by L. M. Townsend



DISCLAIMERS: The characters of Xena, Gabrielle, Eve, Argo, et al (meaning anyone else I didn't list and should have.) are the property of MCA, Universal, and Renaissance Pictures and anyone else who has a legal claim, and I thank them for their creation and for allowing me to live in their universe for a little bit. (Melysë and The Amazons belong to themselves and I dare any man to say different!) The stories are mine, though, and written just for fun, not profit.

Subtext? Subtext? Well, yeah. There is. Some of it obviously implied, some blatant, though nothing graphic, and some of it's in the eye of the reader; WHILE THERE ARE NO GRAPHIC SEXUAL SCENES OF ANY KIND, there is kindness, affection, loyalty, mutual respect, friendship, and yes, lots and lots of love, so, if you read anything into any of the words or situations these characters find themselves in, then you have only yourself to thank/blame (depending upon your point of view!) If you have a bug up your butt about people of any persuasion loving each other and sharing their lives, then I pity you. I won't apologise for them, though, so if you have a problem with any of these stories, it's up to you to go and read something else. Remember, no one's holding a sword ( or a chakram) to your throat!

Violence: Oh, yeah - this is a story with Xena in it. Remember, she likes to fight.

*Spoiler Alert - several references to various episodes throughout the history of the show.


This series is lovingly dedicated to my Chosen Sister, "Tai’", - "bound by an unspoken oarth deeper than blood" - whose encouragement, friendship, and unconditional love and acceptance is means more to me than she can ever know.


Xena eyed the woman reading the scroll, but this was not her Gabrielle. Gabrielle and Xena's daughter Eve, had travelled on without her for Xena had a debt to pay. Ares, the god of war, formerly Xena's mentor, then sworn enemy, and now - well, Xena wasn't sure what the current relationship was with Ares - he had committed the first completely unselfish act of his life when he sacrificed his immortality to save the lives of both Gabrielle and Eve. Xena still wasn't convinced the god didn't have some self-serving angle to play out, but she owed him - big.

Ares had appeared to Xena while she and Gabrielle and their daughter, Eve were on the road. They hadn't yet decided where they were going. They had a mission to fulfil, but weren't yet sure how to start. Eve, once known as Livia, was undergoing the same struggle Xena had. She was trying to atone for all the evil she had committed as Livia, Champion of Rome, scourge of the followers of Eli. Xena knew that she was the one best equipped to help her daughter, having already overcome - mostly - her own dark side. But Gabrielle who had been the key which had allowed her to embrace the light within her, pushing the dark aside until it was needed was with Eve; and when it came to defending themselves, Xena was certain that her family could handle themselves in a fight.

Xena sighed, pulled her sword from its scabbard and began to run the sharpening stone over the oiled blade. Scrape, rasp, scrape...the sound was a comforting one. The other woman looked up from the scroll she was scanning and smiled.

"I'm glad you're here, Xena," she said, rising ponderously, shifting her huge, pregnant body to a slightly more comfortable position. Xena smiled back, still sharpening, but didn't say anything. Ares' request had surprised her - come to this Amazon village and stay with his daughter - yes, his daughter - until her baby was born.

"Xena, I won't ask you again to have my child," he said. "But there is a way you can still help me with a more - mortal immortality." It was then he had acknowledged his daughter, Melysë, his daughter with an Amazon warrior named Lyssë. Melysë was now the queen, bearing an heir to the Amazon throne - and to Ares' bloodline. But Ares needed Xena to make sure that the child would be born - and born safe. "I have enemies - more than you might imagine," said the former god.

"I don't know, Ares," Xena said, grinning. "It doesn't take that much imagination - just kidding. Why do you need me to protect an Amazon? Those women can take care of themselves - and anyone else who comes along."

"Not - Melysë," said Ares, quietly. "I never wanted to acknowledge her - she's something of an...embarrassment to me. Her mother was - something else. Warrior-Queen of the Amazons, she...well, never mind." Ares grinned and Xena snorted in disgust. "No, seriously. Melysë is an Amazon, but she is not a warrior. She had potential, once, but she turned her back on it, chose a path of 'peace'. She's a priestess to the Amazons' Goddess."

"I can imagine how that might bother you," said Xena, reminding herself against irritation that were it not for Ares, her family would be dead. "That the daughter of the god of war would choose to priestess to the Great Triple Goddess of the Amazons rather than to her own father, but why don't the Amazons protect her? She is bearing their next queen, after all."

"She may be bearing their next queen," said Ares. "The child may be a son."

"Ah, I see," said Xena. "You're afraid that the Amazons might decide a boy-child isn't worth protecting. Ares, the Amazons I know aren't like that. They may send their sons back to the fathers, but they cherish all children born to them."

"Xena, times have changed since you knew the Amazons," said Ares. "You and Gabrielle have been away for a long time."

"Yes, thanks to you," said Xena.

Xena and Gabrielle had lain in a frozen tomb for twenty-five years after faking their deaths - and Eve's - in an effort to protect Eve from the Olympian gods. Ares had taken them and entombed them there in ignorance, while Eve had been raised Roman and had grown up as Livia, champion of Rome - and Ares' blood-thirsty protegée, as her mother had once been.

"Hey, how was I supposed to know you were alive?" said Ares.

Xena gently placed her hand on Ares arm, a gesture she wouldn't have felt safe until a short time ago. "I'm not really blaming you, Ares. We just played our parts too well," she said. "But I still can't believe in what amounts to infanticide of the Amazons - especially not of a priestess of the Great Triple Goddess."

"There's more," said Ares, as Xena dropped her hand.

"There usually is," she said. "Ares, why don't you just tell me the whole thing?"

"Sorry, Xena, this honesty and 'goodness' thing - it's still new to me," said Ares, uncomfortably.

"Yeah, I was there once," said Xena, grinning wryly. "Took a chatty blonde bard who epitomised honesty and goodness to get me used to it."

"Pass," said Ares.

"Yeah, right," said Xena. "You weren't saying that when - "

"Alright, Xena," Ares interrupted. "Melysë is not a warrior. At one time, she could have been great - almost as great as you, but now - she's weak and I'm afraid the Amazon midwives won't know what to do if she has a hard time delivering the baby. They're accustomed to stronger, more robust warrior-types. I'm asking you to go as a healer as well as a guardian. Your healing skills are well-known."

"I have many skills, Ares," said Xena. "I'm just not sure playing nursemaid to a pregnant demi-Goddess Amazon priestess will be one of them."

"Xena I have to have someone I can trust - and I don't trust anyone more than you with this. Please, Xena," said Ares.

"You know, Ares, I could get used to you like this," chuckled Xena. "One act of unselfish courage and sacrifice and - "

"Don't remind me," Ares groaned.

"Well, since you didn't remind me," said Xena. "Which is very not like you - not calling in a favour, that is - I guess I can go hang out with the Amazons for a while."

And so it had been decided, Eve and Gabrielle were going to Amphipolis to see Xena's aged mother, Cyrenê, and Xena's brother Toris, who now ran Cyrenê's successful tavern. Xena would join them later and they would decide where to go from there.

Xena frowned at the blade she was sharpening and tested it. "Ouch! Damn, I hate that!" she said, popping her nicked finger into her mouth.

"Are you okay?" asked Melysë, trying to rise. Xena gestured her back down. "No, don't bother - happens all the time," she said grinning. "You'd think I'd've learned better by now."

Melysë grinned back at Xena and settled once more into the cushion. Against her will, Xena found herself liking the Amazon. She had been prepared for a whiny wimp - the way Ares had described his daughter was not exactly complimentary - but while Melysë was indeed soft-spoken, Xena had seen a will of steel and a strength of character in the Priestess-Queen that bespoke of a long line of Amazon ancestry. It was also evident that the Queen had earned the love, loyalty, and respect of her entire tribe, which spoke volumes to Xena about the type of woman, as well as the type of leader, she was.

Xena had arrived at the Amazon village near sunset. She approved of the military discipline evident in the Amazon sentries who had stopped and questioned her. They had been respectful, but firmly obeyed their orders and had escorted Xena to the Queen's cottage, automatically posting themselves between her and the Queen, while Melysë had greeted her warmly, wearing a simple, long-sleeved tunic and breeches, offering hospitality in the form of mulled wine and a basin of clear water to wash the road dust off. Melysë had looked startled at Xena's appearance at first, but stood stoically throughout the interview, though she had offered Xena a chair. When Xena had declined, Melysë had remained standing, though Xena could see that her late pregnancy was causing her some discomfort. Throughout the meeting, Melysë was poised and regal, but warm and gracious, too. Melysë had asked Xena's business with the Amazons, and Xena had been tempted to circumvent, but found before the Queen's unwavering gaze, that she should tell her the truth. Glancing quickly at the sentries, Xena had replied that Ares had sent her. Melysë immediately picked up on Xena's hint for privacy and dismissed the sentries. Without hesitation, the two saluted their queen and left the cottage.

"Why did my father send you here, Xena?" asked Melysë, smiling.

"He's concerned," said Xena.

"Yeah, okay," laughed Melysë. "Since when?"

"Since he became mortal and fears his bloodline may end with you," said Xena.

Melysë laughed harder. "That sounds more like him," she said. " We can't have his last known descendent be the 'family disgrace'. How did he become mortal - or shouldn't I ask?"

So Xena told her the story. "Incredible," said Melysë, no longer laughing. "Ares did that?"

Suddenly, Xena could see that the Amazon Queen really needed to sit down. She quickly got to Melysë's side and helped her into a chair.

"Thank-you," said Melysë. "Please sit with me. I can't believe Ares would - do you suppose he might actually be concerned for me?"

"Anything's possible," replied Xena, finding a chair and sitting, her long legs stretched out in front of her.

"Huh, I always thought he was ashamed of me," mused Melysë, then she reached over and tossed an apple to Xena, who caught the fruit neatly. "I'm having dinner brought to us - I'm not up to eating in the common room these days. I figured you've been on the road a few days - you must be tired and hungry and wanting a hot bath and a warm bed?"

"Sounds perfect," said Xena, biting into the apple.

"Great," said Melysë. "Since 'Daddy' sent you to keep and eye on me, you'll stay here, of course. I hope you don't mind? You don't strike me as the barracks type. I also have a private bath house with plenty of hot water and towels behind the cottage - it's one of my few indulgences. I can't bear community baths - especially now."

The women were near the same age - if one discounted the twenty-five years Xena had spent in deep-freeze - and resembled one another somewhat. Both had long dark hair, but where Xena's tresses were straight, Melysë's were wavy, spiralling here and there in stray curls. Xena's clear blue eyes caught Melysë's dark golden-green ones and the Amazon shyly dropped her gaze. Melysë's complexion was pale and creamy and bespoke of a woman who spent much time indoors, rather than like Xena's sun-kissed tan. In fact, one day after Xena had been with her for a few weeks, Melysë had come in from no more than ten minutes in the sun with blisters on her arm where her long sleeve had pushed up. Xena had exclaimed and put her arm in cold water, but Melysë shrugged it off. The blisters healed within a few hours, reminding Xena of Melysë's semi-divinity.

After only a few days, the two had fallen into an easy routine. They would talk about things and Xena found she could tell the Amazon many things she had only told Gabrielle and with the same acceptance and non-judgement she had always received only from her best friend.

"I wonder if that's part of being an Amazon," mused Xena.

Once, long ago, Xena had been invited to join a Tribe of northern Amazons, but that had been before, when Xena revelled in her dark side and an evil shamaness, Alti had promised her a great destiny - "Destroyer of Nations". Well, Xena had almost destroyed that Amazon nation. Years later, she had returned and tried to make amends. She had released the souls of the Amazons she herself had killed in cold blood - souls which Alti captured and fed on for her own dark powers and had restored the Tribe to their spiritual roots. Now they were growing and thriving. Xena had confessed this to Melysë and had met with the same, non-judgmental, listening silence while she told her tale.

"Xena," said Melysë, placing a warm hand on Xena's clenched fist. "The Amazons have forgiven you - no, don't say anything, just listen - we all count you as a friend, an ally, and a sister Amazon. I, a priestess of the Amazons' Goddess, the Great Lady of the Moon, speak these words of forgiveness to you, so know it to be true. Yes, you committed a great wrong against the Amazon Nation, but you went back and you risked your life - and your own soul - and you made it right again. You've done your penance and you have received our forgiveness - and Hers. It's up to you to forgive yourself. I'm glad you told me this. I understand now why the greatest of us won't accept the name 'Amazon' - you feel you don't deserve it, but believe me, if anyone does, it's you, Xena."

Xena had to admit, it was difficult to resist Melysë's frank appreciation and admiration of the warrior - she was a little like Gabrielle in their early days together. The only difference was that Melysë was more self-confident, older, and she knew that she could never be Xena - but that was why Melysë admired her and respected her. Melysë had no illusions about herself - and furthermore, she liked herself as she was. And she liked and accepted Xena, in spite of everything. In this, Melysë reminded Xena of Lao Ma, a woman who had saved her life - had saved her soul if Xena admitted the truth of it, even to herself. She had met Lao Ma in Chin and Lao Ma had been the first to see past the rage and the hate that had consumed a younger Xena. Lao Ma had seen the potential for good in Xena, but it had taken Hercules to show Xena the good in herself and Gabrielle to keep reminding her of it. Gabrielle, who day after day, had loved and accepted Xena, despite any differences between them. The Bard's enduring friendship had kept Xena's light shining, banishing the dark side of her to the recesses of her past.

