Xena, Gabrielle and any other characters featured in the actual TV series are copyrighted to MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures; just borrowing for this story. The rest of the story and other characters are mine. Please contact me before using any of my stuff. Thanks.
SERIES DISCLAIMER: Part of the Beginning Again Series. Takes place three months after Wedding Story.
SPOILERS: Season 3 and Season 4. BE FOREWARNED: In my world, a number of certain episodes never place. Plus, I'm trying to clean up some messes that TPTB left behind. Some things have to be dealt with.
SUBTEXT: Xena and Gabrielle are in love, but nothing too graphic happens in this part of the story.
This story depicts scenes of violence and their aftermath. Readers who are disturbed by or sensitive to this type of depiction may wish to read something other than this story.
Xena stood on the edge of the training circle and shook her head as Gabrielle's laughter mixed with the mirth of the children. Before them, in the training circle was Sophia, the head Guardian of Love, running in the sand blind-folded.
Sophia tilted her head as she tried to hone in on the laughter. "The tickle monster will get you!" she exclaimed as she lunged for a group of kids. The children laughed, shrieked and ran in excitement as they escaped. Sophia once again tilted her head and listen. "Come here my pretties!" she shrieked as she pounced upon a young child. The little red-headed girl squirmed as the Guardian held her with one arm. With the other Sophia removed her blindfold. "Look at who I caught! Galli is it!" With that, Sophia gently tied the black silk blindfold around the child's head. Galli, without any fear, took off towards the first laugh she heard. Sophia laughed as she watched the children play. "And," she shouted towards the groups of kids, "I want my blindfold back after you are through with it!" The Guardian then made her way to her two friends. "So...," Sophia stated as she turned her gaze to Xena and Gabrielle, "when are you going to give me a niece or nephew?"
Xena wrapped an arm around the Bard. "Hey give us some time, we were bonded just three moons ago. We are still on our honeymoon."
"Yeah, yeah, yeah. Details, details. Just don't wait until I'm too old to enjoy them, okay?"
Gabrielle shook her head. "You're starting to sound like our mothers."
"Hey, I'm just looking out for the future. With Xena and your gene pool, the child will have to be a hero." Sophia placed a hand upon Gabrielle's shoulder and stared into the sky. "If it's a girl, she could lead the Amazons to a glorious future. If it's a boy, he could finally free the world of Roman oppression." The Guardian of Love returned her gaze to the couple. "Imagine all the good your child could accomplish."
Xena looked nonchalantly at her half-sister. "Our child will decide its own destiny. Maybe he or she will want a normal life."
"Yeah, right." Gabrielle set her green eyes upon her wife. "Let's face it Xena. Any child we have will not have a normal life. Between our lifestyle and family members, our child won't stand a chance."
Xena chuckled. It was true, their lives have been far from normal. Giants, gods, serpents, and near-death experiences had become normal for them. And each time they faced their enemies, coming out victorious. But now, they were thinking about bringing a child into the world, and Xena wanted as normal a life as possible for it. "Well, now that we've settled down, maybe we can have a more normal life." It was then that Xena saw a member of the border guard running towards them. *Maybe I spoke too soon.*
The guard bowed to Gabrielle. "My Queen, we have received an urgent message from our sister tribe from the North." She handed the Bard a scroll before continuing. "Three members of that tribe are being escorted to the village."
Gabrielle broke the seal and scanned the message before returning her attention to the guard. "Tell the guards to escort our sisters to the Council hut and I will meet them there. Also make sure that some huts are prepared for our sisters."
"Yes my Queen." The guard bowed and then took off towards the borders.
Gabrielle turned to Xena. "Looks like we are going to hold off on the 'normal life' for a while."
Within a candlemark, the three Northern Amazons entered into the Council chamber. The Council members whispered as the three women made their way towards the throne. Unlike Amazonian Amazons, who wore very little other than short leather outfits and weapons, the Northern Amazons were covered from head to toe with animal skins, horns and teeth.
As the three women approached, Xena smiled when she realized that Yakut was one of the three. "Gabrielle," she whispered as she bent down to the seated Queen, "the one in the middle is Yakut, the shamaness."
Once they stood in front of the dais, the three women simultaneously banged on their chest twice and raised their arm in the air, giving the Amazon Salute. "Queen Gabrielle, we bring you greetings and honor from your sister tribe of the North," Yakut stated.
Gabrielle slightly bowed her head. "I have heard the grave news. Please tell the Council about the situation you face."
Yakut and the others turned and faced Lilla, Eponin, Chilapa and Garona. "Our tribe has been in a conflict with the warlord Garilos for some time. He and his men overtook us in battle and many of us died," she paused and glanced at Xena, "including our Queen. Before she died, she gave her caste to Phoenixa."
"I don't remember Phoenixa," Xena stated.
"She joined our tribe last year. She's a warrior, but she is also wise. With so many of us either dead or injured, Queen Phoenixa decided that it was best if we sought your assistance instead of fighting."
"How many of your tribe are left?" Lilla asked.
"Including the injured, 15 of us are alive. We ask that those of us who remain be allowed to join with this tribe." The murmurings started again. "I know we are asking much. Our traditions and ways of living are very different from yours. But we are willing to learn and adjust. But our Queen does have one request." Yakut turned to face the Queen once more. "Queen Phoenixa ask that you become Queen over both tribes."
"I'm flattered, but she doesn't even know me. How does she know that I'm fit to rule over the Northern Amazons?"
"I know you." The shamaness glanced over at Xena before returning her gaze to the Bard. "Or should I say I've heard a great deal about you, Queen Gabrielle. Queen Phoenixa actually gave me two messages. If I thought that joining with this tribe would be a mistake, I was suppose to request food and supplies so that we could start over someplace else. However, if I thought that the Queen was fit, then I would request permission to join on behalf of the tribe. Even if half of what Xena said about you is true, you would make a wonderful Queen over our tribe."
A lopsided grin graced Gabrielle's features. "I'm glad I have my wife's confidence, and yours. The Council will think about your request. You will have our answer by sunset."
Gabrielle watched as the representatives of the Northern Tribe bowed and exited the hut. Once they were gone Gabrielle turned her attention to the other four members of the Council. "Any suggestions?"
Garona, the oldest member of the Council and the Nation's healer spoke up. "I don't see that we really have a choice. They are our sisters and they need our help."
"There is always a choice Garona," Eponin stated. As the Weapons Master, the brown haired Amazon was all warrior. "We can give them tools and supplies or we can let them become a part of this tribe. To tell you the truth, I'm not sure about the second option. We really don't know anything about them and their ways. Besides, they looked kind of small to be Amazons of this Nation." That was when she heard the "Ahem." She looked at the petite Queen, with an apologetic smile on her face. *Opps.* "Present company excluded of course."
"Eponin's right. They are very different from us. It is going to take a lot of time to teach them," Chilipa offered. "Xena, what do you know about them and their ways?"
"The Northern Tribe is very different. They are not warriors, not like you and I. But they are very spiritual and are in tuned with the world around them. Therefore, we will be learning from them as they learn from us. But most importantly, they are trustworthy and honorable."
Gabrielle rose from her throne. "Garona's right; we can't turn our backs on them. They need more than food or supplies from us. And I know that its going to take time for both groups to adjust, but there's no decent option. We have to take them in." She watched as the other members of the Council nodded their heads in agreement. "Fine. We'll tell them of our decision. But first, let's work out some details and conditions. If they accept, I will send both Chilapa and Lilla to assist them here."
Yakut took a deep breath as she entered into the Council Hut. She knew the fate of her tribe rested in the hands of Amazonia. As she walked towards the throne, she prayed that the Council had accepted the request. Once she was in front of the throne she bowed. "You sent for me, my Queen?"
Gabrielle quickly stood up, as she spoke harshly to the shamaness. "You have already broken the first rule of the Nation." She made her way down the dais' steps. Once she made her way in front of Yakut, she grabbed her by the shoulders and pulled her to a standing position. "Rule one. If you are going to be a member of this tribe," she managed to state before a giggle escaped from her lips, "you must call me Gabrielle."
Yakut let out a sigh of relief. "Yes my Que....Gabrielle. So I take it..."
"The Council has granted your tribe's request. However, there are certain conditions."
"First, your tribe must be willing to learn and engage in all of our traditions. That includes having seats on our Council. The new Council will have seven seats, three of which will be filled by members of your tribe. As shamaness, you will hold one seat, and your Queen will hold another. And speaking of your Queen, she will be Co-Regent with Chilipa. If you accept these terms, I will have the Nation begin on the new huts."
Yakut smiled brightly as she nodded. "I will return in one moon with the new additions to the Nation."
Lilla, Chilipa and some of our warriors will escort your tribe here. Welcome to Amazonia."
As they entered the Northern lands, Lilla was struck by the difference in territory and climate. The wide open plains were a far cry from the highly wooded Amazonia and the air itself was cooler and drier than she expected. "It's cold here. No wonder they overdress."
Laughter burst from Chilipa. "I remember a certain someone wearing floor length skirts and chastising the other Amazons to put more clothes on." Chilipa watched as Lilla turned red. "But look at you now." The Regent gazed at the Princess. Even though her tan leathers covered her abs, its halter top and form fitting design was a far cry from the modest peasant dress she use to wear. "You really have become one of us Lilla. And now, you will help create the treaty that unites the Northern Tribe with Amazonia."
"My first treaty," Lilla stated excitedly as she rode alongside Chilipa.
"Yes. The Queen thinks you are ready to learn how to negotiate treaties. This one is a good beginning for you. Just remember proper protocol and you should be fine."
It was nightfall before they made it to the camp. Yakut jumped down off her horse and handed her reins to an Amazon, while the other riders followed suit.
As they walked towards the main fire, a tall woman stood up. Like the others she wore animal skins from head to foot, but her hair was long and blond. "Yakut," she exclaimed as she embraced the Shamaness' forearm.
"My Queen." She turned to introduce her guests. "This is Chilipa, Regent of Amazonia and this is Princess Lilla, sister of Queen Gabrielle. Everyone this is Queen Phoenixa."
*Gabrielle? It can't be,* Phoenixa thought to herself. She stared at Lilla. Seeing the dark haired, tall young woman, Phoenixa let out a sigh of both regret and relief. More than one year ago, she let go of her past life; left behind the mistakes and tragedies she made. Now, she was Phoenixa, Amazon Queen and in so many ways it was better life. And yet, there was a part that wished... *No need in wishing for something that is not possible.* "So you are the royalty of Amazonia. We welcome you. We don't have much but whatever we have, you are welcome to it."
"We brought more than enough to share with you. We're here to extend to your tribe an invitation to join ours."
Phoenixa looked over at Yakut. The Shamaness nodded, "And on behalf of our tribe and by your authority, I accepted. Queen Gabrielle has agreed to rule both nations as one, but only on certain conditions. We must sit on the Council as well as one other Nothern Amazon and you must become Co-Regent with Chilipa."
A smile sprang upon Phoenixa's face. "The gods have heard our prayers." She raised her fist in the air and all eyes fixed upon Phoenixa. "My sisters, we have experienced hardships, trouble and death. But now we have been blessed. Tomorrow, at first light, we will tear down camp, and head to our new home with our sisters in Amazonia. Tonight, let us grieve for our lost home and our lost sisters. Let all our tears of sadness and anger flow tonight. For in the morning, the only tears I want to see are tears of happiness and joy for our new home and sisters." Phoenixa turned to face Lilla and Chilipa. "Come. Let us find a place where we can talk. If I'm going to be Co-Regent, I need to learn about the people and land."
"Lilla, I think you can handle that. If you don't mind, I like for Yakut and myself to check on the wounded. We brought plenty of herbs and poultices."
