Powers of the Queen Part 4 (Conclusion)
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)
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* * * XENA AND GABRIELLE ARRIVE * * *
Xena and Gabrielle approached the Amazon lands. The lookouts had been properly posted for their arrival and saw them. As Gabrielle chatted happily while walking in front of the warrior, she suddenly felt a hand on her shoulder and stopped. Xena nodded to her then looked up and raised both arms over her head, crossing her wrists in the Amazon sign of peace. Gabrielle, looking back at Xena, realized they were now near the tribal hunting grounds and made the same gesture.
Female bodies clad in leather and animal skins, dropped from the trees above, each one bending on one knee in reverence and respect to their Queen. Gabrielle recognized Cynosura and reached for her and hugged her. All the scouts began excitedly chattering with the Queen at one time. Xena, who was standing behind with Argo, just rolled her eyes at this display thinking, I know I promised her but its gonna be a long few days.
"Can we just start walking to the village?" She asked to no one in particular.
Her crisp deep voice startled the amazons and they quickly fell into a line on either side of the Queen. Gabrielle looked at her warrior and her broad smile quickly melted the warriors stern demeanor and she shrugged with a smirk.
"Yes, why dont we start walking" she said to the Amazon scouts as she kept her arm linked with Cynosuras. As they started walking she turned to see the warrior bringing up the rear and she smiled at her again, her dancing eyes setting fire to the warriors heart.
As they approached the outskirts of the village, birdlike whistles filled the air announcing their arrival. Before long, the entire tribe rushed towards them. Gabrielle saw Ephiny first and opened her arms to her friend and confidante. As she embraced the Queen Ephiny looked over her shoulder to see the Warrior standing there, with no sign of her previous wounds. She looked perfectly healed. The Amazon did not understand what had happened, but knew she would find out soon enough.
"My Queen " Ephiny began, tears choking her.
"Its alright Ephiny. Everything is alright now. Well talk about it later in your hut."
Ephiny nodded into her shoulder but continued to hold her tightly. She released her when she saw the Warrior glaring at her. "Gabrielle, we didnt know what to do. Artemis sent us away."
"I know, Ephiny. Believe me; I dont know what happened either. I just know were back and Xena is fully healed. Its a long story and well talk later."
"We were told by the goddess to prepare for your arrival with a festival. Tonight will be a huge celebration and feast for your return. We have prepared food and wine and there will be music and dancing."
The Warrior, hearing Ephinys words groaned loudly causing Gabrielle to turn around and look at her.
"Xeeena?" she said slowly, emphasizing and drawing out her name.
"You know I hate these things, Gabrielle. A bunch of Amazons howling at the moon is not my idea of a good time. Why dont you go to this this festival. Ill go hunting or fishing. The moon is almost full and its a fine time for hunting."
"No!" The words were said forcefully. Then, taking a breath, she spoke more calmly.
"Xena, I owe the goddess. YOU owe the goddess. I begged her to help me and she brought you back to me, completely healed. I even surrendered my " she stopped herself realizing what she was about to say. "She is the benefactor of the Amazons. And she instructed them to do this. I have no other choice. I must obey her. Will you do this for me?" She paused for a beat before adding, "Please?"
Xena knew she was defeated. She kicked at the dirt with her boot and looked up menacingly when she heard Ephiny snicker.
The Regent saw the warriors expression and immediately covered her smile. She knew the Queen had spoken. And she knew that Xena loved Gabrielle; would do anything for her. There would be a festival that evening. And the Queen and her warrior would be attending.
Xena refocused her attention on Gabrielle and relented, "Oh alright. Im going to tend to Argo." Xena huffed off.
"Ill be with Ephiny. Ill see you back in our hut before sundown. Alright Xena?"
The warrior nodded, drawing out a "Yesssssss." Hades Balls! This is not going to be a good evening, she thought. This is going to be a very disturbing evening.
Gabrielle and Ephiny walked through the encampment. Ephiny was curious about everything that had happened to her friend. And she was most interested in the sentence the young woman had left hanging. What had Gabrielle surrendered she wondered, what did that mean? But, as they walked they were constantly interrupted by other women approaching them and asking questions or offering good wishes. The Amazons knew enough of the story to be grateful and happy that the Queen had returned and just wanted to reach out to their leader.
"Ill have to ask her privately about what happened and what she surrendered" thought Ephiny.
"Whats planned for tonight, Eph?" Gabrielle interrupted her thoughts.
"Yakut wants to invoke the goddess and then perform a ritual of thanksgiving for your return. Then well celebrate and honor your return as our Queen and Xena as your Champion. Itll be much like a Beltane festival."
Gabrielle raised an eyebrow. "Like Beltane? Beltane is the fire cleansing festival of fertility. Thats kind of unusual isnt it?"
"Yes and no. We look at your return just like we look at the rebirth of the land. Its your rebirth to us, Gabrielle. We thought you might cross over with Xena. Both of you have returned to us, cleansed by fire and spirit and renewed."
She didnt reply. Instead her thoughts turned to her time in spirit and Xenas confrontation with Hades. They had been into the fires of Tartarus and the swirling mists of spirit and come out whole. To have a festival so near to the solstice was no small matter but it did represent their ordeal and it now seemed a fitting celebration. She thought of the practical matters at hand. "Well need suitable clothing." She told her friend.
"Dont worry, Gabrielle. Marana has already prepared your attire for tonight. For both of you. Its laid out in your hut. I think you will be very pleased with her work."
They continued walking through the camp, making small talk with the amazons who continued to stop and offer kind words to them.
"Youve thought of everything. Thank you Ephiny. Youve been a dear friend and if something had happened to me in the spirit world, I know you would have become a great queen to the nation."
Ephinys eyes filled with tears. "I wouldnt want to be queen on those terms, Gabrielle." The queen, seeing the tears, hugged her friend tenderly.
