The Persian Encounter - (c)

By: Patricia Wiseroostr and Xanjaa

Disclaimers: The standard disclaimer. To those who own Xena we mean no copyright infringement. This is simply a continuation of the fan fiction fun. The song “Night Ride Across the Caucasus” by Loreena McKennitt was used without permission. Her song is copyrighted and we respectfully do not infringe on that. If you are interested in her music, you can purchase it online. The lyrics to the song can be found on the CD, The Book of Secrets.

XWP Fanfic - Classic

Violence: Yes, quite a bit. Xena and friends battle a mythic Persian army during this adventure. There is implied rape of the women enslaved by this army and some of the women are beaten severely.

Subtext: Of course – some graphic. This is XWP ALT Fanfic - Women loving women. If this offends your sensibilities, you might want to read something else and probably should.

Spoiler Alert: This story is our own creation. It takes place late in season two.


Summary: In this sequel to Powers of the Queen, Xena and Gabrielle have fallen into a routine at the camp of the Thracian Amazons. But, that is about to change. The Persian Encounter, Part Two of what was intended to be a Three-part Trilogy, begins two weeks after the Solstice Festival. A sister Amazon from the Caucus Mountains in the east, arrives in camp, and begs her western sisters for help. She tells them the story of her Eastern Amazon tribe which was decimated by a mysterious army with supernatural abilities. This army has been destroying everything in its path, taking only a few female prisoners from each conquest, before moving on to the next target. She fears the future of the known world is at stake as the army is unstoppable.


Seven women, led by Xena and Gabrielle, set out for the Caucus. They take the blessing of Artemis who cannot help them because she’s unable to cross into the geography of any other Gods in the east. It’s a law among the Gods not to interfere in one another’s territory. Artemis introduces them to her sister Goddess not knowing if she can or will help them.


So unfolds the adventure to the east. They meet and find lost Amazon sisters as seven women try to stop a marauding army with supernatural skills. Within the adventure itself, love stories emerge, passions are kindled and the true meaning of love, reveals itself.


Who are the eastern Amazons?

What is the nature of this supernatural army?

What is the threat hiding deep underneath the desert sands?

Will the eastern Goddess Anahita prove friend or foe?

How can a small band of Amazons survive against this horde?

Will hearth-mates be re-united and will their love survive?

What is the meaning of sacrifice and of true love?


Please join us as we begin part two: The Persian Encounter.

Feedback is always welcome. and


Acknowledgements, Dedication and Thanks: To Deb, Sage and Joelle, we wish to express our deep gratitude for doing the tough job of beta reading this story – especially as writing the story took much longer than we originally intended. Thank you for not only catching our grammatical errors, but also our misuse of modern terminology and to Deb for teaching us about horses. To the wonderful members of the old Bard’s Village, thank you for all your feedback and thank you for fixing the thousands of dialogue or character problems. Your feedback made this a much better story. To our many fans who continued to send us emails over the past two years asking for more chapters, inquiring about the delays, and encouraging us (in some cases begging us) to stick with it because they were sticking with us – we are deeply grateful to all of you. When things looked dire, one of your emails would arrive and cheer us on. And lastly, these two stories would not have happened without the guidance, the lessons and the encouragement of LJ Maas. We dedicate this story to your memory.

Part One is Powers Of The Queen. The Persian Encounter, is Part Two. Originally this storyline was intended to be a three-part arc, which may not happen as many years have intervened since the ending of XWP TV production. However, each story is intended to stand on its own merit as an individual story. You will not be left hanging at the conclusion.


Powers of the Queen can be found on the following web sites:

The Athanaeum

And Academy of Bards site:


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Prologue - Eastern Amazon Solstice Celebration


Running full out, the woman pulsated with the thrill of a victory that was within her grasp. The flickering flames of the ceremonial fire loomed ahead as she careened with a seeming death wish towards the conflagration. With her feet pounding the beaten earth, and her lungs heaving with effort, she never wavered in her path. At the last possible moment, before crashing head-long into the inferno, she planted her right moccasin hard and leapt high. Tucking into a ball, she executed a double summersault, landing unscathed on the far side of the fire pit.

A deafening roar of approval went up from the women crowded around the fire. As her sister Amazons clapped each other’s backs and cheered, she bowed in deference to the elders of her tribe. Only then did she turn to the other competitors, a grin splitting her brown face, transforming the otherwise plain warrior into a striking woman.

In fact, Tynet was not pretty in the physical sense of the word. Her heavy, coarse, jet- black hair perpetually tied into a braid was her most attractive physical attribute. She had a square face, wide set dark brown eyes, a determined expression on her too thick mocha-colored lips. Her nose, once straight, but now broken many times, gave her a fierce expression. Of above average height, she was close to six feet tall, with a solid, hard, muscular body made strong from years of swinging a sword, and herding the tribe’s horses. What the twenty-seven year old woman was; was impressive and a bit frightening. Yet, as she looked toward her family group sitting in front of their hut, she graced her loved ones with a tender smile that belied her savage countenance and stature.

With many slaps of congratulations on her shoulders and a new wineskin shoved into her grasp, she made her way through the throng to her hearth-mate and their two children. Before actually making it to her destination, a small dark haired bundle of energy grabbed her legs and held on, exclaiming, “Mama, you did it! I want to jump the flames.”

Laughing, Tynet snatched up her precocious five-year-old daughter, holding her high over her head, tickling the exposed ribs. Peals of laughter from the young, raven haired warrior-wanna-be rang through the camp merging with the other festive sounds of rejoicing. The child’s laughter blended easily into the cacophony of loud conversation, games, and music as the tribe celebrated mid-summer.

Pulling her daughter down to her breast, Tynet whispered a promise into the child’s ear, “One day, Thaddea, my brave one, I’ll teach you, but first you must grow some more.”

“Teach me now,” groused Thaddea.

“Soon, little one.”

After settling the dejected child and putting her on the bear furs on which the rest of the family lounged, Tynet folded herself into a cross-legged position next to her beautiful hearth-mate.

Aptly named, Adara meant beauty in the Greek language. Her birth mother, Isaura, was originally from the Thracian Amazons and had chosen her daughter’s name from her native tongue. Adara was a gorgeous woman by any standard and provided an interesting contrast to her partner. Of medium height, she was also dark, as was most of the tribe; her dusky complexion graced a clear, open, oval face with striking golden eyes, high cheek bones and lush full mouth. The color of her silky hair always took Tynet’s breath away, as it was the deep blue-black of the obsidian stone they used in their arrowheads. Going well below the surface, Adara’s true beauty glowed from within. A gentle soul, she was one of the tribe’s healers. Her gift from Anahita, the water goddess, was a touch that saved lives and brought comfort.

“Here, both of you have some honey cake. Thaddea, you’ll grow up soon enough,” said Adara as she held out the sweet offering to the pouting child.

As Adara doled out the small treats, Tynet’s heart warmed. Having no illusions of her own looks, she’d heard the remark made more than once that a beauty like Adara could have had any woman in the tribe or a wealthy male outside the tribe if she so desired. So it was with gratitude to the water goddess, that Tynet sent a loving look to the woman who had come to mean life to her.

Perhaps it was inevitable, she reflected as she nibbled pensively at the sweet treat. After all, they had grown up together and were inseparable from the time some older children had teased Adara until she cried. Unable to stand the sight of the child’s tears, Tynet, only two years older had waded into the fray and rescued the younger girl, bloodying a few of the other children in the process.

From that point on, Adara had adored Tynet. The affection and loyalty had always run both ways. More than once, when the other children had taunted Tynet for her plain looks or imposing size, it was Adara that rushed to her defense, shouting at the other children. None of you has one half of her beauty, she would scream in their faces. You’re all too stupid and blind to see. Tynet smiled as she recalled her mate’s words of so long ago.

In Tynet’s seventeenth summer, Adara’s fifteenth, they had become lovers. Smiling now at the memory, Tynet recalled their first tentative touches and kisses that had quickly grown into a raging inferno of passion. They had formally pledged their love and joined as hearth-mates during midsummer of Tynet’s twentieth year. So, this night was their seventh anniversary. In fact, it was a landmark anniversary, as they had plans to renew their joining pledge tonight before the tribe.

As was the custom among the Amazons, joining was stipulated for a specific period of time, usually three or seven years. There was wisdom in this practice. Often times as the first fires of passion began to grow cooler, a couple would come to realize that they had little in common. Many times, the joining pledge was not renewed and both women went without recrimination to other relationships or no relationship.

However, when children were involved many times the young couples requested the longer joining period of fourteen years in order to secure the raising of their offspring. Usually it was granted without question, but almost never at the first joining. Tonight, Adara and Tynet planned to request the full fourteen-year time frame. Not only had they both given birth, but they knew in their hearts there were no other hearth-mates for them. They both believed they had been chosen for each other before their own mothers had conceived them.

Among the Amazons, the decision to have children was well thought out. When two women were joined as were Adara and Tynet and they planned on remaining with the tribe, then much preparation was needed in order to insure the conception of a daughter.

Having grown up as Amazon children, they’d each witnessed the difficult decision of mothers when their male child reached puberty. She either sent the boy to his father or left the tribe with him herself.

The Amazons still spoke in hushed whispers of the tragedy of the queen’s sister, Carine. After taking her son, Darin, to his father when the boy had turned twelve, she’d returned home to the village and simply wasted away in grief. Even though Tynet and Adara had only been young children at the time, they knew the story well.

The Amazons were a matriarchal society and the unbendable rule regarding this had been laid down in the mists of time. It was a law unto itself. As neither had wanted to have to face such a heartbreaking decision, they had opted to have a daughter.

The healers had a disgusting herbal drink that was nearly infallible when it came to insuring that a female child was carried. For months prior to the spring fertility rites, the women wishing to conceive would drink the concoction daily. Tynet nearly gagged whenever she thought back to her time of preparation. After that drink, she barely noticed the morning sickness so common with early pregnancy.

When the first budding of the trees announced the impending spring, the tribe would migrate to the site of the annual rites. More than the conception of children was celebrated at the vernal equinox; the tribe gave thanks and prayed for a successful harvest, fertility among their horse herd, and good hunting in the coming summer months as well.


Spring festival rites occurred well away from the Amazon camp. It was a secluded place down in the desert surrounded by many great sandstone cliffs where Amazon guards were posted for the duration of the celebration. Men, anonymous desert dwellers, would come every year to the festival, whether for the free food and drink or the chance to lay with a woman, the Amazons never asked nor cared. Ample protection was provided for the young women by the guards and by the herbs slipped into the men’s drinks, which rendered them both docile and very amorous. In the history of the tribe, there had never been any problems, but it virtually insured all the offspring of this particular tribe had the dusky skin, dark eyes and ebony hair of the desert dwellers.

Even with so many precautions, Adara and Tynet had been terrified at what might happen during the coupling and so had chosen Tynet, the larger of the two to be the birth mother at their hearth. If she hadn’t been so frightened, Tynet might have laughed uproariously at the picture she presented during the fire ceremony and dance that preceded the actual fertility rites.

A special lubricant, designed to ease the mating process was provided to all participating women. Although every Amazon was fully informed as to what to expect, Tynet took no chances. She had not only applied it to the designated places, but also completely covered her body in it. Her skin, slick with sweat and oils, glowed with a copper burnish in the fire light as she danced wildly about the flames. She had virtually picked a man at random. Eyeing her hapless victim until his own sweat ran freely down his face, Tynet had carried him bodily into the stone shelter for the rites. Adara was one of the guards on the cliffs above and had stood sentry for her lover below.

When Tynet’s bleeding did not arrive by the next full moon, they knew they’d been successful. Thaddea, whose name meant brave one, had been born at mid-winter.

A few years later, it was a much easier decision for them to allow Adara to participate in the spring festival. Even so, with Tynet standing guard, not on the cliffs above but just outside the stone shelter and threatening the poor man with death should any ill befall Adara, it was a wonder that she had conceived, as the man had done his duty and run for his life all in under a quarter candlemark.

Licking the sticky honey from her fingers, Adara lifted up their younger daughter, Ursa, whom Adara had born two winters prior. The youngster was beginning to fuss and although she was essentially weaned at two and half, Adara still provided the comfort of nursing when the child was overly tired as she was this evening. Tynet smiled, feeling a deep peace, as she watched the tableau before her.

Adara’s eyes met Tynet’s above the nursing baby and she smiled. Unable to resist, the large dark woman leaned in, placing a gentle kiss on her lover’s lips, licking at the honey glazing the soft full mouth. Pulling back, she smiled at her mate as she ran a large hand over Ursa’s chubby thigh and dimpled knee.

Returning the look, Adara said, “Hmmm that was very impressive.”


Unable to resist the non sequitur, the large woman replied, “The kiss? Or the leap?”

Adara was anything but a fool. She replied, “Both.”

“Right answer.” They both laughed.

Leaning closer to her tall lover’s ear, Adara whispered, “Amma said they’d take the children right after our re-joining pledge.”

“Isaura and Hafsa give us a gift of great price then, a whole night alone.” Tynet raised her eyebrows suggestively.

“Really Tynet, is there some reason you’d like to be alone with me?” Adara teased.

“Oh, my sunrise eyes, I have very big plans for you. Tomorrow when you can barely put your legs together to walk through camp, your sisters will know that you were well loved on your joining night.”

Blushing mightily, Adara playfully slapped her mate on the shoulder and nodded toward the intently listening Thaddea. Leaning close, she whispered, “Well, I have some plans of my own and that’s all I’m going to say on the topic.”

“Mama, what’s wrong with Amma’s legs?” Concern sounded in Thaddea’s voice.

Rolling her eyes at her snickering mate, Adara addressed her child, “Thaddea, I’m fine. Mama is just teasing me. You and Ursa are going to stay at Oma’s tonight.”

“I don’t want to stay with Oma. I want to stay with you.” The child retorted.

Poking her daughter in the ribs, Tynet cajoled the child into better humor, “You know you love to go to Oma’s. They let you stay up late and eat all their honey.”

Taking a sip from the wine skin, Tynet offered it to her mate, who nodded her acceptance and tilted her head back for her lover to pour it. The sweet wine flowed faster than expected from the overfull skin and Adara choked, pulling back. The motion unceremoniously ripped the nipple from Ursa’s mouth, who then howled her displeasure.

Laughing, Tynet held out her arms for the baby as Adara went for some cloth to blot her mouth and chin. Holding the child over her shoulder, she gently patted the toddler’s leather clad bottom in a soothing rhythm. Soon contented breathing could be detected and she lowered the sleeping child to her lap. Raising the baby’s foot to her mouth, the dark warrior planted a light kiss on the child’s sole.

“You want me to take her?” Adara asked as she returned and resituated herself on the furs.

“No, she’s fine.”

As with any five year old, Thaddea hated sharing center stage. Vying for her mothers’ attention, she yelled, “Look at me!” as she tossed a piece of sticky cake high over head and then leaned back, her mouth open like a guppy as she attempted to catch the morsel.

Both women turned to the child just as the cake landed squarely in the middle of her forehead, sticking there. Their laughter did not please Thaddea.

With a huge pout on her full lips, she eyed her two mothers disdainfully.

Another of Tynet’s unlikely characteristics, belied by her size and fierceness, was her gentle easy way with the children. Never missing an opportunity to teach their daughters the many skills needed to survive in their harsh environment, Tynet explained the finer points of catching a nugget in her mouth. As small a thing as it was, learning hand eye coordination was an invaluable tool to a warrior.

“Thaddea, throw the piece straight up first, not over your head.”

The child looked at her quizzically, waiting for further enlightenment.

“Go ahead and just toss it up a small ways in front of you and catch it in your hand at first.”

The youngster complied, repeating the exercise until she was throwing her piece of cake straight every time.

“Okay, now, this time when you toss it, make it go up straight and open your mouth moving under it; and Thaddea, keep your eyes open.”

Reaching into a small basket next to her, she retrieved a handful of nuts and demonstrated what she meant. Handing a small kernel to her daughter, she said, “Now, you try it.”

With extreme concentration, her tongue poking out the side of her mouth she attempted the feat.