Phoenixa nodded and then turned her attention to the Princess. "Walk with me." Once they placed some distance between them and camp, Phoenixa stated, "Tell me about your land and people."
"What can I say? We have lots of hunting grounds. Our village itself is small, but there is more than enough room for your people. We are at peace with all our neighbors."
"That is very important to my people. We have seen enough of war, enough of death. So I take it that the Queen is skilled in negotiating?"
"Yes, Gabrielle is. But I'm not sure if we are at peace with our neighbors because of her gift or because of the threat her wife poses."
"I imagine that the Queen gets her pick of warriors."
"It's not like that in our village. These two have eyes only for each other. Which is a good thing, because both of them have a jealous streak. It also doesn't hurt that she is the best warrior I've ever seen."
Phoenixa chuckled. "I've faced the best and lived to tell about it."
"Trust me, if you ever faced her in an all out fight, you wouldn't live. No one beats Xena."
Phoenixa froze in her tracks as the name rang in her ears. "Did you say Xena?"
"Yes. You know Xena, the Warrior Princess, former Destroyer of Nations and any other titles she has earned along the way."
Phoenixa turned and eyed the young princess. "Does your sister have blond hair and green eyes?"
"But you..." Phoenixa stopped her statement, realizing it was rude.
Lilla sighed. "I know, we look nothing alike. There's a perfect explanation. We don't have the same father. Her dad is Apollo. My father is..." Lilla let out a breath as the memories started to flood her mind. She hadn't spoke his name in a long time. "His name was Herodotus."
Seeing the sadness in the Princess' eyes, Phoenixa apologized. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to bring up sad thoughts."
Lilla nodded. "It's all in the past, and that is where it will stay. Anyway, I think you will like Amazonia. It's different, but after awhile, you guys will fit right in. And everyone there is willing to be of service. And I know Gabrielle and Xena are looking forward to meeting you."
Phoenixa smiled to herself. "Actually Princess, I think I met them before. Gabrielle saved my life, and because of that I was able to turn my life around." With all seriousness, she turned and faced Lilla. "As Co-Regent of Amazonia, I dedicate my life to serving her and my new homeland."
Lilla smiled at the woman. "I know that the Nation will be pleased to here that. Now, if you will excuse me, it was a long ride..."
"No problem. Lay your head wherever you find room. I'll see you in the morning." Phoenixa watched Lilla as the Princess made her way back to camp. She sighed as she thought about what she had to do. During her time with the Northern Tribe, she never told them about her past. *But now....Now I have a different life. If they accepted the change in Xena, maybe they can accept the change in me.* Slowly she made her way back to the camp, both dreading and anticipating the new day.
"How far are we from Amazonia?" Phoenixa asked Chilipa.
"We're only a couple of days away." She turned around and looked at the tribe. All the wounded had recovered and the group were in high spirits. "Pretty soon we will begin a new life together. Are you ready for that Co-Regent?"
"I guess so. But I would like to talk to my tribe one last time before we enter into Amazonia. It is going to be a brand new beginning for us, and I want to be sure that they understand the changes."
"Of course. Lilla and I should announce your arrival anyway. We'll travel ahead; take all the time you need." Chilipa nodded at Lilla and the two, along with the Royal Guard, took off.
Phoenixa let out a breath, trying to calm her nerves. "Yakut!" She watched as the young woman rode along side her. "Tell the Amazons to make camp. There is something I need to tell them."
Yakut frowned when she heard the serious tone in Phoenixa's voice. "Is everything all right, my Queen?"
Phoenixa gave a small smile. "Everything will be fine. Now go."
Once camp was made, Phoenixa stood up in front of the crowd. She could feel the stares penetrating into her. She took a breath and told them about her past, about her battles with Xena, and her time in prison. "So now you know. I thought I was right, but the truth is I was a murderer." Phoenixa eyed each Northern Amazon. "Xena and Gabrielle turned me in. I hold no grudges about that, they were right. However, I know that my presence may cause trouble and that's something we cannot afford. So if you wish, I will leave."
Yakut stood up and walked to the former Queen, never taking her eyes off of her. "I heard this speech before. But at that time it was given by a certain Warrior Princess." She glanced over the gathering, before returning her attention to Phoenixa. "I can't speak for the others, but you have proven yourself to me. You have given up your old ways and taken on a new name. You are one of us." Everyone either nodded or smiled their agreement.
Phoenixa sighed deeply. *Hopefully Xena and Gabrielle will be able to accept the new me.* "Well then, tomorrow we will reach Amazonia. Chilipa and Lilla are already on their way to announce our arrival. We'll finally be home."
Lilla rode into the bustling village with Chilipa following close behind. Several Amazons were busy placing roofs upon new huts, while others were tilling ground for the expanded community garden. "They sure have been busy."
"Lilla!" The Princess turned and saw her sister and sister-in-law coming toward her. The brunette jumped down from the horse and greeted her sister with a hug.
"So how did it go?" Gabrielle looked around her sister. "Where are they?"
"Everything went well. They should be here by sunset. You two are going to love Phoenixa. She is fantastic. And she told me that you saved her life."
"I don't remember a Phoenixa..."
"Must have been a villager you saved at one time," Lilla interjected. "Anyway, Phoenixa pledged her life to Amazonia and to the Queen."
"What did she look like Lilla?" Xena asked. Even though it was only a feeling, something was telling her things were going way too smoothly. *Maybe if I can place her face.*
"She's tall, but not as tall as you, long blonde hair, thin, and she's a warrior."
"Excuse me Lilla," Xena stated as she quickly glanced at the Bard, "I need to talk to Gabrielle."
Once they were alone, Gabrielle turned and faced the Warrior Princess. "Any ideas?"
"One name came to mind."
Gabrielle shook her head. "It can't be. She's dead." A questioning look came from her eyes. "Right?"
"Right. Callisto is dead. But if it isn't her, then who?"
Gabrielle shrugged her shoulders. "Maybe Lilla's right. Phoenixa could be a villager we saved once."
"Maybe. But just in case, I want the Guard on full alert."
"Isn't that a bit overboard Xe? There's only fifteen of them." She watched as the eyebrow rose. They had been down this road before, and realizing that Xena wasn't about to buckle, Gabrielle did the one thing she could. She gave in. "Fine. The Guard will be on full alert."
A smile tugged at the corners of Xena's mouth. *That was easier than expected.* "Thank you. Hopefully, they won't be needed."
Upon the dais was Gabrielle in her Queen leathers and apperal. To her left was Chilipa, on her right was Lilla and behind her was Xena. All four women stood and watched as the Northern Tribe's Shamaness and Queen approached them.
All was still as Yakut and the Queen of the Northern Amazons made their way to the ceremonial dais in the presence of both nations. Dressed in the Northern attire of animal skins, Yakut wore the shamaness bone ephod while Phoenixa wore a shroud made from deer skin painted with rich reds and deep browns. Upon arrival at the throne, Yakut bowed deeply, while Phoenixa dropped to one knee. Without standing or looking up, Phoenixa spoke. "My Queen, know that my sisters of the Northern Tribe and I pledge ourselves in serving the Nation. As a symbol of our union, please accept the mask of our Tribe." Still bowing, Phoenixa pulled off the mask, causing her long hair to cover her face.
Gabrielle took the mask and held it in the air. Both sets of Amazons yelled and whooped, but they grew quiet when the Bard didn't put on the mask. "I will not wear this mask." A smile came to her face. "Instead, I commission the Amazon artistians to design a new mask that uses elements from the two former mask to symbolize the union of our people." The reaction from the people was deafening as the celebration began.
Gabrielle turned to Xena. "See, there was no need for the guards. Everything went off without a hitch."
A smirk came to Xena's face. "Almost everything." She pointed to Phoenixa. "Your new Regent is still bowing."
"Oh brother. She's worst than Chilipa." Gabrielle walked off the dais and stood in front of the bowing Phoenixa. "Hey, no need for the formality." She reached out and touched the new Regent's shoulders, entreating Phoenixa to stand. "You'll find that I'm not...." As Gabrielle looked at the face of Phoenixa, her words became stuck in her throat.
Phoenixa smiled as she tucked her hair behind her ear. "Hello Gabrielle."
"Najara," Xena sneered as she came to Gabrielle's side.
The Regent turned her attention to the Warrior Princess. "Hello Xena. And no, I'm not Najara. My name is Phoenixa now."
"Call yourself whatever you want. What are you doing here?"
"As I told you, I'm Phoenixa. I was the Queen of the Northern Amazons. Now I'm the Co-Regent of the Unified Nation." She looked around. Even though most of the Amazons were celebrating, those close to them began noticing the tension. "Maybe we should go some place where we can talk. I know I owe you an explanation."
Gabrielle nodded. "Fine. Let's go to the Council Hut."
Once they were inside, Xena wasted no time. "All right Najara. Explain."
"My name is not Najara. Things change Xena. I've changed."
"Yeah right. And I guess we're suppose to believe they let you out of prison on good behavior."
"No, that's not what happened. I had a good defender who convinced the judge that the men I killed deserved to die. Having no place to go, I wandered around, doing what I could to make amends. I travelled North and came upon a battle. At first I wasn't going to get involved, but I saw that the women were Amazons, and I decided to help. A few months later, I joined the tribe and finally found a place for me."
Gabrielle slowly shook her head. "Naja....Phoenixa, you have to understand how hard this is for us to believe."
"It's the truth Gabrielle." Phoenixa glanced at Xena before returning her attention to the Queen. "That's why I changed my name to Phoenixa, it was a new beginning, a new life for me. Yes, I'm still a warrior, and yes, I still believe in fighting for the Light, but I've learned that my old ways were wrong. I just want a chance to show that I believe in justice, in truth...."
"And the Amazon Way, right?" Xena added sarcastically. "What would your new family say if they knew the old you?"
"They know Xena. In fact, I told them everything. And you know what?" Phoenixa paused as Xena and Gabrielle marvelled at her. "They still accepted me, even after I offered to leave because I didn't want to destroy this union."
"Good, then you don't mind leaving."
*Xena!* Gabrielle eyed her wife before switching her focus to her Regent. "I won't ask you to leave, at least not yet." Even without looking, she could feel Xena's stare. "Phoenixa, go back to the celebration. We'll catch up with you later."
A small smirk began to form of the former crusader's lips. *A small victory is a victory none the less.* "Until then Gabrielle." She turned and slightly bowed her head to the Queen's Consort. "Xena." She strided out of the hut.
Xena watched as her nemesis left and then turned to face her wife. Her blue eyes blazed with barely contained anger. "How could you ask her to stay? You know she's a nut!"
"Xena, try to understand. I can't ask her to leave without proof that she's lying."
"Fine, you want proof, I'll get you proof. Tomorrow morning I'm going to go and talk to the prison administrator. In less than two weeks, she'll be out of our hair and back in prison. Until then, we need to act as if everything is fine. We don't need to tip our hand."
Xena sighed. *I hate Amazon formal gatherings.* "Which means we have to eat dinner with her and the rest of the royal family at the celebration dinner tonight."
"More wine my Queen?" Chilipa offered.
Gabrielle nodded as she held the goblet. As the dark red liquid went down her throat, the Queen hoped it would take the edge off her rattled nerves. The tension in the air was thick, and hung like a wet blanket over what was suppose to have been a celebratory affair. But the discovery of the true identity of Phoenixa placed a damper over the evenings events--*at least where Xena's concern,* she mused to herself as she quickly glanced at her wife. *Xena, are you okay?*
Xena slowly took a drink from her mug. *Just peachy keen.* "So Phoenixa, tell us how you found yourself with the Northern Amazons?" she asked, hoping to catch Najara in a lie.
