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 done…okay, they get a little worn, but hey…I 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. 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.
SPOILER ALERT: Many of the episodes from seasons 1-4 are glanced over. Be warned if you haven't yet seen them.
TIMELINE: My own making. Instead of Xenaverse...it's Gabrielleverse! 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. Ooops! 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 you…well, 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: L L (2 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 unconstitutional…look 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 fourth 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, and The Heart of a Queen.
The Queen of My Heart
By LJ Maas
I don't know why, but I felt the uneasiness set in the moment we decided to make a visit to the Amazon village. My anxiety grew with every step we took. I couldn't say for what reason, but it set me on edge, a fact my beautiful wife was quick to notice. I knew she was aware that something was bothering me, but like the intelligent wife she was, she simply raised an eyebrow at my edginess and silently kept the pace, walking ahead of me.
We were perhaps three days south of the village and that night as we slept under the stars, Gabrielle awoke screaming. She threw herself into my arms sobbing once I settled my nerves enough to pry my hand away from the hilt of my sword. Her scream, an ear splitting sound, hastened the end of my life by a good five summers, I'm sure. I wrapped my arms around her shivering body and pulled her close to me. She lay so tightly against me I could feel her heartbeat pounding out of control.
"Sshh, baby, it's allright...just a bad dream."
"Oh, Xe, it felt so real. I thought...I thought I lost you."
"I'm right here, my heart. You haven't lost me anywhere." I replied.
Once I soothed her nerves, by holding her and whispering words of love and comfort to her, she quieted enough to tell me the dream. I never ignored Gabrielle's dreams, even though they may seem only nightmares to another. My wife's dreams have an unusual way of coming to pass, albeit in bits and pieces. Now, with the knowledge of her heritage, it does not surprise me that she has a touch of the oracle in her.
I reached away from her momentarily and stretched out the length of my body. Gabrielle gathered wood earlier and set aside two small logs in case the night turned cold. I tossed the logs she gathered on the glowing pile of embers and the dry wood immediately took spark and flamed. The warmth and the light, not to mention me, holding her in my protective embrace; aided in her comfort and she finally settled against me in relief.
"You got sick, Xe and I couldn't make you understand me. No matter how hard I tried I couldn't get through to you, but I heard you. In my mind I heard you talking to me and telling me it would be allright."
"Then that should show you that it's nothing too serious, Brie. Number one, I never get sick and even if I do, I heal so fast that I feel better in no time. Second, if I was telling you in your dream that everything would be okay, then I'm sure it will turn out that way." I responded confidently.
"That's the only problem. When you told me things would be allright...your voice didn't sound like you believed it." Gabrielle said with worry.
I could only stare at her for a few heartbeats. What could I say? That I would never lie to her if the prognosis looked grim? She knew me better than that, hence her fear.
"I'll do my level best to stay healthy. I'll drink a mug of medicinal herb tea every morning, will that help?" I asked her as I tilted her chin up and grinned. Once her beautiful eyes met mine, she returned the small grin and nodded her head.
When she leaned forward to kiss me, the weight of her body pushed my back flat against the bedroll and all I could do was moan at the sweetness of those lips and the feel of her body against mine. Her caresses became more earnest and suddenly my body felt the way it always does with Gabrielle draped across it. A slow fire began to burn in my belly and there was only one thing that would quench it, this woman's touch.
I pulled back before I went further than Gabrielle wanted. She just awoke from some startling visions and being held may have been all she had in mind. I needed to know now, so I could douse the sparks that were quickly turning into flames, burning hot and settling right between my legs.
She looked into my eyes and I could see her need burning as fiercely as my own. I growled and moved to take control when I felt her hands press against my shoulders, stopping me from going any further.
"Please, Xe...I need...let me make love to you." She said softly.
I've never heard Gabrielle use that phrase before...I need. I could instantly see the truth in her eyes. She looked as if she needed to ground herself, to find some way to purge the mental images that recently haunted her sleep. I would never deny this woman anything and I wonder if she knows it. Besides, I think, as a small smile comes to my lips. There are far worse ways to spend an evening, but few better than to be made love to by an Amazon Queen.
I pull her close to me once more and we kiss. Just before our lips touch; just as they are delicately brushing together, I whisper to her. The vibration against her mouth causes her to smile.
"Yesss." I whisper slowly, and then I give myself up to her talented body.
I close my eyes and revel in the feel of her naked skin pressed against mine, her legs straddling my thigh. We do nothing but kiss for a long time and that seems to be enough at first. Our kisses are slow and loving, more of an exploration, really, as our tongues meet and small jolts of energy pass between us.
I feel myself floating on a wave of pure pleasure, sensations washing over me in a torrent of passion. Gabrielle's mouth presses harder; becomes more insistent, more demanding. My body begins to betray me in more ways than one. Gentle moans filled the air and I am actually surprised that it is the sound of my own voice I am hearing. Gabrielle's hands seem to be everywhere at once and soon her lips follow, and that tongue, by the Gods, where did she learn that?!
My moans turn into whimpers of need and I silently curse myself. I meant to hold out far longer than this, but the woman was turning my body into six feet of liquid fire. She settled her attentions on my breasts, using her lips and tongue to stroke the tender flesh into submission. It wasn't much of a battle; I surrendered immediately. Her mouth wrapped around a dark colored nipple and although her seduction started out softly enough, she was soon sucking the pebbled flesh hard between her lips and teeth, tugging at the taut flesh with the voracity of a starving newborn.
"Oh, yesss, Brie...just like that," I moan in ecstasy.
I don't need to tell her that, she knows exactly what I like and how I like it. My fingers entwine in her golden hair and press her mouth even harder to my chest, but even that gesture is habit and completely unnecessary. There is no fear that she will pull away for any reason. She will not stop until I've had my fill and she tells me so, murmuring the words against my skin, into the hollow between my breasts. Secure in that knowledge, I relax just a little bit more and give my mind as well as my body up to her.
She slides down my body to settle between my legs and in the state I'm in it feels as if she is liquid and simply flows along my skin to her destination, pooling in the spot where I need her the most. She kisses the dark triangle of hair and I feel her pause. If I were more in control of my body I would smile. I love the habit she has of pausing ever so slightly before tasting me. It's always the same. She breathes deeply as if it will be the last time that I will allow her this pleasure. She takes one long, languid stroke against my sex and immediately I groan at the tenderness of the caress, lifting my hips higher toward the source of the pleasure.
My body shudders and there is nothing I can do to stop the involuntary motion. The warm wetness of her tongue slides within every fold until I am gasping as the muscle slips slowly inside of me. There is a certain deliberateness to her actions and I try to hang on, letting my body simply experience the pleasure of it all. Thank the Gods she has avoided the bundle of nerves that is now swollen and pulses insistently. Gods, she knows how to play me!
By now I am clenching handfuls of the bedroll, my hips rising and falling to keep up a steady motion against the rhythm of Gabrielle's strokes. I know the sounds that I am making are probably waking up the whole forest, but I am helpless to stop. My legs begin to tremble; I spread them wider in silent invitation for my wife to take all of me that she will. That's when she does.
She presses the flat of her tongue in a firm swipe across the hooded bundle of nerves that swells even more at the exquisite contact.
"Gods, yesss, Brie. Stoke it...just...like...oh, Gods!"
I explode from within before I can even finish my thought. It didn't matter because my wife knew exactly what I was going to say and she did exactly what I meant. The roar I heard was surely my own voice, but I only heard it from within a fog. I was lost in a place created of absolute delectation. I could barely feel my own body continue to shiver and twitch as Gabrielle proceeded to lap at the fluid between my legs, careful not to lose a drop.
I hear her stir in the bedroll and know she is awake before her eyes are even open. I sit there, cross-legged on the ground and tug a length of heavy twine through a piece of leather that holds the stirrup to Argo's saddle. As was my habit, I rose just before dawn. It was something inside of me that bid me to rise at that hour every morning, I'd been that way since I was a small child.