“It worked!” she crowed with her mouth open so the adults could share in her success.

“That’s wonderf…” Adara’s praise was left unfinished as a burning fireball exploded in the central fire pit drowning out the response. Dimly, it occurred to Tynet that some green wood had popped, but she knew this was much too loud for that. No sooner had that errant thought passed, than another fiery sphere erupted and in succession, more fireballs rained down on the women, setting some on fire. The blazing missiles were followed closely by the appearance of huge armored soldiers with raised weapons yelling loudly. Within moments, the entire camp erupted in pandemonium as a hundred armed men swarmed into the village. Screams pierced the night air.

Instantly, Tynet was on her feet and in one fluid motion grabbed her long sword from its resting place. She thrust Ursa into Adara’s arms and turned to do battle with the first raider who’d just breached their hearth. Thrusting her sword point high into the man’s neck, he went down with a crash at her feet, spurting bright red blood across her legs. Hearing little Thaddea’s battle cry, one she had taught her to use, she turned just in time to see the youngster engage an enormous soldier with her tiny wooden practice sword. The world slowed and stopped as she watched with complete disbelief. She saw him raise his own weapon, casual malice in his eyes, as he brought his sword down with the intention of killing her daughter. Her instincts galvanized her and furiously, she leaped to her child’s side slashing the man’s blade away at the last possible moment.

Adrenalin coursing through her veins, she attacked with inhuman strength and beat the intruder back, pulling her brave child behind her and screaming for her mate.

“Adara, take Thaddea!”

She backed away, forcing her daughter into the relative safety of her own hearth. As she battled the relentless intruders, she noted that half the village was ablaze, the smell of burning hides and worse made breathing difficult. The sounds of clashing swords, and the screams of dying women assaulted her ears. As more men poured into the circle, the outcome became undeniable. They were clearly outnumbered and about to be overrun.

Coming quickly to a decision, Tynet pushed Thaddea under Adara’s outstretched arm, as she called out her instructions, her sword constantly in motion.

“Get the children to safety! Quickly, run for the woods.”

Instead of bolting, Adara ducked inside their hut just as a flaming ember embedded itself into the fabric. Within a few heartbeats, she’d return with a rope draped over her neck and shoulder, the water skin and her medical pouch in her hands. As their family home burst into flames, she grabbed her staff and Thaddea. With complete despair, she looked to her lover one last time speaking only one word, “Tynet.”

“Go Adara, I love you forever, go! Run to the Thracian tribe, go!” Their eyes locked momentarily as she said the words. Tynet knew this might be the last time she would see her heart mate. “Go!” she yelled finally.


Spinning on her heel, Adara ran, dragging the resisting Thaddea along and carrying Ursa in her arms. Everywhere she looked she saw death and destruction. Many of her sisters lay dead or dying; many of those were very young, as young as her own children. This realization spurred her on. Besides her staff, Adara had only a small knife in her belt; not much in the way of weapons to fight such a well-equipped army.

Reaching the edge of the forest, she quickly herded her small charges to higher ground. Desperately needing to see what was happening, she ran up hill Adrenalin and exertion caused her breath to come in gasps. Nevertheless, Adara climbed quickly to the jumble of boulders overlooking the camp. It was from this spot that the guards were usually posted to prevent just such an invasion. She couldn’t understand why their encampment had been attacked so easily until she rounded the immense granite rock and came face to face with two reddened and bloated corpses. By the goddess, what could have caused this? She thought.

In one swift movement, she turned Thaddea away from the grizzly scene and retraced her steps down one level, positioning her children behind a large rocky outcropping. Placing Ursa on the hard-pan with the rocks to her back, Adara turned to her older daughter.

“Thaddea, I need you to stay here and watch Ursa for me. Will you do that, while I see what’s happening?”

The fear was clearly etched in Thaddea’s expression, but she was every inch Tynet’s daughter and stoically nodded her head in acquiescence.

“Good girl. I won’t be far. I’m just climbing up here to see. Okay?”

“Okay, Amma.”

Adara squeezed her small shoulder, and then turned and began to climb. She mentally cursed the long silk skirt that she’d donned for this evening’s re-joining ceremony. That mental digression caused her heart to clinch in agony. She’d traded herbs for the rare silk from the Far East. In secret, she’d sewn the soft lavender colored fabric, designing a slit up one side to her hip as a special enticement for her hearth mate. Not that Tynet ever needs much enticement, she thought. The smile quickly faded as the reality of the situation slammed into her. This is not the time to grieve, she chided herself, I need to see what’s going on and then get help.

Carefully avoiding the gruesome bodies of the guards, she crouched behind the biggest boulder and then crept up slowly, just enough to peer over the edge without being spotted from below. From the high vantage point, she could see the entire camp below. It was chaos. Every hut was ablaze if not already turned to cinders. What causes such immediate destruction? She wondered. Her mind could not comprehend, let alone accept what she was seeing.

Eyes never stopping, she scanned the scene below for signs of Tynet. There were bodies laying everywhere. It tore at her soul when she spotted her own hearth-mother, Hafsa, among the fallen. Finally, she saw her mate amidst a small group of women putting up a brave last stand. Her lover was, of course, in the forefront, her sword a blur as she fought desperately to save the small band of women and children. There were perhaps a dozen women, mostly adults, but at least two older girls.

By the Goddess, was Adara’s fervent prayer, please help them, Anahita, please save them.


It seemed that every soldier in the invading army was a giant, not one of them appeared to be less than seven feet tall. As if in a trance she watched her lover battle one immense swordsman after another, but she was surrounded and badly outnumbered.

Adara spotted a huge ugly soldier, larger even than his comrades, behind Tynet. The evil looking man sported an angry red scar running from his hair line through his left eye to his jaw. With great deliberation, he raised his mace and brought it down with force towards Tynet’s head. Tynet's instinct for survival was all that saved her, because she pulled her head to the side at the last moment, but it wasn’t enough, the blow caught her over her right ear.

As Adara watched in horror, her teeth clamped down hard on her hand lest she scream and give away their hiding place. A dark red stain blossomed on Tynet’s head, and then as if in slow motion the proud warrior fell. As her body hit the hard earth, the dust rose slightly and then settled on the Amazon’s dark skin.

As the hideous mace wielding soldier slowly raised his weapon again for the kill, Adara turned away. She could not bear to watch her soul mate die. Sliding down the rough rock face, a desert curse flashed through her mind, by the goddess, may the one who killed my Tynet, reap a cursed fate. No sooner had that thought passed, than there was another disturbance below. The sounds of galloping horses and the loud shouting of orders, prompted Adara to peek over the rise once more.

Into the center of camp rode another giant on a warhorse. The beast was huge, at least 20 hands at the withers and as black as midnight during the dark moon. All fighting stopped as the man upon the majestic animal came to a halt in front of the beaten women. With two other horsemen on either side of him, the general surveyed the scene before him.

Massive black banners trimmed in red were carried by his honor guard. Snapping smartly in the evening breeze, the flags displayed the army’s heraldry, hideous crimson scorpions scattered across a field of ebony. Although, she did not recognize this insignia; Adara could hardly fail to miss its evil symbolism.

The dust from the horse’s hooves, and the soldiers who had gathered round them, made it all but impossible to see the women cowering before their captors. She thought she had recognized her own mother, Isaura, among the captives but could not be sure, having only caught a glimpse as the woman bent down for something on the ground.

The big man on the black stallion eyed his prisoners with disgust, as one would look upon rubbish. "Is your Queen among you?" he asked as if inquiring for directions.

Finally, one of the prisoners answered in a voice chocked with emotion. "She's dead. That's her over there lying next to her daughter."

The general looked in the direction indicated and said, "Pity. What of her sister? She would hold her right of cast."

There was shuffling among the women before someone else answered. "The queen's sister died over twenty summers ago."

This seemed to surprise him and he looked hard at the prisoners trying to determine the veracity of their words. Finally, he nodded and then shouted his orders, “Take them,” he pointed at the women. “And burn the camp and all the corpses.”

Without any hesitation, the soldiers gathered up the fallen Amazons and began tossing their bodies in a heap in the center of what had been their village, their home. Try as she might, she could not distinguish Tynet’s body among the jumble of dead and dying women.

Stunned beyond belief with the horror before her, Adara could only stare as the surreal vision below her unfolded. As she watched, the general on the black war horse raised his hand high. A blazing blue fireball suddenly materialized there. Laughing madly, he threw the fiery orb into the middle of the bodies. A deafening explosion followed and immediately the dead erupted into an inferno before her eyes. There were some brief screams of agony as not all of the victims had been dead.

Adara nearly vomited as the horror of it squeezed her heart and tore at her soul.

Hideous maniacal laughter filled the air, as the general observed his handiwork.

“Let this be a warning to all who would stand in our way! And especially to you Amazons, learn your fate. We march over and through any who resist us. No one can stand before my army of death!” He yelled his curses and threats to the heavens.

Her eyes now filled and spilled over onto her cheeks, as she said farewell to her lover, her best friend and her soul-mate.

Oh goddess, Tynet, Tynet... her thoughts were anguished as she clutched at the constriction in her chest threatening to strangle her.   Gut wrenching sobs spilled out as her heart shattered with the realization that her lover had fallen.  How will I ever live without you?  How can I go on?  In complete despair, she allowed herself the luxury of this emotional torrent. For a few moments her tears flowed freely, as the sounds of hideous laughter below and the smell of the awful smoke assailed her senses. Finally, she expelled a ragged breath and composed herself. She had to for their children.


Tynet, no one can ever replace you in my heart.   You are the other half of my soul.  Goodbye, my love.   

Her normally dusky complexion looked a ghostly white as she uttered those final thoughts so much like a prayer.

Gathering her wits and calling on her inner strength, Adara surveyed her surroundings.

“Anahita, help me!” She whispered.

She could not mourn yet. Until she and the children reached their Amazon sisters in Thrace, they would not be safe. Scanning the area, her eyes passing quickly over the remains of the two Amazon sentries, she spotted their supplies tucked in a small crevice of the rocks. Kneeling in front of the opening, she pulled out her find, a pouch containing a mixture of dried fruit and nuts, an old wooden cup, a wine skin, a bit of lariat and an old blanket, for warding off the night chill as the guards had stood watch over the camp below. This will have to do, she thought; these are gifts from the goddess. Standing, she fastened the pouch at her waist and then stowed the cup and lariat inside it.

“Amma?” A faint call came from below, interrupted her thoughts and brought Adara back to the situation at hand, a situation that was by no means over.

Gathering up the remaining treasures, she descended to the landing below. Rounding the outcropping where she’d left the children, she noted with pride the defensive posture Thaddea had assumed. Her smaller sibling was tucked against the rock face, thumb firmly planted into her pudgy mouth, while the baby warrior stood guard with her wooden sword held out before her.

The sight brought more stinging tears to her eyes as she thought, Tynet my beloved, you will never see this brave daughter of yours become a warrior. How will I tell her?

Instinctively, Thaddea turned at the noise of the pebbles Adara had kicked loose.

“Amma, where’s Mama?” She asked; the fear evident in her small voice. Somehow, the child already sensed her mother was lost to her.

She knelt in front of her older daughter and looked into chocolate brown eyes swimming in a sea of misery.

“Thaddea, my little one, I’m so sorry.” She hugged the little girl tightly to her bosom, but the child was having none of it and twisted out of her grasp.

“No, my mama isn’t dead. She’s a warrior. She’s the strongest warrior in the world” she stated emphatically.

“Sweet heart, I know. I saw her fight them. Mama was very brave. She fought many men. But there were too many. I saw her fall.”

“No,” the little girl exclaimed. “You’re wrong. Mama is alive. You’re wrong.” With those words, the youngster made to run back to camp, but Adara had been expecting it and grabbed her around the waist holding on tight.

“Nooo!” she wailed as Adara pulled her firmly against her breast, muffling the sounds. Will the world ever be the kind of place where children can grow up in safety and love, Adara wondered as she comforted her child.

Holding her closely, it was several minutes before her daughter finally stilled. Only the child’s occasional silent shudder against her chest, told her that Thaddea still lived, so quietly did she stand. Near the rocks, still sucking on her thumb, tears streaming down her sun darkened cheeks, little Ursa too grieved, though she didn’t know the reason, only that her sister was distraught.

Letting out a huge sigh, Adara finally pulled back. She smoothed her daughter’s raven hair back from her tear streaked cheeks and offered her a small supportive smile. Speaking so softly that it would be inaudible to anyone more than a few feet away, Adara offered the only reassurance she could.


“Thaddea, Mama would want you to be strong now. She’s with the goddess and watching over us. The best we can do is to honor her by our strength. Can you do that for her? She taught you how to be a warrior. Can you be our little warrior and help me get us to our sister Amazons? We must warn them.”

Thaddea’s eyes were riveted on the bare dirt at her feet, but she nodded gravely in assent. I will help Amma, and then I will come back and find you, mama, I promise. She sent this solemn pledge out to her warrior mother.

“Good girl. I need you to help me protect your sister. Sometimes, I will need to hunt as we travel.” Adara paused. She couldn’t believe what she was asking of a five year old, but the truth was; if they were to make it, Thaddea would need to grow up very fast. “Will you do that for me?”

Without answering, the young girl-woman went to her sister. Reaching down, she pulled Ursa to her feet, dusting off the leather britches the youngster wore, and then in a sweet moment that was so like her mother, she pulled the baby into an embrace with her chin resting on her sister’s head. “It’s okay, Ursa. I’ll take care of you.” With those words, she looked up to meet her mother’s eyes.

Oh Goddess, help us, was all Adara could think. With her throat closed, burning with unshed tears, she put on her brave face and said, “All right, we need to get away from here before we can sleep.”

They had been walking less than a quarter candlemark, when the burden of carrying Ursa in her arms made it impossible to take another step. Her biceps burning like fire, Adara paused placing her small daughter on the ground. They had made little progress. At this rate, it’ll be mid-winter before we reach Thrace, she thought. Massaging the aching muscles, she glanced around.

They were following a ridge westward. With the aid of the full moon shining its silver light, she could make out the trail that switched back and forth down into the heavily wooded valley below. That was her destination for tonight. They were entirely too exposed on the boulder strewn grassy highland. Within the thick forest below, they would be able to rest a few hours and sleep in relative safety.

Ruefully, she again regretted the long silken skirt she wore. Kicking her foot out in disgust, the fabric swirled out around her legs like a morning mist. Even though it did not restrict the length of her stride, several times she’d nearly tripped on the long skirt, when they had needed to climb. Pretty as it was, the skirt was totally impractical for a cross country trek. The attributes of the silky soft material were well known to the Amazons whose village lay very near the Chin Silk Road. Both warm and cool, the eastern fabric was also strong as iron. She recalled that it was almost impossible to tear. Sighing, she looked down at the small figure leaning against her legs. What use is this reminiscing, she thought disgustedly.

Her eyes fell upon Thaddea, standing quietly with the blanket and wine skin tied into a sling which she bore across her small shoulders. Almost instantly, a plan formed in the Amazon’s mind as it occurred to her just how useful strong fabric could be. Yes, maybe I can make use of this gift after all.

“Thaddea, come help me; hold Ursa out of the way.”

Still wearing the blanket sling, Thaddea took the toddler’s hand in hers, and the two girls stepped back a pace watching their mother intently.

Drawing her knife from her belt, she began cutting into the skirt at mid thigh. Working quickly, she soon had a long wide piece of the lavender silk. Stretching it out in front of her, she noted it was longer that her arm span.

Kneeling on the ground between the children, she drew the fabric behind her back, laying it on the ground.

“All right, Ursa, I want you to get up on my back, like climbing a tree.”

Beyond tired and certain that her mother had gone over the edge, Ursa hesitated.

“It’s okay, Ursa, Amma wants you to ride on her back,” Thaddea said, grasping their mother’s intent.

Drawing her sister forward, she boosted the small girl up; situating the youngster with her arms around Adara’s neck and legs around her waist.

“Good, that’s good. Now Thaddea, I want you to run the fabric, under Ursa’s bottom and give me the ends.”

