Powers of the Queen Part 2


Standard Disclaimers apply - No copyright infringement intended; just Classic Alt FF that takes you to places TPTB never did.   There are graphic love scenes depicted between two women, very tastefully done, I might add ;-) and some violence (a little thug head-banging) in this story.  (Complete Disclaimers in Part 1)


. Helpful and constructive feedback is always appreciated; contact us at: wiseroostr@hotmail.com or xanjaa@yahoo.com


As soon as she had awakened Xena knew she was dead. Her body no longer screamed in pain for one thing, and her eyesight had been restored. When she was last with Gabrielle, she had been completely blind. Though there wasn’t much to see beyond swirling mist and the occasional shadowy wraith or outcropping of grey stones. "Really Hades, ya need a new decorator." She remembered hunting for firewood and a clap of thunder right before the blinding pain in her shoulder and head, then nothing, until finding herself in Hades domain.


Meeting neither friend nor foe, Xena wandered without direction. Time was difficult to gauge in the underworld. Candlemarks here might be only a heartbeat whereas in the land of the living it was much more. Occasionally, she sensed something stalking her, heard sounds of slithering or soft footfalls, but nothing had come close enough to be seen.


Now, what was that? She listened intently. There it was again; the distinct sound of her name being called in the distance. Xena turned toward the sound. But as soon as she did, the voices seemed to move and were once again behind her. Xena was certain what she had heard was Gabrielle calling her, but the mists seemed to swallow the sound.


She stood still and listened, allowing all of her senses to reach out into the mists. The underworld was shrouded in an impenetrable fog, so impossibly thick it might as well have been a wall. She cursed, "Centaur dung! Where is she?" Another sound, a low growl captured Xena’s attention. Turning quickly, she saw nothing. Then something cold and slimy brushed against her leg. In one smooth motion, she unsheathed her sword pulling it over her right shoulder. Never pausing, she sliced forcefully into the fog. She felt a satisfying thunk as the metal bit into flesh, followed by a shrill cry as the intruder retreated into the gloom.


There! She heard it again. It was Gabrielle calling to her. Much of what she’d encountered down here thus far may not have been real, but that voice was. She had to reach Gabrielle. Xena knew that she was destined to cross the Styx into whatever fate Hades deemed appropriate. However, she’d left her partner without telling her the one truth in Xena’s heart: that she loved the beautiful young bard. Xena was determined; she would not rest until she had spoken three words to Gabrielle. And a determined Xena was a force to be reckoned with.


Making a decision about the direction, she began jogging toward her partner’s call. Gabrielle’s voice sounded desperate and it spurred Xena on. But as she raced toward it, the sound retreated. Sensing the young woman was pulling away, Xena redoubled her efforts and ran faster even as the bard’s voice grew fainter and then faded away. Still Xena ran, screaming in her desperation to reach her friend, "Gabrieeeeelleee !" Without warning, her boots made hollow thudding sounds as she stumbled onto the wooden planking of a weathered and decaying pier. Sliding to a halt moments before plunging headlong into the murky grey water sucking at the dock’s pilings, she caught herself.


A decrepit boat perhaps 20 feet long and open from bow to stern bumped lazily against the docking. Her head came up as a familiar voice spoke to her out of the gloom. "Well, well, well, if it isn’t my good friend, the Warrior Princess come to visit."


Turning slowly and straightening to her full height, Xena crossed her arms over her leather clad chest. She loomed over the ancient ferryman in an attitude of intimidation, one word passing her lips, "Charon."


Waving his gnarled hand at her, he chuckled until his ancient withered shoulders shook. "You don’t scare me, Xena." He peered at her. "You looking to cross over my river, Girl?"


"Not Really." she replied with studied nonchalance. "I have some unfinished business to take care of."


"Most of the dead do. You’re no different. Go ahead and get on board."


Reaching into her cleavage she pulled out a soft leather pouch and upended it pointedly. "I seem to be a little short of dinars just now." She smiled at him while tucking the pouch away.


"Hey, you know me. I’m a generous guy. I’ll take you across now and you can pay me later. I’ve got a few bad debts need collecting. Be right up your alley."


Xena glanced over her shoulder, thinking she might be able to find her way back to Gabrielle. "Hmmm, now that’s an offer hard to pass up. How about I go get my gear and meet ya back here in oh, say a couple of candle marks?"


"Don’t be too long, Xena. It’ll be like old times. The Destroyer of Nations used to send plenty of business my way. Heh, heh, heh…" his laughter at his own joke broke off into a fit of coughing.


Xena rolled her eyes. "You ought to see a healer about that cough." She said as she backed off the dock. Soon hidden by the swirling fog, she resumed her search for the way back.


As she walked, Xena processed all the information she had. She was dead and in the underworld. She had heard Gabrielle call her. Yes, the dead could hear the living, but this was closer; not as ethereal as thoughts crossing between the worlds. No Gabrielle had been here. How could that be possible? Was she dead too? NO! She felt certain she would know if Gabrielle had died. Something wasn’t right.


The mists twisted around Xena’s legs creating an illusion of disembodiment. But now after having traversed this forbidding terrain for what seemed like ages, she could make out ghostly images, landmarks, boulders and dead gnarled trees and shrubs.


Spotting an outcropping of boulders up ahead she made her way over to them. It looked familiar. But then, everything looked familiar in this gods be damned place. She needed to think. She needed a plan. She needed Gabrielle. Climbing a few feet up into the tumble of stone hoping to get a better view, she soon realized that with such poor visibility, a better view was a relative term. With a heavy sigh, Xena sat down on a flat piece of slate to figure out her next move. Her feet planted firmly on the rocks below, she rested her forearms on her knees, leaving her hands dangling loose between her legs. From this position she stared out into the colorless mist, thinking. She had a goal. No matter what else happened, she had to find a way to get to Gabrielle. Never having been one for prayer, Xena nevertheless uttered these words to the one person in her life she’d come to love, "Some how, some way; I will find you, my bard."




The theme of Artemis’s suite on Olympus was defined by the exotic animal skins, used as rugs and wall hangings. The white marble walls streaked with silver and golden veins glowed in the brilliant sunlight shining in shafts through the clerestory windows. Friezes of antelope, deer and elk danced across the upper reaches of the walls. A silver bow and a quiver of arrows hung on the wall over a mahogany mantel above the immense fireplace. Flames from the roaring fire cast shadows against the white walls lending the many magnificent animal pelts an ethereal caste.



Artemis paced her chambers in a highly agitated state oblivious to its beauty. She was torn. Her Queen had called on her. On the one hand she wanted to give her Chosen anything that she’d asked. On the other, she could never forgive Xena for the destruction of the northern Amazons. No, she would not save Xena! That crime was unforgivable.

As Artemis pondered this dilemma a burst of pink sparkles announced the arrival of the love goddess Aphrodite "Wow Sis, you are being such a party poop."

Artemis sighed and looked at her frivolous sister who stood with a hand on her hip in see through pink lingerie wearing her perpetual smile. Artemis knew Aphrodite had never had a serious thought in her empty head.

In spite of this, Artemis smiled to herself. It was impossible to be mad at Dite. All the gods on Olympus felt the same about her. They had a soft place in their hearts for Aphrodite who was like an innocent harmless child. They tolerated her misfired spells and her simple "Love is the Answer" philosophy. She was sweet, but totally impractical.

"Aphrodite, you wouldn’t understand."

For a change, Dite answered her sister with a depth that belied everyone’s impression of her. "Oh sure; Air head Aphrodite can’t understand a serious situation. You’re wrong, Sis. I totally get it. You are letting your anger at Xena prevent you from giving your Chosen her heart’s desire. That’s not difficult to understand."


"I can’t ignore what Xena has done. She murdered my Queen, Cyanne."