"What happened to you Gabrielle? With Artemis? I wanted to stay with you; I wanted to protect you. But I had no power over the goddess."
"She sent us away." The pain was evident as she spoke her heart.
"I know that, Eph. Like you, I had no control over the Goddess either. Just the opposite, she had complete control over me, and " the young woman paused, her anguish plain.
"What happened, Gabrielle?" Ephiny guided Gabrielle over to a bench near a tall tree and they sat down side by side, their legs and shoulders touching. The contact seemed to anchor them both.
Then turning slightly, she asked. "What did she do to you?"
She felt the Bard shudder and heard her breath catch.
"She " the green eyes teared at the memory. "She wanted me to to surrender myself She She said all the Queens had done that and she wanted me to do that too " her words trailed off into muffled sobs.
Ephiny touched her friend, stroking her long hair. "Shhhh, its okay. Take your time. Just say it in your own way. Im here. No one will hurt you, Gabrielle."
"I was so desperate and so lost Eph. I begged Artemis to help me. She came to me but wanted me to " She began to cry softly again.
Ephiny put her arm over Gabrielles shoulder and pulled her into an embrace. The younger woman accepted the comforting gesture of her friend.
What did Artemis want you to do? How did you save Xena?"
Between sobs she poured out her story. "She wanted me to surrender myself to her, Eph. I didnt want to do it." She choked out the words.
"Its alright, Gabrielle. Im right here. I know our protector is very powerful. Its impossible to stand against the gods. You can tell me."
"I felt like I had no control. It was like she put a spell on me when she kissed me." The words came in a torrent now punctuated by deep sobs. "I was with her, in her chambers and she she was touching me all over; she was making love to me and I had no will and I couldnt resist. I was captivated by her. She had this incredible power over me and I couldnt resist her. I couldnt break the power, Eph. Ive only loved Xena and I wanted it to be Xena. But I was completely under the control of the goddess. She took me with her and well you know?..." She paused, her natural shyness causing her to blush and turn her face into her friends shoulder.
It was an endearing quality and Ephiny hugged her tighter. "Go on!" She said.
"But Eph, I didnt want to do it. Xena is the only one Ive ever wanted. I wanted it to be Xena so badly, and I thought of her and called out to her just as you know?" She blushed again.
Ephiny heard the words strike her in the heart and she ached with the knowledge that she would only have a close friendship with Gabrielle, nothing more, not this time.
She accepted the realization and asked softly, "Then what happened?"
"I dont know exactly. I was well you know with Artemis and at that moment, you know - I called to Xena in my mind. And then I was with Xena, back in the cave and we were together for the first time."
"How did that happen?"
"Im not really sure. One minute I was with Artemis and the next minute I was with Xena and we were "
"You mean Xena just appeared?" Ephiny had interrupted her before she had to say the words.
"Yes. It was Xena. Her eyes, her hair, her mouth. Even her smell. I dont know how. But Xena was in my arms."
"Gabrielle, I dont understand this at all. But I think other gods were at work on this."
"No wonder Xena hates them meddling in our affairs. But I plan to find out tonight."
"Im going to the temple and Ill invoke the goddess. I want to know what happened myself."
"Do you want me to go with you?"
"No. This is something I have to do alone. You understand?"
"Of course I understand. Are you feeling better?" Asked her friend.
"Yes. Thanks, Ephiny. You are my dearest sister. You know that, right?" She reached up to the taller woman and kissed her sweetly on the cheek.
Before Ephiny could reply, they were interrupted by a few more well wishers and realized their conversation was coming to an end.
"We can talk more later, Eph."
"Id like that. I want to hear more about this."
"Alright, lets head back. We have lots to do and time is running out." They walked together back through the camp picking up even more friends along the way.
* * * PARTY PREPARATIONS ***
The preparations for the festival had been underway for almost three days and the encampment was now gaily decorated. The central lodge, where the main festivities would be held, was strung with garlands, looped with feathers and beads, and illuminated by lighted torches. Braziers were carefully placed throughout the area to insure warmth for the evening and to also define the cooking area.
Amazons rushed about putting the final touches on the Queens table, while others banked the fires under the large kettles. Outside the lodge, others turned spits of roasting goats and fowl or stirred pots of steaming vegetables. Everything was ready as the afternoon sun began to set.
"Have the Queens garments been taken to her hut?" Marana, the seamstress, asked the young woman standing by the spit.
"Yes. The Queen is dressing now. But I believe her warrior is questioning the evening attire."
"By the holy goddess! Why is this a surprise?" Marana muttered to herself. She had spent the greater part of three days sewing a splendid tunic for the queen and a matching vest for the warrior. "Why must she always be so difficult? This warrior can be so trying." She spoke to no one in particular as she hurriedly made her way towards the queens hut.
As she neared it, she heard the queen. "Xena, this is an important celebration. The amazons have worked for three days. We have to be part of it and I have to participate."
"Cant we just go, eat a little, say thank you, and come back here? I could take your mind off this festival, ya know? Youve only just begun to find out about those many skills." She raised an eyebrow suggestively at the bard.
Gabrielle hesitated for just a moment. The offer was tempting and she looked forward to learning more about those specific skills. But she knew her responsibilities and replied with a big grin her own eyebrow raised for emphasis. "Tell you what. Ill take you up on your offer. But, after the festival. Now, I want you to put on the clothes that Marana has brought you. Shes excellent at her craft and these clothes are beautiful, Xena. She took such care making them."
"I know. I know. But I dont feel like myself in those clothes, Gabrielle. Theyre not me!"
"I know you dont. But you are the Queens Champion and I need you to look and dress the part. Especially tonight. Will you do this for me, Xena?"
The warrior was not convinced. She wrinkled her brow to try another angle of persuasion when her partner made a simple plea. "Please, Xena?" She emphasized the word.
Since the beginning of their time together, that word, please, had the power to stop the warrior. And when Gabrielle said it, her voice very soft and her eyes pleading. The warrior knew she would do anything the bard asked.
