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 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), battle scene type stuff. It does get pretty bloody at the end, but if you can handle PG13 you shouldn't be too bothered.
SEX: Yup, it's here! I mean it is Xena and Gabrielle, after all. It's not gratuitous, but it is explicit when it gets going. This story shows consensual love/sex between two adult females. Consider yourself warned if you find that kind of thing offensive.
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
OTHER DISCLAIMERS: The words to the song that Xena sings to Gabrielle are actually the lyrics to the song "No Place That Far", sung by Sara Evans (words & music: Sara Evans/Tom Shapiro/Tony Martin), and are used here without permission or intent to profit.
MESSAGE FROM THE AUTHOR: I usually don't "explain" a title...you either get it or you don't, but I must be getting soft. The title of this piece is apt and I thank my friend, Gloria for the use of her gray cells in coming up with it in the first place. It is not only the physical Quest for a woman, but also Gabrielle's own Quest to find out who she is as a woman, a bard, a lover & friend, and as an Amazon Queen.
I only know how others feel about my stories from feedback. Let me know what you think about it, or what you might like to see in the future...homophobes need not apply, however. I'm at: Devlin@xenafan.com
I promised her I would...so here it is! A dedication to Gloria for her help in coming up with a title that I could live with for this piece. BTW...Here's to all my muses for this piece...The Xmas Misfits.
*This is the second story in the "Queen" series. While not absolutely necessary, you may want to read the first story, "To Become A Queen," just to keep up.
The food hut was mostly deserted, but Amazons were beginning to filter in for a midday meal. Gabrielle had been sitting there; just staring into the unknown, a full plate of food lying barely touched in front of her. Her slim, muscular frame rested in a wooden chair at the head of the Queen's table, her mind went where her mind spent most of its time in the last fortnight, to a certain Warrior Princess.
Since they'd become lovers, their evenings were spent in a passionate haze behind a barred door to the Queen's quarters. Actually, more than just their evenings, the Queen mused to herself. Nighttime, daytime, afternoons, once sapphire blue eyes, captured emerald green a tacit message was passed, and the two lovers would find themselves creating reasons to be alone in the same room. They had christened nearly every hideaway available in the Amazon village, and most of the surrounding countryside.
"Hi there," Xena said with a smile, kissing the top of the seated woman's head, and pulling her from her reverie.
Gabrielle reached behind her to embrace the dark-haired warrior, and pulled up short, immediately stopping the taller woman by placing the palm of her hand on the warrior's breastplate.
"Eeewwww, Warrior...you smell," she said with a grimace, continuing to hold her at arms length.
Xena chuckled as she straightened back up. "I ought to, considering I've been sparring with your best and brightest all morning. Here, I'll sit downwind...is that any better?" She finished, taking a seat on a bench just to the Queen's left.
"Just barely," Gabrielle smiled. Suddenly she leaned over the table, capturing the warrior's lips in a gentle kiss that turned heated quickly. "Mmmm," Gabrielle moaned, "that was definitely worth the risk." The young Queen moved back into her seat, never releasing the azure eyes that now sparkled with unspoken desire.
"Oh, get a room," Eponin exclaimed, witnessing the passionate exchange. "Is this a private army, or can anyone enlist?" the Amazon warrior asked with a mischievous smile, indicating a seat at the Queen's table.
"Sit," both women invited in unison, never breaking their eye contact with one another.
Eponin arranged herself at the table and began to eat her meal, watching with amusement, the exchange between Xena and Gabrielle. The walls could fall down around them and I don't think they'd notice!
"Hello?" Eponin asked, waving her hand between the two women.
"How's your back, Ep?" Xena said with a wry smile, finally releasing the Queens' gaze.
"Fine, no thanks to you!" Eponin exclaimed, trying to look fierce. She failed considering the fact that she began to blush and it's hard for an Amazon Warrior to look tough while her ears are turning red.
"What a nice shade of scarlet," Gabrielle smiled sweetly, looking at Xena and nodding her head in Eponin's direction.
Which simply made Eponin turn an even brighter shade of red. Since the last incident involving Eponin, and a very naked Xena and Gabrielle, the Amazon had been having trouble looking her Queen directly in the eye.
"Oh, thanks, Gabrielle...just jump on the bandwagon and kick me while I'm down." The warrior finished dejectedly.
"Oh, Ep," the Queen laughed, "you're too cute!"
"Gabrielle!" Eponin cried, lowering her voice to a whisper, "I'm a warrior...please don't call me cute."
Still laughing at the embarrassed Amazon, Gabrielle rose from her seat, "I hate to leave when we're having so much fun at your expense, but I have work to do." Pushing her untouched plate of food toward Xena she indicated the warrior should finish it.
"Gabrielle, you haven't even touched this," grasping the young woman's hand as she passed, "are you sure you feel allright?" Xena questioned with concern.
"Yea, just not as hungry as I thought," Gabrielle smiled at her lover. "You better finish it," she said leaning in to whisper into Xena's ear, "you're going to need your strength...for later." She finished, kissing the warrior gently.
"See ya, Ep," the young Queen said with a smile as she gracefully made her way through the maze of tables in the hut. Stopping to talk to one of the Royal Guard, Gabrielle smiled seductively in Xena's direction, before leaving the building.
"Don't worry, Xena...she's fine, just in love that's all," Eponin said between bites, motioning toward Gabrielle's uneaten food. "It's written all over her face. That pathetic 'I'm so in love' look. Trust me, I can tell it from a league away."
Yea, well, how do I look?" Xena said turning to look at the Amazon.
"Absolutely pathetic," Eponin returned.
Xena laughed loud and long at the Amazon's characterization of her. Yep, I bet I do look absolutely pathetic, she thought to herself, unable to remove the goofy grin from her face. But, what a way to go! With that the warrior dug into Gabrielle's forgotten repast, taking the young Queen's promise literally.
"Xena?" The warrior turned to see Daria, the member of the Royal Guard Gabrielle had been talking with before she left the food hut. Xena had finished her meal and now she and Eponin were sharing a drink before heading off to the baths. The Guard leaned toward the warrior slightly, lowering her voice.
"Her Highness has requested that a bath be drawn for you in your quarters, she also said she would meet you there later." Daria looked slightly disconcerted at being the harbinger for what would most certainly turn out to be a romantic liaison between the Queen and her consort. The Amazon took it in stride, however, straightening herself and walking off, missing the amused, yet lustful glint in the eye of the Warrior Princess.
"Stop, right there warrior." The voice ordered the instant Xena entered the hut she shared with Gabrielle. The warrior froze, her back facing the speaker, the hairs along the back of her neck rising in response.
Xena's eyes instantly took in the interior of the hut, even before stepping through the door. The storm shutters were pulled closed on the windows, leaving only the slats above each window open, allowing in the warm summer breeze. The room was heavy with moisture; tendrils of steam rose from heated water, dissipating into the air. The closed windows effectively eliminated the light of day, but candles of varying sizes had been placed throughout the hut, the light from their flames dancing and flickering against the walls. She briefly closed her eyes, taking in the fragrance of warmed rose oil, burning wax, and a scent the warrior had come to crave, one that made her mouth water from the mere notion...
"Don't turn around." Gabrielle demanded.
Xena was utterly captivated by the commanding tone in the young Queen's voice. Gods, who'd have thought Gabrielle ordering me around could be so arousing? Who would have thought I'd let anyone have that kind of power over me?
"Remove your armor."
Xena quickly began removing her weapons and armor beginning with her breastplate, ending with her greaves and shin guards.
Xena stood, leaving her leg protectors and boots untouched.
"Slow down...I'm enjoying the view."
Six-foot puddle time!
To Xena's ears the words were practically purred as she thought about melting into a puddle in the middle of the floor, just from the sound of her lover's voice.
Not only her bard's words but also the tone and timbre caused an immediate reaction in Xena's inflamed body. She felt the familiar tightening in her belly, followed by an increased flood of liquid between her legs. The warrior continued, slowly and painstakingly drawing leather straps through buckles, willing a little control into her already trembling fingers. Divested of her battle armor she stood waiting for her next command.
"Your breeches...take them off."
Xena hooked a thumb in each side of her now soaked undergarment and slid them down and off her legs. She was actually amazed the cloth pulled away from her body without a slurping sound, as wet as she was.
"Now, turn around."
Xena slowly turned and the breath caught in her throat. Gods, she's beautiful.
Gabrielle was leaning against the back of a narrow, yet long tub, the length easily able to accommodate the warrior's size. The young woman's arms lay draped across the outside rim, her fingers dangling in the water. The young Queen's body stretched out languidly in the steaming water, her face flushed from either the heat or simply desire. The bard's hair had been swept up and pulled back from her face and neck, held in place with a delicate ivory comb. Xena focused on the young woman's green eyes, dark with desire.
"Start with the laces." Gabrielle said, not turning away from the warrior's gaze, beginning to feel an insistent pressure between her own legs that begged for release.
Xena reached behind her and began to loosen the laces at her back. Stopping, she let her arms fall to her sides, lowering her eyes to the floor.
"Very good...at least I have you well trained," Gabrielle praised.
Xena's eyes shot up and captured the bard's with a touch of fire in the azure depths, the muscles in her neck tightening.
Gabrielle thought she had overplayed her hand by the look in her warrior's eye, but she continued, overlooking the battle of wills that was silently taking place.
"Continue," the bard said encouragingly.
Xena very nearly stopped the whole scenario. It took a lot for the warrior to succumb to another's will, even if the other was as beautiful as her bard was, then again, she knew there was a difference here. Xena knew there was love and trust here, it's the only reason this domination fantasy excited her. Her submission had never...would never, take place with anyone but Gabrielle. There was one more reason it thrilled her, and that's because it aroused her Amazon Queen every bit as much as the warrior.
Xena slid the straps of the tunic off each shoulder and let her leathers fall down her body.
This time it was Gabrielle's turn to gasp. She tried to hold it in, but the sight of the Warrior Princess, naked and prepared to submit to the bard's will, caused a sharp intake of breath, and an increased ache in her center. Xena's body was magnificent even streaked with grime and sweat from the practice field.
"Get in," Gabrielle said huskily.
Xena walked over and stepped into the tub, never breaking eye contact with the bard.
"Turn around and sit." Gabrielle ordered, starting to breathe a little heavier now that her warrior was so close. The young woman reached for a cloth and soap, and began the slow process of lathering the skin of the warrior. She started at her neck, to her shoulders, well-muscled back, and down each strong arm. When the water covered the parts of the warrior's body that Gabrielle wanted to reach, she leaned against Xena's back, the young woman's nipples pressing deliciously into the warrior's flesh.
"Stand up," Gabrielle whispered in her ear.
Xena stood, thin rivulets of water cascading down her perfectly toned body. Gabrielle continued her washing, bath cloth in hand, running down the outside of each long leg, returning up the inside, stopping just short of the dark patch of curls. She discarded the cloth and ran both soapy palms up the back of Xena's thighs, continuing up to massage the warrior's buttocks, enjoying the way the warrior's muscles jumped when they felt the smoothness of the bard's hand instead of the cloth.
"Turn around and kneel," Gabrielle again commanded.
Xena, once again, did as she was bid, kneeling in the heated water. Taking the soapy cloth, Gabrielle gave the front of her body the same treatment as the back, beginning at her neck. When the bard brushed the fabric over a hardened nipple, Xena managed to hold back a moan, but closed her eyes, arching her body into the pleasing touch.
"Oh, no, warrior," Gabrielle warned. "I don't want you losing yourself in the sensations just yet. Keep your eyes open or I'll have to stop."
Xena's eyelids snapped open at the admonition from the Queen.
Gabrielle tossed the cloth into the water, running the soap through her fingers to create lather. She resumed her work on the warrior's body, once again foregoing the cloth and using her hands instead. The bard was having an enormous amount of difficulty just trying to stay focused. Xena's skin felt like the softest Egyptian silk against her slick fingers. She felt every muscle and sinew in the warrior's powerful chest, her thumbs lazily stroking the nipples into tightened nubs. Xena bit her lip to keep from crying out at the pleasure, but the bard's next move was too much for the warrior's already raging libido.
Gabrielle slid her hands down the warrior's flat abdomen, the muscles clenching as she skimmed her hands across the flesh. She cautiously ran sudsy fingers through the dark curls between the warrior's legs. Slow and deliberate, the bard keeping her touch away from where Xena needed it most. Suddenly the young woman slid her fingers down further, her soapy hand mingling with the warrior's warm wetness.
"Oh, Gods," Xena threw her head back, eyes closing, and moaned.
Gabrielle abruptly pulled away from the aroused warrior causing Xena to instantly realize her indiscretion.
"It's apparent you didn't take my warning seriously, warrior...I think we're done here." Gabrielle snapped as she started to move away.
"No!" Xena's hand shot out, grabbing the bard's wrist.
Gabrielle merely looked at Xena's hand locked onto hers, raising an eyebrow and the warrior released her grip at once. Breathing hard, Xena willed her arms to the side of her body and lowered her eyes.
"Please, forgive me my Queen," the warrior pleaded. By the Gods...am I begging?
By the Gods, is she begging? "This is your last chance...there will be no others. Don't make me tie your hands." Gabrielle said softly. Xena's pulse raced faster at the words, but she held her tongue, and Gabrielle decided to save that little fantasy for another time.
The young Queen placed two fingers under the warrior's chin and tilted her face till their eyes met. Leaning in she began placing a series of kisses on Xena's mouth, none of which the warrior responded to.
"Very good," Gabrielle smiled at the warrior's control. "Kiss me," she commanded, leaning in again to capture Xena's lips.
The warrior responded fervently, straining against the idea of wrapping her arms around the bard and pulling the young woman closer to her. Suddenly Xena moaned into Gabrielle's kiss when, without warning, the bard's fingers resumed their exploration of Xena's slick folds.
Breaking away from the kiss, Gabrielle moved to whisper in the warrior's ear.
"Is this what you wanted to feel?"
"Oh, yes!" Xena responded quickly.
"Do you see what happens when you're obedient?" Gabrielle questioned, not stopping the teasing motion of her fingers.
"Yes, my Queen," Xena's labored breathing proof of the physical pleasure. The warrior's well-trained body promptly grasped the concept. Do as you're told and be rewarded. And, oh, she felt very rewarded.
All too quickly the bard removed her fingers, eliciting a whimper of protest from the dark-haired woman.
"Soon, my love...very soon," Gabrielle said, picking up a sponge to rinse the soap from Xena's body.
Gabrielle washed the warrior's hair, then dipped her hands in the bowl of warm rose oil, massaging the slick liquid into the warrior's quivering muscles. Occasionally the bard would flick her tongue over a hardened nipple, slip a slender finger between the warrior's legs, and suck on a sensitive earlobe until Xena's body trembled constantly with unfulfilled desire. Xena could not tell how much time had passed since she first entered the hut; her body was being constantly rewarded, then deprived of the bard's fiery touch.
"Stand up," Gabrielle said forcefully.
Xena stretched her frame out of the water and stood before the kneeling Queen. The warrior felt Gabrielle's warm breath and it chilled her skin as the bard leaned in to capture a droplet of moisture with her tongue as it rolled down the warrior's abdomen. Advancing her tongue further, she slipped the tip past the dark patch of hair and into the warrior's sweet wetness. Xena balled her hands into fists, clenching them tightly against the white hot bolt of desire that swept through her body. She fought the temptation to thrust her hips forward, not wanting to give in simply to have the bard pull away like before.
"Spread your legs apart," Gabrielle murmured into Xena's flesh.
Xena complied moving her feet up to the walls of the narrow tub.
Gabrielle pushed her tongue in further and placed two fingers at Xena's opening, teasing the flesh there with small circular motions. A flood of wetness washed over the bard's tongue as Xena realized what was about to happen, her body responding to Gabrielle's stimulation.
"Is this what you want, warrior?" Gabrielle said, replacing her tongue with her right thumb, continue to lightly stroke around the swollen folds.
"Gods, Yesss," Xena panted.
"My tongue...or my fingers?" Gabrielle smiled at the sudden look of indecision on the warrior's face. "I'll reward you with both, but first you have to promise me one more thing, warrior..."
Xena looked down at the bard, looking mischievously back up at her.
"You're not allowed to come until I give you permission."
Xena groaned at the words the bard had just spoken. She was just beginning to think that she was so close to the edge now, only a few strokes from her lover's tongue and she would be screaming in ecstasy.
"Warrior...do you enjoy pleasuring me...enjoy my taste?"
Xena's mouth began to water at the mere thought of Gabrielle's taste, the spicy sweetness that flowed so easily from the young woman; that was so distinctly her bard.
"Yes, my Queen," Xena gasped through ragged breaths.
"If you come without my permission, I'll pleasure myself and this evening will be over. Do you understand?"
"Yes, my Queen...I understand." Xena answered.
Upon Xena's assent, Gabrielle slipped her tongue inside the spread legs, pushing her fingers one step closer to their goal. Xena moaned loudly as wave after wave of previously denied pleasure washed over her body.
Gabrielle removed her tongue and stilled her hand, licking away the wetness that coated the inside of the warrior's thighs.
"Now, tell me, my warrior...what is it you want," Gabrielle looked up and asked the pleasure delirious woman.
Xena, who had previously had trouble voicing her needs and desires to her young lover, looked down at the young woman with an intense gaze that burned red hot with need.
"Fuck me, my Queen," she hissed through clenched teeth.
The warrior gasped as Gabrielle plunged two fingers inside her, gliding the digits in and out with slow precision.
"More." Xena begged until three then four fingers thrust themselves into her body. Barely able to form the words, Xena cried out, "harder...Gods, harder." She thrust herself against the bard's hand, her hips grinding down against her lover's muscular arm.
"Remember, warrior...not without my permission."
Xena growled in frustration, begging her body to back off, feeling she was quickly losing the battle when her thighs began to tremble uncontrollably, a new flood of wetness indicating her impending orgasm. Her hands clenched the rim of the tub, her knees threatening to give way. Xena's eyes met Gabrielle's; both women dangerously near the edge.
"Please--my--Queen" Xena begged.
"Now," was all the Queen said.
Xena threw back her head and howled her release, her legs finally giving way. As she dropped to her knees, her hands, still clamped onto the sides of the tub, were shaking wildly. Her body continued to convulse, pulsating rhythmically around the bard's fingers, and as the bard continued the motion of her hand inside her body, another orgasm ripped through the warrior's frame.
Gabrielle wrapped deceivingly strong arms around the warrior, Xena's head buried in he smaller woman's shoulder.
"I've got you, love...I've got you," Gabrielle whispered.
"Oh, Gods...you are trying to get even, aren't you?" Gabrielle moaned lying completely spent on the bed the two women shared.
Xena grinned and moved up the young woman's body, gently kissing the sensitive flesh, until their lips met in a passionate kiss filled with the promises of a lifetime to come. Gabrielle moaned again, as she tasted herself on the warrior's tongue.
"How did you guess?" Xena said with an evil grin when both women finally pulled away to breathe.
The warrior lay on her back and Gabrielle felt herself wrapped in strong loving arms. The bard nuzzled Xena's neck, lightly kissing the bruise she'd put there earlier.
"Xena...do you think there's something wrong with me?" Gabrielle tentatively questioned.
"Of course not, love...Gabrielle, why would you even ask such a thing?" Xena answered, pulling away slightly to look at her lover.
"It's just...well, this," she motioned with her hand toward the both of them. "I mean, well...the way we are...I mean--"
"Gabrielle, you keep saying 'I mean', but I'm not sure what you mean." Xena said, confused by her lover's questioning.
"I mean..." Gabrielle stopped at Xena's small smile at the same two words. "Xena, I want you all the time!" The bard blurted out. "I thought it was because it was all so new at first, but it only seems to be getting worse, if you know what I mean. It's like making love to you is some kind of need...I feel absolutely driven, and I know that can't be normal." The young woman finished with tears in her eyes.
"Gabrielle," Xena said, gently cradling the bard's face in her strong hands, "It is a need...we've been in love with each other for so long, we do need each other, and there's nothing abnormal about that. As for the physical part of our relationship...I feel exactly the same way you do. Lately, it seems if I'm not making love to you, I'm thinking about making love to you. This is new...for both of us. I've never been in love like this before so we're just going to have to write our own rules and take each day as it comes. I know one thing, though, my love..."
Xena flipped the bard over so she was on her back and began to lay gentle kisses on her neck, working her way toward Gabrielle's ear. "You are the most beautiful...most incredible...sexiest...woman I have ever known." The warrior punctuated each word with a kiss. "How could I not want you all the time?" she finished, capturing Gabrielle's lips in a burning kiss that immediately drove the young woman's doubts and fears away.
"Xena?" Gabrielle was desperately trying not to be carried away by the warrior's kisses.
"Mmmm?" was Xena's reply as she continued to kiss her way down the young woman's neck.
"I'd like to tell my family about us." Gabrielle finished, counting the heartbeats that went by, her eyes shut tight waiting for the explosion.
"You want to what?" Xena said, astonished. "Gabrielle, your parents hate me...are you sure you're ready for the reaction you might get?"
The young Queen's emerald eyes took on a serious hue, "I can kind of guess what kind of reaction I'll get, but it's something I need to do...more for me, rather...us, than anyone else. Xena, it's just that if anything should ever happen to us, I want people...our families... to know how we felt about one another...what we meant to each other. I want them to know that no matter what, I loved you until my dying day, and that I'd do anything...go anywhere...fight anyone, just to be by your side.
Tears filled the warrior's blue eyes as she leaned up to lightly brush her lips across her lover's forehead, returning to snare the bard's soft full lips in a breath stealing kiss. Gabrielle was constantly amazed at how the former Destroyer of Nations could be so gentle, have a caress so delicate and full of love.
"Oh, Gabrielle...do you know how much I love you? Even realize what you mean to me? That my heart beats only for you...because of you? My heart is so connected to yours...through all eternity, Gabrielle...you are my soul mate."
Brushing away the bard's own tears of love, Xena continued, "Just one thing, my love. If you're determined to do this, then let's do it right. We'll both go to Potidaea and tell your family together. We can travel on to Amphipolis from there and tell my mother and Toris. What do you say?"
"Xena, are you sure about telling your family, too?"
"I've never been more sure of anything, my bard." Xena said with a kiss and a smile she reserved only for her bard.
Gabrielle wrapped her arms tightly around the warrior's neck. "I love you, Xe." She whispered.
Xena smiled at her lover's use of a shortened version of her name. "I love you, too, Gabrielle."
The warrior finally pulled away from the exquisite embrace. "Gabrielle, I have something for you," she said, leaving the bed to search through her saddlebags.
"Actually," she continued to speak as she dug to the bottom of the bag, "I had this made quite a while ago, but I never thought I'd actually be giving it to you."
Looking up with a bittersweet grin she caught the bard's gaze. "I guess I had it made because it was something I would have liked to give you if I'd ever had the courage to tell you how I felt about you."
Returning to the bed, she sat next to the bard and handed her a small wooden box. Gabrielle reached out a tentative hand for the gift, wondering what the warrior could have had made, and kept a secret for so long. Lifting the lid, Gabrielle gasped aloud at the elegance of such a gift. The box was lined with purple silk and lying inside was a pendant unlike any other. Two hearts had been formed from the shape and scrollwork of Xena's breastplate, each heart holding a small stone, one blue sapphire and one emerald green. The hearts had been joined together at the points so that they created the letter X."Oh, Xena...it's so beautiful," Gabrielle said breathlessly.
"Let's see how it looks on you, huh?" Xena said, smiling at the look of unadulterated love radiating from her bard's face. The warrior moved to sit behind the young Queen and clasped the delicate chain around her neck.
Moving her arms around the smaller woman in front of her, Xena pressed her body in tightly against the bard and whispered in her ear.
"This is more than just a pendant. I've never given away my heart like this before; I trust you to keep it safe for me. It also extracts a promise from you, Gabrielle. It puts an X, my mark, over your heart...my heart over your heart. It shows that you belong to me and no other, just as I belong to you."
Gabrielle reached up and placed her hand over the pendant, lying above her heart, just as Xena placed her own hand on top of the bard's. The warrior reached down and placed soft kisses on the Queen's shoulder, pulling their bodies closer together. Sitting yoga style, each woman wrapped around the other, their hands over the pendant, it was as if they had truly become one.
"I'll never let anyone take it from me," Gabrielle promised.
"Pain to the person who tries," Xena said gravely.
With Xena's words Gabrielle felt her skin tingle where the pendant touched her. It had come and gone so quickly that the bard didn't know if the feeling had been real or imagined.
"So, when do we go?" Gabrielle questioned.
"Is day after tomorrow too soon?" Xena responded.
"That's fine with me. Xena, did you want to be on the road again by now?" Gabrielle asked.
Xena wrapped her arms even tighter around the Amazon Queen and spoke into her ear so softly it was barely a whisper; "I go where you go, my Queen...my home is where you are."
Halting her words with a kiss then a caress; the two women once again lost themselves to their passions.
Leaving the Amazon village was never easy for Gabrielle, but after so much time spent among her friends, their parting was a melancholy affair. Gabrielle leaned her cheek against Xena's back as they both rode atop Argo, thanking Artemis once again for a regent and a friend such as Ephiny.
"Wake up, sleepyhead," Xena teased, placing a gentle hand on her lover's thigh.
"Mmmm... I'm not sleeping, just thinking," was the bard's lazy reply.
"Thinking or worrying?"
"You know me too well," the bard smiled and kissed Xena's neck. "I guess a little of both, though. I'm not sure if we shouldn't just keep Argo saddled and ready for a quick escape."
Xena pulled Gabrielle's arms tighter around her waist and wrapped her own free arm around them protectively. "Remember, Brie...we're in this together."
"What?" Xena asked, turning to look at Gabrielle after not having received a response from her bard.
"It's just that I don't think you've ever called me anything but Gabrielle in all the time we've known each other. Why Brie?"
"I don't know..." the warrior stammered, a slight blush beginning to creep up her neck. "...It just came out."
"I like it. I especially like a name that only you call me." Gabrielle smiled against the skin of the warrior's neck.
Gabrielle began to place a series of small kisses along the bare skin of Xena's neck and shoulders, anywhere her lips could reach that wasn't covered with armor.
Her bard's tender lips caused a sensation that slammed hard into Xena's center, eliciting a groan from the warrior.
"Gabrielle," the warrior said breathlessly. "At this rate it's going to take us a week to get to Potidaea."
"Why is that, my love?" Gabrielle asked, feigning innocence, and pushing Xena's hair to one side to run the tip of her tongue along the nape of the warrior's neck.
"Because we're making camp for the night!" Xena finished, abruptly guiding the mare off the well-traveled path and into the woods.
"Anybody home?" Gabrielle asked, waving her hand in front of her lover's eyes.
"Oh, I'm sorry, Brie...I was just thinking." Xena returned from her thoughts as she stared into the flames of the campfire.
"Thinking or worrying?"
Xena flashed a smile to her young lover as her earlier words were tossed back at her. "A little bit of both I guess," she returned with a grin.
"Can I help?" Gabrielle asked
"As a matter of fact, yes...we need to talk, Brie." The warrior finished seriously.
The look on the bard's face told Xena the young woman had misinterpreted her intentions. "Oh, no...it's nothing bad, just some stuff I thought we needed to talk about."
"Oh," Gabrielle said smiling at her own anxiety. "I thought--well, I guess there's always a tiny part of me that's still waiting for you to leave me in Potidaea." She said, embarrassed at her own apprehension.
"Never, my bard..." Xena pulled her lover into her lap and enveloped the smaller woman in her warm embrace. "Gabrielle, I'll say it again and again if you need to hear it, but I'll never leave you. I plan on making your life miserable until we're old and gray." The warrior finished with a twinkle in her blue eyes.
"That's kind of what I wanted to talk to you about...being around until we're old and gray. I don't want you to take this the wrong way, considering, as you can plainly see, I have a hard time just keeping my hands off of you. It's just that...well...in the Amazon village we were pretty free to...well, kiss, and...you know, whenever we wanted, but now that we're on the road again...strange people and towns--"
"Oh, Xe, it's allright, I understand. I would never embarrass you in public--"
"No, love...your touch could never embarrass me. You could kiss me thoroughly in front of my own mother and it wouldn't embarrass me." The warrior smiled tenderly.
"I'll take you up on that someday, you know" Gabrielle teased.
"I was thinking more about focus. I don't want us to get so caught up in each other that we lose track of what's going on around us. You know it could spell trouble if we become too oblivious to our surroundings. It's not a good thing for a warrior to be so distracted."
"And am I a distraction?" Gabrielle asked, nuzzling the warrior's neck.
"You, my love, are a most pleasant distraction," the warrior teased, kissing the tip of her lover's nose.
"Gabrielle smiled and returned the gentle kiss. "So, not so much of this?" Gabrielle motioned toward their crumpled bedrolls that had been straightened and strewn about the camp twice since dinner. "Or maybe just when we stay at an inn or in town?"
"Well, don't go crazy on me here," the warrior's body already beginning to feel denied. "I just thought maybe we should be a little more selective about the 'when and the where'...not necessarily the 'how often'."
Gabrielle laughed at the dejected look on her lover's face. "I would never deny you, my love," she whispered seductively.
Xena growled as the sultry sound of the bard's voice wrenched a reaction from her body. "I'd carry you to the bedroll this very second, but I want to check the area before we get too comfortable." She said putting some space between she and the bard before she gave up on that plan altogether.
"Xena," Gabrielle called as the warrior moved into the darkness. "Now that we're lovers it kind of gives 'checking the perimeter' a whole new meaning, doesn't it?" she smiled.
