DISCLAIMER: Xena, Gabrielle, Argo, etc. are ©copyright MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures. I don't own them, I just play with them for a while and, like the good girl I am, I put them back when I'm doneŠokay, they get a little worn, but heyŠI play hard! Absolutely no Copyright infringement was intended in the writing of this fiction. It's intended as flattery toward the creators, writers, and actors of the characters. All other characters that appear are ©copyright Devlin@xenafan.com. This story cannot be sold or used for profit in any way (unless, of course, Lucy, Renee, Rob, et al want to make my dream come true and hire me, hah!). Copies may be made for private use only and I'd appreciate if you included all copyright notices and this disclaimer.
VIOLENCE WARNING: There is some violence (come on it's the Warrior Princess). It's nothing more than PG13.
TIMELINE: My own making. Let's just say that India never happened, Eli never sucked the bard into buying what he was selling, and Gabrielle never became a wimp and tossed her staff away.
SEX: Yes, I'll have some, thank you. I mean, yes there is. It is our favorite two Soulmates, after all. It's not gratuitous, but it is quite explicit when it gets going. This story shows consensual love, sex and yes, even some light bdsm between two adult females. Even when they get carried away, it's all done in love. If the thought of two women in a loving/sexual relationship bothers youŠwell, as Xena said, "Bite me!"
HIGH ANGST WARNING: I was threatened within an inch of my life if I didn't start putting this disclaimer on some (all?) of my work. I will henceforth rate the angst content with sad faces, one being the lowest and four being the highest. This story earns: 4 sad faces (for those without TT fonts).
UNDERAGE WARNING: Hey, the Supreme Court said in Reno v. American Civil Liberties Union (1997) that laws against making available, online, certain "indecent" materials for those under 18 was unconstitutionalŠlook it up! Besides, this is perfectly "decent." J
I only know how others feel about my stories from feedback. Let me know what you think...homophobes need not apply, however. I'm at: Devlin@xenafan.com
*This is the third story in the "Queen" series. While not absolutely necessary, it helps if you read them in sequence. The series begins with "To Become A Queen" and follows with "Quest For A Queen"
The warrior's eyes hungrily followed the slim hips marching in front of her. Gods, she looks good. Xena licked her lips as she continued to watch her future wife walking before her. The dark-haired woman's hand held Argo's reins, her naturally long stride slowed on purpose. She loved having the young Queen by her side, but today she was letting her carnal thoughts run wild, enjoying the view from behind as the young woman kept the pace slightly ahead of her. Gabrielle's small physique had changed so much over the years they'd been traveling together. Years of using her staff had developed rock hard muscles in her arms, shoulders, and back, all covered by a soft, feminine skin that felt like Egyptian silk under the warrior's fingertips.
They spent the winter in Amphipolis, which was something new for the pair. Except for the time Gabrielle spent recuperating in the Amazon village last year, they never stayed in one spot that long before. Cyrene was grateful for the help and the company over the cold winter months, and Xena and her bard found out that having four walls around them for privacy definitely had its advantages. The wanderlust hit the both of them, however as soon as the first warm breezes of spring began.
Xena remembered the night she lay in bed; Gabrielle wrapped tightly in her arms, the essence of their lovemaking permeating the room. She remembered also the look of love and adoration on the young Queen's face when the warrior asked her to travel to the Amazon Nation with her, and become her wife on the eve of the Summer Solstice.
They sent Ephiny, the Queen Regent, a message stating their intentions. Since the Solstice was a good 3 moons away, it left plenty of time for the Amazons to prepare for their Queen's joining ceremony. They said their good-byes to Xena's family, with promises to see them again in the Amazon village for the wedding. That was nearly a moon ago.
Ever since then it was one thing after another. Save a village from raiders here; take down an evil warlord there, non-stop requests from villagers everywhere they went. Neither woman thought anything about it really. Xena and Gabrielle made quite a formidable team, and it became easy for them to put aside their own personal desires for the greater good. It was starting to take its toll on the Warrior Princess' libido, however. If they weren't in the middle of a crisis, they were nursing small injuries, or they just plain dropped into their bedrolls at night exhausted beyond belief.
So, the warrior was thoroughly enjoying their respite as saviors to Greece on this warm spring day, watching her bard move in front of her, fantasies of varying natures playing through her mind.
"This way, Brie," The warrior stated, pulling Argo off the path and heading into the forest.
"But--" Was all Gabrielle was able to get out before she had to run to catch up with the taller woman.
"I really hate when you do that, you know." The young Queen said with a sly smile.
"I know," Xena said, smiling and lifting her eyebrows at her lover. "But, either Argo or I need a bath desperately...I'm not sure which one of us it is, so I'm playing the odds. I know where there's a nice quiet lakeŠsmall, but quiet.
"How do you-oh, wait, I knowŠyears ago your army came through here once," Gabrielle said, gesturing with her arms widely as if about to spin a tale.
Xena couldn't help laughing at her lover's satiric use of her often-utilized line.
"Well, it's true." The warrior said.
"So where is this famous water?" Gabrielle teased.
Xena never altered her stride nor looked at her lover through this entire exchange. Some things never changed, and as open with her feelings as the warrior had become with her bard nowadays, the majority of their travels were spent with Gabrielle talking and the warrior silent by her side.
"Less talking, more walking and you'll find out." Xena replied.
It wasn't very long until they reached the water.
Oooh, nice, Xe." Gabrielle stated.
The warrior smiled. She liked being able to surprise and please her bard. The two women went about setting up their camp quickly and without much discussion. Years of travel together had reduced this part of their journeying to a science.
Once a fire was going and water put on to brew tea, Xena made a wide arc around their campsite, wanting to make sure they didn't run into any undesirable characters that might also be using the woods. Of course, her other intention was to make sure they were alone because the warrior had plans for her little bard. She still had a few of those fantasies running through her mind from this afternoon that involved herself, her lover and absolutely no one else.
"Brie?" The warrior called when she walked back into the empty camp.
"I'm here, just be a heartbeat." Gabrielle called from the trees, then appeared moments later.
Xena, in the meantime, sat down on the ground and began to remove her armor and boots. The warrior watched as Gabrielle came back into camp a disgusted look on her face. The young woman went to their saddlebags and tossed her undergarments into the pack.
"I hate when this time of the moon comes around!" Gabrielle said, turning to look at Xena.
"What?!" The warrior was stunned. Oh, please tell me this isn't happening... not now. "Didn't you just have it?"
"Well, yes, love, but for some of us it does come around once a moon." Gabrielle explained.
"Oh, great," Xena let her thoughts slip out.
"I'm sorry, Xe." Gabrielle stood looking at the warrior, and when Xena looked up into her lover's face, she cursed her own selfishness. The look on the bard's face said that she knew she had disappointed her partner.
"Oh, BrieŠI'm sorry, I didn't mean it like that. Come here love," Xena held out her hand.
Gabrielle stood by the seated warrior and Xena pulled the young woman down into her lap.
"Please, forgive me, Brie. I didn't mean it to come out like that at all," the dark-haired woman kissed her lover's cheek, running her fingers through the young woman's hair. "I should have known, I usually do, I don't know where my mind's been at lately."
"I do," Gabrielle said, raising an eyebrow suggestively.
"Well, maybe just a little," the warrior smiled sheepishly.
"I still should have known, I can't understand why I didn't. Usually you give off a few signs, you knowŠbackache, crampsŠ" the warrior trailed off.
"It's just not a bad one, I'm not very uncomfortable at all. You know, Xe," Gabrielle leaned in to place a series of feather-light kisses on the warrior's neck. "I can still take care of you."
Xena closed her eyes and marveled at the sensations that were running from the hypersensitive skin of her neck, straight to parts of her body further south. Oh, yes...this is exactly what I need. Leaning her head back, she released a low groan of desire. Suddenly the warrior opened her eyes. No, this isn't what I need...not like this. She didn't want sex to be used as merely a physical release, not anymore, and especially not with Gabrielle.
"Brie, honey...wait," Xena forced herself to pull away from Gabrielle's touch. She placed her hands on the young woman's head, tilting it so she could look into the sea-green eyes that were looking into her own.
"As much as I adore your touch...well, I'd rather wait for you." She said, kissing the tip of Gabrielle's slightly sunburned nose.
"Are you sure," Gabrielle whispered back.
"Yea, absolutely," Xena began to brush a line of light kisses along the young woman's jaw. When she reached the bard's ear, she whispered.
"You know, Brie...we could...you know, anyway...I mean, it doesn't have to stop us." Xena finished pulling back slightly to see Gabrielle's reaction, hoping against hope.
"Don't even go there, warrior." Gabrielle replied, abruptly getting up and walking down to the edge of the lake.
Xena let herself fall onto her back and hit the grass with a thud. It was days like this when she wished Gabrielle had more in the way of sexual experience, but she loved her just the way she was, puritan side and all. Amazing...she can tie me to a bed and screw me all night long. Use a whip, phallus, and every other toy we have around, but when it comes time for her cycle, she turns into a Hestian virgin! She removed the rest of her clothing and went to join her lover in the cool water, taking deep breaths along the way to bank the smoldering fires that had nearly been a blazing inferno moments ago.
Okay, tell her warrior. Just march right up to her, wrap your arms around her and take her up on the offer she made earlier. And what do I say? Gabrielle, if I don't have you and have you quick the top of my head's gonna explode? Nah, too gory an image. Okay, how about Honey...nope, if I start like that she'll know I want something. But, it's more than want. We're talking need here. That's i here. That's it! Gabrielle, I need you. Perfect...
Xena sat near the fire, sharpening stone in hand, until she had reached the perfect scenario in her mind. Gabrielle had already put away her scrolls and was settling down on the bedroll, listening to the rhythmic sounds of the warrior's stone on the metal of her blade. Making her way toward her bard, Xena laid her sword to one side and knelt beside the prone woman.
"Gabrielle--" She began.
Gabrielle looked at the dark-haired woman next to her, the bard felt the warmth of the fire relax her, causing the young woman to lean her head back, eyes closed tight, a let out a loud yawn.
"I'm sorry, Xe...what is it you wanted to say?" Gabrielle asked.
Xena looked at the beautiful young woman and every selfish thought she'd been having simply flew away.
"You look tired, baby," the warrior stroked the woman's cheek. Not attempting to say a thing about what she'd been thinking to herself. You, my dear warrior, are a selfish twit...you don't even deserve this woman. "Get some sleep, love." she finished, kissing her lover tenderly on the lips, then once on the forehead.
"Aren't you coming?" Gabrielle asked.
Nope, not tonight!
"I'll be a little while longer, I need to finish sharpening my sword." Xena replied.
Once the warrior settled herself on a log by the fire again, the internal battle began anew.
I can't believe you didn't even ask...she probably would have said yes. I mean, at least one of you would be going to sleep with a smile on your face. Yea, but she did look tired, and she looks so damn cute when she yawns like that. Oh, you are so whipped. Allright shut up! Oh, Gods...I'm yelling at voices in my head. This is going to be such a long night!
All the while, Xena continued the long, steady strokes of the sharpening stone. Shiiing...Shiiiing...Shiiing...
"Xena..." Gabrielle's voice called to her from their bedroll.
Xena looked up...Shiiing...Shiiing--thump!
The dark haired woman did something she never did before, not once in her entire life. She was in mid-slide across her blade when she looked up at Gabrielle. The stone simply kept going, on along to the end of the blade, and fell with a heavy sound to the ground. The warrior was absolutely in shock. Not so much by losing her grip on her sharpening stone, but for losing her grip on what little control remained in her hormone clouded brain.
Xena blinked her eyes hard, waiting for the mirage to disappear. Gabrielle leaned up on one elbow from the bedroll, one of the blankets falling low on her shoulder, exposing a beautiful breast to the stunned warrior.
Xena thought about responding verbally to the young woman, but that would be impossible considering their was no longer the smallest particle of air to be found in or around the warrior's lungs. She would swear later, that she did open her mouth, but sound refused to issue forth.
"See anything you like, warrior?" Gabrielle said in a husky voice, suddenly full of desire.
Xena, the former Destroyer of Nations, who had nearly conquered all of Greece, the warrior who commanded armies of men, who, obeyed her not only out fear and respect, but because her battle speeches aroused them to such a pitch they willingly threw down their lives for her. This woman now sat a few feet away from the greatest invitation she would ever be given, and all she could do was nod dumbly.
"Well, if what you want is way over here, my question is...what are you doing way over there?" Gabrielle asked.
It wasn't just a question, it was a command. Xena's brain registered the waiting body language of her lover and nearly tripped over her own feet in her haste to get to the other side of the fire. Like an adolescent schoolboy, she couldn't get her boots off fast enough. That's when the warrior looked down at the woman waiting on the bedroll.
A slow, delicious smile spread across Gabrielle's face and it seemed as if her features changed with that smile. The warrior had seen that look before. Xena knew at that moment that her lover was entering her Amazon Queen mode and the standing woman froze. A distinct whimper escaped the dark-haired woman's throat. Oh, dear Gods, Gabrielle...you are not going to do this to me tonight...not when I'm in such a state already, are you?
Gabrielle arched an eyebrow at the warrior and pulled back the blankets of the bedroll to reveal her nude form. "Do you think you've done something to deserve this warrior?" Gabrielle asked.
Oh, yea...you are.
Oh, my love you are truly wicked...and I love it! Allright, my little bard...I know you enjoy this, the Gods know I will...if I live through it.
Xena immediately dropped to her knees and lowered her eyes to the ground.
"No, my Queen...I'm sure I don't deserve this gift." Xena replied.
"Then why do you think I should share this?" Gabrielle let her hand slide across a breast and down the length of her torso in a teasing motion.
Xena watched as her lover's hand came to rest on her abdomen, just below her navel. The young woman wore only the thin leather belt around her hips and the cloth between her legs that she wore instead of an undergarment this time of the moon. The warrior quickly searched her brain for an answer that would appeal to the young Queen.
"Because it pleases you?" Xena answered, hesitantly.
"Good answer, warrior." Gabrielle pulled herself up until she was on her knees facing the kneeling warrior. The bard let herself lean into the taller woman until her nipples just grazed Xena's leathers. "Because, after all, it is about my pleasure, isn't it warrior?"
Xena felt the hard points of flesh lightly touch against the leather covering her skin, just below her own breasts.
"Always, my Queen." She replied a little breathless.
No matter how many times they played this game, her warrior's subservient demeanor always amazed the young Queen. This was part of the excitement, however, for Xena as well as Gabrielle.
The young blonde raised herself up until she was standing before the kneeling woman, her hands on the warrior's shoulders. Gabrielle watched as Xena realized she was nearly eye to eye with the cloth that hid what the warrior so sought after. The kneeling woman took in a deep breath and closed her eyes, the corners of her mouth curling slightly upward.
Xena couldn't help the expression that crossed her face. She tried to hold it back, but the sweet, metallic scent of blood, mixed with the fragrance of Gabrielle's own arousal, affected the warrior deeply.
Gabrielle ran her fingers through the raven mane that fell across the warrior's broad shoulders, and enticingly down her back. Again Xena closed her eyes at the tingling sensation as Gabrielle raked her fingernails seductively across the kneeling woman's scalp.
Xena could have stopped what she did next, but she went ahead and did it anyway. Gabrielle was so close to her and the Queen's scent was driving her mad. She reached her tongue out and slid the tip in a delicate stroke against the young woman's abdomen. She felt her head pulled back sharply, Gabrielle's finger entwined in her hair. The pain, mixed with the taste of her lover's skin on her tongue caused her to smirk up at the woman above her.
"Did you enjoy that?" Gabrielle asked, pulling back harder on the warrior's hair.
Xena tried not to react, but her smirk grew larger.
"I think you do things like this on purpose, warrior..." Gabrielle pulled the woman's head back even further until she was whispering in her ear. She never wanted to hurt her lover, but with the Warrior Princess, a little pain always seemed to fire up the woman's libido.
"I think it's because you enjoy your punishments almost as much as your rewards," Gabrielle whispered, running her own tongue down the length of Xena's ear. The combination of that action and the promise the young Queen was making was enough to cause the warrior's whole body to tremble with desire.
Gabrielle suddenly released the kneeling woman's hair and moved away. Xena knew better than to turn around and look to see where her lover had gone. She could hear her rummaging through their bags and her stomach did a slight flip in anticipation at what the bard would come up with. Did I say something about her lack of sexual experience...what could I have possibly been thinking? Xena knelt there obediently. She had pushed it far enough already, but Gabrielle always expected her to do at least something to be punished for. If she went too far, her lover would accuse the warrior of not playing the game, and the whole night would be over. Xena thought that an idle threat until she tested the young Queen's limits one night. Gabrielle got up from the bed and put on her robe, telling the warrior if she couldn't play the game right; she could damn well play by herself. Xena was shocked that Gabrielle actually carried through on the threat. The warrior never repeated that mistake.
Now would be a miserable time for that to happen to her again. Xena lowered her eyes to the ground and wiped the smirk off her face as she heard Gabrielle walk up behind her. The young woman placed a few objects on the bedroll just out of Xena's line of sight.
"Do you know why you're being punished?" Gabrielle knelt behind the warrior.
"Yes, my Queen...I disobeyed your order." Xena answered.
"And what is the only command that I give you...one little command, that you can't seem to follow?" Gabrielle slapped the inside of Xena's thighs lightly, indicating that the kneeling warrior should widen her stance, then the bard pressed her body against the warrior's back.
"I cannot experience any pleasure without your permission, my Queen." Xena answered, feeling Gabrielle's breasts press against her leather covered back.
"Now, what part of that don't you understand?"
"I do understand, my Queen...forgive me, I--I lost control."
"Well, then that's what we'll have to work on, warrior, isn't it? Your control." Gabrielle began to unlace the back of Xena's leathers. She never usually loosened them so completely, it was a pain to thread them again, but she wanted to take the tunic off over the warrior's head. Once the task was completed and the leathers were removed, she pressed herself against her lover again; reveling in the feeling of Xena's sweat soaked body. She ran her fingers up the sides of the warrior's torso, along the sides of her breasts. She ran her fingertips just underneath the top of the breeches the kneeling woman still had on. Then she removed her hands altogether.
Xena felt the cool touch of metal against her abdomen.
"Go ahead and look," Gabrielle commanded.
The warrior looked down and just as she suspected, Gabrielle held Xena's breast dagger in her hand, the flat of the blade pressed against the warrior's skin.
For her part, Gabrielle was doing everything she could to test the warrior's legendary control. She slid the blade up until the metal slipped over Xena's nipple, a barely discernible gasp coming from the warrior. The Queen decided to overlook this slight loss of control considering the circumstances. She knew she was the only one in the known world who had ever...would ever come this close with a blade to the Warrior Princess. She continued to move the blade downward until the tip hooked itself in the top of the warrior's breeches, over her leg. Sliding it in until it poked out and rested against a muscular thigh, Gabrielle jerked the blade upward, slicing through the material in one stroke. She repeated her action on the other side until the rent garment fell to the ground. Gabrielle threw the blade onto the ground and used her hands on the newly exposed skin to drive the warrior to the brink of insanity. Her nails ran up the back of Xena's thighs and on to her buttocks, squeezing the muscular flesh. Her hands roamed around the warrior's hips, caressing a taut abdomen, then sliding down to swirl into the damp curls between the warrior's legs.
Xena was holding on much better than Gabrielle thought she would by this point. The evening breeze blew against the warrior's damp skin and the Queen mused to herself, wondering if it was the cold or her attentions that caused the dark-haired woman's nipples to grow rock hard. The bard let her index finger circle the pebbled flesh.
"Are you ready for your punishment to begin?" Gabrielle whispered into her ear.
An unexpected groan escaped through the warrior's lips and Gabrielle chuckled.
"Oh, no...we haven't even begun, my warrior. Now, give me your hands."
Xena placed her hands behind her at the small of her back and felt Gabrielle begin to bind her wrists tightly together with a length of leather. The young Queen pulled tight, but didn't tie it off, instead placing the end of the binding strip in Xena's palm. If anything happened or if the warrior wanted to stop the game, all she had to do was release the end of the leather to free herself.
"Do you think you can hold on to that for me, warrior...the whole time?" Gabrielle asked, pulling on the leather.
"Anything for you, my Queen," Xena panted.
"Good," Gabrielle said, carefully moving around to face the warrior.
"Magnificent," the young Queen breathed, sitting back on her heels to enjoy this view of her warrior, the woman's arms and shoulders pulled back, causing her breasts to jut forward more than usual. Gabrielle looked at the dark-haired woman's body before her as if she were some feral creature the Queen had just captured, wild and sensual in her dark beauty. Now it was time to tame the beast.
Gabrielle lifted the lid from a small clay jar and dipped one finger inside. Removing her honey-coated finger, she lifted it to Xena's breast and began to coat the warrior's nipple with the sticky liquid. Xena could guess what was coming next and steeled herself against a response when she saw her lover bend her head down, and wrap her lips around the hardened flesh. The warrior held on as wave after wave of delicious pleasure crashed over and through her. The sounds of delight her bard was making as she completed her task weren't helping either. The warrior's chest heaved and her body was covered in a fine sheen of sweat, but she kept the rest of her body in check.
Then Gabrielle tried something different. She began to lightly nibble on the warrior's erect nipple. Very gently, but non-stop, as if she were planning on devouring the flesh. She used her teeth to delicately chew on the hard nub of flesh until she could hear the warrior's audible gasps with each breath. Then she repeated the whole procedure with the other breast.
Xena had her eyes screwed shut, knowing if she looked down, even once, she would explode in a massive climax. She could feel her wetness tickling her as it flowed from her aroused sex, and slid down the inside of her thighs.
Gabrielle too, could see the results of her warrior's arousal glistening on her thighs in the firelight. She slid a finger through the dark curls, dipping it into the warrior's cleft, steering clear of the area that begged for her attention. The young queen brought her glistening finger up to her lips and stopped.
"Open your eyes, warrior. I want you to watch me." Gabrielle commanded.
Xena's eyes snapped opened to the sight of Gabrielle, reaching out a pink tongue to lick Xena's essence from the bard's own finger.
"Mmmm, warrior, you taste so good." Gabrielle murmured.
Still Xena held on, pulling in air through her mouth. Gabrielle was amazed at her lover. For her, this is what this game came down to. It wasn't about the power. Oh, sure, there was a definite thrill at having a completely willing woman, prostrate before her, but the power game was Xena's territory. The Warrior Princess loved the games where total control came with surrender. For her, the sexual excitement was in her partner's desire to be conquered. The Amazon Queen looked at their little scenarios differently. For Gabrielle the complete joy and raw excitement was taken from watching her warrior take control of her own body.
The Queen smiled to herself as she moved closer to Xena, reaching onto the bedroll for the last item they would use tonight. If the positions were reversed, Gabrielle would have been begging for Xena to take her quite some time ago. Xena's mind clearly forgot it was a game half the time. The bard smiled again. She never really knew if it was Xena's determination to win or if she just did it to please Gabrielle, but her warrior hung on till she was on the brink of sexual exhaustion before she would ever give in. Gods, she is incredible.
Gabrielle moved so close to the kneeling warrior, the bard's nipples grazed the taller woman's skin. She began to kiss Xena's neck, nipping at the tender flesh. That's when Xena felt it.
"Oh, Gods!" the warrior exclaimed.
Gabrielle moved the tip of the ivory phallus and circled it around the warrior's opening.
"Is this too much for you, warrior?" Gabrielle asked in a whisper. "If it is, all you have to do is tell me." The bard tugged gently on Xena's earlobe with her teeth.
Gabrielle was absolutely in awe at her lover's mastery over her own flesh. The dark-haired woman breathedGabrielle was absolutely in awe at her lover's mastery over her own flesh. The dark-haired woman breathed as if she were running the race of her life, her body drenched in sweat. The Queen watched as a slight penetrating motion with the phallus sent shudders of pleasure through the warrior. The taller woman's muscles fairly quivered from the restraint she was showing.
"You can have this, warrior." Gabrielle swirled the toy. "Isn't that what you'd like...all of me, deep inside you? Answer me." Gabrielle ordered.
"Yes, my Queen, that's exactly what I'd like." Xena answered in a shaky voice.
"Mmmm, that's exactly what I'd like to give you, too. Hard and fast...that's how you like it, isn't it?"
"Yes, m--my Queen."
"Let me give it to you...all you have to do is accept defeat...beg me for it, warrior." Gabrielle tempted.
"Never, my Queen," Xena hissed.
Gabrielle pulled back to meet the blue eyes that challenged hers with the tiniest of grins.
"Very well, warrior...if you want to act like a wild beast, then I believe I'll have to tame you like one." Gabrielle said as she thrust the phallus deep inside, holding it there momentarily, before sliding it in and out in a slow and deliberate rhythm.
"Sweet, Athena!" Xena cried out, her hips quickly becoming seduced by the erotic rhythm that Gabrielle's hand set. The young Queen swirled, dipped, and teased the cylindrical object inside her lover's body until the warrior's hips began to thrust themselves against the bard's hand.
"Oh, Gods!" Xena cried out, throwing back her head and allowing her body to give in to the physical pleasure.
Through clenched teeth the warrior growled, "Harder!"
Gabrielle deliberately slowed, then stilled her movement.
"Please..." the warrior pleaded, still unwilling to admit defeat.
"I'll give you what you want, once you give me what I want. You know what I want to hear, warrior," Gabrielle whispered in Xena's ear, pressing her body tightly to the warrior's, then once again beginning the beguiling movement of the object buried deep inside the writhing warrior.
"Ohhh, please, Gabrielle...please, I'm begging you my Queen, don't stop fucking me!" Xena begged, her body now beginning to melt into the relief Gabrielle's talented hands promised.
The young Queen only had one thought in her head once she heard the warrior's tortured plea. Her intentions became clear. She spread the fingers of her free hand, sliding them through her lover's dark curls, then smiled, as she stroked the ignored bit of flesh, now slick with the warrior's impending orgasm. Meanwhile she followed the wishes of her lover as the dark-haired beauty begged to be taken harder and faster. The young Queen wielded the phallus until Xena screamed her release into the nighttime sky.
Xena slumped against Gabrielle's shoulder, her breathing still ragged and uneven. The bard had to practically uncurl the warrior's fingers from the leather binding. She eased the spent woman down onto the bedroll, massaging her aching shoulders. Xena lay against the bard, the warrior's face buried in the young woman's neck.
"Gabrielle," Xena panted. "Do you have any idea what you do to me? You are a truly wicked young woman. I'm so glad I belong to you." The warrior said with a smile and closed her eyes.
"Trust me, you give as good as you get, my love." Gabrielle responded to the warrior's flattery.
"Oh, Brie," Xena rolled onto her back, arms flung out in a gesture of defeat. "I'm not even in your league!"
Gabrielle laughed and moved herself over her lover.
"Just remember that, Warrior." The young Queen said.
Xena growled into the passionate kiss that the two exchanged, rolling the bard onto her back.
"I accepted your punishment my Queen," Xena purred. "Now, I want my reward." She finished as she covered Gabrielle's neck in a shower of kisses.
"Where in the known world have you two been." Eponin asked, rising from her kneeling position in front of her Queen.
The Amazon warrior caught the look that passed between the Queen and her Consort. Gabrielle started to speak, but she must have thought better of it because she closed her mouth immediately, a lovely pink flush rising to her cheeks.
"Oh, don't even go there, Gabrielle. I don't want to know, do I?"
"No, you don't." Xena snickered with a wicked smile and an air of a very satisfied warrior, walking past their Amazon friend and on toward the village.
"Gabrielle!" The Queen Regent gave the approaching young woman a smile that could only be described as relief, followed by a heartfelt hug. "Sorry, Xena, didn't mean to ignore you, but Gabrielle you don't know how very glad I am that you're finally here. Where have you two been anyway?" Ephiny asked.
"Don't ask." Eponin said flatly, coming up behind the trio.
Ephiny caught the innuendo in the timber of Eponin's voice and raised an eyebrow at the blue-eyed warrior that stood by the Queen's side.
"Hey, I didn't know we were on a time table, okay?! We were busy doing..." the warrior eyed the women around them and paused to come up with a suitable word, suddenly realizing that she should have let her bard talk them out of this one.
"...Stuff." she finished weakly.
She couldn't very well tell these Amazons that she'd just spent the last three days taking their Queen in every way imaginable, in nearly every conceivable spot along the Greek countryside.
She and Gabrielle exchanged a look, the young Queen not making any effort to jump in and fish the warrior out of the deep pond she'd just jumped into. As a matter of fact, to the warrior, it looked like her bard had a rather amused expression on her face. Oh, I'll remember this, my heart. Just you wait.
Truth be known, Gabrielle was indeed enjoying herself watching her warrior tread water. Nor did she miss the imperceptible expression in Xena's eye, when the dark-haired woman caught the young Queen's glance. I know I'll pay later, my love, but sometimes, seeing you lose that cool demeanor, makes it worth it all.
"Okay, we're here now," Gabrielle shook herself from that road of thought. "First I'd like a hot meal and something cool to drink. Why don't we go to the food hut and you can tell me what all the excitement is about."
The friends sat at the Queen's table, and Gabrielle's appetite being legendary among the Amazons, it was quite some time before the young Queen's stomach monster was finally sated. They pushed their plates aside and began the visit in earnest. Xena and Eponin spoke of the winter in Amphipolis, the Amazon talking Xena into helping her give a weapons demonstration to a class of new recruits later that day. Hearing their Queen had returned, the healers, Adia and Sartori entered the food hut and made their way to the Queen's table, where the conversation was beginning to get louder.
"Sartori!" Gabrielle exclaimed, jumping up to hug her friend.
"My Queen," the healer responded, never forgoing her formality with her young friend.
Uncharacteristically, Xena stood and shared an embrace with each of the healers. The warrior would never forget the debt she felt she owed to the two women. Sartori, for healing Gabrielle's body after she was attacked last season, and Adia, for helping to heal the young Queen's mind. Xena didn't even like to think about how different this past season would have been had she and Gabrielle never admitted their feelings for one another.
The Queen's table became quite busy as friends and well wishers stopped by to wish the Queen and her Consort a happy and joyous Bonding ceremony. It went unnoticed by many, but Sartori's watchful eye caught it and she nudged her mate, she and Adia exchanging a knowing glance. They both smiled at the way Xena pushed her chair back from the table, still conversing with Eponin, and nonchalantly placed an arm around the young Queen's shoulders, absently allowing her thumb to stroke the bard's skin as she talked. Just as effortlessly, Gabrielle moved slightly to lean into the casual embrace. They were completely unconscious gestures by the two women, which is the very reason it appeared so natural and loving.
"So, Eph, what's the panic about?" Gabrielle finally asked.
"We're having company and I really am not prepared for this part of the job." The Regent replied.
"You remember King Tralos...the land agreement from last spring? He wants his daughter to see, and I use his words, how a real Queen runs a nation!"
"Oh, no." Gabrielle looked momentarily stunned.
"Oh, yes My Queen. His daughter is his only child and heir to the throne. He wants her to learn how to rule and he's quite adamant that her tutelage be with her Royal Majesty, Queen Gabrielle." Ephiny continued with a smirk.
"But, why me? I mean she could go to Athens and learn everything she needs to know about politics and royalty."
"I tried to narrow him down on that, but he just said that once I met her it would become apparent why he wanted her to learn here." Ephiny shrugged her shoulders. "Sorry, Gabrielle. I know this isn't what you need right now with the wedding and all, but you know important those land rights are to our Southern borders."
"Of course, Eph, I understand. I don't think I can teach anyone how to be a Queen, though." Gabrielle leaned closer to the Regent. "I'm winging it most of the time myself, but I'll gladly make myself available. I wonder what King Tralos means, though...we'll know when we see her." The Queen mused aloud.
"Maybe she's an incredibly gorgeous woman who wants to know what Amazon life is really like." Eponin said with a glint in her eye and a suggestive smile.
Xena leaned back her head and laughed, slapping the warrior on the back.
"You just keep dreaming, Ep." The warrior said
After the midday meal, Gabrielle headed straight for the council chambers to catch up on village business and prepare for the Princess' arrival. Xena was ambushed immediately by Eponin's class of young warriors. The Amazons were anxious to learn, but even more anxious to test their skill with the Warrior Princess. By the time the grimy warrior arrived at the Queen's hut, Gabrielle was already soaking in a steaming bath.
Leaning back, her eyes closed in relaxation, the young Queen let her mouth curl upward realizing who entered the room.
"Mmmm," Xena murmured as she bent to place a delicate kiss on Gabrielle's neck. The warrior's lips lingered there for a moment enjoying the taste of her lover's skin.
"I have to warn you, I'm a betrothed woman." The Queen remarked, her eyes remaining closed.
"Oh? Is your joining to be soon?" Xena played along, hastily removing her armor.
"Very soon, in fact."
"Well then, we don't have any time to waste, do we? Is your lover the jealous type?" Xena asked in a sultry voice, as she shrugged out of her leathers.
"Very much so. She is the Warrior Princess, after all."
"Ahh, she's highly over rated from what I hear." Xena stepped into the tub behind Gabrielle; the young woman moving up to make room for the warrior.
The dark-haired woman slipped an arm around the Queen's waist and pulled the small blonde toward her. Gabrielle leaned back against the warrior's chest, feeling the hard points of aroused flesh press into her back. The young Queen's breath quickened as the warrior ran gentle fingertips up and down the length of her arm.