Soon, with the help of both children, she had fashioned a carrying pack. Ursa riding comfortably on her back and the weight more evenly distributed, they moved off into the forest. With her legs free to move, they made better time.

Even so, with the passing of another candle mark, both she and Thaddea were flagging badly. It was time to stop.

Standing in a small clearing in the center of a copse of pine trees, Adara decided this was as good a place as any to rest for the night. Having Thaddea move behind her, she squatted down and lowered a sleepy Ursa to the ground. Gently, the older girl supported her sister, while her mother finished releasing herself from the confines of the sling.

The only good thing about this evening was that they had feasted earlier and wouldn’t be desperate for food for a while.

Evaluating the trees in the immediate area, she chose a nice broad pine, with thick foliage that would make a nice comfortable bed for them. Ducking under the lower limbs, she noted it would be an easy climb.

She backed out and turned to the children smiling. Two small faces, consumed with shock and feeling the loss of their mother looked back at her and Adara knelt before them holding out her arms. “Come here little ones.”

They didn’t need a second invitation and both flew into her arms. Holding them close, she breathed in the sweet scent of her children and sought to reassure them.

“We’re going to be all right. Mama is watching over us right now. And the Goddess, see her?” She spoke as she nodded to the full moon over head. “They are both guiding us. We’re going to sleep in this tree. There’re lots of flat branches. We’ll be safe. All right?”

Two sleepy children nodded at her. She noted sadly how subdued they were, not like her children at all. Striving to keep up a positive attitude, she gave them each one last hug, before holding them at arms length.

“Okay, then, let’s get ready for bed.” She spoke as she herded her small charges away from their sleeping area to the bushes.

They relieved themselves and returned to their chosen tree. Each of them sipped from the water bag and then Adara hung the skins from a branch and looped the blanket over her shoulder.

Soon they were scaling the broad lower branches. Amazon children were accustomed to climbing trees and were at home in the foliage from a very young age. Neither of the girls thought anything out of the ordinary about sleeping in the branches of a pine tree.

In the crook of a big bough not too far from the ground, she settled them, Thaddea next to her and Ursa on her lap, where she could nurse, if needed. Wrapping the rope around, to protect them against falling, she tied the free end to an opposite branch and sighed deeply as Thaddea snuggled under one arm. Then she covered them with the threadbare old blanket. Almost immediately, the older girl’s breath attained the rhythmic pattern that indicated sleep. The only noises were the soft sucking sounds of Ursa taking what small comfort she could at Adara’s breast. Finally, she too quieted and the nipple pulled free from her small rosebud mouth, a tiny trickle of milk at the corner.

Smiling sadly down at her daughters, Adara readjusted her top and rechecked the rope. Through the upper limbs the silvery light of the full moon shone down on them. Oh Tynet, why was our time so short? A small sob escaped her lips as she had these thoughts. Listening intently for any sign that her life mate had heard her prayer, she finally succumbed to much needed sleep.

Running through the forest laughing, Adara dodged between the tall birch trees, her lover, Tynet in hot pursuit. Glancing back over her shoulder, she couldn’t see her mate any where but she sensed her close by. Turning forward intending to run again, she plowed straight into Tynet’s waiting arms. Joyfully, the tall Amazon threw back her head and whinnied loudly…

The incongruity of it startled her awake as the horse’s call followed her into consciousness. Sitting perfectly still, straining her ears, Adara tried to regain her equilibrium and identify the source of the noise that had wakened her. What was that sound? No sooner had the question formed in her mind, than a horse’s whiny came again.

Carefully untangling herself from the rope, she gently shook Thaddea to waken her. With her hand over the child’s mouth to prevent her crying out, Adara spoke in a barely audible whisper, “Thaddea, shhh, it’s all right. Keep quiet, okay.” When the girl nodded her understanding, Adara removed her hand.

“I hear a horse nearby. It might be a soldier so keep still. I need to climb down and check.” Shifting the sleeping baby onto Thaddea’s lap, she retied them to the trunk. “Keep very still. I’ll be right back.”

With those instructions, she slipped quietly from the limb and dropped silently to the ground below. The lowest branches concealing her, she crouched down and peered out into the clearing. Light from the full moon gave the scene a surreal quality as she surveyed the open area before her.

There, not more than twenty-five feet away stood a fine Arabian horse. It nosed the grass and then raised its head listening. No doubt it was a grey, but in the ethereal light from the moon, it seemed to glow with a shimmering silver cast.

Remaining completely immobile, Adara allowed her vision to soften in the way of hunters. The technique allowed her to see the clearing and surrounding trees as a whole, making anything out of place stand out like a candle in a darkened hut. After several minutes of scanning and listening, Adara felt confident they were alone with this animal.

Moving cautiously out from under the tree, she stood unhurriedly so as to not startle the beast.

With great care, she walked toward the animal, which danced away from her with each step, matching her pace. Adara stopped to consider the situation. Tynet was mistress of horses in their tribe and over the years, Adara had acquired a few skills of her own. The first thing she noted was that this animal did not seem wild but only frightened. Calmly, she spoke in soothing tones barely above a whisper as she had heard Tynet do on many occasions. Assessing the animal’s condition as she approached, Adara kept up a steady stream of meaningless talk.

“Come’re baby… it’s all right… that’s it… it’s okay… so you’re a young lady… are you… well, girl you’re okay… you’re with friends now…”

With great care and deliberation, she moved toward the skittish animal, all the while coaxing it, gentling it, never stopping the continual calming words of comfort. The mare snorted, but made no move to run as Adara finally reached its side.

“You belong to someone don’t you baby? Let’s see how you’re doing, shall we…”

Reaching into her pouch she retrieved a small bit of dried fruit and held it out in her hand. Sniffing the offering and finally deciding it was acceptable, the animal gently nibbled the gift from her palm. At the same time, Adara ran her other hand slowly over the soft hairs along her neck. Unsure, the animal watched Adara suspiciously but allowed the stroking to continue. Heartened, she continued her examination in the moon light.

The thought that there was something very familiar about this animal niggled at her mind as her hands moved over its coat and through its mane, where she found a piece of leather tangled in a knot.

What’s this then?” she thought.

Carefully, she untied the leather strip holding it up in the moon light to identify it. What she saw caused an involuntary gasped as she recognized Tynet’s own colors, purple and blue, dyed into the soft leather piece. Among the Caucus Amazons, horses were raised for trade as well as transportation for the tribe, and were generally kept in a common pasture. Usually, an Amazon had a favorite which she would mark with a bit of colored leather braided into the horse’s mane.

Tynet, as mistress of horses, had three mounts that she rode regularly and this animal was one of them, a fairly recently broken grey she’d acquired in the spring and was training. Thinking back, she remembered Tynet saying that she was pleased with the new five year old mare. Impressed with her gentle disposition and fine conformation, Tynet planned to breed the animal in the coming year. Her unique coloring so like the hue of the full moon, caused Tynet to name her new steed Mahtab, meaning moonlight.

“Mahtab. Is that you, Moonlight?”

The horse nickered in response and nuzzled Adara’s neck as she realized she’d found her family. Tynet, did you send Mahtab to us? She wondered.

Now Adara made a more thorough examination of the mare, finding many cuts and scrapes.

“Oh, poor baby, you’ve been hurt, haven’t you? Don’t worry, Mahtab, I have just the thing to fix you up.”

Shaking her head vigorously, the horse agreed.

Turning, she moved back to the tree where the children waited. The pouch, where her herbal remedies were stored, hung from a branch close to Thaddea. Mahtab kept pace with her as she walked, bringing a smile to Adara’s lips for the first time since the attack. Ducking under the low branches, she looked up to Thaddea.

“It’s an injured horse, honey. Can you reach my medicines?”

“Okay.” She said as she handed the kit down.

“Thank you, sweetheart. I won’t be a moment.”

Working quickly, Adara applied some of her salves to the worst of the abrasions, noting as she did so that most looked worse than they actually were. After anointing most of the wounds, she fashioned a hobble from the piece of rope she’d found with the supplies at the sentry post. The animal would still be able to graze freely, but not wander too far away.

It was with a much lighter heart that she climbed back up to her perch. Settling back into her sleeping place with the slumbering Ursa on her lap, she drew Thaddea back close to her side.

Holding out the small bit of blue and purple leather, she said, “I have a gift for you, Thaddea.”

The exhausted child looked at her with glazed eyes and then focused on the leather strip. When she realized what she was looking at, she too sucked in a startled breath.

“Is it Mama’s?”

“Yes. She sent us her horse, Mahtab, so we can ride to Thrace. This proves she is with us, honey.”

Taking the child’s hand in hers, Adara looped the leather around the girl’s wrist tying it securely.

Holding her arm out where she could see her new bracelet in the moon’s light, Thaddea nodded and said, “Thank you, Amma.”

Looking up at the moon through the pine needles, she whispered, “Thank you, Mama. I miss you.”

“I miss her too, sweetheart. But she’s with us always. We carry her in our hearts.”

“But we can’t see her any more.”

“No baby, we can’t, but I can see her in your eyes and you know what?” The child shook her head, no. “She can see us.” She pulled the young girl to her chest lest the child see her own newly flowing tears.

“Now we better sleep. We’ve got a long way to go tomorrow.” She dropped a light kiss on her child’s forehead.

Snuggling in close to her mother and sister, Thaddea realized she could only hold her Amma in her arms now; her mama was truly gone. With large silent tears snaking down her face, the young girl cried herself to sleep.

“I know, baby, I know.” Blowing out a heartfelt sigh to ease her tears, Adara’s eyes drifted closed. Her Tynet was gone. But their daughters were safe for now. She would deal with things tomorrow. Good night, my love, good night, my heart, was her final conscious thought.

* * * * *


The sun was rising over the Greek Amazon village, filling it with tranquil sounds of the unfolding day, when the early morning peace was pierced by the shrill voice of a young Amazon.


“God’s be damned! That’s my horse!” She yelled, quickly aware that the curse would be heard by the adults and bring unwanted attention to them.

“No she’s not. The brown one is yours!” The second voice was softer but no less animated.

“I don’t want the brown one! I want the white one. I roped it and caught it. It’s mine!”

“That’s enough! Thalia, Cleese, both of you stop this argument now!” The more authoritative voice of an older Amazon intervened.

“Naolani, it’s my horse. I roped it and claimed it. It’s mine not hers!” Thalia, the older of the two, announced the horse hers.

“No it’s not. She took the brown one. This one is my horse!” Cleese, the younger girl, held the white mare tightly, refusing to relinquish her hold.

“You are disturbing the Queen’s rest. I want this argument stopped now.” She pulled on the arms of both girls as she spoke.

Seeing the approaching regent, the guard outside the Queen’s hut, stood a bit straighter, the movement catching Naolani’s eye.

“What’s going on?” Ephiny approached the disturbance.

“Those two. They continue to argue about the white horse! I was afraid they would wake the Queen.” Noalani replied.

“Regent, this horse is mine. Please tell her!” Thalia, brown hair askew around her head, demanded the regent intervene.

“You deal with them, Ephiny. I have a stack of arrow shafts I need to fletch this morning.”

The Amazon walked off in the direction of her own hut, leaving her friend to manage the two young girls.

“I think a little work is a good idea for you two. Both of you get away from here and take that energy to Pony in the practice field.” A slight hesitation on Thalia’s part caused her to exclaim loudly, “Now!” She emphasized the point glaring at both of the young Amazons.

“What about…?” the older girl began to challenge the Regent but stopped short when she saw the expression on her face.

“Stop! Enough! We’ll take it up in council. You’re going to wake the Queen. Leave now!” Her sharp tone of voice told the two young women the discussion was closed.

“The Queen is awake thank you.” a muffled voice in the hut spoke out. “Come in Ephiny. I can’t sleep anymore with all this noise.”

Ephiny entered the hut, smiling good naturedly at her friend. “Good morning! You sleep well?”

“Well, I was sleeping well. I love sleeping in, Eph, you know that.” She stretched, not yet ready to get up and snuggled further down into the soft furs.

“Yeah, I do. But we have things to talk about that need the Queen’s undivided attention.” The regent gathered the leathers she knew Gabrielle would don that day. “So, get up sleepy one!”

“I’m sure you have things for me to do. But can’t we talk about it later? You’re so much better at this than I am, Eph. I feel like I’ll never learn all the rules. There’s so much to read.” The weight of responsibility for the tribe fell about her like a shroud. She wanted to close her eyes, return to sleep and forget about her obligations.

“It will come, Gabrielle. It will come. Your openness and sense of justice, not to mention your love for this tribe is much more valuable than the actual rules.”

“Well, we’ll see about that. Have you seen Xena this morning?”

“She’s on the practice field with Pony.” Ephiny held up a leather skirt for approval.

“Again?” She nodded to her friend that the leather skirt was all right.

“You know those two warriors. They spar daily and I think Pony gets the worst of it. She’s determined to win one sparring match against Xena and she wants her to help train the younger women in weapons and in the art of stealth.”

“Hmmmm! She does know that. But, who were those two yelling outside my hut? What was that all about?”

“There’s some dispute between them about who captured a white mare and who should own it. I told them we’d take it up in council.”

“Do you know who captured the horse?”

“I think it goes a little deeper than that. I think there’s an attraction between them that’s clouding ownership of the horse. You know how attraction between two people can twist you into knots.” Ephiny winked as she said the last sentence.

Gabrielle looked up with a responding smirk on her face. She was not rising to the bait.

“Okay, so what other issues are we facing today?” The queen rose from the furs and moved to the large gourd filled with water that had been placed across the hut. She washed her face as her friend continued.

“There’s a hunting request from the people of a neighboring village that we need to look into. They’ve asked to hunt on our northern borders but some of the council members think we should not allow any incursion into Amazon lands as it will only lead to problems later on.”

“What else?” The Queen dried her hands on the soft cloths left by the seamstress, Marana, and changed into the leathers Ephiny had placed on the trunk next to the furs. Already she was working solutions in her mind to both problems.

“Why don’t we go to the dining lodge? I’m sure you’re hungry and we can talk more there? Yakut suggested I bring you so we can discuss the issues the council must rule on.” The regent knew food would appeal to the queen and Yakut’s lessons would be easier for her to understand on a full stomach.

“Eph, I have so much still to learn. I’m still overwhelmed so I need you beside me as we discuss everything. You’ve had so much more experience than me.” The uncertainty in her voice was heartfelt.

“Gabrielle, you’re Queen, not me. I’ll stand with you, but the final decisions are yours. The council will advise you well. Don’t be afraid.” She paused then added, “You know, I sense something else is troubling you. What is it my friend?” She put her arm around her friend’s shoulder.

The younger woman sighed and looked across the hut. “We’ve been here two weeks and Xena and I have never stayed anywhere this long before. Ever since our return at the Solstice festival, it’s felt like a home to me.” With a faraway look in her eyes, she remembered the festival, the dance with her warrior that the Amazons still spoke about, and her confrontation with the goddess Artemis.

She continued. “I don’t know how long she’s going to want to stay. I know her. Training the Amazons will only keep her busy for a while, then she’ll be ready for us to move on.”

“What about you, Gabrielle? What do you want to do? What about your tribe?” Ephiny’s words cut to the core of the matter. She knew the question was genuine and she’d have to face her decision sooner or later.

She thought about the question. True, the Amazons were hers and she was their Queen. But Xena was her life and her heart. If Xena wanted to leave, then she would leave with her. Where Xena went, she went too. She’d lost her but now that she’d been brought back from Tartarus, and they had finally spoken the words that had been silent for so long and declared their love for one another, she knew she was going to remain with the warrior.


“I’ll go with her when she’s ready, Eph. My heart is pledged to hers.” The words were spoken softly.

The Regent studied her friend for a few moments, her expression passive. “Come; let’s go to the dining lodge. We’ll talk with Yakut and try to make sense of all this, all right?”

The younger woman nodded knowing her friend was hurt but she knew when the question was asked there was no other response than the one she gave. She turned to retrieve the Queen’s Staff.

“Why are you bringing the staff?” the regent inquired.