My wife stretched and I suddenly find my hand poised in mid air over my work. How does she do that to me? She looks around the small camp, her sleepy eyes landing on me and suddenly I am alive. No, correction, suddenly I am living for her. It's as if everything I do, everything that I think and feel, suddenly revolves around her. I don't understand it, the Gods know I ponder it often enough, even dwell on the amazement of it, but I never...ever question it. That would be as insulting as questioning a gift. When something is truly wonderful and it is given to you without thought of whether you deserve it or not, you should never ask why.
So, she flashes bright green eyes my way and I look at her and grin. It's a goofy grin, she's told me so on many occasions, but when I look at her, especially after the incredible passion we shared last night, I simply can't keep the grin from my face
"Morning, love...you let me sleep late," Gabrielle murmured, looking up at the sun's position in the sky.
"Well, we're not in any big hurry."
"Hey, you've already caught breakfast!" She remarked after her nose alerted her to the scent of cooking fish.
I smile proudly, looking over at the three fish that were gutted and stuck on long sticks leaning over the heat of the fire. I take a lot of teasing, mostly from Gabrielle, my mother, and anyone else that either has a death wish or feels just plain suicidal, about my culinary talents. I admit, I'm not much of a cook. I was never the kind of a daughter that hung around the kitchen with my mother. I was too busy fishing and riding with my little brother for that. There are days, though, and I would never admit this to my mother even upon pain of death, but there are days when I wished I'd learned just a tad more from Cyrene. I can stick anything on a spit and cook it and if you don't mind the burned bits it's really not too bad, you just have to pick off the really black parts. Because of this, it was a small treat for my wife to wake up to find breakfast already cooking.
Gabrielle rose and checked the fish, moving them further from the fire. "I'm going to take a bath, I'll be back before they're done. Do you mind?"
She looked at me then after she had soap and a towel, and a few other items in her hands. I registered the look on her face and realized I had my tongue hanging out look fixed on my naked wife. I don't know why I do that or at least why I can't be a little more subtle about it. People would think that Gabrielle was the woman of the world and I, the inexperienced one in our relationship. All I could do was give her that; I've been caught sort of half-smile and blush in embarrassment.
Gabrielle smiled sweetly and without a word she reached out and gently stroked my cheek. This was her way of thanking me for the compliment my eyes were paying her. It didn't matter that she was twenty-four summers old, I think that when she is old and gray I will still be looking through love's eyes and thinking lascivious thoughts of her. I watch approvingly as she picks up her staff before strolling down to the stream.
She was out of my line of sight, but I could hear the soft splashing noises she made in the water. I sensed her good mood and was glad that the memories of last evening's nightmares didn't continue to haunt her. Gabrielle and I would be married for a full year in another two moons. Gods, will it be the Summer Solstice already? I remember back to the time, just before our joining ceremony, when we discovered that Apollo was Gabrielle's real father. It's no mystery to me now as to why my wife's dreams are tinged through with prophecy. Considering her parentage, it's a surprise she doesn't have more powers than she does. Apollo mentioned in a conversation with me that Gabrielle has powers to rival a full Goddess, but her powers are a natural part of her. No, she can't pop around within the universe, but he explained that her goodness and compassion exceeds that of ordinary mortals, the tremendous capacity for selfless love that resides within her heart, being one of those powers. I smile now remembering that conversation...as if I needed a God to tell me that. I could have told anyone that about Gabrielle.
Apollo did speak to both Gabrielle and I at length one evening by the fire. He told Gabrielle that she had access to a great many hidden powers that she could cultivate if she cared to. He explained that should the time come when she had a desire to learn more about these godly talents, he would be happy to instruct her. My wife politely told her father that she had no desire to accumulate any more power than she already had.
I, personally, think that she still remembers the incident with the Titans...she doesn't say it, but I can see the remorse in her eye at the feeling of once having wielded such power only to have abused it. When the two of us were alone, we discussed it at length. I was often sorry that the life we chose to lead didn't afford me the kind of money that would have made Gabrielle's life easier. I guess I always want Gabrielle to have the best of everything and I told her so. I don't think I will ever forget the look of absolute devotion in her eyes when she tenderly kissed me and told me that as long as she had my love, she already had the best of everything.
Gods! How the woman can leave me speechless sometimes.
"Boadicea?" Gabrielle asked hesitantly.
"Unh uh," I shake my head.
It's turning out to be a beautiful early summer day and my wife and I walk along the worn path, Argo enjoying the rest that using my own legs gives her. Gabrielle and I pass the time traveling in many ways. We often play this guessing game, and I still love the way Gabrielle is determined to beat me. My favorite way to travel is in silence, but I rarely get that, not while Gabrielle is in a good mood anyway. When her mood is light, she chatters on about everything under the stars and I nod and grunt in what I think are the appropriate places. After almost six seasons together you'd think I'd be used to it, but Gods, the girl can talk!
I suddenly realize I am walking by myself and turn around to see my wife standing there with her hands on her slim hips arching an eyebrow at me. Arching her eyebrow at me...can you believe it? By the Gods, I perfected the move!
"What?" I ask, trying to muster as much innocence into my voice as I can. I only pray that she doesn't get the Godly ability to read my mind.
"You've got that grin on your face." Gabrielle smirked.
I could feel my face start to get hot. "I swear, Brie, I was not thinking about you that way."
"Oh, I know that," she began as she walked to catch up to me. "It's that other grin you've got going. I've known you long enough to know the difference between your, I want her and I want her now grin and the smile that just tugs at the corners of your lips when you're thinking Gods I love her, but I wish she'd just be quiet for half a candlemark."
I chuckled out loud that I'd been caught, which earned me an unexpected swat in the stomach. It wasn't very hard, though. Gabrielle rapped her knuckles more than once against my armor and she was beginning to learn that she had to wait until I got into the bedroll at night to whack me. I am constantly amazed that the woman who sets down a scroll and a quarter of a candlemark later, can't remember where she put it, that this woman can remember that my eyes lingered a heartbeat longer than necessary on a pretty barmaid, and will backhand me in the stomach for the infraction as I close my eyes to sleep.
"Oh, I got it," Gabrielle stopped moving and grabbed my arm, "it's Cyane!" She said excitedly.
I turned and grabbed her arm in the same fashion, the same excitement on my face. That's when I gave her an evil little grin and said breathlessly, "Nope."
"Oh, you!" She laughed and slapped my arm.
I caught her around the waist and pulled her to me for no other reason than to feel her lips on mine and to tell her how happy she made me. She smiled up at me and I realized how far my life had come in six seasons, all due to the woman I now held in my arms.
We slowly pulled away and began to walk again. I realized that now was as good a time to talk to my wife as any. It was still hard for me to open up and bare my feelings, even around Gabrielle, but she has taught me that communication is the key ingredient to our having a successful relationship. So, I push aside the feelings of embarrassment I get whenever I express my heart and begin to feel Gabrielle out on the subject.
"Brie...have you ever thought about us settling down someplace? You know, having trouble come to us instead of going out and looking for it?" I asked, joking at the end so as not to sound too serious.
"Have you?" Gabrielle returned immediately.
"Don't answer a question with a question."
"You do it all the time." She reminded me.
"Yea, well...that's me. It's okay when I do it." I answered with a grin.
She nudged me in the arm and slipped her hand within mine as we walked.
"I guess I'd be lying if I said that I never thought about us settling somewhere permanently, finally giving up the road as a way of life, maybe even raising a child." Gabrielle answered tentatively.
I felt a familiar pain pull at my heart and knew that it made its way to my face when I looked at Gabrielle.
"I'm sorry, Xe," she said quickly, lowering her eyes from mine, "I know that since Solon..."
"No, my heart, that's not it," I tried to reassure her. I knew she was feeling guilty again over the circumstances that led to my son's death, but those were hurts we'd forgiven one another for ages ago.
I stopped and turned to face her, gently cupping her face in both my hands. "Do you know that I would do anything for you, my heart? If you asked for the Golden Fleece, I'd go on a journey tomorrow to get it for you. If you asked me to give you a child...Brie, that's the one thing in this life that I can't give to you. What's worse is that the only obvious way for you to have a child would be for you to do something that I don't know if I can handle. I don't know if I could take the idea of you being with anyone else, even if it is just for that reason."
