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 not written for profit and no copyright infringements are intended. In my world, the Xenaverse intersects with the Buffyverse in a character Ive created named Kallerine, who bears a striking resemblance to Sarah Michelle Gellar. No copyright infringements intended toward the owners of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, either.
This is Xena were talking about here. She doesnt use that chakram to file her nails. Nuff said.
PG-13, okay maybe R. Nothing too graphic here, but if two women being in love rocks your world, too bad for you. Move on to something you can handle.
Grammar, Spelling, Punctuation:
Thank the gods for spell check! Ive tried, so if its not perfect, bite me!
Any questions, comments, or suggestions are most welcome. You can e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Gabrielle and Xena are living together in the Amazon village. Gabrielle is queen and Xena is her champion/consort. This story falls sequentially after my first story, "March the 16th." Ive taken some liberties with history here, but then so does the show.
A SOLSTICE TREATY
This is the kind of
Friend You are -
Without making me realize
My souls anguished history,
You slip into my house at night,
And while I am sleeping,
You silently carry off
All my suffering and sordid past
In your beautiful Hands.
- "Beautiful Hands," The Subject Tonight is Love - 60 Wild and Sweet Poems of Hafiz, versions by Daniel Ladinsky, copyright 1996, Pumpkin House Press, PumpkinH@aol.com.
The Amazon queen sat at a table in the sitting room of her hut, updating her journal while munching on the remains of a late lunch. A warm summer breeze drifted through the open doorway, riffling the parchment she was scribbling on. She idly lifted up her empty tea mug and sat it on the corner of the page to hold it down. She paused and looked up, staring off into space, her brows furrowing in concentration as she tried to come up with just the right adjective to describe her partners very blue eyes. Her nostrils flared slightly as she inhaled the pleasurable scent of sun-warmed grass and damp earth the breeze carried into the room.
The warrior finished the last round of sanding and picked up a buffing rag, giving the smooth wood surface in front of her an all-over rub-down with oil. The slippery substance seeped through the rag, coating her finger tips. She gave the wood one last swipe and then carefully ran her palm across the surface, and muttered a little to herself, satisfied that there werent any errant splinters to catch in her partners fair skin. She smiled and stood up, wiping her hands on the hem of her tunic.
Xena was worried about the bard. They had settled down into somewhat of a routine in the Amazon village, and the bards mornings were filled with council meetings, dispute mediation, and studying up on Amazon law during her spare moments. Afternoons were devoted to paperwork and catching up on her journal entries and writing her stories in her scrolls. Xenas mornings were spent working with Argo, Star, and the other horses in the Amazon village. Afternoons were spent sparring and teaching tracking classes. By mutual agreement between Gabrielle and the warrior, evenings after dinner were reserved for time alone together, talking, star-gazing, or just being together in the queens hut.
It was the bards nights that had Xena concerned. Gabrielle wasnt sleeping well and sometimes appeared to be having bad dreams. More and more frequently, the warrior woke to find her partner sitting in a chair looking out the window at the night sky with a sometimes forlorn, often pensive expression on her face. She had tried to talk to Gabrielle about it, but the bard only smiled sadly and said she didnt know what was wrong, exactly, but that as soon as she figured it out Xena would be the first person shed talk to.
The warrior wanted her lover to be happy, and patiently waited until the bard was forthcoming with whatever had her so preoccupied. Meanwhile, Xena tried to satisfy herself with making sure her partners creature comforts were taken care of. She often foraged for the strawberries and wild grapes the bard loved to eat, and dropped hints in the dining hall to Daria to fix her lovers favorite meals. The warrior made sure Gabrielles lavender bath oil was always on hand, and often slid in behind her partner, giving her unsolicited neck and shoulder rubs. The bards love of writing in their back courtyard had been the inspiration for the project Xena was now completing.
"Gabrielle, your surprise is ready. Come on out here." Xena called loudly from outside. She had been working all morning and into the afternoon on the secret project and wouldnt let her partner into the courtyard until she was finished. The sounds of hammering and sawing had emanated through the open doorway for several candle marks, and the bards curiosity had almost gotten the best of her more than once. Gabrielle grinned and laid down her quill and hastily went outside.
A low chaise-style bench sat next to the fence with a thick down cushion on top of it. It was wide enough for two to sit on, and long enough for the warrior to stretch out her long legs. Xena was lounging in the middle, her hands propped behind her head against the high back, with a big grin on her face. She patted the space next to her.
"Oh, Xena. This is perfect." The bard moved toward the bench and sank down into the cushion next to her lover. "You know how much I love this little courtyard. Now I can sit out here and write in comfort. Thank you."
"Thought youd like it."
"I love it. And I love you." Gabrielle snuggled up against her partner and draped a lazy arm across the warriors mid-section. "Hey. Whered you get enough feathers to stuff this with? You been stealing from the Amazons ceremonial supply hut again?" The bard bounced up and down lightly on the comfy seat.
"Nah. Mother saved most of her pluckings from her chickens and geese over the past year. She didnt need to make any new mattresses for the inn, so I asked her if I could have them. She sent them down with the last trade caravan that came through from Amphipolis. She also sent me a bolt of this oil-treated cloth to make the cushion cover with. That way we can keep it outside and rain wont hurt it. Ponys been hiding the sack of feathers and the cloth in her hut for me. We skipped a few sparring sessions while I made the cushion."
"Its nice." The bard ran a hand over the sturdy rust-colored material, noting the familiar small even stitches at the seams that were characteristic of the warriors handiwork. "Leave it to you and Mom to think of everything." The bard looked up at her partner and patted the toned stomach. "By the way, speaking of Amphipolis, is Aaron coming down for the peace treaty summit? I havent heard anything from him yet."
"No?" The bad squeaked. "Aarons the reeve. If hes not coming, then who is?"
"Um. No one."
A look of outrage crossed the bards fair face. "No one! Xena, weve worked really hard on this treaty. Why doesnt Amphipolis want to participate and why didnt they tell me they were going to back out?"
Since her first full day as acting queen, Gabrielle and her committee had been working out the details of what they hoped would be a satisfactory peace treaty between the Amazon nation, Amphipolis, Potadeia, and the Roman Empire. When the nearby Centaur village heard of the treaty, Tildes, the Centaurs leader, made a personal visit to the Amazon village to ask if they could join in. Messages were sent back and forth, and after several modifications to the first draft of the treaty, all the parties agreed to admit the Centaurs into the negotiations. The weeks had passed and the summer solstice was a few days away, the date all the parties were to meet and finalize the treaty. Now all they had to do was wait for all the representatives to arrive in the Amazon village, the site for the treaty summit.