“Won’t I need it when I talk to Yakut?” The reply was sincere and brought a quick chuckle from the Regent.

“No, you won’t need it. We’re just going to talk with Yakut about the council. It’s nothing formal.”

“See, I told you I had a lot less experience than you.” She punched her friend in the shoulder and received a hug in return.

“Come on, the food is getting cold.”

They walked arm in arm from the Queen’s hut to the dining lodge chattering amiably. The sounds in the camp were more defined now. The younger woman looked towards the training field as she heard horses galloping, swords clashing and women cheering. In the distance she saw the warrior sparring, the sweat glistening off her bronzed muscled arms and back as she parried with her opponent. The sight caught her attention and brought a smile to her face as a tight sweet sensation in her lower belly reminded her of the night before.

“Just Xena and Pony” the regent said, breaking the libidinous thoughts. “Let’s eat. Yakut is waiting.”

She followed the regent with a backward longing look at the warrior.

                                                            *       *       *       *





The morning sun beat down fiercely on the two women pacing towards each other. They were stripped to the barest coverings and their taut muscles rippled with the tension of sparring and parrying the heavy weapons.

“Come on, old woman, I let you win the last match. Let’s go again.”

“Old woman?” Xena wanted to wipe the slippery smile off Pony’s face. “Old woman?” She repeated closing the distance between them. “I’ve thrown you to the ground twice without breaking a sweat.”

“You’re winded old woman. I let you win. As for not breaking a sweat, look at yourself. You’re soaked and out of shape.” Pony, the younger weapons mistress laughed as she taunted the older warrior. She, however, remained respectful and cautious as she continually moved sideways, watching her taller opponent, knowing a sudden thrust or sweep could level her again.

She and Xena had become friends and both of them enjoyed the thrill of competition, especially the strenuous matches against each other. The good natured taunts and heckling had always been a constant in their relationship and belied the depth of their friendship.

“Come on you fat sow. You’re going down!” Xena yelled. She lunged towards the shorter warrior who quickly sidestepped the attack, turned and landed the butt end of the staff into the taller woman’s ribs.

“Ugghhh!” the warrior groaned the air momentarily expelled from her lungs.

“Give up?” the weapons mistress asked.

“When centaurs take flight!” she moaned, the morning’s exercise beginning to tire her.

“Ya can’t make love all night and still expect to fight by day, old woman! The Queen is making you soft. She’s got you tied up and locked down.” Her laughter lit up her sweaty face as she continued the jibes.

“Your day will come, Pony, and I want to be there when the great Amazon weapon’s mistress falls flat and hard.” She swung her staff towards the woman’s knees but she jumped over the sweep.

“Never! It will be snowing in Tartarus when that happens. You know me, warrior, bed them and move on. I don’t need one woman turning me into mush and knots.”

She flipped forward, turning a somersault as she said the words, expecting to take the warrior by surprise but was instead punched in the back and sent reeling. She recovered her footing quickly knowing the warrior would close in and claim the advantage.

Pony’s usual boasts sounded a bit different to the older warrior. As she mentally examined the words, she blocked the overhead blow she knew was coming.

“Too predictable, Pony, I could feel your movements before you swung the staff.”

“You’re feeling too much, warrior. I’m telling ya, the Queen has you roped and tied.”

The older woman stepped backward with a far away look in her eyes, her smile revealing the fact that the young blond woman she’d fallen in love with had in truth roped her and tied her. She thought of the early morning, as she held the sleeping bard in her arms her golden hair softly falling across the warrior’s arms and chest. The younger woman’s leg was thrown over hers, casually entwined with her own. She still didn’t believe all that had happened to them in the past month. She’d returned from the dead, declared her love for this woman, and knew she was forever changed. Now, in the middle of a sparring match, all she wanted to do was to go find her, wrap her in an embrace, and take her back to their hut.

Pony saw the change in the warrior’s bearing, saw the distant look in her eyes, and pressed forward intent on taking her down. She spun twice, flipped, and brought her staff in a fluid sweeping motion towards the back of the warrior’s knees. She connected but didn’t anticipate Xena’s reverse kick which landed in the middle of her belly and sent her staggering backwards. Xena brought her own staff into a sweep and while Pony was off balance, swung it across her back, putting her on the ground for the third time that morning.

“Hades balls! You’ve done it again, Xena.” She laughed good naturedly as she hugged the pain in her belly. This one is gonna bruise badly she thought.

“Wanna go again you tired, fat cow or do you agree I won?” This time it was the older warrior’s turn to taunt as she offered an arm to her fallen friend.

“I thought I had you, but I give up. Three times is enough for one morning.” She laughed as she continued rubbing her belly. “Besides, I gotta go on guard duty. How ‘bout a rematch tomorrow?”

“You’re on, but right now, I’m going to find Gabrielle and see if she wants to join me in the hot springs.”

“Like I said, you’ve gone soft. You only have one thing on your mind these days. You won’t even be able to hold a staff before long, much less a sword.”

“Meet me tomorrow, I’ll show you who’s soft.” The challenge was issued.

As they gathered their weapons they watched the Amazons practicing in the field. Xena studied one group intently. “That bunch is better than the others. They should make fine warriors.”

“I hope so. We need all the able warriors we can train. Many train naturally and develop the skills as though born to them. Others never get it.”

“It’s like most things, Pony. We all have skills. Some of us have many skills.” She winked at her friend. “Then something happens, that shakes your foundation. When that happens, all bets are off cause none of those skills matter.” The warrior realized she’d said too much.

“Is that what happened with you and Gabrielle?”

The question was asked innocently and the warrior knew she could choose to ignore it and there’d be no further discussion. But her respect for the weapons mistress made her realize she owed her a reply.

“Yeah, Gabrielle happened.”

“Wanna talk about it?”

“Not really.” She laughed as she said the words, but knew she’d talk about it. Pony knew it too.

“How’d you know, Xena?”

“It’s hard to explain. Just a feeling. You don’t know it at the time, but when you look back on the events, you understand when it happened. And nothing is the same ever again. Your world is changed forever.”

“So it’s a feeling that just comes out of nowhere when you meet someone?”

“Yeah, kinda like that. You just know inside.”

“I don’t know if I’ll ever feel that about any woman.”

“You will, Pony. And you won’t be able to control it. It’ll just happen. And when it does, it’ll change everything about who you are.”

“It changed you for sure. You fight like a girl now.” The warrior received a punch in her bruised belly for the statement.

“Yep, it did. The problem is I now worry more about Gabrielle than I do for myself and that takes my edge off. I need to work much harder on keeping that edge. If we’re in a threatening situation, I have to be sharper than I was before I admitted my love for her.”

“Was that hard? Telling her you loved her?”

“Hardest thing I ever did, my friend. Still is.”

“Why? Why was it so hard?”

“Because it leaves you open and vulnerable. Everything you’ve spent your whole life trying to keep under wraps is out there. Once you say the words, it changes everything.”

“Well, I don’t have to worry about that. I haven’t met anyone around here that makes me want to proclaim my love. Like I told ya, I just enjoy the chase and the bedding. Surely you remember those days, warrior.” She laughed as she said the words.

“I’m going to be around when you fall, Pony and I’ll watch ya eat those words.” She took another swing at Pony’s belly, but this time, the younger woman was ready for it and dodged it easily.

The sounds of companionable laughter were heard as the two dirty sweat covered and weary warriors left the field in opposite directions, one heading for guard duty, the other towards the Queen’s hut.


                                                            *          *          *          *



The two women entered the dining lodge together, the smells of various foods in cooking pots assailing them.

“That smells so good and I’m so hungry.” Gabrielle said.

“You’re always hungry” Ephiny responded. “Let’s get eating bowls before there’s no food left.”

They moved to the cooking pots, ladling out the warm stew and broth into the wooden bowls.

“There’s Yakut. Let’s go over to her table.” Ephiny gestured in the direction of the Amazon healer who was eating far away from the other more boisterous Amazons in the hut. Yakut always retained an air of quiet dignity and calm even in the midst of chaos.

“Good morning, Queen Gabrielle,” she said as the young woman and Ephiny approached. She moved down on the wooden bench to give both women room to sit.

“You don’t have to be so formal, Yakut. You never say my name though we’ve been through so much together. Won’t you just call me Gabrielle?”

The healer just gave her a smile in reply.

The blond woman looked over to see what the healer was eating and declared, “Hmmm, that smells good,” as she and Ephiny took their seats and began eating.

“Our cooks prepare very good meals.”

“Ephiny said you had something to discuss with me?” The queen ate heartily much to the amusement of both healer and regent.

“We may need to convene the council to discuss several issues facing us. But there’s one thing that’s more important right now and it shouldn’t be put off.”

“What’s that, Yakut?” She used hardened bread to scoop the stew from the bowl, relishing the taste and aroma.

“Your succession!” the healer said without hesitation or preamble as she stared directly into the eyes of the young queen.

Gabrielle choked on the mouthful of food she’d just begun to swallow. Ephiny, sensing that Yakut’s direct approach to most issues might upend her friend, handed her a mug of cool water to help her clear her throat.

“What do you mean my succession? Where am I going?” she choked out.

“When you leave the tribe, you must appoint a stand-in. If it’s to be Ephiny, then a second stand-in for her must also be appointed. It’s our tribal law. And my feelings tell me that you will be departing soon.”

Gabrielle recovered enough to study the healer. She’d traveled with her in spirit to try and find Xena and knew her devotion to the tribe governed her behavior above all else. She also knew she trusted this younger woman without question.


“Xena and I haven’t talked about leaving, Yakut.”

“You’ll be leaving soon, my Queen. We must formally appoint your stand-in.” The statement was said matter of factly. Yakut has developed the powers of mind reading. It’s possible Gabrielle thought. No, it’s probable she clarified to herself. She decided to be as direct as the healer.

“What do you want me to do and when?”

“You must decide who is to be your stand-in and she’ll be formally declared Regent. If it’s Ephiny again, then you must also name her stand-in. As soon as you decide, I’ll convene the Council and we’ll present it to them. Then we’ll pass the mask and staff to both women and you will record it in our scrolls.” She had stopped eating as she outlined the formal rules of succession.

“I want Ephiny to remain as Regent. But Yakut, I would like you to be her stand-in. You’re the only one besides her I would entrust this tribe to. Will you honor me by accepting that?”

“I am a healer first my Queen, but if it is your wish, how can I refuse you?”           

Gabrielle placed her hand on the healer’s arm and squeezed it. “Thank you, Yakut. This tribe needs you.”

The young woman bowed her acceptance as a disturbance was heard at the entryway of the dining lodge.

The warrior always created an entrance. Her tall frame and long strides commanded the room as all eyes turned to watch her, some with more than admiration on their minds. As her eyes grew accustomed to the dimmer light, she scanned the room, looking for Gabrielle. It was still early enough in the day so she knew the younger woman would be eating her morning meal and saw her across the room with Yakut and Ephiny.

“There you are” she said as she placed a kiss on the bard’s head and hugged her.

“Ewww, Xena, you’re all sweaty and dirty.” She pulled away from the embrace.

“I’m all hot, not just sweaty and dirty,” she teased.

Ephiny rolled her eyes at Xena who smirked at her in return. Ever since the dance at the Solstice Festival, Xena kept her at a watchful distance. She hadn’t liked the suggestive way the regent had danced with Gabrielle and was still not over it, much to the amusement of her partner.

“You’re looking well, Xena. How was the practice session?” The healer addressed the warrior.

“Pony went down for the count” she laughed in response. “But I need to bathe. I’m filthy.”

The warrior bent over the younger woman and whispered in her ear, “Finish eating and come with me!”

“I’m still eating, Xena” Gabrielle replied out loud already anticipating what the warrior was thinking.

“I got something else in mind” she responded with a raised eyebrow.


The warrior leaned over again ignoring the bard’s feigned outrage and whispered in her ear, “Wanna go to the springs with me?” Her blatant suggestive tone was not lost on the younger woman who felt the warrior’s warm breath against her ear and felt a responding tingle down her chest, across her stomach, and into her groin. She blushed at the thoughts that rose unbidden.

Yakut had the discretion to continue eating and ignored the display. Ephiny on the other hand, again rolled her eyes at Xena who ignored her this time.

I really have to do something about Ephiny Xena thought. She liked the woman very much, but there was always the memory of that dance that clouded her thinking. The regent and Gabrielle were dear friends and sisters; she needed to get past that suggestive dance. It was probably the effects of too much alcohol she thought. Oh well, she decided, she’d think about it tomorrow.


“Come on, let’s go!” She pulled the bard to her feet and guided her towards the doorway with her arm draped over her shoulder, a gesture that made it clear they belonged together.

“Yakut? Ephiny? We’ll talk more later?” The Queen asked over her shoulder as she was maneuvered away from her seat.

The two women nodded in reply.

Several Amazon women watching the display wished they were going with one or the other as the two women walked pointedly out of the dining area and towards their hut.

                                                *          *          *          *          *



“Xena! Can’t you be a little more discreet?” Gabrielle issued the statement as a challenge but her gentle laughter belied her displeasure. She gathered the soft drying cloths they would need from the chest.

“What do you mean little one?” The warrior knew exactly what she meant but hugged her to disarm whatever rebuttal was coming.

“You couldn’t have been any more obvious, you know?”

“What do you say we continue this conversation at the springs? It’s still early and we’ll have it to ourselves for a while. Besides, I need to bathe after the sparring match and I sure could use your help.” Her sly wink left nothing to interpretation.

“OK, let’s go.” She took the cloths and several herbal sticks to add to the water.

The guards stepped forward crisply as they emerged from the hut intent on following the Queen.

“It’s all right. I’m going to the springs with Xena. I don’t think I’ll need any additional protection.”

“Queen Gabrielle, our weapons mistress would never allow…” one of the guards began.

“She doesn’t need any guards! Got it?” Xena’s forceful words had their desired effect.

                                    *          *          *          *          *          *          *

The two women walked hand in hand in the direction of the springs which were located deep in a protected area of the Amazon encampment.

“Xena, do you know you frighten the Amazons when you talk to them like that?”

“They frighten me, Gabrielle. They always hover around you. Queen this, Queen that. If something ever happened I’d have to fight them to get through to protect you. They’re in my way.”

“Well they’re not now oh big protector! Catch me if you can!” the bard said as she darted ahead of the warrior laughing as she looked back to see if she was being followed.

“Oh you think so? I can outrun you any day!” the warrior said as she sprinted towards the retreating woman. She caught her near the base of a large tree and tackled her to the ground, as the cloths and the herbal scented sticks she was carrying fell in disarray around them.

They rolled around in the mossy grass as Xena mercilessly tickled Gabrielle worried that their screams of laughter might bring back the guards they were so desperately trying to evade. Xena put her hand over Gabrielle’s mouth to keep her from laughing. The young woman squirmed under the weight of the other. Then the friction against each of their bodies made them stop the frolicking. They lay on the grass, one straddling the other, and time stopped for a while. Then Xena lowered her head to Gabrielle’s lips kissing her tenderly. The kiss was returned just as sweetly.

Then the warrior placed her weight on her elbows and forearms, and her hands cupped the face of the woman under her as she gazed solemnly into the green eyes.

“What?” asked the younger woman.

“Nothing.” The reply was quick.

“I know it’s something. Tell me.” She crinkled her nose trying to ease the warrior’s taciturn response.

“You love me!” It was a simple statement expressing her bewilderment. She lowered her head after saying the words that still gave her trouble to express.

Gabrielle reached up and tilted the warrior’s head back up so she could look into her face.

“Yes. I love you! Are you so unsure of my love?” She asked.

The warrior didn’t respond and tried to evade the question by shifting her weight as if to get up, but the bard wouldn’t allow it clamping her legs around the larger woman’s back

Please don’t let her ask me again she thought. I’m no good at expressing these feelings.

“Tell me. Why are you so unsure?” The bard pressed forward.

Knowing she wouldn’t get away without an answer she replied, “Because I can’t believe you’re lying here in my arms. I can’t believe how much I love you or that you love me back just as much.” The words tumbled out and she hoped it would be enough.

