“Conqueror of My Heart”

By: Nataraja


Disclaimer: Xena, Gabrielle, Argo, etc. are ©copyright of MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures. Absolutely no copyright infringement was intended in the writing of this fiction. This story cannot be sold or used for profit in any way. It was written strictly for my own entertainment and hopefully you too will find some enjoyment through it. I certainly have loved reading other's XWP and ALT fiction over the years. This is my first attempt at actually writing some. A huge thank you to all the writers out there who document and play with the lesbian experience in a vast array of situations, setting and timelines. Thank you!!

Thank you, Joy, who edited the story and encouraged me to continue to completion.

Warning: This story contains graphic descriptions of Violence, War, Sex, Slavery, Rape and Murder involving both women and men in all combinations. Some scenes are non-consensual. Some scenes have degrees of BDSM. You have been fairly warned, (although I do wonder how you stumbled upon a Conqueror story not expecting these plot lines.)

Teaser: Xena the Conqueror has almost completed her four year quest for a united Greece and is not looking forward to settling down in Corinth. She rescues an innocent spunky farm girl from slavers and finds that even her hardened heart has a soft spot for the energetic trouble magnet named Gabrielle. One adventure leads to another and they both find that they love life on the road together. Will they be able to forgive Xena's dark past and persevere when a touch of the Gods takes Gabrielle on a journey with the Amazons?

Genre: Conqueror

Table of Contents

Chapter 1 A Thracian Storm

Chapter 2 Slavers

Chapter 3 Gabrielle of Potidaea

Chapter 4 On the Road Again

Chapter 5 Revealed

Chapter 6 Byzantium

Chapter 7 War

Chapter 8 The Abyssinians

Chapter 9 Anatolia

Chapter 10 Babylon

Chapter 11 Egypt

Chapter 12 Grecian Sea – Greacian Soil

Chapter 13 Amazonia

Chapter 14Princess

Chapter 15 Centaurs

Chapter 16 Queen

Chapter 17 Xena




Chapter 1

A Thracian Storm

Inhaling deeply as she stood atop the bare ridge, the smell of wood smoke and the wheat harvest filled her senses. Surveying the valley below she found, like countless valleys she had conquered, it held an eerie stillness, a calm before the storm. Fire gleamed in her cobalt blue eyes and she laughed out loud, the valley may still as yet be unaware what the rest of Greece already knew, that it was she, Xena, who was the oncoming storm.

A patch of alder along the creek caught her gaze. It was just starting to change into autumn colour and was glowing golden in the waning sunlight. Smoke drifting from a few cottage chimneys was the only evidence of life and the wind in the ripened grain the only sound in this peaceful enclave just south-east of a village known as Potidaea. She knew from the dryer, expansive landscape that she was getting closer to home - her journey almost complete. This fact tugged at her heart.

A strong gust picked up around her, grabbing a long dark strand of hair and flipping it across her face, causing her to narrow her eyes and briefly look back to the plain behind her. Her army was there, completing the familiar routine of setting up camp for the night. Everything as she had planned and to her satisfaction. She appreciated the swift and decisive movements, noticing she had trained them well, in a rhythm that had lasted now for four years. Then with a creak of her leather battle dress she turned back towards her future in the valley below.

“Is this one valley really the future?” she wondered out loud to herself. How many more valleys were finally left between her and uniting Greece under one rule. Ten, Twenty, Thirty? She had a focus few could understand and no one could challenge. She was four years and hundreds of valleys into her campaign to conquer Greece. Now the final province was within her grasp. She would be Xena the Conqueror. She had made it so close to Thrace, her homeland. Her heart warmed a bit as she knew now she stood within days of the Nestos' riverbanks and was poised to enter the last Greek province.

Alti had foretold that she, Xena of Amphipolis, was destined to be the Destroyer of Nations and for a decade she destroyed anything she could lay her sword upon. She easily fulfilled this vision becoming the most feared warlord in all of Greece, leaving a swath of burnt villages and murdered farmers in her wake and taking more gold and finery from the Lords than she could cache or carry.

It was four years ago that her tactic took a radical turn, from pillaging to uniting. She now wanted not just to ‘Destroy' but also to ‘Rule'. Something must be left in her wake to rule over. Xena did not know the exact motivation of her change but she knew there was easier money (from taxes) and more consistent power in it. When she was Conqueror of Greece she would have the respect of her alliances in Chin and Egypt. They would back her with troops to invade Rome and she would take her revenge on Caesar. Her control of all roads east would limit the trade of wheat, slaves and spice - all highly coveted by Rome - allowing her to set the negotiation terms with The Republic.

Her four year campaign started when she met Hercules and Iolaus and convinced them to join her in her quest to unite Greece. She was at a point then where she was certain no one else in Macedon, Greece, Albian or Anatolia could defeat her army. Most could not even stand against her long enough to make the fight half way interesting. Only Rome and Egypt rivalled her army, and her travels to Chin and the Norse lands made for strong enough alliances to the North and East that even roving bands of unaligned barbarians did not seek out a quarrel with her.

Perhaps it was the boredom which, when paired with the greed for profit, pushed her along on this new quest of unity. Perhaps it was her trusted ‘Boys', of which Hercules and Iolaus were part. ‘Her Boys', she laughed out loud. How silly that sounded, and yet how she relied on them, needed them, even loved them. They probably would be a little hurt if they knew she called them ‘Her Boys' to herself as they called themselves the honoured and noble ‘Alpha Guard'. They were all elite warriors in their own right, in their own style. They shared her need for blood and conquest. Their bond to her was as strong as it was to each other. They were her personal guard and leaders in her army, a tight group which had expanded now to eight members as they took to coupling. They were her advisors, directly aligned with each battalion, the eyes and ears of the army, her entertainment and yes, her friends. This group, ‘Her Boys', was the glue that kept the whole mechanism of the army machine together and communicated her message of greatness.

As a warlord she had not only built up the strongest army Greece had ever seen but now also the smartest army in the known world. She allowed for independence and strategy as long as it aligned with her grand goals of Greek unity. It was not an army of followers but a group of likeminded people, and she was the point that focused them all together.

Four years from the start of her quest, she had marched her army down one side of Greece and up the other. Looking back Korinthos (Corinth) was the highlight, her masterpiece. She laid the city to siege for six months, slowly infiltrating their army and putting a strangle hold on their supplies. Even a city as magnificent and fortified as Corinth could fall to Xena of Amphipolis. The northward movement after Corinth over the last eight moons had not been much trouble at all. Once Corinth was conquered, and the rest of the southern states taken, the east of Greece fell easily before her. The word of her conquests traveled quickly spreading fear, or perhaps making the Lords more intelligent? She scoffed a laugh at this idea. Well, they were definitely more respectful. Now they just turned over their castles to save their own skins, uninterested in being crucified like their cousins in Corinth. Her main skirmishes now were with Persian slavers and wayward warlords running towards the only “free” land left, the northern reaches. But she would rather deal with a slaver than a Lord any day. They were much easier for her to conquer. She understood them, knew how to talk to them, what motivated them. After all, she used to be one of them.

Gone were the petty fights of the city-states and the rich Lords' personal armies, gone the roving thugs pillaging crops and making slaves of the farmers. She had united her homeland, left peace in her wake, killed or calmed every warlord that stood against her. She offered peace, protection and prosperity. That is unity. That was her legacy.

The wild central highlands of Greece had not been touched as there were no cities there, no wealth and no resistance. The Centaurs and Amazons were really the only inhabitants left untouched and she had an uneasy truce with both races, for different reasons, both very personal.

Xena noticed the light had faded a little, making the valley before her look even more peaceful as the mist rose from the fields and merged with the smoke from the home fires. Tomorrow she would talk to the village council and, if there was no resistance, she would leave a contingent of representatives to keep the peace. Members of her army who had taken wives would be ready to settle down. In this way she had tight control over most of Greece already. Reports of any uprisings or resistance to her rule flowing regularly back to her through this network. The people's concerns were voiced, listened to and dealt with quickly and efficiently. She offered the towns protection from all raiders and in return demanded a portion of the yearly harvest for her army and a tithe of gold on every full moon paid to the representatives. “Tomorrow will come soon enough,” she thought as she quickly turned, her cloak snapping to keep up with the movement. Xena made her solitary journey back down to camp through the growing darkness, guided by the sparkle of the hundreds of campfires spread out before her.


Xena brushed open the tent flap and was assaulted by the smell of fresh lamb as the candles fluttered with the abrupt gust of wind. The interior was warm and inviting. The felted wool walls of the tent were dyed a deep red while the ceiling was left natural wool white to allow a muted light into the interior during the day. Candles melted onto a wooden table with six chairs that almost filled the main room. A large post in the middle of the table protruded with the height of herself doubled creating a center point from which gently curved the roof, six thick wooden tent supports lifted the tent edges to her height and a half. Drops of white fabric defined two other smaller areas for bathing and sleeping. There were several large furs on the floor, a small day bed and cabinet along the far wall. Both were made from the black lacquered wood and in the eastern design favoured in Chin. The smell reminded her that she was hungry. It had been a long time since the meal that broke her fast before dawn.

“Good Evening Hercules........ Iolaus,” Xena drew out the vowels as her entrance had surprised them to a jolting jump to attention. She gently nodded to each in turn, and they returned to sit, while taking a free setting at the table and serving herself some wine. For an instant the flash of thick red liquid settling into her goblet faintly reminded her of blood. She swirled the liquid in the candle light examining it thoughtfully before quickly downing the lot in one long motion.

They waited a moment, mesmerised by her actions, before responding, “Good Evening my Liege,” in unison. They had been waiting a while to give their evening reports and were half finished with the generous bowls of lamb stew. They knew Xena would be all business when she returned from her evening reconnaissance leaving little time for eve meal if they did not start when the food arrived.

“Report,” Xena barked when she was settled, the abruptness of the order contrasting with the earlier greeting.

Hercules spoke first, his deep voice resonating in the confines of the tent. “The primary foot battalion is settled eastward of the ridge. They will require an additional five dozen long swords and helms for those new recruits they picked up in the last two valleys. Training will commence tomorrow under Aeson's guidance. The archers are settled south west of there on a height of ground that the archers are content with.” Iolaus let loose a small snicker, the archers were notoriously picky about their campsites. This interruption garnered a raised eyebrow from Xena but Hercules just continued. “They have among them two members who wish to volunteer as representatives of your reign in this next town, as it is the valley they grew up in. Both have satisfied the required Tesera in service to you and have shown much courage and fought faithfully. I think they will represent you well.” He paused to gauge her reaction; it was unusual to have only two archers and no ‘heavy armour' as reps in a town. When he caught her impatient gaze he continued quickly. “All other battalions are satisfactorily settled.”

“Good, Good, that will work well. Tell Aeson to gather the required supplies from the wagons and have Yeh-Feng add them to the pay roster. If they had the heart to join us let's make sure their first moon's wages are in their pockets on time. If the two archers are from this village their influence will be enough and no swords need stay.” Her clipped air slowed and she dropped her voice for the next report. “And Iolaus, what news from the outer reaches?”

Iolaus, always a bit nervous, bit his lip before starting. “I have eight scouts to the north and the pigeons were busy today as we got messages in from six stations to the south.” He paused looking up into Xena's raised and expectant eyebrows and continued quickly, “The six stations have reported all's well. The scouts on the other hand have had some rough going.”

“How so…?” interrupted Xena before he had a chance to continue.

“Slavers, my liege, two days ride north,” Iolaus finished.

Xena pondered this statement. It was unusual to encounter slavers this close to her territory. She had decreed the capture of new Greek slaves illegal in her domain, although slaves could still be captured in battle or imported, primarily from Roman lands or Persia which had a very active slave trade. Also importantly two days ride for the scouts was at least a four day march for the army, and that was pushing them hard from dawn to dusk. This definitely was a problem.

She mulled over this new information and then her eyebrows lifted, “How many?”

“Not many. The scouts determined they were with Draco, about 30 men moving a group of double that number of women from the area around Potidaea,” he countered reluctantly knowing full well the reaction this name would create.

Xena jumped up from the chair and hissed, “Draco! I was wondering where that snake had got to.” She continued as she pondered and paced the small tent. Three steps one way, three steps back. Hercules and Iolaus followed her movement with their gaze back and forth as she muttered to herself, “Perhaps it is time... to pay an ‘old friend' a visit.” She continued pacing with each scattered statement, deep in thought.

Hercules knew the dinner was over and that Xena would be dealing with this new information for the next few days. His thoughts went to the woman he followed. He knew she liked to personally deal with any unexpected bumps along the road. Partly, there was no stealth with an army of 8,000 nor was there getting anywhere quickly. He knew she was also the best, and this was not just their opinion having followed her for four years. She was Ares' chosen, faster, stronger and smarter than any other warrior that they had ever met. Hercules was half god, but very early on he learned it was better to be on the same side as Xena. Even though their choice of methods differed, Xena always liked the taste of blood and she had a darkness in her he never understood or cared for, they had the same end goal a united Greece, and he could live with that.

Hercules took the lead standing to exit first, as he always did with his partner Iolaus. “Xena we will stay with the army, negotiate and secure the reps for the next village, and meet with you in four days just north of Potidaea.”

“Excellent,” Xena mumbled, still too focused on her thoughts.

Iolaus replied nervously backing towards the door, not sure what to expect in her current state, “Will you require entertainment tonight?” adding, “My Liege,” as an afterthought hoping it might allow him a favourable answer.

“Send Dahen in,” Xena noticed his nervousness as he quickly backed up at her direct stare.

Hercules answered, “By your leave,” and with a flip of her hand she dismissed them.

She had never favoured Iolaus for companionship. He was so focused on Hercules most of the time that it was not very entertaining. Yes, Hercules was a lucky man with such an attentive partner. I guess they were just too “good” for her tastes. The play of power that she liked to see in sexual conquests, as in war, was just not there with that couple. Dahen by far was her favourite of ‘Her Boys', with his partner Hanaj; they were like day and night. Dahen was a slight fair-haired Macedonian who grew up in Rome and looked young for his 23 years and Hanaj a large, muscular, dark Persian who was very much a man's man. As with all of ‘Her Boys', they were elite fighters but these two had a passion and love for each other that was infectious. She enjoyed watching them together as it gave her that cavernous cramping desire in her lower abdomen that she craved. It was like a drug to her. She often would lie awake until dawn's birdsong, unable to clear her mind of her army, and of her past, unless sated. Although there were many rumours about Xena and her sexual conquests, she usually pleasured herself. Maybe it was the inability to give up control, or for others to live up to her expectations, or that her heart was always ended up crushed when she gave it away. Whatever the reason, she like to watch ‘Her Boys' make love with each other before pleasuring herself and falling finally into a fitful sleep.

Dahen and Hanaj were frequent nightly companions and had a sleeping bed on the far side of the tent that they favoured instead of leaving in the middle of the night. This, of course, helped the rumours that flew around the camp. What man would not want to spend a night with Xena? But to be part of her elite Alpha Guard and have that pleasure one not only needed to be a top fighter and more often a ‘Son of Apollo' as well. There were many who tried to join only to get their ass whipped, in more ways than one, and fled back to the foot soldiers' ranks with a story or two to tell around the camp fire.

This night Xena needed release. The news about Draco had her rattled. What was he doing capturing slaves so close to her territory? Did he think their past dealings would make him immune to her law? Did she have someone inside her army who was assisting? Surely the scouts would have noticed his whereabouts before he was able to capture 60 women. Was he teasing her? Testing her? Neither of these options was going to give her much rest tonight.

She heard the footsteps approaching before the tent flap opened releasing the smell of exotic oil that Hanaj favoured for his hair. Hercules must have filled Dahen in on her needs tonight as he entered blindfolded with his hands bound behind him guided by Hanaj, both of them only wearing an easily removed wrap of leather. “Oh”, Xena thought to herself, “this is going to be good!”

Hanaj wasted no time with small talk but just glanced up at Xena with his dark moody eyes. A nod from her was all he needed to release his own passionate fury. Quickly removing both of their leathers and forcing his partner down on his knees he grabbed a carafe of warmed oil that Xena kept over a candle on the side board cabinet. He did not need any foreplay tonight, just leading Dahen through the camp, bound and defenceless, was enough for him to feel the pull in his loins. He poured the warm oil over Dahen's back as he pushed his lover's chest down to rest on the seat of a chair. Kneeling behind him, he watched the stream of warm oil as it flowed right down Dahen's spine to his tailbone and provided all the lubrication he would need to fuck his love, hard, slow and deep. Xena found plenty here tonight to keep her mind entertained and with her body sated and she drifted off into her dreamless sleep.


Morning came quickly, but Xena was well rested and she was alert instantly. As she lay there a moment she mentally prepared for the day, first noting that she would have to thank Dahen and Hanaj for such a rare great sleep. Turning her head slightly so she could see into the main room, she saw them tangled around each other under a slight cover on the other bed, sleeping with smiles on their faces. “I guess I don't have to thank them after all. It looks like they enjoyed that more than me,” she thought chuckling to herself.

Slipping quickly into a soft burgundy tunic trimmed with gold and black leather leggings, she took advantage of the comfort knowing that she would have her armour on soon enough. Grabbing her ever present boot daggers she silently exited the tent, letting them sleep a while longer . “Just because they did all the work last night,” she thought as she grinned replaying in her mind the nights events.

Moving around the camp in the pre-dawn light she was able to survey most of the ‘Central Area' tents without too much trouble. Extending her vision to the fields beyond, she saw that each battalion was camped slightly removed from each other with their own cook tent, latrine area, and command tent for the General and Specialists of that section. Each of her eight generals led close to one thousand soldiers. General infantry numbered closer to three thousand while specialized skill sets such as archers and catapult crews (were divided in two groups of five hundred and cavalry were seven hundred fifty total).

Each General was closely associated with one of her elite personal guard who specialized in that type of war art. This was specifically for training and for the communication of both needs and problems. This also worked well as her orders were passed directly from ‘Her Boys' to the Generals as she did not have the patience for errors in communication. There was a select group who ate or slept in the ‘Central Area', while most of the army kept to their own battalion. This kept the peace as everyone felt part of a smaller village. Knowing each other as family was essential to success in war, the soldiers took risks for ‘brothers' that they would never take for ‘strangers'.

The ‘Central Area', which was actually more towards the front of group than the center, was a ring of tents around a common fire pit. Consisting of the healer Shala's tent and infirmary where there was an extensive collection of dried herbs, the stable tent with only six stalls for her personal horses (or those of her visitors). Seven large tents with stores of food and weapons with an adjoining area for her morning cook, Farina and her son Cedric, and her evening cook, Manoot. Any money that they carried, for payroll and supply procurement, was under tight guard from eight infantry men at all times and was kept in the tent of Yeh-Feng, her accountant from Chin, who was also a former assassin from the house of Lau-Ma, and most certainly did not need any guards at all.

Lastly were her tents. The first one was divided by small curtains into three sections for sleeping, eating and bathing with a small tub carved from a single piece of wood, small in comparison to the baths in Athens or Corinth but a luxury for camp life that she would not live without. Her other tent was for strategy sessions and meeting dignitaries with a large table and numerous scrolls and maps. She called this tent her ‘library', in a mocking tone. Truth be told she had not slept with four walls around her in over twelve years, except the few times, counted on one hand, she had been back to visit her mother. She had tried to sleep in the back field but her Mom would have none of it and insisted she slept, like a kid, back in her old room, with her feet hanging off the bed.

All in all, Xena's life was her army, and she was very comfortable with the freedom it provided. Part of her did not want her quest to unite Greece to ever end as then she would have to settle down in a castle somewhere and wear a gown. The thought of this almost had her laughing out loud by the time she reached the stable.

Checking on Argo she heard a faint crunch of straw and spun around with her dagger at the ready, only to peer into two big brown frightened eyes of Cedric, the stable boy.

Xena whispered with an exasperated tone, “Cedric, how many times have I told you not to sneak up on me?”

Cedric's meek reply was drawled out, “Aww Xena, how was I supposed to know it was you?”

Xena countered, “Who else would be checking on Argo at the crack of dawn?” Cedric's expression was universal: she did have a good point, and it was his mistake.

“Sorry, Xena”, he finally responded, drawing out the vowels slowly and looking down. Xena quickly crossed the few steps over to the stable boy, whose father had died on her campaign in the South, and fluffed up his dark brown hair, which was already standing on end from sleeping in the straw.

“It's alright boy, I just don't want to hurt you. I am glad that you have done such a good job grooming Argo, she looks beautiful.” With these words a glow lit his face. A compliment from the Commander herself was not something that happened every day. He could not wait to tell his Mom who was already up with her job as morning cook, preparing for the onslaught of hungry mouths that would arrive with dawn.

Cedric practically skipped out of the stable tent on his way to get breakfast. “Thanks Xena, see you later,” he yelled back over his shoulder.

Xena just had one more stop to gather herbs for her tea from the infirmary and then she would be heading to the cook tent too. Xena had learned to appreciate a hot morning tea since spending time with Lau-Ma in Chin years ago. Lau-Ma would put various herbs in the tea with the purpose to help Xena with her moods, to heal mentally and physically, and for energy. She seemed to instinctively know what Xena would need that day and made a new personalized combination daily. Xena still found this helped to put her day in focus and the smell also made her remember her time spent in Chin with fondness. She helped keep the spirit of this time in her life alive by mixing various herbs to set her up for her day. She always took Rhodiola, a favourite of Lau-Ma's from the mountains in central Asia, which she said gave the drinker physical power. Xena also liked Ginko leaf from the sacred gardens of Chin's monasteries for mental clarity. Today she would need to pick up some Oosnia, an ancient lichen that provided protection, from the infirmary. If she was going against a bold group of slavers, she might as well draw from all sources.

Xena brought breakfast back to her tent for herself, Dahen and Hanaj. She was enthused that the day was moving forward when she saw Dahen's eyes were already open, although he had not moved, probably just not to wake his partner. With the sight of breakfast Dahen gently lifted Hanaj's large arm off his slighter frame and slipped free of the grasp, sliding a pillow in as a replacement. Dahen donned a robe that was laid over the chair by the bed and rose to meet Xena who was seated by the table savouring her morning tea ritual. He kissed her gently on the head and smiled one of his full face smiles that lit his whole face.

“Good Morning” he said gently and then with a teasing tone, “did you have fun last night?” Then he added after a pause with a twinkle in his eye, “I know I did.”

Xena replied, “Very much. Tell me how is it that you always know what I need?”

Dahen accepted breakfast from her with a nod and moved to perch on the chair across the table, finally crossing his legs to sit, he looked directly into her eyes and said in a serious tone, “Why, Xena, isn't it obvious, I love you.”

Xena at first tried to be serious but then could not hold it any longer and burst out laughing, “Ya, maybe if I grew a dick and chest hair.” Immediately the quiet morning was no longer and Hanaj quickly joined them as sleeping was pointless.


The Alpha Guard met briefly every morning to discuss their strategy and actions. Xena insisted on this, even if she was absent from camp. Today she needed to outline what the next few days would look like as she would be away for at least three or four days depending on the outcome with Draco. She also may need to assist the captured slaves back to their homes or treat any injuries that they might have. She had initially thought to go by herself as the Draco problem was personal but over breakfast had thought of escorting 60 terrified women who had just been through Gods know what treatment, was enough to leave even her with weak knees. If there was something she really had no patience for it was a bunch of crying, chattering women. Yes, even she would need help with this.

As she entered her library, which was a large oval black wool tent with rich warm rugs, she instantly felt a change in the wind that made her hair stand up on the back of her neck. Her heightened senses switched on to alert. She had learned to trust these survival instincts the hard way, over many years, and they had never been wrong. She thought to herself, “there is always a first time for everything,” as there was no immediately obvious threat. Most of her Alpha Guard had gathered. Hercules and Iolaus were standing together on one side of the central war board table with Hanaj on the other. Dahen was close to the door leaning on the thick tent pole that supported the alcove entryway. The tall Egyptian twins, Atsu and Ottah were lounging on one of the chaises, one of only a couple pieces of furniture that littered the floor near a large open cupboard filled with scrolls. Their faces were perpetually serious and dark with the charcoaled eyes they favoured in their homeland. Aeson the huge red haired northerner, who led the heavy infantry (that fought entirely with the mace or war hammer and shield), was taking up most of the space to the left of Hanaj. Aeson was a hulk of a man a full two hand widths taller than Xena, who had a quick easy laugh and was always teasing his slighter brothers with practical jokes. He had been riding with Xena since her adventures in the Northlands twelve years ago and was her oldest friend. He was her second in command, always telling stories of their earlier adventures. With each telling, the monsters got fiercer and the armies larger. True to form Aeson slapped Hanaj on the back to conclude the end of some funny tale. Hanaj luckily was large enough to withstand the force that would have made others stumble.

Glancing around, Xena noticed that Cadmus was missing. Cadmus was testing her patience lately and this was just unfortunately another example. He was a beautiful man, and he knew it, taking great pains to pluck all the hair from his body as was the fashion of the Roman elite. He had been a celebrated gladiator in his youth and was the oldest member of the Alpha Guard, but pity on anyone who mentioned that to him. He had taken Dahen as his slave consort when Dahen was only thirteen. About twenty years his junior, he taught him every fighting skill he knew. When they joined Xena's army Dahen was still in his shadow. Over the last year Dahen stepped up as a leader himself pulling away from Cadmus, which certainly had its dramatic moments. The hardest move was when Dahen fell in love with Hanaj six months ago, something Cadmus had yet to understand and accept.

Cadmus, true to form, swooped into the door way, robes flying behind him, pausing for his entrance. He looked more destined for the theatre than the battlefield. Xena knew that those who dismissed this man for his feminine look and movements would be sorely disappointed and probably very dead. He was a master with the short swords, of which he fought with grace and speed often dispatching opponents before they even drew the heavier long sword favoured by infantry. Cadmus stopped right beside Dahen who was still leaning on the wooden tent support. Too close for friends. Xena noticed Hanaj's arm muscle flex slightly as he tightened his grip on the strategy table which was the only thing that stood between him and the entrance way. Dahen dealt with it well, casually stepping forward and moving slowly, almost sauntering, in front of Xena and around between Aeson and Hanaj. Dahen's slight frame almost swallowed up between them. “That was a good move,” Xena thought, as Cadmus would not dare step between her and the strategy table.

There was that feeling again. Xena felt the hairs on her neck, alert. This time it was stronger and coupled with an almost metallic smell that hit the back of her throat. It was enough for her to abruptly change her plan. She had briefly spoken to Dahen and Hanaj about her plans over breakfast and she knew that Hercules and Iolaus had stayed in for the night, as usual; so there was little likelihood for the others to have heard the news about the slavers.

“Welcome, Boys,” she drawled, opening the meeting.

Various nods and intonements of “My Liege,” came from all corners.

“I have some news for you,” her eyes gleamed with a playful flash. “My presence is demanded on a difficult mission to the North. I will be leaving you for a half moon.” She continued with a feigned sigh looking to gauge their reactions. “Amphipolis is a four day ride North and I will be visiting my mother for a few days as it has been a years since we have been in this part of Greece. I will rejoin with you in fourteen days time on the plains north of Potidaea. Aeson, you have the helm. Guide them well,” she finished clasping arms with the warrior. Hercules and Iolaus looked stunned and flicked their eyes finding that Hanaj and Dahen were just as confused. Although they did not follow the abrupt change of direction, silently they confirmed that they all trusted her change of tactic.

Xena's strained relationship with her mother and her remaining brother, Toris, was well known. Aeson was the only one who had met her in the past and he thought she and Xena were actually quite similar although he would never let on this realization to Xena. They were both stubborn women, and the more Xena fought the similarity the she more she grew to resemble it. Aeson almost chuckled with the memory of their last visit and was going to mention Xena's former vow never to visit her again, but after a quick look in Xena's direction he wisely held back his comment and instead feigned a cough.

Dahen spoke formally, a little over the top for him, as he was usually casual in his speech. “My Liege, I would love to accompany you and meet the woman who gave rise to the greatest warrior of the known world.”

Xena replied playfully, “My Father gave rise to me and he is now dead by my Mother's hand, is that really the woman you want to meet?”

Dahen pleaded with his eyes and regressed into the familiar, “Xena, please I really want to join you.”

“Alright,” Xena relented. “I'll have you and Hanaj along. Iolaus I want you to join us part way so you can connect with and report on your scouts.” Iolaus jumped to attention at the mention of his name and glanced longingly at Hercules. “Fine, and Hercules too. So much for some alone time with Mother. Gods this is never easy.” Xena sighed and she shook her head, lowering it to look at the map. Back to business she directed, “We will take the eastern route near the ocean.” Deliberately tracing a line with her long finger away from the area the slavers were last seen.

The appearance of Draco just seemed like too much of a coincidence now to take chances. She had chased him northward two years ago with a threat to gut him if she ever saw his handsome mug in ‘Her Greece' again. Xena never had to live up to those promises as he had never challenged them. Draco was smart, resourceful and full of himself, but not stupid. He would have needed a good reason to come back and risk her wrath. With this instinctual cautionary feeling rising up she wanted make sure she did not have an exposed flank, especially if the threat was within her own ranks.

“We depart within the candlemark,” Xena ended the meeting as those accompanying her scurried to grab their horses and ready packed travel pouches from the various corners of the camp.





Chapter 2


Xena finally started feeling relaxed as they rounded the bend in the track leading towards the trees, out of sight of the army camp. A low murmur rose up from the group of men following her, nothing specific, but she knew they were anxious to know ‘the plan'. Out of sight of her army's camp Xena turned in her saddle, swinging her bent right leg over the saddle horn, so she could address the group. “Alright, sorry for the change of plans boys but I got a strange feeling that Draco running a successful slavery operation this close to us was not coincidence.”

“I agree,” piped up Dahen, always enthusiastic.

Xena continued, “We may need to flush out the traitors within our ranks, so I thought the less people in on the plan the better. I did not even tell Aeson so he is probably preparing for me to get back in an ugly ass mood from spending time with my Mother.” She laughed at the thought but it died off quickly at the surfacing memory of the extremely sour mood she was in for weeks after the last Amphipolis visit.

“Herc, Iolaus, I still hope to have the negotiations for this valley completed today. In half a candlemark we will be due east of the main village. There you can break off and meet up with us later tonight. We will head straight for Draco. By riding hard and resting every two hours we should make it close by the mid-night. Capturing 60 women young enough for a good slave price in this sparsely populated area is something that would take some time and resources, over a few valleys and several villages. We should be concerned that some of our scouts could be in on the slavers plan. Perhaps that is why it took a while to find out about the operation. Iolaus, do you remember the creek on the north ridge face looking over the Potidaean plain where we camped before when we met with the Thracian negotiators?” Xena questioned.

“With all the bloody mosquitoes?” Iolaus interrupted strongly. It had been over three years but it was fresh in his mind.

“Yeah, you remember that huh? That's where we will be tonight,” Xena continued grinning impishly.

Hercules piped up formally before Iolaus could complain, “Then, my liege, that is where we will meet you.”

Changing the subject, Xena sighed and commented to everyone, “Doesn't it feel great to be out on the open road,” sighing again she added with a smile, “to kick some slaver butt.”

“Welcome back,” Dahen said softly with a gentle look and Xena knew what he meant. Dealing with camp problems often kept her busy all day which did not give her the freedom she seemed to live for. It was much better going out on the road to find trouble that waiting for it to come to them. Dahen spared a glance for his lover who was leaning over the neck of his horse saying something soft in Persian, and he smiled at the sweetness of the moment.

Hercules and Iolaus soon left the group headed east; it was then that Xena picked up the pace. They pushed on without a word, each finding solace in their thoughts, until their bodies and steeds were close to exhaustion. The sun had long since set but the track was wide and the moon bright tonight, they made good time but the cost was exhaustion. Making camp, the group did not even feel the hard ground under their sleeping rolls before they were deeply asleep.


Xena was awake in the predawn, and she lay there she inhaled a deep breath of cold fall mist and wondered why she could never sleep past dawn. What kind of cruel trick was it really that even though she crashed only a couple candlemarks ago she could not make up the sleep in the morning like the rest of the snoring warriors around her. After a few minutes of rolling that around in her mind she finally decided, as she always did, that it was a very good thing because the sooner she got up, the sooner she would be able to deal with Draco. She gazed over in the direction that she had heard Hercules and Iolaus arrive last night. Everyone was still sleeping soundly, bundled up together.

Xena felt a tinge of something pull her heart. What was it loneliness or longing? Yes, it was longing. She knew what it was like to love, M'lila, Lau-Ma, Alti's apprentice Enika, but she had always been hurt and that hurt was too much for her to deal with. They all left her, anyone she let get close. Most often they were killed, left her through death. Her lifestyle was too dangerous, she justified. She had to be able to be unfettered, unattached, to do the crazy things she did. She could not be worrying if someone would get killed or hurt if she was not watching or was captured. It was just not worth it, even if these boys looked content in their pairings she knew the risk of love and it was too much for her to think about.

Quietly Xena arose and gathered some wood. By the time the others stirred she had a fire going and some tea brewing. She thought how much she really liked her morning tea when on the road. Somehow it tasted always better than in camp, and it was not because of that pine needle she just fished out, she laughed a bit at the thought, or maybe it was.

As they joined the fire, Xena outlined the day, “Herc, Iolaus, we all know how much the ladies love you.” Xena's eyes flashed a playful sparkle.

They groaned at the ongoing joke as women were always throwing themselves at them. As lovers they were not very openly physical with each other so most assumed they were just friends.

Xena continued with an air of seriousness, “No really, I would like you to find and rescue the captured women while Dahen, Hanaj and I deal with Draco.” Then she turned to the others to finish, “And make no mistake, Draco is mine! Herc, we will find you tonight. I am sure there will be various degrees of injuries, slavers are not known for going particularly easy on the merchandise. The captured women needing the healer will be transported back to camp. The others we will escort straight back to their home villages. This could take several days, so we can use the supplies from Draco's camp, horses, wagons, provisions and whatnot. I am sure he will not mind donating the goods.” She laughed at the thought of Draco's face as she convinced him of his generosity.


Going their separate ways with a renewed sense of urgency Xena, Hanaj and Dahen easily found the camp of Draco. The warlord's men did not bother to conceal their numerous horse trails leading into the forest meadow. There was a group of about a dozen tents that were erected housing nearly one hundred men in the cramped quarters. Xena quipped as they arrived, “We could have found this place by smell alone,” and the boys had to agree the stench was certainly foul.

Hanaj and Dahen quickly learned that their job today was to stay back and let Xena have her fill. She released the beast inside on anything that stood against her. Showing no mercy, she slaughtered these warriors after playing with them like a cat with mice, chasing down those who chose to run instead of dropping their swords in immediate surrender. Dahen soon realized it would just be best to start collecting the bodies for the pyre as they now littered the glade which was slick with blood. A few of Draco's warriors had come to Hanaj to surrender, hoping to avoid the almost certain fate of their comrades who stood against Xena. Hanaj strung them with their hands bound behind in a growing chain; knowing Xena would not kill bound men as thy offered no challenge at all. Hanaj's few glances at Xena showed her to be covered with a fine spray of blood, sweat and mud with a feral look in her eyes. She had taken a few strikes to her arms that would require stitching but no real damage. In fact he was pretty sure none of the fighters had even come close to pushing her to that edge that she found in a real battle, let alone besting her.

When Xena finally took the last of them down they had only eighteen or so that surrendered and would stand trial back at camp. Now she just had to find Draco.


Hercules and Iolaus moved quickly and by mid-morning had located the spot where the slaves had been kept the previous night. Moving that many women, probably bound together and certainly on foot would be slow going so they took a moment to rest and water the horses while they went over a plan. Hercules was always the one who came up with the plans. “He really is hero material,” Iolaus thought, and he made a conscious prayer to Apollo to help his lover see his true potential. Iolaus had always felt that Hercules was too good to be following Xena around like her lap dog. Yes, he admitted she was good for them in some ways. She made them open up and talk about things and they had a supportive group of friends within the army who were also ‘Sons of Apollo' who encouraged them to come out as lovers. He would probably still be just a ‘side kick' or ‘best friend' if they had not joined Xena's army and he was very appreciative of that. Even so, Iolaus never really felt completely comfortable with Xena and wished for the day he and Hercules could go their separate way again. He pictured Hercules and himself on the open road with no clear destination but the local bathhouse...

“Iolaus, Iolaus,” Hercules had noticed him off in his thoughts and was calling him back.

“Oh, sorry Herc, what was that?”

“The plan, the plan Iolaus, do I have to start again?” Hercules was a little frustrated; Iolaus seemed to be doing this a lot lately.

“Sorry Herc,” Iolaus just shrugged sheepishly as he could not really just come right out and say, “Honey, I was dreaming of your Hero thing again.” Although he wished he could, and then he would kiss him and… Focus!” Iolaus paid rapt attention to the explanation of the plan which he knew would work perfectly. Herc's plans always worked perfectly. Iolaus deduced it was a variation on the, ‘We are coming at you from two directions at the same time' plan. “I would love to come at you from two directions big boy.” Iolaus thought “Damn my mind is drifting again… Focus. Focus. Focus. Women in distress. Check. Hero. Check. Women worship Hero. No No NO.. Focus.”

Another blank look and Hercules was left wondering if anything went on in Iolaus' head at all. “Well, let's put this in perspective,” Hercules thought, “he was a fine piece of ass, he was a great follower, I could take him home to mother without complaint and he did share the same spiritual beliefs.” Iolaus turned to gather up the horses as Hercules watched him walk the small distance to the creek, “Yes, that settled it. That ass did make up for all the times I've questioned if anyone was home upstairs.”


The captured women were tied in three long lines strung behind a wagon and surrounded by thugs. They were all dressed in their rough peasant cloth skirts and head wraps. Each woman had her hands bound behind her. The rope binding them together made walking difficult, and some stumbled with each step. They were in various states of health. It seemed that the younger women taking up the rear of the lines, closest to the slavers with the whips, had the worst of it. They were covered in slash marks and bruises. Hercules thought smiling inwardly, “They must be the feisty ones giving them all the trouble.”

The plan work flawlessly. Iolaus drew the attention of the thugs as Hercules came up from behind and picked them off quietly. By the time they knew what hit them, there were only a dozen or so left to capture and they tied them up with the same rope as they released the women. The only problem with the plan was that it did not include what do with sixty hysterical women. The chaos was infused with adrenalin of the women newly rescued. They rushed Iolaus and Hercules grasping and clinging to them for attention, each telling their own version of events.

“Well,” Hercules thought as he locked eyes across the mob with a frustrated Iolaus, “ This is what they did best and why Xena picked them for this job.” Hercules exhaled and extracted several arms from around his neck and stood up upon the wagon, above the din, and said in a gentle deep firm voice, “Ladies, Ladies, calm down now. We need to have some order here or we will not get you home.”

He set about having them organize themselves. “Firstly, I am representing Xena of Amphipolis, Conquer of Greece; she has outlawed slave collection in these parts so these men will be tried as traitors to the nation, which is a capital offence. Secondly, we need to help anyone who has been seriously injured. Bring them to the wagon; they will ride back to camp where we have healers who can attend to them.”

Five women were brought forward; he recognized the ones that had been near the rear of the line-up. Three walked on their own and two with more severe wounds were guided by others. Iolaus and Hercules lifted those two women into the wagon and onto a makeshift bed the families had formed with clothing over a grass and leaf litter to make the ride more comfortable. Hercules was very concerned for the last two as they had numerous gashes from the whip on their back that would require stitching. One had a large amount of dried blood on her thighs. He was not sure if they would survive; they had lost a lot of blood. One woman in the group had some healing skills but no supplies. She had patched them up as best as she could. They were as ready as they would ever be, although he did not want to push any of these exhausted women who were now seated, resting in small groups on the sides of the track.

“Iolaus, are you ready?” he said purposely, a little loudly. Hercules knew he would be but wanted to let the group know they were ready to leave.

“Yes, let's head for camp,” Iolaus returned, wondering why Herc was yelling at him, and then continued after glancing up at the sun which was now past midpoint, “Xena should be meeting us in a few hours.”

And with that they began the slow quiet journey back to camp. Hercules was concerned at the pace of the group; the women were spent already so even the relief to be heading home, free, was not enough to hurry them along. He knew that when they met Xena they would have to split up to get the wounded back faster, and he was relieved when he heard the distinctive sound of three warhorses gaining on them.

“Xena, my liege, it is good to see you.” He greeted with a salute off the chest as Iolaus bowed his head slightly. He looked at her blood splattered form and quipped, “I see you had no trouble convincing Draco of his generosity.”

Xena huffed, “It took a while to find him. We took his camp while he was off hunting a lovely red stag for dinner. Although I must be getting soft, he and about twenty of his more agreeable thugs are bound in camp. It looks like I played better odds than you today, for once.” She gazed over at the ten or so captives that were being dragged haphazardly behind the wagon.

Hercules could take down an army and still look as clean and fresh as daybreak. He did not have a spot of blood, dirt or sweat on him. Iolaus on the on the other hand looked like he had personally wrestled each of the captives to the ground in hand to hand combat. He looked tired, no, a better word was weary. “I think this life is getting to him,” she thought , “I'll have to make a point to talk to him about that.”

“Xena,” Hercules lowered his voice, “there are two women who are pretty badly banged up. We need to get them back to Shala, quickly.” She could tell by his eyes the seriousness he placed on his request. It would be hard to separate the injured from their families but if they had to hurry she would have no choice.

Xena spun her horse around to face the group and address them. “Free women of Thrace. I am Xena of Amphipolis. I know you have been through a lot over the last few days.” This statement caught their attention and a small knowing sigh escaped the group in unison. “We need to make another tough decision. The injured need to see a healer immediately and I .... ask,” she swallowed, that word was always hard for her, “that we allow them to travel unfettered by your pace.”

“No, that's my daughter,” escaped the lips of one woman before she realized who she was talking to, “um I mean, Xena of Amphipolis, Conquer of Greece, I wish to accompany my daughter.”

“You may follow but you will not slow down the wagon,” was Xena's curt reply leaving no question to her decision. The other women thought twice now about speaking up and Xena felt compliance flow through the group.

“Let's go!” she yelled to the group as she withdrew her sword in a smooth motion. Still ringing she held it aloft and spurred Argo to spin back towards the thugs, former slavers, now captives, tied behind the wagon. She sliced the ropes that held them, and when they looked up at her with some hope on their faces. She answered, “Don't get too excited, boys. You're my slaves now.” She continued with a sneer, “And please try to run, I have not had my fill of killing yet today,” as she herded them together with a few pokes of her sword. “Let's go find your friends now boys. I have some heavy lifting with your names written all over it.” She continued to prod them onwards back towards Draco's camp and laughed inside of her plans to make them carry all of Draco's supplies back to the women's villages as donations.

As she passed by the wagon with the injured Xena glanced over to see three battered women sitting up with their backs braced on the wagon's sides and two forms laying down the length of the middle. These two were indeed in poor shape, barely conscious. She could see the sliced back of the one facing away from her, which was partially covered by the rough blanket. Xena noticed a patch of blood soaked strawberry-blond hair now dried and plastered to this woman's smooth white neck above where the gashes started a crazy cross-stitch pattern down her back. “What a beautiful back that must of been,” she casually thought to herself as her attention was again drawn to the gaggle of unruly men she force marched before her.

Xena signalled to Dahen as she was moving away from the group. “Have Iolaus take the wounded back straight away. Herc, Hanaj and yourself should take the women back to their villages I will follow you with the men and supplies. This will take a few days and I want to give Iolaus a few days rest in camp. He is looking tired.”

“By your will, my Liege.” Dahen, glanced back at Iolaus who was taking up the rear of the group while Hercules drove the wagon. “Hm, she's right, I would not have noticed it before, but he does look worn out. I wonder if Hercules had anything to do with that.” Smirking he thought brief evil thoughts before abruptly turning his horse with a yell, and took off to share the plan with the other men.


Arriving back at the slavers camp Xena sought out their leader, her former acquaintance Draco, who she had left barely conscious tied to a pole in the middle of the now mud and blood soaked camp.

“Draco, you are not an evil man, are you?” Xena pondered grabbing him by the neck with one hand, “Just, shall we say, Misguided?”

Draco offered only a croak as she tightened her grip, his hands safely bound behind him. Xena dragged him into the lopsided by still standing command tent out of sight of the men.

“Yes, that is the right word,” Xena finished. “Misguided... and little strong guidance will go a long way. Let me explain what you are going to do for me? Number one, Give up your army. Number two, Give up your supplies. And Number Three, Give up the name of the person in my army who was helping you.” The last request was finished with a sneer as she lifted her arm allowing Draco's feet to dangle below him. Draco could not have answered with any more than a gurgle if he wanted to. His air intake was effectively shut off and his eyes were starting to bulge. Xena knew it would only take a moment longer and she would have a dead Draco. She briefly considered that this would not be such a bad thing. Luckily her next thought was that she would never find her traitor if she killed him. She was not a murderer. She did not kill unless you stood against her. She would allow a trial and re-education to take place for all the remaining slavers and the rest of Draco's men.

“Xena,” Draco gasped as he crumpled to the floor, “I will give up my men and my goods, but I do not know who paid me. He always wore a mask and cloak. I don't know if he is from your army or not, I suspect not as he was very wealthy and paid me well for the risk I took working so close to your camp. I cannot imagine you pay your soldiers that well,” he croaked and then added after a pause, “or I would have joined with you long ago.”

She managed a slight smile at the attempt at flattery, “Draco, I have go to hand it to you, you are so good at being bad.”

And that comment was Draco's chance to grin, and then returning to business. “Where are we moving the goods, Xena?” Draco questioned with supplication in his voice.

“Draco, I don't think you fully understand the concept of... payback.” She started as she led him out of the tent by the rope that still bound his hands.


It took a full two days but all of Draco's camp had been loaded onto wagons and they had dropped off about a third of the supplies to the first village who were greatly surprised to see the raiders again. Not only had their women been returned the day prior but now many of their goods were back too. Xena laughed as they thanked Draco and he took the praise like it was his idea to make right by them.

By the fourth day Xena and her motley crew of helpers had dropped off the supplies for the last village and were on their way back to camp. She pushed them hard, not wanting to spend another mostly sleepless night watching her back. Arriving at camp late on the fourth day just as the moon was mid sky she went immediately to her tent after dropping Argo at the stable, reports could wait until morning.

The slavers balked a bit and struggled against their bonds as the reality of their re-education, which they had chosen by surrendering, awaited them. They were met at camp with a platoon of spears which encircled them forcing them into a tight group while soldiers retied their hands to the front. Obviously, as the prodding continued, they would not be getting rest tonight, unless they could sleep during the customary servicing of their new dominators, the surrender that they had lustily forced on so many others was coming full circle. This was the full meaning of payback, army style, the world over.


Xena was all business at the morning meeting, the brief sleep on her own pallet had refreshed her, at least enough to hold it together through the morning. She looked around, Dahen and Hanaj were missing and she had rather surprised faces from all except Hercules and Iolaus. Knowing they would not have informed the others of much without her return she started.

“Well you probably guessed I did not get to see my Mother.” She said with mock sadness. “Before we were half way to Amphipolis we ran across slavers capturing Greek women for trade to Persia. We could just not carry on and allow a capital crime on Greek soil so we had to intervene,” she paused to gauge the reactions. “Report,” she continued.

Hercules started, “All the women were safely transported back to their homes. I was asked several times if I had taken a bride yet.” He sheepishly grinned and batted his eye-lashes. This caused a great howls of laughter from the other men. Hercules in his youth was well known for his appeal to the ladies and it seems it has not diminished over the years. He continued when the laughter died down, “Dahen, Hanaj and I split off into neighbouring valleys with small groups to avoid walking them unnecessarily and returned back here in two days time. “

Iolaus noticed with a glance from Herc that is was his turn, “I brought the injured women right back here. Shala was busy with the two severe cases most of the night and unfortunately she lost one.” He briefly looked down to pause, “but all the others have gone back home, Hanaj and Dahen offered to take them.” He finished quickly trying to pad the bad news with good.

“Which one of the women died?” Xena asked suddenly very saddened that even her best efforts were not enough.

“The one they took the whip to. Her family has taken her home for the pyre.” Iolaus finished.

“One of the slavers will die after the trials. We will have one crucifixion.” Xena proclaimed, “A life for a life.”

Cadmus was next to report with his signature deep dramatic voice, “Of the thirty prisoners, twenty have some decent sword skill and could be a problem again, if not taken care of. Fourteen have pledged allegiance to your realm, after the first night.” He followed with a smirk, the ‘Alpha and Omega' can be quite convincing, my Liege.”

Xena knew nothing was more frustrating to her troops that letting someone go and then having to fight and capture them again for crimes at a later date. Soldiers had a private code, the world over: you are either the dominator or the dominated, there is no in between. You accept your lot in life until the tide changes. And when that change is ripe you must take advantage of it. Xena was just glad that in her career she had not yet fallen, and she had always been on top.

“You are right Cadmus. Please move ahead with the trials and come see me later to discuss the sentencing and re-education.” With the lack of a court in camp, Cadmus had formed a jury of five random soldiers. Cadmus would present the case as it was a capital offence and the accused was allowed to speak on his own behalf, this system had worked well in the past as Cadmus was a skilful speaker who presented the facts as they were revealed to him through interviews with the injured parties.

Xena sighed. She knew this would be a long week before her army was on the move again.



Chapter 3

Gabrielle of Potidaea

Xena was kept busy for two days with the sentencing and was finding a headache drawing in on her by the time twilight fell. She still had not yet decided what to do with Draco. She looked through her herbs and noticed she needed some white willow and stepped out from her tent to head to the infirmary to stock up. Making her way into the tent she noticed it was actually a lot darker than she expected. “I should have brought a candle.” She thought as she banged into the first cot on the way to the herb jars on the back wall. “Luckily I know where the willow bark is kept.” It was a very common painkiller and they had a large crock full since harvesting some last month.

Crouching and feeling out for the crock she suddenly felt she was not alone and froze, waiting for the attack. When none came she moved again and was greeted with a voice hardly more than a whisper coming from the cot across the room, “Mother?” Xena spun in her crouch and instantly had her boot daggers at the ready. “Mama, is that you?” Xena knew the voice was weak and confused and she would easily be able to slip noiselessly back out the door without incident, but she was torn, part of her felt a strong urge of curiosity, was it the woman from the wagon that had drawn her gaze with her beauty?

As she turned to exit Xena could see the flickering light of a candle approaching the doorway from the adjoining room. Shala, the healer, must have heard her patient and was coming to assist. Effectively Xena was trapped, ‘sneaking' into the patient's room.

“Sorry to disturb you, I was just gathering some herbs.” Xena whispered to the darkness trying to explain herself somewhat before Shala found her. She added quickly, “I was told you were dead,” noticing how awful that sounded she added, “I mean, that you had gone home.”

The meek voice caught on quickly and answered with surprising spunk, “nice to know you have so much faith in me.” As Shala rounded the corner into the infirmary she was rushed by Xena's form slipping past her into the darkness.


Xena returned the next day just before noon, after her daily round of troop inspection, to retrieve the herbs. Not quite sure what she was feeling from the encounter the night before, embarrassed perhaps. She could not put her finger on it but knew for sure that it was not logical, ‘trapped' by a more than middle aged healer and an injured woman who could not rise on her own from her pallet. “How is that trapped? Really, Xena!” she gave herself a pep talk. “You acted as if a Chimaera was on one side and Cerberus on the other. Some warrior you are. Running from a couple of women. Just get in there and get what you need. No need for explanations.”

Xena was just passing the infirmary door when she spotted Aeson, taking up most of the space between the raised bunks. He was sitting on a small stool, which was in threat of breaking, as he rocked back and forth in raucous laughter, his red braids swaying in time. “Aye Lass, you know a good tale or two.” He answered heartily, “but did you hear the one where Xena tricked the rhine-maidens of their gold. This Ol' Aeson was there you know,” he started as he sucked another long breath in between lessening giggles to start his story.

“Oh no,” Xena thought, walking in on another of Aeson's exaggerated Xena tales would involve her getting hooked into corroborating the facts for him, and the story told all over again and again. She swerved avoiding the infirmary at the last minute to save herself hours of rehashing a time in her life that she was not extremely proud of. “Remember, no regrets,” she whispered to herself to wash off the fading memory.


Dahen had heard from Aeson that the woman rescued from the slavers was quite the story teller so he make a point to stop by the infirmary that afternoon after his battalion had completed sparing practice.

“Hello,” he started as he saw her slight form lying on her side on the raised pallet.

“Oh, thank the Gods,” the girl started, “I was hoping for a visitor. I was so bored I thought I would die.”

Dahen was a little shocked by her light treatment of death, especially one that had been so close to it so recently. “I'm Dahen, Alpha Guard in the Conqueror's army, leader of the seventh battalion, short sword contingent.”

“At your service,” he added with a flourish.

Gabrielle giggled at the bright young man who did not seem much older than her. “Wow, quite a title. I'm Gabrielle, a farm girl from Potidaea. Nice to meet you. One day I will be a travelling Bard. I want to go to the Athens Academy for Bards for my training. I hear it is the best school.” Gazing up she thought she might have lost him and calmly added, “Eventually anyways.” She paused and smiled. “And, how did you get so far being so very young? You haven't even a beard yet.”

Surviving the quick onslaught of questions that was this woman's way, Dahen recovered with a breath and added, “Oh. I shave it off. A Roman custom I still follow. One of the only, really.”

“Are you Roman?”

“Well, that is a long story Gabrielle.”

“Lucky for you, I'm not really going anywhere,” Gabrielle motioned at the pallet.

“Where do I start. I was born in Macedon. My father is Philip of Macedon. My mother Olympia of Thessaly.” Dahen started slowly.

“Wait, you mean The King? Philip the King of Macedon. Descended from the line of Heracles?” Gabrielle interrupted.

“Yes, that one. Actually now technically, ‘Former King', as he abdicated to Xena the Conqueror a few months back.”

“How awful for you,” Gabrielle's eyes conveyed a great sorrow.

“On the contrary, there was no love lost between my Father and I, as he sold me into slavery when I was seven.”

Gabrielle gasped and settled back, to listen to his story.

“You see he was jealous of me. My mother's lineage is strong, direct from Achilles. An oracle had told him when I was still a child that I would one day rule the land by the hand of a woman. That my title would be ‘King of Kings'. Well of course he took this as a direct threat and banished both of us. My mother tried to smuggle me to my Thessalian relatives but, alas, my father guaranteed my fate by selling me to the Roman noble family Cicero. Luckily, Cicero was a kind man and a very influential Republican. He treated me as his own son and taught me much about politics and literature. He encouraged me to buy my freedom and the fastest way was in the ring. I was chosen for the Gladiator sport when I was thirteen. It is the most profitable and dangerous of the slave professions. Luckily I was paired with Cadmus to fight men, not lions. I was Cadmus' companion, assisting in preparing him for the ring, servicing his needs, living with him and practicing the fighting arts long into the night. Cadmus taught me how to survive, but I was never was more than a child to him, even after we bought our freedom.”

Dahen sighed and a far off look of memory took over his eyes. “Luckily for me we found Xena, I mean My Liege the Conqueror, who was in need of fighters. We moved up the ranks quickly and now both lead battalions,” finished Dahen.

Gabrielle noticed the look of sadness in the young man's eyes and was touched. She was always moved by other's hardships as her life, up until a week ago, has been as plain as possible. But her dreams had always been vivid and that is more often where she lived.

“Enough about me. How did a farm girl learn the bardic art of storytelling? Aeson said you were very good?” Dahen questioned.

“Farm work gives you a lot of time to think so I always worked on stories in my head. I would share them with my sister in our room to help her fall asleep. My sister was friends with Menos, the son of the local Lord. I often had to accompany her as chaperone on their visits and his family had a huge library of scrolls. I have spend many a day in that library,” she sighed and smiled looking back thoughtfully. “I think I was not the best chaperone as I pretty much had my nose in the scrolls. Lila and I are quite different. I miss her terribly,” she finished with her emotions welling up. “Let me tell you a story,” she started with a twinkle in her eye. “You are descendent from Achilles. Hmmm, have you heard the one about the first flight of the Pegasus and Achilles' race to ride her?”

Dahen shook his head and smiled invitingly. He settled back, leaning the small stool back against the opposite raised pallet and thought, “This is going to be a good story.”


As the eve meal approached and the sun still provided a bright red glow to the western sky Xena decided it was time to finally get her herbs. “This is getting ridiculous. I am The Conqueror of Greece and I am not able to wander freely in my own camp and better yet, I am the one limiting myself.” Xena thought still trying to explain the strange feeling from last night. “It was like I was caught by my Mom with nutbread crumbs all over my face. But in this case I own the nutbread, and the tent, and the land the damn nut trees grew on. Why did I feel like I was invading her space?”

Approaching the tent this time she noticed tall twins Atsu and Ottah standing in the position favoured in their homeland, each had a javelin resting on the ground as a staff. Standing on one leg, the other was bent at the knee and kept aloft by resting the sole of their foot on their supporting leg. This position allowed them to stand and keep watch for hours as one leg was always rested. Xena could just make out the injured woman asking a stream of questions, her voice overshadowed by the deep resonance of Atsu who had continued the dialog. “Yes, Atsu means born twin, as I was first before Ottah, whose name means born third. Our older brother is called Inpu or Royal child as we are sons of the King in the great land of Nubia just south of the land of the Pharaohs. Ours is a rich land on a high escarpment of rock that looks over the bluest of seas that has the beauty of a jewel. The climb to our homeland is difficult but the air is cool and fresh, this way we are safe from invaders travelling the ocean currents.”

