Disclaimer #1: Xena Warrior Princess characters belong to Renaissance Pictures/MCA.
Disclaimer #2: Dialogue and action from Sins of the Past also belong to Renaissance Pictures and from the great Xena Warrior Princess writer, (Spoilers for Sins of the Past are contained within).
Disclaimer #3: Xenaverse timeline--after Season 2 and before Season 3.
Disclaimer #4: Romance and sex between two consenting adult women (of the fictional variety) and yall know WHY this is a (dis)claimer. This is a first time story.
A Half Moon Before and Two Summers After
Eponin stood beside the carriage extending a hand for her queen. Gabrielle, now adorned in the royal garment of the Queen of the Amazons delicately placed her hand in Eponins and accepted the boost. The young blonde woman crashed onto the floor of the wagon, clumsily righted herself, then took a seat on the long wooden bench.
"Uh, thank you."
"Youre welcome, my Queen."
"Were awfully high up, arent we?" Somehow using the royal `we seemed appropriate for her first journey in the Queens carriage.
"Yes, my Queen." Eponin waited for Gabrielle to get settled on the bench, then shouted out commands. The nine amazons stood erect at their positions and waited for further instruction.
"Queen Gabrielle, well ride only til nightfall, then make camp a few hours from here."
Gabrielle nodded. The Amazon stepped away from the wagon and began walking to the end of the procession. "Eponin? Wont you ride up here with me?"
Eponin stopped and looked thoughtfully at Gabrielle for a moment. "Usually, my Queen, it is your champion or consort or bondmate who would accompany you on your journey. It isnt my place."
"Well, I dont have a consort or bondmate and my champion . . . " Gabrielle lifted her chin and motioned forward, "wants to ride her horse ahead, so. . . Ill go crazy if Im up here by myself until dusk."
"All right." Eponin surveyed her team of Amazons and sighed. She shouted, "Amazons, I will be riding with our Queen. Adjust formation!"
The Amazons quickly fell in place and with a slight tap of her crop, their Amazon driver guided the black warhorse forward with their precious cargo.
Gabrielle was being led to the center of the Amazon Nation for a very special ritual. For moons she had been preparing for the upcoming event and was confident in her abilities to perform as Queen.
"It must be crazy at the village, everyone getting ready for the ceremony?"
"I've been told our new Amazons will be strong and competent warriors. They have been trained well."
"Im really looking forward to spending time with all of you and Xena needs the rest. Weve had quite a few exhausting adventures in the past few moons."
"Youll tell us about your travels, my Queen?"
"Good grief, Eponin, will you please stop saying my Queen in every sentence? Im your friend, too. Right? Or are you saying that Im no longer your friend now that Im Queen? Thats ridiculous. As I recall, you, Ephiny and Solari practically kicked my butt when I was learning to use the staff. How is it that you loved seeing me covered with dirt and bruises, now you cant even look me in the eye when we speak?"
"Its not appropriate . . . "
"Eponin, I need friends. I have a Nation of women who see me as their ruler, it would be nice to have a few I can call friend and who see me the same way."
"There is Xena."
"One needs more than one friend, Eponin. I thought we were."
"Good." She paused, then sighed heavily, "Its hard with Xena. She doesnt open up much and I keep a lot to myself." Gabrielle looked ahead at her best friends hair blowing in the wind. She knew that Xena was loving every minute of leading the procession and knowing she could push harder and not fear for Gabrielles safety.
Eponin did speak to Gabrielle as a friend as they traveled across the land. "Have you tried?"
"You know Xena, Eponin. Its not easy. But Ive been thinking for a while now that there are some things that we *need* to talk about. Thats one of the reasons Im looking forward to this trip. I worry I might say something she wont want to hear. If that happens," Gabrielle stared off into the distance, "Ill need your support."
Eponin nodded. If Gabrielle needed to say more, she would, but she wouldnt press her Queen. Eponin knew exactly what Gabrielle was hinting. She, Ephiny and other Amazons had discussed it at length many times.
Eponin and Gabrielle spoke of negotiations with Centaurs, the powerful leadership of Ephinys rule, and warlords skulking too close to their borders. Before Gabrielle had realized it, dusk was upon them, and Eponin leapt from the carriage. The Amazons posted on the sides of the carriage ran forward, then turned off into the woods. Fifteen minutes later, they stood about fifty paces from their Queen and guided the vehicle toward them. Instantly, it was as if the Amazon party had never been on the path. Wheel tracks and footprints were covered, Amazon guards slid into trees and two stood hidden at the entrance to their campsite.
Gabrielle descended the carriage with Eponins help and walked over to Xena who stood brushing down Argo. The bard had missed being close to the warrior. She breathed in deeply, capturing her favorite scent. She loved the smell of Xenasweat, leathers, and the lemons she used on her skin. She also smelled chicken roasting along with root vegetables.
"It smells good. Did you steal someones campsite? I know thats not your cooking."
"Oh, very funny. Ill have you know that I cooked just fine before you joined me."
"Xena, you had army cooks. Lets see, on your own youve burned bread, prepared undercooked fish, rubbery rabbit, blackened vegetables and your seasoning of choice so far seems to be riverwater." Gabrielle ticked off with her fingers each incident of the warriors failed cooking endeavors.
"Look, Gabrielle, if you dont want to eat, I wont be offended," Xena said with a shrug.
Eponin cleared her throat. "Excuse me, Queen Gabrielle? Xena? The Initiates have completed dinner preparations and we can all sit down for our meal."
"The Initiates?" Gabrielle eyed Xena.
"Wh-what? I didnt say I *did* cook, I just said I knew how." Xena returned Argos brush to the saddlebag and followed Eponin and Gabrielle to the main campsite.
Over dinner, Eponin explained that the nine Initiates into the Amazon Nation were sharing a campfire not too far from the one where they sat. The women who would soon be joining the Amazons were to move in the shadows during this expedition--they were to hunt for food, gather firewood, mend any torn clothing, polish armor, perform general maintenance on the queens carriage and any other duties which might arise. Amazon rule prohibited them from interacting with the queen or any Amazon not assigned to their training, prior to their crossing over ceremony. Gabrielle was unaware of their presence. Xena, on the other hand had met two of the Initiates when she arrived at the campsite.
* * * * *
She had heard one of them in a tree above the path. The young Amazon-to-be was dangling precariously from her tree rope, trying desperately to remove the bindings which had wrapped around her ankle, without being heard. Too late. Xena was off Argo and in the tree. The woman looked up to find herself on the receiving end of Xenas condescending stare.
"What? Hey, howd you get up there?" the young woman whispered.
"Without you seein me is how. Dont tell me youre guarding the Queen?"
"No, we both are." A second Initiate whispered into Xenas ear.
Xenas head whipped around. How in the world had this woman gotten so close? This short, stocky woman with white-blonde hair casually rested her hand on the hilt of her undrawn sword.
"Get out of my way, she needs help," she said in a whisper, but the command wasnt lost on Xena who smiled and took a step up onto another branch, watching as the second woman pulled the rope and her friend up.
"Youre going to be Amazons soon?"
"And you are?"
The two women looked at Xena, then each other. The dark-haired warrior recognized the amazement. Everyday, she was greeted by at least one person offering up a similar expression. She had heard the stories.
But it wasnt Xenas past as a warlord nor her recent work as a fighter for good that the two young women thought of. They straightened themselves the best they could on the narrow branch. "Youre the Queens champion."
"I know," Xena was enjoying this, though still perturbed about having that second woman approach her unnoticed moments before.
"Look, were sorry."
"I dont know what happened. I heard someone on the path, grabbed for my line and as I was going up, I got caught in. . . . "
"Dont worry about it. Just improve. You cant very well be Amazon, if you cant manage to get yourself up a tree." Xena said.
"Well work on that tonight," the white-blonde woman said protectively. She eyed Xena suspiciously. "Youre not Amazon, are you?"
"Yeah, figured. You wouldnt be talking to us if you were. How do you know so much about them? Were you once in training?"
Xena lowered her eyes, hiding both guilt and shame, then looked away. "No." She shook her head. "Look, the Queen should be coming down the path very soon."
With that said the two Initiates returned to position and Xena disappeared from the tree as quickly as she had arrived.
* * * * *
Now, sitting around their fire, she could hear the nine women in the distance. Xena stood and stretched.
"Im going to go wash my dish." Xena reached out for her friends empty plate. "Gabrielle?"
Eponin rose from her log and shook her head, "No, Xena. Leave that for the Initiates. Theyll take care of this site in the night."
Xena nodded and looked around. It was part of her ritual at night to secure their location, maybe do a bit of hunting, before settling in, but those tasks werent required of her on this journey. Shed have to settle for a walk.
"Theres a lot of food left."
"Why dont we take it over to the Initiates? Ill bet they were so busy making sure we had plenty that they didnt even think of themselves?" Gabrielle was filling a plate with roasted chicken, bread and cheese. "Xena, well walk over."
"My Queen, you cant."
"Oh, Eponin, rules are meant to be broken."
"Think of the Initiates, Gabrielle. They want to enter the Nation the same way their fore-sisters did. Amazon custom and pride in those customs have been taught to them. Even the slightest change would make them feel less than the others."
Gabrielle understood that. She hadnt entered the way all others had and felt deficient to a degree.
The warrior took the plate from Gabrielle. "Ill take it."
* * * * *
Foliage and underbrush hid Xena in the shadows while she watched seven women sitting cross-legged around the campfire testing each other on Amazon history.
Two women stood near a large tree a few paces from the campfire. One was the Initiate who had been hanging from her cord earlier and the other, who carefully made a series of braids and a loop in her rope was the one who had rescued her. She was a strong, good-looking woman. Only one thing about her stood out--her odd white-blonde hair coloring. From behind she appeared to be a much older woman with hair the color of a long life, but face-to-face, she couldnt be more than twenty summers.
The Initiate scampered up the tree like a small animal. Moments later, she returned to the ground.
The warrior cleared her throat. "The Queen asked me to bring you some of our food."
The women practically lunged at the warrior.
"Shes the Queens champion. Thats Xena."
The Initiates divvied up the food and all returned to the fire. "Join us, Xena?" The white-blonde woman said.
"Sure, why not?" Xena took a seat on a nearby log.
"What is she like? The Queen?"
Xena sighed and hardened her face so as not to give away the warm and loving feelings she felt for their Queen. She thought about what shed like to saythe Queen has green eyes I get lost in, she smells like spice, Im captured by the sway of her hips and the lilt in her voice, I never want to imagine a night falling asleep without her near. Or even more revealing, I crave her. I want to know the feel of her ankles on my shoulders, what she tastes like, how she sounds when she lets me take what I need. Instead, she said, "Shes knowledgeable and fair. Shes a hard worker and would put her life on the line if it meant protecting others, especially Amazons." She wondered why she insisted on punishing herself with those fantasies that always left her wet and embarrassed to meet Gabrielle's eyes.
"Whats her name?"
"Huh? The Queen?"
"You shouldnt ask that," one of the Amazons scolded. "Well learn our leaders name at the crossing over ceremony." She answered the question on Xenas face, "We arent part of the tribe yet. She is the Queen of the Amazons. We are no different from anyone else. We havent a right to know her name or speak it."
Xena made a mental note to tell Gabrielle that she isnt supposed to run around telling every bandit they encounter that theyre messing with Gabrielle, Queen of the Amazons. This was a different custom from Amazons tribes she knew from her past.
"We have learned of her--how she became an Amazon Princess, then Queen. We know that she travels with you and that you fought the former Queen on her behalf."
"What does she look like? Ive heard shes old and wise," asked the white-blonde haired woman.
"Shes wise. Young, beautiful and wise."
"Youre willing to lay down your life for an Amazon . . . the Queen, no less and arent one yourself?" The Initiate continued her line of questioning.
"Because were friends."
"You must be more than friends to protect her so fervently. Are you her consort as well?"
The warriors eyes widened. "N-no. Were friends."
One of the Initiates, gave the white-blonde haired woman a shove. "What? You think the Queen might be available for you, Maidia? Im sure shes got women to cater to her every desire at any time. Right, Xena?"
Xena was beginning to fidget on the log. She was suddenly very uncomfortable. "I wouldnt know about that."
Some awkward time passed before Xena finally spoke. "Youve pretty much got the hang of the rope. One thing Id change is the tautness of the loop. You need a little more give. Here, let me show you."
The white-blonde haired woman placed the leather cord in the warriors hand. Xena nodded a thank you and began her demonstration. She was in her element. A good training session was about as motivating as a good fight. With practiced ease, she flung the cord into the trees, not even grazing a leaf or small branch. The cord hit its mark and she gave it a light tug. Xena smiled at the Initiates and before it had even registered in their eyes, she was out of sight. The women stood at the base of the tree and waited, but Xena didnt return. Several seconds passed and eight of them stared into the tree. Maidia leaned against it and stared across the fire at Xena who had slipped quietly from one tree to the next and descended silently onto their camp.
"Hello?" Xena smiled at the women who turned in unison to stare awestruck, at her.
"By the gods, shes wonderful."
Xena cocked her head and stared into the hazel eyes of Maidia, the obviously smartest and bravest of the Initiates. "Howd ya guess?"
"An Amazon always surprises. Shed never do the obvious."
"But Im not Amazon," Xena replied, stepping around the fire to hand the woman her leather cord.
"But you think like one."
* * * * *
The Queens party would reach the Amazon Nation before the sun reached its highest point in the sky. If there had been highwaymen or bandits to deal with on this path, the Initiates had made quick work of them. The Amazons had the road to themselves and not even a broken wheel or Zeus lightning bolts to impede their travel. The head guardswoman was relieved that the Queens champion had joined the Queen in the carriage. Gabrielle seemed much happier with Xena there.
"The Initiates are very curious about you."
"As I am them. What are they like?" Gabrielle turned to face the warrior and once again, Xena drowned in her eyes. As the days turned into moons and moons into winters it was becoming increasingly difficult for the warrior to hold back her feelings. Every glance caused a longing deep inside, each look a level of desire shed never known, every touch, a pounding need.
"We talked, but mostly they asked me a lot of questions about you. What youre like."
"What did you tell them?"
"That youre an ogre. That you are the meanest Queen the Amazons could have, but you hate everyone else more than you hate them, so youre a good leader."
Gabrielle hit Xena in the shoulder. "You did not."
Xena nodded. "Yeah, theyre pretty much afraid of you now."
"Xena, tell me you didnt say those things? I dont want these kids afraid of me."
"Kids? Most of them are older than you, Gabrielle. Except for one. She looks to be about your age. I think shes the best of the bunch, too. Odd, she has old peoples hair coloringblonde, but mostly white. Shes young, though."
"White-blonde." Xena watched as Gabrielles eyes danced. "I had a friend years ago with white-blonde hair. Is she short?"
"Really muscular shoulders and legs? Hazel eyes?"
"Yeah, that describes her.
"Alcestas!" Gabrielles eyes lit up. "She walks with a limp, right?"
"No, her name is Maidia and she walks just fine."
Gabrielle was obviously dejected at this news. She lowered her head, then looked out onto the horizon.
"Hmm?" Gabrielle seemed so far away.
"Who was this friend, Alcestas? Youve never mentioned her."
"Havent I?" Gabrielle was well aware that she had never told Xena about Alcestas for if she had, she would have told her a story she wasnt ready to talk about. It was as much about Alcestas as it was Gabrielle, as much about Perdicas as it was Poteidaia and it included Xena. Could the bard tell this story now? She wasnt sure. If she did, everything would change. But maybe it was time, maybe this Initiate who looked like her friend was the push she needed.
"No, Id have remembered. Were you close?" The warrior was both curious and concerned about the expression etched on the Queens face.
"All right. Lets see, the beginning? No, that would take too long. Hmm?" The bard nervously covered her mouth with her fingers as she thought about the best way to proceed.
"While were young, Gabrielle!" Xena twirled her hand in an effort to get Gabrielle to get on with it.
"Okay. Alcestas and I grew up together in Poteidaia. Were the same age and Id known her all of my life. We were pretty much inseparable. People said that we looked more like sisters than Lila and I, but I dont see it. I still had the. . . full cheeks of my youth. Alcestas had lost all of her baby fat." Gabrielle smiled at Xena.
Xena had liked that chubbiness, but she loved the woman Gabrielle had become. Gabrielle was still full of youthful vitality, in spite of all that she had endured recently, but her face and body had changed. She was all woman. Xena had noticed and now was vigilant about making sure Gabrielle didnt notice her noticing.
"As I said, she walked with a limp. It was her most distinguishing feature other than her hair coloring. Alcestas favored her right leg after she fell from my parents barnloft when we were fourteen winters old."
