Most of the characters herein belong to Renaissance Pictures, MCA/Universal, Studios USA, Flat Earth Productions, and any other individuals or entities who have an ownership interest in the television program Xena: Warrior Princess. This story was written strictly for the pleasure of the writer and anyone who might honor the writer by reading it, and not for profit. No copyright infringements intended.
This story contains, among other things, recounts by various observers of and participants in the crucifixion scene from the XWP episode, "The Ides of March," so yeah, heavy on angst and violence.
PG-13, okay maybe R. Nothing too graphic here but come on yall, we just saw the two women die, and their last words to each other were "you were the best thing in my life," and "I love you." If you dont want to see them as lovers, move on to some other story.
Grammar, Spelling, Punctuation:
Thank the gods for spell check! Ive tried, so if its not perfect, bite me!
This is my first attempt at XWP fan fiction. Any questions, comments, or suggestions are most welcome. You can e-mail me at email@example.com.
This story begins on March 16th, the day after the 4th season cliffhanger "The Ides of March." I can hardly wait to see how they resolve it, and it is definitely one of my favorites. So, until season five begins, Ive used my imagination a little and this is how Id like to see it go . . .
MARCH THE 16TH
Id like to share my life with you
Show you things Ive seen
Places that Im going to
Places that Ive been
To have you there beside me
And never be alone
And all the time that youre with me
We will be at home
-from "Follow Me" by John Denver, Copyright 1965, Cherry Lane Music Co. (ASCAP). As performed on the CD John Denvers Greatest Hits, 1973, RCA Records.
Xena awoke but her eyes remained closed, as she assessed that she was in a most comfortable bed, except for one thing. She was stomach down with her face against a pillow and her arm stretched out across the mattress. She felt around with the arm. "Gabrielle?" The warrior mumbled sleepily. Xenas eyes popped open. The bard was missing. Xena sat up and swung her long legs over the edge of the bed and stood up, twisting her spine from side to side and hearing satisfying cracking noises, as the vertebrae re-aligned themselves.
She padded over to the bathing room door and poked her head around the corner. "Gabrielle?" No answer. Xena made her way into the sitting room and spied a note which had been left conspicuously in the middle of the table along with a tray of breakfast foods. The warrior smiled and plopped down in a chair, rubbing her eyes as she adjusted to the bright sunlight streaming in through the large window. She unrolled the parchment and grabbed a muffin, munching contentedly as she began to read.
Hey. You were sleeping so peacefully when I got up that I couldn't bring myself to wake you. Enjoy breakfast. I tried to pick out things I knew you would like. Theres something I need to go take care of, so I ate early. After that I will go straight to the council meeting so I guess I will see you at lunch. And Xena, I know you and Eponin are planning a sparring match after breakfast. Xe, please try not to kill or incapacitate her. Shes on the council and one of my strongest allies. Besides that, Eponin and Raella have hooked up since the last time we were here, and I really dont want her pissed at you as well. I love you. Gabrielle.
The warriors brows furrowed as she picked up an apple and crunched into it, sending juice spraying across the table with her sharp teeth. Wonder what she had to take care of so early, and why she didnt tell me about it last night? Oh, well. Guess Ill find out at lunch. Hope shes okay. Xena tried to shake off the over-protective feelings that coursed through her veins, wishing she could attend the council meeting. She knew the bard was nervous about it.
She finished off her breakfast and went into the bathing room to wash her face. The bathing room in the queens hut was a work of genius. The large round tub was sunken into the ground so that there was no tub wall to step over, only steps going down into the tub. There were three large fireplaces so that there would always be enough hot water to fill the tub. A set of floor-to-ceiling shelves held stacks of clean towels and wash rags, as well as several types of bath oil and soap. Most impressive, part of the roof could be rolled back with a crank, so that the sky could be viewed while bathing. Xena and Gabrielle has spent some quality time together in the tub the evening before, stargazing and just holding each other surrounded by hot steamy water.
After splashing her face in a wash basin which sat on a marble stand, the warrior donned her leathers and armor, tugged on her boots, and made sure all her weapons were in place. She glanced in the mirror which hung on the wall over the wash basin and ran her fingers through the long ebony locks. She paused for a moment, studying her face. It was a bit more chiseled than she had remembered, as she had lost some bodyfat in the past few years, replacing it with lean muscle. Not that she hadnt been in shape. Just that extra sparring with Gabrielle had resulted in extra muscle.
As Xena thought of the bard, she saw an involuntarily grin cross here face in the glass, and a perceptive twinkle crept into her eyes. A slight flush colored her cheeks and she laughed. Oh, yeah. Ive got it bad. Do I look like this every time I think about her? Oh, gods. I could take a lot of ribbing in this village if I dont get that under control. The warrior thought about that for a moment and finally shrugged. If being in love made her feel this good, she decided she didnt care what anyone else thought. Besides, she realized that her feelings for Gabrielle were way past being something she had control over.
She left the hut and sauntered toward the practice yard, nodding in greeting to various Amazons she passed. A few smiled, ones that she knew from past encounters. Some of the younger ones blushed and looked shyly away. A few elders remained solidly stoic. Oh boy. I guess not everyone is going to be happy to have the former Destroyer of Nations living in their village. Xena mused silently. Hope they dont give Gabrielle too hard of a time in that meeting this morning.
"Hey, Xena. Been waiting for you for almost a candle mark. Whereya been? Ya getting soft? Its not like you to sleep past sunrise." Pony opened the practice yard gate for the warrior, giving her a playful slap on the shoulder.
"Give me a break, Pony. I didnt get much sleep last night."
"Whats the matter? The bed in the queens hut not to your liking? Id think after sleeping on the ground all the time youd find any bed an improvement."
"The bed was fine. Its the queen that kept me awake."
Xena raised one eyebrow and smiled.
"Oh. Ohhhh." Eponin smirked. "Gods Xena. I can see my reputation in this village is going to be challenged in areas beyond just the weapons yard."
"Its not a competition, Pony. Not where Gabrielle is concerned."
The weapons master moved closer, studying her warrior friends face and eyes. "This isnt just lust, is it Xena?"
"No." Steady. Sure. Unwavering.
"Love becomes you, my friend."
The warrior looked down at her feet, blushing a deep crimson. She let out a long breath and looked up. "So, Pony. What do you want to do first?"
"I thought wed do a little drilling with the chobos. I havent seen you use those since you fought Melosa over four years ago."
"Okay. Lets get started."
Gabrielle climbed the steep granite steps that led up to the temple of Artemis. There were many temples to the goddess of the hunt throughout Greece. However, she was the matron goddess of the Amazon nation, and there was a temple on the far northern edge of the village so that offerings could be frequently made and consultations with the goddess would be easier.
The bard tugged open the large carved wooden doors and entered the temple, keenly aware of her footsteps which echoed against the high walls with every step she took on the smooth tile floor. Otherwise the temple was completely silent. There were beautiful paintings of forest scenes on two walls and a few padded marble benches were scattered here and there. At the front was a large raised wooden alter on which perched an intricate marble statue of the goddess. At the foot of the statue was a long low wooden table on which were several lighted candles. Gabrielle lighted a candle and laid a bouquet of flowers on the shining polished wood and stepped back, kneeling down on a cushion on the floor in front of the statue and lowering her head.
Gabrielle sighed and then started, as a glittering cloud appeared in front of her and Artemis materialized. The bard remained silent, waiting for the goddess to speak to her. She felt a slight adrenalin rush and felt her hands shake a little. She clasped them together tightly in her lap, willing them to be still.
"Do not be afraid of me, Gabrielle." The goddess sat down at the edge of the alter, her feet mere inches from the bards knees. She reached down and stroked Gabrielles blonde head once. "What do you desire of me?"
"I . . . I came to seek your guidance. Ive decided to be an active queen of the Amazon nation, instead of being queen in name only. Ive never been a leader of much of anything. I just thought you might give me a sense of direction."