“We are decedents of Piye, Shabaka, just and true Pharaohs, and Taharqa the Lord of Two Lands, chosen one of Amun, the Sun God to unite the fractured Egyptian empire.”

Shocked and now understanding she was with some type of royalty Gabrielle paused, gathered some decorum and continued. “I have never seen anyone with skin of your colour, but then, I was rarely out of my village growing up.” The injured woman reached out a hand and held Ottah's, feeling the surface with her thumb.

Xena froze. In two years she has not gleaned that much information from her Egyptian warriors. “I guess they are not Egyptian after all,” she thought. There he was holding hands with the injured woman, was this intimacy? Atsu and Ottah were not ones to engage in any intimacy that she had known of. Xena felt out of her element suddenly, as she realised she did not know them as people much at all. She had assigned them as leaders of the archery and spear contingents based on their skill with the weapons and had paid very little interest in anything else.

Xena backed away from the doorway as Ottah countered, “Some say our brown skin is coloured from the sun of our homeland, which can be relentless in its intensity. Others say it is from the dark tea we make from a bean we roast over the fire. It is very strong and bitter and most here find it distasteful but we feel it gives us our momentum and strength and we partake in it from the time we are children, developing a taste for it.”

Atsu continued, “In our land far to the south you would be the different one with your lighter skin and straight hair, but in Egypt there are many faces such as yours as all peoples of the world gather there.”

Ottah smiled as this thought dawned in the eyes of the young woman, who was so curious of the world.

“You are so lucky to have seen so much of the world, so much difference,” the injured girl yearned wistfully.

Atsu countered with a knowing smile, “But so much same as well.”

The girl smiled and continued, “Don't you miss your family?”

Atsu and Ottah locked eyes with each other knowingly. “Very much so,” Ottah continued, “We will soon have to return, to take several wives, as is our tradition. I am surprised we have not been called back as yet it has been three summers since we left. Really, too long a time for our walkabout.”

The injured woman lifted her eyebrows in another question, “A walkabout?”

Atsu answered, “A walkabout is a journey of learning you take to find yourself.” Looking back at the woman for acknowledgement, her eyebrows raised again. “To find your path.” Atsu laughed as he continued trying to find the right Greek words, “Your destiny.” He smiled as a knowing look smoothed her features.

“I think I need one of those,” she sighed, the meek voice was sounding tired and Xena could hear she was rearranging the pallet covers. Atsu and Ottah turned to leave and Xena, not wanting to be caught listening in, moved on ahead to the food tent.


Early the next morning Shala was at the entrance of Xena's tent. This in itself was quite unusual but considering how Xena had felt about the other night, almost ploughing into her in her hasty exit, she kind of hoped it was not related.

“Come in,” Xena said in her loud command voice and Shala entered, setting a leather pouch of herbs on the table.

Shala started smiling at Xena, “It could not have been too bad a headache for you to leave three times empty handed.”

Xena flicked Shala with her eyes, evaluating. No, Xena decided, Shala was not teasing, she was mothering. She quickly grabbed the pouch of white willow. Xena hesitated for a moment as she really did not have a reason for her actions and was hoping an explanation was not necessary. Her thoughts were interrupted by Shala. “You don't need a reason. Next time why don't you just come to me and I will get you what you need. But really I have not come for this... I have another, more serious reason. I need your tub,” Shala stated with a sigh.

Xena took a moment to roll this around in her brain and raised her eyebrows at the gray haired woman.

“No no no, not for me,” Shala continued, “for the injured girl. Her wounds are not healing as I would like, even with these several days rest. Movement right now is causing her to break open the wounds and the new skin is slow to form. When you starting marching again they will need to be soaked to soften the scabs to allow travel and reduce the scarring.” She glanced up at Xena to see if she was following her, she seemed to be. “You have the only tub in camp. I will come after we have settled for the night, when you are out on evening rounds,” Shala raised an inquisitive eyebrow and facing no resistance, continued, “So as not to disturb you.” Xena just nodded as obviously the decision had already been made.

Shala had been her healer for over ten years, from before her current quest for a united Greece, when her business of being a warlord was not as neat and tidy as the leader of an army. Yes, Shala had patched her up more times than she could count and she knew her terrible secret. Shala was a very smart woman, a well trained healer but she also had an intuition about what was the right treatment an uncanny amount of times. If Shala felt that the tub was the best treatment Xena knew it would be the only way.

“Alright, it is yours, do what you will, but I will want my tent back for evening meal,” Xena consented. “Here,” she added retrieving a folded silk bundle from the trunk at the end of her pallet. “This will be soft against a healing back.”

“One of your robes from Chin, Xena this is too generous a gift. I will make sure it is returned after use.” Shala knew these yearly presents from Lau-Ma were very special to Xena.

“Shala, don't worry. I have more than I could ever wear in a lifetime of camp living,” Xena followed with one of her full faced smiles that left Shala secure in her intentions.


Later that evening, Xena returned to her tent and felt the air pleasantly disturbed with the faint smell of lavendula oil and beeswax cream. She knew Shala had been there with her patient and pondered for a moment, why when the body healed the mind often took longer. She had heard from Hercules that the surviving woman had most probably been raped as she was found with blood covering her inner thighs, although not in so many words, as he was not comfortable talking about ‘women's' topics with her. “Thank the Gods he is a ‘Son of Apollo' because he would never make it as a husband,” she thought.

Xena knew that Shala would have already given the girl a strong tea of golden thread to end any potential pregnancy. Herc had also said that the girl's mother had stayed with her for the first three days, but had abruptly with no explanation asked to be escorted back to her village of Potidaea. Xena had seen this reaction occasionally after trauma in the new men, green to army life, who broke emotionally at their first bloody battle and then pushed away their brothers. Perhaps this is what the girl was doing. For those who broke, some stayed, some healed, and some did not. Perhaps this woman after being exposed to the slaver's violence was pushing her mother and all those who loved her away. Withdrawing like an injured animal to tend her wounds.

Hopefully, as the body began the slow road to recovery the mind would follow and she too would be stronger for her trauma. Xena knew violence was not for everyone, but it had been part of her own life for as long as she could remember, and she had been on both sides. Her father had beaten her mother and his children, and would have taken her life at the tender age of nine if her mother had not stepped in and killed him in her defence. Xena had learned very early on that only the strongest survived.

After her partner Borias was killed, Xena had been put to the ultimate test several times by her army, running the gauntlet. Her authority was questioned in her early warlord years as she learned how to lead, learned what motivated men and also learned which kind of men she wanted in her army. Every time she had come back stronger, increasing her relentless training and seeking better opponents to spar with, until, without a doubt, she was the best warrior that Greece had ever seen.


The following afternoon Shala interrupted Xena in the Library where she was pouring over a map scroll of the new territory. “Xena, my Liege, I'm sorry to intrude but I cannot find Hercules. Can you please help?”

The request seemed quite urgent and Xena was concerned that something serious may have happened, but was relieved when Shala headed back to Xena's own tent and not the infirmary.

Shala lowered her voice, “I need help lifting her from the tub. She has fallen asleep and it is so infrequent that she gets any peaceful rest I did not have the heart to wake her.”

Xena rolled her eyes and replied mockingly, “I see, a major crisis.”

Careful to avoid the patient's healing back, Xena picked up the small form and found she was sturdier than expected with well formed muscles, probably from a life of farm work. Xena carried the patient back to the infirmary as Shala opened the tent flaps. Waiting while Shala fussed with the covers of the pallet, Xena readjusted the weight in her arms and the girl murmured in her sleep, snuggling closer, bringing her cheek to Xena's breast. Xena held her breath and ceased movement hoping not to disturb the woman further. The woman pursed her lips and made a few small chewing noises, yawned and fluttered her eyes open.

Their gazes locked. Looking into the girl's bright emerald eyes Xena felt the world stand still, void of sound. Like the stillness she found in the moment before battle. She was unprepared for this reaction. Suddenly her mouth was dry and her palms sweaty. She swallowed and it resonated deafening in her ears.

The woman let out a gentle sigh followed by a simple, "Hi,” breaking the trance Xena found herself in.

Xena took a moment and then responded "Hi," back.

The woman slowly smiled as she closed her eyes and snuggled back into Xena's chest with a soft groan. Xena felt a smile flow over her lips too. She was helpless as this wave of love washed over her. Her body felt numb and flushed. What was this feeling? It was like something she had felt as a child, a need to laugh for no reason other than a release for her excitement. It felt silly and she was not sure about the cause of it. What she did know was that she was not in control at the moment. Choosing not to fight forces ‘more powerful than myself' was a lesson Xena learned long ago as a sea-faring pirate. Storms sank many a ship of a captain that fought against them while wiser captains knew to wait patiently for an opening to take their advantage.

“You have very long fingers,” the girl moaned as she roused partially from her sleep again when Xena placed her on her pallet.

“Thank you,” Xena replied flicking her eyes up to Shala with a cheeky grin.

Gabrielle didn't get the joke and was too tired to question. She snuggled into the pillow and felt sleep take over again.


Outside the night might have been still and moonlit but inside the healer's tent it was frantic as Shala worried for her patient. She lightly brushed Gabrielle's sweat-soaked hair off her forehead, smoothing it slightly as the girl wrestled with a dream. For this young woman, of perhaps 16 or 17 years, sleep had not been quiet or peaceful since she arrived. Shala knew there was more going on with the woman than first met the eye. She was very friendly with everyone, had a natural curiosity and thus asked a thousand questions, almost to the point of distraction. This woman also had a pure heart, Shala had concluded, but something in her spirit was troubled, perhaps only released when she crossed into Morpheus' realm. She wondered if the young woman even knew what pained her restless soul.

Shala had listened with concern from the adjoining room when Gabrielle and her mother split ways. Her Mother wanted to take Gabrielle home but she would have none of it. For an injured woman, near death's door, she had more will, more spunk, than Shala thought possible. Gabrielle seemed to already have been planning a move away from her simple village life and an arranged marriage. She took this separation as an opportunity to assert her independence and announce it to her family. How painful that must have been for the mother, to have an injured daughter who did not want to return home to be cared for. The mother had eventually relented and returned home. She did have another daughter to look after, but Shala knew there was some love lost, on both sides.

Gabrielle's sleeping form continued to twist and turn, beads of sweat forming on her forehead. Shala gathered a damp cloth to mop her brow. Gabrielle woke to Shala's calming, mothering hands on her.

“Sorry, I must have been dreaming again,” the sleep and guilt evident in Gabrielle's voice. This was the third night Shala had been awoken by her.

“It seems to me your dreams have become more and more vivid. Child, tell me, what do you remember of them?”

Gabrielle started slowly, gathering the wisps before the veil fully shrouded them, “I was covered in something sticky, mud or ... blood, I'm not sure. Masked women were there, guiding me,” she paused collecting thoughts, “and so many rules that I did not understand. I had to ascend to an alter in the sky, up so many stairs, made of sticks, but I couldn't touch anything.” Gabrielle's voice took on an urgency, “I knew I was going to fall. I was not doing anything right and I was at risk of angering everyone, Gods and human alike. I was so alone, so lonely, surrounded by people but totally alone.” Gabrielle let out a sob or two as she clutched Shala's arm into an embrace.

Shala felt a pang of loneliness that she had long ago pushed so far down inside her she thought it was permanently lost. This girl was so like her own, that one she left so long ago, when the little one was only 13. Shala felt her heart break in two, one half for Gabrielle and one half for her lost daughter Valesca. That was nearly twelve years ago that her Amazon life ended and her banishment started. How she knew loneliness for the first time at the age of 38 and had to start her life anew when she left the land. Separated from her sisters with whom she had shared every moment of her life until that point. At first so lonely but surrounded by people, outsiders.

When Valesca came to find her last year and tell her that Maduri had died and she was finally free to approach Queen Melosa for a re-judgement, she did not know that she would lose her again so quickly. But, Shala sighed, such were matters of the heart, unpredictable. Shala hoped she would not lose this little one as well, at least not before setting her straight on her path as she had done with her daughter by blood. Valesca, who had grown into a great warrior, was now serving the Conqueror in the lands of the Pharaoh with Callisto, a general in Xena's army, with whom she had fallen madly, eternally in love.

“My Dear, let me tell you a story. I know of the ritual you speak and I feel you are plagued with visions emerging from the dream world when the veil between the worlds is thinned. Perhaps planted there by a breath of the Goddess herself.” Shala explained, “It is Artemis I speak of, the patron of the Amazons and of the hunt.” Shala continued as Gabrielle's sobs slowed, “You won't believe this dear but I was once an Amazon, a healer, a wife, a mother.” Gabrielle's eyes widened and stared past the grey locks and crow's feet into caring soft brown eyes. “Yes, it's true. But I lost it all to a matter of the heart. My path has been unpredictable and painful but also full of joy. Let me share my story with you and perhaps you will find some similarities with your own heart.”

“Absolutely,” Gabrielle answered, never one to pass on a story. This she knew would be especially good as it was told by an actual Amazon, whose battle ready warriors were feared across Greece. “You're the first Amazon I have ever met.”

“Perhaps Gabrielle, perhaps, but the thing about Amazons is if they grow their hair and wear handspun clothes they look just like everyone else. I am pretty sure you have met plenty and just never knew it. But that aside, the point is that many women are Amazons at heart, and you never lose your Amazon heart, no matter how long you are away or where you are.”

Shala was pleased that Gabrielle seemed enraptured in her tale and had forgotten a bit, at least for now, about her nightmare. “You see Gabrielle, there are two ways of becoming an Amazon. Most like me were born of an Amazon mother pairing, but others are converts. Although some traditionalists feel that they are not pure Amazons in nature, I have found many learn the Ancient Ways fully and are indecipherable from born Amazons.”

Gabrielle piped up, “What are the Ancient Ways?”

“Oh,” Shala sighed thinking back, “we have a huge library of scrolls relating to rituals, laws, herstory, rites and whatnot, some good, some bad. The life of an Amazon is very restrictive in what she can do or not do in timing with various natural cycles, the seasons, migrations of animals, moon phase and even a woman's own blood cycle.” Gabrielle's eyes encouraged Shala to continue. These laws dictate what you can eat, wear, who you can talk to, who you share a bed with, what animals to hunt, plants to harvest, rituals to hold, chants, songs… Oh Goddess, Gabrielle, the list goes on and on. Almost impossible to memorize, so let me just continue with my story,” Shala smiled at Gabrielle who settled back, knowing that she could sometimes ask too many questions.

“As I mentioned I was a born Amazon. My birth mother was joined to her partner and they made the decision to have a child. That year they captured a blond male who had wandered into the northern perimeter; the poor man was probably hunting and got lost. As is tradition, the breeding male is kept for the midsummer moon to impregnate any pairings that wish to have children before he is sacrificed to Artemis.” Shala took one look at Gabrielle and knew her head was spinning. “I guess it sounds quite brutal when heard this way, but from what I know about men, some would willingly give themselves to this type of death.”

“Spring is the time of the births, as it has been for all known time, with the Amazons. I was trained as a healer since I was ten. You may have noticed my left foot is less mobile. I broke it with a bad fall from a tree ladder, like the one you describe in your dream, when I was seven. My life purpose changed at that point. All Amazons are required to be warriors, but the depth of your outside camp commitments are directly proportional to your aptitude. Anyone who cannot be a warrior is sacrificed. Anyone who cannot keep up with the hunting or scouting parties is left in camp to be cooks, weavers of flax and roots as we do not keep sheep, leathersmiths or tenders to the under tens.”

“For an Amazon in your first five summers you are basically free to play with your cohort, with the camp Mothers looking after you in the under ten communal hut. From five to ten summers you learn the laws, traditions, how to read and write and track animals. On your tenth summer most complete their forest bond, a night in the forest alone, and then you are birthed a second birth as a true member of the tribe, now an Amazon fit to join the warrior training and accompany your Mothers on their hunting or scouting trips. You finally get out of camp and it is a great adventure.” Shala laughed in remembrance of her first hunting trip and the excitement of it all.

Gabrielle was more than a little confused, “So, all the babies that are born in a month have the same father. That must be total chaos. Do they all look the same?”

“Somewhat, that's why I knew my breeder was blond. My Cohort was almost all blond and tall. He must have been a great hunter as I am the only camp Mother in the whole group and there were twelve of us that lived. Gabrielle,” Shala paused thoughtfully, “half the babies, the male babies are killed at birth, as they do not have a place in Amazonia. That is one of our ancient laws, as it has been for all known time.”

Gabrielle was completely shocked. The tale of the Amazons as feared warriors did not approach the brutality they had with their own children. “But Shala, it is a baby! He has no choice of his sex.”

“Gabrielle, I did not make the laws and, as you may have surmised, I do not agree with them all. In fact, I often spoke up my disagreement and alienated myself by offending some of the council. When I broke a sacred pact I had little support and this is why I was banished for life.” Gabrielle could see this was still a sore point for Shala as her normally cheerful brown eyes gathered a gleam of dampness and her voice tightened when talking about her banishment.

Shala continued, “When you are joined under Artemis your bond is forever and can only broken by death. It is not to be taken lightly and it is always your choice. Many women never bond in ceremony or prefer to be blessed by Gaia as is accepted by most Greeks.” Gabrielle nodded; she knew the rites well because as children her sister Lila always made Gabrielle play the part of Lila's husband at her elaborate weddings.

“My partner, Maduri was quite a few summers older than me. She was one of the strongest warriors and was much admired for always bringing back the hunt. She was injured on patrol one autumn with an arrow to the stomach. We were not sure if she would make it. I tended her wounds for a quarter moon before she even woke up. She spent the next two moons around camp in and out of the infirmary. We fell in love. Well, what I thought was love. Before I knew it we had bonded and I was with child. It was much too fast now that I look back; I was much too young, only 17 summers.”

“I only knew one part of Maduri, the part of her when she was in camp. I mean she was a great provider, others were envious. I did not know the wild side that preferred the forest over the camp and ended up being a very lonely wife as she was gone for the better part of every year. I did not feel special. She did not really know me. At least I had my daughter, Valesca, so I was not totally alone. She would stay with me in the healers hut. We played long into the night sometimes.”

“One summer a new apprentice in her early twenties, Yllia from the Southern village, came to help in the infirmary. I was by that point almost thirty and Valesca, was thirteen and spending all her time away training with Maduri. Well, as I said, this was a matter of the heart. I fell in love, really in love for the first time. It took quite a while for the camp to realise what was happening. It took a while for me to understand my feelings. Madhuri heard about it through rumour and it was not a pretty sight. She rallied the other rangers and the Queen.”

“The price we paid was harsh. Yllia was never allowed back to the main camp for her indiscretion, as she had not been bonded. My bond mate was the accuser so my punishment was much more severe. I was not to step on Amazon lands for fear of death for the rest of my life.”

“Since Valesca was over ten, she had her own choice, to stay with Maduri and be a warrior or to come to the uncertainty of the outside with me. It was an easy choice. I am considered dead to the nation.”

“The outside is not a very friendly place when you are used to Mothers and Sisters around you all the time. I am lucky that I found Xena and could provide a service to her as a healer. In the outside if you are of age and not married or have a Kalef escort, you do not stand a chance. You cannot even go out to the store or walk on the street unaccompanied in the larger cities. I know Xena will change the laws when she rules Greece. I have high hopes for that girl, if only…”. Shala ended her long story with a sigh.

Gabrielle knew there was something more, something about Xena that Shala was reluctant to reveal, but Shala had shared so much already Gabrielle was not ready to push her.



Chapter 4

On the Road again

The slow march headed ever Northward. There was a rhythm to life on the march that satisfied Xena. It was structured and comfortably predictable. She awoke in the pre dawn, the heavy damp air of her tent pressing her to move or get caught in another wave of itchy fitful sleep, and that she did with a run around the entire encampment. Her soldiers knew of her habit and woke even before her to feign some industrious task in the morning mist. It worked; those that showed this self-discipline were often promoted. Those that slept in were quickly left behind in rank and were also forced to clean up the last of the camp and follow behind at the tail end of the march. Xena completed her run in about a candlemark and had a quick bath in cold water before her trip to the cook tent and meeting with her Alpha Guard for updates. By the time the meeting was over, the Central Camp was pretty much packed up on litters formed from the tent poles and wagons. So it was time to move. Some days she rode ahead to scout out the new sights. On others, she preferred to circle back and check on the various battalions. Dahen accompanied her most of the time. Hanaj was always busy with the horses and cavalry, scouting out range and feed. Hercules and Iolaus preferred to ride ahead and found the next best site for the night that they marked with a standard before scouting even further for the following day. They often seemed like they were travelling alone, rarely sleeping in camp but preferring a lone campsite or a room in a local village inn. That was it was easy to forget the fact of having a thousand dusty soldiers a day's ride behind them. Xena knew that they preferred this and pretty much left them alone, occasionally sending a rider up to gather reports and take up a few supplies.

Aeson always was at the back of the pack. He got great enjoyment in whipping the slackers into pace with the rest. These green horns and lazy sods whose Mother's had only recently kicked them out of their beds and homes to find a life elsewhere were desperate for work and would try anything. Xena's army was one of the few coin jobs out there for uneducated plebs and farmers. It was good money too if you worked hard and rose up through the ranks. The lads who joined the army by choice, looking for adventure or fighting skills, were those up at dawn and walking near the front with Xena. Aeson did not see many of those. The few women who joined, usually Amazons away from The Land, were always ahead of the pack as well. These other ones struggling at the back were the ones that needed a lesson or two, and Aeson was certainly the imposing figure to beat it into them. Yes, he would try to befriend, convince and cajole first, but when all other techniques failed a swift strike of a long whip would result in a quick and easy decision; was this really the life for you? Some made the decision to go running back to their village, some just eventually stopped walking, Aeson gave them a moon to decide before being formally committed for their four annums. If they dared to desert after their trialmoon, he would hunt you down and kill you, he said with his ever present smile. He would tease the new boys, “You wouldn't want to marry ‘er without trying out the goods either,” he would follow with a chuckle and a knowing jab to their ribs. “This life is not for e'ryone. So give it a moon and make the best decision for ye'self. Join, follow, learn, and decide to live or die by your own sword, not by mine.” He had seen a fair number of tears and a great number of bruises and welts before the decision was made obvious to some ill-fated recruits. If an unsuitable boy just could not let it be, Aeson had also been known to just tie the screaming whelp to a tree and walk onward.

When the sun was nearing its setting, a call would echo that the standard had been set and spotted. Hercules was excellent at knowing the distance the full army could travel in a day. Camp was then pitched, guards entering rotation like clockwork. Xena took the next two candlemarks to make her rounds. She visited the numerous campfires and connected with her soldiers. She was a charismatic and caring leader, but many dead former soldiers mistook that caring for weakness. Xena kept a well organized and disciplined army. If you pillaged a plebe, village or woman non-engaged in the act of war, she would kill you herself in less than a breath. Her more senior soldiers told stories of men falling dead before they even saw her hand reach for her sword. Her uncanny speed was legendary and beyond most men's vision, it could only be a gift from the Gods. She also allowed her soldiers the freedom to speak of strategy and concerns openly. It was only the misguided act, not the voicing of the idea, which would cost you your life. This allowed an open debate of events, plans and structure that involved even the new recruits. Xena participated in and also instigated these discussions nightly while on her rounds. She wanted a thinking army who would make the right decision even when their superiors were not watching every move. She allowed one rest day from the march after six. This day held sparing competitions and challenges of skills organized among the battalions. On the day of the full moon the competitions were expanded and the best of the battalions had the honour to compete with the Alpha Guard and even with Commander Xena, one on one. The elite that were successful and fought on these higher levels were rewarded with bonuses paid in gold by Xena herself and this contributed to high level of excitement that followed the competitions.

There was another way for soldiers to gather riches. The legal pillage of weapons and armour from the act of war. All metal and other valuables were gathered off the field by the standard bearers whose ranks consisted of a strange mixture of green horns not yet trained for battle and grizzled soldiers retired from the field due to grievous injury or age. These gray beards got a special status out of taking on the care of the newest members who had a lot to learn, even from a one armed sword bearer. The standard bearers prepared the field of war, digging trenches, sharpening spikes for the rear line and moving supplies back and forth, and then cleaned up and burned the bodies after the day was done. The spoils of war were then distributed amongst the whole army according to rank and battalion, often recorded and held in trust in Xena's armouries for exchange in gold when a member resigned their commission honourably. Many who left the army after four years had enough money to buy a tract of land, take a wife and live out the rest of their days in comfort. Then again there were some who enlisted for another four years, a Tesera, for a greater fortune or just for the thrill of it.

Two days after every battle was resigned for rest, trial of prisoners and tending of wounds. It was a quiet time usually when everyone withdrew. This rest period was broken with a feast and celebration at sun's set on the second night which would lead into the march the next morning.

There was one other ‘army' contingent worth mentioning. A day's walk behind followed a rag-tag group of women and a few men who would entertain, for a price, on the day of rest. A tent marketplace with food stalls and trade goods, dwarfed by the brothel, would arise from the dust for those with needs and an excess of dinars. Xena knew that this was inevitable and kept her men happy, and was even known to peruse the camp herself occasionally. And with the amount of money exchanged more soldiers would have to enlist for another Tesera.


Preparing her bedroll in anticipation of sleep, Shala looked over at her young patient on the adjacent pallet. It had been a moon and her back was almost fully closed but the scars would be there for a lifetime. A forever mark of what had happened. Gabrielle was turning out to be a great help around the healing tent but Shala was not sure she would want to travel much farther with the army. Shala had not approached the subject with her patient yet but now, with her back healed, a decision had to be made.

Shala sighed. Like so many conversations with Gabrielle, it would be more of a debate.

“I can't go back home. Can I stay with you, Shala?” Gabrielle was close to tears at the suggestion of her leaving.

“Life on the road with an army is not easy, Gabrielle. Just make sure you are making the right decision for yourself right now.”

“I long for adventure, to see the world. How can I tell a good story if I haven't experienced any in life?”

“I do know that your chances of death are much greater as the chance for adventure increases,” Shala smiled warmly.

“I could die quickly with adventure or die slowly with boredom back on the farm. Either way I know I will die eventually and I am not scared.” Gabrielle's jaw was set. It was obvious that she had already made her decision.

“Well then, you need a job to do so you can apprentice with me, my dear. Travel with my wagons. Myself, Manoot, Farina, and her son Cedric travel together. With my daughter gone, I have wanted some help to collect plants along our travels.”

Gabrielle interjected, “I could help out a lot. We dried lots of plants back home and I've prepared some tinctures.”

Shala thought as she locked eyes with the youngster, ‘Well, her enthusiasm is infectiou,s that's for sure.' Shala quickly felt any doubts she had about Gabrielle leaving her family fading. ‘ She is pleasant to be around, tells a good story and will fit in with the group. I could really use the company.' Shala thought and then said, “Then it's decided. We just have to see Xena to make it official.”

“Shala?” Gabrielle suddenly seemed tentative.

“What's that, my dear?” unsure if she had changed her mind.

“Why do you call the Conqueror ‘Xena' and everyone else says ‘Commander' or ‘My Liege'?” Gabrielle questioned.

“That tells of our herstory, my dear. I'm not part of the army. I'm more of an employee, really,” she paused, “An employee with autonomy. Here, sit back a bit, settle in for the night and I'll tell you a story.” Gabrielle was suddenly so excited and hoped that this story would be as good at the one about the Amazons. This woman had led such an interesting life, as Gabrielle hoped she would be able to one day.

‘Well, today is the start. The day where I made my first decision on my own. The decision to follow a life of adventure.' Gabrielle thought as she snuggled back into the pillow.


The Central Camp wagons were the perfect place for Gabrielle. When she was not busy helping Shala she helped in the preparation of meals and was the first to taste any new delicacies as various heads of states sent the Conqueror fare from their region. The cooks loved her as she was so enthusiastic about food, and there were few with time to share this love with. They arranged to have one box from the shipment of fresh figs destined for all the battalions cook tents, detoured especially to the healer's wagon. Manoot favoured a particularly smelly cheese from northern Andalusia, stored for several years by the Cabrales family in caves to mature. Xena did not want this malodorous ‘gift' anywhere near her tent so Manoot needed to consume it quickly. She had not found another connoisseur to share this joy with among the army's ranks until Gabrielle joined the camp. They could occasionally be found in the cook tent late in the evening savouring thin slices of the strong blue cheese alternating with a sip of wine or bite of fruit.

Cedric was the stable boy and son of Farina the morning cook. He took a special liking to Gabrielle and tried to help her out the best he could. When Gabrielle rested in the healer's wagon, with her back still the cause of some discomfort, Cedric spent hours riding along side telling Gabrielle about every one of the Conqueror's six horses. What they liked to eat, the treats he gave them, their special traits and personalities. Gabrielle had learned a great deal. She was not that familiar with horses as they never had the money for one on the farm. Cedric had told her that horses were the smartest of all animals, except perhaps some dogs. That a horse will pick a rider to connect with on such a level that they communicate without words, just by a look or a feel or a thought. Cedric also said that if a horse is hurt or abused, it takes a long time and a very patient person to connect with them again. He said that Hanaj was this type of person. Hanaj looked after the cavalry battalion and over a hundred horses. Hanaj could calm a panicky horse with just a look or a touch. He talked to them in Persian, the language of his homeland, and even the most Greek of horses understood him somehow. It became very quickly apparent that Cedric wanted to be just like Hanaj when he grew up.

Gabrielle thought it strange that she had not had any interaction with the Conqueror. Never even to meet her. The Conqueror seemed to be very busy and was constantly consulting with various messengers and soldiers. She would only casually see her, from a distance, usually ahead of the pack organizing a group, answering questions or settling debates and then she would go racing off with her dark hair flying on her Palomino horse Argo to another urgent matter.


Gabrielle was surprised when, one day, a large dark shadow shielded the sun from the wagon. She sat up and saw the Conqueror herself riding alongside her, held there for a moment, in the middle of an urgent ride. The massive frothing warhorse and the extremely tall woman herself made for an imposing figure. Gabrielle found herself speechless and caught in a gaze of piercingly blue eyes.

“So you're a farm girl, huh? Do you miss that life?” The Conqueror started casually.

“I miss my sister and the animals.” Swallowing a lump in her throat, she continued, “I loved the lambs. Raising them was the best season on the farm.” Gabrielle smiled wistfully and continued sticking to the subject she knew best, “Do you know about raising animals?”

“No not really, but you could say I'm the black sheep of my family,” she said with a full faced grin and rode off towards a lieutenant waving his arms vying for her attention up ahead.

Gabrielle thought the Conqueror seemed pretty proud of this fact. It was as if Xena liked being bad. As for Gabrielle she was always trying to please her parents, anything to keep her father from yelling. In fact her not returning home had been her first act of defiance in her entire life. She thought there is a certain freedom in not doing what they expected of her, and finally just what she wanted. Gabrielle surmised now she was probably a black sheep in her parent's eyes. If she thought about it, it seemed that the playful little black lambs getting in trouble were always having more fun than their more common white counterparts.

A few nights later, Gabrielle spread her bedroll preparing for the night and out of the folds fell a small object. She searched the canvas floor of the tent and clasped her fingers around a small wooden figurine. Lifting it closer to the candlelight she saw it was an exquisitely carved figure of a lamb in a dark, almost black, wood. “A black sheep,” whispered Gabrielle to herself, and her mind went to the dark haired women who must have left her this gift. A warm glow spread throughout her body. Tonight as she fell asleep, her last thought was of those flashing blue eyes sparkling under dark eyebrows in full smile.


Over the next moon the Conqueror stopped by more and more frequently to chat, finding little excuses to come back to the central camp contingent daily. She brought her hunting quarry, frequently rabbits and the occasional stag to the cook herself or messages for Yeng-Fe. One crisp morning, Xena turned by the healer's wagon on her way to the front of the line, “Cedric! Gabrielle!” she called out before continuing up the line and gesturing forward, “Do you want to join me up at the front?”

Cedric jumped up with glee, “Absolutely, and I have just the right horse for Gabrielle,” he said as he ran towards the tethered line. Cedric chose a nice gentle mare named Naari that had a soft gait and would did not spook easily, perfect for Gabrielle's healing back. Gabrielle had not ridden much at all, mostly with a bunch of other children on the back of her neighbour's farm horse back home during the harvest and was not excited about riding.

“Are you okay? You look like you are going to be sick,” Cedric stated bluntly when he saw Gabrielle's nervous face.

“Cedric, I haven't ridden much,” Gabrielle slid by the truth. “Actually, not at all,” she clarified sheepishly explaining herself to a ten year old whose life was horses.

“Gabrielle, not to worry, just ride behind me. Swing a leg over when I bring her near the wagon.” Cedric noticed her face brighten with his words and he added, “I can teach you how later so if you want to take her out for a ride one day by yourself you can.” Gabrielle nodded but thought the chance of that would be less likely than snow in Tartarus.

The contingent had found a quiet meadow with a stream and Cedric knew this would be an excellent place for the horses to feed. He hobbled the small herd restricting them to the meadow while he headed down to the stream. The grass was long and lush. Gabrielle flattened a section to lie upon so her body would be off the damp earth. Laying on her belly she spread out her scroll intending to write but the warm sun on her back and the soft meadow breezes soon lulled her to sleep. When she awoke from her nap to the sound of bees and the shuffle of horses' hooves she found a carefully constructed braided ring of daisies on her scroll. Gabrielle lifted her torso and looked around over the sea of grass. Seeing no one, she placed the ring of daisies on her head and continued the day's ride under a halo made from the meadow itself.

Xena made a point to fall back and see if Gabrielle had accepted the gift she had left anonymously on her scroll. Gabrielle looked up and saw the commander staring at her. Then she noticed something in her eyes she had not seen before, something soft. It was only there for a fleeting instant before her commander mask took over. Gabrielle furrowed her brow, could the daisy chain really have been made by Xena of Amphipolis, ‘supreme warrior' and now ‘flower weaver'?

The complexity of this woman was growing in her mind and confused Gabrielle to no end. Was she the only one that was the object of this attention? Why this special treatment. Her ponderings could have lasted all afternoon but her thoughts were interrupted.

“Gabrielle, Look!” Cedric pointed at a far away puff of dust on the track. “See, all the excitement happens up here,” he continued as they flanked the group in expectation.

Gabrielle was sure glad she was not on her own horse right now as they were all jumpy, reacting to their riders' anticipation. She squinted. With the sun and the dust, it was impossible to tell how many riders were approaching.

Xena took the lead and unsheathed her sword, ready to fight. A rider was approaching fast on a huge war horse, bigger than any Xena had ever seen. Xena's senses braced for a defensive movement as momentum of this nature was only reserved for war. The billowing dust clouds traced a path along the open track that twined through the hills to the west from the mountainous inland of Macedon.

Breathless, the rider approached Xena with abandon and stared right into the line of Xena's sword without fear; almost with desperation. “Do you ride with Lord Alexandros of Macedonia, from the Artemis blessed lineage of Epirus?” he demanded.

“We are all equals of status here. There are no Lords of birth - only Lords of deed in my army. You have reached the Conqueror of Greece. And this does include Macedonia. So I believe, I am your Lord, man,” annoyance shallowly hidden in Xena's voice.

“Forgive me, my Lord,” the rider slowed, acknowledging his mistake. “You are truly a blessing to Macedonia.”

“A strange way to address your Conqueror, rider. State your business plainly,” Xena demanded, annoyance now fully swelling in her voice.

“I am a friend. I stood against Philip. I am pledged at birth to serve the Epirus lineage as my mother has served Olympia, Queen of Thrace. Alexandros, her son was taken at age seven by his blasphemous father Philip after an oracle predicated his supreme rule, the King of Kings. Disappearing from both Thracian and Macedonian borders, it is rumoured he was sold into Roman slavery. Despite constant searching by his Mother, no concrete sign of Alexandros has ever been found.” The story finally making its way past his laboured breath he added, “Until now.”

Xena, with an arched eyebrow, was looking rather unbelievably at this rider and glanced around at the group that had now gathered around, finally meeting eyes with Gabrielle who had a strange look of recognition on her face. Xena wondered ‘What does this girl know that I do not?'

The rider continued, “I am told that he rides with you. He was called Dahen in his youth.” At that announcement, Xena's eyes widened.

At this Dahen stepped forward with his headed cocked in question, “Hephi…. Hephaestion?”

The rider dropped to his knees before Dahen, “My Lord Alexandros, at your service,” he said formally and then added with exasperation, “finally.”

“Rise up man. I am no Lord, and you are no servant. I have memory of our Mothers being friends, and us playing together as children. Is this not the case?”

“It is, my Lord,” the rider stated while rising, “Friendship, yes I would hope so, but the connection is also hereditary, as for six generations we have served Artemis together side by side, your family and mine. I have been searching for you for the last five years to fulfill my family's destiny and restore our honour. I was born to serve you.” The rider bowed his head again.

“I will have you as a friend only, Hephi. If it is your duty to serve, you can serve Xena in her army. Or you can leave now and return to Macedon with the message that I don't ever want to see my fanatical family again. I have a new life, one I have made for myself with a new family who care about me as the person I am today, not what has oracled to be.” Dahen reached forward grasping the rider's shoulder firmly. “Do we have a deal?” He added with a smile.

“My Lord… I mean Dahen, this will take a little getting used to, but I do not doubt that you can rewrite destiny.” Hephi conceded sighing and stepping backwards. “Oh, I almost forgot. This steed is for you, a gift from your Mother. His name is Bacephalus.”

Xena stepped forward placing her arm around Dahen in friendship, “Good name, ‘Ox head', it fits. He is almost larger than an ox, and tall too. I have never seen a more powerful horse in all my travels.”

Dahen looked up at Xena and grinned, “Does this mean I finally get to ride out front?” Dahen teased about her obsession with leading the group.

“Maybe, perhaps, occasionally,” Xena ginned teasing back.



Chapter 5


Late one evening, Xena was sitting at her table and could hear Gabrielle leaving the tub. This was a daily ritual now that she was strong enough to move in and out on her own. Xena found she was drawn to the young woman and whenever possible tried to arrange to be in the tent to catch a peek of her and perhaps a few words.

As she emerged from behind the tent divider, cloaked in Xena's silk robe, Gabrielle unexpectedly collapsed; her body reacted with a cold shiver and weak knees. “Uughh,” gagging out an exhale as she kept from retching, her knees buckling.

“What's wrong?” Xena knelt taking Gabrielle in her arms.

“I'm not really sure, something shook my core. I felt like I was back there … in, in Draco's tent,” her eyes welled up with emotion.

“You're safe now. Hang on girl, you're with me now.”

“It was that smell,” Gabrielle's voice was far away.

Xena sniffed the air, confused, at first not smelling anything. Then she closed her eyes and reached out with her senses, tapping into her gifted well of Ares' blessed skills. It was there - a faint scent of spice. Trying to place it she recognized it from this morning's meeting.

“Cadmus!” Her mind reeled… “Nooooo, Cadmus,” She released with her next breath. But the pieces fell together. The smell was of the oil he favoured in his hair. It was distinctively his, that's for sure. He had it shipped from Rome. ‘The smell of the Roman elite'. None of her other soldiers would have access or interest in this. Cadmus was wealthy in his own right with much gold earned during his reign in the Gladiator pit. Could he have funded the slave ring?

Xena brought her thoughts to the present and her focus back to the girl in her arms. “Do you want to talk about it?” She knew the girl would have to eventually open up and deal with her experience in the slaver's camp, but never thought it would be with her.

She waited a long moment, unsure if Gabrielle would be comfortable speaking to her after all, when a soft voice drifted up, sounding disassociated from reality. “I was bound in the tent. They wanted to take me, I know, as they were discussing the curse like I was not even there. I thank the Gods I was on my moon, even though it was not my time. My legs were covered in blood as I had no cloth. I was walking with my hands bound behind and was not able to clean myself.”

Xena, not one to normally thank any Gods, did let a silent thought of thanks to Artemis. She knew the superstition well. If a man had a woman on her moon, his member would be overwhelmed by the female power in her blood. He would shrivel up, eventually leaving him a eunuch by the power of Artemis. This was mysterious power no man would mess with. Artemis was the patron Goddess of the Amazons, the most feared warrior tribe in all of Greece. Xena knew she had spared Gabrielle from certain rape that night but she had to wonder… Why this girl? Why that moment?

“Was there a man there with a cloak and mask?” Xena asked knowing Draco was not one to outright lie but still unsure of his loyalties.

Gabrielle continued, her voice still disassociated and unnervingly calm, “He had a hooded cloak of deep purple, almost black. Draco offered me to him and that smell was overpowering as he bent over me with disgust in his voice. He talked of the curse of Artemis and would not touch me. The other men took him very seriously and this revelation kept them off me.”

Xena knew in her heart that Cadmus was responsible for Gabrielle's capture and also for the limiting of her pain that night. She found this touched a nerve at the core of her and she had to right this wrong. Looking down at Gabrielle's tear brightened eyes, she felt a need to protect this woman with every fibre of her being.

In her mind she hatched the beginning of a plan for the capture of Cadmus at his own game of deception. She had to find something so delectable that Cadmus would not be able to resist. Oh, and she certainly knew what that was! Dahen! For this she would need some help as it was difficult for her to move undetected around her own army. Perhaps Autolycus, an expert in information procurement and her best and most trusted spy, could give her a hand. She needed to get her hands on a certain purple cloak, the final substantial proof of betrayal if verified by Draco. “Perhaps Draco can redeem himself after all,” she thought.


Xena took this quiet moment in the waning sun to sit and fix some stitching that had come loose on her everyday set of bracers. She had three pairs, as she did with all her leather armour, the good, the everyday and the ugly, but each had to be ready for action. The ugly was the oldest, but still functional, that she wore when crawling through sewage strewn trenches and when other particularly disgusting jobs were predicted to be on the agenda. The good set was the newest and flashiest. She wore it for the big battles but it would eventually move into the everyday set as they wore down. She only had one set of the metal outer cuirass that protected her from the larger blades and blocked an opponent's physical attacks and only wore it outside of camp or in battle as it may have looked delicate but in reality was quite heavy.

As Xena got into the rhythm of stitching, out of the corner of her eye she noticed Gabrielle marching off on some errand for Shala. Her stitching suspended she had a feeling of warmth rise up within. She smiled unconsciously. Suddenly Xena got the feeling she was being watched and turned to see Shala at her tent entrance so she motioned with her head at the disappearing figure.

“I was just thinking how that girl walks with determination in her stride,” Xena explained loudly, her voice carrying across the common.

Shala just nodded in response but started to walk over.

“Look at her,” Xena continued, “do you think she is a daughter of Artemis?”

Shala looked at Xena with raised eyebrows. Oh she could be so childish. Then she noticed Xena was actually serious so Shala answered non-committed. “Only time will tell.”

“I hope so,” was Xena's under her breath response, too quiet for Shala's distance.

Shala continued watching more closely, “You are right. She does walk like us.”

“Like a daughter of Artemis?” Xena purposely held the excitement back in her voice.

“Well yes, that too. I meant like an Amazon,” Shala explained.

“You know I'm NOT an Amazon, Shala,” Xena punctuated the familiar debate.

“Well, not officially, but you have some serious potential. You have an Amazon heart no matter how much you try to deny it.” Shala chuckled as she started back to her tent. It was so easy to get into the warrior's vulnerable spots, and she had too much fun doing it.


“Psst... Shala,” Dahen whispered forcefully into the darkness hoping his plea would fall on the right ears before bringing his eye back up to the hole in expectation.

Shala turned, thinking she heard something at the rear of the storage tent. Bringing the candle over and hunting where the sound originated she saw a tiny hole in the fabric of the tent about knee height. There was an eye-ball there. Her first thought was to poke the cheeky bastard for perverted voyeurism but it was really only a storage tent after all, not a bathing chamber. The eye blinked in recognition and backed away to be replaced by a single finger which beckoned her forward. She stooped downward with a wary curiosity.

“Who is it?” Shala demanded.

“Dahen,” the voice whispered.

“Dahen! What in Hades' name are you doing? Of all the crazy games, boy.”

“I needed to speak to you privately, with no chance of Xena finding out.”

She could almost see the eye grin and brighten. He was a playful pup.

“All right, out with it. What's the scheme?” Shala played along.

“Scheme, humph, not a scheme,” Dahen sounded hurt and then after a pause, “well, a little scheme. I think Gabrielle would be perfect for Xena.”

“You can't mean like lovers?” Shala was floored. Two people couldn't be from such different worlds.

“Yes, like that and more. Like life-mates,” Dahen was adamant.

“Where in the world do you get your ideas, boy? I would not pair those two in a thousand years.”

Shala stood up to leave.

“Wait, wait, hear me out. Notice how Gabrielle can stand up to anyone, is not intimidated by status, helps anyone in need and is just so damn sunny you couldn't rain on her parade, no way, no how.” Dahen continued as it seemed his thoughts were sinking in, “Xena needs that sunshine, she needs someone who is not intimidated by her.”

“What about her moods, you want to subject the girl to those? Or the violence?” Shala's only thoughts were about protecting Gabrielle's heart, as much as she wanted Xena to be happy too.

“Xena could give her anything she has ever wanted,” Dahen kept pushing, “They would look great together.”

Shala paused to think about this and finally relented, “Alright alright, they do look great together. Like dark and light balancing each other. So what's the plan?”

“Xena thinks of Gabrielle merely as a farm girl although there is something there because I have caught her staring at her more than once.” Shala nodded. Dahen saw her shadow agree on the tent wall, she had noticed too. Dahen continued, “I just want to expand her horizons a little.” Dahen had a ruse planned inside the ruse to catch Cadmus. “Do you still remember how to braid hair? Amazon style?” Dahen knew she did but he asked her anyways.

“Why don't you come by tomorrow during her evening rounds and we'll talk.” Shala couldn't resist. She loved to get inside Xena's soft spots as successfully as she tried to hide them.


Cadmus heard a rumour that Xena had taken a new body slave, a young virgin, a present from Draco solidifying his release. This was the Xena he had heard of years ago, the stories so graphic they reached the halls of Rome. Finally she was back from this ‘greater good' phase that he had always blamed Hercules for. Cadmus pined for the good old days, and those were some wild times, when Dahen was still his and Cadmus saw the God worship in young eyes when Dahen looked at him. Cadmus was not surprised when he got an invite from Xena to join Dahen and her in breaking in the new slave. After all he did have more experience with this.

He knew that Hanaj had been sent for a journey to establish stables for the eastern port town of Maronea where a contingent of riders would be stationed. Hanaj would be gone for at least a moon and so he hoped Dahen had finally come back to his senses. Cadmus knew he was the first and only lover Dahen would ever need. He had pulled Dahen out of the slave pit at the gladiator arena, saved him from a certain bloody finality of death by tooth, as most were fed to the lions. He had taught the young pup everything he knew of warfare and showmanship, personally elevating him to the elite ranks of Rome. Even though it was a life of bondage for both of them, one to the ring and one to his owner, they had dined together with the noble classes, performed for them at orgies and enjoyed some freedom between matches. They were finally were able to buy themselves out of the lifestyle, leave the confines of Rome to start over in Greece.

Recently, as Xena's quest came to a close, Cadmus had been thinking more frequently about his dream to settle down with Dahen at his side. Perhaps to breed horses on the land outside Corinth, close enough to town to be important but far enough for some privacy. His dreams had been shattered six months ago with the arrival of a certain Persian horse whisperer. What Dahen saw in him he would never understand. So unrefined. So dirty. Cadmus knew he would win Dahen back if only he could have some private time with him. This invite was the perfect opportunity.

The tent had been well prepared, the table and chairs removed and additional rugs and large pillows brought in to cover the floor. There were candles in every corner of the tent, the light pleasing and soft on the warm red walls. There were whips, restraints and a large phallus resting on the side board where fresh oil was also warming in a flask. “Xena sure does it up right. We could be in a noble house of Rome, not in a tent in the middle of nowhere,” Cadmus thought as he took in the décor and caught Xena's eye as she sprawled relaxed on the side lounge.

The slave was led in by Dahen on a leather leash attached to a thick traditional leather slave collar. Dahen was dressed in his minimalist loincloth. The slave had been prepared with a sheen of lightly scented oil, giving her skin an seductive sparkle even though her back was cross hatched with pink healing whip scars.

Xena gasped. She hardly recognized Gabrielle, even though she had seen her naked from the start. Gabrielle was breathtaking. Perhaps even more so as Xena knew Gabrielle did not even know how incredibly beautiful she was. She looked older, her strong body oozed sensuality. She was also defiant, straining against the bonds not accepting her fate.

The slave's arms were wrapped above the bicep with delicate leather braids that had a fringe of leather and a few green beads, which swayed and caught the light as she walked. A thicker matching fringe of leather and beads was slung low on her hips, just barely providing coverage. The result of the swaying beads sparkling against her oiled skin was mesmerizing. Xena was captivated by Gabrielle and Dahen noticed his plan was working.

The slave was blindfolded with a white cloth that was wound many times around her whole face, her mouth and chin exposed, just hinting at the beauty underneath. Her hair was closely plaited along her scalp, Amazonstyle, Xena noticed, and thought how Shala had out-done herself with this charade. The slave had her hands bound before her in a submissive posture but her stature was confident. Gabrielle could not have pretended she was not. It was too far from her real self.

Xena had Cadmus sitting across from her so his view of the slave was shielded by Dahen. He could see Dahen's broad naked back as he turned towards Xena. Xena flicked her eyes up to see that Cadmus was indeed enjoying the show. The slave's submissive posture was forced as Dahen put pressure on the leash and moved beside her in front of Xena for inspection. He knelt before Xena and roughly pulled the slave down to do the same. Cadmus could see Xena was very pleased at how Dahen had prepared her new toy. She smiled gratitude at Dahen as she gently touched his chin, lifting his gaze to meet hers. Then Dahen handed her the slave's leash.

“You have prepared and taught her well, Dahen, by properly introducing her to the code of submission,” Xena stated. That comment, about his former life as a slave, bit at the core of Dahen, but he knew it was necessary to get a rise from Cadmus. The slave brought her blindfolded head slightly upward searching for the voice and Xena yanked on the collar. Cadmus knew she would soon learn proper discipline by Xena's firm hand.

Cadmus spoke up, “I remember the best part of ownership is breaking them in, training them to your liking, seeing their wide eyes of surprise as you took them places they never imagined possible. Owning them completely is a game. You only win when they fully accept that they are yours. Her life, her love, will be only for you Xena.”

Dahen cringed inwardly, knowing that those words were making Xena's blood boil. He wanted this charade over quickly. He quietly praised Apollo that he lived long enough to experience what he felt all along deep in his soul, that love and ownership were very different. He now knew, more than ever, that this was not going to end with Cadmus alive. He had initially hoped when they talked this plan over that they would come to an agreement to part philosophies and ways without blood, but Cadmus was such a pretentious prick that was not going to happen.

Xena motioned Cadmus with a nod of her head and he rose and crossed to the other side of the tent flanking Xena by her shoulder. Xena continued, “Cadmus, perhaps then you would like be her first,” her eyes flicked to Gabrielle's kneeling form. “I would like to see how much natural talent this one has. What do you think about starting with the basics? I was thinking from Alpha to Omega.” The slave's form tensed. This was the popular term for being fucked in the mouth and ass at the same time. As much as Gabrielle though she was prepared for this charade she felt a genuine fear rise up. Gabrielle choked, how far was Xena going to let this game go?

Dahen took his cue and moved behind Gabrielle's kneeling form. They had rehearsed this, but nothing could have prepared Gabrielle for this moment. He hoped it would not be too much for her and Xena would be able to flush Cadmus out completely before the ruse was broken. If Gabrielle panicked it would be all over. She needed to trust them, unwaveringly, and that was a tall order for a virgin farm girl unaccustomed to the play of power. Xena approached with the small oil pitcher that was heated over a candle and streamed a long line down Gabrielle's back and over her shoulders. Xena noticed Gabrielle flinch as the oil flowed into her sensitive scars. Cadmus stepped forward and started to unwrap the slave's face. Layer upon layer of thin cotton cloth was unwound and dropped to the floor. He was erect with expectation.

Xena kept her gaze locked on Cadmus, and it paid off. With just a flicker in his eye and a catch of his breath he professed his guilt. Cadmus was experienced, he was a professional and he steadied himself in a heartbeat after seeing the face of the girl from Draco's tent. He knew she would not recognize him as he had been in disguise but his heart skipped a beat none-the-less, and glancing up at Xena, he knew his game was over. She had seen into his soul. He did not even have the chance to utter one word of explanation or apology before he realized the spray of blood that was shooting across the room was from his own neck.

It was over in just a few heart beats.

Xena grabbed Gabrielle, who was about to vomit, and whisked her into the washing room and awaiting tub. Gabrielle's body somehow managed to look even whiter under the droplets of red blood covering her face and back, which were slowly forming drips and trailing down her naked form. Xena was completely absorbed in helping Gabrielle recover from this reminder of her torturous albeit brief nightmare as a slave.

Dahen grabbed Cadmus before he hit the ground in a desperate effort to stench the flow. It was not possible and Cadmus only managed one last look into Dahen's eyes before his sight turned hollow. Dahen sobbed, through it all, he did have some love for this man. He admired him, his fighting skill and his confidence. He hated him too, for his self-righteousness, his conceited pompous Roman nature, and his traitorous mind.

“How could you think you could outsmart Xena and get away with it? No one ever has and no one ever will,” he whispered into Cadmus' stone deaf ear. “It is a sad day. I wished for a different ending for you, old man,” he strained as he hefted the body to his shoulder and staggered out of tent. He knew it was up to him to get Cadmus' body to the pyre as Xena would not want to waste another heartbeat on the man.


A few days later she felt a familiar tingle at the nape of her neck. “Show yourself,” Xena called him out.

Ares appeared in a flash of light, “Xena, I love how you can do that. It shows the strength of our connection,” Ares drawled out.

Xena copied his tone mockingly, “All it shows is the strength of your smell, Ares.”

Not discouraged, Ares continued, “The more you resist, the better this is for me, darling. You know we are joined. You need me. I am part of your spirit. I fuel your fire, your fury, your strength.”

Xena felt a familiar boiling in her blood. She hated this control he had over her and wondered countless times what her life would have been like if she had not sold her soul when she pledged her allegiance to him at the tender age of 14. Ares had guaranteed victory in her first battle with Cortez and it was one she absolutely could not loose, the battle for her home. He had followed through with victory after victory for her ever since. Her wounds healed faster than any mortal, she had the strength of ten men, and her senses were super human, these gifts were proof of her blessings from the God of War. She was Ares' Chosen, but if anyone knew the price, the punishment she had paid for it...

Xena felt it again, the boiling of the wild red darkness as her soul cried for release from this bond. She shivered and froze. Ares had her. Her choice was taken from her once again as a large force of blue lightning was propelled from his hands. It held her defenceless, helpless, as she rose a few inches from the ground and was spun around to face the tent support. Bound there by this energy, her body no longer responded to her commands. Resistance was futile - she had found this out countless times before. Ares spread her legs and ripped into her, penetrating so deeply it lifted her from the ground. She roared with pain as she eventually tore open, releasing a flood of blood.

Ares' maniacal laughter was followed by a brutal, “You will always be mine,” hissed into her ear. With another flash, as quickly as he had arrived, he was gone, and the force field that held her immediately released the crumpled form into a heap on the floor.

Xena came to and discovered she was on her pallet. Exhausted, her body had the tremors that the blue light always caused. When her muscles were controlled, it took a few days to recover them completely. Xena noticed Shala was there by her side, the only one who she allowed to care for her, who knew her secret.

“How many?” she murmured weakly.

“A bad one, six stitches this time. Xena, your body cannot take much more of this. It's not right.” Shala knew her words fell on deaf ears as there was a strange power that allowed this incredibly strong woman to be defeated like this over and over again. It had been this way since she met her. Ares came every few months at the beginning but now it was only a couple times a year. After so many times, Shala had a sixth sense and always knew when Ares had visited. Still Shala felt it was so wrong, in so many ways, to maim someone in the act of sex. She would always continue to patch Xena up but would also continue to object strongly.

“For Artemis sake,” Shala said under her breath, her Amazon herstory showing.

“One God is enough, leave the rest of the fucking family out of it,” Xena rebutted, but her fight was draining away as sleep took her exhausted body and tortured soul.

Shala left knowing she would find some excuse to tell the Alpha Guard at the next morning's meeting that a few days of rest were necessary. The army usually celebrated these infrequent breaks. If they only knew the true reason for their leave, the mood would be more sombre. First, she would have to send Gabrielle and Cedric on a three day herb collecting outing. Hearing from Dahen that the connection between them was growing, she did not want to risk Xena's secret with a very inquisitive and aware young woman underfoot. Anyways, it was Xena's secret to share when and if she wanted to.


Gabrielle was so excited that Shala trusted her enough to let her go out into the countryside alone. Well, with Cedric and two guards. It was like she was finally a real apprentice. She wanted to impress her by collecting a wide variety of items, more than was on the list. She had the guards bundling armfuls of herbs and by the looks on their faces she knew it would be the last time they would volunteer for this duty.


