Disclaimers: The characters of Xena, Gabrielle, Argo, Ephiny as well as a few others belong to MCA/Universal and Renaissance.  I’m only borrowing them for a bit and promise to put them back when I’m done.  No Copyright infringement is intended ... yada, yada, yada ... Honestly.

Violence: I’ve kept the violence to a minimum but some will occur ever now and then.

Setting: Thought it might be best to warn you all that this story takes place after ‘Destiny’ and Xena is in fact dead - well, sort of.  Gabrielle returns to the Amazons and is made queen; but unlike the series, Xena doesn’t return to her body.  If this upsets you, then by all means, read no further.


Sex: I plan to keep it PG-13.  This is a story about a relationship between two women and I’m not just talking Lucy and Ethyl or Thelma and Louise.  You needn't bother reading the story if this offends you.  If it is against the law to read such material where you live, move, write your congressman, but read no further.  I refuse to be held accountable for the corrupting of your mind after having given you full warning.

Angst: Well, Gabrielle has just lost her best friend and has to deal with a world without Xena.  But it ends well.  Cross my heart. No Really. Honest.

Comments: If you wish to write and comment, feel free to send what I hope will be either praise, constructive criticism or a combination of both to: RP Michaud <mailto:RP_Michaud@yahoo.com>

This story is written in memory of Meleager, who gave me the idea for the story way back when.  While I am sad that he cannot read it, I hope that he would have enjoyed it. It is also written in memory of my Aunt Rachel who passed away somewhat recently.  I would also like to dedicate it in memory of LJ Maas whose stories I enjoyed, especially "None so Blind"

Last but certaily not least, I’d like to thank any and all who beta read for me. Ann, Jazz. You guys are the absolute best and thank you for your input. I couldn't have done this without you.

So, without further ado...

Beyond Destiny

Chapter 1

The Journey Home
By RP Michaud

I knew I was in shock.  The complete horror of the last few days had not yet sunk in - understanding had yet to dawn.  Knowing full well that this current state of awareness could not keep up indefinitely, I pushed myself relentlessly toward my goal. Amphipolis.

It was early spring, perhaps my favorite time of year, but I cannot describe the landscape, the wildlife or any of the multitude of nature’s gifts.  I was distressed and my surroundings ceased to hold any attraction for my mind. Instead, I remained focused upon each step as it was taken.

Always, I remained focused upon the next step and Amphipolis.  Once I reached it, I could allow myself to weaken; but until I set foot in the village of her birth, I would not falter.  I had a promise to fulfill, one that I had made her as she drew her last breaths.  Though, I did not yet know the full scope of the pain of my loss of her; what I felt ate away at my soul.  Would there even be anything left of Gabrielle of Potodeia when I completed the promised task of delivering Xena’s body to her family?  I did not know.  I do not believe I cared.

Fatigue pulled at me, my steps faltered and yet I stumbled onward. The warmth of the day seeped away as the darkness of night began to cover the land. My hands held onto my staff and Argo’s lead, as the cold of the early evening sank its claws about the areas of my body still exposed. Chafing from the rope burns I had accumulated, my grip on the lead was not what it was a mere two days ago, when our trek began.  Entirely concentrated on each successive step, I was suddenly brought up short when Argo stopped. The lead rein, wrapped around my right hand, caught me off balance.  Rising from my hands and knees, I looked at the golden horse.  Feeling nonplused, I approached her.

"What’s the matter, girl?" I asked, reaching out and stroking her.  She gently pressed herself against my hands and chest. "You’re thirsty and tired, aren’t you?"  With a put upon sigh, I began searching for a likely campsite.  Argo seemed to sense this and followed, knowing that we would likely be stopping soon.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

It took some time, but I finally found a campsite that was acceptable. I refilled the water-bags and set out Argo’s feed.  Our stores were running low and I thought it just as well that I had little to no appetite for food.

"We’ll cut across Amazon land.  I’m sure they’ll replenish our stores - maybe even give us a guide.  Being an Amazon princess has to be good for at least that much."  Argo neighed, as if in agreement.  I laughed at myself, I must really be tired if I’m thinking she understands what I’m saying.  Unsaddling the mare was time consuming and utterly exhausting.  My arms and legs felt none too steady as Argo was finally released from her burdens for the evening.