She tried to lower her head again but the bard stopped her. “Look at me” she said. When the warrior complied, she said, “You are my life. You always have been and you always will be.” Then she pulled the dark head towards her own and kissed her deeply.

The loud sound of a bird’s call whistling through the forest broke the kiss.

“We shouldn’t stay here.” The warrior hissed. “It would never look good for the Queen of the Amazons to be seen making love in the open like this.”

“Aaaah, is that what you had in mind this afternoon, my love? I can accommodate that at the hot springs you know?” she teased as they got up disentangling themselves.

“Yesssss! It’s what I had in mind.”

They gathered the cloths and sticks of herbs and began walking through the dappled sunlight hand in hand. They heard the distant sound of water and steam before reaching the springs.

“I’m looking forward to spending an uninterrupted and private afternoon with you. No Amazons, no Gods, no guards, no one but you and me.” Xena exclaimed.

Gabrielle squeezed her hand. “It will be nice for a change, won’t it?”

“We’ll stay there as long as we like. Maybe when they come looking for their Queen, you can order them to bring hot food and go away?” She laughed at her own joke.

The pathway became less sure-footed with the occasional large rocks and boulders strewn about. The smell of sulfur permeated the air as they approached a deeper rocky passageway. They knew they were getting near when they heard the high pitched hiss of the steam and the roar of the springs The heated springs interacted with the cooler air and gave the surrounding area a misty feeling.

Then they were upon it. The spring itself was hidden deep inside a cavern in the rocks. It was a deep dark green pool nestled down below surrounding rocks; its privacy was guarded by a large boulder in front of the pool’s entrance. The pool was hot and inviting after long days of working in the fields, the cook house or the practice field. At this time of day it was deserted.

Xena held out her strong hand to Gabrielle as they descended the rocks towards the deep green pool.

“I love this place, Xena. It’s so beautiful.” The young blond looked appreciatively and with admiration at the natural outcropping and the springs below them.

“So are you, Gabrielle.” The words came from the heart as the normally taciturn warrior stared openly and lovingly at her companion.

The bard turned and looked deeply into her companion’s eyes as she heard the words and she quietly offered a blessing of thanksgiving to the gods for sending her this woman.

Xena’s eyes turned a smoky blue-gray in response to the bard’s penetrating gaze. She took the soft drying cloths from the younger woman’s hands and placed them on the flat rocks beside the pool. Then she bent down and placed a gentle kiss on her lips.

The bard responded to the kiss in kind, softly and gently. But as Xena’s hand touched the side of her face, the kiss grew in intensity and their bodies pressed forward towards each other. Xena’s mouth opened and her tongue played across Gabrielle’s lips, demanding entry. She obliged the warrior willingly. Her mouth opened and she touched the tip of her tongue to the warrior’s.

There was a soft groan from Gabrielle as she felt warmth race through her from the intensity of the kiss and the escalating passion. The warrior pulled her closer and tighter and with one hand, fumbled with the clasp of her leather halter top.

With a sharp tug, the top came off easily and the warrior stepped back to admire the young woman’s bare breasts. The smoky eyes were now glazed as she bent and took the nipple of one breast in her mouth.

“Unngghh!” the bard moaned as a tongue lazily rolled the nipple in her mouth and gently bit down on it.

“You are so beautiful, Gabrielle” the warrior repeated.

“Xena… Xena…” The bard was breathless and was ready to give in to her passion but a small voice reminded her of her role in the tribe, so thinking logically with the last bit of composure she said, “Maybe we should get in the water. If anyone comes in here, we’re giving them quite a show.” She pressed the warrior’s head into her breast even as she tried to stop the attention with words.

“Ya know, Gabrielle, the only place I’ll have you to myself will be on the road” the warrior said as she pulled back from the bard looking gently into concerned green eyes. “Maybe it’s time we think about leaving.”

Not about to give up what they’d begun, the bard ignored the words and said, “Let’s get into the springs where we can continue this.” She reached for Xena’s hand and said, “Come on, take off those leathers, you said you needed a bath didn’t you?”

Gabrielle took off the rest of her clothes and slipped into the hot water as her sly grin ignited the warrior to action and she quickly unbuckled the leathers she wore.

“You can be such a tease. I like that side of you.”

“Come show me how much, then” the bard replied as she watched the warrior strip off her leathers hurriedly.

A clean knife-cut dive, barely disturbing the face of the water, was her answer. Xena surfaced behind the blond woman pulling her against her own body tightly and wrapping her strong legs around the middle of the smaller woman. She nuzzled the back of Gabrielle’s hair and neck, breathing in the familiar scent that she loved so dearly.

Xena’s hands slipped down the bard’s wet arms and her fingers softly touched Gabrielle’s breasts. The Warrior heard the intake of breath and pulled her lover even tighter to herself. She pushed off from the side of the spring and settled backwards against the smooth rocks opening her legs and positioning the bard between them. Her fingers never stopped exploring the bard’s breasts.

“Xena,” she purred, “I can stay right here forever.” She leaned her head back against the hard muscular area between the warrior’s neck and shoulder enjoying the hot water and the attention her body was receiving. She moaned as a fingernail raked her nipple.

The warrior smiled as she heard the words knowing she could interpret them two ways. Gabrielle could stay with the Amazons forever, or she could stay like this with her lover forever. She’d been wondering how to bring up the subject of leaving the Amazons. She was used to keeping her own counsel for many years and often acted quickly and decisively based on her own intuition. But, things had changed. She faced the reality that she was now committed to this woman in heart and soul and any action she now took resulted from their joint discussions and what was best for both of them. She realized how different her world had become in the short time loving this woman who had become a part of her and who lived in her heart. She knew leaving the Amazon family that her bard had come to love would be a major upheaval. I wonder if this is a good time to bring it up, she thought.

The hot water covered them to just below their shoulders. She knew she had the bard at a disadvantage if she brought up the subject now - even as her thoughts warred with her hands. The bard squirmed and moaned under her touch and realizing the effect she was having on the smaller woman and wanting to please her, her hands won. She moved them slowly but firmly down across the younger woman’s stomach, the direction in which she was moving, clear. She felt the muscles tighten beneath her fingers and she lingeringly traced their contours. She heard the bard’s breath hitch as she moved below her rib cage.

Gabrielle turned her face upwards to the warrior’s intent on kissing her deeply to match her rising passion. As she turned her body slightly Gabrielle’s foothold on the rocks gave way causing her to slide with a big splash under the water. She stayed under the clear green water and seeing Xena’s toes, kissed one of them. The warrior reached under the water and abruptly pulled her up to her chest, holding her in a tight embrace.

The change in the warrior’s behavior was clear so she asked, “Xena? What is it?”

Her reply was to hold the younger woman tighter, fearful of broaching the subject now that the passionate mood had been interrupted.

Gabrielle struggled out of the embrace and looked up into the sky blue eyes seeing hesitation and confusion and something waiting to be said.

“Xena, talk to me! Tell me!”

“I uhmmm” she stammered a bit before Gabrielle again interrupted her.

“It’s all right. Just tell me.” She softly stroked the side of the warrior’s face, watching her intently.

“I want to…I think we should” She started and stopped. “We’re never….. I mean…” she paused again. Then just when it seemed she’d stopped talking completely, the words tumbled out. “When do you think we should leave the Amazons?”

After several false starts, the words had finally been said. Xena held her breath waiting for an answer as she looked into the green eyes searching her own.

“I thought you were okay here. What happened? Why do you want to leave?”

“Gabrielle, I’ve lived my whole life on the road. I can’t stay here forever. I want to – no, I want us to move on. I want us to be together. You have so many obligations here as Queen, we seldom have time for us. I’ve done all I can with training. I want to leave and I want you to go with me.”

The bard continued studying the warrior’s face. She’d heard the words and weighed each sentence. Her reply needed to be equally measured and weighed.

“Xena, I’m so new and inexperienced in this role as Queen. I don’t know what’s expected of me or how to act. I’ve got to ask Ephiny or Yakut what to do about everything. I don’t know the Amazon rules or their history and there’s so much to learn. The fates stuck me into this role. It’s not one I would have chosen. I left Potaedia and met you. Soon after we met, I knew that you would always be my path and I would always walk yours.” Her words were impassioned.

She continued, “Can’t we stay just a bit longer? There’s so much to do. And besides, before we leave I need to name a successor to act on my behalf. Can’t we stay a while longer, Xena?” She pleaded with the warrior, her gaze intense, and then threw out the one word the warrior could never refuse. “Please?” The entreaty was heartfelt as she put her hands on either side of the tall woman’s face stroking her lips with her thumbs.

Xena had prepared an answer for everything Gabrielle had said until the final word. She knew she couldn’t refuse her. And that little gesture with her thumbs was quickly breaking the warrior’s concentration. The thumbs slowly and sensuously glided over her lips entering her mouth and softly touching her tongue.

She sucked on the thumbs, then smiled at the bard and took her smaller hands into her larger ones. She leaned over Gabrielle at first brushing her lips with her own then pressing her body and lips passionately against the younger woman. The pressure was returned and instantly heat erupted between them. The bard put her hands behind the warrior’s head, drawing her down as Xena’s mouth opened and her tongue sought entry into her lover’s.

Gabrielle mumbled, “Does that mean yes?” even as her body responded to the sudden fires building between them.

I’ll do whatever you want, Gabrielle” Xena thought, but she was beyond talking. All she wanted was to make love to her bard in this quiet and private hot springs setting. She pressed her hand against the younger woman’s breast and squeezed it hearing her breath quicken. Then she pulled hard at the nipple between her fingers hearing the responding groan. The sound drove her releasing a raging desire within her. She wanted to touch her everywhere to drive her to ecstasy over and over. Her other hand determinedly moved down the bard’s body stopping only long enough for the bard to shift and open her legs straddling her.

She moaned into her lover’s open mouth their bodies waiting to ignite just as the sound of crashing tree branches and screams of “Queen Gabrielle! Queen Gabriell!” split the sensual afternoon air. The urgency of the yells matched the urgency in their bodies.

“By Hades’ balls I’m going to kill somebody today!” Xena swore an oath as she pulled herself away from Gabrielle.

“Oh gods Xena, something has happened.” The bard said rising up from the water.

“No, Gabrielle, nothing has happened. Not yet. I’d love for something to happen and it still might.” She pulled the Queen into an embrace and kissed her deeply, her tongue gliding over Gabrielle’s. It was very clear what she wanted to have happen. “Get rid of them, will you? Then I promise something nice will happen.” She gently bit down on the Bard’s tongue rolling it between her teeth.

Before Gabrielle could respond, three out of breath Amazons with tangled leaves and twigs in their hair and frantic expressions on their faces raced into the clearing from the woods.

“Queen Gabrielle, come quickly!”

Not exactly what I had in mind, thought Xena there was nothing quick about it. She watched Gabrielle get up and begin to hurriedly dry off.

                                                *          *          *          *



As Pony left the practice field she noticed two Amazon girls standing uncertainly near the tree line. They giggled and nudged one another, each pushing the other one forward.

Gods was I ever that young? Pony thought as she made to walk past them. Feeling the force of their gaze run up her back, she realized she was the center of their attention and turned to face them. I know these two, they’re inseparable… even though they’d rather bicker than talk, she thought.

Hands on her hips she struggled to recall their names, ah yes, she remembered, the one with brown hair is Thalia and the younger one is Cleese her shadow.

“What are you two doing standing around?” Pony asked looking from one to the other.

“Ummm, the regent sent us to you to, ahhh, practice with our weapons.” Cleese ventured as she held up her practice staff.

“Oh, she did, huh. Well, I’m done on the practice field for today.”

The two girls visibly brightened. It seemed they were off the hook and could go back to camp and pursue their favorite topic, the great white horse debate.

“Great” they said in unison and turned back toward the main camp.

Pony watched the two retreating forms for a brief moment knowing that if Eph had sent them to her, it was probably for some minor infraction. She’d be remiss if she didn’t exercise a little adult authority. Centaur crap, she mentally cursed her luck. I don’t really want to deal with a couple of giggling girls.


Then she remembered where she’d been headed. As the reality of guard duty penetrated her consciousness, Pony’s lips drew up into a knowing smile. Ah, but my young friends, I have just the sort of ‘practice’ that precludes too much mirth.

“Not so fast.” She called out. “If the regent thinks you need to sharpen your skills, you can come with me and practice sentry duty for a few candle marks.”

Halting in mid-stride, the two turned slowly to face Pony again. It was all the older woman could do to stifle her laughter as she spotted the startled rabbit look they both wore.

For a youngster, guard duty was the most boring and tedious task there was. It demanded absolute quiet and stealth. Communication with each other was accomplished through bird calls. For endless candle marks, they’d stay hidden in the trees and constantly scan the horizon. In truth, most of the adults didn’t care to draw “the duty” as it was called among their tribal sisters.

In Amazon culture, young women were eased into adult chores under the watchful eye of accomplished elders. Today, it would be the weapons’ mistress who would oversee these two.

Twisting the regent’s intent to her advantage, Thalia made an attempt at rescuing them. “But we were only told to practice our weapons.”

Clearly recalling being a teenager seeking to avoid some unpleasant task, Pony challenged them. “Is that a fact? Well, now I’m telling you, you can practice guard duty. Do you have a problem with that?”

Casting a sideways glance at each other, they shrugged their shoulders in defeat. “No ma’m.” They said.

Pony groaned internally, I feel old today. First Xena puts me on my butt three times in a row and now this.

“Fine; I’ll get my horse and then we’ll go.”

Ever hopeful that they might get to ride this morning, both girls’ heads shot up at hearing those words. But they were soon disabused of that notion when Pony put two fingers to her lips, emitting a high pitched whistle. An Arabian grazing nearby raised his head, nickered once and trotted to her side.

Nudging his mistress with his graceful head, he begged for her attention. She smiled and scratched his neck. Having hand trained the horse herself from a young colt, she loved this spirited animal. He had the courage and reflexes of a bird of prey, so Pony had called him Ajax, which meant eagle.

After positioning a light blanket across the horse’s back, she grabbed the reins and a handful of mane, and mounted the gelding. Preferring to ride with only a blanket or nothing between her and her mount, Pony loved the feel of the powerful muscles as they bunched and stretched under her when she rode.

Casting a glance at her charges, she said, “All right, are you ready?”

Knowing the futility of resistance, they stood tall like the proud young Amazons they were and struck their chests with closed fists.

Mentally rolling her eyes at their youthful enthusiasm, Pony clicked her tongue twice and Ajax, moved off at a slow walk. The two girls could easily keep up with the horse as they chattered away. For the most part Pony chose to ignore them and just enjoy the warmth of the sun on this clear summer day. But her thoughts were soon interrupted by an outburst between the two.

“Thalia, she’s my horse.”

“Is not.”

“Is too.”

Suddenly, Pony knew why Ephiny had sent these two out of camp and mentally plotted her own revenge against the regent. “Okay, you two, enough. I don’t want to hear it.”


“No buts. You are about to stand sentinel. Even in peace time ‘the duty’ is an important job and the number one thing I insist on from my guards is silence. Got it?”


Turning Ajax into their path, she looked sternly down at them until the daggers from her eyes forced their eyes to the dirt at their moccasins. She spoke slowly, each word taking on a power of its own, “Not… another… word...”

Amazon lands were protected by two perimeters, one inside the other.

On the extreme edges of Amazon territory were four other sentries. Each one of these was on horse back and rode the tribe’s boundaries alone in search of any sign of intrusion. Every day one would meet another and exchange information. Usually working in week long rotations, they covered a lot of ground during a tour. It was always the older and more skilled trackers who were assigned this job. Their primary job was to note the passage of travelers through the outer borders of tribal land and raise an alarm if a threat was perceived.

The inner picket line was positioned within a mile radius of the main camp and was where Pony and the girls were headed.

Security there was provided by sentries stationed within hearing distance of each other. Generally, the women were posted high up in the tree limbs where the foliage would provide cover, while the height afforded them the best possible field of vision. Working in four hour shifts, there were two teams of lookouts on the inner defense line all under the watchful eye of one commander. The observation posts ringed the entire camp.