"And, this jealous Warrior of yours, does she satisfy you?"
"Oh, yes," Gabrielle answered without hesitation.
"Ahhh, that's only because you haven't yet experienced the pleasures that my body can bring to you. Would you like to hear what I'd like to do to you, My Queen?" Xena whispered seductively.
The warrior began to paint a vivid picture with her words that caused Gabrielle's pulse to race and her breathing to become ragged. The combination of the warrior's sultry voice and the pleasures she promised pushed the young Queen's body to the brink.
"Gabrielle..." Xena purred in a hot breath against her lover's ear.
"I need...I need you to..." Xena hesitated.
"Yes, love...anything." Gabrielle responded breathlessly.
"I need you to...wash my back." The warrior responded a large toothy grin on her face. She held up a bath cloth in front of the young Queen's eyes.
"What?!?" Gabrielle sputtered.
"I need you to wash my back, Xena replied matter of factly.
The warrior never had a soapy bathing cloth flung into her face before. It was definitely something new.
"Thought I might find you here." Ephiny took a seat on an overturned bucket, watching Xena brush down Argo. The Golden mare nickered softly at the gentle attentions from her mistress.
"What's up?" Xena questioned, blinking and rubbing her right eye.
"You okay?" The Regent inquired.
"Yea," Xena turned her face away from the Amazon in hopes she wouldn't see the blush the warrior knew was heating up her face. "I just got some soap in my eyes while I was taking a bath."
"Oh. Well, I just wanted to let you know that we're having a little celebration tonight in honor of Gabrielle's return to the village--"
"That figures." Xena snorted.
"What's that supposed to mean?" Ephiny directed a confused gaze toward the warrior.
"It means, my Amazon friend, that you women will do anything to have a party."
"Hey, we like to enjoy ourselves," The Regent deadpanned back at the warrior.
"That much is apparent." Xena responded in a low voice.
"Well, I wanted to tell you so that you and Gabrielle could make sure...you know, that you have, uhm...a good time tonight."
"We will Eph, thanks." Xena chuckled.
Sweet Artemis, she's not getting it.
"No, I mean a real good time...tonight...later." The Regent added.
"Sure, Eph." Xena looked perplexed as the Amazon just continued to stand there, her arms now folded across her chest. Biting her lip as if to keep from saying anything else.
"Ephiny, being coy doesn't suit you, besides it's annoying the Tartaurus out of me. Whatever you have to say, spill it." Xena said firmly.
Gabrielle sat back in her chair taking a sip of the tea that had grown cold. The young Queen split the seal on another scroll and began to read the document. If there was one unappealing aspect to being Queen, this was it. There's so damn much paperwork!
She stretched and took another swallow of the tepid, amber liquid. That's when she heard it. The shout was definitely her lover's voice and it came from the direction of the stables.
"Are you insane?" Xena yelled.
Gabrielle wondered if she should investigate, but hearing neither the clash of swords nor the zing of a chakram slicing through the air, she realized her Warrior was probably talking Athenian politics with Adia again. Those two could act as if they were going to come to blows half the time, then walk off and enjoy a mug of mead a candlemark later.
Almost a quarter of a candlemark later, Xena stalked into the hut and the Queen immediately sensed that she should go into her keep out of the warrior's way mode. The dark-haired woman looked down at her lover and the rage expressed on her face seemed to melt away on the breeze. The warrior gave the seated woman a small grin and dropped into the seat next to the small blonde.
"Gabrielle, have you done much studying regarding the Amazon customs for when their Queen takes a Consort?" Xena finally asked.
"Well, I'm trying to. Ephiny dumped about twenty scrolls off a while ago, but I have to admit some of the laws look pretty old. It's been an awfully long time since they had a Queen that wasn't bonded before she took the throne. Besides the fact that some of them seem to have been written by scholars that had a little too much of the legendary Amazon wine. I mean, they're about as clear as the river Styx." Gabrielle punctuated her statement by tossing a scroll in the warrior's direction.
Xena looked at the offending parchment and shook her head at the double-entendre in the lines of script. "We need to talk, honey." Xena said, looking into confused green eyes.
Ephiny was determined to be nowhere in sight when the Queen received Xena's message. She left the stables a heartbeat after Xena did. By the time she was halfway across the village, Gabrielle's shout could be coming from the Queen's hut.
"Are you insane?" Gabrielle's usually calm voice bellowed.
The Regent winced and decided hiding out until tonight's festivities, might be a good thing.
"Would you please repeat that? Because I am desperately hoping that I heard you wrong." Gabrielle, who was now standing, asked the seated warrior.
"We have to abstain from sex until our wedding night." Xena repeated flatly.
"This is part of Amazon law? Are you absolutely sure?" Gabrielle began pacing the room until the warrior grew dizzy watching.
Xena nearly pummeled poor Ephiny when the Regent made a sly wisecrack about Xena's libido where Gabrielle was concerned. Now it was the warrior's job to calm her future bride down.
"Gabrielle...Brie," Xena call"Gabrielle...Brie," Xena called softly, reaching a hand out to coax the young Queen into her lap.
Once Gabrielle had settled herself in the warrior's strong embrace, nuzzling the tanned skin of her lover's neck, Xena explained.
"All I know is what little Ephiny said she was able to tell me. She said the abstinence is part of a test. For one full moon before our bonding ceremony, we have to remain celibate. We're both to meet with the high priestess, in the Temple of Artemis tomorrow, it's some kind of interview."
The warrior looked down at her lover and saw Gabrielle's face tucked into a frown. She chuckled silently to herself at the young Queen's reaction. When Xena first heard the news from Ephiny, she would have sworn that their roles would be reversed right now. Yet, here was the young woman of her heart, not all that long ago being innocent to the touch of the warrior, now obsessing over their forced lack of intimacy.
Xena used two fingers to gently lift the young Queen's chin until the sapphire and emerald green orbs locked together. "Let's not think about the time we'll have to refrain, let's think about how incredible our wedding night will be." Xena said with a seductive smile that always had a way of turning Gabrielle's knees weak.
"I'm sorry, love. I didn't mean to get so, well, it's just that...you know..."
"I know, my heart...I know. Me too." The warrior added before lightly brushing her lips against the soft ones that belonged to the woman she loved.
Gabrielle never ceased to be amazed at the tenderness and patience that the former Warlord could bestow upon the young Queen. This was a side of herself that the warrior rarely allowed others to see; instead she reserved this tender aspect of her personality only for the young woman she called, her heart.
To Xena, Gabrielle was her heart. The warrior knew that should anything ever happen to Gabrielle, Xena would feel the pain as if it were her own. When the warrior looked down the road at their future, she was certain that when Gabrielle's time within the mortal realm was through and she would be taken home to the Elyssian Fields, that Xena's heart would stop beating as well. Her heart was so thoroughly possessed by the young woman from Potidaea, Xena knew it could be no other way. The warrior felt the weight of a pendant against her throat. Gabrielle had the piece of jewelry crafted for her as a symbol of the young Queen's love. Its presence reminded Xena that Gabrielle had entrusted her heart to the warrior as well.
"Well, I have good news and bad news." Xena said, shaking the serious thoughts from her mind.
"And the bad news would be?" Gabrielle asked.
"Today is the last day we have to enjoy the pleasure of one another for the next moon."
"And you said you had good news?" The Queen inquired, while a mischievous smile played on her warrior's face.
Xena got an embarrassed look and shrugged her shoulders. "They're throwing you a party tonight?" She said weakly.
"Oh, wonderful!" Gabrielle exclaimed with a laugh. "We have to celebrate our chastity, too."
"On the bright side," Xena said, standing up swiftly with Gabrielle still in her arms, "We have a few candlemarks until the party and I'd like for you to teach me everything you know about being an Amazon Queen."
"Hhmm," Gabrielle murmured against the warrior's already heated skin as she began to caress the woman's neck with her lips and tongue. "It seems that everyone is anxious to learn under me, lately." She finished, tugging gently at the skin with her teeth.
"Oh, yes, My Queen," Xena moaned, her eyes heavy-lidded, the hoarseness of her voice betraying the depth of her arousal. "I look forward to your instruction." She added breathlessly.
Ephiny lifted her cup of wine in toast as the other Amazons around her did the same.
"Gabrielle, we are always honored when you share your presence with your subjects, even more so with the upcoming occasion of your Bonding Ceremony. We drink to your continued good health and happiness. To her Royal Majesty Queen Gabrielle and her soon to be Consort, her Highness Xena." Ephiny finished the toast to murmurs of approval from the rest of the tribe.
Xena just stared at the Regent, one eyebrow arching in suspicion at the toast. The warrior leaned closer to Gabrielle, who sat by her side nodding her thanks.
"They're not really gonna start calling me Your Highness, are they?" Xena whispered out of the side of her mouth.
"It's not so funny when it's you, is it?" Gabrielle shot back, the frozen smile still on her face as she continued to smile and nod.
The party started to become exciting as the musicians came forward and the dancing started. Gabrielle was even able to entice Xena to share some slow dances, which the warrior enjoyed thoroughly. She spent the entire dance whispering some very erotic fantasies into her bard's ear, then enjoyed watching the young Queen's composure slip a few notches.
A young Amazon made her way to the Queen's table and offered the Queen and her intended Consort another cup of wine. Gabrielle quickly held up her hand.
"I'd much prefer some cider, thank you."
Xena smiled at her young lover. She knew Gabrielle fell asleep after two cups of wine and the young Queen had no intention of making it an early night tonight. The warrior reached for another cup, but Gabrielle quickly placed her own hand over Xena's and leaned in close to the warrior.
Ephiny had a hard time keeping the grin off her usually serious face. Gabrielle lowered her voice to speak to Xena, but it was loud enough that the Regent picked up part of the message. The Queen simply wanted her Consort to have all her faculties for the activities they would enjoy later in their hut. There was something else Ephiny heard a piece of. It had something to do with the Warrior Princess and her brains being intact by the end of the night. The Regent snorted into her drink, but noticed that Xena quickly shook her head to the offer of additional wine.
The Queen and her Consort enjoyed the evening's festivities for as long as they were required to, staying only as long as propriety dictated. It would look bad if the Queen left any party before the first guest did. The Regent took pity on her young friend and, even though she would have liked to stay and enjoy the party, she bade her Queen goodnight. It only took moments before Gabrielle and Xena did likewise.
Once they were in their own hut, Xena wrapped strong arms around her future bride and placed a kiss on the smaller woman's lips that was as delicate as a light breeze. One kiss soon turned into many, but Gabrielle could feel that Xena was holding back her passion. She imagined that the warrior was trying to savor this last evening of intimacy by making it gentle and soft. She knew that Xena would try and do something like this for her. The young Queen, however, imagined a different night of passion in her bardic mind.
Gabrielle realized her warrior would have to be seduced into the idea she had in mind, but she also knew that it wouldn't take much for the dark-haired beauty to succumb. The young woman let her hands roam across the areas of Xena's body unprotected by armor. It didn't take long before Xena was moaning into their kisses. The young Queen initiated her plan with subtle moves intended to arouse the warrior out of her controlled passion.
She started by nibbling slightly on the warrior's lower lip, but taking an extra firm nip as she pulled away. Gabrielle's lips wrapped around an earlobe, her tongue stroking the tender skin until she could feel Xena shiver within her embrace, then she bit down on the flesh until she heard the warrior groan with a sound borne of pleasure and pain. The small blonde took care to let her teeth, none too gently, tug at the taut skin of the warrior's neck, while her fingernails clawed a path up the back of Xena's muscled thighs and under her leather battle skirt. Small growls of pleasure escaped from the warrior's throat, as she pulled the young Queen closer, her touch becoming possessive and more demanding.
Slowly Gabrielle pulled away and began removing the warrior's armor, until only Xena's leather shift and her boots remained. The dark-haired woman allowed herself to be led to a chair where she was directed to sit. The Queen knelt between the warrior's legs and quickly removed the heavy boots and protectors, massaging Xena's calf muscles until the seated woman's eyes were nearly closed.
That's when Gabrielle made her desires plain.
"What would the Warrior Princess desire this evening?" The young woman purred.
It was only one sentence, but it's hidden meaning hit Xena like a white hot bolt of energy. It exploded in her chest and suddenly the flames were licking at her body, creating a heat that settled directly between her legs. The warrior's eyes snapped open to find Gabrielle still kneeling in front of her, the young woman's hands folded in her lap, her eyes bowed to the floor. Xena closed her eyes and took in a deep breath, then, leaning forward slightly she whispered in the small blonde's ear.
"Are you sure, my heart...is this what you want?"
"Oh, yes...please" Gabrielle whimpered.
Xena leaned hard against the back of the chair. She closed her eyes and mumbled. "Give me a second."
The warrior needed to switch gears. Thinking she was about to be most lovingly ravished by her bard, she now had to swallow those emotions and release the Warlord Xena. That's the only time Gabrielle ever referred to her as the Warrior Princess. Xena's head was spinning at the curve she'd been thrown, but she could see the need in her lover's face and her own body said it had been too long since they played this little game.
A few more deep breaths and the Consort to the Amazon Queen, was safely tucked away, and the Warlord Xena sat in her place. Xena's mind never forgot who she was or that this woman kneeling before her was her intended, not a slave she'd just captured, but the warrior's body became ruled by the Destroyer of Nations; the woman who took her pleasure where and how she pleased. This was the lover that Gabrielle wanted tonight, the sort of sensual memories that she wanted to carry her through the days till the next new moon.
Xena reached over and as gently as she ever had, lifted Gabrielle's chin until the young Queen's eyes were held captive by the stranger's above her. The warrior's lips curled upward in a smile that spoke of seduction with a tinge of wickedness. The glint in the cerulean gaze made Gabrielle swallow involuntarily, and when a long, slender finger ran the length of the young Queen's jaw, Gabrielle felt a delicious trickle of wetness start its descent down her inner thigh.
"I think I'd like a massage first." Xena said casually, willing her voice not to betray the absolute craving that was building up inside for this young woman kneeling before her.
Gabrielle moved with grace and speed to gather a towel and some oils to be used for the warrior's massage. Xena slipped out of her leathers and pulled her cotton shift over her head as she walked to the large bed by the window. She doused the candles closest to the window and opened the shutter to let in the evening breeze. Her mouth lifted in an evil grin while she watched as Gabrielle turned to see what the warrior was doing. The Queen wasn't in a position to argue even as she realized that the whole village would probably hear them through the open window tonight. The small blonde could feel the heat rising to her face as she heard Xena's chuckle.
The warrior stretched her lean frame across the length of the mattress. Lying on her side, her head resting in the palm of her hand, she watched as the blonde carefully chose the scented oil she would use.
"You are wearing entirely too many clothes." Xena's voice issued an unspoken command and she wondered how long it would take her usually obstinate lover to understand and comply.
Gabrielle immediately put the items in her hand down and began to remove her garments. Once divested of all clothing, she stood facing the warrior, head down, arms at her side, as if waiting for approval to continue. In the meantime, Xena was finding the air in the room a little close. Oh, the amazing things that subservience could do to a Warlord's libido.
"Come here." Xena's voice ordered.
Gabrielle swiftly scooped up the items beside her and deposited them at the end of the bed, kneeling on the floor, eyes bowed in submission before her lover. With lightning speed the warrior reached out and grabbed a handful of the small bard's hair, pulling her head back so that her eyes looked directly into Xena's. Gabrielle saw the blue fire that looked like the inner portion of a flame burning out at her from her Consort's eyes and she obediently tried to avert her eyes.
Oh, yes...subservience. Xena felt the nerve endings along her skin begin to tingle.
"When I tell you to come, it means to drop everything, not to finish your task first." Xena growled.
"Yes...forgive me, Mistress."
Ahh, obedience. Xena involuntarily parted her thighs, the luscious scent of her arousal causing the bard to clench her hands to keep from lunging at the woman.
"It's good that you're so apologetic. We wouldn't want to spoil your perfect skin with the whip, now would we?"
Gabrielle's eyes opened wide, the black pupils contracting to pinpoints. Xena had never used a whip on her bard before, but the soft length of leather was always within reach during their games. Gabrielle's body shivered, knowing that simply because Xena hadn't used it, didn't mean she wouldn't.
Gods...fear. The warrior was keeping a reign on her excitement up to this point, but suddenly a rush of molten fluid flowed from her eager sex and a simple massage was the last thing she wanted to settle for. She took the young Queen's mouth in a kiss that made up in intensity what it lacked in tenderness. Pulling herself up to sit on the edge of the mattress, she spread her legs wide and pulled the bard closer to her.
"I've changed my mind. The massage can wait."
Xena still had a grasp on the Queen's hair and she pulled the young woman's head so close to her center, Gabrielle could have stuck out her tongue and captured the droplets of her lovers essence that glistened there.
"Please..." Gabrielle whimpered, her warm breath causing the dark-haired woman's body to shudder in delight.
"I think you know what I like...and, how I like it." Xena commanded, finally releasing her hold on the young woman.
Those words were the last coherent sounds either of the two lovers made until Apollo's chariot raced across the sky, carrying the fire of a new day in its wake.
The warrior groaned as the thin shaft of sunlight hit her between the eyes. She rolled over, wrapping the blankets around her, snuggling further into the slightly askew mattress. Sleeping in wasn't usually a part of her repertoire, but her body demanded the rest this morning. She felt an unconscious sense of loss and quickly realized that Gabrielle's side of the bed was empty. Xena half sat up to glance around the room and an audible groan escaped her lips.
Gods, am I sore! If I feel this way, I can't even picture Brie being able to walk.
She was amazed the young Queen was already out of bed. Xena felt like a centaur had kicked her around. She thought back to the time she'd suffered through the Gauntlet, realizing that even the pain of cuts, bruises, and near broken bones couldn't compare to the morning after a night's passion with the young Amazon Queen. Ah, but the warrior wouldn't have it any other way. Xena winced and gave up on sitting, sprawling across the entire bed. She had just returned to a pleasant snore when Gabrielle walked in with a breakfast tray filled with food and drinks.
The aroma of hot food wafted toward the prone woman and she raised her head, eyes still at half-mast.
"Good morning, Sleepyhead." Gabrielle smiled as she brought a mug of steaming tea over toward the dark-haired woman. "Do you know how many seasons I've waited to use that expression on you?" Gabrielle asked, a smug smile of satisfaction lighting up her features.
Xena groaned and gave a weak grin. "You're not human, you realize that don't you?"
Gabrielle laughed good naturally and set the tea by the bed. Xena reached for the young woman, but Gabrielle quickly moved out of arms reach.
"Ah, ah, ah. Today starts our test of abstinence until our wedding night."
"I only wanted to give you a kiss." Xena said with an evil smile.
"Uh huh...well, I'd believe that a little more if you weren't completely naked." Gabrielle finished indicating the warrior's unclad form, sprawled across the bed.
"What?" Xena arranged her body in a seductive pose. "You don't like what you see?"
"Don't go there, Warrior." Gabrielle leaned closer until she was within inches of Xena's face. "Paybacks are a bitch." She swiftly kissed the top of her lover's head and moved back toward the table. "Drink your tea. Are you hungry?" The Queen asked as Xena wrapped the sheet around her and joined her lover at the table.
"Starved." Xena replied as she fidgeted uncom"Starved." Xena replied as she fidgeted uncomfortably in her chair. "Gods, Brie...aren't you sore at all?"
"Hades teeth, yes." Gabrielle replied quickly. "It was definitely worth it though." She smiled knowingly at Xena. "Thank you, love."
"The pleasure was all mine. Well," Xena smirked, "maybe not all mine, but a lot anyway."
They enjoyed a leisurely breakfast, something they were rarely able to do. When they were finished, Xena stood and grabbed a simple wrap around robe from a hook on the wall.
"I'm going to go soak in a hot tub, want to join me?"
Gabrielle just raised an eyebrow in frustration.
"Hey, we bathed together for quite a few summers before any of this." She indicated the bed, whose mattress was nearly lying on the floor. "You wouldn't think it would be so hard, would you?" She finished as if in answer to her own question.
"Go take your bath." Gabrielle chuckled at the retreating form of her lover. "And, don't forget the interview today at the temple."
"Be back in half a candlemark." Xena said before closing the door.
Xena's body jerked forward and she caught herself from going under the water by reaching out a hand to the pool's rock ledge. She quickly scanned the pool area to make sure no one caught that smooth move. She hadn't been this tired in, she couldn't remember how long, and the steaming water relaxed her body to the point that she actually fell asleep. Not just one-eye-open kind of sleep, but a dead-to-the-world variety of slumber.
She leaned her head against the ledge and floated in the hot water. One eye opened in response to Eponin dumping her belongings on the ledge and sliding into the hot water.
"Hey," Xena called out quietly.
"Hey yourself." The Amazon stretched a little to work out some of the kinks that last night's party had left her with. "Gods, Xena." Eponin gasped.
"What?" Xena asked as a hand went to her throat, following the direction the Amazon's eyes took.
"You look like a wild animal attacked you." Eponin snorted in laughter, pointing out the bruises and red marks on the warrior's neck and chest.
Xena closed her eyes and leaned back again, an ever so slight upward curl of her lips the only sign that she was remembering last evening's passions with her young Queen.
"I'm not so sure one didn't." The warrior deadpanned.
"Oh, Hades, I have to go. I promised Gabrielle I wouldn't be long." Xena said pulling her body from the warm water.
"Ka-ching," Eponin made a noise that sounded like a whip cracking in mid air, while at the same time imitating the same motion with her hand.
Xena bent and reached for her robe just as the Amazon noticed the warrior's back. The dark-haired woman followed the Amazon's eyes once more and looked over her own shoulder to the upper portion of her back that was covered in scratches. "Oh," the Warrior Princess commented.
"Uh huh," Xena nodded. "Now, what were you saying?"
The Amazon swallowed once or twice while the visual of that last though played across her mind's eye. "I...was...saying...what an extremely lucky woman you are."
"Ep, you don't know the half of it." Xena chuckled, leaving the Amazon with her fantasies of her young Queen.
"My, Queen." The high priestess bowed slightly to Gabrielle as the young Queen left an offering of scented oil and spices on the altar. "Will you and your Consort follow me?"
Without waiting the woman turned and Xena and Gabrielle dutifully followed along behind the older woman as she led them through the maze of hallways of the large temple. Amazingly enough, Gabrielle had been back into this private area of the temple for Amazon ceremonies before, but she was never able to remember her way on her own. She wanted to ask Xena if she would remember, but in the stillness of the temple, her own voice seemed like it would be out of place.
Xena looked over at her young lover and saw the pensive frown on the small blonde's face. She reached out a sword callused hand and entwined Gabrielle's smaller fingers within her own. When the young Queen looked up into the warrior's face, her frown disappeared and was immediately replaced with a smile filled with the sunshine of her heart. The smile affected the warrior deeply and she couldn't keep herself from smiling back.
The three women came to a stop in front of a large pair of doors. When the doors swung open without human assistance, Xena and Gabrielle knew they had never been to this part of the temple before.
"Wait here, please." The priestess said. Gabrielle turned to say something, but the woman had already gone.
"Well, that was...quick." Gabrielle said with a nervous smile in Xena's direction.
"It's allright, Brie, relax." Xena responded by placing her hands on the smaller woman's shoulders and squeezing them lightly in a gesture of reassurance.
"My Queen." The voice said seconds after a swirl of multicolored sparkles transported the Goddess Artemis into the room.
"Artemis." Gabrielle said, quickly dropping to one knee.
Xena raised an eyebrow, but continued standing, folding her arms across her chest. It used to bother her when Gabrielle did this, but the warrior had finally come to realize that Artemis was the Amazon's benefactor and by proxy, that made her the young Queen's patron Goddess. While Artemis had protected the Queen and her Warrior on more than one occasion, Xena still had a difficult time ridding herself of her natural distrust for the Gods of Olympus. They were always after something and the proud warrior was there to see to it that something wasn't her bard.
"Relax, Warrior. You came to see me, remember?" Artemis laughed as Xena realized, even with her concentration techniques, her thoughts had been utterly transparent to the Goddess.
"Please, rise my young Queen. I think you're making your warrior nervous."
Gabrielle stood and positioned herself until she was, once again, standing beside Xena.
"So, you are finally to be joined." Artemis mused, sitting down in an oversized chair against the wall. "My sister, Aphrodite, is beside herself with joy, you know." She chuckled. "As a matter of fact, I'd like to drag Ares down here to witness the occasion."
The Goddess watched the expressions on the faces of the two women. Gabrielle's seemed frightened, while Xena appeared sullen and angry.
"Don't worry," the Goddess hurriedly continued. "I wouldn't ruin your day like that. You have to admit, though, it would be fun to rub his face in it." Artemis finished, all three women letting a slight smile play across their lips.
"Gabrielle, I have a scroll for you that will make some of the rituals you will undergo in the next couple of fortnights, a little more understandable. I don't know what those women were thinking when they came up with that last set of scrolls."
Artemis seemingly produced the thickly rolled parchment from thin air, handing it to the small blonde. Gabrielle smiled up at the taller Goddess, bowing her head in respect.
"Have a seat here for a few moments, My Queen. Xena...come walk with me in the garden." Artemis finished, walking away without waiting for the warrior's response.
"I'll be allright." Gabrielle answered her lover's questioning look.
"You seemed rather upset when I mentioned Ares coming to your wedding." Artemis asked the warrior as the two women walked side by side throughout the immense garden.
"It's no secret how I feel about Ares and I don't like when he upsets Gabrielle." Xena replied tightly.
"Well, aside from the obvious reason, that he's a low-life snake, why do you think he upsets Gabrielle?"
"I think..." Xena started, but stopped abruptly. She couldn't believe she was about to confide in a God, but she might as well at this point, since Artemis probably read her thoughts already. "I think Gabrielle feels Ares might be able to make me a better offer someday. That he might be able to give me something she can't."
"And, could he?" Artemis questioned.
Xena stopped to stare into the gray eyes of the Goddess who was only slightly taller than she was. The warrior turned and looked back from where they stood in the courtyard. She could see through the open window where Gabrielle sat immersed in the scroll the Goddess had given her. The small blonde's brow was furrowed in concentration and she absently tugged at her lower lip while she read. The innocent gesture tore painfully at the warrior's heart.
"No," she said as her voice broke. "In this life or any other, Ares could never offer me anything as compelling as that woman's heart."
Artemis smiled as she watched the warrior brusquely brush a tear from her cheek; Xena seemed embarrassed that she had lost her composure in front of this God.
"Just remember, Xena, this is the woman of your heart. Misplaced anger has destroyed more civilizations than it has built up." Artemis said cryptically. Have a seat and relax, while I go talk to our young Queen."
By the time Xena turned, the Goddess had vanished. I hate when they do that. The warrior sunk to a stone bench and waited for her lover's interview to be finished.
"Were you able to discover anything important?" Artemis indicated the scroll in the Queen's hand.
"No disrespect intended, but I think I've learned that it's a lot easier to get married when you're not a Queen." Gabrielle said bluntly.
Artemis laughed and to Gabrielle's ears the sound reminded her of her own laughter.
"I'm sure you'll live through it, My Queen. Tell me, Gabrielle. Why the fearful look when I mentioned Ares? I mean, aside from the fact that he's obsessed with your intended and a pathetic excuse for a God."
Gabrielle chuckled slightly then her features grew serious. "It's just that I don't trust him when it comes to Xena."
"Then shouldn't the question be whether you trust Xena?"
"No! I trust Xena completely." Gabrielle returned fiercely. "I get afraid, though. I'm afraid sometimes that I don't have enough of whatever it takes to keep Xena happy in this relationship. I'm not sure I can compete with someone like Ares."
The bard finished and lowered her eyes to the ground. This was a fear that nagged at the young Queen for a long while, but it was the first time she was openly admitting it. She knew Xena loved her, but what if a better offer came along?
"Gabrielle," Artemis commanded the young Queen to raise her eyes with her voice alone. "You already possess the most formidable weapon you'll ever need. Your heart."
Artemis took a half turn and glanced out the window, looking out at the warrior, fidgeting nervously on a stone bench. Xena began to absently twirl her chakram around in her hand and the Goddess thought she better wrap this up or she might soon be missing the tall stemmed flowers the warrior began to eye.
"Remember, My Queen, ultimate trust is not without its price. Sometimes when all those around you say a thing is black, it is up to you to say it is white. If for no other reason than because your heart says it's so."
Gabrielle couldn't quite understand how the Goddess' words applied, but she smiled into the gray eyes anyway.
"Now, go keep your warrior from decimating my garden." Artemis said and was gone before the Queen's eyes.
Xena sat eyeing the long row of double red poppy's, flipping her chakram over and over. A bored warrior is a dangerous thing and this warrior was definitely getting bored. Raising her gaze up to the sky, she tossed a bit of dry grass in the air and watched it blow to her left. She looked at the brick wall, the well, and the stone image of a deer. Finally she extended her arm and released the metal ring in a hard, swift motion.
Gabrielle came down the garden path just as her Consort's weapon sliced evenly through three dozen flowers leaving their lonely stems bereft of their heads.
"Hah!" Xena said out loud, a large toothy grin on her face. Just then the warrior looked up.
Gabrielle stood facing the smiling warrior with her arms folded, her face pulling into a scowl as an eyebrow arched under her blonde bangs. She looked at the decapitated flowers, then at Xena.
"Uhm...that was an accident." Xena quickly lied.
Gabrielle shook her head and turned to leave the temple. A small smile found its way to her lips and she turned back to the dark-haired woman.
"You wear me out, Warrior. You definitely wear me out." She chuckled.
The Amazon Queen walked up the pathway that led out of the garden, as the taller woman jumped up, and like a contrite puppy, followed obediently along behind. Xena couldn't quite rid herself of her triumphant grin, or the sheepish blush that covered her face.
Artemis removed her cumbersome breastplate and sunk heavily into a cushioned chair before accepting a glass of wine.
"How did it go?"
"Weren't you watching?" The Goddess inquired.
"You know I don't like to intrude on the privacy of mortals."
The Goddess smiled at her brother. How very much like the woman she just left.
"I gave them the information they will need. Whether they use it or not is up to them."
"But, they're mortals. It's not fair to put them through this."
"There are hard times coming for my Amazons. They'll need a strong Queen who has an even stronger Champion standing at her side. If it's not to be Gabrielle and Xena, I need to know." Artemis argued in return.
"They're Soulmates, their destiny is together." The God gave the only reason he could think of to change his sister's mind.
"You act like I'm responsible. It's the will of the Fates, Clotho, Lachesis, and Atropos. I'm only lucky that those three owed me a favor, otherwise I wouldn't have been allowed to intervene this much."
"Will they get past it?"
Artemis looked out onto the lush landscape of the paradise that was Mount Olympus. She shook her head sadly at her brother.
"I'm not sure that even these two will be able to get past the pain of this." She answered, walking from the room and leaving her wine untouched.
"I still don't see why I can't ride out and greet them myself." Gabrielle complained, trying to fasten the cape onto the back of Xena's shoulder armor.
Brie, you're the Queen; people come to you, not the other way around. Visiting dignitaries to the Nation, have to be taken care of with a certain amount of formality, you know that. Besides, how do you think I feel? Frankly, I had no idea that the Queen's Consort had to be the official welcome wagon. Seriously Brie, am I really the first person you think of, when you think of diplomacy?" Xena inquired.
Gabrielle laughed and slapped the warrior across the arm. She stood back and admired the tall warrior in front of her. Xena had given up her leather battle skirt for a silk shirt and brushed leather pants that tucked into her usual boots. She wore her same armor, but the shirt did a better job at hiding the scratches on her shoulders and back her young Queen put there two evenings ago. The cape was simply a part of the formality recognizing her as the Queen's Champion.
Xena and Gabrielle walked hand in hand toward the center of the village. A young Amazon stood holding Argo's reins, waiting for the warrior to mount.
"Your Highness," the young woman handed the mare's reins to Xena.
The warrior growled under her breath and rolled her eyes at Gabrielle, who simply laughed at the dark-haired woman's discomfort.
"Can't you order them to stop that?" Xena asked.
"Yea, right! I'm having waayyy too much fun with this." The young Queen exclaimed.
The warrior growled a low rumbling sound, starting deep in her chest. She wrapped an arm around her bard's waist and pulled her closer. "Just remember that I better be the only one you have this much fun with." She said with a twinkle in her sparkling blue gaze.
Xena kissed the smaller woman and vaulted her body effortlessly into the saddle.
"I'll be back before you know it." She said, reaching her hand down and letting her fingers brush against the silkiness of her bard's cheek. She remained that way, lost in the emerald green gaze, until she abruptly pulled on Argo's reins and the rest of the welcoming committee followed suit.
"Her Highness, Xena would like to welcome--" Eponin was interrupted before she finished.
"Oh, I don't think we need to be quite that formal." A young woman of perhaps nineteen stepped forward from the circle of guards that protected her. "Well met, Xena, my name is Jordan. King Tralos is my father."
Once you meet her it will be apparent why she is to learn here...
The King's words made sense as soon as the young woman stepped from the protective circle of her guards. Standing taller than any woman around her, she was dressed in a simple tunic, hunter's leather pants, and boots. She carried no armor or weapons, but held herself as one who had been trained in the art of self-defense. Xena felt herself smile as she took the The King's words made sense as soon as the young woman stepped from the protective circle of her guards. Standing taller than any woman around her, she was dressed in a simple tunic, hunter's leather pants, and boots. She carried no armor or weapons, but held herself as one who had been trained in the art of self-defense. Xena felt herself smile as she took the offered arm in a warrior's grasp. She especially liked the woman's no nonsense approach. Oh, yea...she and Brie will get along wonderfully.