I set about preparing a campfire, in part to keep my mind from the nature of the load my equine companion carried.  Forming a ring of stones, I then searched for tinder.  It appeared that not only our stores were low.  I took the few precious remaining pieces and placed them carefully in order that they might catch the spark and hold it more easily.  

My downfall came with the flint and steel.  At first, I struck the two together for the sparks needed to get the tinder ready to burn.  Then, something seemed to take hold of me as the sparks from the first few strikes seemed to fall anywhere in the circle away from the tinder.  Anger and frustration poured from me as I struck and struck,  no longer caring where the sparks fell nor whether the flame caught.  All the  feeling I had dammed up since this journey began broke through.  Hot tears poured down my cheek as I raged at fate.  Finally, I threw both the flint and steel aside as I collapsed in upon myself.   

"WHY?" I shouted to the heavens.  "WHY?" I cried out over and over.  My voice grew hoarse and my throat tightened as my entire body became wracked with sobs.  I am uncertain how much time passed as my body gave in to emotion that would no longer be put off.  At such moments, time ceases to have meaning.  Afterward, my throat tight with emotion, my breathing shaky and uneven, I asked in a soft tremulous voice, "Why did you leave me Xena? Why?"

The questions were answered by an all pervading silence.  I became aware of a hollowness within myself that would never be filled.  She was forever gone from me and I had never told her that I loved her, not the true depth of it.  I let her believe that an extremely strong friendship was all that existed between us, that it was all that I wanted there to be.  Now, it was too late and there was nothing I could do to change it.  I doubted I would ever love again.


I sensed a presence nearby, one hand clamping onto my amazon war staff as I looked up to see who, or what, it might be.  I almost expected to see her there.  She was Xena after all - the Destroyer of Nations, the Warrior Princess - was there anything truly beyond her ability? Instead, I found Argo looking at me, letting me know that she was here for me, that I was not alone in my loss.  

"Thank you, girl," I told her in a heartfelt gratitude that I would scarcely have believed possible before the fateful day that Xena saved a child’s life at the price of a fatal injury.  Since that moment we had become a team striving to aid our beloved warrior princess.  "I do feel better just knowing you’re here."  I stroked her face knowing that I was not alone in my sorrow, but that knowledge could not begin to fill the emptiness where my heart had been only days ago.

I set back to getting the camp fire started.  Slowly and methodically setting a spark to tinder and nurturing it into a flame, adding sticks and eventually larger pieces of wood.  

After the task was done, I sat back and stared at the campfire as the flames danced.  The day had worn on me more than I cared to admit.  I wondered what tomorrow would bring, as I sat there mesmerized.

Drawing my eyes from the flames, I laid down upon my bedroll and looked up at the night sky. It was overcast, as though even the stars refused to shine upon me.  Fatigue soon took me down the darkened path into the realm of dreams where a familiar figure awaited me.  

The Amazon warrior had been on her quest to find her princess, the next woman in line to become queen, for well over a week and had had little to no luck in her search.  She had listened for any word that might lead her to Xena and her companion, Gabrielle. That the dark warrior’s friend was also an Amazon princess through Rite of Caste was a little known fact.  

Frustrated, Ephiny had decided to call it a day and had set camp early in order to contemplate what she should do next.  By the gods, it’s as if the two of them dropped off the face of the earth. Gabrielle, where are you? We need you.

As she warmed her hands over her newly erected campfire, she sensed a presence.  Quickly rising into a crouch and drawing her sword, she looked about the campsite and into the surrounding darkness.

"Who’s there?" she asked.  The sound of crickets was seemingly the only response she received to her query.  "No bother trying to hide, I know you’re out there," she called out.  The hairs at the nape of her neck were standing at attention as she listened to the sounds around her.  The bubbling sound of the brook she had refilled her waterskin from, the birdsong, the noise of an enterprising weasel as it scurried away with a meaty bone she had tossed aside after eating.  "I don’t feel like playing games.  Come out.  I promise, no harm will come to you."  

In response, she heard a hollow and haunting rendition of Xena’s battle cry.  Before she was able to breathe her next breath, she suddenly felt an entity enter her body.  Oddly, the amazon experienced a familiarity in this foreign spirit.

