simply.
"What kind? Can you tell?" Xena asked, turning back to find Gabrielle had closed her eyes again.
"No, not yet. Think, both of you, who had contact with her?"
"Oh Tartarus!" Ephiny cursed, "Everyone! They all shook your hands!"
"Ephiny, get back there and have everyone searched, there must be a needle in a glove or something."
"Right. They won't be happy and this might just cause a war but I'm going to find that son of a bacchae!" Ephiny was out the door in a flash. Xena caught a glimpse of Hercules, Iolaus and several Amazon warriors standing outside the hut, weapons drawn.
The warrior wasn't surprised when both families came barging into the hut. Hercules closed the door behind them.
"Xena?" Hecuba pleaded as she knelt beside her daughter.
"We don't know. We think she was poisoned."
"No," the mother whispered, stroking the bard's forehead.
"Mom?" Gabrielle whispered and managed to open her eyes.
"I'm here, so is Lila." Hecuba tried to smile.
"Xena," Gabrielle attempted to sit up but the warrior held her back down.
"I'm here, my love."
"Is the healer here?" Gabrielle whispered, trying to keep her eyes open.
"Yes," the warrior answered.
"It's beginning to hurt. It feels like my veins are on fire, spreading to every muscle. The stomach is starting to hurt too," the bard described. Xena looked to the healer who shook her head.
"I don't know yet. We need to know what they used or if they have the antidote with them."
Xena's eyes narrowed. "Hercules!" she called.
The demi-god opened the door. "Find out if Ephiny has found anything. Poison!"
He was gone without a word.
Xena cried out as Gabrielle's body suddenly arched, pain racking her face. Her fists grabbed the blanket under her and she whimpered with pain, biting down hard on her lip. After a moment it passed and she collapsed back onto the cot.
"Warrior, something that attacks the nerves and muscles. I don't have an antidote here. You're looking for something foreign to this region," the healer told Xena.
"It'll take time for everyone to be searched. Hecuba, stay with her. I'm going to see if I can find some answers." Xena knew she didn't have to instruct the mother to stay by her daughter. Hecuba's jaw took on that familiar stubbornness that Xena knew from her mate and the woman nodded.
"Xena, your mask, your identity." the healer pointed out.
Xena stopped and thought for a moment. "Damn! As Xena I could probably terrify some answers out of someone but that might lead to more danger later."
"The danger is now, Xena." Hecuba said softly.
"Yes," Xena agreed and stepped out of the hut without her mask on and trotted to the reception area. On the way she spotted her double and quickly grabbed the Amazon. "My weapons," she instructed and the woman quickly surrendered them to the tall warrior.
Xena began strapping her sword on as she continued towards the delegates, surrounded by Amazons and being methodically searched by them before being allowed to return to the shade of the trees.
Xena ran up and joined Ephiny who took in Xena's weapons and lack of mask quickly and then nodded in understanding.
Xena jumped up on the feast table and heard several gasps of recognition as the crowd took in her wedding clothes and her identity.
"Most of you know me. For those who haven't seen me before, I'm Xena and I'm really pissed off." Everyone went quiet. "My mate has been poisoned and I want the antidote and I want it now. My mate is also the Queen of the Amazons, so you also have them to deal with. If you give up the antidote or the name of the poison now, you'll have three hours head start before they come after you. If not, then not even the gods will save you from me or them." she said simply and waited.
Both she and Ephiny watched the crowd shift uneasily, each looking at each other but not wanting to meet each other's eyes. Xena's eyes narrowed. "Ephiny, start with the ones who would have the most to gain by a war with the Amazons and work from there. Did anyone leave the area or the territory just after the wedding?"
"I'll find out." Ephiny promised and moved away. Hercules caught up with Xena as she jumped down from the table.
"So far nothing." he said simply.
"How good are they searching?" Xena asked, watching the delegates try to move away from her.
Hercules grinned a grim smile. "Not even a gem smuggler could get past them."
A runner approached the warrior and went to one knee. "Consort, Regent Ephiny says that four members of the Roman party left immediately after the receiving."
"Brutus!" Xena yelled loudly and everyone and everything went quiet. The crowd parted and left the Roman and three of his men standing in the center of the yard.