"Yesss." Sighing, she spoke with resignation.
Marana, standing outside, chuckled to herself. It was done. Xena was going to the party in the vestments she made. The mighty warrior had been captured and felled by that simple entreaty. She didnt have to intervene after all. The celebration will be held as planned and the Regent will be relieved to know she thought. She moved back towards the main lodge at a rapid pace. There were still many last minute things to do.
* * * GODDESSES WITH DIFFERING OPINIONS * * *
In the suite of the Goddess of Love, everything was decorated some shade of pink; from the muted magenta marble walls to the hand crafted pale rose tiles on the floor.
The Goddess reclined in the center of her heart shaped bed on bright pink satin sheets. While a handsome young blonde boy toy massaged her shoulders and laid delicate kisses on her neck, a beautiful young woman, scantily dressed in pink bikini, fed the goddess plump grapes, each bite was punctuated with a kiss at the edge of Dites mouth. The only sounds were giggles and endearments between the three. Their attention was on a big screen TV in the corner of the room showing an Amazon party in full swing. The party featured Gabrielle and Xena who were clearly visible eating, dancing and kissing.
The peace and tranquility of the scene was broken when one very outraged Moon Goddess materialized in the center of the room in shower of silver light. Artemis glanced at the three and then to the show playing on the 52 inch screen and then back to her sister. "Aphrodite, just what did you think you were doing?" She raged at her sister.
Dite looked up, the picture of innocence. "Chill, big sister; I am clueless."
"Well, theres something we can agree on. You know very well what Im talking about!" Shaking with impotent rage, she pointed at the screen just as Xena leaned over and planted a warm wet kiss on Gabrielles lips.
"Oh yeah, that. Isnt it just the sweetest? My two favorite babes are like totally in love." She winked at her sister and said, "and at one with the lust." Then she burst into giggles at her own joke.
Sputtering, Artemis vented. "You interfered. You cured Xena brought her back when I expressly told you I wanted her gone."
Aphrodite bristled at the accusation. "Whoa, dont get your panties in a twist, Artemissy. I did no such thing!" She took a calming breathe before continuing. "First off you know my only power is Love. I dont do cures. I dont raise the dead bad for the complexion. And you above all know I give new meaning to creativity when I utter an incantation. So get a grip, already."
Artemis shook her head in disbelief. "You didnt do one of your "inventive" spells to help out my chosen?"
Dite sighed. "No way, Sis. I blessed Gabby at her birth, just like I do every new born mortal. I give each the power to love. Thats all. The difference between Gabby and others is that she uses her power."
Disbelief etched on her face, Artemis declared, "I am going to get to the bottom of this. Father will know who is responsible." With that threat reverberating off the walls, Artemis winked out in a hail of silver light.
Dite shrugged and turned back to her companions. Smiling and kissing them, she grasped a hand of each one and pressed their palms to her cheeks. "She means well; but, she sooo doesnt get it. So, where were we?"
* * * AMAZON DANCE PARTY * * *
As twilight approached, the drums beat in a steady distinct rhythm announcing the start of the festival. Bonfires had been lit throughout the camp and small torches illuminated the pathway to the main lodge. Women came from all directions, some in pairs, and some in groups. All were dressed in fine garments with decorative feathers and beads and they laughed joyously as they greeted each other and eagerly moved towards the lodge. Each one wanted to be seated when the Queen was announced.
There was a noticeable excitement in the air and the sweet hum of womens voices spilled out into the evening air. Suddenly a horn blew and the beat of the drums grew louder and more pronounced.
"Theyre coming." The words buzzing from one end of the lodge to the other, stirred the drummers further. The drumbeat grew louder and faster as the drummers rose together, their feathered headdresses giving the appearance of fiercely beaked hawks with the bodies of women. The drums continued until the leader, as if on cue, gave one resounding thwack to the tight rawhide of the largest drum. All sound stopped as the covered entrance to the lodge was slowly opened by the Queens honor guard.
The darkening skies outside the lodge silhouetted the Queens as the Healer and Regent preceded her into the room. Yakut , dressed in light yellow buckskin accented with the black feathers of a raven, walked to the main dais to join her partner, Otere, already seated there. Ephiny, hidden behind a feathered mask signifying her rank, followed. She carried a tall staff in her right hand and with each footstep the base of the staff struck the hard packed earth. The leader of the drummers beat one sharp note with each fall of the staff.
When Ephiny approached the dais, she turned and faced the gathered tribe. For just a moment, she surveyed the women, seeing the expectancy on each face and enjoying the moment. She smiled at them, her face beaming, and said,
"Amazons! Your Queen, Gabrielle!"
A single tune from a fluted instrument softly filled the air as the tent opened wide. The honor guard detail entered and made parallel lines towards the dais. The Queen entered with Xena as a collective intake of breath was heard across the lodge. For weeks later, the amazons would talk about this entrance and the radiant image of their fair Queen standing beside her tall dark warrior. Many of the women, some secretly and some overtly, wished they could trade places with one or the other that night.
Gabrielles golden hair was braided on each side to hold her long hair back. She was dressed in the softest white doeskin tunic. Marana had burnished a crest on the front and colored it with a shimmering green dye. The green on the crest seemed to reflect the younger womans eyes, captivating her audience as she walked by.
The Warrior was dressed in black leather pants and boots. She wore a black shirt. Her black hair was tied in a single plait down the middle of her back. Over the shirt, she wore Maranas vest made from the same white doeskin as Gabrielles. Marana had matched the design of the warriors breastplate into the vest and intertwined the Queens crest into the pattern. This crest was dyed a light sky blue to match her eyes.
They walked, hand in hand, between the guards, to their place at the dais. As they approached, Ephiny removed her headdress and placed it under her left arm. Still holding the staff, she saluted the Queen with her right hand over her heart. Then she presented the staff to the Queen.