"Xena?" her mind called out to the spirit.

"Xena?" her voice echoed.

"I heard you the first time.  I’m dead, not deaf." was the reply.

"What’s going on?" the amazon asked. "What do you mean you’re dead?"

"Dead. You know, as in not among the living."  Xena responded. "Just listen to what I have to say, okay."

Though a multitude of questions hung on the tip of her tongue, the curly haired blonde nodded. "Okay." she replied to Xena’s wraith.

"Gabrielle needs you." The next words held a sorrowful note of defeat, " I was severely injured and saw my life and all that I have been flash before my eyes.  At that moment, I believed myself to be beyond redemption.  I didn’t see the point of fighting any longer. I accepted Death’s embrace.  But now, I hear Gabrielle’s sorrow.  I feel her love. Please, I need to know that she will be well.  I can guide you to her."

"Then, what are we waiting for?" Ephiny replied aloud.

As the Amazon set about extinguishing the flames of the camp’s fire, she spoke.  "You had to know of Gabrielle’s love for you."  The statement, an accusation standing between them.

"Tell me Eph, have you ever held back from something you wanted because you didn’t feel worthy of it?  Maybe even scared that if you acknowledged it, you might spoil what already existed between you and another?  I have destroyed nations, but fear never touched me, not until a girl from Potodeia reached out and believed in me."

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Moments later, the blonde warrior found herself traveling amongst the trees as she had not done for a good number of years.  Xena’s sense of urgency had melded with her own need to find her would-be queen.  Allowing the Warrior Princess full rein over her body, in order to bring them to Gabrielle all the more swiftly, Ephiny marveled at a number of acrobatic moves she had  not thought her body capable of but now knew otherwise.  Yet even this could not keep her from worrying for her friend and perhaps one day her queen.  

Traveling with the desperate urgency of the dark warrior, Ephiny soon found herself surprised as she sensed they neared the young woman whom she had been trying to find.  She had been so close, and yet without Xena’s help, she likely would have missed her altogether.  

Dropping from branch to branch, Ephiny bent her legs to absorb some of the shock as she dropped to the ground.  Looking about her, she found herself standing in Gabrielle’s campsite. In the distance, a golden palomino nickered its welcome.  A dwindling campfire shed some light upon an Amazon war staff and the young woman whom it lay beside.  

Kneeling beside the sleeping woman, Ephiny noticed the softly swollen eyes and reached out to wipe away the tears that her friend had shed.  She heard the bard mumble something as she talked in her sleep.  Leaning closer to hear the words, she found herself trapped within the embrace of the other woman.  

"Oh Gods, I never thought I’d see you again.  I love you, Xena.  I never told you before,  I love you."  Soft lips pressed against her own, she responded - astounded and shocked to her very core.  

 The sleeping woman relaxed, once again going limp in Ephiny’s arms, leaving in her wake a woman in conflict, her emotions in turmoil.  She continued to remember the surprisingly strong arms that had held her close as she heard a voice, so soft and tender, professing love for another woman.  She shook herself from the memory of warm, sensuous, slightly parted lips.

With great care, she lowered Gabrielle back into her furs and covered her against the night’s chill with hands that shook from heat rather than cold.  Taking deep penetrating breaths, the Amazon warrior strove to calm her wildly beating heart, looking upon Gabrielle as she lay in a deep, peaceful and well deserved rest.

"Xena, what did you just do?" the amazon accused. 

"Me?  What makes you think I had anything to do with what just happened," the voice in her mind replied, perhaps a little too innocently, Ephiny thought. "Watch over her and take care of her," the Warrior Princess bade her friend before - with one last battle cry - she left as swiftly and unexpectedly as she had come.

"By Artemis’ shining backside," the curly haired warrior cursed the departing spirit.  Slowly rising, she mumbled to herself, "I need to take a walk," and looked down upon this vision of lovely innocence.  "Yes, I definitely need to take a walk and think." A plunge in the nearest pond might not be entirely unwelcome either, she thought to herself.

Rays of sunlight taunted me from my deep slumber as they danced upon my eyelids.  I moved in hopes that I might yet return to Morpheus’ realm.  But, it seemed that Apollo, acting like some unruly child, refused to allow me a moment more of sleep than he deemed necessary.  