Melysë was like a perfect blend of the two most influential women in her life and Xena could relax in her company as she could with so few. Melysë respected her and cared about what Xena felt and thought. She talked to Xena, asked her opinion, and listened to what Xena thought about running the Tribe as well as mundane things.

"How many centuries has "Daughter of Ares" been an epithet for Amazon?" Melysë asked, looking up from the scroll.

"I don't know, you'd have to ask Gabrielle that," said Xena.

Melysë brightened. "I would love to - will she visit, too, do you think?" asked Melysë. "Xena, you must forgive me - I've been raised on tales of you two. For so long, we thought you were dead. We mourned you and Gabrielle, but when we began hearing of Livia - I mean...I don't mean to anger you, but some of us thought it was you, back from the dead, or perhaps re-born in another body and reverting back to your warlord ways."

"In a way," said Xena, quietly. "She"

Melysë put a hand on Xena's shoulder, a comforting gesture, but the hand felt as hot as flame and Melysë pulled it away. "Sorry, I forget sometimes," she said. "My 'divine legacy', I suppose. I can heal with these hands, but when I feel another's pain, I can't always control the power. I hope I didn't hurt you."

"No, not all," said a startled Xena, and, in fact, she did feel better, but Melysë looked paler - if that was possible - what had that touch cost her? "Hey, you need to get some rest now. Why don't you let me help you into bed? I'll wake you when it's dinnertime and after, when the sun is down, we can take a walk - the exercise will be good for you - and the baby."

Melysë agreed, and Xena pulled her up out of the cushions and helped her to her bed.

"Oh, Mother!" gasped Melysë, short of breath. "I will be so glad when this little Amazon is born!"

Xena smiled and sat down on the bed, massaging Melysë's pregnant abdomen. Her experienced hands told her it wouldn't be much longer now. "I know - I felt the same way," she said soothingly."Rest now, and I'll be here when you wake up."

Melysë smiled and closed her eyes, soon drifting off. Xena arose and grabbed her sword. She had time to get in about an hour or two of practice and then a quick bath before dinner.

"Xena," she heard behind her and recognised a familiar tingle.

"Ares," she replied, without turning.

"Amazing, you can still do that?" he said.

"Oh, yes," said Xena, smiling and turning around. "What is it? Melysë's fine - she's resting."

"I know, I just looked in on her," said Ares.

"You know, you underestimate her," said Xena. "She may not fight battles, but she is 'something else'."

"Glad you think so," said Ares.

"You know, I'd hate to underestimate you," said Xena. "But fatherly concern is not a face I'm accustomed to see you wearing. So, why are you here?"

"I came to warn you that an army is marching on the Amazons," he said.

"Whose?" asked Xena.

"Pitana's - Melysë's cousin," said Ares. "A few years ago, she declared the royal challenge against Melysë and lost. Rather than kill her, Melysë banished her - you see what I mean about weak? If she had just killed Pitana when she had the chance, there wouldn't be this risk. Now Pitana has raised an army against her."

"So Melysë is weak because she chose to show her kinswoman mercy?" mused Xena. "Yes, at one time I might have thought so, too. But Ares, your daughter is not stupid - she must have known this could happen and made contingency plans."

"I hope so, Xena - well, in a way," the former god of war grinned. "In another way, might just be my chance to see my favorite Warrior Princess back in action, leading the Amazons in battle. Could be quite a show."

"If it comes to that - which I doubt it will," said Xena.

"Well, whatever," said Ares. "The army is about three days ride from here."

"Ares, thanks," Xena said. Ares winked and vanished and Xena sighed, wondering just how many of his godly powers he had retained after all.

She wandered over to the practice field and had a good workout, even teaching some moves to some of the younger Amazon braves, hoping they wouldn't need them anytime soon. Since her chat with Ares, Xena hadn't had time for a bath before it was time to wake Melysë for dinner. She excused herself from the Queen's presence and limped over to the basin for a quick wash up.

"Xena, are you alright?" Melysë asked.

"Oh, I'm fine," Xena said cheerfully. "Just a little out of condition - twenty-five years frozen will do that."

Melysë grinned. "Well, much as I love the smell of warrior-sweat when I first wake up," she said laughing, "you need a good hot soak to get the soreness out of those muscles and then a rubdown. I'll send your dinner to the bath-house and you can eat in the tub."

Teasingly, Xena tossed her towel at Melysë. "Are you insinuating that I smell?" she laughed.

"Not at all," Melysë grinned. "But at least eating in the bath, you can't drop food on your leathers."

"That so?" said Xena, approaching, playfully menacing the queen. "So I smell and I'm a sloppy eater?"

"You wouldn't hit a pregnant woman," said Melysë in mock seriousness.

"Noooo," said Xena." But I would do this - " Melysë laughed as Xena tickled. "No - stop - please!" Melysë cried, laughing. "Really - stop - what are you trying to do, induce labour?"

Xena stopped, concerned and placed her hand on the baby. "Are you okay?" she asked.

"Oh, I'm fine," replied Melysë, as Xena helped pull her to her feet.

Suddenly Melysë hugged Xena, warmly. "I am glad you are here," she said. "I finally know what it would be like to have a sister."

Gently, Xena disengaged from the embrace. "I thought the Amazons were your sisters," she said, beginning to gather her things for the bathhouse.

"In a broad sense, yes," said Melysë, thoughtfully. "But I am their queen and that separates us. Every Amazon in the Tribe would stand and fight for me, give their lives for mine, but no Amazon would dare tickle or joke with me. It's sad, in a way, but necessary, too, I suppose. I have to have their respect to lead them, but it would be nice to have a friend, too."

Xena turned and smiled. "Well, you have one, now," she said. "I felt the same way - until Gabrielle showed me how to have - and how to be - a friend."

"You go have that bath, now, Xena and then come back and we'll eat together," said Melysë.

Soaking in the hot water was wonderful, but Xena missed having Gabrielle to wash her back. Finally after turning pruny in the hot water, Xena sighed and got out of the bath. She was drying off when she sensed a tingling. She whirled around to a see an attractive blonde, pouting.

"Aphrodite," said Xena, pulling on her clothes.

"Finally has a 'sister' - I like that!" she said.

"What do you mean?" asked Xena.

"Well, she has a sister - who does she think looked in on her, watched over her, protected her from Hera- ?" said Aphrodite.

"What are you saying, Aphrodite?" asked Xena. "Ares isn't Melysë's father?"

Aphrodite laughed. "Like, Duh," said the Goddess. "Zeus is her father."

"Does Ares know this?" asked Xena.

"No, Zeus let him think he fathered Melysë," replied the blonde. "Zeus let everyone think Ares was the father - to protect her from Hera. I was the only one who, like, knew, 'cause Zeus charged me with being her big sister and, well, taking care of her. She was such a cute little girl, and - "

"Aphrodite, what do you know about Pitana, Melysë's cousin?" asked Xena.

Aphrodite wrinkled her perfect nose. "Ew! A horrid little girl who grew up into a horrid woman," said Aphrodite. "She was always mean to Melysë, teasing and taunting and picking fights. Melysë always won, though."

"Did you help her win?"

"As if! Like I would lower myself to fix a fight!? That's Ares's thing, not mine," said Aphrodite.

"Thank-you, Aphrodite," said Xena. "And if Melysë knew what you had done for her, I know she would be grateful."

"Yeah, well, she always was a nice kid," said Aphrodite. "Maybe I should, like, introduce myself - ?

"I think she'd like that," said Xena smiling. "And you know you'll be an aunt, soon - just think, another cute little kid; but why don't you try playing with this one more?"

"I'll do that," said Aphrodite. "Xena - thanks. I'm glad you're her friend."

"Me too," said Xena, as the Goddess vanished.

Xena hurried back to Melysë's cottage, her hair still damp. As promised, dinner was waiting. Steamed fish and vegetables, nutbread, still warm from the oven, soft white cheese, hot wine, mulled with spices in that special Amazon recipe that Xena loved. Xena sipped carefully at the wine while Melysë drank water.

"Oh, that's marvellous," Xena said, sniffing appreciatively of the meal.

"Please, eat," said Melysë. "I'm afraid I don't have much appetite these days - I get so short of breath so easily."

"You need to keep up your strength - you have some hard work ahead - and not too far ahead, I think," said Xena, breaking open the bread and handing a piece to Melysë.

Melysë sighed and made a face. "Please, I'd rather not think about that now," she said, biting into the bread. "I had midwife duty as part of my priestess-training at the Temple at Ephesus, and while that was one of my favourite duties, it did teach me that this is gonna hurt." Melysë shuddered. "I think I'd rather face combat than this."

"Scared?" asked Xena, gently.

"Terrified," replied Melysë, trembling.

"Wasn't quite so terrifying at the beginning, though, was it?" chuckled Xena, taking a bite of vegetables.

"Wanna bet?" asked Melysë. "I think I was even more scared then."

Xena set down her fork. "You're kidding?!" she said. "But it got better - right?" Melysë shuddered and didn't say anything. "Hey," said Xena, putting her hand on Melysë's arm. "Who's the father? Did - were you - did you choose this?"

"Sort of," said Melysë, quietly. "I mean, I consented - I didn't actually choose. The Amazons' needed an heir, and as their queen and priestess, I went to the Full Moon rites and - well, here we are. I'm just lucky it only took the one time - oh, Goddess, let this be a daughter! I don't think I could do that again!"

"I'm sorry, I didn't know," said Xena. "It must have taken a lot of courage for you to do that. But you shouldn't have to subject yourself to any man that you don't love just to bear an heir."

"Courage? Not really," said Melysë with a wry grin. "I drank a large quantity of wine - laced with poppy juice, for good measure - closed my eyes and thought of the Amazon Nation. That poor boy - he was as scared as I was, I think - I didn't think I'd ever stop crying - and he must've thought he'd be executed for treason or something."

"It doesn't have to be that way, you know," said Xena. "With someone you love and trust, who cares for you - "

"Xena, I can't afford to fall in love," said Melysë. "I am an Amazon - and the Queen at that. I don't have the opportunity to meet anyone to fall in love with; and if I did, it would simply cause too many problems. No, if this is a son, I'll just have to use more poppy juice next time. Maybe unconscious -"

"You know, all you had to do was ask," said a shimmering form, who materialised into Aphrodite. "I could help you with that little problem."

"Um, I know you," said Melysë. "At least, I think I've seen you - around, but you were wearing more - at Ephesus? Or was Lesvos, at the College...?"

Aphrodite winked and laughed.

"Melysë, this is Aphrodite," said Xena.

"Aunt?" said Melysë.

"As if! I, my dear, am your big sister," said the Goddess.

"I - don't understand," said Melysë, looking to Xena. "I thought - my father was Ares?"

"Yeah," said a leather-clad form, materialising beside Aphrodite. "What's going on, Sis'?""Well, I guess it's safe enough, now, what with Hera and Zeus both gone. Melysë is our sister. Zeus' daughter," said Aphrodite.

"What!?" said Ares, grinning. "You're kidding! Yes! My reputation is intact - no wimps from my loins!" Ares' faded away, laughing.

"Aw, I'm sorry, Little Sister," said Aphrodite. "He didn't really mean-"

"Yes he did," said Melysë, calmly, a little smile playing about her lips. "And do you know what? I share his relief! Thank the Goddess!"

"You're welcome," said Aphrodite, disappearing with a giggle.

"Don't think she meant you," said Xena, under her breath, to Melysë's grin.

"You're right, but I like her!" said Melysë. "And I meant what I said, I am relieved that Ares isn't my father. I don't know that Zeus is any better, but at least I won't be expected to live up to any expectations of becoming the ultimate warrior like - well, like you, Xena. Your boots would be very difficult to fill. Impossible, in fact, for me. I am no warrior, and I really don't want to be one. Oh, I've fought - and...and killed, but it was - the most horrible thing I - I don't ever want to do that again. I still have nightmares about ...that - It was when my mother was killed. In fact, it was the same battle. I killed the archer who shot them. I - I -oh, Goddess, it was horrible. It was...messy...I was enraged and terrified and the grief - I took revenge for my mothers' death, but I swore I would never willingly kill again. Not like that. After I did it, I felt even worse."

The memory came rushing unwanted upon the queen, the memory which still gave her nightmares. She was in her first battle, a little nervous, but ready. After all, her mother and the Priestess-Queen, Hypolite were there. Not that they would have any time to be protecting her - no, Melysë was a fully trained priestess and warrior now. It was up to her. She tested the edge of her sword and hefted the wooden shield before her. Her mask was hot and itchy over her face, but it was supposed to give her the fighting skills of her totem, the snow leopard, which the mask represented, so she figured she'd better leave it on. Then her mother, the Warrior-Queen, gave the signal, and Melysë was dropping down from the trees, surprising the enemy. She had fought well, blooding several opponents, and knocking them out of the battle without killing. The fight was like a dance and Melysë had always danced well in the rites to the Goddess of the Amazons. The heavy long-sword felt a little clumsy in her hands and she longed for a staff, her weapon of choice, but she had been ordered by her mother, the Warrior-Queen, to use a sword for this battle, and Melysë followed her Warrior-Queen's orders like any other warrior.

Suddenly she saw the men running and cried out with a joyous war-whoop, bel'ӵ{/K."0$??G[rUޡ=#23.$ƫ&î+.)eb()JfY@mae #H CK)'1,>X}'U[ 5IDӹ;*^Z;)Sd,pïգg.WQZ{;]>J¼;帅ǵpG)a(除BcMyspE^TFowOQZj&# ŝЖ׭?dlriks@KV2ѺraY 3`GxM\PvQ {d|T>q|NiliQwv8DYu?ZyUUpU')0{P"=OLםTI3A_2a^5}Hu-+n"&M>=E*{"ka roar. She saw her own bare hands, now tipped with sharp, lethal claws, and teeth, now fangs, as they ripped at the hapless archer as if she were watching someone else. By the end of the killing, Melysë was covered with the man's blood; it was everywhere, splashed against the surrounding trees, soaking into the leaf-covered ground. Finally, she ran into the trees far enough away where the other Amazons wouldn't hear her throwing up.