Artemis smiled. "Gabrielle. You are a leader. A natural leader. You are leading a formidable warrior by the strings of her heart, and you managed to do that without even really thinking about it. You merely followed your own heart. You are my chosen. As surely as Xena is Ares chosen. Ive been watching you for quite some time, and Im pleased with the active roll youve decided to take."
"Yes. Gabrielle, do you think it was a mere accident that you were there when Terreis died? An accident that you tried to protect her?"
"I never really thought about it."
"Well. It wasnt. Ive been watching you since you were a little girl. I chose you to lead my Amazons. Tell me what youve been up to for the past few years."
"You dont know?"
"Of course I know. I just want to hear your version of things."
The bard gathered her thoughts, and then launched into a narrative of her meeting with Xena, their early travels, Perdicus, Hope, her loss of her blood innocence, and the horrible rift between herself and Xena and the resolution of that rift. She covered her spiritual journey through India and the crucifixion. During the entire tale, the goddess merely smiled and nodded in the appropriate places. "So what have you been doing since the crucifixion?"
"Well. Xena and I had a bunch of details to take care of, and we pretty much have all the loose ends tied up. Now were living together in the Amazon village. And were very much in love."
"Yes. My brother Ares has even begrudgingly admitted that theres no breaking the connection between you and Xena."
"Ares. I remember that one time when he was temporarily made mortal when Aphrodite enchanted my scrolls. He and I almost bonded. Most of the time, though, Im afraid of him. Of his hold on Xena. I know in my heart she has changed, and he told me he has given up on trying to split us up. But theres part of me that doesnt trust him. Artemis, does Ares love Xena? I mean like any father would love his child? Is Ares even capable of love?"
"Only Ares knows what he feels. I can tell you that he watches her all the time. And he has intervened on her behalf many times. Hes my brother, but I dont know him that well nor do I understand him. You know, Gabrielle, when you and Xena were hanging on those crosses, Ares came to me and he wept. So did I. Zeus wouldnt let us help you. He said there was a greater plan. I think you know what that plan was, dont you?"
"Xena and I had to go to the Elysian Fields to figure out how we felt about each other and admit it to one another?"
"Artemis. Is my partnership with Xena going to hinder my ruling the Amazons? Some of them arent particularly fond of her. Especially the ones that saw her drag me from the village that time. And the ones who know about her attack on the leaders of the northern Amazons so long ago."
"No. You and Xena are a team. A perfect balance. She will be a great benefit to you in your leadership. Dont be afraid to consult her or listen to her advice. Shes a most intelligent woman."
"I know." The bard grinned.
"Gabrielle. You and Xena being together is no accident either. Although it took me four years to get Aphrodite to intervene and Ares to back off. I chose you because you werent raised in the Amazon village. I chose you because you are smart. And brave. And open to learning new things. And because you act using your heart as well as your head. The Amazons need someone with an objective viewpoint. And with your breadth of experience. I put you with Xena to help you grow. Your travels with Xena have exposed you to many different cultures, religions, and ideas. Those experiences have given you a broad base to draw from in making decisions. Gabrielle, your whole life has been building to this moment in time. It is your time to rule my Amazons and to restore them to a stable growing thriving society."
"How? How do I do that?"
"You dont need any pointers from me. Just do the right thing Gabrielle. Just be true to yourself and everything else will fall into place. Ive heard your thoughts and ideas. They are very good. Implement them and you will be headed in the right direction. And so will my Amazons."
"Oh." Gabrielle studied her hands in her lap for a moment. "Artemis. You said that you put me with Xena to help me grow. I believe Xena and I have been together in past lives and will be together in future lives. We learned a lot about that in India. Are we going to be together forever?"
"Yes." Artemis reached down and cupped the bards cheek, drawing her face up so the goddess could look into the queens eyes. "Growth is a lifetime process, Gabrielle. I also need you to continue to help Xena grow. She may not be an Amazon. At least not yet. But she will be." Gabrielles eyes grew wide and she gasped at the revelation. The goddess smiled at the queens reaction. "In many ways I already count her as one of my own. At least as much as Ares will allow me to. At heart Xena is an Amazon. Gabrielle. Your future, Xenas future, and the future of my Amazons are wound tightly together. There is so much more in your future with Xena that I cant reveal to you. For now, go. And know that you have my blessing as queen of my Amazons. And that Xena has my blessing as your life-consort. But Gabrielle, dont push Xena. Give her time. When she is ready to join the nation she will let you know. And when she is ready to formalize her relationship with you, let her take the lead. She needs that."
Gabrielle looked solemnly into the eyes of the goddess. She allowed the last words to soak in, and felt a tremendous sense of wonder at the thought of having a formal commitment with Xena. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath.
"Gabrielle, is there anything else I can do for you?"
"Well." The bard bit her lower lip. "Artemis, after Eli brought Xena and I back from the dead, well, even before that, when Xena and I sat in that Roman cell waiting to die, I decided that my number one commitment in life would be to Xena. I had looked everywhere to find meaning in my life and it was right by my side the entire time. That became crystal clear to me when Xena was laying helpless on the ground in that Roman compound and I was the only one who could save her. I suddenly realized that the way of love needed an object, and that for me Xena is the object of my love. That is still true. If the day comes when I must choose between the Amazons and Xena, I will have to choose Xena. Shes the other half of my soul. I cant imagine life without her."
"Gabrielle. If the day comes when you must make such a choice, I will honor it. You will get no resistance from me. Love is the most powerful force in the world. In the netherworld too, for that matter. I wouldnt dream of coming between you and Xena. Anything else?"
"Then go in confidence, my queen. If you need me I am here."
"Thank you, Artemis."
"And thank you, Gabrielle, for caring about my Amazons." The goddess vanished in a glittering cloud, causing the bard to blink at the bright flash that accompanied it. Gabrielle looked around and then solemnly left the temple to go face her first formal council meeting.
It was late morning and council members were slowly making their way to the council chambers, which were in a room off the main dining hall. Gabrielle sat at the head of the center table, pouring over a piece of parchment on which she had written out her itinerary for the meeting. She glanced up just as Eponin entered the room. The bard appraised the older Amazon and winced. Ouch.
A series of angry purple and blue bruises trailed down the weapons masterss right outer leg. Another bruise added extra color to her left cheek, and Gabrielle was certain the stitches across Ponys left shoulder had not been there the day before. Eponin was limping, favoring the right leg. As she turned to sit down, the bard noted that the straps which normally held Ponys scabbard to her back had been sliced cleanly away, leaving only dangling pieces of leather. Ohhh. Good one, Xena. Well, at least she listened to me. Ponys here and shes coherent. The bard smiled at Xenas friend. Eponin scowled in return, but then after a moment couldnt help but smile back.
"My queen. I can confidently report that your champion is still in as top condition as ever, and her skills with her weapons are as sharp as Ive ever seen them. Your security is in the best of hands." Eponin absently rubbed the bruise on her face. "But she sure could learn to play a little more nicely."
"Err. Yeah. Thank you, Pony." The bard chuckled inwardly. "Um . . . how does Xena look?"
"Not even a scratch."
Gabrielle had figured as much. She glanced around the room and waited for the last stragglers to be seated. Saying a short silent prayer to Artemis, she stood and pointedly looked around the room.
"Thank you for coming on such short notice. I have four items of business to discuss this morning. First of all I want a status report on the thugs that attacked me in Amphipolis. Next we need to discuss the release of the four Roman soldiers you have been holding here since mid-March. Then we will briefly discuss an imminent peace treaty between the Amazon nation, Amphipolis, Potadeia, and the Roman empire. The treaty will be finalized at the Summer Solstice. Today I merely want to form a committee which will later meet with me to iron out the preliminary details." She paused as a low murmur erupted throughout the room. If they think that was a shock, wait until my last item of business. It should really get their feathers in a wad.
Gabrielle took a deep breath and squared her shoulders, raising her voice to carry over the low din. "We also need to formalize papers giving Xena of Amphipolis permanent resident alien status in the Amazon nation."
The low din became a dull roar as the last news sunk in. Maniah, one of the elders, stood and turned to face the queen. "Xena is dangerous. Her presence in our village will draw unwanted attention and possible attacks."