Xena froze and turned to look back at the young woman. "You knew?"
"Xe...what did you think I was doing back here when you went off to pleasure yourself?" Gabrielle asked, smiling sweetly.
The vision that thrust itself to the forefront of the warrior's mind made her eyes go wide. She promptly turned to make her way to the edge of camp, but not before Gabrielle heard the warrior's low groan of arousal.
Riding toward the small village of Potidaea, Xena felt Gabrielle's body language change, as the young woman in the saddle behind her pressed herself tighter against the warrior. To Xena, Gabrielle had always been happy to see her family, especially her sister Lila, but there was always a little imperceptible something that changed when the bard was back in her home village.
"Why don't we take a break," Xena offered, "I'm kind of thirsty. Besides there's only another couple of candlemarks till we're in Potidaea."
Gabrielle agreed a little rest would be a good idea. Actually, the closer she got to home the more nervous she became, until she was holding on to Xena so tight she feared she'd suffocate the poor warrior.
Sitting under a tree, both women relaxed in the shade, realizing that summer's warm breezes were slowly coming to an end.
"What was it like growing up in Potidaea, Brie?" Xena asked nonchalantly.
Gabrielle looked up at her warrior, a thin smile barely covering a look of pain. "I don't know...I guess like every other farming community in Greece."
Xena continued. "It's just that you don't talk much about growing up here. I mean, I'm always telling you about how Lyceus and I went fishing or swimming, how I learned to ride a horse, or use a sword...I'll never figure out how you drag those stories out of me, anyway." She said with a smile toward her bard.
Gabrielle shrugged as if to say there wasn't much to tell.
"Come 'ere," Xena encouraged pulling the smaller woman into her lap. Kissing her temple, the warrior enjoyed the familiar warmth of her partner.
"Growing up here wasn't a real happy time for me." Gabrielle said as she lay her head against the warrior's chest.
"I gathered that much...can't you talk about it? Even to me, Brie?" Xena said tenderly stroking her lover's face.
"It's just that I felt very...out of place here." Gabrielle said slowly. "Of course anyone with half a wit and a whole brain would, but it was more than just the town. Xe, I felt that way with my family. Lila and I have been as close as sisters can be, but my mother was always so distant, and...well, you know how my father treats me. It wasn't a whole lot better when I was younger. I just always felt like--like an outsider." She finished softly.
"You and I, my love, have more in common than you think." The warrior commented, holding her lover to her tightly. "Can I ask a question?"
"Why is it so important for you to come here and tell them about us if that's the way you think they feel about you?" Xena asked.
Straightening herself up to look in her lover's eyes, Gabrielle said determinedly, "Because I want them to know who I am...who I really am."
Xena sat there looking into the proud, beautiful features of her lover and felt another piece of that old wall around her heart, hit the ground. "Gabrielle...what did I ever do to deserve a woman as wonderful as you in my life." Punctuating her remarks with a heartfelt kiss.
"I don't know, but you're stuck with me now," the bard laughed.
Xena leapt to her feet still holding Gabrielle in her arms. "Well, you're too small to even throw back." The tall warrior teased.
"Xena...put me down!" Gabrielle squealed.
"You're going to have to ask nicer than that," the warrior said wiggling her eyebrows.
Gabrielle began lightly kissing the warrior's neck. "Please, my love...would you put me down?" Then she wrapped both arms around Xena's neck and kissed her passionately.
When the kiss finally ended, both women found breathing a little more difficult than when they started.
"Gabrielle..." Xena said, her voice suddenly ragged with desire. The warrior's eyes looked into the bard's and then off into the woods, the silent plea understood by the woman in her arms.
"Uh huh," Gabrielle nodded her assent, as the warrior carried her into the shadows of the forest.
Xena pulled Gabrielle up into the saddle behind her, the smile of a truly satisfied warrior on her face.
"Xe," Gabrielle slapped her arm, "if you don't get that goofy grin off your face the whole town's going to know what we've been doing, and we won't need to tell my family anything!"
"What goofy grin?" Xena made an effort to remove the smile, but failed.
"That goofy grin," Gabrielle said, turning the warrior to face her slightly.
"Well, you put it there...maybe you should do something to get rid of it.
"Xena!" Gabrielle exclaimed.
"Oh, allright...I'll try."
Moments passed and Gabrielle quickly leaned up in the saddle to catch a glimpse of the warrior's face. "Xena!"
"I'm trying!" the warrior shouted back. Placing a phony scowl on her face, she turned back to the bard. "Better?"
"Yes. Thank you, love."
A few more moments passed and the grin had again found it's way to the warrior's face.
"Aaarrggh!" Gabrielle moaned. Shaking her head in vain against her lover's back.
Lila was the first to catch a glimpse of the pair as they rode toward the small farm.
"Gabrielle!" the younger girl shouted, waving. "Mother, come quick."
By the time the lovers rode up to the small cottage, Lila and Gabrielle's mother, Hecuba where waiting.
Xena stood by and let the women greet and exchange pleasantries, not able to take her eyes off her beautiful bard. A fact that wasn't lost on Hecuba.
"Hello, Xena," Hecuba offered, surprising the warrior with her cordiality.
"Hecuba," Xena reached out her hand to grasp the older woman's.
"Well, let's get inside, shall we? Xena if you'll be staying for a visit, you're welcome to stable your mare in the barn." Hecuba said brushing her hands brusquely across the folds of her apron. "Come on girls...Gabrielle, do you eat anything at all when you're traveling out on the road...you're skin and bones."
The three women made their way toward the cottage as Xena led Argo in the direction of the barn.
Lila turned in the direction of Gabrielle and said," Gabrielle, why does Xena have that goofy grin on her face?"
Xena nearly choked when her uncanny hearing picked up the words from her lover's sister, a slow blush creeping up her neck, she stopped in her tracks, and had to force herself to look in Gabrielle's direction.
The bard's eyes met hers and mouthed the words 'I told you so' before she spoke to Lila. "It's a warrior thing..." Gabrielle walked to the house, smiling.
"Now I know where Gabrielle gets her culinary talent." Xena smiled as Hecuba offered the warrior another pastry.
"That always was the one thing this girl could get right...food." Hecuba laughed.
Gabrielle noticed that Xena was really turning on the charm tonight, but it hadn't taken the sting from her mother's last words. Yea, the only thing I ever did right was learning to cook.
"Well, the good thing is, now she's very talented...at a lot of things." Xena chimed in to save the day, earning a look so full of love from Gabrielle, it was hard for her mother not to miss it.
Meanwhile Gabrielle's father, Herodotus, silently glared at the warrior.
"Here, let me get those," Xena said, taking plates and bowls from Hecuba's hands, and proceeding to clear the rest of the table.
"Xena you're a guest here...you don't have to do that." Hecuba said a little dumbfounded, the large warrior appearing out of place in her kitchen.
"No problem...Gabrielle has me well trained," she said with a wink toward the bard who just happened to enter the kitchen at that moment.
"Just don't ask her to cook...unless you actually like your food black," Gabrielle threw back.
"Ooooh, that hurts," the warrior came right back.
Hecuba stood watching the exchange and knew right then, this Gabrielle was no longer the little girl who left Potidaea to chase after the Warrior Princess. She was an equal partner, and it was quite evident to the older woman that Gabrielle had found a life that made her happy and somewhere along the way, just possibly, a warrior whose heart was completely devoted to the young bard.
"Brie, why don't you go and visit with your mother...I can finish this."
"You don't have to do it alone," Gabrielle returned.
Once Hecuba had walked into the other room for more dishes, Xena whispered to the bard, "Please, Brie...I'd much rather be in here, than sitting there having your father scowl at me all night."
Gabrielle smiled sadly. "I'm sorry about this, Xe."
"Don't be...just go and have a good visit with your mom." The warrior whispered, kissing her lover on the forehead.
Xena cleaned the kitchen and spent most of the evening giving Argo some much-deserved attention, successfully avoiding Gabrielle's father. She sat in the barn mending a spot in the golden mare's halter that was pulling apart, thinking of Gabrielle and wondering if she should be by her side right now. No, she wouldn't blurt it out like that. Knowing Gabrielle, she'll want to plan it out...step by step. That thought, of course, made her think of Gabrielle's careful seduction of the warrior in the Amazon village and she was caught up in her own fantasies.
A woman's scream just outside the barn brought Xena to the here and now in a heartbeat. Sword drawn she nearly ran down Lila as she burst through the barn doors.
Lila was having her own problems at the moment trying to fend off the advances of an amorous young boy. The youngster, just barely on the verge of manhood saw Xena burst through the barn doors, moonlight reflecting off her sword, and almost fainted in fright.
By the time Gabrielle and her parents made it around the side of the cottage, Xena had the young man by his throat, his feet dangling into the air, unable to touch ground.
"You pathetic little bastard," the warrior hissed.
"What's going on?" Gabrielle shouted to be heard over Lila's sobs.
"M--M--Malachus tried to kiss me...a--and I wouldn't let him." Lila hiccuped.
The young man was gasping for air and Xena looked as if she had no intention of letting him breathe again...ever.
"Xena!" Gabrielle called to her lover. "Xe," she said again, softly, reaching up to gently grab the warrior's chin, turning her face in Gabrielle's direction.
Xena's eyes turned toward her lovers in an icy blue stare. Immediately seeing Gabrielle, the warrior's brow furrowed and her ice blue gaze began to melt into the adoration Hecuba had seen displayed earlier.
"He's just a boy, Xe...let him go." Gabrielle practically whispered.
The muscles in Xena's arm relaxed and the boy slid to the ground clutching his throat, gasping for air. Xena bent down and roughly pushed the boy's head down between his knees as if he'd had the wind knocked out of him.
"Slow, deep breaths...it'll go away in a minute." The warrior advised him.
"Everything's fine, father...go back to bed." Gabrielle said, trying to restore a little peace to the night.
Herodotus spat on the ground and muttered something about beating up innocent villagers before turning and walking back into the house.
"Get on your feet," Gabrielle commanded the young man. "Malachus, do you know who I am?"
"Yes...you're Lila's sister. You travel with the Warrior Princess." The boy's voice shook when he spoke.
"That's right," Gabrielle answered. "She cares a great deal for me," she continued, looking back at her warrior with eyes that held only love. "She would do anything for me...therefore she'd do anything for my family. I know how young men like to talk to their friends...I'd hate to think you would spread lies or gossip about Lila and the events of this evening to those friends of yours."
"Oh, no, Miss," he stammered, his eyes darting back and forth between Xena and Gabrielle.
"I don't want to have to come back here looking for you, Malachus..." Xena interjected with a feral smile.
"Oh, no...never, never," the young man seemed sufficiently terrified now that the warrior knew his name.
"Then maybe you should start by apologizing to Lila," Gabrielle took over.
Malachus couldn't apologize fast enough, but kept stumbling over his words so badly it came out as a truly pathetic apology.
"Lila...I--I never meant to hurt you...I mean, I never would...I only wanted to, I mean I never..." He kept looking back at Xena and Gabrielle, leaning closer towards Lila, lowering his voice until he could barely be heard. "I--I--I never kissed a girl before...and you're so pretty..."
Xena and Gabrielle looked at each other and tried to hide their smiles at the young man who had almost gotten himself killed, simply for lack of experience.
"Say goodnight, Malachus," Xena said putting her arm around the boy's shoulder. "We need to have a talk," she said to him, pulling him in the direction of the village.
Hecuba had stood there, rooted in place, while the event transpired. There would be two things she would always remember about the episode that evening. The first was the sheer strength within the warrior. When they had come upon Xena, holding Malachus up by the throat, Hecuba noticed the muscles bulging in the warrior's arm, forearm and biceps flexing strongly around the bone. The second thing would be how much in love her daughter was with the tall warrior.
"Why don't you want to stay in your old room with me, Gab?" Lila said helping Gabrielle spread out blankets and a bedroll in the loft.
"Because my place is with Xena," Gabrielle said softly.
Xena had come back from a long talk with young Malachus and made her way into the barn and heard the two young women in the loft. She hadn't meant to spy, it was a natural ability of the warrior's to walk around without making a sound, and she hadn't meant to hide the fact she was in Argo's stall beneath her lover and her sister. Now, however, she heard the questions being asked and she couldn't stop herself from listening to the bard's replies.
"Do you really think Xena would do anything for you?" Lila asked slightly in awe.
"I know she would...she proves it every day." Gabrielle smiled.
"I like my friends too, but I wouldn't do just anything for them."
"Xena and I would because we love each other."
"Do you love her the way you loved Perdicus?" Lila's eyes seemed to go wide at her sister's confession.
Xena's heart nearly stopped at Lila's words and she had to remind herself to breathe. In the short time the two women had been lovers, she and Gabrielle hadn't talked about anyone they had been with previously. In hindsight Xena knew how she must have hurt the bard with her casual flings with men like Ulysses. Even if the two women had talked, Xena didn't know if she'd ever have the courage to bring up Gabrielle's marriage to Perdicus. It still hurt too much, knowing that the one woman who captured her warrior's heart had left her to be loved by another. Does she know now how she broke my heart?
Gabrielle stopped what she was doing and motioned for her sister to sit down beside her.
"Lila...I'm going to tell you something...something that I've never even told Xena. I'm telling you because I want you to understand some things about love...about making choices, and being with the right person. I don't want you to have to experience the same hurts that I did." Gabrielle's eyes filled with tears and her sister knelt down next to her and took her hand in her own.
"I don't love Xena anything at all like I loved Perdicus." Gabrielle stated sadly.
Xena felt sure her heart had stopped this time. All the pain she could have ever imagined was rolled into that one statement. To not have been the first was disheartening, but to always be second best in Gabrielle's heart felt like being kicked in the gut without warning.
"I didn't love Perdicus the way you should love your mate, the person you want to spend the rest of your life with. I loved him because he was a boy I grew up with, because he reminded me of the good things about home...I loved him as a friend, not a lover."
"Gabrielle, why did you marry him if you knew you felt that way?" Lila asked.
Tears streamed down Gabrielle's face, but she knew she needed to get the whole story out, to experience the cathartic cleansing her guilty heart begged for.
"I married him because he asked me to...because he said he loved me...because I never thought I'd be able to do better." She finished with a whisper. "I was so in love with Xena and I never thought she would ever love me that way...so I settled for less than my heart's desire. Lila, when Perdicus made love to me on our wedding night all I could think about was Xena...how I wished it had been her. I had made my decision and I was going to have to live with it, but even if Perdicus and I would have lived a long life together, I would have never loved him as much, as deeply as I love Xena." The bard and Lila continued to sit by one another, holding hands, feeling the comfort of just being sisters. Gabrielle wiped tears from her face and continued.
"It's taken me a long time to get past the guilt of Perdicus' death. I used to drive myself insane thinking if I'd been honest with everyone...Xena, Perdicus, even myself, that none of it ever would have happened...that young boy would still be alive. I ended up hurting a lot of people. I know I hurt Xena...we've never spoken of it, but, Lila, I plan on spending the rest of my life proving to Xena that I wanted it to be her...that I wanted her to be first. I don't want her to ever again doubt the depth of my love for her."
Hot tears slid down the warrior's cheeks as she listened to her bard's confessions of regret and remorse. What burdens her young lover had decided to bear by herself. Never, my bard...I'll never doubt your love.
"Hey did you two fall asleep up there or what?" Xena called into the loft. The warrior had left the barn some time ago to not only compose herself, but to allow her lover some additional time to talk with her sister.
The two sisters climbed down the ladder, smiling at the warrior. Xena could only hope her eyes didn't give away the fact she'd been crying like Gabrielle's did.
"Well, it's late..." Lila said hesitantly. She turned and kissed her sister goodnight. "Night, Gab." Vacillating in front of the intimidating warrior, Lila seemed to decide on a course of action, and reached up and quickly placed a kiss on the warrior's cheek. "Night, Xena." When Lila reached the door she turned and looked at Xena again. "Thanks for what you did tonight, Xena."
Still a little taken aback by the kiss, Xena wasn't sure how to respond to the young woman.
"For scaring the Tartaurus out of your beau...sure anytime," she said wryly.
Lila giggled and ran through the door, leaving the two lovers alone at last.
"What was that all about?" Xena asked.
Laughing Gabrielle put her arms around the warrior's waist. "I think you just became a hero to one more woman in this family."
"Great," the warrior said with an air of mock disdain. "I'm barely able to keep up with the first one!"
"Very funny," the bard smiled, squeezing her arms around the warrior tighter.
"Would you mind if I did something I've been waiting all evening to do?" Xena asked.
"Is it going to make me happy?" the bard questioned.
"If it doesn't...I'm not doing it right."
Xena cradled the bard's face in her hands and kissed her gently, the soft touch of her lips and tongue lingering on the bard's own for quite some time.
"Wow," Gabrielle said breathlessly.
Xena chuckled and embraced her lover. "The finest bard in Greece, and the best you can come up with is wow?"
"Well," Gabrielle said, backtracking sheepishly, "when you do that it kind of turns my brain to mush."
"Yes, but did it make you happy?" The warrior grinned back.
"Oh, yea," Gabrielle said, still trying to catch her breath.
"Gabrielle..." Xena whispered.
Both women lay wrapped around each other on their makeshift bed in the hay of the loft. Neither one of them near sleep, but it felt good to relax and be away from others eyes. The barn was still warm; the two lovers in cotton shifts needed no blankets.
"Gabrielle, I know you probably don't want to...well, you know, being your parents are so close, but it's driving me crazy, you lying with me without being able to feel your skin on mine." There I said it and now she thinks I'm an insatiable animal.
Gabrielle smiled and kissed the warrior's shoulder she was cuddled up to, grabbing the hem of her sleeping shift she pulled the fabric off her body in one swift motion. Reaching across to her lover, she helped the warrior do the same. Snuggling against one another, Gabrielle had to admit to herself that this was much better.
"I can't help it, Brie...you feel so good." Xena said stroking the bare skin of her lover's back and shoulders.
"I like that you have a hard time resisting me, you know," the young woman whispered.
"It takes every bit of restraint I have most days, my love." The warrior returned with a smile.
"Xena...I need to say something to you," Gabrielle's demeanor turning serious. "I don't want there to be any lies between us anymore...we've both suffered enough from that already. When Lila and I were up here getting our bedroll ready, well...I want you to know--"
"Gabrielle, I want to be honest with you too..."
Xena knew the lies Gabrielle referred to...Hope...Ming Tien... they had been to Tartaurus and back because of the lies and half-truths they had told one another. The warrior knew she had to start this relationship off right, even if it meant small hurts along the way. At least those they could meet and deal with together.
"...Brie, when you were talking with Lila I was--"
"No, Xe...me first, okay?" Gabrielle placed soft fingers across the warrior's lips.
Xena nodded silently and Gabrielle continued.
"When I was up here in the loft, telling those things to Lila...I knew you were in the stall beneath us."
"But...how...the whole ...you knew I was there the whole time?" Xena could feel her face turning warm with shame. "That's what I was just going to tell you...I'm so sorry, I never meant to--"
"I know...it's allright, Xe. I said those things partly because I wanted Lila to understand the consequences we face when we make choices."
"Partly?" Xena asked.
"Yes." Gabrielle said, tears in her eyes. "The other reason was because I wanted to let you know what was in my heart...why I did what I did...and how very sorry I am that I ever hurt you. I wasn't sure I had the courage to tell you face to face."
"Oh, Brie...I love you more every day," the warrior confessed, wiping unshed tears from her bard's eyes. "Please, please, my love...let's not ever be afraid to tell each other anything."
"I'm sorry I hurt you..." Gabrielle apologized.
"I need your forgiveness more than you need mine. If I'd told you how much I loved you a long time ago you would have never left to marry Perdicus. I would have been your first...he would still be alive. Dahok, Hope...all of it... Gabrielle, I'm responsible for so much of your pain."
"Stop it, Xe," Gabrielle said more sharply than she had intended. She pulled Xena's face so she could look into the blue depths. "You're doing it again, my love. Taking the whole weight of the world on your own shoulders. You're not Atlas...you haven't been condemned to do that for eternity."
Now it was Gabrielle's turn to brush the tears from her lover's face. "Oh, Xe...we've both made mistakes, but they're a part of our past. We didn't have each other then, the way we do now. We don't ever have to go through anything alone...we'll always have each other."
"I still wish I had been your first," the warrior said a little sadly.
"I want you to be something better, my love," Gabrielle whispered, leaning over the warrior and tenderly stroking her face, "I want you to be my last."
Xena let the tears escape from her eyes as she wrapped her arms around her young lover and kissed her as if to impart the very secrets of her soul.
"Gab, I'm going to help uncle Delos tonight serving dinner at the inn. Why don't you and Xena come into town and maybe you could tell some stories?" Lila pleaded.
The four women were enjoying a morning cup of tea; Gabrielle's father had left at sunrise to work in the fields, much to Xena's relief.
"I don't know, Lila...uncle Delos may already have a bard, besides, Xena and I sit in taverns all the time, I'm sure she doesn't want to do it here too."
"Oh, I bet Xena likes to hear your stories, don't you Xena?" Lila pestered.
"Absolutely," the warrior said without hesitation.
Gabrielle raised an eyebrow and gave Xena the 'thanks for helping' look. "I'd really just rather stay at home and visit with mother."
"Well, actually, Gabrielle...I'm helping Delos too. There's a large caravan passing through and the whole town's been turned on its ear. They were supposed to arrive this morning."
"Well, if the whole family's going...I guess that settles it, huh?" Xena said to Gabrielle, slapping her knees and smiling brightly.
"Don't think I won't get even, warrior," Gabrielle whispered into her lover's ear.
Xena simply rolled her eyes and whistled, as much the picture of innocence as a Warrior Princess can get.
"What's all this?" Gabrielle asked, finding Xena in the barn among their saddlebags. The young woman's Amazon leathers had been unpacked, along with arm bracers, leather belt, and jewelry.
"I thought maybe...well, you talked about wanting your family to know who you are. I thought this might be a good place to start."
"I don't know about this, Xe..."
The warrior moved behind her bard and wrapped strong arms around the smaller frame. "You said you wanted them to know who you really are, Brie. How about not telling a story about just the Warrior Princess tonight and tell them something original...tell them a story about how a scared little farm girl became Queen of the Amazon Nation."
"Do you think they're ready for that kind of story from me?"
"Probably as ready as they'll ever be, my love." Xena whispered into her lover's ear.
"Ep?" Gabrielle shouted in disbelief, giving her Amazon friend a strong hug. The caravan had indeed ridden in that day and the tavern was packed to the rafters. Little did Xena and Gabrielle know that it was a caravan of Amazons.
"What in the world are you all doing here?" Gabrielle asked awe struck. There must have been twenty to twenty-five Amazon warriors along with the townspeople in her uncle's inn.
"We were up delivering the crop excess to the village of Olynthus, about two days ago as we were heading back to Amazonia we lost the axle on one of the wagons. So, we sent word ahead and decided to visit Potidaea."
"It's so nice to see a friendly face," Gabrielle said giving her friend another hug.
Xena dusted her hands off after bringing in a few extra kegs of port for Delos, Gabrielle's uncle. Looking around she searched the room for her bard and found her talking to Eponin. What in the world?
The site of her young lover dressed in her Amazon leathers easily took Xena's breath away. A soft brown leather bodice that fit like the bard's own skin, and a wraparound skirt that the young woman had become accustomed to wearing. The leather belt hung loosely at her hips, more for decoration than any functional purpose. Gabrielle had even chosen to wear her arm bracers for the occasion.
The warrior stared with pride as the young Queen had foregone her beaded necklaces in favor of the pendant Xena had given her. The warrior noticed that Gabrielle never took the necklace off, even to bathe, and she smiled with the knowledge that anyone who saw her armor would instantly recognize it in the pattern of the hearts on the pendant. Gods, I hope everything goes well tonight...if not my surprise isn't going to get much of a response.
As Gabrielle and Eponin were sharing a friendly embrace, the Amazon warrior glanced up to see Xena making her way through the crowd to join them. Eponin realized where her hands were at and quickly ripped them away from the young Queen's waist as if they were on fire.
"Who say's you can't teach old warriors anything," Xena growled at her old friend's actions.
"Xe," Gabrielle admonished with a smile.
"What in Zeus' name brings you here?" Xena grabbed her friend by the neck of her tunic and leaned in towards the woman. "If you're following your Queen, she's already spoken for," she growled under her breath.
"Very funny...are you trying to give me some sort of complex or do you just like throwing me from great heights?"
The two warriors enjoyed some good-natured teasing and Eponin related the story of how they ended up in Potidaea.
"Lila," Gabrielle grabbed her sister's arm as she passed by on her way to the kitchen for more trays. Eponin, I'd like you to meet my sister, Lila." The young Queen said proudly.
Lila's eyes went wide at the sight of the good looking warrior who gently took her offered hand and brushed her lips lightly across the backs of her fingers.
"Good evening, Princess," Eponin said charmingly.
"Me? A Princess?" Lila said, blushing furiously.
"Well, your sister is our Queen. Right of birth grants you the title of Amazon Princess." Eponin explained.
Suddenly Gabrielle noticed that Eponin still held Lila's hand in her own, and turned to give a 'do something' glance at her warrior.
Xena picked up on what would be henceforth known as 'the look' immediately. In years to come when Xena would do something stupid...drink too much, or if Gabrielle felt her lover was flirting with another woman, any type of social faux pas, Xena would earn 'the look'. As with this very moment it meant, do something warrior...do something right now!
Xena stood behind Eponin, nudging her armor into her back. "Lila is Gabrielle's much--younger sister," the warrior said, enunciating every syllable.
Eponin dropped Lila's hand and backed away from the young woman like she had Swamp Fever.
Lila seemed confused, but turned to look at her sister, "Gabrielle...am I really a Princess?"
"Come on Princess," the girls uncle, Delos said grinning, pushing Lila back toward the kitchen. "Get back into the kitchen while your head can still fit through the door!"
"Gabrielle..." Delos had his hands full of plates and mugs, his burly frame towering over the smaller one of his niece. "I know you're family, and I shouldn't be imposing, but I'll pay you all the dinars you want, if you'll tame this crowd down with a few tales."
"Sure," the bard said with a smile. "Just let me get a cup of water."
"Well, duty calls," Gabrielle said cheerily. "I'm going to say hello to some more of our sisters before I go on," she finished nodding toward a large table next to a makeshift stage.
"Grab me before you go on, okay?" Xena said.
Gabrielle leaned in close to her lover and whispered, "I'm not even gonna touch that one...it was way too easy." She said with a leer.
"Gab-ri-elle." Xena cautioned, feeling the beginnings of a blush.
Gabrielle's laughter rang through the tavern as she moved toward the other Amazons. She had simply meant to say hello to a few of the warriors she knew personally, forgetting the Amazons love of ceremony and protocol.
"Tarazon...it's so nice to see you again," the young Queen began.
Nearly twenty Amazons jumped up from their seats, immediately recognizing their Queen, dropping to one knee before a frozen Gabrielle.
"My Queen," the young Tarazon said flattered that the beautiful Queen even remembered her.
Conversation dwindled and then stopped completely at the tables surrounding the kneeling Amazons. Lila was just stepping out of the kitchen with a tray of plates laden with food.
"Whoa," said the young girl at the impressive display before her.
"Guys...guys, you can get up now," Gabrielle said more than a little self-consciously.
Xena was still chuckling when Gabrielle made her way back to the warrior.
"Having a little trouble over there, my Queen?"
"Oh, hush," Gabrielle replied, slapping her lover's arm affectionately.
Xena glanced around the tavern as if searching for something. Spying the door to the storeroom where she had stacked the caskets of port earlier, she grabbed Gabrielle's hand and led the young woman into the dark room.
"This is for luck," the warrior's sultry voice whispered into her lover's ear.
Xena kissed the young bard for all she was worth, until both women grew dizzy and just as the warrior slipped an arm around the bard's waist, Gabrielle's knees buckled.
"Wow..." Gabrielle said breathlessly.
Smiling at her young lover, Xena felt exactly the same. "You're going to have to come up with something better, you know."
"I don't know...I thought that kinda said it all." Gabrielle replied, kissing her warrior's neck.
"Well, if you're very good tonight I'll have a surprise for you." Xena said cryptically.
"Oh? And, will this surprise make me happy?" Gabrielle teased.
"Well, I am a woman of many skills."
"I know...I like all of those skills, too," Gabrielle shot back as she turned to leave the room.
Xena quickly grabbed her young lover from behind and pressed her body into the bard's, her warm breath teasing Gabrielle's ear. In a voice overwhelmed with sudden hunger the warrior answered.
"You haven't experienced half of my skills yet, my love."
That was all it took and instantly the bones in Gabrielle's knees turned to warm liquid. If the warrior's arm had not been enfolded around her so tightly the young Queen was sure she would have fallen into a heap on the floor.
Xena enjoyed the flush upon Gabrielle's face as she walked to the chair on the makeshift stage, especially since the warrior realized, she was responsible for the bard's slightly breathless condition. The warrior turned toward the bar to grab the mug of port Delos sat down in front of her and she started to place a coin on the bar in exchange.
"Your money's no good here, Xena...your practically family." The large man said.
"I don't want to take advantage," Xena said. Arching her eyebrow she continued, "besides, I can drink a lot of port in an evening," she finished with a smile.
Delos laughed heartily. "Well, you carried it all in, you ought to be the one to drink it! Anyway...I think she's worth it." He said nodding his head in Gabrielle's direction.