Melysë had stayed in the trees for many days, evading the Amazons who searched for her, until she came back to herself. She washed the blood off in the river and ate what she could forage, but mostly she meditated and prayed and mourned. Finally, she reached a peace and a place in her soul where she could forgive herself and live with what had happened, although she swore she would never allow it to happen again. Then she returned to Amazons, who elected her Queen. Even when Pitana had declared the Royal Challenge against her, it had been enough to merely show her cousin the face of the leopard. Pitana had fallen to her knees in terror, and Melysë had exerted her will to its utmost to pull back and spare Pitana's life.

Xena was quiet for a moment. She had heard the story of Melysë's first - and only - battle. The Amazons said she had fought the killer of her mother like a beast, ripping him apart with her bare hands. The savage fury the Amazons had described was far from the gentle priestess she saw before her now, but Xena knew bloodlust and battle rage first hand, and the supreme willpower that it took to control it. She remembered the first person she herself had killed. In fact, Xena remembered every person she had ever killed.

"And if we keep talking about it, you'll have those nightmares tonight for sure," she said. "You should go to bed and sleep now."

"Yes, I probably should," said Melysë. "But I've had such revelations tonight, I don't think I will. How about that walk? I don't think there's much of a moon, but it should be light enough for a short walk around the village."

"Sure," said Xena. "I need to walk off some of that marvellous supper."

The women rose and walked for a while in silent companionship, but their thoughts were loud and clear. Xena couldn't get the advancing army out of her mind and couldn't decide how to broach the subject to Melysë without frightening her. The baby would be born soon and Xena, remembering Eve's birth, preferred that it not happen in the thick of some battle. Well, Xena thought, subtlety has never been my chosen route. Better out with it. "Melysë, Pitana has an army and she's marching on us," she blurted out.

Melysë merely sighed and nodded. "I rather thought she might someday," she said quietly. "And of course she has to pick now, when she thinks I'm at my most vulnerable - pregnant and 'helpless'. She always was mean-spirited - and stupid? - a great warrior, though. I was willing to make her Warrior Queen, to co-rule and to lead my armies, but that wasn't enough for her. She wasn't content to simply lead the defence, Pitana wanted to go out and conquer, to - how did she put it? to 'lead the Amazons back to our former glory and might'. She'd have made us no better than the men who hate us and try to slaughter us just for our very existence. I wouldn't have it, and she declared the royal challenge against me. I won, by the grace of the Goddess, and instead of killing her, I banished her and any who were loyal to her. Oh, call me coward, but I just couldn't live with myself if I killed her, not in cold blood like that. Almost, though - I could hear whispering in my head...'Kill her - she'll be back to cause you grief, so just kill her and be done with her', but I just looked at her lying on the ground, and I remembered how she used to follow my mother around, begging with her eyes for attention - a kind word of praise, anything - and I thought of how unhappy she must have been, how lonely - and I couldn't do it."

"Do you have a plan?" asked Xena.

Melysë smiled, sadly. "I'm afraid I do," she said, her smile fading quickly. "But this time, I'll have to kill her."

"Maybe not," mused Xena. "There may be another way. Let me think on it for a while. Ares said the army was still three days away..."

"Unless he does a 'god-thing' and brings them faster," said Melysë, frowning.

"What?! Why would he do that?" asked Xena.

"Why does he do anything?" said Melysë, bitterly. "I'm not his daughter, after all - he owes me nothing. Besides, he helped her that last time we fought."

"He what!? Why?" asked Xena.

Melysë shrugged. "He said if only he had Pitana, a real warrior for a daughter, someone he could be proud of," she said. "Then the 'Daughters of Ares' could stand tall and be a force to be reckoned with once again. And then he gave her a - a boost - I guess, you could call it. She started beating me and I was sure I would die that day. And then, I felt the...this power surge through me and I got her down. It was always like that when we fought, even as kids; she'd just about beat me, and then I'd feel the power and get the better of her. In retrospect, that must have really pissed her off - no wonder she hates me!"

"Yeah," said Xena. "I need to think on this. Let's get you back and in bed. I have some things to take care of."

Once Melysë was asleep, Xena stepped back outside, gazing up at the two-day-old moon."Ares," she said.

"You called?" came a deep voice.

"You were here awfully quick," said Xena, smiling. "Still mortal?"

"As you are, Xena," said Ares, grinning.

"Where's Pitana tonight?" asked Xena.

"Xena! I told you, three days' march - east - of here," said Ares. "What? You don't trust me?"

"On what grounds? No, don't answer that," said Xena. "Look, I know Melysë isn't your daughter. But she is your sister - and remember, you have very little family left."

"Yeah, I know," said Ares. "But Melysë is - well, she's -"

"Not a warrior," said Xena. "I know. But she is my friend, Ares - and you know how protective I am with my friends."

"What do you want, Xena?" asked Ares.

"You asked me to come here and protect Melysë - I know, I know - that was when you were trying to protect some legacy," said Xena. "But I am asking you to allow me to do just that - protect your sister - and her unborn child. Don't interfere by doing any - 'god-thing' - to help Pitana."

"On one condition," said Ares.

"What's that?" asked Xena, tiredly.

"I want you to fight Pitana," he said.

"What's the catch?" asked Xena.

"Oh, no catch," said Ares, laughing. "Pitana is almost as good as you were. I want to enjoy the show."

"If Melysë is safe and doesn't need me, I will fight one-on-one with Pitana," agreed Xena. "But Melysë and her baby are my first concern now."

"Cool!" said Ares, fading from sight.

Xena sighed. "Xena?" said a soft, familiar, and much beloved voice.

"Gabrielle? What are you doing here? Where's Eve?" asked Xena, hugging her best friend.

"Eve is with your mother," said Gabrielle, surprised at the rare hug. "And she's positively blossoming with her. And Cyrenê - Xena, I swear, she looks years younger since Eve's been there. This visit has really been good for both of them. What's going on? Aphrodite said you might need me and I came here right away."

"Aphrodite," said Xena. "She's really come through for us lately."

"Yes," said Gabrielle. "I always kind of thought there was more to her than she let on. She's been a good friend. Funny, isn't it? The only gods really left are love and war."

"Oh, Gabrielle," said Xena hugging her tighter, "I have missed you! Come on, I want you to meet another of Zeus' daughters - and she's the Amazon Queen."

Melysë was thrilled to meet Gabrielle and Gabrielle liked Melysë right away. She asked Melysë unending questions about her training at Ephesus and her studies at Sappho's college on Lesbos. Melysë wanted to hear all about Gabrielle's experiences when she was the Queen of the Amazons.

Gabrielle was also thrilled to learn that the Amazons had most of her scrolls and that the young Amazon scribes had been set to transcribing them and distributing the copies to libraries and universities throughout the known world. "People are reading my scrolls," she said wonderingly. "And liking them!"

Melysë smiled and took Gabrielle's hand. "Of course," she said. "They are well-written and very inspiring. And, truth to tell, they are fun to read. You have indeed earned the title "Bard of Poteidaia" - although, I wish your Amazon status were a little more well known - it couldn't hurt us to let the world know we are literate - well, most of us anyway."

Gabrielle laughed. "That's true," she said. Then "What's wrong?" as Melysë suddenly gasped.

"I - I think its the baby," said Melysë, as sure enough, her water broke. "Oh, yuck! Goddess, I'm sorry, Gabrielle - what a thing for you to have to see!"

Gabrielle, knowing Melysë was trying to cover her fear and embarrassment, patted her shoulder, and ran to get some towels - and Xena.

Xena was out on the practice field, drilling with some of the warriors when Gabrielle came running up to her. One look and Xena knew what was happening.

"Gabrielle take over here for a while, then let them go," Xena said, running to Melysë's cottage. "I think they'll be celebrating the birth of a new little Amazon before long."

The warriors cheered. "Tell Melysë we're for her!" "Blessed Be!" "Tell Melysë to bring us a princess!" and other well-wishes were shouted. Xena nodded and jogged off to Melysë. The Amazon was cleaning herself and the floor when Xena came in.

"Hey, what are you doing?" she asked taking the towels from Melysë's shaking hands. Melysë hugged Xena and Xena remembered how she had clung to Gabrielle when Eve was being born. "Hey, it's gonna be alright. I'm here, I'm here; I've gotcha. Shh, it's alright, I'm here, and Gabrielle will be here, too, very soon."

Melysë took a deep breath - well, started to, but it caught as her eyes widened in pain. "Oh, my Goddess!" she gasped. "Oh, Xena, I don't think I can do this, I really don't!"

Xena grinned. "I don't think you have a choice," she said, getting some fresh, clean towels and setting a pot of water to boil. "Wish Gabrielle were here to do this - I never could boil water - sorry, little joke there. Come on, let's get you out of those clothes and into something a little easier to work with. I think we're in for a little wait, but you never know."

The afternoon wore on and Melysë stayed cheerful between contractions. "I don't know why I was so afraid," she said. "These are no worse than bad cramps - I can do this. What?" Xena was smiling sympathetically. "Oh, it gets worse, doesn't it?" said Melysë and Xena nodded. "But gradually worse, so a person could sort of - oh, Goddess, I'm scaring myself, again. Xena, tell me about - oh, anything!"

"I'm sorry, Melysë, but Gabrielle's the story-teller," said Xena. "I could sing a little for you, though."

Xena began humming and sponging off Melysë's sweaty brow. The Amazon found it soothing and visibly relaxed.

"That's right, you out-sang the sirens for Ulysses," she whispered. "Thank-you, Xena. I know what a gift you are giving to me- and to my baby."

Xena smiled and continued to sing softly until Melysë fell into a light drowse. Gabrielle came in quietly and smiled at Xena, singing to Melysë. "I could almost be jealous," she whispered. "You don't sing for just anyone."

"I sing for you," said Xena, softly, so not to wake Melysë. "I sang for Eve and Solan; Eli and Marcus, Lyceus, and ... Joxer...It's better to sing a new life in than to sing a life out."

"That's your magic, Xena," said Melysë, coming out of the light sleep.

"Oh, I'm sorry," said Gabrielle. "I didn't mean to wake you."

"You didn't - baby did," she said, struggling upright.

"Another contraction?" said Xena and Melysë nodded.

"Xena's singing is her magic and your stories are yours, Gabrielle," said Melysë, wincing. "Xena, I really hate to impose, but do you think you could sing this little one back into a nap? She's really kicking up a fuss in there."

Xena came back to the bed and felt the baby. She grinned. "Won't be long now," she said. "Gabrielle, why don't you boil some water?"

"What for?" asked Gabrielle.

"Because you've been out in the sun, drilling the troops and Melysë has this 'thing' for warrior sweat," laughed Xena, as Melysë threw a pillow at her.

"Don't listen to her," said Melysë. "Just because she said she never learned how to boil water - "

"That's not too far from the truth," said Gabrielle, chuckling and going to fill the pot for more boiling water. "Did she tell you about the time..." And so Gabrielle told story after story while Melysë awaited the birth of her child and still miles away, an army marched...

The afternoon had worn on into evening, and Melysë still struggled. The pain was hard and almost constant now and Melysë was visibly exhausted.

"Xena," Gabrielle whispered, away from Melysë. "Should it be taking this long?"

"I don't know, Gabrielle," replied Xena, worriedly. "Babies come when they will, but the labour's been hard for too long and the baby's still not coming down."

"Xena, what about what you did for Ephiny?" asked Gabrielle.

Xena shook her head. "No, this baby isn't breech - and a centaur - like Xenan was," she said. "Still, it may come to that. I hope not, though."

Aphrodite shimmered into view. "How's she doing?" she asked, softly.

"See for yourself," replied Gabrielle.

Aphrodite approached Melysë. "Hey, Little Sister," she whispered.

Melysë's eyes flew open and she struggled to smile. "Hey...'Big Sister'..." she croaked, weakly. "Have you offer a little...'divine intervention'?"

"I'm sorry, Little Sister," said Aphrodite, sincerely. "This isn't my area of expertise."

"No, just the first part," muttered Gabrielle.

"Hey, I wasn't there," said Aphrodite. "Just ask her. But a little 'divine intervention' isn't such a bad idea. I know Who Melysë serves; maybe I could just -- Yeah!" Hugging herself, Aphrodite winked out with a giggling little squeal.

"Where'd she go?" asked Gabrielle.

"Gabrielle, I think even the gods have to have Someone to pray to," said Xena. "Let's just hope that Someone is listening."

Melysë hadn't heard much past Aphrodite's "I'm sorry..." for she had embarked upon her own journey, far up and away from the pain which had consumed her body. Melysë felt herself soaring among the stars and the crescent of the young moon. Then she was in a strange and beautiful land, where every face she saw was familiar and well-loved.

"Melysë!" Melysë whirled about to see her mother, Lyssë, who had been killed in battle many years before.

"Mother!" she cried, while being enfolded in her mother's embrace. "I've missed you so!"

"And I, you, My Little One," said Lyssë, as Melysë marvelled a how much like Xena her mother looked.

"Yes, Xena," said Lyssë, smiling. "She is a very great soul - many here are looking forward to being re-united with her - in this life or another. I am glad she is your friend."