The bard inwardly counted to ten and locked eyes with Maniah before speaking. "The benefits if Xenas presence in this village will far outweigh any possible danger. Xena is perfectly capable of fending off anyone who may attack us based upon her presence here. She has a lot to offer this village. Besides, this item of business is not open for discussion. I am going to live here, and Xena is my consort. Therefore, Xena will be living here. If you vote against her, you vote against me. And I will either leave this village or I will replace the opposition with more sympathetic council members. And voting against Xena may mean making an enemy of her. I don't think that's something this council wants to do. Do I make myself clear?"
Her question was greeted with silence.
"Good. Then I will pass around the resident alien papers for your signatures. Your signature will signify your approval of granting Xena residence here. Your lack of signature will signify your opposition." Gabrielle signed the papers with a flourish, making sure hers was the first signature, and then passed them to her right.
"Now, do I have any volunteers to help with that peace treaty?" Several hands shot up, and the bard picked three of the volunteers to be on the committee. Chilapa, of course, was a given. The other two she picked based upon their known past loyalty to Ephiny.
They moved on to discuss the outcome of the trial of Angus and Cephas, the two thugs. Gabrielle learned that they had been sentenced to five summers on a hard labor crew near the northeast coast of Greece. She was pleased with the sentence and expressed it to the council. They then determined to immediately release the four soldiers who had attacked them on the road from the compound, and let them return to Rome.
The resident alien certificate made its way back to the bard and she reviewed the signature list. Not all the council members had chosen to sign it, but enough had signed to make it official. Gabrielle smiled and folded the document in half, tucking it into a folder for use at the ceremony that evening.
"Okay. Id like to meet with the treaty committee again in three days. Id like to meet with the whole council again in a week. Meeting adjourned. Ill see everyone at the ceremony tonight."
Chair legs scraped the floor as the council members slowly stood and began to file out of the room. During the commotion, Xena stepped inside the door and leaned against the wall, waiting for Gabrielle to look up. She was finally rewarded, as a pair of shiny green eyes lifted up from writing notes on a piece of parchment, and met her with a big smile. As soon as the room was empty, the bard stood and moved around the table to Xena, placing her hands on the warriors hips.
"Hey. You okay? I was worried when you werent there this morning."
"Yeah. Im fine. It was just kind of scary holding my first council meeting. Im not used to having to be mean and nasty to get my way."
"Gabrielle, sometimes thats what it takes when youre leading people. Not everyone is always going to agree with you."
"I know. Its just going to take some getting used to." The bard sighed, drawing herself against her tall lover and nuzzling Xenas neck. "Oh, by the way honey, you have been granted official resident alien status in the Amazon nation by a majority decision of the council."
"Not unanimous, huh?"
"I would have been surprised if it had been. Im not exactly everyones favorite person around here. A good number of the Amazons might consider me to be a source of potential trouble to this village."
"Xena." Gabrielle stepped back and took both of the warriors hands in her own. "Tonight at the ceremony I will announce your resident alien status. Theres a bit of rubbish of a little pledge you have to make. Is that okay? Its just ceremony. I know that no forced pledge is going to keep you from being a free spirit, and I wouldnt want it to."
"What sort of pledge?"
"Um . . . you have to kneel before me and make some silly promises to honor the nation and the queen."
"Those arent silly promises. I dont have any problem with that at all."
"Even the kneeling part?"
In answer, the warrior sank to her knees, wrapping her arms around the bards legs and resting her cheek against her belly. She felt Gabrielle idly playing with her hair, and sighed deeply. "I love you, Gabrielle. Id kneel before you in front of the whole world and promise to honor you."
"Come here you." The bard pulled her up and hugged Xena fiercely, once again nuzzling her face into the warm leathers.
"Um . . . you gonna tell me where you were this morning?"
"Oh. Yes. I went to the temple of Artemis to consult with her."
"Wow. So did everything go okay?"
The bard pulled back slightly and looked up into piercing blue eyes. Remembering Artemis words concerning Xena, she slowly reached up and hooked an arm behind the warriors neck, drawing her down for a heartfelt kiss. Xenas arms tightened around her lover and the warrior deepened the kiss, sighing at the warm contact.
After a minute or so they both came up for air. The warrior chuckled. "Guess it was a really good consultation."
"You have no idea." The bard gave Xena another quick peck on the lips. "By the way, what did you do to Pony? She looks like shes been kicked by a bunch of centaurs."
"Her choice, not mine."
"How about the stitches? How did that happen?"
"Oh yeah. Those. I told her about your proficiency with the sais, so she pulled some out. She tried to fake me out with a duck and ended up ducking right into my blow. Got her with the tip of one of them. Cheridah sewed her up. Took about eight stitches."
"Tcchh. Xena, are we going to have to tell Cheridah to double-stock her healers supplies? Ponys the best this village has to offer in weapons mastery. And she wont be the only one who will want a chance to spar with you."
"Weeellll . . . Maybe so. Ponys posted a list for people to sign up to spar with me for the next week, two per day. All but three slots have been filled."
"Yes?" The bard was occupied nibbling at a bit of exposed warrior flesh.
"Ooo. That feels good. Oh." Xena tried to focus as goose bumps shot across the back of her neck and shoulders. "Um. I kind of signed you up for the first sparring spot this afternoon."
"Xena. You didnt need to do that. If you want to spar with me all you have to do is ask. Thats not going to change just because were living here now."
"Thanks. But thats not why I signed you up."
"Oh?" Gabrielle had made her way to the hollow between the warriors collar bone and the top of her shoulder, continuing with little nips at the salty skin.
"Mmmmmm. Nice, love." Xena ran her long fingers through the short blonde hair. "No. I signed you up because I want us to have an audience when we spar, and I figure most of the village will turn out to watch."
"Why do you want that?" The bard suddenly stopped and looked up.
"Because, sweetheart. Youve gotten pretty damn good with the sais and your sword. Your hand to hand is coming along very nicely. And your staff skills are the best Ive ever seen anywhere by anyone. I want the Amazons to know that. I want them to see that their queen can fight."
"But Xena, you know that fighting is my last choice in dealing with problems and conflict."
"I know. But its what the Amazons respect. If they see that you can fight, that youre not afraid to fight, then I think they will be more apt to listen to you even when you dont choose to fight. Make sense?"
"I guess so."
"Is that okay?"
"Xena. I may be queen of the Amazon nation, but I can't be a good queen without some help. I meant what I said back on that road near the Roman compound. I defer to you because I trust you totally. I need you in my life and I will be leaning on you as I make decisions. Its probably the source of some of the opposition you may face here. The Amazons know that even though I have the title that you will have input in the decisions I make. Tough. Thats the way it is going to be. If you think sparring with you in front of an audience will improve my position in this village, then thats what we will do. No questions asked."
The warrior regarded the bard for several seconds, a look of hesitation crossing her face. "I . . . I dont want to overshadow you. At the same time, Im so used to looking out for you and teaching you things, it may be hard to put a damper on that side of me that wants to guide you."
"Then dont put a damper on it. Xena. I dont want our living in this village to put a damper on anything for you. I know this is hard for you. You are my partner, in every sense of the word. I want your guidance. I am very lucky to have the benefit of your wisdom and experience."
"Well, I'll do my best to help you in any way you need me to." The warrior grinned and ruffled the blonde head.
"Hey, is that lunch I smell cooking?"
"Hungry my bard?"
"Starved. Come on, Xena. Lets go eat. And then lets go give these Amazons a sparring match they wont soon forget."
"Sounds like a plan."
Xena and Gabrielle had been sparring for the better part of two candle marks, and both were covered in sweat and dirt. True to the warriors expectations, most of the village had found an excuse to wander by the practice yard, and ended up staying to watch. This was not the queen that any of them remembered. They had started with sword drills, several of which had ended up in a draw. While the bard had not managed to disarm the warrior, she had certainly held her own. Next they had moved on to quarter staffs, Gabrielles longstanding weapon of choice. She had actually managed to knock Xenas staff from her hands twice, and had received spontaneous applause from the onlookers each time.