She turned back to watch Gabrielle settle into her chair and take a drink from her cup of water. Xena found herself liking her lover's uncle, this giant of a man with such a gentle soul. "That she is," the warrior said under her breath, "that she is."
Finding a seat in the back of the room where she could see her bard, Xena leaned against the wall and stretched her long legs out in front of her. Gabrielle started out slow telling a few short, but exciting tales to spark the interest of the patrons, then the bard moved in to the tales of war. Beware Greeks, a tale about the Trojan War was always a favorite and Gabrielle told it well. A Good Day, related the events of Xena and Gabrielle's attempt to trick Caesar and Pompey's forces into fighting each other, wiping out nearly 20 legions of Roman soldiers.
Xena was stabbed with guilt about that day. Her hatred of Caesar had again forced her to put Gabrielle into a situation where the bard had to choose between Xena and her own personal code of ethics. Even now, Xena remembered Gabrielle's sobs as the warrior held the young woman in the middle of a battlefield filled with the dead and the dying.
As always, Gabrielle's tales of war were not romanticized as other bards were. She concentrated on the futility of war. There may be honor in dying for what one believes in on the battlefield, but what of the wives and children left behind...what of them? This is what her bard saw in war. A hopeless arena of destruction where the dead only know one thing...that it was better to be alive.
Being the great bard that she was Gabrielle always knew how to gauge an audience's reaction, and she knew her stories of war, filled with sadness, could dampen the listener's spirits. With only a few moments pause, she began a lighter tale of her own she titled, Altared States.
Xena watched as a few of the patrons wiped tears from their eyes after her bard's tales of the consequences of war. Even if the warrior had not lived the story, Gabrielle's way with words would have had her too, held in the powerful web she wove. She smiled to herself as her bard began the story of how Xena had intervened to stop the sacrifice of a young boy by his father's misguided hand. Xena's smile grew as the bard launched into the details of the Warrior Princess' companion, and how said companion had become drugged by Henbane, and decided the rocks could 'talk' to her.
Gabrielle never mentioned during her stories that she was the companion to the great Warrior Princess. She often told tales of the companion's rescue by her warrior friend, but never revealed the fact that it was Gabrielle herself who had assisted and saved the warrior countless times. Instead the bard let the light of her story reflect on a reformed Warlord, the former Destroyer of Nations who left an evil past behind and now traveled throughout the land on a quest for the redemption of her own soul.
So, Xena closed her eyes and let the bard's words wash over her. It was her lover's voice that held the warrior, enraptured, at her stories. Xena remembered, as the bard said the words aloud from the stage, the cave where the young woman had finally stolen the warrior's heart.
"By the Gods! You--are-- beautiful!"
Xena chuckled at the memory as most of the audience did at the stoned little companion who could barely stand, but once she had both eyes open, bared her heart.
Little did the listener's realize that those words had been locked tightly into Gabrielle's heart, for what seemed like an eternity to the young woman, until the drug removed her inhibitions. The young Queen spied her lover in the back of the tavern, the warrior's eyes closed, but laughing at the revisited memory of the 'Henbane Incident'. Gabrielle knew right then that her life with Xena had changed. The proud warrior usually left the building when tales of the Warrior Princess began, or she sat, sipping her port, scowling at the fact she had become the center of attention.
The warrior's eyes snapped open as she uncannily felt the heat of her lover's stare. Gabrielle nearly gasped at the cerulean desire emanating from the raven-haired beauty's eyes. Almost losing her place in her story, Gabrielle continued on, but her face began to blush a deep pink.
Again the warrior smiled, closing her eyes and enjoying the reaction she brought to her lover with one look. Suddenly remembering the way she too had felt at Gabrielle's declaration of her beauty. She knew now that she had been in love with her friend, even then. Of course, she always told herself it was friendship, but hadn't she known better...even back then?
Gods, I remember how she felt wrapped around me in that well. Hadn't I told myself back then, it was just because I hadn't shared the pleasures of a lover's bed in so long that I reacted so strongly?
Xena allowed herself to revel in the feelings of that past incident and suddenly the bard's voice became very distant, and the room became a trifle warm. A slow trickle of wetness could be felt between her legs, and the warrior's eyes popped open. Oh, Gaia...I need some air! She said to herself as she quickly slid out the door into the cool evening air.
Gabrielle found her warrior outside, in the dark at the back of the tavern. She sat back in the shadows on a large tree stump used for chopping logs.
"Looks like I'm not the only one taking a break...what are you up to?" Gabrielle asked.
"Just thinking..." the warrior drawled.
"And from the look on your face I can guess what you've been thinking about," Gabrielle returned teasingly.
Xena looked up with a seductive smile. "The well..."
"Ahhh, yea that part had me wishing we weren't in a public place too," Gabrielle whispered as she straddled the warrior's lap and sat down on the muscled thighs.
Xena quickly pulled the bard closer to her, glancing around nervously.
"It's allright, love...no one ever comes back here at night." Gabrielle whispered using her tongue to very quickly ignite a flame in the warrior's already smoldering passion.
Two days had gone by since they last made love and that was a current record since they'd become lovers. In the state they were in their kisses alone could have sent either woman, very quickly, over the edge. Gabrielle, however, was feeling rather playful with her warrior. Slipping one hand between them, she moved her hand under the warrior's leather battle skirt, easily working her way into the already soaked leather breeches.
A breathless moan escaped Xena's throat, followed by a whimper of protest as the bard removed her fingers, bringing them up to her mouth.
"Is all this wet for me?" she asked enticingly, running her tongue over each digit and drawing them into her mouth, reveling in the taste and sweet, musky odor of her lover.
"Oh, gods...Gabrielle," Xena breathed, unable to take her eyes from the bard's own.
The bard slipped her fingers back into Xena's wetness and quickly drove them deep inside the warrior. She was instantly rewarded with groans of delight and the feel of her lover's hips thrusting against the palm of her hand.
Xena willed her body to hold out longer, but her earlier fantasies and the bard's touch made her body all too willing to succumb to a breath-stealing climax. The warrior growled her release into her lover's ear, bringing a few control techniques into play to silence her passions, when all she really wanted to do was scream Gabrielle's name into the night.
"Gods, woman...please, don't start that again," the warrior begged as Gabrielle began to lick her lover's wetness from her hand.
"You know...I'll pay you back...for this later...don't you?" Xena said, trying to bring her breathing under control.
"I'm counting on it warrior." The young bard whispered into the warrior's ear.
The two lovers had walked around to the front of the tavern, standing in the shadows, holding hands.
"So, have you decided what story comes next?" The warrior asked.
"I'm going to take your suggestion...the Amazon Queen."
"Figured out what you're going to say yet?"
"I guess I'll just wing it...I'm nervous though. I never thought it would feel so different telling a story in front of people who grew up with me as opposed to complete strangers."
Xena took a cursory glance around and pulled the smaller woman into a loving embrace. "You will be wonderful, and you will tell a wonderful story, and all the people will love you as much as I do...well, maybe not quite that much, but enough."
Gabrielle laughed and kissed her lover's lips tenderly, enjoying the soft embrace. "Just be prepared to make a hasty departure if they turn on me." She finished with a grin.
Xena laughed and gently slapped the bard's retreating backside as they headed back toward the tavern. "You go on...I need a few minutes to...um, compose myself after..." the warrior smiled motioning toward the back of the tavern. "I'll be in before you start."
Gabrielle squeezed her lover's hand and walked into the tavern.
"Xena," a voice said from the darkness. The warrior froze at the sound of the familiar voice, cursing herself for not realizing there might have been someone else outside. Hera's tits...how much of that did she hear?
"Hecuba," the warrior said walking in the direction of the bench where Gabrielle's mother sat.
"It got so warm in that kitchen I had to cool off...looks like you need to do the same," the older woman said.
Xena's hand went up to her flushed cheek and she thought she was able to see a wry smile on Hecuba's face. Oh, sweet Aphrodite...Please, tell me she didn't see us out back!
"Would you answer me one question, warrior?" Hecuba asked softly.
"If I can."
"Do you love my daughter?" The woman's voice was barely a whisper now.
"Hecuba, maybe you'd better wait and talk with Gabrielle--"
"I know what her answer will be...I want to know what yours is. Do you love her?"
"With all that I am," the warrior said without further hesitation.
Hecuba smiled, "So, why in Tartaurus have you both been trying so hard to hide it?"
Both woman laughed as Hecuba motioned the warrior to the seat next to her. "You've been good for her. I know you won't hear many people say that, but I see it...saw it right off. She's not a little girl anymore. Most importantly she's something she would never have been if she had stayed in Potidaea...she's happy."
Hecuba reached across and squeezed the warrior's large hand, Xena placing her other hand over Hecuba's. The older woman saw a sight that few others, besides Gabrielle, were able to witness... the gentle side of the Warrior Princess.
"Would you do anything for her?" Hecuba asked.
"I'd die for her." The warrior said resolutely.
"Dying is easy, warrior...would you live for her?"
"I'm sorry?" Xena said, not understanding the woman's meaning.
"If you had to make a choice...a hard choice. Would you leave her if you thought it was best for her?"
Xena could barely see Hecuba's face in the darkness, but could feel her penetrating stare. Searching her own mind for the truth, she answered.
"I think, if there was no other way...if it would save Gabrielle's life...or if it would keep her from harm..." a sharp stab of pain clutched at Xena's heart as she said the words. "Yes...I think if it would keep her safe...I would leave her."
"Don't! Don't ever do it!" Hecuba said vehemently, squeezing the warrior's hand tightly. "You're thinking only with the love you have for Gabrielle. Love is an emotion, Xena, and it can fool you. I know from past experience," she whispered, as her eyes took on a faraway look of someone reliving a memory. "Love can be used against you, to trick you into giving up everything you hold dear. You will only end up hurting yourself, the one you love, and even others around you," she said softly.
"Always look into your heart for the truth, Xena. Your heart will never lie to you...if there comes a day, remember not to rely on your emotions. Look into your soul and you'll find the truth there." Hecuba finished.
"You sound like a woman who's been there, and then some." Xena replied. "Hecuba...does what you're saying have anything to do with Gabrielle's past?"
The older woman smiled sadly and muttered to herself, "I'll need to tell her someday...but, now is not the time."
"I'd like to tell you a story of a young girl who left her home, family, and everything that was safe, to travel the world with a dark fearsome warrior..." The bard began.
Xena listened to the story as Gabrielle's mother sat beside her in the back of the tavern. The bard never mentioned the fact that she was the young girl in the story, nor that the Dark Warrior was Xena, the Warrior Princess. She hadn't even mentioned the Dark Warrior was a woman. The only physical descriptions she gave were of a tall, Dark Warrior with intense eyes and a smile, that when the warrior wanted to use it, could charm Medusa.
Gabrielle said the story started out as a tale about only one. She told first of the young girl's quest. Simply to be free of a life that she was never destined for, people she was not destined to share her life with, a husband she was not destined to spend a lifetime with. The young girl was smart and creative, but always thought of herself as different and impulsive. And, when other girls were announcing their betrothals, she felt unequal and plain.
When the girl first followed the warrior is was simply as a means of escape from the stifling life of her village. Soon, she found a friend in the uncommunicative warrior, although she admitted that at first, the thought of friendship was probably more on her part than the warrior's. Soon, however, the girl began to feel a part of the warrior's life, until the warrior deemed to call this beautiful and open heart, sister and friend.
This was the young girl's story and Gabrielle told of how she had been captured as a bride for the God Morpheus, freed the Titans, only to have to help recapture them again. How she met a tribe of Amazons and, after nearly giving her own life in an unsuccessful attempt to save the Amazon Princess, Terreis, became an Amazon Princess herself.
And even though it was the young girl's story, the dark warrior was always there. In times of crisis, the warrior fought...in times of need, the warrior provided. Time and again the dark warrior sacrificed for and rescued the young girl. And, finally, the story became not of a girl turned Amazon Princess, but of an Amazon Princess and a Dark Warrior, not a story of one, but of two. Their life threads so tightly entwined that neither the Gods on Olympus nor mortals on earth had the strength to separate them.
The two became as family and even though enemies tried to pull them apart, and they had each succumbed to death to protect the other, it was always the strength of that friendship that returned them from the spirit world to this mortal coil.
Somewhere along this journey, that started with one and now belonged to two, the Amazon Princess became a beloved Queen of the Amazon Nation. The Dark Warrior, who had been feared because of past misdeeds, became a champion for the greater good. The two became inseparable, until even the listeners of the bard's story knew; it was because their friendship was becoming something more.
And, when dalliances and impulses led their hearts astray, it was always the Fates wish that the two should be rejoined, and so their lives would be thrust together once more. They experienced life, love, death...and finally betrayal and hate. They inflicted pain upon one another in the ignorance of being blinded by their own hurt.
And then, there was the healing.
Yet, throughout all of the anguish, came the promise...even in death...I will never leave you.
Xena felt tears slip from her eyes at the memory of that promise. After all the pain and sadness their lies had caused them; The death of her son, Gabrielle taking the life of her own daughter, and then the warrior trying to kill Gabrielle. Xena replayed it in her mind as if watching someone else drag her beloved bard's body along to certain death. After all the healing our time in Illusia had provided, Brie, what else was left to say? I still couldn't find the courage to tell you I loved you...and so, the promise...
"...Even in death, Gabrielle...I will never leave you."
Xena listened as her bard continued on, to tell of the brutal rape of the Amazon Queen, and of the suffering she and her Dark Warrior went through. Gods, she's telling it all!
Gabrielle paused to sip from her cup of water and looked out at the rapt faces of her audience. Tears glistened in most of their eyes, and when she looked back at her warrior, she saw the uncharacteristic tears falling from her eyes too. She also noticed that her mother sat next to her lover, but the older woman's eyes remained cast down to the floor.
The bard continued her story, but it began to sound uplifting and inspiring the way her Dark Warrior fought so bravely, within their dreamscape, for the Amazon Queen. She told of the friendship that had, as guessed by the listeners, grown into love for the two, only neither would confess, fearing the other's reaction. Then one day, unable to hold back any longer, the two professed their love for one another, committing not only their bodies and their hearts, but also their very souls to each other for all eternity.
And in doing so, finally the story became, not of two, but of one again.
Gabrielle finished her story to a thunderous round of applause, a number of Amazons drawing swords to pound upon the table in rousing approval of her tale. The bard smiled and accepted thanks, refusing any dinars for the evening's performance. As she left the stage, the tables full of Amazon Warriors stood and placed their hands over their hearts in silent tribute to the Queen they had come to love so well. This time the young Queen was neither flustered nor embarrassed. She walked past the Amazons as proudly and regally as Queen Melosa had ever done, nodding her thanks to the noble warriors.
If any of the inn's patrons that night wondered if their own Gabrielle was the Amazon Queen in the story, the warrior's display settled it for most of them. And, if there were any doubters still left, all they had to witness was the Queen walking through a crowd that parted without a word for her. When she reached the back of the tavern a tall dark warrior stood, her eyes as blue as the Aegean, and a smile, this night being reserved for her Amazon Queen, that could surely charm Medusa.
If Xena had been anywhere else on earth she would have pulled her lover into the world's tightest embrace and kissed her until neither one of them could breathe. Since she was standing next to Gabrielle's mother, however, she was at a loss. Gaia, she is wonderful! Gabrielle, what you do to me. Not knowing what she should do she simply stood and offered a smile that had only ever been meant for her bard.
Gabrielle was simply flying too high to give in to the restraints of propriety, or small town ideologies tonight. She slipped one arm around Xena's waist and the other around her neck. Standing on her toes, she kissed an absolutely stunned warrior.
Xena stood there with her eyes still open watching the amused smiles of the patrons around them and seeing Eponin out of the corner of her eye, her jaw nearly dropping to the floor. Of course, the moment her brain was able to register Gabrielle's soft mouth on hers, her eyes closed and her lips became eager participants in the kiss.
The two lovers pulled, very unwillingly, out of their kiss only to see Hecuba staring at them in an amused fashion.
"Gabrielle..." Hecuba said
"Yes, mother," Gabrielle answered, her arm still around the warrior's waist.
"Do I at least get a hug?"
Gabrielle smiled and moved to wrap her arms around her mother.
"I never knew," Hecuba said, tears forming in her eyes.
"Knew what, mother?" The young Queen asked.
"Knew you," Hecuba replied in quiet admiration.
Gabrielle smiled and started crying at the same time. She wrapped her arms tighter around the older woman, grateful for her understanding.
Xena stood there for a moment and watched mother and daughter. The mother who held the secrets to her daughter's past and a daughter whose only wish was for a mother's unconditional love. The warrior decided to make herself scarce and joined her Amazon friends, leaving mother and daughter to begin to form a bridge.
The Queen turned to her sister's voice. She and Xena were just sneaking through the tavern doors for some much-needed time alone.
"What is it, sister?" Gabrielle replied in the way she always had when the two girls were much younger.
It was obvious Lila had been crying, but most everyone had that night. "I just wanted to say...you're stories were...um, your story...well, wow."
Gabrielle felt genuine laughter bubble to the surface and hugged her sister tightly. "Thanks, Lila...I think."
"That wow stuff must run in the family," Xena whispered in the bard's ear.
Gabrielle looked into the warrior's smiling eyes and gave her a playful smack on the arm.
"Lila, tell your mother not to worry...Gabrielle and I won't be coming back to the house tonight. We'll be back in the morning." Xena said earning a strange look from both women.
"Where are you guys going?" Lila asked.
"Yea, where are we going?" Gabrielle chimed in.
"To sleep under the stars," Xena said as the Queen took her warrior's offered hand and they left the tavern.
Xena slid into Argo's saddle effortlessly, offering her hand to pull Gabrielle up.
"Up front, okay?" the warrior indicated the spot in front of her.
"I'd like to wrap my arms around you while we ride for a change," the warrior said as she settled her lover comfortably in her embrace.
They had been riding for nearly a full candlemark when Xena felt Gabrielle's sleeping form stir. The warrior had wanted to get to the campsite she had set up earlier, before the moon rose, but Gabrielle deserved the sleep after the night she had just had. And, the one I'm going to give her, the warrior thought to herself with a grin. So, she eased Argo into a gradual, even walk and they made their way slowly into the hills.
Xena found herself humming absently, a love song that meant nothing to her when she first heard it, but now the melody struck a familiar chord in her heart.
"Mmmm, I heard music," Gabrielle said drowsily.
"Yes, you did." Was all Xena would say.
"Was that you?" Gabrielle asked, suddenly very awake.
"You've heard me sing before, Brie."
"Only when you were very sad," Gabrielle said softly as she thought of the funeral pyres that she and her lover had stood in front of, while Xena would sing a Greek Burial lament.
"Or when I am very happy," Xena whispered.
"And are you very happy?"
"My love, I am ecstatic." The warrior said as she continued to hum.
"Are there words to that?" Gabrielle asked.
"I'm not sure I remember all of them...would you like to hear what I do know?" The warrior asked, unable to deny her bard anything.
"Yes, please," the bard replied.
Gabrielle settled herself back against the warrior's chest and closed her eyes, listening to the rich tones of her lover's voice as she began to sing.
I can't imagine, any greater fear
Than waking up, without you here.
Though the sun, would still shine on
My whole world, would all be gone...but not for long
If I had to run...if I had to crawl
If I had to swim a hundred rivers...just to climb a thousand walls
Always know that I would find a way, to get to where you are
There's no place that far.
It doesn't matter, why we're apart
Lonely miles, or two stubborn hearts
Nothing short, of the Gods above
Could keep me away, from your love...I need you that much
If I had to run...if I had to crawl
If I had to swim a hundred rivers...just to climb a thousand walls
Always know that I would find a way, to get to where you are
There's no place that far...Baby, there's no place that far.
"That's so beautiful, Xe," Gabrielle said breathlessly.
"I didn't write it, but it's the way I feel." The warrior replied, kissing her lovers neck.
"We're here, Brie." She said, holding tighter to the bard as Argo jumped up a steep embankment, disappearing into a copse of trees. "This is your surprise. Well, part of it at least."
The perfect camp had already been prepared. Wood was stacked ready for the flame; their bedroll lay on a thick cushion of 2 extra blankets. A waterskin and a wineskin each hung from a low branch of a tree, and a large hamper, from which arose some very tempting aromas, sat by the fire.
"Xe, this is wonderful...I love it." Gabrielle exclaimed.
Xena pulled the saddle and their bags from Argo and freed the mare to wander the area, knowing the horse was better than any guard was.
Gabrielle found her way to the edge of the small lake and rinsed her face off. "Xe," she called over her shoulder, "This water is so warm...like bath water."
"Yea, I found out the same thing when I was up here this afternoon. Must be fed by a warm spring somewhere underground." The warrior answered, rummaging through the saddlebags for her flint. "I could use a good warm bath...want to join me?"
"Definitely," Gabrielle smiled thinking of the possibilities.
"Just let me get a good fire going. The water may be warm but the air will be plenty cool when we get out." The warrior replied.
Gabrielle had already begun removing her clothes, but still had not felt the warrior behind her move. She turned just as she was tying her hair back with a soft strip of leather.
Xena had simply been staring at her young lover, unable to resume her previous task, actually, unable to resume any motion at all. If she had thought the site of Gabrielle's naked body was a wondrous thing from the back, she was unprepared for the site of the woman as she turned, her arms held up as she tied her hair back from her face. The bard's lips were moving, but Xena was lost to the sound. Gabrielle offered her a look that was so teasingly erotic it slammed into her like an energy bolt, waking up nerve endings that the warrior never even knew were there.
"I said, do you want me to start that fire?" Gabrielle asked, taken back by her lover's electric blue eyes, slowly devouring her body.
Xena came back to the here and now as her bard's voice finally broke through the fantasy she was conjuring up in her mind. Quickly realizing she held a piece of flint and her dagger in her hand for a reason.
"Xena? Do you want me to start a fire?" Gabrielle repeated.
Xena smiled rather sheepishly, knowing her face must be showing the flush of desire, and turned to get a spark going into the tinder.
"You already have, my love...you already have." The warrior replied hungrily.
Gabrielle chuckled, "Then hurry up or I'll have to start without you." She said with a suggestive smile and splashed off into the warm water.
A visual of the bard's threat assaulted the warrior's senses and all that could be heard was the click, click, click of flint frantically striking steel, while a warrior desperately prayed for a lightning bolt from the sky.
"Do you know that monster even growls when you're asleep?" Xena told the bard.
The two lovers lay wrapped in the soft large towels the warrior had talked Hecuba out of. Xena jumped up to open the food hamper as soon as she heard Gabrielle's stomach growl, chastising her lover for not eating dinner.
"I was just too nervous to eat...I know that sounds weird, but it does happen." She said. "Wow, where in the world did you get all this food?"
"And who did you talk into making these for you?" Gabrielle asked, holding open the cloth that held the round pastries, with the red fruit center that her warrior loved so much.
"I helped your mother." Xena said, never meeting the bard's gaze.
"You, helped make them?" the bards asked suspiciously.
"Well, I bought all the ingredients...that should count as helping." Xena said, grabbing one of the pastries and popping it in her mouth. "And, she makes them almost as good as you. Not quite, but almost." She finished, which earned her a kiss from her bard.
After the two women had eaten their fill and Xena had added a few more logs to the fire, they removed their towels, lying naked in one another's arms, letting the warmth of the fire keep the cool evening at bay.
"This is wonderful, Xe...all of it. Thank you so much, love." Gabrielle whispered.
"You're welcome, but this is only part of your surprise." The warrior said in a sultry voice dripping with desire.
Xena pulled Gabrielle to her, pressing her breasts into the smooth, muscled flesh of the bard's back. She could feel her nipples slide against her lover's skin, the small areas of flesh tightening in arousal. Grasping the young woman's hips, the warrior ground her mound into the bard's firm backside, eliciting a moan from deep in her lover's throat.
"Didn't I tell you I would pay you back?" The warrior whispered, slightly breathless, into the bard's ear, remembering the way her bard had taken her earlier.
Xena pulled the young woman to her even tighter and began to explore the front of the bard's body with strong, possessive hands.
"Is this what you want, my Queen...to be taken by your warrior?"
"Oh, Gods...yes!" Gabrielle exclaimed
"Tell me, my Queen...how would you like to be taken? Hard and fast...will you come for me with my hand pumping inside you?"
Xena pushed her hand into the honey colored curls and swirled her fingers into her lover's wetness, as Gabrielle groaned and thrust her hips back into the warrior.
"Or, would you like it slow and torturous, my tongue just teasing you until you beg me for release?" Xena thrust her hips back at the young woman, her own wetness causing a slick friction between her center and the bard's cheeks.
"Ohhh," Gabrielle groaned helplessly.
"Speechless?" The warrior asked. "Well, then let me tell you what I'm going to do to you, my Queen. I'm going to take you over and over until I've had my fill... as I like and how I please," she forcefully pulled the bard's body harder into hers, "Then I'll take you until you scream my name again and again."
"By the Gods," Gabrielle's whole body shivered in delight as the warrior continued to paint a visual image of what the coming night would bring. As Xena began to carry out her promises, the young Queen's last coherent thought was that the 'getting even' part of their relationship was fast becoming a winner.
"I'll never forget this place," Gabrielle said, looking back at the campsite she and the warrior were leaving in the distance as they rode atop the golden mare.
"We'll have to stop by and visit every time we come through here," Xena smiled, feeling the warm embrace of Gabrielle's arms around her waist.
"Thank you, Xe...for everything," she added, raising an eyebrow suggestively.
"I think I should be the one that's thanking you...besides, I'm not the one who's walking funny this morning." She finished a smug smile of satisfaction on her face.
"Yes, but every bit of soreness was absolutely worth it!" she replied passionately, kissing the warrior's neck.
Xena closed her eyes momentarily reliving the evening's passions. In her most erotic fantasies she never even dreamed Gabrielle would be this kind of lover; so responsive and so willing to try any new type of sensual pleasure. There wasn't a fantasy that Xena had locked in her mind that her bard wasn't willing to make a reality, and not just to please her warrior. Xena though that perhaps the most exciting thing about this beautiful lover of hers was the fact that, deep down, the young Queen's sexual fantasies and appetites, rivaled those of the Warrior Princess.
They rode for a little more than a candlemark before arriving back at Gabrielle's parent's home. Lila was standing outside the barn, tears streaking her face, tightly hugging some small bags and Gabrielle's scroll case to her body.
Both women quickly dismounted and ran to the terrified young girl.
"I got all of your stuff before he could get to it," she sobbed.
"He who...father?" Gabrielle asked.
"Yes," she replied shakily. "Gabrielle, he wanted to burn your scrolls!"
"That's right, I was gonna burn them," Herodotus sneered, coming from the barn.
"I didn't think our leaving the inn early last night would cause problems, father," Gabrielle said calmly.
"It did more than cause problems...it caused talk! Every drunk in the tavern last night had something to say about you and that, that...harlot there!"
Gabrielle's eyes turned to green fire and she moved toward her father. Xena grabbed the young woman by the shoulders to prevent her from moving any closer. Later that evening the warrior would be able to see bruises on the bard's shoulders where her fingers had gripped so tightly to the young woman simply to prevent her from flinging herself at the man.
"It's not worth it, Brie," Xena whispered in her ear. Once she heard the soothing tones of her lover's voice, Gabrielle's temper began to cool.
"We'll leave right away," she said to the retreating figure of her father.
Xena began packing their belongings onto Argo, at the same time removing the items she borrowed from Hecuba the previous day. Gabrielle hugged Lila and spoke in quiet, hushed tones to calm the frightened girl.
"Lila, I don't want you to be frightened. As usual, father's mad at me, not you. But, if you ever need to leave here...if you're ever too scared to stay you can always go to the Amazons, they'll protect you. All you have to do is get to the border of Amazon land and ask for Eponin, remember you met her? Ephiny is the Regent, who rules while I'm away. If anything ever happens..." Gabrielle didn't want to frighten her sister with what she thought might happen, but what if their father turned on Lila the way her had with her? The young girl needed a way to find her sister.
"...If anything ever happens, find Ephiny or Eponin and they'll know how to find us, allright?" Gabrielle finished.
Lila nodded her head, not really sure what the circumstance might be where she would have to run away and find the Amazons, but she knew she wasn't nearly as brave as her sister, and would be scared to death to run away from home.
Just then Hecuba came through the door to the cottage, carrying a bundle wrapped in cloth.
"I'm sorry, Gabrielle...you know how he is," the older woman said sadly, not mentioning Herodotus' name.
"It's allright mother. I never meant to embarrass you--"
"No, don't ever think that way," her mother tenderly touched her daughter's cheek. "You've done nothing to hang your head in shame over. The men your father talked about were two drunks that Delos had to throw out of the tavern last night." Hecuba reached down and grasped the young woman's shoulders, "Everyone who heard your story last night is so proud of you...proud of what you've become...especially me."
"Why has he always hated me?" Gabrielle finally spoke the words aloud that had plagued her for seasons.
"It's not you, child...it's who he sees when he looks at you. Forgive me, Gabrielle, but I can't tell you more than that...I would if I could."
"I don't understand why you're being so cryptic, mother, will there ever be a time when you can tell me what you're talking about?" Gabrielle asked
"Yes...I'll figure out a way." The older woman said gently, kissing her daughter's forehead.
Gabrielle acquiesced to her mother's wishes, albeit a little unwillingly.
"Take care of your warrior, you'll never find another one like her." Hecuba said as Xena came to stand behind the bard.
"And, Xena...take care of this little one. She'll get on your last nerve, that's to be sure..." Xena chuckled and Gabrielle began to blush at the statement.