"I will miss her, too," said Melysë.

"Oh, no you won't," said her mother. "Your daughter is waiting for you to come and lead her into the body which your body is still working to birth."

"My - my daughter?" said Melysë.

"Yes, Child," said Lyssë. "Every mother makes this journey, to collect the soul of her child and lead them into life. Most don't remember it after the child is in their arms, but every mother makes the journey, all the same."

"Are you - will you be born again through me, Mother?"

"No, my Love," said Lyssë. "It's not yet my time - but we'll be together again. Until then, though, your little one is waiting."

"Oh, Mother, I think of you so much," said Melysë. "There is so much I would still say - "

"Sh, my child," said Lyssë. "I know all that is in your heart - I hear your thoughts and I feel your love. I love you, too, and yes, I am very, very proud of you."

"Thank-you, Mother," said Melysë, eyes shining. "Is Hypolite here, too?"

"There's no time for reunions, now, Child. Go now, and get your daughter - she has been waiting for you," said Lyssë. "And if you are gone too long, your friends will worry."

"Where - where is she?" Lyssë pointed and Melysë looked to see a great Temple, like in Ephesus, only it was more splendid. Melysë walked to the Temple, marvelling at its greatness. "This is how it was before," she thought. "How it really is, underneath how it looks now."

"Mother?" Melysë looked to see a dark-haired little girl with shining dark eyes and fair skin looking up at her. "Yes," she said, gathering the child in her arms. "We have people waiting for us, waiting to welcome you and love you. Are you ready to be born?"

"Yes," said the child, smiling.

And Melysë, carrying the child, headed back into the pain which had freed her soul for the journey to get her child's soul under the blessing and watchful Eyes of Someone who loved her. With a gasp, she came back into her body and into the pain, and realised that her arms were empty, but her daughter was still with her. "Xena! Gabrielle!" she gasped. They rushed over to her.

"We thought you were resting," said Gabrielle.

"What's happening?" asked Xena.

"I don't know," said Melysë. "The pain - it's less, but - ooohhh! Something's happening!"

"Ok," said Xena, calmly. "The baby's coming. Can you push?"

"I - I can't not push!" cried Melysë. "But I'm so tired..."

"Okay, it's okay, shh, shh," Xena soothed. "Gabrielle, come out in front here - you know what to do, like with Eve. I'm going to get behind her and help her push."

"Ok," said Gabrielle, moving into position.

"Oh!" cried Melysë.

"What's wrong?" said Xena.

"She doesn't have a name, yet," replied Melysë.

"Shh, don't worry, we'll give her one - won't we Gabrielle?" said Xena.

"Of course," said Gabrielle. "we're good at names and stuff."

"Ok, you ready?" asked Xena, and Melysë nodded. "Then let's go."

"Come on, push," Gabrielle encouraged. "Push - that's it - just one more, I think..."

Shimmering in the corner, unseen by the three women, Aphrodite appeared smiling and looking up whispered, "Thank-you ... Mother." In another corner of the room, another sort of shimmer and black-leather clad Ares looked on in wonder and new admiration.

The three women, oblivious to the observers, continued working for a few more minutes, then were rewarded by a strong yell.

"Here's your little Amazon," said Gabrielle, placing the baby in Melysë's shaking arms.

"Oh, she's so beautiful," said Melysë, tearfully. "And so tiny - is she alright do you think?"

"Well, let me see," said Xena, leaning over to look at the infant. "Ten fingers, ten toes, two eyes, ears, a nose, and a mouth and all in the right places - yep, I think we've got a keeper, here."

Melysë laughed. "Thank-you, all of you," said the new mother.

Aphrodite came closer, crying. "Oh, she is beautiful," she said, stroking the baby with one finger.

Ares cleared his throat. "Uh, may I see her?" he asked.

"Of course - 'Uncle Ares'" said Melysë, smiling. "I don't know if it's just Aphrodite's presence, or something else, but I have never felt so much love in all my life."

"I wish I could take credit, Kiddo," said the Goddess. "But I think its coming from her, the baby, and everyone else in the room."

"You're right," said Gabrielle. "I feel it, too. It's like the sun on a spring day."

"Arynë," said Melysë.

"What?" said Xena.

"Her name - it's Arynë - after the Sun Goddess, Arinna, of the Hittites - her father was a Hittite warrior - actually I think he was a minor prince," said Melysë.

"I like it," said Xena.

"Yeah, me too," said Gabrielle.

"It's perfect," said Aphrodite.

"Sounds a little like 'Ares'," said the war god. "It'll do. Congratulations - Sister." Ares blinked out.

"Don't let him fool ya," said Aphrodite. "He's thrilled - and touched - and I think a little disappointed that he's not little Arynë's grandfather. Well, I gotta go, too - have to celebrate, but don't worry - I'll be around. Toodles!" Aphrodites shimmered away.

Melysë sighed. "You two don't have leave right away, too, do you?" she asked.

"No, not yet," said Xena, gently, smoothing the covers of the bed. "You sleep now and we'll be here when you wake up. Come on, Gabrielle. We have good news to share." When Xena and Gabrielle announced the news, the Tribe was ready to celebrate, but there was no time. Pitana was marching her army and getting closer. "Tomorrow," Ares announced.

"We'll be ready," said Xena, grimly. "Aphrodite, can you take Melysë and the baby someplace safe - to my mother, in Amphipolis?"

"Sure," said the Goddess straightening up from crooning over the baby.

"Xena, no," said Melysë. "I mean, thank-you, but I can't leave my people now. I am their queen. They need me."

"To do what?" asked Xena. "You just had a baby, for crying out loud - and it wasn't exactly an easy birth, you know?"

"Xena, I can't just leave them - not even in your hands," said Melysë. "I promise I won't try to fight, but I can't just bail - what would that do to morale?"

Secretly Xena knew she was right. Morale was running very high right now, and that might be the edge the Amazons needed to win this. When little Arynë had been presented in the Temple, every member of the Tribe had attended the ceremony and when Aphrodite, Xena, and Gabrielle had been appointed godsmothers, the whole Tribe was cheering ecstatically. "Alright - but you promise - " she began.

"I promise," said Melysë.

"I'll stay with her," volunteered Aphrodite. "I still have a few tricks up my sleeves. A well-placed love-bolt, and the fiercest of warriors melts into a puddle."

"That - might be useful," mused Gabrielle.

Xena looked at Gabrielle and rolled her eyes. "I want you there, too, Gabrielle," said Xena, quietly "I won't worry so much, knowing you're protecting them."

"What about you, Xena?" asked Gabrielle.

"I'm taking on Pitana," said Xena. "I made a deal with Ares - he wouldn't do his 'god-thing' for Pitana if I fight her one on one."

"Figures," said Gabrielle. "He's changed - but not that much. How much 'god-thing' does he still have, anyway?"

"I don't know," said Xena. "But as long as he's not using it against us, it really doesn't matter - for now. Get in position, I think its time."

The Amazons were in place, high up in the trees, from which they would descend rapidly upon their foes. Melysë, Arynë, and the rest of the Tribe's children too young to hold a weapon, and those too old to fight, were taken to the village Temple to wait and pray, while Gabrielle guarded them.

Arynë cried a little and Melysë nursed her, while gathering the rest of the children around her and began to tell them a story. Gabrielle smiled - it was one of hers. Melysë looked up at Gabrielle and smiled and winked. "You could tell this better, Gabrielle," she said.

"No, go ahead - you're doing great," replied the Bard.

Afterwards, Melysë told one about the Lawgiver, Queen Lysippe, and Gabrielle made a mental note to write it down - if they got out of this alive. "Have faith, Gabrielle," she told herself. "Xena's gotten us out of way worse than this. What about that time I was shot with a poison arrow and Persia's army was attacking us? Xena fought off the whole army! And that time I was kidnapped and Xena rescued me even though she was blind...Or the time Gareth, the biggest, meanest giant who ever lived was coming - Xena took care of him with that flying parchment-thing. Or how Xena retrieved Hades' Helm of Invisibility by descending into the Underworld, and fighting off the Harpies. Or that time the Horde - I mean Pomira- was attacking the fort - well, ok, I helped, there, but still, it was Xena who..."

Gabrielle had been reassuring herself aloud, and had unwittingly gathered the children around herself. "Tell us about the giant, Gabrielle!" "No, tell us the Harpy story!" the children clamoured at her for stories. Gabrielle sighed. "Well, ok," she agreed," but just one - or two...I have to keep watch."

The Amazon children nodded soberly. They understood the importance of sentry duty. Sadly, Gabrielle realised that these were the children of a hunted people. The Amazons had been considered fair game for centuries by prejudiced men who thought the women would be easy prey. She wondered if a time would ever come for these people to live in peace.

Suddenly, Gabrielle broke off in the middle of a story at the sound of Xena's distinctive battle-cry. She leaped up and ran to the spy-hole and looked out. The people inside the Temple were silent - even baby Arynë did not cry, but looked about her with wiser eyes than any new-born should have.

Xena was sparring with a slightly shorter, sandy-haired woman. The woman was sneering and shouting things which Gabrielle couldn't quite make out. Gabrielle's eye caught sight of Ares, leaning against a tree while all around the two fighting women, warriors stood and watched. He didn't appear to be enjoying the fight as much as he thought he would. In fact, his expression was one of disgust.

"What's happening?" asked Melysë, who had risen and stood next to Gabrielle.

"Xena's fighting someone - Pitana, I think," she replied. "But the rest of them are just standing around watching - I don't get it."

Melysë sighed. "I think I do," she said. "Pitana must have made the Royal Challenge - again."

"But - I thought she couldn't do that," protested Gabrielle. "She already challenged you and lost. I thought by Amazon law, only one challenge was permitted?"

"No, Gabrielle, you're right," Melysë sighed again. "Pitana cannot challenge me again, but she can declare the challenge against my daughter - Arynë."

"That's stupid," said Gabrielle.

"That's Pitana," said Melysë, with a sigh.

Suddenly there was a scream. Pitana threw down her sword and stamped her foot. "I said, BRING HER OUT," she screamed. "I have the right - I declare the Royal Challenge against Arynë, daughter of Melysë and first heir! I demand a fight to the death!" Ares rolled his eyes and disappeared.

Suddenly Gabrielle realised Melysë was no longer standing beside her. She looked around and saw Aphrodite, holding Arynë, looking puzzled. Gabrielle whirled around and looked out to see Melysë walking calmly toward the fighters. Xena looked at Melysë and Gabrielle could swear she saw flames in Xena's eyes at the sight of the Amazon Queen's regal approach. Melysë's step was sure and steady and her jaw set and determined. Her own eyes flashed in anger, as she stopped and stood before her cousin.

"So," said the queen. "You want to fight a 3-day-old infant to the death? Not much of a challenge, Pitana, for so great a warrior as yourself."

"Don't you dare patronise me," screamed Pitana. "I have the right!"

"So you do," agreed Melysë, calmly. The warriors of both armies murmured. Ares reappeared, looking interested, but still leaning casually against the tree. Pitana leered. "So where is she?" she asked.

"Pitana, you have the right to declare the Challenge against my new-born daughter," said Melysë. "I have the right, as her mother, to either fight in her place, or choose her champion."

"It's a fight to death, this time, Melysë," taunted Pitana. "You are half-god - maybe immortal - so you can't fight me this time."

"I don't know that I am immortal," said Melysë. "But I will not fight you, in all fairness. If Xena will consent, I choose her to champion my daughter. Xena?" Xena smiled slightly and nodded. Ares grinned.

"Very well," said Pitana, grinning smugly, and picking up her sword with a flourish. " I relish the idea of how my reputation will soar when I kill Xena, and then I will take the Amazon throne - no one will stand against me, then!"

"That's all very - interesting, Pitana," said Xena, slowly twirling her own sword above her head. "But what makes you think you'll kill me?" They fought hard and fast. Melysë had been right, Pitana was good. She drew first blood on Xena, slicing open her left thigh.

"It's a fight to the death, Xena," panted Pitana. "And I have tasted ambrosia - the food of the gods. When I have had another taste, I will be a god - a full god, not just a half-blood, like my cousin."

Suddenly it made sense; any mortal Xena had ever known( - except Xena herself, but she had been dead at the time -) to taste of the sacred food of the gods became insane. Pitana's eyes were wide, the pupils almost invisible, and her laugh was a mad cackle. She fought furiously and well, but with careless abandon, leaving herself open too many times, and Xena had pressed every advantage, yet Pitana bore no wounds despite the fact that Xena was sure she made several hits. Her wounds were closing too fast to bleed.

"Ambrosia?" said Xena.

"Oh, yes," laughed Pitana. "You see, Xena, you can't kill me."

"Oh, but Pitana," said Xena, grimly. "Haven't you heard? I have killed gods."

"Wh-what?" said Pitana, dropping her guard for a moment, glancing at Ares who grinned and nodded, as Xena slashed, cutting a line across her cheek. It bled, but slowly closed as doubt began to creep in upon Pitana. "H-how is that possible?"

"My daughter is Eve, Bringer of the Twilight, Messenger of the Way of Love," said Xena, slashing again. Pitana jumped back, no longer sure. "And I am her Protector, given the power to kill gods while she lives. So, you see, no one is immortal any more!"

At that, Xena began slashing and stabbing. Furiously, Pitana put up a defence, but she had been relying so heavily on the protection the ambrosia should have given her, that she couldn't block effectively. Finally, she lay on the ground, under the point of Xena's sword.

"It's your call, your majesty," Xena said quietly, never taking her eyes from Pitana.

