The Sun rose early in this northern land. All the people in the village gathered in the village's center to see the arrival of the fighters. Everyone was anxious to see who'd become the new ruler. The young warrior or her ruthless, bloodthirsty challenger. Zabor and his men arrived in the village with a bang. They rode to the village center and Nali was there to meet Zabor. Xena and Gabrielle were standing by Nali, wanting to see Exl's challenger. He was a fierce looking man. Tall, very dark and very deadly, just like Exl had described him. He looked down at Nali from his horse and said, with a cold, dark voice:

"Princess Nali, I am honored to be invited to your village." Nali bowed to Zabor and answered:

"Zabor, it is a pleasure to have you here. Remember what you promised, you are only one to fight here today. We don't want any trouble, I hope your men won't cause any."

"You have my word, my men won't cause any trouble. Now, where is the heir?", Zabor asked looking around for Exl.

"Or has she ran away? Knowing the outcome of this battle?"

"Here I am Zabor", a voice said, coming from a cabin. Nali, Xena and Gabrielle turned to look at the door of the cabin they were standing in front of. Exl walked out the door, she was holding her sword. She walked past her cousin and her friends, who gave way to her as she walked to Zabor. Zabor looked at Exl, and finally said:

"Exl, I would have never imagined that Swyther had the nerve of making you his heir and that you had the courage and the guts to face me."

"Zabor, you have challenged me to the battle of Huntar. I accept the challenge. You know the rules, the winner is made ruler and the loser… well you know. We will fight at noon, you will be showed a cabin where you can prepare for the battle", Exl said with a calm voice, showing respect to her opponent. Gabrielle and Xena were baffled at this indication of respect to an opponent before a fight, but they knew the Finlandian traditions were very different to their own. Around here, warriors had respect and honor, even for their opponents. Zabor nodded and glanced quickly at Xena and Gabrielle, then looked at Exl saying:

"Young warrior, I hope you are prepared to meet your doom." Then he and his men rode off, disappearing to the far side of the village. The village center was soon empty, only Exl, Gabrielle, Xena and Nali were there. Gabrielle felt frightened for Exl, after seeing the person she was about to face. Now she understood Exl's concern they talked about a few nights ago. They turned and entered the cabin, preparing Exl for the battle.

It was finally noon. The people had come to the center of the village and formed a big circle. They waited for the fighters and whispered wondering who would win. Zabor entered the circle and his men arranged behind him. He looked like he would be prepared to fight twenty men, not a single young female warrior.

Then everyone went silent when Nali approached the circle and Gabrielle and Xena were behind her.

A mysterious figure was following right behind them. They walked to the circle and turned to look at the hooded, caped figure that had followed them. The figure walked past them and stopped about half a dozen feet from Zabor. Then the figure removed its hood and underneath it was Exl. She took off her cape, revealing her fighting outfit. She had her black boots and kneepads, dark brown knee-length pants and a dark blue sleeveless shirt with her ensign on her back. She had her sword in its scabbard on her back and her battle axes in their scabbards by her sides with her knives in her boots where she usually held them. She had her Guardian's pendant around her neck, for everyone to see it. She said to Zabor in her own language:

"So, are you ready?" Zabor looked at Exl and said:

"The question is, are YOU ready?" Both fighters turned to their supporters for one last time.

Exl walked to Nali, Xena and Gabrielle. Nali put her hand on her cousin's shoulder and said:

"Exl, I only wish this wasn't the only way…" Exl looked at her cousin, feeling her heart aching from first losing her brother and now, possibly losing her cousin.

"Nali, you know I have to do this. I am doing it for you and our people", Exl said and hugged her cousin. Then Exl went to her Couple and was grabbed to be embraced by both her friends.

"Thank you, for everything. I love you both", Exl said, with her heart feeling very heavy. Xena and Gabrielle brushed Exl's head and cheeks. Gabrielle was almost in tears and it was hard for her to keep calm.

"Exl, please do your best. We don't want to lose you. We love you." Exl smiled at Gabrielle. Then Xena gave Exl a tug on the shoulder saying:

"Don't worry, I know you'll be fine, just stay strong", Xena said trying to encourage her friend.