Now they were battling with sais, a weapon that was not much-used in the Amazon village, and therefore held a lot of mystique. Luckily for the bard, not only had Xena taught her some fine points of sais fighting, but she had been able to observe masters using sais in both India and in Chin. The weapons actually had more of an origin in the far east, just as did the warriors chakram. Gabrielle had gotten so good with the sais that Xena had not been able to disarm her yet, and they were going into their fifth round of drilling.
"Okay, Gabrielle. Youre doing really well. Now. I want you to focus on getting inside my defenses. Dont be afraid youre going to hurt me. Just go with it. Ill manage to keep you from killing me, okay?"
"Okay." The bard lunged forward, moving upward with her right arm and across with her left. The warrior easily deflected both moves and counter-attacked, pleased when her lover had just as easy of a time deflecting back. The crossed weapons back and forth in a pattern between their bodies, and the loud clank of the metal clashing rang out across the practice yard. Gabrielles confidence grew and she finally added some martial arts, throwing in some side kicks, mixing things up nicely. After several minutes, she stepped back and turned, aiming a round-house kick at the warriors head. Xena ducked down, as expected. Right as she ducked, the bard pulled her kick and quickly changed tactics, lunging forward, effectively blocking an upward blow from the warrior. At the same time, the bard kicked the other sai from her lovers hand and planted the butt of her own sai squarely against the top of Xenas shoulder.
"I give." The warrior stood and walked over to retrieve her sai.
A stunned Amazon queen remained standing in place as applause broke out from the watching Amazons
"Xena, what just happened here?"
"You won. If you had used the sharp end I would either be dead or severely injured."
"I won? You didnt let me win?"
"No. I was going full out." Blue eyes twinkled. "I think youve found a new weapon to compliment your staff, my bard. You are the best Ive ever seen with those, at least in Greece."
"Yes." The warrior draped a lazy arm around the queen and leaned over, whispering in her ear. "Look around, love. See the respect in their eyes?"
The bard hesitantly scanned the crowd and saw it. She nodded at Xena.
"Thats for you Gabrielle. They never expected to see that. Not in a million summers. None of them have ever won in a sparring match with me. Not one of them. Better prepare yourself."
"For all the Amazons who are going to want to spar with you."
"Oh, gods preserve us! Do I have to?"
"No. Youre the queen, remember? You dont have to do anything you dont want to do."
"Good. Cause I prefer to fight with words. A lot less messy." Gabrielle looked down at her dirt-encased body, wiping sweat from her forehead and swiping the back of her hand across the front of her skirt. "Uh-oh."
"What is it?" The warrior looked up and then followed her partners gaze. An older woman was walking purposefully toward the practice yard with a no-nonsense look on her face. Next to her was a younger woman, very stocky with short spiky brown hair and muscles that fairly ripped across her body. "Who are they?"
"The older one is Maniah, one of the elders. She gave me a lot of grief in the council meeting this morning. She . . . um . . . declined to vote to give you resident alien status in the nation. I dont know who the other one is." The bard turned as Amarice stepped up next to her.
"Thats Pheriny. Shes from my home village." The tall redheads upper lipped curled slightly. "She just recently moved here. She was one of the strongest fighters we had."
Gabrielle held a hand up to shade her eyes from the late afternoon sun. As the two women approaching drew closer, the bard strode forward, rapidly closing the distance between them. Xena silently fell in behind with Amarice a close third. Gabrielle stood her ground and crossed her arms over her chest. "Hello Maniah. Is there a problem I should be aware of?"
"Nothing that cant be remedied rather quickly. My queen, Id like you to meet Pheriny."
"Hello Pheriny." The bard extended an arm. "I dont believe weve met before. I understand you know my friend Amarice. Welcome to our village."
"Pleased to meet you . . . Queen . . . Gabrielle." Dark brown eyes studied the bard. "Im here to offer the challenge."
"What?" Gabrielle was blind sided, and felt as if she had been hit in the gut. "Excuse me?"
"You heard her my queen." Maniah rested a hand lightly on Pherinys back. "Choose your weapon." Icy blue eyes bore into Maniah as she looked over the bards shoulder. "Or choose your champion."
Xena took one step forward. "I . . ."
"Quarterstaff." Gabrielles voice was low and steady, and stopped the warrior in her tracks. The bard felt a strong hand grasp tightly at her shoulder.
"Gabrielle?" Xena couldnt find her voice, as her rapidly-beating heart rendered her momentarily speechless.
"Excuse us for just one minute." The bard pulled her lover by the hand until they were out of hearing distance of the others. A low murmur slowly erupted as word quickly made it around the practice yard that the queen had been challenged.
"Gabrielle, I am not going to stand by and watch you fight someone to the death. I just wont."
"Xena." The bard ran one hand lightly up and down the warriors upper arm in a calming gesture. "You said they need to know Im not afraid to fight."
"Yes. But this isnt what I had in mind."
"I know, love. But you were right. I need to prove to them that I am capable of taking care of myself. I cant keep hiding behind your leathers."
"You can hide behind my leathers all you want, Gabrielle. There is nothing in Amazon law that denies you your right to choose a champion. You heard Amarice. Pheriny was one of their best fighters."
"I heard. But I also heard you say earlier today that I was the best at quarterstaff youve ever seen. And . . ." Gabrielle laid one hand flat against the warriors stomach. "Pheriny wasnt here earlier to see us sparring. She doesnt know how good I am and she hasnt seen all my moves. Please Xena. I need to do this."
"Gabrielle, youve been sparring with me for two hours. Youre tired. Shes fresh."
"Xena, give me more credit than that. Ive been following you around all day, every day, for over four years. Its going to take a little more than two hours of sparring to wear me out."
"Okay. Fair enough. But Gabrielle, are you prepared to kill her? Especially with a quarterstaff. It means beating her to death. Its a long drawn out process. Could get pretty messy."
"I dont have to kill her. Just get her in a position where I could kill her, just like you did with Melosa."
"Thats very risky, Gabrielle."
"Its a risk Im willing to take."
"Gabrielle. I have to be honest. I will not allow you to die. I wont loose you. I cant. If it even begins to look like she is coming close to winning, I will step in and I will take her down. And I will grab your hand and we will leave this village. Do you understand me?" Xenas voice was shaking, as she waged an internal war with her emotions.
"Completely." The bard stood on tiptoe and pecked her lover on the lips. "Xena, love, I dont want to die today either. If it comes to you stepping in, I will willingly back down and leave here with you. You are still my number one priority. My reason for living. I havent forgotten that, Amazons be damned. But Xena. Think about it. If I win . . . on my own . . . I bet it will be a long time before anyone will ever challenge me again. You and I will be a very formidable team. Together we would be unstoppable. We can take the Amazon nation to heights it has never reached before."
Xena ruffled her fingers lightly through the short blonde hair. "You are starting to sound like me in my warlord days."
"Thats not what I mean and you know it, Xena. Im not power hungry. I want to serve this nation, my nation. And I think to be my best at that, I need to meet this challenge."
"I know you dont want me to and I . . . huh?"
"I said okay. I won't try to stop you."
"Oh." The bard straightened up and looked into Xenas eyes for a long moment. "I better get back over there then and get this over with."
"Gabrielle." Two strong hands rested on the bards shoulders. "Dont forget. I will have one hand on my chakram the entire time, and I will not hesitate to use it if I need to."
"Im counting on it. Wish me luck."
"Good luck, my love. You really are the best Ive seen."
"Thank you, Xena. I love you."
"I love you too."
Gabrielle briefly stroked the warriors cheek and then bent down, grabbing hold of her staff, which was laying on the ground near where the stood. She then turned to face her adversary. "Pheriny." The bards voice carried across the practice yard. "Find yourself a quarterstaff and lets get started."
Pheriny made her way inside the weapons hut and returned momentarily carrying a plain staff, nothing like the ornate one Gabrielle was holding onto. The bard twirled the weapon lightly in one hand and then flipped it up, taking a firm hold and finding the feel of the wood in her hands comfortingly familiar. She looked intently into the dark eyes of her opponent and read a pride-filled confidence in the dark depths, the vaguest hint of a smirk on the stocky Amazons face.