"...It'll be good practice for you when you have children of your own."
Gabrielle would have loved to capture the look on Xena's face. The warrior's eyes went wide and she got a look that was a cross between panic and amusement on her face.
Hecuba's remarks lightened the mood as she tearfully watched her daughter and her companion mount Argo and ride away.
"If you do nothing else...protect her," Hecuba mumbled aloud as she walked toward the cottage.
"Ready to stop for the night?" Xena asked the young woman walking alongside her.
She had worried at first when Gabrielle had said she wanted to walk. Her young lover's uncharacteristic silence always tended to worry the warrior, but this time she knew Gabrielle was trying to process all that had happened this morning, along with her mother's cryptic message. So, she rode the mare at a gentle pace and Gabrielle strode alongside at her own natural pace.
Gabrielle knew she troubled Xena when she was quiet, but her warrior did seem to be taking it in stride today. The dark warrior appeared a little worried, so occasionally the bard reached over to lay a hand on the warrior's knee, or to smile up at her, just to let her know she appreciated the space she was being given. When Xena asked if she was ready to call it a day, her feet told her, 'for Gaia's sakes, yes!' It had been more than a few moons since they had traveled like this and the bard thought her body just needed a little time to get into shape again. Her back ached and she wished she were back at the warm spring fed lake in Potidaea.
"I'm more than ready."
Xena noticed Gabrielle stretch and massage her lower back, realizing with that action what the new scent to Gabrielle was. She smiled because the bard probably didn't know it herself yet. Aside from everything that happened this morning, that too probably attributed to the bard's unusual quiet.
Xena dismounted and led them up into the forest. She felt the cool dampness of a stream nearby and followed her instincts until they were at the inlet portion of a wide stream, the water pooling into a small pond surrounded by rocks and forest.
Gabrielle went to relieve herself and found blood on her inner thighs.
"Great! Just what I need...guess that explains the cramps and a backache."
By the time the bard got back Xena had already collected firewood and had very nearly completed setting up camp. From the corner of her eye the warrior watched as Gabrielle rummaged through her bag for a cloth and the small leather belt the bard wore in place of her undergarment this time of the moon.
"I need a bath," the bard said, not inviting the warrior to join her. Xena didn't take it personally and smiled affectionately at her lover. She felt a certain compassion for the young woman whose cycle was much worse than the warrior had ever experienced.
"I'll go hunt up some dinner...take your time, love" Xena said gently.
Gabrielle lay on her stomach on top of a large flat rock, enjoying the feel of the late afternoon sun on her back. She wore only the thin leather belt and the protective cloth, her clothes and staff lying on the rocks next to her.
Her mother's word kept rolling through her mind. It's not you, child...it's who he sees when he looks at you.
Who else could he see but me? Just then a small feeling wormed its way into her brain. Was it real, or had she simply imagined this memory?
"I swear, Hecuba, I'm going to break his neck someday!"
"Delos, keep your voice down, the girls are taking a nap."
"He has two daughters and he, by Gods, better start acting like it! He's treating little Gabrielle like I wouldn't treat my dog."
"I know, brother...I don't know what more he wants ...I'm with him aren't I?"
The flash of memory ended as abruptly as it had begun and Gabrielle thought she must have fallen asleep. A dream...that's all it was. She realized it must be getting late and Xena would get worried about her so, she quickly dressed and walked the short distance back to their campsite, the odd memory tugging at her psyche.
Upon entering the clearing Gabrielle found Xena throwing small chunks of rabbit into a cooking pot along with a few wild vegetables, a small fire had already been started and water boiled in a kettle they used to make tea.
"I guess I was gone for a while...I'm sorry, Xe."
"Don't worry," the warrior smiled, "I checked on you a couple of times and you seemed like you were kind of out of it, so I started without you." She finished with a charming smile that so completely disarmed the young bard; she found her sour mood dissipating.
Okay, why is she being so extraordinarily nice? Gabrielle wondered to herself.
"Okay, Brie...you're on. I put it all in a pot just like you showed me...now do what you do, that I never seem to be able to do, that actually makes it edible." The warrior said wryly.
Gabrielle laughed and started to sprinkle an assortment of herbs into the stew, setting it on some rocks over the fire. The aroma that rose from the pot was testament to the warrior's words. Standing and turning back to her lover, Gabrielle was offered a steaming mug of tea that smelled of mint and raspberries.
"How did you know?" She asked, the telltale sign being the tea her lover always made for her during bad cycles.
"I know you," Xena replied pulling the young woman over to the bedroll she had made up. Argo's saddle had been placed against a fallen log, a couple of extra blankets placed over it as a cushion. She had draped their bedroll over that so Gabrielle would have a cushion to lean her back against.
Xena settled the young woman onto the bedroll, allowing the bard to sip her tea. The warrior rose and quickly crossed to the fire, pouring hot water from the kettle into an empty water skin. Checking to make sure it didn't feel too hot; she brought the object over to the bedroll, and let the bard curl around its warmth. She began rubbing the young woman's back in small circular motions letting the bard lean against her as she did.
"That does feel good...and this tastes good, thank you, Xe." She finished indicating the warm mug of tea.
"There's something in there to help your back and the cramps." The warrior replied.
"But, it'll make me sleepy, won't it?" Gabrielle asked.
"That's right," Xena said as she tucked a blanket around the already drowsy form of her lover. "You take a little nap and by the time the stew is ready, you'll feel much better. Do you want me to lay down with you for a bit?"
Gabrielle nodded sleepily as she felt the comforting warmth of her warrior wrap around her, the palm of her hand now lightly massaging the bard's sore abdomen.
Xena secretly loved the feel of the bard in her arms this way, and she couldn't help but smile at the 'little girl' look on her lover's face. Gabrielle sometimes tried to suffer in silence with the physical pain, and Xena could never bring herself to admit to the young woman that she felt useful and needed in this capacity. It was hard for the warrior to describe the feeling in words, even to herself. She had so little to offer the woman she loved, in physical terms. She did have abilities, however, and if those skills offered Gabrielle's life any small comfort at all, that's what the warrior's heart took pleasure in. When Xena felt ill or out of sorts she wanted to dig a hole and escape from humanity. Gabrielle had learned not to get too close on these occasions because the warrior would snap at the first sign of comforting. Gabrielle, however was a cuddler.
Xena leaned against the saddle and relaxed at the pleasant feel of Gabrielle's back against her chest. She buried her face in the bard's hair and breathed deeply. Her senses were supernatural compared to most mortals. Whether it was something honed, as were her warrior skills or a gift from the Gods at birth, Xena used them to their fullest extent. She felt something stir in her heart as she breathed in the distinct scent of her lover, along with the sweet, metallic smell of blood that would linger for the next few days. The bard fell asleep quickly in Xena's comforting embrace, the warrior gently rocking and whispering soft sounds of love and comfort.
"Hi, sleepyhead...hungry?" Xena asked when she saw Gabrielle stretch and yawn.
"Uh huh," the bard nodded. "That smells good," she continued as Xena set a small wooden bowl in front of the woman and Gabrielle laid a loving touch on the warrior's forearm. "I feel a lot better, thanks."
The warrior smiled her reply. "Your mother even provided dessert," she said, unwrapping the small cloth covered bundle that Hecuba had made up for them. Inside was a loaf of nutbread and the small round pastries the warrior had become so fond of.
The mention of her mother put a slight frown on the bard's face, and she remembered the dream she had earlier. Quietly finishing their meal, Xena then cleaned up the dishes and returned to add more logs to the fire and sat down on the bedroll, next to Gabrielle.
"Dinar for your thoughts?" The warrior bantered.
"I've been thinking about what my mother told me today," the bard looked away from Xena's gaze and began absently playing with a piece of her hair.
"I thought that might be it."
"Xe, what do you think she meant?" Gabrielle asked.
Xena had steeled herself for this question. She wouldn't lie to her partner, but she dreaded the emotional turmoil this could put her bard through if Xena's hunch were in fact true. She also knew that Gabrielle was a smart woman and had learned to read people quite well.
"Why don't you tell me what you think about all this first." The warrior replied.
"I don't think Herodotus is my father." The bard stated flatly.
Xena was momentarily stunned at the bard's admission. She had thought Gabrielle would skirt the issue or mull it around before coming to this conclusion. It was obvious the bard had been thinking about this. Xena had to admit, however, this was the same conclusion she had come to.
"I think it might explain a few things," she said hesitantly, settling her hand on Gabrielle's knee, simply to give comfort from the contact.
"Like why I look nothing like him or Lila...these feelings of always being different...why he hates me so..." the bard trailed off.
"Or," Xena drawled the word out, placing a gentle finger under her bard's chin, tilting her face until their eyes met. "We both could be letting our minds and emotions get the better of us here. We could be blowing this way out of proportion. Herodotus could be your father, and just mad as Hades that he lost his oldest child to, who he thinks, is a murderous Warlord. Brie, we've both seen natural fathers treat their children worse than this. I just want you to be open to all the possibilities for his behavior."
"What about what mother said...it's about who he sees when he looks at me. Who does he see...my real father?"
"Okay, I'll play Hades advocate here. Maybe she meant he sees me...he probably thinks I have you under my spell and you're a slave to me and my Warlord desires. That would make any father see red."
"There's just one flaw to that theory, Xe. My father has treated me this way all my life." Warm tears began to roll down the bards cheeks and splash silently into her lap.
"Oh, Brie," the warrior gently embraced the weeping bard. "Why haven't you ever told me any of this?"
"I guess I was just too ashamed...I didn't want to admit it even to myself, but now all the pieces seem to fit too well for it to not be the truth."
"I can understand the way you feel, love. But there's no reason to be ashamed in front of me...remember, my father tried to kill me when I was a child."
The two women sat that way until a breaking log in the fire hissed, and sent sparks flying into the darkness of the night sky.
"I had the oddest dream when I was by the pond this afternoon, Xe." Gabrielle again started the conversation. "I don't know if it's something I made up or it was real. I was maybe five or six seasons old and I remembered my mother and uncle Delos arguing."
Gabrielle told Xena all about the dream, that the bard was fast becoming convinced was a memory, and again the silence stole over the two.
"I don't think it's coincidence, Xe...I don't think he's my father...and you think that too, don't you?"
"Yes, love...I do." The warrior said softly, enfolding her lover in strong arms, cursing her inability to take this pain away from her bard.
Then, holding Gabrielle in her embrace she felt a possessive twinge strike her and she wanted this woman in her arms to know that she would always be there, not just for now, but for always. She wanted the bard to know that she wanted no other...would never, could never...be with another; that a piece of the bard's heart and soul had been planted within the warrior. It was then that the warrior began to think of a way. How do you show the woman you love all these feelings you have in your heart? You marry her.
"I sure can tell you feel better today," the warrior called down from her steed.
"I feel great," Gabrielle replied keeping up the swift pace the warrior let her companion set. "What did you put in that tea anyway?"
"Trade secret, my love. I could tell you, but then I'd have to kill you," she commented, lowering her voice an octave. "Take it easy, though, Brie...I don't want to have to carry you into Amphipolis."
"Okay, I'll try not to push it. Of course, I figure we'll get to the inn oh, about dinnertime...well, and the way your mom cooks..." she let the thought trail.
Xena let out a loud laugh as she dismounted and grabbed Argo's reins to walk beside the bard.
"If you ever again accuse me of thinking solely with a certain part of my anatomy," she raised her eyebrows suggestively," "I'll remind you of this," the warrior finished jabbing her finger lightly at her lover's bare midriff.
Both women laughed, the warrior watching Gabrielle's face for any signs of sadness or depression. Much to her happiness, the bard seemed to actually be taking the previous evening's revelations in stride. The young woman had finally admitted, before sleep overtook them both last night, that she almost felt better knowing that it wasn't anything she had done that caused Herodotus to treat her the way he had for so many years.
"Gabrielle?" The older woman smiled at the young bard, and quickly encompassed her in a warm hug. "Where's Xena?"
"Hi, Cyrene. Your daughter is stabling Argo...she'll be in shortly." Gabrielle smiled back at her lover's mother. Cyrene was one of the few family members, between she and Xena that the bard expected to take their news well. Gabrielle also truly loved this woman who reminded her so much of her warrior. It was easy to see where Xena's hard work ethic, honor and integrity came from.
Cyrene kissed the young woman on the cheek and gave her a hug usually reserved for her daughter, but Gabrielle had become like a daughter to her and she loved this young woman who had so completely stolen her own daughters heart. If only Xena could see what others see she would know how much this young woman loves her.
There was something different in the bard's eye, or maybe it was the way she carried herself, but Cyrene knew that something had changed. It was as if Gabrielle looked older, without actually aging. More mature. That was when the innkeeper noticed the pendant around the bard's neck. The shape of each heart looked exactly like the armor of Xena's breastplate, and on closer inspection, the two hearts joined to form and X.
"She finally told you," Cyrene exclaimed, holding the pendant in her own fingers.
Gabrielle's smile, coupled with the light that sparkled in her eyes was all the answer the innkeeper needed.
A few heartbeats later, when Xena finally came through the entrance, her mother practically knocked her over with a fierce hug. The warrior, who had always been a little uncomfortable with public displays of affection in the past, thoroughly surprised her mother by returning her affections.
Xena looked at her bard over her mother's shoulder with a questioning glance. Gabrielle returned the gaze, shrugging her shoulders and raising her hands in the air as if to say, I didn't say a word and I have no idea why she's acting that way!
"Well...it's good to see you too, mom," the warrior said hesitantly, with a half smile.
"You finally did it...you finally told her you love her!" Cyrene said, not breaking the embrace.
The remaining patrons at the bar started to look around and see what all the innkeeper's happiness was about. It was about now that Xena noticed people gawking at the large warrior and then looking the young bard over. The more her mother gushed, the redder the warrior's cheeks got.
"I'm right...you did tell her?" Cyrene continued to say for all to hear.
"Yes, mom...I told her," Xena said lowering her voice and disentangling herself from the older woman. "Can we not tell the whole tavern?"
"Then why are you turning all red? Don't tell me she turned you down?" Cyrene asked innocently.
Gabrielle was enjoying this display immensely. Never had she ever been witness to the Warrior Princess as flustered or embarrassed as she was this minute. The bard nearly burst out laughing at her lover's predicament. No one can humiliate a child quite as well as a mother and even though she was a fearsome warrior, Xena was still a little girl to Cyrene.
"No, she didn't turn me down." Xena replied.
"By the Gods, Xena, don't tell me you haven't consummated the relationship yet?" Her mother asked, astounded.
Gabrielle had just about lost it with that remark and the fact that Xena's face was completely red now. The young woman was one heartbeat away from laughing out loud at her lover's dilemma, when the dark-haired warrior noticed her bard.
Xena was very uncomfortable right about now. It wasn't bad enough her mother was telling the whole bar about her new found relationship with Gabrielle, and she really didn't want to talk about her sex life with her own mother, but when Xena looked over and saw her bard grinning from ear to ear at her plight, she knew it was time to retaliate.
"Gab-ri-elle..." the warrior drawled.
The bard knew that look in her lover's eye and clamped a hand over her mouth to keep from bursting out laughing
"Gabrielle, so help me Goddess, if you laugh...if you so much as have a smile on your face underneath that hand, I'm going to pick you up and throw you in the horse trough!"
The bard was fighting a losing battle and she knew it, but was holding on valiantly, when a man from the bar called out, "what's consummated?"
Gabrielle nearly fell over she burst out laughing so hard.
"Okay, that's it." Xena said as she quickly grabbed the young woman and threw her over her shoulder, heading for the door.
"Xena!" Gabrielle shouted.
A large framed man walked through the entrance to the inn just as Xena got to the door. His dark hair and blue eyes were unmistakable and he smiled broadly at his sister and the small bundle that fought her grasp.
"Xena...if you've been fishing, you forgot to throw this one back...she's not nearly big enough to keep!"
"Toris!" Gabrielle yelled.
Xena's brother just continued to laugh heartily at the young bard's dilemma.
"Xena," Gabrielle pleaded. "Please, let me down."
"Are you sufficiently embarrassed yet?"
The warrior brought the woman over her shoulder and caught her in an embrace before her feet touched the ground.
"Good...then we're even," she finished, kissing the tip of her lover's nose and smiling down at her.
Gabrielle slapped the warrior's arm playfully and did the same to Toris who was still watching the couple with a little bit of envy.
"All right children..." Cyrene said as the three guiltily smiled at her. The older woman couldn't keep up the stern pretense, however, and smiled back.
"I know you two must be hungry...I'll have some food out here in no time," she said as her voice trailed off into the kitchen.
Xena and Gabrielle were later in getting to the inn than they had hoped and dreams of a hot meal left their heads as the last few patrons were having some drinks at the bar. The two women smiled in delight, however, when Cyrene brought out plates of steaming food and mugs of ale.
I already have Mellie making up your room, Xena...Toris, take the girls bags up for them, dear." Cyrene said as the women dove into their food.
"We can get those, Toris...don't worry." Xena said to her brother.
"No problem, I was headed to bed myself, I'll take them on the way up." He gave all three women a hug and carried the bags up the steps to the back of the inn.
Xena sat sprawled across the bench with her legs up and a mug of port in her hand. She watched through heavy lidded eyes as her lover and her mother caught up on the kind of inconsequential talk the warrior was no good at. A delicious warmth spread within her body and she knew it was partly due to the fact that this was home. There was a certain comfort factor to being in the inn where she and Lyceus, and Toris had grown up and played. She felt her reflexes begin to relax a little.
"So, when do I get to go to a wedding?" Cyrene asked in her no nonsense way.
Xena's eyes popped open and she immediately looked over at Gabrielle to gauge her bard's reaction to the question. The young woman blushed slightly, but never said a word. Gabrielle yawned deeply and stood from the table with a sweet smile on her face.
"I'm...um, I'm going to bed. I hope you two don't mind, but I'm really exhausted." She said, the truth in her words evident by the fatigued look of her features.
The young woman hugged Cyrene and wished her a good night and squeezed her warrior's shoulder as she passed. Xena moved to take the young woman's hand in her own and gently brushed her lips across the back of the bard's fingers.
"I'll be up shortly, love," Xena said as her bard smiled and reached down to kiss the warrior's temple. The warrior's eyes closed and a look of pleasure crossed her features at the bard's gentle touch.
Cyrene was astonished when she saw her daughter's reaction to Gabrielle's touch. She was surprised that Xena not only allowed the young woman to touch her in front of the older woman, but even more taken back by the absolute look of gratification on the warrior's face.
Once Gabrielle was gone, Cyrene looked with worry at her daughter. "I take it I said the wrong thing?"
"I haven't asked Gabrielle to marry me yet, mother," Xena said without looking up.
"Sweet Artemis, young woman, what are you waiting for? Women like that girl upstairs only come around once in a lifetime, Xena. If I were you--"
Xena held up a hand to stop her mother's tirade. "I said yet, mom." She smiled. "Actually, I just decided I would ask her last night, but it's a little more complicated than you might think. Gabrielle is Queen of the Amazon Nation; I can't just throw her over my shoulder and carry her off. I have to petition the tribe for permission to marry their Queen and then I have to make an official petition to Gabrielle. The whole thing has to be witnessed by a round of Amazon's. And then there's the fact that Gabrielle might not even want to marry me." She said this last, not wanting to even think of such a possibility, but it had to be considered. Gabrielle may love her, but did she really want to commit her life to a warrior?
"Then there's been a lot of stuff going on in Gabrielle's life lately and I'm not exactly sure she wants to make a decision like this right now." Xena quietly explained everything they had gone through in Potidaea, including the suspicions about Herodotus.
"What an amazing girl," Cyrene started, "I'm proud to have her as an addition to our family," the older woman placed a loving hand over the large, callused one of her only daughter.
"So, how many Amazon's is a round?" Cyrene asked her daughter with a smile.
"Forty," the warrior answered. "I've got a plan, though. I'll need your help. Tomorrow I'll write a message to Ephiny explaining everything. It should only take a week at most to get them here. If you can find someone in the village to deliver the letter for me, we'll be in business." She beamed.
"I don't know who is luckier...You or Gabrielle." Cyrene answered.
"Welcome to my world," Gabrielle smiled sarcastically at Cyrene as Xena brusquely moved through the kitchen, past the two women, and out the door. The warrior had barely grunted a few words at Gabrielle and was gone.
"She just gets that way sometimes," the bard said trying to reassure the older woman, wondering a little herself at her lover's humor that had been steadily getting worse over the last few days.
The older woman threw a handful of flour on the wooden board she was about to knead some dough on. Gabrielle stood next to her, doing the same. The bard enjoyed the time she was spending at the inn with Xena's family. They were accepting and loving of their daughter's lover, and Gabrielle wished she felt as comfortable around her own mother as the woman who now stood next to her.
They had been in Amphipolis for ten days, Xena and Gabrielle both taking pleasure from helping Cyrene at the inn. Xena had borrowed a shirt and pants from her brother and pitched in to help her sibling finish off the addition of more rooms to the inn. Gabrielle was completely within her element and assisted Cyrene in the kitchen during the day, moving into the tavern to tell stories in the evening.
Cyrene's business always picked up when Gabrielle was in town. She was an exceptional bard and even folks that didn't usually frequent the tavern, would stop by to hear some of her tales. Each night the patron's left her dinars in appreciation, and each night she tried to give them to Cyrene. When the innkeeper refused, the bard knew exactly what she would use the extra money for. She searched the village until she found a silversmith and put her money down for her gift.
"How in the world do you put up with that, Gabrielle?" Cyrene asked, bringing the bard into the present once again.
Gabrielle smiled one of her usual 'take it in stride' smiles and responded. "Some days are better than others. Oh, she's hardly like this at all anymore; you should have seen her when we first started traveling together. Back then if I could get her to share a complete a sentence in one day, I'd be happy."
Gabrielle blew a wisp of hair from her forehead, wiping across it with her forearm. A small smudge of flour found it's way to her cheek as she stretched muscles that had begun to ache from candlemarks of kneading dough. She explored her own soul and felt herself smile at the journey her heart had taken on it's way to the unconditional love she now felt for her warrior.
A knock on the kitchen door put a temporary halt to their conversation. Cyrene wiped her hands and pulled open the wooden door expecting some type of deliveryman. Instead a young boy from the silversmiths shop stood with a small package.
"Good morning ma'am, Calas asked me to bring this 'round to the young lady," he said, indicating Gabrielle and holding out the package.
"Oh, wonderful," Gabrielle exclaimed, grinning. "Cyrene, would you take it for me, my hands are a mess."
The older woman took the small package and gave the youngster a sweet cake, sending the excited boy on his way. "What is it?" Cyrene asked.
"A present for Xe...open it will you, so I can see it?" The bard said rinsing the sticky dough from her fingers in a bucket of clean water.
Gabrielle stood next to Cyrene drying her hands as the older woman opened the leather wrapping.
"Oh, Gabrielle...it's beautiful!" Cyrene admitted.
The pendant had been a design that the bard had toyed with in trying to envision something as unique and special as the one Xena had presented her with. It had to indicate that it was literally a piece of Gabrielle, but also be symbolic of the sharing of their lives. She had finally found an artisan who was willing to work with her and the final product was more than she could have ever hoped for.
The pendant was silver, on a heavier chain than the one Gabrielle wore. The bard's initial was in the center, the letter G was fashioned in a script that mimicked the scrollwork of Xena's armor. On top of the initial lay a quill, but not the typical writing quill Gabrielle used everyday. This quill almost looked the same; a feather tapering to a point, but instead of a point to hold ink, there was a sword's hilt; a feather that was a sword. To the bard, it spoke of warrior and bard as one.
"Cyrene, would you hold on to it for me? If Xena even thinks I'm trying to hide something from her she'll be like a kid on Solstice Eve. Patience isn't exactly one of her many skills, you know."
The warrior's mother laughed, understanding that, in some ways, adulthood had changed her daughter very little. She put the carefully wrapped package in the pouch at her waist and patted it.
"It will be safe from prying eyes here." She said.
Xena's bad mood was coming out in the worst way possible. She had sent off a message to Ephiny the day after they had arrived in Amphipolis telling of her wish to bond with Gabrielle and requesting the Regent's help. Three days later a rider arrived at the inn with a message for Xena from the Amazon Nation. Xena recognized Ephiny's seal and opened the scroll to a short, but encouraging message.
So the old tree that stands alone in the forest has finally fallen?
I've been waiting years for them to cry 'timber' over you!
It may take me a little more than a week to get things prepared on this end.
I'll be coming along...wouldn't miss the look on Gabrielle's face for the world!
It had been almost 7 days since she received the message from Ephiny and still no sign of the Amazons. The more time that went by the more nervous Xena got, until she was beginning to take it out on everyone around her, including Gabrielle. This is great. By the time they get here and I can ask her to marry me, I'll be lucky if she's even speaking to me!
Just then her ears picked up a sound like the whisper of a boot in the dirt. The warrior smiled broadly and folded her arms across her chest.
"It's about damn time you got here!"
"Do you know how much I hate that you can do that?" Ephiny's voice hissed.
The two women clutched one another's forearms in a gesture of friendship.
"I slipped into town by myself," the regent whispered, "I've brought forty-five of the Amazon Nation's best...few extra so no one will scream about protocol. They're camped in the next valley...so what's you're plan Warrior Princess?"
"Plan?" Xena asked. "Actually, my plan was just to get you here...I thought you might...you know, have a little input once you got here." She finished with a shy sort of grin.
"Just so happens, I do," the Regent smiled and proceeded to share her idea with the warrior.
Cyrene was just showing Gabrielle how to put a glaze on the sweet cakes she had made when Xena walked into the room.
"Hi," the warrior said nervously, beginning to lose a bit of her resolve.
"Hi," both women said in unison, not able to look of from their task.
Xena walked over to her mother, standing next to Gabrielle, and quickly kissed the older woman on the top of the head.
Cyrene looked at her daughter and then at Gabrielle who had finished the glaze and glanced up at the warrior.
"That means 'I'm sorry mother, and I won't be such a grump anymore'," Gabrielle explained Xena's kiss to Cyrene.
Xena's eyes darted around the room searching for some means of escape, her ears beginning to turn red under her mother's scrutiny.
"Yea...what she said," the warrior sheepishly admitted. "Uh, mom...I wonder if you could...I want to..." Xena looked at her mother, trying to convey with her eyes, her need to be alone with Gabrielle.
"Oh..."Cyrene said. "I suddenly remember a pressing engagement." She finished with a smile and was immediately out the kitchen door.
"Hey, are you baking bread or just bathing in flour?" The warrior teased, noticing the flour on the bard's cheek.
Gabrielle smiled and stood on her toes to gently brush her lips against the tall warrior's.
Xena tenderly cupped the beautiful woman's face, wiping off the smudge of flour. "Brie, I'm sorry I've been such a bear the last few days. I'd like to make it up to you if you'll let me."
Gabrielle raised an eyebrow suggestively, quickly thinking of all the ways she'd like her warrior to make it up to her.
"Well, there is that," the warrior said in a sultry voice, "but, I was thinking more along the lines of a picnic...just the two of us? I'd like to bring you up to the lake...the one with the waterfall I told you about."
Gabrielle's eyes lit up. "Why, warrior...are you asking me out on a date?" Gabrielle teased.
Xena took Gabrielle's hand and brought her fingers up to the warrior's lips, feeling traces of the sweet honey glaze on the bard's fingers. The warrior brought the bard's index finger to her lips, the tip of her tongue reaching out to slightly graze the sticky digit. Her warm mouth enveloped the tip of the finger and as she swirled her tongue lightly, she began a slow sucking motion that the bard instantly felt between her legs. Xena closed her eyes, breathing deeply, as her mouth suddenly filled with the taste of her bard and sweet honey.
"Yes," the warrior whispered her answer, reluctantly releasing the hold her tongue had on the bard's finger.
"Huh?" Gabrielle asked, momentarily confused her face flush with sudden desire.
"The answer to your question...it's yes," Xena repeated.
"Oh, Gods," Gabrielle said breathlessly, "what was the question?"
"It's breathtaking, Xe...did you and Lyceus really jump into the water from there?" The bard pointed, indicating the high waterfall that slid over rocks and flora to spill into the lake below.
"Yep. I was in a lot better shape back then, though."
"Oh, really? You mean..." Gabrielle drawled as Xena gently pulled her down from Argo, the bard's body pressing against the warrior's, "...This body was actually better at one time?"
The corners of the warrior's mouth curled upward, her eyes narrowing slightly. "With age comes experience, and with experience...more skills." She said running her tongue against the length of the bard's ear.
Gabrielle shivered at the warm moistness. "If you acquire any more skills, it just may kill me."
Both women chuckled as they reluctantly pulled apart.
"It's starting to get a little chilly, why don't you grab some firewood and I'll setup our dinner...and anything else we may need," she finished with an inviting smile.
Gabrielle walked off a short distance into the trees and Xena turned back to the mare and began unloading the packages they had packed into the saddlebags. The warrior knew her bard was hungry and would probably want to eat right away, but Xena was still trying to get her stomach to quit doing flip-flops.
The picnic, which was a way to be alone with her bard it's true, was also a ruse to get her out of the village. The Amazons would enter Amphipolis and be quartered in the north end of town. When Xena was prepared to begin the ceremony, Gabrielle's presence would be requested, saying a petitioner requested an audience with the Queen of the Amazons. That's when the warrior figured she would probably throw up all over someone's boots. Not that she didn't want to bond with Gabrielle. She knew she loved the bard deeply and would never find another who could ever take the young woman's place in her heart. It's just that this was just about everything in this world that made Xena sick at her stomach; crowds, speaking in front of crowds, and above all, baring her soul to a crowd.