"Like I told you before Xena, I was very lucky. After getting out of prison, I travelled North, and found myself fighting alongside the Amazons. Then I became one of them. Now, I'm one of you. And make to you the same promise I made to them almost a year ago: I pledge to do what is best for the Nation," she looked at Gabrielle, "and my Queen."
*I just bet you do,* Xena thought to herself. But instead of saying anything to the Co-Regent, she took a huge gulp of wine. "If you will excuse me, I need to talk to Eponin."
"Remeber to save me a dance, okay?" Gabrielle gently squeezed Xena's hand, and watched as her soulmate went to find their friend.
Phoenixa also watched as Xena made her way from the table. "She sure hasn't change much, has she? Still the Warrior Princess, still all business." She returned her attention back to the Queen. "But I heard that you have been through a lot lately."
Gabrielle narrowed her eyes. "What do you mean?"
Phoenixa reached over and lifted Gabrielle's hand from the table. The brass chainlink band on the Quen's wrist gleamed by the torches' light. "You and Xena were bonded."
A bright smile danced upon Gabrielle's face "Yes, we are bonded."
"And finding your real father. I knew there was something special about you."
Gabrielle withdrew her hand from Phoenixa. "You sure do know a lot about me. Been keeping track?"
The new Co-Regent shook her head. "I thought that you and Xena were dead. I didn't hear anything about the two of you until I met your sister. Lilla told me everything I know." She paused for a moment before continuing. "I have to say I'm really impress Gabrielle. Looks like you found your true destiny."
Gabrielle looked past Phoenixa and scanned the crowd. When her eyes settled upon Xena, she stated "I have."
"Tell me again why you don't trust her?" Confusion showed itself upon Eponin's face. Even though she had known Phoenixa for only a few candlemarks, the Weapons Master had no reason to doubt the new Co-Regent.
"Najara is a nut. Trust me she's going to crack." Xena saw the doubt in Eponin's face. "Najara has proven one thing: She will do anything to have Gabrielle."
"So she has a thing for our Queen, big deal. Just tell her that you two have been bonded."
"Trust me, that fact won't stop Najara."
Eponin glanced over at the new member of the tribe. "Come on Xena, aren't you getting carried away?"
"Eponin, you weren't there. This woman was about to kill me, and she would have, if Gabrielle didn't stop her by promising to go with her. She wants Gabrielle to love her."
"Well then my friend, you have nothing to worry about." Eponin placed one hand on the Warrior's shoulder and pointed towards the Queen. "Anyone with eyes can see that they don't stand a chance. That woman has given her love to you, you big lug."
Xena looked at her wife and saw the love shining from her eyes, causing the Warrior Princess to do the same. "Excuse me Eponin. There is something I need to do." The Warrior confidently walked over to the Queen's table. "Sorry to interupt you Najara." As she smiled at Gabrielle she stated, "But I promised my wife a dance."
The two lovers moved their bodies together to the song of the woodwinds and drums. Xena glanced at Phoenixa, and saw her looking at Gabrielle. She keeps looking at us."
"Najara. She just can't keeps her eyes off of you." A smirk appeared on the Warrior's face. "Not that I blame. But if she doesn't get control..."
Gabrielle boldly moved closer to her wife and wrapped her arms around Xena's neck. "Xena, while we dance, please let's not discuss her. I want you mind only on me."
The Warrior Princess chuckled as she wrapped her arms around the Bard's small waist. "Whatever you want, you shall have," Xena stated before leaning in for a kiss.
"Look at those two." Lilla leaned her face on her hand as she watched Xena and Gabrielle. "They are so cute." The Amazon Princess turned her head towards Chilipa and Yakut. "I wish it would rub off on me."
"Hey, your turn will come Lilla." Chilipa turned to her Co-Regent, "Right Phoenixa."
"Huh, what?" Phoenixa turned her attention form the dancing couple to her table companions. "Oh. Um, I don't know. Finding someone like that isn't easy. It doesn't hurt to have a helping hand from the Fates."
"Xena says that we make our own fate."
Phoenixa chuckled at Lilla's words. "She would say something like that. But she's wrong. I tried to make my own fate, unfortunately it didn't work. But maybe the Fates will give me another chance." The former Crusader slowly stood to her feet. "Please excuse me. It's been a tiring day."
Phoenixa walked through the crowd, her mind replaying the events of the past day. Her heart began to race when she thought about seeing Gabrielle on the dais. *Maybe the Fates have given me another chance.* So engrossed in thouhgt was she, Phoenixa bumped into someone, nearly knocking her down. "Oh I'm sorry."
"No harm done." Sophia eyed the tall woman. A sudden feeling of darkness made itself known to the Guardian. "At least, not yet." She extended her forearm to the Amazon. "Sophia."
Phoenixa clasped the Guardian's forearm. "My name is..."
"I know who you are Najara."
Phoenixa eyes narrowed as she peered at the young woman. "Do I know you?"
"Read about you in my sister-in-law's scroll. Let me say that I've never known anyone to beat Xena in a fair fight." She watched as a smirk appeared on Najara's face. "Of course, I have yet to see that. Especially since you attacked when her back was turned."
"Sister-in-law? Oh yes, your Xena's half-sister. I've heard about you. Nice to meet your aquaintance. Now, if you will excuse me, I need to go. Perhaps we can talk later." She began walking away .
"Don't cause any trouble Najara."
The tall blond turned around. "Seems you're as stubborn as Xena. My name is Phoenixa. And I think your sister gave you the wrong impression of me."
"Xena didn't say a word to me." She scanned Najara up and down, the sense of darkness still making itself felt. "Let me give you some advice. Whoever you are thinking about, you need to change your mind."
"I don't know what your sister has told you, but I've changed."
"I hope so Najara. I hope so." She watched as the blond Northern Amazon hurrily walked to her hut. Sophia shook her head as she realized her vacation may be cut short. She wasn't sure if it was her Guardian senses or her powers that was warning her, but she knew that the woman was up to no good. *Next time, I'll vacation in Athens.*
"Are you sure you want to do this?" Gabrielle petted Argo as Xena tied on the saddlebags. "Maybe Phoenixa has changed."
Xena rolled her eyes as Gabrielle used Najara's new name. "Don't tell me you are beginning to believe her? Gabrielle, this is the same demented, untrustworthy,...."
"Xena, people can change."
"Not her." She reached out and took Gabrielle's hands into her own. "Listen, she has already suckered the Northern Tribe into believeing her story. I don't want to see you nor your tribe hurt by her. And the fastest way to get her out of our hair is to prove her story false."
Gabrielle watched as Xena climbed aboard Argo. "And what if she is telling the truth Xena? Then what?"
"To tell the truth, I don't know," she admitted. "We'll cross that bridge if necessary. One more thing..."
Gabrielle held her hand up. "I know. Keep the Royal Guard with me at all times. You worry too much."
"When you have a treasure, you have to protect it." Xena smiled down at her wife. "I'll be back in a week. Take care."
"You too." Gabrielle watched as Xena nudged Argo in the flanks, leaving the stable and her behind.
After four days of travelling, Xena finally arrived at the prison. About ten pences in front of the front gate stood a tall post unto which new prisoners were tied. Xena jumped down of Argo and walked over to the pillar. At the moment it held nothing but old knotty ropes for company. As she eyed the pole, her mind replayed the day that she had brought Najara to this place:
"Can I help you?"
Xena turned her head and recognized the man. Even though the man was short, his broad shoulders and thick built spoke loudly of his physical strength, while his intense brown eyes; leathery skin and premature grey hair told that he had seen more than his fair share of battles. "I don't know if you remember me..."
"You're Xena, the Warrior Princess. You were here a few years back."
"Yes I was." She began walking towards the front gate. "I came to check on the prisoner I brought here. Her name is Najara."
"There is no prisoner here by that name. In fact, if memory serves me correctly, she didn't spend much time here."
"Did she escape?"
The man motioned the guards to open the gate. "Oh no. It was almost a year before a judge came here. She really was lucky, because it was Judge Saron." A smile came to his face. "He hates slavers with a passion. And when he heard that her crimes were against slavers, he let her go. In fact, he wished her well."
Xena stopped dead in her tracks. *So she told the truth.* The Warrior Princess hid her disappointment as that fact became clear. "Thanks for your time." She turned and walked back to her horse. Once she was back on the road, she allowed the raminifications to finally hit her: she was stuck with Najara. *Damn it!* "I don't care what she says, I know that she hasn't change. I can feel it." Xena watched as Argo tossed her head and flared her nostrils in response. "I'm glad at least someone agrees with me."
*If it wasn't for bad luck...* Xena thought to herself as she stood in the mouth of the cave, watching the rain come down. For two days the sky had been clear. Now, she was stuck inside a cave. She had sharpened her sword, gathered enough wood for a week, and brushed Argo until she gleamed. Now with nothing to do, her mind travelled to one place: Amazonia. In the village that she now called home was the one woman she loved, and another woman that she despised.
Xena shook her head as she tried to remove Najara from her mind. She had studied the situation from every angle, but no solution came to mind. Frustration began to set in as she replayed her last conversation with Gabrielle:
"Maybe Phoenixa has changed."
"Don't tell me you are beginning to believe her? Gabrielle, this is the same demented, untrustworthy,...."
"Xena, people can change."
"Not her. Listen, she has already suckered the Northern Tribe into believeing her story. I don't want to see you nor your tribe hurt by her. And the fastest way to get her out of our hair is to prove her story false."
"And what if she is telling the truth Xena? Then what?"
*Yeah Xena, now what?* She had come to the bridge and no answers were forthcoming. Xena looked out at the rain. Because of this delay, it would take longer than anticipated to get back. *And more time for Najara to convince Gabrielle that she's changed.* Xena swiped a hand though her long sable hair. "Gabrielle," she whispered, "please don't fall for it. For both our sakes."
"Boy, it's sure coming down in buckets." Lilla stood in the Food Lodge and gazed at the sky as the lightning streaked across the sky. She turned and watched as Sophia threw the dice onto the table. "Beat that!"
Gabrielle smiled as she picked up the dice and brought them to her lips. After she gently blew on them she toss the pair onto the table and watched as they tumbled to the edge. The smile became bigger as the dice landed, showing the highest roll possible. "Pay up Sophia."
Sophia stared at the dice. No one had ever beaten her before with her own dice. "How?"
"Xena taught me."
"I should of known." The Guardian shook her head. "Next time, warn me will you?" Sophia glanced at the window and saw three people, two women and a young child, running towards the lodge. "Someone's coming."
Lilla opened the door before they could knock and watched as the three cloaked individuals came inside. "Chilipa and Phoenixa, what are you doing out in the rain?"
Chilipa pulled off the hood, as did Phoenixa. "Uta came to me. It seems that Galli is lost."
Gabrielle looked at the young child. At ten seasons, Uta was small for her age, and shared the same firey hair color as her younger sister. "Uta, come here." Once the young child approached, the Queen stooped down and looked eye-to-eye with the young girl. "Tell me what happened."
Feared shined out of the dark blue eyes. "Galli told me that she had lefted something important in the big circle and she had to go get it. She was suppose to come right back, but she didn't come home. Momma's upset."
Phoenixa continued. "We have search parties looking for her, but so far we are having no luck. Eponin is with their mother right now."
Gabrielle nodded. "That's good. She doesn't need to be alone right now. Sophia, why don't you take Uta back to her mom." Gabrielle looked at the child and placed a hand upon Uta's shoulder. "Don't you worry. We'll find her."
"I promise. Now go back with Sophia and Chilipa, okay?"
Uta nodded and took Sophia's hand. Gabrielle stood up and eyed both her sister and Co-Regent. "Grab your cloaks ladies, we going to find Galli."