Gabrielle stood back, shifting slightly from foot to foot waiting, as Xena had taught her, for Pheriny to make the first move. They circled each other warily, neither one willing to strike the first blow.
"Whats the matter, my queen? Are you afraid to fight me?" The words said with a sneer in the bards direction.
"No. But you started this. So either put up or shut up and go home. Im not here to play games with you. Im merely here to defend my mask." Gabrielles green eyes stared calmly and she smiled inwardly as Pheriny met her gaze and then looked down for just a split seconds flicker of her eyes, unable to face the calm cool assurance on the bards face.
Suddenly the stocky Amazon swung her staff in a sideways arc, which was easily deflected by the bard. Gabrielle immediately spun around, using the momentum to counterstrike from the other side with a hard blow which Pheriny also deflected. They then proceeded to cross staves several times in direct frontal blows before Gabrielle knelt down and swung around, catching Pheriny off guard and taking her out just below the back of her knees. The Amazon landed on her butt and then rolled backward and came back up on her feet, just in time to hold her staff up in defense of a strong overhead parry by the bard.
The smirk on Pherinys face was replaced by dogged determination, while Gabrielles expression remained almost passive, as she easily deflected and then counter struck in a series of swift blows which left Pheriny totally on the defensive. The bard continued to attack, slowly forcing the stockier Amazon backward and around the practice yard.
As for Xena, the warriors fingers twitched unconsciously on her chakram, but she couldnt help the smile which slowly etched its way across her face. Ooo. Good one Gabrielle. Watch out! Thats it. Side. Up. Over. Around. You go girl. Youre starting to wear her down. Gabrielle, the warrior realized, had been a very good pupil. Her use of the staff was poetry in motion, a reflection of skills she had learned from Xena herself.
As the battle continued, dogged determination gave way to quiet desperation, as Pheriny realized she had quite underestimated the queens abilities and courage. Gods. And she thought she was going to be taking on Xena. If this is how the queen fights, what would that have been like? What in Hades was I thinking? A thin sheen of sweat broke out across the Amazons face, and she felt her body begin to tire against the ceaseless hard and precise blows that were raining against her staff.
Gabrielle saw the change and took yet a firmer hold on the staff, her brow furrowed in concentration. Suddenly she saw an opening, as Pheriny took too long to bring her staff back around after an exchange. The bard quickly swung inward and heard the crunch of bones breaking, as her staff connected with the stocky Amazons ribcage.
Pheriny cried out in pain and stepped back trying in vain to fend off a follow-up strike from the queen, but the motion of lifting her staff caused the damaged bone and tissue in her side to shift even further, sending shooting pains through her body. Gabrielle went to her knee and managed to catch the Amazon between her calves with the end of her staff, separating her legs and sending her to the ground and onto her back, her staff flying from her hands in the process.
The bard lunged forward, pinning the end of her staff firmly against Pherinys throat. She watched as the Amazon swallowed several times, and saw the resignation in the dark brown eyes. Gabrielle had to give the other girl credit. It was obvious she was prepared to die.
"Well. My queen. Whats the hold-up? Go on. Finish it."
Gabrielle merely shifted her hold on the staff, applying the slightest greater increment of pressure against the smooth skin of Pherinys neck. "No one is going to die here today, Pheriny. But I could kill you right now if I wanted to. Dont ever forget that. Now. I want you to let Cheridah wrap up those ribs, and then I want you to go back to your home village. Youre not welcome in this one anymore."
The bard briefly scanned the watching crowd until she spotted the healer. "Cheridah!" she shouted. "Come help her to your hut and see that her injuries are taken care of." The green eyes continued to sweep from face to face. "Eponin. After shes been cared for, take her into custody until morning. After weve all . . . um . . . recovered from tonights festivities, I want you to arrange an escort to take Pheriny to the edge of our territory tomorrow."
Gabrielle backed off as the healer and weapons master quickly moved forward, taking hold of the injured Amazon. Xena could hold herself back no longer, and she ran across the practice yard, slowing down as the bard turned and smiled at her. They gazed at each other from several feet apart before Gabrielle held her arms out in an open stance, and found them filled with a tall dark shaking warrior.
"Hey. Xena. Love. Its okay. I won. Im okay. Not even a scratch." She stroked the dark hair, tangling her fingers in the long locks and making little shushing noises that only the warrior could hear.
"I know. Once you got going, I realized you were going to be just fine. I think my body just hasnt caught up with my mind yet, thats all." Xena stepped back and held the bard at arms length, gazing at her lover with open affection and admiration. "Gabrielle, that was awesome. Im sorry I ever doubted you. Can you forgive me?"
"Xena. Theres nothing to forgive. Do you know how disappointed Ill be if the day ever comes when you dont feel the need to protect me? That would really hurt more than I can possibly express. Just know that the feeling is mutual."
"That, my bard, was made perfectly clear in that Roman compound not so long ago." The warrior saw her lover shudder, and pulled her back into a warm hug. They just stood there holding each other, as the crowd around them slowly began to disburse. Finally they separated, just enough to look at each other. "Gabrielle, I think we are two very capable people who are very luck to have each other."
"Oh. I agree." The bard pulled her lover back into another fierce hug.
The warrior sighed and pulled back. "Hey. Weve got a celebration to get ready for, my bard, and youre the main reason for the party."
"Yeah. Guess we better get back to the hut and get cleaned up, huh?"
"Um. Gabrielle, can you go on back to the hut without me? Go ahead and bathe and get ready for the ceremony tonight. Ill meet you back there right before. Theres something I need to go take care of."
"Xena. Make sure you at least get home in time to clean up."
"Oh. Dont worry, Ill make sure I get a bath in, I promise."
"Youll see." The warrior smiled secretively and bent over and pecked her lover on the cheek before she took off at a trot across the village. "Hey Pony, wait up!"
The weapons master slowed down. "What you want?"
"Could you help me. I need . . ." The warrior was momentarily distracted as she saw Maniah walking by. "Pony, are you going to the bath house right now?"
"Pretty soon, yeah."
"I'll meet you there. I need you to help me with something, but I need to have a word with someone first."
"Sure thing. I'll see you in a bit." Eponin watched as Xena caught up with Maniah. Oh, boy. Wouldn't want to be Maniah right now for all the gold on Olympus. Pony chuckled inwardly.
Xena felt the dark side rising to the surface, and paused for a moment, focusing in on what, exactly, she needed to say.
"Hello. Maniah, isn't it? I don't believe we've met." The warrior's voice was low as she fell into step next to the older Amazon. "I'm Xena."
"I know who you are. Cyane was the daughter of a friend of mine."
"Oh." The warrior suddenly realized just how personal Maniah's grudge against her was. "Look. You and I don't know each other very well, Maniah. In fact, we don't know each other at all. And I don't have enough time in one afternoon to explain to you how different my life is now from how it was when I killed Cyane. I was a young stupid greedy kid and I used those northern Amazon leaders to try to get something I wanted. I turned on them and then Alti turned on me. I had no concept of what it meant to be an Amazon or the kind of courage it takes to be a queen of the Amazons. But I do now. I can't begin to be sorry enough for that, and I know there is probably nothing I can ever do to atone for the person I was then. I think part of Artemis' retribution against me was to see to it that for the rest of my life I would somehow be involved with the Amazon nation. And now I am consort to your queen. The irony of that is certainly not lost on me."
"So what's your point?"
"My point is this. You have a bone to pick with me, you come to me and you leave Gabrielle out of it. She has done nothing to you."
"She's a traitor. Of all the people, she hooked up with you, one of the greatest enemies the Amazons have ever known."
"Maniah. Not anymore. I'm on your side, whether you believe me or not. And Gabrielle is no traitor. She didn't even know about my involvement with the northern Amazons until last year when we went to India."