"Xena, promise me you'll keep Gabrielle safe. If things look bad, don't let her see me go down. And if I don't make it, please talk with Gabrielle about what we discussed about when coming here, about the Guardian thing", Exl said offering Xena her forearm. Xena grasped the young warrior's forearm, squeezing it not wanting to let go.

"I promise." Gabrielle didn't understand what her wife and her Loyal were talking about. Exl then gave her friends a kiss on both cheeks and her special salute. She held her right closed fist to her heart and bowed her head deeply.

Then she walked to the center of the circle to wait for Zabor. Gabrielle grabbed Xena's hand and looked into her wife's eyes asking:

"Xena, what did Exl mean by this discussion we must have, if she doesn't make it??" Xena looked at her sad wife and answered sighing:

"Gabrielle, because the tradition of a Guardian is not usual for us, we have to choose. Whether to continue our life without a Guardian, or to ask someone else to become our new Guardian. That is what Exl told me." Gabrielle felt like her heart was braking. Someone very close to her was about to go into battle where she could lose her life. The only thing Gabrielle could do at that moment was to tightly embrace Xena and cry. Xena tried to comfort her wife, at the same time feeling quite empty inside and very sad. They could only wait and watch what would happen to their beloved Guardian.

Zabor finished talking to his men and joined Exl to the center of the circle. Nali walked to the fighters and announced:

"Do you both know the rules of the battle of Huntar and promise to obey the rules?" Both nodded looking at each other. Nali turned to the viewers and said:

"The battle of Huntar is about to begin. Once the battle starts, no-one can help the fighters. They must fight each other. They can only use the weapons they have here in the circle. If one can pin down the other or the other can no longer fight, he or she is declared winner. The winner will be made ruler of the village and our nation. If one surrenders, the other is declared winner. At the end the battle, the winner will have the duty of killing the loser, in any way the winner decides." Gabrielle and Xena had heard some of the rules from Exl before, so they knew the important parts. The only way out is by winning or dying.

"Fighters ready?", Nali shouted, and the both of them nodded. Nali continued:

"Let the battle of Huntar, begin!" She ran from the center of the circle, next to Gabrielle and Xena.

At the signal, Zabor launched at Exl. She dodged his attack by flipping over him just as he was about to reach her. Exl landed and turned to Zabor who just stared at the young warrior with amazement. Exl drew her sword and gave it a twirl. Exl had truly learned something from Xena. Zabor got frustrated and plunged at Exl again. Now he tried jumping on her, but failed because Exl hit the deck and Zabor just flew over her landing on the ground. The viewers laughed seeing Zabor's comic act. But Zabor wasn't laughing. He rose and drew his sword. He said to Exl with great anger:

"Now warrior, the fun and games are over. It's time for business."

Now Exl made the first move, she did a flip and landed right in front of Zabor.

"Fine with me", she said smirking. Zabor swinged his sword at Exl who dodged his every hit. Then she tried to hit Zabor, but missed him just slightly. Zabor now got his chance and hit Exl straight above the left eye with his fist. Exl fell down and everyone, especially Xena and Gabrielle gasped, fearing the hit might be only one needed from this big warrior to get Exl out of the picture. But for everyone's amazement Exl stood up like nothing had happened. She was bleeding from corner of her eyebrow and she tried wiping the blood away, but it just stained the corner of her left eye. Zabor thought that this young one was truly tougher than he first thought. He was surprised when Exl did a few somersaults and kicked him in the right shin. He fell and dropped his sword. Exl tried to rise on her feet, but was taken down by the swipe Zabor gave her, making her fall on her stomach. Zabor and Exl stayed down for two seconds at the most.