After talking with some of the searchers, they three women headed towards the mountain trails. Lilla looked ahead at the muddy and rocky paths. "Gabrielle, are you sure that Galli would come here?"
"I don't know. But the only two places that the search parties have left to look are the mountain trails and the river. Hopefully Galli didn't go down by the river. With all this rain..." she let her words trail off as she thought about the swollen and overun banks. "Let's just hope she's here."
"There are a lot of caves up here. She has to be in one of them," Phoenixa interjected as they continued on the trail.
They managed to search two caves without any luck. But as they entered the third cave, Lilla saw the young child sitting in a corner with her head buried in the arms; whimpering loudly. In her small hands was a dirty black cloth. "Galli," the Princess called out. The little girl lifted her head, and within a flash ran into the outstretched arms of Lilla. Lilla cradled Galli in her arms. "Are you okay sweetie?"
The child slowly nodded. Gabrielle pulled off her own cloak and wrapped it around the young girl. "Galli, why did you come up here by yourself?"
"I left this here," Galli managed to state in between sobs as she lifted the piece of cloth. "I forgot it, and I have to give it back."
Gabrielle looked at cloth and recognized it as Sophia's blindfold. She sighed as she nodded. "I understand. But Galli, you should never go anywhere without letting your mom know. She's worry sick." She gently patted the child's head. "Come on, let's get you home."
As they headed through the mouth of the cave, lightning struck and that's when the rumbling began. Out of instinct the group looked up at the rockslide heading towards them. Without thinking, Gabrielle shoved Lilla hard, pushing the Princess and Galli out of the path of a boulder. Unfortunately, her actions placed her in its path.
In a flash, Phoenixa grabbed Gabrielle's arm and pulled hard, the momentum sending both of them crashing into the ground.
Lilla turned around to see the wall of rocks blocking the cave's mouth. "Gabrielle!" She held Galli close to her. The Amazon Princess had no idea if her sister or Phoenixa was alive. Realizing she could not dig them out herself, Lilla ran as fast as she could back to the village.
Phoenixa slowly sat up. "Gabrielle, are you all right?"
Gabrielle moaned as she tried to straighten herself. But as soon as she tried to move her left arm, a sharp pain emitted from her shoulder. "I think I broke my shoulder."
Phoenixa looked over her Queen. "No, it's not broken, just dislocated." She gazed at Gabrielle's head. Right above her forehead was a goose egg size lump and blood was slowly trickling down the side of Gabrielle's face. "My Queen, you are hurt. Lie still. I think you have a concussion."
"Oh. I thought it was extrememly dark in here." Gabrielle tried to focus her eyes, but everything was blurred. "Are we trapped?"
Phoenixa looked over at the cave's entrance. Rocks, mud and boulders firmly blocked their exit. The Co-Regent closed her eyes and let out a breath. "Yes. But let's not think about that yet. Right now, I'm worried about you. We are too close to these rocks. I'm going to move you." The former Crusader helped Gabrielle to her feet and then picked her up carefully.
After setting Gabrielle down against a wall, Phoenixa, turned her attention to the blocked path. Luckily, water was seeping through the crevices. The Co-Regent ripped two pieces of cloth from her cloak, sopped up some water and returned to Gabrielle's side. "These may be a bit cold, but they will help keep the swelling down," she stated as she placed the wet cloths upon Gabrielle's head and shoulder. "Now don't fall asleep."
Gabrielle tried to refocus her eyes, but it was no use, everything was still blurred. After years of travel, she knew that they were in trouble. Depending on the size of the slide, it might take a couple of days, even with the whole Nation digging them out. As long as it continued to rain, they had water. They could go without food, but without wood they couldn't buld a fire. And without a cloak, in her condition, she knew that things didn't look good.
As if she was reading Gabrielle's mind, Phoenixa pulled off her cloak and wrapped it around the hurt Queen. "Listen Gabrielle, I'm going to start digging us out of here. Lilla and Galli should be back at the village within a candlemark. They'll send help."
Phoenixa began to carefully pull rocks away from the collapse; knowing that if she pulled the wrong rock, the whole thing could cave in on her. She looked back at the Queen. Gabrielle's eyes were closed a moment too long for Phoenixa's liking. "You know what would make the time past by faster?" she asked loudly. "A story. Tell me a story Gabrielle."
Gabrielle quickly opened her eyes. Her head was pounding, and a ringing began in her ears, but she knew she needed to stay awake. "A story? Okay." She began to tell how she ran away from home to begin her life of adventure.
For the next two candlemarks, Gabrielle told stories and Phoenixa pulled rocks, neither one paying much attention to the other. Then Phoenixa heard activity on the other side of the rock slide. "Is anyone out there?!"
"Phoenixa?! Thank Artemis you're alive! How is the Queen?!" Eponin shouted.
"Hold tight. We'll try to get you out of there as soon as possible, but it's going to be a while."
Phoenixa listened to Eponin's muffled orders to the other Amazons, then she walked back to Gabrielle. "We'll be out soon."
The Bard's voice was weak as she spoke. "Is it still raining? If it's still raining, I don't want them out there. Another rockslide may happen. I don't want them to risk their lives."
*Always worrying about others.* "It's their duty to risk their lives for you." Phoenixa went back to working on the rockslide. After working for a candlemark, she turned around and found Gabrielle barely conscious. "No you don't, you need to stay awake." The Co-Regent sat down next to Gabrielle. "Since you told me a story, I think it's my turn."
Even though the feeling of lightheadedness began to make itself known, Gabrielle struggled to keep awake and interested. "You tell stories?"
Phoenixa sniggered. "Not really. In fact, I only know one story. But it is one close to my heart." She paused to gather her thoughts. "This is a story of a young woman who changed the world. She didn't do it through violence. She didn't do it through magical powers or inhuman ability. She wasn't powerful, rich or even successful, as least not in the way most people count success. But she did have the ability to touch. She would touch one person at a time. Through acts of kindness, compassion, forgiveness and patience, she would share a piece of herself with all in whom she came into contact. Everyone loved her, in fact, everyone loved her too much. In a fit of jealous rage, the gods attacked the young woman. With all their weapons and arts of war, they killed the young woman who had loved the world. They kill the young woman named Agape.
Within time, darkness took over the land. People became cruel and vicious. Heroes themselves, became more violent. Without Agape, there was no one who could show humans how to love one another. Soon the gods regretted their envious actions. They went to the Land of the Dead, and asked her to come back in her old body to restore peace and love on earth. She refused. There was just too many people, she could never touch all of them. But she did the next best thing. She told the gods to take her remains, cut them up in tiny pieces, and place a piece of in every heart. She also promised that once every one hundred years, she would come back and live a life dedicated to loving others. But as a reminder of the cruelty of the gods, everytime she came back, she would die a violent death.
The gods did as she said. They took her remains, and placed a piece of her in every heart. Now, all humans have a bit of light inside of them. Each one of us has the ability to love the way she loved. And to this day, she has kept her promise. From time to time, she has returned, sometimes as a man, sometimes as a woman, living a life full of love and teaching us how to do the same."
Phoenixa stared off into space. "You're that person Gabrielle. At least for me. The first time I heard that story, you popped into my mind. If it wasn't for you, I would still be walking in the darkness, blinded by my own arrogance and opinion of right and wrong. You have changed me Gabrielle. You have the ability to change anyone. Sometimes I wonder if you are Agape herself, returning to earth to teach us once more how to love."
By this time Gabrielle was in her own world. She was walking in a meadow with the woman who held her heart. Next to her was Xena, telling her that she was her light. Gabrielle sighed. They have had this conversation so many times, and each time she tried to convince Xena that she could walk on the path of the Greater Good without her. "You have your own light. You don't need me. It's already inside of you and it burns brighter than the Sun." She whispered the words, never realizing that it was Phoenixa who heard them.
"Don't say that, your father might get mad," Phoenixa joked. As she looked down at the Bard, the noticed that the green eyes were glazed over. "Gabrielle, fight this. You're strong."
A weak smile appeared on Gabrielle's face. "Hold on to your light."
Phoenixa gently embraced Gabrielle. "For as long as she lets me." She began to rock back and forth, all the while holding the Queen in her arms.
Xena held out her arms to the Bard, and Gabrielle quickly buried herself in them. "You know I'm the lucky one. I love you." Gabrielle closed her eyes.
Phoenixa's heart swelled with pride. *I knew it! I knew you loved me!* "I love you too Gabrielle." She continued to rock for a while, enjoying the sense of euphoria that enveloped her. However that feeling quickly disapated when she saw that Gabrielle's eyes were closed.
"Gabrielle?" She gently shook the Bard, but no response came forth. "Gabrielle?!" She shook the petite woman a little harder, receiving the same reaction as before. "No, I'm not losing you now! Not now!" She quickly stood up and ran to the wall of fallen rock, pulling and tossing the stones, not caring if the wall came down upon her.
Within a half candlemark, the Amazons was able to break through. Eponin came through first, quickly followed by two Amazons carrying a litter. "Where is she?"
Without wasting a moment, Phoenixa lifted the unconscious Queen and gently placed her on the litter. She watched as the two Amazons carried the litter out of the cave. "She's been out for the past half candlemark or so. I tried to keep her awake."
"You did the best you could. Now let me check on you."
Phoenixa jerked away from Eponin. "Our Queen is hurt! Don't worry about me!" The Co-Regent quickly exited the cave and walked along side the litter. The rest of the Amazons made their way back ot the village.
Eponin watched as Phoenixa refused to ride with anyone, but instead travelled by foot next to the litter. The Weapons Master slowly shook her head as the Warrior Princess' words at the celebration played in her head. *Xena is not going to be happy about this.*
Argo gaited across the meadow with Xena high in the saddle. "We'll be home in a caouple of candlemarks Argo." The tan steed threw back its head and Xena snickered. "That makes the two of us." It was then that in the distance, she spotted a pure white mare with a dark rider heading towards her. Xena urged Argo in a gallop and rode towards the rider. "Sophia, what are you doing out here?"
"Xena, there's been an accident. There was a cave-in and Gabrielle..."
"What happened to Gabrielle?!"
"Calm down sis. She has a concussion and a dislocated shoulder, but she's okay. Garona wants her to rest for a couple of days though. Luckily Phoenixa was there."
"Really?" *How convenient.* "How did it happen?"
"It's a long story. I'll tell you on the way." As they rode to Amazonia, Sophia explained everything: Galli, the blindfold, Lilla, Gabrielle, Pheonixa and the rockslide. "According to Lilla, Gabby pushed her out of danger. And according to Gabby, Phoenixa pulled her to safety." Sophia conveniently left out how often Phoenixa has been at the Healer's Hut to check on Gabrielle. *She'll find out soon enough.*
"Are you sure she's fine?"
"Gabby's fine. In fact she's awake, she's talking, and she's eating. But I know you won't be happy unless you see her. So let's go."
"So how are you feeling today?" Phoenixa smiled brighty as she took a seat next to the patient's bed.
"I'm fine Phoenixa. In fact, I hope Garona will let me go back to my hut."
Garona shurgged her shoulders. "It all depends if I can trust my patient to rest instead of returning to her duties."
"Don't worry about that Garona. Chilipa, Lilla and myself will make sure that she doesn't have to lift a finger."
"I'm glad to hear that." Xena stepped out from the shadows as everyone turned towards her. She walked over to the bed and gingerly placed a hand over the bandaged area on Gabrielle's forehead and upon her slinged arm.
Gabrielle gave the Warrior Princess a spunky smile. "It looks a lot worst than it really is."
"Sophia told me what happened. You were lucky."
"Yeah, thanks to Phoenixa."