"Alcestas and I and another friend, Seraphin spent all of our time together. When we were smaller, we played dress up. But as we grew older, we lost interest in Seraphin who had become a little, I dont know, strange, so Alcestas and I spent more and more time together. I guess we were kindred spirits--both ignored by our families, by the village, by everyone. It was like we lived there, but didnt belong there. She was really the only one I could talk to after I became betrothed. We had completed seventeen summers and felt all grown up. We wanted to make our own decisions, but, unfortunately, our fathers were doing that for us with no regard for our happiness." Gabrielle explained, then added slowly, "I was to marry Perdicas.
"Im sorry, Gabrielle." Even though Gabrielle seldom spoke of him, Xena was positive that the occasional silences around the campfire were due to thoughts of her dead husband.
She shrugged. "Once I was married, there wouldnt be any more long walks, I probably wouldnt have seen much of her. Of course, my mother didnt understand.
"I remember one day, about a half moon before we first met, Xena . . . "
Xenas ears perked up. She had often wondered about the time before they met. Gabrielle almost never discussed her past. It was as if she had none. She wondered how it had been so easy for Gabrielle to pick up and leave her village. When they began traveling together, the young woman spent her time learning how to protect herself and having the adventures she longed for. Looking back over the past two summers, Xena realized that Gabrielle only talked about life in Poteidaia when she had to--when they happened upon Perdicas in Troy and that one time she doubted herself and returned to her village for a while. The bard loved to tell stories, loved to comment on everything, but except for a few minor stories about her sister and mother, she never mentioned her family; except for meeting up with Perdicas, then later when she suddenly decided to marry, she wouldnt talk about him. Xena never asked.
Gabrielle continued her story.
* * * * *
"I was racing out to meet Alcestas and mom called out to me. Gabrielle, youre leaving without your basket. I was already out the door.
I walked back in and picked up the basket of goodies that I would be sharing on my picnic. My mother shook her head and said something about me being so eager and acting as if I hadnt seen Alcestas in winters instead of just a few hours.
She had said, She was the last person you spoke with last night and I saw the two of you whispering and conspiring at the market this morning.
Alcestas had been telling me her dream and I thought Id share it with my mother. I started, but she interrupted, of course. You kids and your big dreams. I remember her saying that, then returning to de-feathering a chicken.
I thought about saying something to her. Everyone should have big dreams regardless of age. I pitied the woman who no longer dreamed. At times I pitied mom and knew that was wrong. So I just left to meet Alcestas."
"Mothers can be difficult, believe me I know. My mother can be . . . well, you know." Xena interjected.
"Cyrene is sweet."
"Shes not your mother." Xena laughed and Gabrielle joined her for a chuckle, then continued her story.
* * * * *
We sat in a grassy clearing on a hill that overlooked a raging river below. This was my favorite spot near home. It was secluded and beautiful, ripe with wildberries, beautiful flowers and soft moss.
"Alcestas, I wrote a poem for you today."
"Gab, dont you ever rest? Your mind goes twelve paces for every other persons one. When did you have time?"
"I made it up this morning after you told me your dream. Ready?"
Alcestas popped a berry into her mouth and nodded to me. I sat up, took a deep breath and did my bard thing.
"Dream of a Queen in a crystal palace,
Pale hands touch alabaster columns.
Locked inside a silent room,
Her heart soars across the land, over the seas.
The wind howls and she hears
The music of another heart,
"Sweet Alcestas, your glow awakens me,
Your smile, a picture; your voice, a song;
Your dream, my dream."
* * * * *
Xena wiped her moist hands on her upper thigh. That poem was a love poem, if shed ever heard one. Who was this Alcestas? And what did she mean to Gabrielle?
"Thank you. Im surprised I still remember it."
Xena knew she had to overcome her own anxiety. Her Song of Perdicas was sweet, but this, this held a sense of love and longing. Xena felt left out, somewhat disquieted and surprisingly pained. "Your friend must have . . . you must have cared deeply for her to write such a song to her. Did she like it?"
"Did she like it?"
Gabrielle shrugged, as she tried to recall that conversation.
* * * * *
Gabrielle closed her eyes and sighed in satisfaction. She waited several beats for her words to sink in, finally opening them to linger on Alcestas. "Well, whatd ya think?"
"Thats it? I dont get it."
Gabrielle smiled lightly. She knew that the poem had touched her immediately. "Uh-huh."
"Oh, nothing." Gabrielle leaned back on her elbows and stared at the sky. "Its beautiful today. I wish everyday of our lives could be like this."
Alcestas leaned back, too. Their heads touched as they watched the clouds move. "What do you think that one is?" She asked, pointing to a puffy white cloud.
"Looks like Perdicas on a bad hair day."
Alcestas turned on her side, chin in hand, supported by one elbow, and poked Gabrielle in the rib with a finger. "Hes your betrothed. You shouldnt say things like that."
Gabrielle also turned. "I know, I know. It just slipped out. I know what Im supposed to say. Darling, dear. Im the luckiest woman alive. Aphrodite wishes she had a man like you, Perdicas." Gabrielle laughed.
"Gab, youre going to have to at least try. Soon your mom is going to have you at the dressmaker, Lila will be collecting flowers for your hair, your Dad and Perdicas father will tear down that fence separating the land."
"Ugh. Dont remind me. My father is *trading* me for a few parcels of property, forty-five sheep, twelve goats, fifty-three chickens, five roosters, and an old horse."
"But whos counting, right? Alcestas paused. "Anyway, youre not being traded, your families are joining. Everyone gets half of everything."
"I dont want to be married."
"No, just not yet. When I bond for life I want it to be with someone I can understand and who understands me. Perdicas just smiles and says, whatever you want Gabrielle."
"Most girls would love a guy like that."
"Not me. I want someone with life. Someone who has dreams about something more than Poteidaia."
"Well, you wont find that here. Every boy wants to stay and work the land just like his father did."
Gabrielle sighed and rolled onto her back. "Youre right. Id better start getting used to it."
"At least you know what your future has in store. Every time my father says my name, Im afraid hes going to tell me how he has promised me to some old geezer who needs a wife to bear him a boy before he dies."
Gabrielle turned her head and gave her friend a quizzical look. "Why would you think that?"
"Its my fathers choice. I was supposed to be a boy. He got stuck with me. I should have been his big, strapping son, instead Im just Alcestas, his strong daughter. His mistake."
Alcestas and her father never connected. She tried to please him. She worked long hours and her family had one of the most productive farms in town, she sparred with the strongest boys in the village and held her own. Yet, her father always thought she could do better. For Gabrielle, it was very much the same. Her father, Herodotus didnt seem to mind that he had been blessed with daughters. What drove him mad was Gabrielles wanderlust, her talk of gods and goddesses, and her tales of larger than life characters. She never seemed to focus on the here and now, didnt care about the goings-on in her own village. How many times had she been scolded for burning the bread in the hearth, ignoring it while she studied maps that others had discarded? How often had she been told to obey, to try harder, to be a better daughter? And now this Perdicas thing--her upcoming marriage.
"I dont want to talk about it." Alcestas dropped onto her back and stared up at the clouds.
Gabrielle reached out and lightly touched her friends arm. "Okay, we wont."
Some time passed before the women resumed any conversation. "Gab, are you still feeling *nervous* about being married?"
"Nah. Like you said, Perdicas will do whatever I ask."
"Are you scared about losing your virginity?"
"Not really. I know Perdicas. Hell be gentle. I just hope Ill know how to act when he does it."
"Gab?" Alcestas whispered her name.
Gabrielle held her breath and waited.
* * * * *
They were nearing the borders of the Amazon Nation and the guardswomen were quickly changing formation in preparation for their arrival.
Xena had been lost in Gabrielles story and didnt realize how close they were to the Nation. What was Alcestas' question? she wondered.
The Queens memory had taken over and she had fallen into a quiet contemplation of that day, so long ago. She hadnt noticed Xena leap from the carriage, nor seen all of the Amazons save Eponin standing with arms raised and hands clasped in the clearing between the trees. Her personal guardswoman cleared her throat and finally whispered, "Queen Gabrielle. Were here."
"Oh." She snapped out of her daydream quickly and joined the others on the ground. A moment later she clasped her own hands, Amazons descended the trees and tossed their masks aside. Ephiny embraced her first.
"Gabrielle, my Queen."
"Ephiny." Gabrielle pulled her into a long hug. "It is so good to see you."
"I hope youre ready for a huge celebration. The Initiates will cross over this evening and there are a few things you need to know to prepare for that ceremony. We dont have time to waste."
"All right. I thought we were right on schedule?"
"You are, but theres still a lot to do." To Eponin, "Lets move on out. We need to get back to the Nation quickly."
"Gabrielle, Ill ride with you. Xena, do you want to ride Argo in?"
"Sure." Xena *wanted* to hear more of the story. She hated to be left hanging.
Ephiny climbed into the carriage. "Cmon Gabrielle."
Gabrielle reached out for Ephinys outstretched arm and was just about to pull herself up when Xena tugged at the other arm.
The Queen turned to face her champion. "Yes, Xena?"
"What was Alcestas going to ask and why were you holding your breath?"
The young woman dressed in the finest of fabrics and most expensive jewels, sucked in her lips, narrowed her eyes and anyone could see that she was making a heavy decision. Finally, she answered, just above a whisper. "She wanted to know if we could kiss. " She paused, knowing that she was about to expose herself in a way she hadnt planned. "Again. I was hoping thats what she was going to ask, and she did."
Gabrielle couldnt face Xena. It was out there now, hanging over their heads. She placed her hand around Ephinys forearm and pulled herself into the carriage. Xena stood next to the vehicle, mouth agape. She had not expected to hear that.
While lowering her mask from the top of her head to cover her face, Ephiny said, "the Initiates will be roaming around the village. Youll need to stay masked."
On the floor of the carriage was the mask of the Queen of the Amazons. Gabrielle leaned forward, picked it up and covered her face, just in time to hide the few tears that were beginning to fall.
She nodded occasionally as Ephiny rambled on, though she wasnt listening. Her eyes were glued on Xena until the procession passed, then her thoughts returned to Alcestas.
* * * * *
"If you want, we could practice the kissing thing again? You know to help you with Perdicas."
It had started a quarter moon earlier, Gabrielle recalled. Alcestas had broached the idea in a similar fashion, to help her friend prepare for her future husband. They had laughed hysterically about it after the seconds long kiss had ended. Neither had opened their mouths nor even moved their lips. They had just pressed lips against the other, then stopped.
Then it happened again the next day, outside of Hestias temple. Alcestas was pretending to be Perdicas and had wrapped her arm around Gabrielles shoulders.
"Gabrielle thank you for being my long-suffering, dedicated wife. Thank you for providing such a wonderful home for me, your handsome and dull husband," Alcestas said in a deep, manly voice.
"Oh, sweetheart. How could I not want only the best for you? You make me so happy. Youre my dream come true," Gabrielle had responded in a shrill, overly sweet voice.
"Then kiss me, darling."
Alcestas turned Gabrielle in her arms and kissed her lightly on each cheek, then moved to her lips. The two young women tenderly pecked at each other than burst into laughter.
Gabrielle felt light-headed. She liked kissing Alcestas. Her lips were soft and sweet. She wondered why she didnt feel the same for Perdicas. That evening she constructed situations that would result in more kissing. She valued her friendship with Alcestas and didnt want her natural curiosity to be construed as something else. But if it *was* just curiosity, why couldnt she stop thinking about it?
A full quarter moon had passed before the opportunity arose for them to be alone again. The two women had picnicked just a few feet away on that same clearing. It was the day after another celebration of her upcoming marriage. Alcestas sensed that it was all beginning to sink in and Gabrielle finally confessed that she was worried.
"What if I cant please him? I wont be able to fake it with him." Gabrielle sat on the blanket wringing her hands. Alcestas sat cross-legged inches in front of her.
"Gab, just having you there will be enough for Perdicas. Trust me. Ive known the guy forever. Hes crazy about you."
"I cant do it. Ive kissed *you* more than Ive kissed him. I mean, I cant even worry about that other stuff, cause Im not sure about the easy stuff."
"Gabrielle, Ill show you how to *really* kiss. Thats what friends are for." Alcestas smiled at her and took Gabrielles hands in hers. "Its going to be fine." She kissed her friends hands and then held them tightly. "Really."
Gabrielle had hoped for this moment. She stared at their entwined hands, then slowly raised her head to look candidly into her friends eyes. "I believe you."
Alcestas dropped Gabrielles hands and gently caressed her friends face. She scooted around so that they sat side by side, put her arm around her shoulders and pulled her toward her. Once again, their lips pressed together, but this time, Gabrielle felt herself warm all over. Alcestas increased the pressure against Gabrielles lips. Gabrielle wanted to reach out to touch her hair, to run her hands down the other womans back, to kiss her deeper, but she was terrified. Instead, she squeezed Alcestas upper arms until she was sure she would bruise them, but she didnt dare let go. She didnt trust herself or her hands to let go. Moments passed.
"Well, that was good." Alcestas said, breaking away from her dear friend.
Gabrielle blushed and laughed.
"It was good, but youre going to have to be more . . . I dont know . . . responsive. I cant tell if you liked it."
Gabrielles voice quivered. "I liked it."
"Okay, maybe well try it again sometime."
"I need all the help I can get." Gabrielle said then.
* * * * *
Even as Gabrielle sat quietly beside Ephiny, remembering an old friend, she was anxious and took several deep breaths trying to calm herself. She wondered what Xena must be thinking about her. The warrior could be utterly disgusted by her. She couldnt believe she had admitted to kissing and wanting to kiss another woman. Sure, she was an Amazon and women together was part of everyday living at the village, but she and Xena shared the road. What if this confession changed that? Hadnt the subsequent actions changed her that day, so long ago?
* * * * *
"I need all the help I can get." She had said that to Alcestas days earlier, and that day she said it again.
Alcestas closed the gap between the two of them. She sat up and bent to kiss Gabrielle who still lay reclined on the ground. Just as before, she kissed her cheek, then her lips. She pressed hers against Gabrielles and waited. Gabrielle lay still beneath her, unable to move. Alcestas lifted her head and her hazel eyes warmed Gabrielles very soul. "Remember, you should let me know if you like."
She bent and kissed her again, then waited. Seconds passed. Finally, Gabrielle lifted her stiff arm from her side and placed it on Alcestas back. She was rewarded with soft lips pressed harder against hers. Gabrielle moved her hand up her friends back and placed them in the silky white-blonde hair. This time, Alcestas parted her lips and touched Gabrielles with her tongue. This slight touch caused Gabrielle eyes to flutter, then close. Alcestas pried Gabrielles lips apart with her tongue and for the first time in Gabrielles life her own tongue caressed anothers. Her other arm came around and pulled Alcestas into her for a strong, loving hug as Alcestas soft tongue danced and swirled in her mouth.
"Mmm." Gabrielle moaned into their mouths. Nothing had ever felt quite like this. Alcestas caressed Gabrielles shoulders, ran her fingers through Gabrielles reddish-blonde hair. Gabrielles tongue reached out to capture as much of her friends mouth as possible. She heard Alcestas sigh.
Alcestas hand lowered and she gently and swiftly grazed the outside of Gabrielles breast through her blue peasant top. For Gabrielle, it was a glorious feeling. Her heart pounded in her chest. She felt alive for the first time and prayed to the gods that her friend would continue the lesson.
Suddenly, Alcestas stopped. She moved back and looked into Gabrielles green eyes that had teared with an overwhelming sense of their deep friendship. Alcestas dropped onto her back and took a deep breath. They lay on the grass taking in big gulps of air like two thirsty children. Gabrielle turned to Alcestas with a broad grin plastered to her face.
"I think wed better get back. Its getting late. Theyre going to come looking for us." Alcestas said, while staring up at the sky, completely missing the joy on Gabrielles face.
"Are you all right?"
"Im fine, Gab." Alcestas was unconvincing.
"It was no big deal, right? You were helping me. We were just being stupid."
"No, big deal." Alcestas stood. "Lets pack up, kay?"
* * * * *
Drums beat out the arrival of the Queen and the Queens Regent. The procession entered the village, moving slowly between two rows of drummers and dancers. Those Amazons not performing, lowered their bodies in a sign of respect, bowing to their most revered one. They rose in unison and crossed bows and arrows over their chests in honor of Queen Gabrielle.
Again, the Queen of the Amazons was helped from the carriage. It was difficult to move in a royal fashion when the heavy headdress and mask she wore weighed her down, but she noticed all Amazons were so disguised. Only the Initiates and their mentor moved throughout the village unmasked.
"Yes, theyre finishing up a lesson." Ephiny said, watching the Initiates each receive instruction from their teacher, nod and walk toward the hut they had been assigned.
Gabrielles eyes moved in closer, looking through her mask at each Initiate. The woman with white-blonde hair spoke with the teacher who nodded repeatedly, then patted her on the shoulder. The Queen watched the woman. What had Xena called her? Maidia? Maidia maneuvered around a group of children with grace and quick reflexes, and casually walked toward the hut. At the door, Maidia stopped and looked in Gabrielles direction. The Queen gasped.