Neither had their swords and they started to cycle around the circle not taking their eyes of one another. Gabrielle had slowly loosed her embrace of Xena, feeling a bit more confident that her Loyal could have a chance. Xena knew her young trainee had learned so much fighting techniques from her and the Amazons, and combined with her earlier skills, she should be able to take Zabor out with no problems. Then Zabor did a dirty trick, he reached for some sand and threw it right in Exl's face. She was blinded for a moment, but was able to focus on Zabor when he was coming at her with his sword ready to impale her. Exl kicked Zabor's sword away with a spinning kick. Then Exl fell purposely on her back, grabbing hold of Zabor's shirt and flipping him over her and quickly standing up. Standing steady on her feet Exl drew her axes, ignoring the sword right next to her foot. The sword wasn't her kind of weapon, she had always been able to trust her axes.

Zabor jumped up, simultaneously grabbing for the bolas he had on his side. He started spinning the bolas and Exl held her axes ready for Zabor's attack. Zabor jumped in the air and threw his bolas at Exl. She easily dodged, thinking it was a bit too easy. She threw her axe to cut the rope of the bolas, but unfortunately Zabor landed and grabbed it. He just smiled and threw Exl's axe at her feet. Making a flip, Exl was able to be safe from her own weapon, but this was just like Zabor had planned. When Exl was is mid-air, Zabor had pulled his bolas back to him and was now waiting for the moment Exl would land. Exl grabbed her axe and was now standing firmly on the ground holding her axes. Not knowing what was about to hit her, Exl just saw Zabor throwing his bolas at her and felt the ropes wrapping around her ankles. The next moment Exl looked at her feet, then at Zabor and felt herself being pulled to the ground. She landed straight on her left shoulder blade, which had been previously injured, just before meeting Xena and Gabrielle for the first time. When Xena saw the bolas being wrapped around Exl's feet, she feared that being pulled down might give Zabor the advantage he needed. But seeing their Guardian land on her cautiously treated shoulder, Gabrielle and Xena could feel Exl's pain. Exl screamed from the pain, trying to keep her mind clear at the same time. Zabor saw Exl's pain and with content:

"So, I finally found a sore spot. You're finished warrior!" But Exl took advantage of Zabor's loss of concentration. She grabbed her axe, cut the ropes around her feet and tugged on the rope with the other end in Zabor's grip. He fell on his face and when trying to get up, he got kicked in the face by his young opponent. Everyone watching gasped for air, anxiously waiting for what would happen next. Exl quickly tried to feel if she had broken any bones, but wasn't sure if her shoulder blade had been fractured again. Zabor rolled to his back holding his injured nose. Exl walked to him and kneeled beside him. She said in her calm voice:

"Zabor, it is over. I'll let you live if you give up now." Zabor just looked at the young warrior. Then he made his move. He grabbed Exl by her wrist and threw her on the ground next to him. He quickly rose and pulled a dagger from this pocket.

"Yes warrior. It IS over. Over for you." He hit Exl, making her black out for a moment. Then he took hold of Exl's pendant and said:

"This is mine now." He was about to use his dagger to get the pendant from around Exl's neck. Seeing Zabor nearly take Exl's pendant made Xena simply see red, if Gabrielle wouldn't have held her hand she would have been in the circle, kicking Zabor's butt. Gabrielle knew she had to keep Xena from helping Exl, even though she wanted to help her Loyal in any way she could.

Just as Zabor was about to cut the lace that held the pendant, Exl opened her eyes and said:

"Didn't your mother ever teach you not to steal?" She grabbed Zabor's shirt and rolled him on his back and she was on him pinning him to the ground. Then Zabor rolled over and had Exl pinned underneath him. He scratched the left side of Exl's face, giving her a long, but only slightly bleeding cut from her eyebrow, across her eyelid ending just below her eye. Exl was like nothing had happened, it was "just a small scratch". They rolled over and over, until Exl was finally on top. She flipped up and grabbed her axe while Zabor was still on the ground. As he was trying to get up, Zabor was stopped by Exl who was holding her foot on his chest, near his neck pushing him to the ground. Exl looked at Zabor, with the blood dripping from her wound to her eye. She raised her axe in the air and gave a swing. Gabrielle had to close her eyes, she couldn't watch this. Xena held Gabrielle tightly by her side. But the final strike stopped only a few centimeters from Zabor's throat. Exl just held her weapon at her opponent's throat and said:

"No, I'm not going to kill you. I am going to let you walk from here. As the new ruler of this nation and this village, I am going to make changes around here." Everyone was simply amazed at the words of this young warrior. Even Gabrielle and Xena, who just stared at each other first, then at their Guardian.