"Princess Jordan, this is a member of the Amazon First guard, Eponin." Xena said as she started the introductions.
"Princess," Eponin said before dropping to one knee.
Jordan looked as obviously uncomfortable at the kneeling figure as Xena always was around the Amazon's servility toward royalty. Xena leaned toward the young Princess.
"You can't get them to stop, believe me I've tried." The warrior whispered to Jordan's amusement.
"Xena, this is the Captain of my father's guard. Adrian--"
"Yes, your majesty, Xena and I are old friends."
The auburn-haired woman stood very nearly as tall as the Warrior Princess, but didn't have Xena's powerful body. She appeared more slender and carried her sword on her hip. She offered her arm up to the dark-haired warrior and her pale blue eyes seemed to laugh at the warrior's obvious discomfort.
"Adrian." Xena answered tersely, swiftly grasping the woman's forearm, then pulling back just as quickly.
Xena hated being surprised and this one definitely threw her. She hadn't expected to meet this woman again, especially not here, and most especially not when her joining ceremony with Gabrielle was only a moon away.
"Shall we go, Princess?" Xena carefully covered her shaken demeanor with a smile in Jordan's direction. "The Queen will be waiting."
Xena and Jordan moved off toward their respective mounts, leaving Adrian with a cold, fixed smile on her face. Well, if the Warrior Princess wants to play it this way, fine. I wonder why she's trying to keep it a secret? After all, we were lovers for nearly a whole season.
Adrian and Eponin rode slightly behind Xena and the Princess. The rest of the company rode in front of and behind the small party.
"So, how long has Xena been an Amazon?" Adrian asked the woman who rode beside her.
"She's not." Eponin answered honestly. "She's the Queen's Consort. They're to be joined in one moon's time."
So that's why the cold-shoulder. You can't very well have your Queen knowing how you spent your Warlord years, can you? The Warrior Princess married...how very interesting.
"So," Adrian said with a genuine smile, "tell me more about this Amazon Queen."
"I hope my presence isn't too much of an inconvenience for the Queen." Jordan said to the dark-haired warrior who rode beside her.
"Absolutely not," Xena tried to allay the girl's fears. "Gabrielle is looking forward to meeting you."
"Tell me, Xena, what's it like to be an Amazon?"
"I wouldn't know," the dark-haired warrior chuckled.
"Oh, but when they introduced you, I thought..." Jordan stammered.
"I'm not an Amazon myself, I only belong to one," Xena smiled. "Gabrielle will become my wife at the next new moon."
"Well, congratulations are in order then."
"Princess, have you never heard of me?" Xena asked, somewhat surprised at the young woman's ease around her.
"I've heard the stories of the Warrior Princess, yes, but I've never heard them tell about the woman that rides beside me." Jordan answered.
Xena looked at the young woman and found that she liked this smart young Princess. She was struck at the young woman's physical resemblance to the warrior she had known all too briefly. Devlin had given her own life to see that Xena's heart was kept safe. The blue eyes and short cropped blonde hair that Xena looked at now, reminded her of that warrior who fell in love with the Amazon Queen and gave her life because of that love.
"I've heard," Jordan said, pulling Xena from her thoughts. "That the Queen is a very beautiful woman."
Xena arched an eyebrow at the young Princess' boldness.
"Oh, I mean no disrespect, seeing that she is your intended." Jordan was quick to add.
Xena laughed out loud at the young woman's panicked expression. "No offense taken, Princess. Besides, you heard right...she is." Xena rewarded the young woman with a smile that she reserved for those she felt most comfortable around.
Xena could see the absolute awe displayed in the face of the young Princess. Gabrielle intended on making an impression, but little did she know how enamored the young woman already was. The throne was set up on the dais in the middle of the village, the Royal Guard, Ephiny, and Gabrielle all wore their leathers and ceremonial masks.
"My Queen." Xena said bowing deeply much to Gabrielle's surprise. "May I present her Royal Highness, Princess Jordan. Princess, allow me to introduce you to her Majesty, Queen Gabrielle."
In an instant Jordan dropped to one knee before the Amazon Queen as Gabrielle lifted her mask from her head. Even Xena's breath caught when Gabrielle's emerald green gaze smiled down on the women. The young Queen, in the meantime, was wondering where in the world her lover had acquired such diplomatic skills.
In the short amount of time it took for the Queen and the Princess to go from a formal greeting to a first name basis, Xena was sure of a couple of things. The first one being that Gabrielle would always make a wonderful ruler for these Amazons. The second was that the young Princess had a major crush going and Xena smiled to herself, thankful that this time it wasn't on her.
While Xena gave some instructions, as to settling the Princess and her party into the guest quarters, Adrian was once again rebuffed by the dark-haired warrior. Xena wanted time alone with Gabrielle to explain things before she introduced the two women. Adrian simply chuckled at the warrior's apparent displeasure, watching the Amazon Queen stroll up to them.
"Your Majesty," Adrian said to Gabrielle's approaching figure.
Xena turned quickly and tried to lead Gabrielle away from the woman. "Aren't you hungry, love?"
"Believe it or not, no." Gabrielle smiled.
The Queen looked into her lover's blue eyes and watched as they bounced nervously around. She looked over at the warrior that came with the Princess' party.
"Please, call me Gabrielle. Xe are you going to introduce us?" Gabrielle asked, slightly suspicious of why Xena seemed so ill at ease.
"This is Adrian, Captain of the guard." Xena replied tightly. "She's an old...she's someone I used to know."
Gabrielle hadn't expected that and she could tell by the way Xena looked down at her, that the warrior had more to say, but privately. Neither one of the lovers were prepared for Adrian to take matters into her own hands, however.
"It's an honor to meet you Gabrielle. I'm so glad you're not the jealous type. It could make my stay here rather difficult, to say the least. What's in the past is past, eh? But, then I'm sure Xena has already told you about us. Suffice to say, we were very young."
The dark-haired warrior looked into Gabrielle's eyes with a mixture of apology and trepidation. God's, Brie, I'm so sorry. I never meant for you to find out like this, my heart.
"Yes, of course." The young Queen fixed a smile on her face and leaned against the warrior's body when she felt the familiar arm wrap protectively around her shoulder.
Gabrielle felt as if she'd just been kicked in the stomach, but the proud young woman wasn't about to let this stranger see how very affected she was by this sudden news.
Xena felt Gabrielle's body lean into her own as the warrior placed a comforting arm around her. Thank you, Brie. She silently applauded her lover for keeping her composure. The warrior knew that Adrian did this simply to get a rise from the young blonde and Gabrielle had no intention of giving in. Even though Xena could feel the warmth of the small body as it pressed against her own; she could also feel the stiffness of the bard's posture. Gods, this is going to be one Tartaurus of a fight.
The dinner Gabrielle and her Amazons prepared for the young Princess and her entourage was extraordinary. Xena had little chance to catch her lover alone before the dinner started, and so their smiles seemed tight and forced. Xena was amiable enough and did enjoy chatting with Jordan. The dark-haired warrior was simply thankful that Adrian was seated at another table. When Adrian's eyes did capture Xena's, the warrior simply glared and unconsciously moved her seat closer to Gabrielle's chair.
Gabrielle thought she was doing a good job, all things considered. The news had rocked her to be sure, but now she sensed Xena as being distant. Perhaps it was just the strangers that sat at their table, which caused the attentive lover in her Consort to go into hiding. There had been no time to talk, between the time she'd been surprised by this old lover of Xena's and the banquet. She tried to pretend that nothing was out of the ordinary, but she couldn't make her heart believe that.
Suddenly she felt the familiar warmth of a hand grasping her own under the table. Gabrielle looked up into well-known pools of blue that drew her in. A small smile nervously appeared on the warrior's face as Gabrielle's quickly mirrored that action. Uncharacteristically Xena reached over and brushed her lips gently against her lover's forehead. Showing affection in public had always been difficult for the proud warrior, but she looked into Gabrielle's viridian gaze and the rest of the people at the table ceased to exist. For that moment there was only the two lovers.
"I do love you, Brie." The warrior whispered into the smaller woman's ear.
Gabrielle reached up and touched the warrior's cheek. They would still need to talk, but at least the two didn't feel so distant anymore. The two lovers became so lost in themselves and keeping their guests happy, they never saw the auburn-haired woman rise abruptly from her seat and leave the party.
Xena sat in only her cotton shift, relaxing on furs and cushions in front of the fireplace. She watched out of the corner of her eye as Gabrielle removed her clothes, pulling a sleeping shift over her head. The warrior closed her eyes and took deep breaths, trying to pull her thoughts away from her lover's body. Their test of abstinence was only a day and a half old, but already the warrior felt a desperate need to feel Gabrielle under her. It was the forced celibacy that necessitated the need for sleeping shifts.
Gabrielle walked to the fire, stopping to close a shutter on one of the many windows to the hut. The evening had turned cool and suddenly the warmth of the fire, and her lover's arms became a welcome idea.
"Brie?" Xena held out her hand, waiting to feel Gabrielle's smaller hand in her own.
The young Queen moved slowly and the moment her fingertips met the callused digits of her lover, a log split in two, popping loudly while sparks jumped within the stone fireplace. It only took a moment for Gabrielle to find herself wrapped in a strong embrace, her Warrior's warm lips kissing her temple. The small blonde felt shivers run along the length of her body.
"Cold?" Xena asked.
Gabrielle shook her head back and forth. She was afraid that once she heard her own voice speak this delicate spell would be broken. In this hut, here in Xena's arms, they were the only two that existed. This was the extent of Gabrielle's world. In this moment in time, neither woman had a past, nor was there ever anyone else to deal with. The young woman snuggled deeper into her lover's embrace.
Xena felt her bard's body quiver once again. She smiled this time, realizing what caused the reaction.
"Is it me?" She asked hesitantly
This time Gabrielle nodded without looking up. Xena wrapped her arms even tighter around her lover, burying her face in the sweet smell of her long blond locks. Once again the warrior repeated her words from earlier in the evening.
"I love you, my heart."
Gabrielle knew that the time for her silence was over. "Did you love her?"
Xena pulled back and cradled the small face in her hands. "Gabrielle," the warrior drawled.
The young Queen lifted her eyes to meet the azure gaze that burned fire into hers with its intensity. The bard adored hearing her lover say her name that way. She had a way of making it the most seductive sound in all the known world.
"Gabrielle, I never loved anyone until I met you. I never even remembered what love was until you reminded me. And, I have never, ever felt for anyone the way I feel for you." Xena completed the statement with a kiss that was soft and passionate at the same time.
"Oh, Xe, I'm sorry. I was just so angry--"
"Honey, It's me that should be sorry. Adrian did that on purpose just to get a rise out of you." Xena tilted the Queen's face up to her own again. "Thank you for not giving her what she wanted. She can be a spiteful woman. I'm so sorry that she hurt you."
They shared another kiss and Gabrielle nestled into her Warrior's strong arms once more.
"Tell me, Xe...about Adrian."
Xena took a deep breath knowing that Gabrielle would want to know. She rested her chin on top of the small blonde's head and closed her own eyes. There wasn't much to tell, but Xena found it easier to say if she didn't have to look into her bard's eyes. She had never yet seen the harsh glare of judgment in those beautiful green eyes, but it was something she always lived in fear of.
"It was the season before I...well, before I met Caesar. There's not a lot to tell. She was a warrior in my army. Not a great warrior, but decent enough. I was lonely and she was available. She didn't want to go to sea so we parted three or four moons before I ran into Caesar. That was all there was to it, Brie."
"How long were you lovers?"
"About a season, maybe less. Brie, we were never lovers in the sense that you might be thinking. She met a physical need and that was all. We never talked; we weren't close. It was only about--"
"Sex." Gabrielle answered.
"Yea." Xena said in a voice that was barely a whisper.
"Thank you, Xe, for telling me. I know how hard that is. I also know you're not proud of that part of your life and you'd rather forget about it, but sometimes there are things I need to know."
"I just get afraid sometimes." Xena said, her brows furrowing together and her voice becoming raspy with emotion. "I worry that someday you'll hear something that I've done and it will be so bad that you won't be able to forgive me." Xena finished as tears filled her eyes.
"Xena, you don't ever have to be afraid of that happening." It was Gabrielle's turn and she soothed her Warrior with gentle tones and a loving touch. "The past can't hurt us anymore, my love. Not as long as we have each other."
"Come to bed, Xe and let me hold you for a change." Gabrielle said rising and pulling the warrior along with her.
Xena allowed herself to be enveloped in her bard's embrace. Placing her head upon Gabrielle's chest, she listened to the steady, even heartbeat, its rhythm pulling her into the realm of Morpheus.
"My heart," she whispered softly, just as sleep claimed them both.
Gabrielle and Princess Jordan watched as Eponin finished leading a class of young girls in staff drills. Jordan seemed very impressed with the practice facilities the Amazons used. Adrian appeared to always be at her charge's side and this morning was no different.
"I have to admit I'm only versed in hand combat. Everything I know was taught to me by Adrian." Jordan commented to Gabrielle.
"Well, if the Queen is willing, I could show her a few moves. That way she wouldn't need a Champion to fight for her." Adrian said. The comment could have been interpreted as quite innocent, but Gabrielle saw the look in the Captain's eye as she finished.
"Queen Gabrielle is already highly skilled in the art of self defense, especially with a staff." Eponin added, suddenly disliking the taunting tone in this stranger's voice.
"Oh, is that so? Forgive me your Majesty, I wasn't aware that you were also a skilled warrior. Perhaps then you would care to spar with me. I happen to be rather well-trained with the stave myself." Adrian again taunted.
To anyone else the conversation would have seemed like simple friendly banter. Gabrielle and Adrian both wore fixed smiles on their faces, their voices never raised above a normal level. The Captain kept prodding and Gabrielle politely refused. Finally Adrian struck her mark.
"Very well, your Majesty. I guess I'll just have to allow the Warrior Princess to show me a few of her moves then." Adrian said with a smug grin.
The desired effect was attained. Gabrielle's eyes filled with a green fire at the innuendo in the woman's words.
"Come on." Gabrielle said hotly, leading the way to one of the practice fields.
"Gabrielle, is this a wise thing to do?" Eponin questioned the small blonde as she briskly made her way onto the practice area.
"Sure, Ep. After all," the Queen looked in the Captain's direction, "it's just a little friendly sparring, right?"
"Absolutely." Adrian said with a very serpentine smile.
The two women walked onto the field as a helpless Princess watched. Eponin called a youngster of about nine summers over.
"Go get Xena, she's with Ephiny on the far field." Hades, why me? The Amazon cursed to herself.
"Your Highness?" the young girl called out as the Regent and the dark-haired warrior took a breather. Xena thought the girl was after Ephiny until she realized the youngster was looking at her.
"What is it, little one?"
"Eponin asked that I come for you right away. Queen Gabrielle is on the practice field."
Xena and Ephiny looked at one another and immediately followed the young girl.
"You know it has been a week of no...well, you know," Xena said to Ephiny.
"Maybe she finally snapped under the strain." Ephiny replied in a comic tone.
The Regent and the warrior came up just as Gabrielle and Adrian were each doing a few warm-up routines.
"I'm glad you showed up," Jordan sounded worried. "Maybe you should talk them out of this."
"She's a big girl. If she gets her butt whipped it's her own problem." Xena said matter of factly.
Jordan looked at the warrior in shock. "I would think that you would have a little more compassion for the woman you're about to marry. Is that how you think of Gabrielle?"
"Gabrielle?" Xena's face expressed complete surprise. "I was talking about your Captain! Gabrielle is gonna kick her ass." The warrior chuckled.
Sure enough, in three moves the young Queen had the Captain flat on her back. Gabrielle could tell immediately that her skill was far superior to the taller woman's. She stepped back, giving the Captain time to regain her feet once more. The small blonde looked over to see Xena watching with some concern and a hint of amusement on her features. When the warrior winked at her lover, Gabrielle knew she had the upper hand. Xena would have never let her continue if there was the slightest chance she would be injured.
Gabrielle slowed the pace a bit. She was going to beat the smirk off this woman's face, and she was damn well going to enjoy it, too.
Again and again the Queen knocked the Captain to the ground, but each time the auburn-haired woman refused to yield. She had a bloody lip and her ribs would be a mass of bruises in the morning, but each time Gabrielle bested the woman, she got back up. A little slower each time until she groaned with the pain of rising.
"Stay down." Gabrielle ordered as the woman rose to face her once again. Just as easily, Gabrielle took the woman's legs out from under her.
"Yield!" The Queen hissed through her teeth. "I don't want to hurt you anymore. Yield." Gabrielle pleaded, her staff pressed close to the fallen woman's throat.
"Never." Adrian sneered.
"Very well," Gabrielle stepped away from the prone woman and threw her own staff to the ground. "I yield."
All sound stopped as Gabrielle turned and walked off the practice field. Then just as suddenly those around the area applauded their Queen.
Gabrielle stopped in front of Xena, a tiny grin on her lover's face. The Queen shook her head back and forth. "Some warrior's have such hard heads."
Xena laughed and pulled the smaller woman into her arms. "Come on, killer...I'm hungry." She said as she steered her bard in the direction of the food hut.
Adrian rose to one knee, holding her arms close to her left side.
"That was some display." Princess Jordan said flatly.
"Hey, I won." Adrian responded.
"Then you're the only one in this village who thinks so, Adrian." Jordan replied, turning on her heel and walking away from the injured woman.
"Mmmm" Xena moaned into her lover's kisses. "Gods, Brie...do you know how much I want you?"
"Oh, Xe...you feel so good" Gabrielle said as she began to kiss the particular spot on Xena's neck that always caused the warrior to writhe in pleasure.
Xena groaned at the feel of her lover's lips on her already heated skin. She pulled the small blonde's hips tighter against her, her own grinding down in an almost unconscious gesture of need. The warrior's hand began to knead a firm breast through the fabric of Gabrielle's shift. Xena could feel the nipple grow hard under the cloth.
"Xena...we need...to stop." Gabrielle panted.
"Oh, baby...not now." Xena groaned as if in pain.
"Yes. Right now."
"I know, I know. My head agrees. My heart agrees. It's just my body, that I can't get to go along with the other two." Xena responded between kisses.
Finally the warrior pushed her body away from the small blonde's. Xena lay flat on her back, her forearms across her eyes as her chest heaved. Gabrielle's small body mirrored the warrior's as both women fought to get their emotions, and their bodies under control.
"You gonna be okay?" Xena asked.
"Sooner or later. You?" Gabrielle returned.
The two women looked at one another and could only laugh at their predicament.
"Come on," Xena said jumping to her feet and scooping her lover into her arms. "Let's see if we can get some sleep without having to go jump in a cold lake. You are going to be the death of me woman, you know that, don't you?" Xena remarked as she slid under the sheets and cradled her lover in her arms.
They shared a brief kiss, which only served to remind the dark-haired warrior of what she was missing out on. Her low growl rumbled through her chest and Gabrielle felt the vibration of it against her skin.
The young Queen heard her lover's growls in every shape and form. There was the rumble of anger or intimidation, the sexy purr of seduction, and the growl, way back in her throat of lust and passion. The one she listened to now was definitely new. It turned out the reverberation in the dark-haired beauty's chest was simply the absolute sound of frustration.
Gabrielle leaned her head against the high back of the Queen's chair, her tired eyes closing for a few moments. She thought she would just close her eyes while she waited for her tea to cool down. The few sounds in the food hut melded into the background as the small blonde felt herself falling asleep. Movement next to her alerted the Queen and she quickly straightened herself in her chair. Gods, if I can't get any sleep at night in the same bed with my Warrior, I'm going to become a zombie!
"Rough night, Queen Gabrielle?" Jordan smiled down and indicated the empty seat next to the bard with her free hand; the other wrapped around a steaming mug of tea.
"Jordan, good morning, please call me Gabrielle, yes, you may sit, and trust me...you don't know the half of it." Gabrielle smiled at the young woman.
The young Queen noticed right off, the resemblance the young Princess bore to the warrior Devlin. Gabrielle chose not to say anything until Xena brought it up one night over their evening meal. Gabrielle was happy that Xena could think of the gentle blonde-haired warrior with fondness. The young Queen surmised it was Jordan's similarity to Devlin that had Xena treating the young Princess like a kid sister. It soon became apparent that Jordan had as much to learn from the Warrior Princess as she did from the Amazon Queen. So much so, in fact, that Jordan actually spent half her day with Gabrielle and at least a few candlemarks with the dark-haired warrior.
Jordan looked a little rumpled herself, barely able to keep her own eyes open.
"I hope you don't get offended, but you don't look that much better than I do." Gabrielle chuckled.
"Well," a sheepish grin stole across the young woman's features, "a pretty Amazon asked...who was I to say no?"
"Jordan." Gabrielle feigned shock. "I don't think I even knew what sex was when I was your age."
The Royal pair smiled at one another conspiratorially.
"Actually, I've found that sleeping alone can help one get a little rest." The Princess teased.
"That's pretty much my problem. You see Xena and I, well we can't...we're not allowed to...oh, Hades this is embarrassing."
"Gabrielle," Jordan said gently, placing her hand over the Queen's. "I know I may be a little younger than you, but I'd like to consider myself your friend."
The young Queen gave the hand over hers a squeeze. "I feel the same way."
"So, if I can help just by listening, well, sometimes it helps merely to be able voice certain concerns."
"Well," Gabrielle leaned closer to the Princess. The last thing she needed was the entire village knowing their predicament. Although anyone who had to deal with the short-tempered Queen or her Warrior lately, realized something was up. "Xena and I have to endure a test of abstinence until our wedding night. It's been a Fortnight and we're beginning to snap at each other, aside from everyone else around us. I never would have thought the denial would affect us this way, but here I am...a frustrated mess and Xe seems to be getting crankier by the minute."
"Hmmm, I'm not sure I can really come up with any alternatives. Although, well, uhm...self-involvement does come to mind."
"Jordan, if I become any more involved with my self, I'll forget how to do it the other way."
The young Princess leaned back and laughed at the expression the Queen had on her face. "Oh, Gabrielle, I'm sorry, but you are absolutely priceless. Let me ask you, is that why you nearly took my Captain's head off yesterday? I mean, that and she was acting like an arrogant ass?"
Gabrielle grew slightly serious. "Actually, Jordan, Adrian and I have been at odds since the day she came into the village. It seems she and my Consort have somewhat of a...history."
"Gabrielle, I'm so sorry. You should have told me. I'll have Adrian sent back home immediately, I don't want there to be bad feelings between us because of that."
"Jordan, consider this one of the lessons your father sent you here to learn. We can't always run from the difficulties in life. Sometimes we have to face them."
It was at that moment that Adrian decided to enter the nearly deserted food hut. The auburn-haired woman sported a bruised mouth and cheek and it was apparent that she was nursing the left side of her body. She came toward the Queen like she had a purpose.
"Queen Ga--, Gabrielle," The Captain inquired haltingly. "I would like to take a moment and apologize to you about yesterday."
"Apology accepted, Adrian." Gabrielle said perfunctorily.
The Captain searched the Queen's eyes then, with a slight bow to both women she turned to go. After about half a dozen steps the Captain turned back.
"You're not really accepting my apology, are you?" Adrian inquired.
"Jordan, I wonder if you would excuse us? Adrian do you feel up for a walk?" Gabrielle asked.
"This has always been a favorite place of mine." Gabrielle indicated a log the two of them could sit down on. "Especially in the spring, like it is now. Everything just coming to life again."
Gabrielle remembered back to over a season ago when she and Xena had stayed in the Amazon village after the young Queen had been attacked. There were days that were so dark that the young woman didn't think she would ever see the light of another day. This was the small pond she came to sit by, watching the fish swim in lazy circles in the clear water.
"You accused me of not really accepting your apology." Gabrielle stated.
"I don't think you were sincere in your acceptance." Adrian's eyes never left the emerald gaze of the Queen.
"I don't think you were sincere in your offering." Gabrielle countered. "I think you made the offer to save your job in front of the Princess, not because of any contrition you really felt toward me."
Adrian stared at the small blonde whose gaze burned with an intelligent fire far beyond her years.
"What...what is it about you?" The Captain found herself smiling. She didn't know whether she was really asking the young Queen or trying to fathom the answer herself.
"Your people love you, yet I understand you don't live here in the village year 'round. Any one of them would die, right now, defending your honor or your throne, even if you begged them not to. Your size can lull an adversary asleep, but you've got the punch of a bull. And, you've managed to take the fiercest warrior in all of Greece and wrap her around your little finger." Adrian stopped to shake her head.
"I guess the thing that bothers me the most is that I find myself liking you when I really want to hate you." Adrian finished, surprising even herself at the honesty in the words.
"I have to admit to that sentiment myself. It's not an easy thing to accept, that you knew Xena before I did." Gabrielle said.
"Gabrielle, what Xena and I had back then, it was...well, it was what it was, nothing more than that. I see what the two of you share now and it's like she's an entirely different person."
"She is." Gabrielle answered quickly.
"I guess my pride had a hard time dealing with that. I do apologize, Gabrielle. That's not the kind of petty woman I am and I'd like to offer you my friendship, if you'll have it. I offer it to you and Xena. I hope you two have a wonderful life together." Adrian said.
"I accept your apology, Adrian, and your friendship. I hope you'll stay with the Princess' party for the wedding." Gabrielle smiled.
"I wouldn't miss it." Adrian returned the smile.
"Gabrielle?" The low alto of Xena's voice seemed strained and tense.
Gabrielle turned at the sound of her lover's voice and found a glare on the warrior's face as she gazed at the two women seated on the log. The young Queen quickly stood and wrapped her arm around Xena's waist.
"We've signed a truce." Gabrielle stated simply.
"Well, good." Xena hesitated. "I thought you might like to share a midday meal with me." Xena asked, speaking to Gabrielle, yet looking back at the still seated woman.
"Of course, love." Gabrielle replied.
The two lovers left the small pond, not saying much until they were safely in the privacy of their own hut.
"Wow, what did I do to deserve all this?" Gabrielle said, indicating the food that Xena had brought to their hut.
Xena poured her partner a cup of cider before she sat down next to the woman.
"Well, it's just my way of apologizing for being a little short-tempered last night." Xena sat softly.
"Xe, it's okay."
"No, Brie, it's not okay. I shouldn't be acting like a temperamental child just because I haven't had sex in a fortnight."
"Allright," Gabrielle responded with a wry smile. "Why don't we just say that we've both been a little on edge and leave it at that. I know all these preparations, having Jordan visiting, and now this Adrian thing, well, they haven't done anything to ease the burden, have they?"
"Speaking of Adrian, what were you two doing out there?"
"She wanted to apologize, for everything. Plus, she offered her friendship to both of us. I didn't want to believe her at first, Xe, but she came across as very sincere." Gabrielle finished as she began eating an assortment of dried fruit.
"I still don't trust her, Brie. I know that sounds a little vindictive, after all this time, but it's a feeling I have. I don't want you to end up getting hurt again by my past."
"Well, my hard sell Warrior, I don't trust her either. That's why I'm taking the advice of a certain Warrior Princess."
"Which is?" Xena was intrigued.
"You once told me the best way to keep tabs on an enemy--"
"Is to invite him into your camp." Xena finished. "When did you get so smart?"
"I think no sex must do that to you." Gabrielle countered with a mischievous grin.
Xena leaned across the table to place a warm kiss on her lover's soft lips. Pulling back, her blue eyes seemed to sparkle with humor.
"Frankly, I'd rather be dumb." Xena quickly countered.
"Gabrielle, please ask her for me."
"Jordan, it's not very attractive when a Princess begs." Gabrielle responded, tilting the candle in her hand while the wax dripped onto a scroll she held in her other hand.
"Oh, I don't know...that's not what I was told last night." Jordan replied with a grin that even made Gabrielle blush.
The Queen raised an eyebrow at the young woman just as she finished pressing her amulet into the soft wax, sealing the scroll together. "Jordan, are you trying to sleep your way through my subjects?"
"Wanna here what happened?" Jordan asked, teasing her friend.
"No! The only thing worse than hearing about incredible sex second-hand, is hearing about it and not being able to do it." Gabrielle shot back.
"Back to the subject at hand. Why don't you ask Xena to teach you yourself?" The small blonde inquired.
"Because I know how she felt about teaching you the sword. When she told me about that she had such regret in her voice. I know she doesn't like teaching others how to kill, but I'm not a little girl, Gabrielle."
"No, you're not, but carrying a weapon, especially a sword, bears certain responsibilities with it. Xena taught me a long time ago that the minute you pick up a sword, you're a target."
"But, you know the ways of the sword, Gabrielle, and you don't carry one. That's all I want to be a confident ruler. Just to know that I have the skill to use one if ever the need should arise."
"So, what's the real reason you want me to ask for you?" Gabrielle asked.
"Well," Jordan hedged. "It's no huge secret that the Warrior Princess finds it hard to deny you anything."
"Allright," Gabrielle couldn't keep from laughing. "Let's go find my Warrior."
It became quite a heated discussion on the practice field that morning. Xena's usually reserved manner and Gabrielle's expected pleasant demeanor had been altered of late. Their sexual frustration was spilling over into their everyday actions. Even though they pulled apart from the others, you could hear their raised voices across the whole practice area.
When it was finally decided that Xena would teach Jordan a limited amount of moves for her to practice, the Queen and her Warrior broke apart from one another without their customary kiss. It seemed as if they'd both been under more strain than usual. They lost their patience with those around them easier than they had in the past. Now, it was beginning to affect how they treated one another.
There was one woman on the practice field that watched the exchange between the two lovers with enormous interest. She had heard the rumors about the test of abstinence the Queen and her Consort had been undergoing. She had a feeling that the Warrior Princess' libido couldn't hold out forever. She just had to maneuver it so she was the one around when the dark-haired beauty's inner time bomb exploded.
"Don't you ever get tired?" Jordan asked the dark-haired warrior.
"Okay, I can take a hint." Xena replied. This had been the third day that she and Jordan had been practicing and the young Princess had a natural aptitude for it.
"Go take a hot bath, you smell." Xena smiled, wiping a sweaty forearm across her brow.
Adrian tossed a waterskin at Xena. "Is it possible that you're getting better as you get older?"
Xena took a few mouthfuls of the water, spitting the last one out on the ground.
"I think there's every possibility of that, but I think the more likely explanation is that you're just getting slower." The warrior laughed back.
Xena tried not to give in, but she found herself liking this new Adrian. The auburn-haired Captain was polite and amusing. She talked to Gabrielle as a true friend and she sparred with Jordan and the Warrior Princess as good-naturedly as the rest of the Amazons. She and Xena were even able to share a few of their lighter moments from the old days. Of course, that didn't sit too well with Gabrielle.
It seemed nothing Xena did lately was right with Gabrielle. They'd begun to fight more often than not. Last night had been the first time the two lovers ever slept in the same room, but not in the same bed. Xena made the mistake of saying something about how much Adrian had changed. The young Queen acted as if the warrior had committed a serious breach of loyalty. Xena ended up falling asleep, what little sleep she did get, on the furs in front of the fireplace. Gabrielle was wrapped in a blanket on the bed and Xena thought she could hear her bard crying, but for the life of the warrior, she couldn't make herself get up and apologize. It was like there was an unwarranted anger building inside her and it was being directed at the woman she loved. She didn't want it to continue, she loved Gabrielle, but she seemed powerless to stop herself. When she was away from her bard, she felt miserable about their petty squabbling, but when they were together Xena got a feeling of unease, not her usual experience of comfort and security.
Xena promised herself she would talk with Gabrielle this evening and make her understand that she was being slightly unreasonable. With all the wedding preparations the warrior barely saw the young Queen during the day. The evening seemed to be the only time they had together and then they fought during that time. In the past Xena would try to secret the bard away during the midday meal, but now every time she surprised her lover, Jordan was there ahead of her.
Another sore spot. The amorous young Princess seemed to go beyond the call of learning by always hanging around Gabrielle. Xena began to feel that the young girl was beating her time with her future bride. Xena knew in her heart that was an unreasonable fear, but her head told her differently. The warrior lost a bit of control today, clashing swords just a little harder than she should have with her young protégé. She couldn't rid her mind's eye of the picture of Jordan and her bard together. She pulled up just in time, too; otherwise someone could have been seriously injured.
Xena shook her head and turned back toward Adrian. She and the woman were the only people left on the practice field. The Captain said something that Xena must have missed, so she simply smiled back at her.
In the meantime a very tired Queen left the council chambers, intent on a hot bath and the swirling waters in the bathing pools. Gabrielle pinched her brow together to try to forestall the headache she felt coming on. She thought she would concoct some of that Willow bark tea that Xena used that seemed to work so well. Maybe I can even drag Xe off to the baths with me and apologize for last night.
It was then that Gabrielle saw the two women standing on the practice field. They were laughing together and Xena reached out a hand to help the Captain to her feet. To Gabrielle's eyes, Xena held on to the Captain's hand a few heartbeats longer than was necessary. The small blonde's eyes watched their interaction before turning and heading off toward the baths alone.