"What is it?" Ephiny caught Gabrielle just as she was dropping in slow motion to the ground.
"Who is she?" she whispered as she clung to Ephiny.
"Do you know her?"
"She looks just like an old friend of Gabrielles from Poteidaia." Xena took hold of Gabrielles other arm and helped her steady herself. The warrior, from across the clearing had seen her best friend sliding from a standing position and ran to her aid. "Are you all right?"
"Yes. No. She looks so much like Alcestas. They could be twins."
"Well, its not as if that doesnt happen. Look at me and Princess Diana or Meg."
"Yeah, I suppose. Its uncanny."
"Gabrielle, maybe you should rest after your journey. Well meet briefly to discuss the ceremony."
"Dont worry, Eph, I know what Im supposed to do. You dont have to guide me anymore." She patted her best Amazon friends hand.
Xena slowly helped a weakened Gabrielle across the villages center and into the Queens hut.
"You need to take it easy, Gabrielle."
"I just never expected to see someone who . . . Its hard to explain."
Once Xena had settled Gabrielle in her bed and helped her sip from a cup of water, she leaned against the wall and watched her best friend. She was worried, but not just worry about Gabrielles physical health, but the meaning behind Gabrielles response. Obviously, just this reminder of her friend still caused Gabrielle to have strong reactions. Gabrielle never becomes faint when she looks my way. There was so much that Xena hadnt heard and the warrior, in spite of how it might hurt her, wanted to hear it. She stared at the Queen stretched out in the bed.
"Do you feel up to telling me about her? Alcestas, not Maidia."
"No, not yet."
But sleep didnt come easily to Gabrielle, not with the noisy preparations for the nights ceremony and just as Gabrielle would start to drift off, she thought of Alcestas, then Xena.
"Gabrielle?" Xena stood over the bed and gave Gabrielles shoulder a shove. "Gabrielle? Youre not sleeping."
"What is it, Xena?" She turned to face the warrior. Why couldnt Xena leave me alone about this? I cant lose her.
"Look, youve got a lot on your mind. It might help to talk it out. You can tell me."
"Im your friend."
Her friend? I guess thats all Ill ever be. She sat up. "Please dont judge me if I do this? All right?"
"Im hardly one to judge."
"I dont want you to attach any meaning to it other than a story. Its just something that happened."
Gabrielle crossed her legs on the bed and waited for Xena to settle down next to her before beginning. "Well, we did kiss. We had kissed before, but it was so innocent. I could have kissed my sister or my mom like that. Well, maybe not." She smiled. "It was close to innocent, let me put it that way. But that day, the day I was telling you about, we kissed more and I really, really liked it. She did too and I think we each felt strange about that. We were friends. This shouldnt have been happening." Gabrielle cast a quick glance at Xena from the corner of her eye and saw the warrior looking straight ahead with an expression that revealed nothing.
Friends, she thought. It shouldnt have happened between friends. Xena nodded, understanding more than she wanted. Gabrielle believes that intimacies should not occur between friends.
"Alcestas practically ran away from me that day and then I didnt see her for days. I went by her parents house, but she was too sick to come out one day, too busy doing chores another. She was obviously avoiding me. I was furious. I was very angry with myself, with the game we had played. I was angry with her because of her reaction. I had told Alcestas stories about the Amazons and how two women sometimes lived together as one. I was sure that she thought I was some weird, mythical Amazon."
"Little did you know about the Amazons, huh?"
"I had lost the only good thing about my life in Poteidaia. I felt . . . " Gabrielle shook her head trying to call up all of those feelings. "Like an outcast. I wanted to disappear. Instead, I was preparing for another engagement party."
"Oh, Gabrielle." Xena knew how it felt to be an outcast. She knew better than Gabrielle could ever imagine. She wanted to throw her arm around the bards shoulder, draw her in to comfort her, but decided it best to keep her distance. She listened as Gabrielle continued the story.
* * * * *
Perdicas cousins were visiting the village and her family would be entertaining her soon to be cousins-in-law for the evening. It was the last thing she wanted to do. While Hecuba and Lila prepared the nights meal, Gabrielle stowed away in the room she shared with her sister. She couldnt bear another party, another set of well wishes from friends and family. Gabrielle couldnt remember a time when she was more miserable.
Hecuba wiped her floured hands on the bottom of her skirt as she entered the room. Seeing her daughter lying on her stomach, hugging her pillow, sprawled across the bed, tugged at her heart. This was a scene she would miss when Gabrielle left. She was certain her daughter was cooking up another story, letting her imagination run wild.
"Gabrielle? You should bathe and do your hair up for tonight. Youll want to look especially pretty."
Gabrielle turned to face her mom and Hecuba saw for the first time that Gabrielle had been crying.
"What is it? Whats wrong, Gabrielle?"
"I dont want to marry."
Hecuba sat on the bed and rubbed her eldests back. "Gabrielle, sometimes we have to do things we dont think we can. Its part of growing up. Perdicas is a good man and hell be a good husband and one day . . . " she chuckled, then continued, "a good father to many beautiful children."
"But why me? Why now? Why cant I decide whom I want to spend the rest of my life with?"
"You know honey, many boys have come by to discuss you with your father. They know youre a good catch. Your father chose someone who would also be a good catch. He wants whats best for you. Look, maybe we should have had this talk long ago."
Gabrielle sat up and her mother took her hand.
"Honey, I didnt love your father. He was far too blunt for me, ill-tempered and demanding. I remember telling my friends that I hoped it would be anyone other than Herodotus, then my father made the announcement. Suddenly he was my betrothed and I wanted to throw myself in front of a wagon. What kind of husband would he be? Your grandparents told me hed be a good provider and Id eventually learn to love him."
For as long as Gabrielle could remember her parents had always presented a united front. Hecuba never disagreed with him, never spoke back. She was loyal, even when Herodotus was mean and cold.
"But you love him now?"
"I. . . respect him and care deeply for him. He loves you and Lila. I know he doesnt say it, Gabrielle, but hes so proud that youre one of the few women in town who can read and write." Hecuba shook her head. "Perdicas is of good humor. Hed walk through fire for you. What about him makes you so unhappy?"
"Hes not the one, mom. Hes not *the one*. I dont love him."
"Do you love someone else?"
* * * * *
Once again, at a crucial point in the story, Gabrielle was interrupted. Those Amazons have the worst timing in the known world, Xena thought. The Queens entourage entered with barely a pause after their knock. Ephiny, as usual headed up the team.
Never had she believed her friend had been in love with Perdicas, but Alcestas, well, that was possible. Certainly, the feelings were there.
"Gabrielle, while youre getting prepared, I thought we might go over what youll be doing."
Quickly, two Amazons began to undress Gabrielle while others poured countless buckets of water into the tub placed discreetly behind a wooden screen. She turned to see Xena looking lost in the chaos, but she also saw something else, maybe disapproval. Yes, it was disapproval. She lowered her eyes as she shimmied out of her skirt and when she looked up again, Xena was gone.
* * * * *
The warrior somehow found herself standing at the door of the Initiates hut, her mind muddied with a million thoughts. It was part of her mission to make things right, seek redemption for past misdeeds and setting things right would have to include bringing Alcestas and Gabrielle together again. Gabrielles reaction to Maidia was strong and now Xena had to know.
Xena cursed the gods and her own bad luck. It makes perfect sense, the gods dropped Gabrielle at my feet. Which one was responsible or had they worked together against me? I let Gabrielle into my life, thinking that shed tire of me or fear my darkness and go back home. But Gabrielle hadnt, and the nuisance became a friend, the friend became a best friend, and then I fell in love. At least I fooled the gods, I never told Gabrielle. So, I fell in love with her, but no one was the wiser, especially Gabrielle. Ill get over her. She wasnt convinced.
Xena knocked and waited.
"I need to talk to Maidia," she informed the woman who had answered.
"Yes. Just a moment."
Seconds later, Maidia appeared in the door frame. "Hi. You asked for me?"
"Look, this is gonna sound like a strange question, but did you once walk with a limp?"
Unconsciously, Maidia ran a hand down her right thigh and shifted her weight to her left leg. She wondered what the question could possibly be about. "A limp?"
"Your right leg." Xena said in confirmation, drawing her lips into her mouth, staring at the hand that remained on Maidias thigh.
"Yes. How did you know? When I first came to this village, just before I began my training, the healer re-set it. She had to break it again, but its like new now."
The answer made Xenas mission easier, but it broke her heart just the same. It was a struggle to get the next question out and it was asked in a whisper. "And your given name is Alcestas?"
The Initiate tilted her head in question. This was all quite strange. "Yes. How did you know that? Have we met before? Ive traveled a lot. Ive been on the road for over two summers. I would have thought Id remember someone like you." She smiled warmly, almost flirtatiously at Xena.
"Can you step out here? We need to talk."
"Im still getting ready for tonight, but if its important . . . "
Maidia stepped out of the hut, closing the door behind her. She and Xena walked toward an open field away from the center of the village.
"What is it?"
"Its about your Queen."
Of course, Maidia assumed that she would be placed on a special royal guard duty or was being singled out to perform a particular act for the Queen. Xena was being nothing short of mysterious, walking them farther and farther into the field. "Hey, whats this about?"
"The Queen, I just told you that."
The warrior was going to hold onto the bard for as long as she could, to cherish the last few moments of their friendship. Xena knew everything was about to change. If Maidia felt the same way Gabrielle obviously did, they would probably be joined within the next few moons. Xena would be alone on the road once again, without Gabrielle, without her guide, friend and the only person she had ever truly loved and been in love with. Everything was about to come to an end for her and so she prolonged the inevitable.
"I have to prepare for the ceremony. Xena?"
"Your Queen . . . " the words caught in her throat. "Your Queen is Gabrielle of Poteidaia."
And the same swoon that overtook Gabrielle earlier in the day, now brought Maidia to her knees. "Gab . . . Gabrielle?" she whispered, while pulling herself up with Xenas help.
"Yes. Shes told me about you, about the two of you." Xena was glad for the darkness because her eyes were tearing more than she would have anticipated.
"Gabrielle? The Amazon Queen? But I thought she was still in Poteidaia. Married to Perdicas. What happened?"
Xena turned to face the young woman. She now had more information. Alcestas left Poteidaia first. After Gabrielle became engaged and prior to the bard joining the warrior on the road. This girl left first! No wonder Gabrielle wanted out of her village. She wanted to find her. "I think thats for Gabrielle to tell you.
* * * * *
As Gabrielle was bathed, then dressed, her duties as Queen barely entered her thoughts. It was of an evening almost three winters ago.
* * * * *
The cousins droned on and on, while Gabrielle smiled, laughed at their jokes, asked about their village, spoke of the government in Athens. She told a few stories, yet the evening would not come to a graceful end. Perdicas oldest cousin requested another toast and mugs were lifted again. Thank the gods she was drinking only cider.
"To Perdicas and Gabrelle. May your marriage be long and happy."
"To Perdicas and Gabrielle," the other families said in unison and drank.
"Perdicas, youve got a beautiful woman, there."
"Thank you. She is quite beautiful." Perdicas just beamed. He glowed with love and admiration for his soon-to-be wife. Gabrielle smiled weakly. "Shes beautiful and smart and you know what else? She has the gift of prophecy."
"Ha-ha. The gift of prophecy. Just like you, my dear," the cousin said to his wife who sat quietly at a corner table. "Honey, what do you see in their future? What do you see in Gabrelles future?"
His wife stared at the young woman for several moments. She whispered, "I see a tall, dark, stranger."
The room hushed at this pronouncement, then Perdicas laughed nervously. He reached out for Gabrielle, placing a possessive arm around her shoulders. "Well, not a stranger. Right, Gabrielle? Not a stranger." Gabrielle nodded, locking eyes with the quiet woman in the corner.
"Give us a kiss. Give us a kiss," the younger, drunk cousin slurred. "Cmon Perdy and Gabby give us a kiss."
Soon the entire room, Perdicas family, Gabrielles parents and sister and the five visiting cousins were shouting at the couple. "Give us a kiss. Give us a kiss."
Perdicas shrugged and beamed again at his betrothed. "Weve got to give them what they want." He drew Gabrielle into an embrace and kissed her meekly on the lips. Immediately, Gabrielle pulled away, lowering her head in embarrassment and hiding her anger.
* * * * *
The drummers had been performing all day and evening, but now the beat changed and Gabrielle knew that it was time for her appearance. The door to the Queens hut opened and the Queen of the Amazons stood in all of her royal glory. Xena had only seen her dressed in ceremonial attire a couple of times and now, as before, she found her best friend breathtaking. Xena and the Amazons stood with mouths agape, watching the Queens procession descend from her hut, enter the center of the village and move to the stage where Xena, as champion and three guards stood waiting. Gabrielle seemed to glide up the stairs and onto the stage and the warrior couldnt control the ear-to-ear grin that appeared on her face.
Gabrielle nodded a thank you to her entourage and waited as the Amazons settled into their places.
Xena was overcome. "You look so beautiful," she whispered very close to Gabrielles ear. So close that it caused the Queen to shiver with an arousal she normally kept well hidden.
"Thank you. You do, too."
"Im dressed in my usual leathers."
"You always look beautiful in them."
Xenas face warmed considerably.
The drumming slowly faded out and the Initiates were introduced as a group. One of them shouted, "A Tribute to Our Queen. A Reenactment of the Fight For Leadership."
For the next hour Gabrielle sat on her Amazon throne and watched as the women retold the story of Velascas royal claim and the fight for ambrosia. There were times when Gabrielle was relieved to feel Xenas warm hand on her shoulder, giving it a squeeze of comfort. The Queen suspected that those horrible days being portrayed so realistically would be forever etched in her memory, raw and real, frightening and alarming. She realized the Initiates wanted to honor her, but she would have been happier if they had chosen another tale.
The Amazon audience applauded and many nodded their heads in remembrance of the events still fresh in their minds. Some Amazons were still healing from the wounds suffered, others were attempting to reestablish friendships that had been severed when Amazons chose sides.
Finally, Gabrielle was on. She intended to bring drama and passion to a common, traditional ceremony. This was her first "crossing over" ceremony and it would be remembered.
"Initiates! You come to this village today well trained in the ways of the Amazon." Her voice rang out clear and strong. "You come to this village today to receive the greatest of gifts from a tribe of women who will become your family, your friends, perhaps your mates. This gift is your sense of purpose, your sense of belonging, and your future. As your Queen I am here to bestow upon each of you a special virtue that you must maintain with honesty, commitment, and dedication. Together, these virtues create your destinies, combined with your Amazon sisters throughout the world, these virtues make up the destiny of our Nation. This is a heavy responsibility, for an inability to protect your special virtue weakens the Nation. The strength of the Amazon Nation depends on the strength of each of you individually, the nine of you collectively, the entire tribe of women standing here today, the women in our thoughts who are not nearby, and those who will come after you." Gabrielles voice boomed through her mask. Her many hours of practice had paid off.
"Are you ready to accept your virtues?"
"Yes, we are Queen of the Amazons," the masked Initiates said in unison.
"Please form your Initiate line and would each of you join me on the stage."
One by one, the Initiates ascended the stairs and knelt in front of the Queen.
Ephiny stood beside Gabrielle and holding a scroll said the first name. "Dara."
The first Initiate lifted her mask and stared up at her Queen. "Dara, your virtue is that of Humility. Do you accept this as your Amazon-given role to always fulfill?"
"I do my Queen."
"Lead your sisters down this path following a victory in battle. For you must never treat a hard-earned fight as your right. Honor our Goddess Artemis at all times."
The second in line, removed her mask and held it at her side while gazing up at Gabrielle. "Galia, your virtue is that of Honesty and Trustworthiness. Do you accept this as your Amazon-given role to always fulfill?"
"I do my Queen."
"Always turn to this virtue in times of negotiation. Be known as an Amazon who is fair and just, an Amazon who does whats best for her Nation. Resolve conflict knowing that Artemis, our Goddess is there to hold you when you falter."
This part of the ceremony was going smoothly. Gabrielle knew what she was doing, and did it with ease and charm. Ephiny speculated that for once the ceremony wouldnt go over two hours--a first for the village. She had predicted this just before the fourth Initiate joined them on the stage.
Slowly, the white-blonde woman slid her mask up to rest on top of her head. "Maidia, your virtue is . . . your vir . . . " Behind her mask, Gabrielle blinked several times.
By the Gods, this was Alcestas. I cant be wrong.
"Gabrielle?" Maidia whispered.
Ephiny cleared her throat showing various levels of displeasure.
Time stopped. Xenas jaws clenched, fingers bent inward in fists.
Somehow, who knows how, the ceremony continued. The Queen made it through all nine Initiates with many false starts, forgotten words, long pauses and a quivering voice. Gabrielles eyes seldom left Maidia/Alcestas even as she bestowed virtue after virtue upon the new members of her Tribe. The nine new Amazons represented Humility, Honesty, Self-Discipline, Faith, Loyalty, Respect, Prudence, Compassion and Perseverance. The latter was the virtue that had been stammered out to Maidia.