Never one to give in easily, I raised my forearm to cover the upper half of my face as I struggled with determined hope to return to sleep.  

As I lay still in hopes that Morpheus might yet call me back to his realm, I heard birdsong disturbing the quietude of the dawn as though purposely taunting me.  I slowly came to realize that further sleep would not come and that I must rise.

Admitting defeat, I opened my eyes and cursed Apollo for the insensitive brute he was.  I could almost swear that I heard a distant laughter as I struggled to sit up in my furs.

Sighing, I  looked  about the campsite as I rubbed the sleep from my eyes.  The fire had burned down to embers and looked near to dying; but, it was not the fire that held my attention this morning.  As had happened each and every morn since her death, I found myself staring at the sarcophagus - the dark stone container that held my friend’s earthly remains.  My mind a complete blank as my eyes latched upon it.

Where moments before, the raucous chatter of birds had kept me awake, I now found the silences were deafening.  No matter how hard I listened, I would not hear the sound of stone on steel as my companion worked to make certain that her sword kept its edge.  Nor would I hear her singing softly as she worked through her forms as she worked to keep her own physical edge.  I would never again hear her voice as it gently teased me to wakefulness.  

It never failed to knock the breath from my body as my whole world turned on end.  As I fully awoke to a world without Xena.

Following on the heels of this realization, a faint remembrance from my last night’s dreams needled my mind.  I recalled words Xena had once spoken to me of the relationship between the world of dreams and the world of the dead.  "The border between the world of the dead and the living world is thinnest in Morpheus’ Realm."

A slight weight lifted from around my heavy heart with the sudden knowledge that she had been in my dreams this past night.  She was not totally lost to me, I had spoken to her.  I grasped at these fast fading memories in hopes of bringing some portion to the fore - only to feel them slip away.

Opening my eyes after my futile attempt, I found myself staring at the coffin yet again. It laid across the remains of my campfire almost parallel to my own bedroll - as though she lay asleep with every intention of waking, rather than the lifeless corpse that I knew her body had become.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

I felt the hairs on the back of my neck rise to attention as I noticed footsteps that were not my own with the the camp site I had chosen.  I turned my head quickly as I surveyed the surrounding area.  Argo was nowhere to be seen.

I rose to my feet; thankful at the moment that I had been too fatigued to undress the night before.

My hand automatically reaching out to grasp the Amazon war staff, I held it at the ready and called out,  "Who’s there?"  My voice rising to a commanding tone I had often heard Xena use, "Show yourselves."  

A soft deep voiced cursing answered me.  Eventually, three men entered my encampment’s environs.  They were none too clean, the mismatched leather armor and the way the held themselves spoke volumes of a group that preyed on the weak and weary.  

One stepped forward a step or two from his fellows, apparently appointing himself leader for the moment.  "We were just traveling by.  My friend here," motioning to one of his compatriots, "recognized the crest there," pointing to Xena’s coffin "to belong to the Warrior Princess.  We’ll just relieve you of it and you’ll be free to go," one of the men said.

"I promised her that I’d bring her to Amphipolis to rest beside her brother," I informed him as I prepared for any rush that might be attempted.

"You shouldn’t make promises you can’t keep, little girl," he laughed.  "Xena’s body will bring a nice fat purse of gold from the right warlord," he explained.

One of the ruffians charged me, perhaps expecting that I would scare easily and run away. Instead, he came into contact with a young woman who had been trained in the use of a staff by an Amazon warrior not to mention the Warrior Princess herself.  

I became the Flower in the wind, as I moved from his path and used the staff to add momentum to his motion.  Flooding the riverbank, Rolling thunder and Avalanche followed one after the other.  One move flowed into the next as I met their attacks and used their actions against them. Weapons were dropped, equilibriums were disturbed, and overconfidence was given a rude awakening.

"You’ll regret this. You’ve made an enemy today," their leader stated - but the two of us knew it was only so much bravado.  His threats only so much hot air as to convince his friends that they may have lost this one but that they would be ready the next time our paths crossed.  

I knew that he would spread word of Xena’s death.  Greed would guide others in hopes of intercepting me on my journey to Amphipolis in order to capture the body of the warrior princess and the reward a number of warlords offered for proof of her death.  I would have to hurry.