Xena turned and faced the Co-Regent. She could have swore she saw a look of triumph upon Phoenixa's face. "Thanks Phoenixa."
"It was my pleasure." She returned her attention to the Queen. "I guess I better go. I'll check on you later."
"I'll walk you out." Xena followed Phoenixa to the door. Once the Co-Regent step outside, Xena grabbed ehr by the arm. "I just want to thank you again."
"I would do anything for her Xena."
Xena gave her a fake smile. "I know. By the way, you don't have to check on her later. I know that you're going to be busy helping Lilla and Chilipa to run things while Gabrielle recovers. I'll take care of her."
Rage flashed in the Co-Regent's eyes before she could manage to hide it with a smirk. "As you wish." *For now.* Phoenixa spun around and headed towards her hut.
Phoenixa closed the door of her hut and sat upon her bed. Everything was going well, *until she showed up. I wonder when Gabrielle is going to tell her?* She looked around her hut. It was sparsely decorated with skins, a chest and a looking glass. *But soon....soon I will share the Queen's hut..and her bed.* A smile crept along her face as she thought how the Fates had brought them togetther again. "The Jinn were right, we are destined to be together. We will rule the United Kingdom toether. And no one will get in our way."
"How's the patient?" Sophia asked as she entered the Healer's Hut.
"I'm fine." Gabrielle jerked a thumb towards her wife. "I just wish some people would realize that."
Xena shook her head. "Garona wants you to take it easy for the next few days. And I'm going to make sure that you do just that. So get use to it."
"And speaking of getting use to it, that goes for you too Xena. Now that we know the truth about Phoenixa..."
"Don't even say it. Najara may have told us the truth, but that doesn't mean she can be trusted."
"She's right Gabrielle. There is a great darkness coming from her. I sensed it." A perplex look came upon the Guardian's face. "But that darkness is mixed with feelings of love. I really don't know how to describe it. But one thing is for certain, she is dangerous."
Gabrielle sighed. She had hoped that Najara had truly changed. "That may be true, but what can we do about it? Without any hard proof that she's planning something, there's nothing that we can do."
Xena ran a hand through her hair in frustration. It seemed that Najara was slippier than an eel. "Are you telling me we have to wait until she decides to do something?"
Gabrielle nodded. "Unfortunately yes. A person cannot get banished from the Nation just because she has a darkside."
A big grin appeared on the Guardian's face. "Lucky for you, huh Xena?"
"And for you." Xena gazed down at her wife. "At least you will be on guard. No more going into caves with that woman, okay? Who knows, she might cause the next rockslide."
Gabrielle pointed at her hurt shoulder. "Trust me Xena, this wasn't my idea. Besides, I don't think she would hurt me."
*I wish I could be so sure.* "Let's not take any chances, okay? At least, not until we are sure what she is planning."
Phoenixa sat in the Library with dozens of scrolls on the table before her. She opened one of the law scrolls and began to study them. Even though both tribes were Amazons, the laws were different from the Northern Tribe. *Looks like this is going to be a long day* she thought to herself as she opened the first Law Scroll.
"Looking for something?"
Phoenixa quickly turned around in her seat and looked up at the dark haired warrior. Without hesitating, she returned her attnetion to the opened scroll. "May I help you Xena?"
"I was about to ask you the same question." Xena peered down at the open scroll. "Studying the laws, I see."
"Amazonia's laws are quite different from our own. Since I'm going to help lead this tribe, I need to know these laws as well."
"If I was you, I wouldn't bother." She stared down at the woman. "You're not staying."
"Really Xena? I don't think you have any say in the matter." A look of smugness returned to the Co-Regent's face. "You are not an Amazon."
A dangerous smile surfaced upon the Warrior Princess' face. "I may not be an Amazon in name, but my wife is Queen."
"I know. I'm the one that suggested she remains Queen over both tribes."
"Let's cut to the chase Najara."
The Co-Regent finally returned her gaze to Xena. "My name is Phoenixa."
"Call yourself whatever you want. I know who you are." She bent down until she was almost nose to nose with the former Crusader. "I know what you want. But trust me, you won't get her."
Phoenixa smirked. "You see me as a threat. That's good." She watched as Xena narrowed her eyes. "I wouldn't be a threat if your love was as strong as everyone claims."
Xena glared at the woman. "You haven't changed. You're still the same obsessive, demented fool." Her voice was barely a whisper, nevertheless Phoenixa heard her loud and clear. "I spared you the first time. This time, I won't be so nice."
"Things are different now Xena. A lot different. Now, if you will, I have to get back studying the laws of my tribe." She turned back toward the scroll.
Xena stood back up and walked away from the woman. "This isn't over Najara. Not by a long shot."
Phoenixa listened as Xena's footsteps grew dim. When all was quiet, the former crusader looked up. "You're right. It's not over Warrior Princess."
Chilipa swung the bo-sticks high and hard, anticipating the block by Phoenixa. The two Amazons sweated and grunted as they worked out together. "You're good Phoenixa," she stated as the co-regent blocked another swing at the knees.
"You're not bad yourself." Phoenixa pivoted on her right foot, bringing the sticks up to make a strike at Chilipa's side.
The ebony beauty caught both sitcks inbetween her own. Both women tugged and pulled, neither one willing to give up.
Phoenixa smiled as sweat poured down her face. "Tie?"
Chilipa nodded. "Agree." Both women lowered their weapons and headed toward the pools. "Phoenixa, you are a great warrior, and we could always use you."
"I hear a 'but' coming."
"But if you are going to be co-regent, then I need to know that I can trust you." Both women stopped. Chilipa continued, "Why didn't you tell me the truth about your past?"
"I did tell the tribe."
"But you didn't tell Lilla or me. You kept that fact hidden. Why?"
"When I joined the Amazons, I wanted to forget my past. I even received a new name. Najara is dead. I'm Phoenixa now. I just wish that everyone could accept that."
"You can't blame Xena for doubting you Phoenixa. You have to prove yourself to her. And one way to start is to stop staring at her wife."
"Have I been that obvious?"
Chilipa nodded. "Listen, I know you care about Gabrielle. But as an Amazon, and especially as a Amazon leader, you must respect their bonding."
"I respect the fact that they are bonded. But I know Xena is not the best thing for Gabrielle... and this tribe."
"Xena has always been an ally to this tribe. She had offered her leadership, her guiadance, and her sword in times of trouble. Why do you question her?"
"Because I know a lot about Xena. About her past. Especially with the Northern tribe." She glanced away from the Co-Regent and began to walk away. "But I guess Gabrielle has told you about that."
Phoenixa smiled as Chilipa took the bait. "Have you ever wondered why Xena knows so much of the Amazon's ways and traditions? Let's just say that according to Amazon law, Xena should be dead. If you want to know more I suggest you ask Gabrielle. Or better yet, Xena. Nothing's better than hearing it from the horse's mouth."
Chilipa narrowed her eyes at Phoenixa. "You do know the penalty of lying about..."
"I'm not lying. Go ahead, ask Xena."
"I will." Chilipa walked away from the co-regent, never seeing the smile upon Phoenix's face.
"This is bad. Very bad." Chilipa swept a hand through her curly ebony hair. "We didn't you guys tell us about this before?"
"Chilipa, it happened years ago, way before I ever met this tribe."
"It doesn't matter Xena. The fact is the Queen's Consort betrayed our sisters. Once this gets around, some Amazons are going to question your trustwortiness."
"Even after all the good that she has done for this tribe? She has stopped a war and defended us from our enemies. She has helped to train future Amazons." Gabrielle glanced at her wife before returning her attention to Chilipa. "What else does she have to do to prove that her past is behind her?"
"I don't know. Isn't Xena asking the same question of Phoenixa?"
The Warrior Princess crossed her arms. "That's different."
"How? Are you asking us to judge Phoenixa on one level and you on another?"
The Warrior Princess sighed. "No, I'm not. I'm asking you to look at all facts. Yes, I killed Cyan. Yes, I betrayed the Northern Amazons. But I've changed. And I hope that I have proven that."
"You have to both tribes. However, Phoenixa has proven the same thing to the Northern tribe. They support her fully. And so far, she has done nothing to call her actions into question. She even saved Gabrielle's life. If she is such a bad person, why would she have done that?"
Yet again her past had come back to haunt her and Najara was taking full advantage of the situation. Somehow she had to quell this predicament. "Fine. I'll go and talk to her."
Gabrielle reached out and placed her hand on the Warrior Princess' arm. "No Xena don't. If anything were to happen, it would only work to her advantage. I'll go and talk to her."
Xena's blue eyes gazed upon her wife with concern. "No Gabrielle. I don't want you to be left alone with her."
"Xena, Phoenixa would never hurt me. I'm the best chance to get through to her. Maybe all she needs is to feel safe and secure about her place in the Nation."
"Do you really believe that? She won't stop until she has what she wants."
The Queen eyed her wife. "Then I need to convince her that she can never have it."
"And if it will make you feel any better, I'll go with her," Chilipa added.
Xena looked at the Co-Regent and then back at her wife. Without a good excuse, she finally consented. "Fine. Go talk to her. But be careful." She watched as Gabrielle and Chilipa exited the Queen's hut. Xena then grabbed her sword and with purpose left the hut. When she reached her destination, she pounded upon the door.
Eponin sighed as she listened at the knock. Even though she hadn't heard it in months, she knew the knock and what it meant. The Weapons Master slowly opened the door. "What, again?" She grabbed her sword that was sitting by the door. "What is it this time?"
Eponin nodded her head and walked with Xena to the practice field, knowing that a long grueling workout was in store.
Phoenixa looked over her predecessor's scrolls, hoping to find something, anything that would prove how dangerous Xena really was for the Nation and to the Queen. She scowled as she read; if seemed that Ephiny had nothing but good to say about the Warrior Princess. She had decided to give up when she heard a knock on the door. She rolled up the scroll and stood. "Come in." She watched as the Queen, followed by Chilipa, entered her hut. "What do I owe the honor of your visit my Queen?"
Gabrielle was all business as she spoke to Phoenixa. "I want to talk to you about Xena. I think we need to put the past behind us Phoenixa. We need to keep the past where it belongs, in the past."
"I would like that. Will Xena do the same?"
"She is willing. In fact, she wanted to speak to you herself, but I thought that I should do it. If this union is to work, we have to work together. And in order to do that, we must respect each other."
"I understand. Believe me Gabrielle, I only want what is best for you and the tribe."
"I don't need you to watch out for me. Xena does that."
*And who is watching her?* "Of course, my Queen. I was just worried..."
"Don't be. " Gabrielle nodded to Chilipa. The co-regent bowed and the proceeded to the door to open it. "One more thing Phoenixa," Gabrielle stated after she returned her attention towards Phoenixa, "Xena is my friend, my confidant and my wife. Don't ever forget that." With that, she turned and walked out of the hut, Chilipa closely following behind.
Phoenixa frowned as the Queen exited her hut. *Why are you staying with her? You love me.* Phoenixa returned her attention to the scrolls with a renewed sense of purpose. *Someone has to watch out for you Gabrielle, and since you won't, I will.*
One candlemark and several scrolls later, Phoenixa came upon somethng that caught her eye:
Today our Queen came to us, full of grief and misery. I knew something was wrong, she came into the village alone. When I asked, all she said was that she and Xena had gone their separate ways. She did not offer any more information and I didn't press it. There would be time later to worry about that. Right now our Queen needs our comfort and presence.
Phoenixa smiled as she read the scroll. "Finally. Something that may be useful." She continued to read:
The Nation has watched as Gabrielle suffered for the past two days. She just stares into space during the day, and at night, she is constantly barraged with nightmares. I've stayed with her and tried to talk with her, but the only words that come from her lips are names: Solon, Hope, and Xena. Otherwise she drowns herself with silence. I have never seen her this way. If Xena is alive, I pray that she comes quickly. She may be the only person who can get through to our Queen....