Xena was certain she might collapse on stage from an inability to breathe. A knot had formed deep in her throat and her air passages were virtually closed. It was sheer willpower that allowed her to remain on stage, playing her role as champion.
As dusk faded into night, the end of the ceremony was received with cheers, applause and well wishes for the nine novice Amazons and the entire Nation. Gabrielle elegantly descended the stage in royal fashion. When she hit the ground, she tossed her mask aside, and ran like the young, child-woman she was two summers ago to the group of new Amazons. The circle parted and Gabrielle and Alcestas stood, face to face at last.
"By the gods."
"Gab. Oh, Gab."
The two hugged for a long time and finally their upper bodies separated and they held each other around their waists, gazing into each others eyes.
Ephiny walked down the stairs from the stage and stood next to Xena who had suddenly lost all ability to move.
"You all right?"
As Gabrielle led Alcestas to the Queens hut, Amazons struck the stage, disassembling the planks and beams while others moved long benches to the center of the village for the evening party. It was a warm night, so dinner would be served outside as well.
Xena closed her eyes and thought, See how Im forgotten? She didnt even look my way. Okay, so Ive done my thing, She wanted to find this woman and I was just a means to an end. Fine, fine, fine.
The warrior hung around the village for some time, somehow getting in the way of the Amazon carpenters, cooks, and everyone else. Woman after woman bumped into her and quickly followed up with a polite "excuse me." It was as if she were invisible. She certainly didnt feel like she belonged there anymore. Finally, she simply rested against a hut, a hut that directly faced the Queens dwelling.
She stood there, staring at the door and window where behind them were Gabrielle, the woman she loved with all her heart, and Alcestas, the woman Gabrielle loved. It was dark and though it was a star-filled night, to Xena, the sky seemed all black. The festive sounds of drum beats and lyres being strummed seemed dull. Instead of being just a few paces away, the music sounded faint, belonging to a village far from the Amazon Nation. The smell of baking bread and roasted pork which were usually so aromatic never penetrated Xenas nostrils. Everything seemed bleak, paler, dim--everything but the candle glowing brightly in the Queens hut. Xena wanted to leave, but she was mesmerized. What was going on in there?
"Trying to set Gabrielles hut on fire?"
"The way youre looking, you could set a blaze."
"Do you want to talk about it?" Ephiny waited for a response, but received none. "So Gabrielle knows her? I dont see how that has any affect on what you two have."
"Gabrielle cares for you. Shes just visiting an old friend."
Xena pulled her eyes from the hut and turned to Ephiny. "Shes more than a friend. Shes her former lover."
Ephiny nodded sympathetically and it was now her turn to stare at the hut. Xena joined in the look and just as she did, she saw the candle being snuffed out and the hut went black.
* * * * *
While Xena was becoming increasingly lost in her fantasy about what was going on in the Queens hut, Gabrielle and Alcestas visited inside. They talked about old times, where they had been and the adventures each had experienced. Gabrielle had walked in the shadow of a great warrior. She had, of course become not only an Amazon, but also Amazon royalty not long after leaving her village. She had seen things she couldnt have dreamed. Alcestas on the other hand had been on the run, always trying to stay a few paces ahead of slavers, rapists, and bandits. She had worked in kitchens, taverns, and a fishermans boat, often performing back-breaking tasks for a meal. She stayed hungry because there had been many days she had gone without. With that information, Gabrielle stuck her head out and requested a tray of food be brought to the hut immediately.
As they sat and ate, Alcestas continued her tale of how she had roamed Greece looking for a place to call home. She knew she had the option of returning to Poteidaia, but what was the point. "I just couldnt. Not with you marrying Perdicas. To be without you and to see you unhappy would have destroyed me. You ended up marrying him anyway. Why?"
"For all the wrong reasons. I kept looking for an escape. I thought he needed me."
"An escape? From whom? Xena? Has she hurt you?"
"No, no. Never. Shes very protective, very good to me. I was still so unsure what I wanted or how to go about getting it. I thought Perdicas was the answer. I now know he wasnt. Ive found the answer, I think." Her last sentence was said almost to herself.
Alcestas smiled broadly. "Really? Me, too." She looked down at the tray of food and picked over it with her finger, while thinking. "I was lost until I met an Amazon. She asked me what my name was and I told her she could call me whatever she wanted, they were her dinars. She liked the name Maidia."
"What? Her dinars?"
"I had to live. I only did it with women, I swear. And that Amazon and I became close. Shes a friend."
"You sold your body for dinars?"
"Sometimes dinars, sometimes for supper, or clothes, or even just so Id have a place to sleep and be out of the rain and snow."
Gabrielle was in shock. "My gods." Gabrielle stood and began to pace.
Alcestas lowered her head in shame, then raised it in false pride. "I had to survive, Gab. There arent many ways a woman can out there. I didnt have a protector like Xena nor did I want to be her. Sure, Im strong enough, but I didnt want every day to be a battle with a sword or staff." She stood as well and trailed behind Gabrielle trying to explain. "The first time I did it, the woman was so nice. It almost seemed like a date. I was hungry and tired, so she fed me, then led me to her room in this small inn. I was planning to sleep, but that wasnt what was on her mind. The next morning, she was gone and on the table next to the bed, a stack of dinars and a good luck token. It was obviously meant for me. It was that easy."
Gabrielle turned and faced her. "That easy? Alcestas, I thought . . ."
The new Amazon touched her old friends hand. "Yes, it was easy, yet it was the hardest thing I could do. Ive been with a lot of women Gab, but my heart has always belonged to only one."
The Queen turned away, she knew where this was heading, but Alcestas reached out and swung her around to look into her eyes. "I never stopped loving you, wanting you. A few times I would imagine that I was with you, when I was with those women, but it felt wrong. So I learned to empty my head of all thoughts. And it was when I was alone, fishing or eating wildberries, or dreaming that I thought of you."
With those warm hazel eyes gazing into hers, Gabrielle felt time slipping away. As much as she loved her life with Xena, she had a physical longing that jumped to the surface when she looked at Alcestas. Perhaps, it was just the memory.
* * * * *
Hecuba was worried about her daughter. Gabrielle had always had a more than healthy appetite, but she wouldnt eat. Normally, she talked incessantly, but now had no voice. She moped around in the barn, was methodical with her chores instead of her usual hurry up and get it done attitude. At the butcher, Hecuba had run into Alcestas and begged her to come by the house to see her friend. Whatever was going on with Gabrielle, Alcestas could help.
Apollos chariot had crossed the sky and it was well into evening when Alcestas finally arrived at the house. Hecuba practically pulled her into her home and hugged her tightly.
"Im so glad you could come over. Gabrielle needs her friends."
"Sure. No problem."
"Ive made plans to work on a wedding quilt with Perdicas mother. Im on my way over. Gabrielles father is at the tavern and I dont expect him home until late. Lila is staying over at Seraphins tonight, so youre welcome to stay here. If your father wont mind? Id like to have someone with Gabrielle."
"No, he wont mind. I can stay."
Shes in her room. Just go on in."
Gabrielle was in her all too common position on the bed--on her stomach, face buried in the pillow. Her body, drained of tears for she had cried all evening.
"Hi, Gab," Alcestas said as she opened the door. Gabrielle turned to the door and her face lit up at the presence of her friend. She scrambled into a sitting position, then stood.
"I wasnt sure you wanted to see me again."
"Youve got to be kidding?"
Alcestas walked into the room, looking around as if shed never seen it before. For some reason, she was finding it difficult to make eye contact with her friend.
"I hear Lilas at Seraphins."
"Oh, probably. Ever since I became betrothed, Lilas been taking applications for a new sister. She and Seraphin are pretty much inseparable. I think Lila likes her because she can boss her around. If Lila tells her to jump, which Lila probably has by now, Seraphin will ask how high."
That was the ice-breaker they needed. They were no longer freezing each other out, but there was still this invisible wall to break through. The friends moved closer, standing awkwardly in the room, exchanging pleasantries.
"How are you? What have you been doing?"
"Not much. What about you?"
"Still getting married. Preparing for that."
Alcestas nodded. "I heard, you know, the other night. You had a rowdy bunch here."
"Perdicas relatives were bloody drunk."
"I think the whole village heard them yelling, give us a kiss." she said like a jovial drunk, then turned bright red.
"Hmm. That was fun," sarcasm dripped from Gabrielle.
"No. It was annoying."
"Did you?" She paused before continuing. "Kiss?"
"We had to. They wouldnt drop it until we did."
"Whatd you think?"
Gabrielle inhaled deeply and moved a step closer to her friend. "That the kiss couldnt compare to one of yours," she said softly.
Alcestas closed the gap between them and took Gabrielle in her arms. Instantly they both knew that this kiss would be different from the others theyd shared. There was a sense of urgency about it. The desire had been building for both of them. Gabrielle had spent days replaying the last kiss on the hill. It was the only thing that got her through her days.
It was Gabrielles tongue that ventured out and into Alcestas' mouth first. She pressed Alcestas short, muscular body into hers. Her hands moved across her friends face, slid down her back, moving down until one hand rested on her lower back. She did what came naturally, tried to swallow Alcestas. Gabrielle broke away long enough to catch her breath and move them across the room and onto her bed.
Alcestas lowered Gabrielle onto the bed and then stretched out on top of her. Their kisses continued and Alcestas hands seemed to be everywhere--in Gabrielles hair, on her face, tickling her throat. Wherever Alcestas' hand went, her lips soon followed. She licked Gabrielles neck, kissed her collarbone, stretched the blue material of her top to sprinkle kisses on her chest. Gabrielle panted. The two young women hadnt a clue as to what to do nor how to do it, so they did what they had seen before. Kissing, kissing and more kissing. Many hours passed and the two kissed as if they had not only invented it, but were trying to perfect it.
Gabrielle could feel her body respond as it had the last time, but now there was more. Her hips were moving in a way that was new to her. They were pushing into Alcestas. She also felt something else. Between her legs, she was wet and that dampness was increasing with every nibble of her flesh, with every caress to her face.
"Stop," Gabrielle said between breaths.
"Did I do something?" Alcestas lifted her body off of Gabrielles, stood and crossed over to the other bed.
"Yeah." Gabrielle smiled. She paused, then added, "I mean, no." Gabrielle sat up and faced her friend. "No, you didnt do anything. Alcestas, Im all keyed up right now. Ive got so much on my mind and Im having all these feelings that I cant explain."
"I just need to step back and take a breath." Gabrielle stared at Alcestas with a warm smile and evident confusion.
"Maybe we should go to bed?"
Their knees practically touched as they sat in the dark trying to figure out what the other was saying. Gabrielle was trembling. "You want to go to bed?"
"If you do."
"Are you tired?"
"No. Im confused. I just need to think."
Alcestas inhaled, then exhaled deeply. "Lets go to sleep." She pulled her legs up, then stretched out in Lilas bed. "Well talk tomorrow. Goodnight."
"Goodnight." Gabrielle continued to sit, alternately staring into space and staring at her friend.
* * * * *
That night seemed like another lifetime, but all of those feelings raged and stormed through Alcestas body. She pulled Gabrielle to her. "Ive thought about that night every single day. I think about you always. I remember it all so vividly." She placed her hands on either side of Gabrielles face and kissed her. It was one of those sweet, tender, innocent kisses, but Gabrielle wasnt fooled, she felt the hidden passion behind it, knew that Alcestas was waiting for the go-ahead.
Gabrielle broke away. "I. . . cant do this."
"Why? Because of my past?"
"No, of course not."
"Because youre my Queen? Im your subject? The Queen can take a consort, a lover."
"Its not that."
"Please, Gab. I remember it all. You know, I heard you that night." Alcestas stared into the Queens eyes, waiting for that comment to register.
Instantly, a flush spread across the Queens body and her face reddened with the notion of an embarrassing moment. "You what?"
"I heard you pleasuring yourself. I wanted to reach out to you, but I was so scared. Instead I listened and I touched myself, too. I pretended it was you."
* * * * *
Gabrielle had pushed herself back onto the bed, turned on her stomach and tried to sleep. That wasnt happening, however, and her eyes opened again to glance at Alcestas, who had rolled over and was facing the window. What a great kisser, she thought. Gabrielle pushed her pillow lower in the bed until it was just below her abdomen and let instinct take over. She began to grind her body into it and that felt incredibly good. Licking her lips, she stared at Alcestas silky hair, her creamy shoulders just visible under a peasant top, a bare calf dangling off the bed. She pushed into the pillow more, increasing the pressure and the rate of speed her hips thrust. Gabrielle groaned as quietly as possible and felt a fire building inside of her. She crooked her index finger and stuck it in her mouth. Biting down, she continued this unusual ride, staring at her friend, then closing her eyes to focus on the burning desire igniting between her legs. Her sturdy bed frame began to creak under the movements, however, nothing could make her stop or slow her down. Gabrielle was on the way to something, she just didnt know what. The need she had felt all evening was finally being satisfied. Everything felt different. Curiosity bested her, so she moved her hand between her legs and inside her breeches and was surprised to feel a thick coating of liquid on her fingers. This hands index finger slid around her inner lips, then stumbled upon a nub that seemed to be the center of all this new passion. Just touching it lightly caused her to buck. Quickly, she moved her hand away. She bucked again and again; hips ground into the pillow, rose slightly, then pushed down again. Her fingers returned to the flow of passion and quickly she moved one finger over the hardness she had discovered. Her finger slid up and down in a heated, frenzied dance. She was able to suppress a low moan, but the next one slipped from her mouth and so did the next. She moved forward, pressed her center into the softness of the pillow, squeezing it between her legs, and then it happened. "Oh, gods," she said aloud, but softly. Gabrielle bit down hard on her finger as she exploded, her body jerking. "Oh. . . oh. . . oh." Her quiet pants were somewhat vocal, but she couldnt help it. Her heart was racing and her breathing came in rapid, shallow breaths. Slowly she extracted her hand from between her legs. She took one breath after another, inhaling and exhaling as quietly as she could, while marveling at what had just happened. Her body continued to twitch and contract and she even became excited by that. It felt so wonderful. Gabrielle was sated, but quickly realized that feeling was temporary. She wanted something more. She gazed at Alcestas sleeping softly next to her, then she turned over and faced the other wall. Gods, whats wrong with me? she wondered.
* * * * *
Oh my gods, Gabrielle thought. "I. . .I. . ."
"Gab, it was a normal reaction. We had been kissing for a long time. If I had known what to do, believe me, I would have. I would have joined you in your bed. I would have pleased you." Alcestas gave her a seductive smile. "I know what to do now." She bent in and kissed her again and just as Gabrielle had predicted, the innocence was gone, replaced by desire. Just as Alcestas lips touched Gabrielles, the Queens thoughts turned to Xena and in her minds eye, soft blue eyes stared lovingly into Gabrielles green.
"I cant," she said, breaking away. "I cant do this. We cant do this." Gabrielle quickly moved across the room.
Alcestas followed her, walking past the table where a sole candle illuminated the hut. She blew it out. "Yes, we can. Weve waited too long. Were here together for a reason, Gabrielle."
In the dark, Gabrielle listened to the voice of her old friend and kept moving keeping a bit of distance between them. "No, you dont understand."
Alcestas was surely a natural Amazon, for she had moved beside Gabrielle without a sound and once again encircled her body and drew her close. "We can." She whispered in her ear.
* * * * *
Once Xena saw the candle go out in the hut, she knew she had to flee. The warrior stalked out of the village, turning only once at the edge of the living area to glance back at the darkened Queens hut.
She berated herself for having never spoken of her feelings, then praised her control in that area. She thought about Perdicas and how jealous she had been of him, but that didnt compare to the jealousy over Gabrielles feelings for that woman. She cursed "that That woman, that woman. Sneaking up into the tree like that. Kissing Gabrielle! Maidia, Alcestas, whatever. An Amazon! The Amazons! Gods, how I hate this place.
After a long walk, she wasnt feeling much better. She knew it had been too much to hope for that the Amazons would have called it a night. The festival was in full swing. These Amazons party like Apollos chariot isnt going to travel tomorrow. What she needed was some place where she could be alone, wallow in her sense of loss, remind herself how she wasnt deserving of love. She just wanted to get to her hut and drink until she fell asleep. Her attempt to fade into the background failed. as Eponin caught up to her, grabbing her upper arm.
"Xena, come join us."
"I dont feel like it."
Eponin nodded, squeezing her lips together in understanding, but not accepting Xenas dismissal. "Sorry, Queens orders. She wants you to come sit with us."
I am so sick of these Amazons making demands, telling me how and what I need to do. "Look, I dont want to sit."
"No," her voice boomed largely and all Amazons turned her way to hear the beginnings of a confrontation. Gabrielle, now dressed in casual Amazon clothing, a beige skirt and a brown and yellow halter top, looked at Xena too, giving her the warmest, most loving smile Xena could recall. "All right." Fool.