"Didnt say that Amphipolis wasnt participating." Xenas blue eyes twinkled with just a faint hint of mischief.
"Well how in blazes can they be a part of it if they dont send someone to represent their interests and sign the treaty?" Gabrielle fretted. "Ive heard from Brutus and Potadeia, and even the Centaurs. Without representation, Amphipolis will get the leftovers in this deal. There are too many strong-willed leaders involved for it not to be taken seriously by all parties involved." The bard let out a heavy sigh of frustration.
"Dont worry Gabrielle. Aaron sent me a message. Just got it early this morning by carrier pigeon. He . . . um . . . wants me to represent Amphipolis."
"Oh." The bard nestled back against Xena, the warrior not missing the concerned look on her young partners face.
"Is that okay?" The warriors eyes narrowed and her voice grew softer. "I mean, there arent any laws against the Amazon queens consort representing other entities for such purposes are there?"
The bard chewed her lower lip thoughtfully. "Dont think so. Im the first queen who has ever taken a consort outside the nation. Besides, we arent joined or anything like that. Its not like our consortium is official."
"Thats true." A thought occurred to Xena and she looked down at the bard, grateful that Gabrielle wasnt looking at her face at the moment. Hmmm. Official. I wonder? Would she want to? I gotta think about this some more. She smiled and tucked her thoughts away, idly running her fingers through her partners wispy blonde hair.
"I guess if I get any grief about you being there, Ill just have to start throwing out royal edicts and get nasty and mean with them." Gabrielle grinned and playfully tickled the warriors belly.
Xena laughed and grabbed the offending hand. "Ooo. And you are such a mean and nasty person, my bard. Very scary indeed."
"I can be when the need arises." The bard gave her tall lover a mock scowl.
"Point taken." The warrior continued to chuckle inwardly. She didnt have the heart to tell her partner that even at her angriest, Xena couldnt find her anything other than absolutely adorable. "So. Whos coming from Potadeia?"
Gabrielle chewed on her thumbnail and peered up hesitantly. "Errr. My father."
Two dark eyebrows shot up. "Your father? Why?"
"Apparently he was elected reeve last year. No one bothered to tell me. Im not real happy about it, but theres nothing I can do. He is the proper party to attend the summit."
"Oh boy." The warrior rolled her blue eyes and looked up at the sky. "Zeus help me."
"Yeah. I havent seen him since that time Hope and I fell down into the lava pit and you found me wandering outside Potadeia." The bard felt the body she was reclining against stiffen, and looked up to find Xena with a faraway look in her eyes. "Hey. Xena. Are you okay?" Gabrielle brushed her fingertips against the chiseled face.
"Um . . . yeah. That . . . was a really hard time for me. We had just worked out so much stuff between us and then I thought I lost you. And then when Alti showed me that vision . . . the first time I had the crucifixion vision . . . and I knew you were alive, I was so happy I thought I would burst before I got back to Greece. And then I figured out that Hope was impersonating you, and so I thought you were dead after all, that Alti had used that vision to trick me. Something died inside of me, that part of me that was you, it just shriveled up. I was ready to give up, Gabrielle, and I focused in on my drive to protect your family from Hope. I didnt want to think about what I was going to do once Hope was taken care of. The thought of going back out on the road again alone broke my heart. I . . . Im sorry. You were trying to talk about your father and here I am babbling."
Gabrielle wiped a tear away from the corner of the warriors eye, and kissed the fingertip bearing the tear, pressing it back against Xenas lips. "Its okay. It was a really hard time for me too. After I sent word out in several directions and didnt hear from you, I thought I had lost you too. Figured you had just taken off, maybe back to Chin or Britannia or somewhere far away. When we found each other in the woods outside Potadeia, Xena, that was one of the happiest moments of my life. It was a gift. I felt like my life had been given back to me. It hurt so much when my father didnt share my happiness. He was pretty upset when I told him I was going to keep following you, especially when I told him I thought we might go to India. He kept begging me to stay and told me he was afraid you were going to get me killed."
"Im afraid he was right about that, love." Xena sighed. Would she have been better off staying in Potadeia? She wouldnt have been crucified. I probably should have left her there. Damn.
Gabrielle sensed her partners slightly darker mood and sat up, turning so she could face the warrior. "Xena. Now whats wrong?"
"Could you be a little more specific, oh warrior princess of few words, or was that last monologue your allotment of speech for the next moon?"
The warrior smiled briefly before the sad look re-appeared. "Its not important."
"Xena. Something is obviously bothering you. So. Its important to me. Now talk to me. Please?"
The warrior looked down at her lap, smoothing out her leather skirt. "Gabrielle, knowing what you know now, do you wish you had stayed in Potadeia back then? You wouldnt have had to go through us dying. You could have avoided all that pain and my stupid brooding over those crucifixion visions I kept having. You wouldnt have had to deal with my jealous attitude about Najara. Probably would have been better for you in the long run."
Gabrielle swallowed hesitantly. "Do you wish I had stayed in Potadeia?"
Sad blue eyes blinked a few times. "No. Im glad you stayed with me. Every day that we are together I come closer to being the person I want to be. And . . . and I think most of that is seeing my reflection in your eyes. Anything good in my life, any good that comes from my life, has been because of you. Youre the best part. I know thats selfish, but thats how I feel."
Gabrielle reached down and picked up the warriors hand, which was still fidgeting with her skirt. She interlaced their fingers and peered up at Xena. "Xena. I feel the same way, and its not selfish. Or if it is then Im selfish too. Do you realize that if I had stayed in Potadeia, you probably wouldnt have been crucified either?"
"How do you figure that?"
"Because, Xena. The only reason you went to that Roman compound was to rescue me, you big dope!" The bard gave her lovers hand an affectionate squeeze.
A look of utter surprise crossed the warriors face. "I . . . I never thought about that."
"Well I have. Plenty of times. Dont think youre the only one shouldering some post-crucifixion guilt, Xena."
"Gabrielle. You shouldnt let yourself feel guilty about that. Its not your fault. If its anybodys fault, its mine. I . . ."