Aphrodite came out of the Temple, carrying Arynë, followed by Gabrielle and the others.

Melysë took the baby in her arms and looked intently into the child's eyes, searching...finally, not finding what she sought, Melysë looked at Ares, then at her people, then back at Xena, her eyes avoiding Pitana.

"She would have murdered my child - a helpless baby," said the queen quietly. "She would have killed me and anyone else who got in her way and she would have led the Amazons into tyranny and death. Pitana declared this a death challenge and disqualified me on the premise of my possible immortality, all the while believing herself immortal. By her deception, she has dishonoured herself and betrayed her Amazon oath and no longer deserves the name 'Amazon'. So, as priestess and Queen of the Amazons, I hereby rescind Pitana's Amazon birthright. From this day forward, Pitana, you are no longer an Amazon. Let her live, Xena, but I want her confined where she can do no more harm."

The Amazons cheered, but Melysë wasn't finished yet. "Warriors of Pitana," she said, addressing those who had not yet fled (while those who had were being rounded up and captured). "You have a choice: swear before Ares, god of war - and my brother, your loyalty to me and your friendship to the Amazon Nation, or - " Ares grinned menacingly and approached the group. "I leave my brother to offer you the consequences of your other choice," Melysë finished.

The warriors, mostly mercenaries who were loyal only to Ares - and whoever handled their payroll - were quick to kneel before the Amazon Queen, as Pitana was led off to prison.

"That was good, little sister," said Ares, grinning at her. "I see...potential."

"Ares where did Pitana get ambrosia?" asked Melysë. Ares shrugged.

"Hey, I'm not sharing my stash," he said.

"Ambrosia," mused Xena. "That explains - a lot."

"Yeah, well - it's -" began Ares

"A 'god-thing'," finished Melysë and Gabrielle.

Ares threw back his head and laughed as he faded away.

To be continued( in part II: THE RITE IS CASTE)




by L. M. Townsend


DISCLAIMERS: The characters of Xena, Gabrielle, Eve, Argo, Virgil, et al (meaning anyone else I didn't list and should have.) are the property of MCA, Universal, and Renaissance Pictures and anyone else who has a legal claim, and I thank them for their creation and for allowing me to live in their universe for a little bit. (Melysë and The Amazons belong to themselves and I dare any man to

say different!) The stories are mine, though, and written just for fun, not profit.

Subtext? Subtext? Well, yeah. There is. Some of it obviously implied, some blatant, though nothing graphic, and some of it's in the eye of the reader; WHILE THERE ARE NO SEXUAL SCENES OF ANY KIND, there is kindness, affection, loyalty, and yes, lots and lots of love, so, if you read anything into any of the words or situations these characters find themselves in, then you have only yourself to thank/blame (depending upon your point of view!) If you have a bug up your butt about people of any persuasion loving each other and sharing their lives, then I pity you. I won't apologise for them, though, so if you have a problem with any of these stories, it's up to you to go and read something else. Remember, no one's holding a sword ( or a chakram) to your throat!

Violence: Oh, yeah - this is a story with Xena in it.

*Spoiler Alert - several references to various episodes throughout the history of the show, specifically RETURN OF CALLISTO, GABRIELLE'S HOPE

I also need to explain a little about this story. The first time I watched an episode of X:WP, it was an early episode - Death in Chains, I think. I remember thinking how sad it was that Gabrielle was talking about finding someone to love her, all the while not realising that she had that already in Xena. Then, after Fins, Femmes, and Gems, I thought about how sad it was for Xena that Gabrielle was only hanging around until a suitable husband-type came along - I mean that look when Gabrielle almost said...never mind. It made feel sorry for Xena - and Gabrielle. Obviously, no one will ever love her the way Xena does. Now, in these later episodes, it's clear that Gabrielle has grown to appreciate what she has in her soul-mate. But I just couldn't shake off that old doubt when Virgil turned out to be a bard too, so.....

Anyway, keep reading - bear with me and I promise a happy ending for all concerned (well, in the stories, anyway. In "real" life, you can't please everyone!)

Feedback is very welcome. Please let me know if you like my stories. Anything mean or nasty will be ignored. You can e-mail me at Thank-you for reading.

Xena whistled as her horse, Argo carried her closer to the Amazon village. It was her goddess-daughter, Arynë's birthday celebration which brought her and she had just the gift - Argo's foal was now old enough to begin training and was tethered behind her mother as they all made their way along the road. She glanced over at her best friend and closest companion, Gabrielle. Gabrielle had been uncharacteristically silent for days, now, and Xena was concerned, but when Gabrielle wanted to tell her what she was thinking, she would. Xena had never been good at what Gabrielle called "sensitive chats", but when it came her best friend, well, that was another matter.

"Nearly there," announced Xena.

"Oh, good," said Gabrielle, then went silent again. At one time, Xena would have been glad for the quiet, but Gabrielle had outgrown the ceaseless chattering of her youth and Xena was now concerned enough to stop Argo and turn to her.

"Alright, Gabrielle, out with it," she said, refusing to move out of the Bard's way.

"What, Xena?" asked Gabrielle, refusing to meet her friend's blue eyes.

"Whaddaya mean 'what'? Something has been on your mind for this whole trip," said Xena, impatiently. "Get it in the open and we'll deal with it, but in the mean time, whatever it is that's driving you crazy, it's driving me crazy as well!"

"Never mind, Xena," said Gabrielle, quietly. "We can talk about it later - after the celebration."

"Now, Gabrielle, or we're not going an another inch until you do," Xena warned her friend.

Gabrielle sighed. "Virgil," she said, her voice barely above a whisper.

Xena smiled, even as her heart sank. Not again, she thought to herself. "Ah, we have a name - there's a start," she said, softly. "What about Virgil?"

"He - asked me to marry him," said Gabrielle.

"Gabrielle! That's - that's great! What did you say?" said Xena, her own emotions warring within. She knew Virgil to be an honourable, kind and gentle man, the son of a very dear friend, now dead, but the thought of losing Gabrielle - even to Virgil - tore at her soul.

"I said - I'd think about it," said Gabrielle. "And I am - thinking about it, I mean."

"What do you want to do?" asked Xena, steeling herself for the answer, dreading what her friend might say.

"I want - I don't know what I want," said Gabrielle, miserably.

"Gabrielle, do you love Virgil?" asked Xena, hating herself for asking it, but needing to know, just the same.

"Of course I love him, Xena," said Gabrielle. "I also love our life, on the road, doing what we do - you know, fighting for those who can't fight for themselves. I'm just not sure I can give that up right now. And then I start thinking of having children and settling down - I'm not getting any younger, you know - and I just think, maybe it's time. I don't know, Xena - what do you think?"

Ah, my Bard, you really don't want to know the answer to that, thought Xena. She was quiet for a few moments, searching her heart, then said evenly, "Gabrielle, you know that all I have ever wanted for you is to be happy. And if Virgil makes you happy, I think you should go for it."

Stupid, stupid, Xena! You did the same stupid thing when it was Perdicas, thought the warrior, clenching her jaw to keep from saying it. Let her go. She doesn't want...never mind that. She loves him. He'll protect her, make her happy, yadda, yadda, yadda. Bottom line, this is about what Gabrielle wants....

The women began riding again. "You know, that's what you said about...Perdicas," said Gabrielle, quietly, unknowingly mirroring the thoughts of her soul-mate.

"Ah, now we get to it," said Xena. "Memories of Perdicas keeping you from being happy with Virgil?" Do they break your heart, Gabrielle, like they break mine? Like I think mine is breaking even now...gods, I know it's been a long time since we've shared...that - since before Eve was born, but I had hoped...oh, damn Ares for putting us on ice! We'd still have a chance at it if Eve was still a baby...if things hadn't happened this way, she probably wouldn't be thinking of children now...something I can't give her - not like that, anyway. Is that why she's turning to Virgil now? Gods, I'm being selfish again. No, she loves him. No reason why she shouldn't...he's a good man.

"Not -- not exactly," said Gabrielle. "Although, those wounds will never heal, I know that Perdicas is at peace and that he would want me to be happy, like you do. It's just - every man I care about seems to die on me. Am I a jinx, Xena?"

"Well, I see the coincidences, Gabrielle, but I just don't believe in jinxes," replied the dark-haired warrior, frowning at her own dark thoughts. Though I almost wish I did...except Virgil is a good man, a good friend, and even to, don't go there, Warrior Princess. The women rode the rest of the way to the Amazon village in silence, each lost in their own thoughts.

They were greeted at the Amazon village by Queen Melysë, herself. The two were cherished friends of the Amazon Queen, especially Xena.

The Queen had earned the Warrior Princess' respect and affection with her quiet, gentle ways - and her iron will and great inner courage and strength. Melysë was not only the queen of the Amazons, but their priestess, consecrated to the Amazons' Triple Goddess. She had been trained in the Great Temple of Ephesus and educated at the College of Sappho on the isle of Lesvos. Melysë listened, giving the other person her undivided -- and non-judgmental -- attention, making no comments or suggestions, and offering no advice or opinion until asked. And when asked, she would invariably answer with wisdom. Xena could see how Melysë was the great queen - and priestess - that she was. She was a true Amazon, and the daughter of a Warrior Queen - although she herself usually chose not to fight; she was a shape-shifter - due in part to her divine legacy and part to her training as a priestess - and she could hold her own in combat, but really preferred to serve among the healers when it came to battles and war - which as queen, she had avoided for many years. Oh, there was always the stupid warlord who sought Amazon slaves and would invade, but they soon capitulated when they learned that this Tribe was under the protection of Xena - as well as the queen's brother - Ares, God of War. Maybe Melysë will know what to say, tell me how I can deal with this - again. Xena thought, hopefully.

"Xena, Gabrielle!" cried the Queen, rushing to embrace them both as they dismounted from their horses. "Oh, my! Is that what I think it is?"

Xena smiled. "If you think it's birth-season gift for a certain Amazon princess, then yes," she replied, untethering the foal and handing the lead to the queen.

"Oh, Goddess -- Xena, Gabrielle -- and Argo look what you did!" said Melysë, stroking the foal's soft muzzle. "Arynë's going to love you, Little One!"

"Speaking of my goddess-daughter," said Xena. "Where is she?"

Melysë looked at Xena and smiled. "She heard you were coming and set about finding every wildflower and bit of greenery to decorate our cottage - in your honour," she replied. "She's still at it with her best friend, Tecmessa. Only now I think they're out hunting for wild berries - you know, those red ones Gabrielle likes so well. I think she's hoping to talk you into to making those little dumplings with them. And she got me to bake nut bread for you."

"Oooh," said Gabrielle, smiling. "You know I love nut-bread!"

"Oh yes," laughed Melysë. "Quite the hero you two have become to our little one since she's learned to read."

"Already?" asked Xena, raising an eyebrow.

"She's been reading for years now," said Melysë, proudly. "Thanks to Gabrielle's scrolls - and their subject matter."

"Oh, and you had no small part of her education, I suppose?" asked Xena, eyebrow still cocked, a smile playing about the corners of her mouth.

"I only taught her the letters and their sounds - she learned how to put them together by herself," said Melysë, still the proud mother, linking arms with her friends and leading them to her cottage as an Amazon led their horses to the stable. "But come, now. You must both be exhausted and wanting a bath - why Gabrielle is so tired she's hardly said a word!"

"Yeah, how 'bout that?" said Xena, smiling gently at the bard.

Gabrielle smiled a little. "A bath sounds good," she said. "But how about some of that nut-bread first?"

Melysë laughed, hugging both women as they walked to her cottage. "Whatever you like," she said. "I'm just so glad you've come! I hope you can stay a while." Just then a small body hurtled through the door and into the arms of her mother. "Arynë!" cried Melysë. "What's wrong?"

"Lion," gasped the little girl. "Chased us. Tecmessa - made it to her house, but the lion-"

"Where?" said Xena, grabbing her sword and chakram. She paused, puzzled as Melysë smiled and shook her head over the little girl. "Did the lion follow you into the village?" she asked.

"Oh, no!" cried the little girl, looking up at her mother. "We made sure - we dropped the basket of berries and the lion stopped and ate them all up, then it left. I'm sorry, tanti Gabrielle, we had to give it your berries so it wouldn't eat us!"

Melysë smiled, and wiped the tell-tale berry stains from her daughter's chin. "Well," she said, gravely, despite the twitching at the corners of her mouth. "I'm glad - and rather surprised that there were any berries left to give to the lion - after you and Tecmessa ate your fill."

Arynë grinned, sheepishly. "Weeellll," she began. "There weren't very many left. Actually, there weren't many ripe yet - is there nut-bread?" Melysë smiled and gave the little one a loaf. Arynë took it, then handed it to Gabrielle. "I'm sorry we ate all the berries, tanti," she said. "We kept thinking we'd find more, but there really aren't many ripe yet."

Gabrielle gathered the little girl into a tight hug, relieved she had been spared the dumpling-making. "I'm just glad that you're safe from that old berry-eating lion," she said.

"tanti," Arynë said, worried. "You know there wasn't any lion - don't you?"

"Of course, Sweetheart," she said.

"I didn't", muttered Xena, putting her weapons back down.

"But it would have been a great story if there had been one, wouldn't it?" the little girl asked. "A story, like in one your scrolls?"

"Well, yes, Arynë," said Gabrielle, solemnly. "Sort of, except the stories in the scrolls are all true."

The child's eyes widened. "True?" she whispered in awe, then turned to look at Xena, who smiled and nodded. "You mean, the Titans, and Prometheus, and the Cyclops and giants, and the Harpies, and Hercules - everything?"