Xena sat on the very edge of the circle on the end of one of the makeshift benches. Gabrielle sat next to Ephiny and their royal guards surrounded them. The warrior noticed that Alcestas/Maidia sat with her eight sisters who had recently become Amazons. Its certainly an Alpha letter day for her. She becomes an Amazon and gets back together with the love of her life. How nice.
The large fire glowed brightly, highlighting the soft smiles, rugged good looks, innocent expressions, wrinkled faces, and worldly eyes of the various women sitting around. Xena knew that she could probably take any of them to bed with no more than a glance and gesture. She could have her pick, but the only one she wanted was the blonde woman who was Queen. But maybe tonight she would choose an Amazon to help her forget. No, Xena wanted the bard, the friend whom she traveled with, the sweet woman who had turned her life around. Her eyes narrowed in anger again and her need to vent was becoming desperate. The warrior felt the hairs stand up on the back of her neck and knew she was being watched. When she turned she discovered Alcestas glaring at her, frowning and making no attempt to conceal the look. Alcestas crossed her arms over her chest. Neither would relent.
Gabrielle cleared her throat and both Alcestas and Xena were surprised to find her standing at the front of the semicircle, smiling at her subjects and friends. "This has been a day I wont soon forget." She looked at all of the Initiates, but Alcestas eyes burned into her. "I met up with an old friend whom Ive longed to see again. But today, I also welcomed nine new women into the Nation and I speak for all Amazons--we *love* you. You are family."
The Amazons cheered.
"I shared this day with all of you and my best friend, Xena who claims she isnt Amazon, but we all have our doubts."
Amazons laughed while Xenas expression went blank to mask her lingering guilt of actions many winters earlier.
"As you all know, Im a bard. When we journey to the Nation, it is usually due to pressing business. I seldom get to share my stories with you. Tonight, I have a story to tell. Im going to tell you a story about a young woman. Lets call her . . . Gabrielle."
"This is a story about a woman named Gabrielle and how she came to leave her home village of Poteidaia."
They laughed again.
"First, you should know that Gabrielle had a childhood friend named Alcestas who later went on to rename herself Maidia."
All eyes turned to the new Amazon, then back to their Queen.
"Now, Gabrielle and Alcestas had been friends since birth, but in their eighteenth summer, something changed. For one, Gabrielle became betrothed and two, she and Alcestas discovered the joy of kissing--*each other.*"
The Amazons broke down, pounding on the bench, slapping each others back, laughing heartily. Xena bit the inside of her lower lip. With me as her audience? I can't believe this.
"One night, not too long before Gabrielle left her village, they spent the entire evening kissing on Gabrielles bed. They kissed as if the village planned on banning the activity."
"Is that all they did?" a woman shouted from a bench.
"Yes, thats it. It seems thats about all they knew they could do."
Sighs were heard all around, a few whispered.
"Gabrielle was scared because she was betrothed to this guy . . . Perdicas, but her mind wasnt on her wedding, it was on Alcestas lips."
Gabrielle stared at her old friend, who returned the look with a smile.
"After that night of kissing, they really couldnt get enough of each other. How were they going to stop this? Why would they want to? Gabrielle and Alcestas had become very resourceful, finding numerous excuses to be alone together, creating diversions so they might meet while shopping, then sneak away for long kisses."
The Amazons were an interactive bunch, repeatedly interrupting to laugh and applaud the young kissing couple.
* * * * *
"They walked to *their* special place, a clearing overlooking a raging river and as had always been the case, they talked about everything under Apollos sun and Artemis moon. But now, those discussions always led to serious kissing sessions.
One sunny day, both girls had rushed through their chores so that they might spend some time together. They had been sitting on a blanket in their clearing laughing and basking in the sun. Both of them had demurely raised their skirts to the knees to tan their pale legs.
Now Alcestas had a crooked leg. She had broken her leg several summers earlier and it hadnt healed properly. Gabrielle looked at that leg and asked, Does that hurt?
My old loft injury? Nah. The healer did a lousy job setting it, huh? Look at how the bone sticks out.
Can I feel?
Yeah, go ahead.
She moved over and lightly touched Alcestas' leg, but quickly withdrew her hand when she felt the hardness of the bone. Did I hurt you?
Not at all. It feels, you know, regular.
Tentatively reaching out again, Gabrielle touched her friends shin. Her hand lightly stroked the skin covering the bone, then without thinking, she gently slid her hand across the meatiest part of Alcestas calf and caressed it. Her hand, of its own volition, carried itself up Alcestas leg until it rested on her thigh, hidden under the womans skirt.
Alcestas hazel eyes burned into her friends green ones. She was filled with the same want as Gabrielle. She leaned forward and kissed her. Their kisses deepened as they explored this now familiar territory. Her tongue danced inside of Alcestas mouth, learning every detail. Both women moaned and Gabrielles thumb moved back and forth over Alcestas thigh, her hand squeezing the flesh and melting into its warmth. Painfully slow, her hand edged its way closer to Alcestas center, yet Gabrielle was not consciously aware of this.
Oh, Gab. Please. Alcestas moaned.
A first. Neither had spoken a word during these times. Before it had been playful. That sigh, hearing her name cross her friends lips at that moment, and that plea. . . that plea turned this into something else. Something more meaningful than either had planned.
Gabrielle broke away, blushing furiously. What was she doing? She couldnt do this. It wasnt a question of love. She had made a *promise* to Perdicas and she wouldnt betray him. Look at the sun. Im late. I have to get ready for the service at the temple tonight. We have to go. But the truth was Gabrielle wasnt thinking so much about the temple. She wanted to do more than kiss. Much more. And if things had gone a moment longer, Gabrielle would have betrayed her soon-to-be husband. So, she jumped up, threw the half-eaten loaf of bread into the basket, picked up the remaining fruit, and busily reorganized the clearing. Alcestas breathlessly watched her. Her body trembled with desire and need. She couldnt move.
Come on. Weve got to go.
You go ahead. Ill clean up. Your fathers gonna have a cow. Hell think youre late to spite him.
Go on, then. Ill see you later."
* * * * *
Xena was halfway off the bench. There was no way, she was going to put herself through this. The Queen glanced at Eponin who pushed Xena back down. "Gabrielle really wants you here."
"Im not at her beck and call."
"Tonight you are."
Xena returned to the bench and listened.
* * * * *
"Gabrielle didnt argue, she grabbed her small purse and ran across the grassy area and down the hill, sprinting as quickly as her legs would allow.
Zeus apples! I so *dont* want to go to temple. She tripped over a tree branch, regained her balance and continued on.
As she ran across her front yard, she saw her parents, Lila, Perdicas mother and father and her betrothed waiting on the porch.
Herodotus, her father rolled his eyes upward toward the sky, then down at his daughter. Youre late.
Why was it that every evening involving her betrothed dragged on? There had been a brief ceremony, then the high priestess spoke with Perdicas and Gabrielle about the joys of family life and the importance of coupling to honor Hestia and the other gods. Keep in mind, this was a virgin priestess telling them these things. Finally, Gabrielle was addressed alone, forced to listen to advice about making a happy hearth while her mind soared to that hillside where she had spent a splendid afternoon with her closest friend. She couldnt stop thinking about those lips, the feel of her skin, and the heat of her thigh.
Now, the families were together again, listening to the ending of the ceremony. The priestess and twenty virgins sang out loud and slightly off-key. Suddenly, the temples double doors were flung open and the high priestess gave the two dusty men who entered a look of pure disdain.
By the gods. Slave traders have come through. Both men were doubled over, hands on knees, trying to catch their breath. Theyve rounded up all the girls and women they could find, one said.
They took them. No one could stop them. We have injured men. Virgins, we need your help to treat the wounded. The second man shouted information in frantic, clipped sentences.
Herodotus and Hecuba jumped up as did their daughters and Perdicas and his family.
What happened? Herodotus demanded.
Slave traders. Led by a man named Hector. About thirty armed men. Spears and knives. The first man panted out as much as he knew. He and his friend had run quickly to the temple for assistance.
They took over forty girls and women. Almost every family has lost someone.
Did anyone follow them? Perdicas asked calmly.
Tried, but were beaten. Theyve headed east we think.
Please, hurry. We need your help.
Gabrielle, you and Lila stay here. Perdicas commanded while pushing them back into the pew.
The priestess was whispering orders to the virgins who were running to and fro gathering supplies, filling vessels with water, even taking gifts of fruit from the altar and placing them in baskets for the injured.
The slavers are gone, right? Gabrielle asked.
Yes, one of the men answered.
Then Im going back. Maybe I could help, too.
Perdicas nodded. He knew not to question or disagree with her when her eyes revealed a steadfastness that couldnt be swayed.
On the way back into town, Gabrielle refused to think the worst. She would wait and see for herself. Once there, she discovered her greatest fear was a reality. Alcestas had been taken. She was now with slave traders!"
A few tears flowed down Alcestas/Maidias face and she stared warmly at her friend. She and Gabrielle had yet to talk about the slavers and what had happened.
"Tending to the injured men was the only work Gabrielle could do that would take her mind off of Alcestas and her possible fate. Those slave traders had brutalized them. Several had stab wounds and barely clung to life. Others were breathing, but incapable of movement at all except for an occasional blink of the eyes. Bones were being set as quickly as the healer and her apprentices could get to them. Gabrielle heard constant screaming from strong farmers as the healer cauterized wounds. Hecuba insisted that Gabrielle stay far away from the blood and gore, so Gabrielle kept pots and cauldrons of water boiling on the hearth while she mixed herbs to create medicinal poultices out of rags.
She hadnt slept. She couldnt eat. At night she cried for her friend. What would become of her? How would she fair? Gabrielle envisioned a multitude of harsh treatment that might be forced upon her. Alcestas was a virgin. She prayed that her first experience would not be rape. Alcestas was quick-tempered and often sounded-off. Slavers would beat her into submission. Gabrielle sobbed until there were no tears left, then her body jerked with dry heaves.
Sometime in the night, Gabrielle had drifted off to sleep. She awoke and rubbed her eyes, thinking about last nights horrific dream, then she heard a man scream out in pure pain. It hadnt been a dream at all. She was face-to-face with her reality for the third day in a row.
Gabrielle walked from the well carrying two buckets of water for the pot. Her shoulders and arms weighed down by the water and she felt like Atlas forced to hold up the heavens for eternity. She shuffled into the house and was pouring the water when she heard her name over the normal din of the village.
Is there a Gabrielle here? a man shouted from his perch on a rickety, old wagon. Gabrielle? Gabrielle of Poteidaia?
The bearer of that name moved to the window and watched as her townspeople directed the old man to her home. A few of the healthy men followed beside the wagon just in case danger presented itself. They wouldnt have another woman stolen from them. Gabrielle walked from the house and met the man on the road. Gabrielle? You, Gabrielle?
Here I got this for you. This girl stopped me on my path. Asked if I was headin this way if I could drop this off with ya? He handed her a rolled parchment."
Alcestas/Maidia nodded her head remembering the old man. She had always believed that her note had reached Gabrielle.
"Gabrielle took the parchment and quickly unrolled it. Her eyes darted across the sheet, lips moving as she read, tears welling up in her eyes.
Thank you, she whispered to the man, then to any townspeople near, she shouted, Its Alcestas. Shes all right. She escaped. She doesnt know about the others. Some tried to get away. She read on, then smiled at the men and women who had gathered. She says shell miss all of you and will see you again either in this life or on the other side. She wont be coming back. Gabrielle removed her hand from the bottom of the parchment and it rolled back into a cylinder.
The man in the wagon nodded, gave his horse a light whip with the reins and continued on his way.
The villagers whispered and hugged. At least one girl got away.
I hope strangers will be kind and Hermes watches over her, a wizened, old woman added.
I should tell her father, a young boy chimed in and then ran off.
Gabrielle moved steadily across the yard and back into the house, though she felt her knees might give way and shed collapse in the dry soil.
Inside, she closed the door, then leaned her back against it. Thank the gods. She opened the parchment and read the rest of the message, the part she didnt share with the villagers. Dearest Gab, I will miss you more than anyone. I have to keep moving. I bloodied one of those slavers pretty good. Gabrielle, I dont think well see each other again. I hope someday youll have all those fun adventures you dream about. I hope you will be happy. I cant come back to Poteidaia. With you married. . . well, theres nothing there for me. Maybe Ill find the land where you said Amazons lived. That was my favorite story. I cant tell you how much you mean to me, how much I cherish our friendship, especially those last few days. Take care, my friend. I love you.
Alcestas was safe. She survived. She will survive."
* * * * *
Gabrielles voice cracked as she told this part of the story. Alcestas/Maidia continued to weep silently and Xenas chin quivered as she tried to keep her own emotions in check. It was so obvious. Gabrielle was completely head over heels in love with Alcestas. She would have done anything to be reunited with her. Xena wondered how long it took before she came into the picture to lead Gabrielle out of Poteidaia in the hopes that theyd eventually meet up with Alcestas.
* * * * *
The next day Gabrielle had trudged up the hill to their clearing. For years it had been her special spot where she made up poems and stories, now it was a place that held wonderful memories of a new awakening in her body. She brought Alcestas parchment with her deciding that shed commit it to memory, then bury it under "their" tree. Better that, than Lila or Perdicas happening upon it and asking questions. The last time she and her friend had sat near this tree, Gabrielles body was ready to take the next step. She had wanted so much more, but her mind wouldnt allow it. Now, she sat quietly and read, then reread her friends words, 'I hope you will be happy. I hope you will be happy.' A tear rolled down her cheek. Pressing the parchment to her chest, Gabrielle whispered, 'Ill not forget you.' She quickly buried it and without ceremony turned and walked down the hill.
Poteidaia was picking up the pieces and the village was returning to normal. The slave traders wreaked havoc, but they didnt kill the spirit of the town. Most of the injured were being cared for in their own homes while just a few remained at the healerss hut under a watchful eye. The marketplace was doing its usual amount of business except there were more boys purchasing food and provisions since many women had been taken.
Gabrielle walked past the tailors hut and sighed. Shed be in there soon enough posing for the blind dressmaker who would sew her wedding gown. The corners of her mouth turned up when she looked down a narrow pathway leading to the rear of the peltmakers store. A few days earlier, she had kissed Alcestas back there. Her heart thumped wildly in her chest at the thought and for a few moments, she was confused at the sound. Was that her heart pounding so violently?
No. No. Not again. she muttered, once she recognized the thundering movements of several horses.
Round em up. You didnt expect us back so soon, did cha? Wheres our welcoming party? Still under the weather? Hectors voice boomed from atop his black horse.
A woman screamed as she was dragged by the hair by a trader on foot. "No, let me go.
Come on wench, he spat at her.
Gabrielle couldnt move. She stood in shock as she watched the women and some men gathered again.
Idiots, the whole lot of you! Why wouldnt we come back? Youre an easy bunch to capture and your women are strong. They can take a good beating and still work. Hector laughed and verbally bullied the few men who tried to fight off his crew.
Stop it. Youre hurting me. A woman bit down on the grimy arm of one of the slave traders.
Bitch! He slapped her.
Hector surveyed his surroundings. This was moving along quite smoothly. It looked to be another twenty women. He had orders to bring back a few men as well. Men who had the strength, but not the inclination to fight. His boss would get a good price for this group. Hey, you. Grab the girl over there. He pointed at Gabrielle who was immediately captured by two minions, one pulling each arm. She struggled against them to no avail.
All right, were done here. Lets go.
The slavers on foot and the four on horseback moved the women and men as one out of the village, down the road and into the woods. The Poteidaians fought back, twisting and turning, refusing to move, dragging their feet, doing anything and everything to make the captors work more difficult.
After an hour of dealing with this resistance, Hector was close to losing it. All he wanted to do was gain the trust of his leader, show his ability, get the job done. These villagers were pissing him off. Finally, he jumped from his horse and began dragging some of them forward himself. The women were pushed into each other, falling and being helped up, crying out for mercy, and begging for freedom. Village men continued to wage war against their attackers, but their wooden pitchforks and brooms were no match. Hectors men herded them together and waited for the next set of instructions. Hector was disgusted.
Okay, we can do this one of two ways. You can let us have the girls and go back to those hovels you call homes. Or, we can hack you all into little pieces and take the girls anyway. He clapped his hands and laughed at the frightened farmers while his men poked spears at them, corralling them in one small area.
Gabrielle knew that this was just what Alcestas had gone through days earlier. Alcestas had escaped. Her friend was stronger, but Gabrielle had spunk. She stepped forward, ignoring the angry minions around her.
Gabrielle? Lila shouted, hoping her sister would fall back in place, but Gabrielle was purposeful and spoke directly to Hector.
Take me. Let the others go.
Nice try, but well take you. He shoved her, watching her fall into the others, then continued, and anybody else we want.