"Well, not to split hairs or anything, Sis, since I am sooo not into the whole violence thingie, but that fight with Cyanne - it was a fair fight wasn’t it?"


The grudging response came, "Yes, but Cyanne was the greatest of all my queens."


"Arte, she’s crossed over. You can see her anytime you want. You need to think about your current queen. Gabby leads your babes now. Why can’t you give her what she wants? She loves her warrior princess."


"That’s all that matters to you, Aphrodite. Love is always your answer."


"What’s your point, Sis? They love each other. Everybody like totally knows it…everybody except them. Your Queen would do anything to save Xena. Now, that’s love."


"Well, not anything!" Artemis responded smugly.


"What’s that supposed to mean, Sis?"


"You know I have a ritual with my Queens, don’t you?"


"I know you seduce your Queens if that’s what you mean! But I don’t think they have much choice in your little ritual."


"I have never forced myself on any of them!" She stated emphatically.


"Get real, Arte. You dazzle them with your godly enchantment and they fall into your arms. You call that a choice?"


Folding her arms across her chest, Artemis ignored the implication.


Getting no response, Aphrodite sighed and then forged on, "Okay, what did the bardly one do?"


"She didn’t fall under my spell. Oh, she was close. Very close." Artemis smiled broadly as she said this, the memory of the seduction seared in her mind. Then her face fell. "But she rejected me. She said she loved Xena." Artemis knew this admission might diminish her in her sister’s eyes.


Instead, she was bewildered by Aphrodite’s reply. "Well duh!"




"That Bard is as pure as your ermine pelts up there on the wall. Her heart belongs to Xena. She wouldn’t betray that. The love of her life is dying and she’s dying with her. She won’t be much of a queen without her warrior. You have to do something."


Artemis knew when she was defeated. "The truth is I would give her anything else in my power."


Dite’s face lit up as she saw her opening. "Anything else, Sis?"


Artemis was distracted by her concerns for her people and was sorely tired of this conversation. She snapped, "That’s what I just said, isn’t it?"


"Well then, I know just the thing."


Artemis raised one eyebrow in question.


"Let them have one night together before they are separated forever."


Shaking her head resolutely, Artemis said, "I am not reviving Xena."


"You don’t have to. Take the Gabster to Xena in the spirit world."


Artemis paused, thinking over her sister’s proposal. Of course, she could never allow Gabrielle into close proximity to Xena. Gabrielle would never succumb to Artemis’s lure then. No, but just maybe she could convince Gabrielle that she would be taken to Xena once she surrendered to her. Artemis was certain that once Gabrielle slept with her, it would be enough to bind Gabrielle to the goddess forever. She smiled broadly at her sister, the outline of her plan formed in her mind. "Yes, that just might work."


Confident that her job here was done, Aphrodite flashed a dazzling smile at her sister, snapped her fingers and winked out in a brilliant shower of pink star dust.


Once alone, Artemis began putting the finishing touches on her plan. First she needed to visit her Uncle Hades and make sure Xena was out of the picture. Nothing would be worse than accidentally running into the stubborn warrior in the spirit world.





Hades seldom spent much time in his chambers. He was a busy god; what with wars, bandits and poor nutrition, these were hard times for humans and they succumbed to death frequently. He stood now in the midst of a recent robbery. The victims, a small merchant caravan, were all lying at his feet. Several of the bandits also were among the fallen and he smiled ruefully at their fate. He sighed as he noted two children, a five year old girl and her three year old brother among the dead. These he attended to himself. He scooped them both up in his arms and smiled at them as they became aware of their surroundings. He always did his best to comfort the young. These two were dazed and fearful after the horrible death they’d just endured. As his men were leading the fallen to their new homes, either the Elysian Fields for the moral and just or Tartarus for the unredeemed, Hades spoke tenderly to the children easing their fears, "How would you like a nice ride in my shiny chariot?"


The little boy’s brown eyes lit up at the offer, but he looked to his sister for permission to have this wonderful adventure. The young girl wasn’t so sure but she wasn’t about to desert her brother. She shook her blonde head slowly as she said, "Mama will be worried."


For a god whose primary function was death and judgment, Hades had a way about him. He could instill calm, trust and love with a look. He smiled at the children in his arms. "What are your names, little one?"


The cautious young girl looked into Hades golden eyes and was immediately more at peace. "I’m Galena and this is my brother, Linus."


Hades looked over the field and saw their mother lying so peacefully in the tall grass she might have been asleep, but for the deep gash in her throat. He knew at once she had been destined for the Elysian Fields. "Well, then Galena, it’s not a problem. Your Mama told me to bring you both to her. Did you know you have a new home waiting for you? You each have your own room and new clothes and your mama is there now waiting with your dinner."


This seemed to do the trick. Galena beamed at this revelation and Linus reached out in the direction of Hades chariot. He chuckled as he carried his small burdens in that direction. In a flash of silvery light, Artemis fell in to step with Hades. With a nod of his head, Hades said, "Good afternoon Artemis."


"Uncle Hades."


At this, young Galena twisted in Hades arms and peered steadily at the goddess. "Are you the goddess, Artemis?" she asked in wide eyed wonder.



Artemis barely acknowledged the child but answered, "Yes." Her attention was on her uncle and the request she’d come to make.


Galena was undeterred by the abrupt answer and chattered on. "Oh, goody; I’m going to be an Amazon when I grow up. You are my favoritest goddess. I am going to be your best warrior."


Now she had the goddess’s full attention. She glanced at her uncle who imperceptibly shook his head. This child would not grow up and it pulled at her heart. "Where are you taking them?" She couldn’t imagine a scenario where children would be sent to Tartarus, but still.


"To Elysia; Galena and Linus’s mother awaits them there."




Galena was not going to be ignored by these adults. This was her chance to plead her case for admittance into the Amazons like her own Aunt Phoebe. "I don’t want to go to ‘Lusy-ea. I fought the bad man. I bit him on the leg… and he jumped up and down." She laughed at the memory that had momentarily seemed funny. But then her small features crumbled. "B-b-but then he hit me and killed my papa and mama …" she put her face to Hades’ shoulder and her voice trailed off into muffled sobs.


Artemis was touched by this child, by both her courage and her determination. She made a decision. "Galena, you go with Uncle Hades now to your mother and when your time comes to return, I promise you, you will be an Amazon."


Immediately the tears stopped. Galena regarded Artemis earnestly and nodded her head. "Okay."


Hades handed the two into his chariot. He turned to his niece and said, "That was nice, Artemis. Thank you. Now, what brings you out here?"


"I came to ask a favor, Uncle."


"I’m sure I can accommodate you. What is it you need?"


"It’s Xena, Uncle. She has died."


"I didn’t even know she’d passed over. And I can hardly believe you’d want her back? She’s an enemy of yours is she not?"


"She died less than a candle mark ago. And I do not want her back," she ground out slowly through gritted teeth. "She won’t cross the Styx and she’s causing unbearable grief for my queen, Gabrielle." She was hoping he wouldn’t notice the prevarication. Gabrielle would have grieved regardless.


Fortunately, Hades was distracted by the two children who were now trying to get the chariot to move. "I’ll have a word with her, Artemis. Now I better go." He smiled at his niece, jumped up into the sleek gold and black vehicle and gave the command. Instantly, the chariot rose into the air and disappeared in a flash of golden light.


"Thank you, Uncle." Artemis said into thin air. That was one less problem to worry about. One thing about Hades, he was a god of his word. She smiled contentedly, evaporating in a haze of silver sparkles.