"Let me make things a little clearer to you. As much energy as I put into killing those northern Amazon leaders, I will put a thousand times that much energy into protecting Gabrielle and making sure no one, and I do mean no one, hurts her. That was as stupid stunt you pulled today. Gabrielle chose to fight that battle herself, but she could have chosen me to fight it for her. If that had happened, I might not have been so kind to Pheriny. And she could have died today because of a grudge you hold against me, not Gabrielle."
"She knew the risks."
"You'd let a friend die because of your hatred of someone else?"
"If it's for a good cause, yes."
Xena just stopped, and gazed at the older Amazon with an unreadable expression. "I feel sorry for you. And I have nothing else to say, except this. I will be watching you. And if you ever try to hurt Gabrielle again, I will make sure you regret it for the rest of your life, if I decide to let you live at all."
The warrior turned on her heals and made her way to the bath house.
Gabrielle emerged from the bathing room wrapped in a towel with another one around her head. She stepped into the bedroom and removed the towel from her head, bending over to rub her hair dry. She stood back upright just as she heard Xena come through the front door in the next room.
"Great. Im glad youre home. You can help me with all these hooks and bracers and . . . Whoa . . ." The bard stopped in mid-sentence, her mouth open at the vision that stepped into their bedroom.
"Whaddaya think?" Xenas voice was hesitant.
"You . . . I . . . Um . . . Wow. Gorgeous."
"Xena. I dont know if I can let you out of here dressed like that. Some of the Amazons might not be able to keep their hands off you. I might not be able to keep my hands off you."
The warrior grinned and looked down, appraising herself. She had bathed in the common bathing house and was now dressed in traditional Amazon attire. Xena had side-armed Eponin and the weapons master had helped the warrior find a set of leathers that fit. The leathers in question were a light buttery tan color, actually several shades paler than Xenas olive skin. Three prominent things were accentuated. Xenas blue eyes and dark hair were very noticeable, along with her well-toned muscles, many of which werent normally visible in her regular clothes. The skirt, which came to mid-thigh, sat low on her hips, revealing a good portion of her washboard stomach, and most of her left leg was exposed, thanks to a side slit that went almost to mid-hip. The top was bandeau style with no shoulder straps.
"Turn around. Slowly." Gabrielles voice held a smoky timbre.
Most of Xenas muscular back was exposed. She wore wrist bracers, silver bands circled both biceps, and on her feet was a soft pair of ankle-high fringed moccasins of the same color leather as the skirt and top. Around her neck was a bone choker and a turquoise beaded necklace. Xenas hair was a mass of long thin braids, intertwined with feathers and more beads, thanks to the tedious efforts of Rebina and Kallerine. Xenas usual scabbard and of course, her chakram, completed the outfit.
"Xena. Dont get me wrong. You look fabulous. But why?"
"I . . . um . . . well I knew you would announce my resident alien status tonight. And I am your consort. I just wanted to look like an Amazon. To look like someone the queen would be worthy of being seen with. I wanted you to be proud to be seen with me."
The bard moved in behind her lover and wrapped her arms around the bare midsection. "Xena. You could be wearing a potato sack and I would be proud to be seen with you." Gabrielle made lazy circles on the warriors bare stomach with the flat of her hand.
"Still. Youre the queen. And you proved that this afternoon to everyone in this village. You deserve the best."
"I already have the best. I knew that from the moment I first saw you. And you were just wearing that shift, remember?"
"I thought you were the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. And it had nothing to do with what you were wearing. Its what I saw inside of you that made me decide to follow you."
"Im glad you did. Decide to follow me." Xenas voice was very soft.
"So, you need some help getting dressed?" The warrior playfully pulled the towel away from the bards body, admiring the trim muscular form. "We better get your clothes on before Im tempted to do something that might make us late for the ceremony."
"Thats goes double for me, oh warrior princess of much-exposed skin. Im getting warm just looking at you, love."
The warrior leaned in and pressed her lips against a bardic ear. "Well. Later. After all of this is over, well have to see what we can do to put that fire out." She nipped the earlobe and chuckled as Gabrielles breath caught.
A half candle mark later, Xena and Gabrielle emerged from the queens hut, the bards arm linked through her tall partners. Gabrielle was wearing her own Amazon leathers and jewelry, and had her mask tucked under her outside arm. They could hear the high-pitched chatter of intermingled female voices coming from the ceremony area, along with drumming. The Amazons were famous for throwing all-night parties to celebrate almost any kind of event from the change of the season to the joining of two Amazons. The return of the queen called for no less than pulling out all the stops. No detail had been spared from the food to the decorations to the carefully arranged platform.
As the queen and her consort began making their way through the crowd, voices gradually started to hush, as one after another, the Amazons stopped and stared at the regal couple moving toward the main platform. Xenas eyes darted back and forth, the only betrayal of her slight nervousness. The bards stomach flip-flopped a few times and she unconsciously squeezed the warriors forearm as they mounted the steps and took seats center stage, Gabrielle on the largest chair in the middle and Xena in the chair immediately to the bards right. Chilapa soon joined them on the queens left and silently took the mask from the bard and stood.
The regent strode forward and raised one hand, palm down, to quiet the few who were still talking. "Amazons. This is a great day for our nation. Over four years ago our sister, Princess Terreis, fell to enemy arrows. But not before a very brave woman tried to save her life. Now that brave woman is our queen. And the queen has come home to rule us. I present to you Queen Gabrielle!"
Chilapa motioned to the bard with a sweep of her arm and Gabrielle stood and moved next to the regent. The regent handed her the mask and the bard turned to face the crowd. She held the mask high over her head and then pulled it down solidly over her face, almost falling back at the loud thunder of cheers and applause that followed. She stood for a moment, separated from the masses by the mask, before she pushed it back on her head once again revealing her face.
"Thank you. I am here to serve the Amazon nation. I dont have much in the way of a speech. Much as I am one for words, I prefer to let my actions in the coming days speak for me. However, before we move on to the party, I do have one item of business to attend to. Xena, would you come over here please?"
The bard turned toward her lover, who stood, and with the grace of a panther, walked to Gabrielles side. Xena drew her sword and laid it across her chest in salute, and then dropped to one knee in front of the queen and bowed her braided head. Gabrielle looked down at the warrior, resisting the urge to take Xenas free hand into her own.
"Xena of Amphipolis, this morning the Amazon council signed papers permitting you resident alien status in the Amazon nation. Do you desire such status?" Gabrielle held the parchment out in front of her.
"Yes Queen Gabrielle. I do." The warrior looked up solemnly at her lover.
"Do you promise to respect the laws and customs of our nation during your tenure with us?" Gabrielle managed the smallest of smiles, one which only the warrior could see.
"I do." Dusky eyelashes blinked over piercing blue eyes.
"Do you promise to respect the rights of the Amazons who live in this village?"
"Do you promise to honor the queen during your tenure here?"
Xena squared her shoulders. "Not only will I honor the queen. I will serve her, protect her, and if necessary, lay down my life for her. During my tenure in this village and during my tenure in this life. And beyond. I love the queen." These last four words in a mouthed whisper heard only by the bard.
Gabrielle was momentarily speechless at her partners impromptu addition to the promise of honor, and she felt the tears well up in her eyes and her chin quivered slightly. She heard a low murmur from the watching Amazons. She managed to push down her emotions, but not before a single tear spilled over and down her cheek. "Very well then. I, Queen Gabrielle, grant you permanent resident alien status in the Amazon nation for as long as you desire to stay here. You may rise and take your seat."
The warrior reached out, took one of the bards hands, and kissed it lightly on the knuckles before she rose up and moved back to her chair. She was surprised at the round of applause that followed her, as was the bard. Gabrielle collected her thoughts and turned again to face the Amazons. "Thats all. Go and enjoy the festivities."
As the crowd began to move toward tables laden with food, and others went to watch dance demonstrations, the bard turned and walked over to Xenas seat. It was her turn to kneel. Gabrielle dropped down in front of the warrior. Scooting between Xenas knees, she reached up and took the warriors face in her hands. Xena placed her own hands over her lovers, and they spent a long moment just gazing into each others eyes.
"Xena, do you have any idea how much I love you?"
"If its even half as much as I love you, Im the luckiest former warlord that ever walked the face of the earth."