Fighting the urge to say Boo!, I rested against my staff as I watched their retreating backs and stood guard over Xena.  It seemed just moments later that I heard a noise from far behind me and turned to see Argo approaching.  

"A lot of help you were." She neighed as if in response and I sighed.  "Okay. Okay. Come on girl, let’s see about getting our stores replaced."  Not looking forward to the job of getting her saddled and harnessed, I proceeded to do just so.

Ephiny walked through the woods, lost in thought as she headed in the general direction of her previous campsite.  Coming upon an opening in the trees, she found a peaceful pool of water. She smiled to herself as she remembered her earlier thought to take a plunge in such a pond, but quickly discarded the idea of taking a swim.  Instead, she found a fair sized boulder and sat upon it as she gazed meditatively upon at the water’s calm, clear surface.

Her eyes settled on the moon’s reflection as she attempted to sort through her jumbled emotions. Sweet Artemis, help me.  I don’t know what to make of what’s just happened.

"What’s happening to me?  How is it that I suddenly feel like a woman in love?" she asked pool of water.  

After a pause in which no answer came, she bent over and gathered a number of pebbles. Lobbing one into the water, she watched as the ripples as they ran across water’s surface.  The kiss had been a combination of hunger, need and Gabrielle’s unwillingness to let her Warrior Princess go.  It had struck this woman with it’s primal energy, drawn her in and swallowed her whole.  She shivered at the very thought of it.  What ripples would occur as a result of this single passionate moment, she wondered.  She shook her head and tossed another pebble into the watery depths of the pool.  

"It was like I was struck by lightning, my entire body seared through with that one kiss.  I’ve never thought of Gabrielle as anything but a good friend, so how is it that my mind keeps returning to the feel of her in my arms and of her lips on mine?"  Her fingers unconsciously tracing her lips as she pensively searched for answers to her questions.

Feeling that she was making no headway, she groaned in frustration.  Acting in the heat of emotion, she threw the remaining handful of rocks out into the pond and took an odd satisfaction as it’s calm clear surface was disturbed.  "Xena, what did you do?" the blond warrior asked of the night sky.  She stilled momentarily as a thought struck her.  "Could Xena have done this?  Is it possible that I am feeling something of the love she had for Gabrielle?"  She thought on it a few moments before shaking her head.  "No.  This isn’t something foreign, I feel it to my very core. Is it possible that Xena’s ghost found something inside me that I’ve denied to myself all this time, then forced me to acknowledge it?"  

She stared at the moon up above as she contemplated on this thought.  "Sweet Artemis, help me," she pled, uncertain whether she wished understanding of these feelings for her friend or for protection from them.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Distracted in thought, Ephiny finally entered her campsite, and was taken by surprise when she heard another’s voice.

"My, my.  You look positively lost, Ephiny," Velasca laughed.  "You’re not half the Amazon you once were.  So, have you found your precious princess?" she asked in a condescending manner, "or are you ready to accept my rule as your true queen?"

"Velasca?  What are you doing here?" Ephiny asked in surprise, her voice holding no trace of a warrior addressing her queen.  She quickly scanned the clearing and saw a handful of Amazons scattered about the camp and in the trees.  Undoubtedly chosen for their loyalty to their queen.

"There have been rumors that I got rid of you," for a moment the brunette’s eyes seemed to contemplate on turning fiction into fact.  Velasca shook herself of the idea as she noticed something in Ephiny’s eyes that hinted of danger.  Calmly, she continued, "Now, we can’t have them thinking I’ve murdered a fellow Amazon, can we?" her voice not betraying a sudden uneasiness she had experienced.

"What would one more Amazon’s death be to you?" the curly-blond haired warrior boldly asked. "Besides, your title hasn’t been acknowledged by the second in line for the queen’s mask.  We both know why you didn’t wait for Gabrielle to visit Amazonia for you to issue your challenge against Melosa, don’t we?"

Tension hung in the air, thick enough to dull the best edged sword as the women sized each other up, each finding the other lacking in some way yet unwilling to act just yet.

"For all we know, Gabrielle may be dead.  It is my mask," Velasca finished with a tight-lipped, icy look that had caused many an Amazon to fear for her life.

"She’s very much alive and will likely be stopping in to see old friends," Ephiny announced mildly and watched with some amusement as her words registered with the other woman.  