I stopped speaking because I knew that if I kept talking I would only make more of a fool of myself. I could already feel hot tears burning my eyes and brusquely brushed away the few that spilled out onto my cheeks. Okay this was why I didn't bare my feelings more. I always end up in tears, a very un-warrior thing to do.
"Oh, Xe," Gabrielle said softly as she pressed herself close to me. She laid her cheek against my chest, just above my armor and I wrapped my arms around her and kissed the top of her head. "First of all, we're not really at that point in our lives yet, are we?"
She pulled away to look at me and I had to laugh at myself. I smiled through the tears and admitted that I was doing what my wife usually did. I was worrying about things that were a long way off for us yet.
"No, we're not exactly at that point." I answered hoarsely.
Gabrielle smiled and wiped the rest of the tears from my face. Besides, I feel exactly the same as you do about it, Xe. When the time is right, we'll both know it and maybe by then," she kissed my chin, "well, maybe by then we can see if those Godly powers my father talks about include things like that. I mean, there ought to be some perks to being Apollo's daughter, huh?"
My wife smiled up at me, and it was plain to see that she was in her take care of the warrior mode. Even though I would never openly admit it to anyone but her, I had fears and insecurities just like the rest of humanity. Gabrielle was the only one I would ever voice those concerns to. She was the only person that I didn't feel weak around for having those feelings.
"I love you, Brie." I whispered and kissed her in a way that would convince her of the fact. "You do know that if you wanted a baby...I wouldn't put up a fight?" I said as my way of apologizing for being selfish.
"I know, love, but let's reverse our positions here. If you were the one who was going to carry our child, do you honestly picture me casually standing by while you did it with some guy...even if it was just to get pregnant?"
I couldn't help it, I know my wife too well. I snorted and gave her my best smirk. Gabrielle turns into a fury if another woman even licks her lips while looking me over. I picture her ripping the arms off any man brave enough to want to assist us in starting our family.
"I see you've gotten the picture. So, do you know what I mean when I tell you I understand where you're coming from?"
"Yes, love I do," I answered with a chuckle.
"Of, course don't look like it will never happen. We do know that you're perfectly capable of having a healthy baby."
I arched my eyebrow at the young woman.
"Oh, don't look at me that way," Gabrielle nudged me. "Are you going to stand there and tell me that you honestly don't remember what a wonderful feeling it was to have a life growing inside you?"
I searched my mind and was surprised at how quickly the memories surfaced. I felt alone and scared most of the time that I carried Solon. I was a different woman back then. I was only interested in being a Warlord, of having power and all that came with it. Perhaps if I had cared for Borias more, if I'd been in love with him instead of in lust, I would have felt differently. I do remember what Gabrielle was referring to, however. It was sort of a feeling of awe that a real live thing was growing inside of you.
I realized I was lost in my thoughts for a few moments when I looked down to see Gabrielle smiling back up at me. She knew from the look on my face that what she said was true. I touched her face tenderly as a sign of agreement. Of course, being who I am, I couldn't just let it go.
"Yea, well...do you want to know what I remember most about being pregnant?"
"What?" Gabrielle said excitedly, falling right into my trap.
"Oh...throwing up about three times a day, never getting a decent night's sleep because I had to make a trip out to the bushes about twice a night, and getting so huge even Argo looked terrified when I went to mount her."
Gabrielle laughed and put her arm around my waist. "Yea, but it was worth it all, wasn't it?"
"Yea...it was." I added softly, slipping my own arm around her shoulders as we walked.
"So, you could do it again..." Gabrielle trailed off, with a slight grin.
"I was a lot younger back then! Kind of around the age you are right now. No, my heart, when the time comes, you get to have all our babies." I laughed.
"Babies? As in more than one?" Gabrielle pulled away slightly to look into my eyes, her own filled with amusement.
"Well, I...uh..." How do I get such a tiny tongue so twisted in knots? I stammered, which I only end up doing in front of either Gabrielle or my mother.
My wife's lilting laughter filled my senses. "Don't worry, Xe...when the time comes, I'll be more than happy to have your children."
I reached over and kissed her cheek and we continued to walk along like that. I let out the fact that someday I would like to see us settled and with children, that was a big step for me. Neither one of us knew when, but at least we were on the same path with our thinking. I also let it slip that just one child would probably not be enough. I mean, if you're going to raise a child you might as well do a few of them at once, right?
"So, when someday arrives...where would you like to start a home?" I asked.
"Mmm, I thought you might want to live in Amphipolis, help Cyrene with the Inn?" Gabrielle answered.
"Oh, sweetheart, I love my mother, but if I had to live by her I'd probably end up killing her."
"Then I guess the logical place would be with the Amazons." Gabrielle said with some hesitation.
We both pretty much knew that the Amazon village would be where we would live out our lives. I was Consort to the Amazon Queen and that meant that neither of our lives were completely our own. The day we were Joined I knelt and swore an oath to follow and obey her as my Queen. On the road, I was in charge of our lives, but once we permanently settled with the Amazons and Gabrielle took invariable possession of her crown, I would be living under her rule. I would be the Queen's Consort, Champion to her throne, and resident warrior. No longer would I carry the feared title of Warrior Princess that those throughout Greece knew me by. I wondered if I was ready for that kind of anonymity.
It was for these reasons that my wife was using such a tentative voice. It was also why she was looking at me with that expectant expression on her face, which I could see from out of the corner of my eye. I wanted to dispel any thoughts from her head that would lead her to believe I would not follow her to the ends of the known world. I repeated the words that I told her on the night I gave her the amulet that she now wears around her throat.
"I go where you go, my Queen…my home is where you are."
It was two days later when we reached the edge of Amazon land. The familiar sound of ropes falling from the trees above us gave way to the site of masked warriors, immediately recognizing us and kneeling at our feet. Gabrielle had long ago become accustomed to her subject's actions upon her arrival back onto Amazon land, but it still made me feel strange, people kneeling at my feet.
An equally familiar voice came from behind the mask of the first kneeling figure.
"Your Majesty...Your Highness...greetings."
Gabrielle bid the warriors rise and all three removed their masks. We knew their leader, young Tarazon, who had turned into a fine warrior. She was now a watch commander, but she didn't look at all well.
"Tarazon, are you ill?" Gabrielle questioned before I could ask the same question.
"As well as can be expected your majesty. There seems to be a fever of some sort going around the village, there are many women a lot worse off than I am." The young Amazon answered.
"What kind of a fever?" Gabrielle and I asked in unison. I know we were both thinking about her dream.
"I don't think Sartori knows," the young warrior answered. "It seems to have hit some of the women quite hard. The Queen Regent has erected tents to be used as infirmaries within the compound. Can I escort you to your quarters Your Majesty?"
"No, that's not necessary Tarazon, but I am ordering you back to the village with us." Gabrielle answered.
"But, Queen Gabr--"
"Gabrielle is right, Tarazon, you look as though you're none too steady on your feet and the trees are no place for you in that kind of condition." I interrupted.
"Yes, Your Highness." The Amazon answered. I groaned under my breath, I'll never get used to someone using that title.
The young Commander gave instructions to the other warriors and left with us to head into the village. Gabrielle was quiet all of a sudden and I knew she was thinking about the visions in her dream. I hate to admit it, but it was on my mind too, the fact that Gabrielle's dream seemed to have some basis in fact. Tarazon answered our questions, but the girl just didn't seem like herself. I suspected that perhaps she felt worse than she was letting on. That suspicion was confirmed as we walked into the village.
Ephiny was in the center of the village directing the construction of what seemed a small building. Just as she saw us and began walking in our direction, Tarazon's knees buckled underneath her. I caught the young woman before she hit the ground. The Regent ran the rest of the way and felt the young warrior's face. I'm sure she felt the same thing as I did. The heat coming from the girl's body was definitely a massive fever.
"Bring her into the tent over by Sartori's hut," Ephiny asked.