"Will the most beautiful former warlord on the face of the earth join the Amazon queen at the head banquet table?"
"Id be honored." The warrior stood and helped the bard to her feet and held her arm out. Gabrielle took it and they made their way down the steps and across the courtyard to the banquet table. They found the head chairs and sat down. Servers quickly brought glasses of wine and large steaming platters of food. The bard wasted no time in partaking of the feast, biting into a large wild turkey leg. As she chewed, she looked up.
"Pony. You and Raella, please come join us." The bard motioned to the two Amazon lovers as they walked by. Soon, Chilapa, Kallerine, Amarice, and Rebina were also seated with them, rounding out a table of eight. Gabrielle raised her wine glass. "Id like to propose a toast." She paused, looking around the table. "To friends. Who have become my sisters and my family. May this be the beginning of a new era of prosperity for the Amazon nation."
"Here. Here." The others clinked glasses in agreement. As they continued to eat and enjoy the free-flowing wine, various Amazons managed to walk by the head table and compliment Gabrielle on her sparring demonstration earlier in the day and of course her defeat of Pheriny. Xena beamed and tried to look elsewhere, as the bard continued to reply. "Thank you. I had a really good teacher. The best in all of Greece."
Soon Amarice and the warrior were engaged in a discussion of tactical maneuvers in battle, and Kallerine was obviously listening with great intent, taking mental notes. Gabrielle shook her head in amusement, amazed at her partners knowledge, not quite following everything Xena said. The bard slowly appraised her partner in the Amazon clothing and sighed. The warrior was gorgeous, and more than a few Amazons gave Xena the once-over as they passed the table. Gabrielle finally rested her hand on the warriors thigh underneath the table, the thigh which was exposed by the high slit in her skirt. The bard absently ran her fingertips up and down the firm muscles as she took a long sip of light sweet wine. Xena shifted and smiled at the contact, but otherwise continued in her discussion.
Gabrielle set her glass down and leaned over, touching Eponin on the arm. "Pony. Thank you."
"For helping Xena dress tonight. She looks great. And I think the Amazons really appreciate it. I know I certainly do. And most of all, thank you for being Xenas friend."
"Xenas been a good friend to me. Gabrielle, we warrior-types may not talk a lot. But when we do, its usually on a deep level. Youd be surprised at the topics Xena and I discuss when we do get past joking and giving each other a hard time."
"Yeah. Like what?"
"History. Philosophy. Life. Love. Who do you think gave me some of the pointers I used to get Raella to notice me?"
"Really? And what exactly did Xena tell you?"
"To listen to Raella when she talks. To let her be herself and to appreciate her just like she is. To encourage her to fulfill her dreams. To pay attention to the little things. To compliment her on her looks. To bring her small gifts and make sure her basic needs are being met. To put her before myself. To communicate openly and clearly. To spend quiet moments just holding each other and gazing at the stars or the clouds. To tell her that I love her."
"Well." Gabrielle blinked. "Id say she gave you very good advice."
"Its working so far."
"Yes it is." The bard glanced over at Xena, who was using her fork and knife to illustrate some sort of battle position.
"Huh?" The bard turned back toward the weapons master.
"Will you excuse me? I think Raella wants to dance."
"Of course. Go have fun." Gabrielle watched as Eponin and her auburn-haired partner made their way toward the drum circle, joining several other couples who were already happily gyrating to the music. She turned back and moved her hand from Xenas thigh and lightly wrapped her arm around her partners bare back, resting her chin on the warriors shoulder, looking over at the growing pattern of forks and knives on the table top.
" . . . and see, if you get the cavalry lined up like this, here . . . and here . . . then youve cut off the path for their foot soldiers to get through to your main line of defense." The warrior unconsciously pressed back against her lover as she finished up her illustration, enjoying the warmth of their connected bodies.
"Wow. So thats how you and Bodaceia defeated Caesar?" Amarice looked at the table with awe. "Thats amazing.
"Yes. Its not such a mystery once you see how it works, is it?" Xena chuckled.
"No." The tall redhead looked over at Kallerine, who was making her own arrangement of forks and knives on the table. "Xena. What happens if their foot soldiers moved in this direction instead?" Kallerine made a slight adjustment to the pattern of silverware the warrior had laid out on the table.
"Well." Xena picked up a fork and turned it in a different direction. "Then you move part of your cavalry over here instead. Has the same effect as the other arrangement. Youve still managed to protect your main line."
"Oh." The bacchae slayer frowned and studied the table again. "But what if . . ."
"Hey. Bacchae-butt. Youre getting way too serious. This is a party. Lets go dance." Amarice stood and pulled her chair back, motioning for Kallerine to follow her.
"Uh. Sure." A surprised slayer followed the tall redhead toward the drum circle.
"Think theres another love connection brewing there?" Gabrielle watched the two young Amazons as they began to move in time to the music.
"Artemis help us if it is." Chilapa groaned. "Talk about two very strong-willed young women. Id hate to be there for the first lovers quarrel. And Id really hate to have to be on the clean-up crew afterward. Now, my queen, if you, Xena, and Rebina will excuse me I have some business to tend to back in my hut."
"Chilapa. Whatever business there is, surely it can wait until tomorrow. Id hate for you to miss the party."
"Gabrielle." The regent leaned in, resting a hand on the table. "Personal business. A private party awaits me in my hut." Chilapa winked. "Got me?"
"Oh. Sure. By all means." The bard blushed as the regent turned and left the ceremony area.
Xena laughed and pulled her young lover against her. "You are so cute when youre flustered."
Gabrielle slapped the warriors thigh. "Ill give you flustered. Later."
"I hope so."
As warrior and bard continued to tease each other, Loisha approached the table and asked Rebina to dance. The two shy Amazons excused themselves, leaving the warrior and the queen alone at the table. "Xena. I didnt know Chilapa was seeing anyone. Any idea who it is?"
"Dont know her name. Cute petite blonde. I noticed them sitting together at lunch today and again while we were sparring. And speaking of cute petite blondes, will you dance with me?"
"Oh. We havent danced together since we rescued Tara from that conservative village. And that was different."
"Yes. Very different." The warrior leaned in and quickly kissed her lover. "So. Dance with me, please?"
Gabrielle rose and dragged Xena by the hand toward the drum circle. As they neared the outer edge, the bard stopped, hesitating for a moment. "Xena. I dont know how well I am going to do at this."
"Trust me. Youll be fine. We move very well together in other ways, dont you think?" The warriors voice was low and teasing. She whispered in Gabrielles ear. "Think of this kind of dancing as a vertical expression of a horizontal idea. Look around."
The bard glanced around, taking in the sight of several bodies pressed very close together. "Oh. I see what you mean."
Xena took Gabrielles hands, pulling them up to rest on the warriors shoulders. She then placed her own hands on the bards hips and drew her lover in close, guiding them in a slow hypnotic rhythm to the beat of the drums. Gabrielle soon forgot to think about the movement, and simply felt the music, following Xena as they danced together totally in sync. They danced through several more songs together, some fast and some slow. The bard gradually gained confidence and was thoroughly enjoying herself.
Suddenly, the tempo changed to a much more sensual beat. The warrior gazed into her lovers eyes and slowly spun the bard around until Gabrielles back was pressed against Xenas front. The warrior wrapped her arms around the bards bare midsection and began a slow suggestive grind of her hips against Gabrielles backside, pulling her lover tightly against her. Xena dipped her head and spoke seductively into the bards ear. "Relax. Melt into me Gabrielle."
The bard felt a delicious shiver course through her body, and was sure if it werent for Xena supporting her, her legs would give out. She reached around behind her and placed her hands on Xenas hips, helping to guide her in the dance. She leaned back into the warrior until her head was resting against a strong shoulder. Xena turned her head and began to slowly kiss her lover while they continued in the dance. Their tongues began a leisurely exploration as the dance went on for several long minutes.
As the drums beats began to wind down, Xena broke off from the kiss. She whispered in a low growl. "Can we go back to the hut now?"