The bards hand flew up, covering Xenas mouth. "Dont say it, Xena. Its no ones fault. Its just something really terrible that happened to us and now its over, okay? We cant keep kicking ourselves about all the what ifs. We could make ourselves crazy with that kind of thinking. Besides, if I had stayed in Potadeia we wouldnt have gone to India and found out we were eternal soulmates. And if we hadnt died we might have taken a lot longer to figure out we were in love with each other. Even if you had tried to make me stay in Potadeia, Xena, I would eventually have missed you so much that I would have left again to find you."
Xena smiled and pressed her lips against the bards knuckles. "Probably not before I would have missed you too much, my love, and gone running back to Potadeia to get you, even if I had had to knock your father over the head to get to you. But youre worried about seeing him. Is it because of the crucifixion, or because of our relationship?"
"A little of both. Remember when I sent word from Amphipolis to my family that I was okay?"
"Well, I got a short response from Lila. She said she had heard rumors that I had died, and was ever so thankful that I was alive. Shes the only one I heard from. My mother and father never did respond. Xena, sometimes I feel like they dont care about me at all unless I play by their rules. Like last year when you went to all that trouble to throw me a birthday party at your mothers inn in Amphipolis and most of our friends came. I understood when Hercules and Iolaus sent word from Irie, and Salmoneus was off trading in Gaul, but my parents, not only did they not come, they didnt even send a message. It really hurt."
"I know. I could tell." The warrior pulled her partner back against her side.
"And they way they treat you. That also hurts because I love you so much, and I want them to see you the way I do. How much worse is it going to be when they find out you and I are more than just friends?"
"Gabrielle, what I told you a few moons ago still stands. If you want to keep our relationship a secret from your family, Ill go along with it. I dont want you to be uncomfortable or worried while your father is here. Its gonna be stressful enough for you just leading the summit without any added pressure."
"Xena. How are we going to hide it? Not only are we living together in a hut with only one bed, but every Amazon in this village knows we are together. Even Brutus knows we are together. Remember how he found us under that willow tree when we were on our way here?"
"Oops. Forgot about that. I guess me being wrapped around you and kissing you on the neck is probably not going to pass as an affectionate gesture between friends, is it?"
"Nope. Xena. I dont want to hide our relationship. Ive thought about that. Im a grown woman. Im queen of the Amazons for Artemis sake. If my father cant deal with it, its his loss. Despite everything you did for them and for me that last time we saw him, he was still rude to you. I think he saw something between us even then, before you and I were willing to admit we were more than friends. Perhaps he wont be so surprised that we ended up together. Besides, Im proud to be with you. To be seen with you. Remember what you said to me after Ares tricked you into thinking he was your father? I mean when we didnt know that he really was your father?"
"Yes. There are families we are born into and families we choose. Our friendship binds us closer together than blood ever could." Xena kissed the fair head that was tucked under her chin.
"Thats true more than ever now, Xena. You are my family. I dont have to worry that I will lose my family because its right here living with me. Xena, you are all the family I could ever need."
"Glad you feel that way love, because I feel the same way. Gabrielle, how long have we been together?"
"A little over four summers, Xena. You know that."
"No. I mean together together."
"Oh." The bard blushed. "Lets see. Ides of March. Summer solstice is almost here, so weve been together about a season. Why?"
"Just wondering." Probably too early to ask her. Maybe another season or two. Still. I know how I feel. And thats not going to change. I think she feels the same way. "Gabrielle?"
"Have you ever been to an Amazon joining ceremony?"
"Yes. Once when I stayed in the village while you took care of some business with Autolycus." Where in Hades is this coming from? The bard inwardly mused. Unless. She remembered Artemis words to her about her future with Xena, and swallowed. "Why do you ask?"
"Just curious. What was it like?"
"Well. Lets see. Normally the queen officiates, but for that one Ephiny officiated. I had just become queen so I let her take charge, since she knew what she was doing and I hadnt a clue. I did sit on the platform with them, so I had a pretty good view. I know that a few of the council members met with the couple prior to the ceremony and they took care of a bunch of paperwork beforehand in Ephinys hut. Im not sure what that was all about. Ive not read up on the legal requirements for a joining."
"What did they do at the ceremony?"
"There was some drumming and choreographed dancing. Then the couple walked down an aisle between all the seated Amazons and they knelt down on the platform next to each other in front of Ephiny. They each had chosen a close friend to stand up there with them, as witnesses, I think. Ephiny said some things and then the couple faced each other and they said a pledge to each other. I think they had written their own words to say to each other. Then they nicked each other on the wrist with a little dagger and joined their wrists, mingling their blood. Then Eph pronounced them joined and they kissed. And then of course there was a big party." The bards eyes twinkled as she regarded her taller partner.
Xena chuckled. "A party. Why does that not surprise me? Did you like the ceremony?"
"Yes. It was very touching. The words they said to each other were really sweet."
"Do both of them have to be Amazons to be joined?"
"Yes. But there have been instances where an Amazon wanted to join with someone who was not an Amazon. Ephiny told me about it. They do have a ceremony that will make the non-member a member of the nation at the same time as the joining ceremony. They just do the induction first and then immediately have the joining ceremony afterward."
"Oh. What does the non-member have to do to become a member of the nation?"
"Well, first they have to be approved by the council. Then they have to be questioned extensively by the village elders. Then they have to pass a test. Then they have the induction ceremony."
"What kind of test?"
"It usually involves some sort of sparring match. The council will choose a weapon and the person who wants to join the nation has to at least hold their own in a match with Eponin. They dont have to win, just make a good show."
"Because shes the best Amazon with every weapon we have in the village." The bard grinned, reading her lovers thoughts. In Xenas case they just might waive the skills test. Shes already kicked Ponys butt at every weapon we have on several occasions. "Oh. They also have another custom that takes place after the joining ceremony."
"The Amazons have a little cabin up in the mountains. Its mostly used after joinings. The couple goes off alone to the cabin for a week and they spend the whole week together, just getting used to being a couple and getting to know each other better, and to have a little break before they settle down in the village and get back to normal daily life."
"What if they already live together and they are already used to being a couple? Do they still get to go away for a week?"
"Of course, silly. Most of the joined couples in the village already lived together by the time they were joined. Everyone knows the real reason the couple goes to the cabin after the joining is to have a whole lot of uninterrupted sex."