I lifted the young woman into my arms and carried her into the tent. Placing her on the nearest pallet, I looked around at the tent and saw that it was almost filled to capacity.
"Greetings Your Highness, Queen Gabrielle." Sartori acknowledged both of us as she began removing Tarazon's armor and stripped the girl down to her shift, placing a cold compress on her forehead.
"Sartori, what in Tartaurus is going on here?" Gabrielle asked in a voice filled with concern and tinged with a bit of fear.
Sartori washed her hands and stood before us once more. The healer was about my age, maybe a summer or two younger, but it was obvious she was bone tired. She looked much older than her years and I could see part of her pain was the frustration over her inability to fight this disease.
Ephiny answered for the healer. "It started about a moon ago, Gabrielle. Nothing the healers have tried has worked. It seems to start like an ordinary summer fever, but it lingers. The women who caught the fever first are starting to get very bad," The Regent lowered her voice to just above a whisper. "Their weakened condition simply won't allow their bodies to fight off whatever infection has taken hold."
"I'm sorry, My Queen, but no medicine I come up with seems to help." Sartori said in defeat.
"Tori..." Adia, the healer's bondmate came into the tent and placed her hands gently on her partner's shoulders. "Gabrielle...Xena," Adia smiled at the newcomers. The tall healer never stood on ceremony with the two women.
"Tori, you're about ready to fall down, you need to get some rest, love." Adia said softly.
"There aren't enough hands, I can't leave right now." Sartori answered her lover.
"There are now," Gabrielle spoke up. "Sartori, you do look like you're about to drop. I want you to go get some sleep, that's an order," Gabrielle said emphatically as the Healer was about to protest. Sartori closed her mouth again, unwilling to argue with her Queen.
"Come, on love." Adia said. "I'll stay here and help as I can.
"I don't have too bad of a bedside manner, I can help." I heard my own voice saying. I looked over at Gabrielle and I saw the fear in her face, but she said nothing.
"I'll stay and help too, now go on Sartori. We need you to stay healthy." Gabrielle added.
"Xe?" Gabrielle questioned me as the others walked away to the task at hand.
What could I say to my wife? That I neither took her dreams seriously nor feared catching the mysterious illness? That would have been a lie and I think she alone knew how I felt. To actually admit fear, wasn't in me, however, and I gently kissed her forehead.
"I'll be careful," was the only promise I could think to make.
Gabrielle could have ordered me to our quarters, Hades, she could have pleaded with those deep green eyes she has and I would have obeyed. My oath upon our Joining would not have allowed disobedience and if I was nothing else, I was a woman of my word. I knew though that my wife would never do that. Gabrielle would never embarrass me by making me look weak in the eyes of the warriors around us.
She reached out and touched my face then brushed the hair away from my eyes. I saw her push down her own fear with that action. She was telling me that she would never ask me to give up being who I was.
"I love you, Brie," I whispered.
"Love you too, Warrior," she returned just before she turned to make her way across the tent.
I made my first stop next door to Sartori's hut. I gathered up a few herbs that perhaps the Healer hadn't thought to try yet and brought them into a corner of the tent to work. I watched from across the tent as Gabrielle donned an apron and spoke with some of the women lying on the pallets. I removed my weapons and armor and put on a similar apron, but could immediately feel a change in the atmosphere of the tent. The young women, who were sick and weak, smiled as their Queen, sat beside them offering them sips of cool water, holding their hands or just offering a few words of encouragement.
"She really shouldn't be in here, Xena." Ephiny whispered to me looking in Gabrielle's direction. "If this is some kind of mystery illness, we don't need our Queen succumbing to it."
I stopped to watch my wife as she paused next to every woman lying on a pallet, if only to give a look and a smile to each Amazon. Her very touch became healing to these women, for that was Gabrielle's nature.
"I can't ask her to be less than she is, Eph." I responded to the Regent.
The sun had been down for hours when Sartori walked into the tent looking refreshed from her hours of sleep. Her look changed to one of sheer joy when we told her that the two worst cases had been able to swallow a bit of the medicine I prepared. It held their fever in check for the last few hours at least and Sartori thanked me profusely. I explained that I was no Healer, not of her caliber anyway, but I picked up a few things here and there in my travels.
Sartori also brought with her a new wave of helpers and I was finally able to pull Gabrielle away to our hut. I had a young girl from the food hut send some dinner to our quarters and steered my wife in the direction of the baths. Once we'd steamed the ache in our muscles loose, we made out way to the hut for some much welcome food and privacy.
Gabrielle uncharacteristically pushed her half-full plate away from her, leaning back and stretching her back. I looked up at her with concern. When my wife didn't eat good food, there was definitely something to worry about. I gave her that questioning look of mine and she smiled tiredly.
"I feel fine...I think I'm just too tired to eat." She yawned. I watched as she stretched again, but she winced in pain this time.
"Hey, come over here," I stood and walked over to our bed. "Take off your robe," I commanded and she complied quickly. I gazed at her body and even though my spirit was more than willing to pleasure the young Queen, my body was just too damned tired. "Lay down on your stomach."
Gabrielle stretched out on our bed and when I sat down next to her with a jar of scented oil she finally realized what I had in mind and smiled contentedly. I warmed the oil in the palms of my hands and began to massage the stiff muscles of my wife's shoulders and back. I worked the knots and tension loose and before I had barely begun, Gabrielle's purrs of satisfaction had changed to a heavy breathing that told me she was sound asleep. I tossed my own robe on the chair beside the bed and wrapped my body around Gabrielle's. She unconsciously pressed her back further into my chest and I held her close, enjoying the feeling of her body against mine. Exhaustion finally claimed me and I fell into the deep, dreamless embrace of Morpheus.
Both of us bolted upright at the pounding on the hut's door.
"Gods, I feel like we just went to sleep." Gabrielle muttered sleepily.
"We did," I answered, noticing the moon was still high in the sky.
I threw on my robe and Gabrielle did likewise before I opened the door. It was Medra, Sartori's apprentice healer. The young woman looked as tired as Sartori had earlier and there was an expression like panic in her eyes.
"Forgive the intrusion, your Highness, but one of the women has taken a turn for the worse and Sartori asked if the Queen would come?"
"Of course, Medra, tell Sartori that I'm on my way." Gabrielle rose to stand beside me.
When the young Amazon left to deliver the message, Gabrielle immediately started dressing, and I followed suit.
"Xe, you don't have to come." Gabrielle said and I knew what she was thinking, because she refused to let her eyes meet mine.
"Brie, let's not let fear get the best of us, allright?" I returned. I wanted Gabrielle to know that I refused to live my life according to an oracle's prediction, even if that oracle happened to be my wife.
"I just..." she began.
"I know, love...I know." I replied, placing a cloak over her shoulders and laying a gentle kiss on the top of her head before we stepped out into the cool night air.
Gabrielle sat on the edge of the pallet, close to the dying woman. I recognized the young Amazon as one of Gabrielle's Royal Guard although I couldn't recall her name. It's strange the things we remember at times, but I suddenly recalled that on one occasion she walked into the room as Gabrielle and I were in the middle of a rather amorous embrace. The young Guard turned about ten shades of scarlet once she realized where my hand was, yet vainly attempted to deliver her message. The few times I ran into her after that incident, proved to be rather traumatic for her. She seemed unable to look at Gabrielle or I without becoming absolutely tongue-tied.
Now, I watched as Gabrielle cried very real tears as the young Guard held on to her Queen for some sort of strength. There were a number of us gathered there and we could only watch as Gabrielle began to speak to the young woman.
"Don't be afraid, Kiza." Gabrielle said, not much above a whisper. "Passing over is just another adventure for an Amazon as brave as you. I've been to the Amazon Land of the Dead, have I ever told you that?"
I watched and felt no shame as the tears fell from my own eyes. Gods, how my wife could take this young woman's death and turn it into a glorious ballad for the young Amazon. I knew, deep down, Gabrielle would prefer not to be in this situation. Sometimes her heart is too tender to lose those she loves, and she does indeed love all her sisters. You would never have known that she was shivering and crying on the inside, though. She put herself into her bard mode and her voice held a strength and compassion that caused the ill woman to open her eyes and fix them on her Queen.