Looking around, Xena assessed the situation. The jumble of boulders on which she rested seemed completely familiar. The astral world was circular in nature as if it bended back in upon itself. Pondering her predicament, she again ticked off what she knew to be true: that she was in Hades’ underworld was a given. She had died, although she had little recall of the actual event. She had heard Gabrielle calling to her; not from the physical plane but here in the underworld. But she herself had not completely crossed over. She felt certain that as long as she avoided the river Styx there was the chance of finding her way back to Gabrielle. Seeing and communicating with the young woman was the force driving Xena now and was all that kept her going in the endlessly oppressive astral world.


She smiled now at the memories of her young friend. Acknowledging how much Gabrielle had grown as she had gained skills and confidence, Xena sighed. Most people never realized the strength of the young woman’s determination. They saw only the chatty naïve country girl with the endearing sunny disposition. But Gabrielle could be more determined and focused than Sisyphus the greedy king who was doomed to push a stone endlessly uphill only to have it roll down again. The difference between them was that Gabrielle’s soft heart, generous nature and steel resolve would allow her to succeed.


The stoic warrior realized that her friendship with the beautiful young bard had grown and changed also, evolving into love, a love so deep and pervasive that Xena found the idea of any existence without Gabrielle repugnant. That she had died before voicing this realization to Gabrielle caused Xena immense emotional pain. Allowing anyone a place of value in a warrior’s heart was considered the worst of weaknesses because it left that warrior vulnerable to outside attack through the loved one.


Smiling, she ruminated over their travels together. Night after night on the road together, they had developed a pattern and a rhythm in which they moved in seamless harmony, each one attending to the details of their camp which fitted her specialized skills. While Xena hunted or fished, supplying fresh meat for their meal, Gabrielle filled water bottles, gathered edible plants and laid out bedrolls. At that thought, Xena’s smile widened into a grin that reached her eyes and warmed her heart. Over the months, Gabrielle’s bedroll had migrated nearer the warrior until now they lay side by side each night. Oftentimes she’d fallen asleep with Gabrielle’s hand in hers. So often she had watched the bard sleep wanting to reach out and trace the lines of Gabrielle’s face with her finger tips, to draw the young woman to her, revel in the closeness of the bard’s supple body pressed close to hers and feel the softness of Gabrielle’s skin, smell her hair, taste her lips, lick at the pulse point, touch her… Oh Hades’ balls; Get a grip, warrior! She cursed herself as she attempted to control breathing that had become ragged with unfulfilled desire. She found herself completely aroused by the errant thoughts. Sighing and closing her eyes, she allowed herself to wallow in the pain and emptiness she now felt. Her heart clinched, an insatiable longing filling her chest and her breath caught on a sob as she realized the depth of her love for her beautiful blonde companion. Hanging her head, she choked out her misery as tears burned her throat.


Finally, sucking in a deep breath she shook herself free of the self pity. This wasn’t getting her anywhere. She needed to find a way to get back to Gabrielle. If she didn’t proclaim her love to the young woman, Xena knew she’d never be at peace.


She needed to focus on the situation at hand. She’d been by this jumble of rock before. So, she’d walked in a circle. Looking around, she saw a grey canopy of dense clouds above her, behind her was the River Styx and Charon and to each side more of the endless billowing grey fog, although now she could make out the twisted forms of lifeless blackened trees. The good news was, the longer she was down here, the more her senses adapted to the environment so that she could identify the landmarks.


She came to a decision and stood up. Stepping down from the boulders she spotted several smaller stones. These she piled one on top the other to mark this particular outcropping. At least now she would know for sure if she was traveling in circles. Then she struck out in the opposite direction from the river.


As she moved through the mists, she noted the low growing shrubs that brushed her boot tops. Interestingly, they weren’t completely without color, but rather a washed out grey-green. Huge stones stood like sentinels in the hard packed ground. A few hardy parched grasses eked out an existence in the hard pan and an eerie wind rasped through their spindly stalks. To say this place was uninviting was a gross understatement. Probably, Hades subtle way of encouraging the newly dead to move on and cross over into their fate. The very air was cold and clammy. The damp seemed to permeate her etheric body right down to her bones. "Well," she ruminated, "I’ll be warm soon enough. I’m sure Hades has me slated for a long stay in Tartarus."


No sooner had these thoughts flashed through her mind, than a shower of gold light and black dust filled the air, and the god of the underworld stood smiling before her. Arms crossed at his chest, a bemused expression on his face he addressed her, "Xena."


"Hades" she returned his greeting. Standing nonchalantly, she gave every impression of being in control.


Staring each other down, they each refused to respond further. Two could play this game. Neither one wished to be perceived as weaker than the other. Finally, Xena broke the stalemate and spoke. Spreading her arms wide, she said, "Love what you’ve done with the place."


"Just a bit of enticement for reluctant souls. There is nothing for you here, Xena. It’s time to cross over."


"Ah yes, I am sure I’ll find accommodations to my liking in the warm, sunny land of Tartarus." She smiled ruefully.


"Xena, you know how it works. You only get what you’ve earned in life." He chuckled and continued, "And it’s not like you won’t know many of the other inhabitants. Come along Xena. I’ve spoken with Charon. Your fare is paid."


"I’m honored Hades, I truly am. But I’ve got unfinished business above."


"With your Gabrielle? Don’t worry about her, Xena. Artemis will comfort your friend. In fact, I am sure she’s seeing to her grief even now."


That got Xena’s attention. She had never trusted the gods, especially the so called patrons of chosen peoples or persons. The gods had proved their treachery on too many occasions to count. Still she knew Hades words were true. With her senses in a heightened state, Xena could hear her beloved’s cries of grief and pain. She became aware of Gabrielle pleading with someone, someone powerful; Artemis. It tore at Xena’s heart when she realized that Gabrielle was begging, offering any sacrifice, willingly giving to the goddess all that she had and was; and all for Xena. It was too much. If Gabrielle was willing to sacrifice everything, Xena could do no less than tell Gabrielle what she had come to mean to her. She deserved that much.


Pulling herself out of the vision, Xena said, "I’m sure you’ll understand if I want to reassure Gabrielle myself." She waited a beat. "It’s not like you’re offering me such a sweet deal down here."


The wheels turned in Hades’ mind. He’d promised Artemis he’d take care of this situation. Perhaps he could barter with Xena. After all, taking the woman by force across the river could get expensive in manpower. Even though the outcome was inevitable, he was reluctant to spend the time and resources. He sighed like a used chariot salesman scamming a client.


"You’re killing me here, Xena. Alright, I can see your point. And I’m nothing if not fair." He flashed her a winning grin. "And on occasion even merciful."


Xena snorted at this revelation. Her distain for the gods was well known.


But Hades was undeterred and forged on, "Now hear me out Xena. As you and I both know, based on your life as a warlord, you deserve an eternity in Tartarus." Waving his arm as though Xena had sought to interrupt, he continued. "But, your time with young Gabrielle has mellowed you and I admit you have some good to your credit. She of course, is destined for the Elysian Fields. So, here is what I propose. You cross the Styx now and go into Tartarus, and when Gabrielle crosses over at the end of her life, I will release you into the Fields to be with her. Now, I can’t be fairer than that."


Xena feigned thinking over his offer. In truth it was more generous and hopeful than she had any right to expect. And she was tempted. At that very moment though, Gabrielle’s thoughts came bleeding through her consciousness and she clearly heard her beloved saying, "…Yes, whatever you want, I will do. Just save Xena …" Galvanized by the depth of Gabrielle’s devotion; Xena stood up taller, the resolve clearly written on her face.


"That’s quite an offer Hades and as you point out more than I deserve. But what about Gabrielle? Isn’t it less than she deserves; to go through life thinking that I didn’t care, didn’t love her as much as she loves me."


Hades was becoming exasperated with this conversation; still he tried one last time, "I can tell her or Artemis…"


"Artemis," Xena snorted in disgust, "Artemis has her own agenda, I think."