"Figured. I like that custom." Xena grinned a feral smile and kissed her lover, gently nibbling on the bards lips.
After a long moment, in which Gabrielle melted into the contact with her partner, she pulled back and opened her eyes. "I thought you might. Xena, why all the interest in Amazon ceremonies?"
"Oh . . . um . . . well, Ive seen some Amazon ceremonies, even participated in some, like the challenge for the queens mask, the accepting of the mask, the ceremony for a funeral pyre, a ceremony for war, and the ceremony to cross over into the land of the dead, and the one they did when we moved here to give me resident alien status. I was just wondering about some of the types of ceremonies I havent see. " Yeah, thats it. You just keep telling yourself that, Xena. The warrior chided herself, and sounded a little shy, pulling the bard more closely against her body. "Are there any scrolls available that someone could read to learn more about all the legal stuff that goes with the ceremonies?"
"Sure. In the council room off the dining hall."
"Do you have to be on the council to read them?"
"No. Anyone who lives in the village has access to them."
"Hmmmmm. Gabrielle. I need to go take care of Argo. Ive been neglecting her lately, and I promised her a ride this afternoon after I finished this bench. Do you mind meeting me for dinner in the dining hall later?"
"No. In fact I need to go back in and finish up some last-minute paperwork
Xena and the bard got up from the bench and went back into their hut. The warrior changed from the blue linen sleeveless tunic she was wearing into her leathers and armor. She sat down and tugged on her boots while Gabrielle helped her buckle her armor and bracers. The warrior stood and attached all her weapons, carefully sheathing her sword and settling the chakram at her hip, and sauntered out the front door. The bard watched from the open portal until her partner disappeared into the common stable across the main village square, and then turned back to her parchment on the table.
The bard worked steadily for two candle marks, rearranging several paragraphs of the treaty draft so that they flowed better, and adding a few details to clarify some fuzzy points. As she studied the document, she sipped from a tall mug of cold apple cider, and occasionally popped some fresh pecans into her mouth. Xena had found a pecan tree on one of the foraging trips she had led from the Amazon village, and had surprised her partner with a full pouch of the mild yet tasty nuts.
A knock at the door interrupted the bards thoughts, and she looked up. "Come in." She called out loudly.
The door opened and Kallerine poked her head inside, peering around with big brown eyes before entering the room. "Queen Gabrielle, the outer watch just reported in. Brutus and his guard unit have reached the outskirts of our territory. A full Amazon escort has been sent to meet him, and they expect him to arrive sometime tomorrow afternoon."
"Great. Has everything been squared away with the Centaurs to put him and his soldiers up during the summit?" The Amazons didnt allow men to stay in their village overnight, and since the Centaurs were all men, the Amazons often hosted female visitors for the Centaurs and the Centaurs reciprocated for male visitors of the Amazons.
"Yes. I ran over there first thing this morning. Tildes is pulling out all the stops to make sure Brutus is comfortable. In fact, I think theyve built a special new hut just for Brutus and his party, complete with a private bathing tub and separate bunks for each soldier. And, if Im not mistaken, I believe I smelled a pig roasting while I was there."
"Perfect. I want to meet with Brutus tomorrow after he arrives, and then I would like for you to go with the Amazon escort to take them to the Centaur village. I want you personally to find out for sure if Tildes plans on entertaining the Romans tomorrow night. If he is, then thats one less detail for me to worry about. That will leave me to concentrate on getting my father settled in."
"Your father?" Kallerine gave her a puzzled look.
Gabrielle winced internally. "Yes. Hes the reeve of Potadeia."
"Oh. My queen. Do we need to arrange for him to stay with the Centaurs too?"
"Um. No, Kallerine, I think hes planning to camp out near our village gate. The Centaurs arent exactly his cup of tea, Im afraid. Im not sure if hes ever even seen a Centaur."
"Wow. Never? Well, I cant wait to meet him." Kallerine smiled.
Oh boy. My father and the Amazons. Hadnt considered that. Oh, well. Centaurs and Amazons. After the summit he will sure have some tales to share with his buddies at the tavern in Potadeia. "Im sure hes looking forward to meeting all of the Amazons, as well. Thank you Kallerine. Keep me posted as things progress."
"Of course, my queen." The young Amazon smiled and quietly left the bard to finish her treaty edits.
Xena decided to take the trail that led directly north of the Amazon village. She had been using her free time to gradually familiarize herself with all the surrounding territory, and the northern trail was the only one she had yet to explore. She let Argo go at her own pace, just enjoying the pattern the sunlight made as it pushed through the trees, casting dappled shadows on the path in front of her.
It was a warm afternoon, made tolerable only because of a faint breeze that made the leaves flutter. Every now and then, the warrior reached back and lifted up her long hair, letting the wind cool the sweat that trickled slowly down her neck. She finally gave up and pulled a leather tie from her belt pouch, using it to fasten her hair into a tail down her back.
After a while, she smelled the tangy mineral scent of water, right before she heard the roar of a stream running over rocks. She clucked to the mare, directing her off the path and through the foliage toward the sound. As the branches grew too low for her to duck comfortably, she dismounted and led the palomino, using her sword to cut through the dense undergrowth. Suddenly, the light grew brighter and they arrived at a crystal clear pond, which was fed by a waterfall that tumbled over a high rock outcropping at one end, and emptied into a creek feeding out the other.
"Hey, girl. What do you think about this? Pretty, isnt it?" Summer flowers grew in abundance on the ponds shore, and little water bugs skated on the surface. A flash of silver caught the warriors eye, as a fish jumped from the water, its scales catching the afternoon sun. Xena spared a wistful thought for the days when the fish would have become dinner for her and the bard. "Oh well, I can still enjoy a nice swim, cant I? Here, lets take this saddle off and let you run free for a little while, okay?"
The warrior unbuckled the heavy leather seat and the sturdy straps of the bridle, and set them down on the ground next to a rock, along with the saddle bags. "There ya go." She slapped the mare on the rump. "Have fun." She chuckled as the war horse ambled over to a clear patch of grass and dropped down to her forelegs before rolling over onto her back, writhing back and forth to remove the feel of the confining saddle. With a snort, Argo rose up and stamped her front hoof a few times before she lowered her head to graze, using her blunt teeth to rip off long stalks of the dark green grass that was fed by the moisture from the pond.