Gabrielle continued to use the tub every evening even though the scabs had long fallen off, exposing new pink skin. She just loved the luxury and was only going to give it up if she finally got kicked out. Shala had changed the herbal cream from that of pus control to that of scar reduction and would treat Gabrielle's back every night.

Xena stepped past the curtain. There she was, asleep in the tub again, strands of her red blond hair floating around her pure white breasts that were bobbing with each deep breath. Her skin was so translucent that Xena could see the small blue veins running from her shoulders along her upper chest. She chuckled at the thought, Gabrielle's long peasant garb did not allow much sun to touch flesh. A lifetime of that and no wonder she was so white.

“Serene trust, so beautiful, so pure,” Xena whispered under her breath, an expression of her surfacing feelings. Xena did not know what possessed her but found herself stepping those few paces over to the side of the raised tub and leaning over to place a feather-light kiss on Gabrielle's forehead.

Xena snapped back, her lightning sharp reflexes engaged. Unsure what had occurred Xena turned her head slowly. Her hand had caught Gabrielle's wrist. Gabrielle's own hand only a finger width from her cheek. Gabrielle had tried to hit her! Xena jumped back as if she had been stung, locking eyes with the deep green pools just fluttering open and not fully registering what had occurred.

Gabrielle did not have a chance to even open her mouth and seek an explanation before Xena ran from the tent. Gabrielle felt her wrist. It had grip marks on it. She sat up in the tub confused at what had just unfolded. Was it all a dream?

Xena ran from the tent equally confused and did not stop until she had reached the high eastern ridge that overlooked camp. Gasping from the sprint she leaned forward with her hands on her knees. What am I feeling? She asked herself. Rejection? Partly. Definitely Shock! That was the closest anyone had gotten to slapping her in a very long time. She stood and paced on the ridge still gulping air. How could Gabrielle, a farm girl no less, have such incredibly fast reflexes? And when asleep no less! Could this be a trick of the Gods? An assassin sent to penetrate her normally impenetrable defences? Either way, she uncharacteristically had let her heart open a little and it was a little too much! She had been rejected. Definitely time to pull away. She cringed at the thought of having to explain herself and decided a clean break was best if the girl didn't feel anything for her anyways.


Xena avoided Gabrielle for weeks. She threw herself into training, drilling her troops mercilessly, pressing on until the end of Thrace was in sight. She could finally see the Bosporus River and Byzantium in the distance, her goal of the last four years was before her.

It was in the third week of her relentless push that Dahen risked taking sides to seek out Gabrielle. “Gabrielle, Gabrielle!” Dahen shouted as he approached the healer's wagon. No luck, the driver was the only soul to be found. He moved onto the cook's wagon where he found Farina, Manoot and Gabrielle sitting in the back preparing a barrel of squash. “That can't be easy with this rough ground,” Dahen stated the obvious while still approaching.

“Well my boy,” started Manoot who despite her grandmotherly age spoke feistily, “If your fearless leader did not have a race to win, we would have some time settled on the ground to prepare your meals. Don't complain if you eat a squash seed tonight mind you.”

Moving like he was walking into a hornet's nest Dahen dismounted and approached the side of the wagon closest to Gabrielle. “Gabrielle, please talk to her,” Dahen quietly pleaded.

“Dahen, Manoot is entitled to her opinion,” Gabrielle stated matter-of-factly.

“No no no, please talk to Xena.”

Gabrielle's eyes widened and she pulled back, “What did she tell you?”

“Nothing, that's the problem. She won't talk to anyone. I was hoping she might talk to you.” Dahen had once thought there might be something more than friendship finally growing between Xena and Gabrielle. He hoped, especially for the sake of this gentle blond, that all this was not the result of a quarrel. Women were so complicated. Thanks-be to Apollo he was a son for the brothers.

“I have done nothing wrong. She is the one who should be doing the explaining.” Gabrielle insisted adamantly.

“Gabrielle, just talk to her or she will end up killing us all. From a slip of the sword or from exhaustion, either way this cannot go on,” Dahen looked into Gabrielle's set face.

“I'm pleading with you,” Dahen fell to his knees beside the wagon and allowed Gabrielle to roll slowly away for dramatic effect.

“Alright, alright,” Gabrielle moved gingerly to the rear of the rolling wagon and hopped off. “Dahen, take me to her then.”

“Oh no, she can't know I talked to you,” looking around for a solution as he knew Gabrielle did not ride. “Cedric,” he called to the stable boy who was leading a strand of six horses and waved him over. Dahen continued after Cedric rode closer, “take Gabrielle to the front line just after the mid-day water break to see the Conqueror.”

Cedric may have only been ten but he could plainly see that this was a job Dahen was avoiding and was a little reluctant to agree before he saw Gabrielle's kind face in a reassuring smile. He liked her and would do anything for her. “Alright I guess I can do that, after mid-day break.”

Dahen mounted and raced off to catch up to the Alpha guard.


“Gabrielle, just so you know, I won't be staying at the front,” Cedric started very seriously for a child as they began the ride. Gabrielle had to remind herself that he was a child that grew up in an army and thus not a regular ten year old and she distinctly felt she was getting a lecture. “Normally we are not to just to go up there unannounced and uninvited, as it may be dangerous. Engagement with the enemy or a wayward warlord can occur at any time. My father was killed by a sneak attack. Xena says he was an honourable man.” Cedric seemed to be talking more than usual as his nervousness peaked. Gabrielle herself was quiet as she formulated what she was going to say to the former Destroyer of Nations. She had a distinct heaviness in her gut that this could go very badly.

It was not long until Gabrielle heard the snorting of horses up ahead and felt relief when she noticed it was the Alpha Guard and not some ‘wayward warlords' watering their horses and just finishing their mid day break. The creek bordered the small glade with larger trees on the far side creating a natural wind barrier and quiet setting. She dismounted from behind Cedric and as she walked out into the sun she saw the whole lot were standing taking a pee in the line of brush. There was a lightness, a casualness she had not seen before. It was as if she was interrupting a party, they were laughing and teasing each other. She found it interesting that Xena stood up with the line to pee as if it was fully natural for her. Gabrielle waited until they were finished and then walked into the center of the glade. When Gabrielle's eyes locked with Xena's it was like a dark cloud drifted over Xena's face and in an instant she had her expressionless warrior mask on again.

Turning for a moment, Gabrielle noticed that Cedric had already spun his horse around and was headed back to the wagons, so now there was no way out. Xena had walked over to gather up Argo and immediately dove into the task of readjusting her saddle, attaching her scabbard and chakram; anything but look at Gabrielle.

Walking slowly over to Xena, giving her some time, Gabrielle finally spoke softly, “Xena, we need to talk,” as she placed her hand on Xena's arm.

“There is no ‘we', so speak for yourself,” Xena replied harshly and started guiding Argo towards the track without even a glance at Gabrielle.

Not really knowing how to respond, Gabrielle now standing alone whispered to herself, “Ok, that went well,” and paused, gathering her strength. Suddenly she passed over the words rolling in her head and heard the hurt resonating in Xena's voice. She thought it was almost childlike. Taking it to the same level she shouted at her from her own honest child within, “I want to talk to you and I am going to follow you around relentlessly until you let me.” Gabrielle could not help but chuckle and added with a smile, “I'm warning you - I can be very persistent.”

Xena smiled a little into her saddle as she mounted. Not sure if she could win this one. Gabrielle is nothing if not persistent. Noticing the rest of the Alpha Guard lead by Dahen had mounted and were in the process of departing, giving her some space, she relented. Holding out her hand she encouraged Gabrielle to join her on Argo.

Gabrielle just stood and looked at her in a none-too-pleased way and said, “Xena, there is absolutely no way I am riding on that gigantic thing.”

Argo snorted a brusk reply and Xena petted her neck, “Sorry Argo, she didn't mean to hurt your feelings.”

Gabrielle answered silently, with a smirk.

“Your ride has gone home, Gabrielle,” Xena stated adding a nod in the direction Cedric had left, “and if you want to talk to me, this is the only way.” Now it was Xena's turn to smirk.

Her fate sealed, Gabrielle stepped forward, hiked up her skirt, and mumbled, “Dear Gods I'm going to die,” as Xena took her foot out of the stirrup, allowing Gabrielle access to the step up.

“Well, that wasn't exactly graceful,” Xena stated the obvious as she mostly hefted Gabrielle into the saddle behind her.

Gabrielle settled in and then looked down. A big mistake. She clutched Xena's waist and closed her eyes groaning, “I'm gonna to die, oh Gods I'm gonna die.”

Xena chuckled a bit and wondered, ‘Where are her lightning fast reflexes now?' and started off up the track.

As much as Xena tried to deny it, she loved the contact. Gabrielle was hanging on furiously. She took it slowly - no need having the poor girl crap herself or lose her stomach contents. That would just create a mess to clean up. After a few moments, Gabrielle seamed to relax just a bit. Xena knew her mouth would start up pretty soon, and it did. “You know, Xena, you move your body to match Argo's.”

Quite a quick observation for a non-horse person, Xena noticed and explained, “You have to work with the horse or you will pay for it later. Try to follow the movements.” Xena could almost see Gabrielle's expression of concentration for the next few moments as she mimicked Xena's rocking seat, their bodies pressed together. It worked, Xena could feel Gabrielle's tension drain away and thought they might be able to pick up the pace a bit and catch up with the rest of the team. Xena released the reigns and Argo headed for the nearest patch of grass.

“What are we doing?” Gabrielle squeaked, still a little panicked.

Xena flung one leg over Argo's neck and spun in the saddle. Gabrielle jolted, not expecting to have the former warlord face to face. Xena smiled, lifted an eyebrow and drawled, “What do you think WE are doing?” As she bent forward, her cheek close to Gabrielle's outer thigh.

Gabrielle felt her face flush, knowing her feelings were easily read. She steadied her voice and said, “WE are talking.”

“Nice comeback,” was Xena's reply with a pause as she switched sides, then she explained, “I am tying up these straps to create a support for your feet, a makeshift stirrup so that when we pick up the pace I don't lose you off the back.” Xena looked up into Gabrielle's eyes, she wondered, ‘Are they more green than I remember?'

“So, you don't want to lose me?” Gabrielle pushed it, smiling, knowing an unwritten line would be crossed if Xena admitted she meant something to her.

“Put your foot in there,” Xena dodged the question, “and the other one,” as she held each leather loop open. “Now stand up,” satisfied with her work, she nodded and spun back around, reaching down for the reigns. Coming back up, she found Gabrielle's arms ready to wind around her waist in a tight hug.

“You can run, Warrior Princess, but you can't hide. I warned you, I am very persistent.”

“Thank Goodness,” Xena said under her breath as she smiled and encouraged Argo into a trot and then a canter; her bouncing bundle of bard hanging on for dear life behind her.

Gabrielle kept her eyes closed and tried to focus on the gathering heat building between herself and the warrior. Was it from the friction of the movement or from the feelings she knew had now been partially revealed?

Finally, they had the other Alpha Guard in sight up ahead, and Xena slowed Argo to a walk again.

“OK, talk, bard. Now's your chance,” Xena demanded, although there was a sliver of softness edging her voice that Gabrielle could now hear.

“OK, uhem,” Gabrielle cleared her throat suddenly dry and swallowed hard. Knowing she had practiced this moment over and over in her head did not help much.

“Why are you angry with me?” Gabrielle questioned.

“I'm not angry with you,” Xena responded immediately.

“Why are you hurt?”

“I'm not hurt.”

“Don't give me this line of bull shit, Xena!” Gabrielle exploded with emotion.

“By the Gods, do you know who you are talking to?” Xena matched her level.

Gabrielle immediately answered, “The woman that I care about.” Her unabashed honesty deflated Xena in an instant. Gabrielle felt Xena's body relax as she let out a sigh.

“Can you tell me what happened in the wash room?”

After a long pause Xena started, “You were sleeping in the tub and I bent over to kiss you.”

Gabrielle mumbled an interruption into Xena's leather covered back, “Too bad I wasn't awake.”

Xena continued, “I bent over to kiss you and you slapped me. Well tried to slap me. Got closer than anyone has for a long time, like in, forever.”

Xena paused and was thinking for what seemed to Gabrielle to be an extraordinarily long time.

“So?” Gabrielle finally encouraged with a squeeze to Xena's ribs.

“So, if you were an assassin, you would have killed me,” Xena surmised. What had made perfect sense in her head for the last three weeks suddenly sounded very silly when said out loud.

Gabrielle laughed, “You have got to be kidding me?” and then toned it down when it genuinely seemed Xena was serious. “So, let me get this right. You are all hurt because you trusted me enough to let your guard down a little and now you are punishing yourself for this? Punishing both of us.” She paused but there was no response. Xena felt exposed and had withdrawn. Gabrielle continued, “So you think trusting someone is losing your edge?” Xena was even more than exposed now, she felt emotionally naked.

“Don't tell anyone,” Xena eventually whispered.

“Our secret,” Gabrielle whispered back and then continued. “Three things we have learned from this sensitive chat,” Gabrielle readjusting her arms around Xena's waist. “One, I am definitely not an assassin,” Gabrielle punctuated this with a tightening hug. “Two, I don't want to hurt you,” the hug tightened again. “And three, um,” Gabrielle mumbled into Xena's leathered back, “I wish I was awake when you tried to kiss me.”

Xena could feel the heat emanating off Gabrielle's now beet red face which was pressed against her back. She held onto the moment for a while, a solid smile forming on her face and eventually softly added, “I guess we could start over?”

“OK, let's redo,” Gabrielle responded in agreement.

“Ok, redo,” Xena added as they rode on in a calm silence.

“But Xena, you have to tell me one thing?” Gabrielle questioned breaking the moment.

Xena braced for another emotional impact her body flexing in reaction.

“How do you pee standing up?” Gabrielle giggled as she felt Xena's body deflate again.

“Gabrielle,” Xena drawled her name in a way Gabrielle was beginning to really enjoy. “It's easy, if you wear a short skirt.”

Gabrielle thought this over and wondered if she might be able to get her hands on some thread in the next town to make some garment modifications.



Chapter 6


Xena paused the reports with a raised hand. She could hear a rider was approaching the central area at breakneck speed, an unusual interruption to the morning meeting. She exited the tent and drew her sword only to see Hanaj on a frothing Arabian war horse, but not one she had seen before. Hanaj was not one to ever push a horse this hard and her concern level peaked when she saw his face. He looked like Hades warmed over, like he had not slept in days. Hanaj had been gone the better part of a moon and could not have returned in worse shape with worse news.

By the time he reached the tent the rest of the Alpha guard were on hand helping Hanaj dismount, calming and watering the wild animal he was riding, and finding a seat and breakfast for Hanaj. It took a few minutes to get settled before Hanaj was able to start with his tale.

“My contingent was in Maronea building the stable when I saw a runner in full Persian dress, unusual for this part of Thrace. I rode off to meet him and was even more surprised when the runner had a sealed message for me from my family. My family's palace was attacked and seized. Overtaken by the Abyssinian horde. They have been decimated,” he sobbed taking in a gasping breath, “They have fled across Anatolia to Byzantium. My parents live, but in disgrace, driven from our Euphrates homeland.”

The room collectively gasped. Abyssinian's had been known the world over as the most brutal race of fighters for hundreds of years. They followed none of the rules of war. They attacked during the negotiated breaks for wounded recovery. They slaughtered women, children and the elderly, burning the land and leaving nothing left to farm or eat. They were mortal enemies of the Pharaohs, Nubians and of the Jews, of the one god from the land of the Jordon River. Even with all this history almost nothing had been heard of the Abyssinians in over three generations.

Otta stood and spoke first, “Our hearts go out to you and your family for your personal pain and the pain of your nation. My spear longs for Abyssinian blood since our Great-Great-Grandfather, Taharqua, finally drove Emperor Sennacherib and his camels from the borders of Egypt and back past Jerusalem over half a century ago. Jerusalem still calls his name in salvation as their protector. If the Abyssinian horde has arisen again, they have not learned their lessons of past generations.”

Atsu continued the sentiment, “They need a reminder that the world will not sit still against this type of brutality. When Abyssinian King Esarhaddon tried to stop the cedar trade from Lebanon to Egypt, he moved first against the villagers, erected piles of their heads, before the army of my Grandfather ever arrived.”

Xena shrunk back. The brutality they spoke of was beyond even what she had seen in her life as a warlord. She had never killed children or the elderly. She had not killed women non-combatants, perhaps raped a few in the early brutal years with Alti, but never killed them.

Anatolia had long been a coveted area because of the overland trade route from Egypt to Rome that moved a vast quantity of wheat. The scarcity of water in the region had demanded a certain understanding and peace between the races there, even though they spoke different languages and worshipped different Gods. The area was divided up around the few rivers, some that in Greece would be considered not more than creeks. These city strong holds have been walled for centuries against Abyssinian attack for the Abyssinians had no river city or state of their own. They lived in the sand, in thousands of small oasis, and in the past at some time they had tried to overtake every one of the cities of the region.

Xena snapped into action and ordered, “Hanaj, rest a day and then ride forward with Dahen, Otta and Atsu to prepare Byzantium and the cities of Anatolia for battle.” The men were on their feet with a gleam of expectation in their eyes. This would be the first great battle since Korinthos, and they were ready.


Finally reaching Byzantium, Xena noted Hercules had found the perfect spot to post camp, south of the city on a defensive plateau of scrub with rocky outcrops protecting three sides. The next morning would mark the first time Xena had led her army beyond the confines of Greece in an act of war. She would have to wait for the return of Autolycus and Hanaj to know how deep she was sinking into this new world of ‘Conqueror of other Nations'. There was a name for that, she thought. It was Emperor. Xena decided she quite liked the sound of that.

“Report,” the customary opening of the morning meeting was a bit more abrupt than usual but then they were all on edge. All eyes turned to Autolycus who had just returned from reconnaissance. The information he gleaned would determine all of their fates.

“The Abyssinians are wreaking havoc on the whole of Anatolia, have been quietly building an army for the last few years.” Autolycus paused and gauged the attentive group as the news was surely not what they wanted to hear. “Up until recently they fought in smaller groups of raiders on horseback backed only with the element of surprise. From what I have gleaned, the tide has changed. Now they have amassed all the tribes together under one King Ashur-Uballit Ayad. With this new found leadership and the power of numbers they are one word: brutal. Decimating entire villages, destroying crops and livestock, pillaging any temples or strongholds in their path and they are untouchable. It is rumoured they have the fastest horses anywhere from Rome to Egypt.”

Hanaj continued sombrely, “They have been planning this for sixty years. Ever since their defeat at Jerusalem, they have had vengeance on their every breath. Women were encouraged to breed males for the cause and their numbers are vast. There is not an army strong enough in this region to stand against them, save the Nubians, who will not leave upper Egypt and leave her unprotected, learning from past defeat. My family was forced to flee into exile when Babylonia was sacked. Most other nobles were tortured, skewered and left to die hanging from the walls of their own defeated cities. My family was lucky to get out with their skins intact. But they could not take anything with them.”

Atsu spoke up, “So they are still leaving no one alive in their wake. That is what my ancestors should have done in Jerusalem those many years ago. Some things never change. We will send word to our family in Egypt that this is personal and only a matter of time before this horde grows big enough to walk into Memphis herself and take the crown. They need to join us here now before the tide is so strong it cannot be stopped.”

The group was silent, rolling the complexities of this situation around in their heads. Xena finally spoke, “We are the most practiced and disciplined fighting force ever gathered. In Greece we could beat these Abyssinian desert rats with our troops blind folded. You know that. I know that. The problem is they are in a middle of a desert on fast horses, a habitat we are not accustomed to. Getting the troops and equipment over the bridges will give the enemy precious time to prepare. We need to accept now that there will not be any element of surprise here. It will be a full-on battle.” The gravity sunk in, “Autolycus, put out a message of diplomatic negotiation. Just to see if they will bite. It will give us a bit more time and let us know exactly what kind of fighting mood they are in. If we can draw them out of the desert we can use the rocky highland landscape to our advantage as it will slow their cavalry down.”

Although Xena was positive that war was upon them, she was not altogether sure she could win against the Abyssinians. She would be able to with Egypt's support but not alone. If Atsu's family were unsuccessful, Xena's best hope of convincing the Nubian lead army of Cleopatra to help would be to pass word to Valesca and Callisto. Their presence as much as she disliked them, was needed. Xena immediately sent a contingent of her ten fastest riders to Egypt with the sealed scrolls. She only hoped they had enough time.


They had been in Byzantium a week so far. Hanaj's parents, King Mausos and Queen Ada of Carian, had arrived from their refuge in the southern highlands a few days ago and had taken Dahen under their wings as a second son. They were thrilled that Hanaj had taken a consort and even more thrilled when Hephi let slip that Dahen was of royal lineage, a perfect match for their boy. Xena let them have their time with Dahen, all the schmoozing was making her queasy anyways.

Xena was waiting for the formal word from Autolycus that the Abyssinians would not submit to negotiations and was totally absorbed with the logistics of moving eight legions over the three bridges that led across the Bosporus River. It was a task that was in danger of becoming a moon cycle long nightmare.

The problem was the bridges were taxed, per person and per load. The three bridges were owned by separate enterprises that were bitter rivals but also seemed to have some sort of secret dealings that prevented her from moving more than one hundred soldiers over each bridge per day. Granted there was a lot of trading traffic that had contracted guaranteed passage but Xena had agreed to move at night which should have opened up some options.

Unfortunately, she was at a standstill with these pirates and the local Lord was of no help. She would have just rented or bought a boat to ferry the men across but the river was an impassable solid line of rapids bordered up and down stream by impenetrable marshes. Backtracking for weeks to the sea would be the only way to safely cross by boat and they could not afford the time that would be lost if they pursued this option. The insolence of the bridge owners had almost pushed her to extreme measures, and she dreamed of simply aiming her catapults and threatening to destroy each bridge in turn until someone let her army pass freely. Clearly, she needed to step back and re-evaluate her next move.

Since Dahen was busy with his in-laws Xena decided to seek out Gabrielle to take her mind off the matter at hand before she made a decision she would soon regret. She could not very well destroy all three of the bridges. Maybe Gabrielle would like to see the market? This certainly was the first large city they had come across since she joined them, and she guessed it was the largest Gabrielle had ever seen in her life.

The markets of Byzantium were a magnificent array of all the world had to offer. A crossroads of eastern trading routes, the maze of contorted passageways overflowed with vibrant colours, metal goods of every description, strange fruits and food stalls. The smell of spice and incense filled the clogged passageways, hanging still in the heat. There was a confusing din of every language spoken at once combined with constant stream of sultry eastern music. Gabrielle was overwhelmed by the assault on the senses and was glad to have Xena beside her on her first trip into town. Xena had volunteered to show her the market place and she liked the company. Gabrielle also wanted to make sense of the feelings that were opened up for her on the ride through Thrace and it was extremely hard to get a private moment with the Conqueror. This is the first time they had be alone together in several weeks.

Gabrielle had picked up the same fabric roll three times, bartering with the seller a little lower each time before finally setting it down and walking away.

“Why don't you just buy it?” Xena was the kind of person who liked to plan ahead and buy what she needed quickly. She was getting a little exasperated at Gabrielle's need to poke and prod everything.

“I don't have any money.”

“Why in Hades not? You have been helping Shala for three months now,” Xena instantly regretted the strength of her voice.

“I am not in your army. And I am not your servant. I am working in exchange for my food and lodging that is it,” her jaw was stubbornly set and her green eyes flashed with passion.

“Gabrielle, let me buy it for you,” Xena offered reaching for her money belt.

“I don't need your charity, Xena,” Gabrielle locked eyes and stormed off through the market place.

“Ugg, and I don't need this drama,” Xena whispered under her breath as she tried to keep Gabrielle in sight. Then a brilliant idea came to her. Gabrielle wants to be a bard, she should start charging for the telling of her stories. Not just to her men but to the masses too. Xena had an idea in her head that she knew would solve this problem. She sneaked up ahead past Gabrielle who was now slowly moseying forward looking at all the stalls' goods totally unaware that Xena was still watching over her.

Gabrielle turned around the last food stall that was selling a wide variety of fruits. The vendor was very persistent and she would have loved to try some of his wares if she had some coins. Leaving the stalls behind wistfully, she entered a plaza of sorts where a crowd was gathering. Wanting to see what was going on she artfully squeezed her way up to the very front. Gabrielle had just caught her eye on Xena, but before she had any time to even register surprise or wonder, she was pulled by Xena into the center circle.

“Here she is, Ladies and Gentleman. The woman you have been waiting for, Gabrielle the Bard of Potidaea,” Xena announced to the crowd and then turned a wide smile to a stunned Gabrielle before backing over to the side and into the crowd.

Gabrielle had dreamed of a moment like this, an eager crowd of strangers willing to hear her stories. She would have wished for a little more warning but here it was right now so she had better take advantage of it.

Xena was worried by the rather long pause as Gabrielle composed herself by closing her eyes that she may have pushed her too far. She noticed the crowd become a little restless and a few onlookers whispered comments to their companions. Then, with a clear strong voice, Gabrielle started.

“Behold before you a tale of intrigue and treachery that holds no chance of redemption.” Some of the crowd gasped at the opening line and the whole crowd took a step forward in expectation. “I tell you of the life of Cadmus, famed Gladiator of Rome, and his betrayal of Xena, Conqueror of Greece.”

Xena slinked back into the crowd, with a bit of a groan, and waited for her to finish.

When the crowd dispersed, Gabrielle was standing there flushed with a huge smile on her face. “Xena, they liked it. They paid me!”

“I knew you would knock their socks off, Tiger,” Xena was happy her plan had worked.

“Thanks, Xena,” Gabrielle answered touching her on the arm, “but no one here wears socks anyways.” Continuing after a thoughtful pause, Gabrielle draped her hand over Xena's bent elbow and started walking. “What's a Tiger?”

“A Tiger is a ferocious red striped cat from the land across the Indus,” Xena punctuated her description with cat movements and a swipe of a claw-like hand, taking a step before Gabrielle. “She is adaptable, smart and stubborn, tracking prey for days, attacking from the rear. The people of that land live in fear and wear masks on the back of their heads to avoid attack.”

“So you think you need eyes on the back of your head to avoid me? And I'm really more of a blond. In fact, I'm not sure I like this nickname.”

“No no, just that you are feisty and can make the best of every situation. Gabrielle, The Bard of Potidaea,” Xena announced with a flourish, “My Bard of Potidaea,” she added softly and tapped Gabrielle's hand that had somehow gently naturally returned, looped in her arm.

Gabrielle immediately saw the fruit stand again and started forward, now with a wrap in her skirt filled with dinars.

“Buy my fruit from the land across the Indus,” the seller pitched. The yellow skin was blotched with brown it did not look very appetizing. “Inside there is a creamy sweet and thick paste filled with round black seeds,” the seller explained.

“Do tigers eat it?”

The seller glanced at the wide eyed wisp of a girl and wondered what she knew of his homeland. He started, “Yes,” and then flicked his eyes to her companion who was much more worldly and had a menacing grin. Continuing he changed his story, “in a way... Tigers eat the animals who eat this fruit.”

Gabrielle bought plenty of these ‘bananas' as they were called, some figs, loads of fresh dates and two melons. She had to take her large kerchief from around her waist and fashion it into a bag to carry it all.

They wound their way through the small passageways that were cluttered with copper cookware and dusty rugs until they found a small stone wall along an embankment near the steep section of the road leading to the temple of Apollo. The wall made a perfect seat with the scrub olives that graced the side of the hill below providing a little welcome shade. Gabrielle pulled out the kerchief and spread out the fruit she had purchased between them. Xena pulled out a dagger from her boot and cut up the melons.

“Tastes good,” Gabrielle managed with a mouthful of the fruit from Indus. “This would be very popular if they were able to get rid of the seeds,” she giggled as she was rolling the seeds around in her mouth trying to separate and spit them into the scraggy dry brush of the hillside.

“Good practice for us, tongue exercises,” Xena quipped with a cheeky grin. She was greeted with a blank look from Gabrielle. ‘Was she really this naive?' She thought and then explained. “That was a joke.” Xena sighed and thought ‘ no time like the present' and dove right in with the conversation she knew was coming for a fortnight.

“Have you ever made love?” After a pause she continued, “Had sex?”

“No, of course not,” Gabrielle was gently offended, a flush rising to her ears.

“What did your Mother tell you?” Xena inquired, looking at the other side of the track.

“My husband would teach me and not to let anyone near me until I got married.” Gabrielle remembered that her sister Lila did not follow Mother's advice quite so well.

“Do I count?” Xena quipped but retreated when she turned and saw Gabrielle's insulted face. Feeling a little guilty, Xena sombrely backtracked and explained, “Sorry, the joke was about providing oral stimulation.”

“I hope it is better than it sounds,” Gabrielle quickly retorted.

“Believe me, it is,” Xena smiled knowingly.

They were quiet in their thoughts for a while, shyly locking eyes occasionally when they found the other was also looking. Gabrielle finally knew that her feelings for Xena were reciprocated but had no idea what to do now. She finally thought she would just relax and enjoy the day, the company and the adventure of being so far from home in an exotic land. If something happened between them it would happen on its own time and there was not much she could do about it but wait patiently. She felt like a weight lifted from her shoulders and she welcomed the release it had been a tense moon cycle for all her guessing and second guessing hidden meanings.

The path they were sitting along was a main city thoroughfare as it led both to the temple of Apollo and also crested the hill bordering the town to the east forming a direct route with the center of the city. The traffic was constant and provided a lot to comment on. Well, a lot for Gabrielle to comment on as Xena listened to the constant prattle. She noticed it was as if everything that came to Gabrielle's mind came out of her lips.

“Isn't it fascinating how the donkeys don't need a drover, they just stay on track knowing their destination. It is as if they accept their lot in life and don't even think of escape,” Gabrielle commented as the last of a dozen or so heavily laden beasts slowly made their way up the steep cobble stone path.

“If I was a donkey, I would cause a lot more trouble,” Gabrielle commented.

“I don't doubt it,” Xena whispered under her breath although she was enjoying how Gabrielle's monologues filled the time and took her mind off things.

“I would make a run for the sea when they weren't looking,” she giggled back to Xena's feigned exasperated expression.

“Come on hairy ears, you can do it,” Gabrielle encouraged to a donkey especially laden with bolts of gold trimmed fabric.

“Tiny, you're a cute one, keeping going, almost there,” this time to a smaller beast with copper kettles clanging with each step.

“Grey beard, one hoof at a time girl, keep it up,” Gabrielle continued.

Xena was greatly entertained, it was like she was seeing the world though new eyes. Eyes, that were at once trusting, innocent and deeply aware. This girl was so unbelievably cute and had so much energy. It was a breath of fresh air and she found she had forgotten her army problems for the first time in months. Looking down at the kerchief of fruit she saw it was almost gone. ‘Goodness this girl can eat!' Xena thought and laughed, ‘When does she have time for that? She was talking the whole time.'

Gabrielle noticed when Xena finally relaxed, the line of worry between her eyebrows that had been there for the last seven-day finally faded. She wondered why Xena was not sharing her troubles with her. Gabrielle thought, ‘she must think I am too naive or stupid? ' Gabrielle had an unnerving ability to see into others feelings. It scared her sometimes. She felt others pain so strongly and took it inside as her own personal burden. It was a gift but only when she could help. She desperately wanted to help this woman so she put herself out there again and started.

“Xena, what is troubling you?” Gabrielle ventured when the eyebrow crease returned briefly.

Xena turned and looked at her thinking, ‘Damn, this woman reads me like an uncurled scroll.' Her first instinct was to deny anything was wrong but one look into those eyes told her the care was genuine and she couldn't lie to her if she wanted to. She briefly summarized the logistical problems of the last week and how close she came to just catapulting the Hades out of the bridges.

“Can I make a suggestion?”

“Of course, Gabrielle.”

“I don't mean in any way to suggest how to do your job or...” Gabrielle began timidly.

“Gabrielle, it's fine. Just make your suggestion,” Xena smiled not expecting much.

“Have you really talked with them?”

“Of course I've talked to them,” Xena answered defensively.

“At the bridge? Or?” Gabrielle questioned as gently as possible sensing this was already going badly.

“Of course at the bridge. Where else would I have talked to them?” Xena felt this idea to be open to suggestions may not have been the best.

“Give me a day to work it out,” Gabrielle simply stated and started down the stone path with determination in her step.

Xena was left to just simply wait and trust, and wonder if she might have underestimated this Tiger.


Xena found a scroll that had been set on the table in her tent. A personal message? Normally all correspondence went through the scribes. Opening it she found it to be an invitation to dinner and entertainment signed by ‘Gabrielle the Bard of Potidaea' herself. She grinned at the use of the moniker she had coined the other day.

As Xena made her way into the area noted on the invitation the next evening, she saw that Manoot and Farina had prepared a feast and set up on a large open overlook to the river. Torches lit the area. Although open, the light formed a barrier that brought the circle into focus and formed an outdoor room of sorts. There were no tables except for placement of the food. Guests were lounging on large cushions and blankets that had been spread in groupings. A musician was playing softly. The whole atmosphere was relaxed.

Gabrielle arrived shortly with the three families in tow, the ones who owned the bridges. She made eye contact with Xena and winked but did not come to talk to her. Gabrielle spent the whole evening with the wives who sat off to the side on low cushions around their own communal food plate. Xena sat with the Lord of Byzantium and his wife, who was good at idle chit chat, although Xena noticed Gabrielle's new outfit more that she noticed anything else. Her green halter top and wine coloured skirt were far more revealing than the long peasant attire Gabrielle formerly wore. The fabrics were Indian with some exotic texture that was quite feminine. Xena could only think of how it would feel to her touch. There was a sportiness to the outfit too as if it fit both her body and her personality perfectly.

Throughout the evening, Gabrielle found out from the women that the family who owned the third bridge downstream of town were from land ruled by Herod close to the Sea of Galilee and had been trying to return home for years, as the time of their prophet was imminent. Fear of the Abyssinian raids and lack of transportation funds had so far prevented them. As the evening progressed the wives conferred with their husbands and confirmed their intentions. By then end of the night Gabrielle had brokered a deal that Xena would provide safe passage to their homeland for the family and all their worldly goods in exchange for a decent price on the bridge. In essence, Xena would buy the bridge from them, transport her army across, and then sell it to another bidder, perhaps the Lord of the City. Gabrielle was very proud of her negotiations. The cost to Xena was a fraction of the head fee, even factoring in sending a contingent of fifty soldiers to escort them to the land of one God.

Gabrielle delivered on her promise. Xena had to admit that she had grossly underestimated this girl.

“You are amazing.” It was the first moment Xena had to talk to Gabrielle all evening.

“Wait till you hear my story,” Gabrielle teased as Xena rolled her eyes and hoped for the love of Zeus it would not be the Cadmus tale again.

Gabrielle took the stage and a hush fell over the guests. Xena let out a breath she did not know she was holding when Gabrielle started with a myth. A story of how all humans had two heads, four arms and four legs until an ancient vengeful god split them in half, leaving them in a desperate constant search for the other half of their soul. Xena caught Gabrielle's gaze more than once on that stage that night and thought somehow she saw new sparks in her eyes.


Xena and Gabrielle stood overlooking the Bosporus River and Xena's new bridge that she had now owned for five days. The roaring rapids filling the air with mist and the sound of rushing water. Gabrielle was thoroughly enjoying the sight but when she turned to Xena she noticed she was in distress.

“What's the matter?” Gabrielle voiced her concern.

“I don't know,” Xena started and then decided to be honest, “I can't see through the mist or hear anything except rushing water. I feel blind and deaf. I can't relax like this.”

“You feel out of control?” Gabrielle ventured.

“No,” Xena paused and thought, “more like I can't be vigilant. I can't protect you when I don't know what's out there,” Xena sighed and thought she might as well tell her the whole story. “When I was young my father drank. I could tell from his foot fall on the steps if he was sober or sloshed. But it wasn't just him, it was after he died too. I mean, my Mom owned a tavern, there was always plenty of mead and always lots of drunks, often out of control. I learned to scan the crowd, keep all my senses on and wide open, always anticipating where the next lot of trouble would be brewing.” Xena sighed deeply and her eyes went glassy with remembrance.

This was more information about herself than Xena had ever shared. Gabrielle could feel the walls finally crumbling a little as she listened. She predicted this trust thing was going to be a long, slow process.

“Xena, all these things came together to build the great woman you are today. You can't separate what was good and what was bad. They all contributed to you,” Gabrielle consoled.

“You're amazing,” Xena released a crooked smile, noticing she was feeling this a lot lately.

“Just think, your extreme senses were probably a result of your childhood. And now they keep us out of trouble so I have to say thank you to the little Xena who endured and learned through all that craziness.” Gabrielle added in a whisper, “Thank you, little Xena, for making it through that and growing up!” Gabrielle stopped abruptly. She wanted to add ‘so I could love you' but she knew it was too soon. Xena's eyes were already scanning the rapids again, her thoughts captured by the mesmerizing green water.

After a long pause, Gabrielle continued, “What are you thinking, Xena?”

“Oh, I was calculating what path I would navigate if I was to run a small boat down the rapids.”

Leaning over, all Gabrielle saw was a cauldron of angry water seemingly going in every direction at once. There was no path anywhere. Just looking at it so intensely was making her feel ill.

“Do you think fish can survive in there?” Gabrielle let her thoughts out again but Xena was still engaged with the river and its meditative quality. “It makes me feel sick just thinking about it,” Gabrielle turned her vision back to solid land but there was a distinctive green pallor to her skin.

Xena broke off her study and turned to Gabrielle with excitement, “Of course, that's it! You're seasick!”

Gabrielle looked at her with a raised eyebrow of disbelief. Certainly her feeling sick was no cause for celebration and she was nowhere near the sea.

Xena explained, “It's a motion sickness. Maybe that is why you have such a tough time riding horses too.”

“Now you're making some sense,” Gabrielle started walking back up the path to the track.

“Wait, Gabrielle,” Xena's voice was urgent. “Let's try this now just to see.” Xena grabbed Gabrielle's right wrist with both hands and laughed when Gabrielle's eyes shot up to hers in surprise. Xena began massaging the pressure point on the inside of Gabrielle's wrist with both thumbs. Gabrielle was at first tentative and tried to pull back and then flushed and relaxed, dropping her eyes to the ground.

“Focus on your stomach, Gabrielle. Does it feel any better?” Xena asked when some time had passed.

Gabrielle definitely felt better. This is the first time Xena had reached out to touch her since the half asleep tub incident that was blown way out of proportion. In fact, any queasiness she may have felt was replaced by woozy weak knees and a heavy pull, almost a cramp, in her abdomen. So it was really hard for her to tell what was going on with this motion sickness. Xena was holding her hand, the sun was setting through the mist, the river surged below, she thought it was so romantic. Raising up her gaze again, she locked eyes with Xena. Feeling a heat rise up to her face, she turned and she pulled her hand away and started up the path.

Xena chuckled again thinking, ‘I can't believe she was blushing from that. She is so innocent, ' and ran up the hill behind Gabrielle. When she reached the top of the path, the long sunset shadows where already darkening the track. She grabbed Gabrielle's hand this time and pulled her along, playfully spinning with her momentum. “Come on, I want to show you something,” Xena said as she pulled Gabrielle at a run down the track out of town.

Gabrielle was surprised when Xena guided her to the edge of the river. It was calmer here and the terrific noise of the rapids had abated a bit, although still not safe for a boat. Through the growing darkness she noticed that the river slowed and eddied on the near side into a large marsh. The twilight was now upon them and the sky a ribbon of orange and green where Apollo's chariot had set. Turning, she could see the first few stars joining Venus in the blue blackness of the night sky. She could just make out the cattail shadows with the help of the twilight glow.

There was a loud noise and suddenly the air was filled with waterfowl as they took flight and jockeyed for their nightly roost. They were so great in number that Gabrielle could feel the wind from their wings on her cheeks. It was magical. She finally let out the breath, she did not know she had held, when they landed concealed from view. Xena flashed her a quick smile, her face blurry but her teeth and eyes recognisable in the darkness.

Xena whispered, “Wait. Here it comes.”

And then it started. Intermittent at first, gaining momentum, growing as the night fuelled its release. A frog chorus, it grew and grew until speech was impossible, for the noise. The frogs rivalled the rapids, now far in the distance, in ferocity. Gabrielle could not help but laugh in amazement that little frogs, so great in number, could possess such power as this. Gabrielle finally realized she was still hanging onto Xena's hand and squeezed it. Xena responded back with a squeeze before leading them out off the soft footing of marsh reeds back onto the solid track.

Finding a small clump of grass, Gabrielle pulled Xena down to sit with her, the darkness giving her the courage to ask the questions she could not earlier in the daylight.

“Why did you ask me if I had made love before? Didn't you already know the answer?” Gabrielle questioned, starting innocently enough.

“I wanted to put it out there that I was interested in you in that way,” Xena explained matter-of-factly.

“A kiss would have been more effective.”

“It's a pretty big leap from talking to kissing.”

Gabrielle leaned in to kiss her.

Xena pulled back and continued with her explanation, “My point is, I want this to be right for you. You cannot go back and become a virgin afterwards. If you have even an inkling that you would ever want to be married…”

Gabrielle interrupted, “Xena, open your eyes. Can you see me being married to some guy? Come on. I wouldn't last a week. I would be thrown out of the house for talking back or having an opinion. The small village farm life I was born into is not for me. It never was. I worked to fit in, as best that I could, for as long as I could, but always knew that my life was out here in the world, somewhere, waiting for me. I just had to make the first move to leave. Luckily, and yes I said Luckily, Draco's slavers made the choice for me.” Gabrielle paused for a deep sigh, “And that was the best thing that ever happened because it led me to you.”

Xena looked up in time to see that tears were threatening to spill out of the bard's eyes.

Gabrielle continued after she took a moment to compose herself, “Yes, I am young, naive, inexperienced and you measure me by these things. You have had probably hundreds of lovers and I not a one. So you judge me by that. But I know what I feel, I am totally in touch with that. I have strong passions that run like fire under my skin when I look at you. My body cramps with longing, I tremble and no speech is left in me.” [thank you Sappho for the paraphrase]

Xena grinned and thought ‘those feelings must really be something to take the speech out of this girl' , but did not interrupt.

“I can express what I feel with purity unscathed by past lovers or rules. I think you quickly discount all my positives, like that I am creative and energetic, and for that I am truly hurt.” Gabrielle sighed. She had finally expressed what had been torturing her for the last moon.

Xena was floored by Gabrielle's insight and honestly. How did she articulate things so easily?

“Gabrielle,” Xena drawled her name out sensually, “It is not about positives and negatives or experience. I know in my heart you would be an outstanding lover because it comes from here,” she tapped the center of Gabrielle's chest. “I just want to be sure you know there is no going back. It is not a decision to be taken lightly.” She paused thoughtfully, “I know as I have many regrets, things I would have done differently had I known what I do now. I used sex and my sexuality to manipulate people, get what I wanted, and to humiliate. I wasted a precious gift, so many times in the early years, on blood lust and entertainment. I have been the first for many and took them without care, with cruelty and violence.”

She held back a sob but Gabrielle could see a lone tear streaming down Xena's cheek.

Gabrielle reached out to wipe her tear but was otherwise silent. This was quite a revelation. Gabrielle knew Xena had an evil side and had done horrible things in the past but raping virgins was about as bad as it got. Killing babies would be the only thing worse.

Shocked and not sure how to continue, Gabrielle just stated the obvious, “Xena, that is not the woman I know. That is not the woman you are now. You need to forgive yourself and move on from that. Carrying on that memory is not helping you, me or this relationship any ... Let it go.”

Gabrielle continued after a moment of thought, “From what I see, all this bloody waiting is more about your fears within yourself and what you might be or do to me without my consent. You worry you may connect with the inner demon that once ruled your bed.” Gabrielle paused as this all sank in. It seemed all of her assumptions had been wrong and Gabrielle was stunned, “This avoidance is not really about my feelings at all.”

“How do you do that?”

“Do what?”

“Make everything seem so obvious,” Xena explained. “I spend weeks sorting through these feelings and you just pop right out and give me the answer.”

“Perhaps you should talk to me earlier?” She said with a cheeky grin

“Perhaps I will,” Xena sighed, her face registering defeat.

After a long while, Gabrielle started up again with enthusiasm, “So?”

“So what?”

“So where do we start?” Not seeing understanding in Xena's eyes she continued, “With the love making.”

“Oh ya, um… Have you touched yourself before?”

“You mean, down there?”

“Um ya,” Xena could not help but suppress a smile.

“Not really, but there was this banister in the barn that we used climb up to slide down when we were

children and a while back, probably when I was ten or so, I found that it made me feel like I had to pee in the strangest way. It made my legs weak and a shiver run through my body. It would always take me a moment to feel strong again. Eventually I would find all sorts of excuses to go to the barn and climb up the banister. I was almost caught so many times. I don't think anyone knew it was more than just a game for me. I've actually been missing that banister,” she laughed heartily.

“I would like to volunteer my leg,” Xena replied with all seriousness.


“You could use my leg as a banister.”

“Ohhhh,” the light went on for Gabrielle. “Really? If it's that simple, why does everyone make such a big deal of it?”

“Because, my dear Gabrielle, that is just the beginning,” Xena nodded knowingly and smirked an evil grin as she pulled Gabrielle up to standing and slowly began walking back to camp.


Neither woman spoke on the way back to town, enjoying the lingering frog chorus, the hand holding and the moment until it was abruptly broken by Dahen riding fast towards them.

“There you are, my Liege,” his voice tinged in exasperation, “There is an urgent matter at the bridge.” He offered a hand down to her to join him on the back of Bacephalus.

“Dahen, first we need to help Gabrielle back to camp,” her voice was demanding with the warrior mask taking over. Xena did not glance at Gabrielle for if she had she would have seen a storm brewing.

“Am I not part of this conversation?” Gabrielle was livid. Dahen shrunk back and turned away in guilt. Xena was caught totally unaware with a look of pure surprise on her face.

“I can find the camp by myself thank you,” Gabrielle started marching off.

“Gabrielle, you have to be safe. I know that you can find the camp. That was never in question,” Xena responded sheepishly following her a stride behind. There was really nothing she could have said by that point that Gabrielle would have found acceptable.

Gabrielle huffed, “Thanks for ruining a beautiful evening.” Every time she had a moment with Xena she was pulled back by her army. Gabrielle thought , ‘Not only does she think of me as a child but her army is always more important.'

Xena stopped in her tracks, “Gabrielle, what is this all about?” she demanded.

“You act like you own me. Well, you don't,” Gabrielle picked up the pace and was soon out of earshot.

Xena kicked a rock on the way back to Dahen who quipped with a sigh, “Women, can't live with them, can't live without them.” He succeeded in cutting through her mood and Xena couldn't help but laugh, the saying was familiar, although it was so unexpected coming from Dahen, a son of Apollo.


“Report!” Xena demanded. The Alpha guard looked around confirming that everyone knew she was definitely edgier than normal today. Dahen knew she had been testy since the argument with Gabrielle.

Iolaus smirked remembering the last time a member of her elite guard suggested Xena's foul mood was because she might be on her cycle. Well, needless to say Callisto had been stationed in Egypt ever since. A quick jab in the ribs from his partner brought him back to the present and he saw Xena staring at him expectantly. “Sorry, my liege. Please repeat.” Iolaus stuttered. The morning meeting had not started out well.

“The troops … How many are settled? Does that jog the memory?” Xena's frustration was on the surface.

“In the last seven-day we have moved nearly five hundred soldiers laden with supplies across the bridge and all the horses. That, in addition to the few that were able to pass before you bought the bridge ,calculates two hundred left to cross and we should be settled in battalions within four days. The catapults are another story.” He paused ,uncertain if he really wanted to be the bearer of bad news this morning.

“Go on,” Xena's voice was nearly a growl.

“The width of the bridge will not accommodate the wheel span so they must be taken apart and carried over piece by piece. This will take an additional seven-day.”

“Let me understand, I have had troops sitting idle around for nearly one moon waiting to cross a bridge. Sitting under a dozen catapults that they could have been taking apart? And we are finding out now? Iolaus, I want you to personally be the last person over that bridge. Get over there and see if you can cut down the time somewhat. We need the hardware. We need it soon.”

“Your will be done,” Iolaus finished with a bow.

Xena acknowledged his exit with a nod, not the brightest star in the sky but so extremely polite it made up for it somehow.

“Aeson,” Xena noticed he jumped, uncharacteristically. Maybe she was letting her mood go a little too far. She took a breath, “Set the infantry up on defensive drills against cavalry. We will need to be ready for them breaking through. Teach them how to prepare ground traps with spring lines and nets for the horses like we did in Iberius. We may have no other choice. Remember they sent Atolycaus' diplomatic messenger back in pieces.” Xena noticed Hanaj cringe but she knew hurting horses was the last resort. She would much rather capture them. “Atsu, Otta we will need more javelin and arrows than previously thought. You may need to involve the Lord to put out a call to the people for wood. Everything that can be fashioned into an arrow will need to be. The next few days will be a hive of activity. Be sure to eat well and get some extra sleep, it may be your last for a while. I would feel a lot better about this if we had word from Cleopatra, Callisto or Valesca.” She left the tent leaving her Alpha Guard wondering if that was a smile or a grimace on her face.


Gabrielle avoided Xena for several days, which was not very hard as she was always busy with someone or away attending some urgent matter. Then several more days passed where she unsuccessfully tried to talk to her alone. She hated this lonely nagging feeling in her gut and regretted her harsh words and knew their next meeting had to be a private conversation. It was impossible, someone was always with her and Xena was not making any move to seek out Gabrielle.

That night Gabrielle awoke from another nightmare. They had been a nightly constant since the moment she was rescued from the slavers although they had become a little less frightening. They were not scary or bloody as she might have expected having seen more violence over the last three months than most Potidaeans see in a lifetime. They were stifling, suffocating, confusing and cryptic. She never found a meaning in them even after talking with Shala. Somehow she had woven Amazon rituals into her dreams. Gabrielle attributed this to hearing all of Shala's stories and finding a quiet fascination with the women warriors.

Gabrielle shook off the ugly remnants of the bad dream by slipping out into the cool night. The stars were spectacular with no moon in sight. She gazed for a moment with her weight propped on the tent pole and was about to turn in when she saw a faint sliver of light from the base of Xena's tent. She felt this was her chance.

“You're still awake?” Gabrielle poked her head in the tent flap.

“I don't sleep much. Come on in, Tiger.” Xena answered putting down the map scroll she had been studying.

“We need to talk,” Gabrielle started. Xena had to fight to stay put as Gabrielle continued, sensitive chats were her least favourite thing to do. “I hate fighting with you?” When there was no response from Xena Gabrielle continued softly but with demand in her voice. “How come we fight and bicker more than we get along?”

Xena noticed the flush in Gabrielle's face and her eyes brighten with passion. She was the most beautiful thing in the world at that moment. She wanted to just escape and run away with this woman. But knew she needed to trust her fully and opening up to this was going to be the hardest thing she had ever done. Xena was suddenly not sure if she could handle this, now or even ever. She felt the fear rising and shielding her, tightening her throat she was unable to speak.

Gabrielle saw that Xena was obviously going through some sort of internal turmoil and felt if she didn't open up now she probably never would, so she pushed her.

“Xena, if you don't participate with this conversation, I might as well go back to Thrace,” She threatened as she started for the tent door then paused with one more solid backwards glance.

Xena was unable to talk, frozen under the innocent stare she thought , ‘How is she doing this to me? Gabrielle is exposing the last layers that she has been slowly peeling away over the last months just by looking at me.'

Xena wondered how she never even noticed when her core became revealed. And now here it was, the vulnerable moment, and she had the urgent panicky feeling to run or vomit.

Standing up and taking a calming breath, Xena looked into those deep green pools of eyes and she understood that she could never hide again because they saw right into her soul. Her barriers were down - her only other option was honesty.

Xena suddenly saw Gabrielle somehow look so distant; a path of light connected them and shielded them from the rest of the world that faded away.

Never one to say too much, or beat around the bush, it just came out, Xena said, “I love you.” The simple words that had confused her for so long that she never found the right moment for had just slipped out so easily. It had lifted a weight off her shoulders; she realized she had been holding her breath as the green eyes took a moment to sparkle back in realisation.

Gabrielle took her hands in hers and brought them to her heart. The whole world disappeared around her too. She leaned upward and ever so gently touched Xena's mouth with her lips, feathering a kiss. Pulling back with a smile Gabrielle said, “I love you too,” and broke into a grin as a tear gently escaped her eye.

Gabrielle yawned, and flushed, embarrassed that she was so exhausted. Xena just wrapped her arms around her and snuggled in on the pallet with Gabrielle's head on her shoulder and held her until dawn was starting to break.


Xena could see an Amazon camp. In the central clearing of the camp there was a long table that stretched as far as she could see in each direction. Gabrielle was sitting across from her in the middle of this table. The table was filled with Amazons clearly there for a celebratory feast. It was noisy and chaotic, and there was the heartbeat drumming she remembered from long ago, from her time with the Northern Tribe.

Xena gasped as she realized Gabrielle was flanked by Cyane and Melosa.

Cyane looked right at her, holding her eyes and said with a smirk, “Why Xena, don't tell me you have a problem with Amazon Queens?”

Xena felt ready to bolt, or to fight, until she felt a soft cool hand on hers. Suddenly she was staring into those deep green familiar pools and relaxed as Gabrielle said, “My warrior,” slowly drawing out each vowel. Xena felt her heart stop and her breath held.

Gabrielle smiled at her, holding her gaze and slowly slid from view, ducking under the table and then a moment later popped up right in front of Xena. Sensually slowing her rise before the warrior for full effect, her lips open, Xena could feel her warm breath exhale up her torso until Gabrielle was sitting on her lap. Their lips almost touched, their eyes penetrating and locked. Gabrielle has been so stealthy in her change of position few had noticed. They all noticed now and Xena felt their eyes as she stood up to her full towering height with Gabrielle wrapped around her waist. Locking eyes with Cyane again she took two graceful steps and removed them from the table, spinning in the direction of their hut. “Mine,” was the last thought that filled her as she slowly woke.

Xena savoured her dream, dream? ‘ I don't dream,' she thought, “at least I haven't since I was a child. Ever since Lyceus died.” But it was true she had awakened from a dream. Although quite amazed that it had been a dream, Xena also was disappointed that it had not involved the trip back to their hut. “I'll just add on that part,” she thought as she readjusted Gabrielle's sleeping form on her chest and allowed herself to drift back into a daydream.


Shala noticed with a sharp stab of fear that Gabrielle was missing from her pallet. Then it hit her, and she just knew she was with Xena.

“Xena, we need to talk,” Shala stood patiently outside the tent door. She heard some rummaging and unexpectedly had Xena face to face with her. She looked like she had slept in her clothes.

“Shala,” Xena groaned and whispered, “not you too. You have no idea how many sensitive chats I've done lately.”

“You had better get used to them, there will be many more if you're serious about this.”

“Serious about what?” Xena feigned innocence but knew somehow that Shala was not to be fooled.

“Serious about a commitment to Gabrielle,” Shala stated in a no-nonsense tone.

Xena reeled, and paused in thought for quite some time, ‘Who used the word commitment? Where did that come from? It is just simply uncanny how Shala always knows what is going on.'

Finally answering Xena said cheekily, “Could we spend a night together first before being joined?”

“Quit the games, Xena. I know last night she did not come back to the healer's hut.”

“Ok. Ok, what I meant is; can we make love once at least before the whole world knows of our coupling and we use the word ‘commitment'?” Xena was flushing and feeling trapped.

Shala just answered with a raised eyebrow.

Xena responded sheepishly, “Honestly, we just talked and slept.”

Shala looked at her knowingly, “Xena, you barely sleep at the best of times. I hardly think you did with a strong supple sexy youngster next to you.”

“You're right. I daydreamed more than slept, but my eyes were closed - that has got to count for something,” Xena smiled sweetly.

Shala was not biting at the humour and straightened with all seriousness, “Don't you dare hurt her heart. It is too pure and honest for that.”

“Are you threatening me?” Xena had disbelief in her voice. Shala may have scolded, mothered and suggested over the years but never had she ever threatened.

“You can bet sweet Artemis I am, Xena.” Shala started backing away, “You had better cut it off now if your intentions with Gabrielle are anything other than honourable.” Shala left Xena to contemplate these words and sent a silent prayer to her Goddess for clarity, as the Xena she knew was motivated more often by lust than not.

‘Great', Xena thought, ‘I am sitting on the brink of war, one I know we cannot win, and my own healer is threatening my life.'



Chapter 7


Only six catapults were ready when the first wave of attacks commenced. The first thing Xena did was move the infirmary back into town where there are more beds and she felt better knowing Gabrielle and Shala would be out of the direct line of fire. They held their ground for six days before the withdrawal and morale was high for this seemed like victory but Xena knew the Abyssinians had just been testing the waters. They would only expose a fraction of their strength on the first encounter. At least that's what she would do. She could smell a storm on the air and sandstorms in Anatolia were legendary; no one would be caught out side for long they were not withdrawing from her forces, but from the wind building from the South.

“Report,” Xena's voice boomed life into the tired group, it was almost dawn.

Aeson was first to speak, “My Lord, they have withdrawn the cavalry. The rocky grounds in combination with our traps were very effective. If they wish to penetrate further they will have to come in on foot.”