"Xena, this is getting tiresome. I’m a busy god. Now are you going to get on the damn ferry?"


Shaking her head side to side, she responded, "I don’t think so."


"Don’t make me force you."


"You and what army?" She looked at him with distain. A feral grin spread across her lips. Oh gods, but she did love a good fight.


Hades tried one last time. This was not how it was supposed to go. "Don’t make me kill you down here, Xena. If you die on my turf, you lose any chance at ever reuniting with your soul mate. Your life essence will be snuffed out."


In answer, Xena drew her sword; the reassuring sound of metal being pulled from the leather sheath was music to her ears.


Hades shook his head and sighed, "Very well."


Snapping his fingers twelve of Hades elite guard materialized in front of Xena. Dressed in gleaming black armor and helmets that covered not just their heads but also their faces, they advanced toward her.


"Your life essence will be snuffed out." Hades’ words reverberated through her head. The possibility that all she’d been, all her dreams, memories, experiences, family and friends would be gone without a trace, not just from this lifetime, but for all lifetimes made the stakes great indeed. Like most people, Xena held out the belief and hope that even after death she’d still exist. That she could lose it all would strike terror into the hearts of most people. But all Xena’s life she had known only one way to live, fight or love and that was all out, nothing held back. Even though she was looking at death, complete annihilation, she felt a thrill run through her body. It was strange that in death she should feel so alive.


As all these thoughts poured through her mind, her composure never wavered. Steel blues eyes drained even the little color they’d held, as she prepared to do battle. Body, mind and spirit were of one accord; she was ready. A cruel smile that never reached her eyes stretched her lips and bared her teeth.


Backing away into a fighting stance, Xena twirled her sword. A loud swishing sound followed the blade’s path as she brought it over her head and back and forth in front of her in endless figure eights.

"Hello boys; let’s see what ya got."

Three of them charged her shrieking out their war cry as they attacked and the battle was joined.


"Yiyiyiyiyi" rang through the misty underworld as she flipped over these three, landing with a thud on booted feet spread wide apart. Before they could react, she spun quickly around bringing her sword in an arc from over her head sweeping down low in front; she took all three behind the knees. Screaming in pain, they fell uselessly to the hard ground. It was one of the few vulnerable places on their armor clad bodies. The hinge at the back of their legs allowed her blade to bite deep. With the first three down, she spun to meet the next wave.


This foursome was wary after seeing their comrades dispatched so easily. In an attempt to surround her, they spread out. Glancing quickly from side to side, Xena assessed the situation. She was a master at the waiting game. Her opponents generally lost patience first, as happened here. They charged, bellowing like bulls in season. Smiling, apparently undisturbed, she stood her ground as the four armor clad soldiers rapidly advanced on her.


At the last possible moment when they were about to crash full into her, she launched herself straight up in the air, tucked into a ball and spun in three revolutions, landing safely some 10 feet beyond the group, which now lay in a heap on the ground, having collided with such force it sounded a clap of thunder.


"Hey boys," she taunted them, "No laying around on the job. Your boss is watching."


Rapidly, two of the four regained their feet and began to advance on her again. Feeling just a bit unsure, they cast covert glances at each other.


Xena couldn’t resist, "Fellas, I’m over here. Look at me, not each other." Her smile widened but still never reached her eyes.


Swords clutched tightly in their hands, they engaged her. The sounds of steel clashing against steel reverberated through the misty underworld, accompanied by the grunts from the attacking soldiers.


For Xena, this was child’s play. Fighting against only two adversaries, no matter how skilled with a sword, barely even winded her. Ares had trained her himself and she knew every trick in the book and some she’d made up herself. Each slice, lunge or parry was more natural to her than breathing. Every strike, she blocked and countered. The secret to a successful offense was a determined defense. Always waiting, always observing and finally capitalizing on her opponent’s momentary mental lapse or even better his misplaced egotistical belief that he was better at this game than she.


And always it came as it did now. Driving her backward, they again glanced at each other alerting her of their next move. Sidestepping the first soldier as he lunged past her, she brought her sword tip up and under the face shield of the second, taking him in the throat. Dropping to his knees crimson gushing through his gloved fingers, a strangled gurgling was the only sound as he tried to speak. He appeared momentarily confused before falling face down against the hard scrabble soil.


The first soldier, unaware that his comrade had fallen, stopped his forward momentum, spun around and right into Xena’s blade as it caught him in the neck between shoulder and head. His death was a silent one. It was so swift, that only his body hitting the ground with a thud marked his passing.


Pulling her sword free of the dead man, she faced the rest of Hades’ elite. Truth be told, they looked less than elite at this moment. Still with Hades watching they could do no less than continue the fight. The entire time she’d battled these two, she’d been well aware of the location of the others. Now another group of four charged her. Grabbing two by their gauntlet covered arms, she kicked out between them with both feet splayed wide and slammed the other two squarely in their respective heads. Expelling a huge gasp of air, they went down hard as if they had met a wall. No sooner had her booted feet hit the ground, when she swung her arms forward, slamming the two she held into each other with such thunderous force it cracked their face plates in half. As soon as she released her hold on them they fell at her feet. Xena favored Hades with a grin as she turned to face the last of them.


These three were uncertain and looked to Hades for guidance. Merely shaking his head, Hades said, "Xena, what am I going to do with you?"


And with that a brilliant blue fireball materialized in his right hand. He launched the glowing ball straight at her face.


Quicker than a snake striking, Xena grabbed her chakram from her hip. As the fiery sphere streaked toward her, she brought the ancient immortal weapon up in front of her using it as a shield to deflect the deadly beam back at Hades and his remaining minions. Upon contact with the chakram, the luminous blue orb shattered with a resounding crash that shook the underworld. Hundreds of shards of fiery death sped back the way they had come. Rocks near Hades exploded and the three remaining soldiers near him vaporized before Xena’s eyes. Hades, himself, lay stunned by one of the small pieces that had clipped his head. A shower of dust, debris and utter chaos confronted Xena and she did the only sensible thing under the circumstances; she ran. For once, she thanked Hades for the interminable fog that soon swallowed up any trace of her.


Dazed, Hades sat up and eyed the destruction. Holding his head gingerly in his hands, he muttered, "Xena, you can’t get away. There is no place to go. Eventually, you will cross the Styx and accept your fate. And I have more important things to do than play hide and seek with you." With a snap of his fingers, he and all of his fallen soldiers dematerialized in a hail of golden light and black dust.


Running full out until her lungs burned with the effort, Xena found herself back at the small mound of stones she’d used to mark her trail. Exhausted from the fight, winded from her retreat and sick at heart by her inability to reach Gabrielle; Xena slid down the rocky face of a huge boulder coming to rest on the cold hard ground. Sighing deeply, she again spoke to Gabrielle, praying somehow her partner would know the truth of her words, "I love you my sweet bard. I will not rest until you hear it from my own lips."


The whispered prayer seemed to tear a small opening into eternity allowing Xena to feel some of Gabrielle’s turmoil and distress. One after another in rapid succession raw painful emotions assailed Xena. With the speed of lightening bolts streaking across a stormy sky, the vivid feelings pounded into her heart. Overwhelming anger, grief, loss, helplessness, agonizing choices stabbed deep into the warrior’s psyche. It was in the realization that she was herself helpless to reach Gabrielle in her distress, that the warrior finally knew defeat.


Then, hanging her head in silent grief; large wet tears formed at the corners of her eyes and slowly trailed down her cheeks. The only sound in Hades’ underworld was the plop, plop, plop of Xena’s tears as they rolled from her chin onto her leather battle skirt.





The two Amazons stood around Xena’s body. Their queen sat next to her fallen warrior, stroking her battered cheek. Grief was the only thing left for her. With a slight nod of her head Ephiny motioned Yakut away from the tableau before them so they could discuss what to do next.