Xena empathized with her equine friend, gratefully shrugging out of her own leathers and armor. She tugged off her boots and carefully tucked her scabbard and chakram underneath the armor to shade them from the sun. She loped over to the rock outcropping, and studied the face for a moment before she grasped onto a handhold and climbed up to the top of the cliff, stopping just to the side of the upper part of the waterfall. With a loud joyful yell, she dove out, becoming airborne, and then sliced the surface of the water cleanly. She swam a few yards under the water before surfacing with a splutter, tossing the wet hair out of her face.
The water was cool, but not cold, and the warrior made a mental note to bring her partner there soon. Gabrielle loved to swim, but hated really cold water. Xena swam several laps back and forth across the pond before she made her way to the waterfall. It was tall and pretty, but didnt have much of an undertow. The warrior took a deep breath and dove under, swimming under the falls and coming up behind it. She stopped, treading water, and blinked.
Behind the waterfall was a small cave, with walls of crystal that reflected the little rainbows made by the sun shining through the spray of the waterfall. She swam over to a ledge that was even with the water and hoisted herself up with her powerful forearms. She stood up on the pebble-covered cave floor, and wandered around, just looking at the pretty formations. It wasnt a big cave, but it was certainly well-hidden, and she decided it would be a great place to make camp sometime, if need be. Maybe I can convince Gabrielle to stay here with me some night. She grinned. Shouldnt be too hard. Xena knew the bard would be taken with the beauty of the light playing on the crystal.
She explored a bit more and discovered that on one side of the cave opening was a narrow ledge. If she pressed her back against the wall, she could walk out of the cave without having to get back into the water. Perfect. We could carry our camping supplies in and not have to worry about getting them wet.
Xena made her way to a large flat warm rock, and laid down on it, stretching her body out to its full length and enjoying the feel of the sun on her wet skin. She allowed herself some idle nondescript daydreams before she found her thoughts turning increasingly to her conversation with the bard about Amazon joining ceremonies. Id love to be joined with her, though gods know I sure havent done anything to deserve her. I wonder what kind of an uproar our joining would cause with the Amazons? Wonder if theyd even have me be a part of them? She remembered the mixed reception she had received when it became known she was going to be living in the Amazon village, and winced. I guess I cant be popular with everyone.
She pondered joining and Amazons in general, and finally rolled slowly off the rock and put her clothes back on. She whistled for Argo and smiled, as the mare came crashing through the trees and trotted over to the rock where the warrior stood. She re-saddled her friend and climbed up in the saddle, settling her feet into the stirrups and gently nudging the horses sides, turning her toward home. Before I worry too much about the consequences of joining with Gabrielle, maybe I need to learn about all the requirements first. Xena nodded slightly, her focus becoming clearer, and made her way cheerfully back to the Amazon village.
Gabrielle felt her stomach growl, and looked out the window, surprised to see the sun sitting low in the sky. She went over to the window and smelled the scent of fresh-baked bread drifting across from the dining hall. Her stomach twisted into another loud growl and she giggled. "Okay, okay." She patted her demanding belly. "Time to feed you." She rolled up the parchment and capped her inkwell, and placed her quill into her tooled-leather scroll case.
The heat of the day had plastered her bangs to her forehead, and she went into the bathing room and splashed her face and changed into a fresh tunic, buttoning the carved bone buttons which went up the middle of the plain light tan linen garment. She wrapped a brown leather belt around her waist and buckled it, and then donned her brown sandals. The bard peered into the mirror and combed her fingers through her short blonde hair, settling it into place.
She was surprised Xena hadnt come back, and she went first to the stable to feed Star and leave some food out for Argo as well. As she entered the stable door, she was greeted by neighs from both Star and Argo. "Argo. What are you doing here? Wheres your mother? Did ya leave her out on the trail somewhere?"
The bard moved toward the palomino and could see that she had been recently curried, and that a liberal helping of oats had been left in her feed bag. Gabrielle wrinkled her brow, and went into Stars stall. "Hey, girl. How are you? Im sorry I havent ridden you in a while. Maybe after all this treaty stuff is finished I can convince Xena to go out on the road for a few days. Would you like that?"
In answer, the appaloosa nudged the bards stomach, and nipped at the belt around her waist. "Okay. I can take a hint. Ill try not to leave you alone for so long. I see Xena left you some oats, too. And . . ." Gabrielle ran her hand lightly along the grey and spotted back. "Looks like she brushed you too, and even combed all the tangles out of your tail. Ill have to thank her for that. If I can find her."
Gabrielle left the stable and followed her nose to the dining hall. She spotted Chilapa, the regent, who was also going toward the dining hall, and altered her course to fall in next to the dark-skinned Amazon. "Hey Chilapa, how are you?"
"Great. Especially since you gave the treaty committee the day off. I finally had a chance to straighten up my hut, do some wash, and mend some rips in my leathers. Even went to the practice yard and drilled with Pony some this morning. Felt really good."
"Believe me, I know the feeling. Ive been so busy with the treaty, if it werent for Xena helping me out, I hate to think what our hut would look like by now. I decided since the treaty was basically done you all might as well get a reprieve until the summit. No need in beating the document into the ground. Im sure by the time Brutus, Tildes, my father, and Xena get done with it, well have to change it some more anyway."
"Xena?" The regent stopped and looked at her queen for a long moment. "Whats Xena got to do with the treaty?"
"Oh. I havent seen you today. She heard from Amphipolis this morning. They want her to represent them at the summit."
"Oh. Good. I guess. Is that okay with you?"
"Yeah. I mean, I know shes my champion and all, but she thinks she can represent Amphipolis fairly. Besides, it sure cant hurt me to have a friend in there, now can it?"
"What about your father?"
"Im not so sure he is going to be as friendly." The bard tugged absently at the collar of her tunic, straightening it. "He doesnt much care for Xena, and he may just go through the roof once he sees how things are between us now."
"Im sorry to hear that, Gabrielle. I like Xena, and I know Ephiny counted her as a very dear friend."
"Thanks, Chilapa." Gabrielle placed a hand on the regents shoulder and squeezed it. "Speaking of Xena, have you seen her recently?"
"Gosh." Chilapa gestured toward the village gate. "I saw her about two candle marks ago when she came riding in on Argo. She passed by the practice yard while Pony and I were out there, but I havent seen her since then."
"Two candle marks?" A puzzled bard opened the dining hall door and she and the regent went inside.