Gabrielle took the staff from her smiling Regent. She touched her own chest, saluting Ephiny in return. She then bowed to Yakut, who addressed the tribe.
Yakut knew the significance of this moment, and as she stood, privately said a prayer of thanksgiving to her own Goddess of healing and her own patron, Hygieia. She looked over the assembled tribe.
"Amazons, we celebrate tonight and give thanks to the goddess Artemis, Protector of the Amazon nation, for returning Queen Gabrielle and Xena to us. They have been on a perilous journey and it was unclear for a long time if we would succeed in bringing them home. They returned from the land of spirit and Xena was returned to us, fully healed. That is why we are having this celebration of rebirth tonight for indeed, they have been reborn to us. We owe the Goddess a debt that can never be repaid. And we are eternally grateful."
Ephiny and Gabrielle looked at each at the irony of Yakuts words. They knew otherwise. Xena merely smirked, content in the knowledge at her good fortune in waking up in the arms of the Bard. The thought made her eyes twinkle in remembrance.
Yakut ended her prayer and turned to the blond woman. "My Queen, do you wish to say anything?"
Gabrielle stepped forward. "My sisters, were truly grateful to the Goddess for our safe return home. I believed I had lost Xena forever, but Artemis brought her back to me. I will always remember her favor to me. Now, youve prepared for many days. I think its time we celebrate. What do you think?"
The roar from the women was all the confirmation she needed. The drums began to beat as if on cue and with that, the sounds of stringed instruments and wind instruments filled the air. Platters of food appeared carried by the younger members of the tribe to each table; the aroma filling the tent and adding to the festive nature of the evening. Wineskins, cooled in a nearby stream, were passed, table to table, as the goblets were filled and quickly emptied.
As the evening wore on, huge platters of food and wine were consumed and the party moved into its next phase. The music grew louder and faster as several couples got up to dance. This seemed to be the provocation needed for the drummers to increase the tempo. When they did, the dancers swayed to the quicker rhythms, enjoying the whistles and appreciative shouts from the seated amazons. More and more couples joined the dancers as inhibitions were released. The dance floor was filled with sweating and laughing women enjoying each others company and bodies.
Ephiny, still seated, began to move with the music. She looked over and noticed the Queen too was enjoying the music. Gabrielle was tapping her hand and foot in time to the beat of the drums. Xena however continued to drink and seemed to sink lower into her seat with each goblet consumed, her eyes turning to slits.
Feeling the effects of the wine, Ephiny threw caution to the wind. To hell with Xena she thought. She slid her arm over the back of her friends chair, leaned into her neck and asked in a husky voice, "Do ya want to dance, Gabrielle?" She drew out the words very slowly, the effects of the drink clearly evident.
Gabrielle had been watching the dancers and wanted to join them. But she knew her warrior would never dance with her. Xena claimed she didnt like to dance. Besides, at the rate she was consuming the wine she might end up on the floor before long, she thought.
"You know, I think Id like that, Ephiny. Lets dance!" She jumped up grabbing Ephinys hand and leading her to the dance floor. She had to steady her friend a bit as they reached the other dancers.
The warrior heard the interchange and focused on the pair as they got up and moved to the dance floor. She wrapped both hands around the goblet and glared at them over the top of the cup. Her intense gaze of disapproval, which was directed at Ephiny, was ignored. She was acutely aware of the loud whistles that greeted the arrival of the Queen and the Regent on the floor, even as the music grew louder and the drums beat faster.
Ephiny took Gabrielles hand and began to dance. She held her around the waist and then spun her across the dance floor. They moved together and then back apart, laughing with each other as the drums beat faster and faster and the whistles grew louder. The other dancers appreciated the fact that their Queen was dancing with the Regent, even though one was a bit inebriated.
Ephiny pulled Gabrielle towards her and moved behind her, arms wrapped around the Queens waist. She swayed provocatively in time with the music, pulling the Queen into a tight embrace and holding her closely against her body.
The crashing sound of a chair being kicked across the room, broke through the sounds of music and laughter.
Everything seemed to shift into slow motion in the tent. The music dimmed, the drums grew faint, all eyes turned, as the towering form of the Warrior uncoiled itself from the dais. Xena stood up, six feet of black leathered menace, scowling at the sight of her Bard dancing with Ephiny with such abandon and enjoyment. Her eyes narrowed as she stepped away from the table towards the curly blonde Amazon. Even though Ephiny had consumed quite a bit of wine, she was still conscious of the tall dark form moving towards them. Somewhere, in the dim recess of her brain, she was fearful.
Marana, seated at the next table, had been enjoying the dance, but for a different reason. She had hoped the Queen would dance at this festival. And with that in mind, shed cut the doeskin in such a way that it would glide when she walked and ripple when she danced. Her sewing abilities were evident as the white tunic itself danced with the music and the crest sparkled in the firelight. She heard the crashing chair and saw Xena move towards the dancers.
"Oh by the goddess, I knew it was too good to last. This one is going to start trouble" the seamstress thought to herself as she looked towards the honor guard which instantly sobered with the reality that they needed to protect the Queen.
Gabrielle, seeing what was unfolding, placed her hand on Ephinys, which was still wrapped around her waist, and said, "Its alright, Eph. Just go with this. Shes had too much to drink. Dont be afraid. Go and sit down, Eph."
She moved out of Ephinys grasp and pushed her away easily. The Regent retreated to the group of other dancers.
The warrior moved towards the Bard and stopped a few feet away. All activity in the room seemed suspended in time and space. Gabrielle cocked her head towards the tall woman, her blond braid falling to the side. Then she smiled at her. But still, the warrior didnt move. She just stared at the younger woman even as she debated going after Ephiny.
Then the bard began to move her body in a slow rhythmic manner while keeping eye contact with the brooding woman. The fringe of her doeskin tunic moved gracefully in time to her movements. The crest sparkled in the firelight. The drummers, feeling the young womans rhythms, met and followed her pace. As the bard increased her movements, her arms and hands twirled in the air, she glided around the warrior. The drum beats followed her. She bent backwards at the waist, and then twirled again.