"True," said Gabrielle, smiling.

"Wow," said the child, considering.

Melysë rose and took her daughter's grubby hand in hers. "Come on, 'Ryn," she said. "Bath time - unless you want to go first, Gabrielle?"

"meia - Mama - can't Gabrielle give me my bath?" she said. "That way, if she's already in the tub, she can wash my hair and it won't matter if I splash her."

"Oh, I don't think - " began the queen.

"No, it's alright," said Gabrielle. "I'll give Arynë her bath."

"Alright," said Melysë, smiling. "Just don't blame me if she squalls and thrashes when you wash her hair."

Arynë confidently placed her hand in the bard's and looked up. "I won't do that," she said, then leaned up and whispered to Gabrielle." As long as you don't tickle like meia does." Gabrielle smiled and led the little girl out to the bath house.

"So, Xena, what's up with you two?" said Melysë.

"Why do you think anything is 'up'?" asked Xena, raising an eyebrow.

"Come on, Xena," said Melysë. "If it's too personal, just tell me so and I'll butt out, but don't pretend there's nothing. I know both of you far too well for that."

"I'm sorry, Melysë," said Xena. "It's just...all I can tell you is that the day is coming when Gabrielle and I won't be on the road together anymore."

"Oh, Goddess, Xena, I'm so sorry!" said Melysë, placing a comforting hand on Xena's arm.

"No, no, it's ok," said Xena. "I - I'll miss her, that's all. I guess I always knew this was coming. I've watched Gabrielle grow up, from a simple village girl who never stopped talking and dreamed of being a bard into a formidable warrior, an Amazon Queen, a talented bard and an exceptional woman. But underneath, despite her denial of it all these years, she still carries that simple village girl's dreams of a home and family. And I can't give her that. I just want her to be happy."

"Xena, I don't understand," said Melysë. "I thought the day when you two parted ways would never come - she's your malatyr - your soul-mate. How could this happen?"

Xena smiled, weakly. "Well, his name is Virgil," she began.

Melysë frowned as understanding dawned. "I see," she said.

"I think he's the best thing that ever happened to Gabrielle," said Xena, quietly. "They have so much in common. Virgil is good man and a very dear friend. He worships Gabrielle and he'd do literally anything to make her happy. They're perfect for each other. And even though Gabrielle won't admit it, I know she feels the same for him. She loves him more than anything on this earth."

Melysë, gently took her friend's hand. "Except you, Xena," she said softly. "You are the other half of her soul, though Virgil may be the other half of her heart. Nothing is going to change that, Xena. Your bond with Gabrielle is too strong for anything to break it - especially not something as wonderful as love. And Gabrielle has more than enough love to go around."

"Yeah, I know that," said Xena, considering. Heartmates ... and soulmates? Can a person have both? That would much... "It's just - everything will change, and I don't want it to. But I won't stand in the way of Gabrielle's happiness, either."

"Oh really?" said Melysë, with Xena's own characteristic eyebrow raise.

"What do you mean?"

"Think about it," said Melysë softly. "If Gabrielle knows you are unhappy, how will she feel?"

"She won't know," said Xena, shrugging.

"You don't think so?" said Melysë. "Have you ever felt anything that Gabrielle didn't feel also? That's the way of soulmates - what we call malatyra - one soul inhabiting two bodies, and you don't think Gabrielle will know that your heart is breaking?"

"What can I do?" asked Xena. "I can't help the way I feel. I'll miss her."

"Yes, you will. And she'll miss you, too," said Melysë, hugging her friend. "But you two are never really apart, no matter what the distance is between you. If you hold that in your heart and mind, you can be really truly happy for her - and with her."

Xena smiled. "How did you get to be so wise?" she asked. "I can see why the Amazons love their queen so much."

Melysë sighed. "Oh, yes, they love me," she said. "I'm just afraid of failing them."

"How?" asked Xena, around a mouthful of nut-bread.

"There's a warlord called Agres who has camped his army on the western boundary of our hunting grounds," said Melysë. "There's another warlord, Scolopota, who has encroached on our northern boundary. Their armies are hunting our game and I'm afraid I won't be able to feed the Tribe this winter on just our crops. The armies' horses have been set loose in some of the grain fields to eat what they will. And I can do nothing about it. I don't know what to do. My mother wouldn't have let those men within an arrow-shot of Amazon Lands. I think she'd be disappointed in me."

"Oh, no," said Xena. "I don't think so at all. I never met Lyssë, but I have heard the Amazons speak of her. It's true, she was a formidable warrior, and some say a hard woman, but they say when you were born, she swore you would be the greatest queen of the Amazons since Hypolite."

"Hypolite. I haven't thought of my godsmother in ... well, a while," said Melysë. "She was a priestess-queen, too, but she was also a warrior. My mother was very devoted to her, and Hypolite was devoted to my mother as well. They, too, were malatyra. She was as much a mother to me, in fact, as Lyssë. They died together, by the same arrow. I miss them both very much."

"They hear your thoughts," said Xena, softly.

"And I know they feel my love for them," said Melysë, smiling.

"So what are we going to do about these armies?" asked Xena. "What about Ares? I thought he let it be known that this Tribe was under his protection."

Melysë rolled her eyes. "My brother made an appearance, alright," she said. "Scolopota laughed at him and challenged him to a fight. Of course, Ares backed down and said it wasn't his fight."

"Figures," said Xena, darkly. "Why don't you send troops - "

"Xena, there are two fairly large armies practically surrounding us," said Melysë. "If we attack one of them, we'll have the other at our backs, probably attacking. And whatever casualties we suffer leave us just that much more vulnerable to either army. I have to think of a way to drive off both armies, without losing any more Amazons than I have to."

"Can I help?" asked Xena.

"Oh, Goddess, yes," said Melysë, hugging the warrior with tears of relief and gratitude. "I am their queen and I must do everything in my power to protect them. I will do my best for them, but I do need help."

"And you will," said Xena. "With my help. But now, tell me, aside from all this unpleasant warlord business, what else is happening with you?"

"Nothing," said Melysë. "Just - raising Arynë, leading the Amazons, and priestessing. Same as always."

"Are you sure there's nothing else you want to tell me?" said Xena, looking intently at the Queen.

Melysë hesitated a moment. Goddess, if only I could, but not now, it would seem so...never mind, not now. Maybe not ever...

"No," she said, smiling. "Nothing at all."

"meia," called Arynë, coming into the room with Gabrielle. "Guess what? tanti tickles, too."

Melysë sighed in relief at this welcome interruption. Xena was just too damn perceptive, she thought, as she gathered her small daughter in her arms. Gabrielle rubbed a towel over her short blonde hair, grinning. "You were right," she said. "She does squall and thrash - but it was fun."

"Well you tickled," scowled the little girl, but then broke into a grin. " But it was fun."

"I'm glad you two enjoyed the bath," said Melysë. "But how much water do I have to mop up?"

"Oh, none," said Gabrielle. "We already took care of that, didn't we, 'Ryn?' The child nodded.

"Well, thank-you," said Melysë, rising. "And now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to get a certain seven year old dressed for her birthday celebration."

Arynë jumped up and down excitedly. "tanti Xena," she said. "Did you know I'm seven today?"

"I sure did," said the Warrior. "Gabrielle and I were here with your mother when you were born."

"Oh, that's right," said Arynë, nodding. "meia told me."

"Come on, 'Ryn," said her mother. Mother and daughter left the room.

"Xena," said Gabrielle. "About Virgil - "

Xena took her best friend's hand. "I want to help plan your wedding," she said, smiling. "And so help me, if you name any daughter 'Xena', I'll - "

"Oh, Xena!" Gabrielle cried, hugging her friend. "It means so much to me that you can be happy about this! I mean I know that we..."

"Gabrielle, how could I not be happy when you are?" said Xena, meaning it."You are the dearest thing in all the world to me, and your happiness is mine as well."

"Do you think we can get Melysë to leave the Amazons long enough to perform the ceremony?" asked Gabrielle. "It would mean a lot to me to have an Amazon priestess...I mean, if I marry him. I still need to think some things through. I mean, this is a big step. But if there is a wedding, I'd really like Melysë to do it. She's not only a priestess, she's like family."

"I think she would, but right now, there's a problem," said Xena, grimly, relating the news to her friend. "Once that's taken care of, I think we can tear her away long enough to officiate at your marriage feast." But I doubt we'll keep her away for very long. Seems there may be something - or someone - here to come back to. Melysë is very discreet - as a queen should be, but I think Gabrielle could get it out of her - my bard is so very good at that - gods, I'll miss her!

"tantis, look!" cried Arynë, running into the room.

"Doesn't that child ever walk?" asked Xena, grinning.

"Not often," said her mother following her into the room, smiling.

Arynë twirled around in a full set of leathers, similar in design to Xena's. "Now I can be a Warrior Princess, just like Xena," she said, hugging the warrior.

"Arynë," said Xena, holding the child so she could look her in the eye. "Do you know what a warrior princess does?"

"Of course," said Arynë, looking at Xena, puzzled at her godsmother's sad demeanour. "A warrior princess fights for people who can't fight for themselves. Xena, do you think that when I'm a real warrior princess, I can go with you and Gabrielle and fight giants and Cyclops's, and harpies and mean, evil warlords?"

"Well, when that time comes, you can decide if that's what you really want to do," said Xena, with a sigh, her heart dropping once again as she thought about Melysë's child becoming a warrior. And by the time that happens, where will I be - without Gabrielle?

"Don't worry, tanti," said Arynë, patting Xena's face gently, intuitively knowing the warrior was saddened by her words. "I promise to only fight when I have to, like you always say. But I will be a warrior princess 'cause I'm already an Amazon princess, and I will learn how to be a warrior to protect myself and the Amazons when I am their queen."

Xena hugged the little girl tightly. "And you'll be a good one, too," she said.

"Arynë, go out and find Tecmessa," said Melysë. "You can show her your new clothes."

"Ok, meia," said the child, depositing a kiss on the cheek of each of three women in the room, before running outside. Melysë sighed, and fell into a chair, looking exhausted.

"You should rest," said Gabrielle, concerned.

"Oh, I know," said the Queen. "But I couldn't if I tried. I still have the ceremony and the feast to attend to."

"Can we help?" asked Gabrielle.

"I don't know," said Melysë smiling. "Either of you have any priestess-training?"


Melysë was clothed in the ceremonial robes of a priestess. She stood in the front of the Amazon Temple before the assembled Tribe, just as when the new-born Arynë had been presented to them in her Dedication Ceremony. Arynë also stood before her mother, with Xena and Gabrielle on either side of her as her godsmothers. At the last minute, Aphrodite, Arynë's third godsmother, blinked

in for the ceremony.

Amazon mothers usually chose three godsmothers for their daughters, in recognition of the Triple Goddess they worshipped. At the time of the child's Dedication, the godsmothers promise to raise the child if anything should happen to the mother. At the time of the child's first Initiation, when the child becomes Daughter of the Tribe, her godsmothers are released from their vows, but even after the first Initiation ceremony, the girl usually remained close to her "other" mothers. At the girl's second Initiation, after she has learned the Mystery of the Moon-Blood, she takes her own vows and is recognised as a full sister of the Tribe and the Amazon Nation.

"Arynë, daughter of Melysë," said the Priestess-Queen, solemnly. "You are old enough to make a choice between right and wrong. You are old enough to know the difference between truth and a lie. You are old enough to know that a promise must be kept. I ask you, are you ready to keep a very important promise?"

"Yes," said the little girl, trembling, though whether from excitement or fear - or a little of both - her mother could not say. Resolutely, the Priestess put the part of her that was Arynë's mother away to the back of her mind.

"Do you promise to serve the Goddess, in perfect love and perfect trust, with all your heart, all your soul, and all your being?"

"Yes," said the child, her eyes wide, but solemn.

"Do you promise to treat the elders of the Tribe as your mothers and grandmothers, respecting them and obeying them as you do your own mother?"


"Do you promise to treat your age-mates as your sisters?"


"Do you promise to obey and respect your teachers and to be attentive to your lessons, as is proper gratitude for their teaching?"


"Do you promise to love and respect yourself and to become the very best person you can be?"


Melysë smiled, proudly at her daughter and hugged her close, as if she would never let her go. Xena and Gabrielle saw the unshed tears shimmering in the Queen's eyes, but her voice was still strong and sure.

"Then be welcome, Arynë, Daughter of the Tribe," she said, removing the stopper from a small vial of fragrant oil. She knelt before the child and began anointing Arynë. "Blessèd be thy mind to know Her will. Blessèd be thine eyes to see Her beauty, thy lips to speak Her Names and Her words. Thy throat to sing Her praise, thy heart to know and to share Her Infinite Love. Blessèd be thy hands to serve Her, thy knees to kneel before Her altar. Blessèd be thy feet to walk Her path. Be thou blessèd."

"Blessèd be." responded the assembled Tribe.

Melysë turned to the godsmothers. "My Sisters, I thank you, on behalf of the Tribe, for the love and the care you bestowed upon Arynë," she said. "Xena, you were her first champion. Be thou blessed. Gabrielle, you were her first inspiration to learn. Be thou blessed. Aphrodite, you were the first to care for her in my - her mother's absence. Be thou blessed."

"Thank-you and Blessèd Be." repeated the Tribe.

Then the ceremony was over and the Tribe gathered around the long tables set up outside in the Temple garden, laden with the feast. Amazons wandered about, talking and laughing, congratulating Arynë and presenting her with gifts. Xena, chuckling to herself about the Amazons' propensity to party at any excuse, went to the stables and retrieved Argo's foal.