Gabrielle paused for a moment, scanning the dinner crowd, and finally found Kallerine. She made her way across the room to the young bacchae slayer and pulled up a seat next to her. "Kallerine, have you seen Xena?"
"Um. I believe shes in the council room, last time I checked. She came and found me and asked me to help her find some scrolls in there. Far as I know, shes still in there."
"Scrolls?" The bard quirked a blonde eyebrow, obviously waiting for more information.
"Well." Kallerine tore the corner off a slice of thick brown bread and slathered it liberally with honey-flavored butter. "She said she wanted to read up on Amazon customs. Boy, we really had to dig to find the scrolls she wanted. Is it ever dusty on those upper shelves in there. I dont think I stopped sneezing for a half a candle mark."
"Thanks, Kallerine." The bard stood, pushing her chair back, and walked across the hall to the council room and quietly opened one door. She poked her head inside and saw the warrior seated with her back to her, with several scrolls spread out on a table, pouring over them while making notes on a piece of parchment. Xena was so absorbed in what she was doing that she never heard the bard. Gabrielle silently closed the door and made her way to a dining hall table to eat.
A bit later, the warrior slipped out of the council room and spotted her partner seated across the room. She ambled over and Gabrielle smiled as Xena sat down next to her, and laid a carefully rolled-up piece of parchment on the table.
"You have a nice long ride on Argo?"
"Uh. Yeah. Nice and long. Yeah. Really enjoyed it." The warrior accepted a plate of food from a server and began to attack a piece of venison with gusto.
"Whats that?" The bard pointed to the parchment.
"Nothing. Just some notes."
"For the treaty summit?"
"No. Well. Something like that."
"You find out everything you wanted to know in those scrolls?"
Xena coughed, barely avoiding choking on a green bean, and took several long sips from a goblet of water before she cleared her throat. "Um . . ." Hades. How did she know what I was doing? "Yeah. Just reading up on Amazon customs, actually. Um . . . yeah . . . customs regarding peace treaties."
"Oh." Gabrielle couldnt help but smile. Okay, Artemis. You said to let her do this on her own. You failed to tell me she was going to start thinking about it so soon. The bard began to attack her own plate of food, feeling a giddy wave of joy welling up inside.
"What are you so happy about?" The warrior gave her young lover an affectionate look, pleased at the grin plastered on the bards face.
"Youre here. Do I need any other reason?" Gabrielle reached out and ran the back of her hand across Xenas cheek.
The warrior captured the hand and kissed the inside of her partners palm. "No. Glad I can inspire that in you. You just look really really happy."
"Well, so do you."
"I do?" Xena was suddenly aware that she also had a big smile on her face. "Guess Im just glad to be here with you, my bard." The warrior casually picked up the rolled parchment and folded it over, tucking it into her belt pouch.
They cleaned their plates and then shared an apple tart for dessert, trading nibbles. Gabrielle picked up the pastry and broke off a flaky piece, handing it across to the warrior. Xena took the offering into her mouth, and playfully clamped down on the bards fingers as well, gently sucking on them before she released them, watching as a heated blush rose from Gabrielles neck up into her face.
"Here." The bard leaned in close. "You have some crumbs on the corner of your mouth." She leaned even closer and reached out with the tip of her tongue, effectively removing them and then letting her lips linger for a long moment, enjoying the sweet tangy flavor of baked apples on the warriors mouth.
"Its good to be the queen." Chilapa walked by, quickly poking Gabrielle in the ribs before she scurried past where warrior and bard were seated.
"Yikes!" The bard jumped and looked up and around, to find several enviously watching Amazons. She pondered for a moment and then shrugged, and tilted her head for another kiss, pulling Xena closer in the process. A very surprised warrior chuckled and complied, raising a questioning eyebrow over Gabrielles shoulder at their audience, all of whom suddenly became terribly interested in the food on their plates.
"Gabrielle?" The warrior broke off. "When the treaty summit is over, how would you like to go for a ride for a few days, just you, me, Argo, and Star."
The bards face lighted up. "Wow. You read my mind. I was going to suggest the exact same thing to you. Ask Star if you dont believe me."
"Ask Star, huh? Okay, I will. Next time I see her." Xena laughed and peered down at the empty plate between them. "Do you want another tart, or are you ready to go back to the hut?"
Gabrielle rubbed her very taut stomach. "Much as I love Darias cooking, I think Im full. Lets go home. Theres a few snags in the treaty draft Id like you to take a look at, if you dont mind."
"Sure." The warrior stood and offered her partner a hand up, gently wrapping an arm around the bards waist and steering her out of the dining hall.
The sun had fully set, and the first stars were starting to twinkle in the night sky. Crickets chirped in the trees, and bullfrogs could be heard croaking in the stream that ran near the outside of the village. Eponin stood at guard at the front gate, her fingers restlessly fiddling with her weapons and armor. On the other side of the gate Rebina also stood, both of them waiting to be relieved by the night guard unit. Queen Gabrielle herself had hand-picked the two Amazons to greet Brutus the next day, and had made sure their turns at watch were arranged so that they could get a good nights sleep before the Romans arrival.
Amarice had begged to be allowed to greet the Romans too, but the queen had denied the request. There was too much bad blood between the tall redhead and Brutus, and Gabrielle had decided it would be in poor form for a peace treaty summit to get started with a meeting between the two. In fact, the bard had instructed Amarice to keep a low profile, preferably completely out of sight, to avoid any unpleasantness. The young Amazon had obediently stalked off to her hut, but not before she made sure her queen saw the pout on her face.
Amarice had spent the better part of the afternoon brooding alone, not even bothering with a light when the sun went down. Shed skipped dinner, preferring the solitude of her hut to the chatter of her Amazon sisters, at least at the moment. A soft knock at her hut door briefly shook the tall Amazon out of her foul mood. She opened the door and saw Kallerine standing there. "Hey."
Brown eyes blinked back at her. "Hey. Can I come in?"
"Uh. Sure." Amarice motioned toward a chair. "Have a seat. Here, let me light a candle." The tall Amazon fumbled with a flint and striker, making three attempts before the candle taper sprang to life, casting a warm glow about her small room.
The slayer sat down and looked around. She had never been inside Amarices hut before. Amarice was eighteen summers old, and had the privilege of living in her own hut. Kallerine still lived in the large dorm where the older teen-aged Amazons lived, sleeping in long Spartan rows of bunk beds. "Nice."