We have received word from the Centaurs, and now I know why Gabrielle is in such turmoil. Solon, Xena's son is dead, murdered by the hands of Gabrielle's daughter, Hope. And Gabrielle poisoned her own daughter. No wonder demons attack her sleep. Maybe it's the Furies, punishing her for the death of her daughter. I just can't believe that gentle Gabrielle would kill her own daughter unless there was a justifable reason. But is there such a thing? And where is Xena? She needs friends at this moment as well.
....I've suggested to Gabrielle to go through the cleansing ceremony. Hopefully our Healer will be able to purge Gabrielle.
...Gabrielle was entering her third day in the Healer's hut when it happened. It is still too painful to mention it. The trackers said there is no way anyone could survive. But I know Xena, and I swear, if she is alive, she will never be safe. We will hunt her down. From this day foward I consider her an enemy of the Nation. She better ask the gods for mercy on her soul, because the rest of her the Nation will scatter to the four winds. I will revenge my sister. This is Amazon Law. This is Amazon justice.
"You're right Ephiny. Justice demands it. So why is she still alive? Why is she still here with our Queen?" Phoenixa kept reading, scanning ahead until she found something pertaining to her search:
...I received news today, both good and bad. Gabrielle is alive! Somehow she survived. The bad news is that she is not coming back here. She is afraid that the Nation will charge Xena. She's right. I don't care if they have forgiven each other, Xena attacked the Nation and our Queen. I know that there are circumstances that must be considered, but Xena has to go before the Council if she wants to clear all of this up....
It has been six moons since I've seen my sister. Gabrielle has never stayed away this long.
I miss her. She sends messages often and I know that she is doing well. I pray to Artemis for her health and safe return to the Amazons.
It had been over a year. I sent a messenger out to tell Gabrielle to visit...without Xena. I know that most of the Amazons have forgiven the Warrior Princess. I have even forgiven her for breaking my arm. But I can't forget the dragging. I can't forget the turmoil that plagued my sister's soul. I can't forget. Nor forgive, not until Xena faces the Council. She taught us that even murders and thieves deserve a fair hearing. And yet, she won't face our law or Council. I guess the rules don't apply to her...
...Sixteen moons and still no visit. I don't care, she can bring Xena and whoever else she wants. Maybe if I see with my own eyes that she was okay and happy, I could let this go. Time had healed the wounds, and if she can forgive, I guess I can let it go. It is time we come together. Both Ceasar and Pompey are near our borders. We need Gabrielle to help with any treaties. And even I have to admit that if we have to go to war, Xena is our best chance
of winning. But right now, the most important thing to me is seeing my sister. If things don't go well, this might be our last chance to reconcile, our last chance for her to get me to understand...
"No Ephiny, you understood all too well." Phoenixa rolled up the scroll. She found what she wanted and now there would be no stopping her. "I understand now. Gabrielle is too frighten to leave, but that's okay. Once Amazon justice is served, you will be free my Queen." She looked at the rolled up scroll and smiled. "I don't know exactly what you did Xena, but I will find out. In two weeks, the Council meets again. That day will mark the beginning of the end of your days here and hopefully your life as well."
Gabrielle smiled at the other six members of the Council. According to the reports of Yakut, Lilla and Lolias, the resettlement of the Northern Amazons was moving along without a hitch, which made a very short meeting. "I'm glad everything is going well." She rosed out of her throne. "If there is no other issues, then let me..."
"Before you dismiss us my Queen, there is one other issue." Phienixa glanced at the other members of the Council. "A very important issue."
Gabrielle furrowed her eyebrows in concern. "What is it Phoenixa?"
The Co-Regent stood up. "Last night I was studying the laws of our tribe. I'm afraid that we have been ignoring our laws, my Queen."
"What do you mean Phoenixa?"
"When someone attacks the Queen and the Nation, they must face the Council. If found guilty the penalty is death or banishment." The former crusader turned and stared at the Warrior Princess. "Xena has not done so."
"If this is about the Northern Tribe..."
"It is not about the Northern Tribe, Chilipa. We have forgiven Xena for that particular betrayal. I'm talking about this Nation."
"What are you talking about?" Lilla asked.
"It's all here in Ephiny's scroll my Princess." Phoenixa pulled the offending scroll out of her pouch. "According to this scroll, Xena attacked the Nation and the Queen. Ephiny felt that Xena needed to stand before the Council. But the Council scrolls never detailed such an action."
Lilla looked at her sister-in-law with shock in her eyes. "You attacked Gabrielle?"
Chilipa stood up and eyed her co-Regent. "Why are you bringing this up now Phoenixa? I thought we all agreed to leave the past alone."
"I worry about the saftey of our Queen and the Nation. And I will prove before the Council that Xena remains a threat."
"Let me see Ephiny's scroll." Yakut looked over the scroll and then handed it to the Warrior Princess. "Xena, did you really attack the Nation and Gabrielle?"
Xena read the scroll and sighed. "Yes, I did."
Gabrielle spoke out. "There are certain circumstances that surround those day's events."
Yakut shook her head. "My Queen, for now that's not important. What the Council needs to know is if Xena ever stood trial for these crimes. Has she?"
Gabrielle hung her head and whispered, "No."
Phoenixa smirked as she smelled victory. "I guess the only thing left for the Council to do is to put Xena on trial."
"Wait a minute Phoenixa." Eponin rose from her chair. "I was there that day. It happened more than two years ago. Since then, Xena has time and time again proven that she is a friend. I think that the Council should vote if we should even hold a trial."
"And who will dare vote against Xena?" Phoenixa stared at the Warrior Princess before continuing. "I'm not speaking for myself, but some others may feel threatened by the fact that Xena is here"
"Then I'll leave."
"No Xena. You have always been here for every vote, it should be no different this time. We'll do a secret ballot. Chilipa please hand everyone two stones." Chilipa did as Gabrielle requested. "If you think we need a trial, place a white stone in the vase. If you are against it, place the black stone it. The vase will be placed in the far corner, and only the person voting will know. And as always, I will cast my vote only if there is a tie." Gabrielle eyed each member of the Council, settling her stare upon Phoenixa. "Let the voting begin."
One at a time, each member of the Council went and placed a stone in the vase. As each stone dropped and struck the bottom fo the vase, the sound echoed in Xena's ears, each stone holding her fate. Finally the sixth stone was dropped.
Chilipa looked over at Gabrielle. The Queen nodded and the co-Regent walked over to the vase. She picked it up and brought to the table. She turned the vase upside down and as the first stone came out, she caught it. "White."
Xena squeezed Gabrielle's shoulder. *Xena don't worry, we knew that there would be one white one.*
Xena didn't reply as she watched Chilipa hold up the second stone.
Everyone's eyes focused on Chilipa as she held up another stone.
Chilipa held the next stone.
Gabrielle let out a breath. Now the vote was tied.
Xena eyed the vase. The vote was now 3-2. At best it would be a tie, and Gabrielle will be forced to cast the deciding vote. At worst...
Chilipa turned the vase upside down one last time, letting the stone hit the table.
Everyone stared at the last stone in silence. Everyone, that is except for Xena and Phoenixa who stared at each other. Phoenixa broke the silence. "It looks Ephiny will get her wish. My Queen, when shall we set the date?"
Gabrielle looked upon the co-Regent with disgust. Even thought she didn't want to, the Queen knew that she could not stop it. "The Council will meet two days from now. Council is now dismiss."
Chilipa stood up. "Xena, I know that you won't like this, but since you are going to trial, we are going to have to hold you. I'm sorry."
The guards escorted Xena to the cell. Chilipa and Gabrielle walked with them. The Queen turned to the group. "I like some time alone with my wife." Chilipa nodded and the guards left the room with the co-Regent following close behind.
Xena didn't say a word as the women left. Instead her mind was on Gabrielle. She faced her wife. "We knew that there was a chance..."
"But how? Why?"
Xena saw the dejection in Gabrielle's eyes. She grabbed hold both of her hands. "Hey, we haven't lost yet. I want you to ask Sophia to defend me."
"But I thought..."
"If we were at any other place and dealing with another issue, then you know that you will be defending me. But I'm standing before the Council because of crimes I committed against you and your Nation. I will not force you to choose between me and your people."
"You would win everytime Xena."
Xena smiled at her wife. "That's not the point. Gabrielle, I am guilty of those crimes."
"But we know the whole truth."
"It doesn't matter. I've confessed that I did those things."
Gabrielle furrowed her brows in confusion. "Then why are we having the trial?"
"Because Phoenixa wants it. For some reason, she is pushing for this trial. So we are going to let her have it. We're going to let her have enough rope to hang herself. Right now, she is standing for justice, at least that is the way some will see it. But sooner or later, that obsessive side is going to show. And when it does, we'll have her. We are just going to have to wait." She gave a small smile to Gabrielle. Xena knew Najara was going to go for the jugular. The former crusader was going to bring up Solan, Hope and the day when she did the unthinkable. "Gabrielle, maybe you shouldn't be at the trial. You know what she is going to talk about...."
"Yes I do, and that's exactly the reason why I should be there. It will be good for the Council to see me with you during all of this." She reached out and embraced the Warrior Princess' hand. "Besides, When I married you, I made a promise to always be by your side, no matter what. You're not going to make me break my promise are you?"
Xena nodded. "Well, you better let Sophia know what is going on. I'll see you later." With that she gave the Bard a kiss on her cheek and and watched as Gabrielle left.
Gabrielle exited the prison and headed towards the living quarters. But instead of going to the Guardian's hut, she walked to Phoenixa's hut and pounded on the door.
The tall blond opened the door. "Gabrielle, what are you doing here?"
"I came to talk to you." She watched as the Co-Regent stepped aside. Gabrielle walked into the hut. She waited until Phoenixa closed the door before speaking. "Why are you doing this? And before you say a word, don't tell me your're doing this for the Nation."
"Whether you believe it or not, I am doing this for the Nation." She hesitated before continuing. "And for you. Do you remember the day we walked along the lake, looking for swans. You told me that you were unsure of the path you were on. Then later, you told me how afraid you were of Xena. Back then, I had no idea how true that was."
"You still don't have a clue. I love Xena. We have forgiven each other. If you think by bringing up the past you're going to cause a rift between Xena and me, think again."
"Gabrielle, what is it going to take before you wake up? You are too gentle and forgiving. Xena could do anything, and you would pardon her. Look Gabrielle, you don't have to be afraid of her, you don't have to stay with her. Why can't you see that one day her darkness is going to swallow both you and this Nation." The former Crusader took a step towards the Bard. "Remember the dream that we both shared. We were going to open a hospice and make the world a better place. The Fates decided that the first part of the dream was not to be, but they have brought us together. We belong together Gabrielle. And under our Guidance, the Amazon Nation will grow strong once again."
Disbelief shined in Gabrielle's eyes. "Did the Jinn tell you that?" The young Queen sighed. "Even if they find Xena guilty and sentence her to death, do you really think I would come crying to you, waiting for you to console me? You and I will never be."
"It doesn't matter if the sentence is death or banishment, it will be carried out. Xena has already admited her guilt. All I have to prove is that she is still a threat. And I will, count on it."
"You can count on something also Najara. If Xena is sentenced to death, that day will be your last."
"You wouldn't hurt me Gabrielle. You love me." Phoenixa looked on as the confusion shined through Gabrielle's eyes. "In the cave, we told each other how we felt. I told you that you are my light, and you said you loved me."
Gabrielle shook her head. "Phoenixa, I had a concussion. Even if I said those things, I thought I was saying them to Xena."