They had moved no more than a few feet, when there was a brilliant flash of sparkling silver light and Artemis solidified before them. They dropped to their knees with heads bowed low before the goddess. Gabrielle was oblivious to the goddess’s arrival. She now only had eyes for her lost love.

Artemis spoke to her two supplicating subjects. "You will be sent back to the village. Prepare for the return of your queen and her fallen champion. I’ll see they arrive within three days time."

Ephiny spared a glance at Yakut, the question evident in her eyes. Prepare for what? A funeral? But they did not dare question their goddess. They spoke in unison, "Yes, Artemis." As the goddess turned away from them she waved her right arm over them and the two Amazons dematerialized.

Standing over her chosen, Artemis felt her own heart ache for the young woman so inconsolable in her grief. Gabrielle’s pleading eyes focused on the goddess. "Artemis, I am begging for your help."


Artemis studied the scene before her and nodded. "There may be a way to grant your wish."


"Anything, just tell me what - and how." The unexpected offer stunned Gabrielle.


"It may mean a big sacrifice on your part Gabrielle. You know you have never sacrificed yourself to me. And all my Chosen Queens have done that."


"What do you want, Artemis? Sacrifice what? I have acknowledged you as the goddess and our protector. Tell me what you want and I will do it." Her eyes were swollen with pain and tears.


"Gabrielle, you can walk in the spirit world — My world."


"But I did that. I walked the spirit world with Yakut and I couldn’t find her." She wailed.

"I know that my dearest one. To have your fondest wish, you must walk in the spirit world; but not with Yakut. You must walk with me. And there, you must sacrifice yourself to me." Artemis stroked her arm and gently touched her cheek, wiping away her tears, as she spoke.

Gabrielle stared back with a questioning look on her face. "What are you asking of me?"

"I will take you to the spirit world where your warrior is, Gabrielle. But first you must surrender yourself to me completely as all my Queens have done."

The words Artemis used were calculated to make Gabrielle believe she was to be reunited with Xena. But nothing could have been further from the truth. She needed Gabrielle’s acquiescence. "Will you give yourself to me, completely… all of yourself for your warrior?" She softly touched the face of the Queen with her fingertips, her eyes growing hazy but never wavering.

Gabrielle stopped weeping. She suddenly understood the monumental nature of Artemis’s request. The goddess wanted her. In her mind, Gabrielle felt she was pledged to Xena. It was true; she and Xena had never professed their love. But she knew there was a chance that might change. And, she didn’t know how Xena would react if she found out she had given herself in that way to the goddess.

She decided to worry about that later. "Yes, whatever you want, Artemis, I’ll do. Just help me."

"Yes, Gabrielle, I will help you." The goddess noted that mortals seldom spoke with the extreme clarity of thought needed when bartering with a god. Ambiguous words left promises open to interpretation. She had counted on that. And she believed that after bedding her chosen, Gabrielle’s love and loyalty would be hers and hers alone. Xena would never be missed.


"Lie down here Gabrielle, next to your warrior." The young woman immediately complied. As her shoulder touched the warrior’s, she noted that Xena’s skin had cooled considerably since she and Yakut had returned from the spirit world. Taking Xena’s hand in hers, Gabrielle laced their fingers together. Whatever happened now, she needed to feel this connection to Xena.


Frowning at Gabrielle’s actions, the goddess chose to ignore the fact that the two were in actual bodily contact. After all Xena, no longer inhabited her body.


"Close your eyes now and rest my daughter. I will take care of everything." With a wave of her hand a shimmering silver mist filled the air and covered the prone couple. The vapor would serve two purposes, to provide a veil of protection to Gabrielle’s physical body while in the spirit world and it would put the young queen into a deep trance. Gabrielle struggled to stay alert, but the mist filled her nose and mouth drawing her into a heavy slumber.


In a clear voice that brooked no argument, Artemis called out, "Gabrielle, come to me. Your goddess calls you, come to me now."


An etheric image of the sleeping bard rose straight out of Gabrielle’s body and stood silently before the goddess. The goddess waved her arm and the image began to shimmer in waves and to solidify and become more substantial with each passing moment until Gabrielle stood fully aware before her goddess.


"Come, Gabrielle, come to me. Dance the dance of life with me." Artemis smiled and opened her arms in welcome. The radiance of the goddess flowed outwards like a magnetized stream of molten energy waves.


Gabrielle hesitated slightly but felt the irresistible pull of the goddess’ power and moved slowly towards her, stepping into her embrace. Suddenly, she was lifted up in the same silvery shimmer that had previously announced Artemis presence. Gabrielle felt light, like air, and knew they were moving in time and space. Yet, she could still feel the Goddesses arms tightly around her.


"Ar te mis!" She groaned, dragging out the name into three separate words, as the initial contact with wave upon wave of the goddess’s seductive power enveloped and permeated her.


"Yes, Gabrielle, it’s alright, my beautiful one. Just relax and let yourself go. I’ve got you."


The goddess’ warm breath was like a searing heat against the side of her face. She couldn’t stop herself and moved into the feelings, pushing her body against the Protector her body involuntarily begging for more.


"What’s happening to me?" She spoke as though to herself.


"Don’t you like what’s happening to you, my Queen?" The goddess gently taunted her.


"Don’t you like it when I touch you like this?" She brushed her hand across the younger woman’s breast and felt her shudder.


"I know you like this Gabrielle. Tell me you do!" She whispered into her neck.


"I do." She moaned at the touch. "No, I don’t. I don’t. Uuuuhhhh!" Her body warred with her heart as the goddess cupped her breast harder.


"Would you like me to stop, little one?"


"Noooo!" She groaned again. "Yes! No! Artemis, I can’t. I can’t do this. We have to stop. You have to stop." However, she made no effort to disentangle herself. In fact, she gave in more willingly to the feelings.

She felt the goddess’s touch everywhere and yet in no specific place. Her entire being was alive with an indescribable pleasure that coursed through her body. She looked up into Artemis’s eyes; their ancient depths called to her, demanding her complete surrender.


"Gabrielle, let me show you how your goddess loves her Queens." She pressed her body fully against the smaller woman who could no longer resist the seduction.


Inside, Gabrielle was in turmoil. Her body and her consciousness were owned at that moment by Artemis. She had no control and in truth wanted none. Still she was able to hold one independent thought throughout the onslaught of sensation and pleasure. Xena!


I do this for you, Xena… I will surrender my body completely for you… I love you more than life; for you are my life. I will do anything to save you. Anything. Even give myself to Artemis. Oh gods, I’ve already given myself to her.


As Xena’s name seared itself into her heart and into her soul, Artemis’s lips descended on hers. She tasted a sweet nectar, then warmth and a pleasurable tingling engulfed her. She did not want to respond but her lips seemed to open by themselves to receive the fiery kiss.


"Uuuuuhhhh" the primal sound came up from the depths of her being in response to the building passion she felt. She had never been kissed by a god before and the heat of it raged through her. Her body responded and she pressed herself against the goddess as her breasts and her body screamed for Artemis’s touch.


"Ar te mis, touch me, please." The three worded name groaned out of her.


She pleaded with the goddess again, as she continued to press her full body against her,


"Please, oh please touch me."


Artemis smiled then feeling the woman’s passion engulf her thought, Yesss! She had won. The Queen was hers.


She stood back looking at her Chosen. "Come. I will touch you like you’ve never been touched before little one." She barely brushed Gabrielle’s shoulders and the bard’s clothes vaporized. She stood gloriously naked before the goddess who smiled appreciatively at the sight.


"You are beautiful, Gabrielle. A woman like you is made to be loved. Let me show you how." She kissed her again harder this time.