Brutus raised his chin in defiance as the warrior and Hercules approached. Xena saw Ephiny running from another direction towards them. With a growl she lifted the Roman off his feet.
"What did you use?" she demanded.
"Not my doing, warrior!" he said through gritted teeth.
"Brutus, four of your men are on the run and the Queen is poisoned, what am I supposed to think?" the warrior dropped him and knocked his feet out from under him. His three men started to move forward in a protective stance when they found several Amazon warriors had swords at their throats. The men held still.
"Tell me, damnit!"
"I didn't do it!" he insisted.
"Hercules, bring him! Amazons, hold them!" the Consort instructed and began moving quickly towards the Healer's hut.
Inside the hut Xena found her armor on a chair and Hecuba in a chair next to the bard. The healer was mixing herbs in a mortar bowl. She shook her head discouragingly.
Hercules dragged a reluctant Brutus through the door with Ephiny right behind them. The Roman went pale when he saw the Queen of the Amazons on the cot, thrashing and sweating in pain.
"Gabrielle?" he whispered.
"Yes," Xena answered. "Now what poison did you use?"
"Xena, I swear to all the gods, I had nothing to do with this!" Hercules grabbed him by the collar and lifted the Roman off his feet again. "You know I would never harm Gabrielle!"
"You didn't know it was her when she was poisoned!" Xena shouted back.
"I do now and I still swear that I didn't do it!"
"Who are the men that ran?" Xena demanded.
"They were personally assigned to me by Caesar."
Xena's eyes narrowed and began flashing. "Caesar?"
"Yes, Xena, I swear I didn't know!"
"Put him down, Hercules." the demi-god obeyed, still holding onto the Roman's collar. "Do you have any idea what I am going to do to you if Gabrielle dies?" Xena whispered, coming in close to him.
"Xena, I didn't know and I didn't have a hand in this." he pleaded.
"Which direction would they go?" she demanded.
"Not towards Rome. Caesar said something about Egypt to one of them." Brutus answered.
"If you're lying to me or if you're wrong, I'll turn you over to the Amazons. Gabrielle is their Queen, do you think they'll be gentle with you?" Xena promised.
"Xena, let me ride with you. I can approach them and get the antidote or the name of the poison before you could."
"No, you'll slip away the first chance you get." Xena shook her head and removed her tunic, turning her back to the Roman and grabbing her leather shift. She quickly began putting on her familiar armor.
"No, I swear I won't. I want to save Gabrielle, you know I do."
"You're also a Roman and Rome comes first. Caesar has decided that the Queen of the Amazons would be a better ally if she's dead. You serve Caesar."
"I serve Rome first and I don't agree with this move. Let me help!"
"Xena, we must move!" Ephiny insisted.
"All right, but no weapons."
Xena quickly went over to her mate's side and fought back tears as the bard's body once again arched in unbearable pain. When she collapsed again on the cot the healer shook her head.
"These herbs may slow it down but you must hurry, her body is being torn apart. She's all ready lost all of her stomach contents and she can't take much more of the pain."
"Hecuba, I'll most as fast as I can!" Xena promised, looking in the tear filled eyes of the mother and Lila.
"I know, Xena. I'll pray."
The war party moved quickly through the countryside, spurred on by the enraged and desperate warrior leading them on her beloved Argo. With Amazons and the Warrior Princess tracking them, the Romans were quickly overtaken.
"Let me approach them, Xena. I can order them to turn over the antidote." Brutus pleaded.
"No, how do I know that you won't destroy it?" Xena said flatly, watching the Romans moving up and down a river, looking for a suitable place to pass with their horses. On the rocky cliff overhead Amazons and warrior watched.
"I swear I won't. Something I didn't tell you," Xena looked at him with narrowed eyes. "I thought this would be an easy assignment. One of the soldiers we left behind with the Amazons is my son. If I fail, his life and mine are both forfeit."
"Yes, I swear it by all the Gods."
"All right, you have five minutes. Alcyonia, give him his sword." Xena instructed one of the Amazon warriors.
"Brutus," the Roman turned to look at Xena. "If you fail, I'll personally castrate both of you."
The Roman turned pale but nodded his understanding.