"Gabrielle, I know you don't want to hurt Xena. Your spirit is far too gentle at times. But trust me, once she's out of your life..."
"Did you even hear a word I said?! I'ii put it in terms that even you can understand. Yes, I remember the time we were by the lake. You told me I needed to dedicate myself to Xena's way. You were right, and I have. And just to prove it to you... " Gabrielle stared at Phoenixa. *Phoenixa, can you hear me?*
A look of shock covered the Co-Regent's face. "Gabrielle? How..."
*It's part of my power. Just like this.* Gabrielle focused her thoughts fully on the co-Regent. *See the knife on the table? Pick it up, Phoenixa.*
Without blinking an eye, the former crusader did as she was told. *Now hold the blade to your throat.* Phoenixa proceeded to raise the knife and held it against her jugular.
Gabrielle watched as Phoenixa pressed the knife against her throat. The Bard stared at her, wondering if she should tell her to take the next step. It would solve the problem, and she would never have to worry about Najara again. The Bard closed her eyes. She knew she would regret what she was about to do. *Phoenixa, when I count to three, you will be in control again.* "One, two, three."
Phoenixa blinked her eyes and felt the knife pressing against her skin. "What in Tartarus?" She dropped the knife and looked at Gabrielle, all awhile rubbing her throat where the blade once was.
The Queen stared at the Co-Regent. "Now you know." Without another word, she walked out of the hut to find Sophia.
Chilipa looked around at the other members of the Council as they all sat behind the long wooden table. Even though she hated the idea of this trial, the majority of the Council voted for it, so now it was her duty to lead the proceedings. "The issues we are about to discuss took place over two years ago. I thought that the wounds caused by these events were healed, but from the murmurings I've heard from other Amazons, I know now this is not the case. As in every trial, the Council and its Scribe will be the only ones allowed in this room, along with the accused and her defender. Because of the nature of this trial, the Queen will not have a vote, neither will Phoenixa, since she is the accuser." She eyed each member of the Council, making sure each one understood the seriousness of the situation. Then she looked over at both Pheonixa and Sophia. "Ladies, are you ready?" She watched as both women nodded. "Then let's begin."
Phoenixa stood before the Council. "I'm hear to prove one thing... Xena is a threat to the well being of the Nation and our Queen. I would like to question Eponin first." She eyed the Council member before continuing. "Eponin, what state was Gabrielle in before the day that Xena attacked?"
"The Queen was unresponsive. She was deeply grieved."
"Was she in any condition to defend herself when Xena attacked her?"
"Did she even try?"
The Co-Regent took a couple of steps. "What state was Xena in when she came into the village."
"She was angry. Her son was dead."
"And she blamed Gabrielle for this?"
"Did Gabrielle kill Xena' son?"
Eponin sighed. "No. It was Gabrielle's daughter who did it."
"So Xena came into the village and attacked Gabrielle. Did anyone else get hurt?"
"Yes. Ephiny's arm was broken, other members received minor injuries."
"How did she attack Gabrielle? Did she use her sword? Or her charkram?"
Sophia couldn't stand it anymore. The Guardian quickly ascended from her seat. "Xena has already admitted to the Council that she attacked Gabrielle and the Nation that day. Why do we need to hear the details?"
Phoenixa eyed the half-mortal. "Not eveyone on the Council was here that day. They need to know the severity of Xena's actions."
Chilipa nodded her head. "She's right Sophia." She looked over at Eponin. "Please answer the question."
Anger flashed in the Weapon Master's eyes. She knew her words were damaging to her friend's case, but there was nothing she could do. "She lassoed Gabrielle's legs and dragged her behind a horse. The trackers said Xena stopped at the cliffs of our northern moutain borders. There was a struggle and it looked like they both fell over."
"How far away are the cliffs from here?"
"About a quarter of a candlemark from here, maybe less."
"So our Queen was dragged all that distance by her wife and somehow survived enough to fight back? Maybe we should thank the gods that she is only half-mortal." She turned and looked at Sophia, a smug look upon her face. "Your turn."
Sophia slowly stood and stared at the Council. Her work was cut out for her as she tried to do damage control. "We all know that Xena admitted to the terrible acts she committed that day. We all also know that she was grieving for her only child. But tell me Eponin, except for that one time, have you seen Xena be violent towards Gabrielle?"
The Weapon Master smiled. "No in fact, its just the opposite. Gabrielle seems to be able to bring out the tender side of Xena. I mean, she is still a warrior, but she is gentle with our Queen. One time when Gabrielle was hurt, Xena carried her like a child. She never left Gabrielle's side. I don't doubt Xena's love, not for one moment."
"How about her loyality to this tribe?"
"Whenever Xena's here, she does whatever we need her to do. She has trained dozens of our young warriors, fought for us during battles, help us plan and stragetize. She is even willing to do guard duty if we need her. I don't question her loyality to us."
"Thank you Eponin."
Chilipa looked at the Council. From the looks of shock upon some of their faces, she knew it would be best to allow some time for them to digest what they have just heard. "Let us break until after the midday meal. Guards, take Xena back to her cell."
Xena looked at her wife through the cell bars. "Things don't look too good do they?"
Gabrielle sighed as her mind replayed the horrified looks of the Council. "Well, Sophia hasn't had her turn yet. I know that Eponin and Chilipa know what really happened that day, and they can tell the others the whole truth."
"Do you really think that it will make much difference?" Before Gabrielle could answer her question, someone came through the front door.
Lilla stood and stared at the Warrior Princess, anger blazing in her eyes. "We need to talk. Gabrielle, will you please excuse us?"
Gabrielle looked back at Xena. *I had a feeling she would want to talk.*
Xena nodded. *I did too. Just do me one favor. Make sure she doesn't have a knife on her. Lilla probably wants to cut my heart out.*
Gabrielle walked to the Princess, reached out and gave her a hug. "I'll be in my hut if you need to talk, okay?"
Lilla tore her eyes away from Xena long enough to acknowledge her departing sister. Once they were alone, she focused her attention to the woman behind bars, her voice dripping with anger and confusion. "When I relized that Gabrielle and you were in love, I couldn't be more happier. But now... How could you do that to someone you love."
"There is no justification for what I did." Xena paused to gather her thoughts. "I was so angry when Solon died. I couldn't get my hands on Callisto, and Hope was dead so I convinced myself that it was all Gabrielle's fault, that she was solely responsible for Solon's death. But she wasn't. I'm the one who left Gabrielle with a bunch of relgious zealots who were conplete strangers. Ares even warned me, but I was so determined to get to Caesar that I didn't listen. In order to protect someone who she thought was a friend, she was tricked into killing someone and Dahok got what he wanted. The whole nightmare began because of my hatred and need of revenge upon Caesar. I telling you the truth-- that is my biggest regret." She casted her eyes to the ground. "And will always be. If I could go back in time, that would be the one event that I would change."
Anger still burned in Lilla's eyes. "Are you telling me this because it is the truth? Or are you telling me this because I'm on the Council?"
Xens shook her head. "I don't blame you for being angry. But I hope you know the real me by now. I rather die than to hurt Gabrielle ever again. I know that I did the unexcusable, but please remember all the good that you've seen in me."
Without a word, Lilla stalked out of the room. Xena stared off into space. *No, this isnt going well at all.*
Phoenixa stood up before the Council. "Only one person really knows Xena and Gabrielle. So I will now question Sophia."
Sophia quirked her eyebrow in surprise. "Me?"
Phoenixa smiled. "Yes, you. How long have you known Gabrielle?"
"All my life. We grew up together."
"And how long have you known Xena?"
"For a couple of years."
"So you know Gabrielle better than Xena."
"It's just as you said, I know both of them."
"You are a Guardian, aren't you? What is it that you do?"
"I help people with love. Sometimes I help people find love, rediscover the magic, or to say goodbye to a lost one. Whatever the situation call for, I'll do."
"Did you help Gabrielle and Xena to," she made quote signs with her fingers, "find each other?"
A big smile came upon the Guardian's face. "I wish I could take credit. All I did was to nudge them in the right direction. Their love is true and has always been. They are soulmates in every sense of the word and no one will ever take either one of their places in the other's heart." She eyed the former Crusader intensely. "No one."
"You say you understand love, do you understand hate as well?"
"What to you mean?"
"That day when Xena attacked Gabrielle, she must have really hated her. She let her darkness take over that day. I myself, have seen that darkness first hand, I know how destructive it can be. Have you seen it Guardian?"
Sophia glanced down at the table before returning her gaze to Phoenixa. "Yes."
"I took Xena's darkness away so she could focus solely on Gabrielle when she was hurt." She turned her attention to the Council. "Some of you were here when it happened."
"And what did happen when you stook her darkness?"
"I went a bit crazy. At the time, I didn't know that she was my sister. Her darkness, like our father and brother's, was too similar to mine."
"What did you do?"
Sophia stared at her lap as she spoke. "I was on my way to destroy Poteidaea and instead I fought my father."
"And what makes you think that Xena won't release that darkness upon Gabrielle or this village."
Sophia looked up at the Co-Regent. "Simple. It took both of our darknesses to drive me to that point. Yes, Xena has a dark side, and yes she wanted to hurt Herodotus just like the rest of us. But I also discovered something remarkable that day. Xena's dark side wanted to protect Gabrielle above all else. Even her darkside felt guilty for not being able to protect her."
Phoenixa never heard the last of Sophia's comments. Instead, her mind played and replayed the name Herodotus. *Where have I heard that name before.* It was then she looked at the Council, and saw once again the grief-stricken look upon the Princess' face. A smirk slowly began to spread across Phoenixa's face. *I have you now Xena.* She quickly turned and focused her attention upon the Guardian. "Who's Herodotus?"
Sophia swallowed hard as she first eyed Lilla. She then glanced over her shoulder to Gabrielle before returning her gaze upon the Co-Regent. "I don't see what he has to do with..."
Phoenixa turned her back on Sophia and answered the question herself. "Since the Guardian won't answer I will. Herodotus is Gabrielle's step-father and Lilla's father." She faced Sophia once again. "Do you think you can tell us why you, Xena and the Amazons wanted to hurt Herodotus?"
Sophia refused to answer the question asked as her jaw tightened. "You are treading on dangerous waters Najara."
"You don't have to answer Sophia. I think we can all guess why the Amazons, Xena and you wanted to hurt Herodotus. He hurt Gabrielle, didn't he?" She looked around the room and knew that she had hit the mark. "In your work Gaurdian, have you ever come across people who were abused as a child who grew up and get involved in abusive relationships?"
Sophia narrowed her eyes. "Yes, but..."
Phoenixa cutted off the Guardian. "So we have Xena, the former Destroyer of Nations, attacking a helpless Gabrielle who is used to being abused."
"Najara, if you were talking abouttwo other people, I could go along with your theory. But we are talking aout Gabrielle and Xena, two of the most opinated, stubborn women I know. From my experience, abusive relationships do not take place among equals. And since, you brought up my experience as a Guardian, I want to shed some light on something."
The Guardian rose out of her seat and walked to the Council. "Some time ago, Aphrodite let me see what her life was like, she let me experience the way she saw love. Each love had its own light and color. It was incredible. Especially Xena and Gabrielle's love." She glanced back at her two friends before continuing. "Gabrielle was unconscious. And yet, she and Xena was still linked; the love that they shared was still being send back and forth between the two. I never seen anything like it before in my life. Besides, as head Guardian, I have the ability to sense love, not as a light, but it is a feeling I get."
Phoenixa shook her head. "Let me guess, you can sense the love between them."