The warrior shook herself from her worrying and once again began emptying their treasures from the saddlebags. She heard a rustling noise behind her.
"That was fast," she smiled, not yet turning toward her bard.
The bard didn't say a word.
"Brie?" Xena said, turning toward her lover.
Xena's blood ran cold at the sight in front of her. A tall warrior, the angular features of her face framed by her short blonde hair held a hand over Gabrielle's mouth, the bard's eyes wide in fear. In her other hand the warrior pressed the tip of a stiletto type dagger just inside the bard's ear. The stranger, as well as Xena, knew the bard might live with a sliced throat, if her warrior could get to her in time, but the young Queen would never live once the dagger plunged into her ear, scrambling her brains.
Xena's finger twitched slightly against the metal of her chakram, her eyes darting around her to see armed men among the trees. Pulling herself up to her full height, her eyes transformed to pale blue, her voice as cutting and cold as ice when she spoke.
"Let her go or I'll cut your vicious heart out, you pathetic little bitch!"
Gabrielle felt the woman behind her flinch slightly at the warrior's tone, the bard's own body shivering at the timber of her warrior's voice.
"Why, Xena...aren't you even going to introduce me to your little friend here? Or is she a lover...wife...slave?" She spat out the last word, jerking the small woman in her arms as she did so, tightening her grip on the dagger.
"Remove your weapons and your armor, Xena" the blonde commanded.
Xena continued to stare down the woman, not moving to divest herself of her weapons.
"Do it!" the blonde screamed. "Do you think I'm fucking around?" The blonde quickly slid her hand from Gabrielle's mouth to the bard's throat, wrapping her large hand around her neck; she slowly started to squeeze the life from the young woman.
Xena loosened her chakram, then undid the straps that held her scabbard to her back, throwing both weapons on the ground at the blonde's feet.
"Xena, no," Gabrielle whispered hoarsely as the woman behind her tightened her grip on the bard's throat to silence her.
"Let Gabrielle go, Kirren...this is between me and you." Xena said, dispassionately, trying to keep her voice steady and devoid of emotion. She knew she couldn't let Kirren leave this grove with Gabrielle or the chances were good her bard would never live to see her lover again.
"Let her go...you don't want to fight me...it's a fight you can't win." Xena stated.
The blonde chuckled, a deep evil laugh as Gabrielle began to scream.
"Xena, behind you!"
The warrior was so intent on watching Gabrielle; she lost track of the men behind her. Just as Gabrielle screamed Xena turned her head only to feel the heavy strike of a mallet across her temple. The warrior's knees hit the ground and she turned her head back toward her lover.
"Gab--ri--elle," Xena groaned as she fell forward, her unconscious body hitting the dirt with a loud thud.
Gabrielle screamed out her lover's name and struggled in her captor's grasp, not caring for her own safety.
The tall woman Xena had called Kirren suddenly jerked Gabrielle by her hair, moving around to face the bard. Her long fingers pulled the young woman's head back, exposing her neck, pressing the point of the dagger just under the bard's chin until Gabrielle felt a warm drop of fluid roll down the skin of her neck. Realizing it was her own blood; the bard ceased her struggle and listened to the taller woman.
"I'd like to have you around a little longer, Gabrielle, to torture your precious warrior, but don't test my patience. I'll kill you if I have to, and trust me, little one...I don't kill women quickly. I make it very, very slow...and very, very painful. So unless you want me to gut you from this furry little patch," she grabbed the bard's crotch, " to your scrawny neck, I'd quit trying to get on my bad side!"
"Tie her hands and put on a blindfold." Kirren pushed the bard back into the waiting arms of a soldier who began to carry out the blonde warrior's order.
Walking over to the still form of the Warrior Princess, Kirren rolled the warrior over with the toe of her boot, squatting down on the balls of her feet she grinned.
"Oh, how the mighty have fallen, eh, Xena?" the warrior whispered. "Guess we'll be able to have that showdown after all. See, I have the one thing that will guarantee you'll show up, don't I?" Kirren looked back at the bard as she was being hoisted into the saddle of a waiting horse and laughed.
"Let's go...tie her hands and feet." The warrior indicated Xena's unconscious form as she mounted behind the blindfolded bard. "Let's not make it too easy for her."
Darkness was beginning to descend over Amphipolis and Ephiny paced nervously around the inn.
"Something's wrong. Xena told me she would be back before nightfall." The Regent said to Eponin. "Ep, take a few riders and wander out to that lake...make sure everything's okay."
"And, if they're just otherwise engaged?" The warrior shot back.
"Then try not to let Xena throw you over the waterfall." The Regent said with a wry smile.
Eponin pulled up and caught the reins of the golden mare. Argo's saddle was still on and her saddlebags hung askew on the mare's rump.
"Easy girl," the warrior said in a soothing tone as she looked around to get her bearings. Spurring her own mount on, she quickly made her way straight for the area of forest surrounding the waterfall. Just as the Amazon riders broke through the copse of trees, they saw Xena's unconscious body.
Feeling for a pulse, Eponin was relieved when she felt the even pounding in the warrior neck. Dried blood along the side of the warrior's face made her injury look worse than it was.
"You two search the area for any signs of the Queen," Eponin nodded toward her two companions, but she already knew it was hopeless. If Xena had been bound and knocked unconscious, there was little chance Gabrielle would still be around.
"Tarazon," Eponin indicated the fourth rider of their party. "Get back to the Regent and tell her to get up here quick...there's been trouble."
For the next candlemark Eponin cleaned Xena's wound and tried to gently revive the dark-haired warrior. Xena's eyes slowly started to flutter and open, the blue eyes narrowing in an attempt to push down the pain in her head and focus.
"Gabrielle!" Xena cried out, suddenly remembering the events that had led up to this moment.
The warrior and Eponin both scrambled to their feet at the approaching sound of thundering hooves. Ephiny jumped from her horse before the animal had even come to a stop.
"Xena, are you allright?" she asked noticing the blood that still oozed from an angry looking gash at the warrior's temple, the skin starting to discolor. "What happened to Gabrielle?"
Before Xena had a chance to answer the two Amazons that Eponin had sent in search of any signs of their Queen returned.
"Regent?" One of the warriors held out Gabrielle's staff. "We found the tracks of riders...perhaps twenty. They're making their way into the northern hills."
Xena grabbed the stave from the warrior's hands as if to connect with the bard herself from the contact with the wood. Looped around the top of the staff was a thin strip of leather that was tied around a large white feather. The plume had been dipped in blood. Every Amazon in the group recognized this symbolic gesture of revenge.
Xena's thought processes were beginning to shut down on her. She couldn't get her mind to focus on anything but the terrified look in Gabrielle's eyes before the warrior was rendered unconscious. Even now, as the only woman she loved...ever would love, had been torn from her; a deep-seated anger filled her body. Darkness within her begged for release, her barely contained rage flowing through her veins along with her blood.
The warrior turned away from the eyes of the Amazons, her limbs shaking as she struggled to keep her tenuous grip on reality. Suddenly not caring whose eyes watched her, she slowly sunk to her knees and let out a tortured howl.
The warrior's scream came from deep within her chest and it echoed throughout the hills. The lonely cry of anguish sent chills up the spines of the warriors who surrounded her, the creatures of the forest fearfully hastening towards safe hiding places. The sound echoed throughout the forest and against the mountains until there was only silence again.
Gabrielle felt the horse she was on draw to a halt just as the last echoes of her lover's anguished cry dissipated into the air.
"Well...looks like Xena's awake." Kirren laughed. "She must have gotten the little present we left for her," she said to no one in particular, knowing the meaning of the blood-covered feather wouldn't be lost on Xena.
"I need to relieve myself," Gabrielle asked the warrior behind her.
"Hold it in!" Kirren sneered.
"Please..." Gabrielle pleaded.
With an exasperated sigh the warrior slid off her mount and roughly pulled the bard down to the ground.
"Let's get some rules taken care of right now, shall we, your highness? I have no intention of killing you, Gabrielle but I will if I have to...do you believe me?"
"Yes," the bard answered.
"The blindfold stays on no matter what. If you take it off, then you force me to kill you. If you try to escape...I'll kill you, if you annoy me in any way possible...I'll kill you. Now, is there any part of that you don't understand?"
"No," Gabrielle replied. You're trying to tell me you're a nut case...I get it.
Kirren began to drag the bard off the path and practically threw her to the ground. The tall woman released one of the bard's hands and stood back.
"Are you going to just stand there and watch me?" Gabrielle asked, her modesty overcoming her better judgment at questioning the woman. Even though she was unable to see, she felt the tall woman staring at her.
"If you have to go bad enough, you'll go!" she hissed.
The bard did what she had to do and stood up. Before she knew it she was once again being hoisted into the saddle in front of her captor.
Gabrielle wasn't about to give in to this woman. Kirren may hold all the cards, but the bard knew Xena wouldn't stop until she found her. The young bard had a stubborn streak and a hot temper once provoked, but she pushed all these emotions down and buried them. She needed to play this smart. No need to give Kirren a reason to hurt her in any way. Gabrielle thought about it and realized what the tall woman said was probably true. If she was going to so much trouble by blindfolding the bard, she must intend to release her at some point.
Gabrielle also took the threats to her life seriously. This Kirren, whoever she is...oh, let me guess...another one of Xena's old army buddies, is most definitely not working with a full deck. She says she won't kill me, but that look in her eyes...I think if I gave her half a reason she would.
The bard could feel the pace the horse were being driven at and knew they must be leagues away from Amphipolis by now. She could feel the jerk and pull of the horse as the animal began to navigate over hilly terrain and she started to worry about Xena trailing the fast moving party. All the while, the young Queen fingered the beaded bracelet on her wrist. When they left the Amazon village Ephiny had called it a friendship bracelet, as she tied the leather together at the young woman's wrist.
Gabrielle slowly worked at the ends of the bracelet until she had it untied. Pulling at the beads that made up the piece of jewelry, she carefully flicked one of the wooden beads off the end of the leather twine, never knowing where it landed. The bard began to count and when she thought a quarter of a candlemark had gone by she pulled another bead off the string. All she could do was hope it would be enough for Xena to follow.
Kirren smiled smugly to herself. Xena hadn't been nearly as much of a challenge as she thought she would be. I have to keep an eye on this one, though. She's smarter than Ares thinks, this little one. Why would an Amazon Queen be traveling with the Warrior Princess? The tall warrior felt the Amazon's body fall against her as the horse began a steep ascent. She felt the smaller woman's warmth between her legs and against her chest, smirking at the realization of why the former Destroyer of Nations had the young woman around. The blonde haired warrior chuckled to herself as the young Queen tried to pull her body away from hers by grabbing onto the saddlehorn. I know I promised I wouldn't touch her now, but maybe after I defeat Xena and become Ares Chosen, I'll take this little one for myself.
Kirren laughed aloud at the prospect. A laugh that sent chills running across Gabrielle's skin.
The sound of agony and grief washed over the Amazons as they stood there, listening to the last of the echoes from Xena's tortured cry. Eponin made a move to comfort her friend, but Ephiny's grasp held her back. The Regent shook her head back and forth, waiting to see what the Warrior Princess would do with the anger that was obviously building within her.
Xena's breathing became labored as she fought for control of her own will. She gripped hard and tried to push back the darkness that threatened to overtake her soul. A staggering sense of emptiness filled the warrior. Her world had just fallen apart and the pain that filled her soul was beyond anything she had ever felt before.
Xena's knuckles turned white as they continued to tightly grip the wood of her lover's staff...Gabrielle's staff.
Suddenly Xena found herself tenderly stroking the staff, no longer holding onto the cherished wood with a frantic grip, she caressed it's smoothness almost idly with her thumb, The feel of her bard replenishing her senses; hope beginning to fill the emptiness. As if her darkness and anger were visible entities, Xena breathed deep and the emotions were inhaled, buried heavily with her past once more.
Jumping to her feet the warrior turned sapphire eyes, now filled with clarity, toward the Regent.
"She's got Gabrielle, but this means she's still alive," the warrior said, pulling the bloody feather from Gabrielle's staff. "We've got to find Gabrielle before that witch changes her mind, though!" Xena finished as she started toward Argo.
"Xena, wait a minute," Ephiny said grabbing the dark warrior's arm. "We need some kind of a plan. Who took Gabrielle, and why?"
Xena shrugged away from the Regent's grasp, checking Argo's reins and saddle before jumping into the saddle.
"We don't have time...I'll tell you on the way." Xena looked down pleadingly at Ephiny.
The Regent was more than a competent warrior, but the fear she saw in Xena's eyes was enough to convince her that immediate action was necessary if they were to save the Queen. Making her decision, she barked out a few short commands.
"Kesta and Tanti...you two ride up front with Xena and I, and take us to where the tracks start. Amazons, mount!"
Forty Amazon warriors were an impressive site on horseback and they galloped along, quickly becoming infected with Xena's sense of urgency. The Warrior Princess sent a quick prayer to Artemis that they would be enough.
"Looks like they've split up into 3 groups," Kesta reported to the Regent. The young woman had a small build for an Amazon, but she knew how to use the sword strapped to her waist, and her tracking abilities were equaled only by the Warrior Princess. "There's really no way of telling which group has the Queen or even if they're all headed for the same destination."
"What do you make of this?" Eponin rolled a small round object between her index finger and thumb.
Ephiny wrapped a steel grip around the warrior's wrist and pulled Eponin's hand under the light of the torch. Xena knelt beside the two women as the Regent took possession of the small bead and held it up closer to the firelight.
"It's a bead. From a necklace maybe?" Eponin said as they examined the small, carved bead, tinted blue with dye. "Was Gabrielle wearing--"
The Amazon warrior was stopped abruptly by Xena's shaking head. "She only had her pendant on." Xena's voice said with a catch. The dark warrior stared intently at the round object trying to remember what Gabrielle had been wearing when they left the inn that day. Shaking her head in defeat, she lowered her eyes to the ground and watched as the light from the flame flickered across Ephiny's ankle.
Ephiny followed Xena's eyes and stopped to rest on the ankle bracelet she wore. Ripping off the beaded anklet, the Regent held it up for Xena to compare with the solo bead.
"I gave one to Gabrielle as a friendship bracelet..." Ephiny's voice trailed off, cursing her own stupidity for not realizing it sooner.
"It means Gabrielle came this way," Eponin said excitedly.
"It means more than that," Xena said, "It means she's alive...that's my girl!" For the first time since Gabrielle's capture, the warrior's eyes held a true glimmer of hope.
Ephiny quickly passed the bead around to show everyone what they were looking for and more torches were lit. It was about a week till the new moon and the darkness that fell once the sun had gone down made tracking nearly impossible. They had to walk, bringing up their mounts at a distance for fear they would trample some bit of evidence. They had searched for another candlemark, but in vain. They would have to backtrack and follow one of the other sets of tracks to search for more of Gabrielle's signs.
"Xena," the Regent quietly pulled Xena aside. "We have to stop for the night."
"No! We keep going." Xena began to pull away, but Ephiny held to her arm.
"Xena, I understand how you feel, but this is getting us nowhere. I'm afraid in the dark we'll miss some sign that Gabrielle is trying to leave. Besides, these hills are getting steeper, I don't want anyone going over the edge of a cliff in the dark."
Xena fought hard within herself as she listened to the Regent.
"Xena, we're Amazons and we have a hard time picking our way through these hills. If we need to stop for the night then I'm sure they have to also."
Xena couldn't refute Ephiny's logic and reluctantly agreed to make camp.
They ran a cold camp so as not to alert Gabrielle's captors of their whereabouts. It was a quiet group as they all thought about the joyous reason they had come to Amphipolis, and how it had all turned out so horribly wrong. The Amazons sat in small groups, talking in quiet voices or cleaning their weapons. Ephiny noticed that Xena stayed slightly apart from the rest. The warrior sat on the ground a little ways off, just within the shadow of a tree, sharpening her sword.
As Ephiny approached she could her the sound of Xena's whetstone sliding across the metal of her blade.
"You should eat something," the Regent said, offering the warrior a thick piece of jerky.
Xena shook her head, never stopping the rhythm her hands set as they sharpened the sword.
Ephiny didn't want Xena spiraling into a depression and she saw the frightening display the dark-haired warrior put on when they found the Queen's staff, so the Regent played her trump card.
"Gabrielle wouldn't want you acting this way," She said.
Xena stopped the motion of her hands without looking up. Finally she lifted her head and shook the dark locks from her eyes. A bittersweet smile appeared on her face.
"You're right...she wouldn't." The warrior replied, holding her hand out to accept the piece of dried meat.
Ephiny breathed a sigh of relief and sat down next her friend.
"You told me Kirren was in your army...was she a soldier?" Ephiny asked.
"She was an assassin," Xena replied as she chewed. "I used her for what I needed her for...she was good at her job. Even then I didn't like the look in her eyes. She didn't just kill people for money or even for sport...she killed simply for the pleasure of it. The things she did..." Xena's voice trailed off as her eyes took on the faraway look of a revisited memory.
"Eph, I was a soulless, sadistic monster in those days and this girl made me afraid. I put up with her because I needed her, but pretty soon I knew I needed to get her out of my camp. I thought about just killing her...you don't have to watch your back so much when you end partnerships that way. She must have caught wind of what I was feeling because one day she up and challenges me in front of my men...I had no choice but to take her down."
"I take it she lived through the match," Ephiny referred to their present predicament.
"It wasn't much of a match at all," Xena replied. "This was a girl who was a paid assassin. She knew a thousand ways to come up behind you and kill you without a sound, but she was a pretty pathetic warrior. I disarmed her half a dozen times, but she kept coming back for more. I resorted to slicing some pretty big cuts into her hands just so she couldn't pick up her sword any longer. When she finally gave up she told me she'd come back some day...someday when she was a better fighter than me, and she told me she would defeat me and take everything I had. Looks like she did." Xena finished with a grimace filled with bitter irony.
"Why didn't you kill her?" Ephiny asked.
"I just couldn't do it." The warrior looked straight at the Regent. "She was only fourteen, Eph." Xena said.
"Sweet Artemis," the Regent responded, shaking her head sadly.
"So, my past come back to bite Gabrielle again. When I kill, someone like Callisto tracks her down. When I don't kill...I guess you get the picture. When will I stop doing this to her?" Xena said as her eyes began to mist over.
"We'd all put in for a new past if we could, Xena...you weren't the best person in the known world, but Gods know, you weren't the worst either. I think we both know that Gabrielle has always been aware of the possible consequences of loving a former Warlord."
"I'm afraid, Eph," the warrior finally admitted in a soft voice. "Afraid of what I might become if something happens to Gabrielle. I can feel it starting already. Don't let me...don't let me break my promise to Gabrielle."
Ephiny looked questioningly at the warrior. Xena lowered her eyes and spoke in a low whisper.
"I promised her if anything ever happened to her that I wouldn't become a monster. What if I can't control it...what do I do then?" Xena asked as, once again, she turned her blue eyes, brimming with tears, toward the Regent.
"Promise me you won't let me break my promise. I'd rather feel your blade in my heart than to ever hurt Gabrielle. Promise me, Eph."
"I promise," the Regent softly said.
Long moments of silence passed until Ephiny heard the sound of the warrior's sharpening stone running across the metal of her sword. Neither woman spoke again, but Xena felt a strange comfort in having the Amazon seated beside her. If she didn't look up, she could almost imagine it was Gabrielle.
"I don't believe this! That irritating little brat has turned her into a pathetic mess! She should be tearing up the countryside by now, instead she's sitting there whining about her past...how broken does that record sound."
The God of War slumped into a chair and stroked his jaw thoughtfully. His plan had been simple, or so he thought. Kidnap the bard and watch Xena freak. Much to his disgust Ares had watched the two women become lovers and knew he had to make a move before Xena got any further away from him than she already had. He figured if Xena knew the psycho that had Gabrielle was probably going to torture and kill the brat, she'd lose it and Ares would be right there to pick up the pieces and offer his chosen an army to exact her revenge with.
"She's just sitting there!" he bellowed. "What is it about that irritating blonde?" he mused.
"I've still got time." He smiled to himself. "It's a long way to the castle. You will be mine, Xena."
Gabrielle was sore all over from the wild ride she had endured on horseback, not to mention the way she was pushed and dragged whenever she was led somewhere. She felt a rope being tied to the bindings on her wrist and she was pulled down to the ground and onto a blanket.
Kirren fed a length of rope in between the Amazon's wrists and tied the other end to her belt. She used as few words as possible to explain to the young woman that she better lie down and not dare touch her.
"I...um...what if I..." Gabrielle stammered.
"What?" Kirren hissed.
"Well, I...I tend to move around a lot and I usually end up using whoever I'm sleeping with as a pillow..."
"Then you'd better stay awake because if I feel you touch me, I'll cut your hand off!" Kirren spat.
"Look, I'm not trying to piss you off here. I'm trying to be honest so I don't get myself killed." Gabrielle said with a shaking voice. She was tired and knew she wouldn't be able to stay awake for the rest of the night.
Kirren moved off the bedroll, reaching down and with a grunt lifting the bard to her feet, pushing the young woman to the ground until her back was pressed up against a tree. Gabrielle felt the length of rope go around the tree and attach again to her wrists.
"Now, shut up." The woman said, flopping down to her bedroll once more.
"Don't I even get a blan--" Gabrielle's answer was cut short by the blanket that hit her in the face. Carefully maneuvering her bonds, she was able to cover herself with the threadbare blanket.
Some time had gone by and Gabrielle could still not make herself fall asleep. She knew she would need her strength, but all she could think of was how much her heart ached for her warrior. For the first time since the ordeal began, Gabrielle allowed herself to give in to the tears that had threatened all evening. She prayed to any Gods that would listen to watch over her warrior and protect her.
The young queen sat cross-legged and tucked her feet up under her, beginning a simple meditation, one that had always relaxed her in the past. Xena taught her that the goal was to clear your mind of all thoughts, but as the bard drifted closer to that elusive, peaceful state, all her thoughts...all that she was, turned to the woman who held her heart...
The whisper came to her as light as the gentlest of caresses.
"Gabrielle?" The warrior's mind questioned.
"Xena...I don't think I can make this last very long, I'm not even sure how I'm doing it in the first place." The bard's faint voice came to her as a dream and Xena closed her eyes tightly. The corners of her mouth curled upward as she was rewarded with the vision she hoped for.
Gabrielle stood before her, wisps of honey-colored hair being lifted by an unseen breeze, the sun reflecting its brilliance in her emerald eyes. This was the image that always filled the warrior's mind when she thought of her bard. Xena's favorite part of the vision was the way her own image was always reflected back to her from within the emerald green depths.
"Gabrielle..." Xena advanced.
"No, Xena! If you touch me I know I won't be able to hold on to this."
"Gabrielle, where are you? Has she hurt you?" Muscles clenched in the warrior's jaw at the thought of her bard being subjected to Kirren's cruelty. A brutality meant for the warrior.
"Xena...it feels as if we've traveled forever...she's pushing the horses very fast. I can't see anything...she has me blindfolded, but I know we're going up some pretty steep hills." The bard's lips trembled as she fought her emotions for control.
"Gabrielle..." Xena's strong voice brought her back to the moment. "I'll find you...there is nowhere Kirren can hide you from me," she hissed, her long fingers wrapping themselves into fists at her side.
"But...she's taking me so far, Xena... She finally lost the control she had been fighting for and lowered her head, silent tears caressing her cheeks. She slowly lifted her eyes to have tear filled emerald green meet sapphire blue.
The same tears glistened in Xena's eyes. "Gabrielle..."
The vision of Gabrielle started to shimmer and Xena closed her eyes tighter, hot tears slipping from the closed lids, willing the bard back to her. "Don't give up, Gabrielle, I never will...I'll find you!"
Gabrielle choked back a sob, "Xena...it feels like we'll never be together again..."
Xena quickly closed the distance between the two of them and wrapped the bard in her arms. She held to her fiercely as the young woman's sobs shook her small frame. Xena pressed her lips to the golden locks and breathed in the scent of Gabrielle, the smell of sandalwood and summer rain. The warrior slipped her hand under Gabrielle's chin and tilted her face upwards till their eyes were locked. Xena placed the palm of her hand over the pendant.
"Brie, I'm always with you...right here."
Pressing her lips gently to the soft, full ones of her lover, Xena then moved to lean her cheek against the bard's forehead, stroking her lover's soft hair with her fingers.
"Don't give in to the despair, love, that's what she wants."
All too soon the embrace was broken as Gabrielle looked up into Xena face. As always, the taller woman's beauty stunned her and she felt her grasp on the dream state she entered, fading. She took a step back to take in the beautiful warrior and slowly reached her hand out to her. Her voice was filled with defeat, "I love you, Xe, but I'm afraid you won't be able to find me...she's taken me so far..."
"Gabrielle," Xena said tenderly as she reached out her hand to the younger woman. Their fingertips brushed together and multicolored sparks shimmered in the air, Gabrielle's image fading before her eyes, "I love you too, Brie...remember, there's no place that far, my love..."
Gabrielle began the morning with a sense of renewed hope. Her dreamscape encounter with her lover had filled her with a sense of peace once again. They rode at the same pace as the previous day until the bard guessed it was late afternoon. The horses were brought to a halt and the young woman unceremoniously dumped to the ground. Gabrielle was getting good at tucking and rolling as soon as she hit the ground. As soon as the horse beneath her would come to a stop and she felt the tall rider behind her dismount, she would brace herself for a fall.
Slowly chewing the stale bread that was placed in her hands, she could feel quite a bit of activity around her as it sounded like riders had just made their way into the camp.
"It's about time you got here," Kirren bellowed. "Now you can take care of the brat!"
Gabrielle was surprised as she was quickly hoisted to her feet and thrust into a very solid body. Her hands, which had braced her body for an impact, felt the hard leather and metal of armor. A leather gloved hand reached out and almost gently lifted her chin. Although Gabrielle still wore her blindfold, the warrior wearing the armor must have been taller than Xena, as the bard felt her neck craned upward.
"What is your name?" The armor clad figure asked.
"G--Gabrielle," she replied. The young Queen had been surprised to hear the gentle voice of a woman come from the figure looming above her.
"My name is Devlin. I'm sorry we must meet under these circumstances."
"Not half as sorry as I am," Gabrielle blurted out before thinking.
Devlin chuckled at the small blonde's statement. So young and innocent, but her features belied a pride and a nobility that Devlin had seen in Amazon women before.
"Sit over here." The warrior carefully helped the bard to the ground. "Have you eaten?"
"I had a piece of bread in my hand, but I lost it during our introduction." The bard said.
Again the warrior chuckled and placed a cloth bundle in the smaller woman's lap, carefully opening the edges, Devlin took Gabrielle's smaller hand and placed it on the food inside.
"Cheese...meat...olives," she said as she let Gabrielle's fingers touch each of the offerings in her lap. "Are you thirsty?" The warrior asked.
When Gabrielle nodded, she felt a waterskin placed at her feet.
"Eat and get some rest, we'll be travelling through the night from here on in. If you need anything or if anyone bothers you, call my name."
"Devlin," Gabrielle said.
"Yes?" The warrior questioned.
"Just testing," The bard said, feeling her hunger return with a vengeance at the first bite of food.
"I didn't want anyone else to hear me because frankly I was afraid they'd think I was nuts!" Xena spoke in a hushed tone to the Regent as they rode their horses up the steep, hilly terrain.
They had risen before dawn, The Warrior Princess could have sworn Apollo's chariot began it's daily journey through the sky quite a bit earlier than any other morning, but that could have just been her own wishing. As the first rays of light made there way to the forest floor, the Amazon warriors started to comb the ground for signs of riders or Gabrielle's elusive beads.
"You mean to say Gabrielle actually talked to you...answered you?" Ephiny asked in amazement.
"I can't give you any proof, Eph, only that it wasn't a dream, it was as real as you are to me now. She said they were still heading up into the hills and that she hadn't been hurt yet. The best news was that Kirren had her blindfolded."
The Regent caught on quickly. "Why would you blindfold someone you're going to kill later?"
"Right!" Xena replied, excitedly. "It only makes sense to blindfold someone if you're going to let them go so they can't return to your hideout."
"Our big problem right now is that they have a heck of a lead on us and they know where they're going, we don't. We might be able to catch a break if Gabrielle can leave some more signs." The warrior finished.
As if on cue, Kesta came barreling down the slope farther to their right. As she neared Xena and the Regent, she held her hand aloft, showing off her prize.
"We're on the wrong path...I found one of the beads!" The Amazon shouted.
The warriors pulled up and cursed the delay, but thanked Artemis for their good fortune. Finally finding the path Gabrielle had obviously taken, they began finding beads spaced out every quarter of a league or so. They came to a flat open area nestled in the hills; the trampled space told the warriors that this was where Gabrielle's captors had spent the night. Continuing their ascent up the mountain slope, the group found two more of the bard's beads.
The pace Xena and the Amazons had been keeping was relentless. As they began to close in the captors, Xena began to worry more about Gabrielle. The warrior knew that if they came bursting through the underbrush on horseback, the first thing Kirren would do is slit Gabrielle's throat...she would have nothing to lose by not doing it. Please Artemis...she's your chosen. Keep Gabrielle safe.
"Do you need anything else?" Devlin's warm voice asked the young Queen.
"Um...a trip to the bushes would be nice." Gabrielle said, not knowing why she was suddenly becoming embarrassed at this point.