"Its okay." Amarice raised her eyebrows as she looked around herself. There really wasnt much to the small room. A bed, a small table, a couple of chairs, and a dresser to hold clothing and other personal items were the only furnishings. A small wash basin and pitcher sat on one end of the dresser. The red-head had not taken time to hang anything on the walls. The blanket on her straw mattress was a plain brown wool scrap, barely large enough to cover her at night.
"I . . . I missed you at dinner tonight. Here, I brought you some bread and cheese." Kallerine sat a small bundle down on the table.
"Um . . . thanks. Yeah. I just wasnt in the mood to be around a lot of people." Long strawberry lashes blinked over hazel eyes.
"Im sorry they wouldnt let you stand guard tomorrow when Brutus arrives. I know you really wanted to." The slayer awkwardly patted her friend on the knee.
"Yeah. Well. Gabrielle is right. If it werent for her, Brutus would have had me killed the last time I saw him. I tried to kill him first, though."
"You did?" The brown eyes grew large.
"It was stupid, I know."
"What did you do?"
"Hid in a tree and shot an arrow at him."
"And you missed?" Kallerine looked puzzled. She had watched Amarice on the practice field and she normally hit the bulls eye on the targets every time.
"No. It would have hit him right through the throat. If Xena hadnt caught the arrow."
"Oh. Wow. Ive heard she can do that but Ive never seen it for myself. Thats awesome."
"Of course Gabrielle threw me in the brig and made me feel like an idiot."
"I remember. They made all of us kids stay in the dorm during all the trouble with the Romans, but I heard youd been tossed in the can. I wanted to help fight so badly. They wouldnt let me. Said I was too young."
"You? Youre a better warrior than a lot of the older Amazons in this village. Youve got some rather unique skills, slayer." Amarice grinned.
"Well so do you." Kallerine leaned forward, once again placing a hand on the taller Amazons knee, allowing it to linger a bit longer. She gazed into the hazel eyes for a long moment.
Amarice felt a little shiver course through her middle, and she placed her own hand on top of the smaller one on her knee, and also leaned forward, capturing the slayers lips in a short but sweet kiss.
"Mmmm. That was nice, dont you think?" Amarice hopefully searched Kallerines face.
The slayers eyes were closed. They slowly fluttered open and she swallowed and then smiled. "Yes. Very nice."
"Go with it." Amarice had a faraway look on her face.
"Oh, just something Xena said. Remember the ceremony when Queen Gabrielle came back to rule the nation?" Amarice regarded the slayer shyly.
"How could I forget it?" Kallerine smiled at her friend. "You know, that was my first kiss. Until just now, I wasnt sure if you had enjoyed it as much as I did."
"Oh, yeah, I definitely enjoyed it." Amarice grinned. "Just wasnt sure what to do about it. So the next morning, I talked to Xena about you. Us."
"You did? Oh my gods."
"Dont worry. I trust her."
"Well what did she say?"
"I told her about us kissing after we danced at the ceremony. I told her I liked it." The redhead looked shyly down. "Xena said to kiss you again and if it was still nice for both of us to just go with it."
"What did she mean by that?"
"I think she meant to just have fun, get to know each other, and see what happens."
"Oh. I think I can do that. But what took you so long to do anything after you talked to Xena?"
"Just gathering my courage, I guess." Amarice leaned forward again and they kissed for a bit longer this time, nibbling softly at each others lips. A loud knock at the door caused them to both jump, as they quickly separated.
"Kallerine, are you in there?" Loishas voice carried faintly through the door.
"Good. I found you." Queen Gabrielle wants to see you right away."
"Okay. Im on my way." The slayer stood and brushed her hand across the side of the thick red hair. "Sorry you have to stay all cooped up in here tomorrow."
"Sokay. Thanks for visiting. Will you come back and visit me tomorrow? Please."
"Of course. If Im not being called for some sort of extended mission."
"Great." Amarice stood and briefly hugged the slayer.
The slayer smiled and left the hut.
Kallerine hesitantly knocked at the door to the queens quarters. "Queen Gabrielle, its me."
"Come on in, Kallerine." The bards voice sounded faintly through the door.
The slayer turned the doorknob and swung the door open, moving through the entrance. The queen was seated at a table with Xena, both of them drinking tea and pouring over several scrolls. Kallerine detected the faint scent of mint in the air, mingled with the smell of new parchment and ink. "You wanted to see me?"
"Yes." Gabrielle smiled. "I have a job for you. A permanent job."
"Okay. Anything you want, my queen." Wow. Excitement was written all over Kallerines face.
"Kallerine. As queen, you know that Xena is my champion and right-hand woman, and of course Chilapa is regent."
"Yes." The slayer nervously chewed on her bottom lip.
"However," The bard continued, "I need a third assistant. Someone who will act as runner, and an extra set of ears, and if needed, as a personal body guard when Xena isnt around. Or if Xena and I are pre-occupied and have our minds on something other than personal safety." Gabrielle felt the warriors hand resting on her leg under the table, and tried to ignore the teasing motions Xena was making with her fingertips on the bards sensitive skin. She reached under the table and squeezed the warriors hand, effectively stopping the activity, grinning as she detected a faint puckered lower lip in her peripheral vision.
"Anyway. Xena and I are both impressed with your fighting skills and just impressed with you in general, and thought you would be a good candidate for the job, if you want it. Youve already been acting as my messenger. I would like to make that official and expand your responsibilities. I would depend on you to keep your eyes and ears open as you go about your daily activities, and report anything to me you think I might need to know about. I would also call on you to dispatch and retrieve messages and run other types of errands. Guard duty would normally consist of night-time duty when Xena for some reason cant be here with me. Would you like the job?"
"Oh. Yes. I would be honored to serve you my queen." Kallerines brown eyes sparkled, reflecting faint speckles of gold in the candlelight coming from the table.
"Great. Your first assignment is to go stand at the front gate tomorrow, and as soon as Brutus arrives, let me know hes here."
"Yes my queen. Is that all for now?"
"Yes. Go get some rest. Tomorrow is going to be a busy day."
The slayer bowed slightly and backed out the front door of the hut and practically skipped to the dorm with a big smile on her face.
As soon as she was gone, Gabrielle turned and slapped Xenas leg. "You are so bad."
"What?" The warriors blue eyes were wide, feigning innocence.