"Kiss me, touch me — touch me everywhere." The bard felt no modesty nor did she attempt to cover herself. She only wanted the goddess to make love to her.


She took Gabrielle’s hand and pointed at the furs for her to lie down. The young woman was only vaguely aware of her surroundings, absently noting marble walls and a bed covered in soft animal fur. She stretched out on the bed as the now also naked Goddess lay next to her and leaned in capturing an erect nipple with her mouth and sucking hard.


"So very beautiful, My Gabrielle." The goddess spoke her words muffled by Gabrielle’s pliant flesh.


"Aaaarrrhhh!" Gabrielle threw back her head in ecstasy and moaned inarticulate sounds as jolts like lightening shot straight down to her lower belly where an inferno raged spreading liquid fire through her.


As she kissed her, Artemis’s hands followed the river of molten heat straight to Gabrielle’s center. The young woman was beyond thought. Her body had become a field of pulsating sensations that continued to build, relentlessly driving her forward.

"I … aaaah…. aaaah" she knew what she was feeling but any rational thoughts had disappeared.


Pleasure bordering on pain pushed against her core. She needed release; she tried to beg for it; but was only able to push a primitive sound through her throat, "Unghhh."


Breathing became impossible… not enough air… then too much. She was near frantic with need. But despite her body’s powerful demand for completion, Gabrielle’s heart called out, "Xenaaaa!"


From that deepest part of her soul, all her longing poured out. From that sacred place within, love’s call went forth seeking its true mate.


And like a river flowing inexorably toward the sea, it found its mark. Deep within the cold colorless mists of the underworld, Xena’s head jerked upright as her own heart responded to Gabrielle’s summons. Since waking in the spirit world, she’d wandered aimlessly in circles. Now Xena saw a path open up in front of her as the mists cleared. The beautiful cavern where she’d left Gabrielle was revealed to her in the distance. She could just make out two women, a blonde and a brunette, lying side by side on sleeping furs. As she looked at the scene, she felt an insistent tugging on her soul and then she was propelled at great speed straight into the body of the dark haired woman.


Gabrielle’s reality had likewise shifted at that moment. As if she was trapped inside a wind storm, she felt an incredible rush of air, blowing past her. In her mind she was with Xena. No other possibility existed for her now and it drove her desire even higher.


Over and over and over, she chanted the name that had come to mean her life, "Xena, Xena, Xena."


As she ground her hips against her partner, Gabrielle discovered that her own need for release had changed to an insatiable desire to satisfy her partner.


Caressing her lover’s body everywhere, her hand found its way between her partner’s thighs. Gabrielle’s fingers swam through the warm, wet folds of her lover. Hips rising up to meet her hand demanded more. Following her lover’s lead, she slid two fingers inside the tight canal.


She was rewarded with a long drawn out moan. Followed by her lover’s hips moving franticly against her. It excited Gabrielle immensely and she began to move her arm faster in a similar tempo to match her partner’s ever accelerating pace.


Through the one synapse still functioning in her brain, she became aware of her lover going suddenly still. And then as strong muscles clamped down on her fingers she heard her own name cried out, "Gab ri ellllle."


That deep voice, so familiar, caused Gabrielle’s eyes to fly open and behold the cherished features of Xena. This was her beloved, her soul mate, her reason for living. They were together in the cave lying in their own sleeping furs.


Completely bewildered she whispered, "Xena?"


Lying panting in her lover’s arms, Xena observed Gabrielle’s concerned expression. She watched each emotion as it flashed rapidly across Gabrielle’s face; confusion and disbelief, followed closely by hope and finally uncensored love.


Answering each emotion with a matching one of her own; Xena smiled and hugged the bard to her breast tightly. "Gabrielle! Oh gods, I missed you."


For the first time in memory, words failed Gabrielle. "Xena." She repeated. As the meaning of what she was seeing dawned on her, she broke down into choking sobs.


Pulling the bard onto her chest, Xena held her close, wrapping strong arms around her back and entwining their legs. She strove to establish as much body contact as possible to reassure her young lover that, yes, this was real; she was real. With her hand in the small of Gabrielle’s back, Xena rubbed small comforting circles.

While the smaller woman wept releasing the conflicting emotions of her pain and unbelievable relief, Xena crooned the nonsense words of comfort, "S’okay… I got ya…shhhh."

Eventually the torrent of tears lessened and in a series of hiccups and sniffles, the young woman began to regain control. Pulling herself back, Gabrielle looked into the face of the most precious person in her life, and husked. "You’re back. I can’t… Oh gods, is it really you?"

"It’s alright, Gabrielle. I’m here. I’m right here"

In disbelief Gabrielle ran hands over Xena’s face, shoulders, arm and torso, needing the reassurance that this was real. She was holding Xena alive and well. Then in a burst of emotional fervor, she clasped Xena hard against her. Pulling back after a few moments, she looked hard into her lover’s deep blue eyes.

"I can’t believe it. Oh Xena; I…." She hesitated. She’d never said the words before. But she knew she had to now. "Xena, I…. I love you…" She’d said the words finally not knowing how the warrior would respond.


Reaching out with her finger tips, Xena gently traced the features of the woman who had come to mean life to her. Outlining the light brown brow, she noted the silken smooth texture. Mapping the gentle curve of the bard’s cheek and around the delicate bow of her lips, Xena blessed each place with finger tips and then followed them with her lips and a benediction, "My love", which she whispered repeatedly.


Kissing eyelids, nose, jaw and finally lips lightly, no more than the weight of a butterfly’s wings; Xena looked up at her soul mate.


"I love you." Xena’s barely audible whisper was spoken with reverence and awe. The words had escaped her mouth before she could stop them. Time and again, she’d casually spoken these same three words to her bed mates. Always uttered in a passionate embrace, the words had less significance than the air it took to say them. Now, somehow, some way, she was determined for Gabrielle to know that this was different. The warrior of few words desperately desired a way to tell the precious young woman in her arms that she was different, that she was the center of Xena’s world; that there was no other light in it. Helplessly, she struggled to articulate her heart.

A small whimper sounded in the young blonde woman’s throat. With infinite gentleness, Xena took Gabrielle’s face between her hands and studied the bard’s face carefully. What she saw shook her; desire, a longing so acute and raw that it announced itself with the force of a blow and Xena understood her need. If she couldn’t say the words, then she’d find a way to show the bard the truth of them.


Slowly pulling the young woman toward her, Xena covered Gabrielle’s mouth with her own. Her tongue traced Gabrielle’s lips asking permission for entry.


Moaning her acceptance, Gabrielle opened her mouth to her lover. Their tongues danced together reigniting the fire in Gabrielle’s groin. With a loud groan, she pushed her pelvis hard against Xena’s muscled thigh.

Rolling the bard over onto her back, Xena leaned over her lover. "Let me show you…" she planted a kiss on Gabrielle’s exposed neck.

"Let me take care of you…" she spoke into the hollow of Gabrielle’s throat and her lips pulled at the soft delicate skin. Xena’s voice trailed off as she sucked hard and the young woman pushed her neck up demanding more. Xena complied. Using hands, lips, and tongue she trailed flame over Gabrielle’s skin and stoked the fire into a roaring blaze.

Unerringly she found Gabrielle’s most intimate and sensitive places. Each curve, valley, and expanse of skin on Gabrielle’s body was lovingly touched by her warrior, flooding the young woman with pleasure and she quickly returned to heights of arousal she’d attained under the goddess’s ministrations.

Trailing her fingers lightly over the firm flesh of the bard’s belly, Xena moved slowly but steadily downward over her body until her fingers tickled lightly through the golden patch of downy hair at the bard’s thighs. Warm fluids coated Xena’s fingers as she gently parted the soft folds of skin. She let her fingertips graze the pulsating nub at the bard’s center, even as her lips encompassed an erect nipple.