Gabrielle told her of the wonder of the castle within the Great Mountains of the Amazon lands and of the brave and mighty women that would be there to greet her with open arms. My own heart tightened a bit as I recalled the memory of standing in front of that mountain, the cold wind blowing in my face. I remember thinking I would never see my Gabrielle again, choosing to fight Alti and help the Northern Amazons that I had wronged when I was so much younger. I knew at the time that it would be what Gabrielle would have wanted me to do and that's what got me through. I wondered at the time if I would ever see my heart again and I don't think I'll ever be able to express the feelings I had when I came across Gabrielle that day.
I was tracking Hope, the realization that the young bard I loved, but never told that fact, was gone from me forever, caused an ache deep in my soul that nothing in life could ease. I was determined this time. Without Gabrielle there was no sense in living and if Dahok's spawn was alive, I knew I would kill her and suffer the consequences the fates would throw at me.
When I charged upon her, the forest became deathly silent. I swung my sword up and looked into that face. I knew it would be hard to do, kill the monster that wore Gabrielle's face, but I wasn't prepared for that look. It took only a fraction of a second to realize that my heart never pounded that hard unless Gabrielle, the real Gabrielle focused those deep green eyes in my direction.
When she spoke my name...Gods, there was never a sweeter sound, was there?
When I finally broke from my reverie, the sound of weeping filled the Healer's hut where they'd brought the young Amazon. I looked down and watched as Gabrielle took the oils that Ephiny offered her and anointed young Kiza. A sheer length of gauze was put in place to cover her face and Gabrielle stood to let the young woman's family come closer.
I came up behind Gabrielle and she leaned back instinctively, feeling my presence behind her. She didn't turn into my embrace, but I could feel her shoulders shaking as she wept for the young Amazon.
Even though it was the middle of the night, we started our day. Those who where physically able, helped with the sick and did everything from caring for the patients to boiling cloths and sheets, burning furs and clothing, anything that might be blamed for the infection. We were running out of options and even the medicine I had concocted the previous day, no longer worked. It was as if the sickness was fought back momentarily, but then it realized what the medicine was and came up with a way to fight it. The fact disturbed me, the idea that we might be fighting an entity of some sort as opposed to a random disease. Another disturbing fact I mentioned to Adia, pulling her outside of the tent so no one would hear me.
"Adia, have you noticed there are no older patients?" I asked
"And none under the age of puberty." She answered.
So, it wasn't just me, someone else noticed it too.
"Okay, I'm not about to tell a Healer her job, but don't you find that odd? I mean, children and the elderly are the first casualties when it comes to the ravages of an illness. Every woman in these tents is a strong warrior of child bearing age." I explained.
"I know, Xena. I don't think anyone else has stopped to think about it, but it makes me feel that this is no desultory illness. Do you have any idea at all how we go about finding out what this could be? Could it be a curse of some sort?" Adia turned and I could see the concern burning in her gaze. A concern, not only for her people, but for her own lover as well.
I also saw a keen understanding of what we could be fighting against should this illness be more along the lines of magic rather than a natural sickness of the body. Adia was a mind healer, a woman accustomed to dealing in a person's dreamscape and fantasies. I knew that she could comprehend better than most the concept of fighting black magic, battling on a level other than the physical.
"I suppose all we can do for the time being is continue to come up with new ways to combat the fever, that seems to be what's taking the fight out of them the quickest. I must know fifty different mixtures to stave off a fever, I'm sure Sartori knows more. I think what's slowing us down is the fact that we keep giving them the medicine even though it's stopped working. You think Sartori would be up for an experiment?" I asked.
"I think she'll try just about anything at this point." Adia answered.
"Let's try this," I explained leading her in the direction of Sartori's hut. "We make up a new mixture everyday. If the body doesn't have time to get used to it, we may be able to keep the fever at bay a little longer. Nobody gets the same mixture twice."
We walked into Sartori's hut just as Gabrielle was placing a sheet of gauze across a young Amazon's face. This had been the second woman to contract the illness. Now, it was obvious that the progression of the disease was rapid. It took only a little more than one moon for it to claim it's first two victims.
After the family left the hut, Adia and I collected the herbs we would need and quickly made our way out.
"Xena," Gabrielle called and I handed the items in my hand to Adia before I turned, knowing that the time for a confrontation had come between my wife and I.
"Yes, my heart?" I answered sincerely as I moved closer.
"Xe, I don't want you helping in the tents anymore." Gabrielle said tightly, lowering her voice so that only I could hear.
"Gab-ri-elle," I responded slowly.
Tears suddenly sprung to my wife's eyes. "Women are dying, Xena, this is a serious situation and in my
That's when she broke down and I moved to wrap my arms around her. I lifted her chin slightly so that I could see her face. She had dark circles under her eyes and I knew she must be utterly drained, the exhaustion only feeding her fear.
"Oh, Brie, I know you would like to see me safe and sound just like I always want you to be out of harm's way. I may not be Amazon, but in a way, these women are my people too. They've come to mean a great deal to me and I can't just desert them to save my own life." I held her closer and tenderly kissed her temple, feeling her tears wet my shoulder I leaned closer to her ear and whispered.
"Brie, is this what you would have me do? Because you know that if you make it a command, I will follow it."
Gabrielle was silent for a moment and I gave her time to process what I said. I could still feel her wet tears on my shoulder, and then I felt the warmth of her lips as they pressed themselves against the skin there.
"No," she whispered back, "I can't ask that of you, Xe. You wouldn't ask it of me, would you?"
The inflection of her voice led me to believe that she already knew the answer to that question.
"Gods, I would want to, my heart. I would want to so badly, but I could never ask you to stop being who you are."
My wife smiled up at me through her tears and my heart leapt into my throat and broke at the same instant. The two of us came to a precipice that few couples ever have to look over. We were at a point where our own lives and the precious love we held for one another became secondary to the needs of our people.
"Then we'll just have to trust that Artemis will protect us." My wife stated.
I reached down and pressed my lips firmly to hers, not wanting the sensation to end. Gods, how the woman has grown in these past five summers. When we are alone and away from all responsibility she turns into the young girl from Potidaea, so carefree and full of adventure and fun. Now, she was the woman I married, all grown up and making grown up decisions. Today she was the Amazon Queen.
We kissed once more and unwillingly pushed away from one another. We each breathed deeply, tucking our affection into a safe spot until we could be alone together later. We entered the tent and Gabrielle squeezed my hand to go off toward the pallets. I refused to release the small hand, pulling it up to my lips instead. I placed a light kiss in her palm and let go. She smiled again and it was as if a piece of the sun came down to touch me.
I worked in a corner of the tent with Adia after we told Sartori of our plan. The Healer agreed wholeheartedly with our strategy at reducing the fever with varying herbal mixtures. I looked up occasionally to spot Gabrielle. She looked exhausted, but the ill women lying around her saw only their Queen's loving smile.
I absently reached a hand up to touch my own face, relieved to have the skin feel cool. I certainly hadn't discounted my wife's dreams and tried to push the thought away. I wouldn't live my life in fear; that much was a certainty, but I couldn't dispel the images Gabrielle saw in her dream.
Perhaps if we weren't both concentrating so intently on protecting me, we would have noticed the flush to Gabrielle's cheeks and the nagging cough she suddenly developed.
"You look like you're asleep on your feet." I said to Gabrielle.
I came up to her and waved my hand in front of her face to bring her back from wherever she'd gone.
"You don't look well, Brie." I said with more concern than I normally would have.
"I'm just exhausted," she returned a small smile filled with fatigue.
"Come on, you're going to bed." I said the words in such a way that even Gabrielle refused to argue with me. I was secretly glad she didn't because I was fully prepared to throw the woman over my shoulder if she had.
The night air had a definite chill to it and even I shuddered when it first caressed my sweat soaked skin, goose bumps rising on my arms. Gabrielle lifted her hair and seemed to welcome the coolness, closing her eyes and standing still as a slight breeze swept across the village compound. I watched the small blonde at my side and suddenly her brow knit together and she appeared to be falling forward. She reached out her hand and I quickly caught her as she leaned heavily against me.