"Oh, tanti!" cried Arynë, joyfully wrapping her arms around the young horse's neck. The foal gently nuzzled the little girl and the bond was forged.

"Where's Melysë?" Gabrielle asked Xena. "She would want to be here for this, I think."

"Maybe not," said Xena, quietly, looking around for the queen. "I'll see if I can find her."

Queen Melysë had left the gathering, drained as she always was after a ceremony. She had to find a place away from the onslaught of the thoughts and emotions of people around her which invaded her own mind. The ritual which opened her up to the divine power of the Goddess also left her open to all the minds around her. She had to release and ground the power which was still inside of her, boiling, threatening to explode, before she could replace her normal shields. Stumbling, she fell and pulled herself up on shaking arms, then gave up and lay in the cool grass, moonlight streaming through the trees, bathing her in an ethereal glow.

Xena found her there, lying quietly, letting the earth drink the power from her. Slowly, the warrior approached. "Melysë, it's Xena," she said softly, so not to startle her friend. "Are you alright?"

"Oh, yes," whispered the Queen. "Just - very tired and...weak. Tonight took more out of me than usual. Probably because it was my own daughter and -"

"Hey," said Xena, holding Melysë's long, dark hair back and wiping her forehead, as she got sick in the grass and fallen leaves.

"Oh, Goddess, Xena!" cried the Queen, when she was finished. "This isn't exactly one of those experiences I want to share!"

"I know," said Xena, soothingly. "It's okay. So who's the father this time?"

"Why do you assume I'm pregnant?" said Melysë through clenched teeth. Too damn perceptive, alright. Goddess! What else can she see?

"Because you are," said Xena. "I've seen it before. When were you going to tell me - us?"

Melysë glared at her. "I am an Amazon - and a queen," she said, teeth still clenched. "I answer to no one for my actions. Not even to ... you, Xena."

"Okay," said Xena, gently. "I'm sorry - I didn't mean to pry. I - we care about you. I remember, if you don't, how close Gabrielle and I came to losing a good friend when Arynë was born. I was worried. That's all. Who is it? Not - that boy - you know, Arynë's father? You seemed to have - a little compassion for his feelings, even though it wasn't the greatest experience for you."

"No, not him," sighed Melysë. "And I'm not saying anymore about it, so let's just drop it - ok?"

"Ok," said Xena. "But I'll bet Gabrielle can get it out of you."

"No, she can't, Xena," said Melysë, firmly. "And the subject is closed. Please, Xena."

"I will drop it on one condition," said her friend.

"What's that?" asked Melysë.

"That when you feel ready, you tell me," said Xena. "I won't push you but it's important to me to know who it is. Alright?"

"Why?" asked Melysë. "Xena, I know you're not an Initiated Amazon, but you are one of us and you know our ways. You know it is considered an insult to ask the identity of an Amazon's father. Why is this so important to you?"

Xena sighed. "Hope," she said, softly.

"Oh," said Melysë, understanding dawning. "Gabrielle's...? Oh, no, Xena, it's not like that. Not at all."

"I thought that you... I mean...I know how you felt about...well, I remember what you told me about how you couldn't fall in love because of...complications, being the queen," said Xena, uncertainly.

"Xena, bearing children to one's Tribe has little to do with falling in love - for an Amazon," said Melysë, smiling a little at the warrior's discomfort. It's not the falling in love part I can't do, Goddess knows - it's the who and what to do about it - especially now. thought the priestess

"Yeah, I know," said Xena, grinning herself. "Poppy juice, right?"

"Not this time," said Melysë. "Just...a little magic. Remember, I am a priestess."

"And half god?" said Xena, raising an eyebrow.

"Mm, I figured it was about time that god-blood did me a little good, for once," said Melysë. "Aphrodite helped a little, but this child is no demon. Okay?"

"Okay," said Xena, relieved.

"But Xena," said Melysë, seriously. "Let's keep this between ourselves, alright? I don't want to dredge up anything unpleasant or painful for Gabrielle. And I really don't want this child set apart from the other Amazons any more than any child of mine already will be, alright? As far as anyone else is concerned, this is a child of the Full Moon Rites."

"Alright. There you go," said Xena smiling, helping the queen to her feet. "Why don't you go see Arynë? I think you'll find her in the stables."

"Did she like your gift?" asked Melysë smiling.

"Love at first sight," Xena said, grinning.


"'Ryn?" Melysë found the girl in the stables, brushing her horse.

"meia," said the child, not turning around. "Do you think this horse will happy here with us?"

Melysë knelt beside the child and pulled her close. "I hope she will," said Melysë, steadily. "Have you named her yet?"

"No," said the child. "What do you think I should call her?"

"Hm, I don't know," said Melysë. "It's really up to you."

"I think I like the name 'Argo'," said the child.

"But 'Ryn, everyone should have their own name," said the Queen, gently.

"Yeah, you're right," said the little girl, thinking. "How about Amnia - 'friends'? 'Cause I think - 'cept for Tecmessa -, she'll be my best friend, like Argo and Xena."

"I think that's a perfect name," said Melysë, gently stroking the little horse. "Now you have a party to attend, Young Lady," said the Queen arising. "Remember, you are still the Princess and you have been raised with manners - now go use them."

"Ok," said the child, running back to the feast.

It was then Melysë saw Gabrielle in the shadows. "Gabrielle," said Melysë, turning to her. The bard got no further as suddenly the sounds of revelry changed to angry shouts and screams. The women rushed out of the stables to see the festival had become a bloody battle. To her horror, Melysë saw Scolopota, riding in and out, killing Amazons. Her blood turned cold when she saw her young daughter brandishing the sword of a fallen Amazon which was entirely too heavy for her and run after the warlord. Then Melyse saw him reach down and pull Arynë onto the saddle before him and ride off. "Noooo!" she screamed, and without a further thought she turned back into the stables and leapt bareback upon the first horse she found, and rode off after her daughter before anyone could stop her.

Xena saw Melysë's mad ride, but was shocked - then relieved - to see her on Argo's back - and the golden mare was not only allowing her to ride, but was obeying the Amazon's body's commands - just like an Amazon horse.

"Xena, we've got to go after - " began Gabrielle.

"She'll be fine - Argo's got her," said Xena. "Let's teach these men how Amazons party! Sheeeee yaaaah! Hai ai ai ai ai ai ai!" With her distinctive and ear-battering war-cry, Xena somersaulted into the middle of the battle, grinning, as Gabrielle took on the nearest male warrior with her sais. The Amazons, hearing Xena's cry, rallied themselves, grabbing weapons and fought back until every man who was not dead was captured.

"Now, I'm going after the queen - and Scolopota," said Xena coldly.

"But Xena," said Gabrielle, "She has Argo - how -?"

"Gabrielle, there's more than one horse in the stable," said Xena, impatiently, saddling a chestnut mare she knew belonged to Melysë, crooning to the horse, and finally leaping amount. "You stay here, Gabrielle - there's another army out there who might just think the Amazons are easy pickings now. Yah!"

"Actually I was wondering how you were going to catch up to Argo," Gabrielle sighed as Xena rode off, then she began organising the after-battle activities, triaging and treating the wounded, and posting the sentries about the perimeter of the village and the compound where the prisoners were being held, awaiting the Queen's judgement. Gabrielle didn't envy them. Melysë was known for her soft voice - and heart, but she had a firm hand - and especially since Arynë was involved.

She really had wanted to talk to her about Virgil - and Xena - but hopefully she could catch her alone again before they left. I just wish I knew what the right thing to do was. I know what I want, but what about the Greater Good - for everyone involved. Gods, I'm confused! How does Melysë always know the right thing to say to help me clear my mind? She's wise; she'll know what I should do...strange, this is one I can't talk to Xena about - and she's probably the one person I ought to talk to...but I can't, not about this...


Melysë's mind was empty of everything but the black horse galloping before her. She hadn't realised at first that she was on Argo and not her own horse, but that didn't matter. In fact, her own horse - Amazon bred and trained though she was - would never have kept up with the black horse. She patted Argo and thanked her for the ride, apologising for the pace. Argo snuffled and sped up, as if to say, "Never mind - let's just go get 'em!"

Suddenly, a wave of dizziness and nausea struck her and she felt her mind flying high above. She could still feel Argo, galloping under her, the wind blowing her long hair out behind her - in fact all of her senses were sharper. She felt the energy in the clouds around her and gathered it to herself - why not? She was Zeus' daughter, after all - and her daughter was in danger, being stolen away from her. That must not happen. The priestess gathered the energy into a ball - not too big, because she didn't want to kill the man, just get her daughter back.

"Heads up Scolopota!" she yelled and threw the ball of lightning at the warlord's broad back. It hit him squarely between the shoulders, knocking him off the horse. Melysë saw her young daughter, clinging to the mane of the speeding black horse with all her child's might, and still holding the sword. Suddenly the little girl leaned over the horse's neck and Melysë was afraid she was falling off, but the horse suddenly wheeled around and trotted to the queen. She saw Arynë, grinning, her little cheeks flushed with excitement.

"meia," she said, breathlessly. "This horse listened to me. Wow! Xena let you ride Argo?!"

Melysë chuckled and pulled her daughter in front of her on Argo, taking the sword from her little hand. "I think it was more Argo let me ride Argo," she said.

They rode, leading the black horse to the fallen warlord. Melysë dismounted, the "borrowed" sword in hand, and approached the man. She heard a groan and knew that he was still alive, but not up to fighting her. She found a length of rope in one of his saddlebags and tied him securely to the black horse, then they rode back towards the Amazons.

Xena, riding the Queen's mare, was not making as fast a time as Melysë had on Argo, but she was still more than half-way to where the Queen had thrown the lightning when she met up with them.

"Xena, I'm so sorry," said Melysë. "I didn't realise it was Argo, and - "

"Sh - it's ok," said Xena, seeing Arynë's head bobbing to sleep. "I'm glad you had Argo. I knew she'd take care of you. I see you got Scolopota?"

Glad I took her beloved horse? Because Argo would take care of me? Goddess, I know what Argo means to her - she can't just be trying to be nice about this - she must really mean it...and that could mean..."Yeah, well, that's interesting - ah, I mean an interesting story," said Melysë, as they all headed back to the Amazons together.

Arynë perked up at that. "meia threw the lightning," she said.

"What?" said Xena, looking intently at the youngster.

"Mama threw lightning at the bad man," she said again, snuggling back into her mother who looked at Xena and shrugged.

"When did you learn to control lightning?" said Xena.

"I don't know that I have learned it, Xena," said Melysë. "It - I just - I can't even explain it. I didn't know I could, and then I just did. All I was thinking of was getting my daughter back before Scolopota could hurt her - or worse. Suddenly, the lightning was flying at him and he fell off the horse. That's really all I can remember."

"Well, Zeus was your father," said Xena. "I suppose you could have inherited - "

"No, Xena, I thought so, too, at first, but now I'm not so sure," said Melysë, thinking, but not about the lightning.

"Do you think you could do it again?" asked Xena.

"I don't know," said Melysë, giving her an enigmatic smile. "Xena we need to talk."

They rode back to the village slowly, so as not to wake the sleeping princess, and spoke of many things, but neither brought up the lightning again.


They arrived at the Amazons' village and were greeted by the sentries Gabrielle had posted. Melysë looked approvingly at the organisation of the Amazons. The Temple had become a hospital for the Amazons' wounded; Scolopota' soldiers were being treated outside in the courtyard, since no man was permitted inside the Temple itself. Melysë made a mental note of how many wounded Amazons there were versus how many men and was gratified that the latter outnumbered the former. Many Amazons had been killed in the initial surprise attack, however and Melysë sadly arranged for the pyres for the next day.

Xena had taken over the post-battle activities from Gabrielle, who went to sleep for a few hours in the Queen's cottage with Arynë. Melysë wandered about, overseeing the preparations for the funeral pyres, taking a shift in the Temple with the wounded, and re-inforcing the battle-ready discipline of her Amazons. "Remember, there is another army within our borders," she said. "They may attack at any time, thinking us weakened by all this. But we will be ready for them."

Finally as the sun began to rise, Xena found her and told her to go and sleep."You need to rest," she said firmly. "You can't keep this up."

"Xena, I know my own limits," said Melysë, her eyes dark-ringed, her voice betraying her weariness.

Xena gently put a hand on her arm. "Your limits, yes, but you have to consider someone else, now, too," said the Warrior, smiling gently.

"Huh," said the Queen. "Yeah, you're right. Ok, but promise if anything happens - "

"I'll handle it," said Xena. "Remember what we talked about. I can lead the Amazons against Agres. No warlord will invade Amazon lands for a long time after we finish with him."

Melysë nodded and went to her bed, curling protectively around her daughter who still slept, worn out by all the excitement and activities of the day before. When the queen awoke, Arynë was gone and the sun was high. She arose and washed, fighting the nausea of morning-sickness - she didn't remember it being this bad with Arynë - and changed into her fighting leathers. She took down the snow-leopard mask and put it on, raising it off of her face, then grabbed her staff.

"Hey, there, Sis."

Melysë, whirled around to face Ares. "Hey...Bro'," she said. "What do you want?"

"Ringside seats," replied the god of war, grinning. "You gonna fight?"

"Got a problem with that?" asked Melysë.

"With fighting? Never," laughed Ares. "With you fighting, I don't know. Looks like you're coming into your powers, Sis'. Better late than never, huh?"

"Ares, I have always had power," said Melysë. "I'm just finally learning to fully control it. Priestess training helps."

"Yeah well, I heard Aphrodite slipped you a 'little something'," said Ares, glancing at Melysë's still-flat abdomen. "Sure it wasn't ambrosia?"