Gabrielle groaned and rocked her hips faster against the fingers stroking the tight bundle of nerves between her legs. Her eyes tightly closed against the sensation and her own desire, Gabrielle experienced conflicting emotions as she recalled her time with Artemis. She whimpered and cried out, "no wait; please, stop …no, I need… I want… Xena, I need you."

Realizing the cause of her lover’s distress, Xena stopped all movement and leaned over her speaking tenderly, yet firmly. "Look at me, Gabrielle. Look at me."

Opening her eyes and staring deeply into Xena’s blue eyes, she saw only devotion and caring reflected there. Gabrielle’s relief was palatable as she accepted the truth. Yes, this was Xena. Her heart filled to bursting with love. This woman loving her was everything, her reason for living. "Xena?"

Looking back and holding her gaze with the same eternal adoration, Xena spoke softly, "I’m right here Gabrielle."

She leaned in and kissed the blonde woman again softly. Holding the green eyes with her own, she spoke the words of reassurance, "You’re safe now. Just look at me. Stay with me. I’m here. Do you want to stop?"

"No! I want you, only you." Green eyes shining with love and trust bored into Xena.

Smiling down at her lover, Xena began stroking the young woman in long sure strokes, through the slick velvety folds, over and over, up and back.

Never taking her eyes from her dark haired lover, the young woman again moved with purpose against Xena’s fingers. Soon she was gasping out her passion and need in short gasps.

Sensing she was near the peak, Xena called to her one last time. "Let it go, Gabrielle. Come to me."

It was enough, Gabrielle found herself at the crest … and for an endless moment the universe stopped, no time, no space, only pure being and then she tumbled over the edge… cascading downward like a waterfall. Finally, set free in her pleasure, she cried out, "Xenaaah", as the force of her orgasm washed over her.

Instantly, Xena gathered the young woman into a tight embrace. They held each other tightly, breathing hard, riding out the waves of ecstasy together.


Holding Gabrielle in her arms, Xena realized the magnitude of what had just happened. No, she wasn’t referring to returning from the land of the dead completely healed. Even her eyesight had been restored. She had returned from Hades domain before. What truly amazed and delighted her was waking from the dead fully aroused, in Gabrielle’s arms and on the verge of the most incredible orgasm she’d ever experienced. For almost two years, she’d dreamt of being with Gabrielle as her lover, but had never believed it possible. She’d even fantasized how it might be their first time, but nothing in her imagination prepared her for the reality of what she’d just experienced. One part of her was very glad that they had all the awkwardness and fears of the first time behind them, but another part was concerned about the way it had happened. Much as she hated the idea, she knew they needed to talk.


For her part, Gabrielle was still thoroughly confused. She stared uncomprehendingly at her partner. Gabrielle wondered if this was a vision, some remaining effect of Artemis’s enchantment. But as she looked into the familiar sky blue eyes, eyes that were looking back at her, she realized the truth; this was Xena. She was back, alive and whole and she had made love to Gabrielle. She glanced around the cave to be sure, but they were alone, lying in each other’s arms in their sleeping furs.


"You’re alive. And… and you can see." Gabrielle spoke slowly; the wonder of this revelation was clear in her voice. "How can that be?"


"I don’t know how any of this happened, just that we’re together."


"I can’t believe you’re here and healed." Gabrielle let out a sob of relief as her tears flowed.


Xena’s voice was gentle as she spoke, bringing Gabrielle back to the present, "Shhh, Gabrielle? I’m okay… I’m here… it’s okay…" She kept whispering the assurances until the bard became quiet. "What about you? Are you all right?"


Gabrielle turned her tear streaked face to her lover, the only person who mattered to the bard. She choked and struggled to get control. Her relief was undeniable.

"Yes, I’m alright now… more than all right." She smiled up at Xena and held her tightly.

Emotions still too close to the surface caused her voice to catch, when she asked. "Where were you? Yakut and I walked the spirit world looking; I called and called."

"Shshhhh. It’s all right now. I heard you, but I couldn’t find you. It was so damned foggy I couldn’t see my hand in front of my face. I took a wrong turn and ended up on Charon’s dock and he’s there trying to get me on his damned boat. No way was I crossing till I got to you."

Desperately needing the contact, Gabrielle could not stop stroking Xena’s soft warm skin.

"How did you avoid it?"


"Told him I didn’t have the fare. The bastard offered to float me a loan." She chuckled.


"I said I’d think about it."


In Xena’s typical story telling fashion, she quickly related the rest of her time in the underworld.


"So, I wandered around looking for the way back to you, and I had a few words with Hades. He really wanted me to stay, but I had other plans and that’s when I felt you. It was like you were calling me back and then the mist cleared and I saw the path. Next thing I knew I was here with you, like this." She gestured to their entwined naked bodies.


Gabrielle turned crimson at what she’d experienced with Artemis. Wishing it could have been some other way, wishing desperately that it had been with Xena.

"How, ah, I mean when did you …ummm?" she asked.


Xena seldom saw Gabrielle at a loss for words and she rescued her small lover.


"I was here for the best part." She gave Gabrielle a reassuring squeeze and then pulled back a little to gaze into soft green eyes.


"Oh," Gabrielle blushed to the roots of her honey blonde hair. She was embarrassed by what she felt was her betrayal of Xena. If she could have had it any other way, she would have. But given the situation, taking Artemis’s offer seemed the only option left. Looking into eyes the color of the Aegean, she searched for forgiveness and understanding.


Having arrived back in the cave the way she did, Xena had a pretty good idea of the cost of her resurrection. During her years as a warlord, she herself had spent more time in Ares bed than she cared to contemplate. She knew well the power of the gods in that area. And she knew well the power of a Warlord over her captives. They did exactly as they were told.

Hoping to ease the bard’s discomfort, she said, "I know you begged Artemis to help me and I know she demanded a high price from you for it. And I also know, whatever the cost to yourself, you’ve paid it."

Gabrielle did not know how to respond. She’d have done anything to save Xena, made any sacrifice, but to have her will stolen by the goddess and to be used by her, did leave her feeling shamed and guilty.

"I don’t know what to say, Xena. I wanted you back. She didn’t give me a choice. All of her queens submit to her… that’s what she told me and that’s what she wanted… my …" she trailed off. She couldn’t say the words even now in the safety of her lover’s arms.

"I would have never asked you to do it, Gabrielle. I’m not worth it."

"That’s not true! You are worth it! I would pay any price, any…" she stopped, as Xena’s anger came pouring out.

"I hate her, for what she did Gabrielle." She raised her finger to Gabrielle’s lips to forestall her reply. "I know how the gods are. They use humans as if we don’t matter. It’s as if we don’t mean anything."

She paused and moved her finger gently over the bard’s cheek for emphasis.

"And you… you mean everything…" as her words ran out, Xena stopped. At the best of times she was no good at putting her deepest feelings into words, and at this moment her entire being resonated with unspent rage at the moon goddess.

Now it was Gabrielle’s turn to comfort and reassure. "It’s alright Xena. Really, I… I did what I did…"

She looked up momentarily at the beautiful colors splayed across the interior of the cavern and chose her next words carefully. She did not want Xena to know the depth of her sacrifice.

"She kept her word. That’s all I care about. You’re here. That’s all I care about."

Drawing the younger woman into her arms, she laid a gentle kiss on Gabrielle’s head, using the chaste kiss as a way of releasing her fury and accepting the bard’s decision.

"Okay, if that’s how you want it. But, Gabrielle, are you all right with this; with us together like this, I mean?"


Blushing furiously again, the bard struggled to articulate her joy at being with Xena now.