"Xe?" Gabrielle asked as if she didn't understand what was going on with her own body.
I knew in an instant. All I had to do was feel her skin, a hot dry heat rising off of her. Gods, how could I have been so stupid?
"Brie?" I questioned.
I scooped her small body into my arms just as Medra was passing by us on her way into the infirmary.
"Your Highness--" the young woman started.
"Medra go inside and tell Sartori to come to the Queen's tent and bring a dose of the fever medicine we just mixed up."
"Is the Queen--"
"Now!" I hissed under my breath, turning and walking away to get Gabrielle inside our own quarters.
Once inside I pulled the blankets off the bed until only a thin sheet remained. I removed Gabrielle's clothing down to her cotton shift and poured some water from a pitcher on the table into a nearby bowl. I soaked some cloths in the cool water and began sponging off her heated skin.
"Oh, Gabrielle." I murmured aloud, waiting impatiently for Sartori to arrive.
I knew it was the Healer because there was a hurried knock on the door and then it opened. No one in the village would come in unannounced except a Healer whose only focus was on her Queen. Sartori kneeled down next to the bed and placed a hand on Gabrielle's face, grimacing at the warmth rising from the small Queen's skin.
"No, no..." Sartori muttered.
"Did you bring the medicine?" I asked. There was little I could do for my own wife that we hadn't already tried on the other women, but I would be damned if I was going to let her go without one Tartaurus of a fight.
Sartori nodded and handed me the mug from her hand. I sat on the bed and pulled Gabrielle to me so that she was secure against my body, her weight upon my chest.
"Brie," I whispered gently. "Come on, sweetheart...you need to wake up for me."
Gabrielle's eyes fluttered open and she seemed lost for a few heartbeats until her eyes focused and took in Sartori and the fact that she was wrapped in my arms.
"You need to swallow some of this, Brie," I said as I held the cup to her lips.
She groaned at the taste and I'd forgotten that I used to lace medicinal herbs with honey for my wife. She would literally cover her head with a blanket when she was sick and I would offer her a cure. She realized that this was not one of those simple headache remedies, it was far more serious, and so she took a small sip.
"More than that, Brie...come on, take a big swallow."
She did as she was directed and I handed the cup back to Sartori, placing a small kiss on Gabrielle's temple.
"This wasn't in my dream," Gabrielle looked up at me and said dryly.
I couldn't help smiling, but it was bittersweet in its release. I explained to Sartori's questioning gaze the dream Gabrielle had that it would be I who was ill. I held my wife tighter and knew she would have her sense of humor as long as she had her strength. Then she surprised me with her next words; they were not ones I was prepared to hear.
"Ephiny...I have to give Ephiny my right of caste." She said weakly.
"No, not yet." I replied vehemently.
"Xe..." Gabrielle responded and I knew she didn't have the strength to argue with me. Although I shouldn't have, I took advantage of that fact.
"There will be time for that later if it's necessary." I told her, wiping a cool cloth across her face.
Gabrielle nodded her assent and relaxed back into my arms. I could see that Sartori felt entirely helpless. It was her job to keep the Queen healthy and I'm sure that she thought she failed Gabrielle in some way. I observed the same emotions playing across the Healer's face as my own. I could easily guess what she was thinking. No matter what Gabrielle thought, no mater the amount of protest, she was the Queen and we should not have allowed her to be in those tents. I cursed myself now, but it was hindsight. I was the Queen's Champion and I let her walk right into the danger.
"Sartori," I whispered as Gabrielle began to nod off again, "would you have someone bring me the baskets of plants and herbs that I gathered this afternoon. I'll make tomorrow's dose for the fever, but I'm not going to leave Gabrielle. I can do it just as easily from here."
The healer nodded and without saying anything more she walked out of the hut.
I must have fallen asleep because when I opened my eyes and looked out the window by the bed, the moon was low on the other side of the sky. My body was so tired I might have slept through until dawn, but it was the small body next to mine that awoke me.
Gabrielle lay curled tightly against me, the heat pouring off her in waves, her body shivering uncontrollably. I extricated myself from the tiny figure and grabbed a mug of water. I pulled my leathers off until I was clad only in my shift and moved to lay back down with my wife. Gabrielle opened her eyes and her teeth chattered as if there were snow on the ground all around her.
"Here, baby...drink some water...come on, just a little more, good girl."
"Xena, can't I have a blanket? I'm so cold." She pleaded and it tore at my heart.
"No, sweetheart, it will only make your fever worse. Come here and lay against me, I'll keep you warm."
I lay down on the bed and allowed Gabrielle to wrap the thin sheet around her and pulled her body close to mine. Gods, the heat coming off her was stifling and began to make me sweat, but she continued to shiver and shake and so I rubbed my hands along her skin to see if I couldn't relax her enough into falling back asleep. If I could just get her fever down so she could sleep, her body might retain enough strength to fight off the infection.
I don't know if the fever abated somewhat or if my wife's exhausted body finally gave up working it's tired muscles, but some time later she was still and I could hear her deep, even breathing. I felt her skin and realized that the fever was as strong as ever. Her body fell into an exhausted slumber despite the illness.
I slipped from her embrace and sat at the table in the middle of our hut. Medra brought over all the herbs I was working with and I began on a new mixture for tomorrow, which was only a short time away. My mind ran through the different possibilities regarding the strange illness.
The fever appeared to affect only Amazons. Apart from myself, there were few non-Amazon women in the village, who hadn't contracted it. What was even more puzzling was the fact that only young, healthy women were contracting the disease. It was breaking every traditional rule that I could think of. There were a number of Amazons who hadn't contracted any symptoms at all, probably due to some natural immunity. If this wasn't just a random illness, then who could have the power to kill off an entire race of people? The Amazon's were the chosen people of the Goddess Artemis, Apollo's twin sister. If this were the doing of another God, then why would Artemis be allowing it to happen? More importantly, why doesn't Apollo do something to save his daughter?
I could only think of questions in my mind as I crushed the leaves with a mortar and pestle. I was coming to no conclusions and never having been one to shy away from confrontations with Greek Gods, I decided I would walk to Artemis' temple when the sun came up in the morning and get some answers for myself.
"Artemis! Get your scrawny butt down here!" I shouted for the third time.
The priestess' scurried through the temple on my arrival and my belligerent attitude and shouting at the top of my lungs, certainly wasn't the way to endear myself to them. I finally stalked from the claustrophobic silence of the temple, nearly running down Ephiny in the process. The look in her eye told me more than enough.
"How long have you known that Artemis has deserted the temple?" I asked, sorry for the accusatory tone, but unable to keep it from my voice.
"Just after the fever started. The high priestess came to me." The Regent answered, lowering her head slightly. "Xena, I didn't want the women to lose heart. If they know their Goddess has deserted them they'll give up hope."
I turned away abruptly and began walking toward the Queen's hut. I don't know if I'd have done things differently from the way Ephiny handled it, but I was angry and I needed to take it out on someone.
"Xena, my people are dying." She tossed at my back.
"My wife is dying!" I turned back around to face her, my fists clenched together tightly so I wouldn't lose my temper completely and start something that wouldn't help anyone in the long run. I paused and took a deep breath, turning my eyes skyward to push back the tears that statement caused.
"At least we have our confirmation that this just isn't some random infectious fever. Come on, Eph. Maybe Gabrielle can call up Apollo and we can find out what's going on." I said.
I waited for the Regent to catch up with me and we walked down the winding path back to the village. We were rather silent companions; each of us caught up in our own worries of what we stood to lose.
"What's wrong?" I asked, not sure if I wanted to know the answer when I burst through the door of our hut.
Medra was outside crying and silent eyes followed the Regent and I into the building. I left Gabrielle in Sartori's care earlier, but the Healer only looked at me with a pain in her eyes that betrayed her own fear.
"I can't get Gabrielle to respond any longer." Sartori answered ominously.