"Ares the only thing Aphrodite 'slipped' me was a little instruction and guidance," said Melysë, impatiently. "I have never tasted ambrosia. What do you want?"

"I want to know how you controlled that lightning," said Ares. "The kid - well, that makes sense - in a way. That's like, women's magic, or something. But the lightning, that's something else. How did you do it?" The horn sounded, calling her to the battle.

"Ares, I don't know how it happened," she said. "And I don't have time right now to discuss this with you. So, either you fight beside me, or get the hells out of my way!"

She stepped out of her cottage and was greeted by Gabrielle. "Melysë," said the surprised Bard. "What are you doing? Xena probably wouldn't be up to fighting today."

"Where's my daughter?" asked the Queen, still feeling annoyed with her brother.

"In the Temple, with the rest of the children," replied Gabrielle. "Are you going to fight?"

"If I have to," said the Queen.

"I need help protecting those in the Temple," hinted Gabrielle.

"Xena assigned you to the Temple again?" asked Melysë, smiling gently, despite herself.

"Yeah," chuckled Gabrielle. "It used to really bother me that she kept me away from the main battle, but when she explained to me that I had the most precious treasures to guard, the children, well, that level of trust turned it around for me. So, what do you say?"

"Yeah," said Melysë, chuckling, in spite of herself. "A priestess belongs in the Temple, huh?"

The two women posted themselves within the Temple at strategic places. Arynë came running up to her mother, dressed in her Amazon leathers. "meia, are you fighting the bad men?" she asked, touching her mother's leather armour in wonder.

"Only if I have to, Little One," replied the Queen.

"Can I help?" asked Arynë.

"When you are older, and you have been properly trained to handle a weapon, you can help fight," said Melyse. "And I still want to discuss that sword with you - later."

"Will Xena keep them from getting us?" asked the child, worried.

Melysë looked down at her daughter. "If anyone can, it will be Xena," said Melysë, quietly.

"Will Xena be hurt?"

"Arynë, I know you're too young to understand this," said Melysë. "And I don't quite know how to explain it to you right now. When people fight, sometimes they get hurt. That's why we only fight when we have to - as a last resort. So we aren't hurt and so that we don't hurt others needlessly. Now, I need for you to go over to your friends and play - quietly. Mama has to keep watch."

Arynë's eyes widened, and she obeyed.

The afternoon wore on. Sounds of the battle grew louder as the fighting neared the village. Suddenly the outer doors of the Temple shook under the force of a battering ram. Melysë looked wordlessly at Gabrielle, and gathered their wards together, herding them into a chamber behind a hidden door, built for just this emergency. The wounded were already inside. Melysë and Gabrielle stood together, battle-ready, and met the attack head on. There were probably about a dozen men who burst through the doors.

Gabrielle started fighting. Melysë used the staff to keep the majority of the men off her fellow queen so she could fight one at a time. Suddenly, Melysë felt the same nausea and dizziness that had struck her the night before. She felt herself stop swinging the staff and saw the men back off. Gabrielle turned and looked at her, gasping.

Melyse felt claws at the end of her fingers, fangs in her mouth, her blood sang in her ears - but she was in control. She allowed the transformation, knowing she had control. With a hiss, she leaped on all fours at the men attacking the Temple and swiped at them with her claws. The men jumped back, yelling in terror and ran.

"Gabrielle - stay here," she said, though it came as a growl, and the Bard merely nodded, as the Queen ran on all fours, swiftly out of the Temple and onto the battleground. Melysë felt herself running. She still had control - she could stop and turn around whenever she wished, but she knew this was the best way to end the bloodshed. When she arrived at the battlefield and saw the fallen bodies, she wept. Not too many were Amazons, but with another consciousness, she realised all were Her children. She saw Xena, fighting furiously, then stop as the man she battled saw the Queen and dropped his sword, crying out in fear and fleeing. Xena saw the Queen and stopped fighting, bowing her head slightly.

"Stop!" cried the Queen, transforming to her own shape again and she was heard over the din of the battle. "No more fighting. The Amazons are under My protection. These are their lands - leave them and do not return - " She was interrupted by an arrow flying at her. Melysë caught the arrow and turned her eyes at the archer, Agres. The warlord laughed - until he saw the wrath in the Queen's eyes. She snapped the arrow in two and strode over to the man. Picking him up by the collar, she shook him like a rag.

"You dare..." she hissed, half-way shifting to the great cat she had appeared to be, and then back . "If you and your men do not leave these lands, never to return, you will suffer My curse for the rest of your life - and beyond - do you understand?" The warlord screamed and ran as soon as he was put down, his men following, not bothering to pack up their gear or collect their wounded. The Amazons looked to their queen and each knelt before her.

"Rise up, My daughters," said Melysë, tenderly. "You have done well this day and I am proud of you." Melysë suddenly felt the power drain out of her, but she turned and walked back to the Temple as herself before collapsing, out of the sight of the Amazons. Xena came running after Melysë and found Gabrielle holding her in the Temple.

"Is she alright?" asked Xena.

"Yeah, I think so - just real tired," replied Gabrielle. "Xena, what - ?"

"She is a priestess," said Xena.

"You mean, that was really - ?"

"What?" said Melysë, coming around. "It sure wasn't all me!"

The secret door slowly swung open, and the children, led by Arynë, crept slowly out. Seeing her mother, the child cried out and flung herself into her mother's arms. "Are you hurt?!" she cried.

"No, Sweeting, I'm just very tired," said the Queen, holding her daughter.

"Is anyone hurt?" asked child fearfully.

"Yes, a lot of our sisters were wounded," said the queen, truthfully. "But they fought very bravely and the bad men are gone. We will take care of them, don't worry."

"Xena!" cried the child. "You're bleeding!"

Xena glanced down at half a dozen gashes, the worst was her shoulder. "I'm ok," she said.

Melysë stood, a little shakily. "Yeah, but a couple of those need to be stitched," she said. "I'll take care of them. Gabrielle, can you triage the wounded - the men will be treated in their own camp, but I want our healers there, too. Let the survivors carry the tale of the Amazons' mercy."

"And their 'Protector'," said Xena quietly.

"Right," said Gabrielle, leaving.

"Arynë, I have a job for you," said Melysë. "I need for you to gather your friends and the older children, too. We need you children to gather wood and collect water from the river. I also need you girls to run errands and carry messages between here and our people in the men's camp - older girls can do that. Go on, Child, get them organised. Let me see just what kind of a Warrior Queen you'll make some day!"

Melysë smiled at her daughter's solemn expression and was touched by the imitation of an Amazon salute, as her daughter went to the other children and got them started on the various tasks outlined by her mother.

"Good thinking," observed Xena. "Get her focus off the 'hurt' part and on what can be done about it."

"Speaking of which, you need stitches," said Melysë, walking her friend over to a healing chamber. Gently, Melysë cleaned the wounds and stitched the worst ones.

"You have a light touch," observed Xena. "I don't think I could have done it more painlessly myself." Melysë smiled at the compliment. "Well, I have had some practice," she said.

"Your Majesty," said a young girl, saluting Melysë. "Warrior Princess. We are reporting as ordered for errand and messenger duty." Melysë looked at the four girls standing before her, solemnly, and nodded. "Very good," she said. "What are your names?"

"I am Teisypyte," replied the first girl, then indicating each of her companions, "Barkida, Alcibie, and Aëlla."

"Thank-you," said Melysë. "Stand by, Teisypyte, Alcibie. Aëlla, Barkida, go to the camp and report to Alcinoë - she's the healer in charge over there. Thank-you, Little Sisters."

The girls saluted both the Queen and Xena, then left to their duties. "Arynë," said Xena, grinning. "Are you sure she's only seven?"

"You were there," laughed the queen. "Now, I have a lot of other warriors to treat - Gabrielle should have everyone triaged by now. I - I will have to see to the...pyres - later."

"Why don't you let me do that?" said Xena, gently.

"Because I am their queen and priestess," replied Melysë. "I have served the Dark Lady before, Xena. If I can ease my sisters' journey back to the Mother's Womb to await rebirth, it eases my own heart a little at losing them."

"Ok," said Xena. "How's the little one?"

"Oh, I think she's better than any of us right now," said Melysë smiling.

"She? Are you sure?" asked Xena, smiling widely, placing a hand over Melysë's abdomen.

"Oh, yes," said Melysë, putting her hand over Xena's and smiling.


It was late when the queen's duties were finished. The pyres were burning out as her sisters' souls sped their way back to the Goddess. Xena had sung for the fallen Amazons and Melysë had shed tears she didn't know she had. She made her way back to her cottage where Arynë slept, Gabrielle already curled around the child in the small bed. Melysë smiled, and closed the curtain to her daughter's room. She turned and almost ran into Xena. "Goddess! You're quiet," she whispered.

"Sorry," said Xena grinning. "How are you?"

"I lost a score of sisters today," said Melysë with a sigh as she sat before the fire in the hearth. "Another score or so may go tomorrow. How are you? Shoulder hurting you?"

"A little, but it's nothing I haven't had before," shrugged Xena. "You were really something today."

"Yeah but what?" said the queen, poking the fire. "I'm still not sure what happened"

"I am," said Xena. "You walked out on the battle-field and I could have sworn I saw - never mind. I did see it. A huge snow-leopard."

"What else?" said Melysë, smiling.

"Well," said Xena. "Gabrielle could tell you better - she has a way with words. A light was shining out of you, a warmth. And I could feel such sadness - and anger - but mostly it was warmth, and ... love. I wasn't afraid. In fact, I felt comforted, in a way."

Melysë nodded. "That was the Goddess making Her Presence known. Her heart is broken when Her children fight and kill each other," she said. "But Her Love and Her mercy are infinite. You know, Ares showed up just before the battle."

"What did he want?" said Xena.

"He wanted to know if I was coming into my powers because of ambrosia," said Melysë. "He knows about the baby - and the lightning. It was the lightning he was most interested in."

"Probably jealous. We'll have to keep an eye on him," said Xena. "What did you tell him?"

"I told him I've never had ambrosia, but that I've always had power," said Melysë. "My training as a priestess probably brought it out, but I was always a little afraid to use it in case it used me - like that first time. But when Arynë was taken, I didn't think about the fear, I just went and got my daughter back. I think that's what finally broke down the barrier."

"I guess you've achieved control over that power," said Xena. "You know when word of this gets


"There will be a lot of really stupid warlords who will want to beat up the Goddess and her Amazons," Melysë sighed. "My heart is still not in fighting and warfare, though. I doubt if we can scare them all off as easily as today. And with watching out for Ares and this baby coming, we really have our work cut out for us."

"Yeah, but I was hoping we'd get Gabrielle married first," laughed Xena. "She has her heart set on you doing the ceremony." Melysë smiled.

"Oh, I think we have some time before the first stupid warlord tries anything," she said. "I would be proud and honoured to serve at her wedding feast. I have to meet this Virgil. If even you think so highly of him, he must be quite special."

"Hey, are you guys talking about me?" came a sleepy voice.

"Yep," said Xena. "Just discussing how we're gonna marry you off to poor Virgil."

"'Poor' Vir - oh, I get it - Funny! Ha, ha!" said Gabrielle. "You know, if I do marry Virgil - "

"You mean when you marry Virgil," said Xena "No, Gabrielle, I mean it - you two were made for each other. He's the other half of your heart. I can't be happy if you're not - you are the other half of my soul."

"But, Xena - "

"No buts, Gabrielle," said Melysë, rising and hugging the still-sleepy Bard. "Xena and I have decided your fate for you - and poor Virgil."

"You guys think you're being so funny," said Gabrielle, grumpy from just waking up. "What will you do, Xena, if I do marry 'poor' Virgil?"

"Melysë has asked me to stay here with her and be Warrior Queen of the Amazons - and I've accepted," said Xena.

"I don't..." said Gabrielle, her mind still sleep-fogged.

"I've asked - and Xena has agreed to be the Warrior Queen of this Tribe. We've been without one since my mother died. I am no warrior - I can't lead the army in battle - and daily, warlords and kings - and Rome - are encroaching on Amazon territory - and I can do nothing to stop them - alone. The Amazons will not just fade from this world without a fight, giving way to whatever army despises us for who we are. This is not the legacy I would leave my daughters."

"Xena," said Gabrielle. "You decided this without talking to me?"

"Gabrielle, I made a promise, a long time ago to Ephiny, our friend and sister Amazon, that I would not allow the Amazons to die out without a fight," said Xena. "This is a perfect way to keep that promise."

"What if I decide not to marry Virgil?" demanded Gabrielle.

"Well," said Melysë smiling. "There's always room for a third Amazon queen, like in our ancient history. You certainly have the experience. Time has not been kind to my Tribe, leaving us with only one Queen, who is not equipped to go to war to defend her people."

"Actually, I have decided to marry Virgil," said Gabrielle, grinning. "But it's nice to know I have options. But then, you already knew that I was going to marry him, didn't you?"

"Pretty much," said Xena, smiling.

"I was just - I didn't want to leave you alone again, Xena," said Gabrielle, looking up at her soulmate and her friend and fellow queen, gazing at each other. Melysë dropped her eyes, blushing.

Gabrielle grinned. "Guess I don't need to worry anymore, huh?" Xena looked up, startled, then smiled, embracing her malatyr.

"Gabrielle, don't you know?" said Xena, smiling gently and hugging her. "I am never alone - you are the best part of my soul. And you are always with me."

"Always," agreed Gabrielle, smiling.

(To be continued in part III: "Family Matters")

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