“Oh no. They won't risk that. They will draw us out into the desert first,” Xena countered.

“Hanaj, take the entire cavalry, and any local militia on horseback that you can conjure up. We have to bring them to us. If they take this fight to the desert they will surely win. If by some chance we don't die by the sword or of thirst, we will be chasing small groups around the desert for the next decade.”

“Our numbers are too small, my Liege. They will disengage us on this front to slaughter us behind.” Dahen voice was more of a statement than a plea but there was an edge of desperation in his voice. He did not want to see his love slaughtered as the cavalry would be out front.

This was a serious problem. Xena knew it but she was running out of choices. They would pick them off slowly on this front or quickly on the other. Either way she was losing, and the number of soldiers dead and wounded were more than she expected.

A new voice interrupted the tense silence, “Unless reinforcements had arrived.” Xena looked up into the smiling face of Cleopatra, magnificent in her gold battle dress. She was flanked by Callisto and Valesca, and you could almost smell their lust for blood. Their new energy breathed new life into the exhausted Alpha Guard who stood to attention.

“Thank you for responding to our request,” Xena was cordial but her heart was racing at the sight of Cleopatra. She oozed power, it was as natural to her as breathing, in the fabric of her skin. You could tell in a breath that she was revered by an entire nation as a living God. Xena now understood how so many great leaders had fainted when first in her presence. Glancing over at Dahen and Hanaj, who were frozen in time and growing paler, she thought she might lose them.

Cleopatra sauntered forward and brushed the outside of her left hand down along Xena's right cheek, “My pleasure,” she drawled, bringing her lips close enough to her ear that Xena could feel her breath on her skin. “Maybe we can see how much of a pleasure after we win this tedious war with these dirty barbarians.”

Xena cleared her throat her head churning with the possibilities, “What of Marc Antony? The Roman?” hoping this was her way out of this situation.

Cleopatra lifted her right hand to expose a leash she had been holding. Xena had not even noticed it earlier. With a quick flick she pulled up a figure, dressed in a pure white traditional Egyptian pleated skirt and leopard skin draped across his shoulder and chest, who had been kneeling right behind her obscured by Callisto and Valesca. The man's face looked Roman but his hair had been shaved and plied into the waxed and braided top knot of the Egyptian elite. His eyes had been deeply charcoaled and tattooed hieroglyphics covered is arms and chest. “This is my Marc Antony and he is good enough for two. I am sometimes known to share.” She flicked her eyes up to Xena in a highly suggestive manner.

Xena was quick to notice Callisto and Valesca's immediate and knowing look at each other and to her surprise Callisto stepped in to save her. “My dear Cleo, despite the rumours, Xena is a true daughter of Artemis and really too tame for your discerning tastes. I am afraid she would be a bit of a disappointment.”

Xena felt her blood boil and her hand instinctively clutched her chakram. Luckily the tension was interrupted with a calming hand on hers as Cleopatra locked eyes.

“Don't underestimate me Xena I will find some other way for you to repay me. I can be very creative.” And with that promise she spun and departed, snapping her pet behind her, her entourage one step behind.

Dahen was the first to recover his speech, “I can't figure out if that was good news or bad news.” That was just the release everyone needed and the tent erupted into laughter.

“I can tell you all one thing it is going to be much more interesting having them around. We need to keep an eye on her. And I will not let them get anywhere near Gabrielle.” Xena ended on a serious note but the mood was much improved. She knew they could win this thing now.

“At first light we need to collect the spent arrows, they are too valuable to leave on the ground. Take your leave until then,” Xena did not have to ask them twice as they exited in tired silence. “And for Zeus' sake can we put those other catapults together,” she threw the request into the darkness.


At the infirmary, a commandeered estate, the first wave of wounded arrived, a few could walk but the rest were carried.

Shala was specific in her instructions as there was no time to repeat, “Stay beside me, Gabrielle. Bring the beeswax salve, the water and the large basket of rags. I will either say ‘salve' or ‘water' and that will be your clue. The ones needing salve will be treated by washing the wound, treating with salve and tying up with the rags. If it is just water, give them a drink to make them comfortable and say some kind words as they will not be with us come morning.”

Gabrielle just stood in shock, she was causing their death as surely as the arrow. How could this be?

Shala turned to see the disbelief on Gabrielle's face, “Sorry, dear. We only have so much time and so much salve. The locals will see to the comforting once a bed is found for the injured. They all knew this was a distinct possibility when joining the army. No one here thought war was without death. Knowing they died honourably and their family will get their stipend is enough for most of them.”

Gabrielle looked into Shala's eyes and pulled herself together, “I will do my best.” Gabrielle could only think that what she was enduring was miniscule to that of those actually in the battle. Gabrielle would glance at the line of fire visible on the horizon from the top floor of the estate and know that Xena was out in the middle of that mess somewhere.

Gabrielle said she would do her best and that is surely what she did. Gauging from the injuries she saw, the battle was worse than any carnage she could ever have imagined. The tribes from the desert were excellent on horseback and could shoot arrows while moving with amazing accuracy. Arrow wounds to the torso were almost always ‘water'. She stayed by Shala's side and administered more sips of water than she would have hoped. Looking into the eyes of those dying, she smiled, told them a little story or joke, and tried to make the last few candlemarks pleasant for these warriors who accepted their fate more easily that she did.

She slept a bit every night when Shala did, but even when awake the exhaustion clung to her body making the burden of the work even greater. This went on for six days until finally a runner came to announce a break in the fighting.

“Finally,” Gabrielle felt some relief and glanced at Shala.

“Not yet, dear. They will use this break to bring in more wounded that they could not get to before. It will take a few days for us to notice.”


“Hey there,” the breathy voice over her shoulder startled her.

Gabrielle just spun into Xena's arms. Worry draining away she sunk in and finally allowed herself to feel.

As Xena pulled back to wipe the tears from Gabrielle's face, Gabrielle thought Xena looked better than expected. Yes, her heavy battle armour was absolutely filthy, covered in sand, grime and dried blood but she had a sparkle in her eye. She looked like she actually enjoyed doing this. Like she as feeding off the energy of the battle and it was renewing her, sustaining her.

“I'm not sure I like this,” Gabrielle said wavering in muted tones while drawing Xena over to a private corner.

“Your first battle is always the hardest. I know how hard it is to see proud warriors die.”

“No, I mean, you look like you are enjoying yourself. How could you?” Gabrielle then realized this sounded worse than she had meant it to.

Unexpectedly, Xena laughed. “I am a warlord at heart, Gabrielle. This is what I do best. There is a certain enjoyment to it, absolutely. You are only seeing one side here in the infirmary. Come with me. I'll show you another view.”

Xena mounted Argo and pulled an exhausted Gabrielle up behind her to accompany her on her evening rounds. Riding through the camp Xena was greeted as a hero. Her warriors interrupted whatever task they were engaged in to just to come and be close to her, to say a few words. Xena complemented each contingent on their specific part of the battle. She knew the warriors by name and details on how they did that day. She gave them hope. She gave them purpose. Gabrielle could see this in their faces. It looked like love or more like adoration. Confusion gripped her. How could it be? The next day would be the end for so many.

The eerie green clouds at sunset should have been an adequate sign, the empty streets another but even with this the storm took Gabrielle by surprise. A peaceful landscape of scrub olives and acacia was overtaken by sheet lightening and howling wind. Gabrielle was glad she was not alone outside tonight.

Between her exhaustion and Argo's rhythmic steps Gabrielle could not keep her eyes open so she just rested her cheek for a moment on Xena's back. To her surprise when she awoke she was in front of Xena who had her cradled in her arms and shielded her with her cloak against the building sand storm. They had already made their way back to the city walls.


“I don't think there is a crevice of my body that the sand did not find. Gods, How is it possible to have so much sand in my under garments.” Xena smiled at her babbling comments as Gabrielle stood shaking the sand out of her hair and clothing creating a small pile on the wooden plank floor of the room she shared with Shala. “I guess every piece of sand in Anatolia had me as a target.” She surely missed this girl's company.

Xena had been waiting all night to tell her. The moments were now running out. “Gabrielle, tomorrow I lead an assault on the enemy's southern flank. It's at least several days ride. You may not see me for a while.”

Looking up into Xena's quiet and serious face Gabrielle knew this was goodbye. Xena was not going to stay the night with her as Gabrielle had hoped. Disappointed she could only manage a simple, “be careful,” as her gaze fell to the floor.

“I will,” Xena said before a quick kiss on Gabrielle's forehead and she was gone, back out into the dark storm filled night.


The next morning was as calm as the night had been chaotic, as if the storm had exhausted all the four tempest winds.

As dawn was breaking Callisto and Valesca mounted up, preparing for the long ride across the dry unforgiving highland. If they were to cut off the retreat of the nomads, they would have to leave immediately.

“Who was that blond Xena was parading around with on rounds last night? Cute young thing, huh?” Callisto queried of her lover Valesca.

“Obviously someone important to her, she doesn't just let anyone on Argo. When I get back I'll ask Mother, she always knows what's going on,” Valesca answered.

“Does she still have connections with the Sisterhood?”

“I think she still writes to Melosa, they were close. I know it hurt the Queen deeply to see Mother banished. But I can't guarantee that. And she might always know what's going on but that does not mean she tells me,” Valesca smirked that was so very true since they had lost the intense Mother/Daughter connection through the years.

“So really she's like a spy?” Callisto teased.

“That would have to be a double agent then, aligned with Xena and the Amazons.”

“But they have not really ever been at war.”

“Except for ‘The Slaughter', No. I think Xena still feels ashamed so she has spared them.”

Sighing Callisto finished, “No one can really be sure what goes on in in Xena's head,” and flashed a banshee of a look before screaming and exploding into a gallop.

“Like someone else I know,” Valesca rolled her eyes and pointed at her crazy lover. Rearing she spurred her steed to gallop after Callisto.


Dahen stood a good two hands above the rest of the cavalry on his massive steed. Looking over the troops he saw Hanaj, quiet and confident, leading a contingent of the fastest horses. Dahen felt better seeing his love there. For Hanaj this was so very personal. His ancestors were counting on him, his parents had drilled this in over the last few weeks. Hanaj's parents had also bonded the “boys” (as they were affectionately called) in Asu-shu-namir, the seven gates ceremony blessed by the ancient sexless Persian gods Gala-tura and Kur-jara. In all intents they were now married in these rites that were more ancient than Apollo. Dahen's left ear was still tender with the seven new pierced loops, identical to that of Hanaj. It was a nice constant physical reminder of what goodness had just preceded this battle.

He remembered Xena's words as they parted from the rest of the Alpha Guard. “You two are to ride around the far side of the enemy, blocking their retreat to the desert. As we don't know what exact direction they will flee, this will spread out your line, making you more vulnerable. Hercules and the rest will push them into you. Unfortunately, this is the most dangerous part of the plan. A retreating enemy has made their final choice, down to their last reserves they are desperate and unpredictable. And with the Abyssinians retreat is a dishonourable death. Know that your death will restore some of their lost honour and they will be looking for that.” He was worried, yes that is truth, but he also knew the day would be as it had already been written and he trusted in Apollo. Dahen took one last look for Hanaj and turned Bacephalus onward towards the sea of sand.


“You are going to wear out that seat up here, Gabrielle,” Shala scolded mildly. Gabrielle had spent every spare moment over the last seven day up here on the upper balcony looking out over the landscape to the south that had swallowed the army. The former camp, an hour's walk from the city wall, was all but deserted. The Northern front, that had been so heavily bombarded with arrows and cavalry just recently, had moved forward out into the plain chasing the enemy. The Southern front contingent that Xena was leading with Cleopatra's forces was much further beyond into the wilds. They were alone. Even the wounded failed to make it back to them.

“I feel so helpless. There is a battle going on out there, somewhere. It's the not knowing that is hurting so much.”

“We should go look. We might be able to do some good,” Shala stated and, with a smooth motion, spun and tied up her wild grey locks ready for business.

“Are you sure about that? I think Xena specifically wanted us to stay here.”

“Hmmmph,” Shala looked offended and explained, “I am not really one for taking orders, as you might have noticed.” She laughed abruptly with a feisty sparkle in her eye.


“Two water sacks each?” Gabrielle questioned as they were gathering supplies, this seemed excessive.

“We don't know who we might have to share it with.” With that, Shala grabbed her staff and set off for the city gates. It was all Gabrielle could do to keep up with her.

It was a long while until either of them spoke. The monotony of the wind and landscape lulled them into the rhythm of travel. Off to the east, right on the horizon there was a puff of dust - or was it smoke? Hard to tell in the glaring heat of the day. It was the only sign of the war they had seen all day. Shala pointed at it with her staff and they changed direction towards it.

The first night was colder than in the city. They lit no fire for fear of uncovering their position. They ate dry bread and smoked meat. The oppressive quiet of the wild desert also kept them in their thoughts for most of the evening.

Returning from a small walk Gabrielle was solemn, “I feel like we are on the adventure of a lifetime. I have never been so alone.” Spreading her arms over the vast expanse of rock and sand.

“You aren't alone. I'm here,” Shala stated quizzically.

“You know what I mean.” Gabrielle stared off into the wilds again.

“During your ‘Forest Bond', that is when you are truly alone,” Shala explained, her voice softening with remembrance. “It's your coming of age as an Amazon. Before her first bleed when a girl is nine or ten she spends a night alone in the forest. Her Moms help her to pick a spot and to make a nest but leave before sunset.” Shala giggled, “I know a few Moms, myself included, that lay in wait in the trees just watching the little one for hours, making sure everything was all right before heading back to camp. We are always the big worriers, us camp Moms.”

“Your daughter travels with Cleopatra correct? You must still be worried. Is she here now?”

“Yes, so they say, she arrived the evening before the departure with no time for a visit with all the battle preparations and what not,” Shala justified but Gabrielle could see a little line of hurt appear around the older woman's eyes.

“So we are both worried for good measure,” Gabrielle touched Shala's shoulder and put those thoughts to rest as she shifted, ready for sleep.

“You sleep, little one. I will take first watch and wake you when the stars have shifted half sky. No nightmares, okay? Dream of a time of peace this time, little one, dream of a time of peace.”


The next morning Gabrielle's lack of sleep could not compete with the exhilarating thrill of their adventure.

“You are positively bouncing. Save some of that energy, girl. You are surely going to need it,” Shala warned with a laugh at the youngster who was crawling out of her skin with excitement.

“Looks like the dust cloud is moving farther away,” Gabrielle said dejectedly while Shala quietly thanked Artemis.

“We are not trying to find the main battle, Gabrielle. Just a few wounded to help in the meantime,” Shala said, patting the healer's bag over her shoulder.

Almost as the words passed her lips they emerged into a dry wash and the view unfolded before them. Hundreds of bodies, both friend and foe, spread over the landscape lying in the cool morning sun.

Gabrielle gagged. The stench, not quite ripe but still very strong, would soon be unbearable in the heat of the day.

“Stay behind me, Gabrielle,” Shala cautioned as she tied eucalyptus-soaked cloths over both their faces. “Hard to say what they might do with their last gasp, some fight to the end but they are so out of their minds that even our own might turn against us.”

Shala used her staff to prod the bodies with a sharp stab before approaching. So far they were all dead. Gabrielle was giving up hope of finding anyone alive when she heard a sharp intake of breath. She was shocked to see it was not from the soldier in brown leather from Xena's army beside her. It was from the black and silver highly armoured enemy beside him.

Shala jumped back, ready to use her stave. The body made another groan and turned a swollen eye in their direction. “Water,” he weakly croaked in Persian, followed by, “Water,” in slightly accented Greek. Gabrielle was at his side instinctively before Shala could stop her. Shala unsure of what to do next stood there with a stunned look on her face. Her first instinct was to help a man in need but Xena would surely have her killed if she saved the life of the enemy.

Gabrielle tried to hold the warrior's head up slightly to drink but his severely dented helm was caught on the many turns of cloth wrapped under it. Gabrielle got her fingers underneath and loosened the cloth which was crusty with dried blood. Tilting the water skin to his cracked lips she noticed his helm was a highly decorated piece of jewellery, carved with the makings of a story on it. The sun flashed off the helm into her eyes as she moved her head slightly to shadow the face of the warrior from the light of the morning sun.

“Inanna, lady of the sky, you have come for me,” the delusional warrior whispered in ancient practiced Abysinnian, knowing that the path to the underworld would only be revealed to those who acknowledged the gate. The Goddess before him was bathed in a golden halo. She radiated goodness and peace. The yearnings of his whole life would now be fulfilled as he had lived with honour and respect for his ancestors.

Not understanding any of that, she just replied, “I'm Gabrielle. You are not gone yet. You are still in this world.”

Confusion furrowed the warrior's brow as he switched to Greek, “Why would the sacred courtesan of the Gods speak Greek? What foul trick is this? I demand you open the gate to the underworld!”

The warrior tried to move but Gabrielle held his shoulder down and firmly said, “You are not dead! And you won't die if I can help it.”

After a long while the warrior seemed to finally submit to the situation and smiled weakly and nodded for another sip of water, “Greek women are so crazy. They come here to kill me and then they care for me.”

Gabrielle had to agree it was pretty crazy. She was just thinking of somehow to explain all this when a group of twelve dark mounted horsemen burst onto the horizon in a large cloud of dust. They had stopped to survey the wash, looking for something, someone. They had the same heavy dark and silver armour of the enemy. The front man had a large black standard with a rearing silver horse in the center.

Shala was instantly on guard, crouched down and touched her shoulder, “Gabrielle, we have to go.” She whispered followed by a sharp, “NOW,” when Gabrielle made no movement.

But it was too late. The front horseman had seen Gabrielle, pointing at her with his standard and they started to dismount. She stood up facing them to draw their sight away from Shala and whispered, “It's too late for me, Shala. Hide yourself.” Shala dropped to the ground and crawled over the dead a small distance before wedging herself between two solders.

Gabrielle waved the men over and then, looking down at her patient, her heart sank. The warrior she had been caring for, her ticket out of this mess, had fainted. “Great Gods,” she sighed under her breath as she waited for the warriors to come and kill her.

The standard bearer was first beside her. Roughly pushing her out of the way, he knelt by her patient. A smaller dark warrior then approached and the first stood out of his way. He said something in Abysinnian, like a prayer, and Gabrielle got worried they thought the man dead by her hand. She shifted uncomfortably and was about to speak when the smaller warrior drew out a small thin dagger. Gabrielle knew it was all over for her and started closing her eyes but he reached out for the helm and lifted it with the knife before standing and wrapping it in a layer of his robes.

“You touched this?” he said in perfect Greek. It took a moment for Gabrielle to realise he was talking to her.

“Yes,” she started but he interrupted.

“You should not have done that. It is my father's.” His eyes were grave and serious.

“It was pressing on his wound.” She quickly added, “He asked for water.”

“The helm of Ayed is only to be touched by the Muhadeeb. For an infidel, and a woman no less, to have broken this law it is a serious offence. You will have to return with us to the siege.” He signalled the others who brought over a stretcher for the fallen warrior and started gently transferring him onto it.

“Could I just return to Byzantium?” Gabrielle stated meekly. Really, what was the harm in asking?

The warrior came right up to her, his eyes flashing angrily. She could smell him strongly as he whispered through his teeth in anger. “It was not a request, woman. It was a demand. Come with us willingly and I will let your hidden friend live.”

Gabrielle's eyes betrayed her, widening with the acknowledgement. She nodded and quietly turned and followed the stretcher up the slope and to the awaiting horses.


Apollo was starting his decent into a deep orange glow when they arrived at the slot canyon. Gabrielle was confused and disorientated. Time and distance were not the measurements of this place and all familiarity was taken by the wind and the endless sand. The monotony of the landscape left her wondering how anyone found their way at all.

The line of horses entering the cool shade of the canyon was greeted by whistles from the archers perched on the walls in outposts seemingly carved right into the wall of the rock. The single line of horses twisted forward like a serpent until finally a great temple stood before her. Gabrielle gasped before she could help herself. The temple was part of the earth yet removed from it, rearing from the solid rock wall as if it needed to escape the bounds placed on it by the ground itself. It was truly magnificent.

Lifted off the horse and ushered up the steps, her feet and legs giving way, she was more carried than walked. Exhaustion overcame her senses and she fell asleep to a ringing of many tiny bells and a flurry of small hands.



Chapter 8

The Abyssinians

Upon waking Gabrielle was reminded of the previous day by the shock of pain radiating inside her legs from her lower back to both her ankles. Groaning she cursed all horses, as the Abyssinian variety were obviously no less painful than the Greek.

Opening her eyes she noticed she was in a small but elaborate room, decorated with the finest carpets and tapestries. Once she eyed the table with the bowl of fresh dates and figs, she wasn't able to stay in bed a moment longer. Her stomach was empty and needed immediate attention.

Munching on a date, Gabrielle turned to look over the room again, this time standing and better able to gauge the whole picture. It was not huge, but of a good size, born of solid rock walls. Light streamed in from one hole hewn to the outside. One solid wooden door was opposite the window wall. There were few furnishings, one intricately carved table of dark burnished wood, two matching chairs inlayed with ivory she suspected, numerous floor pillows and the pallet. The walls were covered with small tapestries and large swaths of luxurious burgundy fabric. A finer quality than she had ever seen in clothing. Gabrielle spun to locate a solution to her other urgent need, a place to relieve herself. Nothing presenting itself obviously and she was about to try the door when it opened towards her.

Both Gabrielle and her new guest jumped with surprise. Before her was a stunningly beautiful woman with dark flashing eyes that quickly smiled and then dropped in respect.

“My apologies, I did not realise you had awoken,” the woman spoke in perfect Greek.

“Sorry, I was just looking for...” Gabrielle was cut off by the woman reaching out with a chamber pot that she had been carrying.

They locked eyes again and both giggled as Gabrielle took the pot. The dark woman added more statement than question, “What we all need when we awake.” She added as she ducked back out the door, “I'll give you a moment.”

Gabrielle peed and thought deeply about the strangeness of her situation. She was being held captive by a barbarian horde of killers. So why was it she was in a finer room than she had ever seen, let alone stayed in. And now cared for by those that spoke perfect Greek, who were very kind perhaps even friendly. She felt like an honoured guest at a fine home. These had to be some other Abyssinians than the ones Xena was fighting.

There was a gentle knock on the door. The same woman entered followed by another who grabbed the chamber pot and quickly exited.

“You must have some questions,” the woman started. Gabrielle wondered if her face was betraying her confusion or if this woman could read minds.

“How is it that you speak perfect Greek?”

The woman laughed in an easy and relaxed way as she signalled for them to move over to the pillows to sit. “I am happy that you say it is perfect, as it is not my first language. I was schooled in both Athens and Rome and thus learned Greek and Latin. My brother Anannd, too. You met him. He brought you here.” Judging by the confused look on Gabrielle's face she added, “Let me explain, I am Ny'ala Ayed daughter of the Muhadeeb, leader of the forces that fight and of this siege. He is awake now and says that you gave him a deep kindness. He will not let harm befall you. He has given his word to Inanna.”

Gabrielle's head was spinning, “That was your father? The Abyssinian leader?” Oh, was Xena going to be pissed! Not only did she fail to kill the fallen leader of the enemy who was defenceless before her but she got herself captured by his son.

Ny'ala nodded. Worried suddenly by the girl's sullen expression, “No harm will befall you here. It is bound by Inanna.”

Still confused Gabrielle continued, “Your brother said I had broken a law by touching the helm of Ayed. That is the reason why he brought me here. To pass judgement.” Gabrielle was hoping she might be able to leave sooner rather than later.

“The Helm of Ayed is passed to the next leader by judgment of their deeds, not by blood alone. My brother is quite certain he will be the next Muhadeeb and was probably upset that Father was not yet dead. He can be ridiculously overly dramatic and has a horrible view of women. Yes, the ancient scrolls say that one cannot touch the helm but, if you read through to the meaning and not the actual literal words, it validates unquestionable rule and the honour of our leader. It has nothing to do with actually physically touching the helm.”

She added in a whisper, “They don't see eye to eye. Father will see to it he never rules. I know it,” her dark eyes becoming serious. “Enough of that, come on, let's get you a real meal.”

Gabrielle's stomach growled in expectation revealing her hunger.

Both women laughed as they caught each other's eyes. It felt so easy and right, like they had been friends for a long long time.


Shala struggled out of the mess of bodies, gagging from the smell and the emotion of the day. It couldn't get any worse. Gabrielle had been captured by the enemy. Her idea to leave the safety of the city was looking really bad. Xena was going to be frantic at best and murderous at worst. At least so far there was no indication that the enemy knew Gabrielle was more than just a healer's apprentice. Shala had no idea where the main force was or how to get a message to Xena. Without a horse she could spend weeks wandering the desert in search of them. Wrapping her head in her shawl with determination, she turned east and followed the muted hoof prints in the sand. Finding Gabrielle across the heart of the desert was her only chance. She only hoped that if she failed she would die trying, as surely Xena would kill her if she didn't.

Night was falling by the time she saw her first sign of life all day. An oasis of sorts with tents and stables. Moving on horseback the raiders must have watered their steeds here early in the day. Shala waited until all was inky shadows before entering the grove of date palms. Most of the warriors had entered their tents already but to her disappointment there were several guarding the horse corral. Shala was about to give up her idea of stealing a horse when a tap on her shoulder nearly caused her to bolt out of her skin. Turning she saw the smiling face of Yeng-feh who was indicating for her silence. Nodding in agreement she followed him silently to the other side of the corral near the gate.

He threw a small stone to distract the gate guard before jumping him from the rear and slicing his throat. Shala watching from the shadows noted that she had never seen Yeng-feh in action before and wondered now how many mysterious deaths of various warlords the night before battle were caused by his hand. Two guards were now dead, Shala watched as he struggled to tear the fabric of their billowing shirts out from under their armour. What in the world was he doing? Yeng-feh slowly unlatched the gate just allowing it to swing open a crack. Kneeling before the gate he started cutting the cloth with his dagger and signalled to Shala to approach.

As Shala kneeled beside him he reached into his bag that he had strung over her shoulder before separating and pulled out several apples and a length of rope. What a treat, apples were not found in this land, he must have brought these all the way from Greece. Shala's eyes grew in acknowledgement as he bit off a large chunk of apple and lured the first horse to the gate. Silently indicating for Shala to continue feeding the mare, he wrapped each hoof in turn with the fabric standard, securing each with a length of rope. A second horse was quickly procured in the same manner. Shala led the horses silently over the rocky paths of the oasis with promises of more apple as Yeng-feh sliced open the back of the nearby tack tent emerging momentarily with blankets, leather cinch straps and bridles. Saddles were not so easy to come by as they were the prized possession of this race of horse breeders and thus never out of their sight, the warriors rested their head on them in slumber. In the privacy of the edge of the oasis they discussed that finding the particular sleeping quarters of the two dead guards to use their saddles would be too risky. Exposing the hooves, bridling the horses and securing the blankets with the cinch straps took just a moment and they were ready to ride, albeit with no stirrups.

Finally a league away Shala started with the questions. How was it possible Yeng-feh seemed to know exactly what was going on as they followed the same familiar tracks by starlight as she had during the day.

“How do you know where to go? How do you know about Gabrielle?” Shala was nervous. Did this mean Xena also knew already?

“I have been sent to find the Muhadeeb, their leader, and end this war, the easy way, with less casualties.”

“You were going to assassinate him?” Shala already knew the answer.

“Precisely, but you found him first.” Yeng-feh smiled gently at Shala's confused expression, “or should I say Gabrielle found him first. I was watching from the ridge.”

The full impact thudded hard in Shala's heart. The leader was the man Gabrielle had helped, so her captors would be part of the royal family and imperial guard.

“Are we going to rescue Gabrielle?” Shala knew she would need Yeng-feh's help.

“I still have my first mission. To kill the Muhadeeb,” Yeng-feh took one look at Shala's fallen expression and added with a smile, “but if we happen to rescue Gabrielle while we are there, so be it.”


Back at the rock hewn palace Gabrielle had made fast friends with Ny'ala. They had toured the siege, practiced a little archery, learned how ice can be made in the desert through evaporation in special porous pottery, witnessed a falconry demonstration and spent a few candlemarks looking over the scrolls in the library.

“I feel like you're my new best friend Gabrielle. There are so few women who are interested in falconry and scrolls. Most here just want to pick out the fabric for their wedding attire,” Ny'ala confided.

“It was just like that for me too, back home. I never really fit in,” Gabrielle lamented.

“Can I show you a secret?” Ny'ala whispered, “Only my father and brother know about it.”

Gabrielle just nodded, her eyes bright with expectation.

Ny'ala grabbed her hand and led her to a small hallway close to the library and turned her attention to an ornately carved but otherwise seemingly empty rock wall. Pressing her fingers under a chink in the carved relief, she released a latch and the whole panel swung inward exposing a tight spiral staircase. Still holding Gabrielle's hand, Ny'ala stepped inside quickly before the panel swung back into place. The staircase was dark with only a little starlight emerging from the seemingly open ceiling. Climbing the stairs by feel alone, Gabrielle soon felt the cool night air on her skin. Emerging out onto a private roof top garden the smell of jasmine overwhelmed her.

“This is my study,” Ny'ala began sweeping her hand over various metal instruments, “I watch the wanderers. Calculate their movements. Predict their nightly rising. I'm safe up here. The walls are impossible to scale and the door hidden and locked.”

“The wanderers?” Gabrielle questioned.

“The five that wander amongst the stars. With them, but not with them. One of them, yet travelling alone. The five wanderers who travel their own route in a field of stars that move together. Lost but on a path, like nomads.” Ny'ala rambled.

Gabrielle suddenly was struck with inspiration, “This is what is means to be different. The wanderers are like us.”

“Yes,” Ny'ala giggled, “Or we are like them. The Romans have named them after their gods, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn.

“Oh, you mean the bright ones.” Gabrielle stated then explained, “They don't twinkle like the rest.”

“Yes exactly, those ones. Do you study them too?” Ny'ala asked hopefully.

“I used to love to lie out in the field with my sister and make pictures of the stars. The bright ones are in a different place every night.”

“Exactly, they don't move with the rest, but their movement is predictable. Let me show you.” Ny'ala moved over to one of the pieces of equipment and an astronomy lesson began.

Bird song punctuated the silence by the time Ny'ala and Gabrielle finally descended the long narrow staircase to find their pallets, leaving the stars to be swallowed up by the light of dawn. As exhaustion took her Gabrielle again for the second night had the strange feeling she fell asleep to tiny bells and a flurry of hands.


Gabrielle's first thought was that judging by the strong, stagnant and oppressive heat it must already be mid-day. Then she felt the breeze accompanied by a fine mist, much like that which surrounded the Bosporus River bridges caused by the numerous waterfalls. How strange a dream to awake to, but then she wondered if she really was dreaming as she could feel the pallet beneath her. Fluttering open her eyes, Gabrielle was caught in the gaze of six adoring eyes. Panicked for a moment Gabrielle sat up with a start, much to the surprise of her audience. Looking down Gabrielle suddenly noticed that she was naked. Grasping at the sheet she made a feeble attempt at decorum only to notice that Ny'ala was also sleeping naked beside her on the pallet.

“Oh Gods, what have I done,” Gabrielle froze and whispered to herself.

Finally, feeling another wave of mist she looked up into the six frightened but hopeful eyes that greeted her first waking moment.

“Hi,” was all she could muster.

“Good morning my lady,” was answered back in unison from the trio with hopeful smiles.

“I am not a lady. From peasant stock actually. Wait, that was in Greek,” Gabrielle started hesitantly.

“We are all Greek. We are here to serve you, my lady,” the eldest and tallest of the young women spoke first and punctuated her words with a fine mist of water from a device she held in her hands. Nodding at the device she explained, “For the heat, my lady.”

“Wait. You are all slaves?” the ramifications finally filtering into Gabrielle's sleep fogged brain.

The trio nodded held up their hands and pointed to their ankles to show bracelets and anklets of tiny bells that sounded with every movement. A clever way to keep track of your flock, Gabrielle surmised and then it hit her. This could have been her fate if Xena had not rescued her. Shaking off her dark thoughts, she got down to business.

Glancing at the still sleeping Ny'ala she whispered, as waking her would only complicate things, “Where are my clothes?”

The huddled group separated to reveal a clothes horse with many items on it, including her sparse halter top and skirt and Ny'ala's flowing outfit from last night. “Don't worry we undressed you my lady and have been watching your slumber,” the smallest slave spoke. The middle one continued running her hand over a delicate green fabric, “Perhaps you might want to wear something more … Abyssinian for the siege.” The tallest finished with a smile, “Only if it pleases, my lady.”

Gabrielle rose unashamed – really, what was the point of modesty now - and made her way over to the colourful breezy pants and wraps of the Abyssinian people.


When Ny'ala finally caught up with Gabrielle it was near dusk, but really she had been up only a few hours as they woke mid-day.

“Sorry Gabrielle, to leave you alone. I had some business to attend to.”

“Oh, I was not alone.”

Gabrielle's comment was answered by a confused look.

“I spent the day with Maris, Celina and Penelope,” Gabrielle nodded towards the slaves.

“Oh, I see, we don't usually call them by name,” Ny'ala seemed very uncomfortable.

“I myself was captured by slavers not but five moons back. They could be me. I could be them.”

Ny'ala sighed with resignation, “I'm sorry. I didn't know.” Followed by a long pause after which she dismissed the trio of young slaves. “You are right to point this out. My guilt betrays my people's customs. Please know I do agree with you, morally … ethically.” Ny'ala paced the floor her voice fading off and then changing the subject, “Forgive me, I've had a rough day. My father lectured me for a candle mark on how I must get my head out of the stars and start serving my people. At least he didn't start on the whole marriage thing again.” Ny'ala paused and took in Gabrielle in the delicate green hanjab. Gabrielle's beautiful face was full of empathy looking back at her. Ny'ala knew she could love her, there was a strong pull on her heart, if this was a different time, a different place, a different situation.

“You look stunning by the way,” Ny'ala grinned breaking the silence and reached a hand to touch Gabrielle's hair.

Gabrielle could not help but blush as she turned shyly away.

Ny'ala became sombre, “We are losing, Gabrielle. All reports state that the arrival of the Egyptians turned the tide. The only question is whether to surrender or fight until every last man is killed. My father and brother want to fight until the very end. They feel that is the only honourable way.”

“And what do you think is best?” Gabrielle interjected into the pregnant pause.

“Surrender to live another day, see another night. Allow the women to hold their loves in their arms one more time, children to see their fathers. Broker a deal to lay down our arms.”

“Let's start then, we can write it together. It might be fitting to include a paragraph on the emancipation of Greek slaves,” Gabrielle stood and took Ny'ala hand with a gentle smile. Her eyes looked up and locked with hers. There was defeat, hope and gratitude in Ny'ala's eyes behind the tears that threatened to spill out. Ny'ala definitely had the stars out of her head as she stepped out from behind the shadow of her father and took her first step towards leading her people to a future.

“Thank you, my friend,” Ny'ala whispered into the cool light air as Gabrielle led her towards her secret roof top room and a long difficult night.


Gabrielle and Ny'ala were on their third candle and almost had completed the terms of surrender when screams of terror punctuated the quiet night air of the siege.

Her Brother emerged instantly and hissed something at Gabrielle before turning to Ny'ala and issuing instructions in Abyssinian. He departed as quickly as he had appeared but not before Gabrielle noticed the helm of Ayed was clutched tightly under his arm. Ny'ala clasped her mouth and turned an ashen grey. She stood only to sway and sit back down.

“What is it, dear?” Gabrielle was most concerned and shifted around the scroll table to take both her hands in hers.

“My father has been killed by an assassin; a poison dart, they just found him, but it could have been hours ago. My brother rides to lead the remaining soldiers on a suicide mission to take as many Greeks with them to the afterlife as possible. There won't be anyone left to surrender by the time he is through with them. I am to stay in my hidden room until this is all over.”

She paused and gasped for air, “Everything is ruined, Gabrielle!” with that Ny'ala burst into tears.

Gabrielle stepped forward and pulled Ny'ala's heaving form into her, surrounding her with a hug.

“Do not fear this as I see it ending in peace. There is always another way and we will find it. I will be here for you. I promise,” Gabrielle consoled.

Ny'ala's sobs slowed a bit at Gabrielle's words and Gabrielle was able to hear the sounds of the siege again, a multitude of riders departing in a rage of hooves and shouts. When the noise died down again a quiet nagging feeling of a house unsettled rose in her throat and she thought she heard her name whispered.

Where was that coming from? A familiar voice yet not of this place. Out of place. Was it in her mind? Gabrielle stepped back, releasing Ny'ala from her fold, to more fully listen. Yes, the voice was real. Stepping over to the edge of the patio and gingerly peering over she saw her, Shala, five stories below her.

“Shala, Shala up here,” Gabrielle whispered, “I should have known you would come for me.” Gabrielle suddenly felt horribly guilty for putting her friend in danger.

“We have to get you out of here,” Shala was strong in her conviction.

“No, I'm not leaving,” Gabrielle knew she needed an even stronger conviction, “I've made a promise.”

Shala sighed at Gabrielle's words. She knew she would never be able to convince this strong headed girl.

Gabrielle continued, “Have Xena come here so we can end this war. We have a surrender agreement drafted. I ensure you I am in no danger here.”

Shala lowered her shoulders in exasperation, understanding Gabrielle was right, all the warriors had just left in a fury of vengeance. It was probably safer here than in the desert and it would be much easier for Yeng-feh and her to leave now with the entrance unguarded.

“All right. Keep safe, my child,” Shala turned to leave and added under her breath, “Artemis be dammed if you don't, for then my life is forfeit,” as she walked back to the hidden horses and a waiting Yeng-feh.


Xena could smell victory on the wind. She had sensed a change in the direction of the battle since dawn the previous day. But now there was something stronger. Defeat was amongst them, solid and sure, and as palatable as a fine meal. She had been waiting for this. She knew when Yeng-feh succeeded on his mission she would also be able to feel a turn in the conviction of the enemy. The Muhadeeb was well respected and the loss of leadership could be felt all the way through the ranks.

It was time. The sand was sticky with blood. It had not been an easy battle. Her lines had been broken through a few times only to be greeted by Hanaj and Dahen's troops hidden over the next steppe. Greek losses were close in magnitude to those of the Abyssinians. Their horses were faster, their armour more effective and they fought with a fury that would give many of the survivors nightmares for years to come.

The Egyptians had been the saving grace. Not only were Valesca and Callisto absolute terrors on the battle field but Marc Antony, for all his makeup and submission, was actually a fine warrior and brilliant strategist. Cleopatra had spent the last few days perched up upon an Elephant, at his insistence, but even that was an advantage as her view was unparalleled and she was able to convey excellent tactical information.

Xena was not surprised when she saw Yeng-feh on the horizon just as the nightly break was called. But her whole body tensed in fear when she saw who followed, Shala, both on Abyssinian steeds and without saddles. As she strained her eyes to see a third rider that never appeared Xena wondered what did this mean for Gabrielle.


Shala was preparing for this all day but even that did not brace her for the fury that Xena unleashed when she heard that Gabrielle had been kidnapped. She left it to Gabrielle to tell her the whole story as Shala knew Xena would not relax until she saw with her own eyes that she was safe and unharmed.

Xena did not waste any time with preparations and left Shala to explain the situation with everyone. It seemed like only a few heartbeats and she was thundering off into the desert night with only the starlight to guide her.

Shala sent a silent prayer to Artemis that all would be safe and sound for Gabrielle's sake and also for her own.

Xena left with little more than a skin of water, which she mostly used for Argo, resting for only as long as necessary when the stars had moved half-sky.

“Hang in there, girl. I know it's rough but this is way better than travelling in the heat of the day,” Xena rubbed Argo down as she dismounted and walked her to dry the sweat and froth that had accumulated from the run. Argo was fit and used to riding hard and so it was not long until she was nudging her master's shoulder and prancing to be released back into a run. Xena mounted again and prepared to ride until dawn.


The line had been broken again and this group seemed to drive forward with more energy than the last it must be the final desperate push Xena had warned about. Dahen braced for impact as the first wave of cavalry surged forward over the steppe. They had suppressed all previous attacks and there was no doubt in his mind that they could finish this one too. With a quick glance to Hanaj he urged his steed forward to meet the enemy one last time.

The ferocity overwhelmed him. Dahen had seen nothing like it. Not even in the Gladiator ring in Rome. Rabid dogs had more sense than these infernal warriors who seemed to welcome Hades' grip. A pike dislodged him off Bacephalus and in a heartbeat he was rolling in the sand. It took every fibre of his being avoiding being trampled. Fighting from the ground put him at a distinct disadvantage and it was quite a while until he was able to dislodge an enemy and take his horse. When he mounted again his heart sank, the field was chaos. The line had broken and most warriors had been forced to dismount. Injured and terrified horses formed into a herd and were forced to gallop in a circle not finding an easy exit to the chaos. Bacephalus was at the front of this herd spooked and biting any horse that tried to lead before him. The chances were slim that they would come to rest any time soon, neither warrior nor steed.

Dahen craned to catch a glance of Hanaj between the onslaughts but it was impossible. When the fighting opened for a moment Dahen turned his steed back into the fray to find Hanaj.


Hanaj had been caught by a suicidal warrior who flew off his horse at him. All he saw out of the corner of his eye was a bright silver helm and then his face was forced into the sand. The warrior attacked instantly after they hit the ground. This warrior was good and fast so Hanaj stayed calm, circled and took his time hoping luck would be on his side.

Dahen fought his way through the barrage of bodies slicing through with one sword in each hand guiding the horse with his knees. He could see Hanaj off his horse and severely outmatched and used every trick he could think of to try to get through this mess to get to him.

“Do you know who I am you, son of a Persian?” Anannd taunted, “I am the Muhadeeb of the Ayed, and I will never be defeated while wearing this.” He pointed his sword to his head indicating to the shining helm. “Thirteen have worn this helm before me and none have lost in battle.”

Hanaj ignored the pitiful boasting and focused on finding his opening, but his mind strayed when he heard Dahen slashing towards him.

It only took an instant of distraction for the blade to reach is throat. Hanaj dropped forward to his knees and clutched at the pumping blood. Victory was short lived for Anannd for in the next instant Dahen flung his two swords. Anannd only heard the whistle of steel through air before two short swords impaled him up to the hilts through his chest. Jumping from his steed Dahen threw himself at Hanaj just in time to catch his forward collapse and acknowledge the love in his eyes and a slight upturning of a smile before the sparkle in his eyes was lost forever.

Dahen screamed and cried like he had never before and never would again. His voice was hoarse and speech impossible by the time the dust of the battle cleared and it was known that it was their victory that day. This battle had been won. Dahen left his swords in the blood and the sand next to a silver helm, knowing no victory was worth the price he paid that day.


Xena arrived at the abandoned siege at dawn after riding all night. She was wary of the silence and walked Argo towards water before dismounting and exploring the labyrinth of carved passages that made up this city of rock.

There was just something about the elevated garden that called to her. Instinct perhaps or maybe it was her heart that was pulled in that direction. The climb up the rock and vines was difficult and for a moment or two she really thought she was not going to make it. Stretching to grasp the top of the ledge it was pure will that pulled her over. Pouncing up, defensively drawing her boot daggers she silently explored the large garden patio which was apparently more of a study. There were many scrolls lying about and a wide array of measuring apparatus probably to test weapon trajectories.

Much to her delight she saw a shock of familiar hair under a mass of flowing green fabric. Gabrielle was sleeping peacefully when Xena shook her shoulder.

“Not now,” Gabrielle muttered in her sleep, “no more misting.”

Xena smiled quizzically having no idea what a ‘misting' was.

“Hey Tiger, how ya doing,” Xena shook her again and bent down to speak in her ear, still trying to be quiet in anticipation of the enemy's guards.

Gabrielle's eyes fluttered open and she positively screeched with excitement as she threw her arms around Xena's neck . ‘So much for silence,' Xena thought.

“Thanks for coming,” Gabrielle grinned and held her closer.

“Are you alright?” Xena's voice dropped in all seriousness as pulled away to look her over.

“Well, they made me ride a horse all day, but that was the worst of the torture. Actually I have been treated like an honoured guest,” Gabrielle smiled sheepishly, knowing she had worried her horribly. “You need some rest. Come here and sleep with me until Ny'ala wakes.”

Xena was hesitant and pulled back, “Who is Ny'ala?”

“Don't worry, a friend,” Gabrielle pulled her down beside her.

Xena was even more hesitant, “Define friend.”

“Relax love, just a friend,” Gabrielle's arms snaked around her and lay her head on her shoulder before hitting her cheek on her armour.

“Off,” she said poking at the offending metal.

“Gabrielle, I haven't taken this off in nearly a moon. You really don't want to see what's under there.”

“Just take off the hard metal bits,” Gabrielle pleaded and Xena relented removing her outer cuirass and settling in for a nap.

“That's better. This is sooo comfortable,” Gabrielle was rapidly returning to her sleeping state, sprawling one arm and one leg over Xena, claiming her.


Through her sleep Xena felt she was being watched so she folded her fingers tightly around the hilt of her dagger preparing to attack before opening her eyes.

“Relax, warrior,” Ny'ala's voice was soft and tinged with sadness. “You look so cute together.”

Xena flicked her eyes open and glared at the woman. ‘Cute' was not normally in her repertoire. Xena quickly softened when she found she was confronted with a dark beauty with bright eyes and a regal flowing sheer peach gown. Her face was kind and trustworthy, and spoke of intelligence, empathy and insight.

Nodding to Gabrielle Ny'ala stated, “I looked after her for you, warrior,” Ny'ala's comment was met only with raised eyebrows, “And not in that way, seriously, not that I didn't want to. I mean I see what you see in her. Oh Gods, I have really messed this up.” Ny'ala brushed the hair from her face and continued after a long sigh, “Sorry, let me start from the beginning. I am Ny'ala of the Ayed and if my brother got his wish I am now the leader of this siege and the Muhadeeb. I have a surrender agreement prepared. It will provide safety for the women and for any warriors; if there are any warriors left alive. Oh, and provide emancipation of the Greek slaves.”

“That was a nice thought,” Xena was hesitant.

“That was Gabrielle's idea. Honestly, it would not have crossed my mind,” Ny'ala smiled sheepishly.

Xena gently slid out from Gabrielle's sleeping form, stood up, and said with determination, “Let's ride then, together, and put an end to this thing.”

“I have one urgent item to attend to first,” Ny'ala sighed, “The priestesses of Inanna have to hold a funeral for my father. Would you be comfortable staying here for the day while I make the journey to the sacred cave with them?”

“Does Gabrielle look comfortable?” Xena jested and waved over the woman's ultra relaxed prone form. “One more day will give my horse a good rest, we can travel tonight.”

“By your leave, my Lord Xena,” Ny'ala bowed her head stiffly and quickly turned. Xena could tell this woman was unaccustomed to submission and this was hard for her and so appreciated the gesture all the more . ‘She will make a good leader for her people,' Xena thought as she watched her depart.


Gabrielle munched on a fresh young almond in the husk, as she peered over the edge of the patio, her knees feeling week and her palms sweaty. “You really climbed up here? It looks impossible.”

“Well, I nearly fell a couple of times,” Xena said off-handedly and then regretted her words when she saw Gabrielle's face full of worry, “but it didn't. I'm here,” Xena added as she pulled Gabrielle into her.

Xena placed her finger under Gabrielle's chin and lifted her lips into her own. The kiss was soft at first but quickly turned hungry. Xena pulled away and smirked, “Well at least we know what we'll be doing all day.”

“First things first, you need a bath!” Gabrielle had demand in her voice.

“First things first, you need a bath,” Xena copied her tone exactly and had to jump out of the way of the swatting hand that followed as Gabrielle ran past her. “And then maybe a bit of a nap, I did ride all night!” she yelled after the fleeting form.


Here they were finally together and alone, naked, gazing across the room at each other for the first time. Xena sat on the edge of the pallet and caught her breath. She gently lay back on one elbow and scooted over a smidge to pat on the space now made available near the edge.

Gabrielle froze for a moment suddenly shy, but not really knowing why. So... she went with her first instinct and sprinted the five steps over to the bed to launch herself on Xena. As she made a strange coughing sound recovering from having the breath knocked out of her Xena thought briefly, “I really cannot predict her, her playfulness, her ability to just do what she feels, as if without consequence. What do I call this essence she has? Innocence? No it's freedom. I had this once, long ago when I was a child. When did I lose this?” Her mind stretched back, “When Lyceus died.”

Coming back to the moment, Xena found Gabrielle had straddled her waist and was giggling rather hysterically at the stunned look on her face, with an open infectious joy. She could not keep her own smile from bursting forth, “She is so good for me,” she thought.

Xena patiently waited for Gabrielle to suck in a deep breath, calming down and sitting more upright on her. Brushing the hair from her face she looked up and then calmly met Xena's eyes. And then it hit her, By the Gods, she was straddling Xena, Warrior Princess, former feared warlord, current Conqueror of Greece and Abyssinia. She brought both hands up to cover her face as she was suddenly overwhelmed with emotions and was not sure if she should laugh or cry. She briefly thought “Really, no big deal, this was just like when she wrestled with her sister, Lila, in the hay loft back home.” She had to remind herself to let go of the breath she was holding and opened her fingers a crack to peer into those bright blue eyes staring back at her. Xena had a smile and a calm expression on her face, like she was enjoying the show and it could go on forever.

Gabrielle slid her hands off her face and over her hair, pulling it back again, and this time pinning it with her hands as she interlocked her fingers and rested them on the back of her head. She gazed upward to recover some composure. It was then she noticed the heat between her legs was almost burning. She was suddenly very scared and not knowing what to do, she met Xena's eyes again, still so calm and smiling at her. The world closed in and there were only her eyes.

“Come here,” Xena almost whispered. It seemed to Gabrielle that she was far down a cavern, the world had disappeared and there were just those piercingly blue eyes. Xena reached her hands out to Gabrielle who took them as Xena gently guided her forward towards her. Xena brought her hands to her shoulders and then spread them outward gently pulling Gabrielle into her. Gabrielle had no choice but to gently fold forward onto Xena's torso. Gabrielle's hair fell softly around Xena's face, surrounding them in a flowing curtain as Xena lowered their lips gently together. She stopped when they were just barely touching, the shock was electric, Xena thought, “her lips are so soft” and the kiss deepened.

The emotions were too much for Gabrielle and she buried her face in Xena's neck with a sob. Xena, let go of their clasped hands and surrounded her with her strong arms as she whispered, “there, there,” in her ear followed by several small kisses.

Gabrielle was amazed at how much she had felt in the last few minutes, “this is going to be exhausting,” she surmised to herself. Strands of Gabrielle's hair were still draped over Xena's face leaving the faint smell of lavender in their wake.

Xena thought, “I know now what peace is, holding this woman in my arms.”

Gabrielle lifted her head and looked at Xena with her bright green eyes, even brighter now so recently washed by tears of love and said, “You are perfect.”

Xena huffed a laugh through her nose and then responded, “I am a long way from perfect, Gabrielle. I have a past with...”

Gabrielle interrupted raising up slightly on one elbow, “No, I meant perfect for me.”

Xena reached out and touched Gabrielle's nose, then softly wiping one of her tear lined cheeks, “I know, I feel totally overwhelmed too. Like I am waiting for the sky to fall in or the dream to end...”

“Xena, as crazy as it is. This feels so right to me, like I am finally home.”

Xena was amazed at this girl's insight and thought, “There is so much more to her than first meets the eye.” She spoke, “Let's promise each other, wherever we go, no matter what happens, we will not let go of this feeling.”

“Oooo, I love that idea,” squealed Gabrielle and then continued solemnly, “Xena, I promise.”

“And I promise too, Gabrielle,” Xena finished by lengthening the vowels of her love's name. Gabrielle thought how much she loved the way her name sounded on those lips and snuggled her cheek into Xena's shoulder and found that she fit here perfectly in the ‘sleeping position' as Xena's long arms wrapped around her and held her close.

Together they relaxed and understood that they had their whole lives to explore this joining, to share this love. There was no longer a rush or urgency and they both noticed they were breathing in unison. Following that rhythm they drifted off into the most peaceful sleep either had experienced in a very long time.


The peace was not to last for long as Gabrielle adjusted her leg that was draped over Xena's hips. She then slowly removed her arm dragging it gently across Xena's stomach and rolled back slightly to scratch.

“By the Gods!” Gabrielle exclaimed loudly with a quick inhale of breath. All silence shattered, Xena was up with her dagger in her hand. Gabrielle realized her error as she was unceremoniously dropped and bounced off the other side of the pallet. Rising up again she said, “Oh Xena, it's just me. I am so embarrassed. Um… I think I peed in the bed. See look.” She held up a slick hand that she had been scratching her inner thigh.

Xena sat back on the bed to get a closer look. She could smell Gabrielle's sex so strongly now, “No Gabrielle, that not pee it's um... your nectar,” Gabrielle looked puzzled and cocked her head with puppy dog cuteness. “um … your essence,” still no response of recognition. “Ok literally ... it's is a fluid that comes from inside you when you are ready for sex. Like an invitation.”

“Really?” Gabrielle was surprised and then followed with, “Ewww gross. Mom never said anything about this. It was running down my leg tickling me.” She spread her fingers to show how the fluid stretched between her thumb and forefinger.

Xena eyed her fingers in a carnal way and thought briefly about cleaning them with her tongue but knew she would not be able to stop once started. She confirmed again to herself she did not want Gabrielle's first time to be urgent and demanding.

Xena took a deep breath and started, “Gabrielle, really it's not gross,” after a long pause where she was contemplating the direction of this conversation, “it is actually very beautiful that you are that attracted to me and your body is showing it. Your mom may not have experienced this in the same way. For a lot of marriages the man controls the sex and it is often not very enjoyable for women when it is entirely on his terms.” Gabrielle thought that sounded a whole lot like her parents and knew that would have been her life too if she had stayed and been married off to Perdicas.

“Actually when it is stretchy like that it means you are very fertile.” Xena continued in her rather direct explanation.

Gabrielle laughed and countered with flashing eyes, “Really Xena, breeding, I thought we did not have to worry about that. Is there something you haven't told me?”

Now it was Xena's turn to be flustered and avoided the teasing by challenging, “If it would make you feel better I'll bet you that I am even wetter than you are.”

Gabrielle instantly jumped at that, “Let me see!” Xena gulped as she had not really been prepared for this level of honest curiosity. She slowly opened her legs, feeling very much like she was being inspected by the healer. Gabrielle had a very serious look on her face and concluded the slow investigation with an “Oh, yes,” as she reached out to touch Xena's slick center.

Xena reacted by snapping her legs shut and saying “No, not yet.” Gabrielle looked shocked, “Sorry, I mean once it is started I will not be able to stop,” Xena continued softly, “I just want it to be right. Our bodies might be ready but I want you to be ready here,” she pressed her palm onto Gabrielle's chest over her heart, “and here,” next she tapped the side of Gabrielle's head. When Gabrielle still did not speak she continued, “This is just too special to rush.” Pleading with her eyes, “Gabrielle......” she lengthened the vowels again as her voice lowered and she signalled for her with her finger to come closer, “please come and kiss me.”

Gabrielle threw herself down with her now familiar gusto and assumed the comfy ‘sleeping position' with her arm and leg draped over Xena and her head snuggling into that special spot on her shoulder. She had a great view of Xena's long body from here she thought as she snuck in a couple of quick kisses on the top of Xena's breast before looking up and meeting Xena's lips with her own. She felt the world close in again and become fuzzy and muted. Gabrielle decided she really liked this kissing thing. “I'm sure it is just with Xena,” was the last though she could consciously formulate before surrendering to the wave of warm feeling that enveloped her.

Xena relaxed into the pallet loving the feeling of Gabrielle's body on hers. In a few candlemarks they would be again riding across the desert. Better enjoy this moment while it lasted. Good thing Ottah had slipped her a few of those dark tea beans to chew on to stay awake on the journey; it was going to be a rough night.


Dawn was rising as pure red fire through the low hanging smoke of hundreds of pyres as they made their way into Xena's army's camp on the outer reaches. Xena suddenly felt a deep seated dread, a pallor hung in the air as thick as the smoke. She saw Hercules, Shala and Aeson together with grim expressions. Swinging her leg forward she dismounted quickly allowing Gabrielle who was behind her to continue to walk Argo to the stable and find a tent for Ny'ala.

“Report,” she whispered gently through her dry, cracked lips and her stomach growled with the need for breakfast.

“It's Dahen, my liege,” Hercules started but broke and passed her a water skin not knowing how to continue.

Shala finished with a long face, “Hanaj is dead. Killed in front of him I think, but I have not been able to coax a word out of him. I have given him valerian and he has finally slept. It will be moons before he recovers mentally.”

“When?” Xena sounded desperate hoping her day delayed so pleasantly with Gabrielle would not have made a difference.

“Two days ago. The morning of the day after you left,” Shala supplied.

Hercules explained, “The fighting was insane that day. It seemed the enemy just wanted to die.”

Xena understood this was the suicidal surge that Ny'ala's brother lead the warriors on.

“It's finished, the war is over now,” Xena slumped her shoulders dejectedly as Hanaj was a big loss, “but too late, much too late.”