I wasn't willing to believe this latest bit of news. I just looked at the faces of the women in the room and rushed to my wife's bed.
"Brie...come on, honey, wake up." I prodded the small figure that lay there, looking rather tiny in the large bed we had made to fit my warrior's physique.
I stoked her face, only to feel the fever still ravaging her body. Running my hands gently through her golden hair, I didn't know what else to do. She was the only thing that kept me together in a chaotic world that had a tendency to go mad every once in a while and I just didn't know what to do. I am a warrior and I could not see the enemy that I needed to fight in order to protect my wife's life.
"Xena?" I felt Ephiny's hand on my shoulder, but didn't turn around. "This makes sense if this is a spell to curse the Amazons. Gabrielle is our Queen, she would be affected the most and for the longest time since she represents all of Amazonia."
"A curse against the Amazons?" Sartori looked astounded. Suddenly the Healer nodded her head. "Yes...it fits doesn't it? Xena, who would have the power to do such a thing?"
I just shook my head, never releasing the small blonde lying in the bed from my gaze.
"We need to discuss this with the council." Ephiny began. "There must be something that can be done. Sartori, how many members of the council are unaffected by the sickness?"
"There's you, Adia, and three or four of the older council members. Elda has sat on the council the longest, but she is very loyal to the Queen," the Healer added.
"Xena...Xena..." Ephiny said.
I could hear the Regent talking, but I wasn't really paying attention. All my thoughts and cares were wrapped around Gabrielle's well being.
"Xena, we're going to need your help, my friend." The Regent said again and I knew she was right.
Out of everyone involved I had the most dealings with Gods and their curses, even though most of my interactions had been forced on me. I realized, as I sat staring at my wife's still form, that finding the reason behind and putting a stop to the cause of the fever would be the only way I could save Gabrielle. I turned finally to look up at the Regent.
"I need to talk to Adia before we meet with the council. I think I have an idea about how we can find out what's going on."
I made my way out to the woods where I knew I would be alone. I didn't want any of the others to see the confrontation I was going to have.
"Ares." I snarled the name aloud and my face broke into a sneer as I spoke the word. I couldn't help it, my distaste for the God of War was no secret and he tried to trick and betray me into fighting at his side on more than one occasion.
Usually the God showed up within a heartbeat of me calling his name, but not this time. I paced until I grew tired of the waiting. I had just about given up, turning back toward the village when I felt his presence. I turned around and there he stood, looking odd in full battle armor, dirt and grime streaked across his arms.
"This better be good, Xena, I'm kind of in the middle of something here." The God of War said testily.
"What's going on, Ares...where's Artemis and why are the Amazons dying? I know one of you is at the bottom of this."
"You know you're beautiful when you're angry." He said in that leering way of his.
"Then you're about to see how drop-dead gorgeous I can be because if anything happens to Gabrielle--"
I stopped my ranting in mid sentence as he cocked his head to the side and suddenly vanished.
"Ares...Arrreeessss!" I screamed, letting my own frustration loose.
I continued to scream until my throat was raw. I needed to let loose the anger that was building up and this seemed about as safe a way as any. I leaned my back against a tree and closed my eyes, refusing to let the tears fall. I knew once I started, I wouldn't be able to stop. Besides, I wasn't about to admit defeat. It would take all the Gods on Olympus to separate me from Gabrielle. I wasn't about to let Hades have her just yet.
I pushed myself away from the large olive tree and strode back to the village, a new determination in my heart. I had an idea, but now I had to see if Adia was as good a dreamscape Healer as I thought she was.
"Xena, what you're asking..." Adia lowered her head, her voice trailing off into nothing.
"It's the only way we can summon a God, Adia. Gabrielle is the only one who can call Apollo to her side with her ring, if I could, then I would. Ares made it sound like something is happening, but he left so quickly I couldn't learn anything from him. Something big is going down on Olympus, it's not like Ares to leave when he could stick around and gloat because of my pain over Gabrielle."
"Xena, I've never entered the dreamscape of a person so physically ill before, I don't know what it will do."
I think she caught the look on my face and she hurriedly went on.
"I'm not worried for me...I fear for Gabrielle. Xena, what if my attempt does more harm than good. I don't know if I could live with myself knowing I caused injury to my Queen with these efforts." She finished softly.
Once again I was taken back at the magnitude of love and loyalty Gabrielle's Amazons had for her. My wife earned every ounce of respect and adoration these women expressed and it surely didn't surprise me, but sometimes the enormity of it still astonished me.
"Adia, I do understand what you're saying, more than you know. I only know that I won't be able to live with myself either if anything happens to Gabrielle and I haven't tried everything within my power to prevent it."
I didn't mean to cry, Gods I hardly ever cry in front of anyone besides Gabrielle, but the emotions of the day finally caught up to me and I could feel the tears sliding down my cheeks. It was good in a way because I saw a look in Adia's eye at my emotional display, one that I interpreted to mean she was reversing our positions in her mind. What if Sartori were the one ill. It's funny what you can see when you really look into someone's eyes. I saw the tall, dark-haired woman make a decision without saying a word.
"Come on, the sooner the better." She said abruptly and I followed her, stride for stride to my wife's bedside.
Once we were able to explain what we had in mind and Adia talked privately with her own wife, the dreamscape Healer asked us all to leave. I was more than a little nervous, but Adia reassured me that it might take hours in real time once she entered Gabrielle's dreamscape. She said that I could come back in and check on them at any time, once she was in a deep enough state to cross over to that other reality. I nodded, and not knowing what else to say, I squeezed the tall woman's hand and whispered a word of encouragement. She smiled that crooked smile of hers that told me my wife would be safe if she had anything to do with it. Just before I closed the door to the hut I saw the dark-haired woman seat herself cross-legged on the floor, her back against Gabrielle's bed. She closed her eyes and I pulled the door shut.
I sat down on the top step of the stairs to the veranda. I was nervous and frightened and I didn't even attempt to hide the emotions that manifested themselves physically. I folded my hands together and pressed my knuckles to my lips, mumbling prayers to any God that would still listen to an old warrior. I could feel my body start to rock back and forth.
Hades, I haven't done this since I was a child, when the howling winds of the winter storms used to keep me awake at night. There was a tree outside my bedroom window, over the inn that my mother owned, that was struck by lightning long before I was born. The tree was bent at an odd angle and whipped against the wooden shutters when the winds grew strong. The sound terrified my for one reason or another. I was four summers old and my mother would come in and snuggle against me in the warm blankets of my bed and rock me back and forth until I fell asleep again. The motion became a sort of comfort movement after that, but it was years since I'd relied on it to ease my frightened heart.
I felt the weight as Ephiny sat down beside me on the step. The Regent placed her hand on my shoulder and for the first time today I realized I wasn't wearing my armor. Gods, this was a first. I forgot to put on something that was as much a part of me as my very skin. I remembered now that it was placed on the small stool beside the bed, my sword lying over it.
"Adia will come through for us. She's smart and she knows her stuff." Ephiny said in the way of encouragement.
I just nodded, unable to speak.
"Xena...Gods, I know this sounds indelicate, but you know how I am. About Gabrielle's right of caste--"
"That's my fault." I answered, quickly looking across at my friend. "I'm sorry, Eph, Gabrielle wanted to give you her right of caste when she first became sick, but I wouldn't let her."
Ephiny looked up in surprise as I continued. "I thought...I thought if I could keep her from giving you her right of caste, that I could stop the inevitable. I'm sorry, I was being selfish. I wasn't thinking of the Amazons I was only thinking about myself and how much I don't want to lose Gabrielle."
"Xena," Ephiny paused, waiting until my eyes met her own. "I can only hope that someday I find something and someone that will invoke those same feelings of love within me. It's easy for me to put aside my life and think only of the good of my people because I have no one in that way. I understand, my friend, and you have done nothing to feel guilty about."
I allowed my well-trained veneer to slip aside just a bit for this woman who had become a dear friend to my wife as well as myself.
"The only real reason I bring any of this up, Xena, is because I thing we should all know what's expected of us no matter what happens."