In moments he was riding up to his men. Xena couldn't hear the conversation but she was watching closely. At her signal Amazon archers had taken up positions on the cliff overlooking the Romans, ready to unleash their famed deadly arrows.
Xena watched, chakram in hand as Brutus appeared to argue with the men. The sound of shouting reaching the warrior's ears. Finally one of the men shouted something and drew his sword and the others followed. Brutus pulled his own sword and ran the first soldier through and the other two fell with arrows in their chests and throats. The fourth one dropped his sword and held up his hands in surrender.
Xena ran to Argo and quickly sped down the trail to find Brutus ripping the saddlebags off the Roman horses and spilling the contents onto the ground. Xena leaped off Argo with chakram at hand. The Roman looked up, frowning.
"Bastards wouldn't go back on Caesar's orders. It's got to be here!"
Xena joined in the search as the Amazons and Hercules rode up. Brutus let out a shout and held up a flask. He grinned and handed it to the warrior.
"Hercules, make sure they get back to the village. I'm going to move fast."
"You got it."
Xena was grateful that the border guards and scouts let her fly past without challenge. She had answered the bird and animal calls with her own and didn't slow Argo's flight any. The noises managed to beat her into the village and she found the way clear for her all the way to the healer's hut with armed Amazons lining the road and yard. Ephiny and Iolaus stood at the door with swords drawn. Xena leaped off Argo and dashed through the door as Iolaus held it open.
The healer quickly moved forward and opened the flask, with a satisfied look she began pouring the herb into her mixing bowl. "This is it, warrior. Just pray we're in time. She's very weak, it's been hours."
Xena was very aware of how long it had been and how fast poison could work. Torches were already being lit in the village. She quickly moved to Gabrielle's side across from Hecuba and Lila. Cyrene and Solan kept vigil off to the side.
"She's been unconscious since you left." Hecuba said softly.
"The pain?" Xena asked, tears flowing down her face as she stroked her bard's forehead. The bard's face was drawn and pinched with pain and her muscles continually twitched and spasmed.
"Worse. She finally stopped screaming half a candlemark ago." Lila answered with a sob, burying her head in her mother's shoulder. Cyrene walked up behind her daughter and placed her hands on the warrior's shoulders.
"Screaming?" Xena whispered.
"Yes, the pain has been bad." Cyrene answered softly.
The healer moved around the warrior and with the help of Hecuba, pried the bard's jaws open and forced the unconscious woman to swallow. "We can only wait. The damage may be too much for her."
"No! Gabrielle, listen to me! You fight back! I'm not going to lose you now!" Xena growled through gritted teeth and sat down on the stool next to her lover.
Ephiny entered the hut and took in the scene. "Did she get it?" she asked the healer.
"Yes, we can only wait and see if it was in time. Our Queen is very ill."
"All right. I'm sending the delegates on their way. I'll tell them the son of bacchae have been caught and are dead. I'll send runners out once we know the outcome." Ephiny tried not to choke on the last words and stumbled out of the hut.
After some convincing the healer finally got the two families to go and eat something while Xena watched over her lover. The healer knew better than to insist that Xena leave Gabrielle's side and didn't even try. She helped the warrior keep cool cloths on the Queen's forehead and wrists and helped the warrior hold her mate down when the pain racked her body once more. Xena whimpered, each time the bard was getting weaker and weaker.
Xena felt the hairs on the back of her neck stand up. She turned to the healer. "Can you get me some bread and water, please?"
The healer was surprised but pleased, she hadn't expected the warrior to even think of eating or drinking.
Once the healer was out of the hut Xena stood up and drew her sword.
"Ares!" she hissed.
"I hate how you can do that!" he said as he appeared.
"Come to gloat?" she demanded, sword at his neck. The War God merely ignored the sword.
"No, not at all." he moved the point away and moved closer to his once Chosen. "Look, I'm sorry about last night. I was upset."
"What do you want!?" she demanded again, sheathing her sword.
"You," he answered simply as she turned back to Gabrielle's side.
"What else is new?" she asked in a tired voice. The bard whimpered and gritted her teeth again. Ares watched with disinterest as waves of pain ran through the small woman's body.
"Always, of course. Look, I can heal her."