Gabrielle had settled Ny'ala and had taken it upon herself to gather breakfast for all of them from the cook tent. Manoot and Farina had a special place for Gabrielle in their hearts, probably from all that help she provided bumping around in the wagons. Or the fact that she was always eating and always appreciative, no matter how plain or small the meal. She was the only one allowed to enter the cooking area and help herself from the larder, which she did all the time, especially for snacks of dried fruit and nuts. This morning was no different.

Xena took a spoonful of the porridge, tasted it quickly, and stopped suddenly, her mouth bent like she had eaten a stone. She slowly twirled the mouthful around her mouth and licked her lips absently with her tongue. Xena smelled the next spoonful before rapidly devouring it.

“This is not from the cook tent,” she finally said to Gabrielle in disbelief.

“Um yes it is. Where else would it be from?” Gabrielle said cheekily.

“This tastes really good,” Xena had surprise in her voice.

“Well, I added honey, dried apricots, almonds and a pinch of salt. I find porridge kind of boring when plain,” explained Gabrielle.

“Wow, hmm, I guess I never noticed how plain the porridge was before. I'll have to get you to cook for me more often. This could open a whole new world.” She paused, “In fact I can think of only one way this would taste better,” Xena stated with an evil grin.

“Oh, and what would that be?” Gabrielle countered with feigned innocence.

“Oh,” Xena copied her tone, “it would just taste great off a certain bard's lovely breasts.”

“Well, when I see a bard with lovely breasts I'll let you know...” Gabrielle was cut off mid-sentence as a long arm snaked around her middle and a second hand grabbed her porridge bowl.

“The morning meeting?” Gabrielle whispered a reminder but that was all she was able to sneak out as Xena already was lifting her off the scarlet sitting pillow and back onto the pallet, with her spoon full of porridge at the ready.

“Will wait,” Xena whispered back.


“Report,” Xena was subdued, the lack of sleep finally catching up with her. Everyone had been busy all day long preparing for departure. She had sat with Dahen most of the day upon returning to the camp and now that night was almost falling she was exhausted.

Hercules was first as usual, “We are packed and ready to move this evening. If we push hard we will be back in Byzantium in three nights. Unfortunately it took most of the day to round up that panicked herd that was led by Bacephalus. We have at least two hundred horses abandoned by the enemy, so now the horses are low on feed. We urgently have to get back to the coastal pastures. About fifty soldiers, mostly from Dahen's contingent have volunteered to stay on and follow you to Egypt, my Liege.”

“Even though they know we're taking the cooks?” Aeson was incredulous. “I haven't cooked a camp meal in eleven years and I haven't missed it one bit.” He paused awkwardly, “Guess that's one more thing I haven't yet thanked ya for Xena. Sure gonna miss you.” Aeson was getting uncharacteristically emotional and took a deep breath to pull it together. “But your place at Corinth will be perfect by the time you get back. I'll see to it.”

This was the first time Xena would be away from Aeson, and a large army for that matter, since she had left Lau-Ma and Chin and starting her warlord career almost twelve years ago.

“Cleopatra left me in a difficult situation. She stated, in no uncertain terms, that I was to report to the capital in Memphis at my first available moment. Something about payback for her helping here. With her I can only guess what that means. I don't want to lose her allegiance but I don't completely trust her either. Although, I have some power of my own to bargain with,” Xena's eyes sparkled when she paused and surveyed the room. “With the Abyssinian agreements I now control the entire overland trade route for Egyptian wheat to reach Rome. I could either starve or tax them at my whim.” There was actual glee in her face at this announcement but it was short lived as Cedric exploded through the tent flap with his young burst of energy and caught her by surprise in a big hug.

“I'm going to miss you, Xena,” Cedric's eyes were ringed red and they all knew he had taken the loss of Hanaj, his hero, very hard. “My mom is going to set up the palace with Aeson.” Cedric gestured for Xena to come closer and whispered in her ear when she bent down, “They have been spending some time together.”

Xena looked up at Aeson and yes she saw a twinkle in his eye. This was perfect, both of them, settling down in Corinth together. Xena could think of no better partner for Aeson, and Farina was an excellent cook to boot. She made a mental note to witness how much his waistline would grow over the next few moons.

Draping one arm around Cedric's shoulder including him in the conversation like a man, Xena continued with the meeting, “Herc and Iolaus have agreed to take four legions north-west and establish several border camps. With our agreements with Persia, Abyssinia, Chin and soon hopefully Egypt it is the logical assumption that Rome will attack within the next annum while my reign is young and our alliances are still being finalised. We need to keep up our skills and discipline in expectation of that.”

Nodding to the two quiet black warriors in the corner, “Otta and Atsu have decided to return to their homeland and will leave with Cleopatra and her army tonight. They have served us with distinction over the last three years and I will personally double their departure stipend in fine Abyssinian horse flesh.” The twins brightened at the generous offer. The horses of this region were the fastest they had ever seen. Breeding them back home in Nubia would be an exceptional gift to their family's fortunes.

“Thank you all, your friendship and respect have meant a lot to me over the years. The plan is to reconvene in Corinth when summer is returning to Greece,” Xena concluded.

“You're going to have a summer for a whole year,” Cedric exclaimed enviously.

“Yes, an endless summer,” Xena trailed off wistfully and motioned for everyone to exit and pulled out a tent peg. They might as well take the strategy tent back to Corinth as well.


Valesca and Calisto stayed and were the only ones, save the vultures, who seemed to regret the peace. Their manic energy was more fitting for the battlefield than anywhere else. Xena suggested they all continue on to Egypt after Dahen was more stable. Shala never left Dahen's side, for fear he would take his own life. Hephi, Dahen's childhood friend was a great help to her and now they took turns with the vigil.

Xena took Ny'ala to burn her brother's body and retrieve the helm of Ayed. Ny'ala was not a warrior and could never have led a nation of them. Although her nature was perfect for leading the Abyssinians through a time of peace and she had already decreed their best pasture land was set aside for horse breeding and the rocky areas for goats. Farming skills, that had long been forgotten for the gleam of blades, would need to be relearned.

Xena pulled Dahen's beautifully carved gladii short swords out of the swollen carcass and wiped them in the sand knowing one day he may want these back as they had been a gift from his master, Cicero, in his gladiator days. Ny'ala poured fragrant oil on the body that in no way resembled her brother. She fought the urge to gag as Xena handed her the already lit torch and another stream of black smoke swirled into the air finding companionship in the already acrid filled sky.



Chapter 9


It was the third night of their return. The camp was nearly deserted. Only Callisto, Valesca, Shala, Hephi and Dahen remained in the three lonely still-standing tents.

“Well?” Gabrielle asked as they settled in for the evening.

“Well, what?” Xena loved to play with her.

“Well, what's the plan,” Gabrielle knew she was being teased.

“How do you know I have a plan?” Xena countered.

“You always have a plan,” Gabrielle stated seriously.

Xena giggled.

“Was that a giggle?” Gabrielle teased knowing how sensitive Xena was to that word.

“No, I never giggle. It must have been a laugh,” Xena countered in all seriousness.

“Oh, I absolutely heard a giggle. In fact, a really cute giggle ....” Gabrielle was cut off by a strong arm around her middle pulling her down onto the pallet.

“I am never cute. I have to draw the line somewhere. I'm tough, not cute. Tough. Got it?” Xena did her best tough demonstration and ended up being very cute in Gabrielle's eyes.

“Whatever you say, Love. Now, what's the plan, tough girl?” Gabrielle quickly sidestepped any more of this conversation.

“Thank you,” Xena relaxed and nodded to the acknowledgment, “Hanaj's parents want Dahen to assume the Persian crown so he, Hephi and Shala will be heading to the palace tomorrow for the ceremonies. It will take whole moon cycle and I was hoping you might want to do some Anatolian sightseeing while we wait for them. It's been a while since I was in the area and there are some amazing sights. The temple of Artemis at Ephesus, for starters.”

Gabrielle positively squealed with glee.

“Now that's cute,” Xena emphasized with a finger to Gabrielle's nose as they settled down for sleep.


Gabrielle was returning from taking her morning walk with her well-worn planting knife in her hand. She was twirling and flipping it absentmindedly. Xena thought it looked like an extension of her body, like a sword did with a seasoned warrior.

“What are you doing?” confronted Xena, who had just returned from her morning run.

Gabrielle was not yet ready for a conversation and certainly not a demand. It was still way too early in the morning for this. “None of your business, warrior,” she briskly replied and pushed past her. Gabrielle then looked up at Xena who looked genuinely hurt and conceded, “What I do every morning before breakfast. Take a walk. Do my business...”

“No no no. Not that. What are you doing with the blade?”

“What blade?” Gabrielle looked around and was surprised when Xena motioned to the planting knife with a nod of her head.

“Xena, this is a planting knife. You dig holes with it, cut out the roots of weeds, cultivate the soil, harvest beets and carrots.”

“You move it very well.”

“Excuse me? What?” Gabrielle paused not sure if she was serious. Was that a compliment she had heard? “I have had one in my hand since I was three. Only the end is sharp.” She showed Xena how the blade squared off to a sharpened end, much like a chisel.

“So, it's a stabbing weapon.”

“Only in your world Xena. I have never heard of anyone stabbing vegetables. You do have to push it against a root to cut it or you can reverse your grip to dig a furrow towards you.” Feeling frustration at the seemingly circular conversation she straightened up and looked Xena in the eye, “Xena, it's a farm tool. I use it to dig holes in the morning when I take a crap. OK? I'm not trying to kill you. I thought we sorted out that I am not an assassin.” She spun the knife again so smoothly and handed it to Xena a little harder than necessary hoping this conversation was over.

Xena was impressed.

Xena twirled it around a bit and skipped the few steps to catch up with Gabrielle who had huffed off and was stomping on a mission back to the tents.

“What other tools did you use on the farm?” Xena continued the questioning.

Gabrielle turned and stared at her now with her fists on her hips. “Where are you going with this? Are you planning to take up farming for a retirement career? Because I am seriously happy to be rid of it. Waking up pre-dawn, working the fields till you could no longer see. It was punishment Xena, absolute punishment for me. Thank the Goddess I had stories in my head or I would have gone feral.”

“Just calm down and trust me, trust me Tiger.” Xena smiled and slowly drawled out the last words and placed a hand on Gabrielle's shoulder and Gabrielle relaxed.

“Hoes, rakes, shovels...”

“With long handles?”

Gabrielle stopped again and glanced at Xena like she was truly daft and considered for an instant that she may have lost it. “Of course, Xena. I might be shorter than you, but I'm not that short.”

“Stop that, you are misinterpreting everything.”

“So, now it's my fault you are not communicating the whole story?”

Xena let out a long sigh. Gabrielle was right, she had gone about this wrong, again. She forgot that Gabrielle needed the whole picture, needed to fit everything together first. Xena started at the beginning. “You were kidnapped. It just reminds me that I can't be there every moment. You need to learn to defend yourself. Especially now, as we won't have an army around us anymore.” After a pause, “It's my fault. I make you a target.” Xena's voice cracked on her last thought and there was genuine regret in her eyes.

“So that's what this is all about.” Gabrielle kept walking now that the mystery was solved. “You're scared for me and your fear has made you unable to form logical thought.”

Xena did give up a chuckle, “I was genuinely impressed at how you handled the knife. The way you flip it back along your forearm reminds me of a farm tool from the East, the sai, that can be very effective as a defensive weapon, even snapping sword blades when used in a pair.” Gabrielle smirked at the picture of a long sword warrior looking at his broken blade with impotence as Xena continued. “And the Amazon favourite for close quarters is the stave or staff. Which is the same size as a hoe handle or walking staff, just a little heavier. Shala walks with one. It does not irritate or intimidate swordsmen, as they consistently underestimate it so you can really surprise them if necessary.”

“I won't kill anyone.” Gabrielle knew she had to throw that out there as the first requirement.

“No just defend.”

“Ok fine, teach me this stave thing then. If you must. But I am NOT joining the army.”


“What is all this stuff?” Xena was perplexed by all the bags almost covering the floor of the tent.

“Just my things,” Gabrielle explained off-handedly.

“You do understand that we don't have a wagon? Where were you keeping all this?”

Gabrielle gulped and looked at Xena sheepishly. “I was storing a few things in the kitchen wagon. Just my scrolls, some fabric, a few water skins and cooking supplies, all really essential things Xena. I mean you left me in Byzantium for a month. The market is amazing and with my bartering skills I got some pretty good deals. I couldn't pass them up.”

“Well the cooking supplies and water skins will be useful,” Xena was none too thrilled as this meant they would need another pack horse. Three horses to find pasture for in this dry and unforgiving land.

“Hey, don't knock my scrolls. They are very important to me and anyways someone has to write down all the amazing things you do.”

“You're not really writing about me are you?”

“Oh yes what you do, and… what I'm going to do to you.” Gabrielle took a step forward and seductively pulled Xena's chin towards her.

Xena balked unable to make eye contact.

“Xena, what is this about? We have to talk about this you know and I'm not leaving this tent until we do.” Gabrielle's jaw was set and determined. Xena knew she did not stand a chance and lowered herself to the sleeping roll, the pallet long packed with the furniture and heading for Greece.

“I mean, if I didn't know better I would say you are avoiding having sex with me. Not that I don't mind the kissing and all but you did hint that there was more.”

Xena just groaned and dug into the sleeping skins.

“Alright Miss Talkative, let me take a few guesses just nod your head if I'm on the right track.”

Xena relaxed and nodded, this might be easier than she thought.

“I'm figuring that reputation you have for bedding is some kind of rumour you spread about yourself to keep people from getting close to you,” Gabrielle glanced over and not seeing any response nudged Xena in her ribs. “Nod,” she ordered. Xena nodded.

“Are you still worried about losing control and hurting me?” Gabrielle questioned and got a shake of the head this time from Xena. “That's good.”

“I heard that you sleep with Ares, the God of War. Are you worried he may try to kill me for stepping into his territory?” Gabrielle knew she was on the right track as Xena's whole body tensed and she responded by shaking and nodding her head at the same time.

“Xena! That's a very mixed message,” Gabrielle was exasperated.

“Well, it's complicated,” Xena started unsure of how much to tell her.

“We have all night,” Gabrielle patted her lap and Xena moved over and rested her head there while Gabrielle played with her hair.

Feeling so good and safe Xena started, “I gave Ares my soul when I was just a kid of fourteen. He promised me victory and I had to protect my home. There was no real choice for me.”

“Then,” clarified Gabrielle.

“What?” Xena questioned.

“There was no real choice for you THEN. There is a choice for you now.”

“You don't know Ares.”

“No, you're right I don't. Is that all of it Xena? I feel there is something more. This is not just about my safety. It's about you.”

Xena was quiet for a very long time. So long that Gabrielle wondered if she had pushed her too far. Then her body began to shake silently and it took a moment for Gabrielle to realise that Xena was crying.

“It's hard for me,” Xena sobbed out.

“I know it is dear,” Gabrielle consoled and resumed petting her hair.

“It's hard for me to give up control. It's hard for me to let you do things to me. It's even hard just to say it.” Xena deflated and Gabrielle knew this admission was the key, it was the beginning.

“How about if you tell me what you want me to do. And I'll tell you what I want to do too, before we do it and then no one is caught off guard. Can we start like that?” Gabrielle hoped this would work.

“We can try.”

“We have to try Xena,” Gabrielle was serious. “And now I'm going to bend down and kiss you. Will that be alright?” Xena nodded and was instantly caught in a searing kiss that was fuelled by all the emotion so close to the surface.


They were sleeping when Gabrielle entered. Dahen and Hephi curled up together peacefully on the pallet, belaying the torture within that tent over the last few days. Shala was keeping watch and gestured Gabrielle to come over to her where she sat in a chair with a basket sorting some dried herbs.

“And how are you doing, my dear? Should I have come to see you earlier but I knew Xena would have told me of any injuries.” Shala kept he voice low and glanced at the sleeping men ensuring she was not disturbing them.

“There was no time, other than the ride there, that I was worried about my safety. It was actually quite fascinating and I hope we visit Ny'ala again.”

“Thank Artemis it all worked out. Or this old crone would surely have been forfeit to her temper.” Shala paused thoughtfully, “How is it going with Xena, by the way?”

“Actually that's what I wanted to talk to you about,” Gabrielle sighed and sat next to Shala.

“Oh no, what has she done to you?” Shala questioned with deep genuine concern in her voice.

“Nothing, that's the problem,” Gabrielle explained getting a questioning glance from Shala. “She doesn't feel comfortable being, um you know, intimate.”

“Oh, well I don't know how much I can help with that,” Shala was definitely surprised.

“What does Ares do to her, anyways?” Gabrielle just threw it out there.

Shala froze for a moment gathering her thoughts. “Gabrielle, that's not really for me to say,” Shala said softly, “I care for you both and I want this to work out but there are some private things you see as a healer that are not to be shared. She will tell you in time.”

“She told me she gave him her soul. I don't believe it. I see such playfulness and fun in her sometimes. I can't imagine Ares is in there.”

“You haven't seen her in battle my dear. She is an unstoppable demon. Grown men lose their bowels at the sight of her coming for them. At that moment she is pure Ares, plain and simple. There is no other explanation.”

“No,” Gabrielle had tears in her eyes, “I can't believe that. I won't believe that.”

“I will tell you that he visits a couple times a year when she is on Grecian soil and you had best be far away when he does show up.”

Gabrielle thought carefully and started cautiously almost not wanting to know the answer, “But Shala, that means he has already visited since I have known her,” Gabrielle looked over to Shala who glanced up from her task, knowing she had been caught.

“I sent you away Gabrielle. It was for your own good. And her privacy. You would have noticed when she did not come out of her tent for three days.”

“The herb collecting? That was planned? Oh, Shala how could you?” Gabrielle was upset, confusion on her face.

“I had to. I'm sorry. I had to,” Shala knew there really was no good explanation.

“But there are no scars?”

“What?” Shala was confused

“Her body holds no scars. Physically I mean.”

“I thought you said you weren't...” Shala was interrupted by a reddening Gabrielle.

“Well, I've seen that much,” she blurted out looking at the ground.

“She heals exceedingly quickly. Her scars dissolve over a few days. A gift from Ares.”

“Ares does not have that gift,” Gabrielle was forceful and adamant.

“How do you know that?” Shala couldn't believe the impertinence. To argue with a God's gift was blasphemy.

“Let me guess. As an Amazon you only studied Artemis as a child,” this was greeted by a nod from Shala and Gabrielle calmly continued, “Well, the rest of us have to study all the Gods and Ares does not have healing as part of his gifts. He has super-human fury and drive and passion but not exceptional hunting, healing or strategy which Xena obviously also possesses.” Gabrielle was gaining momentum with her arguments. “So there is something else at work here and I am eventually going to find it out what this is all about with or without your help.” With that Gabrielle stomped out of the tent with determination.


Their own rhythm was dominant now that all the soldiers had followed Dahen on the seven-day journey to King Mausos and Queen Ada's palace for his crowning. Xena hoped this would also help his mental recovery. Callisto and Valesca had run off somewhere with a lame excuse of sword repairs. Xena did not even want to imagine what they did with their free time and Gabrielle probably couldn't imagine it if it was painted on the side of a house.

“I love travelling with you, Xena. I mean, just with you,” Gabrielle smiled she was sitting behind Xena on Argo. Xena had been ensuring they get off and walk every candlemark or so these past few days and the pain of riding was not as intense. “I get you all to myself,” she patted Argo, “if we don't count the three horses.”

Xena smiled. Yes, she was enjoying it too, but the intensity of this woman's feeling scared her a bit. She wasn't used to sharing so much and even though her head told her to drop the barriers, her heart still was protecting itself.

“What are you thinking about?”

Gabrielle's comment snapped Xena back into the present. “You got a hit on me today. Did you notice? Your first one.” The blow had been a glance to Xena's shoulder. Not much more than a touch but contact had been made.

“You let me hit you Xena. Please don't pretend.” Gabrielle knew this was not what she had been thinking about.

“No, I wish. You have been really improving with the staff. You really hit me. Did you notice what you did differently?” Xena questioned. She had only been training half a moon and she already had a strike. That was impressive. Xena knew from that tub incident that Gabrielle's reflexes were exceptional. She just needed to learn to tap into them, to trust them.

“No, it's all I can do from getting clobbered. I don't notice anything except my aching body. And I don't know if I would have ever agreed to daily staff practice if I had known it would hurt so much.” Gabrielle seemed upset about the training but Xena could already see it paying off with a change in her partner's stance. She stood taller, with more confidence.

“Sorry about that. It will get easier,” Xena sheepishly replied. “You reacted; you didn't think about it but just let your body decide. It was amazingly fast like you instinctually knew what to do. That's why you were able to hit me finally.”

“Well then, tell me how long did it take Dahen to hit you?”

“That is not a fair comparison. He was already trained in the Gladiator ring and we fought with swords.”

“What's the difference, Xena?” Gabrielle pushed.

“I'm really good with a sword and there is no room for small errors. You could lose an arm.”

“Well, how long?”

Xena was solemn as she began the recount, her eyes taking a far-away look. “He drew my blood not long into his sixth month in my army. I can't forget it, he was so smug for weeks afterwards. The next time we sparred I kicked his ass to put him back in his place. He has never drawn blood from me again.”

It sounded so serious, “Oh,” was all Gabrielle could muster. She still thought Xena let her get the strike.

Xena fell back into her thoughts, now feeling guilty she could not share them with Gabrielle. How long could she go on changing the subject before she pushed her away with the dishonesty?


Gabrielle's first view of the Temple to Artemis at Ephesus was an assault to the eyes, the glare off the white marble roof was visible for as far as the eye could see. The perfect lines against the blue of the sky held a sharp definition she had never experienced before, like the building was not of this world. Not of the world she knew of grain and dirt and wind but forged by the hand of the Goddess herself.

“Xena, do you know the story of the cross dresser who saved the temple?” Gabrielle started knowing Xena would like to hear her version of it anyways.

“I would love to hear your version, oh bard of mine,” Xena quipped predictably.

“It is well known that Artemis can calm the wild soul. So those with unfortunate maladies are drawn to her temple in hopes of relief. This man was a plebe of no consequence other than his penchant for dressing in his wife's clothes. She finally begged him to seek the Goddess after her sisters disturbed them and learned his secret, leading to incessant teasing. So he left on a pilgrimage to this temple, that which we see before us, planning a seven day retreat of prayer for an answer to his confusion. On the third night he heard a commotion and interrupted a wild man intent on destroying the temple just to make a name for himself. He valiantly thwarted this vandal's hope of history and protected the temple risking his life in the process. The Goddess herself came to him in gratitude as she was attending a birth of a noble Macedonian and without his help the temple would have been ruins. For his noble deed she decreed that only men who dressed as women would from that day forward be trusted as the guards at her largest and most sacred temple. The shame of his situation was replaced fully by pride overnight and allowed the Temple at Ephesus to stand for all to see for all time as a wonder of this world.”

Gabrielle stopped the telling to gasp in amazement at the sight before her. Stories she had heard since childhood did not even compare with the real thing. Everywhere Gabrielle looked took her breath away, columns turned into statues turned into relief carvings without end.

The dozen or so wide steps that led to the entrance were crowded with people, sellers hawking small replica statues, crones with smudges to burn in offering, soothsayers with bones to tell the future, and gaggles of teen age virgins fresh from class in their white gathered chitons under the watchful eye of the headmistress.

Gabrielle held Xena's hand tightly as they stepped up the grand entranceway. They wove through the sellers and crones perched on the steps, some whom seemed to have taken up permanent residence there. Gabrielle dropped all thought when she stepped inside. The vastness of the space took her breath away. She was totally overwhelmed and felt smaller than she ever had in her life. The ceiling was supported by columns that were easily the height of ten men and in the center of this ethereal cavern was a glowing image of the Goddess herself. She dominated the room and was lit by a lifted central dome in the roof that allowed the only shafts of light into the space surrounding the statue. She was of the whitest marble with no streaks or cracks, a monolith so pure, it must have been formed from the clouds.

Xena noticed Gabrielle had been taken by the beauty and this put her mind back to the time she first had been here, before she felt stifled by the other pilgrims and enclosed by the walls. She let Gabrielle's hand go and took some joy in just watching her shuffle aimlessly forward overwhelmed and saturated by the experience.

Artemis was the Goddess of all the wild things, the forest creatures, the wind, the clouds. She placed the wildness in your heart when on the hunt. She was an archer beyond earthly compare and often a starving hunter would swear beyond a doubt that it was her arrow that connected with the elusive stag gracing his family's table.

Gabrielle took her time walking quietly around the temple looking at each frieze and statue before coming before the Goddess. Once before her Gabrielle found the tears flowed unfettered down her cheeks and she was humbled, falling gently to her knees as she suddenly knew very clearly the reason for her visit. Xena was a wild thing in the extreme. If Artemis knew all the wild creatures of the world perhaps she could help her connect with Xena in the way she wanted. Was that so impossible to imagine?

“Dear Artemis, Help me with Xena. I sometimes see a pain in her eyes I cannot comfort. I need her in my life but I don't know how to open the door. I want to know the wildness of her heart, not to tame it but to free it.” Gabrielle found focus in voicing her pain out loud. “Artemis, Supreme Goddess of all wild creatures, help me understand her wildness so we can join soul to soul.” The plea turned into a sob as Gabrielle surrendered her request and rested her forehead on the cool marble floor.


There was a warm glow from the land below and the three sisters basked in it as it fed them.

Aphrodite stated, “Well Sis, I gotta say, it's definitely a heartfelt plea.” Artemis turned to her little sister and nodded, as she too could feel the purity of the request.

Artemis paused and sighed, “But I have trusted so many others and they have all fallen.” It had been a long road for her since her time living among her Amazon sisters. They had picked up her broken body after her fall from heaven as a mortal; a wicked trick of her father Zeus who thought her too self-righteous to rule. It was her sister Amazons who had mended her, healed her, cared for her and taught her of mortal love and loss. She was indebted to them. She had placed her care on more than a dozen warriors hoping they could fulfill the promise she had made to save the nation, but they were never strong enough to endure the tests. Perhaps this little wisp of a storyteller with a heart of a tiger would be the one.

Athena, stepped forward completing the trinity, and countered knowing her shy sister sometimes needed encouragement making these decisions, “I fully support our chosen joining; even if Xena is blind to my care for her.”

Artemis thought that Athena was not wrong very often, except in wasting her time on that warrior that never paid tribute. Aphrodite on the other hand was always throwing her care around on a whim, like there was an endless supply. She looked at her two sisters and by the eye contact and nods she trusted this was the one mortal to give a chance to.

As she placed her care upon Gabrielle she felt such untapped strength, she knew finally she had found her chosen that would change the path of her beloved Amazons. The wheels were now in motion. There was no stopping the path of destiny unfolding.


Suddenly Gabrielle felt a warmth flow through her. It was as if all her worries evaporated. She was physically lighter. She rose to leave with a spring in her step.

Squinting in the sunlight, brighter from the reflections off the temple, Gabrielle located Xena lounging on the lowest step off to the left. The sellers and crones had moved away giving her a wide berth so she was quite alone. Gabrielle chuckled and thought, “S he definitely is a wild thing. Look how she scares everyone without even trying.”

“Well, how was it?” Xena asked with her trademark nonchalance although Gabrielle saw the spark dancing in her eye.

“I feel free, like a great weight I did not even know was there has been lifted from my shoulders,” Gabrielle grinned. She knew the temple was a place full of energy. Energy she would never truly understand.

Xena smirked as she remembered her first time had been much less insightful. “The place has power, one cannot deny that. But I don't know…” She was cut off by an approach of a crone shuffling towards her, too close and into her space. Xena was quickly up to her full height, but was surprised when the tiny crone, with not much more to her than the tattered wrap of black cloth she wore, faced Gabrielle.

“They are coming, they have been called by the Goddess herself,” the crone babbled her voice not much more than a husky whisper.

Gabrielle took the old women's hands in her own with a smile and politely asked, “Excuse me? What are you talking about? Who is coming?” Gabrielle thought this old one might be losing her mind and bent to gaze under the headscarf and make eye contact with her.

Drawing up straighter the crone was now determined to get her point across, “The watchers, the waiters, the ones. They are coming. They are coming for you.”

Gabrielle was shocked and dropped the woman's hands. Xena put an arm around the startled Gabrielle and pulled her away. As the crone hurled insults, “Ingrate! Non-believer! Child!”

When they were a few steps away Xena said, “I was going to say that I don't know of a place that attracts more crazy characters than this one.” Xena tried to brush off the crone's words and it seemed to work as Gabrielle relaxed under her arm. “Artemis is said to soothe the wild mind. They certainly all come here to see if the magic is true.” This elicited a small chuckle from Gabrielle but there was something about those words that caught her breath when she repeated them in her mind.


“Do we have to put up the tent, Xena?” Gabrielle questioned as they fell into their now practiced camp routine out on their own. Xena caught dinner, usually hare or fish, set up the tent and sleeping rolls and Gabrielle started the fire and cooked the evening meal. Continuing Gabrielle pleaded, “Look no bugs and surely will not rain.” The both glanced at the cloudless sky from horizon to horizon darkening now that the sun had set.

“No not at all. I love sleeping out. I just thought you preferred it,” Xena added sheepishly knowing she never really asked her.

“I want to look at the stars, like my sister and I used to during mid-summer nights on the farm. When it got too hot inside for us kids, my mom would set up a sleeping area on the porch. I loved that,” Gabrielle's voice drifted off wistfully.

Xena was relaxed with no other chores now and sat munching on trail rations, a piece of venison jerky, figs and dates as Gabrielle prepared dinner. “These almost remind me of apples,” Xena commented crunching on the fresh dates.

“Don't ruin your appetite, darling,” Gabrielle shouted out before realizing she sounded a good bit more like her mother than she wanted to. ‘When did that happen?' she wondered.

When dinner, a hare stew with pita, was consumed, the sky was totally dark.

“Come and get comfortable girl,” Xena motioned to Gabrielle who was poking the fire down.

“I love to hear your heart beat. Does it bother you that I basically sleep on top of you?” Gabrielle asked as she took up their familiar sleeping position.

“Not at all, not at all,” Xena grinned and could finally admit she loved this feeling.


Lyceus was running, twisting through the grain before her. His head of blond curls bobbing over the tall stalks. Snaking down the paths she could not quite catch him. Twisting turning on and on Xena soon became frustrated. He was never this fast. Suddenly he turned and stopped, his blond hair framing his innocent playful face. He locked eyes with his big sister there were words mouthed on his lips but no sound escaped and she heard ‘I forgive you' in her heart. Slowly blackness swallowed him.

Xena bolted upright, a sheen of sweat glistening on her skin, Gabriele moaned and rolled off to the side but didn't wake.

Xena stood, the coolness of the night blanketing her naked body. She thought the real question is; ‘Do I forgive myself?'

Wanting to just let her mind turn off Xena drilled with her sword until dawn.

Gabrielle woke knowing someone was looking at her. She groaned and pulled the sleeping roll over her head for a few more moments of peace. She heard Xena sigh but she did not make any comment. She had waited patiently this long – what really was the problem with a few more moments?

Gabrielle eventually relented and peaked out from under the blankets.

“Good, so you're awake?” Xena started up with exuberance.

“Yes, and … that's good why?” Gabrielle was hesitant and still a bit foggy.

“I want to talk,” Xena wondered if the words sounded as strange as they were to say.

“Who are you and what have you done with the Conqueror?”

“Your sense of humour wakes up first, I see,” Xena deadpanned.

Stretching with a giggle, “Come back to bed Xena and hold me while we talk.”

“You promise you won't just fall back asleep,” Xena questioned sceptically.

“Ok, ok … I promise,” Gabrielle shaking her head awake while rising to sitting to give Xena her full attention.

“I dreamt last night,” Xena was direct.

“Good for you,” Gabrielle wondered if this was really worth waking up for and started back for the bed roll.

“No, really, it is amazing,” Xena grabbed her arm pulling her upright again. “I haven't dreamed until I started sleeping with you. Not since I was a child anyway.”

Gabrielle's body tensed. Understanding flooded her face and a thought hit her, “And I haven't had a nightmare since sleeping with you. I've had them almost every night since the slavers.”

“We are good for each other,” Xena concluded with a full face smile.

“Tell me about the dream.”

“Lyceus forgave me.”

“Your little brother? Who died following you into your first battle?”

“Yes, and even more importantly I think I am starting to forgive myself,” Xena admitted sheepishly and lay down next to Gabrielle.

“This is a very good thing,” wrapping her arms around Xena, Gabrielle barely got the words out as she was lulled back to sleep by Xena's heartbeat.


Mid-day into their travels Xena formed her first edict of her reign in Anatolia with only Gabrielle as official audience and record keeper, “This is now called the Lycian way - the path of forgiveness.”

Gabrielle grinned and squeezed Xena in acknowledgement.

Entering the next small hamlet, Xena tensed. Not that this was any different than the many villages they had passed through these last few days. What was it? Something on the wind. Discontent? Pain? Uncertainty?

Gabrielle suddenly felt an increased vigilance in Xena. Her body alert and reaching out for something. Her relaxed state altered.

“What's wrong?” Gabrielle questioned when no explanation was forthcoming.

“I don't know yet. This village doesn't feel altogether friendly,” Xena reached her senses out. “Stay on Argo. I will throw you your staff if things get ugly.”

“But I haven't practiced staff on Argo,” Gabrielle's voice was tinged with fear.

“You'll be safer up here,” she added softly. “Please trust me.”

Rounding the corner Gabrielle saw a crude drawing in charcoal on the broad side of the first house. She gasped it was a picture of two women on a palomino, the one in front with dark flowing locks the one behind blond. It took her a moment to realize it was a graffiti of them and a pretty good likeness at that. They had been watched over the last few days. There were three words scrawled below the drawing but they were in a language she could not read.

“Xena, what does it say?” Gabrielle questioned.

“It is in ancient Aramaic... loosely translated ... um, it could be described as ...” Xena stumbled on the words.

“Just spit it out,” Gabrielle demanded.

“Sapphic Greek Whore.”

“Two out of three ain't bad,” Gabrielle dead-panned.

Xena could barely suppress her giggle when her body froze. “Do you smell that, Gabrielle? This is going to get interesting.”

Gabrielle tried but could smell nothing but the sweet alfalfa in bloom.

Turning the next corner they found a line of a dozen or so grimy fighters blocking their way.

Xena ordered, “Make Way!” and all the other bystanders found an urgent task elsewhere.

No response from the ruffians so she casually dismounted and removed the staff from alongside the wrapped tent on the first pack horse.

“Can't kill us with a stick, bitch,” a jeer erupted from the gang.

She handed the stave to Gabrielle. Gabrielle was afraid for two reasons, there was the gang but also she could see the fire growing behind Xena's eyes. A look she had never yet witnessed. Gabrielle wondered ‘Was the demon Xena that Shala described about to be released?'

“Last chance ... brothers,” Xena sneered with contempt as she walked tall towards them, “Stand against me and die, or give up now and go back to your wives and families.”

Xena unhooked her chakram off her hip and held it up glinting in the sun.

“Can't kill us with that ring either, bitch.” There was another anonymous taunt from the group.

Not caring who had made the statement Xena's face took on a feral grin, “Oh, wanna make a bet, boys?”

She flung her chakram off the wall with the graffiti removing a chunk of plaster. It bounced back so quickly it was almost beyond sight, cutting the air with an eerie whistling sound. You could hear it coming before you saw it. It bounced back and forth glinting in the sunlight. It was dizzying.

Gabrielle was unsure of what had happened. In the span of only a couple heartbeats there were twelve heads rolling on the ground, and one man standing. He peed himself and ran off.

“Oh Hades, I miscounted. I thought there were only twelve,” Xena muttered to herself in disappointment.

Gabrielle felt the tang of bile rise in her throat and darkness start to close in on the edges of her vision. She was very close to vomiting. Twelve men were dead and Xena had not even broken a sweat.

The graffiti picture was undisturbed, but the third word below had been obliterated. Xena walked over to it picking a piece of charcoal up off the street and with a grin chalked in ‘Conqueror' in the newly exposed plaster. “ 'Sapphic Greek Conqueror' , that's more like it,” a smug look tempered her face as she remounted and moved on.

Gabrielle did not recover her voice for quite a while.

Knowing this last candlemark without Gabrielle's chatter meant there was something seriously bothering her, Xena started to ask her what was going on several times, only to suck back the question at the last moment. She was unsure of how much time she should give her with her thoughts and not wanting to pressure her. Finally, even Xena had had enough. Her patience worn she simply questioned, “Are you okay?”

“Haven't seen anyone actually killed in front of me before,” Gabrielle's voice was distant.

Xena hesitated wondering how to explain this. She did not feel defensive and hoped Gabrielle did not blame her. She HAD given them a choice. “They were accepting that this was their time to go. I just hope I know when it's my turn for a ride on Charon's boat.”

“I hope that's not for a very very long time,” Gabrielle tightened her grip around her waist.


Xena could not stall any longer. She had caught and cleaned a desert hare to roast for dinner, prepared camp and tethered the pack horses to graze for the night (as they would not come when called as Argo did). She had completed all her chores, and now Xena knew she would need to illuminate Gabrielle on a few facts. Unsure where to start she stuttered, “Um, Gabrielle I need to explain something to you about lust.”

‘Well, that got her rapt attention,' Xena thought as Gabrielle dropped everything to listen, “Blood lust. Battle lust. The energy of fighting and the energy of sex are connected. A fight brings it out in you. It boils up. It will fume and seethe like an ulcer if left unsatisfied. Warriors, the world over, take the losers of a battle. The ‘alpha and omega' , it is called ‘the soldier's way' , and is expected. I don't agree with it but I feel where it comes from. I can acknowledge it. I understand it.”

It took Gabrielle a moment to weed through all this information. “Are you saying you feel like making love tonight, um, like reciprocally?”

A brief nod was the only answer from Xena.

Gabrielle had a smile ear to ear that she could not wipe off her face.

“Let me see those hands,” Xena demanded with a wild look in her eye. Grabbing Gabrielle's hand, Xena whipped out her ever present dagger. She had to tighten her grip of Gabrielle's hand that instinctively pulled back. “Don't panic ... just trimming your nails girl,” she said with a feral grin.

“Then why the face Xena? You don't even know how scary you look with that crazy gleam in your eye.”

“Sure I do. I've perfected it. Fear is a powerful motivator. Using it to my advantage has saved my life more than once.”

“Is your life in danger now?”

Xena swallowed hard, looking down she whispered, under her breath. “Almost feels like it.”

Gabrielle kissed Xena sweetly on her chiselled cheekbone. “Just guide me baby. Whatever feels right. OK?”

“OK,” Xena answered and stood abruptly facing the fire. She slid the shoulder straps of her battle dress off her shoulders and pulled the gusset down. Gabrielle though she might be peeing on the fire again showing off the standing to pee skill that Gabrielle had not for the life of her been able to accomplish successfully. But instead Xena stepped out of her leather armour and returned back to sit in front of Gabrielle with her back towards her.

“Let's put those sharpened nails to work,” Xena ordered playfully, her mood now totally relaxed.

Gabrielle took the hint and started scratching Xena's back. It was as if Xena transformed under her rough touch, her eyes rolled back in pleasure. She moaned and moved into Gabrielle's hands getting the scratch right to the itch.

“Gabrielle dear, you have no idea how long I have wanted this. You are the best scratcher I have ever known,” Xena teased with a voice full of lust.

“Xena, you are such a twit. Are you going to start bouncing your hind leg like a dog?”

“Only if that would amuse you.”

“Humph,” was all Gabrielle could get out before she found herself flipped over Xena's form and looking up into a set of blue sparkling eyes.

“Xena, you are so crazy. How did you do that?”

“I have many skills,” Xena said with mock seriousness.

Under the stars, in the bedroll together, like many other nights, Gabrielle suddenly felt nervous. ‘Whatever feels right' she reiterated to herself and she calmed down and started kissing the tall dark warrior, breaking down what was left of the already crumbling wall between them.

Gabrielle slid on top, alternating their legs. Xena had already volunteered using her leg as a banister so Gabrielle thought it was safe to start there. Sliding the length of Xena's thigh she felt the tension build in Xena's body.

At first Xena just let Gabrielle pleasure herself. It did not take long to rekindle her battle lust and her body demanded attention. Xena pulled Gabrielle's hips into her and guided the movement. They were both covered with a sheen of sweat. Xena pulled Gabrielle down and they kissed passionately. Then Gabrielle bit Xena's lip and Xena came. Xena thought , ‘it was not huge but it was... it was a start.' Gabrielle thought , ‘by the Gods this is huge.' And they both drifted off to sleep in each other's arms.


“Come back to bed,” Gabrielle upon waking launched herself on Xena who was already practicing her flipping drills. “Let's do it again.”

“Um Tiger, the sun is already up,” gathering a blank look from Gabrielle. Xena explained further, “sort of exposed here.” Then caught in dejected loving eyes she added, “I guess I could put up the tent?”

Gabrielle added enthusiastically. “Or just throw that chakram thing in anyone's direction and they will run. If this community is anything like the one I grew up in I guarantee everyone in the whole region has heard of the killing ring by now.”

“Um, I think I'll just put up the tent.”


Xena's strong arms lifted Gabrielle up as she slid her own body further down. “Rub yourself on my face,” was her only instruction. She wanted Gabrielle to come too, as she had already climaxed several times.

Gabrielle ran her soaking sex up Xena's face, and wondered for a moment if her lover could still breathe? She decided yes, as Xena's long tongue entered her, thrusting up inside, claiming. Gabrielle moaned, closing her eyes, focusing on her own pleasure, grinding her center into Xena. Rocking on Xena's face she shuttered and came hard. Xena who was pleasuring herself came a moment later as the energy flowed and bonded them together.

Gabrielle mumbled breathily as she snuggled back into Xena's arms, “I want to be inside you. To split open your chest cavity and crawl inside.”

“That really would be quite messy,” was Xena's exhausted reply. This woman sure came up with strange ideas.


It was later than usual sitting around the camp fire having not made much progress today, in the way of leagues travelled. They had both fallen into their nightly rituals of Xena sharpening her sword and knives and Gabrielle scratching at her scroll.

Gabrielle went to stand and got the raised eyebrow look from Xena. “I need to sharpen my quill,” Gabrielle quickly explained.

“Just hold it up,” Xena ordered nonchalantly, getting her own raised eyebrow in response from her lover. “Feathers down,” she added.

When Gabrielle tentatively raised up the quill Xena snapped her chakram removing just a hair's breadth before bouncing back to her off a rock.

“That's perfect!” squealed Gabrielle, “you realize you have a new full time job?”

“Anytime,” Xena's perfect white teeth shone in the darkness. “What are you writing about, Tiger?”

“Keeping score ...” Gabrielle drifted off in thought, followed by more scratching and dipping of the quill in the ink.

“How many of the enemy are killed?” the most logical thing in Xena's mind.

“No silly, how often we make love.” Gabrielle explained a matter-of-factly.

Xena's jaw dropped.

“Actually, I have some questions,” Gabrielle straightened up with renewed focus.

“When do you not,” Xena resigned herself and put down her stone.

“When men and women have sex. How does that work exactly?”

“Making babies?”

“No, that's like every farm animal. That I know about. I mean I walked in on my sister once.” This statement met with Xena's raised eyebrows as Gabrielle continued. “She had Menos' penis in her mouth. How gross it that.”

“It's called the ‘Alpha' fuck. It brings him pleasure.” Xena agreed it was pretty gross on the giving end.

“Is that what Cadmus wanted?”

Xena nodded as Gabrielle cringed.

“What about men with men,” Gabrielle ventured.

'Omega' is up the back, for men with men, actually for anyone?”

“I guess then for a pair of women ...” Gabrielle was tentative.

“You mean penetration, going inside, fucking?” Xena guessed.

“Ya, why have we not done that?”

“It's yours to give, not mine to take. When you're ready you will feel like nothing else is enough. Honestly Tiger, right now all this talk is making me want you all the more. How about I'll show you? You fucking me.”

“Tent or right here?” Gabrielle hoped they didn't have to put it up in the dark.

“Gabrielle,” Xena drawled out her name sensually, “Right here. Right now.”


“Put two fingers in me, now bend your fingers, feel that spongy area … Uuuggghhhh, fuck that's it. Taste me,” looking down at the blond head between her legs, Xena came momentous and hard against Gabrielle's face.

Gabrielle rested her cheek on Xena's stomach and rubbed her still wet fingers over Xena's hip bone. Feeling ridges she though this very strange, they were just like the stretch marks of pregnancy but quite invisible to the eye. Gabrielle vowed to not to press for this information until her lover felt comfortable to mention it on her own.


Upon waking Gabrielle stated loudly while still in the bedroll, “I'm not washing my hand. I want to smell you all day.”

“OK, just don't blame me if you are all wet, sliding around in the saddle and fall off,” Xena hollered back and left her drills to return to the camp site.

Gabrielle blushed, “How did you know I was wet?”

“I can smell you, Gabrielle. I have a very keen sense of smell, remember the unwashed gang I could smell from the next block.”

Gabrielle nodded her head.

“Well, I can also smell when you are aroused and when you're on your blood cycle,” Xena explained.

Xena just laughed as Gabrielle hid from view under the covers and muttered, “This is soooo embarrassing. Is nothing private around you?”

“Not any more sweetie, and you had better get used to it.”

“Are you going to tell me when you cycle then so that at least we're equal?” Gabrielle's voice was hopeful.

“I don't usually cycle. I think I push my body too hard or it's part of the third sex thing.”

“Third sex thing? What in the world are you talking about?” Gabrielle interest was piqued.

“You know how we talked before about not fitting in.”

“Yes, like growing up in my village knowing my life was to be lived elsewhere.”

“I have never really felt I was one hundred percent female.” Looking into Gabrielle's shocked eyes Xena quickly backtracked. “Wait, let me explain. I am who I am. It's just when I compare myself with the rest of the women out there my expectations, my thoughts, my yearnings are so different. Like my brain is different. Lao Ma called it the third sex; the body and soul of a woman but the heart and mind of a man.”

Grinning Gabrielle countered, “Xena, I won't give up on your heart. I think there is more woman in there than you are willing to admit.”


“You're getting much better at this,” Xena commented about Gabrielle's use of the staff.

“It's like a dance, Xena. A few basic moves but string them together and the complexity grows. I love it. I can't believe I hated it at first. And you're right about the battle lust thing. I always feel like doing it after staff practice,” Gabrielle commented.

“That's not battle lust, Tiger. It's just our first couple of moons together. Everyone feels like they can't get enough of each other at the beginning.”

Gabrielle burst into tears, leaving Xena to quickly enfold her into a hug and ponder what went wrong. Perhaps it was because Gabrielle was due to start her blood cycle any day, “I don't want it to end,” she finally sputtered out into Xena's chest.

“Relationships just keep growing, Gabrielle. You can't stop it changing as much as you can stop the tide. Just relax and accept it.”

“You make it sound so easy.”

“It's not. I've just experienced it once or twice before.”

“I want to do the inside me thing before it changes.”

“You mean penetration, right?”

Gabrielle nodded.

“We'll have to set the tent up for this one,” Xena smiled and hugged her tighter.


Xena hesitated, “There might be a membrane.”

“You mean like ‘popping my cherry'.”

Xena was thrown off by the guttural language coming from Gabrielle, “Uh, ya, like that.” Xena added strongly, “Where did you hear that?”

“The tavern back home. I always wondered exactly what that meant.”

“It might hurt for a moment, there might be some blood. And it cannot be undone.”

“Just give me your hand,” Gabrielle ordered and she pushed Xena's fingers inside her. Xena felt a little resistance and pushed harder breaking through. Gabrielle gasped and let go of her wrist but continued riding her hand with greater momentum until she collapsed sated on Xena.

“See I can have you inside and we don't have to slice open any chest cavities,” Gabrielle was almost joyful.

“Sometimes you are very strange.”

“And ...” she spurred expectantly.

“And I love you.” Xena admitted with an open heart.


Every few days they would stop in a small village to gather up some food at the local market. Gabrielle loved this. Doing the cooking meant she also got to do the shopping. Xena often waited on the village periphery in the stable or with the blacksmith with some small tack or weapon repair.

“Xena, this time I want you to come to the market.”

“Ok, need some translating?”

“No, I'm pretty good with hand signals. I need you.”

Not quite sure of what the girl had planned Xena reluctantly relented and stabled Argo.

Moving slowly through the crowd that parted before her with whispers and gasps Xena followed a positively bouncing Gabrielle who seemed completely oblivious to the stares her partner received.

“This is why I hate villages,” Xena whispered under her breath.

Gabrielle left Xena and approached the vegetable stalls. Xena watched as Gabrielle bartered with no common words. Her smile and open aura drew the sellers to her. Several of the older farmers gathered to assist. Xena watched from across the track in admiration. The sellers treated Gabrielle like a member of their family. It was amazing to witness. Many of them did not even accept payment for the goods. Gabrielle glanced around and finally met Xena's eyes. Gabrielle had a bit of an evil grin on her face and instead of crossing the common held up some vegetable for Xena's approval. First was a carrot, Xena nodded, sure she liked carrots, great in rabbit stew. Then a cucumber, Xena looked quizzically, cucumbers did not work well in stew but ok perhaps fresh on the side. Gabrielle was looking mildly upset and frustrated and Xena for the life of her could not understand why she needed to be consulted about the vegetables. Finally Gabrielle picked up a zucchini squash and glanced around before gesturing with it. Xena's mind crashed in. She was picking a phallus. Oh Good Gods. She's gesturing to me with a zucchini in the middle of an Anatolian marketplace. Xena, normally so stoic felt a flush rise up her neck and engulf her face.

“Just buy them all,” Xena mouthed before turning to claim Argo from the stable, ‘We'll eat what we don't use.'


Several days later returning with a fish for dinner Xena eyed prone form with amusement from across the tent. It was perfection disrupted. Gabrielle was lying in wait on the bedroll, sprawled on the rough woven blanket, her scroll long forgotten and the quill dropped. It was obvious she had been busy with another task for some time, her hand extending beneath her skirt. Now, hearing Xena, her other hand pulled up her skirt, exposing her diversion. As Xena came closer Gabrielle's eyes slowly opened belaying the passion within.

“Am I interrupting?” Xena's voice was low and sensual as she crawled up the blanket.

Gabrielle did not answer but shook her head as she closed her eyes once more.

Xena flipped Gabrielle over onto her stomach and shoved her bent knee between her legs. Gabrielle automatically started grinding against it. Her center was slick and ready. Xena helped by holding her hips and adding force to the rocking motion. Xena had a full open view of her cunt and the sweet smell was overwhelming her senses and shuttering her center. She thought she might come just from the vision itself. She entered Gabrielle with two fingers curving down towards the soft spongy core that connected right to her clit. Gabrielle gasped when she was entered but started rocking with more urgency, ramming into Xena's hand with force. When Gabrielle was almost there Xena switched her grip and turned her hand palm up, pushing deeper into her lover. She wet her thumb on the mass of fluid and entered her ass with one smooth movement. She plunged into both openings, feeling her fingers just a thin membrane away from her thumb. With that invasion, Gabrielle came, came on a whole new level, she arched back and screamed. Xena forced her hips down again, demanding that she ride it out fully, which she did, sustaining and coming another time.

When Gabrielle was able to form words she didn't waste them. The power of her intention shaded breathy with exhaustion, “What the fuck did you do to me, woman?”

Xena just smiled knowingly and was amused that Gabrielle chose this moment to punctuate with ‘foul language', which she rarely used.

Gabrielle continued, “It was like I came in three places. Came all over, everywhere.” Gathering her strength she finished enthusiastically, “By the Gods, let's do that again!”

“I have created a monster,” Xena sighed. She was definitely challenged keeping up with this girl.

“You can't really mean that Xena.”

“Oh, yes I do.”


There was no respite from the sun as they left the kind ocean breezes and cooling cedar groves, the inland heat was relentless. The lack of vegetation left the rocks and hard packed ground to reflect every ray right back at them. Mid-day they rested in the shade of the horses Gabrielle adjusted her head scarf and looked over at Xena.

“Xena, your face is getting burnt,” Gabrielle touched it lightly with concern. “Don't you have a headscarf?” A raised eyebrow look indicated that was the wrong thing to ask. “Alright we can't have your nose burning off, just sit here a minute.”

Xena was about to protest but Gabrielle was up and moving before she could come up with a reason. Gabrielle collected a handful of the tall seed heads of the sparse dry desert grasses. This would have to do. Kneeling in front of Xena she scooted into the shade and separated the grasses by length. Xena looked on patiently, unsure of what she had in mind.

Gabrielle giggled, “You have no idea of what I'm doing. But you trust me anyways.” She added as she grabbed a handful of her bangs, “This is a big step then.” She adeptly twisted a few strands of hair together and wove the first few grasses in. Her fingers worked with a practiced ease, nimble and quick. Soon the tight strands of grass and hair extended outward shading Xena's face. “That ought to do it.” Gabrielle leaned back and admired her handiwork.

“You're a fast weaver.”

“I have many skills,” Gabrielle joked as she repeated Xena's favourite line to deflect a complement. “Xena I grew up on a sheep farm, don't forget. Basically every winter evening was spent in front of the fireplace carding, spinning and weaving.” Gabrielle continued as they mounted Argo back into the heat and started to travel again, “My mother was lucky she had two girls to help her. You know, the chore was faster and less lonely. We flanked the loom for hours throwing the shuttle back and forth. It is past shearing season now. Lila and Mother will be starting to separate and card the fleece.” Gabrielle was quiet in her thoughts for a while, “I miss them.”

“We'll visit them when we get back to Greece. I want you to meet my Mother too,” Xena promised to an excited Gabrielle.


The day became two and then three without fresh water, not a creek, a pond nor even moist dew at dawn. Xena was amazed at how tenacious this girl was. How she went with the flow, she never complained even when dinner was reduced to dry fruit and venison jerky. She might be homesick and expressed those feelings but was not one to blame or judge their situation or Xena's decisions. She was the perfect travelling companion, finding the positive side, no matter how hidden it was.

“What I really miss is lying in green grass.” Gabrielle sighed. The landscape had been hard and rocky with only a few scrub olives for greenery since they left the sea several days back. “No wonder Anatolian's eat so many goats. They are the only thing that can survive out here.”

“It looks like it's only going to get worse,” Xena eyed the rock strewn plateau opening up before them.

It was slow going, the horses challenged by picking a path between boulders. Until finally Argo stumbled and Xena ordered Gabrielle off. Inspecting Argo's foreleg Xena was dismayed by the blood she found. “We'll have to walk. This is just too hard on the horses.” Xena unsheathed her sword.

Gabrielle lunged in front of Argo, “No, don't kill her!”

‘What was she thinking? ' “Never,” Xena remarked with some humour as she sliced the cinches on the packhorses, their loads tumbling to the ground. “We can only take what we can carry so you may have to leave your scrolls.”

Gabrielle's jaw dropped, “Never,” with no humour in her voice. “Give me your dagger, Xena.” Gabrielle ordered and sat down with the knife. She methodically removed the end woods from her scrolls and filed the hides together rolling them into a tight cylinder. Gabrielle then chose one pot, her mortar and pestle that Manoot had given her and two special pieces of the Byzantium market fabric and wrapped them up. This paired with the food and water would be all she could carry.

Looking up she saw Xena was cutting strips from the tent canvas and wrapping the cannon and fetlocks of the horses providing padding from the harsh rocks. This was taking some time so Gabrielle decided to look through some of the other items off the packhorses to sort through what else was needed.

“What's this?” Gabrielle held up a brick of pressed leaves.

“Tea,” Xena explained succinctly, “I'll carry it.”

“Why did you bring so much? You could have sent it with Shala's wagons.”

“It's very special. Worth its' weight in gold.” When Gabrielle looked at her in disbelief Xena continued, “A present from Lau Ma.”

“You were lovers.” Gabrielle abruptly surmised. Xena was quiet and suddenly very intent on her task. Gabrielle kept pushing, “Because you have all those silk robes and expensive tea as gifts it seems like she wants you back.”

Gabrielle had a smirk on her face as Xena squirmed and stuttered finally finished with the horse's hooves.

“Xena can you wrap me too? So I don't turn my ankle.” Gabrielle asked in all seriousness as she lifted and then kicked off a well worn boot that was far too loose.

Xena resigned herself to sit, cut another strip of canvas and started wrapping Gabrielle's ankle. “It was a long time ago ...”

“Ha, I knew it,” Gabrielle interrupted and a self-satisfied grin swept over her face.

“As I was saying,” Xena looked at the horizon a faraway look in her eyes, “She fixed my legs after my pirating days. She taught me a lot, more than I could handle at the time. Running away was easier than confronting my demons.” Xena laughed a bit to herself in remembrance.

“What happened to your legs?” Gabrielle watched as Xena tensed.

“Caesar crucified me and broke both my legs,” she closed her eyes at this painful admission of vulnerability.

“You hate him,” Gabrielle said more statement than question.

Xena paused her task for a moment in contemplation and then continued, “I want revenge more than anything. To make him suffer as I did.” Xena completed wrapping her second ankle, “So whose boots are these? They're a little big on you.”

“Shala's old pair.”

“We'll find you a new set in Egypt,” Xena stood and continued, “Let's push forward to the river. It opens up into a plain. We can camp for a few days to let the horses feed before heading for the palace upstream.”