Devlin guided the woman by her elbow, careful to lead her around the fallen trees. After they had walked a sufficient distance from the camp, the warrior reached over to untie both her wrists.
Gabrielle delighted in the freedom and rotated and massaged the joints to get the blood flowing again. The warrior made no move to remove the blindfold and Gabrielle assumed that rule was still in effect. She was surprised however when the warrior led her into the forest instead of dumping her at the side of the road as Kirren had done.
"I'm going to turn around so you can have a little privacy, Gabrielle. I know it's not much and I apologize, but I need to make you aware of two things. If I let you escape, I forfeit my life to Kirren..."
"And, the other thing?" Gabrielle asked, surprised by the warrior's apparent honesty.
She could feel the tall warrior leaning in toward her. Grasping the bard's hands in her own strong grasp Devlin pulled the bard against her till the young woman could feel the warrior's breath on her ear.
"I have extremely good hearing...don't do anything foolish." Devlin returned.
Gabrielle's skin broke out in goose bumps at the tone of the warrior's voice. It was very nearly a whisper, but still strong and commanding. She's not a nut case like Kirren, but I bet she'd still cut me down where I stand.
Gabrielle nodded her understanding and felt the warrior turn away, hearing Devlin's footsteps stop a short distance away. She wasn't going to look a gift horse in the mouth, but she wondered about the woman who was as gentle with her as her own warrior, but obviously worked for a cruel, sadistic woman.
When Gabrielle was led back to their camp she could hear the snoring sound of men asleep. They had ridden hard and were now taking a short nap before traveling through the night. Gabrielle was exhausted herself and quickly fell asleep on the blanket Devlin had provided.
Feeling as though she had just closed her eyes, the bard woke to a thunderous grinding sound. It felt as if the ground were shaking beneath her as she wondered if they were in the middle of an earthquake.
"Devlin?" she called out.
"I'm right here, Gabrielle. It's nothing to be frightened of, don't worry." The warrior answered.
"What is that noise?" The bard asked.
"Gabrielle, it would probably be best if you didn't ask any questions from here on. Come on," the warrior said as she guided the bard to her feet and helped her mount a horse that seemed much further off the ground than Kirren's mount was.
The party moved out and Gabrielle felt a cool dampness on her skin. The ground they traveled across seemed flatter than the hilly slopes they'd been riding up and down. The bard had actually begun to grow accustomed to not having her site. She seemed to hear so much more now. The beat of the horses hooves sounded like it was being echoed around them, and the faraway drip of water seemed to tell the bard they were in some sort of cave. Gabrielle could even hear the creak of leather coming from the warrior's armor, behind her.
She had slept so little in the last couple days; her mind started to grow fuzzy. She began to worry that she had no other way to leave a trail for Xena to follow since she had used up all the beads on the bracelet. As her thoughts carried her toward the comfortable feeling of her warrior's strong arms around her, she drifted off to sleep.
"I don't understand it," Ephiny said for perhaps the third time.
The Regent indicated the trampled area where the captors had obviously made camp, along with the numerous horse tracks that littered the area. They were fast losing the light of the day, but it looked like all signs of the party simply vanished. Scouts had circled the area again and again, but were unable to pick up any additional tracks. It was if the group had flown away entirely.
"It has to be intervention from a God, then." Eponin said. "But, Gabrielle is Artemis' chosen...what God would be foolish enough to go against her?"
Xena's skin crawled with the knowledge.
"There's only one God I know who would be that arrogant. Ares..." The warrior drawled out.
A spark of light grabbed the Amazons attention and in another instant they were looking at the God of War himself.
"Ah, Xena...I knew you'd call for me sooner or later." Ares said as he stared appreciatively at the warrior.
"I wasn't calling you at all, Ares. What have you done with Gabrielle?" Xena asked.
"Me?" The God asked innocently, "I haven't touched her." He finished smugly.
"Then it's one of your little followers. You put Kirren up to this, didn't you...Why?"
"Xena...aren't you forgetting, my dear. Kirren is one of your little followers, not mine."
A flicker of pain crossed Xena's face as she thought about the implications of the statement.
"Where are they going, Ares?" Xena asked in a steady, even voice.
"Hmmm, let's see...I really don't know, but I suppose I could make a few inquiries on the irritating little blonde's behalf. It'll cost you, though, Xena." He whispered over her shoulder.
Ephiny watched as the God of War came up behind Xena, stroking her arm tenderly. The Regent also saw the warrior's muscles jump at the God's touch. Ares dropped his voice until it was a low, seductive whisper.
"You know what I want in return, Xena. I want you by my side once again. I'll give you an army of your own and you can demand exactly the kind of revenge you want against Kirren. You know you want to. After all, she's got your beloved Gabrielle, doesn't she?"
Again the pain visibly washed across the warrior's features.
"Give it up, Ares...it's never going to happen." Xena said firmly.
"Oh, really? Even if I could deliver little Gabrielle into your arms this very minute...now, wouldn't that be worth it? Wouldn't you join me for the sake of the woman you say you love" Ares purred the words into Xena's ear.
The warrior's brow furrowed together at the battle going inside her brain. Wouldn't she do anything to save Gabrielle's life, even die for her?
"Dying is easy, warrior...would you live for her?"
Hecuba's admonition came back to her.
"I think, if there was no other way...if it would save Gabrielle's life...or if it would keep her from harm..." a sharp stab of pain clutched at Xena's heart as she said the words. "Yes...I think if it would keep her safe...I would leave her."
The words passed through the warrior's head and she felt the pain again as it clutched at her heart. Did she love Gabrielle enough to do this for her...give up to Ares?
"Love is an emotion, Xena, and it can fool you ...Love can be used against you, to trick you into giving up everything you hold dear. You will only end up hurting yourself, the one you love, and even others around you,"
Xena looked up into Ephiny's eyes. The Regent stood there waiting to hear Xena's answer to the God of War; her hand involuntarily went to the hilt of the sword at her waist. Ephiny held her breath, silently praying she would not have to carry out the promise she had made to the warrior the night before.
Xena smiled the same bittersweet smile that Ephiny has seen on the woman's face last night. It was easy to tell the dark-haired warrior thought of only one thing.
"No deal, Ares," Xena said the words as she looked into the Regent's eyes.
"What?!" Ares bellowed. "Do you know what you're refusing?"
"Yes, Ares, I do. If I say no to you there's every chance that Gabrielle may die, but if I join you it will kill her just as surely as any blade would, maybe not all at once, but a little bit every day, until the inevitable happens."
Ares face began to turn red in his anger as he leaned close to the Warrior Princes, but spoke loud enough to be heard by the rest of the Amazons.
"Just remember this, Xena...if you say no to me, she'll still die a little at a time, I can guarantee you that. I'll let that psycho bitch torture your precious Gabrielle, one drop of blood at a time until you won't even recognize the body that's left!"
Tears streaked the warrior's face as Ares left a burst of smoke and flame in his wake as he transported himself away. Sinking slowly to one knee, Xena shook her head.
"Eph...what have I done?"
"Something Gabrielle would be proud of," The Regent answered.
Gabrielle felt her body jerk forward as she woke and Devlin's protective hand reached out to steady her. Suddenly the ground beneath the horse's hooves changed from the solid sound of the ground to the click that their shoes made on brick. The bard soon found herself being helped down from the huge mount and being led through a number of stairwells and hallways. The sounds around her were reminiscent of the castles she had been in, but she knew of no fortresses up in the northern hills.
"She's your problem while she's here," the bard heard Kirren say. "Make sure she doesn't get into trouble...or you know who pays the price, don't you, Devlin?"
"Yes, mistress," Devlin's stiff voice answered.
Kirren turned to the warrior. "How is it Devlin that that you're the only one around here that can make 'yes, mistress' always sound like fuck you?" Kirren asked.
"I don't know, mistress," the warrior answered, a hint of amusement in the tone of her voice.
"You'll have to head back out immediately...that damned warrior tracked us faster than I thought." Kirren's voice went on, ignoring the warrior's comment.
She always manages to sound like she's pissed off at somebody, Gabrielle thought to herself.
Devlin silently led Gabrielle along more halls, carefully guiding her through a door that the warrior shut behind them. Devlin began to untie the bard's wrists, tossing the rope away.
"Close your eyes and only open them a little at a time until they become used to the light." Devlin instructed.
Gabrielle felt the blindfold being lifted off her eyes and did as she was instructed.
"Wow, that feels better, thanks," she said to the warrior's back.
Devlin turned toward the bard and Gabrielle couldn't help staring. The warrior was slightly taller than Xena with broad shoulders and muscular arms. She wore a sword strapped to her back and leather and brass covered her chest, abdomen, back, and shoulders. A chain mail cape was attached to her shoulder protectors, thick bracers covered both forearms, and she wore one leather glove, presumably on her sword hand. She wore a white shirt under her armor and brown brushed leather pants, that tucked into knee high boots.
The warrior ran her fingers through her sun bleached locks a little self consciously under Gabrielle's frank gaze. It wasn't the warrior's close-cropped hair that Gabrielle stared at, but her eyes. The color of blue cornflowers, of her own lover's eyes, stared back at the bard.
A pounding on the door interrupted the two women.
"Enter," the warrior said cautiously.
A young woman of perhaps fifteen summers entered the room.
"Good, Lara...this is Gabrielle." The young girl gave a tentative smile in Gabrielle's direction.
"She needs a hot bath and a good dinner. Can you take care of that for me?" The young girl nodded her head.
Devlin was busy throwing some things into a small leather bag as she talked.
"And, let Attius bring it all down here. I don't want you coming into this end of the castle without me here, allright?" Again the girl nodded her head and hurried out the door.
"Are these your quarters?" Gabrielle asked as she looked around at the comfortable surroundings.
"Yes, you should find it suitable for your stay, though."
Another knock and a soldier Gabrielle recognized from the group that had kidnapped her entered the room.
"The mistress wants you to bring the Amazon to the map room." He repeated Kirren's order.
"We're right behind you," Devlin answered.
Devlin and Gabrielle followed along behind the soldier and the warrior leaned over to whisper in the bard's ear.
"Remember, Gabrielle...Kirren isn't a woman to be fooled with. If you want to go on to live a long life, do what she says immediately and without question. Can you handle that?"
Gabrielle searched the blue eyes that held her own and silently nodded her head.
"Long time, no see...sit" Kirren commanded as soon as Gabrielle stepped into the room.
Kirren indicated a seat at a table where a parchment, ink, and a quill had been laid out. Gabrielle did as ordered and looked from Kirren to Devlin, watching the way the blue-eyed warrior's jaw clenched in anger when she thought Kirren wasn't watching her.
"You are going to write a little note to your Warrior Princess. As you can see I've already added the particulars about how she and I will meet on the battlefield, one fortnight from today. What's going to get her here is knowing the fact that you are alive and well. So do your little bard thing and write a brief message telling her you're safe."
Gabrielle made a move to pick up the quill and felt her wrist locked in Kirren's iron grip.
"Don't even think about sending any kind of a hidden message, your highness, or I'll know!" Kirren whispered.
Gabrielle felt like writing Dear Mother, Athens is nice, wish you were here, but the bard remembered Devlin's warning and didn't think Kirren would get the joke. She'd probably just plunge the quill into my heart. I bet Devlin would get it, though.
At that thought the bard looked up to find Devlin watching her with a face as impassive as ever, but her blue eyes smiled as if she could read the bard's thoughts. Kirren's voice made the bard jump.
"It doesn't have to be fucking Socrates, just tell her you're allright!"
Gabrielle tried to be as succinct as possible. She believed what Kirren told her about hidden messages, but she was a bard after all and could make a market list sound like high drama. The bard could only pray to Artemis that Xena had a good memory. She handed the parchment to Kirren and the tall woman read it over and over.
"Looks safe enough. Do you have a ring or a signet with you...something with your seal on?" Kirren questioned.
Gabrielle thought for a second and held her pendant up. Rolling the parchment up, Kirren tilted a candle until the warm wax dripped onto the scroll. Holding it out for the bard, Gabrielle pressed the hearts into the pliable wax.
"Signed and sealed," Kirren said as she handed it to Devlin, who took the note and carefully placed it inside the leather across her chest.
"Come, on, Gabrielle...I'll take you back downstairs." Devlin said, motioning for the bard to rise.
"Guard!" Kirren shouted. "Take her back," she motioned to the soldier who leered openly at Gabrielle, then to Devlin she continued. "I need to go over something with you."
The blue-eyed warrior frowned as Gabrielle was led away.
Devlin quickly made her way through the hidden passages of the castle, arriving at the open door to her quarters just in time to see one soldier holding Gabrielle's arms behind her back as the other prepared to rip her top from her body. His eye caught the large pendant and he moved to grab the prize. A searing pain came from the piece of jewelry and shot into his hand.
"It burned me," he howled in pain.
The other soldier roughly turned Gabrielle's body to face him and made a grab for the piece. He jerked back with the same reaction as soon as he touched the pendant, blisters popping up on the tips of his fingers.
"I think she's a witch," Devlin said casually walking into the room.
The three turned to look at the warrior, Gabrielle still slightly unnerved by the soldiers reactions to her pendant, and the soldiers moving behind Devlin as if for protection. The warrior turned toward the first soldier and looked at his fingers with concern.
"I've seen them shrivel up and fall over from this kind of magic." Devlin said. "Actually...I wouldn't be surprised if something else didn't shrivel up and drop off," she finished looking at the soldier's crotch.
A look like terror planted itself on both men's faces as they bolted for the door.
Devlin chuckled at the sight and asked Gabrielle if she was allright.
"You aren't a witch...are you?" she said with a slight grin.
"No! I can't understand...I mean I have no idea what happened. Xena gave me this necklace."
"Maybe she put a spell on it?" The warrior said thoughtfully.
Gabrielle smiled at the thought.
"Want to let me in on the joke?" Devlin said, bending down slightly to make eye contact with the bard.
"She put a spell on me allright, but not like you might be thinking." Gabrielle confessed with a blush.
Devlin watched the young woman and a feeling of envy stole over her. She envied this Xena, a warrior she had never met, and her ability to capture the heart of a woman such as Gabrielle.
"Well, I'm off to meet with this warrior of yours." Devlin lowered her voice to a whisper, "Do you have a message for her?"
A thousand words ran through the bard's mind, but as she reached the palm of her hand up to cover the pendant on her chest, she chose only four, "she holds my heart. Please, tell her that she holds my heart."
Another twinge of envy shot through the warrior as she nodded her head and pulled a key from a pouch at her waist. "Keep this main door locked, although I don't think any more of the soldiers will be bothering you," she said with a smile. "By the way, what does this warrior who holds your heart look like?"
"Tall, beautiful, piercing blue eyes," Gabrielle said, blushing slightly as she looked up into the blue gaze of Devlin's stare.
Moving to open the door at the sound of a knock, Devlin allowed a man into the room, two buckets of steaming water in his hands. Walking to the back of the room, the warrior pulled the curtains apart that separated the bathing area from the rest of the room. The older man seemed to possess an unseen strength as he easily dumped the contents of each bucket into a large wooden tub.
"Gabrielle, this is Attius...if you need anything at all, just ask him. He'll come down a few times a day to bring you food and check on you. Attius, my friend...this is just between us, eh? We wouldn't want the mistress to find out, would we?"
The warrior flashed a charming smile and Gabrielle wondered how many other workers in the castle defied Kirren's wishes for a glimpse of the blue-eyed warrior's smile.
"I'll be gone the better part of two days, Gabrielle. Please, your highness," Devlin added with a small grin, "try to stay out of trouble."
Gabrielle thought of her own blue-eyed warrior, and how often Xena had said those very words to her, the bard's heart ached to see her even as Devlin quietly closed the door.
The Amazon scouts had spent the last day and a half traveling for leagues in every direction. Xena even began retracing their route; second-guessing the beads they thought had been a sign from the young Queen. It was midday, and the Warrior Princess rode into the Amazon camp at the base of the huge cliff. At the bottom of the solid face of rock had been where they last saw the tracks made by Gabrielle's captors.
The rest of the group argued that since Ares was obviously a part of Gabrielle's abduction; he could have just transported the whole group to some, unknown to them, destination. Xena had to explain that wasn't the way the God of War operated. Even to get her back. Transporting individuals, yes, but she had never heard of whole groups of people at a time.
Two Amazons rode up just as Xena dismounted, fatigue showing in the way the warrior carried herself. She pulled Argo's saddle off and let the horse graze the area, the mare deserving a rest.
"Riders approaching, warrior," the scouts shouted in Xena's direction. "They carry a flag of truce."
Xena jumped up just as a blonde haired warrior, flanked by two of Kirren's soldiers, rode into their camp. Ephiny saw the look in Xena's eyes and she went to the warrior's side.
"Xena, let's at least hear them out." The Regent said.
Devlin would have known the Warrior Princess without Gabrielle's description. Xena stood a head taller than any of the Amazons around her, and she was indeed beautiful. If the stories about her were true, however, Devlin had to wonder what it was about the woman that was capable of holding on to a heart as pure as Gabrielle's.
"You are the Warrior Princess?" Devlin asked. She hadn't bothered with an answer before continuing, which was good considering Xena wasn't answering. "Here's my show of good faith," Devlin finished, tossing Gabrielle's sealed parchment toward the warrior.
Xena caught the parchment, never releasing the mounted rider's gaze. The warrior prided herself in being able to judge someone's heart simply by looking into their eyes. What Xena saw surprised her. She saw no malice or evil in the eyes the color of her own.
Finally looking down at the scroll in her hand, Xena tenderly drew a finger across the wax seal. Gabrielle's pendant had been used; it's indentation staring back up at the warrior. Breaking open the seal, Xena read the words from Kirren and a small note at the bottom in Gabrielle's own handwriting.
Devlin relaxed slightly as Xena read the note. The blond warrior barely turned her head as Xena handed the scroll to an Amazon standing next to her. Too quick for Devlin to stop her, Xena jumped up and jabbed her fingers into the warrior's neck. Devlin felt her muscles go weak, falling from her horse, as she struggled to pull air into her lungs.
"I've just cut off the flow of blood to your brain...another thirty seconds and you'll be dead. Tell me why I shouldn't just kill you right here?"
Devlin squeezed her eyes shut and tried to focus. Kirren had told her about this particular ability of the warrior's, but nothing could have prepared her for the feel of imminent death such as this.
"If...I don't...come back...Gab...ri...elle...is dead." Devlin rasped.
Xena seemed torn, but once again jabbed at the warrior's neck and Devlin sucked in a huge mouthful of air. Wiping the blood from her nose the warrior sank the rest of the way to her knees, trying to compose herself.
"Why in a fortnight?" Ephiny asked Devlin.
"It should take you that long to get to the arranged meeting spot," Devlin said hoarsely.
"Then how is it Kirren will kill Gabrielle if you don't make it back?" Xena asked without looking at the kneeling warrior.
"I didn't say we were keeping Gabrielle at the meeting spot...only that Kirren wants to fight you there."
"Why there, then?" Ephiny questioned again.
This time Xena answered. "Because it's where I defeated her the first time."
Devlin nodded her head with a sad smile. Mounting her horse once again, Devlin looked back at the warrior. "Don't follow me...any deviation from the instructions will end in your Queen's death, and I think we both know, warrior, that it will not be a quick death."
Devlin turned her horse and ordered the soldiers to move out ahead of her. The two men rode ahead and Devlin very quickly leaned down from her saddle and spoke to Xena.
"I have a personal message from Gabrielle...she says that you hold her heart, Xena. Is there an answer?"
Devlin's eyes darted toward the two soldiers who rode on ahead of her; still Xena could see no sign of betrayal in the blond warrior's sparkling eyes. Something akin to jealousy quickly passed through Xena's mind as she thought of this warrior with eyes as blue as her own, delivering her message.
"Tell her if I hold her heart, then she belongs to me...and. I'll let no one take what is mine!" Xena growled the last part of the message.
"I have a feeling she already knows that, warrior, but I'll tell her just the same." Devlin smiled and turned her mount away, confident that she would not be followed.
Their options were dwindling in a hurry. The group could simply start on their way inland, according to Kirren's instructions and Xena could battle Kirren. Ephiny reminded Xena that the former assassin wouldn't be challenging the Warrior Princess unless she were fairly confident she had the ability to beat her. And, they still had Ares to contend with, so they were pretty sure this wouldn't be a fair fight. The way Xena left it with Ares, it was a sure bet he wasn't just going to let the warrior walk off with Gabrielle once she defeated Kirren. The only thing they could do was to hope to find Gabrielle before the match and rescue her from where ever Kirren's stronghold was.
Xena was convinced Gabrielle would have hidden some kind of message as to where to find her, in the scroll. Of course, Kirren would read it so it had to be part of the bard's message.
"Gabrielle is smart that way...she'd find some way." Xena said.
They had spent nearly two candlemarks, Eponin, Ephiny, and Xena, all trying to decipher what the bard might have meant in her note to Xena.
"Okay she tells you she's okay and Kirren hasn't hurt her...nothing much there. What about this last line...I haven't been this nervous since the day I entered Academy in Athens?" Eponin asked.
"That must be it...it's the only line that means something to you and nobody else," Ephiny added.
Xena looked at the parchment as if she could gather her memory from the bard's handwriting. "It must mean something because I don't remember her being nervous. I mean, she was excited; we were a little sad at separating. Just a little sad, warrior? Do you remember the feeling in the pit of your stomach when she said she'd be away four or five years?
"Gabrielle told me about the competition at the Academy," Ephiny smiled, remembering the time Gabrielle had confessed that she had to lie to get enrolled in the first place. "If I remember, she said you went off to fight a Cyclops in a neighboring town and she went to the Academy."
Xena looked up at the two Amazons. The warrior certainly wasn't used to revealing her feelings to anyone but Gabrielle, especially not feelings that were about Gabrielle. She needed their input, however, if she was going to figure out the riddle that her bard had left her.
"Well, the truth is...I guess I was having a little bit of a hard time letting Gabrielle walk out of my life. I kept telling myself I had to let her follow her dreams, but...I didn't tell Gabrielle I was in love with her back then. I wasn't sure what I felt was real." Xena was afraid to look either of the women in the eye.
As for Ephiny and Eponin, the two Amazons had never heard Xena string so many words together at one time in their presence. They were awed and honored at the same time.
"Xena," Eponin said placing a hand on the warrior's shoulder. We're not here to judge you about the past. Why don't you just tell us the story and see if anything new comes back to you."
Xena gave the best effort at a smile she could under the circumstances, and launched into what she could remember.
"I look back on it now and remember acting like an idiot. I wanted to tell Gabrielle how much I cared for her, but the best I could do was tell her I thought of her as a sister."
Eponin rolled her eyes.
"I thought you weren't going to judge," Xena said.
"Sorry," Eponin replied.
"Well, I figured I had to let her do what was right for her so I offered to go with her to Athens. We went around with that a little, I think, but I finally talked her into having me travel to the city with her. I think it took us about three days to get there and that was it."
"That's it? But, the scroll says the day she entered the Academy. What happened the day you arrived in Athens?" Ephiny interjected.
"We didn't actually enter Athens together." Gabrielle, when I get you home, marry you, and finally have you in my arms safe and sound you are gonna owe me so big for this humiliation.
"What, you both went into the city from different directions?" Eponin asked, not following Xena's logic.
"Actually, yes." Xena began to fidget uncomfortably. "Gabrielle doesn't think I went into Athens with her," she finally blurted out. "I left her at the gate, but I--I couldn't do it. So, I followed her all over Athens until she won the competition and decided to catch up with me outside Karamos. It's a good thing I had Argo or she would have beaten me there. I did almost blow it when some nutcase attacked one of the instructors...turns out it was all part of the class."
Actually forgetting why they were hearing this story, Ephiny laughed gently at the warrior's plight. "Xena, what were you going to do if she'd stayed at the Academy; sneak around behind her for five years?"
Xena had temporarily forgotten the reason too as she joined in the other woman's laughter. "To tell you the truth, I hadn't really thought that far ahead."
"Okay so let's start back at the day you followed Gabrielle into Athens...start at the beginning of that day and let's see what we've got that Gabrielle might be pointing us to." Ephiny said.
"Allright," Xena began again, wearily. She closed her eyes and tried to visualize their last day together before Gabrielle left. "I figured this was going to be the last time that I'd see her for a while, so I kind of made it her day. We were camped just on the outskirts of Athens. I woke up early and went fishing for breakfast, as usual Gabrielle was still asleep when I got back so I put the fish on a spit and started some sword drills. Gabrielle woke up and we ate breakfast. We puttered around through the morning and we found a stream that had these freshwater crabs that Gabrielle loves. We made a fire, cooked the crabs up and had lunch. I think we went swimming after lunch...yea, because we were lying out on these great big rocks and Gabrielle fell asleep. I went and caught a few of those disgusting eels she likes and we had an early dinner. That evening she was headed into Athens."
Nearly half a day had gone by and still the three women tried to decipher the message.
"One more time, Xena" Eponin said.
"I can't remember anything else. If I keep repeating it I'm afraid I'll start imaging details that didn't happen!" Xena rubbed her fingers against her temples, trying to fight off the headache that hung on the fringes of her awareness. "I just don't remember. Maybe the note doesn't mean anything...maybe I'm just pushing it because I want something to be there that isn't," she said, her voice heavy with defeat.
The two Amazons saw a side of Xena that few had ever seen before. Her head hung low as tears of frustration started to form in her eyes.
"You know what we're doing, don't you?" Eponin asked with a sudden shake of her head. "We're trying to figure this out as ourselves looking at something Gabrielle gave us. What we should be doing is putting ourselves in Gabrielle's place...think like she thinks."
"Good point, Ep. What would Gabrielle write a clue about?" Ephiny asked.
"She'd write about what she knows," Xena said, warming to this new point of view. "What does Gabrielle equate everything in life to?" The warrior asked aloud.
"Food!" All three women answered good-naturedly. They laughed at themselves, but Xena's eyes narrowed as she thought about this new turn. It seemed as if the other two women had the same thought at the same time.
"Fish for breakfast," Xena said first.
"Crab for lunch," Ephiny added.
"Eel for dinner." Eponin finished.
"She's around fish?" Eponin asked.
"No, she smells fish," Ephiny countered.
Xena smiled as it all fell into place...how could she have been so blind!
"She smells more than fish...she smells the ocean!" The warrior slapped her hands together. "That's my girl! Eph, what's on the other side of this mountain?"
"The Aegean, but how would they have gotten there already? It would take 10 days at best to go around this mountain."
"It would be faster if you went through the mountain," Xena said, jumping to her feet. "I knew there was something bugging me about those tracks. They didn't just up and disappear. They were all facing toward the cliff. There was an opening and they walked in!"
Xena and the Amazons spent the rest of the afternoon and evening on hands and knees, looking for any small piece of twig or rock that was a release for the entrance to the tunnel.
"How do we know it's a trap door thingy and not Ares just opening a hole for them to walk through?" Eponin asked.
"Because, Devlin was adamant about us not following her, and if she wasn't back in what sounded like a day or two, Kirren would kill Gabrielle. I think she used another entrance to this tunnel that leads through the mountain and down to the sea. Somehow I don't picture Ares waiting around to be at everybody's beckon call."
"What about this Devlin? She didn't exactly seem the type to be working for someone like this Kirren." Ephiny went on.
Xena's eyes flashed with jealousy at the mention of Devlin's name.
"I don't know what her story is where Kirren's concerned, but it did seem like she was trying to protect Gabrielle," Xena said reluctantly.
Xena was abruptly thrown from the rock she had crawled across while grasping at a tree branch that looked old and rotten. The branch had been the lever and a thunderous sound filled the air. The Amazons scattered from the rock face and simply stood staring at the enormous tunnel before them.
"Good Gods!" Eponin exclaimed.
Xena smiled an evil sort of smile as she turned back to the Regent.
"We've got some plans to make." Xena said as she continued to smile.
"Well, I have to say, you feed your captives well around here," Gabrielle said to Devlin, green eyes flashing with laughter.
The warrior had arrived back at the castle to find that the bard had taken her advice and kept a low profile. They had just finished an enormous meal, the tall warrior was amazed at the amount of food the young woman was able to secret away.
Devlin looked under the table, a suspicious glint in her eye.
"What?" Gabrielle said, finally leaning back in her chair to relax.
"Just wondering if you had a dog under there," Devlin deadpanned.
Gabrielle's quick laughter attacked Devlin's senses and felt like nothing the warrior had ever experienced before. Again, she thought of the dark-haired warrior and what magic could possibly be invoked to make a heart such as Gabrielle's bind with the heart of a warrior with such a dark past.
Gabrielle felt the weight of Devlin's stare and took another sip of her wine, a slow blush spread across her cheeks. She wasn't a stranger to leering looks, but the blue gaze that held her now felt so much like her own warrior's. She thought of Xena and her eyes closed, the corners of her mouth curling upward.
"A dinar for your thoughts," the warrior interrupted.
Gabrielle abruptly opened her eyes and the warrior watched the blush deepen.
"Ah, let me guess," Devlin said, pouring another cup of wine. "Your Warrior Princess."
When Gabrielle nodded, the warrior's eyes took on a serious expression. Leaning her elbows on the table to move in closer to the young woman seated across from her, Devlin finally asked the question aloud.
"What is it, Gabrielle? What is it that makes a woman like you able to love a warrior whose past is as black as pitch?"
Gabrielle didn't know at first whether to be flattered or offended at the warrior's question. She was always flattered when someone thought it was she who was the special one in her relationship with Xena. Her natural defenses went up, however when someone brought up the past that Xena was trying so hard to redeem herself of.