"The usual deal." Ares shrugged.
"I come back to you like before. Total Warlord." Xena said simply.
"Yup, you bet. What do you say? We can leave her here with the Amazons and go back to how it was."
"Ares," Xena held up her bandaged hand. "We're blood bonded, if I go back to my war ways she'll die and then I'll die."
"Remember, you convinced the Furies that you and I are blood. Come back, all ready! You know I'll win in the end. The fight is in your blood. You can't deny that your blood sings every time you go into battle or a fight. That after a good fight you're so turned on that you can't stand it. Come back." He moved behind her and placed his hands on her shoulders.
Xena shrugged them off. "No, Ares. I don't care if you are my father or not, Gabrielle is my life."
"Does she answer that call of the blood after the fight? Can she understand the fury in your blood? Can she answer it? Only a warrior knows what it feels like." he purred in her ear.
"You'd be surprised," Xena managed to grin. "At what Gabrielle can do, in more ways than one."
"Humph!" Ares snorted and moved to the end of the cot. "If you are my daughter then take your rightful place at my side and become the Goddess of War!" he insisted.
"Isn't that position all ready taken?"
"Athena, who cares. She can go back to her weaving, she's not the warrior you are!" he insisted.
"No, just leave." Xena ran a tired hand over her face.
"Okay, I'll just wait till the irritating little wench is gone, then you'll be back." Ares said smugly.
"Ares," Xena's voice stopped him from disappearing. "Know this, if she crosses over that I'll follow her." Xena's eyes met the War Gods.
"No, you can't do that!" he demanded.
"Yes, I can. She's the other half of my soul and I won't lose her."
"You can't mean that!"
"Yes, I do. Now leave, all ready." Xena turned her eyes back to her lover. Without looking she knew that Ares was gone and she was alone with Gabrielle. Xena finally let herself break down in tears as she felt how rapid and shallow the bard's breathing was. "Gabrielle, I hope you can hear me," she whispered. "Don't leave me, please! I can't live without you!" Xena checked her armor and sighed to herself after feeling the dagger between her breasts.
"Hey," a harsh voice whispered.
Xena looked up, tears of joy beginning to fall instead of terrified ones. Green eyes met blue ones and Xena quickly grabbed the bard's hand and held it.
"Gabrielle!" Xena grabbed a cup and moved behind the bard to help her sit up and take a drink. The smaller woman couldn't even raise her hands to help. "Shhh, little one, drink slowly." Xena instructed.
Gabrielle leaned back into her warrior. "What happened?" she whispered.
The healer walked through the door and took in the sight of her Queen in the arms of her Consort with eyes open and broke into a grin. She quickly put the bread and wine down and ran back outside. Xena smiled when they heard a cheer outside. The healer quickly came back in and with experienced hands, began examining the bard.
After a moment she stepped back and looked at Gabrielle's tired face.
"Well?" the warrior demanded, holding her arms around her lover.
"It'll be a few days before we know if there's permanent damage or not," the healer warned.
"I'll be fine," Gabrielle insisted, her head starting to fall forward.
"It's all right, Consort," the healer reassured her. "She'll sleep a lot for the next few days. It's the body's way of healing."
Suddenly the room was filled with happy relatives, Amazons, and friends, all shedding tears of joy while the bard smiled a very tired smile.
After a few minutes the healer ran all of them out when Gabrielle's head fell forward onto Xena's arms and didn't' raise back up. She motioned for the warrior to lay the bard back down on the cot.
Xena crossed over to the healer's table. "Well?"
"She's very weak. We'll know probably tomorrow if there's muscle damage. It may be a few days before we know if there's problems with her stomach or nervous system," the healer warned.
"She's alive, that's what counts right now."
"Yes, and everyone is waiting outside. Hercules brought in the Roman and the prisoner."
"You'll stay with her for a few minutes?"
"Of course, she's my Queen."
Xena found Brutus and the other three Romans sitting at one of the tables, surrounded by Amazons. Brutus looked tired but pleased when the warrior approached them and sat down opposite of him. Xena knew the assassin was in the prisoner hut.
"I heard she's alive. Thank you!"