The young Queen's eyes weren't the only stares the pair brought about, as they joked with one another. The Queen Regent watched as Gabrielle turned eyes filled with hurt and pain away from the two warriors. The Amazon unconsciously clenched her fingers into fists at the side of her body. She continued to watch the two in serious conversation until they went their separate ways. Xena passed mere feet in front of the Regent, but the warrior practically ignored the Amazon. The dark-haired woman was headed for the bathing pools, a deep scowl etched on her face.
"You really gave the kid a workout today. I thought you were going to take her head off a couple of times." Adrian said from her seated position on the ground.
Xena shook her head as if to get back into the conversation. Why was she having so much trouble staying focused lately? "Yea, I guess I was kind of hard on her."
"Give me hand, will you?" Adrian held out an arm, which Xena grasped and effortlessly assisted the woman up.
"You might want to keep an eye on her when she's around Gabrielle, though." Adrian stated matter of factly.
"What's that supposed to mean," Xena sneered.
Adrian quickly held up both hands. "Look, Xena, I'm not trying to start trouble, but I've known Jordan since she was a child. She has a way with women and she loves a conquest. She's just young enough to think that love is still a game. I'm saying that it wouldn't be the first time she started making moves on someone else's wife. I still have the battle scars to prove it too. We had to fight our way out of an inn at Pelios because the innkeepers wife became a little too enamored of the Princess' charms."
Xena didn't say anything; but then again she didn't have to. Adrian knew what the warrior's temper was like these past few days. It wouldn't take much for her to explode. She could see the dark-haired warrior's brain working overtime.
"Look, Gabrielle must not have seen us over here. It looks as if she's headed off to the bathing pools." Adrian commented in an offhand manner.
The Captain never gave it a second thought when Xena stalked off in the direction of the bathing pools. The place she sent her young protégé a quarter of a candlemark ago and the spot her bride to be seemed headed.
"Gabrielle, are you allright?" Jordan asked.
The warm spring baths were nearly empty at the end of the day. Steam curled throughout the cavernous expanse. In the center of the large cavern was one large, deep pool. Further back, smaller pools were elevated on stair-stepped levels. At the far end, water from a hot spring cascaded down a small waterfall, draining into the Queen's pool. It was here that Gabrielle sought her solitude.
The afternoon sun had moved to the point where it was barely visible through the numerous round holes carved into the cavern's ceiling. The thick candles housed on the cavern ledges bathed the room in eerie shadows that flickered and jumped on the walls and the surface of the water.
Jordan pulled herself easily from the large pool and wrapped a short robe around her body.
"I'm getting a little worried about you. Maybe all these wedding preparations are too much. Don't you have someone that can help take a little of the burden off of you?" The young Princess inquired as she sat on the stone ledge to the Queen's pool.
"I'll be allright, Jordan, thanks" Gabrielle replied, resting her hand over Jordan's. "I think I will ask Ephiny to help me out. I guess I'm just tired is all."
"Well, if I'd known you came to bathe with my soon to be wife, I would have drilled you longer." Xena's low alto sounded ominous reverberating against the walls of the cavern.
Jordan turned abruptly, suddenly not sure how to take the frozen look in Xena's eye. The Princess looked between the two lovers, first looking at Gabrielle then back at the warrior.
"Perhaps I should go." Jordan said.
"Perhaps you should." Xena agreed.
"I'll see you both in the morning." Jordan said before leaving the cavern.
"I think you scared the poor girl." Gabrielle said as she watched Xena remove her garments and slide into the hot water.
The warrior dipped her fingers into a hollowed out spot on the stone ledge that contained a soapy mixture. She ran it through her hair and across her body before submerging under the water again and breaking the surface in front of the young Queen.
"Well, what was I to think? I come in and she's holding your hand."
"Xe, it wasn't like that." Gabrielle answered as the warrior drew herself closer to the small blonde.
Xena arms wrapped around the Queen's waist and pulled her body tightly against her own. She kissed the woman hotly, her mouth quickly swallowing any protest Gabrielle may have tried to voice. She moved her kisses down her bard's throat, Gabrielle's eyes closing to the pleasurable sensation.
"Who do you belong to?" Xena rasped.
"What?" Gabrielle pulled apart slightly to look on her lover's face, only it wasn't the face of the woman she loved. Gabrielle wasn't sure who this stranger was, but her eyes held a hard, lustful look that Xena had never fixed on her bard before.
"Who do you belong to?" Xena repeated, biting a small portion of flesh on the Queen's neck before continuing. "Who does this belong to?" The warrior said, cupping her hand over the blonde curls between Gabrielle's legs.
The young Queen swallowed once and gave her response immediately. It would do no good to reason or question right now.
"You, my love...it's all for you."
Xena's eyes seemed to clear momentarily, and then she took the Queen's mouth in another scorching kiss, while her hands began to roam across soft flesh. Xena's hands moved to part the bard's thighs further apart.
"Xe, please stop." Gabrielle whispered.
The warrior continued on as if she hadn't heard the impassioned plea. Her fingers moved closer to their prize.
"Xe, stop, right now."
The dark-haired warrior had no intention of stopping and her body language made that apparent. She moved both hands up to grip the young Queen's shoulders to hold her in place.
"Xena, you're hurting me!" Gabrielle cried.
Xena froze, and then she released her grip, moving her hands and body back a few inches from Gabrielle's. She didn't meet her lovers gaze, but Gabrielle could see that the blue eyes of her lover had returned, although the eyes now filled with tears. Xena looked at the reddened marks on her lover's arms where the warrior had held her so tightly.
"Gods, Brie, I'm so sorry...I--I don't know what came over me."
Gabrielle could see that Xena's whole body was trembling. At first she thought it was from desire, but she quickly realized it was fear. The warrior was heartbeats away from committing the most unpardonable sin against her lover.
"Xe...Xena?" Gabrielle tried to get her Warrior to look into her eyes. She gently placed her fingers under the woman's chin. When Xena raised hers to the bard, she had tears streaming down her face. Gabrielle beckoned her into her comforting embrace. "It's allright love...shhh, it's allright."
The young Queen held her Consort that way for what seemed like candlemarks. She too, realized what they had narrowly avoided. For the space of a dozen heartbeats, Gabrielle had no idea who the stranger in front of her was.
Xena's body shook in absolute fear because she indeed realized who she had become. For that short space in time, when she was about to take her lover by force, simply because she could, because she owned her, she had become the Conqueror of Nations. The woman who took her pleasure whenever and wherever, with whomever she pleased.
The blood in Xena's head pounded in rhythm to the erratic beat of her heart as she realized that for those heartbeats in time, she had absolutely no control over her body or her mind.
"Xe, do you want to talk about it?" Gabrielle asked as she attempted to sit down by the uncommunicative warrior.
"No. Gabrielle, I am so sorry, but I don't know what came over me...I don't know what else you want me to say."
Gabrielle stood up and paced across the floor, her own anger at the situation was beginning to show through. "Dammit, Xena I want you to say that there was a reason you almost raped me tonight!"
If there could have been a way for Gabrielle to mortally wound her Warrior, without striking a blow, that would have been it.
Xena's face looked like she'd been slapped, the words stunned her with their intensity. She didn't jump up and bolt from the room, slamming the door behind her. Instead she slowly stood and without looking up at her lover she walked outside, pulling the door closed, without a sound behind her.
Gabrielle woke suddenly to the light of the moon shining into the hut. She had fallen asleep with her clothes on waiting for Xena to return. The warrior never came back, and as Gabrielle wiped the drowsiness from her eyes, she stood to go find her lover.
Opening the door, Gabrielle didn't have to look far. Curled into a tight ball on the bench outside the door, was her Warrior. Her arms were hugged around her own body for warmth; she shivered even though the evening was warm.
"Xe, my love...come in to bed." Gabrielle said, pulling the tall woman into the hut with her.
"Gods, my head hurts, Brie." Xena said as she allowed herself to be led to the bed, her clothes removed and warm blankets wrapped around her.
Gabrielle quickly made some Willow bark tea and helped the warrior to sip most of a mug before the pain began to subside. The bard removed her own clothes and held her lover in her arms, gently rubbing her fingers in small circles against the warrior's temple. It was quite a while before Xena finally relaxed into her lover's embrace, both of the women at last drifting off to the realm of Morpheus.
Gabrielle opened her eyes to a gentle touch on her arm. When she focused her gaze, she found her Warrior leaning over her, a worried look on her face.
"Hey," Xena whispered.
"Hey, yourself." Gabrielle smiled.
That smile meant more to Xena than anything on this earth could. She didn't deserve her lover's forgiveness for her brutal actions of yesterday, but she breathed a sigh of relief when the absolution was offered.
A knock on the door to the Queen's hut interrupted their thoughts. Gabrielle stood and pulled on her robe as Xena opened the door.
"Morning." Jordan smiled at the dark-haired warrior. The young Princess didn't quite know what to make of Xena's moods lately, but she sympathized with the reason.
"It's a little early, isn't it?" Xena said to the Princess in a flat, humorless voice.
"Well, Gabrielle asked me to come get her this morning, the seamstress needs to do another fitting for her wedding gown and she's got a list as long as my arm of petitions to wade through." Jordan finished while Xena simply glared at her.
"I'm sorry, Xe, I forgot about making it an early morning with Jordan." Gabrielle apologized to Xena.
Xena's contrite demeanor seemed to change before the Queen's eyes, the warrior never taking her eyes off the young Princess. Gabrielle could see the tight line of the warrior's jaw clenching and unclenching as she ground her teeth.
"Why don't you give us a few minutes." Xena said in a thinly controlled voice. The Princess looked at Gabrielle before the door was closed in her face.
"I am sorry, Xe, I do need to get all that work done. It's all beginning to pile up on me with everything else I have to do."
"I understand your obligations, Gabrielle, but do you have to spend every minute of the day with her?" Xena hissed.
"She's here to learn, I'm trying to be a good teacher." Gabrielle rose and stood toe to toe with her Warrior.
"Just remember that being a good Queen is the only thing you're supposed to teach her." Xena sneered down at her lover.
The slap to the warrior's jaw surprised both women. Xena could still feel the sting, her eyes narrowing, the blue color turning pale. Gabrielle didn't hold anything back with the powerful strike, her hand smarting from the force of the blow. The young Queen's eyes burned with a fire that was just as intense as the blaze that smoldered in the warrior's. Both women let their anger sweep them away; neither wanted to be the first to acquiesce. Xena raised her hand to her own temple as a stab of pain shot through her head. Gabrielle flinched and unconsciously moved back a step. The warrior's brow furrowed, her eyes darting back and forth as she watched her lover.
"Did you think I'd hit you, Brie?" Xena barely whispered.
Tears filled the Queen's emerald green gaze. "I'm just not sure anymore." Gabrielle replied in a voice so low that even Xena's hearing barely made it out.
Xena felt a jolt of anger rush through her veins, coursing through her body until it settled as the furious pounding of her blood in her own ears. For a split second she did want to hit Gabrielle. That was the feeling that shocked the warrior into awareness. Looking down at the clenched fist that shook slightly, Xena felt her nails digging painfully into the palm of her hand. Realizing how close she'd come once more, the warrior turned and without a word she stalked out of the hut. She pushed Jordan out of her way, striding off into the woods.
Jordan sat on a small stool not really hearing the young Queen and her seamstress in the corner of the hut. The Queen had given the Princess a petition to secure a judgment on, but the tall blonde was having trouble coming up with a solution that would be equitable. Gods, I'm going to make a terrible ruler.
While Gabrielle's rule didn't usually extend to anything or anyone outside of the Amazon borders, there were non-Amazons who leased land from the tribe, usually to farm its borders. Sometimes disputes arose and it was up to Amazon justice to prevail.
Jordan put her elbow on one knee and cupped her chin in hand. She was finding it difficult to concentrate on a farmer and a plow that wasn't paid for. Her mind kept going back to the scenario in the Queen's hut about two candlemarks ago. Xena had looked at her like she wanted to run her through, it was the same feeling she got at the baths the other afternoon. The fight was so loud, the Princess moved off the veranda so it wouldn't look like she was spying. The slap that resounded from the Queen's hut caused the young Princess to move toward the building in a hurry. She stood on the porch ready to stop Xena if she had to; also knowing the warrior would probably kill her with one blow. Watching the dark-haired woman fly by her, Jordan noticed the red mark on her cheek. The Princess breathed a very audible sigh of relief that she wouldn't have to defend Gabrielle's honor against her own betrothed.
Jordan sighed and shook herself from her musings. She wondered what kind of trick of the Gods could take two women who loved each other as much as these two, and turn them against one another so thoroughly. The Princess looked up and her breath caught in her throat. Gabrielle stood straight and proud in the gown that she would wear on her wedding day.
"You're breathtaking." Was all Jordan could manage.
"Thank you, Jordan. Now let's just hope I get to wear it." Gabrielle said sadly as her eyes misted over in tears.
"Gabrielle, I'm sure what you two are going through is just a little pre-wedding jitters. It seems perfectly normal."
"Do you think so?" She sniffed, smoothing down the silk of her dress.
"Sure." the Princess lied. Jordan couldn't bear the look of heartache on her friend's face. She could only hope Xena was somewhere feeling miserable enough that she would see what she had and come apologize.
"Oh, yeah...right there." Xena groaned.
How many times have you popped this thing out of its socket?" Adrian asked, indicating Xena's sore shoulder.
"Lost track a long time ago," Xena grunted at the soothing feeling the Captains strong fingers were having on her shoulder, then her neck.
Xena's breastplate lay on the ground at her feet, pulled off so that she could pop her shoulder back into its socket. The warrior closed her eyes and barely recognized that Adrian wasn't just massaging her injured shoulder anymore. The Captains fingertips began more of a caressing motion, slipping under the leather strap and pushing it off the warrior's shoulder in one swift move.
Adrian bent down to the seated woman and brushed her lips against the bare shoulder. Xena moaned slightly and inclined her head as a non-verbal command to continue. Adrian cupped a hand over the warrior's breast and could feel the nipple grow hard even through the thick leather bodice. Finally, she pulled the warrior to her feet and pressed her mouth hard against Xena's, backing the dark-haired woman against a tree.
Xena felt herself slip away to Gabrielle's caress. It was odd, but they didn't feel like Gabrielle's fingertips on her skin, but the sensation was only one caused by the warrior's lover. The hands caressing her grew strong and forceful. Gabrielle never had to demand; she knew Xena always gave in to her exquisite touch. At last, lips covered Xena's own, hot, imperious, searching. The sensation was purely sensual, but the warrior felt her brow furrow in confusion. She must be dreaming because the terrible pounding in her head was gone. Gabrielle's lips never felt like this when they made love. They were never rough and cruel. Xena's eyes finally opened. These were not her bard's lips!
"What in Hades do you think you're doing?" Xena rasped, pushing Adrian away from her with a force that the Captain didn't think she was capable in her state.
"Don't pretend anymore, Warrior Princess. You know you want this as badly as I do." Adrian pressed her lips firmly against the warrior's.
Xena abruptly pushed the woman away and held her at arm's length. Her brain was still foggy and she was having trouble switching gears.
"Excuse me," Ephiny's voice pulled Xena's eyes to where the Regent stood leading her horse. "Just thought I'd get away from it all, didn't know someone beat me to it."
Ephiny continued to move, shooting a withering glance at the warrior who still had both her arms around Adrian's shoulders.
Xena roughly pushed the smirking Captain away from her. She quickly grabbed her weapons and armor and ran to catch up with the Regent.
"Eph, that wasn't anything like what you saw back there." Xena explained.
Ephiny stopped and turned to face the warrior. "Xena, you've become a good friend over the seasons, but remember one thing. Gabrielle is my friend too, more than that she is my Queen. Don't think for a moment that I will allow you to hurt her. She deserves better than that Xena, especially the fortnight before her wedding. Don't break her heart." Ephiny finished, turning to leave.
"I would never betray Gabrielle." Xena said pulling on the Regent's arm to stop her.
Ephiny looked down at the strong grip that held her forearm. "I swear, if you do, Xena...there won't be a place far enough away for you to hide from me." Ephiny whispered the threat that made Xena release the Amazon's arm and step away.
"I'm sorry, Brie," Xena whispered, nuzzling the back of the soft blonde hair of her bard.
Gabrielle sat at the table in the hut they shared, her back to the closed door. She put down the scroll she was reading and reached up to entwine her fingers within the warrior's ebony locks. The long hair was damp and smelled faintly of cinnamon.
"I'm sorry too, Xe. Seems like we spend a lot of time saying that lately."
"Yea, I know." Xena replied softly.
"I missed you for the evening meal."
"I was soaking in the baths. Thought you wouldn't mind me staying out of your hair." Xena said wryly.
Gabrielle rose and turned to embrace her lover. The kiss they shared was the gentlest act they had experienced in weeks. The bard kissed the warrior's jaw where she placed the stinging slap earlier that morning. The Queen froze at the sight of the bruise at the base of her Warrior's throat.
"Did it get a little rough on the practice field today?" The Queen asked in a tight voice.
Xena's hand immediately went to the mark on her neck. She reflexively covered the bruise with her hand, reminded that the small bite and red mark was from Adrian's mouth. She'd seen her reflection in the baths and thought that perhaps Gabrielle wouldn't notice. The warrior should have known better.
"Brie, let me explain."
"Oh, now you want to talk. Perhaps if you'd done more of that earlier, you wouldn't have this!" Gabrielle shot back.
"Gabrielle," Xena drawled in her warning tone. The warrior wanted to tell her lover what had gone on today and that Adrian's trusting little friend routine was a ruse, but Gabrielle was being unreasonable again and that accursed pounding was back in her head. "Are you going to let me explain, or act like a child?"
Gabrielle seethed at Xena's reference to her. She wanted to slap her and a whole lot more this time.
"I at least hope your neck was the only part of your body that she made a meal of."
"Oh, Hera's tits, this isn't even worth it!" Xena exclaimed as she turned and walked out, slamming the door soundly behind her.
A knock on the door to the Queen's hut brought Gabrielle from her thoughts and back to the here and now. Xena never came home last night and as much as Gabrielle didn't want to believe that her warrior would ever betray their love, she just didn't know anymore.
"Come in," The Queen called out, clasping together her belt that was more decoration than functional.
"Morning," Eponin smiled, coming into the room. The Amazon noticed the red, puffy eyes and could tell what Gabrielle spent most of her night doing.
"She spent the night in my hut. I figured you'd want to know that she wasn't out, well...we just had a few skins of wine and she eventually passed out." Eponin finished.
"Thanks, Ep...I owe you one." Gabrielle said in a broken voice.
"You're damned right you do," the Amazon said as she turned to leave. "She snores!" Eponin winked before closing the door.
Gabrielle finally finished her tiring day. There was a bustle of activity in the center of the village as she passed by. Today was Jordan's twentieth birthday and she was being given a party this evening. Gabrielle made her way back to the Queen's hut and opened the door. To her surprise the room was darkened, candles flickering in the low light. Xena, who always faced the door of a room, lay stretched out in a steaming tub of water. The warrior's head was tilted back, her eyes half closed. Seeing her warrior like this, relaxed and calm, the day's previous anger and tension seemed to melt away. Xena's eyes opened fully and her sapphire gaze told Gabrielle all she needed to hear.
"Is their room in there for me?" Gabrielle asked.
"Absolutely." Xena replied.
Gabrielle started to move off to the other end of the hut to remove her garments.
"Please, let me watch you, Brie."
Gabrielle turned at the sound of her warrior's voice. The intensity of Xena's blue gaze drew Gabrielle back in front of the woman and she slowly began to remove her clothes. Xena watched as the young Queen slowly let her garments fall to the floor. As Gabrielle stepped closer to the tub, Xena extended her hand in invitation. Gabrielle excepted the offered hand and moments later found herself wrapped in the strong embrace of her warrior.
Gabrielle sat between Xena's parted legs, her own head leaning back, resting upon the warrior's shoulder. Xena placed a feather light kiss upon every area of Gabrielle's exposed body. She ran a sponge along Gabrielle's fair skin, more caressing taking place than actual washing. Gabrielle ran her hands along the top of the warrior's muscled thighs, letting her fingertips barely graze the inner portion of the dark-haired woman's legs. Xena let out a sigh at the touch and with an arm slipped around Gabrielle's waist; she pulled the smaller woman's body closer against her.
Xena began a simple exploration of her lover's body, her fingertips leaving long trails of fire along the young Queen's skin. Xena's moves were slow and deliberate, taking the time to make a memory of the feel and the taste of her lover's skin. The warrior's heavy-lidded expression wasn't only from the state of pleasure she felt. She had to drink three mugs of Willow bark tea, adding a slight pinch of a heavier painkiller to the draught before the pain in her head subsided to a slight throb.
The warrior's hands took gentle possession of the Queen's breasts, cupping them so lightly, the hard points of flesh barely tickled her palms. Her lips and tongue grazing the length of her lovers ear, she softly whispered the words that Gabrielle's heart ached for.
"Only you, Brie...No one else."
Gabrielle let out a small moan as Xena's lips blazed a trail down the young woman's neck, stopping to let her tongue caress the erratically beating pulse point. The Queen placed her hands over the warrior's, pressing them against her breasts in a firm, insisting manner. Xena was breathing hoarsely now, her kisses becoming more purposeful in their intent. She released one hand from its prize and used her fingertips to guide the small blonde's head to tilt back in her direction. Her mouth covered Gabrielle's in a kiss that spoke of desire and passion, and when their tongues touched, it was like a release of energy bounced back and forth between the two.
"Gods, Xe, I don't want to stop." Gabrielle groaned in frustration.
Xena's free hand led Gabrielle's across her belly, stopping just above the honey colored curls. Xena's hand moved away as she whispered.
"Touch yourself." She gently commanded.
"I--I don't know if I can." Gabrielle responded breathlessly. In all their lovemaking, the two had never shared this before.
"Please, Brie. I want to watch you." Xena pleaded in a sultry voice.
Xena brought her hands up once again to caress Gabrielle's breasts, her fingertips drawing small circles around the pale pink, pebbled flesh. She grasped the hard nodules between thumb and forefinger, squeezing and pulling at the same time.
Gabrielle gasped as her head fell back against Xena, her fingers unconsciously sliding into the slick folds of her sex. Feeling her fingers stroking her own flesh while her lover gazed down the length of her body caused a wetness to cover her hand that had little to do with the water that surrounded them.
Xena leaned back against the high wall of the tub, pulling Gabrielle to lie against her. She spread her own legs wide apart allowing Gabrielle the access she needed and the warrior, the view she desperately desired. The dark-haired woman turned her head, nuzzling her face into the intoxicating scent of her lover's hair.
Gabrielle could feel the hard points of aroused flesh that pressed into her back. She watched as Xena clutched the outside rim of the tub to keep her hands away from temptation. The warrior's knuckles grew white with tension. Gabrielle could feel the warrior's warm, ragged breath in panting spurts against her neck and blowing into her ear.
Gabrielle could stand the slow torture no longer. She spread her lips apart and placed two fingers at her opening, teasing the wet flesh. Her thumb began to flick across the swollen bundle of nerves at the top of her cleft and she found her hips rocking against the sweet sensation. Xena began moaning and suddenly the Queen felt the warrior's hand reach between their bodies and bury itself in between her own dark curls.
Both women were moaning and rolling their hips as they brought themselves closer to their own climax. Gabrielle was the first to feel the waves of pleasure crash around her. Xena's eyes snapped open as she felt the first tremors of her lover's orgasm begin. The moans of pleasure accompanied by the quivering body against her sent her crashing over the edge moments later.
"I sure hope that doesn't get us in trouble with Artemis." Xena commented dryly when she finally had her breathing leveled out.
Gabrielle laughed and let her lover wrap her arms tighter around her. The only disturbing note was that she just now realized that was the first humorous thing her often, dry-witted warrior, said in weeks.
The warrior lifted the smaller women from the tub easily, drying her off with a delicate touch, and then the two lay down on the bed and fell instantly asleep.
"Xe, honey, we need to get ready for the party." Gabrielle whispered in her sleeping lover's ear.
Xena groaned when she opened her eyes. The pounding in the warrior's head returned with a vengeance. She sat on the end of the bed and lightly massaged her temples.
"Xe, is your headache back again?" Gabrielle asked, with concern.
"Yea." Xena groaned.
"Maybe you should see one of the healers." Gabrielle said.
"It's just a headache, Brie." Xena responded gruffly.
Gabrielle turned away from the warrior and Xena immediately regretted her harsh words. She fought to push back down the anger that seemed to be rising abruptly from nowhere. Xena's eyes watched as Gabrielle spun away.
"I promise, first thing in the morning. If I still have this pain I'll go see Sartori." Xena managed a weak smile.
Gabrielle returned her lover's smile and let the backs of her fingers glide gently across the warrior's high cheekbones.
The Amazon village breathed a collective sigh of relief when they saw the Queen and her Consort join the party hand-in-hand. In a small village such as this, it became hard to keep relationship woes a secret. Ephiny was still the only one, however who was aware of the illicit kiss shared between Adrian and Xena. Xena wanted to tell Gabrielle about Adrian's forced kiss, but there never seemed to be a good time. The two were sharing what seemed like a precarious truce right at the moment and Xena didn't want to do anything that might topple their house of cards.
The pounding in Xena's head grew stronger as the night wore on. She switched from drinking Amazon wine to the stronger port in hopes that she could beat the pain back to a dull ache. The laughter from those around her and the beating of the drums did nothing to ease her discomfort.
Adrian came up to the Queen and tried to entice her into a dance. When Gabrielle politely refused, Adrian made the same offer to Xena. The warrior simply glared at the Captain of the Guard and the auburn haired woman walked off smiling.
"What was that look all about?" Gabrielle asked.
"I'll tell you later." Xena said shortly.
"Is there something I should know about?"
"I said, I would tell you about it later." Xena hissed, instantly regretting the way her words came out, but finding herself unable to stop them.
"Fine." Gabrielle answered in a tight voice.
The young Queen rose from her seated position next to the warrior and joined a group of young Amazon's surrounding Princess Jordan. Xena watched as her intended laughed and joked with her subjects. The small blonde always seemed to have a smile for everyone and that was part of her charm. Most times Xena would watch the young Queen and become mesmerized by her ability to beguile those around her. This was not one of those times however.
The more Xena's head hurt, the more quickly she began to consume large mugs of port, which hastily began to cloud her perception of Gabrielle's activities. Xena's eye became heavy lidded, as she leaned forward, her shoulders slumping. The Warrior Princess never let her eyes leave the graceful form of her Queen. The blue orbs burned with an electric fire as she watched Princess Jordan lead Gabrielle into a slow dance. Part of Xena's brain fought to tell her that her anger was misplaced, but that tiny voice could barely be heard over the incessant pounding in her skull. Had she been a little less inebriated, she would have stood and challenged the Princess as the Queen's Champion. As it was however, she had to narrow her gaze just to be able to focus on the two dancing women. The warrior simply brooded and continued to consume the alcohol before her at an alarming rate.
Gabrielle thanked Jordan for the dance, turning down the offer of another. The young Queen watched as the evening wore on and her warrior became more sullen and uncommunicative. Gabrielle went about the evening mingling and socializing with the other Amazons; always keeping one eye fastened on the still seated warrior.
Once the party had dwindled down to a scattered few, the young Queen braced herself to approach her now drunken warrior.
"I think I've had all the party I can handle for one evening. Xena?" Gabrielle asked gently.
It was late and Gabrielle desperately wanted not only to go to bed, but also to be alone with her warrior. The Queen watched as those around the table looked to see what Xena's response would be. Adrian, Eponin, and two or three other warriors sat at the long wooden table.
Xena knew that the best thing for her right now would simply be too allow her Queen to assist her in returning to their hut. She could barely stand and she didn't have to look up to realize that Gabrielle's eyes were very nearly pleading with her. Leaving would have been the reasonable thing to do. Of course, the amount of liquor the warrior had consumed during the entire evening left her feeling anything but reasonable.
"I haven't finished my port, I'll be there shortly." Xena replied gruffly without looking up.
Gabrielle's pride wouldn't allow her a hurt or humiliated look. She stood there for a few heartbeats, willing her warrior to look up and into her eyes. Xena's gaze however was fixated into the bottom of her mug. The young Queen was left in the position where all she could do to save her dignity was turn and walk away.
It started out as a drinking game. Solari was the first to go, then Eponin, until the only two combatants left upright were the Warrior Princess and her nemesis. Xena made a move for her mug and, seeing three of them on the table before her, grabbed at the one in the middle. Unfortunately, her depth perception being what it was at this point, the mug tipped over, the contents of the cup spilling onto the table.
"Here, I'll pour us one more to get home by." Adrian slurred, placing a full mug in front of the warrior.
"Bottoms up." The Captain raised her glass and downed the whole mug in three long swallows, encouraging Xena to do the same.
Xena knew she had to get herself in motion. Gabrielle would be mad as Tartaurus as it was. The warrior pushed herself away from the table and walked, moving more sideways than forward, the twenty feet to the horse's trough. She kneeled herself in front of the basin and dipped her face into the cool water. Leaning heavily on the stone trough, she felt the pounding in her head escalate to the sound of a thousand hoofbeats. She tried to rise from her kneeling position on the ground and suddenly felt her knees go out on her. Besides the noise in her ears, her eyesight narrowed until it felt as if she were looking through a tunnel. Half-lying on the ground, she felt as if something came flying into her brain and exploded into a chaos of sound.
"Hey, Warrior Princess, let me give you a hand." Adrian said, attempting to help Xena, but not much steadier on her own feet.
"Thanks...I--" Xena shook her head, but the cobwebs remained. "Need ta get home." She slurred heavily.
"Queen's hut, huh?" Adrian asked.
Xena could only nod; her power of speech seemed to be absent. Her brain knew what she wanted to say, but the thoughts wouldn't filter down to her tongue. She looked at Adrian and for a moment and thought she looked just like Gabrielle, but that wasn't right either. She remembered that she should be mad at Gabrielle, but couldn't think why...mad at Adrian or Gabrielle...why?
She fell heavily to one knee, bringing Adrian along with her.
"Shit, warrior, work with me here a little." Adrian rasped, trying to lift the nearly dead weight of the warrior off toward the huts.
Xena sat up sharply from her prone position. She had passed out, but the sharp pain in her head brought her to with a start.
"Sssh, you're okay."
"Brie?" Xena questioned. The haze in front of her eyes made it difficult to make out her lover's form.
"Yes, love." The voice answered.
Xena felt the soft, naked flesh of her lover move on top of her. Soon she felt exquisitely soft lips on her skin, teasing, biting and sucking all the flesh they came in contact with. The warrior knew there was a reason they shouldn't be doing this, but suddenly her body felt like it was floating along in mid air. She wasn't even sure if she was moving her own arms, but her brain said she had. She kissed the woman above her, letting her lover take possession of her mouth in a way she never had before. The mouth left hers and sucked hard on the taut flesh of her neck.
"Gods, Brie." Xena groaned.
Adrian lifted her body up and tossed her hair from her face with a shake of her head.
"Whatever you want to call me...it works for me." The Captain leered at the naked woman below her.
"No one seems to know where she went." Ephiny said to Gabrielle. "I send for Eponin, she was there, she'll know." The Regent finished in that reassuring tone the Amazon always seemed to reserve for her small friend.
Two of the Royal Guard walked in practically holding Eponin up between them. The drunken Amazon was soaking wet. It was apparent the Guard had been given orders to get the warrior awake enough to talk to the Queen. It looked as if a midnight swim in the cold lake had done the trick.
"Ep," Ephiny pulled the warrior's chin up to meet her eyes. "Where's Xena at? Wasn't she with you?"
"Uhm...we were playing sworzz," she answered.
Gabrielle looked confused and Ephiny rolled her eyes. "She means, swords." She said to the Queen. "It's a drinking game."
"Ep, what happened? Who else was there? Were you there when Xena left?" The Regent questioned.
"Yea, I mean no. Uhm, me and Sol. Oh, and Adrian too, I think. I--I don't know where they went...sorry, Gabrielle."
"It's allright, Ep, go get some sleep." Gabrielle said, looking at the Guard and motioning them to help the warrior back to her own hut.
Once the Queen and her Regent were alone Ephiny began to pace the room. "I'm going over to that slut's quarters and I swear, Gabrielle, if Xena is there I'll--"
"You'll do nothing." Gabrielle said as she looked out the window into the village.
"Eph, please. Let me do this my way." Gabrielle's voice shook and it was obvious to the Regent her small friend was trying to hold on to some semblance of dignity through the whole ugly situation.
"Gabrielle, at least let me go look and see if Xena is there. I guess something actually could have happened to her and we need to know if she's hurt somewhere or not."
The Queen nodded. "If she's not there, come and get me so we can form a search party right away."
"And, if she is there?" Ephiny asked.
"You're to do nothing tonight." Gabrielle held up her hand to stop the Regent's protests. "Eph, if Xena is with Adrian, she went there of her own will. If that is what's to become of us every time we run into one of her old lovers, then I suppose it's better we find out now."
"Gabrielle, I'm so sorry." Ephiny turned to the young Queen before she left, giving her a strong hug.
When the door closed behind the Regent Gabrielle stood in the middle of the large room alone. She looked very small and felt nothing like a Queen. She felt like her own death was beginning. She crossed the room and sat in the chair that faced the open window. After a candlemark of time had passed her gaze fell on Xena's weapons and armor, placed neatly beside the bed as always.