With each movement and turn, she could feel Xena watching her intently and she liked what she saw.
The warrior stood there, her eyes glazing at the exciting movements of her partner. Her thoughts of Ephiny were fast disappearing. She licked her dry lips. Her eyes grew smoky as the bard continued to dance around her and as the drummers increased the tempo. Sliding in time with the music, Gabrielle moved towards Xena and saw the look of heated desire start to glow in her lovers eyes. She held out her hands and touched her on the chest lightly. Then she moved away again, coiling her body slowly around the tune.
The warrior breathed raggedly watching her as Gabrielle moved back towards her seductively. Again, she touched her on the chest, running her fingertips lightly and sensuously over the warriors crest.
"Dance with me, Warrior." She whispered the words.
Xena again licked her lips, intoxicated with the sight before her. Her partners skin glistened from the exertion of the dance, and her hair was slightly damp. And there was no mistaking the look in her lovers eyes. She took Gabrielles hand from her chest, wrapped it in her own and stepped towards her. Even as she did, the Bard turned slowly, holding onto her hand. She moved her body backwards, molding it against the taller woman and feeling her partners response. A primal sound rose up from deep within the warrior, and the blond woman, feeling the vibration of the sound against her back, and the warriors warm breath on her neck, grinned.
"Dance with me, Warrior. Move with me."
She leaned back against her as she said the words, her body pushing against the taller womans breasts as she danced seductively against her, her body sliding up and down the length of the woman behind her.
The wine had loosened Xena. And feeling the Bard, against her, like this, her arms moved by themselves. She reached around the smaller woman, engulfing her in an embrace, one hand accidentally covering her breast, as they both moved in time with the music. When she felt the breast, harden at the touch, she left her hand there and rubbed slow circles over the swollen nipple. The roar from the other dancers sounded distant and far away.
When Gabrielle realized Xena was actually dancing, and somewhat out of control, she decided to take control herself. She squirmed out of her arms and began a provocative dance inches away from the taller woman, enticing her to follow. The drummers realizing what was happening began to beat a more primal rhythm.
Xenas glazed eyes followed Gabrielle, even as her body uncontrollably followed her partner in the dance moves. She didnt like the sudden distance. She wanted to reach out and touch her, kiss her, hold her tightly. She wanted to take her. She was dimly aware of where they were, but she no longer cared.
"Gab-ri-elle" she hissed slowly, passion rising in her.
Gabrielle continued to dance, moving gracefully and moving sensuously, moving close and moving away. Each time she came near, the warrior reached for her wanting to capture her and hold her.
"Gab-ri-elle! Lets go." Her words were ragged.
Each time, she would dance just out of reach controlling the pace and the agony of her partner. Finally, with a spin and a turn, she pressed against Xenas chest one more time, rocking slowly with the changing beat.
Gabrielle ran her hands over the warriors body, touching her everywhere as they danced. Her hands traced heated paths across the warrior. Their bodies melded together and she felt the molten fire rise up in both of them. Gabrielle reached up and pulled the taller womans head towards her and kissed her hard. As she did, her tongue pushed through the warriors lips and she felt her partners mouth open. The sound she heard in answer was halted by the fierce pressure of her own lips. Both their tongues danced for supremacy until Gabrielles claimed her.
Xena did not resist. Her knees grew weak and an uncontrollable heated fire spread throughout her body. Oh by the Gods, whats she doing to me, right here in front of everyone, she thought to herself.
Her entire body began to feel the music as the heat in her body raged. She felt Gabrielle everywhere and she didnt know how long they could dance like this without carrying her from the tent for the night. The hoots and calls of the Amazons did nothing to temper her escalating libido and in fact fueled it. All she wanted to do was pick up the bard and carry her out the door to their hut. But Gabrielle continued to dance with sexual abandon.
"Gab-ri-elle" she hissed again, wrapped within the younger womans embrace. She was almost out of breath and her eyes were black with desire and she was out of control. They had to leave. Now.
"Gab-ri-elle, lets get out of here!"
At that moment, a retinue of Amazon women came into the tent carrying platters of fruit and honey, interrupting the drummers and musicians and stopping the seductive dance from going any further. Women began moving to their tables to enjoy the sweets and late evening drinks being presented. As they walked off the floor, they whistled and congratulated the dancers, some hugged their leader. A few bolder Amazons asked the queen for the favor of a dance with them later, ignoring the fiery warning in the warriors eyes.
Xena grabbed Gabrielle by the waist and said heatedly, "Gabrielle, I want to go back to our hut. Now! I can barely stand up." She towered over the young blonde, her blue eyes piercing the younger womans with the intensity of desire.
Gabrielle, out of breath, leaned against her. She wanted nothing more than to walk out the door with the warrior. She thought of a way to leave gracefully, but knew she had to stay.
"Xena, we cant leave now. Im the guest of honor."
"Gabrielle, I cant go back there and sit around making nice in the state Im in." Her glazed eyes continued to bore into her lover, her intention unmistakable.
"I know, Xena. I know." Green eyes looked back deeply into the eyes of her lover, desire still evident in hers as well, even as she remembered her role as Queen of the Amazons. "But we have to stay a bit longer. Lets go back to the table. Ill make it up to you later. I promise." She smiled softly at her lover and squeezed her hand as she led her from the floor.
The warrior just moaned and exhaled the breath she was holding as she slowly and achingly followed the bard back to the table. This was going to be an exhausting remainder of the evening, she thought. I hope I survive it.
* * *
The evening was nearing its end and the joy of the women evident in the noise and laughter around the large room. At the head table, the guests of honor sat with some of their closest friends. The queen was ensconced at the center with her regent, Ephiny to her immediate right. Ephiny was in deep conversation with Yakut on her right. To Gabrielles left sat her champion.