Such insolence. She would be the first to learn submission. With a mere motion, he demanded his whip and his second in command quickly placed it in his hand, Its never too early to start training a slave girl.
Hector was sure of himself with this weapon. Witnessing a good flogging would put the fear into these villagers. He gave the young woman no more than a glance before flicking his arm. The whip sliced over his shoulder, but never returned, never hit its mark. The whip held taut, perhaps, stuck in a branch. Hector swung his head around in dismay. Another young woman, friskier than the first held onto the thickest part of the whip. Cold, blue eyes warned him of danger, but he would not be outdone. I gotta admit, this village makes tough women, he said thinking about the wench from a few days ago who had caused trouble, then the child/woman today, now the one he faced.
Neither slave trader nor the dark-haired woman wearing only a dirty, white shift would back down. Dark eyes fought with cerulean for moments. Gabrielle watched in disbelief. This woman looked harmless, more vulnerable than the villagers even, yet she displayed an incredible aura. She was self-possessed. Time stood still for Gabrielle as she watched Hector and this stranger using only body language and their eyes to form a challenge to the death.
Okay, now we take the gloves off. Hectors outstretched arm requested his second weapon of choice, his dagger. Start hacking.
The lackey marauders pushed and shoved to keep the villagers together and not involved in this distraction, but soon, the armed men were needed in the fight. This stranger was either a fool or brave for she took on all of the men. The first to fall was Hector, but he didnt stay down. It seemed this womans eyes were everywhere. She felt men behind her and served them with jabs and punches one right after the other. More than once she used their own weapons against them. She screamed out a battlecry as warning and momentum as she swooped down on the suddenly inept traders. While she fought, she kept a watchful eye on the villagers who had now joined in the fight the best they could. The young reddish-blonde woman watched in awe, staring at the woman who returned the concerned look. The partially clothed woman kicked butt and only once did she falter and take a hit to the head. It was at that time that she found and used weapons shallowly buried in the forests floor. First her sword, followed immediately by a hoop, a dangerous and magical hoop that mesmerized Gabrielle."
* * * * *
Gabrielle turned and her eyes burned into Xenas. All of the Amazons had disappeared momentarily and it was just the two of them. "You were amazing," she whispered.
* * * * *
"Later that day, this savior was bandaged by Gabrielles mother and sister. She had a few cuts and scrapes, but very little damage compared to the men she had left in the woods. Who was this woman? Where did she come from? Why did she save them? How did she learn to fight like that? What was that round weapon, that hoop? Gabrielle knew a good story when it sat on a stool across from her.
Her father supposedly was representing the townspeople when he informed the lone woman that she had to get out of Poteidaia immediately. Gabrielle was dumbfounded. This woman had just saved their lives. Most of them would have been enslaved or dead if it hadnt been for her help, how dare he speak to her that way. Sometimes, she hated her father. She hated Poteidaia. He said that he knew who she was, that she was Xena. Ah, Xena. Thats a nice name, Gabrielle thought. And he knew of her reputation, they all did. They werent requesting that she leave the village, they demanded it. Herodotus and the other men turned and walked out. They couldnt fight their attackers, but they could gang up on this warrior. Gabrielle was confused, angry and disappointed in her people. What happened to compassion and kindness?
Lets go, Gabrielle.
Perdicas. Always there, always trying to be the protector. Hey, just because were betrothed doesnt mean you can boss me around. I want to stay and talk to Xena. She gave him one of her special glares reserved for him and her father. As usual, Perdicas backed down and exited.
Sitting on the stool opposite Xena, she didnt wait to make her wishes known. The Fates had brought Xena to her and she would do her part to see it through. Youve got to take me with you. Teach me everything you know. You cant leave me here.
Did you see the guy they want me to marry?
Xena walked over to the wall where her saddlebag was temporarily stored. He looks like a gentle soul. Thats rare in a man.
Gabrielle couldnt take her eyes off of Xena. She was the most beautiful woman she had ever seen and she longed to be closer to her, but she didnt know how.
Its not the gentle part I have a problem with, its the dull stupid part, she said.
How could she make Xena understand? There was something the two of them shared. She had felt it immediately in the woods when they made eye contact. It was an unearthly connection, maybe something she should even fear, but she didnt. Xena, Im not cut out for this village life. I was born to do so much more.
Xena was nothing but dismissive, standing with her back to Gabrielle. I travel alone.
Gabrielle had a way with words, she knew that. She would just keep talking, try to get Xena talking. They would find some common ground.
So where are you headed now? Green eyes radiated interest. Not that it mattered because Xena barely acknowledged her.
Thats in Thrace, isnt it? Gabrielle hoped shed score some points with that one. Xena needed to know that she wasnt some stupid kid, that she had a brain, that she could be valuable. I love to study maps and place names. Nothing. So what route do you usually take?
Dont even think about it.
Following me. You dont want to make me mad now, do you?"
* * * * *
Xena stared at the bard. Maybe Gabrielle following me wasnt just about Alcestas.
I knew I was going to make you mad. Gabrielle said as an aside, with a smile.
* * * * *
"That night, Gabrielle tossed and turned. It was less than two hours til dawn. Xena had left Poteidaia long ago. Shed never catch up if she didnt leave soon. Gabrielle lay in bed contemplating her future. Alcestas words played in her mind. I hope you will be happy. Gabrielle felt it to her very core, staying in Poteidaia wouldnt make her happy, following Xena would. She had been awake, biting her lower lip, playing out various scenarios in her head. She couldnt leave. She had to leave. She was to be married. Shed wither away if she married. Perdicas would be devastated. Hed meet someone else. Her father would kill her. Not if she wasnt there. He couldnt kill her if she were on an adventure with Xena. She loved her mother and sister. How could she leave them? What about Lila? Herodotus would take it out on her younger sister. Was she crazy? Why would she follow someone she hardly knew? Xena was a strangera tall, dark stranger. Several nights earlier, one of Perdicas cousins with the gift of prophecy had told her about a tall, dark stranger who would enter her life. The prophecy! She remembered how her eyes had met those of the cousins in secret understanding. Gabrielle felt a chill cross over her, then a sudden warmth. Is Xena my destiny? she asked aloud. Why couldnt she stop thinking about her? Is she the *one*? Her stomach flipped over repeatedly when she thought of those blue eyes staring at her. Why? She was beautiful and mysterious and by the gods, Gabrielle needed to get to know her. She had to follow her.
Xenas mouth dropped open, her eyes large like a deer caught in the light of hunters torches. Xenas heart fell, then lifted. What was Gabrielle confessing? What was she telling me, Alcestas and all the Amazons? This was not how I imagined this scene would play out.
"Close your mouth, warrior. Im almost finished," Gabrielle teased, but her voice shook. After leaving the Queens hut with a distraught Alcestas/Maidia, Gabrielle went to the temple. When she finally gathered her courage, she asked a simple question. She prayed on this and was given instruction by her patron Goddess. She was to tell Xena and her subjects of the love that engulfed her.
* * * * *
"Her mind was made up. Slowly, she pulled the blanket back, lifted her pillow, extracted her light blue jacket and crept across the floor, afraid of waking Lila. The bag was where she had left it at the foot of the bed. Throughout the evening, Gabrielle had surreptitiously packed a small purse to take on her journey. It contained very little, for she had few possessions. She selected items to remind her of her family and her life in this village that would forever be known as the place she grew up, but no longer called home. Her home was elsewhere, she could feel it. She knew it.
She bent, picked it up and tried to tiptoe out of the room. Unfortunately, a footstool was in her path and her eyes hadnt adjusted to the darkness. The small pot on the stool went tumbling to the floor, creating a loud crash and bang. Lila immediately awakened, fearing slave traders had returned, but saw her sister standing in the room, fully clothed, and apparently trying to make a quiet exit.
Whats in the bag? she croaked out.
Gabrielle crept back over to the beds and sat on Lilas. How could she explain that she had to be near the warrior? That every time she thought of Xena looking both wild and vulnerable during the fight, she got goosebumps? How could she explain these feelings for a woman? A tall, dark stranger? She couldnt. Instead, she whispered, Lila, Im going to join up with Xena.
Even her sleepy state couldnt keep Lila from seeing how ridiculous that was. She looked at her sister and burst out laughing. Gabrielle quickly covered her mouth with her hand. Are you serious? she asked, when her sister slowly lowered her hand.
Absolutely. Im going to be a warrior like her.
Absurdity upon absurdity. A warrior? Gabrielle, *I* can beat you up.
Yeah, but youre strong for your age. Gabrielle needed to make up time. Shed never catch Xena, but her sister deserved an explanation. Lila would be the one who would have to break the news to her parents and Perdicas. Lila, you know Im different from everybody else in this town.
I know youre crazy.
Look, call it whatever you like. The point is, I dont fit in here. And the idea of marrying Perdicas . . . Too much had happened recently. These feelings she had just discovered could not lay dormant ever again.
He loves you, you know.
But I dont love him, she answered quietly. Ive got to do this Lila.
Gabrielle said goodbye to her sister. She would miss her, but she had to find her own way in life, had to make this leap into the world.
Standing on the porch, she looked up into the dark sky and closed her eyes. She prayed for guidance and safety. She prayed that the gods would watch over Alcestas, too. As she stepped down and into the darkness, she hoped that shed catch up with the dark-haired warrior and that Xena would find her a worthy companion and friend. All she was certain of was that she needed to travel beside her. She walked the main road out of Poteidaia and said to no one, If nothing else, at least Ive tried."
* * * * *
"Well, thats my story." Gabrielle said nothing, just waited. Amazons applauded and cheered loudly. Eyes moved from their Queen to Xena who sat dumbfounded on the bench next to Eponin.
Gabrielle was terrified. Either Xena would understand and it wouldnt change their daily living; shed understand and their relationship would be enhanced; or she would find Gabrielle repulsive. She would either welcome her honesty or wish that Gabrielle had kept those thoughts unshared. Shed either want to talk through all of it (fat chance) or pretend shed never heard this story.
Eponin bumped Xenas arm. "What are you gonna do? Our Queen is waiting," she whispered.
Xena stood and slowly made her way through the obstacle of benches to the opening of the semicircle where Gabrielle waited, her eyes following Xena as she moved closer. The knot in her throat grew and she felt her forehead bead up with perspiration. Gabrielles eyes filled with tears that she commanded not to fall.
Alcestas was devastated. All of her hopes dashed. The only thing that kept her alive sometimes had been thoughts of Gabrielle. The woman she loved was in love with the tall, dark warrior. She shook her head and watched as Xena smiled down at Gabrielle, took the Queens hand and began to lead her away.
"Uh . . . goodnight." Gabrielle smiled broadly.
Alcestas couldnt tear her eyes from the new couple. And the Amazons watched as the neophytes expression changed from devastation to resolve. My virtue is perseverance. I love her. We should be together. I need to think. Figure out how to win her back. Ill make a challenge. Ill fight Xena for her.
* * * * *
"Gabrielle?" Xena squeezed her hand and gazed into her eyes as they walked back to the Queens hut. "Im glad you took those steps out of your village."
"But? I hear a but in there."
"No, no buts. I wouldnt trade our time for anything."
"And do you feel the same way?"
Xena laughed. " I jumped onto a ship I knew was cursed to be with you. I thought that would have said it all."
They entered the hut and stood awkwardly next to the door. Xena reached behind Gabrielle and closed it, then opened it again. She waited for the royal guards who had discreetly trailed behind them to arrive at the door. "Well see you in the morning." She closed and bolted the door, then smiled at Gabrielle.
"I would do anything for you. I will do anything for you. I promise on Lyceus grave, I promise."
Xena had the same feelings. She had dared this much, could she go on? "I know the warrior in you, the loyal friend, the Queens champion. I I I want to know the lover in you."
Xena nodded, moving to close the few inches separating their bodies. She held the Amazon Queen tightly, listening to her fast and strong heartbeat, feeling her body shiver in her arms.
"But . . . "
"But?" Xena chuckled.
"I need to know that it means something more than the physical?"
"It does and it will." She bent and kissed her lightly. "Dont be afraid."
"I dont want you to hurt me. Im not prepared for that. If I give myself to you. . ."
"Gabrielle, Id never do that." Xena stepped back and sat on the edge of the bed. "You can trust me not to hurt you." The warrior knew her mind and nature. When she spoke to Gabrielle, she spoke the truth, but what about the bard? Earlier that evening, it was as if Gabrielle had forgotten her. Alcestas/Maidia walked back into her life and she swooned, she cried, she spent practically the entire night alone with her and never gave Xena a thought. Perhaps it was Gabrielle who would do the hurting. Perhaps, Xena was merely an interlude while she reacquainted herself with her old friend or used Xena to make Alcestas jealous.
Now, Gabrielle followed her to the bed. Standing between Xenas legs, she looked down at her. "Do you love me?" She brushed away a few errant strands of bangs that covered her eyes. She needed to look at Xena and know that she understood everything she was hearing.
"How long have you known?"
"A long, long time Gabrielle. I dont remember when. The day I told you that we were family. Maybe before that. Im not sure, but sometimes I ache because of it."
Not for the first time in their travels together, Gabrielle read the warriors mind. "Ive hurt you before." Gabrielle didnt expect an answer, she was thinking aloud. "When I married Perdicas I hurt you?"
"And before that, the boy who helped me free the Titans. That hurt you?"
"All of em. Every time you turned from me, it hurt. Gabrielle, I cant do this. Its too hard to talk about."
"They didnt mean anything. . . I wanted to feel needed and I didnt think you could ever want me. And I thought I just needed to. . .try harder with men. Be more like you. Im so stupid. All of those times the way you protected me. I thought you were just doing your warrior thing, but it was because you loved me. I think about it now and its so clear. You put your life on the line so many times for me." She continued standing between Xenas legs and gently stroked the warriors hair, running her fingers through it, feeling individual hairs fall easily between them. This act seemed so natural, but for so long it had just been a dream. Now it was real, yet remained magical.
"Gabrielle, the day I met you, I had been on the road for moons. I had decided to turn my life around, but in every village I entered, there was a sick memory of what I had done, reminders everywhere. Burned out shells that were once homes, people cursing me or cowering in fear. I rode on and my mind was just a mess. I was going back and forth--give up trying to do good and go back to the way I knew or give up on life altogether."
"Uh-huh. I didnt even know where I was. I had finally traveled far enough that I was in an area I had never pillaged. I buried my weapons and had planned on getting these herbs out of my pouch. I was gonna . . . "
Gabrielle put two fingers to Xenas lips to quiet her. "No, dont. . ."
The warrior covered the Queens fingers in her own hands, slowly lowering them. "There was no way Id ever make up for all that I had done. It was pointless. Then there was a commotion, and I saw you. I felt it too, Gabrielle. I felt that same connection you did. The moment I laid eyes on you. I just didnt know what to make of it. I think youre right. The Fates brought us together. I dont remember how I got there. I had never even heard of Poteidaia. And maybe the Fates have been watching us this whole time. I dont know."
A small warm hand slid around the warriors neck and she stared up into loving green eyes. "I love you so much."
"What about Alcestas?"
"What about Marcus?"
"Marcus? Hes dead."
"You slept with him."
"I thought all I deserved was a dead man. It was more like a dream."
"I know I thought I was dreaming." Gabrielle smiled down at her.
"You heard us."
"Youd be amazed at what people hear when one thinks theyre sleeping." Gabrielle blushed and Xena assumed it was in memory of overhearing she and Marcus. Actually, the Queen remembered Alcestas words, I heard you.
"Im sorry." Xena swallowed hard. "But what about Alcestas?"
"What about her? Its always been you, Xena. Not Alcestas, not Perdicas, just you. It will always be you."
Gabrielle lowered her body onto Xenas lap and began to kiss her. She kissed her in apology and that kiss was quick and sweet, then she kissed her to show how much she loved and that kiss was hot and passionate. It took less than a second for Xena to become a full participant. They moaned into each others mouths. A long time passed before they broke away.
"Oh. . .Oh . . . Wow. Gabrielle?"
"Ive got to thank Alcestas. She taught you to kiss like this?"
"Well, I guess. But thats *all* she taught me." Gabrielle stood up. "Here, let me help you out of your armor and boots." She lifted an eyebrow, then added, "and your leathers."
"Gabrielle?" Xena chided her.
The Queen reddened and she inched away from the warrior, then walked to the table where she poured some wine from a vessel into a cup. "Is it too early? This *is* really our first. . . And Im rushing. Im sorry. I wasnt thinking. We should talk or do you just want to. . .umm. . . Im sorry. Okay, were moving way too fast here, huh? Of course we are. Dont be stupid, Gabrielle." Gabrielle rapidly shot out words and ideas, then gulped down a few swallows of wine.
All the warrior could do was try to hold back the laugh that was threatening to break through in hearty gales. Laughing at an embarrassed bard wouldnt have eased the situation. Instead, Xena delicately covered her mouth with her hand and remained quiet.