In the event of an attack, the village would be alerted by drums. Periodically, there were simulated attack drills to test the Amazon readiness to defend their lands. All Amazons from the oldest to the youngest knew drums sounded from the sentry posts meant a call to arms. Due to the need to be battle ready at all times, every woman kept her best weapon close by even while performing the most mundane tasks.

Between the two lines of defense, it was virtually impossible for anyone to approach the camp unnoticed or to catch the women unaware.

Making good time, Pony and the two girls reached the inner perimeter guard post. Stopping at the edge of the forest surrounding a small meadow, Pony dismounted.

At the same time, three other Amazons, the relief guards for the afternoon shift, arrived on foot from the direction of the camp. Pony acknowledged them with a nod of her head, then turned and trilled out the clear notes of a mating song bird. Almost immediately the call was returned from across the clearing and Solari stepped into the open. Leaving her team behind at tree line, Pony followed suit walking directly over to her counterpart.

Observing the formalities, each commander faced the other and struck her chest with a closed right fist, then broke into smiles.

“How was your morning?” Pony asked.

“Not bad. Stephene reported seeing a mama black bear and two cubs. They’re a ways out but we might want to alert the camp. Wouldn’t be good for the younger ones to stumble on her.”

“Yeah. Anything else?”

“Nope, pretty quiet. Saw a doe with a couple of youngsters, might be good hunting in the fall.” Solari said.

“Youngsters? They’d be pretty puny for a camp our size, maybe we can flush out papa?” Pony grinned at her own joke.

“Yeah, that’d be nice. Well, I’ll call my team in so we can exchange masks. I’m hungry.”

“Solari, you’re always hungry. You don’t look like you’ve missed too many meals.”

“Give it a rest Pony, there’s not an ounce of fat on me.”

“Yeah, well, keep eating like you do and there will be my friend, there will be.” Pony said as she poked the fit Amazon in the ribs.

“Hey, cut it …” Solari’s reply was broken off by the sound of a raven’s call splitting the still morning air. It was the alert signal that meant an intruder had been spotted.

Immediately Solari and Pony were all business. Solari trilled the answering acknowledgement. With the rest of the relief force following behind, they started running in the direction of the alarm.

Pony reached the base of the large tree from which the guard had called. Using hand signals, she gave silent orders to her team to spread out amongst the other trees and hide until she gave the all clear. Then the two leaders scaled the trunk. Soon they stood in the upper branches next to the sentry, who indicated with her chin a small cloud of dust in the distance.

As they watched in silence, a lone grey horse approached their position. Soon details became easier to discern. Shielding her eyes from the bright sunlight, Pony made out the two figures.

“Looks like a woman with a child.” She said.

Still, the Amazons made no movement, warily watching the approaching riders.

The inner perimeter was clearly marked with fur and feathered masks displayed on tall poles stuck into the ground at regular intervals. No stranger could fail to miss the symbol of Amazon land. As the horse approached the mask below Solari and Pony’s position, the rider looked up into the trees and then pulled her mount to a stop.

Leaning over the shoulder of the dark haired child in front of her, the stranger whispered into the girl’s ear. The child nodded her understanding and slipped off the horse’s back landing on the ground. The girl looked up at the woman, who then swung her leg over the horse’s neck and dropped down to stand behind the child. As the Amazons in the trees watched, the child and the woman clasped their hands over their heads in the universally recognized Amazon sign of peace. A moment later, a small pair of hands appeared behind the woman’s head, also in the sign of peace.

Pony and Solari shot each other a brief bewildered look.

“A baby?” Pony questioned in a whisper.

Solari and the sentry began to slip on their masks, but Pony grinned and touched Solari’s arm shaking her head no.

“That’s not necessary. Let’s not scare the kids.”

Solari shrugged in agreement and signaled her sentry to remove her mask.

Grabbing onto the ropes that were always left hanging in the branches, the Amazons swung to the ground to stand in front of the woman and her children. The three sentries returned the salute of peace to the strangers.

Overcome with relief and exhaustion, the strange woman’s knees buckled slightly as she said in a husky voice, “Thank the goddess, we’re home.”

In a flash, Pony was at her side catching the collapsing woman. Quickly, Solari moved in and released the baby from her mother’s back.

Struggling out of Solari’s hold, the toddler ran to the older child and hugged her about the waist. Without taking distrustful eyes off the woman holding her mother, the older girl put a possessive arm around the younger child’s shoulders, but said nothing.

For the first time Pony was able to see what she held in her arms and the sight took her breath away. As her belly tightened, her pounding heart plummeted into her stomach, where it seemed to melt into a puddle of warm tallow.

Helpless to stop herself, Pony allowed her roaming eyes to travel over the devastatingly beautiful woman in her arms. Beginning at the dusty, leather, calf length boots, where perfectly formed long brown legs rose upward only to disappear beneath a tattered lavender skirt, Pony visually devoured the exquisite creature she held. Her intense scrutiny traversed over flat abdomen, between full breasts captured in matching lavender halter to stop finally at the most beautiful face she’d ever seen.

Oh Goddess, who are you? And where have you been all my life? Pony thought. It was more than the physical beauty of the woman that had captured Pony’s attention. She’d seen more than her share of beautiful ladies and bedded many of them and couldn’t recall having had quite the same physical reaction to any.

There was a presence, an aura about the woman that was mesmerizing. Her bronze skin glowed in the summer sun. Even though the newcomer had only spoken five words, the sound of her voice had caressed Pony’s senses like warm furs on a cold night.

With mouth was as dry as the northern streambed at summer’s end, Pony looked helplessly into eyes the color of a morning sunrise and she felt something inside break loose.

The sound of a voice finally pried Pony free of the hypnotic trance which held her spellbound. She became aware that the beautiful woman in her arms had spoken.

“Whaaa… ?” Pony stammered out, wishing to Artemis she could sound less like a complete dolt. Clearing her suddenly tight throat, she tried again, “I mean; what did you say?”

“Please, help us.” The woman repeated.

Quickly scanning the perfect body again, Pony asked, “Are you hurt? Where?”

With her arm firmly around the younger girl, the stoic child became the family spokeswoman. Speaking simply in broken Greek, she said, “My amma is not hurt. She has not eaten in two days.”


Looking with concern at the dark child, Pony asked, “Why not?”

“She gives most of the food to Usra and me.”

Glancing up at Solari, Pony said, “Get food and water quickly.”


For reasons she couldn’t fathom, Pony wanted to care for this woman. Children had never held much interest for her and yet, she was ready to look after this woman’s youngsters. What’s happening to me? I haven’t even met you and all I want to do is protect you and yours. She wondered at her reactions.


Struggling upright, the attractive woman began speaking in flawless Greek, interrupting Pony’s thoughts.

“Please, let me up. I can eat later.”

“Rest a minute,” was Pony’s reply as she continued to support the woman in a protective embrace.

“No, please, I’m well. I was only overcome with relief.” The woman said as Pony held her firmly.

“How do you and your children come to be alone on our land?” Pony asked, completely ignoring the woman’s clear desire to stand on her own. Right now Pony longed for nothing more than to touch this exotic woman.

“I am Adara of the Caucus tribe… Please, take me to your queen at once. Our camp has been attacked … my mate and most of our people were killed… some taken captive, please, I need to speak with your queen…” She pleaded, quickly pouring out the rudiments of her story in a rush, her words tumbling over each other.

As Adara finished her brief account, Solari handed Pony a water skin.

The five relief sentries arrived from hiding and surrounded Pony and the beautiful stranger. Except for Thalia and Cleese who nudged each other, the rest stood motionless, watching and waiting for further orders.

Pony’s hands shook as she offered the woman the water bag. Hades Balls, what is wrong with me? I’m like a teenager around this woman, she thought.


In an attempt to conceal her nervousness, Pony asked, “how is it you speak our tongue so well?”

Inside, Adara was in turmoil. She wanted nothing but to gather an army and go after her sisters who had been taken prisoner. And much as she knew revenge would not bring back her soul mate, her grief demanded the ones who did this, pay. Tynet, my love, you’re in my heart always. I will stop these vicious animals who took your life. These thoughts had become her silent mantra and had given her strength.

Realizing these women meant well, Adara resigned herself to answering their questions. She tried to compose herself, but her words fell from her mouth in a rush.

“My mother, Isaura, taught me… she was from this tribe… she’s sister to Marana. Please, take me quickly to your queen…I will explain it all to her… we must hurry if we are to save any of them.”

Adara stopped speaking hoping the urgency in her voice had conveyed the need for haste. Looking first to Pony and then around at the others, she took a deep swallow of the cold spring water and waited for their response.

Before the leaders could reply, young Cleese timidly stepped forward. She spoke to the dark child who was glaring at Pony whose hands had not been removed from her mother’s arms.

“Hi, Thaddea. Remember me? I’m Cleese and my friend, Thalia, you remember her?”

Slowly, dragging her glowering eyes from Pony and her mother, Thaddea’s face softened as she finally recognized someone familiar in this sea of strangers.

“Yes, I remember. Will you help us?” Thaddea said.

Pony looked from Cleese and Thalia to Thaddea and back to the gorgeous creature sitting on the ground next to her and tried to make sense of any of this. How is it these children know each other and I don’t recognize a woman such as this? What am I missing? She asked herself, wanting nothing more than to soothe this woman’s pain.

Breaking into Pony’s thoughts, Adara said, “Will you let me up now?”

“What? Oh, sure… can you stand?”

“Yes, of course… it was just relief that caused me to falter… I’m fine; really.” Adara added when Pony hesitated.

Pony stood intending to help Adara to her feet, but Thaddea rushed forward and pushed between them.

“I can help my amma.” She stated flatly, leaving no doubt that she considered Pony an interloper.

Pony raised her eyebrows and looked over at Solari who shook her head.

Adara stood with both her children next to her, arms protectively around them, speaking quietly to them in a foreign tongue.

Reluctant to go too far from Adara, Pony moved off a couple of feet with Solari to discuss this turn of events.

“Do you recognize them?” She asked Solari quietly.

“Never saw them before. But Cleese and Thalia seem to know em.”

Casting a glance at the group of Amazons standing around waiting for her decision, she spoke again to Solari.

“I’m taking them back to camp; can you stand watch a while longer? I’ll leave my relief guards and send a replacement for you when I get there?”

Solari nodded her agreement.

Turning back to the beautiful woman, Pony gently said, “If you can you ride a little further, I’ll take you to camp.”

“Yes, of course. Thank you.”

“Okay, then.” Bending down and interlacing her fingers, Pony offered a foothold for Adara to remount her horse. The scent of the woman sent her senses reeling. . What’s come over me she wondered to herself? When she was astride the gray, Pony lifted Ursa up placing the youngster in front of her mother.

Turning to Thaddea, she said, “Come ride with me, your horse looks tired.”

Thaddea hesitated and then shook her head emphatically, “No, I can walk.”

Exasperated, Pony blew out a solid breath through her mouth, but before she could argue further, Adara spoke in Greek to the child.

“Thaddea, this is no time for stubbornness. We need to get to the queen quickly. Ride with the Amazon sentry as she asks.”

To her horror and embarrassment, Pony realized she hadn’t even introduced herself. Goddess, what must she think of me, she wondered? She wanted this woman to think well of her, but it seemed the harder she tried the more tongue tied and stupid she felt.

“I’m Eponin… but everyone calls me Pony…” she stammered, “I’m the weapons’ mistress.” She added miserably.

A small smile gracing her full lips, Adara acknowledged Pony with a nod, but spoke firmly to Thaddea.

“Ride with Pony.”

Mounting her own horse, Pony extended her arm to the taciturn child wondering what she’d do if Thaddea continued to refuse.

Saving everyone further discomfort, the irrepressible, Cleese spoke up once more.

“Go with Pony, Thaddea. Thalia and I will come too.”

Looking from Cleese to the mounted Amazon, the reluctant Thaddea finally accepted the offer and was hoisted up behind Pony. With relief evident on her face, Pony mouthed to the two girls, “Thank You”.


I don’t know how these young ones know each other, but I bless you, Artemis, for sending them along today, she thought.

“Solari, I’ll send relief soon, my friend… Let’s go” she said to the rest.

Riding quickly through the forest with Cleese and Thalia jogging behind, they arrived at the camp only minutes later.

*          *          *          *          *          *          *




Emerging from the dining hut after her usual small morning meal, the seamstress, Marana, looked up as Pony rode hurriedly into the village center followed by another rider and two Amazon youngsters running along trying to keep up. Coming to a stop in a cloud of dust, brought other women out to see about the commotion.

This younger generation, always in a hurry, Marana thought to herself as she began to turn away. Her head might have been on a swivel, she jerked back around so suddenly, when she recognized the other riders were her niece and grand nieces. In a flash, she too ran forward to see what was happening.

Full of questions, Marana pushed into the center of a quickly forming crowd of women, “Let me through. Let me through, I say! Adara, why are you here? Are you alone? Where’s Tynet? What’s happened?” her questions fell like rain.

Seeing her mother’s treasured sister, Adara threw her arms around the older woman’s shoulders. “Oh, Aunt Marana, our village was attacked … so many killed… Tynet sent us to safety… I think Mama’s alive… some were taken prisoner, but so many killed… so many dead… ” she trailed off as her tears flowed freely; tears of rage, of grief, of loss and of desperation were finally released.

Holding her niece, patting her shoulder, rubbing her lower back, Marana whispered soothing words, allowing the younger woman to empty herself of the pain that she’d carried for too long.

After a while, Adara’s sobbing turned to whimpering and then to sniffling as she strove to regain her center. This is not over, she admonished herself. I still need to try to save the women taken by the evil ones. I need to be strong for a while longer before I can grieve for you, My Love, she thought.

More women poured into the center of camp drawn by the ever growing crowd. Listening intently to Adara’s anguish, one of the women reached to pick up Ursa and the child cried out loudly.

Coming to her small sister’s defense, Thaddea pushed the larger woman away, yelling as she did, “Leave her alone.”

At the outburst, Adara immediately straightened and looked around for her children. Ursa was standing under her stalwart sibling’s arm with her thumb planted firmly in her mouth and tears streaming down her round baby face. Looking around alertly for further danger, Thaddea stood between the two Amazon girls that had befriended her the previous summer.

“Come’re,” she said to them. As she picked up Ursa, the child buried her face into her mother’s shoulder. It tore at Adara’s heart that Ursa and Thaddea had seen more horror in their young lives than most adults.

“You remember Aunty Marana?” She asked her younger daughter.

Shyly, Ursa reluctantly peeked out spotting the older woman she remembered from last year’s visit. As soon as Marana held out her arms to the toddler, Ursa fairly flew into them. She did indeed remember this sweet smelling, full figured woman. Marana had hardly allowed the baby’s feet to touch the earth when they’d all visited last summer as a family. Both Tynet and Adara had complained that the seamstress was spoiling the child, but Marana had steadfastly maintained that two weeks holding a baby would not spoil her. And besides, having had no children of her own, she relished the opportunity to cuddle a little one.

Hugging the toddler comfortingly in her arms, Marana returned to the subject at hand.

“Now, what in Artemis’s name has happened?”

Taking a deep breath and expelling it through her mouth to steady herself, Adara began again. “It was at mid-summer. An army of huge soldiers with magical powers and devastating weapons swooped down on us, slaughtering and burning everything in their path.”

She stopped and put her arm protectively over Thaddea’s shoulders, drawing the child nearer to her side, using the close proximity to reassure herself that her own children still lived.

“They even killed children…” she whispered.

Pony moved closer placing her hand on the distraught woman’s arm and squeezed gently, hoping to add her strength to this lovely vulnerable creature that some how now held her heart. If there is any way I can take away your pain, I’ll do it. I will gladly lay down my life for you she thought, even while conflicting questions arose. Where is this coming from? I can’t ever recall an ache like this in my heart for any woman.

Thaddea didn’t miss the movement and glared at Pony catching her eye. Stay away from my amma was the clear message in the child’s expression.