Watching the growing sliver of moon set and the stars take over the sky Gabrielle noticed the horses still grazing and asked, “Do they ever sleep?”

“We haven't been sleeping much either Gabrielle. All we have really done over the last whole moon is ‘be together'.” Xena grinned in the darkness her teeth flashing.

“Do you think everyone will notice,” when silence answered her she explained further, “like notice we're together?”


“No really?” Gabrielle prodded.

“Yes really.”

“I mean like Shala and Dahen.”

“Yes, especially Shala and Dahen. You had better get used to the idea now that everyone will know about your personal life. It's written all over your face,” Xena smiled as she didn't mind this at all.

Gabrielle blushed and changed the subject. “I miss the grain fields. And lambs with long tails. Cheese from cows and apples,” Gabrielle listed off thoughtfully.

“They have lots of cute goats here and apricots, fantastic hummus and halva,” Xena threw in hopefully.

“Not exactly the same.”

“I'm udderly confused,” Xena quipped playfully.

“You're so baaaaad,” Gabrielle met her voice and then continued with a sigh, “And I miss big leafy trees, and, for the love of the Gods, some shade.

“We are lucky we followed the river valley and the sea, not overland like Dahen. The Aegean tempers the climate, inland the desert has only a few oasis with water in an ocean of sand. No fish to catch and very little game. No villages for fresh pita and olives.” Xena glanced at Gabrielle hoping this had cheered her up.It was hard to see her melancholy. “Just wait until we get to Egypt. The delta of the river Nile has vast fields of wheat as far as the eye can see. No sheep or apples though so we won't stay long.” She punctuated this with a poke in Gabrielle's ribs and then continued softly, “Actually I'm homesick too.”

“I'm not homesick.”

“Oh Kaaayyy, whatever you say girl.”

The stars had started to emerge now that the moon had set and turned the sky to inky darkness. Now it was Xena's turn to change the subject. It took her a moment to come up with something Gabrielle would really jump at.

“I'll share something with you,” Xena started.

“You mean willingly? Without me pulling it out of you?” Gabrielle registered mock shock.

Xena answered with a raised eyebrow and then continued, “I'm double Scorpio, moon and sun together.”

“That explains a lot Xena. Fire and more Fire. Strange both of us are the rare double. I am double Aquarius.”

“A dreamer, head in the clouds. Air fuelling my fire and water to temper it. We are the perfect match.”

“Wait,” Gabrielle interjected, “That means your birthday was ...”

“The day I ‘rescued' you from the siege.” Xena emphasised ‘rescued' knowing Gabrielle was still adamant that she had not needed rescuing.

“You should have said something,” Gabrielle slapped Xena's arm.

“And change that special day? I still wouldn't.” Xena finished as Gabrielle snuggled closer.

“So how old are you then?” Gabrielle couldn't believe she had never got around to asking this before.

“I have seen 28 summers and you? About 17 I'd guess.”

“17, 18 on day six of Anthesterion .”

Xena let in a gasp, “Blessed by Artemis, her birthday is yours.”

“I know. The best huh? The whole village threw a party for my birthday. I have always had a connection to Artemis. That's why going to the temple was such a big thing for me, Xena. Thanks for taking me.” Gabrielle added after a pause, “What day are you?”

“Day 3 Pyanepsion .”

“Blessed by Athena, her birthday too.” Gabrielle was shocked. What were the chances? Gabrielle lightened the mood, “At least we will never forget each other's birthday? If in Greece, everyone will remind us with a feast and a party.”

“Yes, very handy. I can't believe we never asked this of each other before.” The deep meaning of these newly uncovered facts rolled around in Xena's brain until she acknowledged she never took the Gods too seriously so why start now. ‘I make my own destiny,' she repeated her familiar mantra to herself and at once relaxed, changing the subject. “Have you ever wondered how they figured out all the constellations in the heavens? The stars look like one huge messy jumble to me.”

“Xena, the gods placed the stars in order. You have to flesh them out. Like the stars are the skeletons. Take Ursa Major for instance. “

Xena interrupted, “You mean the big dipper?”

“What in Hades' name is a dipper Xena?” Gabrielle giggled at Xena's attempt to change what everyone took as fact.

“A long handled ladle, for dipping of course. See,” she pointed, “trace the bright stars, a dipper from the side,” Xena explained seriously.

“That is so literal Xena. Remember you have to flesh them out. Extrapolate. Use your imagination.” Snuggling closer and pointing upward Gabrielle explained, “See the head, the line of the back, the four paws ...”

“Nope, just don't see it,” Xena was enjoying getting Gabrielle all worked up.

“You're impossible!” Gabrielle was exasperated.

“Maybe I just see things differently.”

“As long as you keep seeing me as ...” Gabrielle froze and couldn't finish.

“Seeing what? You as a beautiful, sexy, amazing woman,” Xena squeezed her closer.

Gabrielle just uttered a sigh. She closed her eyes and noticed the pungent clean smell of the desert wind, tinged with cedars and sage.

“That won't ever change. That I can guarantee,” Xena promised breathily as she brought the top of Gabrielle's head up to her lips for a kiss. And when they separated she added, “I opened my heart to let myself out, only I let you in. And you're not going anywhere.”

Xena drew in a long breath and suddenly sang, melodious and clear, with a voice that was ethereal. A voice that belonged to the wind, accompanying, carried and fuelled by it. She sang the homespun melodies of their Thracian homeland, the love of the wheat fields and green pastures. She sang Glede-Ma-Glede with its memory of lost and treasured love. She sang to Gabrielle from her initial look of shocked surprise into a relaxed and peaceful slumber.



Chapter 10


It had been over a whole moon cycle since separating from Dahen, Shala and their contingent. Arriving over the last ridge with the palace now in view Gabrielle wished it had been two. Trumpets heralded their entrance into the grand terraced facade covered with the most spectacular array of plants and waterfalls cascading down the walls. Gabrielle sighed. It also marked that now she would have to share Xena. She wanted to grab the reins and bolt back into the desert.

Xena quipped, “Trumpets, I bet that's Dahen's touch. So much for surprising everyone. I just hope they are ready to leave.”

Gabrielle stood in a vast open plaza complete with five fountains and a human sized board game inlayed with precious stones into large the marble slab. Arched walkways surrounded her and extended off mysteriously in the four directions. The walls had a complex network of water catchment and dispersion grooves carved into the facade and were completely covered in fruit trees and grape vines that had been trained into place. The amount of food produced just from the ornamentation must have been extraordinary. Gabrielle waited while Xena stabled Argo and noticed how even within the splendour of a foreign palace she missed the simple Grecian rolling fields of green grass in the spring.

Shala called from across the vast space shattering her thoughts with an echoing, “Gabrielle!”

Shala embraced Gabrielle in a vigorous hug, “So good to see you, girl. You look well. In fact you are positively glowing.” Shala asked with a knowing grin on her face.

Gabrielle blushed into a large smile that could not be controlled and told Shala everything she wanted to know.


Callisto and Valesca slinked up behind Shala and Gabrielle who were still deep in discussion walking slowly towards the arched walkway. Callisto circled, like a predator, and brought her lips a hair's breadth from Gabrielle's ear, whispering, “Young, nubile, flexible. I'll bet she's been having a lot of fun with you.”

“It's not like that,” Gabrielle spat and abruptly turned away from her and hurried up to join the safety of Shala who had kept walking.

“Of course it's not,” Callisto countered slowly with a sickening grin.

Valesca grabbed her arm and turned her face to face, “Calli, try to be nice. Remember the last time you pissed Xena off. It wasn't pretty. You're lucky your neck is still connecting your head to your shoulders,” Valesca added with concern in her voice.

Callisto felt the love behind the warning. “Yes, you're right dear. I don't know what I would be if it wasn't for you. You keep me on the better track.”

Valesca smiled, “Everyone needs love to be their best. I had some pretty scary moments before I met you too Calli. Water under the bridge now. Ok?”

“Ok,” Callisto relaxed and quickly added, “Next time we do it, I get to be Gabrielle and you can be Xena.”

“Hades' balls, I should have called it,” Valesca slapped her thigh in disappointment.

“You snooze you lose,” Callisto resumed her sing-song teasing voice for her lover.

“Sigh, all right ...” was Valesca's breathy reply tinged with resignation.


They had only been at the place for a few days but Xena was already itching to keep moving and continue the journey to Egypt. Dahen had not completed the emotional break with Hanaj' spirit and could not quite move on. He had already spent a moon cycle in Hanaj's apartments with his newly adopted family, healing. He had Persian clothes made for him from those left by his lover so Hanaj would always be with him, always be surrounding him, holding him, comforting him. He had been crowned as Shah, King, as Hanaj's heir. Queen Ada had formed a nickname for Dahen, Shah-an-shah, giving homage to his royal Greek heritage and his Persian crown. This really caught on with the Persians. Dahen had a new homeland, more welcoming by far than Rome or Greece had been for him. One part of the Oracle's prophesies had come true, he was now known as the ‘King of Kings'.


Gabrielle was resigned to the fact that they did not get much time alone anymore and the palace walls were stifling compared to the freedom of their recent travels. So when Xena suggested, for their last day, a walk along the lush banks of the Euphrates to find a good fishing spot, Gabrielle was more than ready to spend the day alone and free. Entering the small glen, brightly lit by streaming sunlight Gabrielle knew it was the perfect private spot to approach the ‘Ares Question' that had been bothering her for some time.

“Xena, love,” Gabriele started slowly, gazing around for just the right spot to sit.

Xena sighed, conversations starting with these words were becoming common with Gabrielle as they got to know more about each other. Or more truthfully explained, as Gabrielle enquired about every possible interesting fact of her life and many uninteresting ones too. Unfortunately, they all became ‘sensitive' chats, Xena's least favourite way to spend time.

“Gabrielle, love,” Xena copied the tone exactly, following one step behind on the path.

Gabrielle ignored Xena's cheeky reply and ploughed on, “Ares, has a hold on you.”

Xena froze, inside and out.

Gabrielle continued unfazed, “I see you train every day, running, flipping over things and fighting. Far more than other warrior. You pair this with a passion unmatched with anyone I have ever met. You are superhuman in your pursuit, your focus, your precision and execution of your goals. And do not discount your own personal natural greatness, probably passed on from your Mother whom I have yet to meet. In fact I believe you would compare with any God in the mortal realm. Perhaps, as you say, their immortality makes them lazy and keeps them grasping for small pleasures. What was it you said the other day? Gods are beings that find entertainment at the expense of mortals.”

Xena was still frozen not sure where this conversation was going. Was this about her, her mother or the Gods, or both, or all? She managed, “Go on,” when Gabrielle thoughtfully paused.

“Xena have you ever thought that perhaps Ares is taking energy away from you?” adding quietly, “Instead of giving it to you?”

An incredulous look crept up over Xena's features. It could not be possible... could it? She turned sharply from Gabrielle and spat her venom as she crossed the glade, “What would you even know about it anyway?”

Gabrielle had the experience with her now to realize this was Xena's protective shield raising, trying to push her away. “Being sharp with me will not push me away, Xena.” Gabrielle answered firmly.

“Fuck this!” was Xena's response as she paced like a caged animal in the small grove of trees.

Gabrielle saw that her cheeks were moist and she had a sparkle in her eyes that had been cleared by the tears. She knew this would take a while so she found a spot in the sun, laying back on one elbow she settled down, taking a keen interest in the grass.

She heard Xena repeatedly kicking a tree on the periphery.

Pushing it even further she continued, “Xena, don't forget, I have seen you cry before. And I didn't run then.”

After some more crashing noises she continued, “Come here you silly warrior and let me hug you.”

Xena was totally exasperated, this little wisp of a girl was not afraid of her, she could not push her away. “Fuck this,” was her only response again, although softer this time with a strange crooked smile that registered defeat.

Xena walked the few steps over to Gabrielle who still looked totally relaxed and had not moved. She surrendered onto the ground, curling into a ball, with her head resting on Gabrielle's lap. Gabrielle cooed lovely nonsensical words into her ear as she repeatedly smoothed Xena's unruly hair behind her ear.

“That's better,” Gabrielle whispered as Xena's breathing became slow and regular.

“Brie, I really don't deserve this,” Xena finally spoke.

“Xena, everyone deserves love,” Gabrielle responded, and then added with a smile on her lips, “Even megalomaniac, former warlords who would rather kill an entire battalion before opening up to a feeling or two.”

Xena herself found she had to smile as Gabrielle let slip a soft laugh, testing the waters to see if Xena was over her ‘Wild Red Ride' as she was fond of calling her angry outbursts.

Xena turned over, looking up into Gabrielle's smiling face, and said, “You really are the most stubborn person I know.”

She smiled to her love basking in the peace and sun. “Thank you,” Gabrielle answered her back as she moved forward to connect their lips in a sensual kiss that deepened with urgency and the passion of their emotions running so close to the surface.

Gabrielle broke it off to speak, “Xena, before you go blaming Shala, I don't know what it is that he does to you and she wouldn't tell me. But I saw the pain in her eyes that went right to her soul when she talked about the last visit from Ares. When you are ready to talk about it, I'm here.”

“It's not that I didn't want to tell you. I just have never told anyone and the deep secrets sometimes are buried so far down they are hard to express.” Xena found herself at the edge of a sob.

“Have you ever asked any of the other Gods to help you?” Gabrielle questioned.

“No, no, no, NOT in a thousand years Gabrielle, just what I need, more immortals messing with my life. No, Thank you. One is very much enough.”

“They might have a unique perspective?” Gabrielle continued.

All she got as a response was a raised eyebrow.

“Well, look at it this way, if you had two people engaged in a power struggle over a certain territory would you let them decide who was the best candidate for imperial representation or...”

Xena interrupted, “I would assign an impartial moderator to mediate the decision, like the famous Bard of Potidaea, Gabrielle the Fair,” animating her comments with a twist of her wrist.

“Enough theatrics, Xena. It's a valid point.” Gabrielle said directly and then softened, “Who knows you could have a second career as a thespian after this whole ruling the world thing is over.”

Gracefully rolling up from the grass onto her feet with a flourish Xena continued, “Gabrielle, I don't think anyone just gets to walk away from ruling the world somehow. I think it is a lifelong commitment. You know like: ‘Until The Maker Takes Us'.” She teased Gabrielle with a line of a common bonding ritual.

“Xena, I thought you were incapable of that kind of commitment,” with flashing eyes, Gabrielle got her right back.

Xena feigned weak knees and clutched her heart as if pierced by an arrow and lunged making a move for the other side of the glen. Gabrielle bolted up and chased after her getting in a good solid pinch of her ass in before Xena got her legs under her again and took off, just out of reach, down the trail. And yelled back, “Come on Tiger, we have fish to catch.”


The cadence of the road was a familiar comfort. Xena noticed this last seven day of travelling had done Dahen good. It was a good sign that he welcomed his gladii swords back from her without breaking down. He was finally more animated and acting like his former self. She had been worried that he was merging into the rhythm of the Persian palace and he might never come back to Greece.

They moved swiftly with such a small group of soldiers, less than 50, all choosing this assignment for their devotion to Dahen. It was possible for them to be all mounted, many on Abyssinian steeds. On the seventh day instead of resting, as they had done with the large army, they walked, to allow the horses to graze freely, herded by one lone rider.

It was on the walking day that two strangers approached the group on foot with long bows slung over their torsos. They moved in a beautiful flowing noiseless way. Like nothing Gabrielle had ever seen before.

Gabrielle leaned over and whispered to Xena, “Are they forest nymphs?”

Xena smiled back and stated, “Rangers from the far North.” They have been following us for a few days now. I wonder what prompted them to show themselves.

It is, as if all the world became quiet, for their entrance. The birds stilled and watched silently. The wind even seemed to relax and soften and stillness surrounded these ‘Rangers'. Gabrielle noticed their long hooded capes that hid their forms were made of soft leather that had been dyed a leafy green which would be impossible to see in the trees. As they came closer she gasped as they were incredibly beautiful women with smooth white skin that almost glowed as the sun touched it, deeply contrasting with dark sparkling eyes. A shock of forelock hair fell loose and forward on the slightly taller women, so black it was almost blue when it shone in the light.

“Greetings,” they said in unison their Greek heavily accented.

“We come in friendship,” the first started.

“To pledge our bows to Gabrielle,” the other finished.

Gabrielle froze, her mouth dropped. Had she heard correctly? They must have made a mistake. How could these, um, ‘creatures' (as she was not entirely sure they were human) come to know her name?

As if to explain the confusion they continued. “We have come as Artemis has guided,” speaking again in order. “To serve the chosen,” finishing each other's sentences as if they were one being with two bodies.

Xena glanced at Gabrielle's frozen form and wide eyes. She knew that she would not be moving any time soon so she stepped forward. Feeling that they needed time to hear the whole story she officially stated, “I am Xena of Amphipolis, Conqueror of Greece and Anatolia. We welcome you, Rangers from the Northland, as any protectors of Gabrielle are honoured guests. Please come and join us, as you will, in our travels.”

Walking back to the marching contingent of soldiers the explanations continued as they fell in line with Xena, “We are Ulla and Haela, joined as one by Artemis,” the first, Ulla started.

The second, Haela continued, “We have seen 300 summers, but this is our last journey.”

Ulla quieted, “For Artemis has foreseen a battle lost.”

Haela followed sombrely, “That is a loss for all.”

Xena tensed and bristled, slowly and carefully filling out each decisive word with emphasis, “YOUR God Artemis must be mistaken. I... Do... Not... Lose.”

Glancing knowingly at each other first, Ulla stated, “It may not be your battle, Xena.”

Haela echoed gently almost a whisper, “It may not be your battle.”

Xena was left with an uneasy feeling that these visitors, like a coin, may have two sides and made a mental note to never leave Gabrielle alone with them.


Gabrielle finally was able to catch up with the two new rangers, glancing around she noticed Xena up ahead engaged in a lively conversation with Dahen. Inadvertently, Xena had really piqued her curiosity when she said it may not be best for her to talk to the rangers on her own. Gabrielle knew all too well once her curiosity got the better of her there was no turning back, and she felt drawn to these two women like a moth to a flame. She thought to herself, “What could really go wrong? They are just two women and skinny ones at that. Xena could easily kick their asses, one and then the other.” She laughed as she pictured them coming at Xena for a little lesson in Gabrielle protection, one at a time, just like how they spoke.

She slowed slightly to catch her breath before speaking with the strangers. “So how did you know my name?” She started a matter-of-factly, as it was her most burning question. A pause followed some knowing glances to each other.

“So, you are Gabrielle,” the first one started.

“We were expecting you to be more ...” the second paused. Gabrielle could not tell if it because of language difficulties or if she was trying to protect her feelings. “Sapphic,” she finally continued.

Gabrielle was shocked, her face easily readable as she countered, “I am plenty Sapphic. Thank you very much,” she huffed off as she quickly decided to forego this conversation, and strode forward to find Xena.

“Xena! ... Xena!” they heard her calling from quite a ways back even though they had moved to the front of the contingent out of earshot to discuss the new visitors in privacy. Dahen gave Xena a knowing look and made a hook like gesture with his finger towards his mouth as he shaped his lips like a fish and with a glare from Xena suddenly found something very interesting over towards the wagons.

‘Yes, he is right, I am so caught. But it feels so good, ' thought Xena as she slowed her pace so Gabrielle could catch up. Wondering for a moment, if dying fish really felt the same way, and concluded probably not.

When her young companion was within speaking earshot she copied Gabrielle's tone as she answered back, “Gabrielle! Gabrielle!” and continued with a gentle mocking, “Now, what is so important that you had to sprint up here to tell me?”

Gabrielle played along to tease her warrior back, “You would not believe what those Northern Rangers told me.” Xena was suddenly interested. She did not fully trust these Rangers, and there were just too many unanswered questions that stank of God interference. She had suggested to Gabrielle not to engage them without some protection. That comment also brought back Dahen's attention who drew nearer.

Xena suddenly became serious, “I have had a lot of dealings with the Gods and other immortals. Please know that at least half, no three quarters, of what they say and do are straight lies. They like to play with mortals like we are some crazy sick game of chess.”

She was going to continue with several examples but Gabrielle burst out, “They said I was not Sapphic enough and they needed to give me lessons.”

Xena was completely stunned and could not keep her stoic exterior together. She felt a wild red rage rising. This had totally got her off guard and it was one of the few times Dahen had seen Xena's feelings so close to the surface.

Seeing the desired result of her statement Gabrielle started laughing and finished, “But I told them that you were the best teacher.”

Xena, finally realizing that she had been caught in a joke she looked over at Gabrielle who was absolutely loosing it. She was collapsing with laughter and had an arm over Dahen for support. Even he was succumbing to her infectious laugh although he was trying hard to keep it together.

“Xena, your face, your face, you should have seen your face,” Gabrielle was finally able to explain through her laughter which was now reduced to gasping. And with that she launched herself at Xena and kissed her quickly on the cheek, avoiding her long arms in a playful couple of steps. Xena could not grab her without following along with her hopping and dodging and was not all together ready to be reduced to a school girl in front of her men.

Gabrielle knew she had the upper hand as she skipped away calling back, “Teacher, please tell me, when is the next lesson?”

Xena rolled her eyes as Dahen stepped back in time with her and whispered, “You are so whipped.”

“Not a word of it Dahen,” she threatened although there was a sparkle in her eyes that told him he was dealing with a changed woman. A little peasant girl had subdued even the wild red rage in Xena, the mightiest warrior Greece and probably the whole known world, had ever seen.



Chapter 11


The Nile valley was indeed as spectacular as Xena had promised. The freshly sprouted wheat fields were a shocking bright green in comparison to the dry landscape of Anatolia. The waves of wheat moving in unison with the wind, went on forever and contrasted sharply with the black silty soil left by the Nile's receding flood waters.

These Egyptians were obviously a very religious people, Gabrielle surmised by the offerings left at the corners of the fields, along the side of the track and at the entrance to every dwelling. The spiralling smoke of incense filled the air as they arrived at Cleopatra's massive residence. Ulla and Haela must have disappeared into the market as they were no longer with the group. Xena led Gabrielle, Dahen and Shala to the gates. The Nubian guards paid them little mind and Gabrielle noticed Xena was a little irked. Valesca and Callisto had road on ahead several days ago to announce their arrival. Perhaps they had not preceded them after all.

They might not have been escorted in but neither were they prevented from entering. The entire contingent of soldiers stomped tired and dusty down the pristine marble hallways. The echoing noise was terrific. Arriving at two huge gilded golden doors, the height of three men, carved into one large scarab beetle Xena forgo knocking and just pushed them open. At their entrance the music within abruptly stopped and all eyes turned towards them.

Gabrielle gasped at the sight in the massive hall, the pyramidal roof culminating to a square open to the sky. There were hundreds of people in all forms of repose. Large plates of fruit graced the grand tables. Meat was being grilled and turned on several large spits by effeminate men in elaborate makeup.

At the far end through the smoky haze she could barely make out a raised dais with two thrones, Antony and Cleopatra were upon them, straight backed and formal. Callisto and Valesca were lounging at their feet and only gave them a passing glance.

Something was brewing and Xena knew only time would flush it out.

Upon looking closer Gabrielle noticed many of the groupings were intertwined in various sexual acts in groups and couples.

“You will endure less teasing at the hands of Callisto if you close your mouth and act like you've seen it all before,” Xena whispered discretely to Gabrielle.

Gabrielle's jaw snapped shut and she stood up straighter.

“I was looking at the grilled meat, Xena,” she said with such seriousness Xena did a double take. Gabrielle enjoyed eating so much it was certainly possible she was gawking at the meat.

“Wait, wait my lady.” A large portly eunuch servant in a loincloth approached the group. “Women only in the great hall please.” He announced.

Looking around Xena realized the only intact male in the place was Antony.

“I will escort the men to their quarters. Boys, follow me, my players and I will look after you,” the head eunuch added suggestively.

“Start up the music again, let us carry on with the party,” another eunuch ordered.

Xena stayed for as long as seemed polite but what she really wanted was a bath and a bed. When she got up to leave Gabrielle looked a little disappointed.

“You realize this party will still be going on when we wake up. It's perpetual. Never-ending. This is the life of the Egyptian elite.”

Heading back to their room Gabrielle nearly jumped into Xena's arms with excitement. “So tell me, are they all geldings? Neutered?”

“Eunuchs, they call themselves. It is a great honour to serve Cleopatra. She is considered a living God, on her final life and they will be guaranteed a spot by her side in the afterlife instead of being reborn if they serve her well and faithfully.

“Do you think we were together in our past lives?” Gabrielle questioned.

“I am sure of it. My soul knew it had found its match, like a complementary pair, before my heart heard it.”

“Xena that was so poetic,” Gabrielle choked back some feelings. “Are you sure you are not the bard here?”

Xena shot her a quick look of mock aggravation, opened the door to their room and gasped at the luxury. Surrounded by gold furniture, tropical plants and birds, there was a sunken bath the size of a pond and a raised sleeping pallet that would fit twenty.

“Well, if we want to invite guests it looks like we will have room for them to sleep,” Gabrielle quipped before she saw the numerous slaves standing stock still around the room like columns. “Xena, do you think we can ask them to leave? Or is the bed for them too?”

“Out, all of you, every last one. You will not be required for the length of our stay.” The slaves lit out of the room like it was on fire. “

That was easy,” Xena added as the last of the slaves scurried out.

“Thanks Xena, I don't know if I could have ever slept with that many people staring at me.” Gabrielle jumped from instinct alone onto the table, “Xena? Xena?” her voice tentative at first now grew into a scream, “XENA!”

“What is going on?”

Gabrielle just pointed in fear at the dark corner of the room and Xena unsheathed her boot daggers.

“Xena, it was the biggest rat I have ever seen.”

“Rat? Are you sure?” Xena was sceptical but anything was possible.

“It was furry and lurking - it must be a rat.”

“Lurking?” Xena turned back with her eyebrows raised and humour creeping into the corners of her mouth.

“You know, skittering around in the dark corner over there. Definitely lurking.” Gabrielle was adamant and she refused to get down off of the table.

Xena set one dagger on the polished marble floor and glanced up at Gabrielle's still quaking form. “Only one way to find out,” she said with and evil grin as she flung her dagger skittering over into the corner. A quick hiss and a yowl answered the sliding metal and a long lithe creature acrobatically jumped out from the corner into the flickering light baring long fangs and copious hair standing on end.

Xena started to laugh and by the time she caught Gabrielle's puzzled stare it had built up to almost a belly laugh. Luckily she looked up again and was able to reign in her hilarity in time with Gabrielle's peeved expression.

“That, my dear, is a cat,” Xena explained when she was able to catch her breath.

“And...” Gabrielle was not impressed.

“They are a domesticated pet. Used to catch rodents. More related to a Tiger or panther than a rat.”


“Well, the Egyptians don't do dogs. Um, well they do eat them but they don't keep them as pets.”

“I don't like them,” Gabrielle remained on the table as the cat circled around warily. “I don't like them at all. Actually they remind me of Callisto and Valesca. Big teeth, lurking, sneaky and up to something.”

This remark elicited another round of laughter from Xena. “The best part of that comparison is that cats in copulation, oh seriously,” Xena could barely get the words out, “not a pretty sight. It looks painful. Not enjoyable at all.”

“Hmm. I‘m naming this one Callisto,” Gabrielle finally felt brave enough to sit on the table and slowly let her feet find the floor. Gabrielle hissed back at the cat and it went scurrying, “Xena, if only it was that easy to get rid of her namesake.”

Xena, still laughing, pulled Gabrielle into her and gave her a great hug, “Life is so fun with you.” She continued as she pulled back, “Now to bed, now my dear, to bed.”

That was one command Gabrielle would not dispute. With her knees still weak and her palms sweaty from her gut induced flight or fight response she was completely exhausted.


Gabrielle awoke to an empty bed and an empty room. She was not surprised, now totally used to Xena's obsessive pre-dawn drilling. She knew that now she was back with the troops it would just intensify. Gabrielle sighed when a small wander did not immediately produce the location of her lover. ‘I guess I will just have to entertain myself.'

After exploring the palace compound thoroughly and having filled her gaping-hole excuse for a stomach Gabrielle wandered into a small courtyard only to hear the soft giggles of a few children playing amongst the garden.

As she began to turn around she heard a small but strong voice behind her in rudimentary Greek, “Come, Grecian Woman, play with us.” Gabrielle stopped in her tracks as a heartfelt, “Please,” was added to the request. Turning she saw three shining faces, an older boy about seven sheltering two younger siblings a boy and a girl about four who appeared to be twins.

“No one has played with us since the turning and we cannot see Mama. Please stay.” The oldest spoke again.

Gabrielle's thoughts turned to home. She had not played with children since leaving her village behind and missed the laughter. As the twins giggled Gabrielle knew of no better way to spend the day since Xena was obviously engaged with her army.


Gabrielle returned to her room around mid-day with lightness to her step which was quickly replaced by a dour look when there was still no sign of Xena. Now wandering the palace complex in the other direction Gabrielle risked a quick peek into the Grand Room almost seeing red with the expectation of Xena lounging with the throng of party goers. Relaxing when she noticed Xena was not there either, but what of Cleopatra and Mark Antony, they look like they spent all night there and not too happy either. Very weird.

Gabrielle explored the market just outside the complex walls, the loom rooms and the gardens. She talked to women who wove the finest cloth she had ever seen, finer than Xena's silks, made from flax of all things and used only for religious robes. She met the royal brewers who carefully and skilfully crafted wine and beer for use in the palace. Gabrielle talked to many ‘common folk' and made friends quickly with the palace workers but every time she brought up the term ‘The Turning' she was given a cold shoulder and ushered along on her way. Feeling frustrated and alone she made her way back up into the guest quarters.

Gabrielle finally spotted a friendly face, Dahen wandering the halls, “Dahen, have you seen Xena?”

“Not since this morning's drills.”

“Strange, she's not visiting with Cleopatra either.”

“Now, that's a party I wish I could join,” Dahen huffed.

“Price a little too high?” Gabrielle teased, suddenly embarrassed she changed the subject, “or…um perhaps you know... What is the turning?”

“Never heard of it.”

“Do you have any insider contacts here?” Gabrielle had to find out.

“I have one lovely eunuch that I've been inside,” Dahen did his best to make Gabrielle blush but she just rolled her eyes, “perhaps he will know.” Dahen added as he departed, “And I'll look for Xena too.”


The sun was close to setting. It had been a long strange day. Gabrielle had scoured the palace and the adjoining temples for Xena but there had not been any sign of the missing woman. Sitting on their bed in defeat and exhaustion she heard the hollow echo of footsteps in the adjoining marble corridor coming closer.

Dahen burst through the door his energy igniting Gabrielle with hope. “So okay,” he hesitated, “I've got good news and bad news.”

“Please just tell me if you found her,” Gabrielle was in no mood for games.

“Yes, but you may want to wait until tomorrow to fetch her.”

“Why,” she asked hesitantly.

“Well, she is drunker than a bacchian acolyte who was expelled for excessive frivolity.”

Gabrielle just stared at him, “Was that supposed to be funny?”

Dahen conceded, “Humour was never my strong point.”

Gabrielle stood and turned to leave, “I see that. Can you please just take me to her?”

On the way to the tavern Dahen started, “He, who will remain unnamed, risked his life to tell me this. Apparently ‘The Turning' is a recent event, a change of alliances of the eunuchs to Ptolomy, Cleopatra's younger brother, I had to promise a place in Persian court for him to even reveal that much.”

Gabrielle paired this information with the weird statue-like posture of Cleopatra in the party room, “I think they are plotting to overthrow her... or they already have.”

Dahen was shocked at this idea, “This is not good. Xena was going to negotiate an alliance with Cleo. It will be essential if Rome ever attacks Greek soil.”

“We need Xena now, more than ever. She will know what do to,” Gabrielle was determined.

The Greek sign that banged in the breeze above the tavern said it all, ‘Aphrodite's Bosom'. Gabrielle sighed under her breath, “How does she pick these places?”

“There is absolutely no way I'm going in there,” Dahen muttered turning back to the palace. “She won't kill you. Me, well, I'm not so sure.”

Entering the dark hole of a tavern the smell of wheat beer was overwhelming, smacking Gabrielle's senses alert.

Whispering under her breath as she surveyed the mostly Greek crowd for a certain dark haired beauty, “These floor boards are so soaked with alcohol they are probably pickled.”

Xena looked pathetic in the corner, hunched over her glass, elbows propped on the bar.

“My Love, what in Tartarus is going on?” Gabrielle softened the words with a hand to the small of Xena's back.

“I'm totally wasted,” Xena managed a weak smile.

“When did you start?” Gabrielle's hand was now massaging small circles.

“Before noon.”

“Why?” She pulled back in expectation.

Xena giggled, “Not telling”

Gabrielle could not help but laugh. She was totally not expecting that reaction. Sitting down on the stool next to her she re-evaluated and stated, “Well at least you are a happy drunk.” Then catching Xena's eye in a stare she added, “Xena, you know I'll drag the reason out of you eventually so just come out with it and save yourself days and days of incessant probing prattle.”

Xena took some time to process this and slurred, “That is a very good point.” Reason seemingly clearing the fog in her brain slightly she averted her eyes and mumbled into her glass, “I feel like a failure.”

Gabrielle's fire exploded, “Here you are more accomplished than any woman in history. The Conqueror of Greece and Anatolia and you feel like a failure? That's pathetic. I won't join you in drowning your sorrows.” Gabrielle turned to walk away

“Wait, wait, that's not what it's about,” Xena pleaded grabbing Gabrielle's elbow and turning her back towards her. Closing the gap between them and adding in a whisper, “It's personal.” After a pause and a sway or two she continued, “I'm not what you need.”

“I know I need you.” Gabrielle slowly enunciated every word, punctuating the phrase with a finger to Xena's chest. “And I get to make the decisions of what I need and what I don't need.” Gabrielle started for the door again.

“I can't give you children.” The brutal honestly of this statement stopped Gabrielle's heart. When she turned she saw tears in Xena's eyes.

Gabrielle grabbed Xena into an embrace and then met her forehead with her own before continuing. “Technically yes but we can work something out... probably with Dahen or... right... I mean we have not discussed this even yet... I mean if we wanted them and all that.”

Xena pulled back a bit to look into Gabrielle's eyes, “I saw you playing with Cleo's kids and you were having so much fun. You are so good with them. You will want them some day. Am I right?”

“I would want to get married first.” Gabrielle was surprised to feel how much Xena's body shuttered with that statement.

“Ok,” was all Xena could muster.

“I'm pretty sure you won't remember this conversation in the morning Love. Can I walk you back to our room so you can sleep this off?”

“Ok,” holding hands with Gabrielle, Xena allowed herself to be led out of the tavern.


“Who in Hades' name is stomping around like an elephant in heat?”

“Oh, so I guess this means you are finally awake,” Gabrielle responded cheerily to Xena's grumble.

“I'm not sure,” Xena pulled the linen sheet up over her head. “This might be what death feels like.”

“Xena, my love,” Gabrielle started up sweetly, “You will be getting a sorry little bit of sympathy from me about your self-induced poisoning yesterday. That was a stupid trick to pull, just taking off like that.”

“Crap, maybe I would rather be dead,” Xena muttered hopelessly into the sheets as she knew she was just warming up.

Gabrielle continued her tirade. “I searched the entire place complex for you, darling. Did you know they harvest their flax before the seed is set? Yes, I see what you are thinking, I thought so too. What a crazy thing to do. Where is the seed for the next planting? Well it ends up the fibre from those tender shoots yield a cloth so fine it compares to your beloved silk from Chin. They have a whole room full of pickled internal organs. Animal's organs, some of which they say were taken out and the animal was sewn back up and lived. Incredible! Yes, I talked to everyone around here yesterday trying to piece together your day. Quite unsuccessfully I might add. OH… I almost forgot... Something very strange the children said and I did not put together the significance immediately. They said they could not see their mother since ‘The Turning', some family dispute for the throne Dahen found out. And you should see the size of the kegs on the lower level. Apparently their wine and wheat beer undisputedly is the best in the world, not that I tasted any. I was too busy looking for you, and they distill a very very strong liquor from the strangest thing, a palm tree.”

Between the thoughts of how she could possibly keep this lovely woman from babbling constantly all morning without doing more damage something caught Xena's interest and she just had to respond. “Who would be callus to keep children from their mother? Even as a warlord I was never that mean. And yes... I am very acquainted with the distilled liquor. How do you think I got so drunk yesterday? I can't even get drunk on wine or beer anymore. I pee out more than goes in.”

Gabrielle rejoiced in Xena's interest and jumped up on the bed with excitement, “Apparently the Eunuchs support Ptolemy, Cleopatra's younger brother, they do not want a woman on the throne. I think they have Cleopatra held hostage or something. Have you noticed she does not leave the great hall? Strange, don't you think?”

“Not really. Who would want to leave that party?”

“Seriously, Xena. She didn't greet you. Barely acknowledged us, not even getting up off the dais. From how you have described her, I would have thought she wouldn't be able to resist at least one sexy comment about me being with you. Everyone else has.”Gabrielle huffed. “And the biggest indicator that something is seriously wrong. She hasn't put henna to her hair in over a month! The grey is showing at the roots! Come on now. Does that sound like the Cleopatra who is supposed to be ‘a living god'?”

“Ok ok...” Xena tried to sit, “Crap, the room is spinning. Gabrielle grab me my medicine bag.”

“What's the magic word, Xena?” Gabrielle teased but grabbed the bag tossing onto the bed beside Xena.

“Please, for the God's sake Gabrielle, don't make me beg right now. Or think, or move... Let me take some herbs,” not bothering with tea Xena stuck a few pinches in her mouth, chewed them and stuck them under her bottom lip to stew. “Darlin', one more favour please... while these work their magic” she grinned hopefully, “Can you gather Dahen and Shala? We need to get to the bottom of this.”


Meeting with Dahen and Shala, Gabrielle filled them in on what she knew so far.

Shala nodded, “This makes sense now. Valesca has not come to even greet me. I didn't know what to think.”

“Not a single person would talk to me yesterday once I mentioned ‘the turning',” Gabrielle explained, “like they were afraid to be associated with traitors. I wonder how long this charade has been going on?”

Xena countered, “We need to contact someone from here who knows about these eunuchs. Where to find them? Who leads them and what has everyone so scared?”

Shala inhaled and swallowed hard, “I was at the University City yesterday, meeting with a Herbalist. And just perchance I met the most amazing woman, the daughter of the director, Hypatia. She was quite dazzling, a stunning...” Shala looked around before continuing, “stunning mind. She said to ask if I needed anything while in Egypt. I'm sure she would help us.”

Gabrielle's head swung around, “Perfect let's go!”

“Xena,” Gabrielle whispered for her attention when they had exited the palace, “What's up with that ‘stunning mind' comment? Does that mean Shala wants to sleep or has slept with Hypatia? I mean Shala is the oldest person I know, she must over 40! Even my parents are only 35 and 38. I have never even heard of someone living to 40 let alone getting it on after 40.”

Xena smiled slowly, “Somehow I don't think we will ever know.”


Hypatia was indeed a stunningly beautiful woman but it was the quick intelligent rebuttals in the debate that made her most attractive. The circular public agora was often used for public recitals, delivery of decrees and news, and yes also for debate. As the crowd dispersed several angry street urchins mobbed together and threw insults at her from the safety of their group. Xena responded quickly scattering them.

Shala asked Hypatia concerned, “What was that about?”

“They don't want women speaking publicly.” Hypatia glanced around and lowered her voice, “Actually they don't want them out on the street at all.”

“What kind of power would they have? They all looked like they live on the street,” Gabrielle wondered.

“Looks can be deceiving,” Hypatia explained. “They deny charity but are not poor. They spurn all luxuries and many necessities to live like their prophet. Their power is in their community, which is growing stronger and stronger with their tales of a just and fair God.” She started gathering up her few scrolls and flung a woven bag over her shoulder.

Xena whispered in Gabrielle's ear, “Gods, just and fair, Never! Not possible.”

Gabrielle pushed Xena away gently, “Hypatia, you said God in the singular. Are they related to the people of the One God of Israel?”

“Similar, these people call themselves Christians.”

Hypatia took Shala's hand and led them quickly through the smaller streets and back alleys to her family home. Once inside she relaxed. “We can speak freely here. It's changed since ‘The Turning', they are more bold. I had rocks thrown at me yesterday. Our city was never like this. The smoke has changed things too.”

“Opium?” Xena asked.

“Yes, the supporters of Ptolemy have secured the trade. That is how they became so powerful so quickly.”

“Why don't they just kill her outright? Why this deception?” Xena asked.

“Cleo is well loved. She might have Macedonian heritage but she speaks 26 languages, has a cunning logistical mind and with her trade alliances has made Egypt more prosperous than anyone can remember. Our library has tripled in size in the last five years alone. Ptolemy is only eight years old, not fit to rule outright. They will have a puppet on the throne.”

“A puppet, that's it,” Gabrielle exclaimed excitedly.

Everyone turned to her. Dahen drawled out his hands in a rolling motion, “Yeeesss, go on, fill us in please.”

“It's just that she looked like a puppet. She didn't move, or perhaps couldn't move.”

“Shala,” Xena questioned, “Remember that substance Ottah used on the arrows in Korinthos? What was it? A dried tree sap? He called it ‘statue-maker'. Handy as it was he only had a few doses with him. Could that be what has frozen Cleo, and your daughter too?”

“It's possible. I will need to check my notes for the antidote as it was quite complex to formulate. It's worth a try, Xena. Definitely worth a try.” Shala could not keep the sliver of hope from her voice.

The party ascended to the rooftop patio and into nicely shaded garden. There was a large sand pit conspicuously placed taking up much of the patio.

Hypatia saw Xena staring at it quizzically and grabbed a pointed staff that was in one corner. “It is for drawing out the problems,” Hypatia stated drawing an arc in the sand. She then added when no recognition was indicated, “for analysis.” Hypatia swept her arm over the array of instruments.

Gabrielle let out another squeal of delight, “The Wanderers. Xena, it's just like Ny'ala.”

“Weapon trajectories?” Now Xena was totally lost. Hypatia's skinny pale form was almost as far from warrior as you could get. She obviously spent way too much time in the library.

Gabrielle hit Xena on the arm, a little harder than necessary, “No silly, to study the stars and their movements. The Wanders travel with them but on a different path. Oh, Hypatia you have got to meet Ny'ala.”

“Well with the current situation here it might be best to ‘wander' off myself for a while. I might really have to leave after word gets out that I have helped you.” Hypatia let the gravity of her situation sink into the group before suggesting they depart to find the Eunuch's lair.


“It's got to be down here. No one comes down here that is not ‘on the smoke'.” Hypatia ventured through another small alleyway.

Gabrielle felt the smell hit her like a solid wall. “How could anyone live like this?” She gasped and hissed, breathing through her open mouth. Their sewer ran right down the middle of the street, dogs, cats, goats, cows and chickens looking for scraps in the muck did their best to spread it around everywhere. Pale vacant faces peered out of small cracks considered windows in the three tiered buildings. “People are actually living on top of other people.”

“I assume this is not the desirable part of town,” Xena stated the obvious.

Hypatia answered holding her headscarf over her mouth, “I have never actually been down here. But I have heard about the smoking of the opium poppy and how it takes all your cares away.”

“More like, makes you desperate for more,” answered Shala.

Dahen added, “No one bothers, no one cares, the perfect place to gather without the authorities knowing. They probably threatened to take away the smoke if someone tells.”

They wove through a maze of dark foot passageways, not even big enough for two horses to pass. Hypatia guided them with confidence.

“I thought you said you hadn't been down here before,” Gabrielle questioned.

“I haven't... I studied a map scroll before we left.”

“So you are doing this from memory?” Gabrielle's wavering voice belayed little confidence and perhaps a touch of fear.

“Don't worry, I have a perfect memory. It is like I have the map before me right now. It's not much further to a central common where I suspect they are gathered. There are no other large squares in this district that could accommodate anywhere near a hundred people.”

As sure as she said, the common opened up letting in the sun, beaming through the smoked filled air.

In the middle of the square was erected a large white rectangle of cloth on four slim poles, the wind billowed it upward straining the ropes and ties, the poles creaked in protest to the movement. Under this makeshift sun shade lounged the leader of the opposition surrounded by about 50 armed eunuchs.

“That is, that is... that is just grotesque.” Hypatia said louder than planned as she stopped and took a step backward causing Gabrielle to plough into her rear.

“That is the largest man I have ever seen,” Gabrielle almost gagged at the rolls of skin and pools of sweat that seemed like a costume covering a regular sized person underneath.

Xena stepped around them and answered in amused exasperation, “You two are so naive. Fat people are just as easy to kill as the skinny ones, you just need a longer sword.” Even though the wild look in her eyes was enough signal of her intention she quipped, “Stand back I'm goin' in,” as a final warning.


Shala's formulation worked. Cleopatra and her entourage had indeed been held captive by a toxin that limited muscle movement. In a sick and twisted way, they were in a perpetual party without the means to escape. Delivered via the wine, those that joined the party were also trapped until Shala administered the antidote.

Cleopatra and Marc Antony met with their guests in the garden, “I never want to set foot in that room again,” Cleopatra stated desperately. “I think I'll meet all heads of state out here instead.” She reached out to grab her little girl who was running by and give her a brief squeeze before she squirmed away and continued her explorations.

“I owe you...” Cleo started.

Marc Antony interrupted, “We owe you...”

“Egypt owes you,” Cleo corrected with a smile and then continued, “A great debt. Name your price, each of you.”

Xena whispered in Gabrielle's ear, “Bet you never though you would be an Egyptian hero.”

When the group was silent Cleopatra stared Gabrielle down, “I've heard you generally speak your mind.”

“What a reputation. Um, well. I was really impressed with how Hypatia said the University Library had been expanded. I request that you continue to support it until it becomes the largest library in the world.” Cleopatra nodded and looked at Dahen although Gabrielle was not finished. “And provide free access to that knowledge for all people, even the Christians. Everyone can benefit from learning.” Cleo stared daggers at her, as library access was currently limited to select families, but conceded with another nod.

Dahen took his turn, “What was that port city called? The one with the slum?”


“I would like it cleaned up and rebuilt. No one should live like that.” Cleo let her gaze wander thinking he was done but he stopped her. “And then I want it named after me,” Dahen smirked cheekily.

“Then we will call this city Dahendria,” Cleo set an edict.

“Better yet use my formal name and call it Alexandria.”

“As you wish.”

Predictably Xena asked for Egypt's allegiance in support against Rome and any other future adversaries. Shala wanted to study with the surgeons on their animal organ removal techniques which might have great application on the battlefield. Hypatia went last and with a knowing glance at Shala requested escorted travel to meet this Ny'ala whom Gabrielle had been comparing her to.

As the gathering dispersed Gabrielle glanced over to see Ulla and Haela sitting by one of the reflecting pool. How long had they been there? She had no idea.

“Ready to leave then?” Ulla greeted the group.

“We have arranged a few ships passage to Korinthos,” Haela explained and then turned to Xena with a half bow.“If it pleases my Liege.”

Xena nodded and announced, “The day after tomorrow we sail for Greece.”

Gabrielle made a beeline for Xena's side, “Did you say ‘sail for Greece'? Like on a boat? I've never been on a boat. I always thought we were walking back.”

Xena looped a casual arm over her shoulder and pulled her close, “Don't worry. It's a short trip. It will take a fraction of the time and from my time as a pirate I know all sorts of seasickness remedies.” Unfortunately this was little consolation as Gabrielle looked green just thinking about it.



Chapter 12

Grecian Sea, Grecian Soil

After the initial first few days of sorting out what remedy was best for Gabrielle's affliction ,they got into a routine of training with the staff on deck, resting in the afternoon and Gabrielle telling a story to the group every evening after dinner. Many of the foot soldiers had stayed with Callisto in Egypt, Alexandria specifically, as Xena knew the clean up would be a momentous job. She wanted it done right if the city was to be named after her friend.

Xena lounged with Gabrielle who was napping in the shade of the sail, the sea air cut the heat they had never really gotten used to in Persia and Egypt and was a very welcome respite.

“Spill it. What are you up to? You're buzzing.” Gabrielle demanded without even opening her eyes.

“How? What? Did? Um... Nothing,” Xena sputtered.

“I wasn't sure before but now I am. Spill it,” Gabrielle repeated.

“Alright, open your eyes,” Xena indicated to a cloth wrapped parcel that had ‘appeared' beside Gabrielle. “Happy Birthday Love!”

Gabrielle sat up instantly awake, “You remembered!” She enthusiastically opened the cloth. “Hey, this is my cloth from Byzantium that you wanted to leave at the side of the track. Useful isn't it?” She struggled a bit, Xena had tied some good knots. Squealing with excitement she revealed the nicest pair of boots she had ever seen. Soft leather but very sturdy with a top fringe and great soles, and strange loops on the sides. “Um what are these for?” Gabrielle questioned fingering the loops.

“For these,” Xena reached behind her and produced two large metal forks with a long central tine.

“And those are what exactly?”

“Sai. The eastern defensive fighting tool I told you about.”

“I don't remember that. Defensive huh?” Gabrielle was sceptical they looked pretty poky.

“Yes, remember they can snap a sword blade. I told you about these before you started training with the staff.”

“Now I recall. So show me how they work,” Gabrielle put the boots on.

“These are a perfect fit. How did you...?”

“All I can say is you are a deep sleeper Gabrielle,” Xena laughed and inserted the two sai into the sheathes sewn on the outside edge of each boot. Xena patiently guided Gabrielle's hands and in no time she was twirling the sai in and out of the boots smoothly.

“Now let's block a few common moves,” Xena suggested and unsheathed her sword. They practiced until dusk made it too difficult.

Heading down into the cabin for dinner Gabrielle snuck a quick kiss on Xena's sweaty cheek. “I love them. Thank you.”


“I think we are getting close,” Gabrielle casually commented smiling at Xena, “the wind smells like home.” She turned and was shocked to see the ‘face of stone' replace the Xena she had come to know. “What is it, darling?” When no response was forthcoming she added, “Ares, that's what it is. We are back in his territory.” Xena winced in response. “Xena, we will find a way to stop this. I don't know the answer yet but I am sure we will find it,” Gabrielle continued as she wrapped her arms around her warrior.

“Gabrielle, go down below,” Xena pushed her off and back panicking. “I feel him coming.”

“I am going to stand with you Xena. We will face this together.”

“You have no idea what you are saying. Go down below or I will knock you out and carry you down there.” The raised voices had attracted everyone's attention. Ulla and Haela came forward, Shala and Dahen ascended from the hold just in time to see a blue shimmer transform into the God.

“How touching. You've made a friend,” Ares' voice was sickeningly smooth.

Gabrielle fought Xena with everything she had but Xena kept her safely behind.

“Don't touch her,” Xena demanded.

Ares casually stepped forward with his thumbs hooked on his belt and laughed. “Who's going to stop me?” He wound up his arm, a flash of blue energy forming in his palm like a ball.

Gabrielle stepped forward around a now frozen Xena, “I will.”

Ares shook his hand the blue orb disappeared and everyone moved again on deck. He formed another and everyone froze, unable to move. Everyone except Gabrielle. He look genuinely shocked and uttered, “What the...” before throwing the orb at Gabrielle.

Gabrielle braced for impact but the orb dissolved into a shimmering halo around her. Ares threw another and another with the same effect. Gabrielle stepped forward and Ares registered fear on his face. “What kind of God are you then?” he asked her.

Gabrielle raised her hands above her and swept them downwards gathering this blue shimmer in her palms and brought it into her heart center. She let out a long exhale and pushed her palms forward releasing a blue ball of her own. Ares was paralysed with surprise but did manage to duck the energy at the last moment.

“What kind of God are you?” he repeated.

“What kind of God are you?” Gabrielle countered accusingly, “It must be an abuse of your power to violate mortals. Does Zeus know about his? Huh? I bet he would have something to say about this.”

A trio of new voices answered in harmony behind her, “I bet he would.”

Gabrielle turned to see three shimmering forms solidifying on the ship's deck. She fell to her knees, and exclaimed under her breath, “Athena, Artemis, Aphrodite”. They stepped forward as a trio and the hold was released from the others. Shala and Dahen fell down the stairs to the galley, Xena to the deck and Ulla and Haela on each other.

“Shame on you, Little Brother,” Athena started.

“Like, isn't this a cardinal rule, Bro. Seriously,” Aphrodite continued rolling her eyes.

Artemis was so angry she did not trust her words to adequately relate so she just threw a palm out and hit Ares with a bold of blue energy that held him, twisting and turning. She lifted the bolt which was joined by one from Athena and one from Aphrodite. Together they lifted him up until he was just a speck in the sky.

“Die a thousand deaths,” Artemis finally said.

Athena put an arm around her, “We will just let Father deal with this one. OK?”

Artemis patted her hand and nodded. She then allowed her eyes to survey the boat. Shala and Dahen were being helped out of the hold by Aphrodite. Athena moved towards Xena and placed her palms on her chest and forehead. Artemis spared a smile for Gabrielle before striding to Ulla and Haela who were struggling to stand. Ulla and Haela stuttered their rise, stopped and kneeled. Artemis touched their bowed heads and closed her eyes, concentrating.

Gabrielle ran the few steps to Xena's side and looked into Athena's eyes. “Will she be okay?”

Athena spared her a brief glance, “In time,” and started rising.

“Wait wait,” Gabrielle grabbed her arm, “You are her patron. Aren't you?”

Athena gave a brief nod as the shimmer took over her form and she disappeared joining her sisters in their parallel universe.

Shala, Dahen, Ulla and Haela fell into a communal hug and then all stumbled towards Xena. The shock and confusion dissipating to amazement as reality set in. They were all alive. They would be okay Gabrielle tried to wake Xena up, but to no avail, so Dahen and Ulla carried her down to their pallet. Gabrielle took off her boots and covered her up, making sure she would be comfortable and then sat down to start the wait.


On the third day of waiting, Shala came to fetch her and dragged Gabrielle up on deck into the fresh air.

“Wipe that frown off your face, girl. I know what's good for you. I don't want to have to deal with two sickies.” With that Shala spun around and descended the stairs closing the bulkhead doors.

“So much for free choice,” Gabrielle feigned anger at the door but her heart was not in it. She did need to move a bit. She took out her sai and started some of the more complicated routines Xena had been teaching her.

“We want to fight you,” Ulla's voice was surprisingly close behind her.

“I don't fight.”

“You just fought a God,” Ulla countered.

“And won,” Haela continued.

“That was defending myself.”

“And defending Xena too,” Haela added as she withdrew two short swords similar to Dahen's gladii but shorter and thinner.

“We were impressed,” Ulla also withdrew her swords.

“Great, two on one,” Gabrielle muttered under her breath. “Let's see if I can snap a sword and even this out,” she thought as she took a defensive stance and gave it all she had.

Below deck Dahen was taking a turn looking over Xena. Shala was smiling at the noise of Gabrielle working off her frustrations as she fixed up a meal for the warriors who she knew would be hungry.

Five days later Xena stirred in the middle of the night and asked for water. Gabrielle covered her in kisses and tears before sliding off the pallet to the barrel in the galley. Xena looped an arm around Gabrielle and revelled in the lightness, the freedom she felt. Overwhelmed and finally released from Ares' grasp for the first time since she was 14 she let slumber take over again. She thought the bard said something about needing more swords and snapping the last blade this morning but could not yet make sense of the prattle.


With everyone on deck watching the Greek coastline materialize through the fog Xena and Gabrielle slipped down to their berth for some private time.

“More, Gabrielle, give me more inside, take me,” Xena demanded breathily.

‘Good Gods, what does this woman want? I have four fingers inside already,' thought Gabrielle, ‘Fine here it comes,' she folded in her thumb and forced her whole hand inside. Surprisingly she felt like Xena's body had pulled her in and hugged her, it was tight but comfortable.

Xena's head rolled back, she clenched her jaw and held her breath. Sweat beaded on her forehead and down the sides of her nose. Her face started turning red, Gabrielle was concerned she was in pain and started to pull out, when she was locked in by Xena's legs with a breathy and desperate, “No, don't stop.”

The sound started way in the back of her throat, it was guttural, almost a growl. Then Gabrielle felt it, the first wave of contractions around her hand, they strengthened to the point that she thought her hand would break. In her momentary panic she found she could not remove her hand even if she wanted to. Xena let her clenched breath out with a scream.

When the contractions subsided Gabrielle slowly and gently slipped her hand out, she checked and she actually could move it, good, so it wasn't broken. Looking at Xena she noticed the trail of a tear from her eye.

“Xena, are you ok?” She said concerned, moving until she was eye level with her.

Xena could not feel her lips or jaw to form a word or a smile, as much as she wanted to come back to the present and reassure Gabrielle. She felt another tear escape from the other eye and Gabrielle gripped her face to meet her. Xena managed to flash a weak smile, a cheeky eyebrow and whisper, “Fantastic, how are you?” Xena was still too weak to move her arms much but somehow got Gabrielle all cuddled into her side with her head on her shoulder in their familiar sleeping position.

Xena must have nodded off for a moment and when she came back she felt Gabrielle's eyes on her.

Slowly prying open one eye she saw a blurry green eye only a hand's length from her own and it was filled with concern.

“My love, thank you,” Xena softly started, “you gave me the most blissful moment. I was not on this earth but somewhere floating through the cosmos.”