"Okay, you know, we could go back out to the festival. I mean, we just left so abruptly. Or, we could go for a walk. We could walk to the river or you might want to check the borders." Gabrielle nodded furiously at each new idea, then poured more wine.
Xena lowered her hand. "Gabrielle? Why would I want to go check the Amazon borders?"
"Well, you know. Because. . .because thats what you do." She quickly took a big gulp of wine.
"You think Id want to check borders instead of being here with you?" Xena couldnt hold back the laugh.
"What? What is so funny?"
"You are. What is wrong with you?"
"I. . .I. . .I wanted you to take your clothes off and you seemed a little shocked."
"I was *not* shocked, just surprised at your eagerness. I like it."
"Oh, yeah." Xena stood and walked over to her, took the mug out of her hand and returned it to the table. "Hey, help me out of all of this."
Bright, dancing eyes stared at Xena and her hand moved up to the fasteners of the warriors breast plate. Unfortunately, the intensity of her physical state made it impossible to detach the clasp. She trembled with pent up excitement. "I. . .I cant get it."
"Ill do it. Sit down." Gabrielle stepped back, not daring to turn away, she walked backward to the bed, her eyes never leaving her love.
Xena unhooked the armor and placed it on the back of the chair. She smiled at Gabrielle who stared back in awe. Next, Xena bent, unlaced boots, and kicked them off. Again, she smiled at the love of her life.
"Do ya wanna wait, take a walk, join the Amazons or should I go on?"
As if to say sarcastically, "oh, please," Gabrielle tilted her head and grinned.
"Ill go on, then." Xena slid the straps off her shoulder and slowly lowered the leather shift down her body. Now, all that remained was her soft cotton shift and breeches.
Gabrielle sat on the bed, staring. Unconsciously, one hand gently caressed the other resting in her lap. She was mesmerized by the warrior once again. The look in Gabrielles eyes said it all and Xenas stomach fluttered in response. "What?"
Gabrielles chest rose and fell rapidly. "Your nipples are so hard. I can see them through your shift." Gabrielle said softly. This was all so new--to be able to openly stare at the woman she loved, no longer guarding her long looks, to comment on what she saw, to see Xenas face react to her words. It was better than being on stage performing for a group of thirsty and hungry strangers, better than having the undivided attention of her Amazon subjects. This was all that mattered.
Within moments, the shift and her breeches joined the leather shift on the floor. Though they had seen each other naked hundreds of times, this was the first time Gabrielle allowed herself to linger over her best friends body, to show her once hidden feelings in an expression of love, passion and desire.
Seeing the wanton need on Gabrielles face brought forth a myriad of reactions in Xena, including a nervousness she wanted to hide. Be cool, be cool. Youve been with women before. Xena took a deep breath. "Are you going to undress or shall I help you?"
"Id like to just get to know you this way for a bit. Im afraid that if you touch me the way I want to be touched, itll be over quickly. Im very. . . I want you too much, I think."
"No such thing."
"Believe me, if you touched me or kissed me, Id go right over the edge."
"I doubt it." Xena walked over to the sitting bard and lifted her off the bed. She pulled on the knot at the back of her neck that held the halter-top together, then she quickly untied the second bow at the back of her waist. The top opened up and floated gently onto the floor. Xenas eyes clouded over as she looked down at the breasts that she couldnt wait to claim as her own. "Oh, gods." She pulled Gabrielle toward her and kissed her passionately.
"Yes, what?" Xena asked breathlessly.
"Im serious, I cant let you touch me. Xena, I know myself. . .I know how my body works."
"I *need* to touch you. Ive waited a long time to hold you in my arms like this."
"Me, first. All right. Let me love you first. Please." She took a step back, preparing to negotiate their first act of lovemaking. Gabrielles body felt like a million needles were pressed into her skin. She felt funny--tingling, heated, fuzzy, breathless. These were sensations she had never had, but she knew how she might react. She stroked Xenas face with the back of her hand. "Will you do that for me? Let me kiss your cheek? Lick your neck? Will you let me caress your shoulders?" Gabrielle looked deep into Xenas eyes. "Can I? Run my fingers down your body? Hold your breasts and love them in a way that pleases you? Okay?" Gabrielle stroked the other side of Xenas face.
Xenas eyes closed, moved by Gabrielles words. "Oh."
"Yes, Xena. Please let me do those things." Gabrielle ran her fingers through Xenas long dark hair. Xena opened her eyes again and smiled.
"Uh. . . Umm, Gabrielle. The things you say."
"Im a bard," Gabrielle said with a smile. "You can teach me what you like and I promise to be a good student. All right?"
"Yesss." Xenas voice shook with anticipation.
"Good. Thank you."
"But you get naked, too."
Gabrielle pulled Xena to her, pushing Xenas head down to her lips for a kiss. "Come to bed, love."
Gabrielle led Xena to the large Queens bed. "Show me what you like," she whispered. Gabrielle untied the belt holding her skirt in place. The skirt slid over her hips and onto the floor. She wore nothing underneath. The two women kissed and Xena allowed herself to be completely lowered onto the bed. Time would no longer be wasted, as Gabrielle straddled the warrior immediately. Xena felt the heat of Gabrielles womanhood against her own. As blue eyes gazed into green much to Xenas surprise, her eyes began to tear.
"Are you all right?" Tears were welling in Gabrielles eyes, too.
"Yeah." Xena whispered.
Gabrielles desire was now at a point she had never reached on her own. Her heart pounded in her chest. She could feel her rock hard nipples pressing against Xenas perspiring skin. This cant be happening. Im on top of Xena. Im on top of the woman Ive craved for how many moons? Their soft tongues swirled around each other, dancing and moving in a well-practiced choreography that was brand new for them. Xenas arms embraced Gabrielles body, both hands sliding down her back to cup the cheeks of her ass. Gabrielle broke away and looked down at her with a smile.
"Ugh." Gabrielles eyes fluttered as Xena guided Gabrielles center of heat up and down her abdomen. "Oh," she said, as she was slid forward, then back.
Xenas eyes were hidden behind hooded lids. She peeked out at Gabrielle whose head was thrown back in ecstasy. Xena could feel Gabrielles hard nub rubbing just above her navel, then back to the very top of her triangle of black curls. She desperately wanted to touch her there. The warrior moved one hand around and slipped it between their naked bodies, but just as she was about to touch the spot that cried out for attention, Gabrielle grasped her hand. "No," she whispered.
Gabrielle lowered her head to mark her claim on Xena--first, her cheek, then her neck, sliding her tongue up and down the long vein that usually poked out during battle. The bard was surprised to see that same strong vein just as pronounced, but for entirely different reasons. Alternating between light bites and languid sucking, Gabrielle concentrated on Xenas neck. The dark-haired woman moaned into her new lovers ear. Gabrielle moved to the other side of her neck and blessed it with the same attention. Rose-colored markings appeared on both sides. This is only going to get better. Gabrielle thought.
"Oh, Xena," she softly uttered into the warriors ear.
Slowly, Gabrielle traveled the route of a map she had explored many times in her mind. She had envisioned every detail, knew where she wanted to stop and peruse. What she hadnt imagined was the taste of Xenas skin on her lips nor just how soft her body would be. Gabrielle greeted her first detour--one of Xenas breasts. What will feel good? She wondered, then decided to try what she herself liked and what she hoped Xena might. Gabrielle lowered her head to take her nipple into her mouth while her hand gently massaged the breast that her mouth caressed. Gods. Im doing this. Im doing this. "Mmmm." She moaned.
Xenas eyes closed and she bit down on her lower lip when Gabrielles mouth touched her hardened nipple. The warrior, with a deep intake of breath let these erotic feelings wash over her. Gabrielle, still very unsure of herself, glanced up to see if Xena was pleased with the action, just as the warriors eyes opened. She smiled, then pushed Gabrielles face into her breast. Now, braver, she began to experiment. She lightly bit the nipple, circled it with her tongue, molded Xenas breast between her hands and sucked as much of it into her mouth as she could. Long, bronze fingers danced in her best friend, now lovers blonde hair. Gabrielle moved one hand to the other breast and performed much the same action, but this time she continued caressing the first breast, circling the nipple with her palm while she fed on the other. Much to Gabrielles delight, Xena was loving it. Two summers? Ive dreamed of this for that long and now. . .Her breasts are beautiful. That scar, its so smooth.
Gabrielle noted that whenever she bit down on Xenas nipple, it sent a charge through the warrior and Xena would groan deeply. "Oh, Gabrielle," Xena whispered.
She likes it harder. Gabrielle sank her blunt fingernails into Xenas sides while she bit and teased first one nipple, then the other. I love how this feels.
Xena maneuvered her hands between their bodies and gently caressed the outer fleshiness
of Gabrielles breasts. The bard groaned and lifted ever so slightly for Xena to have full access. Xena, not one to ignore a gift, immediately moved her hands around to caress the bards breasts fully. Unfortunately for Xena, the bard didnt allow her hands to linger there. Gabrielle slid down the warriors body planting gentle kisses on her ribcage and abdomen. She flung her untamed hair that hung down over her face behind her back and leaned into her new lover. She sniffed Xenas warm skin. "You smell so good."
Gabrielles hand held Xenas hip, while the other hand remained busy, reaching up to caress the warriors cheek, sliding down to touch her collarbone, gliding southward to capture her breast once again. Then a kiss to her abdomen, several sprinkled across her ribcage, a quick lick of the fleshy underbreast, then back down. Xenas head was spinning with need. She gently pushed Gabrielle lower and the bard understood. Another kiss near Xenas triangle was followed up by kisses to the hair and Gabrielle brushed her lips through and across those wiry hairs. I smell her. Gabrielle closed her eyes and focused her attention on all her senses and what they were inputting into her brain--the feel of the dark brown, curly hairs on her lips, the scent of Xena that she had only smelled faintly in these years of travel, but a fragrance she had longed to have envelope her for just as long, and the sight of her best friends nude body under hers.
Xena pushed again as she lifted her hips, yet she didnt command verbally. Her only utterances were soft moans, quiet sighs, a smacking of lips. The bards hand that had been so active finally found a resting place in Xenas hand. The warrior squeezed the smaller hand of her friends, demonstrating both love and encouragement.
Gabrielles upper body was now between Xenas outstretched legs and with a light touch, she was able to convey that Xena should open herself up to her. The warriors legs came up, knees bent, feet planted on the blanket, toes grasping the cloth. Gabrielle moved down and inhaled deeply. Good gods. Im here. Im here. Thank you, Aphrodite. Gabrielle let go of Xenas hand and reached between the warriors legs and softly caressed her inner thighs, allowing her thumbs to move teasingly closer and closer to the warriors center. Just as she lowered her head, her arms reached around Xenas thighs to hold her hips tightly. One final time, Gabrielle inhaled and an unknown desire filled her eyes as she savored all that lay before her. She could see Xenas dampness and smiled, then glanced up at Xena who, again gently nudged her shoulder and Gabrielle lowered her face into Xenas heat for what would be the first of many, many times.
With that first touch of tongue to labia, Xenas hips lifted and held. Gabrielle pulled those hips forward and dove into the origin of the warriors sweet musky smell. She kissed the outer lips, then licked. Gods, shes soaked. Gabrielles tongue began a detailed exploration of that small area, learning every fold, every explosive pulse of passion that lay in there, between there, around there. She licked around the hard center that was surprising much smaller than her own. Below her, she heard Xena softly groan and moan, grunt and sigh. Gabrielle chewed lightly on the outer lips and memorized every feeling. She loved the feel of Xenas hair in her mouth. She loved the wetness that flowed from her. The bards head moved back and forth, up and down, circled every where but that hard core which poked through lips and looked so moist and inviting. Finally, Xena grabbed Gabrielles head and placed it where she needed it most. And Gabrielle gave in. She took her clitoris into her mouth and licked gently around it. Xena groaned softly.
Many minutes passed while Gabrielle tasted all that was Xena. It was apparent that the warrior was edging closer and closer to her climax. But Gabrielle wasnt close to being finished with her. The bard, with her naturally-skilled mouth hummed her pleasure and Xena was certain those vibrations were going to be her undoing.
The blonde woman slowly moved her hand from the tight grasp she had held on Xenas hip, under her thigh and slipped it between her face and Xenas hot, demanding center. Her fingers tested and teased at Xenas entrance and it was evident that the warrior wanted them. Her hips lifted and fell, moved forward in an attempt to capture the fingers, but Gabrielle only lightly rubbed against the opening, enjoying the velvety feel of Xenas slickness. The warrior groaned in frustration.
"Let me hear you. Talk to me, love." Gabrielle implored in between licks and nibbles.
"Tell me what you want. I need to hear you." Gabrielle begged her lover in a sensuous husky voice that Xena had never heard, but loved immediately.
Xena sighed and twisted under the bard, trying desperately to get into a position that would give her what she sought.
"Take me!" She pleaded hoarsely. "Take me, Gabrielle."
"Hard. Give it to me hard. Please." Xena clenched the blonde hair on her lovers head.
Gabrielle rose to her knees and watched her lovers body vacillate between tension and shivering. Her bent legs shook and a tiny trickle of blood drifted down from the corner of her mouth. (Xena seldom had loud sex. She had become accustomed to showing physical passion in a quiet manner. She commanded an army and she never wanted her men to know which one was receiving special favors, she didnt want enemies overhearing and that one time when Gabrielle had been near, she and Marcus had shared a final time together in what she thought was utter silence.) She was still in this mode, so much so that she had bitten down on her lip. She had maintained her control vocally, but the things that Gabrielle was doing to her, the care the bard was taking with her body was new. It was difficult to hold back her passion. Gabrielle reached up and wiped the tiny trail of blood from her lip while at that same moment plunging three fingers into the warrior with ease.
"Oh gods!" Xena groaned in utter joy.
"Yes." Gabrielle whispered, rocking back on her knees slightly, then moving forward to give her lover what she wanted in a way that would satisfy. Her fingers froze, feeling around the billowy walls of Xenas warm chamber. Gabrielle loved the texture she found there. This was the wellspring from which all of Xenas wetness flowed. She liked what she was doing and hoped Xena did, too. Xenas hips were in motion, rising to meet Gabrielles fingers with each thrust.
I feel absolutely full. Gabrielle knows just what to do. Xena thought.
"Is this good?" Gabrielle whispered in sexy inquisition.
"Its . . . " Xenas eyes closed as she felt herself climbing to a peak shed never reached before with anyone else. She always knew how to please herself, but no other person had ever been able to take her over. Not that she didnt enjoy sex for it was a favorite pastime, its just that she always had to finish herself off. But once again, Gabrielle was the difference. Xena was being taken as she had begged.
"Is it okay?" Gabrielle plunged in again and pulled out just as quickly, slid back in, then out. Her thumb lightly caressed Xenas clitoris.
"Like that. Like that." she voiced behind gritted teeth.
Gabrielles hand became a blur as she moved in and out of the warrior. Suddenly, she felt it. There was something different, a small, thicker patch just past the entrance. She felt it and let her fingers slide over it with each powerful thrust and forceful retreat.
"Gods, yes." Xenas body bounced up and down on the bedroll. She was so close to falling over that edge. I love her so much and she loves me. Her head thrashed left and right as every feeling was finally unleashed.
"I wanted to be deep inside you. Ive imagined this. I dreamed of taking you this deep, loving you this hard." Gabrielle bent to whisper in her lovers ear. "Dont hold back, Xena," she urged in a low, sensuous voice. "Dont hold back." Hearing Gabrielles words brought Xena closer to release. Her tongue protruded from her mouth, long and rigid. It was in motion, swirling back and forth across her lips.
"Yes." Xena moaned. "I love you."
"Say it again," the bard asked in a whispered plea.
"I love you," Xena screamed and with those final words, slid into her orgasm. Her body bucked once more, then froze almost levitating. Gabrielles hand also stopped moving. She watched her lover and waited for some direction. "Oh. Umm. Oh, gods." Xenas body lowered and she reached for Gabrielles wrist, holding her fingers inside of her. "Stop, dont move."
Believing that she had done something wrong, Gabrielle attempted to extricate her fingers from inside the warrior.
"No." Strands of hair were plastered to Xenas forehead and the dark-haired woman sighed in contentment, taking long satisfied breaths. The Queens hut smelled of lovemaking. "Wait." Xena slowly withdrew Gabrielles fingers. Her eyelids fluttered as the last few centimeters of the bards fingers dropped out. Xena took a deep breath, then raised up while pulling Gabrielle into her for a tender embrace.
"Thank you. Thank you."
"Youre thanking me? No, thank you." Gabrielle grinned while lowering Xena onto the bed. She stretched out next to her, leaning on her elbow, her chin in her hand. Xena pulled Gabrielles elbow out from under her, causing the woman to lunge forward and laugh. The warrior folded her into her body, Gabrielles arms between them, her hands near her face. She smelled Xena on her fingers, so of course she had to taste again. She moved her fingers to her mouth and casually licked Xenas sticky substance into her mouth. "Gods, you taste so good. Really, so good."