Ephiny hadn't returned and so the Amazon Queen sat and waited, shedding no tears, instead willing her body to wait until it was safe to fall apart.
Xena rolled over and fought off the nausea that rose and threatened to overtake her. Her eyes could barely open and her head felt like it teetered ominously on her shoulders, but she knew last night she would have one Tartaurus of a hangover this morning.
"Brie?" She nudged the still form next to her.
"Gods, go away and lemme sleep."
Xena's eyes were open now. She flew out of the bed so fast she felt as if she'd left her aching head behind. Once her brain registered the fact that it was Adrian's naked body in the bed, she looked around the room and for the first time realized she wasn't in the Queen's hut. Then she realized she too was naked.
"By the Gods, what have I done." She croaked.
The warrior threw on her clothes and boots and made it out the door just in time to lose the contents of her stomach over the porch rail. Her muscles continued to heave until the alcohol she consumed the previous evening was expelled. Rising cautiously, she noticed the sun was barely rising. The warrior made her way to the stables to try to clean up before attempting to enter the Queen's hut.
Xena removed her shirt and dunked her whole torso into the barrel of rainwater around the back of the stable. She looked down at her own body and cringed when she saw the evidence of her betrayal. Her chest and breasts were covered in bruises and bites and, she could see in the water's reflection, that her neck wasn't any better off.
Her hands shook and she knew the nausea she now felt had nothing to do with a hangover. She had betrayed Gabrielle in the worst way possible. Not only a lover's deception, but the humiliation the young Queen would suffer in front of her people.
"Oh, Gods..." Xena bent over the barrel. "Artemis, please help me." The warrior uncharacteristically prayed. "Oh, Brie..."
"Maybe you should have thought of her last night." Ephiny said from inside the stable.
Xena quickly reached for her shirt, but it was gone. Ephiny held out the cloth and Xena snatched it from her hand. The warrior covered her body as quickly as she could, turning her back to the Regent's disgusted look.
"I don't remember what happened...I was drunk."
"You're right, you could barely stand. Oh, but it doesn't take a whole lot of standing to get fucked now, does it?" Ephiny sneered.
Xena pushed past the Amazon to go back to the village. They were nearly in front of the Queen's hut when Ephiny's voice rang out.
"I warned you Xena. I told you not to hurt her." Ephiny said in a throaty ominous tone.
"I didn't mean to...I don't remember!" Xena turned back just in time for Ephiny's backhand to connect with the warrior's mouth.
It rocked the warrior back a step, but she didn't even raise her hand to protect herself from the next blow or the next. It was a small enough punishment for her crime.
"Stop." Gabrielle's voice cut through the discord.
Ephiny's arm was raised in mid air, her fist clenched and unclenched trying to decide whether she would obey her Queen or not. Obedience won as she turned on her heel and stalked away.
Xena fell down to one knee, her lip and nose bloodied by the Regent's beating. Gabrielle motioned to a member of the Guard to help the injured warrior into the hut. Xena accepted help rising, but brushed off the Guard's assistance after that. She walked past Gabrielle, but never had the courage to raise her eyes from the ground.
Gabrielle walked up and stood on the veranda, listening to the sounds of water as Xena poured some in a basin and wiped the blood away. The young Queen took a few deep breaths and realized that as with anything painful, this too, would be over soon.
Xena stood in one corner of the room; her back against the wall and her arms folded around her torso. She fastened the laces of the shirt as high as she could to try and hide the marks of her disloyalty. Her hands still shook, but it was with fear. It was a new experience for the warrior and when she stopped to think about it, fear wasn't something she was even aware of until this small farm girl from Potidaea came into her life. Once the warrior fell in love with Gabrielle, fear became a very real entity. Xena feared for the young woman's safety, feared for her life, but most of all, she feared losing her love.
Gabrielle walked into the room and stood there looking rather lost. Xena's heart broke as she realized that this time, she was the sole source of her bard's pain. Xena wanted to say something, but she wasn't sure what, if anything, would make a difference. She decided to be honest.
"I don't--I don't know what to say, Brie."
Gabrielle turned and looked at the warrior as if just noticing that she was in the room, too. She walked over and stood in front of the warrior; whose eyes couldn't even meet the pain filled emerald stare. Gabrielle reached up and tenderly touched the cut lip that trembled slightly. The Queen let her fingers follow the throat and stopped when she reached the collar of the shirt. Slowly Gabrielle's fingers began to unlace the leather ties.
The warrior never tried to stop her; she simply stood there and let Gabrielle untie the laces. Xena's lowered gaze could only watch, tears falling from her eyes to splash onto the Queen's fingers. When Gabrielle pulled the shirt open she squeezed her eyes shut momentarily. It had happened after all. There would be no explaining it away and Xena didn't even try to. The warrior reached for the small hand that still rested on her chest.
"Don't..." Gabrielle pleaded, pulling from the warrior's grasp. "Don't touch me."
Gabrielle turned away and walked to the open window. The sun finally rose over the treetops, but its light seemed like a harsh glare today.
"Why, Xe?" Gabrielle asked in a shaking voice.
"Oh, Brie, I don't know. I'm so sorry. I--I don't remember, I...I was drunk." Xena couldn't stop the tears now.
She wanted so much to fall on the ground and beg for Gabrielle's forgiveness; to do something, anything to make this right again, but she knew that right now none of that would help. Maybe later, in a day or two when the pain wasn't so fresh for her bard.
"Xena?" Gabrielle interrupted the warrior's mental ramblings. "Where is your amulet?"
Xena's eyes met Gabrielle's and the warrior's hand slid up to her throat, her fixed gaze never breaking from the Queen's penetrating stare. She hadn't even noticed it missing, it had become such a part of her, always dangling just below the hollow of her throat.
"My heart," Xena barely whispered.
That's when the warrior knew. There would be no time to explain; no reconciliation. She had taken the token of Gabrielle's love for her and simply lost it. It didn't matter why or how, but the symbolism behind her action was clear. She had paid so little attention to its care that it slipped from her grasp. The emblem of her heart and she had thrown it away.
Xena's blue eyes continued to stare at her lover, even as they filled with more tears, to roll silently down her cheeks. Gabrielle's tears started then; just as silently streaking down her own face.
"I want you to leave, Xena." Gabrielle said, watching the warrior wince inwardly as though struck by a blow.
"I--I can stay with Ep...at least until--"
"No. I want you to leave the village." The Queen said turning her back on the woman. "You're not welcome here anymore." Gabrielle finished in a heavy voice.
It took a moment for Xena to realize what Gabrielle was saying. She had prayed against this coming true, but hadn't she known it would? If the positions were reversed, would Xena offer forgiveness? Didn't Gabrielle deserve the best, especially in a lover? Xena had known all along that she didn't deserve a love such as Gabrielle's and now, Gabrielle knew it too. The warrior had proved last night that she was far from the best.
Gabrielle looked out the window, too afraid to turn around to see the shock on her lover's face. She knew that if she turned, she wouldn't have the strength to do what she must. Instead she looked out the window as she heard Xena slowly move around the room and collect her belongings.
Once she had her saddlebags and weapons in hand, she moved up behind the young Queen. Xena still couldn't stop the tears that fell as she thought how small and vulnerable Gabrielle looked right now.
"I know you don't want to hear this right now, but I do love you, Brie. I'd give anything if I could go back and undo this...anything. I never meant to hurt you. I didn't...I don't even remember what happened. I know that's a pathetic excuse, there can be no excuse." The warrior wiped her tears with the back of her hand.
"I never thought I'd be the cause of this kind of pain for you." Xena's voice was now so broken it was only a whisper.
She moved closer to the young woman and saw her shoulders shaking with her own sobs. She wished she could at least hold the woman in her arms one more time.
"Remember, you'll always be my heart...I love you, Brie." Xena wrapped a hand around Gabrielle's left arm and pulled her back to her. She pressed a kiss onto the top of the small blonde's head. Turning abruptly, she walked through the still open door.
"I love you too, Xena." Gabrielle whispered around her tears as she watched through the open window as Xena strode to the stables.
The warrior came out moments later leading the golden mare. She vaulted into the saddle and turned the horse's neck. She looked back at the young Queen, her small body framed within the hut's window. Bringing her fingertips up to her lips, she placed them over her heart and quickly spurred her mount away from the village.
"Please, just let me see her, just for a moment." Jordan's voice came from the other side of the door.
"Let her in, Eph." Gabrielle's tired voice said.
Jordan moved past the Amazon and quickly knelt in front of the chair Gabrielle sat in. The young Queen's face was swollen and her eyes were red. She offered up a weak smile to the Princess.
"I won't need that dress after all." She remarked, her eyes filling with fresh tears.
"Gabrielle, tell me what's going on. Everyone has a different story. What in Tartaurus happened this morning?"
"If you're going to sleep this late you're going to miss a few of our Amazon mini-dramas, you know." Gabrielle smiled at the young Princess through her tears.
"Your Captain is the one to blame for all this." Ephiny stood protectively beside her Queen.
"Adrian...and...Xena?" Jordan looked at Gabrielle in disbelief. The Princess watched as Gabrielle's face clouded over in pain at the words. "Gabrielle, I'm so sorry."
"That bitch!" Jordan jumped up and headed for the door.
"Where are you going? I won't have you dismiss her." Gabrielle called after her friend.
"Dismiss her? I'm going to run her through!" Jordan shouted back.
"Stop her!" Gabrielle cried out.
Ephiny reached out and effortlessly grabbed the young Princess by the back of her neck.
"Owww, hey." Jordan squirmed in the strong Amazon's grip. "Let me go."
Ephiny pulled the young woman over to where Gabrielle now stood and released her.
"Gabrielle, what she did--" Jordan began.
"What she did, she didn't do alone. What do I do, Jordan? Punish every woman in the land that my Consort decides to be unfaithful with?"
"You talk like you still plan on marrying Xena?" Ephiny looked at the Queen in amazement.
"That's a subject for later." Gabrielle looked at her Amazon friend and caught the distinct look of disapproval.
"Adrian's only crime here was an ethical one. I have no right to take out my anger on her." The Queen explained to Jordan.
"But, she's responsible for half the blame!" Jordan reasoned.
"Jordan," Gabrielle said firmly. "Adrian isn't the one who I trusted."
The young Princess finally gave in to the Queen's wishes. As Gabrielle turned to look out the window, Jordan thought she looked lost in thought. As Gabrielle's eyes filled with tears once again, the Princess could only surmise the Queen's contemplation was of a certain dark-haired warrior.
Xena rode until Argo stumbled in the darkness. She removed the mare's saddle and left her free to graze. Without Gabrielle there didn't seem much point in starting a fire or hunting, for that matter. What good would food be to someone who had no stomach for it?
Xena sat on the ground with her back against a tree. For perhaps the hundredth time that day, she put her face in her hands and wept. She eased her body onto the cold earth and wrapped her own arms around her body for comfort. She didn't even bother to lie out her bedroll. What would be the point? She knew she wouldn't sleep. She was too lost in self-recrimination to relax.
Each time she thought she had no more tears in her, they would again fill her eyes and spill down her cheeks. Gods, how it hurts! The warrior hadn't felt this pain before. To love and lose, this was why people gave up, afraid to love again. The pain was too great.
The warrior lay there like that until first light. When the grayness before dawn filtered down to earth, she pulled herself onto her horse and continued her journey. She had only one place to go where she knew she would be taken in. It was ironic that the only reason she had a family and a town to go back to was because of the small girl from Potidaea who followed her to Amphipolis one spring morning.
The day's light began to wane just as the town came into view. Day or night would not have mattered to the woman on the golden mare. She never looked around, only staring straight ahead, unable to focus because of the tears. The view of the lush Greek countryside and rolling hills of her homeland could have been charred and in ruins, and still it would have been lost on the dark-haired warrior.
The door to the inn opened quietly. The customers in the tavern paid no attention to the tall warrior who laid her saddle by the door, carrying her weapons and saddlebags in her hands.
Toris was tending the bar. He helped out during busy times, leaving his farm in the capable hands of a hired man.
"Xena?" Toris knit his brow together just like Xena always did. He couldn't believe his eyes, he barely recognized his sister. "Mom?" He called to the kitchen.
Cyrene came through the doors immediately upon hearing her name. She instantly started to smile when she saw her tall daughter standing in the middle of the room, but stopped the motion with one look into her child's eyes.
"Xena, what's happened? Where is Gabrielle?" Cyrene questioned with concern.
Xena looked down at the floor and when she raised her gaze back up, tears fell from her eyes. When she tried to talk her voice shook so badly she couldn't make sense.
Cyrene put her arms around her daughter and drew her toward the back of the inn where their living quarters were. Looking back at the worried face of her son she called out.
"Toris, heat some water for a bath in Xena's room."
Toris left the tavern duties to one of the helpers and quickly ordered heated water. Moments later he knocked on the door to Xena's room before entering. Rolling in the large tub, he found his mother and sister seated on the bed. Cyrene had her arms around the dark-haired woman trying to soothe her weeping. Toris couldn't ever remember seeing Xena like this. Even as a young girl she had a tough as nails veneer. When the water was eventually ready, two young girls helped to carry it up and left it at the door. Toris brought it in himself and told his mother to call if they needed help.
Cyrene finally calmed her daughter slightly and the older woman began to help Xena undress. Cyrene couldn't remember a time when Xena looked so ill. Her leather battle skirt was gone, replaced with a shirt and trousers. The warrior's clothes were dirty and her hair a wild, wind blown mane. Xena was pale and the blue of her irises seemed almost dull, deep set, dark circles lay underneath her eyes. Xena had stepped into the tub of steaming water, and only then did she remove the shirt that still clung to her broad shoulders.
Cyrene gasped when she saw the marks on her daughter's body. "Xena, by the Gods. Who did this to you?"
"It's not---I wasn't attacked."
It was the only thing Xena could think of to say. The look on her mother's face said that she thought her daughter had been physically assaulted. Xena didn't know how to tell her mother what she'd done. How she'd taken the most precious thing in the world to her and carelessly tossed it away. That's when her crying started again. She was very nearly dehydrated and had no more tears to shed, but her body shook with sobs so great that the water in the tub began to spill over the sides.
By the time Cyrene had finally bathed her daughter and wrapped in warm blankets, lying her on the pallet in her childhood room, Xena was nearly catatonic. Her eyes glazed over; she no longer cried or spoke, she just curled herself into a tight ball and lay there.
Cyrene got a mug of steaming tea and put twice as much of a sleeping draught in it as usual. Eventually the warrior slept, but her dreams were still haunted as her long frame twitched with spasms, in seeming pain.
Cyrene went back downstairs into the Tavern to speak with her son.
"Toris," Cyrene asked. "When you come back in the morning, bring a shirt and some trousers for Xena."
"What happened to her...do you think Gabrielle is allright?" The dark-haired man asked with concern.
"I'm not sure, son, but whatever happened, it was bad enough to put Xena in this state. I think we need to get a letter to the Amazons. That's where the girls were headed last. See if you can get Daxell to use some of those messenger pigeons he's always bragging about. I'm going to write a message now, I want you to go over there tonight."
"Brie?" Xena asked sleepily.
"No, honey, it's mom." Cyrene answered her daughter.
Realization wandered into Xena face and her brow furrowed in pain. Looking up at the full moon shining through the open window, the warrior's painful expression melted into one of confusion.
"How long have I been sleeping?" Xena asked.
"All last night and all day today, it's already late evening. I used some sleeping powder, it seemed like your body needed it." Cyrene commented, smoothing back the dark bangs that fell across her daughter's eyes.
"Xena, I got a message from Gabrielle late tonight." Cyrene began.
Xena looked up with an expression of alarm. "Is she allri--"
"Nothing happened, dear, I contacted her. I was worried that perhaps something had happened to her to make you so despondent."
"Did--did she tell you what happened?" Xena said, swallowing hard and lowering her eyes to the floor.
"You can read the message if you like, but all she said was that the two of you had some problems that needed to be worked out."
Xena sat up in the bed, raising her knee and resting her elbow there. Her head fell forward, held securely in the palm of her hand.
"That's just like her isn't it...still trying to protect my image." Xena said softly. Finally the warrior turned to her mother and told the older woman the entire story.
"Oh, Xena." Cyrene sat on the bed next to her daughter and wiped away her tears. "I know it seems like the end of the world for you now, but Gabrielle loves you. You still may be able to work all of this out, but you'll have to give her some time and the space she needs to cope right now. When the hurt isn't as fresh, she may see things differently. What you did though, my daughter, it may take a very long time for Gabrielle to trust you again."
"I'll try to hold on to that, mom, but if you could have seen the look in her eyes. I hurt her so much."
"Yes, you did, there's no denying that fact. You have to own up to that, Xena." Cyrene responded.
"But, I didn't even know what I was doing, I was drunk." Xena replied in a feeble tone.
"But, nobody forced you to drink, did they?"
Xena looked up at the loving and understanding expression of her mother. The woman, who gave Xena many of her ideas on honesty and integrity, wasn't pulling any punches. Xena thought back to the times she had a chance to reverse the events of that evening. If only she would have left the party with Gabrielle, if she would have listened to that small voice of reason, if she hadn't started drinking in the first place.
"You're right. It is my fault."
"Xena, I'm not telling you this to berate you, but if and when Gabrielle is ready to talk about this, I'm sure she'll appreciate a woman who accepts her responsibilities and not someone willing to simply place blame."
Xena nodded. She thought about the reason that she started drinking in the first place. It was that damned headache, but her head seemed fine now. The warrior lay back down as her mother blew out the candles in the room. Xena finally fell into a fitful sleep, but at least she now held the hope that someday Gabrielle might forgive her.
"This wasn't part of the deal!" The Goddess Artemis stormed through the lair of the Fates.
The giant spinning wheel groaned and creaked as new threads were added and existing lines were woven into, sometimes complex, patterns. Atropos sat poised with her shears, reading to complete the will of the Fates.
"It is the way that the thread runs." The old crone said matter of factly.
Artemis paced the floor. She was so close, why did the Fates have to intervene now of all times.
"If this changes, then the structure of our agreement is changed." Artemis reasoned.
The three women looked at one another and silently nodded their heads.
"Then I want new rules. I want to be able to talk to each of them." Artemis said confidently. She was pushing it, but thought a little bravado might fool the old bats into thinking she had the upper hand.
The three silently agreed once again. "But," Clotho began, "You may not reveal the outcome."
"Done." Artemis agreed, now hoping that Xena and Gabrielle could hold on for just a little bit longer, endure just a little more pain.
"Look, either you want something to drink, or not!" Xena slammed an impatient fist down on the bar.
"Xena, dear," Cyrene called to her daughter. "Why don't you take a walk and get some fresh air?"
Cyrene shushed the tall warrior out from behind the bar and pushed her outside. She loved the girl, but the mood her daughter was in was beginning to drive the patrons away.
Xena found herself in the stable with Argo. The horse had been brushed and scrubbed until her coat practically glowed.
A streak of multicolored light alerted the warrior to the immortal presence before the figure actually materialized. A heartbeat later Artemis was in standing in the middle of the stable.
"Oh, just what I need." Xena turned back to the horse.
"Oh, look who has an attitude all of a sudden."
"Hey, I actually prayed to you and all I got for my trouble was a bloody nose." Xena replied hotly.
"You prayed once and expected me to pull you out of the fire? Hey, how did you get into that mess in the first place?" Artemis retorted.
Xena couldn't hide the wounded expression that took over her features. "What do you want, Artemis?" The warrior asked between clenched teeth.
"You need to get back to the Amazon village." She simply said.
"In case you're not up on current events, I'd probably end up with an arrow through my heart. I'm not exactly well loved there right now."
"Well, I don't care how you do it, but it has to be done. You have no idea what's at stake, warrior."
"Is Gabrielle allright? Does this have to do with her?" Xena asked in alarm.
"I can't say any more than I already have, Xena. In the next couple of days I'm going to provide a way for you to get back to the village. Swallow your damnable pride and make sure you take it." Artemis explained and then disappeared into a shimmer of light.
"Good morning my Queen." Artemis said softly to the young Queen.
Gabrielle just made an offering to the Goddess in her temple, but didn't expect to see her benefactor in person.
"Good Morning," Gabrielle answered, kneeling before the Goddess.
Artemis smiled down on the young woman who looked like she hadn't slept in days. She assisted the Queen to her feet and marveled again at the demeanor in one so young. Frankly, she never thought Gabrielle would be strong enough for this setback. She was about to see what lengths she could push the girl.
"Gabrielle, I understand that you're hurting right now, but there is a matter we haven't addressed yet."
The young Queen looked up questioningly.
"Xena has committed a breach of faith against the Amazon Nation. She must be arrested and brought back here for trial as swiftly as possible." The Goddess finished.
"Arrested?" Gabrielle said in a very small voice. "There must be another way."
"No, I'm afraid there isn't. You must send out riders today, immediately. Tell them to approach Xena unarmed. If the warrior sees that they will not harm her, then she will go willingly."
Tears filled Gabrielle's eyes and the Goddess' own heart nearly broke at the small woman's pain.
"Yes, Artemis," Gabrielle replied and walked out of the temple.
Gabrielle told Ephiny and Eponin of Artemis' orders to have Xena arrested. Ep, I know it's asking a lot, but I think if she sees your face, she might be less likely to hurt anyone."
"Gabrielle, do you remember how well Xena likes to beat the Tartaurus out of me?"
"I know, but it's that friendship I want her to see."
Gabrielle proceeded to give them all the instruction that Artemis had given her. Then with a safe journey blessing, they were off.
Eponin frowned as she thought of the young Queen's careful admonition that they arrest Xena unarmed. If Xena didn't want to come with, there wasn't much anyone, armed or not, would be able to do against her. If she had to go against her, she knew it would probably take Xena three blows to kill her. That would be enough to let her get in one really good hit before she died. After what Xena had done to Gabrielle, that one hit was going to feel mighty good.
"Ep?" Xena inquired, looking at her Amazon friend standing in the middle of the tavern.
The warrior looked around at the grim faces of the dozen Amazons with her and knew it wasn't going to be good news.
"Xena of Amphipolis?" Eponin inquired formally.
Once again Xena looked at the faces around her. Women she had fought and hunted with, all looking at her with contempt in their eyes. She realized it was deserved. Xena silently nodded her head at Eponin.
"As an emissary of the Amazon Nation I have been ordered to place you under arrest and bring you back to the Amazon village to await trial."
"Thanks, Artemis." Xena muttered angrily under her breath.
"By whose order?" Xena asked.
"Her Royal Majesty Queen Gabrielle." Eponin answered.
Xena realized her mother was right. Cyrene told her that Gabrielle's first reaction, after the initial pain had eased, would be anger. Looks like mom is right again.
"And, what are the charges?" Xena asked the Amazon.
Eponin looked a little uncomfortable in this position of authority, and she lowered her head slightly as she answered.
"Breach of faith."
Xena closed her eyes briefly and nodded. "Allright, Ep," the warrior answered and held out both her hands.
"That won't be necessary, Xena. I won't have to restrain you until we're on Amazon land."
"Xena?" Cyrene watched as the whole episode took place and found it difficult to believe that Gabrielle could be this vindictive, but a woman scorned is always a sight to behold. "I'm coming with you, daughter."
"No, mom, please. I'll send word as soon as I know what's going on." Xena turned and embraced her mother, softly kissing the top of her head. "Thanks, mom...for being there when I needed you."
"Take care of yourself, I love you Xena."
"I love you too, mom." Xena murmured and Cyrene thought that it had been a very long time since she'd heard her daughter say those words.
The older woman watched as her daughter was led out the door by the Amazon warriors.
Gabrielle leaned back and stretched until she heard the small popping sound from her neck. She yawned and ran her fingers through her blonde hair. The warm summer air made her little pond a beautiful spot to hide out. She rose from her prone position on the rock ledge that overlooked the surface of the water and moved back to take a seat on a log under the shade of a large olive tree.
Her fingers massaged her temples, trying to free her head of the pounding noise that invaded her skull. She had her staff with her, but Ephiny would be livid since Gabrielle had managed to elude her Royal Guard and get some much-needed personal time. The young Queen simply wanted to hide in bed and pull the covers over her head. Being the Queen, however, she wasn't afforded that luxury. She figured that she would just have to hold out and have her breakdown on her own time. Her heart ached with a pain so deep she wondered if it would ever stop. Will it ever get any easier?
The young Queen wondered what was happening in Amphipolis right now and if Xena would agree to an Amazon trial. She had done everything Artemis asked of her, but the God's be damned, she would never allow Xena to be punished for her infidelity. It was true that her unfaithfulness broke Gabrielle's heart and left her with a hurt that nothing in life would be able to take away, but she would give up her throne before she would see her proud warrior humbled in that way.
A small noise alerted her to the fact that she wasn't alone. She reached down to her feet and felt her fingers wrap around the smooth wood of her staff. She heard the faint metal jingle of a horse's bridle. Waiting until she knew where the sound was coming from, she jumped to her feet and swung the staff around her head and down. The stave stopped less than a handswidth away from Adrian's chest.
"Ares Balls, woman, you scared the Tartaurus out of me." Adrian said shakily.
Gabrielle pulled up the staff and fixed a neutral gaze on the Captain.
Adrian's horse wandered along the path, his bridle jingling as he shook his head back and forth.
"Jordan told me that it's only because of you that I'm still alive right now. Is that true?"
"I wouldn't put it quite that dramatically." Gabrielle answered.
The Captain was waiting for the anger, the hate to come exploding forth. She had braced herself for the strike that was surely to come from the smaller woman's staff. Adrian watched as the small blonde sat back down on the log and looked out over the water. This wasn't the scenario she'd planned on.
"What is it with you?" Adrian questioned, dropping her guard and her usual cocky demeanor.
"Meaning you should be trying to take my head off, at the very least ordering one of your Amazon's to do it!"
"Is that what you want?" Gabrielle's soft, defeated voice struck at some part, deep inside the Captain.
"At least it would be expected. I don't know how to handle this." She gestured at Gabrielle, indicating the young Queen's attitude. "I mean, a fortnight ago you tried to break my ribs on the practice field. Now, after what I've done and all you can do is sit there."
"First of all," Gabrielle began. Then a sharp stab of pain momentarily interrupted her thoughts. She shook her head trying to remember what she was saying. When the fog in her brain cleared, she continued.
"First of all, you didn't do what you did by yourself. Secondly, when I fought with you on the practice field I was fighting for something that I thought still belonged to me. I've never met a warrior yet who felt the need to go on fighting after the war was lost." Gabrielle finished with sadness.
"I guess I just didn't expect this kind of complacency." Adrian said quietly.
Gabrielle stood and looked up at the taller woman as tears filled her gentle green eyes. Adrian was still able to see a glint of green fire smoldering there.
"Complacency? Adrian, the only thing that has ever truly meant anything to me has been taken away. I simply don't have anything to fight for anymore."
"What about the anger. Gods you must at least be angry with me." Adrian's voice rose an octave.
Again that soft defeated smile. "It would take too much energy."
Gabrielle began to walk away from the auburn-haired woman. Adrian roughly grabbed the bard by the shoulder and spun her around. "Hate, disrespect, loathing? You must feel at least a little."
"Maybe I will...later. Right now I'm just too damn tired." Gabrielle responded evenly.
Adrian wheeled angrily around and pulled her horses reins over the animal's head. Holding the leather strips securely in one hand she prepared to mount, but stopped abruptly. When she turned, Gabrielle was seated again, looking back over the expanse of the pond, tears streaming down her face.
"What is it in you that gives you the infinite capability to touch people this way?" Adrian said so low that it was a whisper. "Why is it when a warrior looks at you they suddenly develop a conscience?"
Adrian fought against tears that hadn't fallen from her eyes in nearly ten seasons. The Captain watched the small woman for a few heartbeats like that. When she saw Gabrielle on that very first day, she thought of her as nothing more than a farm girl, playing at being an Amazon. Now, looking at the vision of a woman who felt like she had lost everything in life that had any meaning, Adrian was taken back. The small blonde had a dignity and a bearing that all the Queens in the world couldn't equal.
Adrian turned to leave once more, but even she couldn't leave it like this.
"I may be a bitch, but even I'm not that evil." Adrian muttered, reaching into her saddlebag and pulling out a small object.
Crossing the grassy area to where the Queen sat, Adrian pressed the object into the smaller woman's hand. Gabrielle opened her hand to reveal Xena's amulet.
"Gabrielle, Xena didn't lose it. I ripped it off her once the knockout drug I gave her took effect."
Gabrielle looked up at the woman with disbelieving eyes. Then her gaze returned to the necklace in her hand.
"After you left, the night of the party. I slipped Xena a sleeping draught, enough to knock over a bear. I took the necklace, stripped her, and put those love bites on her long after she was passed out. Trust me, she couldn't have fucked anyone to save her life. I do admit to her kissing me once, but that was only because she thought it was you."
"Gabrielle, Xena never betrayed you...I did."
"But...why?" It was the only thing Gabrielle could think of to say.
"Because I wanted Xena to know what it was like to have the woman you love, hate you. You don't though, do you? That's not in you. Hades, you don't even have it in you to hate me."
Gabrielle stood and clenched the amulet in her fist. Another sharp stab of pain and now it felt like there were drums in her head.
"I'm sorry, Gabrielle."
The young Queen cried out as she fell to one knee.
"My head." She moaned.
"Gabrielle, is it a pounding noise?" Adrian asked in a voice suddenly filled with fear.
Gabrielle could only nod weakly; her eyes squeezed tightly shut.
"Gabrielle, did you eat or drink anything that belonged to Xena in the last day or two?"
Adrian received no answer as the young Queen fell unconscious in the Captain's arms.
"I should just leave you here and ride away, you know that don't you? Aw, Hades, I'm gonna hang for this one, for sure!" Adrian said as she easily lifted the smaller woman into her arms and pulled the two of them onto her horse.
"Xe?" Gabrielle murmured, trying to pull herself up.
"Easy, my Queen. It's Sartori." The healer answered. "I'm going to open the shutters a bit, I want you to open your eyes gradually."
Gabrielle followed the healer's instructions until she was sitting up, the daylight streaming into the Queen's hut. She was groggy, but the pain in her head was completely gone.
Sartori smiled and opened the door. A concerned Ephiny immediately went to Gabrielle's side. "She's been waiting quite a while to see you."
"Gabrielle, don't you ever scare me like that again." The Regent gave her friend's hand a squeeze.
"No problem. Now, how about telling me what exactly I did." The Queen responded, looking extremely confused. "The last thing I remember was talking to Adrian by the pond."
"Don't worry, she's safe and sound in the jail." The Regent remarked.
"The jail?" Gabrielle turned to look in each of their faces, trying to make some sense of the whole mess. "Someone better start at the beginning."
The Regent looked at Sartori who seemed to know the most about what happened to their young Queen. She started the story where Gabrielle's memory ended.
"Adrian brought you into the camp unconscious. She was very upset, but she kept saying the words poison and began ransacking your hut. It seemed like she was looking for something in particular. When she found an unfinished skin of wine, she gave it to me and said the poison was in the wineskin. I tried, but I just couldn't distinguish what kind of poison it was, being so diluted. I had no idea what to use as an antidote and your breathing was getting shallower and shallower. That's when Adrian went and gave herself up to Ephiny." Sartori paused to make sure Gabrielle still felt strong enough to go on and the Queen motioned for her to continue.
"The Captain gave me a leather pouch filled with powder and said it was the poison she had used on Xena and, inadvertently, you. Once I was able to determine that it was a substance called Rhadam, I knew exactly how to treat you."
Gabrielle was still in a disbelieving state. "Poison? I don't understand that part. Why would she give Xena poison? She already admitted to me that the supposed night they spent together was a ruse."
"A ruse? This is the first I'm hearing about that." Ephiny responded.
Gabrielle held up her hand. "One story at a time." She indicated that Sartori should proceed.
"Adrian has been slipping Xena this substance practically since her first day in our village. It's a combination of some very ancient plants. Rhadam attacks the brain, constricting the vessels that carry blood. Much like the pinch of the Warrior Princess. Given in correct amounts over a period of time, though, it causes agitation, unreasonable anger, and extreme headaches accompanied by a pounding in the ears. It's been known to drive men insane. Prolonged use is usually fatal."
"Which does explain why you and Xena were arguing all the time." Ephiny added.
"The only way to abate it from your system is to do exactly what I did in your case. Heavy sedation opens up the flow of blood to the brain. In the simplest term you have to sleep it off. You've been asleep for a full day."
"Xena?" Gabrielle looked terrified.
"Take it easy. I got a message this morning from Ep. Xena is with them and Eponin didn't say anything about her being ill in any way." The Regent quieted the young woman.
"So how did I get it?" Gabrielle questioned.
"One of the ways Adrian made sure Xena got a dose was in her wine. She gave Xena two full skins of Ambracian wine as gift. Evidently you poured some in the last couple of days from that skin. Sartori said that since the dosage was calculated for Xena's height and weight, it sent you flying." Ephiny replied. "Now, how about this story of what went on between Adrian and Xena?"
Gabrielle related what really happened the night of the party. Sartori reached into a pouch at her belt and produced Xena's amulet.
"You wouldn't let go of it. I had to wait till you were sedated before I could pry it from your fingers." Sartori smiled.
"So, Xena didn't, well..." Ephiny said
"No, she didn't. Yet she still gave herself up. Xena was telling the truth, she really doesn't remember what happened." Gabrielle stated.