The weapon’s mistress chose to ignore the implied threat. I’ll win this kid over some way; if it kills us both, Pony ruefully thought to herself.


“I don’t understand. What’s their purpose? Are they slavers? Thieves? A Warlord?” Marana said.

“I don’t either. They took some captives, but it seemed like they were more bent on destruction than anything else. One minute we were all celebrating, the next, death everywhere. I do know this. They must be stopped. They traveled under an evil banner, red scorpions scattered across a field of black… its meaning clear… death. I saw Hafsa’s body among the fallen and, and my Tynet.” Here she broke again, her shoulders shaking with silent sobs.

Pony tugged Adara into a comforting embrace. For a few precious moments, Adara allowed the solace of being held. Tynet, I can’t do this, I can’t live without you… Oh goddess, help me, please help me, she prayed silently.

Then drawing in a shuddering breath, Adara called upon her inner resolve and stood straight. Holding her hand across her mouth to stifle any further anguish, she expelled a huge sigh, before continuing.

“They took great pleasure in killing women and children, but they also took some captives… I think, I saw mama among them… we must do something, they have to be stopped. They will come here… I must speak with your queen.” Finally empty, she stopped.

Without any further hesitation, Marana took charge speaking with authority, “Get the queen… where’s Queen Gabrielle?”

The queen’s own honor guard who had gravitated to the disturbance now looked at each other with their eyebrows plastered to their hairlines. Each of the royal guards wished she was anywhere but here. They glanced at each other thinking, no way in Hades, am I going to interrupt the queen and her consort!

Finally, one of them said, “Ummm, the queen and Xena are at the hot springs…”

Shifting from foot to foot, she continued, “Ummm, Xena said they are not to be disturbed…”

Marana was having none of this reluctance and interrupted the poor woman, “Oh she did, did she? Well, if you three think facing Xena is worse than facing me, you better rethink that notion because Xena doesn’t live here year round, but by the goddess, I do and if you think…”

Having heard the continuing disturbance from her hut, Ephiny arrived at that very moment and pushed her way to the center of the women.

“What’s going on?” she asked of no one and everyone even as she noted the new comers in their midst.

“My niece and her children have traveled from the east, riding for fourteen days with little food and no supplies because their tribe and her mate have been massacred and these three refuse to get the queen.”

Ephiny recalled when Adara and Tynet and their children had visited Thrace the summer before with Marana’s sister, Isaura, and her mate Hafsa. Ursa had been barely able to toddle, but Thaddea had been very precocious and athletic just like her very formidable mother. She recalled the big warrior woman and how gentle she had been with all things smaller than she, which was most things and most people.

They had stayed with Marana for a full half moon before resuming their trip to the coast to trade their horses. Tynet, Adara and their family had quickly fit in. Many standing there remembered them, especially Tynet who had gifted the tribe with two mares that she herself had trained. Those two horses were stand outs in their own herd being quick to anticipate the needs of their riders and responding almost unasked to any task required. A Tynet trained horse brought a high price in Corinth and Athens. The Thracian tribe had been sad to see them go. Ephiny could hardly believe that the incredibly strong and kind woman had been taken from this world at such a young age. It tore at her heart.

Ephiny looked at the guards in question and said, “Go! Get Queen Gabrielle”.

When they continued to hesitate, each of the guards still fearing the warrior in the hot springs, she shouted “NOW!”

Turning on their heels, they ran, sprinting toward the secluded spa.

Being a tribal elder by virtue of her age and imposing personality, Marana was used to being obeyed without question. Now, she began seeing to the needs of her family.

“There is food in the dining hut. Let’s get all of you something to eat.”

Ephiny readily agreed, then began issuing orders of her own.

“Bring the queen and Xena to the dining hut as soon as they arrive.” She said to one of the women standing there.

“Go find Yakut and bring her as well. This time of day, she’ll be in Artemis’s temple meditating. Go now.” She ordered another.

To a third woman standing near, she said, “I want the rest of the council members to join us in the dining hut. Will you see to it?”

“Yes, regent.”

Then Ephiny spoke to the rest of the assembled women. “Now, I’m sure the rest of you have things to do. As soon as we figure out what’s going on, you’ll all be informed. In the mean time, go about your business.”

As the women dispersed there was much discussion about the scourge of this red scorpion army and the chances of the same tragedy befalling their own tribe. Snippets of conversations could be heard as the Amazons went back about their daily chores.

“The Caucus Mountains are a long way from here.” One said.

“How far is a long way, if a lone woman and two small children can make the trip in under half a moon, I ask you?” The other answered her.

“What about these magical powers? How does one fight that?”

“Artemis will save us,” said another.

“Don’t be so sure…”

The sounds of the various conversations died away as the women moved away from the village center and went back to their work.

As Marana and Ephiny led Adara and her children toward the dinning hut, Pony trailed after them. Seeing this, Ephiny stopped, motioning Marana and the others to continue.

“Shouldn’t you be on guard duty?” Ephiny inquired of the weapons’ mistress.

Pony hemmed and hawed as she looked longingly at the retreating figure of Adara. She was determined to stay by Adara’s side. If the beautiful newcomer who’d captured her heart had any needs what so ever, Pony meant to be the one to fill them.

Unable to take her eyes off the dining hut, even after the leather flap had fallen back over the door blocking her view, she finally said, “Ahhhh….. uhmmm…. I uh, I’d like to stay, Eph, maybe I can be of help.”

Cocking her head to the side, Ephiny looked questioningly at Pony wondering why the Amazon continued to stare at the dining hut. What’s wrong with you? Eph wondered to herself, and then recalled that Pony had never met Adara and Tynet. She and Solari had been away hunting last year when the family had visited. Ephiny decided to write it off as curiosity and was ready to send the weapons’ mistress back to her post when she rethought her decision. Pony’s insights might be valuable, Ephiny reasoned.

“All right but send someone to the perimeter in your place… if the ones who destroyed their tribe come here, we’ll need plenty of warning.”

Spotting Odessa, her best weapons apprentice, among the remaining women, Pony called her over. After a few moments of discussion, Odessa jogged off in the direction of the guard post.

Everyone crowded around a single long wooden planked table. Adara and Thaddea sat midway with Ephiny and Pony directly across, Marana next to Adara holding Ursa on her lap. Same as last year; nothing changes, thought Eph, a small smile playing at the corners of her lips as she observed the normally austere seamstress become a wet piece of leather wrapped around the little girl’s finger.

For her part, Ursa luxuriated in the attention from Marana. She held a shapeless blob of sticky cheese in her grubby little hand, sucking on it occasionally between bites of fruit and bread that were hand fed to her by her aunt. Seeing the smile of contentment on her younger daughter’s face, Adara’s heart swelled witnessing this small act of normalcy.

To her right, Thaddea sat picking at the food in her wooden bowl. Adara could hardly reprimand the child, when she herself was barely able to swallow past the growing lump in her throat. She struggled to push back the darkness that a lifetime without Tynet would be. Without the daily struggle for survival of the past fortnight to keep her mind occupied, the full force of her loss fell on her like a pall. She only wanted to rend her clothing and cover herself with ashes as she howled out her anguish.

Pony’s hand touching hers brought her back to the present. “Adara, I’m so sorry for your loss. If there’s anything, anything at all I can do… I mean it… my sword is yours, my hut, my life even, to avenge your family.”

The sullen Thaddea merely looked on distrustfully, while Adara gave her a weak smile, “Thank you, Pony. I appreciate your kind offer. It will take all of our skills to defeat this enemy.” She knew the force and fury of the hideous army.

Pony’s a kind woman, Adara thought, as she reminded herself again to hold on. We have much work yet to do. I will grieve for you soon enough, my sweet Tynet.

The leather curtain at the hut entrance was pulled back to show two dark figures framed against the brilliant sun light outside. Until the covering was dropped back into place, each person entering appeared as a featureless outline in the dimmer lighting of the dining hall.

First a short woman entered, stopping just inside the threshold to allow her eyes to adjust. Immediately behind her a much taller, larger warrior scanned the room for danger.


It was Ursa who reacted first by calling out, “mama!” and holding out her small arms to the big woman in the entrance way. Adara’s head snapped up and her heart missed a beat at her daughter’s exclamation. By the goddess, she thought joy filling her, Tynet’s alive! Even as her rational mind told her there was no possible way that Tynet had survived and followed her here, she began to stand.


Before Adara could gain her feet, Thaddea was up and running toward the new comer. Skidding to a halt just inches from the booted feet of the tall warrior, she soon realized her error. You’re not my mama she thought as her small heart broke in disappointment.

Pulling in a gasping breath and trying desperately to hide her regret, Thaddea choked back the burning in her throat that portended a flood of tears as she stared up at the tall warrior so like her mother.

Xena recognized a kindred spirit in the small proud child standing before her, one like herself, who lived by the warrior’s code, ‘never show weakness’. Seeing the play of emotions, from hope to disappointment to determination, flit across the girl’s face, compassion engulfed Xena.

Attempting to minimize her formidable size, Xena knelt down in front of the child. With the girl struggling to maintain her composure, Xena knew intuitively that this was not the time to pull the child into a comforting hug. No matter her age, to a warrior, keeping that vulnerability hidden was paramount. Instead, she introduced herself to the child.

“I’m Xena.”

Offering the youngster a warrior’s handshake, Xena made a fist holding her arm out in front of her so the child could respond. She’d been right in her assessment. Relief flooded Thaddea’s face and the child responded by extending her own forearm, crossing Xena’s.

“I am called Thaddea,” the child said, explaining proudly, “it means brave One.”

“Ah, I suspected that’s what it meant. I’m happy to meet you Thaddea.”

Now the smaller blonde woman leaned down and spoke to the child. “I’m Gabrielle.”

Having listened to the adults talking, Thaddea knew that was the name of their queen. With eyes wide, Thaddea remembered her manners, “You’re the queen.” Making a fist she struck her chest and bowed her head.

Gabrielle chuckled, “We don’t stand so much on ceremony around here, Thaddea. Is this your family?”

The girl, still uncertain on proper protocol in the presence of a foreign queen, nodded instead to the tall warrior kneeling beside her.

Xena stood placing her hand on the child’s shoulder. “Let’s join them then, shall we?”

Before taking their seats, Xena and Gabrielle introduced themselves. It was obvious the dark exotic woman was the center of attention.

Marana made the introductions for her family as the queen and her consort seated themselves across the table from the newcomers.

“This is my niece Adara and her children, Thaddea and Ursa, from the Caucus Mountain tribe. They’ve just arrived after fourteen nights traveling alone to get here. An evil army with supernatural powers attacked their home just a fortnight ago during the mid-summer celebration. The village was destroyed and most of their tribe was killed or captured. They were the only ones to escape.”

Having recovered from the brief glimmer of hope that the worst had not happened, Adara offered a nod and small smile to the warrior and queen.


Filled with compassion for this woman and her two young children, Gabrielle offered their condolences. “Adara, we’re so very sorry for your loss. Xena and I are ready to help in any way we can.”

Taking the seat next to Xena, Thaddea pulled her bowl across the table, pretending to eat as she covertly listened to the adults. Xena knew well the feelings of utter helplessness and aloneness that comes when a child’s world is suddenly torn asunder. She squeezed the girl’s shoulder before talking.

Looking to Adara for details, Xena asked, “What else can you tell us?”

At this point Ephiny interrupted, “Wait Xena, I’ve asked Yakut to join us. There’s no point in Adara telling this more than once. We can all ask our questions then.”

Leaning forward Xena glowered at the regent at the other end of the table. Don’t push me Ephiny; you are just about this far from getting your butt kicked. Though unspoken, the threat hung in the air.

Ephiny flinched from the force of the look sent her way.

“It sounds like something we’re gonna need to move on and fast. But if you’re content to sit and wait, we’ll wait.” Xena replied sarcastically crossing her arms over her chest.

Under the table, Gabrielle’s hand gripped her thigh, squeezing none too gently. “Eph’s right about one thing, Xena. If we’re dealing with something unnatural, we’ll need Yakut’s help. Eph’s just trying to save Adara further grief. Okay?”

Xena nodded acquiescence. But she continued to glare daggers at the regent.

I need to get a grip. This isn’t the time to spar with Ephiny. The woman was drunk that night… it’s not like I’ve never been blasted out of my head and tried to put the moves on some cute little thing myself… of course, Gabrielle is my cute little thing… Hades Balls, I need to get over it! Gabrielle’s mine, how much proof do I need, the warrior remonstrated herself.

Watching the curly haired blonde squirm under her intense stare, Xena smirked but decided to give her a break. “Sure we’ll wait. You’re right, Eph.”

The regent seemed confused by Xena’s change of heart, but she and the others relaxed a bit.

Just then the leather covering parted and in walked Yakut. Quickly scanning the room, she located the group moving to join them.

Standing across from Gabrielle, Yakut dipped a small formal bow. “My Queen.”

Realizing the tribal shaman would forever stand on ceremony, Gabrielle replied in a like manner, “Yakut. Please, won’t you join us? We seem to have a situation of some concern before us.”

Still maintaining her formality, the Shaman bowed to Ephiny and then Xena. She remained standing looking expectantly at the small family group.

Once again, Marana introduced her niece and children.

When she had finished, Gabrielle went to Marana and whispered something to the older woman who nodded. Rising from her seat, Marana pulled Ursa to her bosom and spoke softly to Thaddea.

“Come with me now child. It’s time to let the Queen and the council decide how best to proceed.” The seamstress said.

Thaddea was prepared to argue her case for staying, but Xena intervened. “You’ve been through enough for today, little warrior. Go rest now. We need to hear this story. You were there. You don’t need to hear it again.”

Then Pony spoke up. “I believe you’ll find your two friends, Cleese and Thalia, right outside. Ask them about their white horse.”

Thaddea gave Pony a withering look as she reluctantly departed with her aunt.

After the three had departed, Pony moved around the table and sat near Adara. Gently touching Adara on the wrist, Pony indicated that she would support her in all ways. “Tell them your story” she said in a soft whisper wishing she could take this woman’s pain away.

Taking a deep cleansing breath, Adara began relating all she could remember in as much detail as she could recall. She told of the joyful celebration of their tribe’s solstice festival, of the laughter and song. Then she recalled the sudden eruption of fire in the camp center, of giant soldiers swarming through the village killing all in their path, no matter given to their age.

She spoke proudly of her mate, Tynet, fighting one after another of the huge marauders while pushing her and the children to safety. She told of climbing to the guard’s post in the rocks above the village and from there watching the final moments of the annihilation of her sisters. She spoke with anger of the cowardly, mace-wielding soldier who struck Tynet down from behind. And lastly, she spoke of the evil, fireball throwing general who had laughed at the destruction and spewed vile threats to all Amazons and any who would dare stand in his army’s way.

Several times while relating the story, her voice cracked. Each time, they waited patiently until she could go on again. Every time, Pony would take her hand, lending her strength to this woman who in a matter of a few candle marks, had conquered her heart.

Spent, Adara sat with her head bowed, weeping silently. Pony silently pulled her into an embrace in an act of comfort.

Despite her sympathy for the grieving woman, Xena had questions and Adara did her best to answer them.

“Tell me about these fireballs. Do all the soldiers have them or only some? What about the size of the soldiers? Were they all bigger than normal men? How many did you see? How many women survived? Did you see the direction they went? Have you heard of this army in either your area or in the desert before they attacked you?”

Firing them off one after another until she had all the information hidden in Adara’s memory, Xena finally sat back satisfied.

“Well, there was an army working in the Persian desert years ago. They were commanded by a cruel madman who fancied himself a general. But this can hardly be the same group. They weren’t superhuman in size or strength; had no weapons but the usual, swords and maces and certainly no fireballs. That I would remember. They were merely low-life slave traders and thieves.” Xena explained.

Feeling protective of the beautiful dark woman in her arms, Pony was ready to kill someone.

“Well, if it’s a bunch of damn slavers, let’s go kick their butts and bring back the surviving women. They must have gotten the drop on the tribe, attacked em in a vulnerable moment.”