The young Queen looked up into Devlin's azure gaze and suddenly realized the double meaning of the question. She had wondered only briefly at the blonde-haired warrior's own past; at the kind of memories the gentle warrior was tormented by. Now she knew the warrior was not only inquiring as to her relationship with Xena, but also what kind of hope there was for her own heart.
"Two bodies, one soul," Gabrielle said as she launched into the tale of Soulmates, for her audience of one.
"We'll have to go on foot," Xena explained, "I don't like the time it will cost us, but we'll be too easy to hear coming through there on horseback." The warrior, along with the Amazon leaders, looked at a map of the terrain between Amphipolis and the Aegean. "If Kirren's stronghold is by the water, then I figure two to three days as the crow flies between this point and the Aegean." Xena finished by pointing to where they were, and across the mountain to the sea.
"I'm more concerned with everyone's physical shape. We're going to have to keep up a pretty fast pace in there. Eph, do you think this bunch is in good enough shape? We've been pushing kind of hard the last few days." Xena questioned, noticing the dark circles under the Regent's eyes.
Ephiny looked up from the map, a tired but determined look on her face. Suddenly the Regent broke out into a smile, "Well, if we're not...they sure are!"
No less that thirty Amazon warriors broke through the clearing, led by Solari. Ephiny took notice of the astonishment on Xena's face.
"I sent for them when we left Amphipolis. I didn't know when they'd get here, but we have our fresh warriors." She finished with a smile.
"Then we go in two groups," Xena said, her own heart lifting at the sight of the women. "The freshest warriors first, we'll make better time. Eph, I'll want you to lead the second group."
Ephiny saw the logic in the warrior's words and nodded. "As long as you take Eponin and Solari in the first group. I'd feel better that way."
Xena nodded and they began to form two groups. The first would start along at a run, Ephiny's group, comprised of the original warriors, would follow at a slower pace, giving them a little time to rest. Xena cautioned the Amazons about noise and demonstrated how she wanted their weapons fastened down so as not to make any clanging sounds as they ran. Torches were lit and the first group stood at the massive entrance to the tunnel.
"Well, Ep...got your running boots on?" Xena said with a determined smile.
"Five dinars I get there first!" The warrior returned, as they led the way into the dark passage at a quick jog.
Devlin was entranced by the young Queen's ability to tell a tale. She had heard bards all over the known world, but none could compare to the woman seated across from her
Suddenly the door to the warrior's quarters flew open and Kirren strode quickly through the entrance. Her eyes flashed angrily as Devlin stood to intercept the woman. Kirren stopped in front of the taller warrior and pulled her arm back. She hit Devlin across the face with an open handed slap that would have thrown Gabrielle across the room. Devlin, the young Queen noticed, had her hands clenched into fists, her arms seemingly shaking under her control. She whipped her head back toward Kirren, but not before Gabrielle saw the electric blue fire that raged in her eyes. Still, the warrior never raised a hand to the angry woman before her.
"You were followed," Kirren spat out.
"That is impossible," the warrior said between clenched teeth.
"Well, the scouts in the tunnel were attacked by a bunch of Amazons! The one that made it back alive said they were in the main passage, a day away."
"They didn't get there by following me," the warrior repeated.
Impatiently, Kirren looked around the room and seemed to see Gabrielle for the first time. The young Queen thought about returning the look with a haughty stare of her own, but thought better considering the mood Kirren was in. Gabrielle lowered her eyes, but could still feel the weight of the woman's scrutiny.
Looking back at Devlin, Kirren said harshly, "Come with me!"
Once outside the door to Devlin's quarters, Kirren slammed the door shut and turned to the warrior.
"This speeds everything up. Have the army ready by dawn; we'll leave for the meeting place before they even get here. I want every available soldier to go with us. I'll not only kill Xena, but her precious Amazon friends too!"
"You still plan on battling Xena alone, then?" Devlin asked.
"Yes," Kirren answered looking as if she were lost in thought. "Except I think I might just want to give her a little more incentive to fight her hardest. We're going to get Xena on that battlefield alone to make the exchange for her little bard. I want you at the top of the rise with the Amazon brat, far enough away so no one can get to you, but close enough so Xena can see you and Gabrielle. When I give you the signal...I want you to slit her throat."
At first Devlin thought she had heard Kirren incorrectly, but then she looked at the woman's face. Kirren's evil grin and the bloodlust in her eye made the warrior's heart go ice cold. Not Gabrielle...please, not this.
"But...I thought you said you only wanted the Warrior Princess...you said--"
"I changed my mind!" Kirren snapped. "I don't need to remind you, who will pay the price if you disobey me, do I Devlin?"
"No, mistress," the warrior answered with a sigh of defeat.
Gabrielle watched as the warrior walked back into the room. Devlin went directly to the table; the two had been seated at earlier, and downed her cup of wine in two gulps. She seated herself rather wearily and ran a tired hand through her short hair.
Gabrielle felt her future within the warrior's actions. She wasn't going to comment on what had just transpired, but the young Queen felt she had nothing further to lose.
"From what I know of warriors, they don't submit to another's will very easily." Gabrielle commented.
"No, as a rule they don't." Devlin said heavily.
Gabrielle decided to wade right in. "Then what does Kirren use to control you?"
Devlin had suddenly become too tired for games and innuendo. Her mind strayed to the sleepy little fishing village she grew up in.
"She keeps a garrison of soldiers outside my home village of Tarynth. In exchange for ten years of my life, she lets them live. If I refuse or disobey she'll slaughter the entire village. My mother, sisters, my friends...the people I grew up with..." Devlin trailed off.
"She plans on killing me, doesn't she?" Gabrielle asked, fearing the answer.
Devlin looked into the green depths of Gabrielle's eyes and realized there would be no redemption for her now; not after this. "Yes," the warrior answered.
"And, you'll do it?" The young Queen sounded surprised.
"What would you have me do, Gabrielle? You, a woman whose heart is filled with a light that soldiers like me can only dream of, what would you have me do? You speak of the greater good. Do I release you in exchange for the fifty lives of my people? Does your life outweigh theirs?" The warrior asked a hint of desperation in her voice.
Gabrielle looked at the warrior whose choices in life seemed more than any mortal should have to bear. Once again, Devlin reminded the young woman of her own warrior. Wasn't there a time when Xena had questioned what she had become? When she attempted to break free of the cycle of violence and hate that she felt she was trapped in? What would have happened to Xena if the young bard hadn't entered her life? Was it fair to condemn Devlin when she had no one to trust and believe in her...to love her as Gabrielle had done for her dark-haired warrior?
"No, Devlin," Gabrielle looked up at the warrior, tears burning into her own eyes, "I won't have innocent people lose their lives in my place."
The warrior continued to stare at the young woman for a long time after that until she rose from her chair and left the room, knowing the action she took would mean another innocent life she would have to pay for.
"Arrrgghhhh," the soldier gasped as the life began to leave his body. "They're gone..."
Xena watched as a thin trickle of blood made it's way from the soldier's nose. Another twenty seconds.
"When and where?" Xena asked, not believing the castle was virtually empty. Ten seconds.
"Y-Y-Yesterday morning...dawn...to the old...battlefield...please, I-I..." Xena jabbed at the fallen man's neck, releasing the pressure point. Two seconds to spare.
Xena and the other Amazons slumped to the floor in exhaustion. They had run for nearly two straight days to get to Kirren's hidden fortress, only to find that Gabrielle's captors were again a day ahead of them.
"We'll wait for Ephiny to catch up," was all Xena said aloud as she leaned her head against the coolness of the brick wall, closing her eyes before tears of anger and frustration could spill out.
Walking through the field sent chills up the bard's spine, even on horseback. The grassy plains were still littered with the bones of dead soldiers; most of their weapons and armor left untouched by mercenaries. When Xena had started out as a Warlord it was her intent to protect her homeland, and after nearly ten years the battlefield still stood as a reminder that the people of Amphipolis would not be conquered easily.
Gabrielle had become resigned to her fate, with the grace and dignity of a Queen, she merely requested some writing supplies from the blonde warrior who still acted as protector. Devlin's tent sat slightly apart from the rest of the encampment, another sign that she would never truly be one of them. Her eyes no longer held the sparkle of amusement when they looked at the bard, but rather the sad determination of a warrior on a slow path toward Tartaurus. Gabrielle stayed in the large tent alone when the warrior was away, spending her hours filling scrolls that Devlin had given her word to see delivered upon the Queen's death.
It had become a waiting game now and the whole camp hummed with nervous tension as they awaited the Warrior Princess and her Amazon Army.
Xena led the Amazons along the ridge overlooking the old battlefield. The only thing that this field haunted was the warrior's memories. Xena had not wished to walk among the bones of the Romans she had killed, she preferred to keep her eyes straight ahead and focus on Gabrielle. That task became difficult, however when she saw the tattered battle standard wave in the breeze. It was a hard mark to miss, the black and purple mark of the Destroyer of Nations.
So it was, that three candlemarks after the Amazons had set up camp, a rider came forward with instructions for the Warrior Princess.
"Xena this is crazy...you can't go alone." Ephiny paced back and forth inside the command tent.
"If I don't do everything exactly the way Kirren wants, she'll kill Gabrielle. I think we just need to focus on that right now." Xena said adjusting her armor as she stood.
"And if Ares makes good on his threat to go ahead and kill Gabrielle?" Ephiny asked.
Xena's brow furrowed and the blue of her eyes turned cold and pale. "Then there won't be a safe enough place for him to hide from me. I'll track him down until the halls of Mount Olympus run red with his blood!" The warrior hissed between clenched teeth.
There was no other way to get to where Kirren sat astride her horse, soldiers on either flank. Xena made her way through the sprawled out bones of the men she had taken down that day. The warrior raised an eyebrow at Kirren's childish tactics. If Kirren thought she could wage a war of nerves with the Warrior Princess, she was mistaken.
"Well, Xena...glad to see you made it. I thought maybe you didn't want your little Amazon very much. Bet it was quite a surprise when you got to the castle and there was nobody home?" She said smirking.
Xena simply glared at the woman until she fidgeted uncomfortably in her saddle.
Kirren made a motion with her left hand and pointed in the direction of the rise about 200 feet to Xena's left.
Devlin and Gabrielle made their way up the hill on horseback. As soon as Gabrielle looked down and saw Xena looking up, the young woman's heart stopped. If this was to be the last vision of her warrior it was fitting. This is how she would always remember her lover.
Xena sat astride Argo, her head and back erect as she threw stares filled with intimidation at those around her, a powerful figure in her leather and armor. Looking up to the rise, the Warrior Princess cast an ice blue gaze up the hill. It was as if the power between the two women was a physical entity, the warrior's cold, and forbidding stare locking on her bard. Then, in only a heartbeat's time, the iciness of the warrior's eyes began to melt. It was as if a fire of enormous proportions burned out of control and the pale blue ice melted into deep azure pools.
Gabrielle was lost in the sensations and never felt the small pin prick in the back of her neck.
"There's your little Amazon, Xena," Kirren said pulling Xena's focus toward her again.
"I'll fight you...let her go," Xena commanded.
"Well, there's just one problem with that...I want to fight you at dawn tomorrow and I just don't think I can trust you till then. So here's the deal. Gabrielle gets to walk down that hill to her precious Amazons as long as you give up your weapons and stay here for the night."
"This wasn't part of the deal," Xena snapped.
"The deal is whatever I say it is!" Kirren shot back. "Now do you want your bard back or do I have her skinned alive right now?"
Xena looked around her and weighed her chances against the surrounding soldiers, judging the distance between herself and Gabrielle.
"Look Xena...I only want to fight you...no tricks, a fight to the death. I'm certain I'll be victorious, but I give you my word...I won't lay a hand on Gabrielle." Kirren said sincerely.
Xena slid from Argo's saddle and hit the mare solidly on the rump; the mount quickly galloping off in the direction she came from. Never taking her eyes off Kirren, the warrior surrender her weapons and allowed the men to tie her solidly to a stone column in the middle of the field.
Gabrielle had wanted to scream to Xena that it was all just a trap. Devlin would still kill her, but at least Xena would have a chance at escape. The bard opened her mouth to speak, but couldn't be sure her mouth even opened. Her tongue felt thick and uncooperative. Her muscles began to feel numb, her legs became rubbery and weak, and if not for Devlin's arm around her waist, she would have sunk to the ground.
"Now, that's not so bad is it?" Kirren started to turn her horse away from the immobile warrior.
"What about Gabrielle?" Xena reminded.
"Oh, yes, your little plaything. We almost forgot about her, didn't we?" Kirren leaned out of her saddle toward the bound warrior, "Here's my way of ensuring that you really do try your damnedest to kill me tomorrow and don't just slack off like you did the last time."
Kirren finished and the look in her eye sent a trickle of sweat down the middle of the warrior's back, giving Xena an extremely uncomfortable feeling of foreboding. Kirren raised her hand to her own throat, making an imaginary slicing motion. Xena looked from Kirren, up the rise to Gabrielle.
Devlin stood behind Gabrielle, the smaller woman's body pressed against the warrior's. The dagger was already in the blond warrior's hand, her free hand lifting the bard's chin up to expose her delicate neck. It was fast, but the warrior tied to the column saw it slowly and in extreme detail, details that would play over and over again in her nightmares for many years to come. Devlin's hand sliced the blade across Gabrielle's neck and blood flew from the blade of the dagger as the warrior swept her hand away. The front of Gabrielle's chest quickly covered in the red fluid as the bard slumped to the ground in a heap at Devlin's feet.
The tortured screams that tore through the air sent the horses skittering around nervously. Xena wished she could stop the gut wrenching sounds, until she realized the screams were her own. The warrior bunched her muscles and pulled with the strength of a dozen men on the ropes that held her. Some of the bonds began to pull loose and the soldiers scurried around the madwoman to secure her with more rope.
"Looks like that ought to guarantee you're good and mad," Kirren said, pulling back in her saddle as the warrior attempted to lunge at her, even though the ropes held the thrashing woman's body securely. "I only promised you that I wouldn't lay a hand on her," Kirren said as she spurred her horse away.
Darkness had fallen; the dark-haired warrior slumped over the ties that held her to the single stone column. She was neither unconscious nor awake; her mind swirled in a haze of pain she had previously thought could never reach such heights. Neither Light nor Dark was capable of filling her soul...there was only emptiness.
A stinging slap jerked the warrior's head to one side.
Vacant eyes opened and focused as an animalistic growl was wrenched from deep within the warrior's chest.
Another resounding slap, this time hard enough to rock the warrior's head back against the stone column.
Xena strained against her bonds to reach her tormentor, the cause of all her pain.
"Good, at least you recognize me," Devlin said to the warrior. "Xena listen to me," the warrior quickly glanced around, stepping over the dead body's of the men responsible for guarding the Warrior Princess through the night.
"Gabrielle is not dead." Devlin said slowly, trying to see if the warrior understood her words. "I'm going to free you as a show of good faith, Xena...I prefer you didn't kill me right off. What you saw on that hill was a ruse...Gabrielle is very much alive."
Devlin raised her sword and easily sliced through the ropes that held the woman. Stepping back to prepare herself for an attack from the half-crazed warrior she watched as Xena dropped to one knee, seemingly in pain. Devlin reached for the fallen warrior and felt Xena's fingers shoot out and close around her throat. The warrior wasn't in any hurry; she slowly tightened her grip until Devlin was on her knees, her free hand clutching at the warrior.
"Sh-she's...not...not, dead," Devlin repeated. "Xe-Xena...I still...have...my sword..."
Xena looked down and saw the blonde warrior's sword in her hand, dangerously close to Xena's belly, but Devlin hadn't made a move to use it. The mane of raven hair was thrown back as Xena stood, cascading down her shoulders, as she released the warrior below her.
"I...I gave...her...emetia," Devlin coughed, slowly standing. Xena's eyes held pain and mistrust, but Devlin continued on. "I sealed her body in a basket myself, Kirren's soldiers should be delivering it to the Amazon camp shortly.
Xena didn't need the warrior to explain the effects of emetia to her. A sort of paralyzing substance that slowed the heart down to a point where life was barely sustained. If anyone checked the bard's pulse, she would appear dead.
Scant heartbeats earlier Xena's life had felt over, now this warrior was telling her it was a trick. She didn't want to believe, but a small spark full of hope began to burn in the warrior's heart.
Devlin pulled herself up on the black gelding and offered a hand toward the Warrior Princess. Xena let the small spark take flame as she reached out and hoisted herself upon the horses back.
The timing had been perfect. Devlin and Xena rode into the Amazon camp just after Kirren's two soldiers deposited their basket in front of a stunned Regent. The soldier's bodies were riddled with Amazon arrows, shot after they told the Regent what the basket contained.
The two warriors rode up to Ephiny, Xena vaulting from the horse's back before they had stopped, tearing frantically at the seal on the basket.
"Get a healer," Xena shouted to anyone who would listen, "tell her to bring some valeriana root."
"Gabrielle," Xena moaned, gently lifting the still body from the basket and cradling her lover in her arms.
A sharp intake of breath by Ephiny prompted Devlin's voice.
"It's okay...it's not her blood," she said as she handed the kneeling warrior a damp cloth.
Xena began to wipe the dried blood off of Gabrielle's neck and chest, lovingly caressing her fingers over the bard's neckline, which in reality hadn't a scratch on it.
A young Amazon that Xena had never met knelt on the ground beside the warrior, following Xena's instructions, finally handing her a slice of the musky smelling herb. The warrior put the slice of the root into her mouth, chewing it into a fibrous paste, and carefully spitting the saliva out of her mouth. Cradling the bard's head in her lap, she opened Gabrielle's mouth and inserted the herb between the young woman's cheek and gum, massaging Gabrielle's throat to encourage her to swallow.
Heartbeats went by, but to Xena it felt like days. Emetia wasn't a substance to be taken lightly. Every moment longer than necessary under its influence, was one less chance to recover from its body-altering effects.
"Come on, Brie...swallow for me...come on, baby," Xena felt tears running down her face as she held and rocked the young Queen in her arms on the ground in the middle of the Amazon camp.
A sudden, convulsive intake of breath wracked the young woman's body and her eyes snapped open, not yet focusing on her surroundings. Quickly the warrior pulled the valeriana root from the bard's mouth.
"Gabrielle...Gabrielle?" Xena cradled the young Queen's face in her hands searching for eye contact to assure the warrior that her lover was back.
"Xena...Xe?" Gabrielle started and then unsuccessfully choked back a sob as she recognized the woman who held her.
Gabrielle sobbed as Xena enveloped her in strong arms and rocked her gently; pressing her body hard against the young woman's, praying this wasn't a dream. Xena looked up into the firelight and caught Devlin's misty gaze.
"Thank you," Xena said to the warrior, in a voice hoarse with emotion, "thank you..."
It had been an emotionally charged day for warrior and bard, they lay on a pallet inside Xena's tent, the rest of the evening filled with soft touches and promises of love until Morpheus claimed them both. Physical exhaustion lay heavy on both women and they slept without waking, lying so close to their hearts desire. Even in sleep, Xena's arms stayed wrapped protectively around her young lover.
Apollo's chariot was just beginning its flight, bright shafts of sunlight catching the dark-haired woman's armor and reflecting it back toward the sky. Xena stood with her arms folded as she contemplated the scene in the valley below her. Kirren had over two hundred soldiers preparing for battle on the field where the Destroyer of Nations had pushed Rome back so many seasons ago. This time, like then, the village of Amphipolis was to be the prize.
Kirren had not been amused when she found Devlin and Xena both gone. At dawn her screams could be heard from the hill where the warrior now stood. Xena had gone into 'Warlord Mode', as Gabrielle would call it, calculating the odds and developing strategies for a battle where she was seriously outnumbered. They had perhaps 75 Amazons, not counting herself or Gabrielle. She was determined to keep Gabrielle away from the fighting; it had been too close this last time.
She guessed from the way Kirren set the battleground she would try to attack the Amazon camp in waves, rather than in one prolonged battle. Short bursts of attack were an advantage to the army with the largest numbers. It gave them time to regroup while some could keep fighting. The smaller army didn't have that luxury. Everyone fought or they rested, there weren't enough fighters to keep both going.
Xena tilted her head slightly as she heard the tall warrior dismount.
"Good news for a change," Devlin smiled wryly. "There's a man that just rode into camp, said he's your brother Toris. He had about forty men with him from the villages around Amphipolis, all halfway decent with a sword by the look of them."
"That is good news," Xena said abruptly, moving past the warrior to make her way back to camp. She hadn't known what to say to the woman who had saved their lives, but asked for nothing in return. She owed this woman her life, but she also saw the way Devlin looked at Gabrielle and a feeling of jealousy rose in her again.
"We better finish getting prepared," Xena said stiffly, turning back to Devlin. "It's going to be a long day."
"Xena, I am fine," Gabrielle argued, much like the warrior expected her to.
"Gabrielle, it's not safe, and--" the warrior raised her fingers to the bard's lips to prevent her from responding, "--I'm not just talking about for you, I'm thinking of the warriors who'll fight next to you too. You need a little more time to make sure your body is over the effects of the emetia. You put everyone around you at risk if you're not one hundred percent."
Xena appealed with the only argument she knew would stop the bard, the thought of putting others in jeopardy.
Gabrielle looked angry, then thoughtful, then raised eyes filled with love at her warrior.
"You don't fight fair," she said with a half smile.
Xena relaxed a little and allowed herself a smile. Pulling the bard into her embrace, she kissed the top of the young woman's head.
"I have to fight dirty with you, love...you're too quick for me...otherwise I'd lose every argument." The warrior explained squeezing the woman tighter. "Besides, with all these youngsters," Xena said referring to the Amazons around them, "I really need you back here. That young healer is still just Sartori's apprentice. I doubt she's ever treated anything worse than a hangnail. I'll need you to help her, Brie."
"I really hate it when you make so much sense, you know. It makes it hard to come up with a good argument." Gabrielle said, kissing the warrior's smiling lips.
The first wave of the attack lasted about 3 candlemarks, as it was mostly a test of defense and strategies on the part of the leaders. There were no losses from the Amazon camp, but a number of minor injuries, another reason why short, repeated attacks gave a large army the advantage.
Walking around the encampment again, Xena realized she needed to protect this base camp for the sake of the wounded that would eventually fill the tents Ephiny had ordered erected. Showing a number of warriors what she had in mind, Xena stood back and watched as large spiked poles were interlocked to form a fence like structure around the camp.
Xena walked into the makeshift infirmary and stopped short as she saw a seated Devlin with blood running down her arm, Gabrielle trying to make the uncooperative warrior sit still.
"Gabrielle...it's not that bad," the warrior pleaded.
"It may not be, but it needs stitches, and you might as well let me do it while I have time." Gabrielle commanded.
Devlin resigned herself to the chair and watched the bard clean the long gash on her forearm, just above the bracer. The young woman's touch was gentle, yet powerful at the same time, and the lightheaded feeling that came over the warrior had, she suspected, little to do with the small amount of blood loss.
"Not bad," Devlin remarked, inspecting the small even stitches.
"I get a lot of practice," Gabrielle laughed, tenderly cradling the warrior's arm as she began to wrap a bandage around the wound.
Xena watched the two and the feeling rose in her again. Gabrielle's eyes sparkled as she laughed with the warrior leaving the dark-haired woman to wonder what had really transpired between the two for so many days. This is ridiculous! Gabrielle would never betray our love. The warrior couldn't get the thought out of her head, however. The familiar way the bard touched the wounded warrior set Xena's brain racing faster than her common sense. Would Gabrielle be seduced by a gentle speaking warrior with eyes the color of Xena's own? Could Gabrielle have let another woman turn a small spark of desire into a roaring flame? Would she...could she...had she?
Gabrielle began to feel the weight of a stare and felt a familiar warmth flood her face. She slowly looked up and ran right into the thoughtful frown of her lover, staring hard at the bard, but seemingly lost in her own thoughts. The young Queen knew exactly what that frown indicated in her warrior. After all, hadn't she carried the same look every time a pretty barmaid lingered a little too long while serving the Warrior Princess a drink? Gabrielle quickly looked back at Devlin, looking at her, and was positive that what affected her warrior was simple jealousy.
Xena's gaze remained locked on the bard's, the young woman conveying all she felt within her green eyes. Xena saw it all then. No, Gabrielle would never...could never...she had never. This was the ingredient that had been missing in every relationship the warrior had ever had, before Gabrielle, trust. Trust in their love and in one another. When Xena looked into the young Queen's eyes she saw all of this...trust, love, want, need, and desire. All of this meant only for her and no other. She smiled. The sparkling smile that she reserved only for this beautiful young woman. The smile went straight to the bard's heart.
Xena's smile caught Gabrielle off guard, and she felt her body shiver slightly at the range of emotions this woman could make her feel with only a look and a smile. By the Gods, what she does to me.
Xena walked over to the two women and Gabrielle easily slipped an arm around the warrior's waist, Xena placing her own across her lover's shoulder.
"I know it's a little late, but you two haven't really been properly introduced yet," Gabrielle said squeezing Xena's waist slightly.
"Xena of Amphipolis meet Devlin of Tarynth." She said with formality.
The two warriors clasped arms in a friendly gesture.
"I owe you a debt," Xena said. "If you ever need anything, and it's in my power to grant it, then all you have to do is ask."
Devlin laughed an easy and relaxed laugh. "I just may take you up on that some day, warrior."
"You know, now that it's all over, how about telling me how you made it look to everyone like you were cutting my throat?" Gabrielle asked suddenly.
"Actually, very easy. I hit you with the emetia a few moments ahead of time so you would hit the ground at the appropriate time. The blood was just a small bladder I filled with pig's blood. I pressed it between my thumb and the blade of the dagger and whoosh." Devlin said making a slicing motion across her own neck.
"Pigs blood...lovely," Gabrielle said with a sour look on her face. "I'll never wear that top again!"
Devlin and Xena had finished the last of the defenses to protect the small camp and prepared to once again meet Kirren's forces.
"What is it?" Devlin asked.
"What is what?" Xena replied as she followed Devlin's gaze behind them to where Gabrielle stood, giving directions and talking to the warriors.
"What is it that makes women like that able to love warriors like us?" Devlin asked again.
Xena understood the question that came from the tall warrior. Hadn't she always asked herself the same thing? What could a woman with a heart as pure as goodness itself, possibly see in a warrior whose past was as dark as night. Xena also understood that Devlin asked the question, wondering if the same thing could happen for her.
Xena watched as Gabrielle continued to help roll bandages, answering questions, and trying to put peoples minds at ease before the next wave of the battle. She moved from person to person and gave them a little touch or a smile, and Xena knew, that in a million years, she would never be able to answer Devlin's question.
"It's a gift from the gods, my friend," Xena said as she watched the young woman who held her very soul, "it's a gift from the Gods."
"Gabrielle," Xena's tone was low and cautioning.
"Xena," Gabrielle replied. The young Queen wore bracers and shoulder armor; her staff held in one hand the point on the ground.
"Xe, I can't stay back here when I'm healthy and we need every one who can fight out there." Gabrielle said, knowing what Xena would say. "These women would die for me...I need to show them that I would do the same for them."
The warrior's brow furrowed together as she tried to come up with something to say to combat the bard's logic, but there was nothing. These women were Gabrielle's people, subjects that had willingly crossed many miles, who were preparing to face death on the battlefield all for the love of their Queen. Could Xena ask her bard to be less than she was? Would Gabrielle ask it of her?
Taking her lover's face in her hands, she caressed the young woman's cheeks with her thumbs, pulling her in for a kiss that would show this young woman all that was in her warrior's heart.
"I just get afraid for you...I don't know what I would do if I lost you, Brie." Xena whispered in the bard's ear.
"I know, love...I feel the same way every time you end up fighting. This is something we have to do and pray that Artemis watches over us. I promise I won't take stupid chances and I won't fight on the front line" Gabrielle replied.
Tenderly kissing the young Queen's forehead, the warrior again whispered, "I love you, my bard."
"And I you, my warrior...be safe." Gabrielle said as she kissed the palm of the warrior's hand.
"They're coming!" The warriors on the point shouted as the first lines swept into the noisy battlefield.
"Ayah!" Xena grunted as another of Kirren's soldiers went down in front of her, his belly sliced open despite the leather armor. The warrior was knee deep in the fray unable to spare even a moment to search the field for her bard.
"Ayiyiyiyiyiyiyiy," Xena shouted her battle cry, somersaulting and turning to land behind three soldiers that looked around as if she'd taken flight and disappeared. It was then that Xena caught a glimpse of Gabrielle, her staff flying through the air, she hit two soldiers with an uppercut at the same time. The warrior breathed a sigh of relief, if such an act is possible in the middle of a battle, when she saw Devlin at Gabrielle's back, a long sword and a short blade in her hands, cutting through the limbs of screaming soldiers in an untiring frenzy.
Xena dispatched two more soldiers with one blade stroke and threw her chakram, hearing it slice through the ax handle that was about to come down on one Amazon warrior's back. The Amazon plunged her blade into the gut of the soldier behind her without even looking, giving Xena a smile of thanks.
Ephiny and two members of the Royal Guard surrounded their Queen, but even as Xena glanced up, one of the guards fell to her death, an arrow through her heart. Xena tried to work her way closer to her bard, but for every soldier she cut down, two more took their place. Finally the pace began to slow and Xena could see the soldiers in the valley below beginning to drag wounded backward in a retreat.