"I was just thinking the same thing." The bard turned around and wrapped her arms around the warriors neck, and they swayed together as the dance ended. Gabrielle placed her hands against Xenas bare stomach and leaned up for another kiss. "Ooo. I like you in these Amazon clothes. Theres more skin to touch." The bard gave a small tickle to the warriors exposed belly button.
Xena felt her stomach muscles flutter and she could wait no longer. She scooped her lover up and carried her away from the drum circle, across the courtyard, and into their hut. She closed the door behind her and Gabrielle felt the world spin as she was turned and then gently tossed onto their bed. And suddenly she found herself covered by a warm and very hungry warrior, who was rapidly removing both of their clothes.
"Are we having a private party like Chilapa?" The bard nipped at a bit of skin just below the warriors ear.
Xena chuckled. "Oh yeah. Lets get these off." The warrior tugged at the waist band of the bards underwear, removing the last bit of material separating them and tossing them across the room with a flick of her wrist. She settled back down on top of her young lover and captured the bards lips, growling low in her throat as she felt Gabrielles hands wander across her body, and they began to move together, this time to the beat of internal music created by the joining of their souls.
The warrior stirred and reached up, pulling the blankets more snugly around herself and her partner. They were in their most common sleeping arrangement, both of them stomach down with Xenas face resting between the bards shoulder blades and her arm stretched out across Gabrielles back and down one of the bards arms. One blue eye opened to just a slit. It was still pitch black outside.
Hmmm. Wonder what woke me up? The warrior closed her eye and listened intently for a moment. Hearing nothing, she sighed and nuzzled her lovers soft skin and settled back down to go back to sleep.
Gabrielle felt her partner move and rolled over until she was face up under Xena. "Is it morning?"
"No. Still a few hours before dawn." Xenas drawled lazily.
"No. Everythings perfect." The warrior kissed the hollow of the bards throat, which had ended up conveniently right below her face after Gabrielle had flipped over. The bard slid down until their lips met. They shared a few drowsy kisses, nibbling slowly while never opening their eyes. "Mmmm. Remind me to wake up in the middle of the night for no reason more often." Xena purred.
After several minutes of happy but sleepy contact, Gabrielle broke away and rolled back over on her stomach. Xena settled back down across her lovers back and absently stroked the fine hairs on the bards upper arm.
"I love you Xena."
"Love you too sweetheart."
They fell back into contented slumber.
Xena woke up again. This time the first rays of dawn cast a soft stripes of light across the room. She carefully slid from under the covers and pulled on a heavy tunic and her boots. Her stomach growled and she quietly tiptoed out of the room and left the hut for the dining hall. She looked toward the ceremony area from the night before and smiled with a slight shake of her head. A few Amazons were passed out under the trees, having not made it back to their huts after the revelry.
Thank the gods I had the sense to keep my wine consumption under control last night. Xena mused to herself. She opened the dining hall door and eased inside. Daria, the cook, had set out a serve-yourself table of various breakfast foods. The warrior grabbed a tray and loaded it up with several selections, planning on surprising her partner with breakfast. She looked across the room and saw Amarice sitting at a table by herself, sipping hot tea and staring idly off into space. Xena wandered over and sat down across from the tall redhead.
"Morning, enjoy the party last night?"
Amarice jumped. "Xena. Gods. You scared me."
"Scared you? I was right in your line of sight the whole way over here."
"Oh. Sorry. Guess I was preoccupied."
"Obviously. You okay?"
"Yes." The Amazon smiled. "At least I think so."
Xena cocked her head and studied the girl. "You sure?"
"Xena, can I ask you a question?"
"You can ask, but I might not answer. Shoot."
"What was it like the first time you kissed Gabrielle?"
The warrior suppressed a smile. "Does this have anything to do with Kallerine?"
Amarice blushed. "Um. Yeah."
"Your first kiss?"
"No. Well, with her, yes. And I think it was her first with anyone."
"Oh. And how was it?"
Amarice smiled and her face flushed a rosy pink. "It was real nice. But now Im afraid when I see her Ill feel all shy and stupid."
"I see. Why do you think that?"
"Im not sure. I just feel different."
"Amarice. Different is okay. Chances are she feels the same way. Just be yourself and if you feel like it, talk about it with her. Better yet, kiss her again. If it still feels nice to both of you, just go with it. Take it slowly and take it one day at a time. Only time will tell if things will develop further for you two. Spend some time together and have fun. And dont take things too seriously. Youre both young. Now, I think I see the subject of our conversation coming this way, so Im going to go on back to the queens hut. Dont worry. Everything will be fine."
"No problem." The warrior patted the tall Amazon on the shoulder and then moved toward the door and passed Kallerine, who was lost in a daydream. "Good morning Kallerine."
"Huh? Oh. Morning, Xena. Isnt it a lovely day?" The slayer had a goofy look on her face.
"Yes. Absolutely." The warrior watched with amusement as Kallerine spotted Amarice and identical smiles lit up both their faces. Yep. I think everything will be just fine. Young love. Gods preserve me from ever being that age again. Course I guess I get that same goofy look on my face when I see Gabrielle, now dont I? Xena crossed the courtyard and entered their hut.
"Youre gonna spoil me rotten." The bard popped the last bite of a third muffin into her mouth and licked the residual sugar from her fingertips.
"Thats the plan. I want you to be happy." Xena grinned, snagging another muffin for herself.
"I am very happy, so your plans working."
"Good. Welcome home, Gabrielle."
The bard settled back, leaning against the sturdy wooden chair she sat in, and sighed. "Are we Xena?"
"Are we what?"
The warrior remained silent for a moment, reaching out across the table and taking the bards hand. "Gabrielle. You are my home."
"I feel the same way, Xena. Sometimes home is not a place, its a person."
"True. But, yeah. As far as a physical location is concerned, were home. For as long as we need it to be. For as long as the Amazons need us, need you, to be here."
"Xena. Thank you. But this is a partnership. Its not just about my needs. Its about your needs too. If the day comes when you just cant stand to be here in this village anymore, you let me know. Deal?"
"I dont suppose I can expect this to be an easy job, huh?"
"Gabrielle. Think about it. You. Me. Amazons. That combination so far has pretty much resulted in chaos. Now were about to throw Brutus and the Roman Empire into the mix. Several choice descriptions come to mind, but easy is definitely not one of them."
The bard bit her lip and grinned. "Our lives are never going to be boring, are they Xena?"
Blue eyes twinkled back at her. "In a world full of uncertainties, Gabrielle, that is at least one of the few things I can guarantee you."
As they began to discuss the upcoming treaty summit, two unseen figures looked down at them from Olympus.
"Well, Ares. Are you ready to work with me instead of against me?"
The god of war crossed his arms and idly stroked his beard with one hand. "Do I have a choice, Artemis?"
"Of course you do, but lets face it, my favorite mortal and your favorite mortal look pretty inseparable to me. Wouldnt it be easier to be on the same side instead of you constantly fighting to get the upper hand?"
"At least my favorite is only half mortal."
"Whatever, brother dear. Thats not my point. Come on now, you love to watch Xena fight, even if it isnt necessarily for one of your pet causes. Am I correct?"
The dark god pursed his lips and then allowed a smile to creep across his face. "Yeah. Thats true."
"Well, Gabrielle is going to lead my Amazons, and while she is a good fighter, shes no warrior. Shes going to need someone with Xenas tactical skills."
"That means that Xenas bound to get caught up in a battle or two every now and then. Wouldnt you like to see that?"
"Yeah. I would."
"So. What do you say? Can we call a truce and lend our powers to help them work together?" The goddess held out her arm.
After a brief internal struggle, Ares slowly reached out and grasped it. "Okay, sis, for now I'll work with you."
"Ares, this is going to be the beginning of a beautiful relationship."
THE END, FOR NOW
(Will the treaty come to pass? Will Gabrielle and Eli ever talk? Will Amarice and Kallerine get together? Will Kallerine ever find her sister? Will Xena propose to Gabrielle? Will Toris find someone to love? Will Xena tell Cyrene that Ares is her father? For the answers to these and other pressing questions, stay tuned . . .)
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