"Yes you heard me. I am going to let you go, on one condition. You and your men are banned from this village and this land, AND from Greece. If you are ever seen here again, I give the people permission to do what ever they please with you. Do you understand?" Zabor just slightly nodded, terrified of the previous action of this young warrior. Exl took her axe from Zabor's throat and rose up. Exl took her sword from the ground and put it in it's scabbard on her back, then turned to the people and said:

"My people, I have once disappointed you, but now I hope I gained your trust in me. I apologize for the past mistakes I have made, now I wish with all my heart that you can forgive me." Someone in the crowd shouted:

"Hurray for Exl! Hurray for Exl!" Everyone started cheering for the new ruler. Gabrielle and Xena hugged each other and were about to go to their beloved Guardian when something unexpected happened. Zabor had soundly crouched up and was right behind Exl. He had pulled a dagger from his boot and was about to stab Exl in the back. Xena grabbed her chakram and shouted:

"Exl! Look out behind you!", then she threw her chakram. Exl was about to turn when she felt Zabor dagger in her right side. Xena's chakram was slightly late to prevent the strike, but it was still accurate. It hit Zabor in the chest, killing him instantly. Gabrielle shouted:

"Exl! No!", seeing her Loyal stabbed and fall on her back. Both fighters were now laying on the ground motionless. Xena, Gabrielle and Nali rushed to Exl's side.

"Exl, Exl can you hear me?", Xena asked holding Exl head in her lap. Exl slowly opened her eyes, and saw her Couple and Nali by her side. She said quietly:

"Xena? Gabrielle? Nali? I… I thought I made the right choice by not killing Zabor. But… I guess it was a mistake, and now I have to pay for it." Gabrielle took Exl's hand and gave it a kiss.

"Exl, you're going to be alright, we promise. Please don't leave us." Gabrielle tried to keep from crying. Exl brushed Gabrielle's cheek with her hand and said:

"My Queen, don't cry. I won't leave you, I… promise…" Then Exl went limp, her eyes closed and her hand just fell to Gabrielle's lap. All three women were in tears, seeing the young warrior first winning the battle and now… Xena felt Exl's neck for a pulse, to see if she had passed away. Her face changed from mournful to hopeful.

"Quickly, we must get her inside." Gabrielle and Nali looked at Xena, a bit shocked.

"Why Xena?", Nali asked.

"Because she is still alive, I think I can still save her." Nali's and Gabrielle's heart jumped up to their throats. Exl was still alive, she had just went unconscious. Nali signaled two men who came and carried Exl carefully to the Prince's cabin.

In another room, Nali and Gabrielle waited to hear news about Exl's condition.

After half a candle mark, Xena came from the room, where she had been examining and caring for Exl.

"Xena? How is she?", Gabrielle asked her wife. Xena smiled.

"She's sleeping now. She's going to be just fine. The wound from the dagger wasn't very deep, but she lost some blood. That's why she passed out. From blood loss and from shock. The wound on her eye will leave a scar, but it's something warriors have, lots of scars. Other than that, she only has minor cuts and bruises." Gabrielle sighed from relief, so did Nali.

"What about her shoulder, she took a nasty fall on it?", Gabrielle remembered Exl landing on her shoulder during the battle.

"There are no fractures, but it will be very, very sore for a while." Gabrielle hugged her wife, and gave her a kiss. Nali walked to Xena and said:

"Thank you Xena, for saving Exl, now and before. Because the battle was already over when Zabor attacked, you helping Exl was completely allowed."

"I've made a promise to her. To keep her safe and to keep my wife safe. And she has promised to keep us safe. I had to keep my promise, despite the conditions."