"Thank you for your help." the warrior acknowledged. "Ephiny agrees to let you go back to Rome. I don't believe you had anything to do with it or you would have run with the others."
"What will you tell Caesar?" the warrior asked. Xena noticed that he didn't ask about the proposed fate of the other Roman.
"That someone attempted to poison the Queen of the Amazons but they failed and I haven't heard from his men."
"It's dangerous going up against Caesar's wishes," Xena mentioned.
"I know, that's why I prefer to count him as my friend rather than my enemy. It's either let the Amazons kill us for being Roman or tell Caesar the truth and let him kill us, my son included. I don't think I like either of those options. My son and these two will keep quiet because they know what will happen if they don't. A cross is not where I want to end up for me or my son."
"You should probably leave soon. I know it's dark but the Amazons aren't happy with any outsiders right now. It probably wouldn't turn out well if one of your men even looked cross-eyed at one of them." Xena suggested.
"You're right, of course. Will you walk me to our horses?"
Xena was surprised but agreed. Brutus fell into step with her.
"Thank you for giving me the chance to save my son and my men." he said simply.
"It was a way to save Gabrielle."
"I know, but it also saved my son too. Your identity as Consort to the Queen is safe with me, warrior. It was before she was poisoned." Brutus grinned.
Xena's eyes narrowed. "What do you mean?"
"I recognized you in the ritual and figured the only one who could grab your heart enough for a bonding ceremony like this would be Gabrielle." Brutus shrugged.
"How did you recognize us? Even our hair was covered." Xena was curious.
"Nice bruise on your neck, Xena. Also, I noticed your bandaged hand at breakfast."
"Oh son of a bacchae!" she complained and he laughed as he took his reins and mounted his horse.
"I swear by the gods that no one will know that Gabrielle is the Queen of the Amazons and that you two are bonded."
"Thank you, Brutus. It could be used as political power."
"Yes," he agreed. "but I hate politics and I like Gabrielle and respect you."
"Goodbye, Brutus. I hope we don't have to cross swords in the future."
"So do I, warrior."
When Xena returned to the hut she found Hercules and Iolaus walking out the door. She hugged both of them tightly.
"Thank you both for being here."
"Any time." Iolaus offered and Hercules nodded.
"We're going to get something to eat and some sleep. Things should be quiet tonight. All the delegates have left and Ares hasn't shown up and the Romans are gone." Hercules said.
"Ares did show up." Xena said simply.
"What? What did he want?" Hercules demanded.
"The usual, me." Xena smiled and shrugged. "He offered to save Gabrielle if I would come back to him. He was using the moment because just after I turned him down she woke up. I think he knew she was going to get better and was seizing the moment to try and get to swear I was his again."
"I'll kill him one of these days, Father's wishes or not." Hercules grumbled.
Xena hugged him again. "Thanks, you might have to stand in line for that one."
She moved past him to enter the hut and found Ephiny and both families. She moved into the room and gave Solan a big hug and then her mother. Xena turned to the healer.
"She's sleeping, not unconscious. You need some sleep too."
"I'll stay with her." Xena insisted.
"I figured that, but at least take off the armor and crawl into bed with her and sleep!" the healer said in frustration. Xena grinned a tired smile and Ephiny laughed for the first time in two days.
"She's right, Xena. I'll see to your families. Warriors will watch the hut outside."
Xena quickly hugged everyone and then struggled out of her armor. With a heavy sigh she settled down into the familiar position behind the bard and slipped her arms around Gabrielle.
The warrior was pleased when the bard sighed in her sleep and snuggled into Xena's arms. She was asleep in moments.
Xena knew the recovery would be long and hard for the bard but had no doubt of the bard's inner strength.
Xena also knew that she would be there every step of the way.
Note: I want to thank whoever invented the Internet. In researching ancient Greek wedding traditions, modern traditions and pagan handfasting rituals, my time was cut down from over a week in a library to two days on the net. I also want to thank the thousands of people who put information out there for us to find and use.
Another note: I also want to encourage the use of libraries, they are still essential, even in the day of the internet. Nothing beats a good book in your hands and nothing has fed this bard growing up more than a good story.
Hope you enjoy my stuff. Let me know what you think.
aka dana cooper-kjarr