Sophia shrugged her shoulders. "That's true, but just in case someone doesn't believe me..." The Guardian of Love closed her eyes and focused on her inner being. "I sense that a certain Weapons Master has a slight crush on someone in this room." Sophia slowly opened ehr eyes just in time to see Eponin wiggling in her seat, blushing in embrassment. "Sorry Eponin." She turned and looked at the rest of the Council. "And I can sense someone in the Council's heart is mending from a love that was unrequited. And someone else in this very room thinks that she loves someone. All of this I can sense and more." Sophia walked back to her seat, making sure she smiled smugly at the former Crusader. *Trying to use me against my sister? Big mistake Phoenixa.*
"Well Phoenixa, any more witnesses?" Chilipa watched as Phoenixa shook her head. "Sophia do you have anyone?"
"Just one." Sophia turned to her half-sister. "Xena, tell us what Gabrielle means to you."
Xena looked at her soulmate. "Everything." She turned and faced the Council. "I would give up everything for her."
"But Xena, you did attack both her and the Nation."
"My son was dead. The one person I trusted the most lied to me, and I felt so out of control. I told myself that if only Gabrielle had killed Hope sooner, if only Gabrielle didn't lie to me about killing Hope the first time. As far as I was concerned, Gabrielle was the source of my greatest pain. And I was too blind to realized that she felt the same way. Instead of us being there for one another, we turned on each other. But thanks to Solon, we found ourselves on the road of healing and forgiveness. I vowed when we left Illusia I would never again hurt Gabrielle. I would rather kill myself that to let that ever happen again."
"And the Nation?"
Xena sighed. "For a long time, I felt that all I needed was Gabrielle's forgiveness. But I was wrong. I never apologized to the Nation for doing what I did. So I'm doing it now. Please forgive me. I let anger and grief almost destroy the most important things in my life."
Sophia nodded. "I think the Council has heard what it needs to hear."
Phoenixa looked over at Xena. "I have only two questions. Are you guilty of attacking our Queen and Nation?"
"I have already admitted to those crimes Najara."
A scowl emerged on the Co-Regent's face. "The darkness that enabled you to do these attrocities, is it still with you?"
The scowl into a smile. "Thank you." She turned and faced the Council. "I'm done."
Chilipa nodded. "The Council will give its decision by sunrise. Until then, the prisoner will be held in her cell."
"Maybe it wasn't a good idea to go to trial. It's in the air, the Council can go either way." Sophia ran a hand through her raven hair as she looked at Gabrielle and Xena. "Phoenixa used me and she did it well."
Xena looked through the cell at her half-sister. "You did your best, that's all I can ask for."
"I just wish I could have done more. Now, both of your lives are in danger."
"What do you mean by that Sophia?" the Bard asked.
"Najara is obsessed with you."
"Tell us something we don't know," Xena stated nonchalantly.
"If you get banishment, I'm not worried. Gabby will hand over her crown and leave with you. But if you get death, that gives Najara an open door. As far as she is concerned, you are the only thing standing in her way and once you are out of the picture, Gabby will realize that they belong together." She looked down at her sister-in-law. "You have become an object. Unfortunately, the object of obsession never lies up to the expectations, leading the obsessed to believe that somehow they had been tricked or lied to, causing their anger to be turned upon the one they supposely loved so much, and anything associated with them."
"Gabrielle, if I get death, I want you and your family to get out of here."
"And how about you? If you think..."
"Gabrielle please don't fight me on this." Xena looked at the Guardian. "Sophia, make sure they get out of here."
"I sure will. As soon as we help you escape."
Gabrielle nodded. That's right."
Xena threw her hands up in the air. "Listen to reason Sophia."
The half-mortal shook her head. "I can't, especially when it doesn't make sense. Besides, an Amazon Queen outranks a Warrior Princess."
Xena glanced over at her wife and then back at her half-sister. You two are impossible."
Phoenixa peered at the Queen and Gaurdian as they made their way from the prison hut. Slowly she closed the shutters of her hut and made her eay to her chair. "Tomorrow the Council will speak." A chester cat grin plastered itself on the Co-Regent's face. "Tomorrow Xena will die. And within a year or two, Gabrielle will come to her senses. She will be mine. She will be mine."
Chilipa stood among the steated Council members as she focused her attention on the rest of the gathering. Xena stood tall with Gabrielle on her left and Sophia on her right, while Phoenixa stood across from them. "As promised the Council has readed its decision." She focused solely upon the Warrior Princess. "It is unfortunate that we did not hold the trial as we should have for it would have made things easier. But thanks to Phoenixa, justice will be served. Xena of Amphipolis, the Council finds you guilty. By your own admission, you attacked our Queen and Nation. Even your own friends testified what you did that day. So we had no choice but to find you guilty."
Joy danced in Phoenixa's eyes. She looked at Xena, not bothering to hide the anticipation and sheer glee in her face. "When will the punishment take place?"
"It already has." Chilipa watched as shock replaced joy in the Co-Regent's face. "You told us the trial was not about Xena's guilt, but about the potential danger she embodied to Gabrielle and the Nation. It's true, Xena could hurt any one of us. But any Amazon possesses that danger as well. She has admitted her guilt and she has apologized. We have forgiven her." Chilipa smiled as she looked at the Council. "We are dismissed."
"No we're not!" Phoenixa slammed ehr hand on the table. "You call that justice?!?"
Chilipa stared at the former Crusader, her eyes daring Phoenixa to continue this battle. "We did what you asked. The trial took place. We have forgiven her. End of story."
"She is still a threat."
"Only to you." Chilipa glanced at Xena. "Anyone who would risk going to the land of the dead in order to be with someone obviously loves that person more than life itself. That's all the proof we need."
Phoenixa narrowed her eyes. "Land of the dead? How did you find out about ...?" She turned her gaze upon Yakut and Lolias, the only two Northern Amazons on the Council.
"Yes, Phoenixa we told them." Yakut looked at the Co-Regent. "We were there and I thought that the Council needed to know the story in order to make an informed judgment."
"Give it up Phoenixa," Xena calmly stated, "The Council's decisions are final."
Phoenixa turned and faced Xena, her whispering voice spoke volumes about the anger she thinly veiled. "Your guilty Xena, but they won't seek justice. So I will." Without taking ehr eyes off the Warrior Princess, Phoenix motioned ehr head towards the Council. "I issue the challenge to Xena."
Before anyone could step in, Xena answered, "I accept. Name the weapons, place, time and conditions."
Phoenixa smiled. "Swords of course. In the training cricle. Right now, in front of the whole Nation." Then she turned and faced Gabrielle. "I dedicate my victory to you my Queen." She bowed before leaving the hut.
Gabrielle looked at Xena. "You don't have to do this."
"Yes, I do. If I don't fight her now, she won't stop. She will tear this Nation apart." She reached out and touched the Bard on the shoulder. "And we can't just leave. As a leader, she will use the Nation to hunt us down. This has to end here."
"She's right Gabrielle. Phoenixa has lost it. But she's smart and she's using the law effectively."
Concern flowed from the Queen's eyes as she remembered the last battle between Xena and Najara. "You just be careful okay? Don't turn your back on her."
Xena gave a small smile to her wife. "Don't worry, I won't make that same mistake again."
Whispers and murmurs were abound as the crowd gathered around the Combat Circle. But silence filled the air as Xena, followed by the members of the Council, took her place in the circle. The two soon-to-be combatants stared at each other, neither willing to be the first to break eye contact. Sophia shook her head as she observed the large assembly. "Bad news travels fast around here."
Eponin slowly nodded. "It looks like Phoenixa will get part of what she wants. But surely she knows that she can't beat Xena."
"Don't be too certain Eponin," she whispered, making sure that neither Gabrielle or Xena could hear her. "From what I read, she is very good. When they fought the first time, she was almost Xena's equal. Now that she has lived among the Amazons..." Sophia stopped the conversation as Chilipa came into the circle.
The ebony beauty looked over the crowd as she addressed the Nation. "Phoenixa has issued a challenge to the Queen's Consort, and Xena has accepted. This is a battle to the death." Chilipa eyed both of the women. "Fight with honor."
As soon as Chilipa stepped out of the way, Phoenixa and Xena drew their swords. Time and time again the swords engaged in battle, neither woman being to overtake the other.
Gabrielle watched as the swords clanged once again. Every fiber in her being dictated that she should be fighting by Xena's side. But because of the nature of the battle, she was forced to watch from the sidelines, causing each moment to be sheer toture. *Come on Xena.*
"Getting tired?" Phoenixa sneered as their swords locked once again. "Thinking about giving up?"
"Don't waste your breath Najara, you'll coing to need it." At that moment, Xena connected a strong knee into the Co-Regent's stomach, causing the woman to double over, gasping for air. "See?"
However, the fight was far from over, which Phoenixa proved when she shot straight up and connected with a blow to the jaw.
Both women quickly brought up their swords. Finally, Phoenixa's sword struck flesh as the blade sliced through Xena's armor and into her side. "First blood Xena."
"Won't be the last," the Warrior Princess dryly commented. Within moments, her sword gashed the Co-Regent in the thigh.
Phoenixa grimmanced as the pain ran through her leg. She glanced down at the gash and saw blood pouring out. She instantly knew that her leg wouldn't hold out much longer. Hoping to use Xena's temper against her, she boasted, "Well Xena, if that's the best you can do, Gabrielle will indeed be mine."
An deadly smile danced on the Warrior Princess' lips. "That's not, and she won't be." With lightning quick reflexes, Xena ducked and swept Phoenixa's legs, causing the former Crusader to crash into the ground.
But Phoenixa was not done. She quickly grabbed a handful of sand, threw it into Xena's eyes and watched as the Warrior Princess fell to her knees, blinded by the tiny grains. Leaning on her sword, Pheonixa rose to her feet. Silently she stalked Xena, sneaking upon the Warrior Princess’ back.
Gabrielle watched as the co-regent elevated her sword above her head. Without thinking, Gabrielle placed a thought in Najara’s mind.
*Say goodbye to Xena.*
The co-regent obeyed the silent command. "Good-bye Xena."
Without hesitation, Xena thrusted her sword backwards. The blade entered the hard flesh. "I'm not going anywhere."
Phoenixa looked down at the penetrating blade. Slowly she looked up and stared at Gabrielle. With her final breath, she reached out towards the Queen and then collapsed.
With silence, the Nation began to disperse. There was no celebration, no cheering, for an Amazon sister was dead. As two Amazons stepped forward to take away the body, Gabrielle rushed over to Xena's side. Within seconds, Garona was there also, looking at the wound to her side. "Let's get to my hut so I can take care of this."
Xena slowly put on the cotton shift, being careful not to pull out her stitches. As she sat down on their bed, her sore muscles screamed out in pain, causing the Warrior Princess to wince.
Gabrielle crawled upon the bed and began to massage her wife's shoulders. "How are you feeling?"
"Tired." She paused before continung. "And grateful." She turned around and faced Gabrielle. "Najara became overconfident. If she had kept silent I wouldn’t have known were she was.” Xena frowned as Gabrielle’s features became clouded. “And how are you feeling?" Even though Phoenixa had been a thorn in their side, she was still an Amazon, and Gabrielle always took an Amazon's death to heart.
Her actions earlier that day ran through Gabrielle’s mind. She had promised herself to never use that power in such a way. Bu now she had, and against an Amazon. She noticed Xena staring at her. Hoping that her soulmate couldn’t read her thoughts, Gabrielle offered these words "Phoenixa helped lead the Northern Amazons at a time they needed a good leader, and she would have been a good asset to the Nation. A part of me wished she had changed." She looked deeply into the cobalt blue eyes before her. "But what is most important is that you are alive and well. As long as that continues to be, I'm the happiest and luckiest person on earth."
A smile tugged at the corners of Xena's mouth. "Me too love. Me too."