My face must have displayed the question in my mind as I gazed at the Regent.
"If, Artemis forbid, anything should happen to Gabrielle, and she hasn't willed her right of caste to anyone, then the throne reverts to her rightful heir."
"Gabrielle doesn't have any children, Eph, you know that." I responded.
"Then it goes to her spouse, that would be you." The Regent finished.
I just sat there in silence. I didn't want to think about this possible scenario, but I couldn't be a good warrior unless I examined every venue, so I nodded and accepted by responsibility as Gabrielle's Consort.
"You know if it came to that, Eph, I would turn the crown over to you." I stated simply.
Ephiny remained silent, not moving for a few long moments. Finally she cleared her throat and when she spoke I knew it was from her heart.
"I can understand why you would want to do that, Xena, but remember to think about what Gabrielle would want for you."
"I just don't think I could do it, Eph," and I felt my voice break slightly. "If anything does happen to Gabrielle, I don't think I could stay here, there would be too much pain in everything I would see everyday."
The Regent nodded, but continued on. "I can understand that, but there are people here who could make it easier to bear. The women of this village love you, Xena."
I smirked at her and she grinned just a bit. "Okay, you don't have that open, accepting exterior that Gabrielle does, but it doesn't mean the women feel anything less. We are warriors too, my friend, and there isn't a woman in this village that doesn't understand that you and Gabrielle are simply two sides of the same coin. Besides, you still have a promise to keep to your wife, don't you?"
I didn't have to ask her what promise. It was the one vow I was determined not to break, whether I could help it or not. It was a few summers ago that I made that promise to Gabrielle, when we considered ourselves only best friends and I hadn't yet confessed my love for her. I promised that no matter what happened, in life or death, to my bard, I would not become the monster I was as the Destroyer of Nations. I extracted a promise from the Queen Regent that if it looked as if I would ever break my vow to Gabrielle, that Ephiny should strike me down with her blade before I could shame Gabrielle's name and my love for her.
"It's just something I think you should think about Xena. I pray we never have to deal with that circumstance, but we both know that Gabrielle would want you somewhere that you could live your life in peace and happiness, not traveling alone with your pain. You always have somewhere that you belong, Xena...remember that." Ephiny finished.
"That means more to me than you could possibly know, Eph." I answered and the tears that were becoming annoyingly familiar sprung to my eyes once again.
I couldn't say it to Ephiny, but as I sat there awaiting word on Gabrielle's well being I knew that should anything ever happen to my beloved bard...happiness would never exist for me again.
"I had a feeling you'd be here." Adia said as she stepped lightly upon the rock formation that Gabrielle sat on.
The young Queen looked tired, but she was surprisingly alert given the circumstances. When Adia entered Gabrielle's dreamscape in the Amazon village, the Healer had no idea where to look for the Queen. Then she remembered the first time they met. Gabrielle was sitting at this pond with Sartori on that sunny day.
Gabrielle clasped the Healer's strong hands and she couldn't keep from wrapping her arms around the taller woman's waist and starting to cry.
"Sshh, Gabrielle...it will be allright, you don't have to be afraid." Adia murmured, just as she always did to calm her own wife. "Xena sent me after you...she said something about not being able to find where you put anything so you have to get better."
Gabrielle laughed and started to cry at the same time, but Adia knew the small jest relieved the young blonde somewhat.
"Come on, let's sit over here and talk about what's going on." Adia sat and seated Gabrielle on a fallen log, realizing the young Queen leaned on her as if for support.
"I'm getting weaker every moment. That's not normal...shouldn't I be healthy in my dreams?" Gabrielle asked.
"Gabrielle, Xena thinks that this fever has something to do with the Gods, it's not just any random illness. Artemis deserted her temple; even the high priestess can't summon her. Your warrior also thinks the other Gods are involved. We need you to try to call your father into your dreamscape. We need to know how to fight whatever this is."
"Can I do that, Adia...summon Apollo into my dreams?"
"It's certainly worth a try...we're running out of ideas back there." Adia added softly.
"This was in my dream, Adia." Gabrielle sounded like she was almost musing aloud. Noticing the Healer's confused explanation, she hurried on to explain.
"I had a dream I told, Xena about, only in it I thought she was sick because I couldn't make her understand me, although I kept trying to reach her. The truth is I can hear everything that everyone is saying around me. It's so strange, like floating outside of myself, but I can't seem to wake my body up."
Gabrielle's tears began to fall at the frustration she felt and once again, the tall Healer embraced the small Queen.
"It's allright, Gabrielle, I'll tell Xena that. It will do her heart good to know that you can hear her." Adia brushed away the young woman's tears. "Gabrielle, we need to see if we can rouse Apollo, do you feel strong enough for this?"
"Try to concentrate on the fact that you're in a dream. You want Apollo to know exactly where you are...not in the Amazon village, but in your dreamscape. Ready?"
Gabrielle nodded again and closed her eyes. Xena taught her well and she immediately began to meditate, concentrating on everything Adia explained to her. After a few moments that seemed like candlemarks to the Healer, Gabrielle touched the band on the finger of her right hand.
"Father..." The young Queen said aloud.
The young Queen opened her eyes, but unlike the previous occasions she called upon her father, this time Apollo did not appear. Long moments passed and Gabrielle closed her eyes tightly, imagining her dreamscape and concentrating on every detail.
"It's not working, Adia." Gabrielle opened her eyes in frustration.
"Give it time, Gabrielle," the Healer replied.
Adia took one of Gabrielle's hands in both of her own, trying to infuse a little strength into her ailing Queen. Finally a small shimmering line, almost a tear in the fabric of the air appeared. Materializing in all his godly splendor was Gabrielle's father, Apollo. His golden armor, usually polished to a high sheen, was scuffed and dirty. It was obvious the God fought in a battle, and one against other Gods, for him to look so disheveled. There was something that overrode the God's own dealings, however, and that was evident by the concern etched in the lines of the usually happy face. It was concern for his daughter.
"Gabrielle." Apollo said sharply as he moved to his daughter's side.
Apollo understood the situation the moment he realized that Gabrielle called to him from her dreamscape. In an instant he felt the gravity of the situation. If he didn't know what he and his siblings were fighting for, then he certainly recognized it now. Why hadn't it occurred to him that if his sister's Amazons died, their Queen would too?
Gabrielle intended to be strong in front of her father, but the sickness and her worry over Xena, the tragedy of the whole business came crashing around her and she sobbed as the handsome God knelt and held his daughter's weakened body.
"Gabrielle, my child...we'll get through this. I won't let anything happen to you." Apollo murmured to comfort his daughter, knowing that it might not be the truth.
"They're dying...all my people are dying...I think I'm going to die too." Gabrielle said through her tears.
Apollo quieted the young woman even as his head began to formulate a plan. He knew it would take someone of exceptional abilities to attempt what he had in mind.
"Gabrielle, is Xena in the Amazon village with you?"
I believe I have a way that we can defeat this, but you'll have to trust me for a while. I have to go, very quickly back to Olympus, but I'll return in the morning. I want to talk to your warrior, then I explain what's going on to Xena and I'll come back to your dreamscape too."
"You don't have to, father, I can hear everything that goes on out there." Gabrielle assured him.
"Gabrielle, I'm going to put a circle of protection around you. I can't heal you, but my protection will prevent you from getting any worse."
"Please," Gabrielle placed her hand on the God's arm. "Not just me, father...all of the women here?"
Even though time was a rapidly fleeing commodity, Apollo took the time to smile gently at his daughter. Her concern was always for others and it endeared her even more to the ancient God. Apollo nodded his head and stood. Clapping his hands together once, he rubbed the palms until a glowing ball of light emerged in his hand. He tossed the light high into the air and it fell in tiny tendrils, the long trails of light forming a canopy over the Amazon village.
Apollo bent once more and brushed his lips lightly to his daughter's forehead.
"I have to leave, Gabrielle, but I'll return to speak with Xena in the morning. Don't give up hope, my child." He whispered and suddenly there were only multi colored sparkles in the air where he stood.