“You scared me half to death Xena!” was Gabrielle's less than impressed response.

“No, no, no, what I am saying is that you are the best lover I have ever had. That is the first time in my life I have surrendered so totally and it felt so free.”

The shock on Gabrielle's face would not have been greater if she had been slapped. The shock slowly turned into a grin as she leapt up into a kneeling position. “So let me get this right. I did that to you,” Xena nodded while Gabrielle continued, “and it was a good thing.”

Xena corrected, “A very good thing.”

“But you were crying.”

“Tears of Joy, Gabrielle, Tears of Joy.”

Gabrielle seemed satisfied with that and lay back down into ‘the sleeping position' and it was a long moment before she whispered into Xena's ear, “Can you do that to me?”

Xena groaned and rolled her eyes at the relentless energy of this girl. “Probably not,” she said as she held up her hand, palm to palm with Gabrielle, to accentuate the size difference. “But we can try. I hope so,” she added rolling out from under Gabrielle and tweaking her cute nose with her free hand as their eyes locked. “I hope so,” she said again this time with a smile that threatened to burst her face.


Sailing up the Greek coastline would have been faster but Gabrielle was happy to ride behind Xena for the fourteen days it would take to reach Thrace. Anything was better than a boat. Xena wanted to introduce Gabrielle to her Mother and Gabrielle wanted desperately to share her adventures of the last year with her family in Potidaea.

Xena had successfully ditched the rest of the contingent, happy to have some time alone with her love.

“Can you swim?” Xena asked her with a gleam in her eye.

“Um… Yes…” Gabrielle tentatively answered smiling hesitantly not knowing how loaded the question was going to reveal itself to be. Learning to interpret Xena's eye gleams had turned out to be quite a challenge and she was not quite willing to commit herself fully just yet.

Still walking hand in hand along the bank they followed the bend; a low island was revealed covered in lush green grass that had been fed by the winter floods of silt. It was beautiful and serene. Edged by a protective line of willow it would be totally private and cut off from the world, if they could get to it.

Xena's eyes lit up again and she continued with little more excitement in her voice, “Get naked. Quickly.”

Gabrielle was still not sure she wanted to go along with this little scheme but complied.

Xena also undressed and gathered the clothes into a tight bundle that she wrapped in the blanket with a little of the food. Stashing the few other items they had half way up a tree on the bank she looped the hilt of her sword through the blanket's knot.

Gathering Gabrielle's hand she leaned the scabbard on her shoulder lifting the precious bundle of dry clothes and food above her head and started to walk into the river.

“Gabrielle, aim upstream, ok?” Xena instructed.

Gabrielle plunged in and thought how strange it was that she was not even surprised anymore. She felt she could do anything now when a few months ago swimming across a river channel to have lunch on a private island would not have even been in her dreams.

Gabrielle reached the bank, downstream quite a bit from where Xena was aiming and walked up the sandy reach to meet her. Xena was holding her sword and scabbard aloft of the water carefully keeping an eye on it. Her upright stance in the water was slowing her down but she was making steady progress. Gabrielle waded out into the water again and reached out for the bundle when Xena neared shore.

“Got it,” she exclaimed allowing Xena use her hands to paddle finally and get her feet under her. She easily stood and walked the few steps to join Gabrielle on shore.

Xena looped her scabbard and sword over her shoulder and Gabrielle started giggling, “Really that looks so funny Xena.”

Xena could not help but smile too admittedly it did look pretty funny wearing nothing but a scabbard, so she flung her hair back and did her best to entertain Gabrielle. “I am glad I can be so entertaining for you,” Xena deadpanned leaving Gabrielle wondering if she really was teasing or not, “but now how entertaining can you be for me? That's the real question here.”

Gabrielle blushed and stabilized, “I'll think of something, I have a great imagination.”

Xena countered as Gabrielle dropped the bundle and started running down the beach, “That I know Tiger, that I know.”

Xena followed behind a bit just enjoying the feel of the sun on her body and the sound of the breeze in the willows. The island was little more than a sand bank that had been built up and then separated from the land by the same fickle currents. The central back bone of willows had gained a bit more of a foothold stabilizing some of the sand and setting down some soil where the new lush grasses had sprouted. There were bleached logs along the shore rising up off the sandy beach a testament to the higher waterline from the spring floods.

Gabrielle had reached the end of the slice of sand and was turning around the corner to the side unseen from the travelled side of the main river bank. Xena, hoping to cut her off bounded over the island to the other side and found a lovely little cove with a few logs providing additional stability for the sand. This was the perfect spot for the picnic and she plopped the bundle down before moving to sneak up on Gabrielle.

“Xena, it is not really a contest you know,” Gabrielle was yelling out to the wind, “I know you're trying to sneak up on me.” Why did she always have to do this? She thought and then followed, it's my fault to scamper off and this is just her part of the game.

“What made you think I was sneaking?” Xena whispered from just over her shoulder.

The start made Gabrielle loose her footing in the shallows and she went down in the water with an unceremonious thump. Xena's eyes furrowed and became a bit worried that Gabrielle might be hurt as it was taking Gabrielle a while to rise.

“Oh, wait, there is clay down here,” Gabrielle exclaimed dislodging two dripping fistfuls of the smooth grey substance. Xena saw playfulness in her eyes and she slowly backed up just out of arms length.

“Xena, please wait, you know me, I am not a vindictive person, am I?” Gabrielle pleaded.

Xena sensing a trap in these words replied noncommittally, “Not usually. But I did just scare you into the river,” she added thoughtfully, “by sneaking up on you.”

“Nice of you to admit that love, but stop running, and come here,” she ordered. “I want to mark you as mine.” Gabrielle spoke sincerely as she rubbed the smooth clay all over her hands.

Xena stepped forward keeping a firm gaze into Gabrielle's eyes. Gabrielle locked those eyes and answered with two open palms firmly slapping and then gripping Xena's ass. “This ass is mine,” she claimed, and then moving her hands back together to coat them in clay before she gripped her breasts, “These are mine too.”

Xena found herself submitting to the strong voice and self assured Gabrielle as a tremor of feeling ran up her body. Stepping back she admired the handiwork, the perfect handprints had already started to dry with the help of the sun and wind.

“If only they were forever Gabrielle,” she let her first feeling out into words, instantly regretting it.

“Xena, they are forever,” Gabrielle sombrely opened her heart and put to words what Xena had been trying not to see; that this WAS a forever thing. Gabrielle wanted this and she wanted this to go on forever.

“Gabrielle, forever is a very long time when you are, what, all of 18 years old.” Xena was trying not to push her away too severely but her mind was telling her to bolt for the hills.

“Xena, I know you still think I'm just a kid, but I think, hang on this might be a little hard to hear, I think that you are more scared than I am of committing to each other.”

After a long pause, “You are probably right with that one, Tiger,” Xena sheepishly admitted as she pulled Gabrielle into her arms and kissed her forehead, “you are probably right.”

“Now, where was that clay you found? I have a few things of my own to mark,” Xena lightened it up again with a playful glint in her eye.

Moving back over to the shallows Gabrielle kneeled into the water and began to feel the bottom. Xena joined her kneeling right in front of her and their fingers interlocked together around a chunk of clay. Xena coated her right hand and slowly moved Gabrielle's hair over to the left exposing the nape of her neck. Dragging her long fingers down from Gabrielle's hairline she traced four fingerlines of clay in unison down along her shoulder and forward over her nipple coming to rest in a curl under her ribs. “Mine,” Xena finished with a husky whisper as Gabrielle's flesh shivered and pimpled under the contact.

Gabrielle interlocked Xena's fingers again, finding the clay and coated the tender sides of Xena's torso with both hands. She then scraped her fingernails down the sensitive skin in scallops that extended onto Xena's breasts and stomach, “Mine,” she smiled one of her special full teethed smiles at Xena.

Then Xena did something she would wonder about in the years to come, before she really thought about the significance and succumbed to the fear, she placed a thumb print of clay between Gabrielle's eyebrows.

Gabrielle breathed a long breath out, “Is this what you really want?” The joining of two under Gaia, this was not to be taken lightly.

Xena just nodded, her eyes brimming up with tears.

Gabrielle completed the ritual and placed a thumb print on Xena's eyebrow center before reciting the sacred rite as tears spilled down her cheeks, “With Gaia's own body her blessing on this union, from the strength of the earth may this joining dawn.” And with those simple and timeless words they were joined, forever, as Gaia's own daughters.

They spent the rest of the day in the sunshine and clear water, playing, teasing, in a wave of love.

As the sun fell behind the horizon they made a bed in the sand and lay their blanket down. Xena sang to Gabrielle in her clear and melodious voice, songs of love, of belonging, and of their homeland.

They made tender love under the willows and slept wrapped up in each other as if they had never before and never would again. Gabrielle roused from sleep to look into Xena's open eyes. Smiling, she said in a sleepy voice, “That was the best day of my entire life.” She snuggled in and was gently rocked back to sleep in Xena's arms.

They both woke when the bird song was too much to ignore, slowly they washed each other in their secluded pool and ate the rest of the cheese and bread while packing up the few items they had taken over to the island. It was already warm and the sun was just starting to touch the willows which took the light like a blaze of colour down the central backbone of this now sacred sliver of sand. Hand in hand they slowly walked around the point as they had come the afternoon before, noting their lone footprints in the sand where they had met and separated.

Suddenly something in the wind triggered Xena and she bolted alert, stock still and stone faced, scanning and reaching out for the reason. Gabrielle called this her ‘altered state' jokingly but also knew it was these extreme senses that kept them alive time and time again.

There it was, in the silence, an overturned body floating down the river with two arrows reaching up to the sky out of his leather bound back. A warrior, a soldier from her own army it seemed from the distance. There was not much they could do but wait for the body to float closer as it turned and twisted in the currents and eddies. “By the Gods,” Xena breathed and explained to Gabrielle, “the fletching is Roman.” The words worried Gabrielle with the mystery of why Roman arrows would be this far east into Greece. Xena revealed her thoughts, narrowing her eyes in pure contempt, “Caesar!”

‘Driven' would have been a woefully inadequate word to describe Xena's reaction to the threat of Caesar on Greek soil, ‘Obsessed' was a better word, Gabrielle decided as she sat and waited yet another candlemark along the track for the rider who surely must had been dispatched by now to pick her up.

After the dead soldier floated by, Xena had dove into the river with only “I'll send a rider for you,” for an explanation. She was half way across the river before Gabrielle had a chance to formulate a question. Left with little choice Gabrielle slowly waded in and swam to the other side hoping Xena left her clothes when she donned her own armour and galloped away on Argo. As she sat on a log by the riverbank track steaming dry in the hot sun, she thought to herself how remarkable it was to go from one afternoon of joining and professing love for each other to now sitting alone, hopefully not forgotten, on the side of a track in the middle of nowhere.

“Uggg, how frustrating! I'm losing it,” Gabrielle decided out loud and stood up. “I will just starting walking. I can't just keep waiting my life away.” Just as she turned with a determined stomp of her foot she heard the gallop of horse's hooves and Dahen appeared from around a bend in the track.

“Dahen, thank the Gods.” She exclaimed, more than a little relieved to see her friend.

“Gabrielle, the Gods are probably hiding under their bed covers right now. I have never seen Xena so out of control,” he explained as he swung her up on Bacephalus behind him in the saddle. “Hang on, this is gonna be rough,” he yelled as they took off back up the track at break neck speed. Gabrielle hung on for dear life knowing this ride would probably be the least rough part of the next few days.


Gabrielle sighed, she was absolutely exasperated, she had cried until she knew her eyes had no more tears. It was the end of a three day argument in which Gabrielle had tried to keep Xena from fighting this war of revenge. Yes, there had been Roman scouts on Greek soil, but only a few, looking to buy supplies. The massive armies of both Pompeii and Caesar were amassed to fight each other for control of the Roman senate, or so Xena's spies had gathered. Xena attacking at this moment could form a real threat of the two Roman generals joining together against Greece.

“You know, the Enemy of my Enemy is my friend. They will find common ground if they know you stand against them.” Gabrielle tried to sound convincing through her exhaustion. “Xena, this is complete suicide. Dahen said they have 22 legions together. Against your eight this could mean Roman rule of Greece. Is that what you want? The return of slavery? The return of Kabbah?” Gabrielle knew her tactic was not working. Xena had been in her altered cold warrior state since she returned to camp three days ago. Nothing was touching her.

“Xena, listen to me, Xena,” Gabrielle screamed her name trying to break through this haze over her eyes, “I love you, forever and ever but I will not follow you blindly. I will always fight for what is true and just. I want to walk beside you with pride for the rest of my life.”

Xena softened and responded, “Gabrielle, you are my light, I cannot imagine my life without you. I will do everything I can to follow the honourable path by you and fulfil our destiny together. You have to understand that I am pulled by forces of fate that stem from the past, from the time before you were in my life, a time of darkness. I have to take this full circle or Caesar will have won. I have to complete this or all those who have died will have done so in vain. This is a part of me. If you cannot accept that, then you cannot accept me.” Gabrielle knew separation was a real possibility even before Xena finished with the biting words, “You don't even begin to know me. You are a child in a world run by warriors. Your pathetic need to try to talk out every conflict will just end up getting you killed. You wouldn't last a moment by yourself in the real world without a warrior protecting you. If you are making me choose between killing Caesar and this relationship, I will choose my revenge. It has been with me a lot longer than you have.”

Gabrielle was floored. Is this what she really thought all along? She was a pot hole in the track of Xena's destiny.

Xena was going ahead with this, this, this… Insanity. She did not even hear a word Gabrielle had said.

‘Why would the Conquer listen to me anyways? I'm just an uneducated farm girl from Potidaea. I've been clinging to Xena all along.' Gabrielle was losing the battle in her mind; she was losing her self confidence in the face of an unwavering Xena. She was losing the arguments she had just moments ago held dear.

“That's it, then? Just like that, it ends?” Gabrielle stated sounding more controlled that she felt. Yes, she had truly given up. “Do not ever come looking for me. Promise me Xena you will let me have control of that at least?” Xena did not react to her comment but kept her stone face staring straight ahead. Gabrielle knew she had lost. Why bother prolonging it. She grabbed her cloak and headed for the tent door without a backward glance.

By the time she got back to the healers tent the tears had welled up and were starting to spill over her cheeks. She had to make preparations to leave, just gather a few things. Shala was there with Ulla and Haela giving them directions to Amazonia and the main camp where Queen Melosa would most probably be. Gabrielle told herself to be strong, there was no way she was heading back to her parents house, she had tasted the world and wanted to stay living in it, not to hide away in some hovel of a farmhouse with an oppressive father and a mother that accepted her fate as truth. No, Gabrielle knew she had to go on without Xena, although her heart told her otherwise. She decided fully that she would follow Ulla and Haela to Amazonia, even if just for a while to heal.



Chapter 13


The journey was quiet. Gabrelle was thankful for that. Haela and Ulla walked ahead in silence as if listening to another world on the wind. Gabrielle felt she was more alone than ever before, heading into the complete unknown. She had several days of peace to sort out her feelings of leaving the army, Dahen, Shala and of course leaving Xena. Gabrielle felt she was stepping out of reality and into a world of fable and myth, the Amazons. She felt a little bit better knowing that Haela and Ulla could kick butt, but her safety was not really as scary as the not knowing. Not knowing if Xena would die alone on the battlefield without her. Not knowing where her life was leading. Not knowing why she was drawn to follow these strange creatures that she had not ever felt completely comfortable with.

Gabrielle did not know much about Amazons as there had not been too many scrolls about them in Menos' library. She knew there were two old maids who lived along the track to the next village who were rumoured to have been former Amazons. They rarely mixed with the other village folk, only to sell their weaving and leather work during the spring and fall festivals. As a child the other children would tease her saying that the old maids would grab her in her sleep. Gabrielle thought now how she would stop in for a visit the next time she was close to home to test out some of those rumours with new eyes.

At first Gabrielle had a hard time discerning the rumours from truth. From what Shala told her some of the rumours seems to have been based on the facts and traditions that were part of Amazon life and history. She complied what she knew in a new set of scrolls to help her sort it all out and prepare herself for Amazon life. She started with the following:

Even a glimpse of an Amazon was said to render men inoperable, their manhood unable to function. There were many tinctures available to restore potency and lift the Amazon's spell in the local markets. Proving lift to the member as well. Gabrielle chuckled to herself. Knowing a limp member probably had very little to do with the Amazon's. Shala said she would not be one to shed light on a superstition that protected her people, even if it was through fear.

Shala had told me another interesting thing about Amazons: if they dressed in peasant garb and shawl no one would know who they were.Their normally short hair and arm band tattoos covered. Shala said if you knew what to look for though, you would notice they stood taller, more confidently and they had a true dislike of shoes. Growing up completely without shoes you cannot just starting wearing them without walking with discomfort no matter how much you practice. Shala said that was the big give away, the shoes!

I heard from Ulla and Haela that Amazons were apart from the rest of the world in such a way that you might call them cloistered. Their ways stayed static while the rest of the world moved ahead growing, changing, evolving. They were mostly self sufficient, finding all of their needs met from the forest. They traded a few goods with local outsider villages, but this was difficult as relations were strained with the men. It was really hard to trade with a race when you can't look at them for fear of your manhood.

When I pressed (as they are not very talkative) Ulla and Haela more one night around the camp fire I learned that the Amazons were uneducated in the way of the mine or the forge. They did not have metal at their disposal and their tools were made from knapped stone embedded into wood. They were thus limited in their choice of offensive weapons, most commonly Chobos, small dual clubs inlayed with stone, for hand to hand combat. Throwing spears and staffs were also common but overall arrows were their main distance weapon and they were exceptional archers. The Amazons learned their hunting techniques from watching the forest creatures, from the wolf and the owl. They hunted in packs, used surprise as their main tactic. They were at home in the trees and in the dark. Their niche was the opposite of the outsiders who shunned the darkness and stayed on the ground, so they were seldom seen, as silent as shadows.

On the eighth day of travel they passed the hide and bone markers than denoted the borders of “The Land”. They were led over to the Queen's hut by the masked contingent that had flown out of the trees at them. Ulla and Haela seemed to talk to the guards with their hands as no words were exchanged but arrows were un-cocked and bows lowered. They were not altogether friendly, stiffness prevailed and masks were not removed until they were delivered to the hut of the queen.

Entering the Amazon camp was a bit of a letdown for Gabrielle. It was tiny. Smaller than the village she grew up in. There was a central raised knoll in the wide open common, a gathering place Gabrielle thought. The forest was thick on the edges of the village almost swallowing up some of the mud and stick huts scattered around the glen. There was but one large building in the whole compound.

Ulla and Haela immediately fell to their knees in supplication at the sight of Melosa. So quickly that Gabrielle was caught off guard standing staring directly into the Queen's eyes with a stunned expression on her face.

“Don't be worried about it, dear,” Melosa said in highly accented Greek as her eyes danced with laughter, “I don't recognize myself as queen half the time, the warrior and scout in me will live well past my reign.”

“My apologies,” Gabrielle stammered and sunk to the floor.

“So, you and Xena were lovers?” Melosa just ploughed right out with it.

“Yup,” it was more of a squeak than a word. She felt the flush rising up her face and her mind reeled. ‘ How in the world could she have known this? Was her private life an open book throughout the known world?'

“Just a word of wisdom, little one, you may not want to spread that information around here. There are many Amazons that would like to see the Destroyer killed and would easily go through you to get close enough to do so. They are an independent bunch. I may have their favour but their allegiance is purely to Artemis and to the tribe as a whole. My word is but one among many and does not have more weight than any other sister. I personally do not wish to see harm befall you or Xena, and in this view, I am sure I am outnumbered.”

The startled innocence that Melosa saw grow in Gabrielle's eyes was enough to break her heart and she mentally listed the scrolls she would have to retrieve from the library tonight for storage in her throne chest.

“You are welcome to stay as long as you want little one. Learn our ways, our herstory, our traditions. You come well regarded,” her voice warmed looking at Gabrielle's still stunned face. “Relax, I don't read minds. Shala sent a message that arrived three days ago. Although my spies knew the Destroyer had taken a lover we never knew your name.” Melosa added in her head, ‘or that you were so sweet and innocent.'

Ulla, Haela and Melosa exchanged a quick salutation in unison, “Blessed Be Artemis,” and the meeting was abruptly over.

Staggering out of the hut and across the common in an overwhelmed daze Gabrielle ventured, “Are you Amazons always that abrupt?”

Ulla placed a long lithe arm over the youngster's shoulders, “We say the words that need to be said, nothing more. It is our way.”

Haela continued, “Relax my sweet, you are safe here, to learn and to grow,” she added softly, “and to heal.” With that they opened the door of a small mud and wattle hut on the outer ring and ushered her inside with a knowing glance between them.

“Thanks for everything. I'll see you in the morning,” Gabrielle strengthened out the waver in her voice but she could not stop the flood of emotion that finally had leave to spill out. As the door closed and her privacy sealed she grieved her heartbreak of the last week. She collapsed on the floor and put to rest her loss through sobs that continued until no more tears were possible and sleep overtook her.


Gabrielle was first aware of the morning birdsong and then the black giving way to the grey of dawn. On attempting to open her eyes she found them quite swollen and her head pounding . “Great, just great, everyone will know I was crying all night. What a way to make a first impression.” She had just decided that hiding in the hut all day would be the best option when she heard Ulla call out.

“Sleepy head, are you ready for your first lesson?”

Gabrielle was quite in-sensed, dawn had barely broken, that moniker ‘Sleepy head' was hardly necessary. “Do you mean lesson or inhumane torture?” she answered with sharpness devoid of humour and stuck her head out the door.

Haela continued, “Relax little one, we have been waiting for you.” She smiled sweetly, “We do not have the need of sleep and have been listening to your heart beat for the catch of wakefulness.” Then added to Gabrielle's stunned expression, “There are so many things we need to tell you.”

Ulla, “Join us today in the forest for your training and all will be understood.”

Gabrielle hauled herself up, glad at least she would not be in camp with her swollen eyes and heartbreak.


Dear Xena,

(Gabrielle started the scroll not knowing if she would ever send it to her or if Xena would even want to read it if she did end up sending it.)

Today I learned how to walk in the forest without making a sound or leaving a trace and started climbing trees. I found out that Ulla and Haela are going to be my ‘Amazon Guides' and that they are not exactly human. It sure explains a lot. Oh, don't worry they aren't a God or a monster, they were human at one time but were changed by an ancient ritual. They don't have to eat or sleep, ever! A blessing from Artemis. They called themselves ‘Moon Keepers' and have hearing and smelling senses like a carnivore. A bit unnerving for me knowing they sense my emotions. Plus overwhelming for them smelling pain and fear, and hearing every beating heart. But at least we now know why they didn't eat much, hated the crowded cities and took off all the time. They can also talk to each other in their heads and feel each other's emotions. That must be awfully intense during pre-cycle. If they cycle. I'll have to ask about that tomorrow.

I am staying in this little hovel of a hut made from mud and sticks. Worse than any root cellar back home but at least it is dry. It is only about as wide as five paces and as narrow as three. The Amazons do not believe in furniture. They sleep in these crazy nets made from knotted vines and sinew. These nets are hung from corner to corner in the hut and you hang yourself in them to sleep. I will try to figure this out tonight but I fully expect myself and the sleeping roll to end up on the floor several times. How anyone would sleep with a lover I don't know. Well, it might work for us as I basically sleep on top of you anyways.

Gabrielle stopped writing, her grip on the quill faltered as the tears started to fall smudging the ink that she did not even have the energy to set.


The next morning Gabrielle felt remarkably well rested and was not surprised to see Ulla and Haela waiting for her when she exited her hut.

“Are you ready to risk the camp food today?” Haela's smile was genuine.

Gabrielle answered with a look of dread

“You can't avoid them forever,” Ulla's eyes were full of caring. “We'll be with you.”

They turned together and solemnly walked over to the common

Gabrielle could tell by smell alone the location of the dining hut and honed in on the long structure with slatted wood walls forgoing the mud of the sleeping huts. This was by far the largest building in the camp, and the one with the most wood used in construction. Following her guides and stepping inside Gabrielle was overwhelmed by the height of the ceiling which was supported by four massive interlocking trunks, peeled of bark and burnished to a shining golden hue. It was a magnificent play of the natural power of the trees.

As her eyes adjusted to the rather dim interior she was greeted by the stare of a hundred pairs of eyes that lifted in a wave acknowledging the new comers. The stares were not flavoured with feeling, no hate, no love but with that of curiosity. It took Gabrielle a few steps to notice the stares were not for her but for her companions, Ulla and Haela. They were mid way into the crouching throng of women before Gabrielle registered that many whispered comments were hushed and heads bowed as they approached even a few hands reached out to steal a touch of their tunics as they passed. Gabrielle was awed by the reception she might not have known about them but the Amazons sure did. They took their spots near Melosa in the center of the grand room.

Melosa started, “Gabrielle meet Princess Terreis. She speaks Greek and Latin and will show you the upmost hospitality. Many here will only converse in Amazonian on our land either as a matter of pride or that of ignorance.”

Terreis acknowledged that she would translate with sparkling eyes and a friendly nod.

It took a few moments for Gabrielle to feel comfortable to ask, “Terreis, what are the whispers all about?”

“Do you really want to know?” Terreis questioned.

Gabrielle greeted this by an amused look that said ‘just try me' .

Terreis continued, “Night walkers, moon watchers, the ones who were turned to the dark....”

“Not exactly complements then...” Gabrielle was relieved though the comments were not about her and Xena and that she remained relatively unnoticed.

“We tend to be... at best wary and at worst out right hostile of anything different from the norm. I mean our norm. Which I acknowledge is not your norm. Oh crap, I hope I didn't scare you off.” Terreis was downright cute in her stumbling.

“It would take a great bit more than that. Also technically I have no where left to go,” Gabrielle added with a sigh, “so you are pretty much stuck with me.”

“I am not allowed to leave The Land so I guess we are stuck with each other,” Terreis belayed a frustration of a magnitude that told Gabrielle not to ask about this sore subject.

“I travelled for the last year and between the blisters and the bedbugs it is not all people make it out to be,” Gabrielle commiserated.

Her eyes lit up, “Tell me what you have seen of the outside world and don't leave out the smallest detail.”

“Only if you promise to share the vast archive of Amazon herstory,” Gabrielle remembered Shala mentioning the library was extensive.



Both women felt this was the beginning of an enduring friendship.


Returning to her hut Gabrielle took all the items from her former life: her wool shawl, woven by her mother, her boots, her sai and the little black sheep Xena had carved for her. She kissed it. She had always kept it close, but now it was time to move on. She carefully reached into the woven sapling roof and removed a few key sticks. She wrapped all these items in her leather pack bag and rewove the roof around them effectively sealing them into the hut itself.

Dear Xena,

So far my first few days in Amazonia have shown that they have a fascinating social structure, so ingrained they do not even see it. Everyone is ‘equal' on the surface but there is actually quite a ranking, which is exposed by where and with whom you sit. Groups form with warriors bonding with stories of battles and technique, scouts returning together from the Outerlands, the best hunters telling stories to groups of adolescents gathering around. I don't really fit in.

One of the first things that caught my eye is that they do not have chairs, anywhere. They sit in a crouched squat for hours with no show of discomfort, even in the trees. I think that this, although a natural position for toddlers, is not easy for me so I often sit cross legged on the ground.

I find the traits that are celebrated and encouraged in the girls are considered abhorrent by outsiders and I have to keep from reacting. Girls are encouraged to be independent, bossy, passionate, their mother's celebrating with laughter and cheers when stubborn girls resist the rules and stood up to them. To a point of course, for one, the queens word is law and demands respect. Individuality, not following blindly, is celebrated. They are encouraged to figure things out on their own, work through frustration with determination. The other strange action is a mother would often just pack up a little fighter over her shoulder or drag her to bed. Strength definitely rules here.

The camp Mothers who do not fight due to injury are never given that much respect although their skills in bark weaving and leatherwork are exceptional, better than any I had seen. I find this especially ironic. Here we have a nation of women who were often more disrespectful to ‘women's jobs' than the men are on the outside but they cannot even see it to acknowledge it.

Communal bathing and sex are common place and really took less time to get used to than I thought it would. Knowing that most everyone is naked already leaves little to the imagination. After the first week I ditched the shawl, then the top and currently I just walk around in my skirt. I guess eventually I will make a deer skin loincloth like everyone else but I will have to actually acquire some hunting skills to do that. Exposing my back full of scars has somehow increased my status here as a hunter offered me a choice piece of meat the other day, an honour usually reserved for a teacher, crone, or sweetheart.

This is womyn's land in space and belief. I feel that eventually these barriers that keep everyone out also detrimentally keep them in. Removed from the natural evolution of the world they are failing to keep up with change. I think that if this continues they will surely cease to exist. I am glad to be here. I need this break from the world to find myself and to heal. I know if this safe haven that has protected me and allowed me to flourish is to be there for the following generations of seekers some dramatic changes will need to take place.

It's sort of sad to see a dying culture. When only an outsider can see it fading and those inside do not believe there is a problem or cannot, will not look. They have no idea that the rest of the world is leaving them behind. Metalwork, agriculture, even something as simple as a wagon have not been introduced here and never will be if they stay so closed to the outside world.

I feel there are two ways for a culture to survive, be unbeaten at war or be unbeaten at peace. Either way you will never be conquered. Why does no-one try the peaceful way? I think you would find this society really smothering. Everyone knows what everyone else is up to. Folks have finally begun to notice me now that Haela and Ulla are on their moon week away and more scouts are in from the Outerlands. I just stick with Terreis and I am sure some think we are lovers but anything is better than being ‘fresh meat' relentlessly chased by warriors.

Gabrielle muttered to herself, “If I send this letter to her I am going to have to blot out the last comment or she'll come raging in here with an army.”

Gabrielle continued her writing in a new scroll that she dedicated to documenting the Amazon culture.

I am initially approaching my visit to the Amazons as an ethnographic study, unsure of how long I will be there. I feel drawn to their sense of community and belonging. It is them against the world and you are either in or out, no in-between. I think this brings them closer together. As a ‘chosen Amazon' or an ‘outsider convert' as you will, not born of the tribe I wonder if I will ever fully feel part of the group and will I want to.

The elders raise children, the under tens, communally passing on knowledge and traditions while the warriors are on patrol. This time in the elder's life seems like a happy, relaxed, highly respected time. They have the time to collect and refine bee's wax, make candles, pottery, gather roots and tree bark to soak and weave into baskets, bags and hammocks. They also tan leather and make it into clothing, armour, wraps for weapon handles and countless other items.

At ten an Amazon girl who completed her forest bond began training in earnest. Her next couple of years are spent learning scouting patrol, shuttling messages and travelling with hunting parties. Often the first time they returned to the main camp would be for their first moon ceremony where they were honoured by rights of partial tribal membership. This means these twinks, as they were called between their first moon and adulthood have the right to attend all tribal meetings and the right to vote but not to address the tribe in open debate. They cannot yet leave the sanctity and safety of Amazon land or take the lead in spiritual ceremonies and scouting or hunting parties. These twinks are encouraged to ‘worship the goddess' as often as possible with multiple partners. They still have duties and responsibilities but were not yet a hunting leader.

Young women when they feel ready have one more step to full membership: they need to lead a small group of older women in a successful hunt and lead the whole tribe in a spiritual rite worshiping Artemis. At this point they are considered adults and go through an initiation ceremony. They have full tribal membership, can join with a dedicated life partner, make the choice to have a child, they can leave the land on patrol and they are proven leaders. I think that these young women, usually between 18 to 20 summers old, are as mature as many of the battle hardened members of Xena's elite army. After this point the women often go for long journeys to the other Amazon tribes. This is when many fall in love and are joined. It is almost an even exchange with some women moving away and other bringing new wives back.

Former lovers and those that know each other intimately are bonded in a way few could deny. This is very positive as they will take more risks for each other and have a deep unwritten communication with each other which makes for tight scouting groups. There is a final rule involving all these relationships is that was there is no drama on patrol, you had to leave it in camp or you risked being sent back to the main camp in disgrace. Since the greatest value here is freedom, the thought of slinking back to main camp on your own because you lost it emotionally is an embarrassment too much to bear. This final rule is especially honoured.

Swords and knives are especially prized possessions as they are only procured through combat or gleaned from the field of battle by scavengers in the darkness. They are passed on from Mother to Daughter with the skill and precision of use along with it.

The greatest terms of respect are Mother or Sister. Their formal armour has a breast plate with a silhouette of a tree pressed into it. If you look closer it is actually two women's bodies intertwined around each other. The armour is surprisingly solid and made of hard leather. It covers their shoulder down over their right breast to the base of the rib cage so that the bow string when it recoils will not welt their chest as it is prone to do. This same hard dark leather is fashioned into a greave for the left forearm for protection from the bow string. If an Amazon fights with a sword she also has a small half moon shield called a pelta that when held in the left hand effectively covers to the left side of the body. The body armour and pelta are made with the same designs and fit together perfectly, protecting the whole torso from harm but still being it very light and allowing much freedom of movement.


When Ulla and Haela returned they dragged Gabrielle into a schedule of relentless weapons training. Previously unaccustomed to the Bow or Chobos she spent hours perfecting technique. Staff practice was focused to increase strength and speed and practiced one on one with Ulla or Haela or occasionally the weapons master Eponin.

Dear Xena,

The training is relentless but on the positive side I don't have a moment to dwell on you. Or rather dwell on not being with you. I am really trapped, not sure of where to go, I cannot go home, and I cannot go back to you so I might as well try to fit in here until another path becomes clear to me and I know what to do next. Haela and Ulla get me up before dawn daily so I can quickly eat a light breakfast before training. And trained I am. They make me run, stretch, pound me with staves and chobos. I have learned the art of the longbow and how to defend against every known blade. They tag team me with not so much as a handful of breaks from dawn until the mid-afternoon communal meal that the tribe takes just as the heat of the day is waning.

I never appreciated that you really did take it easy on me with staff practice. I am exhausted, emotionally beaten because I always lose, and physically bruised. In fact t he healer, Altera, has just given me my own large jar of arnica salve rather than having me come by for a daily visit. I am hungry all the time. They just don't snack and I haven't learned enough to gather more than herbs and greens or made friends with anyone in the kitchen. I don't know if I can take much more of this .

The only consolation is that the evenings are mine and I spent most in the scroll hut. The Amazon collection is large and diverse, varying from herstory to geography, dramas and instructional scrolls on everything from how to slaughter a boar, various religious rites, to bringing a woman to orgasm with a squirting release of fluid. I have lots to learn.

I miss being held by you. I miss being special to someone. I miss my life.


“That's it. I can't do it. I give up,” Gabrielle sank to her knees during the chobos practice with Ulla. She had been repeatedly hit with the same move and could not take it anymore. Haela's arms around her just caused the tears to flow freely.

“Let it go Gabrielle, let it all go.” Haela held her tighter now that sobs wracked her body.

“Are you ashamed of me? For quitting?” Gabrielle questioned when she could finally speak.

“Never,” Ulla stated, “Just do what feels right, your instincts have always been right so far Gabrielle. They are very powerful, trust them. Some people need to hit bottom before springing back up. You have been through a lot this past year.”

“Be patient with yourself. Be good to yourself. You deserve it,” Haela added.

“You have a lot of stubborn spunk and you will have to draw on every ounce of it now. I know you can do this. I know you have to.” Ulla words were not very comforting but full of truth.

Gabrielle decided at that moment to give it a year. Just one year. If it was still so hard next summer she would walk off The Land and never look back.

“It's time to cut my hair,” the statement was enough to convince both Moon Keepers they had done their job.



Chapter 14


After three moons when the wisp of fall was on the air Gabrielle noticed a difference in her strength and stamina. She could run longer and faster, she sparred with more vigour and was bruised less often. She was more comfortable in her squat and could understand some of the conversations in Amazonian.

After six moons when the sun was at the lowest and the nights were long she found although she was not winning any matches she was connecting on a hit now and then. Eponin was smacked across her upper arm and a welt started to redden as a look of surprise turned into a smile. “And the student teaches, well done Gabrielle. I tend to drop my left too much. You felt the opening and went for it.”

“I have no idea what I did,” admitted Gabrielle sheepishly recounting this same conversation with Xena over a year ago.

“That's even better,” Eponin explained to a now completely confused Gabrielle, “if it was unconscious your muscles are finding their reflex. This is what keeps you alive Gabrielle. If you had to think about every move and counter move your mind would fry and you would be dead. The mind is too slow. The body has to learn on its own, through practice and repetition. The door is open now. Let your mind relax and your body take the fight.”

“Again! Fight!” Eponin urged.

Gabrielle responded with renewed enthusiasm knowing she had reconnected with what Xena taught her so long ago, “Fight On!”

Now that Gabrielle ‘The Warrior' had been uncovered, Ulla and Haela alternated combat training with tracking. Much to Gabrielle's delight this involved actually leaving the village. It was a quiet time of learning to sense the forest completely, sight, sounds and smells all told a story of who had passed and what had happened the night before. They climbed trees and witnessed the forest from above. She learned all the animal tracks, to tell a stag mark from a doe, the birdsong of joy or warning. She learned the movement of the natural world, when to drink, when to sleep, when to feed, when to mate. It is this rhythm that the Amazons built their entire society around and the rules that guided the wild things also guided them. They were one and the same with the forest.

“We are really impressed with how quickly you have learned to move through the forest,” Ulla noted one day.

“Trail followers sometimes have a challenge with direction,” Haela finished, “you don't anymore. You have learned quickly.”

Gabrielle thought about this for a moment. Yes, this is what it is all about. Being an Amazon was the freedom to go anywhere in the forest, no path, nowhere to go, just the wind calling you and the trees swaying their acceptance with your decision. Wandering was the purpose. So different from the world of her childhood where every moment had a task, fields to plough, plant, harvest, lambs to fetch, chickens to find. The freedom she felt wandering the forest was healing in its own right and helped her find herself again.

At first Ulla and Haela led, then Gabrielle led them, then she was finally allowed to explore on her own. The simple beauty of the wind on her skin, what a gift. She had for many moons now worn the deer skin loincloth favoured by the majority of the sisters and her golden skin had seen more sun in the last year than ever in her life. The sun on her back felt so good. Sunning on a rock after a cold invigorating swim brought back memories of her time with Xena. She noticed the pain was not so sharp. In the last few months and her time alone in the forest with her own thoughts was more therapeutic than any amount of village life with the oppressive eyes of the sisters constantly prying. Paired with her inability, on the suggestion from Melosa, to share her Xena involvement with anyone. For all intents most of the sisterhood thought she came straight from the farm to The Land and as a result she was treated like she didn't know anything about anything.

It had taken quite a while for her to process her last year with Xena. She had come to no conclusion that satisfied her completely. The whole reason for their separation and especially the horrible last argument had flavoured the whole relationship with a muddy black tarnish. When really over the year they were lovers there was not much more to complain about. After learning to communicate better and read each other's moods they had got along really well and complemented each other. She felt empty without her. Xena got almost as excited about everything as she did and she missed playing with her, teasing, word games and someone who really wanted to hear her stories. She missed having a shoulder on which to lay her head and strong arms to embrace her. Not that she did not have plenty of volunteers, but that was another problem helped by the time alone in the forest.


On one of these forest walks Gabrielle heard horse hoof beats. Securing her staff across her back she headed up into the safety of the trees. She had her staff with her but was still uncomfortable with actually engaging an enemy. She really did not want to have to kill, ever. She held her silent crouch waiting as the hoof clops came near. She gasped before she could help herself as through the leaves she got a peek and this was not a horse and rider at all. She could only recognize what it was from scrolls and myths, a Centaur! A real, live, in the flesh, Centaur. A horse like body of dark brown extended upward, at the withers, into the trunk of a man. A very well built, very handsome man, Gabrielle noted.

Gabrielle silently shifted her crouch to get a better view and was not prepared for the magnitude of the surprise before her. Ephiny was riding on the back of the Centaur and had her arms wrapped casually around his waist. Ephiny looked relaxed in a way Gabrielle had never seen and she could feel the love between them. ‘ Well that's a secret now isn't it!'


Gabrielle and Terreis lounged in the library with tea, as most evenings were spent for this pair.

“That was a great story. But what do you miss most Gabrielle, of the world outside?” Terreis was always full of questions.

“I miss vegetables, grain, especially bread. I miss cheese, strong blue Cabrales. I miss hummus and olives, we ate so much of that in Anatolia.”

Ephiny, the head of the Royal Guard, who had been standing silently at the door added slowly, “And who is we?”

Gabrielle froze and then blushed, caught, not expecting this from Ephiny who generally just watched Terreis and her as the duty of royal guard dictated.

Ephiny thought, ‘like that colour was not giving anything away. The youngster had a lover in Anatolia.'

Ephiny pushed, “Gabrielle, you were saying...”

Gabrielle looked Ephiny straight in the eye as she took some time to formulate her tactic. Finally she started slowly, precisely, “Some loves are not accepted in Amazon culture...” Gabrielle notched her verbal arrow, “and are better left unspoken...” Aimed and let fly, “Ephiny, I think you know that better than most.”

Bullseye, Ephiny looked like she had eaten a frog.

Terreis who missed all the subtext continued, “So you were with a man?”

“Oh no,” Gabrielle continued as she rose to exit, “I am definitely a daughter of Artemis, that I share with you Amazons.” Turning to Ephiny she lipped the unspoken words, “Well, most of you.”


There was a soft knock at her door just as dusk was falling. Gabrielle knew before opening that it was Ephiny.

“Come in Sister,” Gabrielle greeted her with a warm smile. Now Ephiny was totally confused. Ephiny was completely caught off guard this evening when Gabrielle had so effectively manipulated the conversation around and back at her. She had a way with words that rivalled the best negotiators the nation had to offer. Ephiny had come to beg forgiveness so her secret would not be revealed. The alternative was her banishment and she had already gathered up her few important keepsakes in preparation.

“I know you might be afraid. Don't worry. Your secret is safe. We just have to find a way to make this relationship work without losing your place in the nation. I have drafted a new law for Terreis...” Gabrielle moved over to a scroll she had been composing, obviously working on this for some time. This is all the information that she had time to reveal before Ephiny burst out into tears and fell to her knees.

Gabrielle walked the few steps towards her and cradled her head in her arms gently stroking her hair and saying a few of the nonsensical words her Mother would say when she was hurt as a child.

After the big sobs stopped and the tears slowed to a drizzle, Gabrielle pulled Ephiny up, sat down on the sleeping hides, held her and told her a story. The one she told on that beautiful summer night in Byzantium when she was falling in love. The one of a time when humans had two heads and four arms... and six legs (she added thoughtfully.) After the story Ephiny cried harder but it seemed to be the last of it. As if she had stored these tears for so long the well was deep and dark but she finally had found the bottom.

“Ephiny, love is not planned or controlled. It happens when we least expect it. To have felt it at all is a gift from Gaia herself.” Gabrielle noticed how worldly she sounded. ‘ When did I grow up?' She wondered. “I do not agree with many of the rules of the Amazons, dictating who to love, and banishing those who do not fit in. We need them all. All the sisters. Why would we throw them out over love? Some changes have to happen in Amazonia or the sisterhood will die. When everyone is banished who will banish the last Amazon? Pretty silly isn't it?”

“Wow,” Ephiny sighed.

“Wow what?” Gabrielle was confused.

“You are just not the person I assumed you were. I stand corrected. And I will always stand with you, you have my word.” Ephiny pledged with her fist to her heart in the warriors salute.


Gabrielle and Terreis were hunting for wild ginger in the marshland, with the Royal Guard contingent in tow. That was a concession of doing anything with Terreis, there were always a group of four to six following along.

“I am pretty sure I saw a patch over this way,” Gabrielle was leading.

Without warning the air split with movement. There was no time to think through her actions. Gabrielle threw herself over Terreis who was down with a shot to the abdomen. Another arrow pierced the skin of Gabrielle's side and yet another through her thigh. The only though that came through the pain was ‘what was taking them so long?' But she needn't worry, in an instant the Royal Guard had killed a group of three male poachers and were at her side. Ephiny grabbed her when another member of the Guard threw her off Terreis.

Ephiny looked at her wounds and broke off the arrow bolts. “These will heal.”

The other six guards were frantic around Terreis and only pulled back the circle to bring her closer when Terreis requested her presence.

“Gabrielle,” she laboured, “you have been my closest friend this past year. Thank you for making my life here less dull.” Terreis tried to move and winced.

“We have to get the healer,” Gabrielle looked up frantic. Blood was seeping from her stomach into the earth through the guard's fingers.

“No,” Terreis corrected, “it's too late. Listen, everyone,” her voice was slowly fading. She straightened with another wince and gathered her remaining strength. “Gabrielle, I give you my Right of Cast. Do you accept?”

The guards reacted with shocked gasps and one of the group said, “You can't do that! She's a convert.”

Then Ephiny's strong voice overpowered with, “No, she has a true Amazon heart. It is Terreis' choice to make.”

Terreis continued, “Look at me.” Gabrielle's eyes snapped back to her's. “Do you accept my Right of Cast?”

“I do,” Gabrielle's two simple words provided release for the Princess and she let go of this life's struggle.

The guards were in a state of shock and it took Ephiny's command to get the group in line. “Guards, let's get the Princess to the healer.”

One, feeling for a heartbeat answered, “It's too late for her, Ephiny.”

Ephiny responded, “Your Princess, is Princess Gabrielle, she needs a healer now. Phadera, run ahead and inform Altera and Melosa. Kaiet build a litter for Terreis' body. We will have a pyre and crowning tonight.”


The moon was bright, approaching the full that was but a few days away. Ulla and Haela would be away a seven day in forest seclusion. Gabrielle shifted and turned. Something was off, her sleep was elusive. Perhaps she needed more time to get used to sleeping in Terreis' hut.

Was that a faint rustle at the door, the wind or her imagination? She crept up and slowly opened it. No nothing, she guessed it was her imagination then. And turning closing the door she sighted an object on the step, what was this? She reached down and then shied back. It was a leather phallus attached to straps that could be worn, creating a man of a woman. Was this some cruel joke, or a genuine gift? She reached out with her senses as she had learned and honed over the last year.

Two almost silent hunters entered the forest on the far side of the common. She felt the cool air part for them and a piece of her non-Amazon brain was amazed by her new gifts and wondered how that was even possible. Gabrielle left the present where it lay and followed, even more silently than her two night time guides.

They were good, but she was better, she knew as she stalked them. Hearing voices and the faint flicker of torches in the distance she took to the trees. Calming her heart she moved with determined silence, gracefully making no error that would betray her hidden position. Finally, taking her squat that could now be held for half a day, Gabrielle slowly lifted a branch to expose the scene below.

It seemed to be a competition of some kind. The Amazons always has some competition going on so Gabrielle thought it strange that she had not heard of this one and that it was being held out here in secret. A circle was created within the torches outlining a ring of play. The women wore arm and calf bands only. The game was physical but also sensual. Points seemed to be given for pinning the other woman in a compromising sexual pose or the ability to remove the other's arm or calf bands.

When the first round completed the winner donned one of the phalli, like the one that had been left on her doorstep earlier that evening. And Gabrielle did not expect what happened next. The winner was allowed to fuck the loser in front of the crowd, dominating the whole scene. The loser of the match willingly submitted to all types of penetration, with ease. It was the ultimate surrender. Gabrielle saw things she never thought possible and was surprised when both women came violently, to the crowds delight. Gabrielle sucked in her breath against her own cramping loins. The next match was now starting. Gabrielle could smell her own juices, her body reacting to the stimulation and had to forcefully will herself back into the darkness.

Grabbing the phallus and slipping into her hut she leaned her forehead on the inside of the door, shutting out the world with a thunderous sigh. Gathering her strength, her thoughts went to Xena as she strode to her sleeping hides and pleasured herself with her new toy, quickly releasing her pent up frustration.

The next morning on the way to the food hut she looked the women of the forest glade in the eye and saw a tired satisfaction. She nodded and mouthed a “Thank you” to the two who had left her the gift in the darkness. Their heads snapped around together in a secret debate. Perhaps Princess Gabrielle was not as innocent as she seemed after all.


“We are dying ,Gabrielle. Fourteen more in a skirmish on the eastern border. Every year there are less and less of us.” Melosa shared her gravest worries with Gabrielle and Ephany in their strategy sessions.

“Things need to change, Melosa. We need allies. We cannot protect all the borders ourselves. It's just too much to make war with everyone else on earth. We need to make peace instead.” Gabrielle felt the time was finally right to express the thoughts she had developed over the last two years with the Amazons.

“I have no idea where to start.” Melosa commiserated.

“Don't worry, Ephiny does,” Gabrielle flashed her eyes to her most trusted friend standing guard and smiled knowingly.



Chapter 15


There was an urgent meeting requested of Queen Melosa by the Centaur chief Kaliapus who sent word of his arrival through the Northern Reaches scouts, who arrived three days prior to his arrival. Gabrielle and Ephiny were invited to sit and hold sacred space in expectation of debate.

Centaurs had not ventured onto Amazon land in the collective known memory of those living in the tribe. The whole way of life of the Amazons was distasteful to most Centaurs. The wearing of the dead, dead bodies of animals everywhere, as leather, of cord made of gut, spoons and weapons made of bone. It was very primitive; the use of stone, the lack of metal. Centaurs were fine metal smiths and had perfected several alloys and tempering techniques. They would show off their craft with shoes made of metal and wore several rings in each ear. The Amazons thought they were loud and showy, the glint of the earrings shining in the sun would attract everything from birds to bees and certainly scare away all prey. You could almost smell them before you heard the racket from their metal shoes on the rocks. Well almost.

Centaurs were vegetarians and had to consume a vast quantity of food daily. Knowing the Amazons consisted on meat based meals with some forest gathered herbs they brought wagons of their own food. They farmed vast tracts of land with a well constructed irrigation system, saving their manure for the fields. The Amazons, who preferred to bury their offal in the forest like a cat, thought this was very unhygienic.

Gabrielle had not seen or heard of many of the vegetables that they brought with them and was very interested to try Centaurian Cuisine. She saw numerous tubers, some which grew under large sun flowers and others from water lilies. A huge thistle like plant produced large edible flower heads that were called artichokes. There were several types of large edible mushrooms that were cultivated in the forest on piles of rotting logs, to which new logs were added each year to continue the strain. They had massive crocks of honey, much to Gabrielle's delight. These were not from wild bees but tamed ones that had been convinced to take up residence in hollowed out logs strung from trees. The honey was easily harvested yearly by lowering the log and removing a cover on top. The bees would rarely sting and were left with enough honey to rekindle the hive resulting in a continuous harvest. So different from the Amazons climbing to a wild hive and knocking it down off the tree with a staff, creating a swarm of homeless and very angry bees.

The emissary from the Centaurhood had a human son; rumour was that he was adopted from a great hero of the nation that died fighting for the protection of the Centaurs. Kaliapus brought his son Solan with him as he was learning to lead the nation. It was rare for human males to hold such a high post in the Centaurhood but it was obvious to Gabrielle that Solan was special. Solan was about 14 years old, on the edge of manhood, and he seems a very respectful youth whose eyes danced mischievously when he caught your gaze.

Kaliapus approached Queen Melosa and explained their plight, they also were a closed society, thought of by outsiders as forest gods. The Centaur numbers were declining. They used to rely on a special sect of Athena's priestesses who would mate with them under the equinox in the temple. All Male children of this joining would be centaurs. The births were very difficult. The women prepared themselves for this over years of stretching their vaginas in special rituals with large phalluses in preparation for penetration by a centaur. The birth was another matter as the pelvic bones of most women could not accommodate the four legged baby inside. This sect considered it a great gift to give their lives for the birth of a forest god and many women died as the babies were cut from their bodies. Only a few women were chosen every year and from them only one or two centaur babies were born. (As you can imagine fewer and fewer women are signing up for this sect.)

“We are dying, Gabrielle. We have a proud history but I am afraid that this too will be lost.” Kaliapus lamented.

This got Gabrielle thinking about some of the more distasteful Amazon practice, the forced mating, the killing of male babies and she knew there was a way to create a bond of peace that would never be broken, mutually benefiting both nations. Now she just had to find a way of convincing Queen Melosa.

Gabrielle and Solan spent quite a bit of time together while Ephiny and her secret mate Phantes toured the village to find an appropriate place to house the Centaur contingent. Solan almost asked as many questions as Gabrielle and she found herself really liking this inquisitive young man.

“Do you know any stories?” Solan asked much to Gabrielle's delight.

Gabrielle told Solan a string of stories and she found when he laughed his eyes danced. It stuck her like a Blacksmith's hammer. He laughed just like Xena, a fully committed laugh, confident and truthful. Gabrielle felt a pang of regret in her stomach. “ Is this why I feel this connection to him? Is this why this treaty is so important to me?” She lost herself for a moment while she thought back to the stretch marks on Xena's abdomen that she never got around to asking about. She thought about Solan's age, 14 summers ago would be just before Xena met Aeson in the North, before her first army and long before she started her quest for a united Greece. The Centaur's traditional homeland, like that of the Amazon's, had been spared by Xena's troops. ‘Avoided on purpose more like it,' Gabrielle surmised.

This all made sense if Xena was Solan's Mother. One secret solved, Gabrielle now wondered why Xena had spared the Amazons. She knew the answer had to be in the vast Amazon herstory scrolls.

“Solan, can I ask you a personal question?” Gabrielle snapped out of her thoughts.

He smiled gently, “Anything, Gabrielle,” he drawled out.

Gabrielle thought , “Oh yes, this is absolutely Xena's boy. Bedroom eyes looking at me with a crush. Even saying my name in the same way. I'll have to find a way to let him down gently.”

“What do you know of your parents?”

Solan signed, “Not much really. Only what Kaliapus has told me. They were caught in our war between a powerful warlord and the Centaurhood. This warlord not only wanted our land but also wanted to destroy every one of us. Father led the Centaurs to Victory but he too died in the last battle. He is a hero to the nation. His name was Borias.”

“And what of your mother Solan?” Gabrielle questioned again.

“She died in the cross-fire. She was not a fighter, she was peaceful and beautiful and my father loved her very much. I'm a lot like her. That's why Kaliapus has not allowed me to pick up the sword and why I am training to be an emissary, not a warrior. Every life lost brings the Centaurhood closer to extinction. We have to make alliances and peace with our neighbours, not any more war.”

“Solan, do you feel apart or different? I mean being a human in the Centaurhood.”

Actual surprise surfaced on his face, “Of course not, they have taught me everything.” His eyes sparkled and he teased, “Well, except how to sit on a chair. But then the Amazon's can't do that either.”

Gabrielle joined in with his laughter, quietly soaking it up and remarking how similar we all are. She thought the more separations we make, the more similar we become. Yes, looking into those boy's sparkling eyes she knew this union of Nations was meant to be.

“Let's go eat!” Solan exclaimed exploding upwards, this saying was almost an anthem in the Centaurhood as hours were spent eating each day to sustain their large bodies.

“I thought you'd never ask.” Gabrielle smiled finally a group of people who were hungry whenever she was.


After dinner Gabrielle decided to put it all out there and confront Kaliapus who would be the only one who could confirm her suspicions. She wrapped herself in a long bark shawl, covering her leather loin cloth, to be a little less offensive to the Centaur.

“How are the accommodations, Chief?”

“Please just call me Kaliapus, Princess.”

“Only if you call me Gabrielle,” she countered followed by a smiled pause and a nod of agreement from the Centaur.

“We have set up the contingent in the western meadow. Please do not be offended but most do not wish to enter your village.” Kaliapus bobbed around as he talked, never keeping his feet still.

Gabrielle found the movement distracting and difficult looking up so far to talk to an individual.

Gabrielle losing her air of decorum, “It's the smell isn't it? The smell of the meat cooking and of the leather we wear.”

Kaliapus looked terribly guilty for a moment, but then relented, “Yes, it is.”

Gabrielle continued, “Kaliapus, this will not be easy. We are diametrically opposed cultures, male/female, vegetarians/hunters but I know that we can bring strength to each other if we are able to look past the surfaces and see our nations dying for lack of change. We need this alliance as much as you.” She looked up with a gentle honest smile. “I want you to know that this will be something I will fight for, with all my heart.”

For Kaliapus this was more than he could have ever hoped for when Phantes first suggested he approach the Amazons. Here the princess, future Queen, had accepted and even embraced his proposal. There was a long moment of silence between the pair as they stood and watched the last of the glowing sky succumb to the sparkle of night.

“I have a question for you, Kaliapus, on another subject,” Gabrielle wavered in her resolve, not wanting to ruin the moment of friendship but not knowing when she would again be alone with Kaliapus. “Solan's mother…” She started.

“Is dead,” Kaliapus finished for her, crossing his arms across his broad chest.

“Kaliapus,” Gabrielle steadied herself catching and holding his gaze, “I know Solan's mother and she is very much alive.”

“You don't know what you are talking about,” Kaliapus lashed back but Gabrielle stood firm in her resolve.

“I absolutely do,” she countered.

“A person such as you would not know her. She is absolutely brutal, relentless in her quest for power,” his feet stamping in passion.

“I love her,” she stated defensively and then quietly continued, “and yes you are right. Her brutality and relentless quest is what pushed me away.” Gabrielle's voice cracked, this is not what she wanted, to lay her broken heart out like an open scroll. “Kaliapus, I love Xena. She is the other half of my soul.” It felt so good to finally say that out loud to someone, regardless of the consequences.