Exl woke up the next morning, feeling a bit fuzzy, but alright. The only places that really hurt, were the wound on her right side and her shoulder blade. Xena gave her medicine to help her heal and they worked wonderfully. After a full day's rest, it was time for Exl's ascension to power. All the villagers came to see the new ruler of their nation and village. In the middle of the village center, there was a platform, with the throne of the ruler in the middle of it. The drummers started drumming and four women walked towards the platform. Nali, Exl, Xena and Gabrielle walked to the throne and turned to face the villagers. Nali stepped forward and announced:

"My people, today is the day we get a new ruler. She is here with her beloved friends to receive her royal duty. Here she is, Exl, our new ruler!" She bowed to her cousin, so did all the villagers. Xena and Gabrielle stood still, bowing their heads. Exl walked to the edge of the platform and made her announcement.

"My people, as the new ruler, I want to inform the changes to the laws and rules I am about to make. First of all, from this day onward, our village is not ruled by a prince or princess, but by a King or Queen. Before the only conditions a woman could become ruler if she wins the regnant ruler in battle, if she is the only child of the ruler or if the ruler names her as his heir. I will not have it this way, a woman can become ruler in the same ways a man could. If someone is made heir to the throne, they won't have to fight for it. If he or she declines the honor, next in line for the throne will be made ruler. So the battle of Huntar will be no more!" Everyone accepted the changes Exl had made to laws and rules. She turned to her Couple, saying to them:

"Xena, Gabrielle, come here." The two women walked beside their Guardian.

"These are my friends, who are given full protection by our people. If they are somewhere around here and need help, it is your duty to help them in any way you can. My people, as my last announcement, I want to inform you, I am giving up my place as ruler." Everyone who heard this were gasping for air, they couldn't believe their ears. Exl took Xena's and Gabrielle's hand and raised them up to the air.

"I give up my place as ruler, because my place isn't here. It is with these two." Exl lowered the hands and reached for her pendant, and showed it to everyone.

"This pendant is a sign of my sacred duty. I am the Guardian of these two women. And being with them is more important to me than being ruler of any nation. I can not be ruler of anyone, for I am the Guardian of Xena's and Gabrielle's love, their hopes and dreams, and their lives. Until the day I die, I have vowed to protect them with my life. I won't brake my vow by becoming ruler." The people seemed touched, they kneeled in front of Exl. The tradition of being a Guardian was truly respected, Gabrielle and Xena could now see what it meant to these people.

"Rise my people, and greet your new ruler, Queen Nali, the Just!" She walked to her cousin and kneeled in front of her. Nali was touched by Exl's announcement and hugged her kneeling cousin and helped her up. Then she walked to the throne and sat down.

"My people, as first task as Queen, I want everyone to remember the one who defeated Zabor in the last battle of Huntar, the one who changed our old rules and laws and the one who will always be remembered as a great warrior and a loving Guardian. She is now known as Exl, the Guardian, the Loyal, but now amongst our people she will be always known as Queen Exl, the Valiant! Hurray for Queen Exl!" Everyone started cheering for Exl. She felt very happy being respected and honored by her people in such a warm way. She went to hug her cousin, then to hug her Couple. She knew that she would hear about this Queen thing for a long time from Xena and especially from Gabrielle.

At the majestic feast, in Nali's and Exl's honor, at the Royal table sat four "royals".

Queen Nali, Xena, Warrior Princess, Gabrielle, Queen of the Amazons and Exl, Queen, Warrior and Guardian. All four celebrated with great joy, especially Gabrielle, Exl and Xena, knowing nothing could come between them. Not even small things, like someone being made ruler of a nation in some far northern land.

Before turning in for the night, Exl looked out of the window in her room and saw a bright star twinkling in the sky and a smaller star next to it. She said:

"Grandfather, I hope I did the right thing today, I know I should stay here and rule our nation, but my place is not here. My place, my heart is with Gabrielle and Xena, no matter what. I hope that I've made you proud, I have finally found my place in this world. A family I belong to.

Swyther, I hope I've made you proud too. I fought for your throne and won. I did what I thought was right, making Nali Queen. Now I must continue in fulfilling my destiny and my sacred duty. Protecting Gabrielle and Xena and their love for each other as long as I live."