"You know what, oh warrior princess of distracting touches. You . . . Ummmph." The bard was effectively silenced by a very thorough kiss from the warrior.
"I was just thinking of one of the activities that might possibly cause us to take our minds off personal safety, and how much more fun I can have with you if we have a guard posted and I dont have to keep half my senses on whats going on outside when I would much rather focus fully on whats going on inside." Xena smiled, ducking her head for another kiss.
"Xena!" Gabrielles voice held a note of outrage. "I am not going to have Kallerine sit at guard at night just so we can . . . Ommph." Another very sensual kiss silenced her once again.
"Please." Another kiss. "Just sometimes?" Another. "For me." Another. "Please?" Another long kiss, accompanied by a pair of wandering warrior hands.
A very dazed bard pulled back and tried to focus, as her heart rate slowly came back down to a normal pace. She smiled up at the sparkling blue eyes and placed one hand on her lovers chiseled face. "Oh, okay. Maybe on special occasions. Just for you."
"I love you." Xena placed one last tiny peck on Gabrielles forehead. "Now. Theres one more clause here I think needs a bit of re-working regarding Amphipolis trading rights with Potadeia. The last thing we need is our home villages squabbling with each other over a misplaced word on a piece of paper." The warrior pointed to a paragraph in the middle of one of the scrolls.
"Oh. I see. That could be confusing." The bards brows furrowed. "Here. Lets re-word this so that we arent getting our cows and our sheep mixed up." She picked up a quill and dipped it in the ink, and made a few quick marks on the document, the faint scratching sound the only noise in the room. "There, hows that?"
The warrior peered over her shoulder. "Yeah. Thats better. Glad youre doing the bulk of this. Ive written a lot of treaties in my day. Most of which I eventually broke. Perhaps if Id had a Gabrielle in my army we could have written them better so that I wouldnt have felt the need to break them later. Maybe a lot of people wouldnt have died." Xena looked down at her lap.
"Hey." The bard reached out and tilted Xenas chin up, reading the sorrow in the pale blue eyes. "Xena. You are not that person anymore. You havent been for a long time. The Xena I know would never kill anyone over a few misplaced pigs and sheep."
"Well. The old one would have. Just for the fun of it." The warriors shoulders slumped.
"Xena, sweetheart. That was then. This is now. Believe in yourself. I do."
"Wish I could see things the way you do." The warrior laid her head on Gabrielles shoulder.
"Me too." The bard casually stroked the dark head. "Because I see goodness and honor and intelligence and fairness and caring and bravery and selflessness and . . ."
"Okay, okay. I get the picture." Xena tilted her head and kissed her lovers soft cheek. "Thank you. Hope I can live up to all of that."
"You do. Every day. What makes you even more special is that you are all those things without even trying or thinking about it. You dont see it but I do."
"What would I do without you, my bard?"
"Oh. By now youd have probably found some other annoying starry-eyed village girl to follow you around getting into trouble so that you can constantly save her."
"No." The blue eyes flashed. "Youre the only one. You saved me. From myself. I think without you I would never have found my way. Youre the one who wanted to go to India. Without that I wouldnt have learned that the way of the warrior, when followed for a good cause, is an acceptable way to live my life. Im just sorry that you had to go through so much to get to where you are now."
"Xena." Gabrielle cupped the warriors face in her hands. "Dont you see? You are my way. I had to go through everything weve been through to figure that out. Whats so great is that you let me. You always let me work through whatever I need to. And you put up with all my crazy ideas and dreams. Its me who should be thanking you."
"Well." Xena placed her hands over the bards. "I guess were both pretty lucky to have each other."
"Yes. We are. I love you." Gabrielle felt herself pulled into a very warm hug which she never wanted to leave. She dropped her quill to the table, as the hug slowly became another long kiss, as Xena tried her best to convey to the bard what her heart was feeling. The warrior began to nibble her way across the bards jawline and down her neck, pulling aside the bards tunic collar for better access.
Gabrielle felt a warm jolt surge through her middle. "Xena, are we done with this treaty for tonight?"
The warriors chest heaved as she drew in a couple of short uneven breaths to speak. "Gabrielle, to Hades with the treaty." The bard laughed as she felt herself lifted up into strong arms. The warrior carried her into their bedroom, and gently tossed her young lover to the bed. Xena quickly pulled off her own clothing and then stretched out next to the bard, carefully unbuttoning the rest of her lovers tunic.
"Guess I shoulda had Kallerine sit at guard tonight, huh?" The bard began to trace a tickling pattern across the warriors skin with her fingertips, feeling the well-defined muscles just under the surface.
"Well . . ." The warrior purred as she brushed her hands over the soft curve of her partners breasts. "With Brutus on the way, I think the village is pretty well-guarded tonight, dont you?" She let her lips follow her hands.
Gabrielle sucked in a sharp breath. "Yes." She managed to squeak out, before she tangled her fingers in the long dark hair, as she felt Xena begin to kiss a path down her midline to her navel. And felt her body gradually let go, giving herself up to the tingling sensations she felt as the warrior reached more sensitive areas. And still later felt herself cradled in a loving embrace, as Xena tenderly held her, whispering soothingly into her ear while a long intense wave of pleasure coursed through her body.
The warrior pulled the bard up against her, wrapping one arm around her young lover, and gently stroking the short blonde hair with the other hand, as she felt Gabrielles breathing even out and her pulse gradually slow. "Hey. Ive got you." Xena kissed the bards forehead. "Gabrielle, I love you."
"I love you too, Xena." The bard rolled over onto her stomach and smiled, as Xena moved into her usual spot, her cheek resting between Gabrielles shoulder blades and one long arm draped protectively across the bards back and down her arm on the mattress.
"Hmmm?" The warrior was sinking down into a pleasant sleepy haze, gently inhaling the pleasurable scent of her lovers skin.
"Im glad youre going to be at the summit."
"Yeah. Brutus makes me nervous. Ill feel a lot better with you there."
"Gabrielle, even if I werent representing Amphipolis, Id still be standing right outside the door during negotiations. After what Brutus put you through, theres no way Id let you go in there with him without me being nearby. Just in case."
"Xena. Did I already tell you I love you?"
"Yes. But you can say it as many times as you like, my love. Its nice to know someone does."
"Well I do." The bard sighed and allowed herself to drift off to sleep, covered by a large warm dark-haired security blanket.
Continued in Part 2
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