"So, she immediately thought the worst about herself." Ephiny continued the thought.
"And, we did too." Gabrielle said sadly. "I never even thought about another explanation, I was too willing to believe the obvious one. Eph, I'm going to need your help when Xena gets here."
"Just tell me what to do, my friend."
The heavy iron and wood door creaked as the Amazon guard opened it for her Queen. Gabrielle stepped into the jail cell. Adrian looked up from the pallet she sat on, her hands in chains attached to the wall.
"Release those, please." Gabrielle commanded the guard, indicating the manacles.
"But, your majesty," the young Amazon began.
Gabrielle arched one eyebrow and fixed her gaze on the guard.
"Yes, my Queen," the Amazon muttered and quickly began releasing the chains.
Adrian loved the glare Gabrielle was intimidating the young guard with. This small slip of a woman had the ability to conjure up a look that could have a grown warrior begging at her feet.
"Thanks." Adrian said, rubbing her wrists and watching the guard leave the room.
The young Queen had her staff with her and Adrian eyed it suspiciously.
"Did you finally get angry? Is this the part where you beat the stuffing out of the prisoner with your stave?" Adrian managed a wry grin.
"Don't tempt me." Gabrielle answered ominously. "But, you did save my life."
"Let's not forget I'm the one that tried to take it, too." The Captain shot back.
"You could have run. Then later in the village, you could have let me die."
"No," Adrian shook her head slowly and her eyes softened as she looked up at the young Queen before her. "I couldn't do that, Gabrielle. Not to you."
"Jordan said that she's giving you up to Amazon law to try you. There's only one problem with that. You're not an Amazon, nor do you have any ties to the Nation. I have no jurisdiction over you, Adrian. You're free to go."
Adrian looked at the standing woman with disbelief, eyeing the open door.
"You don't have to plan an escape, you really are free to go." Gabrielle said, watching the woman's face.
Adrian stood and tentatively walked to the open door. She stopped to look back at the Queen, who simply stood in a relaxed pose, gazing across the small room at her. The Captain turned her back, but as she moved once again toward the open door, she shook her head and paused. Placing her hands on her hips, she swiveled her head around to see Gabrielle watching her every move.
"You know I won't go, don't you?"
"I know no such thing." Gabrielle answered. "I do know, however, that Jordan says you were once a woman of honor."
Adrian turned to face Gabrielle, shaking her head as in complete disbelief over her own actions
"Gabrielle, I don't think even Xena knows what she has in you. What kind of punishment are we talking here?"
"It would be up to the whole council to judge your guilt or innocence. For a crime such as this my best guess would be time in a labor camp or the lash." Gabrielle replied.
Adrian took a deep breath. She weighed the options quickly in her head. Everything in her told her to run from this place and never look back. There was a very small voice that the Captain hadn't listened to in quite a long time, though. This tiny voice told her to stay and take what she had coming. The auburn-haired woman walked across the room and stood in front of Gabrielle. Deciding to listen to the tiny voice in her head, Adrian admitted defeat to the petite Queen with a heart unlike anyone she'd ever met.
"I'll accept the Amazon judgment and any punishment that falls my way." Adrian stated. "I must be nuts, but I'll do it." She chuckled.
Gabrielle smiled at the woman and applauded the courage of her decision.
"Can I ask for one favor?" Adrian's voice caught. She wasn't used to asking for anything.
"If I have the power to grant it, yes." Gabrielle answered.
"Will you give me your word that Xena won't kill me when she finds out the truth about what happened?"
"I think you overestimate the kind of power I have over Xena, but you have my word that I'll do my best."
"With you, Gabrielle, that's all that a warrior need ask for." Adrian offered up a wry grin.
"You won't need the chains anymore and I'll leave the door to the cell open. I could put you under house arrest, but I think, for your own safety, you may want to stay in the jail." Gabrielle explained.
"You mean if I stayed out in the village I could wake up in the morning with a dagger in my chest via some loyal Amazon?" Adrian quipped.
"Something like that," Gabrielle said. Then the young Queen turned her back and was gone.
"Xena," Eponin called the party to a halt, dismounting her own horse. We're approaching the edge of our land. I need to, uhm..." The Amazon indicated the wrist manacles in her hands.
Xena arched an eyebrow that disappeared under ebony bangs. She looked at the iron restraints in her friend's hand and took a deep breath. This went against everything inside of her, but she wanted to prove to Gabrielle that she was willing to accept punishment for her behavior.
"Front or back?" Xena questioned.
"Back." Eponin answered.
Xena held her hands behind her and suddenly found herself taking in deep gulps of air, forcing tears down and remembering the last time she did this. It was a very different scenario when she and her bard made love by a lake in the countryside of Macedon.
Eponin shackled the Warrior's wrists together and thought how differently this was going. Not how she planned it at all. Xena wasn't exactly being her usual Warrior Princess self. She did as she was directed and hadn't said a word during the whole trip; not that anyone would talk to her. She was amazed at the way the dark-haired woman silently endured the glares of the Amazon warriors around her.
When they stopped to make camp last night, she watched as Xena sat apart from the others. At one point she awoke in the middle of the night to find the warrior seated on the ground, her back against a tree and the rays of the moon lighting up her face. Xena's eyes were raised to the dark sky and silent tears streaked her face. Her friend's pain touched her deeply and Eponin realized, for the first time during this whole mess, that there was never just one side to any story.
Gabrielle's throne was set up on a dais much like the day that Jordan and her party rode into the village. Just as it was then, Gabrielle, her Regent, and the Royal Guard made an impressive sight in masks and their Amazon finest. Xena expected to see more of the village turn out to see the Warrior Princess brought back in chains. She was unaware that Gabrielle had personally explained and requested that her Amazons not be present at the display. She didn't want to humiliate Xena anymore than the warrior wanted to be in this position.
Xena finally raised her eyes and felt an old familiar heat creep up her body. She suddenly became very uncomfortable in her saddle as the party drew nearer to the Queen's throne. Oh, yes...Gabrielle is very mad.
The young Queen sat in the same outfit that she wore when on the night she officiated over her first Amazon ceremony. It also happened to be the outfit she was wearing when her gentle seduction of the dark-haired warrior had finally come to its fruition. Barely enough to be called an outfit; the soft leather of the loincloth showed the Queen's body off to great advantage.
Gabrielle's emerald eyes sparkled and from behind her mask, at this distance, she could watch every move her warrior made without being noticed. Her heart fluttered slightly when she saw the warrior's look of desire and the flush that slowly rose up her neck.
The pain in Xena's eyes prompted Gabrielle to swallow hard. She caught herself from rushing forth and simply throwing her arms around her lover to ease the woman's distress. Gabrielle had to remind herself of who she was and why she was doing this. Artemis was still her patron and Goddess knows she didn't need another God mad at her. She already had her hands full with Ares' intense dislike of her. She, along with Ephiny's help would comply with Artemis' order to try Xena for Breach of Faith.
"Xena of Amphipolis," Ephiny began. "You have been arrested and returned to the Amazon village to be tried for crimes committed against the Amazon Nation. The charge against you is Breach of Faith. How does the defendant plead?"
Xena looked up at Gabrielle and noticed how her green eyes sparkled behind the Queen's mask. The warrior's brow knit together in confusion. Those were Gabrielle's smiling eyes, or the ones that peeked through when she was up to something truly mischievous.
"Does the prisoner plead guilty?" Ephiny said slowly, enunciating the last word carefully.
Now, Xena looked at Ephiny in confusion. The Regent was never supposed to lead a person into pleading one way or another like that. The warrior had planned on pleading guilty all along, but now she felt she had to, simply to see what all this was about.
"Guilty?" Xena said, more a question than a statement.
Gabrielle raised a hand and motioned to a couple of the Royal Guard. "Detain the prisoner to await her judgment."
"Judgment? Wait a minute, don't I get a trial?" Xena stammered, as two guards attempted to pull her away.
Gabrielle leaned down from the dais. "Do you want one?"
What in Hades is this all about? Of course I want one! Xena then watched the way Gabrielle tilted her mask, as if she were smiling at her. The warrior cast a curious glance at all of the Amazons on the dais. They looked equally amused. Finally directing her gaze at Eponin, she was glad at least one other person looked as confused as she did. She had no idea what was causing the breach in protocol, but decided to go with it.
"No?" She again hesitantly answered.
Gabrielle simply waved her hand and Xena was escorted away.
"What was that all about?" Eponin said between clenched teeth.
Once Xena was out of sight Gabrielle pulled off her mask. "It's a long, but wonderful story, Ep. Let Ephiny fill you in. I have a warrior to pronounce sentence on."
The two members of the Royal Guard stopped in front of the Queen's hut and began to climb the stairs up the veranda.
"Why aren't we going to the jail?" Xena questioned.
"We're full up there." One of the Guards answered.
"Full up?" Xena returned as she was shoved inside the room.
Moments later Gabrielle came through the door and the breathing of three adult women stopped altogether for a full heartbeat.
"Please, take those off," the Queen indicated the manacles.
The Guard released the warrior from her restraints and she flexed her wrists to work out the stiffness. Gabrielle, in the meantime, walked across the room and bent down, placing her ceremonial mask in a chest by the bed. The view of the young Queen from that angle was breathtaking, but Xena realized there were others in the room who thought so too.
"What do you think you're looking at?" The warrior growled at the two Guards.
"Nothing." They said in unison, nearly tripping over their own feet in their haste to put some distance between themselves, and the now free warrior.
Gabrielle stood, and with her back still toward her warrior, she smiled. There was something supremely satisfying in hearing that tone of possessiveness in Xena's voice.
"You are dismissed." Gabrielle said, turning and watching the Guards move cautiously past the tall warrior.
Gabrielle finally walked over and looked into her Warrior's face. She couldn't remember ever having seen Xena look so thin. Her usually tanned face was paler than it normally was. The dark circles under her eyes matched the ones on Gabrielle's face.
Gabrielle I--" Xena started.
Gabrielle's fingers extended forward and covered her lover's lips, interrupting the words. The Queen reached up and placed her lips over Xena's mouth and her own fingers. The warrior and Queen alike, both whimpered into the kiss.
Xena was too stunned to even move. All she knew was that she didn't want this incredible feeling to ever end. Her heart told her that her bard was willing to forgive her, but a small part of the warrior feared that the young Queen was toying with her emotions. Under normal circumstances Gabrielle wouldn't react that way, but Xena had pushed the young woman, perhaps to her limit.
Gabrielle could see that her Warrior was trying to stay in control. The Queen had backed Xena against the wall; the warrior's palms braced flat against the smooth wooden surface. Xena's lips never stopped their participation in the kiss, however. Eventually, Gabrielle moved her kisses along the warrior's jaw and down her neck.
"Gabrielle," Xena breathed heavily, I want you to know...that I'm willing...Oh, Gods...I'm willing to accept... whatever punishment you...want to hand down. I know I hurt you--"
"I've given the matter ...careful...consideration..." Gabrielle punctuated each pause with a kiss or a nip of the smooth flesh of the warrior's neck. "My ruling is that I find you innocent of all charges."
"Does that mean you forgive me, Brie?" Xena closed her eyes, waiting for the answer.
"Oh, Xe...Xena?" Gabrielle waited for her warrior to open her eyes. "Please forgive me, my love."
"Forgive you? For what?" Xena asked, her arms suddenly finding the will to move. They slipped easily around the Queen's body.
"For doubting you. I should have believed in you. I told Artemis that I trusted you completely, but I should have trusted in you, even when you didn't trust yourself."
Gabrielle pulled back and told Xena everything that she learned from Adrian, with the exception of the poison. When the Queen had finished her tale, she dangled Xena's amulet before the dark-haired woman. Gabrielle had the clasp fixed and it was once again the symbol of her heart for her Warrior. As she moved to place it over the warrior's head, Xena pulled back slightly.
"Things could have turned out differently that night. I should have listened to you. Are you sure, Brie?"
"Xena, you're sorry and I forgive you. I'm sorry and you forgive me. Please, let's make this a part of our past so we don't have to worry about it ever again."
Xena's blue eyes sparkled and she reached out to stroke the face of the woman she loved more than life. She lowered her head and Gabrielle placed the chain around her neck.
"I love you, Xena...through everything, I never stopped loving you."
"Oh, Brie...I can be so proud sometimes, but never, ever doubt my love for you." Xena replied as tears of a different kind filled her eyes.
"Come and sit down, I need to tell you the rest." Gabrielle pulled Xena to sit on the furs and cushions in front of the empty fireplace.
"Remember the headaches you were having...are you still having any?"
"No, as a matter of fact, they stopped when I got home." Xena answered confusion evident on her face.
Xena nodded once again when Gabrielle described the pain as a pounding in her ears. "How do you know that?"
It was a poison. Sartori said it blocked the flow of blood to the brain, causing anger, headaches, and the noise. That's why you seemed so angry with me all the time. It wasn't you, Xe, it was the drug."
"That evil bitch." Xena muttered and Gabrielle realized the warrior referred to Adrian. "What was this stuff?"
"Sartori called it, Rhadam. Have you ever heard of it?"
"I've heard of it, but I haven't seen any for a good many seasons. That stuff is lethal. Enough of it and your brain will explode. How did you find out she did this, surely she wasn't stupid enough to come right out and confess to poisoning the Queen's Consort?" Xena gave a wry smile to the smaller woman in her arms.
"Nooo," Gabrielle said slowly, drawing the word out as she tried to think of a way to explain. Just saying it all at once ought to work. "But, she did confess to poisoning the Queen."
Gabrielle felt Xena's whole body tense at those words. "You?" Xena asked in a tightly controlled voice.
"It was an accident, Xe. I drank from the Ambracian wineskins she gave you, the poison was in the wine." Gabrielle hurriedly explained.
"You?" Was still the only word the warrior could verbalize.
Suddenly Xena was on her feet and moving out of the hut. She remembered when the members of the Royal Guard said the jail was "full up". That's the first place she headed. Gabrielle was calling her name, but she didn't stop to listen.
When the warrior burst through the main door, Adrian wondered what the commotion was about. When she saw Xena moving through the open door of her cell, she felt her mouth go dry and her knees grow weak.
"Xena." Adrian raised her hands and backed up.
Xena was across the room in two long strides and by the time Gabrielle got there, Adrian's feet were barely touching the ground, the Warrior Princess had her by the throat and was slowly squeezing the life out of her.
"Xena!" Gabrielle shouted. "I gave her my word that you wouldn't hurt her."
"You're about to break that promise because I'm going to cut her heart out. Me, I can believe, but Gabrielle?" Xena hissed the last sentence.
The warrior dropped the Captain to the floor and, by habit, reached over her right shoulder for a sword that wasn't there. Gabrielle thanked the Gods that Xena was unarmed. The look in her lover's eye told her that Adrian would have been dead had it been otherwise. The Queen took that momentary lapse when Xena realized her sword was not strapped to her back and positioned herself between the two warriors.
"Gabrielle..." Xena drawled in that slow warning tone.
"Xe, I gave her my word. She agreed to accept Amazon law and whatever punishment we hand down. We've already found her guilty and the council meets this afternoon for sentencing.
Xena glared past Gabrielle at Adrian for a few heartbeats, but to the Captain it seemed an eternity.
"Whatever they sentence you with...it won't be enough." Xena hissed.
"Xe...come on, please, love lets go." Gabrielle said softly as she pulled Xena away from the Captain.
The Queen and her warrior left the jail, arm in arm.
Adrian sat in front of a long wooden table. As Queen, Gabrielle sat in the middle of the council, but in this case did not get a vote since she was the victim of the crime. Three of her Amazon sisters sat to each side of her. Ephiny, as Regent, read the charges aloud then asked the prisoner to come forward and stand for sentencing.
"Adrian of Chalcis, after having been found guilty of crimes against the Amazon Nation your sentence has been agreed upon. Three moons or thirty lashes, the sentence will start tomorrow morning. The choice is yours. The first choice will be three moons in the labor camp in Olynthus. Your second choice is to accept thirty lashes of the whip. At the conclusion of either your debt will be considered paid. How do you choose?" Ephiny asked.
Adrian swallowed hard. Labor camps weren't prisons, but they generally weren't much better. Thirty lashes with the whip was a lot. The punishment would be over faster, but to wear the scars of the whip, especially for a warrior, that was a hard thing.
"I'll take the lash, but on one condition. I'm invoking my Right of the Accused." Adrian said to the murmurs of the crowd of onlookers.
"You're not an Amazon," Ephiny sneered, "you can't invoke that right."
"On the contrary, my Regent," Elda, a council member on Gabrielle's left spoke up. The Captain has given herself over to Amazon law and has agreed to accept Amazon punishment, so for that reason she does indeed have the rights of an Amazon in this case."
Gabrielle knew what the Right of the Accused was from her readings in the scrolls. The young Queen wondered how on earth Adrian found out about the clause. She sat there praying that the Captain wasn't going to ask for what she thought she might.
Ephiny sighed deeply and looked at Gabrielle before continuing.
"By invoking the Right of the Accused you may request that your punishment be handed out by the Amazon of your choosing. The punishment that has been agreed on is thirty lashes with the whip. Who do you request mete out the punishment.
Every ear that heard the ruling knew what the prisoner was about to say; only some of them were only half right about why.
"Queen Gabrielle." The prisoner answered.
Gabrielle stood in front of the open window in the Queen's hut, the light of the waning moon spreading brightly across her skin. Xena sat on the cushions by the fire and watched her silent lover as Gabrielle contemplated what tomorrow would bring. The warrior sighed and thanked Artemis for her part in bringing her back here. She didn't know how long she would have lasted without Gabrielle's love. Xena watched as the moon filtered through the strands of the bard's hair, her eyes traveled across the young woman's body and as always, wondered what Gabrielle saw in her.
Xena rose and walked up behind the young Queen.
"You're thinking too much." The warrior stated. "This isn't the first time you've had to sentence someone like this.
It's the first time that I've had to carry out the punishment." Gabrielle said in a shaky voice.
Xena moved her hands to the young woman's shoulders and could feel the tension in the way the flesh bunched and tightened. She began to massage the stress from the Queen's muscles, finally placing a kiss on her bard's neck and drawing her close.
"Gabrielle, you are a Queen, the Ruler and final authority of this Nation. There are times when being a ruler means making and carrying out unpleasant tasks, and hard decisions. As a Ruler, it's up to you to show your people that you would never ask them to do something that you yourself are not willing to do. It's not very fun to be in charge, is it?" Xena said the last with a smile and a kiss to the young Queen's cheek.
"But, what will you think of me?" Gabrielle asked.
"What? Brie, what do you mean?"
"Seeing me use the whip on someone. It's a cruel punishment and I don't like it. I--" Gabrielle couldn't finish because her tears overtook her.
"Oh, Brie," Xena turned the woman around and held her tightly in her arms. "Someone has committed a crime and it's the duty of whoever is in charge to carry out the punishment for that crime. I wouldn't expect you to shirk your duty for anyone, my heart, especially for me."
Xena tenderly kissed the small woman she held in her arms. Gods, how I missed this. The warrior ran her kisses along her lover's jaw, just underneath her ear.
"Gabrielle, I love you and not because you're a Queen or an Amazon, or a bard, or because you have a smile that can make my knees go weak, or even because you have the most beautiful green eyes the Gods ever bestowed to any mortal woman. I love you, my heart, because of who and what you are...deep in here." Xena said as she pressed the palm of her hand over the bard's heart.
"I would never ask you to be less than you are," she kissed along the edge of the young Queen's ear and felt the shiver of the smaller woman's body that accompanied that act. "Just as you have never asked it of me." She whispered.
The pair slept little that night and it wasn't because of frustration or anger. They talked and held one another as the embers of the fire turned into small glowing coals. For that night, alone and away from the eyes of the world, they weren't an Amazon Queen and the Warrior Princess. They simply became two women in love.
Xena watched as Gabrielle stood by impassively as Adrian was stripped from the waist up and placed between two poles, each as thick as a large tree, set into the ground. Each of the Captain's wrists, were tied with a length of rope to a metal ring set into the pole.
Xena had given her young lover all the tips and techniques, any subtle nuances she could think of regarding the use of the whip. Gabrielle was technically proficient with her own whip, which was a six-foot length of braided leather, as opposed to the eight-foot bullwhip that Xena favored. The warrior taught Gabrielle everything from how far away to stand to how to clean the leather after.
Xena kept herself at a distance from the young Queen, knowing this was the time that Gabrielle needed to be inside herself. The small blonde wore her customary Amazon leathers and had her hair pulled back into a loose braid down her back. She walked over to where Adrian was restrained and retied the ropes to give the Captain more slack in her arms. Xena smiled to herself as she watched. Her bard had listened well. If there was no slack, the tighter your back muscles would be and the more it would not only hurt, but cut as well.
Adrian's head turned and she noted the expression on the young Queen's face. Trepidation tinged with a bit of fear.
"Gabrielle, have you ever done this before?" Adrian asked, trying to swallow but finding out her mouth had gone dry.
"I find this an most peculiar time to ask that question." Gabrielle responded. "Just remember that nothing ever hurts as bad as you think it will. Have you ever felt the whip?"
"Once in a brothel in Corinth, but I guess that's not the same thing, huh?" The Captain said with a grin full of bravado.
Gabrielle shook her head at the woman and tried to hide the beginnings of a smile. "No, not exactly." The Queen's face turned serious and she placed an arm on Adrian's shoulder.
"I'll make it as quick as I possibly can." Gabrielle said in a low voice and positioned herself behind the restrained prisoner.
Gabrielle extended her right arm and let the coils of the leather whip stretch out to their full length. She whipped the braided leather into the air to untangle its length, then ran her hand along it's span. Xena told her the softer the leather, the less of a bite and her whip had been oiled and softened to perfection.
The first strike was the hardest on Gabrielle, yet the easiest on the prisoner. By the time a dozen passes had been completed, Adrian's small whimpers turned into groans and Gabrielle was soaked in sweat. On number fifteen, the Queen switched hands and worked the opposite side of the prisoner's back. Xena also taught her to start out with her dominant hand, that way by the time you switched and the prisoner was in continual pain, your lesser hand would strike with a lighter touch.
By number twenty, the welts began to split open and each strike of the leather began to cut deeper into the flesh. By number twenty-five, Gabrielle had tears in her own eyes as Adrian lost her footing and hung from her wrists. Gabrielle refused to stop and in moments the punishment was complete. If any Amazon that witnessed the punishment on that day, ever thought Adrian chose Gabrielle to wield the whip because she thought the sensitive Queen would show leniency, they quickly learned that was not the case.
Ephiny stood in front of the near unconscious woman and read the official declaration. It ended simply with; "Your debt has been paid."
Gabrielle turned and walked a few feet, dropping her whip into a bucket of water that one of the guards provided. The young Queen watched for a few heartbeats as her leather whip tinged the water a crimson color, then she continued walking, entering her own hut.
Xena already stood inside their hut and, opening her arms, she beckoned the Queen into her embrace. The warrior had assisted two young girls in filling the Queen's bath inside the hut and now Xena tenderly undressed her lover and helped her into the steaming water. Gabrielle hadn't said a word, but her tears continued to run down her face. The warrior gently washed her lover, helping her from the tub and wrapping her in a warm blanket. She laid down on the furs and cushions and wrapped strong arms around the still crying woman, rocking her gently.
"I d-don't f-feel much like a Queen right n-now." Gabrielle sobbed against her lover's shoulder.
"But, you are, my heart," Xena responded. "More than even you know."
Gabrielle stood on the veranda of the Queen's hut, anxiously peering down the well-worn path that led out of the village. A strong pair of hands slipped around her waist while soft lips caressed her neck.
"Mmmm." Gabrielle moaned, closing her eyes at the feel and the scent of her lover.
Leaning back even further into the embrace, she encountered the sensation of cold metal against her back. Turning in her lover's arms, she found herself looking at a familiar sight. Xena stood in her customary battle skirt; her scrolled armor breastplate set firmly in place.
"Hey, you look good." Gabrielle smiled.
"But, this is what you've seen me wear everyday for the past five seasons." Xena replied, grinning down at her lover.
She knew how Gabrielle felt about her revealing leather attire. The warrior had never really thought of her body as beautiful. It served its purpose and that was always enough, but then there was the way her bard looked at her sometimes Every once in a while she would catch the young woman in a definite daydream state, the bard's eyes running the length of the warrior's legs.
She'd been wearing trousers and a tunic long enough. Besides Gabrielle's definite affinity for the leather garb, Xena was anxious to feel like her old self again. Her lover would soon have the chance to see her in her trousers again for their wedding. Xena recalled yesterday afternoon as she stood semi-patiently for another fitting. When they first showed her the design, she balked at the colors. They had her wearing her traditional black and purple, from her days as Conqueror. The warrior categorically refused, instead choosing the light blue color of the Queen's Champion.
Gabrielle kissed the skin of Xena's chest just above her armor effectively bringing the warrior out of her own thoughts.
"Mmmm, you taste good, too." Gabrielle teased with a seductive smile.
"I take it that you're feeling better today?" Xena asked.
Gabrielle nodded her head. She spent the remainder of the day of Adrian's punishment in her own hut wrapped around the warrior. She slept later than usual yesterday and then spent the afternoon with the Captain in the healer's hut. Ephiny took on the task of dealing with some of the ceremony preparations, so Gabrielle wouldn't feel so overwhelmed. She was finally feeling a little more like her old self again. Once her mother and Lila got here, they could see to some of the smaller details of the ceremony.
"You know they won't be here for another candlemark or so." Xena said. The warrior watched the young Queen's face with amusement.
"How come you always know what I'm thinking?" Gabrielle asked.
Xena chuckled. "Because that's what a good wife does. Besides, my heart, you have a look on your face like a child on Solstice Eve. That can only mean that you're looking forward to something and I'd say that something, is seeing our families again."
"We could ride out to meet them." Gabrielle offered.
"You?" Xena asked with disbelief, "You want to ride somewhere?" Xena teased the small woman in her arms. Gods, this feels so good!
"Well, riding behind you in the saddle does give me an excuse to put my arms around you." Gabrielle quipped right back at the dark-haired warrior. Gods, this feels so good!
"Ahh, the truth comes out," Xena responded. "Well, now what if I wanted you to ride in front of me so I could hold you in my arms?"
Gabrielle took a heartbeat to think about it as she smiled mischievously up at the warrior.
"Hhmmm, well, a good wife would never say no to her warrior." The young Queen said, smiling at the double entendre.
Xena and the Queen met their families halfway to the village. The warrior ended up getting her way and the pair made a striking impression as always on the large golden mare. Gabrielle sat in front of the warrior; Xena held Argo's reins in one hand, her other wrapped loosely around her bard's waist. The two women thoroughly enjoyed the ride, both proclaiming it much too short. Xena spent most of the trip nuzzling the soft skin of the young Queen's neck.
When they caught up with the two wagons that carried their family members, Toris was just splitting off to go stay in the Centaur village until the ceremony, which was still four days off. One wagon carried Cyrene and a huge amount of food that she promised the village cooks she would shop for on her way there. The other wagon carried Gabrielle's mother and her younger sister.
The young Queen's father was suspiciously absent, but that didn't come as a great surprise to Gabrielle. Xena, on the other hand, was hoping Herodotus would have a change of heart and want to see his oldest daughter married. She had hoped he would bury the hatchet and want to be a part of the event. Instead his absence was a glaring reminder to the young Queen of all she didn't know about her parents. Hecuba's mysterious message, the last time they met, hadn't been far from Gabrielle's thoughts as her wedding day drew closer.
Hugs and kisses went around and Gabrielle couldn't believe that Xena not only allowed the contact from Hecuba and Lila, but the tall woman seemed to be enjoying the whole thing. Toris swept Gabrielle into his arms as he always did, ignoring his sister's mock glare.
"This is your last chance, Gabrielle. Leave this no good warrior and become a farmer's wife." He quipped.
"Oh, Toris, as tempting as that does sound," Gabrielle said with a look that said being a farmer's wife was the last thing on earth she wanted to be, "I think I'll stick with what I've got."
"Always the diplomatic Queen." Toris laughed and released the young woman.
After they had stopped to visit for nearly a half a candlemark, Toris grabbed his mount's reins to head off to the Centaur camp.
"Toris," Gabrielle called. "I wonder if I could walk with you for a few minutes?"
"Sure, Gabrielle." The dark-haired man answered.
Xena directed a questioning look at her lover. Gabrielle drew close to the warrior and kissed her on the cheek.
"I'll catch up, love. There's something I just thought of asking Toris. I'll fill you in later, 'kay?" Gabrielle's emerald green eyes with the tiny flecks of pure gold sparkled in the sunlight and the warrior was powerless to refuse her anything. Xena lost the power of speech for a quick moment and could only nod at the beautiful young Queen.
Shaking her head once Gabrielle turned and walked away with her brother, Xena told the women and the Amazons accompanying them that they would walk for a bit until Gabrielle caught up with them. Xena barely had to nod her head in Gabrielle's direction and three Amazons quickly jumped up into the trees to follow the Queen.
"Gabrielle," Toris slowly drawled her name and the young Queen thought how much like her lover the timbre of his voice was. Of course, her Warrior had the ability to turn her bones into warm liquid with that drawl.
"Don't look up, but I think someone is in the tree watching us," Toris' hand went to the hilt of his sword.
Gabrielle's lilting laughter filled the air around them. Her arm slipped through the tall young man's and her hand stayed his sword.
"It's okay, they're just watching me. I'm sure about half a heartbeat after you and I walked away, your sister sent a few guards to keep tabs. Being Queen doesn't afford a lot of private time. The only time they allow me out of their sight is when I'm with Xena."
"You two really know each other well, don't you?" Toris asked in amazement.
"Some days better than others." Gabrielle tossed back, still smiling. "Toris, I wanted to ask you for a favor." She continued.
"It's obvious Herodotus won't be here for our Joining and I'm much too petrified to walk down the steps of the temple by myself. I know that your love and acceptance of Xena and I means a great deal to her. Actually, it means a lot to me too. I wonder if I could talk you into escorting me down the temple steps?"
Gabrielle was almost afraid the dark-haired man would turn her down. Toris stopped walking and let go his horses halter to take both of Gabrielle's small hands within his own.
"Gabrielle, seeing you and Xena together, watching the love you two share. Well, in a way it's almost like a balm to my own heart. I wandered around for so long with such pain inside me that didn't think I could ever stop hurting. Then I met up with you two, remember?"
Gabrielle smiled and nodded her head, remembering the man whom Xena introduced with so much contempt that fall day.
"Knowing that you and my sister can have something so special like this, it gives my own heart hope that it will happen for me too, someday. I'd be honored to escort you, Gabrielle."
"You don't mind then?" Gabrielle asked Xena as the two women walked back to their own hut.
"Of course not, I'm actually kind of glad Toris will be standing there. Moral support." She winked at the small blonde.
"Oh?" Gabrielle chuckled. "You make this sound like you're getting married at sword point, my Warrior." Gabrielle replied.
"Weelll," Xena drew the word out as she climbed the steps of the veranda.
Gabrielle playfully swatted the retreating backside of the dark-haired woman in front of her. Xena turned quickly and wrapped a strong arm around the Queen, pinning the smaller woman's arms, and then the warrior began to tickle her lover, Gabrielle unable to stop giggling.
A commotion at the entrance to the village drew their attention away from one another. Three Amazon warrior's rode up with a man screaming at the top of his lungs that his wife was being held by vicious Amazon killers against her will.
"Oh no," the two lovers said in unison. The man tied between Eponin and a younger warrior named Tarazon was Gabrielle's father, Herodotus.
Villagers came to see what the commotion was, along with Hecuba, Lila, and Cyrene. In the meantime, Eponin had to practically drag the man close to the veranda so they could speak to Gabrielle.
"There she is. There's the harlot that's keeping my wife away from me!" The man spat.
Gabrielle didn't know if he meant her or Xena, but she wasn't of a mind to put up with the man's foolishness. This time they were in her home.
Gabrielle pulled away from her lover slightly and Xena watched the young Queen, wondering what she would do.
"I'm sorry your majesty," Eponin addressed Gabrielle as she pulled a knife and sliced through the cords that held the man's wrists together. "But, he was extremely belligerent and struck one of the younger warriors."
Gabrielle raised an eyebrow at the news. It was peculiar that at this very moment she felt very little for the man standing on the ground below her. Growing up, Gabrielle had tried in every way she knew how to gain the love and acceptance of the man that acted like she wasn't even in the room half the time. After his behavior the last time they met, even more so now, she truly believed that this man with such a bitter heart could not be her father. She took a deep breath and stepped to the railing of the veranda.
"You are welcome to attend my Joining ceremony, of course, Herodotus, but I must ask you to be respectful, not only to myself, but to my subjects."
The man's name sounded foreign, coming from Gabrielle's lips that way. He sneered as he looked up at the young Queen with contempt.
"Respect...Why? You're no Queen. Didn't you tell them that you're just a poor farm girl?" He scoffed.
Xena came up to the porch railing beside her lover and lightly placed a hand on the Queen's shoulder. The warmth seemed to infuse Gabrielle with a renewed strength and she continued, just as calmly as before.
"I don't ask you to treat me as anything special. Just give me the respect that every human being deserves." Gabrielle said.
"Human?" The older man's voice went up an octave and her looked over to where his wife stood. "You never even told her!" He shouted in Hecuba's direction.