Gabrielles hair was matted, her body beaded with perspiration and Xenas body flushed with desire released, damp from passion aflame.
"I cant believe how . . . " Xena started, but paused trying to catch her breath. "Ive had lovers, but not one of them made me. . .If I had known it would be like this with you." She chuckled. "I would have let you know long ago. "I would have been all over you."
"Huh? You know what I mean."
"No, no I dont. What do you mean you would have been all over me?"
Xena lowered her eyes, then looked back up into Gabrielles. "*You* know what I mean."
"Tell me." Gabrielle lifted her body and returned to her earlier position, on her side, staring at Xena, chin resting in her hand, elbow on the blanket. "Cmon."
"You want me to talk dirty to you? Is that it?"
"Is it dirty?" Gabrielle asked innocently. "I just want to know what you would have done or said. Im waiting."
Gabrielle stared into Xenas eyes. She made figure eights on Xenas abdomen while she waited for the strong warrior to work up the nerve to tell her these secret thoughts. Gabrielle moved her index finger to Xenas nipple, gently caressing its softness and watching it grow hard again. "Xena?"
"Please. What have you wanted to do to me, with me?"
"Everything." Xena was struggling. She inhaled deeply. This was a new feeling--frustration and desire mixed equally. "I. . . uh. . . I, well, Ive thought about all sorts of things."
"Tell me, warrior." Gabrielle removed her hand from Xenas breast and briefly sucked her fingers, capturing any residual Xena taste on those digits. She closed her eyes in response to the sweet flavor.
Xenas eyes narrowed. "Ive just imagined you doing what you just did. Having your mouth there, tasting me. Your fingers."
"Youre the bard, not me."
"Okay. Where are we when this occurs?" Gabrielle touched Xenas dark pubic hair.
"Here. On the road. Around the campfire."
"And how do we get to that point?" The blonde gently spread the warriors inner lips and allowed her finger to lightly and absent-mindedly travel around the puffiness of those lips.
"I dont know. We just do." Xena sighed, then continued. "I tell you what a beautiful mouth you have and how Ive been thinking about it all day. I tell you that I want you to kiss me all over." Her eyes closed. "Oh. . .oh. . . Gabrielle."
Gabrielles hand returned to Xenas breast and she circled it beginning at the outside and making smaller and smaller circles until only the areola was receiving sole attention. She did this as she pulled more and more words from Xena.
"Do I do what you want right away?"
"Sometimes." Xena inhaled deeply through her nose, letting the air out slowly. "Sometimes you do other stuff," Xena was enjoying Gabrielles touch. "Umm. Oh." Xenas hips were beginning to rock ever so imperceptibly again.
"What youre doing now."
"I see. I like what Im doing now." Gabrielles eyes were almost closed, focusing on the soft, yet firm object under her hand.
"I like the way you move for me. Do you have any idea how much youve turned me on? I am so wet." Gabrielle pinched the warriors nipple.
Xenas eyes shot open at the confession as well as the action.
"Ive got to have you." Xena rolled over and in the process, lowered Gabrielle onto her back. She straddled her.
"I want that, too. Ive got to warn you, though. Just being here with you like this has me so close already."
Xena lowered her face to Gabrielles and seared her with a hot warrior kiss.
"You know, Gabrielle," she whispered, "I love your earlobes. Theyre so suckable. I *have* thought about that many times." She seized one earlobe between her teeth and gently nibbled on it. "Umm."
"Theyre big, dont you think?"
"No, theyre perfect." Xena sucked the earlobe in her mouth and pulled on it. The reaction was what she had anticipated--the bard loved it.
"That feels so good."
"Theyre perfect." Xena stopped, smiled warmly at the bard, then nipped at the bards shoulder, across her chest and down to her breasts. Xenas caresses were so smooth, filled with tenderness. She is my life. Xena thought as she parted her lips and dropped down onto Gabrielles full and heaving breast. Xena slid her wide tongue across the breast, tasting every inch of it--underneath, around the sides, across the peak. Her mouth closed on Gabrielles nipple and with her lips, she delicately pulled on it. "Ooooh." Xenas hand came around and cupped the other breast, her palm dancing on top of the nipple. "Umm. Gods." Gabrielle whispered. Xena moved across her chest and sucked on the other nipple, then moved back to Gabrielles sweet and loving face. "I love you, Gabrielle." The warrior kissed her while cupping a breast in her hand. With her leg, she parted Gabrielles legs and slid her thigh between them. She pressed her thigh into Gabrielles center and gently moved against her. By the gods, she wasnt lying. She is unbelievably wet. Xenas thigh was quickly coated with her lovers juice as she slid forward and pressed in.
"Xena. What are you doing?" she asked breathlessly. "It feels so good." Gabrielle could only rock with the motion Xena was creating. Her hips moved forward, then back, she pushed her very core into Xena. The contact was exquisite. She had never felt anything quite like this. "Oh, gods. Xena. Yes. Xena. Oh, yes. Its this good. I had no idea. Oh, Xena. Dont stop."
Whereas Xena was an almost silent lover, Gabrielle let her dark-haired partner know exactly how she was feeling and how she liked it.
Xena kept up a steady, gentle motion, sliding back and forth against Gabrielle. She felt her thigh grow damper and damper with each movement. Gabrielle was literally gushing with desire. As she pressed against her, she smiled serenely at the woman beneath her. Tonight was the happiest night of her life, hands down.
"Xena. Keep doing that forever."
And just as soon as the words were spoken, Xena moved. Gabrielle groaned with frustration. "No. No." She pulled at the warriors shoulder, but Xena was quick. She was sliding down her body, moving her face between her legs, placing her tongue against her hard clitoris.
"*By the gods! *" Gabrielles body bucked from a completely foreign touch--a mouth on her, a tongue dancing against her, one kind of lips touching another kind. Xenas tongue rested only briefly against Gabrielles hardness, then she slid up and down the length of it, pulled it into her warm mouth and amazingly felt it grow larger as she sucked.
"Oh, sweet gods. Yes." Gabrielles eyes rolled back into her head. At that very moment she knew the reason for her existence. Her life was complete. The woman whom she loved more than life itself, more than anything or anyone, was loving her in the most intimate way possible. Such pleasure she had never known. Xenas mouth locked onto her womanhood, her own hands clenched the blankets beneath her, holding them tight between her fists. "Xena? Xena?"
Xena froze, her tongue planted between Gabrielles labia and clitoris. She waited. "Yes?"
"Was it this good for you? Did you feel this?"
"Umm," was all the dark-haired woman could say. Gabrielle was silkier than the finest Egyptian cloth. Her taste gave her a headiness that not even a strong, rich port could achieve. She couldnt think of a better place to be. Xena squeezed Gabrielles ass, gently massaging her strong muscular cheeks while she moved deeper, widening and narrowing her tongue in ways that pleased her blonde lover.
"Oh. I love you. Yes. Oh, Im going to . . . Youre making me . . . Xena!" Suddenly, Gabrielle stilled, then jerked and finally, her body lifted high off the bed, her shoulders and feet the only body parts still on the bed. A moment later, she was sitting up, grabbing Xenas head, grinding the warriors face into her center, then yanking her hair and pulling her away. Xena lifted her face and stared into the bards eyes filled with pure lust. This couldnt be real. *That* couldnt have happened. Xena smiled and scooted forward, letting Gabrielle drop underneath her. The bard panted, inhaled and exhaled deeply, shook with mini-aftershocks and continued to stare.
Xenas tongue snaked out and licked around her own mouth, capturing Gabrielles sweet and delicious liquid from her lips and just above her chin. Xena panted with desire and breathed deeply in joy, too. She leaned down and placed a tender kiss on Gabrielles lips.
Gabrielles eyes closed and she waited long moments to catch her breath, to be able to speak again, to formulate the words that would express how she felt and what this meant to her. While Gabrielle remained lost in her own world, Xena fell away and lay beside her. She reached up and flicked errant blonde hairs back into place. She smiled at her lover who rested, while Xena lingered over her cheeks that were now sculpted, no longer hidden behind the baby fat of three summers ago. A small laugh wrinkle caught her eye and she moved in closer and looked, finally reaching out and touching it.
Gabrielle opened her eyes and took a deep, satisfied breath. "What?"
"Xena, youre incredible. If I had known all these years what I was missing . . . "
"Ah-hah. Then what?" Xena laughed. Now, it was Gabrielles turn to do some explaining.
"I would have figured out a way to get this feeling sooner."
"What would *you* have done?"
"I dont know. I never expected to feel anything like this. I never thought that it would be this powerful. I didnt think it could. When I pictured this--and I did, many, many times-- I pictured us at a campfire, you sharpening your sword and maybe me coming up behind you, moving your hair over your shoulder and kissing your neck."
"I pictured us bathing together and touching each other.
Xena kissed Gabrielles shoulder. "What else? A kiss by the campfire, a shared bath? What else?"
"I didnt know it was going to be like this, so I dont think I ever thought about it in great detail. I mean, I thought about it *a lot*," Gabrielle lifted her eyebrows in admission as if to say, all the time. "I just didnt know how it would be. I didnt know what to think. I knew I wanted to touch you and I wanted you to touch me. I wanted to feel you naked against my skin. I knew I wanted to be inside of you. I wanted you to hear me scream your name. And I wanted to hear my name on your lips, too." Gabrielle paused. "Sometimes . . . " She hesitated.
"No, I cant say."
"After what we just shared, you can say anything to me. I want you to always know that we can talk about anything Gabrielle. Tell me."
"Sometimes . . . sometimes I thought about you taking me fiercely, you know, uncontrolled."
"Yeah. Not always, every now and then, Id dream of you taking me like a warrior would. Even the first night we shared a campfire. I was hoping youd. . . uh. . . require me physically." Gabrielle was at a loss about how to describe what she had wanted two summers earlier. "I wanted that feeling with you so badly. I thought Id go mad from wanting your touch. But, nothing. I actually begged Aphrodite to just come down and enchant you. Make you take me."
"No. Why do you think I said to you that day, Im not the daughter my parents hoped I would be? What did you think that meant?"
"You were a kid. I had no idea what cha meant."
"I wasnt a kid, Xena. Just inexperienced. It meant I thought we should be lovers or at least very friendly."
The two lovers--an Amazon Queen and a Warrior Princess lay side by side in the Queens bed--Xena on her back, Gabrielle on her stomach, an arm thrown over Xenas chest and her hand resting comfortably in Xenas hair. Each woman wondered where this added feature of their close friendship would lead. Xenas heart pounded with love and even though she had just experienced the strongest orgasm of her life, she wanted Gabrielle to make her have that feeling again. The light touch of the bards fingers on her temple woke her from her thoughts and she turned to face the blonde.
Xena sat up and gave her eyes license to travel down Gabrielles muscular body. The bard stretched her legs and smiled at the attention. "Your bodys perfect, Gabrielle." Xenas slender fingers slid down Gabrielles back, squeezed her firm ass, moved lower to caress the inside of her leg and inner thigh. She listened as Gabrielle purred her enjoyment of Xenas warm hands against her heated skin.
Fierce would be all right about now. Gods, I cant get enough. I want. . .no, need more of Xena.
Xenas eyes suddenly widened and with a mischievous grin, she plunged two fingers inside the Queens very wet womanhood.
"Oh." Gabrielle moaned, then groaned as the surprise of the most wanted intrusion occurred. Slowly she turned to watch, flinging her leg over Xenas upper body. She had to see what her lover was doing to her. Their eyes met and the love they each felt reflected from blue eyes to green back to blue growing stronger as the moments passed. Gabrielle moaned continuously as Xena worked two, then three fingers inside.
"Oh, youre so tight and wet."
"For you," Gabrielle said as she watched Xenas long fingers slide in and out of her. She was somewhere between accepting this reality and still believing it was a dream. Xenas fingers. Xenas fingers are moving inside me. Just the thought had Gabrielle moving quickly against those fingers, pushing her body into them, joining and accepting the force of those beautiful, long, tapered, fingers.
The warrior, as she moved inside of Gabrielle, pressed her own center against the bards leg and began riding her to an orgasm she desperately needed.
"Ugh. Ugh. Oh. . . yeah." Xena moaned. Between her own movements and Gabrielle's hips rocking beneath her, it didn't take long. Her hand still in motion, shook as she felt herself reaching her peak. Gabrielle wrapped an arm around Xenas rear end and slowly slid her finger between the warriors cheeks. When Xena felt the small index finger, slide across her tiny puckered hole, she climaxed all over her leg just as she pushed her fingers deeply into Gabrielles hot and velvety heat.
"Im there." She groaned.
"Im with you." Gabrielle grunted.
"Yes," Xenas quivering voice urged her on.
Xena thrust her fingers in and out of Gabrielle and felt the bards legs stiffen. She slid her hardened center against Gabrielle until she was spent, then collapsed on top of her. Gabrielle was right behind her. The dark-haired woman snuggled in close, kissing Gabrielles cheek, then nipping lightly at her neck. "Gods."
Underneath her, Xena felt Gabrielle laughing. "What?"
"You hate the gods. Do you have any idea how many times you called out to them tonight?"
"Less than you."
"I dont think so."
Xena dropped onto the bed and off of the Amazon Queen. "Then Ill have to think of another way to express what it feels like to be with you. I hate to say it, but it has to be a gift from the gods."
"Now, of course Im worried about what I might owe them." Xena turned and stared at Gabrielle with a look of concern.
"Xena? Are you really worried?"
She smiled, "Nah." She paused. "But if I owe them, I know I owe them big."
They lay in an embrace of warmth, security, joy, new passion, and hope. Eventually, they drifted off to sleep, but only for a few moments. Their time with Morpheus was interrupted by a loud pounding at the door.
"Who is it?"
From the other side, where two royal guards appeared to be resting peacefully, but in reality had been knocked out by a persevering Maidia, came a familiar voice. "Its me, Maidia. Alcestas. I need to talk to you Gab."
Gabrielle looked at the door, then Xena. Xena shrugged, then offered, "Tell her youll see her in the morning."
"Ill see you in the morning, Alcestas."
"It cant wait. We need to talk. I dont think you understand."
"I understand perfectly. Tell her to get lost, Gabrielle."
"Alcestas, it can wait til morning."
The angry voiced boomed out into the air of the early morning hours. "Are you doing Xenas bidding? You cant talk to an Amazon when she needs you? Thats not right, Gab."
"Go to bed."
"I cant. I cant. We need to talk."
Xena stood. "Im going to take care of this."
"No, Xena. Shes hurting. Let me talk to her." Gabrielle reached out and pulled the warrior back toward the bed.
"This is our first night together. This isnt about an Amazon in need. I can see that. Dont tell me you cant?"
"Gabrielle," Alcestas shouted.
The bard stood, her body still a soft, glowing pink from the flush of lovemaking. "Xena?"
"Gab. Please. If I could just talk to you. Gab?"
Xenas head swung around to face the closed door. She gritted her teeth and made little attempt to keep the growing rage hunkered down. "Do *not* call her Gab or Gabrielle. She is your Queen. Address her as such," she shouted at the closed door.
Gabrielle looked toward the door, biting her lower lip, then looked up at Xena who was edging toward that look of loss of control, intimidation, and darkness. She could tell that Xena felt challenged and that the woman was ready to move into warrior mode. She glanced at the door, again.
"Go to bed. Well have a long talk tomorrow. Leave us be."
The lovers listened, waiting for an objection. Finally, they heard the stomping of boots as Alcestas crossed the porch and down the stairs.
"You know where you stand with Alcestas, right Gabrielle? Youre sure about that?"
"And youre sure about us?"
"Xena, I was childhood friends with Alcestas and just a half moon before I met you, we briefly changed that friendship. It is a pleasant memory, I can't deny that. And if it weren't for those events, I might not have been so willing to follow my heart the day you entered my life. So, yeah, Alcestas means a lot to me, but *this*. . .where we are now, two summers after you saved me is where I've always wanted to be." She said pulling her tall lover into an embrace.
Xena could only stare at Gabrielle for long moments. I know some god is going to be calling in favors. I know it. Then she said, "You realize shes going to be a problem. Shes in love with you, isnt she?"
"Yes." She glanced up at her to reveal a hungry look that was part seduction, part feral. Gabrielle wanted to play, not discuss Alcestas.
"I want you to make sure she understands that were together. I dont want her pining over you while were away and under foot when were back at the Nation. Id do it myself, but youre good with the sensitive chats." Xena smiled and her eyes sparkled a brilliant blue, giving way to a more primitive expression of desire.
"Oh, very funny."
"So you never slept with her?"
"And no other woman?" Xena asked while caressing Gabrielles lower back.
"Nope. Well, you know, just me." Gabrielle giggled.
"Youre certainly good at it."
"Ive spent many moons knowing myself. Now, I want to spend a lifetime knowing you."
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