"She won’t be able to become queen.  She travels with Xena, after all," the queen spoke defensively, a slight uncertainty in her words.

"Xena is dead," the Amazon warrior quietly answered.

At first, Velasca thought the blonde might be trying to pull her leg.  The steady, saddened look in the deep brown eyes convinced her that Ephiny spoke the truth.

"How horrible for Gabrielle," Velasca said as her mind worked this news into her plans.  "I suppose it would only be fitting to celebrate Xena’s death with an Amazon funeral fire.  Yes, the death of a great warrior - a true Amazon in spirit - followed by the rebirth of the Amazon Nation when Gabrielle hands me the mask," the brunette smiled to herself, thinking that a woman in mourning would be much more easily persuaded that the destiny of Amazonia was interlocked with Velasca’s own.  

This woman, Gabrielle, would not have it in her to take on the task of becoming queen.  From what she had heard of the young woman, Gabrielle was the type of person to see the position as a duty and a way to serve Amazonia.  The girl knew nothing of power and would likely be only too happy to pass the mask to someone who did.  She, Velasca, would then take the mask and the power that came with it and use it to stamp her mark upon the world.  

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Velasca quickly dispatched two warriors to return and spread word of Xena’s death and to begin preparations for a ceremonial Amazonian funeral.  Ephiny protested at this waste of time but was made to wait.  

It was close to the noon hour before the women returned, carrying the proper masks to act as escort to the now deceased Warrior Princess.

Pulling on her own mask, Ephiny looked at the women who would accompany her to find Gabrielle.  She hoped she was doing the right thing in guiding them to the Amazon princess; but, Velasca’s smug look had her wordering.   

Putting her trust in the goddess, as well as in her sword arm, she led the women through the trees in search of her friend.  "The gods help you, Velasca, if you even so much as look at her funny," she whispered as they traveled ever closer.

I was thankful as I tied the final knots securing the dark stone container holding Xena’s body to the golden mare.

I wiped away the sweat from my eyes as I sat back on my haunches to view the morning’s work.

Perhaps, with a little luck, I imagined we might just make it to Amazon lands in time for midday meal.  As though responding to my thoughts of food, my stomach gave a thunderous rumble.

I pondered a few moments as to when my last meal had been, but drew a blank.  I had eaten very little since Xena’s death - just enough every now and again to keep me going.

I gathered Argo’s reins, leading her as we continued our trek towards Amphipolis.  "So girl, looking forward to seeing Melosa, Ephiny, Solari and the bunch?  Not much of a talker are you? Well, I think I’m looking forward to it.  I haven’t seen a friendly face since ..." I pause in silence as I take a deep breath and let it out slowly.  "Well, you know," not wishing to elaborate on that particular day or the memories it dredged up.

"You know, you could neigh every once in a while.  Xena at least grunts and allows me the illusion that she’s listening," I continue on for a few strides before I realize what I had just said and stop for a moment, "or at least she used to."

"I didn’t notice it at the time, but the carvings and metalwork on the sarcophagus match Xena’s body armor.  You don’t suppose they could have known beforehand do you?" Pausing for a beat, I continue, "I know, I know, it sounds ridiculous; but how else can you explain it.  After all, it had to have taken years to make it and she’s only been dead ... gods, has it only been a few days - it seems like an eternity.  So," I continue in a softer voice, "was she destined to die there?  And if so, does that mean that my own fate is predetermined?"

The golden mare neighed, as if in response to my question.  I couldn’t help but smile - if only faintly - at the notion that horses and the animals around us held some secret key to the wisdom of the ages.  Wouldn’t it be just like the gods to do such a thing though, I muse.

Barely a candle-mark had passed before I noticed the increasing height and density of the forest surrounding us.  Each stride brought Argo and me deeper into the womb of wooded darkness. We traveled on for some interminable amount of time when the hairs on the back of my neck rose to attention.  I stopped suddenly and concentrated on listening for whatever might have caused my nerves to alert me that something did not feel right.  If I learned nothing more from Xena, I learned to trust my instincts at such moments.

Then I heard it, the sound of movement though the trees, of leaves being brushed against moving bodies and the soft creak of branches bending under unaccustomed weight.