Xena had returned from the dance floor in a restless mood. The dance with Gabrielle had nearly driven her mad with desire and need. All she wanted to do was carry the bard to their hut. But, Gabrielle as always, practiced prudent behavior. She had an image to uphold with the tribe, much to Xenas dismay.
The weapons mistress, Eponin, joined her at the table.
"Hey Xena, feel like a little wager?"
"What do ya have in mind Pony?" She said irritably.
"Oh, just a little port drinking contest." Fighting and drinking were two of Ponys favorite sports, so she grinned easily at Xena.
The warrior liked this woman and decided drinking port with Eponin would pass the time until Gabrielle was ready to go. As she drank, she rested her hand on the Queens thigh absently stroking it. Its as close as Im going to get until we return to the hut, she thought.
Gabrielle leaned over close to Xenas ear and whispered, "I have something I need to do. Ill be right back. Dont drink too much more of that, okay," She gestured with her head towards the cup in Xenas hand.
Xena looked at her with unfocused blue eyes the effect of the wine already evident. "Were having a contest, Gabrielle." Her words slurred a bit.
"I know that, but I have plans for you later. Our dance was just the beginning." She purred into Xenas ear.
She chuckled when Xena spit her wine across the table onto Eponin. Winking at her warrior she moved off in the direction of Artemiss temple. The warriors eyes glazed over with barely concealed desire as she watched Gabrielle exit the hut.
Eponin watched the interaction between the two women, clearly amused. "You got it so bad, warrior" she exclaimed, taunting the tall woman as she tipped her own cup. "Come on, drink up! Youre two behind me."
Xena glared at her menacingly. She didnt like the idea of Gabrielle going off by herself. She knew she had promised to treat the bard as an equal partner and she knew she could take care of herself. But she had an odd feeling about where the Bard was headed so she followed her instincts. Besides, she justified to herself, Im still wound up from that dance. Whatever shes doing if I follow her, I can get her back to the hut quicker. The thoughts about the dance and what she wanted to do with her in the hut made her smile broadly.
"Pony, hold off on this contest will ya? I have to do something. Ill be right back." She stood up, pushing back her chair.
"Warrior, dont tell me youre going to jump my Queen in the bushes. I saw how you danced with her. Take her to your hut by the Goddess." Her laughter echoed all around.
"Shut up you fool. Ill be right back."
"Where ya going, Warrior? Need me to help you? Maybe I could show you how its done." The taunts continued.
"I sure dont need your help in that area, Pony. I can teach all you Amazons something about that. Now leave me alone! Ill be right back!"
"Promises, promises, promises, big talker." Eponins laughter followed her out the tent.
* * * QUEEN AND GODDESS TALK IT OUT * * *
As Xena left the main tent, she caught a quick flash of the white tunic in the night light as Gabrielle rounded the trail towards the temple of Artemis. She quickened her pace following at a respectful distance, yet close enough to reach the bard if necessary.
What is she doing why is she going there, she wondered. Damn, she must be planning to thank Artemis. Dealing with the gods always results in big problems for us. They can never be trusted; especially Artemis. Shed have left me in the underworld for eternity and shell never forgive me for killing Cyanne. Well, I dont forgive myself either. But she seduced my innocent bard and for that I swear Artemis, you dont want to meet up with me." That last thought jolted her and she hurried closer to the Queen.
She watched as the younger woman entered the Temple. Ill just stay here in the shadows she thought. Gabrielle may need me.
She stood in the darkness next to a large tree and was well concealed. She could easily see into the Temple and she also had a wide view of anyone coming in either direction. I dont know about this, she thought as she folded her arms across her chest and waited.
The stars twinkled brightly in the night sky, like a handful of gems cast across a jewel merchants black silk cloth. Gabrielle breathed in a deep full breath of clean night air as she approached Artemiss temple. In the distance, the sounds of laughter and music died away as she passed through the vestibule.
Inside the temple, it was just as she remembered from her coronation. The Queen laid the flowers shed brought on the altar. She lit some of the fragrant sage incense sitting in the silver bowl. Taking a seat on the stone bench in front of the altar, she bowed her head and began her prayer of thanksgiving.
"Artemis, you are truly my goddess and protector. Even though you didnt want to, you brought Xena back to me. I can never thank you enough. And yet, thats what Im here to do."
Not really expecting much, she sat quietly, hoping the goddess would receive her prayer.
On Olympus, Artemis heard Gabrielles humble prayer. Chagrined, she recalled her talk with her sister and her own promise to "get to the bottom of it".
Shed gone to her fathers chambers. Austere and functional, without frills and few decorations, Zeuss Hall was immense and intimidating in its regal splendor. Stately gray marble with silver thunderbolts hung in even rows behind his throne. He sat upon the massive carved ivory seat dispensing justice to various petitioners.
Artemis had stood in the shadows behind a pillar waiting for him to finish. Behind her was the entry to her fathers bed chambers and she could hear female giggles through the thick carved door. She mentally rolled her eyes and hoped her mother didnt find out.
As the last supplicant left the great hall, Artemis stepped forward into her fathers view. "Hello father. Can you spare a moment?"
She didnt miss his casual glance at the bedroom door, but he gave her a hearty, "Of course; I always have time for my favorite girl."
She told him what had happened with her Amazon queen, the death of her Chosens lover, Xena, of her seduction of Gabrielle with the intention of allowing her to only "see" Xena momentarily. But at the crucial defining moment, Artemis had felt Gabrielle melt away out of her arms leaving the goddess on the edge of climax and utterly alone in her huge fur covered bed. When she looked into the cave where shed left her queens body, she found Xena had replaced her in Gabrielles arms. And now Xena was returned to Gabrielle completely healed. She couldnt understand it. Someone on Olympus must have intervened. She wanted to know who and why.