Hecuba made her way to stand in front of the angry man. "Herodotus, please, just go home. Don't ruin this time for Gabrielle." The older woman pleaded.
Herodotus looked as if he were going to explode at the thought of his wife siding against him. Even though his next move was still a flicker in his eye, Xena caught it. Gabrielle turned in surprise as her Warrior vaulted her body over the porch rail to land directly behind the man. As her feet hit the ground, his arm was in mid air to strike the older woman in front of him.
Xena caught the man's wrist in a grip that tore a howl from his throat.
"You draw this back again and I'll see to it you leave with a stump." Xena whispered in a low ominous voice that was so quiet only he and Hecuba could hear it.
Gabrielle couldn't make out what the warrior said, but she watched as the man's face took on a white pallor and he licked his lips, trying hard to swallow. Gabrielle's mind was still a few sentences back where Herodotus practically accused her of not being human. The Queen walked down the stairs and planted herself firmly in front of the man. Green fire flashed from her eyes and suddenly she looked very much like an Amazon Queen.
"Herodotus, you will be escorted off Amazon land, and if I ever so much as hear a rumor that you ever raised your hand against my mother, my sister, or any one of my people...so help me, I'll come after you myself."
Gabrielle nodded to Eponin who took great satisfaction in carrying out her Queen's orders.
"Thanks." Gabrielle smiled up at her Consort.
Turning to Hecuba, the young Queen's eyes took on a look of anger and concern.
"Mother...we need to talk." Gabrielle said as she led the older woman up the stairs to her hut.
"I'm so sorry, Gabrielle, I didn't think he'd follow us." Hecuba sat in front of the young Queen, the older woman wringing her hands nervously.
"Mother," Gabrielle stopped and took a deep breath. She didn't want her voice to carry that Queen's tone, not with her mother. "Mother," she began again in a softer manner. "I need to know the truth. No cryptic messages this time, no semantics or word games. I just want to know who my father is."
Hecuba sat with her head bowed, listening to her daughter's entreaty. She sat that way until Gabrielle felt that the older woman was refusing her request.
"Mother, all this time you've kept this secret, but don't you know that I've always felt that something was out of place, that something wasn't right about me? For nearly all the seasons of my life I felt like there was something wrong with me, that it was my fault. I refuse to believe that anymore, mother. I refuse to believe that I'm the different one. Please, please tell me the truth." Gabrielle pleaded tearfully.
"Oh, Gabrielle," Hecuba said, tears in her own eyes. The older woman cupped her daughter's face gently. "There has never been anything wrong with you...don't you know how gifted you are? If you thought you were different, it was only because those around you paled in comparison."
"And, Herodotus?" Gabrielle questioned.
"No, my daughter...Herodotus was never your father. I thought...he promised he would be good to you...It's my fault that you felt so unloved as a child." Hecuba's tears fell freely now.
"Oh, mother," Gabrielle moved beside the woman and put her arms around the weeping woman. "I'm glad I finally know, please, don't cry."
Hecuba let herself be comforted by her oldest child, fearing to tell the rest of the story. She should have known Gabrielle would not let it go.
"So, if it isn't Herodotus...who is it?" The young Queen tentatively asked.
"Gabrielle, do you truly want to know? Wait--" Hecuba motioned for her daughter to let her continue. "--Even if it is someone you would rather not know about?"
Gabrielle thought about that statement. Could it possibly be someone that she would be better off not knowing about? What would she do then? But, could the truth ever hurt her more than the childhood she'd already experienced? The young Queen only knew one thing, and that was if she had Xena by her side, she would be able to face anything.
"Yes, mother. I truly want to know who my father is." Gabrielle replied calmly.
"Then the first thing we'll need to do is go to the temple of Artemis." Hecuba rose and Gabrielle did likewise, following her mother from the hut.
Xena sat on the steps of the porch, knowing Gabrielle would want some privacy with her mother. She was surprised when the two came out of the hut after so short a time. She was just getting prepared to find something to occupy her time.
"I want Xena to come too." Gabrielle said and Hecuba nodded her head.
Gabrielle explained to her Warrior what little she knew as she walked along the familiar path to the temple, her mother a few strides in front of them.
Once in front of the altar that was made of polished wood so smooth it fairly glowed, Gabrielle and Xena took a step back as Hecuba knelt and prepared an offering. The two lovers watched in confusion as the older woman pulled a light chain from around her neck. She weighed it momentarily in the palm of her hand, then slipped a ring off of the chain. She placed the golden ring onto the wooden altar.
The familiar form of the Goddess Artemis materialized at once next to where Hecuba knelt. The tall woman bent and with gentle hands assisted Hecuba to her feet.
"So, you've come at last, my friend." Artemis spoke to Gabrielle's mother.
"It's time." Hecuba responded.
The warrior and the young Queen exchanged a look of surprise, if not awe, at the look of friendship that existed between the Goddess and Gabrielle's mother. It was either the transparency of their thoughts or the look on their faces, but Hecuba and Artemis turned around at the same time and laughed at the two of them.
It was a rather solemn and frightening occasion for her young daughter, but Hecuba couldn't resist trying to make the moment a little lighter.
"And, you thought your mother never got around." She said coyly.
Gabrielle's nervous smile prompted Xena to place an arm around her shoulder, trying to give her lover a focal point from which to draw strength.
"Gabrielle, is it true, that you want to know who your real father is...no matter what the consequences might be?" Artemis asked her young Queen.
Gabrielle looked at the warrior next to her, then placed a worried gaze at her mother and Artemis.
"You guys make it sound like it's somebody horrible." She responded with the same worried look.
"No, Gabrielle," Artemis chuckled and Xena could feel some of the tension leave the smaller woman's body. "It's simply that there are circumstances," Artemis couldn't help but look at Xena when she said this, "that may inhibit your acceptance of your father."
"I've waited so long," Gabrielle said, "to know why I am the way I am. I am afraid...afraid my life will change somehow, but I'd like to know, even if it hurts the truth has to be better than nor knowing."
"Ah, always the truth with you, Gabrielle." Artemis replied. Then she turned to Hecuba. "She does have a lot of her father in her."
"Yes," Hecuba agreed. "The very best parts."
Artemis bent to the altar and picked up the ring that Hecuba placed there. She crossed to where Gabrielle and Xena stood and the warrior relinquished her hold on the small blonde. Lifting her hand, the Goddess slipped the thin circle of gold onto the ring finger of Gabrielle's right hand.
"Gabrielle, as long as you have this ring all you ever have to do to request your father's presence is speak his name." Artemis said and took a step back.
Gabrielle fingered the thin gold band and looked into the faces of each woman there. She watched the ring as she twirled it around her finger. Looking up she spoke the words,
It was slow; perhaps that was his natural shyness showing through. A form finally materialized to stand beside Artemis. Xena watched Gabrielle, knowing she wouldn't recognize the God, after all Xena had only seen him once herself. The warrior took in the light sandy hair, the compassionate green eyes, and as he smiled his nose seemed to crinkle in exactly the same way as Gabrielle's, and Xena knew this to be the truth. Why she had never stopped to think about it before was beyond her. It made so much sense, didn't it? Gabrielle, the young woman who was filled with the very light of goodness itself, whose talent as a bard was unequaled, and who believed in moderation in everything, these were exactly the virtues the daughter of Apollo would manifest.
Apollo was a quiet God; content to play his lyre and captain the chariot that brought the sun into the mortal realm's sky every day. He was a poet who was gifted in healing and prophecy and from him all of Greece came to say, Pan Metron Ariston, which means "everything in moderation." This would always explain Artemis' seemingly personal interest in her young Queen's well being. Being Apollo's twin sister, she was Gabrielle's aunt.
Yes, Xena thought to herself, there is definitely truth in this.
No one said a word as the God and the young Queen gazed at one another. Finally Xena moved to stand behind Gabrielle, placing both her hands on the small blonde's shoulders.
"Brie...this is Apollo...your father." Xena whispered to her lover.
Apollo took a step forward and raised a hesitant hand in Gabrielle's direction. Immediately the small blonde shifted away until her back was pressed tight against Xena's armor.
"It's okay, I'm right here, my heart...I won't let anything happen that you don't want to."
"I can't do this!" Gabrielle said, then the warrior watched in surprise as the young woman ran from the altar room.
"Uhm, let me go talk to her." Xena said, following her lover out the door.
Xena found her lover in the anteroom to the temple, sitting amongst stacks of scrolls and empty baskets. She was crying, but making a valiant effort to hold it back in.
"Brie, honey, are you okay?" Xena said, kneeling down in front of the young Queen.
"I thought it would be...I don't know, maybe one of the other men from her village...I just didn't think...It's okay, Xe, you don't have to marry me, I understand how you feel about them and with me you'd be marrying in to it and--"
"Whoa, whoa, whoa." Xena said placing her fingers on Gabrielle's lips to quiet her. "You're making me dizzy, baby. Now, try and relax," Xena said wiping the tears from the woman's cheeks. "First of all, my heart, there are plenty of worse guys in the world that could be your father. I mean as Gods go Apollo's a pretty decent one. Hey, how'd you like to have my rumors...that Ares is your father, hmmm?"
Xena moved to sit by her lover, pulling the young woman into her lap and wrapping strong arms around the small blonde. She realized that her bard had suffered through a great deal lately, more than any woman her age should have had to. Today was just one more weight, added to the young woman's shoulders.
"Brie, if you think this or any other thing in this world, in any world for that fact, could make me give up taking you as my wife, you are sadly mistaken. Hey, I've worked too hard to get you to say yes," Xena said lifting the woman's chin until their eyes met, "I'm not going to let you slip away now."
Gabrielle looked into the deep pools of blue and felt the power of speech leave her. Never in all her life would she know why this strong warrior, who could have any lover in the known world, would choose her. She wrapped her arms tightly around Xena's neck and kissed her.
"Thanks, Xe...I needed to hear that."
"Do you feel like going back in there, just for a little longer?" Xena asked.
Gabrielle nodded her head and swallowed the nervous lump in her throat as she took her Warrior's hand and walked into the altar room again.
Gabrielle and Apollo walked through the temple garden as Xena watched from the temple window.
"Would you like to sit here?" Apollo indicated the rocks around a small pool of water.
Gabrielle nodded. "I love the sound of water, it's so...I don't know, relaxing, I guess."
Apollo waved his hand and small rivers of water began to cascade down the rocks and into the pool where they sat.
"Wow, I'd like to be able to do that." Gabrielle remarked.
"You probably could, you know, with a little instruction." The God responded.
"No thanks." Gabrielle chuckled. It was amazing how comfortable she felt with this God, completely unlike most of the other inhabitants of Mount Olympus she'd met. "You should have seen how many times I hit myself in the head trying to learn how to use my staff. I can't even imagine the damage I could do learning something like that. I'd probably start flash floods all over the countryside." Gabrielle finished, still laughing at herself.
Apollo leaned his head back and a round of genuine laughter came from deep in his chest. "Gabrielle, your wit has always been a constant source of pleasure for me."
Gabrielle smiled, then looked rather surprised. "Do you...do you watch me?"
Apollo's eyes turned a soft, sea-green color and his voice mellowed just slightly. "Gabrielle, there isn't a day that goes by when you're not in my thoughts and I can only let so much time go by before I have to take a look and see what you're up to."
"You haven't seen anything...embarrassing?" Gabrielle quickly thought to the times she and Xena, well, best not even think those thoughts, or...
"Are you humming?" Gabrielle couldn't figure out where the sound was coming from.
"Uh, yes, I am." Apollo uncharacteristically stammered. He quickly explained to Gabrielle's questioning look. "If I hum or sing, I can't read your thoughts." He finished and Gabrielle smiled because she thought she saw him blush.
"So, you've watched me?" The young Queen wasn't sure how she felt about that.
"Sometimes...Sometimes I would have liked to knock you in the head, then sometimes I wanted to be able to give you a hug, and then there were times when I wished I could have told you that any father would be proud to have a daughter like you, Gabrielle."
The young woman suddenly felt herself choke on a sob as she tried to hold the rush of emotions back. Tears filled her eyes and Apollo moved quickly to put his arms around the small woman. Surprisingly, Gabrielle gave herself up to the embrace and allowed the God to hold her.
"I'm sorry, it's...well, I've wanted all my life for my father to say those words to me." She paused.
"Gabrielle," he whispered, kissing her temple, "he just did."
The two stayed like that for quite some time. Xena, satisfied that her bard was in safe hands, finally turned away from the window to allow the father and daughter their time together.
Gabrielle and Xena walked behind Hecuba toward the Amazon village. The older woman appeared lost in her own memories, but a smile played on her face and she felt better than she had in many seasons. She told her daughter to give her a little more time and she would tell her the whole story of how she met Artemis and Apollo.
"I think it went pretty well, after my initial bout of insanity, what do you think?" Gabrielle joked with her Warrior and Xena was glad to see that light in her bard's smile.
I think I'm going to have to keep a closer eye on you than ever. Now with all these godly powers, who knows how many women will be throwing themselves at your feet." Xena teased.
"Hah! I don't think I have any godly powers."
"I don't know you're pretty good at reading other people's thoughts." Xena responded. "Here," she stopped her lover and wrapped her arms tightly around her, placing a slow, lingering kiss on the smaller woman's lips. "What am I thinking right now?" The dark-haired woman asked, raising an eyebrow in an unmistakable expression of seduction.
"Shame on you, Warrior...besides, you only have four days left to wait until our wedding night." Gabrielle reprimanded.
"See, you've got those powers already." Xena said as she resumed walking.
"Oh, right, like it takes a God to know what you're thinking about half the time."
Xena stopped and turned to look down at her lover with a small grin. "Are you saying I have a one track mind?"
"I'm saying," Gabrielle punctuated her words by poking her index finger into the warrior's chest. "That you, my Warrior, are absolutely insatiable!"
Xena arched an eyebrow and grabbed Gabrielle's hand. Without looking at the woman by her side she muttered out of the side of her mouth, "Seems like that's the pot calling the kettle black."
Suddenly the warrior felt a small stab of pain behind her right temple. She stopped and looked down at Gabrielle, who returned her gaze with a worried one of her own.
"There has to be another way. We could make a deal...something?" Artemis pleaded to the uncaring women before her.
"There are no deals to make...it is the way of the thread." Atropos responded, her counterparts nodding in agreement.
The old crone lifted her shears to the mighty bunches of threads that wove themselves in and out of one another with seeming random. She looked for the one that would guide her. It was so white it practically glowed. For quite some time, this had been the thread that she used to hold her place. It stood out in stark contrast to the threads that sometimes wove themselves to it. Some were practically black, but once their pattern pulled them away from the white thread, their colors changed. Lightening to, sometimes, brilliant pastel hues.
Running alongside the white thread ran a lavender thread. It wasn't always this pale color. Once it was a dark purple, so dark it was almost black. Then it began to run alongside the white thread, in places they wove together so tightly, they looked as one, and this was one of those times.
Atropos slipped the large shears into the exact spot in the thread, careful not to cut the white thread, but they were so close, the old crone knew it would be almost impossible to cut one without it affecting the other.
Lachesis looked on, her thoughts being interpreted easily by her counterparts. She was hesitant in her duty this time and expressed a certain sadness to the other two.
"We owe this one a debt that we haven't fully repaid," She mused.
"But, the thread beckons," Atropos said...
"Xe, are you okay?" Gabrielle asked.
Xena saw her lover's lips moving, but she couldn't quite make out what she was saying. It sounded like her bard was under water. The hand that held Gabrielle's was still held snugly in the Queen's grasp, but Xena couldn't feel it. Worry and then pain filled her features.
That's when she felt a sharp pain that took her breath away.
"Brie?" The warrior gasped weakly.
Atropos clenched her hand muscles and the shears came together, their razor sharp blades slicing cleaning through the lavender thread. The thread fluttered loosely to the floor, its anchor unwinding and hanging limply across the bright white thread.
Xena realized the ground was coming up at her, as her knee protectors hit the ground with a sharp thud, all the warrior's weight behind the fall.
"Wait!" Lachesis' hand was quicker than lightning, plucking the thread that fluttered lightly from mid air before it ever touched the ground.
The warrior never heard Gabrielle shouting, nor felt the small woman as she caught the warrior before her head hit the ground.
"It is done." Atropos said
Gabrielle was nearly hysterical by the time the Amazons carried Xena's unresponsive body to the healer's hut. Sartori pushed everyone out of the way, leaving Gabrielle alone in the room. The young Queen finally grew quiet as she watched the Healer, but Sartori could hear the sobs being choked back into the young woman's throat.
Sartori's first determination was that the warrior suffered from no sickness, anything contagious that could be spread to the Queen. She took a sharp instrument made of bone and pierced the warrior's skin, even ran it along the inside of her thigh sharply, there was no response. Sartori lifted Xena's left eyelid and watched the pupil contract, as it should when she brought the light of the flame closer. The Healer lifted the right eyelid and was shocked by what she saw. The warrior's pupil filled her entire eye. It remained fixed and unmoving when Sartori repeatedly moved the flame closer, then farther away. Sartori took a deep breath and turned to meet the young Queen's eyes.
"Gabrielle," Sartori said the Queen's name softly. It sounded odd between the two of them; the Healer never called Gabrielle by her first name before. "Perhaps...we should send for the warrior's mother...and her brother."
Gabrielle looked at the healer in disbelief, searching the woman's eyes for some shred of hope. Then she looked down at the still body of her lover who had just moment ago wrapped her arms around her and kissed her.
"No," Gabrielle shook her head slowly back and forth. She placed her hand on Xena's chest. "Her heart is still beating!" Gabrielle cried.
Sartori had no way to explain in a way that Gabrielle would understand. "She's a strong woman with a strong heart, it may beat for sometime time yet, but I fear your Consort is gone, my Queen."
"No!" Gabrielle cried, pushing the Healer back away from the pallet. The Queen's cries brought Ephiny into the hut and Sartori explained in a low whisper. Tears immediately sprang to the Regent's eyes as she went to stand beside Gabrielle.
The young Queen moved behind the warrior, pulling Xena to lie in her lap. The sounds she made as she cried went straight up to heaven and the sound echoed loudly throughout the hall of the Fates. The sound was enough to touch the heart of the Goddess Artemis and she fled from the hall, to seek her own sanctuary.
By the time Cyrene was brought into the room, word had passed through the village of the Warrior's fall. Cyrene walked into the room that was silent but for the sound of Gabrielle's weeping. The older woman's hand covered her mouth as she saw the still body of her daughter and the young bard who refused to loosen her grasp. The others left the room as Cyrene knelt beside the two women, her own tears joining with Gabrielle's.
Candlemarks went by and soon Toris rode up, having been told of his sister's accident. He found his mother silent on the steps of the Queen's hut and inside he watched as a few Amazons he recognized, tried to get Gabrielle to relinquish her hold on her lover.
Toris returned to the steps and sat beside his mother, placing a comforting arm around the older woman's shoulder. Inside they could still her the young Queen crying in torment.
"Gabrielle," Ephiny said to her Queen after half the day had gone. "We should prepare--"
"No, don't touch her!" Gabrielle cried, slapping the gentle hand that Ephiny had placed on Xena's arm. "She's not going anywhere...she wouldn't leave me! Don't you dare leave me, Xena!" The young Queen practically screamed the words and, to Ephiny, the scene was hauntingly familiar.
The Regent remembered an afternoon in Thessaly, in a bombed out shell of a temple, where she watched Xena scream, cry, and plead just as Gabrielle was doing. For the warrior, her prayers were heard, but for Gabrielle, it seemed no miracle would be coming as Xena's body remained still and unmoving.
Gabrielle rocked Her Warrior, thinking it impossible that Xena could be gone. Xena would fight; she would fight to get back to her bard. The Warrior would beg, borrow, and steal from every God she knew to get back. Gabrielle pressed her lips to Xena's. They still felt warm to the touch. She placed her hand over her Warrior's chest and felt the beating of the woman's heart. A sob full of heartache broke free from the young Queen's chest as she realized that her Warrior's heartbeat was much fainter than it had been. She wrapped her arms even tighter around her lover and never heard the door open when Ephiny and Eponin walked into the room.
Gabrielle's loud sobs had subsided to constant tears, which fell from her eyes and splashed onto the Warrior's armor. The young Queen watched as the firelight danced across the ring that Artemis gave her just this afternoon. The small blonde touched the ring and never hesitated.
"Father." She whispered.
The two Amazons nearly fell backwards in their chairs as the figure of a man materialized in the center of the room.
Apollo knelt beside his daughter and listened to the sound of her tortured cries. He, along with the other Gods on Olympus, had already heard of the Warrior's outcome with the Fates.
"Please...please, help her." Gabrielle pleaded through her tears.
"Gabrielle, it's the whim of the Fates. Artemis has already fought for Xena, but they have refused to change the Warrior's fate."
"Please..." His daughter's tears broke Apollo's heart just as they would have torn at any other father's soul.
"I'll do what I can." The God said and stood, bending down once to place a gentle kiss on his daughter's forehead. After that, he was gone.
The two Amazon's who sat in the corner looked at one another and slowly rose to go outside. After that, Gabrielle ordered everyone out unless the family wished to come in. Hecuba tried to get her daughter to rest for a while, but the young Queen seemed not to hear as she held and rocked Xena in her arms.
"Please, don't leave me, Xe. I won't be able to go on without you. You always call me, your heart, but don't you know that you're mine too? If your heart stops beating, then my life ends too. I won't go on for one day without you, my love. I'll fall on a sword if I have to just to follow you. I'm sorry, love, but I have to be with you."
Gabrielle whispered to her Warrior. Then the young Queen began talking of all they'd done and all they had yet to do.
Apollo, usually the mildest natured of all the Gods on Olympus, entered the hall of the Fates with the sounds of his daughter's weeping still ringing in his ears.
"We haven't been graced with your presence in a long while," Clotho observed as the three women went about their tasks.
"I'm here about my daughter." Apollo said firmly.
"You have a daughter?" Clotho asked.
"Yes, he does indeed and I think I know why you're here." Lachesis answered for the God.
Lachesis indicated the loose thread that still lay in her lap, her thoughts transferring to her counterparts easily.
"The Warrior's thread has fallen, the will of the Fates is final." Atropos ruled.
"And, Gabrielle? What will become of my daughter because of this?" Apollo stepped toward the women and the ever-turning spindle the threads ran on.
"Her thread runs on, that is the will of the Fates." The old crone answered.
"And if she chooses to alter your plans?" Apollo questioned.
"She cannot...it is the Fates wish that she go on."
"Evidently you haven't had much contact with my daughter. Her will is very strong, and her heart even stronger. As a matter of fact, isn't that her thread there?"
Apollo pointed out the bright white thread and all three of the Fates turned to look at once. Even as they watched, the brightness of the thread dimmed and grew dull. It slowly began to fade to gray, and then something happened that surprised even the Fates. Suddenly the threads near the Fading thread began to darken, and then the ones that wove themselves tightly to the once bright thread began to darken. The Fates were beside themselves. No one had ever displayed such power over other threads before.
"How do we undo what we have already decreed?" Atropos inquired.
"I have an idea," Lachesis said.
She quickly picked up the loose thread that had been cut earlier and began weaving it within the fading thread. She tightened and straightened until the lavender thread and the fading thread looked as one. The three Fates held their breath as they waited to see the outcome of their handiwork.
Apollo smiled at the result, even though he had very little to do with it. Of course, there was a half-mortal Amazon Queen who would never believe that she could have had the strength of heart to change the will of the Fates.
Gabrielle continued to hold her Warrior, feeling Xena's heartbeat grow weaker. Finally, with a sorrow greater than at any time in her life, she moved from behind the Warrior and gently laid her dark-haired lover down on the pallet. The young Queen began removing her Consort's armor, talking to her as if she could her the small blonde's voice.
"I don't know what I'll do without you telling me to get up in the morning, or not having you around to tell me to feed my stomach monster. I'm going to miss you so much, Xe..." Gabrielle placed the pieces of armor on the chair by the bed, until the Warrior was left in her leather shift.
Gabrielle sniffed and wiped her still falling tears away. "I probably won't be able to sleep at night without hearing you snoring next to me."
"I don't snore..." The low alto of Xena's voice penetrated the Queen's musing.
Gabrielle turned to the sound of her lover's voice to see Xena's blue eyes flutter open and a loud yawn escape her.
Gabrielle sobbed as she looked at her lover, not sure whether it was a vision or not.
"Brie...honey, what's wrong?" Xena asked in alarm, seeing Gabrielle's face.
"Are you real?" Was all Gabrielle could think to say.
"Am I--of course, I am...baby, what's wrong, did I pass out or something?" Xena was getting a little worried about her bard.
"Oh, Xe!" Gabrielle threw herself into her Warrior's arms, sobbing.
Eponin thought she heard voices inside the hut. She walked quietly in the door and found Gabrielle sprawled across Xena's body. Suddenly the Amazon saw Xena's hands move along Gabrielle's back. Eponin backed out through the open door so fast that when her hips hit the porch railing, the astounded Amazon's body flipped right off the porch. Sartori among others quickly moved to help the warrior who still lay on her back in the dirt. As a matter of fact if the scenario hadn't been so frightening, she would have laughed. It seemed that no matter what; Eponin ended up flying off the Queen's porch in some manner.
Everyone was circled around the fallen warrior when Eponin raised her arm and stammered nonsensically, pointing up to the entrance of the Queen's hut. Ephiny grabbed the warrior.
"Ep, what's wrong...what did you see?" The Regent asked.
"Zuh--Zuh--Xena!" Eponin pointed her arm wildly.
"Yea?" Xena stood in the doorway, her arm around Gabrielle's shoulder, and both the Queen's arms around the dark-haired woman's waist. Xena appeared as if she needed to lean upon Gabrielle, but the Warrior looked very much alive.
"Oh, Xena," Cyrene ran to her daughter and the taller woman hugged her tightly.
"I'm okay, mom...really." Xena whispered, receiving the same tight embrace from her brother.
Xena was still a little unsteady on her feet, but she never appeared it, as she pulled Gabrielle close to her and rested her chin on top of the small blonde's head.
"Gee," she whispered to her lover, "you'd think they never saw anyone die and come back to life before. It happens to us all the time"
Gabrielle didn't have to push very hard to get the Warrior into bed. Xena admitted that she felt like she'd waged war all day. The young Queen smiled realizing her Warrior didn't yet know how very close to the truth that statement was.
Finally, the last person left to see her was Sartori. She examined the woman and shook her head in amazement.
"It is truly a gift from the gods, Xena. I can't explain it any other way." The Healer remarked.
"I'll take free gifts where I can get 'em," Xena grinned, then yawned deeply.
"Sleep is the best thing right now. Gabrielle, don't hesitate to send for me if there's any change." Sartori said before leaving.
Xena snuggled into the extra pillow Gabrielle had provided and sighed pleasantly as she watched her lover move about the room. Suddenly Xena's senses picked up a familiar tingling feeling.
"Brie?" Xena barely had time to say, before Apollo's figure materialized in the middle of the room.
Gabrielle took one look at her father and threw herself into the man's arms. Xena couldn't help but smile broadly at the sight. Gabrielle was such an openly affectionate person that she surprised people sometimes. Apollo had a look on his face that reminded Xena of what her face must surely have looked like the first time the small blonde embraced her that way. For a full heartbeat the handsome God looked terrified, then confused, but as soon as he registered the fact that this was his beloved daughter, he wrapped his arms tightly around the young woman and returned the affection.
"Thank you," Gabrielle said, pulling away and wiping the tears from her eyes.
Xena sat up slightly and commented on the sight. "I take it that you either missed each other or, Apollo, you had something to do with my sudden restoration."
"Actually, Xena I had very little to do with bringing you back. To tell the truth, the reason the Fates changed their minds was mostly because of Gabrielle."
"That doesn't surprise me in the least." The Warrior said, glancing at her lover with a crystal blue gaze.
Xena settled into her lover's arms, Gabrielle stoking her hair, her face, the young Queen's eyes never leaving the dark-haired woman in her embrace. The Warrior could barely keep her eyes open and her lovers touch had her floating on a cloud. Xena noticed that Gabrielle fought against closing her eyes, keeping watch over the Warrior.
"Brie," Xena said sleepily, "you can go to sleep, my heart...I'm not going anywhere."
Gabrielle smiled against the ebony wisps of hair that fell against her face. She knows me so well.
"Xe?" Gabrielle asked softly.
"Hhmmm?" The Warrior answered.
"What do you think I could have done that would have made the Fates change their mind?"
It was Xena's turned to smile. She tenderly kissed her lover's neck, nuzzling the warm skin.
"I'm sure you were just being you." Xena said before sleep claimed her.
The three Fates continued to watch the thread closely. Hours had passed in the mortal realm, but to these three, barely the flicker of an eye had gone by.
The thread they watched so intently had already begun to lose its dull color and glowed softly. The lavender thread twisted and looped around the white and Lachesis ran her fingers over the filaments she so recently wove, nodding to the other two. She tugged experimentally and already found them bound together as one.
While they watched, the strands of the lavender thread spread around and through the white, until both cords changed into the palest, most beautiful hue of blue-green.
"Are you still asleep?" Gabrielle asked, a little surprised that her warrior was still snoring away at midday.
"No...It's a new form of meditation I'm working on." Xena responded grumpily.
Waking up a bit more, the warrior apologized. "Sorry, Brie. I feel like a cranky five-year-old, though. I hate being this tired."
"Should I be worried?" Gabrielle asked, but Xena could tell by the sound of her voice that the young Queen was already worried.
"No, your father said it was to be expected." Xena yawned, surprising even herself at how easily that phrase slid off her tongue.
Speaking of which, I had to have a talk with Ep and Ephiny this morning. They were in the room when my father, boy, that's gonna take a little getting used to saying. Anyway, when he showed up the first time last night, they were here with me. I asked them not to tell everyone in the whole country, but I had to explain it to them."
"Xe...Xe, are you listening to me?"
Xena's only response was a gentle snore that told the Queen her warrior was definitely not listening. She smoothed the hair back from the unknowing face and kissed her lover's cheek.
Xena stretched and yawned contentedly. Rolling over, she ran right into a pair of emerald eyes staring her way.
"Hey," the warrior said in a sleepy voice.
"Hey, yourself, sleepy. Hungry? I brought over a tray in case you woke up."
"Absolutely famished!" The warrior responded enthusiastically.
Xena pulled on her robe and sat down at the table with Gabrielle, but not before placing a kiss on the top of the small blonde's head.
"Did you eat already?" Xena asked as she devoured more food than was her custom.
"Uh huh." Gabrielle nodded, stealing a ripe fig from the tray anyway. "Should I get more?" She asked with surprise.
"I can't understand it, but I guess this coming back to life takes a lot of your body's energy." Xena replied with a sheepish grin.
"You've missed a lot of guests arriving today." Gabrielle said.
"Oh, yea that breaks my heart. Who are they, some Kings come to see if you're really off the market?" Xena teased.
"No." Gabrielle slapped her warrior's arm. "Let's see Hercules and Iolaus came by first thing this morning. Some of my Amazons were having a hard time controlling themselves, so they're staying in the Centaur village." Gabrielle laughed.
"Oh, and the messengers finally tracked down Autolycus, everyone's favorite thief should be here tomorrow."
"Better tell the temple guards to nail down everything they don't want to disappear." Xena deadpanned.
"Salmoneus wandered into the village. He said he was, being such a close personal friend to the Warrior Princess and all, sure that his invitation to the wedding must have been delayed. I took off once he started talking about selling Xena and Gabrielle dolls. Can you even believe such a thing? I mean, who in their right mind would buy a doll of us? He seems to think there's this huge market for it."
"Hah!" Xena laughed. "I can see his sales pitch right now...Xena swords, Gabrielle staffs, imitation chakrams! Doesn't he realize that people would never spend good dinars on junk like that?"
Xena let out a loud yawn. "I feel like I'm doing a lot of that, sorry, Brie."
"Well, I guess I'd rather have you doing that now, than on our wedding night." The young Queen teased.
Xena took the young woman's hand and pulled her into the warrior's lap. "Oh, I don't thing there's any chance of that, my heart." Xena replied, kissing her lover tenderly.
"You know, everyone is coming back tonight for a little get together. Do you think you might be up for it?" Gabrielle asked hopefully.
"Oh, Brie, I don't see how I could stay awake. I'm ready to go to sleep again right now." Xena noticed the crestfallen expression on her lover's face and stroked her face gently. "Why don't you go? After all you've been through lately you could certainly use a night out."
"Oh, it's not that big a deal." Gabrielle answered quickly.
"Brie," Xena said softly. "You remember you did the same thing last time?"
Both women understood the incident the warrior spoke of. When Xena died and Gabrielle brought her back to life with a taste of Ambrosia, the bard was anxious for weeks. It took the young Queen quite a while before she could allow the warrior out of her sight without experiencing feelings of dread. Gabrielle hovered over and watched Xena no matter what she did or where she went.
Xena saw the same fear in her lover's eyes as she did back then.
"Brie...honey, with the exception of being very hungry and very sleepy, I'm okay now. You don't have to keep watch, allright?" Xena pointed out.
Slow tears fell from the young Queen's eyes and Xena wrapped her arms tightly around the smaller woman, the warrior's own heart aching at the pain her bard endured because of her. The dark-haired woman forced down the fatigue she felt and held her lover until Gabrielle had purged her mind and heart of the past day's pain.