I searched the thick foliage near us with a cautious turn of my head.  The morning’s altercation still fresh in my mind, I called out, "Come on. Show yourselves!"

My time with the Warrior Princess must have rubbed off on me somewhat as I looked upward in anticipation mere moments before masked warrior women began to drop from the trees, surrounding us.  

As recognition dawned at the sight of the bird-like masks, I raised interlocked hands in the Amazonian sign of peace, friendship and greeting.

They moved to surround Xena’s casket, drawing their swords in near unison and then placing the weapons upon the lid, as they paid tribute to her memory.

As I looked on, one of the women turned my way. Even before the mask had been raised, I knew the face that would be revealed as I observed some of her hair escape from beneath restrictive confines of her mask.  I’d have known those curly golden locks anywhere.     

"Ephiny," I smiled at the sight of her and stepped forward quickly with open arms and hugged my friend.  "Gods, but it is good to see you."

"We’re so sorry," her voice soft and somber in my ear.  "The entire Amazon nation is in mourning."  Her hands on either side of my face as we broke our embrace, she looked at me as though she wished to say more but was unable to find the words.

Our silent communion broken as another of the women spoke, "As it should be."  The voice projected the image of one who greatly enjoyed the sound of her own voice, with a fair amount of self importance added on top.

Looking to see who had spoken, I saw a woman - if not for her perpetual haughty look - a beautiful woman perhaps five years my senior.  Her eyes were the palest of blues, her hair, what I saw of it from beneath her raised mask, was a rich brown and well braided.  Though her face looked well sculpted, it held a subtle sneer for any who might wish to approach her with an emotion as soft as love.  No, this one holds herself apart from those around her.

"She was a true Amazon warrior, even though she denied it.  We would like you to bring it to the village, where she can be burned on a proper Amazon funeral pyre," the pushy brunette finished.

I decided that no matter the consequence, I definitely needed to nip this in the bud.  "I’m traveling to Amphipolis.  Xena wanted to be buried beside her brother," I explain.  "However," turning back to Ephiny as my depleted stores came to mind, "I would like to talk with Queen Melosa."  I smiled in anticipation of seeing my ‘sister’ through Rite of Caste.

The chocolate brown orbs, already holding so much emotion, became ever more sorrowful.  "I’m sorry, Gabrielle.  Queen Melosa is dead," Ephiny quietly spoke.

"What?  How?  Who is the queen?" I asked, shocked by the death of yet another friend.

"I am," the unknown brunette announced, "for the time being."  The last four words spoken as if they left a bad taste in her mouth.

Turning from the brunette and focusing on me, Ephiny explained, "Velasca issued a challenge to Queen Melosa and killed her in combat"

"Fair combat.  You keep omitting that word, Ephiny.  The tribunal ruled it a fair combat," Velasca exclaimed with a touch of anger if also somewhat defensively.

I wondered a short while if perhaps the tribunal had been called because there might have been reason to consider it otherwise.  Ephiny certainly appeared to think it to have been a matter of foul play and I trusted her insight.

"Yes, they did rule it a fair fight," her unvoiced opposition to the ruling clear.  "But then, that doesn’t matter any longer now that the Amazon Princess is back," Ephiny said as she turned to smile on me.

I could feel myself becoming mired in Amazonian politics - could feel myself becoming lost in its ebbs and tides.

"What?" I asked, uncertain exactly whether I did in fact want to know.

"That is true," Velasca spoke as she turned to face me.  "By Amazon Rites, the mask of Amazon queenhood is," she paused as though wishing in her heart of hearts that the following word was other than it it indeed was, "yours."

"Whoa.  Wait a bit here.  I need some time to think about this," I begged as the solidity of the earth beneath my feet threatened to give way to the woman’s words.

Ephiny reached out to me and our friendship offered some stability in a world gone mad.  She also radiated a sense of urgency.  "Come home with us now, Gabrielle.  The rest can wait.  You can decide what you want to do later.  For now, come stay with me."

I nodded in compliance with her suggestion and hoped that I might once again regain my footing. I also found myself wondering over the entreating tone I had heard in Eph’s voice.  It sounded as though my choice to go with her held a great importance to the both of us on a multitude of levels that I could not even begin to guess at and that only time would allow me to begin to comprehend.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

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