The bigger star got much brighter and so did the smaller one. Exl smiled, knowing that was a sign from her grandfather and Swyther that she had done the right thing and made them very proud. She held her hand to her heart for a moment, gazed at the stars and eventually went to bed.

The next afternoon, Exl, Xena and Gabrielle were about to leave the village, when Rofar came to Exl. Gabrielle and Xena thought he still wanted to settle the score with Exl, after what happened to Caetim and Teme, but they were wrong. Rofar kneeled in front of Exl and said:

"Queen Exl, I am sorry for what I did earlier. I had a dream last night. Teme was in it, he told me he is happy now. He is with Caetim now, together for all eternity. He told me it was his own doing jumping of the cliff, you had nothing to do with it. He knew you would come looking for him and would try to stop him. He just wanted to go to Caetim, as soon as he could, he didn't want to wait for years to be reunited with her. He wanted to thank you for what you did for them and told me to forgive you. Can you forgive the way I treated you before?" Exl smiled and put her hand on Rofar's shoulder.

"Rofar, I forgive you, if you forgive me. I also blamed myself for what happened to Teme and Caetim, without Gabrielle and Xena I wouldn't have survived." Rofar stood up and continued:

"If your friends return here someday, I promise I will guard and protect them with my life. You would have done it for my son, so I'll do it for your friends." Exl gave Rofar a hug.

"Thank you Rofar. I hope I will see you some day." Rofar saluted Exl and then turned to salute Xena and Gabrielle. After doing this, he walked away.

"What was that all about? I thought he was going to rip you apart", Xena asked Exl.

"Rofar told me Teme appeared in his dream, telling he is with Caetim and he is happy. He also told Rofar to forgive me. AND Rofar promised that if you would ever return here someday, he would guard you and protect you with his life. Like I would have protected his son." Gabrielle smiled and said: "That sounds kind. We have to come here again someday, won't we Xena?" Xena nodded and said: "Sure we do." They turned to take one last look at the village and saw Nali holding Exl's sword and waving them goodbye. Exl had decided to leave her sword as something to remember her by and something to show future generations about the valiant warrior Queen. The three rode to the nearest harbor and caught a ship that took them back to Greece.

Arriving in Greece, Xena and Gabrielle said simultaneously:

"Home…" Exl turned to look at the great sea behind her and she also said:

"Home." She knew wherever she went she would be at home, for she was with her beloved Couple, with her family.

"Exl, what is it?", Xena asked Exl, walking to her side.

"Nothing Xena, it feels good to be home." Exl smiled at Xena and Xena smiled back at Exl. Gabrielle shouted to the warriors:

"Hey Princess, Queen, are you just going to stand there or what?"

Gabrielle liked to tease her wife and her Loyal.

"Okay Gabrielle, let's get one thing straight. I am not Queen", Exl said with a smirk.

"So what are you then?" the bard asked amused.

"I am a warrior. I am Exl, the Loyal. The Guardian of Xena and Gabrielle. Queen Exl, the Valiant. Not just simply Queen." Exl started laughing loudly, realizing what she had said. Xena and Gabrielle bursted into laughter. Exl truly had good sense of humor. The threesome just laughed there for some time and then Gabrielle walked to Exl and took hold of Exl's upper arm.

"Exl, to me it doesn't matter who you are or who you aren't. What matters to me is that you are here with us." Exl gave a small smile, pointed at her pendant and said:

"Gabrielle, nothing in this world could make me forget my vow to you and Xena. No kings or gods could make me leave you." Xena walked to her wife and their Guardian and grabbed both women in her arms and said:

"What do you say if we went and told our families about our joining? Exl, this will be your chance of meeting our families." Gabrielle kissed her wife on the cheek and said:

"I think it's a great idea. What do you say Exl?" Exl spread her arms and said:

"Lead the way. I can't wait to meet your families." Gabrielle looked at Exl smiling then turned to look at Xena and said:

"I hope they're ready to meet OUR family."

Family, it is such a small word, but it means a lot.

End of part 2

The series will continue in: "Family reunion"

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