Kaliapus saw her pain and relented. Removing the charade he explained, “She did not want him killed. She wanted him to know peace, not war. She knew he would be a target if he stayed with her so on that still dark night when he was just three days old she gave him to me to raise as my own. His father was a hero to our nation and I will raise him to be as well.”

Gabrielle thought she saw a tear moisten his stoic cheek.

“She has promised to protect our lands, which she had done. She sends supplies each winter that are above generous. But I have never heard a word from her in person. I am surprised she told you.” Kaliapus let his arms down and settled his feet.

“Oh. She did not tell me. I don't think she ever would have.” Gabrielle explained wistfully, “I saw her soul dancing in Solan's eyes when he laughed; they are so much alike, in many ways. I think he even has a crush on me.”

Kaliapus laughed at this and exclaimed, “Smart boy!”

Gabrielle continued sombrely, “He deserves to know the truth.” She saw Kaliapus' body stiffen and she added, “When you think the time is right.” And she left it at that turning away walking back to the main camp quietly adding a final, “Good night.” Leaving Kaliapus to his thoughts in the gathering darkness.



Chapter 16


Melosa received word from a runner of the northern border. Two warlords battling for control had been driven dangerously close to Amazon lands by the Conqueror's troops. The troops of Greece would not enter the land and break the treaty for risk of death from Xena's own hand. There was the chance the warlords would seek refuge in the Amazon's forest to evade the law. Melosa called upon Gabrielle and Ephiny to join her with a small warrior contingent.

A sunken ravine held the wagon trail that defined the last road of the farmlands before entering the forest of the Amazons. The warlord's sparse but tenacious men had hunkered in on each side waiting for an opening to rush the other across the open ground. So far they had been smart and stayed put and the Amazons could only watch and wait until the treaty was broken. The Amazons would feel Xena's wrath for sure if they took the offensive off The Land.

Gabrielle could hear a wagon approaching and the men engaged their weapons readying for battle. She watched in horror as a peasant family became the diversion the warriors were waiting for and both sides launched their attack at once, oblivious to the collateral damage of the family in the cross-fire.

Gabrielle's heart broke as she saw the parents' surprise, panic and eventual fall in an aimless and hopeless effort to protect their six children against a sea of arrows. The older daughter, probably nearing thirteen with the help of her now dead Mother had gathered the smallest three, two boys and a girl under the wagon, in relative safety. A girl of eight made a blind run from whence they had come and was shot down mercilessly. Her smaller six year old sister followed behind and crouched dazed near her older sibling. It was only a matter of time until they would join fates.

Melosa could not stand it any longer. She charged out from the trees with pelta in one hand and her sword swinging so fast in the other it formed a shield of its own making. She got to the child and gathered her to her feet and held her between the shield and her legs.

Melosa heard them coming. Heard the parting of the air. She lifted her gaze and locked eyes with Gabrielle as she lowered her pelta to fully cover the girl's body. The shield stopped three arrows but a fourth hit her square in her right shoulder. The impact shuttered through her body and for a moment it almost looked like she might recover, as the next two bolts lodged simultaneously in her chest and abdomen.

Gabrielle watched as Melosa's gaze went dark with pain and she fell to her knees. She knew enough about battle wounds from her time spent with Xena to know there was no recovery from this. In a flash she grabbed Eponin's pelta in addition to her own and charged across the track, now with two shields creating an effective cover.

Rushing to Melosa's side she caught her against her own body and softened the queen's fall to the ground. She drove the three shields into the ground, building a barrier to the continuing onslaught. Gabrielle pushed the child into the safest corner and held Melosa with care. When Gabrielle went to break off the shaft of the first arrow, Melosa gripped her arm and shook her head to say ‘don't bother'.

Melosa mouthed, “Come here” to Gabrielle who crawled forward. Melosa started in a weak voice, “You, my dear, are the future for us. Don't let them break you. I know they can be a tough bunch but we need you.” Her body shuttered and she gasped with pain before continuing with urgency, “Gabrielle, follow your heart, for it will lead you to the truth.”

Gabrielle knew she had lost her as Melosa's eyes slowly slid shut. But it was not over. A shutter wracked her body and the Queen's hand rose up signalling Gabrielle closer to her. “Don't give up on love like I did. Forgive Xena and open your heart.” A warm smile grew on her face as the tension from her body relaxed into Gabrielle's arms.

And with a short final sigh Melosa breathed her last breath and Gabrielle became Queen.

Ephiny crawled up beside her and sobbed when she saw Melosa's lifeless body. Her attention was drawn to the small whimpering and huddled figure under the first shield. Gabrielle whose mind was in a fog had all but forgotten about the girl.

Ephiny shattered her thoughts, “Gabrielle, we have to get you out of here,” and then slowly sombrely added, “My Queen.”

The two women each held two shields providing enough cover. Ephiny walked with the child in front between her legs and they slowly shuffled out of the hot zone and into the safety of a ring of sisters.

Gabrielle barely squeaked out, “They killed Melosa,” before the sisters exploded into action and formed into offensive lines. The archers took to the trees, while the others split into two fronts behind each of the warlord's men. It was over quickly. Every one of these bloody bandits was slaughtered.

The children who were under the wagon were gathered up and before Gabrielle could react a knife was at the throat of the infant boy.

“Stand down, warrior,” Gabrielle stepped right in the face of the defiant woman and locked eyes.

The warrior hesitated but did not remove the knife, “He will just grow up to fight like these bastards. It's easier to kill him now.”

Ephiny lunched forward and gripped the woman's armour, “Submit to the Queen.” The warrior's eyes widened as Ephiny demanded. “Submit to YOUR Queen.” The warrior buckled to her knees. “Anyone else?” Ephiny turned to the ring of Sisters that had gathered to witness the exchange but no one would meet her eye.

Eponin spoke first, “Sisters, let's clean up this mess.” And the crowd dispersed to burn the dead and take Melosa home.

Gabrielle held the baby boy to her chest and whispered, “Welcome to the Centaurhood.”


The last moon had been pure exhaustion that taxed even Gabrielle's powers of persuasion. She had been crowned Queen and battled her fears of the tree staircase but nothing compared to convincing hundreds of Amazons to support Ephiny's decision to come out of the closet. She announced her love for Phantes at the last tribal meeting and not a sound was heard from the forum. No one really knew how to process this information. Gabrielle had done her supportive best debating this with anyone who cared to voice their opinion to the Queen, which she surmised had been at least half the population.

The other great challenge of the first moon as Queen was on a personal and emotional level. Moving into Melosa's quarters she read a personal diary where Melosa professed her lifelong love for Shala and her agonizing decision to banish her over a decade ago. Melosa had lived her whole life without her great love and Gabrielle now let the urgent clarity of her last words sink in. Gabrielle also discovered something that she wished she never knew. In Melosa's large wooden chest, that Gabrielle herself had sat upon countless times, were fifteen scrolls about Xena and her herstory with the Amazons. Gabrielle learned from documented first-hand accounts why Xena was called ‘The Destroyer' and as a parallel why Xena had never attacked the Amazons in her recent quest.

Just thinking of this moment again Gabrielle uttered a whispered prayer, “Thank you Melosa for sparing me, at least sparing me until now.”

Xena The Destroyer murdered all the leaders of the Northern tribe in a cowardly act of trickery. She teamed up with a Shaman named Alti who locked the Amazons' souls away from their sisters in the afterlife, apparently to continually suck the energy from them. The Northern tribe was all but destroyed. The twinks and children were left to fend for themselves, barely surviving the winter before rangers visited and provided assistance. It was an unforgiveable act of genocide.

Xena rose to power among the world of men. Alti had not been heard from since, but must still powerful and dangerous, as these souls have not yet been released. They are locked in eternal servitude, an Amazon's nightmare ,therefore Xena and Alti are considered the greatest enemies of the Amazons.


Gabrielle had read and reread the scroll. Ephiny had read and reread the scroll. Gabrielle read the scroll again.

“Are you sure she can do that?” Gabrielle was now almost fully versed in Amazon Law, having been queen for the better part of two seasons, but this scroll had her terrified and she had already prayed to Artemis for a peaceful solution.

“Unfortunately, Yes. Normally challenges come soon after a change in reign but you said she was stationed where again?”

“Egypt or Abyssinia, last I knew.”

“Abyssinia, I guess word takes a while to get there. It's not as if WE broadcast our business to the world.” This was yet another dig at Xena and her grand plans to crown herself Emperor of the World. Everyone in Greece was encouraged to join regional festivals to celebrate the event. Ephiny had not been able to let this go since finding out this bit of information from a trader a seven-day past.

“Is Valesca really eligible to challenge for the mask? Leaving the land, serving in the Conqueror's army and all.”

“Yes, of course. She was born of the land. Her Moms were highly respected. Even the banishment of Shala continues to be debated, many were against that treatment. She will always be an Amazon, even if the Destroyer pays her to fight. She was an excellent warrior when with the tribe. Now that her sword skills have been honed on the armies of the world she will be... unstoppable...”

“So basically, I'm dead.”

Ephiny set her jaw and hoped for another answer. “Perhaps your night stalker friends have some other ideas.” She added sheepishly teasing.

“Moon Keepers,” Gabrielle corrected.

“Where are they anyways?”

“Moon keeping I guess. They always disappear for a seven-day or so near the full moon.”

“Why do you think that is?”

“I have learned just not to ask too many questions with them,” Gabrielle countered a-matter-of-factly.

“Especially if you don't want to really know the answers,” Ephiny whispered with a grin as she passed by the Queen and made for the door.


Ulla and Haela could feel the emotion streaming off the Queen before they even entered the village. Gabrielle knew they would come to her and she hoped they could help.

After hearing the whole story, Ulla spoke up as Haela re-read the scroll. “We cannot interfere in the politics of the village. This is the law as it is written.”

Gabrielle's face dropped.

Haela continued, “We know you, Gabrielle. You have the strength and the skills to defeat her.”

“A staff cannot stand against a sword in a challenge,” Gabrielle stated obviously.

“Not your staff, girl. Your sai.”

Gabrielle mulled this over. Her boots, sai, and little personal mementos from Xena were still wrapped up in the woollen shawl hidden in the woven rafters of her first hut. No one here had ever seen her use them. Most of the Amazons had probably never even seen this weapon and what it can do to a blade.

“Let me put it this way,” Haela added with a glint of humour in her eye, “the only other option is to take Xena as your consort so she can stand as your champion.”

Gabrielle's jaw slacked with shock. Recovering quickly she stated, “I'm not ready for that, yet. And anyways I have to take on this fight on my own. Can you imagine my validity as Queen if I invited ‘The Destroyer' onto the land to fight my battles? No, this is mine. You are right, deep inside I know I can do it. Or I could have when I was practicing with Xena daily.” Gabrielle paced across the hut, “Crap, I don't know where to start.”

“Grab your boots and sai, we will practice daily for the next moon. By the time Valesca steps on the land you will be ready.”

Ulla exclaimed when they were out of earshot, “That was a pretty cheeky comment about taking Xena as a consort.”

Haela grinned, locked eyes with her beloved and whispered, “Sometimes a women just knows.”


Ephiny was worried, deeply worried. So worried that she had her boyfriend, really a Centaur-friend, Phantes stationed in a grove of trees on a small hill flanking the field, with a cross bow. If it came to it she would risk banishment and save Gabrielle's life.

“How are you holding up?”

Eponin's haggard expression said it all. Neither of them had gotten much sleep. Especially since Gabrielle refused Eponin's offer to practice.

“I mean she's not bad with that staff of hers,” Eponin conceded. “She has welted me good a few times. But we just don't have enough swords in the village to provide exposure to bladed weapons in regular practice. My wooden replicas are just useless.” Ephiny could hear the desperation in her voice.

It said a lot about her love of the queen that Eponin spent the better part of a seven-day to run to her sister's patrol and with much difficulty convince her to give up their mother's sword for the next moon so she could practice with Gabrielle. Ephiny wished she could have just brought out the one Phantes had crafted for her and save the weapon's master a lot of trouble. But no one appreciated her showing off her gifts from Phantes although she continued to wear her earring even though it still garnered evil looks occasionally. Centaur weapons were much superior to those gleaned in battle with the local Greek militia or even Eponin's mother's Roman one and hers was easily the most expensive item on The Land.

Valesca stood sombrely; she genuinely liked Gabrielle, but no true blood Amazon could stand by and watch a convert become Queen. It was unheard of. She locked eyes with Callisto. Who had supported her, even pushed her somewhat, into making the challenge official. Now that the day was here and her feet were firmly on the land she felt sick to her stomach. But the wheel that needed only a little push to get started had gathered momentum and there was no stopping it now. Half the crowd seemed to be cheering for her.

The crowd was enormous, many of the scouts had returned to the village just for this event. Some who had not even met Gabrielle before. The crowd waited restlessly. Something was amiss. Ephiny suddenly feared Gabrielle had run off. Just then Eponin grabbed her arm in a death grip and pointed to the approaching threesome. Gabrielle was flanked by Ulla and Haela in their dark green ranger cloaks. Gabrielle was stunning in her white ceremonial loincloth.

“What's that on her feet?” Eponin was mystified.

“Boots,” Ephiny joked, unsure herself of the oversized daggers.

“I've seen those before, you idiot. I meant the weapons,” Eponin was too concerned to notice Ephiny was teasing her.

Gabrielle entered the ring of women. A slight breeze whipped at her short hair and whisked a bit of dust into the crowd. She crouched as Valesca drew her sword with a flourish and it rang metallic. Gabrielle launched upward drawing her own twin sai with a louder ring they drowned out Valesca's curse.



Chapter 17


The palace was grand and ‘the grand room' was the largest of them all. The three story walls were made from dark marble culminating in open air arches that extended out to the garden. Large burgundy velvet drapes trimmed with gold could be pulled over the openings if the weather turned foul. Xena, having camped for so many years under the open stars, much preferred the open room of the palace. She often slept in here or the garden or on the roof, much to her security staffs' concern.

Today was a day to behold, her crowning ceremony as Empress of the known world was only a few days away. Representatives from every smaller Greek diam were there as well as full contingents from Indus, Chin, Egypt, Persia, Babylonia, Rome, Gaul, Britannia and the northern Norse lands. The palace was teaming, as all the higher dignitaries were housed within. Korinthos itself was bursting at the seams, every room in the city rented, and the plebs making money by renting any unused space, no matter how small to house all manner of staff from the large contingents. Food had been brought in from all four corners of the land with more Fisherfolk sailing off the Kornithian coast gathering to sell the fruits of the sea daily to the horde of people on the docks looking for a fresh meal.

Xena had done her best to keep the peace inside the castle by housing the representatives from Chin and Egypt in opposite wings as Lau Ma and Cleopatra had never really got along, and providing large tracts of land for camps of Gauls, and the Norse who preferred the open skies. It had been almost three whole days and even the patience of her normally unflappable house servants, who had pretty much seen it all, were wearing thin. How would they survive three more?

She had found more and more reasons to head up to her rooftop sanctuary away from the constant companionship of her guests. This would all be over soon. Tomorrow evening they would gather for the naming of the court and her regents who would then separate and celebrate the appointments in their tradition in their own camp; wisely keeping the disagreements to a minimum. Then at Midnight three days later under the full moon she would be crowned as empress, starting a new era for the world, and era of peace, understanding, and freedom from slavery for all. She laughed and felt her heart pang, she sounded like Gabrielle, if only she could be here to see her now. She could have been so proud knowing it was all worth it. Xena's reign of blood had actually created peace.

Tonight was the opening feast, a huge gathering of every contingent and tribe. It was her moment to treat them all for their dedication to her, and to her cause. Preparations had started at dawn although a stockpile of goods and livestock had been gathered for over a moon. The palace was decorated for the event with flowers, fine fabrics from all over the world, art, and acrobats, singers and players of instruments prepared for the evening's entertainment.

Xena initially had an idea to bond her nation through the war arts. Now that they were no longer at war her army was growing soft. Warriors the world over were invited to win gold, favour and a place in history by competing in games of cunning, strength and speed. First she initiated the running of a flame from all four directions joining them together, from Gaul, Egypt, Persia and Chin, together lighting a huge raised cauldron in the center of Corinth. This garnered lots of attention before the events started. The first few days of competitions were for chariot races, horse riding, archery and foot running indicated the highest performing warriors from each corner of the realm. Then the final two days her elite palace guard would keep the winners of the warrior contingents engaged in games of strength, dexterity and cunning.

Those games were hard fought and harder won, luck playing a significant part of each competition. Teams had been joined at random with ten members from the various lands. Interesting that the language of the warrior was universal and the games were such a combination of strength and skill that a wide variety of skill was needed to succeed. Teamwork was definitely a key and today was the culmination with the final six teams in competition against each other. There was a rope pull over the center of the palace common where each team pulled on the opposite end of the rope and tried to throw the other team off balance, a race to move a large boulder across the palace common by team members. There ingenuity and leverage and organization were more important than strength alone. There were balance games moving the whole team over a set of bamboo lattices set about shoulder height. The more nimble and lighter members were favoured and had to run interference against the other teams while the larger members focused on crossing the lattice. There were games of communication where a bow had to be built from a pile of materials with half the members blindfolded and the other half not able to touch any of the materials. The first team to hit the target with an arrow won. This was mostly luck, it turned out, as not many of the teams spoke enough common language to share instructions effectively and provided a great deal of laughter. There was also an obstacle race set up by the Norse in their camp field which was primarily mud and involved a lot of crawling. The only group that really enjoyed that was the Norse themselves who laughed themselves silly at the sight of their prim and proper comrades with dirt stuck in every crevice.

The teams had bonded, that that was certainly evident by the crowd in the hall tonight. Gone were the groupings of a week ago now the whole room was mingling and laughing with great gusto. The winners of the contest had a wreath of delicate olive branches as crowning glory of their perseverance and a gold amulet hung around their neck given to them by Xena herself. They were a large replica of the first coins to be minted with Xena's currency: portrait on one side and her crest on the other.

The hall was perfect tonight. A large purple and gold banner of her herald, that had been especially made for the coronation was elevated at the far end from the entrance. The chakram crossed by an X was the crest Xena had used since her warlord days and it was the symbol of a nation and now of the world. The hall was lit by over a hundred torches held in sconces on all four sides of the numerous columns and on every arch that exited to the garden. The large reflecting pool danced with the light and the energy of the hall as the guests gathered was abuzz with excitement. Enormous tables of food were lined along the far wall. A long table was set up for the heads of state with Xena's throne at the end but almost everyone was standing and milling about in a chaotic excitement of what the evening would hold.

All of a sudden a whistling call from the guards alerted Xena that something was amiss. It seemed the party was about to be crashed by uninvited guests as the disturbance moved towards her. Xena stood to her full height, allowing her to see over most of the crowd which naturally parted. It was evident that the group had not been stopped by the guards as people fanned out in front of Xena, allowing her unobstructed view of the entrance. She saw the most amazing sight, thirty women, naked, with their bodies painted in a shimmering bright blue. Their bodies were accented with white dots along the curve of their hips, breasts, necks and backs and small braided bands tied around their arms and calves held beads and feathers that swayed with the movement. A silver glow from some shiny dust applied to their plastered hair and the outer length of their arms and down their legs accentuated their movements. The women moved in unison to some type of dance, a dance that was at once erotic and dangerous. The whole group was mesmerizing in their movements and demeanour; it was obvious from their strength that they were warriors. Xena bristled as she did not yet know their intentions. Her curiosity won out and she signalled the guards to stand down.

As the contingent came closer, it was evident that the dancing group were surrounding three masked women who wore knee-long pure white leather loin cloths, large dark feathered masks and the traditional burgundy leather Amazon body armour with their long crescent pelta shields resting on their backs. They appeared to be unarmed. Their unpainted and deeply tanned bodies highly contrasting to the white leather as they walked regally in the center of this writhing mass of naked blue bodies. Xena noticed as the frenzy increased in pitch that this dance was actually a carefully disguised killing art imitating various predatory animals. It would be especially effective as a warrior would be able to approach their human prey without causing a fear response and having the complete element of surprise, just another mysterious Amazon secret.

The central three, royalty she surmised, were completely and effectively protected but without any outward show of force. Well done Amazons! At least I think they are Amazons. Yes they must be, they screamed Amazons, the short hair, the lack of shoes, the bodies of pure muscle. Xena had never seen anything this organized or sensual in her time with the Northern tribes and she wondered if this was a signature of the Southern ones. She felt a pang, was this beauty and power what she had been missing by destroying any connection she had with them all those years ago?

The frenzy continued in unison, the group coming to a halt directly in front of Xena. Through some unseen signal, the dancers now shifted and moved in a circular direction around the three central figures, rising and falling, fully stretching and rolling their painted bodies against each other, coming closer to Xena. Yes, quite entertaining, she thought, a sly smile hinting at the corners of her mouth. Xena took her eyes off the Amazons for a moment to survey the crowd. The smiling crowd thought this group was the entertainment for the evening and seemed to be enjoying it very much. She did not feel threatened as they were obviously unarmed, there was no way to conceal weapons of any kind in the outfits they were wearing, or more correctly weren't wearing. Despite this fact she unconsciously detected the weight and pressure of the daggers in her boots, a reminder they were there, just in case.

The fever of the dancers was reaching a crescendo; they had become more and more erotic changing directions several times, with the women caressing each other while passing in opposite directions in two intertwining circles around the central figures. Just as Xena thought they could not take it any higher, for fear her guests would start joining in, the dancers collapsed in unison supplicating fully on their knees to the royalty at the center of the circles.

The three masked women who up until this point had been quite concealed by the writing mass of bodies were now fully exposed. The one in front was obviously the leader and wore the largest most ornate mask, her body was battle hardened muscle but still kept the curves of womanhood unlike most of the group who were very angular. She was slighter and shorter than the other two.

Xena wondered, ‘Could it possibly be her?' There was no hint of her long strawberry blond hair and her body was not that Xena had remembered. ‘No, it could not possibly be. Not here, not now.'

The crowd was silent as the three approached Xena. She noticed her guard tense but she waved them back with a slight flick of her hand.

The masked woman on the right announced in a loud and clear voice that was heavily accented Greek, “I, Ephiny, regent of the Southern Tribe, wish to extend greetings from all of Amazonia to congratulate our future Empress.” She waited for the cheers to die down and then continued, “Our Queen has a special gift for you.”

With that the central shorter woman came forward with a small but intricately carved soft leather mask that she untied from around her own body. It held some similarities in colour and design to the ones the three were wearing but was much smaller. The Queen stepped forward and nodded her head slightly to Xena. Xena inhaled and smelled the familiar lavender that brought a flash of memory back like a powerful wave. The dream with Cyane and Melosa across the table with Gabrielle, when Cyane said, “Xena, do you have a problem with Amazon Queens?”

“By the Gods”, she whispered unconsciously with the outflow of her breath as she wavered, taking one step back, she heard her guard move forward in concern. Looking down to compose herself she then lifted her eyes to the hidden ones under the mask and felt her face flush and her eyes start to tear up.

The Queen stepped closer almost touching.

“It must be,” she whispered again more to herself than to the Queen, but the masked figure did not acknowledge her confusion if she had heard her, she just raised the gift to her face and with her arms stretched up pressed her breasts into Xena's stunned figure and tied the soft mask around her head. Xena felt almost ready to collapse with the close presence of this woman.

As she lowered her arms the Queen took one blink to whisper in her ear, leaving a hot caress of breath along her neck. In pure unaccented Greek her secret was revealed, “I would rather be taking something off you,” and Xena finally knew for sure. It truly was her beloved Gabrielle.

The shock was enough to break Xena's normally controlled exterior, a muted cry escaped her lips and she froze for an instant with tears welling in her eyes. As the Queen took one step back, Xena reached out in a desperate grasp but was thwarted as the group of women instantly came alive again and the Queen was swallowed back into the throng of writhing bodies and whisked away into the crowd.

Xena tried in vain for the rest of the evening to find Gabrielle but it seemed she had quickly departed to the heavily guarded Amazon camp in a nearby forest. Dahen, who she had dispatched to follow the group, reported this information to her, not guessing the reason for her intense interest.


The next morning, Xena sat at her desk in her inner office when her door guards knocked with a message.

“The Amazon Queen wishes confidence, My Lord,” the young officer forwarded the request.

“Show her in,” Xena replied. She could hardly contain herself but to her dismay, the masked queen entered with ten guard contingent. ‘ Are they trying to start a war? ' Xena thought.

“You may leave,” Xena said to her two door guards making the first move of trust, stubbornly trying to remain calm and polite. The guards exited bowing with confused looks, the Queen signalled a barely perceptible sign for retreat with her right hand and the full complement of Amazons, save one, made a hasty exit.

‘They certainly are responsive,' Xena thought.

The one remaining Amazon Xena recognised as the regent from last night, although today she was not wearing a mask, and her hardened warrior demeanour was obvious. There seemed to be a heated discussion going on between the regent and the Queen as Xena took two steps forward across the room not knowing how involved she should get. Perhaps Gabrielle had taken a mate, but even knowing that, today she would definitely not lose the chance to at least talk to her. The regent, defeated, glanced at Xena with a distasteful look and made her way to the door, closing it behind her a little harder than necessary.

Finally alone, Xena could see the Queen's body relax. She slowly reached up to remove the mask, setting it gently on the floor as Xena stood and watched. At first sight Xena could see so many changes, her hair was cropped short, her body and face hardened and deeply tanned. Then Gabrielle met her eyes and all the rest of the world faded away. Those eyes, swimming in her gaze, those precious green eyes smiled back at her a slow and tenuous smile but it was enough to light and rekindle every memory Xena had of them. It took only a few breaths for Gabrielle to find herself and sprint across the room, launching herself at Xena.

‘That's her alright,' Xena thought, ‘Impetuous and fun. Full of life. Full of love. I need her.'

Gabrielle was much stronger and heavier now and hit Xena with her leap like a ton of bricks causing Xena to step a few paces back.

“Easy, Tiger,” she gasped out with a little laugh.

Gabrielle had clasped around Xena in a full body hug with her arms and legs locked. It felt like she was never letting go again. This was just fine with Xena. When Gabrielle finally released the iron grip enough to look above tear stained cheeks and into Xena's eyes, she saw something that was worth every moment of the last three years. She saw a look of such overwhelming love, a love that was forever. She knew, in those arms, that she was home again.

Gabrielle let herself go and gave into the sobs that had threatened to overtake her since the previous night, her body relaxed into dead weight and she rested her head on Xena's shoulder. Xena held her tightly under her body so she would not slip from her grasp and made her way slowly over to the pallet. Sitting on the edge Xena allowed Gabrielle to relax and slide down from her grip as she rolled over onto the bed. Reaching up for the only pillow and resting both of their heads on it she looked across at Gabrielle's form that still had a few muffled sobs. Reaching over and brushing her short bristled hair away from her face Xena drawled, “Gabrielle, you are beautiful.”

Gabrielle answered back with a demanding question, breaking the mood for a moment, “Xena, you only have one pillow?”

Xena's characteristic raised eyebrow was the first response, as she thought, ‘She still really likes to get to the point.' “I didn't know you were coming.”

Gabrielle continued, “You don't share your bed?” Looking expectantly, eyes boring closer for any sign of a falsehood. Still not getting any response, she raised up on an elbow moving away slightly and continued, her face flushing slightly in anger. “Or perhaps you have so many beds in so many rooms that you don't have to bring your lovers back here for the night.”

Xena smiled and rolled onto her back reaching out for Gabrielle in a signal to come closer. “Gabrielle,” she drawled her name again, continuing slowly and gently, “Calm down. I have been waiting for you. You are the other half of my soul. How could anyone else compare to you.” Xena paused and continued, “I have a hole in my heart, the shape of you. I need you back in my life to be whole. I made the biggest mistake. I want you back in my life... But only if you're ready.”

Renewed by such a response Gabrielle rolled onto Xena effectively trapping her by straddling her hips and by clasping their hands together above Xena's head. “And my love, I have been waiting for you, but...” she paused and Xena raised another eyebrow in expectation, “I have been planning this moment, and what I would do with you for a very very long three years,” Gabrielle finished with a grin.

“I would not want to be the one to ruin all your good planning,” giggled Xena as Gabrielle's hands started moving down her body and ignited a tickle.

“Well then, you will have to get another pillow because I don't plan on leaving this room anytime soon.” Gabrielle smiled her sweet smile that made Xena feel that it was reserved just for her. ‘Gods, this was turning out to be the best day ever.'


The noise in the outer chamber roused Xena from her light sleep. It was not enough to disturb Gabrielle's heavily sleeping and lightly snoring form on her shoulder.

“It has been over three candlemarks and we demand to account for our Queen's safety,” Ephiny's voice was clear and loud.

Xena turned her head just in time to see Salmoneus hastily backing through the chamber door with a very angry Amazon Regent forcing her way into him. The intensity of the outer chamber diffused instantly when both Salmoneus and Ephiny eyed the bed and the two forms in their embracing post-coital slumber.

Salmoneus found himself first and dropped to his knees, “My Lord, excuse us,” rising and starting to back out but not wanting to leave the Amazon regent alone.

Ephiny had the most confused and unbelieving look on her face but was able to gather enough stoic balance to converse somewhat logically, “Forgive me,” she bowed her head, “The safety and happiness of my Queen is my upmost duty. I was concerned…”

Xena cut her off forcefully, “Well then, we have something in common, as the safety and happiness of your Queen is my upmost duty as well.” She following in a softer tone, “And as you can see everything is more than fine.” Pausing for a moment, “There will be no more further interruptions.”

Ephiny conceded bowing her head, deflated and without argument, “Yes,” and after a brief pause she added, “My Lord.” Ephiny knew her Queen would be proud of her as she backed out of the inner chamber with respect.

Xena smiled to herself and whispered as she bent to kiss Gabrielle on the head, “Your secret is out, honey. I sure hope you are okay with that. The only other choice was to kill her and I don't think that would have helped this relationship any.”

‘Dang, Queen Gabrielle bedded the Conqueror, the Empress of the known world. I knew whoever she was stuck on must be someone really great but I never expected her to be the most feared warrior ever known to walk the world, with the strength of ten men, speed that is faster than sight, closer to the Gods than to the land.' Ephiny's thoughts were running wilder than a bolting colt. “Good Goddess Artemis,” she sighed as she exited into the hall and into crowd of expectant Sisters and thought, ‘No one is even going to believe me. Gabrielle will have to tell them herself.'

“Sisters,” she started, “we might as well head to the kitchen.” This resulted in many concerned looks dancing through the group. “All is good, the Queen is safe and well protected. We had better rest and eat as I have a feeling full regalia will be required at the ceremony as well.” This comment elicited a few sighs from the group who had spent the better part of the night removing the blue shimmer from their bodies.

Xena and Gabrielle did not emerge from the inner chamber until darkness was falling. Salmoneus had discreetly tucked a tray of food inside the door much to Gabrielle's joy when her stomach's growling woke her. Salmoneus had also been rushing around redesigning the coronation dais and table with an extra placing beside Xena as he was pretty sure his ruler would not be separated from this one for a long time, especially with the crowning only three days away.


It took the soft pre-dawn knock on the door to remind Xena that the Amazon Guards were probably outside the door all night and Ephiny, always a little over protective, was probably again frantic with worry. Xena padded quietly over to the door and opened it slightly, obscuring the view of Gabrielle sprawled on the bed. Xena enjoyed the momentary pause as the guard composed herself after seeing Xena's naked form.

“Yes,” Xena drawled out.

“My Lord, um um, ah, as tradition dictates,” the young guard started, “it is time for my Queen's sparring drills,” the hapless guard eventually bumbled out finally fully realizing what had gone on between her Queen and the Conqueror. As red flush quickly rose on her neck and she took a step back knowing that this was a pretty lame excuse for the disturbance.

Xena replied by raising one eyebrow in firm tone, “My Queen,” she said with much emphasis on the ‘My', “will not be out to play with you today,” she followed with a smirk and then continued, “She is currently engaged, and will be for the rest of the day, all night and most probably most of tomorrow too.” When no movement was forthcoming she added, “so just run along without her.” She then nodded at the stunned Regent outside the door who looked like she had also been standing there all night, “you too.”

“But My Lord,” the first guard started to protest when Ephiny caught her arm, “Let's go, she is protected by the Conqueror, there is no one better, and certainly I know our Queen is getting enough exercise,” the Regent ended with a cheeky smile locking eyes with the Conqueror for a moment, a thing few ever dared, but somehow the Conqueror, naked and loved at her bedchamber door, seemed almost human.

Then with a nod to Xena, Ephiny stepped a few steps back and departed with the guard in tow. Xena closed the door, but could not wipe the smile off her face. Remembering back to her brief stay with the Amazons and how quickly rumours flew around camp she knew her Queen's secret was no longer. Ephiny may have kept it in confidence but the guard surely would not.

As she slipped back under the covers and Gabrielle snuggled instinctively closer in her sleep she wondered how the little girl she had rescued from slavers and had learned to love had become the Amazon Queen. The sheet had slid half off Gabrielle's naked form and Xena gazed down the length of her body as she slept. She had changed. She was pure muscle. You could still see the surface scars along her back from her time with the slavers but they were not as noticeable as the defined muscle underneath. She was evenly tanned with no tan lines along her back, just broken by a single band of white along her hips.

‘So,' Xena thought , ‘she had taken to the Amazon custom of clothing for a while now.' Xena remembered with longing the freedom she felt with her breasts free and bathed in sunshine. “I guess I would too if I could,” she finished her thought. Xena also noticed some new lines around Gabrielle's eyes and thought they looked a little hollow. “She has not found happiness thought. This has been hard on her,” Xena thought with a pang of regret.

She had often wondered if over the last three years her course of action was for the best. She did not seek the girl out as Gabrielle had been adamant that it was over between them, and made her swear not to pursue her. She knew that Gabrielle would be safe among the Amazons as much as it pained her to think of others ‘Worshiping the Goddess' with her beloved.

Xena could not have held Gabrielle back from her journey any more than Gabrielle could have changed Xena's mind about revenge on Caesar. Xena mulled over her reasoning again in her mind as she had done countless nights over the last three years. Gabrielle had so much good in her it was unfair to poison her with my darkness. But now looking down at Gabrielle asleep in her arms Xena knew she could no longer let her go, not again. This she knew as truth but she did not have the answer for was how to shield her from this painful darkness. Understanding now, the answer would be found together a wave of peace enveloped her and she reached down to cover Gabrielle's back with the sheet. “I promise my love, I promise,” she gently sighed as drifted back, joining her love in slumber.


“There is something I have wanted to do to you Xena for over three years.” Gabrielle was leading now.

“What's that?” Xena replied hesitantly.

“Do you remember our little ruse to flush out Cadmus,” Gabrielle continued.

“Um… yes.”

“It was very sexy,” Gabrielle's eyes sparkled.

“Um… Yes.”

Gabrielle was not dissuaded by the one word answers and ploughed onward, “I've thought about that a lot over the years and want to show you what creative leathersmiths the Amazons can be. Turn over, love and let me take you up the back.”

“Oh Shit! You're not serious Gabrielle. You don't mean…”

“Oh yes, I am serious, and yes oh shit. I know that you just need the right motivation to surrender to the Queen of the Amazons,” Gabrielle teased with a glint in her eye.

“Oh Shit,” Xena groaned again.

“Oh yes baby, you seem to be hung up on one thing here. Do I need to tie you down?” Gabrielle questioned with all seriousness.

“Perhaps that would be easier,” Xena acquiesced, knowing she was just not going to win.

“Xena, there is apparently a great freedom for warriors in giving up control, letting someone else make the decisions. Just relax and let me guide you.”

“When did you become such an expert?”

“Xena, I read the entire Amazon library. Do you have any idea how many scrolls have sex in them? Actually, better to guess how many scrolls don't have sex in them. Warrior submission is a popular topic.” Gabrielle teased excitedly.

“Ok, but say something sexy in Amazonian to get me in the mood.”

“Kuut,” Gabrielle stated the Amazon word for sex.

“Something other than Kuut.”

“Ojoan avanate ajula marus,” Gabrielle repeated as if on stage.

“What does it mean?”

Gabrielle snuggled up and whispered into Xena's ear, “The eyes before me have a deep blue only rivalled by the depth of the ocean herself.”

“You couldn't have possibly said all that.”

“Amazonian does lack a certain sense of poetry. You have to read between the lines.” Gabrielle said with all seriousness and a sweet smile, “now bend over.”


The crowning ceremony was scheduled to happen tonight. Xena and Gabrielle had spent the better part of three days and nights in their bedchamber. They thought time would stop for them. It almost felt like it had. A lifetime passed in these three days of wonder and love. Tonight came, even though their wills were against it. Tonight Xena would be publicly declared Emperor of the World.

“What happened to you, Xena? I was not privy to any information other than the fact that you lived and now ruled Rome.”

“That's not exactly accurate, I almost did not live and I don't ‘rule' Rome. I allowed the Roman Republic to keep its senate, they rule Rome. I hold with them a negotiated peace through agreement. Strange fates determined that Dahen's previous owner Cicero would actually be responsible for leading the opposition to Caesar which lead to his death. I never had my revenge on him. He was killed by the Senate in broad daylight in the senate chambers. Everyone had a hand in it. Cicero said he had become too powerful and this was counter to all that is democracy.”

“I never would have expected that. What do you mean by ‘I almost didn't live'?

“I'm not much of a story teller,” Xena dropped her eyes.

“Please, Xena,” Gabrielle begged.

“Wait I'll let you read it,” Xena jumped up. “I wrote you letters that I never sent you.”

“Me too.”

“Well then, we will have to exchange them. Here are mine,” Xena brought out a large bundle of scrolls.

“I thought you said you were not much of a story teller,” Gabrielle smirked.

“Wait until you read them,” Xena said under her breath as her love drifted away into the scrolls.

Dearest Gabrielle,

I am writing you as I head off to see your parents. I want to give them your scrolls and tell them that you are safe. Don't worry, not those scrolls, just the ones documenting your travels. I have been visiting my Mom and for the first time we actually had a pretty good visit. I told her about you and she said I should honour my promise and not seek you out as I have wanted to do. She said that if it is right, it will happen eventually. I just don't know if I can live that long as I am so very lonely without you.

I have to tell you about what happened after we separated. I went to fight the Romans. We lost in every sense of the word. We lost so many lives. I killed for two days without rest. I can say that it was enough killing for a lifetime.

As the shadows lengthened over the second day a royal messenger trumpeted and a message passed over the field. Caesar had been killed. Actually stabbed by his own senate, for his refusal to listen to logic and reason. What a disappointment. I wanted to be the one to feel my dagger lodge up into his ribs with a satisfying crunch. My purpose had finished. I lost everything that was important to me. I realized all I really wanted was your heart and that is lost forever.

I dropped to my knees in the middle of the field of battle into the blood soaked mud and cried. Cried with my whole body. Wracking sobs that I have held back since I lost Lyceus holding him in my lap for his last breath. I sobbed until I lost the contents of my stomach. I must have passed out from the physical and mental exhaustion because my next conscious thought was how cold I was as I peered through the gathering darkness. Slowly I opened one eye and then the other. Both were nearly swollen shut. I wrapped my mind back around the present to find I was lying on the ground and the dampness of dusk covering me. I must have been lying there for quite a while. I did not know if the day belonged to Greece or Rome.

I could barely move and was not sure if I even wanted to. Eventually I tried to move my arms and slowly dragged my fingers forward through the mud. Grabbing clods of dirt I gingerly pushed one side of my body upward and surveyed the field. It was littered with bodies and weapons. It looked like both sides fought until no one was left standing.

The western horizon afforded a small line of light glowing from under a long heavy ominous cloud. The humid air caught in my throat with the smell of blood everywhere and rain approaching. The storm was over me quickly. Lightning, thunder and slanting rain so forceful it welted my skin. I made it to my knees and screamed at the sky, my mouth rapid filling with water.

We never knew if the day belonged to us or them. I think we both lost. And in the end it did not matter. Dahen and Cicero, his former master, came to an agreement that worked for both sides. A peace agreement. Something new for me.

I am trying to live my life in a way that would make you proud. I have not killed anyone since that day. Although it seems I have picked up a bit of a bad habit of stabbing those that oppose me in the thigh.

Forever your beloved, Xena

“Xena, here you have stopped killing and I have killed.” Xena's jaw dropped. Gabrielle remarked, “Don't look so startled. Valesca challenged me for the mask. The challenge is to the death. Then Callisto jumped in and I killed her too. I can't believe it sometimes. It feels like it was someone else not me. But it sure solidified the Nation behind me. So it has its positives, I guess.”

“Then I am glad of this news. Shala died two years ago. Peacefully in her sleep. So she never knew of her daughter's plan to challenge you for the mask or I am sure she would have guided her to another solution.”

Gabrielle let her shame go. She had been very worried of the confrontation by Shala with her first kill being her friend's precious daughter. “I often think of her. Her kindness with me. Her Mothering.” Gabrielle inhaled and then started with a squeal, “I almost forgot, I have a surprise for you. I do have a suitor.” Xena stiffened, “A 14 year old Centaurian human . Your son, Solan.”

“What? How did you know?” Xena gasped stunned.

“It was a hunch, mostly. But Kaliapus confirmed it for me. You really are very similar.”

“To Kaliapus?”

“No silly,” Gabrielle swatted her arm, “to Solan, to Solan. He is a fantastic kid.”

“I can't wait to meet him.”

“He is negotiating in the East. Training to be an emissary. And doing a great job. The Amazon Nation allied with the Centaurs last year. It's a tenuous peace, but it is peace.”

“Turning Warriors into Peacemakers is a very challenging proposition.”

Gabrielle poked Xena in the ribs, “You should know.”

“Yes,” Xena smiled and took Gabrielle into her arms, “I should know.”

Xena lead Gabrielle into the bathing chamber and they washed, readying for the evening. Gabrielle had her pure white long ceremonial loincloth and Xena a long flowing royal blue cloak (that Salmoneus said brought out her eyes) over an intricate black leather tunic and pants.

“I refuse to wear gowns. It's just not me,” she explained to Gabrielle who then kissed her fully on the lips.

Parting, Gabrielle confirmed, “You are so beautiful. You are perfect.” And quickly added before Xena could respond, “Perfect for me.”


Salmoneus was not able to contain his glee when Xena surveyed the hall. He had added a number of Amazon styled decorations and another throne on the dais. It would be perfect tonight for the coronation. All he needed to do is get the torches lit and he had an idea for the perfect dramatic flair.

All contingents were represented in the Grand Room. This evening was more formal and organized than the last party held here. Xena and Gabrielle entered down the dark carpeted aisle through a sea of well wishers and trumpets. Lau Ma caught and held Gabrielle's eye, as did Cleopatra. Was that Ny'ala who linked arms with Hypatia?

As they entered the darkened room Amazon Warriors shot hundreds of lit arrows arcing above them, lighting the torches and sconces around the room. It was indeed dramatic.

Approaching the dais, Gabrielle saw Hercules, Iolaus, Aeson, Farina, Cedric and of course Dahen with smiles threatening to break their faces, waiting for them. A round middle aged effeminate man with boundless energy directed them on where to stand. His sparse hair combed forward in an attempt to cover any thinning areas. He had adopted the dark kohl eyeliner of the Egyptians and placed the blue shimmer from the Amazons on his eye lids. Paired with his long flowing robe it was quite dramatic.

When he departed Gabrielle subtly leaned into Xena, “Who is that?” with wonder in her voice.

“Salmoneus, my Household Manager. Cleans up nicely, huh? He is the one who has been leaving food at the door.”

“I'll have to make a point to thank him afterwards,” Gabrielle grinned.

There were speeches made, songs played, doves released, gifts exchanged. Just when Gabrielle felt the tedium sinking in, Xena made a small offering to Athena, and then to Aphrodite. Gabrielle's jaw dropped, ‘Now, that's a big change,' she thought and whispered her own small prayer to Artemis.

Salmoneus arrived with the crown on an overstuffed pillow. He paraded through the entrance with two scantily dressed young men flanking him. Xena let out a guffaw when they came into view. “I think this is more for him than for me,” she commented to her companion. And all Gabrielle could do was stifle a giggle and nod slowly for fear of bursting out with laughter.

The crown was surprisingly delicate, woven strands of gold held precious stones from all corners of the Empire. It was a symbolic joining of all the land, each country having contributed. Salmoneus was tearing up dabbing his makeup when Xena lofted the crown and placed it on her own head.

Xena stood up, turned to face the roaring crowd for several moments and then did something very surprising. She walked two steps, took the crown from upon her head and placed it on Dahen's. She answered his stunned look with only, “We will have to get it resized.”

The prophesy was complete. He was “The King of Kings ruling the World by the Hand of a Woman.”

All in all, it seems everyone took the shock in stride. They all knew Dahen. He had constantly been at Xena's side for the last four years. He was well respected. It was said he was Artemis' blessed, that she had attended his birth, he had been a slave but that now his master was his puppet in Rome and that he was the Shah-na-Shah ruler of Persia. He was Xena's best friend, confidant and support. He was “Alexander the Great”, and would rule the word as Emperor for the next 14 years.


Xena and Gabrielle suddenly found they were no longer the center of attention.

“I like this much better,” Gabrielle grinned.

“You're not mad?”

“Never, this is more than I could have dreamed of. It's freedom.”

“I gave the crown to Dahen because I don't want anything else in the world but you. Some of the happiest moments of my life were during that moon travelling through Anatolia just with you.”

“Ya, it just wasn't long enough.”

Gabrielle's smile was crushed into Xena's chest as long arms folded around her and held her close. They relaxed and held each other like they would never ever let go.


“Xena, how do you feel about living on Amazon Land?”

“Are you talking about forever or just for a bit?” her voice was hesitant.

“Just until I can take you as my consort and make Ephiny my permanent Regent.”

“Gabrielle,” Xena smiled, “that I can do.”

“Then we can get out on the road.”

“The road to where?”

“Anywhere, we'll be Amazon Wanderers.”

“I like the sound of that.”


Xena found Amazon life surprisingly easy once she got past the occasional evil eye from the old timers. Partly because of the rhythm was very predictable and comforting. And it didn't hurt that she was treated with almost God like status in the training field. She taught sword arts to throngs of keen youngster and many older ones too who had never even held the weapon. She was very pleased with the results. After only two moons, they were a competent fighting force.

Initially she reconnected with Ulla and Haela as they were on the field daily too. But in the last month they had hardly seen them. They were reengaged with each other. Constantly staring into each other's eyes. Never apart. Often wandering the woods at night. She wondered if they even slept. Had they renewed their vows? The waves of love and devotion emanating from them were so strong many of the Amazons felt a renewed connection to our loves as well. The whole village was under their spell of love, longing. Xena wondered if she and Gabrielle looked just as sappy. Probably, she surmised with another wave of love.


The full moon was approaching, each night they noticed the sliver growing until it was half and then again almost full. This would be the biggest honouring of Artemis in years. All the outlanders would be gathering. Queen Gabrielle would be naming Xena as her consort under the blessing of the whole moon.

As most Amazon rituals, it was short and to the point. No need for the drama and fluff of the coronation in Korinthos. The drumming, dancing and drink would follow. As Xena and Gabrielle kissed to join their union, Haela and Ulla unexpectedly approached from each side of the dais, each behind one of the betrothed. This was not planned, but Gabrielle was in no place to notice or care. She was focused on the kiss with her beloved. Three shimmering forms materialized through the heavy night air. Athena, Artemis and Aphrodite stood behind the scene as witness.

Ephiny was on her guard and took a step forward but never would have expected the next move. Haela and Ulla bit into the exposed necks of Xena and Gabrielle in unison. It was something more than just a bite. A strange power was at work, as their bodies arched in ecstasy. Xena and Gabrielle struggled to keep the connection of their lips and their eyes flashed wide open in surprise. They felt a surge of white hot energy throb through their center, their kiss and all other senses intensified.

Ephiny relaxed. As strange as this was, she knew that if Gabrielle was in any danger at all Xena would have already exploded in her infamous fury. Ulla and Haela abruptly broke off from their frenzy and held each other as if there were no tomorrow, dropping to their knees they pledged their love and devotion to each other as tears streamed down their faces. Ulla planted quick small kisses around Haela face holding her head in her hands. They touched their foreheads together and spoke softly in their native tongue. They held each other in an embrace that was so urgent Gabrielle felt a tear sneak down her own cheek.

Haela and Ulla illuminated under the light of the whole moon threw back their heads and howled as if in pain. A hum, the sound of a thousand beating wings almost drowned them out. Gabrielle knew there was magic alive here that no one could explain. And from the open mouths of the two Rangers from the Northlands a stream of insects exploded. Streams of blue and green swarmed, circled, and joined together from each of their mouths, becoming one mass of sparkles in the moon light.

Xena whispered, “Dragonflies, the way-showers.”

Gabrielle gasped as the bodies of Ulla and Haela crumbled like clay, disintegrating into more insects. The light of the moon almost blacked out by the swarm in the air which circled the village three times and then flew off into the night. All that was left of Haela and Ulla was dust on their deep green cloaks, which had gently settled to the ground.

Gabrielle let out a sob. Xena held her close and comforted. “It is sad to lose them, but they will always be here in the moonlit dragonfly showing us the way and here in our hearts,” she placed their joined hands between their chests holding her tightly. This was close to the most poetic thing Xena had ever said and it made Gabrielle sob even harder so Xena changed her tactic. “Come on, what an exit, Amazons will be talking about this for ages! That was spectacular. I've certainly never seen anything like this before.” Gabrielle feigned a smile and wiped her eyes only to be replaced by kisses from Xena. “Let's look at that neck. The streams of blood were still there, thickened to the skin.

Amazingly the bite marks had already healed, leaving a nasty looking bright red wound. She had never seen a wound heal so quickly.

It was only then that the three Gods behind them came silently forward. Artemis placed a hand on each of their heads and closed her eyes. In an instant they were shimmers that mixed into the moonlight.

“Maybe they were Bacche and infected us?” thought Xena, not wanting to share this with her beloved just yet. “We need some answers, Gabrielle. We need to know what has happened here.” Xena finally managed.

Gabrielle reached down, the cloaks were still warm from the bodies that so recently departed them. She gasped in amazement, Xena look. There was one seed in the middle of each cloak. “It looks like an acorn.” Xena who could not tell a chestnut, from a walnut, just nodded in agreement.

“I will plant you next to each other on that ridge”, she pointed. “You will overlook the village,” Gabrielle pledged to her friends who were now part of the midnight air.


Queen Gabrielle of the Southern Amazons, Bard of Potidaea and her Consort Xena, Conqueror of Greece, Ruler of the World, joined by Artemis and Gaia returned to their hut to find a scroll intricately inscribed.

Dear Xena and Gabrielle,

Welcome to the Sisterhood, Keepers of the Moon, Chosen of Artemis.

We have passed on our gift of immortality. You are now the Keepers of the Moon. At any time only two will wander the earth with divine protection. We have held this honour for 300 years. It is now yours until you make the choice to pass on this everlasting gift to two other worthy women.

We regret we could not have told you more before we departed but it is the way we were initiated and all those before us.

You will find a need on the full moon for live blood. You can satisfy this blood lust from each other on the pulse points where you find your mark. The Mark of the Keeper.

Love Your Friends and Makers, Ulla and Haela

Xena and Gabrielle both reached up to their necks in unison where the bites were still healing and indeed there was a strong pulse there.


The next spring the two acorn sprouts quickly found each other and twined, bound forever in an embrace. They grew together and formed one large oak tree that was enjoyed for generations to come, played under, climbed upon, shaded picnics in the afternoon and lovemaking in the moonlight. And if you looked at just the right angle you would swear the trunk was formed by two women in an embrace, their bodies fitting perfectly together forever. It was the same design that was used for all known time on the leather armour of the Amazons.


Life on the road this last year had been perfect. With Xena's strength and Gabrielle's negotiation skills they had earned a bit of a reputation for solving problems and now more and more often they were sought out to help with various situations. These last few days Xena had guided them off the beaten track, North of Macedon, for a little peace and quiet. She was all for helping folks, but what was the point of being an Amazon Wanderer if they had their path decided for them by someone else. This freedom is what they both gave up their crowns for and she was not going to waste a moment of it.

Gabrielle was sitting towards the fire, just having finished breakfast. Her knees were drawn up to her chest and she was totally focused on her new scroll which she balanced on her knees as she twirled the quill absently in the ink. Suddenly a bolt of red liquid hit her cheek, and splashed onto her half written page, causing her to jump. After recovering for a moment and slowly wiping her face she turned to her right to see Xena had finished looking after Argo and had packed most of their things, save the bedrolls which she was lying on, naked, with a wineskin aimed at the ready.

Gabrielle knew the game was already set.

Gabrielle stood with her hands on her hips looking down at her beautiful mate and the playful look in her eye, “Well, Xena, what am I going to with you?”

She barely got the sentence out when another squirt of wine landed again squarely on her face.

“Sometimes... Love... I wish your aim was not go good,” Gabrielle whispered to herself as she tilted her head up and wiped her face to compose herself. “Xena, have you been bad again?” Gabrielle launched right back into the role.

Xena just nodded woefully with wide eyes and a big smile.

Gabrielle strode the few last steps until she was right on top of Xena's prone form. “Well, you do know what we do with bad girls, right Xena?” Another nod answered her.

“We punish them… Severely.” Gabrielle grabbed the wine skin and threw it out of Xena's reach. Gabrielle removed her green halter top and kneeled beside Xena's torso placing the cloth around Xena's head and lowering it over her eyes.

“Bye, Bye... Bad girls don't get to watch.” Gabrielle patted the top of her head and noticed that Xena had already placed her whip and had her chakram lodged in the dirt an arm's length away.

Gabrielle thought to herself, “I see she's been planning this for a while. I'll have to pay more attention.”

Then out loud, “It seems bad girls want to get tied up.” Gabrielle started the game, at first still kneeling and then leaned her body down, her mouth right to Xena's ear to follow with a whisper, “Surrender to me, Xena.”

Gabrielle could see Xena's body shiver, her nipples harden and her skin start to pimple just with these simple words. She allowed her warm breath to caress Xena's neck and dragged her own hair along the exposed neck, shoulder and down to her breast. Xena raised her arms over her head in the Amazon sign of surrender and grabbed her whip that she had wrapped around the Chakram anchor.

“Don't let go, or you will be punished,” Gabrielle was back at her ear with another whisper. Preparing for the inevitable she waited and watched Xena's grip loosen, always having to test.

Gabrielle shot a quick slap with the palm of her hand across Xena's cheek, “Sometimes you are such a slow learner.”

Xena smiled broadly as the red handprint started to fade, “And you love me for it, don't you, Conqueror? The Conqueror of my Heart.”



Firstly a huge thank you to Joy, who edited this story. She and her wife Teddy are the only people I have shared this with. She was extremely encouraging and thoughtful with her comments. I would never have gotten to this point without her help.

This has been a journey. I had been totally obsessed with XWP in the ‘90's when I had a TV. But before the 6 th season I had moved to another country and no longer had access to the show. Many years later I learned, with great glee, that you could download TV shows off the internet and became obsessed with Xena and Gabrielle again after watching season 6 finally. Thankfully this time, finding an outlet for my feelings in fan fiction sites. Where all these lovely folks had been busy for the last 10 years exploring and sharing story fantasies. I have spent hours and hours reading your work and probably never will get to read it all.

Some of the historical myths/facts I tried to incorporate/explain/play with.

Alexander the Great was oracled to be the King of Kings ruling the world by the hand of a woman. He had a falling out with his family. Was followed by his lifelong childhood friend. Was adopted by Persian royalty, had many earrings, never really settled down with one partner and wore Persian dress for the rest of his life.

Little carvings of lambs have been found in the Anatolian archaeological record.

The temple or Artemis at Ephesus was destroyed by a man who just wanted to make a name for himself, while Artemis was away attending Alexander's birth.

Amazon warriors removed their left breast to not interfere with the drawing of their bow strings. The armour I described would look like that from a distance as only half their chest was covered by the leather. The other half open for movement and pairing up with the pelta shield for full protection. I also wanted to demonstrate how a culture that did not evolve would die. I made direct references to the MWMF with ‘The Land', all the rules and exclusion. Discovering myself as a lesbian in the US in the early 1990's I lament for the community but know by changing we have grown and been accepted to a level we never dreamed of.

Bananas were originally from India and are absolutely full of seeds.

Hypatia was beaten to death by stoning and then her body dragged through the streets by Christians for her refusal to stop teaching/debating at the University in Alexandria. (see the film Agora) I wanted something better for such a remarkable woman.

The hanging gardens of Babylon were a spectacular engineering marvel.

Alexander the Great and Caesar did not live in the same time. Caesar is supposed to have broken down crying in front of Alexander's statue because he had accomplished so much more by his 30 th birthday than Caesar. (see mini-series Rome). Some references for Cleopatra and Marc Antony‘s sexual prolictivities were taken from this show too.

Cleopatra was Macedonian, a brilliant ruler and spoke an incredible number of languages. There were movements against her to put her child brother Ptolemy on the throne.

I have thoroughly enjoyed the writing process. I found time passed faster than I ever thought possible. I was amazed how ideas, ones I had never even touched on the outline, just flowed from by brain to my fingers. I hope to find the time to write more.

Thank you, Nat



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