She was unprepared for her fathers reply. "Artemis, you confuse love and sex. Many believe that I dont love your mother. Nothing could be further from the truth. Of course, I indulge my appetites but thats all it is. My strength comes from my love for Hera and her love for me."
Artemis stood silently for a moment, thinking; and when she spoke, it was one word.
Sighing, Artemis knew what she must now do and in a shimmering of silver light she materialized in front of her chosen. Stunned, Gabrielle dropped to her knees in humble supplication. Her words tumbled over one another as she struggled to express her gratitude.
"Artemis, how can I ever thank you. I will sing your praises in stories to come. I owe you everything Please, tell me what I can do to thank "
At this point, Artemis was beyond embarrassed by Gabrielles heartfelt display. She didnt deserve one word of it. Nor did she deserve the loyalty of this generous young woman. She interrupted the bard in a strong voice.
"Stop!" she commanded, and then she reached down and lifted Gabrielle to her feet.
"Gabrielle, I have a confession to make. I did not cure Xena nor did I bring her back from the underworld. Im sorry to admit it, but after what she did, I couldnt do that. Even for you, my beloved Chosen. You give me too much credit. I really did nothing."
Gabrielle was shocked. "You did nothing?" She paused slowly digesting the words of the Goddess. "Well, who did it if you didnt?"
"You did." The goddess spoke the words softly.
"Me? How did I do it? I have no godly powers." She was totally confused now.
"Gabrielle, your love for Xena is pure and unconditional. No matter her past, you believe in her. No matter her anger, her stubbornness, her need to control every situation, you still love her without hesitation or reservation."
"I dont understand. How did that heal her?"
"Thats just it Gabrielle! Love IS the power to heal." She emphasized the words. "Its the power to rule, the power to use all of my other gifts wisely. Your ability to love unselfishly gives you a power that eclipses all the powers on Olympus."
Artemis smiled sadly at her chosen, "Gabrielle, you have always held the greatest power. The power of Love is the true Power of the Queen."
"I . I dont know what to say. All " She stammered, stunned at this news.
"All all that happened between us? None of that had anything to do with I mean, you you let me think " Her words trailed off. Her emotions raged between anger and realization, even as acceptance and understanding dawned in her.
"Yes, Gabrielle. I could not accept that you would choose Xena, my sworn enemy, over me. I only wanted to insure your devotion to me, your goddess, and to the Amazon nation."
In a voice that brooked no argument, Gabrielle exclaimed, "You betrayed me, Artemis! I honored you as the Patron of the Amazons! I was your Chosen, sworn to you no I was pledged to you, by my oath as Queen. I honored that oath!"
"I know, Gabrielle. I know."
"No you dont." She replied, her voice shrill with rage. "You are a goddess. You have powers over all of us. I had no power over you. None!"
The words stung the goddess.
"You misused that power to betray me. You lied to me about returning Xena and you took me by the force of your power. You seduced me, Artemis! You seduced me against my will. By the gods, you knew it was against my will. You told me all your Chosen had sacrificed themselves to you so I went along with it. But I never had a choice, did I? You held all the power over me!"
The goddess was distressed by the outburst from this young woman. No Queen had ever challenged her like this. But she knew the young woman spoke the truth. She had seduced Gabrielle and it had been against her will. None of the other Queens seemed to mind. But this one, this one, who understood Love and the purity of unconditional innocent Love, touched her deeply.
I have to do something. I have to tell her now the Goddess thought.
"Gabrielle, I never meant to take you by force. Yes, I know the gods have power over mortals. But all my Chosen have willingly come to my bed. It was how I honored my Chosen Amazon Queens and they, their protector."
"What are you saying, Artemis?"
"What Im saying Gabrielle is this. To give yourself in this way, to completely surrender yourself, your body and your soul, in this way; is like the marriage contract among mortals. When a Queen sacrificed her body to me, in my chambers, it was my marriage bond with that Queen. She was forever mine and I was hers. In that bond of love and marriage that you called a seduction, I would always come when she called me. I was pledged to her and she to me."
"Well you could have told me." the Queen replied.
"I know. I could have and I should have."
As she watched the play of emotions across Gabrielles face, from betrayal and anger to the beginnings of understanding Artemis thought shed lost any hope of Gabrielle ever wanting to serve her or the Amazons. In the interest of saving face, the goddess decided to make amends in the only way she could by setting Gabrielle free.
"Now it appears that its me who has betrayed you and its my profound loss. Yes, I admit I lied to you about Xena. For that I am sorry, very sorry Gabrielle. But what I did to you in my chambers .." The Goddess faltered.
"What Artemis? Please tell me."
"It was my way of honoring you, my Chosen, as I had done with all the others. My error was that I failed to truly know you and the purity and innocence of your love. You are different from all the rest. I am sorry for betraying you, Gabrielle. You are free to go. I release you from your obligations to the Amazons."
Artemis turned away from her former queen expecting to hear the young woman rush out of her temple.
"Artemis?" The question stopped the Goddess.
"Your intentions were good. Misguided, but good. I dont pretend to understand the gods and how they work. Others are better able to do that than me." The young woman paused.
"Do you still want me to be your Queen?"
Disbelieving what she thought she heard; Artemis slowly turned back to the young woman.
"What are you asking, Gabrielle? Why would you wish to serve a goddess, you can not trust? One who betrayed you?"
Looking shyly up at the Amazons benefactor, Gabrielle gathered her thoughts before she spoke.
"I understand Artemis, but you are the Protector of the Amazons and I am pledged to you by sacred contract, even without the marriage bond." Her smile touched the Goddess.
"And I of all people can understand wanting someone so much that Id be willing to do anything to make that happen." She smiled again; uncertain that smiling was acceptable behavior in the presence of a goddess. She then decided shed been in a far more compromised position with this same goddess very recently. That should count for some allowances she thought. And besides, shed just raged in anger at her without being struck down. So she continued.
"If youll still have me, Id like to remain in your service."