"Gabrielle!" Ephiny screamed, trying to pull the Queen out of the path of the arrow that seemed to be headed straight for the young woman.
Ephiny yanked hard on Gabrielle's arm and lost her footing on the slick, blood covered grass; the Amazon fell to the ground, pulling Gabrielle down on top of her. The arrow sailed past where the bard was just standing as Devlin turned her head to help the Queen. The shaft of the arrow buried itself in the warrior's neck as she sank to her knees.
By the time Xena was able to turn, all she saw was the tall warrior clutching her throat, her body falling the rest of the way to the ground.
"NOOOOO!" Gabrielle screamed, crawling to where the blonde warrior lay, eyes closed tight against the pain.
Xena dropped to the ground next to the fallen warrior, her hands quickly examining the arrow in Devlin's neck.
"Xe...help her," Gabrielle sobbed.
Xena's eyes met Devlin's. An understanding was passed and Xena could see the blonde warrior nod slightly. She had to be sure this was what Devlin wanted...she needed Gabrielle to know.
"Dev, can you understand what I'm saying?" Xena asked.
"Yes," The warrior nodded, wincing at the pain of having to speak. Devlin raised a weak hand as if to pull the arrow from her neck. She grabbed Xena's hand and pulled the dark-haired warrior's hand up to the arrow.
"Dev, you know where the arrow is...it's in your jugular." Xena took a deep breath and looked at Gabrielle with the warrior's head in her lap, before she continued. "If I leave the arrow in, you'll slowly bleed to death...it'll take a while... I can't fix this," Xena's voice broke as she explained.
"If I pull it out...it'll be over in a few minutes at the most." Xena finished.
Devlin closed her eyes and gripped the warrior's hand tightly, pulling Xena's face to within inches of the injured warrior's. Painfully the blonde-haired warrior whispered to Xena and the dark-haired woman looked up at Gabrielle.
Unshed tears filled Xena's eyes as she looked at her bard.
"She wants to call in the debt I owe her," Xena repeated Devlin's words to Gabrielle. "She wants you to hold her when she dies."
Gabrielle's sobs grew stronger as she drew questioning eyes to her own warrior. Xena nodded and helped ease the fallen woman into the bard's arms. Bracing one hand against Devlin's shoulder, Xena wiped her hands clean on a piece of cloth Ephiny handed her. Placing her fingers around the shaft of the arrow, Xena looked into the eyes of the woman who had given so much for her. Devlin put on a lopsided grin just as Xena pulled with all her strength, and in one swift motion, the arrow was free.
Blood spurted forcefully from the jagged wound, saturating the people and the ground surrounding the fallen warrior.
Xena let the tears fall down her own face as she gripped the warrior's hand. How could she refuse this last dying request from a warrior who had given up everything to return Xena's whole life? To be held in Gabrielle's arms, the young Amazon Queen, Devlin had fallen so much in love with. Wouldn't it be what Xena herself would desire?
"Nooo," Gabrielle moaned, placing her hand over the wound, pressing down hard against the warrior's neck. Blood continued to rush through the bard's fingers.
Devlin reached up a weak hand and pulled Gabrielle's hand from her neck, shaking her head to the bard. The warrior smiled one last time and closed her eyes.
"Gabrielle?" Xena stood just inside the tent that she and Gabrielle were using, the young woman had just fastened a leather halter top on.
Xena walked into the tent, moving past the pile of bloody clothes her bard had just discarded.
"Brie?" Xena had given Gabrielle the space she thought she needed, but now she was starting to get a little worried about the young woman.
"I know...I need to get to the infirmary--," Gabrielle brushed past the warrior, "--and then I have to check on the supplies, and--"
"Brie, stop," Xena commanded catching the woman with an arm around her waist, pulling her tightly against her body. "It's okay to just let go," Xena said softly.
Gabrielle turned in the warrior's arms and held onto her lover as she sobbed uncontrollably. Xena could do nothing but hold the young woman and whisper soft words of love and comfort in her ear. The warrior told herself time and again the battlefield was no place for Gabrielle, she had no warrior defenses built around her to weather the loss of friends and family. Her bard felt each consequent loss as strongly as the very first.
Xena sat in a chair and pulled the young woman into her lap, letting her cry until she had no tears left.
"Thank you, Xe," Gabrielle whispered.
Eponin burst into the tent, "forgive me, your highness...they're on the move again, and it looks like Kirren's with them too."
Gabrielle stood and watched as Xena rose from the chair. The warrior thought of a million arguments to use to keep Gabrielle from this battle, which would surely be the last. When she looked at the woman who stood beside her, however, dressed in Amazon leathers and armor, she didn't see the little girl from Potidaea that needed the Warrior Princess to rescue her. Xena saw a strong woman and a competent leader, someone who would live and die to protect her people, her friends, and her integrity. An Amazon Queen.
The warrior saw the young Queen's staff leaning against the tent wall, near the entrance. She picked up the stave and tossed it back to her companion.
"Be safe," Xena said.
"Right back at ya," Gabrielle replied with determination.
The tide had turned and those left among Kirren's soldiers who weren't dead or dying began to flee. There were perhaps fifty men that refused to give up, and they all seemed to converge on the Warrior Princess at once.
"Ayah...Ayah!" Xena grunted and cried out with each slash and hack her sword made as it tore into the human flesh around her. The field was slick with the blood of men and Amazons alike; the warrior growing weary of straining to hold on to the hilt of her blood drenched sword.
Soon she saw nothing...felt nothing...thought nothing...heard no sounds of the battle around her; there was only the sound of her own blood pounding in her ears. Only the lightening quick movement of her blade as it sent soul after soul to Hades judgment.
She was beyond feeling or caring, empty of everything but the skills that drove her to conquer. Her eyes lost a little of their blue tint with each blow she struck, until the clouded haze of battlelust stole the color from her irises completely. Any man who fought her and lived swore he had looked into the eyes of death that day.
"Remember me?" Gabrielle shouted over the sounds of the battle. Kirren turned at the sound and the young Queen twisted her body hard, throwing all the weight she could into the sweeping right cross of her staff.
Kirren took the blow well, considering it had broken more than one soldier's jaw today. Her sword went flying and she fell to her knees, but rolled as soon as she hit the ground, pulling a dagger from her boot, lunging at the bard with a look like astonishment on her face.
Gabrielle was too exhausted to deflect the entire weight of the woman's body; she fell underneath Kirren as they both wrestled for the dagger in the warrior's hand.
"You may have done it once, but there's no cheating Hades a second time!" Kirren screamed maniacally, raising the dagger above her head.
Gabrielle knew she was too weak to keep the warrior's dagger from her heart, looking into the vacant, insane stare of the woman on top of her. The bard held her breath and waited for the inevitable.
A gurgling noise came from Kirren's throat as pinkish bubbles of blood formed on her lips. The dagger slipped heavily from her hand as the warrior looked, first at Gabrielle, then down at her chest at the point of a metal blade poking through her sternum. A large red stain slowly spread across Kirren's chest, the slicing sound of metal against bone, and the blade's tip disappeared.
Ephiny pushed Kirren's body off of Gabrielle before the evil warrior even knew she was dead. She clutched weakly at Gabrielle's wrist as she fell to one side, gasping for breath.
"Bite me," Gabrielle hissed, pushing the dying woman the rest of the way to the ground. By the time Kirren's flesh hit the blood stained grass, Hades was waiting for her.
Sweat rolled into the warrior's eyes, blood and dirt covering her body as she swirled around to face her next attacker. She blinked hard, her eyes darting back and forth; her lungs on fire as they pulled in much need air. Xena realized there were no more. She had defeated the enemy, and now sank to one knee in an attempt to defeat the enemy within.
The warrior leaned her head against her forearm, which rested heavily on the hilt of her sword, the tip of the blade buried in the red stained earth.
"Xena?" Eponin cautiously reached a hand out to her friend.
"Don't touch me!" Xena hissed, her jaw clenching spasmodically.
"Xena, are you hurt?" The Amazon asked.
"It's not my blood," Xena said quietly.
"Gabrielle?" Xena looked up at the warrior, sudden panic in her eyes.
"She's allright, she's back at the camp treating the wounded in the infirmary. Kirren is dead." Eponin added.
"I don't want Gabrielle to see me this way," Xena said rising to her feet. The warrior still looked slightly wild eyed, her hair matted with blood, gore covering her frame. "I need to get to my tent...keep Gabrielle out."
Eponin helped the warrior into the camp and to her tent, standing resolutely as guard at the tent's entrance.
Gabrielle looked calmer than she had moments before. She heard that Xena returned to the camp unharmed and the young Queen silently thanked Artemis, making her way to their tent.
"Gods, why me?" Eponin muttered to herself, seeing Gabrielle walk toward her.
Gabrielle tried to move past the Amazon, the warrior placing her body in front of the young woman.
"My Queen," Eponin said nervously, "It would be better if you didn't go in."
"Is Xena hurt?" Gabrielle asked, fearing she had not been told the truth.
"Actually, its Xena's order...Gabrielle, she's not exactly...herself yet." Eponin added softly.
Gabrielle looked stung by the Amazon's words. The young Queen tried to imagine a reason, something that would explain Xena's behavior. She's not exactly herself.
It had been so long since she and the warrior had been through a battle like this one; this was the first since they'd become lovers. Gabrielle had grown less and less suspicious of the time the warrior had spent by herself after a large battle, presumably to find some sort of physical or sexual release. They were lovers now, however, and Gabrielle knew that if they didn't start here, it would be even harder the next time.
"Move aside, Eponin," Gabrielle commanded.
"Gabrielle..." Eponin wavered.
"Eponin, perhaps you should refresh my memory...is Xena the Queen of the Amazon Nation?" Gabrielle asked, surprising her friend.
"No, my Queen,"
"Then do I need to remind you who you serve?"
"No, my Queen," Eponin answered, stepping aside.
"Ep?" Gabrielle laid a hand on the warrior's shoulder. "If it sounds like my life is in danger...then you can protect me. Some things...even the ones we don't like to face, Xena and I need to work out for ourselves."
Eponin pulled the tent flap back for Gabrielle to enter; thinking her friend never looked more like a Queen than she did at this moment.
Gabrielle entered the tent and was immediately surrounded by an enigmatic energy that flowed from her warrior, crackling within the air of the canvas shelter. Xena was at the far end of the tent, her battle armor still on; she stood in a small washtub. Next to her was a large tub of steaming water. The warrior's arms held a wooden bucket high over her head, the warm water pouring over her face, hair, and body. Her back was to Gabrielle and she didn't appear to notice when the young Queen entered the tent. Xena bent to lift another bucket of water repeating the process. The bard saw bits of bone, blood, and other gore rinse away from the warrior's body and off her armor, falling into the basin she stood in.
Once the majority of the battle had been rinsed from her body, Xena stood, cradling the empty bucket in shaking arms. Her head went up and tilted slightly as she sniffed the air. Her senses were astounding in ordinary circumstance, but held in the passion of her battlelust as she still was, they were otherworldly.
"Gab-ri-elle," she cautioned, "get out."
The Queen didn't move and Xena threw the bucket to the floor, and stepped from the washtub, turning to face her. Water dripped from the warrior's body and she continued to bleed from a number of minor nicks and cuts too small to stitch closed. Gabrielle barely saw these, focusing on the warrior's eyes, as she strode slowly across the tent toward the Queen.
Reaching out, Xena roughly grabbed the bard's arm and pulled her closer, a low growl emanating from the depths of Xena's chest. Their eyes met and Gabrielle saw that the warrior's still held the passionate haze of the battlefield. That struggle with life and death that, when she was victorious, gave the warrior powerful feelings and sensations that she could, indeed needed, to conquer anyone and everyone; to celebrate every physical aspect of being alive. This was battlelust and Gabrielle had never seen it directed at her from her lover's eyes before. Perhaps once...with the Horde, but she didn't really know what battlelust was back then. Warriors all conquered the battlelust with different methods. For the Warrior Princess it had always been sex. In the days when sex for her was wielded as power, the two became inextricably entwined.
Had anyone ever asked the young Queen if she thought Xena would ever consciously hurt her, the answer would have always been an unequivocal no. Now, the bard saw a woman in front of her that was not completely cognizant of who she was or even where she was. It took every fiber of courage she had, for the Amazon Queen to look back into those eyes, glazed over with carnality, and not express that fear to her lover.
Xena's whole body began to tremble and shake in her attempt to push down the sensations that flooded her body and brain. Her effort at controlling her desires was winning until Gabrielle placed a gentle hand on the warrior's forearm.
The sparkling blue eyes cleared momentarily, searching her lover's green depths.
"Please...Gabrielle...leave," she said with between clenched teeth.
Gabrielle's eyes were bright with their own fire. "I'm your lover, Xena...I won't leave you to release yourself by your own hand." She removed her warrior's grasp from her arm and tenderly placed the palm of her lover's hand over the pendant around her neck.
"I belong to you...I'm the woman, and no other, whose bed you're to come to for pleasure or release." Gabrielle said softly.
Xena pressed her palm over the pendant that lay atop her bard's heart as if to garner some form of calm from the piece. Being so close to the object of her desire, Xena leaned against the bard and breathed in the powerfully arousing scent of Gabrielle. Nothing would have pleased her battle-clouded libido more than ravishing her lover right there, but still she held back.
"I'm afraid, Brie..." she whispered near the bard's ear. "...Afraid...I'll hurt you. I don't know if I can control myself once I start."
Gabrielle's answer was to entangle her fingers in Xena's wet, ebony locks and pull the warrior's mouth firmly to her own, and when Xena's tongue slid tentatively into the bard's open mouth, the warrior had her assurances. As Xena slipped her tongue between Gabrielle's soft lips, the bard moaned, the familiar taste of her lover filling her mouth.
Pulling apart to breathe, the bard whispered the words that spent what little control the warrior had left.
"I need to know all of you, Xena...the woman and the warrior!" The Amazon Queen pleaded.
Xena's demeanor changed before Gabrielle's eyes, the warrior's demon called battlelust rising and treading just beneath the surface. With one deep sigh the warrior breathed life into the beast and set it free to roam.
Xena drew the younger woman to her, bruising her smaller body against the wet armor. Her fingers splayed through Gabrielle's hair, grabbing the golden locks aggressively in one hand, pulling the bard's lips roughly to her own. The kiss was frantic and full of need, powerful and urgent. The bard's mouth captured the fierce growl the warrior let loose.
Gabrielle began to pull at the buckles that held the warriors breastplate and shoulder armor. Xena had priorities of her own. The warrior backed the young woman against the table, feverishly grinding her hips against her lover, drawing moans of pleasure from the bard. Lifting the smaller woman slightly so her buttocks sat on the edge of the table, Xena backed up to shrug off the loosened breastplate and nearly threw the heavy armor halfway across the tent. She removed her own breeches unceremoniously, clutching at the bard's belt and pulling the skirt away in one motion. Tugging once, then twice on Gabrielle's undergarment, she ripped the breeches off. The warrior thrust her knee against the young woman's heated center, grinding against the abundant wetness there.
Once again the warrior grabbed Gabrielle's hair jerking her head back to expose her neck. She kissed and bit the length of the bard's neck, sucking on the flesh until she tasted blood. Straddling her lover's thigh, Xena was lost to anything but her wet sex rubbing along the bard's leg. Sliding both hands up the bard's back, Xena firmly grasped the leather halter and tore it in two, slipping the covering off her shoulders almost reverently compared to the way in which she rent the tanned hide.
Xena released the bard's shoulders, pulling her lover's hands from around the warrior's neck, drawing them firmly behind the smaller woman's back. All the while Xena's hips drove against her lover's thigh. The warrior felt the bard's hips move up and against her, she shifted the bard's wrists to her left hand and whispered, letting her lips caress the bard's right ear.
"Is this what you want?" Sliding her fingers into the hot wetness between Gabrielle's legs.
Gabrielle cried out in a voice hoarse with passion, her hips trying to rise from the table to draw the warrior's hand inside her.
"Xena, please..." the Queen pleaded, "I need to feel you...I need to know all of you."
Xena plunged into the bard with her hand, driving into her with a force she'd never used before. Gabrielle's response amazed the warrior, as the young woman began to thrust herself with abandon against the warrior's whole hand, which was slick with the bard's wetness.
Gabrielle's groans of pleasure cut through the warrior's libidinous haze, searing jolts of desire beginning to swirl around her center. She continued to propel her right hand into her lover, releasing the young woman's wrists and reaching up with her left hand, she covered the pendant over Gabrielle's heart with her own palm.
"Mine," the warrior said with a throaty growl. "You belong to me, Gabrielle...only me..."
"Only you, my love," Gabrielle moaned, her own desire pushing her toward the edges of a powerful orgasm.
Her bard's words captured the warrior's passions and sliced through to her very soul. She let herself fall into the whirlpool that swirled energetically around them, losing her focus on everything but the fire in her center and the motion of her arm that carried Gabrielle along with her.
Each woman cried out the other's name as they fell into the center of the vortex together, feeling the air come alive with power and light.
Clinging to one another and gasping for much needed air, the warrior turned her body to lean on the table, cradling the bard into her strong embrace. Long moments passed until they were both able to control their breathing, then Xena began rubbing her hands lightly over the exposed flesh of the bard's small frame, all the while covering her mouth in affectionate kisses.
To Gabrielle, her warrior's eyes still burned with an unspoken fire.
"What is it, love?" The Queen asked between kisses.
"Gabrielle...I need..." Xena whispered in a voice still raw with emotion.
"Anything, Xe...anything." The bard replied tenderly.
"I need to feel you...inside me..."
Gabrielle slowly pulled the warrior toward the bath, and moving behind her, she loosened the laces of the warrior's leathers. The young Queen removed the warrior's boots, and then pulled the leathers down and off of Xena's body, taking her hand and leading her into the still heated water. She ran the soap across their bodies, cleaning off the last vestiges of the battle, massaging tension filled muscles until the warrior felt as liquid as the water surrounding the two lovers.
Xena leaned against the wall of the tub, Gabrielle straddling the warrior's hips. Leaning forward to capture the bard's lips, the warrior moaned into the kiss as she felt the young woman's torso press firmly against her own, strong legs wrapping around the warrior's waist, the bard's warm center pressing against her belly, just above her own curls.
Sliding her hand between them, Gabrielle continued on past the dark curls between the warrior's legs. Xena leaned back her head and growled passionately when the bard entered her with two fingers.
Xena delighted in the bard's easy strokes, now unhurried and tender. Pressing her own hand firmly against the bard's sex, she tenderly stroked the swollen flesh. Gently, she caressed the length of her, avoiding the hardened bundle of nerves that soon begged for attention. Wrapped around one another, the Queen and her warrior went about bringing each other toward a leisurely, mutual climax that left them both feeling, not only satiated, but also contented.
Lying gratified in each other's arms, the warrior gingerly lifted her bard's chin, situating a well-deserved kiss upon Gabrielle's lips.
It was a tearful reunion as Cyrene greeted her children, thanking the Gods who had listened to her prayers. At first the inn was a somber place as the injured Amazons were nursed back to health, and all involved in the battle confronted their own personal demons. Soon, however, the merriment returned to their eyes.
It seemed as if everyone fed off the warrior and her bard. They had, at first, been quiet and keeping to themselves, dinners in their room; long talks into the night. As with everything in life, they were eventually able to put everything in its place, and look at life with a renewed perspective.
They were all grouped around a large table in the tavern, having just listened to one of Gabrielle's tales.
"You know, Eph," Gabrielle started, "I never did find out how all of you got here so fast...what was going on?"
Xena's head shot up as she glared around the table. Ephiny actually began to make little stammering noises; the looks she was getting from the Warrior Princess were starting to unnerve her. In the meantime, Gabrielle leaned forward innocently awaiting the Regents answer, everyone else at the table finding things extremely interesting at the bottom of their mugs.
"I, um...I...uh" Ephiny stared hard at Xena, mentally screaming at the warrior. Do something, Xena...do anything...now, now now!
It was then that Xena did the only thing she could think of doing.
She proceeded to dump the entire contents of her mug down the front of Gabrielle's chest and into the bard's lap.
"Good, Gods," Gabrielle exclaimed jumping up as the port soaked through her top and skirt.
"I'm so sorry, Brie. You better soak that right away...here let me help you," Xena said as she pulled the bard by the hand toward their room.
"Xena, are you sure you're feeling allright?" Gabrielle asked as she washed the port from her body with a damp cloth.
"Sure...just a little clumsy I guess," Xena answered as she put the bard's clothes in a bucket of water to soak for the night.
The warrior turned back to the bard, a very naked bard and felt a deep jolt of heat attack her body. Moving behind the young woman, Xena began to whisper into the bard's ear all the reasons she could possibly think of for not returning downstairs. By the time the bard was pulling off her warrior's leathers, Xena felt in the back of her mind that there was a reason she had not wanted Gabrielle to go back downstairs, but aside from the obvious, damn if she could think of it right now.
Just as Xena had anticipated, she threw up.
My stomach hasn't been this nervous since I was a little kid. The warrior washed her mouth out, chewing on a handful of mint leaves to settle her stomach. I don't think I've thrown up since I was five! Xena would have felt a lot less ill if only she could be certain this was what Gabrielle wanted. What if she turns me down...right in front of everybody?
"You look great," Eponin lied.
"Right." Xena replied.
"I'd feel a lot better if I only knew what her answer will be." Xena said shakily. "She talks to you, Ep...what's she gonna say?"
"Xena, I can't tell you what Gabrielle and I talk about in private...urghhh! Thena...leth go ov my faith!"
The warrior held onto the Amazon's face, squeezing Eponin's cheeks until her face began to turn blue.
"Let me put it to you this way, Ep...tell me or I'll--kill--you!" Xena hissed.
"Yeth...her anther will be yeth!" Eponin pulled away stretching and massaging her facial muscles to ease the soreness.
Xena turned terrified eyes toward the Amazon. "She really does love me, doesn't she Ep?" Xena asked already knowing the answer.
Eponin smiled, shaking her head at the normally stoic reserved warrior. "Yea, Xena...she really does love you."
Xena smiled at that, her body language indicating the change in her emotions. "Um, by the way, Ep...that 'killing you' thing...well, that was just a joke. No hard feelings?"
"Right," the warrior replied, rubbing her sore jaw.
"Your highness," Ephiny addressed Gabrielle formally.
"Eph?" Gabrielle questioned. It was midday and the bard had just finished telling a bunch of schoolchildren a few stories. She sat at a small table, sharing a cup of tea with Cyrene, wondering why the midday meal crowd hadn't begun to filter in yet.
"You have a visitor that brings a petition to the Amazon Nation and a formal request to the Queen." Ephiny stated cryptically.
"Okay," Gabrielle rose to follow the Regent.
"You'll need to wear formal attire," Ephiny said.
"Well it'll take me a few minutes to get into my leathers..." Gabrielle started.
"Actually, you have about two candlemarks till they get here," Ephiny took Gabrielle's arm and began to steer the Queen upstairs, "I'll help you."
"Me too," Cyrene said jumping up from the table. "A nice hot bath might be just the thing to relax you," she said pulling on Gabrielle's other arm.
"But I'm already relaxed," Gabrielle protested as the two women practically dragged her upstairs.
Gabrielle had to admit that she did feel better after the bath. Cyrene had helped her pull her hair up and off her shoulders and the Regent stood behind the young Queen adjusting her shoulder armor.
"Eph, who is presenting this petition?" Gabrielle asked.
"Uhm...a Princess," Ephiny answered warily.
"What does she want?"
"Uh...to form an alliance," Ephiny smiled.
Gabrielle adjusted her boots one final time. "What do you think...is the alliance a good idea?"
"Well, I think that should really be up to you to decide. I mean, listen to the petition and see if it would be something you could live with."
"You must have an opinion?" Gabrielle asked.
"Actually, my personal opinion is that I think it could, quite possibly, be a very mutually beneficial alliance."
"Ready to go?" Ephiny asked, trying to avoid any further questions from her Queen.
Ephiny led Gabrielle outside to the front porch of the inn. There were 4 steps to the top of the porch and it was agreed it would make a perfect dais. As Gabrielle walked out the front door of the inn the roadway was lined with Amazons on each side, who all dropped to one knee at their Queen's approach. Gabrielle rolled her eyes. Gods, I hate when they do that!
A round of drums began and the kneeling Amazons stood at attention as a processional made it's way up the roadway. Eponin led ten mounted Amazons; all of the riders had a small band of purple silk tied around their upper arms. Slowly the procession entered and the warrior dismounted. Eponin unrolled a scroll and began to read.
"People of the Amazon Nation. Today a petition is presented to our Nation. For the first time since she has become our Queen, a proposal of Marriage is being sought after from outside our village. What say you Amazons? Do we allow the petitioner to state their case to our Queen?" Eponin finished.
"Aye," nearly 70 Amazon voices said in unison.
If Gabrielle's jaw had dropped any lower it would have been sitting on the ground. Marriage?! Are they insane?
Eponin came to stand in front of Gabrielle and knelt down on one knee, leaving the scroll at her feet.
"My Queen, the Amazon Nation has given their permission for an outsider to request that you join with them in a Bonding ceremony. Will you allow the petitioner to plead their case?"
Gabrielle searched the faces of her friends and subjects, suddenly wondering where Xena was. It hadn't occurred to her at first that her lover wasn't here. It can't be! She wouldn't...couldn't...Xena would fall on her own sword before she'd get up in front of this many people...even for me!
Still the Queen had to know, and when she dumbly nodded her head, a new processional entered the roadway. Gabrielle's breath caught in her throat and she had to keep reminding herself to breathe. You can do it...breathe, in...out.
Twenty Amazons surrounded the petitioner, breaking formation as they neared the inn to allow Xena to ride to the front of the group. The dark-haired warrior wore her hair loose, softly falling around the edges of her face, cascading down her back and across her broad shoulders. Rather than her usual armor, she wore tight black pants, tucked into knee high black leather boots, with silver trim. Instead of her usual leather tunic, the warrior wore a billowing, silk shirt, its long sleeves and purple color slightly hidden under the black leather vest that buckled down the front. The procession finally stopped and Xena dismounted.
Gabrielle's senses were definitely on overload. When Xena stood still, her blue gaze captured the Queen's, the tightness of her pants, and the way the leather of the vest fit against her, left no doubt she was most definitely a woman. If at all possible, she actually looked more feminine in this attire, than her revealing leathers, but every bit as powerful.
"Your Highness," Xena bowed deeply. Realizing the warrior was waiting for some sort of acknowledgment before continuing, Gabrielle nodded.
Xena turned to face the Amazons and, taking a deep breath, spoke in a loud clear voice.
"People of the Amazon Nation, I give you my thanks for allowing me this petition." Then the warrior bowed again.
Xena walked toward the Queen, slowly, each step filled with grace and power. Dropping down to one knee the warrior pulled her chakram from her belt, and slid her sword free from the scabbard that was strapped to her back.
"Queen Gabrielle, I am Xena of Amphipolis. I am only a warrior. I have neither wealth to tempt you with nor kingdoms to ally yourself with. Actually, I have very little to offer you."
Xena laid her weapons at the Queen's feet. "What little I do have I gladly give to you. I offer you my sword; to protect you and your people until I no longer have a breath left. I offer you my body, for your comfort, security, and pleasure until we no longer remain in this mortal realm. I cannot at this time give you my heart, however."
A low murmur rose through the crowd and Gabrielle held up her hand to silence it, never releasing the warrior's gaze. When silence again reigned, the warrior continued.
"As I said, I cannot at this time give you my heart, for after all, if you look closely you will realize that you already own it. You have held my heart from the very first moment I saw you."
Xena rose and moved up the steps of the inn. Getting on her knees in front of the young Queen, she took the young woman's hand in her own.
"Gabrielle, you are the only woman I have ever, will ever ask this question...will you marry me?"
Gabrielle had never felt so special, so loved before in her entire life. She had given up the hope that Xena would ever want to commit her life so completely, and, in her wildest fantasies, she never dreamed her warrior would make this big a production out of it. It thrilled her and frightened her all at once. She was speechless. Gabrielle was a bard, however, and the spectacular presentation and the love she felt for this woman before her, prompted her to display her own vocal abilities.
"You say that you have very little to offer me. I think you underestimate your own worth," Gabrielle said, beginning to warm to the subject at hand.
"But, I'll take what you offer, warrior. I'll accept your weapons and expect you to be the Champion to my throne and the defender of my honor. I'll take your body as well," she continued, raising an eyebrow suggestively. "Expecting you to serve only my needs and no other. And your heart...I'll keep your heart and give you another in exchange. I now give you my heart, which you stole so many seasons ago."
Gabrielle turned to Xena's mother. "Cyrene, do you still have it?"
Cyrene smiled and pulled the leather packet from her pouch."Yes, Xena of Amphipolis, I will marry you," she said her tears matching the ones in the warrior's eyes.
Gabrielle held up the necklace that she had made for her warrior, for all to see.
"Xena, please take this necklace as my token of good faith, my pledge of sincerity, and a symbol of my love for you."
Gabrielle leaned down and placed a warm kiss on the lips of the warrior as she placed the necklace over Xena's head.
The air was immediately filled with clapping and shouting as the Amazon Queen pulled the warrior to her feet and did what the warrior had thought she might someday...she kissed her thoroughly, right in front of her mother.
"Wow," Xena said when the two finally pulled themselves apart.
"The finest warrior in Greece, and the best you can come up with is, wow?" Gabrielle teased.
"I don't know...I thought that kinda said it all." Xena said with a smile.
Watch for the next story in the "Queen" series: "The Heart of a Queen"