"Hey, why don't you get cleaned up and go meet our friends this evening, allright? Make my apologies and promise me you'll let loose and have a really good time, okay?"
Gabrielle smiled, wiped her eyes, and nodded her head at her lover. As Xena watched Gabrielle walk off to the bathing pools, she made sure there were at least two Royal Guards not far behind the young Queen. Finally, the warrior fell back onto the bed and was instantly asleep.
"Ep, how many mugs of wine have you poured for Gabrielle so far?" Ephiny whispered out of the side of her mouth.
Eponin sat closest to Gabrielle for most of the night and Ephiny began to notice that the Young Queen's words were beginning to slur together a bit. She also noticed that Gabrielle's mug never got more than half empty before Eponin jumped up to refill it.
"I don't know, guess I lost count. For being such a tiny thing, she sure can put it away with the best of 'em though, huh?" The Amazon grinned.
"Ep, do you have a death wish, or what?" Ephiny replied. "Do you know what will happen if Xena finds out you got Gabrielle drunk?"
"Hey, Xena's the one that told me to do it." The warrior looked slightly wounded.
"Xena...the Warrior Princess? She told you to get her bride to be drunk? Were those her exact words, Ep?"
"Weelll, she said to make sure Gabrielle let go and had a really good time tonight." Eponin thought hard, trying to remember what the dark-haired warrior had actually said.
"I have a feeling," Ephiny began watching as the newly arrived Autolycus and Gabrielle were drunkenly exchanging dirty limericks, "that Xena didn't mean this good of a time. Just keep an eye on her."
Three candlemarks and many wineskins later, the partygoers had dwindled down to Ephiny, Eponin, Autolycus, Hercules, Iolaus, Princess Jordan, and Solari. With the proper encouragement, Gabrielle had been telling perhaps more about a certain warrior than said warrior would have cared, had she been present.
"Well, I probably shouldn't even say this, but..." Gabrielle started. Seven people leaned forward at the same time. "Do you know what Xena really likes? You guys don't really want ta hear about this, do ya?"
"Yes!" Seven voices answered at once.
Hard as it was for any of them to admit, but there was something, deep inside that wanted to know what this small, sometimes delicate, woman could possibly do, that would keep the Warrior Princess entertained when the candles were blown out at night. It was a question that no one would ever come out and ask, but here Gabrielle was offering the information. It didn't seem to matter at this point that the young Queen was absolutely soused.
"Well, when I--"
"Gabrielle?" The familiar low drawl of Xena's voice broke through the night and everyone at the table looked up into a piercing blue gaze that did not look amused.
The warrior stood with her arms folded across her chest, her eyes focused on the small blonde at the other end of the table. Xena wore only her leather shift, but she still made an impressive figure and the rest of the guests suddenly remembered to whom the young Queen belonged.
"Xena, nice to see you feeling allright." Hercules said, while those around him nodded profusely. "Well, I'm beat, how 'bout you?" He hit Iolaus on the back.
"Oh, yeah...long day." His companion nervously agreed.
Autolycus stretched his arms and let out a deep yawn. "Wow, is it that late? Well...g'night."
Xena never moved and her gaze never wavered as the guests all rushed to put as much distance between themselves and the warrior as possible. Gabrielle continued to look into her mug, feeling the weight of Xena's stare on her.
"Gabrielle?" Xena's questioning voice was low and ominous.
"You told me to have a good time." Gabrielle said meekly, looking up with what she hoped was a contrite expression.
Xena just glared, and then just as suddenly realized she could no longer keep up the pretense of anger at her lover. The previous look she wore was mostly for the benefit of the other revelers. It would never do for all of them to know that Gabrielle had the warrior completely wrapped around her little finger.
Xena gave her lover a little lopsided grin. "I guess I was the one that told you to enjoy yourself, wasn't I? I guess I didn't realize you'd enjoy yourself into the middle of the night."
"Sorry, Xe." Gabrielle attempted to stand and promptly found herself on her backside beside her chair, a thoroughly confused look on her face.
"Hey," Xena said, moving quickly to her young lover. "You okay?"
"Me? Sure, nothing to this. I've been walking nearly all my life." Gabrielle replied.
"You need some help standing?" Xena asked with a knowing smile.
"You mean I'm not?" The Queen looked as if she was in another world.
"Right!" Xena said, scooping the slight woman up in her arms, moving toward their hut.
"Brie, stop that." Xena was having a hard time walking and holding her cherished cargo while her lover kissed her neck that way.
Gabrielle's kisses turned passionate as she tugged at the skin on the warrior's neck with her lips and teeth. Xena breathed deeply, controlling her emotions, and kept walking. When her lover started to knead her breast through the leather shift, Xena began to lose her cool. She could feel her own skin responding to her lover's touch and soon found that she had stopped moving.
"Gabrielle..." Xena's low warning tone rang out.
"I want to taste you." Gabrielle purred.
"Oh, Brie...Gods, give me strength!" Xena responded, lifting the young woman and tossing her over her shoulder.
"Hey," Gabrielle protested, the warrior continued to walk.
"Gabrielle, stop that!" Xena said sharply, looking around to see who might be watching.
From the young Queen's position, slung over the warrior's shoulder like a sack of dried fruit, she couldn't resist slipping her hand within the petals of the warrior's battle skirt and fondling the tall woman's shapely backside. Xena pulled the small woman into her arms again, trying to hold off what seemed like a dozen pairs of hands at once.
"Where are we going?" Gabrielle murmured against the warrior's neck.
"Where we can have privacy," Xena responded.
"Brie...I just want you to know I'm doing this because I love you." Xena replied in exasperation, stopping at the edge of a sandy bank.
The warrior pried her lover's hands from around her neck and unceremoniously tossed the woman into the cold water of the lake. Xena waded out to her knees and when Gabrielle's head surfaced, the warrior grabbed the neck of the tunic she had on.
"Hold your breath," she warned Gabrielle.
The young Queen wasn't so far gone she couldn't see what was coming. She obediently held her breath as Xena dunked her head into the cold water two more times. Sputtering water and teeth chattering loudly, the young woman was a lot more sober than before.
"Are you ready to behave and go to bed?" Xena asked sternly, barely able to contain the smile that threatened to reveal itself.
Gabrielle shivered and nodded without looking up at the warrior. She followed along repentantly as Xena stepped from the water. The warrior moved to pick up the trembling woman again, but Gabrielle stepped back a pace.
"I can walk now, Xe." She sad sadly.
Xena looked at her lover and felt her heart slip away all over again. The warrior took a quick step forward,
"I know," and instantly the small blonde was lifted into the dark-haired woman's arms. "But I kind of like it this way." She finished, interrupting the sentiment with a tender kiss to her lover's wet forehead.
"Come on, my heart...let's get some sleep."
"Oh, Gods!" Gabrielle moaned as she rolled away from the sun that shone into the room, intent on hitting the young Queen straight in the eye.
"Gee, feel kind of bad this morning, huh?" Xena appeared beside the bed, a cup in her hand.
"I'd have to be dead for a week to feel any worse." Gabrielle groaned, trying to rise to a sitting position.
"Here, this will help," the warrior held out the cup.
"Dear Gods, it smells horrible! I don't want to know what's in this, do I?"
"Nope," Xena replied. "Look, do you want to have a hangover when we meet with Artemis, or do you want to be right as rain in a couple of candlemarks?"
"Well," Gabrielle tentatively stared at the concoction. "I guess I feel like throwing up anyway, a little bit more of that feeling won't kill me."
The young Queen swallowed the liquid in two gulps. For a few heartbeats the small blonde looked as if she actually would be sick, but by degrees the greenish caste left her face and her color began to return to normal. Slowly Gabrielle sat up completely, leaning against the head of the bed. She saw the tub full of steaming bath water and looked at the mug of piping hot tea her lover handed her, and was immediately suspicious.
"A bath? Did you bring that in here yourself?"
"NopeŠI roped some of your loyal subjects into it. Boy, did you give them an earful. You were snoring so loud the roof almost fell in." Xena laughed, watching her young lover and sipping on a mug of tea herself.
"Xe! I do not snore."
"You do when you're drunk. It was kind of a cute, I've never heard you do that before." She laughed again.
Gabrielle tried to stretch muscles that seemed tight an uncooperative. "Xe, did we go swimming last night?"
Xena laughed aloud. "In a manner of speaking." Then she explained how Gabrielle's amorous attentions drove her to distraction, hence the need for the late night dip.
"So, why are you being so nice to me now?"
"Well, I do feel a little responsible. I told you to have a good time, and I told Ep to see that you loosened up a bit. I didn't anticipate that she would ply you with wine to do it, though. Stomach feeling better?"
Gabrielle nodded and ran her hands through her hair, wincing and wondering how even her hair could hurt.
"Well, I'm going to take Argo out for a long ride. You, soak for a while until you lose that hangover. Don't forget we have to meet with Artemis at mid-morning, okay?" Xena said while adjusting her armor.
"Yes, dear," Gabrielle smiled at her lover and received a grin in return. "Thanks, Xe." The Queen added.
"For taking such good care of me." Gabrielle answered.
"I kind of like that job." Xena replied.
"Xe, what do you think Artemis will say about...us? I mean, after everything that went on, do you still think she'll give her blessing to the marriage?"
"Don't worry, she'll be fair." Xena responded, wondering herself at the outcome.
In the warrior's mind Gabrielle had passed their tests with ease, but Xena was another matter. Even though the incident with Adrian turned out to be a pack of lies, the warrior did get drunk and she very well could have committed the acts she was accused of. Secretly, she worried that Artemis wouldn't give her blessing to the ceremony. She didn't know what either of them would do in that case.
"Hey, she's your aunt...how bad will it be?" Xena said, before winking at her lover and walking out the door.
The young Queen and her warrior both seemed a little more nervous than the first time they stood here waiting for the Goddess to make her appearance.
This time when Artemis appeared she ushered both women into the garden.
"So, did we--" Gabrielle began, but was interrupted by the Goddess.
"Gabrielle," Artemis held up her hand slightly, sinking somewhat wearily onto a marble bench. "I want you to realize that even though you are my niece, by birth, you are also the Queen to my Chosen people. Part of your destiny was to become the Ruler to the Amazons, it was fate, however, that brought you that leadership. It had nothing to do with our family relationship. My desire has always been for a strong Queen to lead my people, to have someone strong enough to Rule by example. You have always done just that, until this recent turn of events. It seems you and your warrior almost came apart at the seams."
Artemis watched as the young Queen lowered her head. Her niece didn't burst into tears and beg forgiveness...that was the strength in her. The Goddess smiled inside at the young woman who seemed to internalize everything that happened to her. Gabrielle always thought it was something she had done.
Xena came to stand behind her lover, resting her hands on the smaller woman's shoulders. She stood close enough for the young Queen to feel her chest pressed against the blonde's back.
"Artemis, that was my fault, not Gabrielle's." Xena argued.
"No matter how many people a civilization contains, when it rises, it rises as one...when it falls, it falls as one." Artemis countered.
"Xena," Artemis looked thoughtfully at the warrior, "What would you do if you didn't have my blessing on your Joining?"
Xena tensed at the question. She had hoped that Artemis would see their relationship for what is was and what it could be; not the mistake she had so recently made.
"Then I suppose we wouldn't be Joined." Xena answered flatly. Tears came to the warrior's eyes knowing her actions had jeopardized her future to take Gabrielle as her wife.
Artemis raised an eyebrow at the warrior's answer, but listened as Xena continued.
"Without your blessing, the marriage of your Queen could be challenged. I don't want the shame that would bring, for Gabrielle or for the Amazons. I would never leave her side, though. Whether I'm her Consort or her lover, blessed or not, I will never leave her or stop loving her." Xena squeezed Gabrielle's shoulders, placing a soft kiss against the back of her head.
"And you, Gabrielle? If I made you choose between my Amazons and a life with this warrior?" Artemis asked.
"I'm sorry, Artemis, but I would give up my throne before I would ever leave Xena."
Artemis stared at the two.
"Xena you failed your test." The Goddess said abruptly.
"I'm so sorry, Brie." The warrior wrapped her arms around the smaller woman, Gabrielle resting her hands on the arms that encircled her.
"Don't be too sorry. Gabrielle, you failed also."
"Wha--?" The warrior and the young Queen said in unison.
Artemis stood and paced a small distance before turning back to the two confused lovers.
"Xena, you didn't fail for the reason you're thinking. I wasn't testing your fidelity to your lover, rather your fealty to the Queen."
Artemis continued to explain to the perplexed looks of warrior and Queen alike.
"Xena, your whole trouble started because you wouldn't get up and leave when the Queen asked you. You sat there and continued to drink until it got you in huge trouble. Granted, you were poisoned and not responsible for all the anger you felt toward Gabrielle, but at one time, when Gabrielle stood there and asked you to leave the party that night. Didn't you know what the right thing to do was? Wasn't there still a little voice that told you to follow Gabrielle?"
Xena had searched her heart over this matter so often that she didn't have to think long.
"That is why you failed. The test wasn't if you would stay loyal to your bed partner. The test was would you remain loyal to your Queen. You may not be Amazon, Xena, but to marry this woman before you, there must be an oath. You must find the strength to swear fealty to Gabrielle as the Queen of this Nation, and like any other Royal Consort; you must follow where she leads. I know that takes a great deal, for a warrior like you, and there will be those around you, friends and foes, that will scoff at you for what they perceive as a weakness. I am here to tell you, my warrior friend, that it takes a warrior of exceptional integrity and strength to follow another's lead."
"Gabrielle, my Queen, your bardic memory is so good. Do you remember the exact words I told you the first time you came to visit me, here in my temple?"
Gabrielle lifted her head and repeated the words she had gone over a thousand times in her own head since the incident with Adrian.
"You said that ultimate trust is not without its price and that sometimes when all those around you say a thing is black, it is up to you to say it is white. If for no other reason than because your heart says it's so."
Artemis nodded at the contrite look on her niece's face.
"Your test was your trust in Xena. Gabrielle you are a Queen of one of the fiercest Nations of warrior's Greece will ever know. There will be those who want to see you fall for no other reason than it serves their purpose at the time. You are a woman with an open heart and you can do little to change at this point. It is one of the many qualities that make up who you are. Enemies will use that, however, and see that their chance to hurt and influence you will be through your love for your Consort. When you banished Xena from the village, did you do it out of hurt and pain, or wounded pride?" Artemis asked at last.
"I didn't want to look like a fool, so I guess it was out of pride." Gabrielle answered softly.
"You will soon learn that the very foundation of your relationship with your Consort is one of trust. If you realize that, then there is nothing that can wedge itself between you, not even the most plausible lie."
After a few heartbeats of silence passed, Xena and Gabrielle looked at one another.
"So, what happens when both the Queen and her Consort fail the test?" Xena asked.
"Actually, that's never happened before. I guess it simply means you're both completely hopeless and you're perfect for each other." The Goddess smiled, her gray eyes sparkling, waiting for the comprehension of her words to strike the two women.
"Then we...?" Gabrielle faltered.
"Yes, my dear niece and Queen. You have my blessing for a very long and happy life, officially Bonded together."
Gabrielle did what makes her Gabrielle. She threw her arms around the Goddess and surprised the tall woman with her embrace. Like her brother, she looked unsure of how to react, but this was her niece after all, and she found herself returning the affection wholeheartedly.
Even Xena and Artemis embraced briefly, the Goddess placing a light kiss on the warrior's cheek. The dark-haired woman accepted the affection with uncharacteristic grace, realizing that all she held dear in the world was now within her grasp.
Xena watched Gabrielle spend a few more moments with the tall Goddess, and the warrior couldn't take her eyes off the small blonde. This, to swear fealty and to obey this young woman before her, no matter what, would be the hardest thing Xena would ever do. There would always be a part of the warrior that would think of Gabrielle as the little, hero-worshipping girl that she let follow her out of Amphipolis that day. She had been determined to send her back home the first day. Then on the second day she was going to leave her in the first sizable town they came to. On the third day, her fate had been sealed. And, even though the Fates had caused the two women more grief and heartache than two people had any right to experience, the warrior said a little thank you under her breath, a thank you for that third day.
Atropos, Lachesis, and Clotho all smiled at once. Smiles were a rare occurrence among them, but the warrior's thoughts moved even the Fates. No one had ever thought to thank them before.
Lachesis was touched at the gesture and secretly, which was hard to do, kept a promise in her heart. She would someday repay this warrior who stopped to thank them for their work. She watched as the threads moved along, the single thread that looked somewhat thicker than the others, glowed brightly.
"Are you ready, Gabrielle?" Toris asked the small blonde who paced the anteroom of the temple nervously.
"Is it time?" The young Queen questioned, her face a mixed expression of emotions.
Gabrielle stopped and the priestess' moved around her, straightening and pulling. Finally determining that the Queen was picture perfect, they bowed and were gone. Four members of the Royal Guard entered the temple bowing before their Queen. Two of them stood ready to open the large wooden doors to the temple, the other two would walk ahead of the Queen and the Amazons that opened the doors would bring up the rear. The two Guards stood poised awaiting the sign from their Queen.
Toris held out his arm for Gabrielle and she placed her hand over the tall man's forearm.
"Toris...do you think I'm doing the right thing?" Suddenly Gabrielle became terrified at what she was about to do. What if she couldn't keep her warrior happy? A thousand other what ifs ran through her mind.
"I find this a most interesting time to ask that question, but yes, I think you're doing the right thing. Gabrielle," Toris stopped and took both of the small woman's hands within his own. "You and Xena love one another, you care for each other, and today you're simply promising in front of witnesses what you've already been promising one another. Besides, Xena is the most bullheaded woman I know and you are surely, just as obstinate. I think you're a match for the ages." He chuckled.
Ephiny came in through the side entrance of the temple just as Gabrielle was embracing Toris.
"Gabrielle, your guests are getting a little antsy and your warrior is getting a very terrified look on her face. I think she believes you're standing her up." The Regent smiled at her apprehensive Queen.
"Oh, go on, I'm coming." Gabrielle said with a waving motion of her hand.
Once they gave Ephiny, who was presiding over the ceremony, enough time to get back, Gabrielle once again took the arm Toris offered. Nodding slightly to the Guards, Gabrielle watched as the large Mahogany doors were opened wide.
Every eye turned to the top of the temple steps to watch as a most regal looking Queen and her escort descended. It was perhaps a dozen yards down the steps and to the dais where Xena stood, but Gabrielle thought it was the most frightening promenade she ever took
Toris wore the same tunic, pants, and boots as Xena. Everything the brother and sister wore was black and silver, except for the light blue color running up Xena's sleeves and the diagonal red pattern across her chest. Xena's tunic held Gabrielle's crest, while Toris' bore the mark of Amphipolis. The blue indicated her status as the Queen's champion, the red color signifying Amazon Royalty. This was the color of the Egyptian silk dress that Gabrielle wore.
Xena watched as her lover walked toward her and today, like every other day she stopped to really look at her bard, she thought the small blonde the most beautiful woman she had ever laid eyes on. Gabrielle's hair was held up and off her neck by two small silver combs, whose designed matched the intricate hooks that fastened the warrior's tunic. The red dress wrapped around the young Queen's body, leaving her arms and shoulders bare of any adornment.
Amazons and guests alike bowed when Gabrielle passed by. The young Queen only noticed her warrior, however. Xena looked up from her boots and shook her raven hair from her eyes and Gabrielle's heart melted. The warrior now stood tall and proud and any doubts or fears Gabrielle had, simply vanished. The sapphire gaze connected with the viridian eyes that displayed very openly, the young Queen's heart. The love and commitment that were being shared here today caused both women to swallow hard at its significance.
Toris moved aside as Gabrielle mounted the steps to the dais. Everyone witnessing the Bonding ceremony waited for this moment to arrive. Once Gabrielle stopped in front of her lover, it was expected that the warrior would swear her fealty to the Queen in some way. Most everyone attending expected a perfunctory bow from the Warrior Princess. There were a very few only, that realized to what extent the warrior was willing to go to for her Queen.
When Gabrielle came to a stop before the Regent and her warrior, Xena not only dropped to one knee, but bowed her head and remained that way until a gentle touch from her lover, brought her to her feet again. It seemed a small gesture to some, but for those who knew the warrior from Amphipolis, they realized what it signified. Anyone with ears to hear; heard the sound of one heart surrendering to another.
The traditional ceremony went as planned and the Joining belt was wrapped around the two lovers clasped hands. Ephiny's voice rang out as she said the words that hadn't been spoken within the Amazon village for ten lifetimes.
"The Queen has taken a Consort. What the Goddess Artemis has blessed, let no other God nor mortal man seek to destroy." The Regent proclaimed.
The Queen and her Consort consummated the words with a kiss and the party began.
"We've spent have the evening mingling and thanking people, is it time yet, my Queen?" Xena whispered into Gabrielle's ear.
The small blonde was having exactly the same thought. Well, that thought and a lot of others that included her Consort.
"Oh yes," Gabrielle nodded. "Let me go ahead, okay? I want to get out of this and...well, just give me a quarter of a candlemark."
"I could help," the warrior said helpfully with a gleam in her eye.
"Xe, it took me a good candlemark to get in this thing. Just...have another drink, allright?"
Xena smiled and watched as her wife walked to their hut, two Royal Guards close behind. The warrior found a mug of wine thrust into her hand, Ephiny pulling Xena's eyes away from the small blonde's figure.
"You're supposed to give the new bride some time to prepare." The Regent explained.
"Eph, it's not like Gabrielle's a...I mean, we've been lovers for nearly a season." Xena answered.
"Yea, but you've never made love as a Joined couple...puts a whole new spin on things."
"So, where did you learn so much about married couples?" Xena asked.
"Well, my warrior friend, while you had our Queen, and I mean the term quite literally, doing the Gods know what all over the Greek countryside, I was back here officiating at half a dozen Bonding Ceremonies a season!" Ephiny answered with a grin.
"Here...you have a drink and by the time you're finished, your Queen will be more than ready." Ephiny grinned again, but more at the look of frustration on the warrior's face.
Gabrielle saw the scroll the moment she entered the hut. It was set on the table with a tag that said, read me. She knew the precise angular mark of the quill belonged to Xena, so she waited until she removed her dress and changed into a new silk robe before sitting down to read it.
When the young Queen opened the parchment, she realized it was a poem and smiled. Xena rarely wrote, but on the occasions she had, it was usually something heartfelt and profound. The top of the scroll read very simply...
Love comes and goes
Dreams, thoughts, and desires
One may want to shout from the hilltops
As soulmates I would never betray you, my heart
Even in times of despair
Our hearts and souls are intertwined
Destined to share
Our love is etched in my heart,
I have waited so long to say these words to you.
Sometimes without a word, or even a look
I will love and cherish you
Gabrielle sat for some time with the scroll in her lap, tears running down her face. She had never known such happiness in her life.
"It was supposed to make you happy, not make you cry." Xena's voice said softly from the doorway.
"It has made me happy, love...so happy I had to cry." Gabrielle smiled through her tears at her Consort.
"I still don't think I get that, but I'll take your word for it." Xena said softly.
The warrior wanted a present that Gabrielle would love and she congratulated herself on her choice. Her wife was a woman of words. They touched her heart and filtered into her soul like nothing else could. Xena knew that to satisfy a woman such as this, she would have to give her words. The warrior's gift was twofold, however. Xena not only gave her bard words, but she gave of herself.
No one would ever know this woman, the one that revealed herself so fully to her new wife. Only this Amazon Queen could ever penetrate the heart buried beneath walls of past pain. Brick by brick, the small blonde tore away the barrier until she finally found the woman within. Xena could have told her it wasn't worth the trouble, but Gabrielle thought differently. The young Queen happened to think she had found the very best that life had to offer and Xena found out that it was impossible to argue with an Amazon.
"Gabrielle, you are so beautiful."
I removed my clothes and knelt before her as she still sat in the chair. She had never asked me to disrobe in front of her before, not simply for her own pleasure. It was because it brought her pleasure that I complied, just as I would do anything to make my bard happy. I could feel the weight of her stare and the green eyes burned with a viridescent fire.
I parted her legs and moved closer to her body and when the silk robe she wore fell open, and the treasures underneath were exposed, I wanted more than anything to feel her against me. I drew her body to me until I could feel her center pressed against my belly and we both groaned at the contact. Only one moon had gone by and it felt like an entire season.
As if I didn't already crave her touch, the kiss we shared simply took on a life of its own and set me on fire. She entwined her fingers in my hair and I could feel the strength in her arms as she pulled me harder against her. Wrapping her legs around my waist, I could feel her wetness as she gently rocked her hips against me. I slid my hands lower, caressing and massaging her backside, squeezing her against me, assisting in the rhythm she already set.
In all this time my lips never left hers. Finally I broke away to taste the rest of her skin, her face, her neck, her shoulders. She leaned back and moaned as my lips found a nipple. I let the tip of my tongue tease the erect nub only slightly before wrapping my lips around the pebbled flesh. It was second nature by now, making love to her. I knew what she liked and when she wanted it. I started to suck on the offered breast tenderly at first. Then those fingers still wrapped in my hair pulled me against her harder.
"Please." Gabrielle murmured.
I sucked harder, pulling at the hardened nub with my teeth, flicking over it with my tongue. It thrilled me to feel her silent shivers as I made love to her breasts. I wanted to tell her how extraordinary I thought she was and how exquisite she felt in my arms. I wanted her to know that the hardness of her nipple within my mouth was getting me wetter by the heartbeat, but, I'm not a woman of words. Instead I let my body tell her all I wanted her to know. There were no words I could utter at that moment, but she felt my passion for her when she reached down and dipped her index finger to my cleft. She felt my possessiveness as my mouth sought to mark her as mine, and finally she knew my strength when I stood, carrying her in my arms to make my way to the bed.
I sat on the bed and she straddled my lap. I reached down between her legs to feel her. Her drenched apex nearly threw me into an orgasm right there. She moaned, pressing herself hard against the palm of my hand. Her hips worked faster, but I pulled back.
"I want to taste you." I whispered to her and she moaned her pleasure at the thought.
I lay down with my back flat on the bed and she crawled up my body, straddling my face. I moved onto the center of the bed a little more and she grasped the rails of the headboard, leaning over me. Her scent was beyond arousing to my overloaded senses. I let my tongue run up her inner thigh to sample her wetness, the muscles in her legs tightening in anticipation. I let my warm breath blow across her center and she grunted with satisfaction.
I knew my wife well and I snaked one arm around her waist, while holding onto her hip with the other. The instant I ran my tongue along the entire length of her sex, she bucked against me, burying my mouth within the blond curls. She groaned, as did I. the taste of her was unlike anything or anyone I'd ever had. The deeper I slipped my tongue inside her, the louder her moans and the wetter she became. I lapped at the sweet fluid coming from her and opened my mouth to moan against her. The vibration sent chills through her and she called out my name, beginning to grind her hips onto my mouth. I loved the way she rolled her hips on top of me, forcing my tongue even deeper within her. I drew back, but she only whimpered for a heartbeat until she realized that I was moving toward my goal.
I flicked the hooded nub of flesh with my tongue until it began to swell in arousal, Gabrielle began to softly chant my name. It wouldn't be long before she exploded. I could already feel her wetness begin to increase again, warning of her climax. Her thrusts against my tongue became more forceful and frantic.
"Gods, yes...oh, Xe...please, don't stop, oh, Gods don't stop. Your fingers...now..."
I wrapped my lips around the hard bundle of nerves, sucking softly as I pressed two fingers into her opening. She pumped herself with abandon on my fingers and when I heard her breathing change to a ragged gasping; I sucked the nub hard between my teeth and ever so gently bit down. It was that technique that always brought her to climax. I could hear her scream, but only barely as my focus was on containing every drop of her precious essence on my tongue.
I eased my tongue from her center, but I continued the motion of my fingers inside her. I pressed high and hard, curling my fingers against the spot that she needed to feel. She exploded again, this time I could feel the warm wetness running down my hand as she shivered and convulsed against my fingers.
Gods, woman! I wanted to tell her that she was so rapturously beautiful at that moment of orgasm. That for as long as I lived there would be no other lover who could possibly compare. No other lover who could possibly make me feel anywhere close to the way I feel when loving her. I wanted to tell her so much, yet all I could do at that moment was cry.
Her breathing returning to normal, she moved off my body and lay next to me, taking my mouth in a kiss that reminded me that my own arousal was far from sated. She ran her tongue along my lips, sharing in her sweet musky taste, then she kissed the tears from my cheeks.
"Tears, my love?" She whispered.
I smiled a little lopsided smile just for her.
"You told me it was possible to be so happy you just had to cry."
I pulled back to look at her, I suppose to see if she was making fun of me. She enjoyed teasing me and I admit to liking the attention, but this time she was serious. I wiped the tears from her cheeks and my heart felt like it would swell and explode from my chest. My warrior could say so much without uttering a single word and her tears told me far more about her undying love for me than a profession from her lips ever could have.
I moved my body on top of hers and ran my kisses along her jaw to her ear, where I began to whisper softly. I knew she was already in a state, but whereas she will let her body talk for her, I on the other hand use my tongue in a variety of ways to please her. I let my imagination run wild and soon I have her groaning and grinding her hips into the mattress as I explain in great detail what I will do and how I will touch her.
She parts her legs wide and I press my knee into the wet flesh. Gods, she is dripping wet! I ease back on the pressure I place on her center and I can hear her whimper at the loss. She grabs by backside and pulls me into her, moaning as the increased pressure causes a greater friction on the large swollen bundle of nerves. She begins to thrust against me like that, but I force myself to slow her down. I ease the pace by kissing and licking every inch of exposed skin I can find. By the time I get close to her breast, she is already pleading.
"Please, Brie...suck me...Oh, Gods, harder."
I do as she asks and she is beside herself. I am always amazed that I am able to elicit these sounds from this warrior. She has had so many skilled lovers, yet it's always my name she cries out as her body throws itself over the precipice, into the arms of orgasm. I pull my lips away from the erect nipple and she groans in frustration, but in the same breath she cries out as I slip my fingers into the wet silkiness of her sex. I stay as far from the sensitive bit of flesh as I can; I want this to last for her. My fingers trace her outer lips and continue slipping inside to spread the abundant moisture along every fold and crevice.
"You like the way, this feels?" I ask, knowing the answer, but I want to hear her tell me anyway.
"Oh, yesss...Oh, baby...it feels so good."
I feel her hand slide down her body and suddenly her fingers are sliding in her wetness along with my own. She takes my hand and slides it into her opening. A low long growl escapes from her throat.
"I want all of you inside me, Brie...please, baby."
She knows she has only to tell me what she wants and I will be glad to comply, besides the feel of her already has my own center damp again, as I straddle her thigh and rub myself against her muscled leg. She spreads herself wide allowing my hand to enter her completely. Her eyes are closed and she remains still while I give her the time she needs to accommodate my whole hand inside of her. Finally I feel her begin to rock against my hand. She raises her leg slightly and I cry out at the marvelous pressure that puts on my center. I press my legs together slightly, lost in the sensation of being inside her and feeling her well-muscled thigh between my legs.
I begin to move my hand and my own hips in time to her thrusts. Her hips rise up in silent plea and I watch as her smile turns feral, her groans increase as I move deeper and harder. She asks for more of both and I refuse her nothing. I am always amazed at the feel of my whole hand rocking inside of her. The movement of her hips grows frantic and I struggle to keep up the motion of my hand while my center begins to catch fire.
I cry out and I feel her body begin a small series of tremors, her thighs tremble and finally her back arches and she is still. She is frozen within her passion while I continue the motion of my hand inside her. I feel her inner muscles contract around my fingers and clamp down around my wrist. The cry that tears from her throat is what sends me over the edge to follow her. Our bodies shudder and convulse as we hold on to one another.
My hand carefully slips from her and I do what it is that bards do. I cradle her in my arms and whisper words of love into her ear. Some of the things I say probably make no sense, but the words gentle my warrior until we are both breathing normally again.
"I love you, my wife." She says softly before the whole day catches up to her and she uncharacteristically falls asleep before me.
"And, I you, my Consort." I return, not knowing if she has heard me before falling into the realm of Morpheus.
Princess Jordan's party prepared to ride out as the Queen and her Consort said their farewells and thanks.
"Jordan, you're welcome in this village anytime you would like to visit." Gabrielle said.
"Gabrielle, Xena," the young Princess returned, "I have never felt so well cherished by friends before. I pray that our Nations become prosperous and that we will always be allies."
Before mounting their horses, Adrian came to take Gabrielle's hand. Xena stood behind the Queen, her hands resting protectively on the smaller woman's shoulders. While Gabrielle had befriended the Captain, Xena glared, not knowing if she would ever be able to forgive the woman for the pain the Queen and her Consort suffered because of her lies.
The Captain stood a little stiff, but the scars on her back would be a while in healing. She had no words for the small Queen, but hoped her eyes would convey what was in her heart.
"Good luck, Adrian. Be well." Gabrielle said, smiling.
Adrian returned the smile, knowing the Queen had seen what was in her heart.
They began to mount and the soldiers around Princess Jordan began talking as they rode away.
"So," began one of the women under Adrian's command. "Is that what the great Warrior Princess is going to settle for? The heart of that farm girl...a Potidaean?"
"No, Adrian smiled, looking back at the small blonde and the tall warrior. "The heart of a Queen."
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