Quietly observing this amazing woman, Artemis realized she had again underestimated the depth of Gabrielles wisdom and the open lovingness within her heart. As the goddesss golden eyes bored into the honest green ones, she came to a decision.
Gods seldom asked anything of humans; they demanded them. But in this case, she felt it was warranted. She owed something to this young woman.
"Gabrielle, the Amazon nation would benefit greatly from your rule, even in abstentia while you travel with your warrior." She paused. "And I would be honored if you would consent to remain as my Chosen. If you will agree, I make you this promise; never again will I deceive you nor use my godly powers to manipulate you. I will honor you just as you honor me."
"What about Xena? I love her." The love for her own warrior was foremost on her mind.
Smiling, the goddess said, "Yes, on that we agree. You do love her."
Artemis paced to the back of the temple, turned, walked back and studied Gabrielle. When she spoke it was very thoughtfully and slowly as though weighing a compromise.
"It would seem that by agreeing to bring you to the Amazon lands, and to participate as your champion, that Xena has made some small restitution. I grant her my protection on Amazon lands."
Dropping to her knees, Gabrielle struck her breast with her closed right fist and bowed her head. "Thank you, Artemis."
Gently laying her hand upon her queens forehead, the goddess said, "No! It is I who should thank you, Gabrielle." Then in a shower of silver light, she was gone.
Getting slowly to her feet, Gabrielle looked around. The candles on the altar flickered in ceramic bowls on the granite altar painting ethereal images on the walls and on feathered masks hanging there. She was alone.
She could hardly comprehend her good fortune. She would remain Queen of the Amazons, she would be protected by Artemis, and most of all, the goddess had conceded though reluctantly, that Xena was also in her protection.
It was with a lighter heart that she left the building and walked confidently back to the celebration and her lover. As she emerged into the darkness outside the temple she heard something stir to the side and a tall dark form emerged from the shadows. She tensed instinctively, realizing she had not brought any weapons. The form moved into the light and she saw the warrior in front of her.
"Xena? You frightened me. What are you doing here? I thought I left you at the lodge with Pony?"
"You did. But I thought you might need help. You know how I feel about gods."
The warrior had heard the entire conversation between her Bard and the Goddess. When the conversation began, she moved towards the entrance of the temple. She hated Artemis for the price shed coerced from Gabrielle. She would never forgive her for that. Yet, she heard Artemis admit that she had misused her powers and had in fact seduced Gabrielle.
Oh sure, you put it in the context of all your Queens paying the ultimate sacrifice, she thought. Xena still wasnt convinced of her sincerity.
Yet, Gabrielle had responded well and seemed to have forgiven Artemis. Gabrielle only sees the good in everyone, even the gods, she thought. And Artemis had apologized. A god had apologized to a mortal!
Her remembrance of the conversation between the bard and Goddess was broken by her lovers voice.
"Xena, did you hear us talking?" The question was not unexpected.
"Yesssss." She reluctantly admitted to eavesdropping.
"Did you hear all of the conversation?"
"Yes! I heard it all."
"Then you know Im alright, dont you?"
The warrior wasnt sure.
Anger choking her voice, Xena spoke with passion. "Gabrielle, she abused her power. She took your innocence and the purity of your love."
"Shh its alright Xena. You heard the whole conversation. You know why she did it."
"I know she betrayed you. She had no intention of bringing me back. She deceived you for her own purposes."
"Shhh Its really alright Xena. I have forgiven her. Her intentions were honorable, she just did it badly. I really am alright."
The inherent goodness in this gentle woman astounded Xena. The warrior had earned her love yet she still didnt feel as though she deserved her. She studied the womans face in the night light.
Gabrielle touched her arm, any lingering as she saw the warriors demeanor. "Xena, whats wrong?"
"Nothing." The response was curt.
"Tell me. Tell me what youre thinking. No, not what youre thinking, Xena. Thats too easy. Tell me what youre feeling. Tell me whats in your heart. Right now, right this moment in time."
"I dont I cant " she stumbled on the words, her mind playing havoc with her emotions.
"You can. Just tell me. Please?" Green eyes looked up into the icy blue ones above her.
"Gabrielle, this is so hard. Why do you push me?"
"Because it will get easier each time. Tell me Xena. I wont hurt you. You are my life. Im here for you. Please tell me."
There it was again. That word "please". She could never say no to her when she asked that way.
"I " she began and stopped again. The bard reached up and softly touched her cheek. The warrior looked down into a face filled with love for her and her resolve melted.
"I love you, Gabrielle, with all my heart and soul. I never thought I would love anyone like this. And then you came along." The words poured out as the bard continued to gently stroke her cheek.
"If anything happened to you I couldnt go on living. And it feels like such a weakness to admit that too " she stopped as tears filled her eyes.
"Xena, you are the heart of my soul. I knew it the day I met you. I know you feel the same way too. It will become easier for you to say these words in time. To open yourself, to open your heart and give it to another, is a treasured gift. It can never be a sign of weakness. Its a sign of great strength and courage. Im here for you, always.
The warrior looked at the blond woman, her heart breaking open and yet soaring at the words. How did I ever deserve this she thought. The power and love this woman holds over me is like no other Ive ever experienced. Maybe shes right. In time it will be easier to tell her the words without stumbling. She says it so beautifully. But its exactly what I feel.
"Xena?" Gabrielle broke her reverie.
"I love you Gabrielle." It was a simple statement but said from the heart and the power of it washed over the Bard.
"Yessss?" She dragged out the words as she pulled the bard into an embrace.
"You wanna show me just how much you love me, warrior princess? I have some furs in a hut just waiting to warm us?"
"I dont need furs to warm you or me" the dark woman laughed.
The blond woman twisted out of the embrace and began running towards the hut. "Wanna show me how? Come on Xena, catch me if you can."
The smiling Amazon guards being dismissed for the night were the last thing they saw as the flaps to their tent came down.
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