"Oh yes… Xena, I wanted this… well, not exactly like this…" she smiled self consciously into the crook of Xena’s neck, took a calming breath and then started again.


"Xena, I love you and I’ve loved you for such a long time. I’ve loved you since we met so many seasons ago. And so yes, I very much wanted to make love with you. I just never thought you felt the same way."


Xena smiled so broadly that the skin at the edges of her azure eyes crinkled. She’d never dreamt she could feel so much love for anyone nor have that love returned.


"Me too," she stated simply.


They shared a familiar kiss, just lips brushing. Then settled back in each others arms and enjoyed the quiet of the moment.


Gabrielle tried unsuccessfully to stifle a yawn. Xena reached down and pulled the furs over their nude bodies. She tucked the smaller woman against her.


Xena spoke into Gabrielle’s pink ear. "Tomorrow you can decide where we go from here."


"Really?" She thought about it for a while.


"I’d like to visit the Amazon’s. They came when I called. They deserve to know what happened." She heard the uncertainty in her own voice. She knew Xena was not comfortable with all the pomp and ceremony of the Amazons.


"Please?" she added the final entreaty.


Xena mentally rolled her eyes knowing she’d have to endure some weird Amazon rite and celebration, but her heart was so full of love for this remarkable woman she could deny her nothing. "Sure why not."


"You mean that?"


"Of course. We’ll leave in the morning. It’s a two day ride." She tucked the furs around Gabrielle’s shoulders and molded herself around the familiar small body.


"We should get some rest. You must be exhausted. I know you wore me out."


She chuckled when she saw the color climb up Gabrielle’s neck to her hairline. Gods, she is so much fun to tease and she is so much more than I ever deserved.


"Good night, my Love."


"I love you, Xena."





As the smoldering eastern stick burned slowly, giving off a steady pungent scent of flowers and wood smoke, Otere kept her vigil. Chanting, she paced out the path of Apollo’s chariot around the prone figures. Her concentration had not wavered in the half candlemark the two Amazon’s had been in trance. As the sacred smoke twisted its way to the roof of the council lodge, the stick burned very low. Otere was becoming concerned for Yakut and the regent. Coming to a decision, she abruptly stopped her procession and knelt next to Yakut. Delicately, she reached out and felt the skin on the healer’s cheek with the backs of her fingers. She was surprised at how rapidly the healer had lost body temperature.


Solemnly, she spoke. "We can’t wait any longer. I need to call them home."


Glancing across the fire to where the regent lay, Otere was sure she detected a slight dampness on Ephiny’s skin. Yes, it is time or we’ll lose both a healer and regent.


Rising gracefully, Otere stood over the sacred fire. She pulled the "Calling" herb from her waist pouch and held it high over the flames. "By the power of the godde …"


But before she could finish her incantation, Yakut’s eyes flew open and she awoke with a sucking gasp as she drew air into her lungs. Even before she released that first breathe, Ephiny had likewise returned to her body. Immediately, Noalani went to the regent aiding her to sit upright next to the fire, while Otere dropped to her knees and assisted Yakut.


Ephiny felt light headed and nauseous after two consecutive trips out of her body. Noting her pallor, Noalani, gently forced the regent’s head down between her knees. Softly, she instructed, "Breathe deeply, Ephiny… that’s it… now another."


All the council members were on their feet surrounding the two women, desperate for information. Firmly, Noalani took charge. "Sisters, be seated, please. Give them a moment."


As the women returned to their places around the sacred fire, Yakut regained her feet. She took her place in the center near the fire next to Ephiny still sitting on the ground catching her breath. Offering her hand to the regent, Yakut helped Ephiny to her feet. Standing quietly, waiting until all chatter died away, the healer gazed out over the women with authority. Sensing there was much to hear, the Amazons grew quiet as they watched their regent and healer with an air of anticipation.

Once settled, Yakut began speaking in a slow cadence as if she was still partially in trance, and not yet completely returned to her body. She informed them that they were to prepare themselves for the ritual blessing of thanksgiving to the goddess for returning their Queen with her consort. Yakut, having walked the spirit world with Gabrielle, knew the Queen would have gone back and walked it alone if her Warrior had died. To Yakut, the Queen was returning from the dead as well. And she informed the Council of that fact.

Depositing sage into the sacred fire as a purification herb, the healer intoned a blessing to the goddess and asked her for a safe journey and return of the Queen and Xena. She removed a powdery substance from the pouch at her waist and sprinkled it into the fire where it erupted in a shower of sparks. She turned to the women and opened her palms to the smoked filled rafters of the sacred lodge. They did the same as she sang the blessed rites of thanksgiving. She closed the ritual with another sprinkling of the powder.

The women then turned to her asking about the spirit walk. She looked into the dying embers and said, "If she’d been alone, I don’t think the Queen would have returned." The enormity of the statement settled on each of them and they quieted. Yakut did not say anything more. There was no need.

It was Ephiny’s turn, as Regent, to address the council. "We must prepare for the festival. They’ll be here soon. Let us make it a day of happiness and celebration. The tribe looks to the women in this room for leadership. We want the finest music, the finest food and the best wine we have to offer. It is close to Solstice; only four days until the full moon. It may be wise to think in those terms and make this mid-summer celebration the greatest our tribe has ever experienced; a night of thanksgiving for the return of our queen as well as honoring the Solstice."

The mood of the Council women changed from somber to joyous as the spectacle of a festival began to be realized. Chatting animatedly amongst themselves, the women began to disperse. Yakut, Otere and Ephiny emerged from the sacred lodge together.

Their presence was immediately noted by the rest of the tribe as women from all reaches of the encampment rushed over to find out what had happened. There was a barrage of questions…

"What Happened?"

"Where’s the Queen?"

"Where’s Xena?"

Yakut held up her hands to silence them and turned to Ephiny. "It’s for you to tell them."

Ephiny shook her head, not sure what there was to tell. But she relayed their story. She told of finding the Queen and the nearly dead warrior. That Yakut had attended to Xena but knew it was hopeless. Then she told them their goddess and protector, Artemis, had appeared to them and instructed them to prepare for the return of the Queen and the fallen champion. This information brought a new flurry of inquiries.

"Is Xena dead?"

"You actually saw Artemis?"

"Are we preparing a funeral pyre?"

"What about our Queen?"

"What are we supposed to do?"

"How can they be returning if…."

"I don’t know…" Ephiny yelled loudly to quiet the group. The Regent was as perplexed as everyone else. She looked at Yakut for confirmation.

"Our goddess appeared to us and told us she would take care of everything. All we know is that the Queen and her champion will return in three days time."

The amazons looked around muttering one to the other, clearly not understanding how this would come to pass.

"Amazons, the Regent has spoken. We are to prepare for the Queen’s return. This will be a festival of renewal and rebirth." Yakut spoke with authority as the Council’s spiritual advisor and healer.

As one, the muttering stopped and all turned towards her as she spoke.

"We have much to do. And we only have three days. Each of you knows what has to be done. It will be a great celebration. See to it."

The women began chattering among themselves and moving with purpose to their assigned duties. A festival of renewal and rebirth was usually held at Beltane. But this one was different. The Queen was returning. Something dire had happened and it would take a few hours for the story to wind its way through the encampment. The story would take on a life of its own as the women, each to their own duty, prepared the food, wine and music for the festival.


The weapons mistress had listened attentively as she stood near the regent. Turning in her direction, Ephiny said. "Eponin, you must post scouts and lookouts further out. We need to know as soon as the Queen and Xena reach Amazon lands. They must be escorted in."

The weapons commander acknowledged her Regent and saluted. "I’ll send my best scouts immediately, Regent. It will be good to welcome the Warrior; and of course the Queen." She added the last with a wink.

The other women were dismissed to go about the preparations required for the festival.

<Continued in Part 3>

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