“Well, we’ll need a bit more planning than that, but I’m inclined to go after them too.” said Xena antsy after sitting in an Amazon camp for over a half a moon.

Gabrielle had been watching the Shaman throughout Adara’s discourse. The healer had been in her own world of visions and mysticism. Now, Gabrielle wanted her advice.

“What do you make of it, Yakut?” she asked.

Her formality pervaded her speech as well as her mannerisms. As if in a trance, Yakut began speaking.

“I was in Artemis’s temple this morning, when a vision of great darkness and power came over me. I walked through a desolate land, where nothing lived, not an animal, not a plant, not a human. Everywhere I looked I saw burnt out shells of buildings; women, children, men laying dead, their blood seeping slowly into the desert sand. Then I saw the blackness begin to spread, flowing to the west. Inexorably it moved, devouring all in its path until it reached the sea and then into the Aegean it poured like thick red blood. At first the blue waters resisted its force, but soon it was overtaken, turning first red then as dark as a moonless sky and finally black. When the screams and cries of the innocent reached my ears, I awoke. That is when I was summoned.”

Slowly, Yakut looked around the table taking in the eyes of each person and holding them.

“We face a very grave danger. We will need more than mortal help.”

Now she looked to Gabrielle. “My queen, you must confer with the goddess.”

Xena groaned quietly, but still loud enough for Gabrielle to hear.

*          *          *          *





The tribe began dispersing after the tale as Adara’s exhaustion had become evident to everyone. Otere, Yakut’s mate, offered to take the tired woman and settle her in the healer’s hut. She prepared a potent sleeping tea hoping its magic would rest her aching heart and her weary body.

Marana, after silently thanking Xena for intervening with Thaddea, had taken them outside to the children’s lodge. She made a mental note to find Thalia and Cleese so they could entertain the little warrior and perhaps take her riding on the white horse.

The decision to remove them from the adult conversation turned out to be a good one. Ursa, surrounded by others her own age, began to settle down and play, forgetting the ordeal she’d witnessed for a while. However being older, Thaddea had a better understanding of their loss and didn’t settle in quite as easily. It wasn’t until the arrival of her friends of the previous summer, Cleese and Thalia, that there was a noticeable lifting of her sorrowful expression.

The council members remained in the dining hut, discussing the best course of action following Adara’s grim news. The women had difficulty comprehending the reported size of the horses and men. As most if not all of their Eastern sisters had perished, they wondered what would become of their own tribe should this army move in their direction.

Ephiny, Xena and Gabrielle remained with their sisters in the dining lodge aware that the conversations among the elder amazons and the council were reaching crisis proportions.

“We have to do something, Gabrielle. Our sisters have been massacred. We can’t ignore what’s happened.” Ephiny was impassioned in her statement to the Queen.

“I know, Eph. But we don’t even know where to begin. This army is like none the world has ever seen. Nothing seems capable of stopping them. Xena, what do you think we should do?”

“From everything Adara has told us, this army is intent on annihilating everything in its path. I never heard of anything like this Red Scorpion or its banner in all my wanderings in the East but I want to find out. I think it’s time we leave and go East.”

“Xena, before we go anywhere or do anything, I want to talk with Artemis. She promised she’d be there when any Amazon queen called.”

“You know how I feel about calling any gods into the discussion. The gods only care about themselves. We can do this ourselves.”

“Xena, she’s the patron of the Amazon nation. She may be able to help us. We need all the help we can get right now.” Ephiny dared to address the warrior directly, siding with the queen on the topic.

Xena once again glared at the regent looking now for any excuse to pummel her and that last comment seemed a good reason.

At that moment, Yakut said, “My Queen, I feel you must go quickly to the temple of our patron. Artemis will help you.”

“Yakut is right. I need to invoke the goddess.” Gabrielle replied.

Xena respected the Amazon spiritual leader, but turned to Gabrielle saying. “You know how I feel. But you’re the Queen and I’m pledged to defend you as your Champion. I don’t like this, but I’ll do whatever you want.”

Xena loathed the idea of getting the goddess involved, but she had to respect Gabrielle’s position and she didn’t want to undermine her authority in front of the Amazons.

“Thank you. I know how hard this is for you.” Gabrielle placed her hand tenderly on the warrior’s and squeezed it.

“Ephiny, I need to take an offering to the Temple. Do you remember the beautiful flowers Marana brought to my lodge? And what about those Eastern herb sticks, can we get some of them? Perhaps that might entice Artemis when I call to her.”

“That sounds like it might. I’ll get them and meet you at the doorway.” She left, sprinting towards the Queen’s hut.

The few remaining women in the dining hut who were not part of the council realized something was afoot and two of them ran after Ephiny to find out while the others waited to hear the Queen’s words.

“I’m going to the Temple to invoke our protector” Gabrielle addressed the women. “She’s always been the protector of the Amazons and I believe we’re going to need her help for whatever lies ahead.”

“She didn’t seem to do too much for Adara’s tribe” one woman remarked.

“We don’t know what evil is at work here. Let’s please restrain ourselves until the goddess has spoken. Ephiny and Yakut will go to the temple with me and I’ll call the council together afterwards. All right?”

The women’s murmurs were the only response as the Queen walked towards the Temple.

“I’m going to wait nearby” Xena announced when they reached the entryway.

“I know you will. Please be patient, okay?”

The warrior rolled her eyes, impatience already evident. She fully intended to go into the Temple and wait in the shadows to hear what Artemis had to tell the Amazons. I don’t like any of this and all we’re doing is wasting time, she thought.

                                                *          *          *          *

Ephiny retrieved the flowers and the pouch of the Eastern herb sticks from the Queen’s lodge for the offering. She ran to the Temple, arriving just as Gabrielle had entered.

“Did you get it?” the Queen asked.

“It’s all here.” She handed the offerings to the blond woman as the three Amazons walked together to the altar.

Yakut intoned a chant, lighting one of the sweet smelling sticks from the east as Gabrielle lit a candle, and said a silent prayer for her sisters and the entire nation. She placed the remaining offerings in a large alabaster bowl next to the candle, bowed her head and prayed earnestly that the goddess would hear her plea, remember their conversation of two weeks prior, and come to help her.

Standing in front of the flaming candle she said, “Gabrielle, Queen of the Thracian Amazon nation summons you, Artemis! By the gift you bestowed on me as Queen, I call your name.” Yakut’s soft chanting continued unabated.

The women stood in front of the altar waiting in the flickering candlelight. Xena stood in the shadows in the back of the Temple listening and didn’t care whether or not the goddess ever showed her face. We need to be doing something more productive than this, she thought to herself.

Ephiny leaned over and whispered in Gabrielle’s ear. “How long do you think it will take?”

Gabrielle shrugged her shoulder, admitting she didn’t know. She wondered if she should begin the invocation again. Maybe the gifts aren’t acceptable, she thought.

She was about to open her mouth to speak again when a gust of wind flickered the candle flame and silver shimmering sparkles of light announced the Goddess as she materialized in front of the three Amazons.

Ephiny bowed her head and fell to her knees, hardly believing that for a second time, she’d had the privilege of seeing their patron. She knew now that this young woman standing beside her rightfully deserved the caste and the mask of Melosa. She also hoped that she would be able to save their tribe.

Gabrielle also bowed her head but before she could kneel, Artemis reached out and touched her shoulder.

“Gabrielle, you honor me with your offerings. How may I help the Queen of my Amazons?” She smiled at the young woman as she spoke.

Her words and demeanor told the Queen that the goddess did indeed hold her in some regard and would honor the promises made at their last meeting at the Solstice.

The younger woman smiled back at the Goddess and struck her breast with a closed right fist, saluting her.

“Artemis, we need your help. An Amazon from the East, her name is Adara – she’s come to tell us about her homeland… an invasion by a Red Scorpion army – all the Eastern Amazons were slaughtered – she escaped on horseback with her two small children.” The words tumbled out now that she had the goddess’ ear.

“I know Gabrielle. I’ve seen the slaughter but was powerless to do anything.”

“You saw it and you did nothing? I thought you were protector of the Amazons.” Gabrielle yelled as she interrupted the goddess not sure she’d heard her correctly.

The loud outburst stopped Yakut’s chanting.

“You don’t understand everything. I protect the Amazons in Greece only. My jurisdiction doesn’t extend to Persia. There are sister goddesses that protect the different areas. I can’t extend my reach too far beyond Greece. The further away from the source of my power on Olympus that I go, the more my strength is diminished. It’s the way it’s written in our laws.”

“You mean there’s nothing you can do? All we can do is let them die and wait for the Red Scorpion army to arrive in Greece before you do anything?”

“I know it’s hard to understand. All Olympus has been discussing this scourge. My father continues to consult with far off gods to ask for information and to try and understand what’s happening. We’ve never seen a power quite like this. It’s dark and ominous.”

“So what’s that mean? The Olympic gods are powerless? We have to do something! Xena wants to leave right away for the East but I thought we should ask your help first. And now you’re telling me there’s nothing you can do?” The young woman was flabbergasted.

“Of course Xena wants to leave right away,” she shot back.

“Artemis, I know your feelings for Xena. But you promised to protect her.”

“Yes, I did. On Amazon lands as I recall.”

Xena moved from the shadows when she realized the conversation had begun to get heated. She knew she could take care of herself and Gabrielle, she didn’t need help from anyone on Olympus. But summoning the gods was new to her lover and Gabrielle needed the assurance that the goddess would be there and would continue to support all the Amazons when the Queen left.

The movement caught Artemis’ eye and she addressed the warrior. “Ah, Xena. Of course you’d be here! Trouble does seem to follow you, doesn’t it!”

“Artemis!” she replied coldly. Then turning to Gabrielle she said, “Come on Gabrielle, let’s go! We’re wasting time as you can see. We don’t need her help!”

“Xena, we do need her help. Didn’t you hear her? Even Zeus is concerned about this Red Army.”

“You’d be wise to listen to her, Xena. After all, aren’t you the anointed Queen’s Champion?” She sneered as she said the words.

“Let’s have it Artemis!” she spoke the words slowly, enunciating every syllable. “You know something, so why don’t you make yourself godlike and share it?”

Her sarcasm hit the mark as Ephiny lowered her head expecting thunderbolts to fly.

“You’re so predictable Xena! Then again, so am I. Besides, I promised Gabrielle to protect you. The truth is this will require every skill you have, as well as those of the Amazons that go with you as you attempt to defeat that army. And I’m not hopeful you’ll be successful.”

“Then what are you suggesting we do?” Gabrielle asked.

“I told you there’s nothing I can do from here and I can’t go far from Greece anyway. But there is a sister goddess in Persia who is the patroness of all women. Her name is Anahita. I’ll intervene with her on behalf of the Greek Amazons but Gabrielle, as Queen of the Amazons, you must go with Xena and you have to personally plead your case to Anahita.”

“Who is she, Artemis?”

Her name means “immaculate one”. She’s also the Persian water goddess and the goddess of war. She is most powerful but reaching her will be very difficult. She’s the only one who might be able to help.”

Xena interjected at this point. “So, lemme see if I understand what you’re telling us. We go to Persia and we meet up with a hard to find goddess who’s a combination of Poseidon and Ares? And she’s the only one who can help us? Thanks Arte, but I think I’ll just make my own plans on this one. Thanks for the help, anyway.”

“Xena, don’t be a fool! You’ve never met an enemy like this before.” Artemis was losing her patience and wishing she’d never made that promise to Gabrielle. This woman was so aggravating to all the Gods.

“Xena, let’s get all the help we can.” The bard pleaded.

“Gabrielle, I’ll raise an army. I’ve done it before and I can do it again.”

“An army won’t help you. In this battle, it will take everything all of you have to offer. I’ve never doubted your skills, Xena. They are impressive. But you will be tested as you’ve never been tested before. This battle is bigger than any you’ve ever fought, and this foe is like none you’ve ever seen. You might slow the army, but only a pure soul like Gabrielle’s can stop this menace.

Xena looked at the goddess, her head cocked to the side with a quizzical look. She didn’t think she liked the sound of this, especially the part about Gabrielle. It sounded like Gabrielle would be too near the heart of the action and she wasn’t about to put her in that kind of jeopardy.

“What are you saying? Only Gabrielle can stop this menace?” Xena yelled the words.

“That’s right. When you get to Anahita, if you find her, she’ll explain it to you.” Artemis responded.

“Forget it! I’m not putting Gabrielle in that kind of danger.” The warrior was about to turn and walk from the temple when the goddess stopped her.

“Xena, you’re letting your emotions run your plans. I told you your every skill will be called into use. But Gabrielle must play an integral role.”

“Not a chance!” she fired back.

“You cannot win this battle on skill alone. And you won’t win the battle with a large army. You will need Gabrielle and five of the best Amazons in this tribe.”

“Oh sure I understand this perfectly. We can’t win with an army but we can win with seven of us? You make me laugh, Artemis!”

The goddess continued as though she were dealing with a recalcitrant child. “You and the other warriors you select will only interfere with the army and if you’re lucky, slow it down a bit. Gabrielle however is the only one who can stop this army.”

The warrior hated the gods, especially when they spoke in riddles. That’s why she preferred to do things her way. This new information was even more troubling as it appeared Gabrielle was the key to defeating the enemy. I’m raising an army she thought, gods be damned with using five warriors. And I’m not putting Gabrielle into any danger.


A strong grip on her forearm brought her attention to the bard standing at her side.

“Xena, please listen to her. Please?” The bard drew out the word ‘please’ a second time and looked deeply into her eyes.

Ephiny smirked when she saw the display knowing Xena was going to fold at any moment even while Artemis marveled at the power this beautiful young woman had over the formidable warrior.

Xena saw the smug look on the Regent’s face and unable to lash out at the goddess she turned her rage on Ephiny. “What’s so damned funny?” She exclaimed.

Realizing that the dance of a fortnight ago still irked the warrior, Gabrielle said only her name, “Xena?” with a questioning look.

“All right, Gabrielle. All right.” She turned to Artemis. “Where do we find this Anahita?”

“Don’t make light of it Xena. It won’t be easy. Anahita lives in a cave near the desert oasis. I’ll tell you how to get there. But the way will be treacherous before you come face to face with her. The cave is underwater and you will have many obstacles to overcome to reach her.”

“Just tell us how to find the cave. We’ll take it from there.”

The goddess shook her head but knew the warrior was not going to change. Holding out her hand palm up, sparkling dust swirled there finally settling and forming itself into a parchment map. Using it as a reference, she explained to them the secret entrance to the Goddess, Anahita’s lair. She handed Gabrielle the map, touched the top of her head in blessing, “I wish you safe passage Gabrielle. I pray Anahita can help. She is your only hope.”

She glanced with a smile and nod towards the shaman who visited her daily, then disappeared in a silvery shimmer of stars.

                                                *          *          *          *          *

Chapter 8 – Kunjana (Rebel with a Cause)



The maniacal leader of the Persian army strode through the encampment in the late afternoon light, his face a ghastly grimace as his eyes surveyed his domain. Men scattered before him, intent on doing any job at hand that would insure no eye contact was made with the general. He stopped in front of his first officer’s tent and studied the chevron of his subordinate’s rank emblazoned across the tent. The glowing Red Scorpion insignia in the dimming sunlight thrilled him.

The two guards on either side of the opening saluted; looking straight ahead. He ignored them, intent on finding his officer, but turned his head suddenly towards the compound when he heard the sound of a woman’s scream. A pleasurable smile creased his hard face at the sound and an approving laugh erupted when he saw two of his soldiers dragging a half clad woman towards a tent surrounded by cheering men.

A movement just off to the side caught his eye and he jerked sideways as a large stone whistled past his face. He knew it was intended for him but the stone thrower had disappeared, using the melee in front of the soldier’s tent as a diversion.

One of those gods be damned slaves he thought. Probably that witch Kunjana. He’d have to deal with her soon. I may turn her over to my soldiers after our next raid, he thought with a smirk; that would teach her the price of defiance.

The woman who threw the stone melted back into the lengthening shadows as though blending into a forest.

Next time I won’t miss. Next time I’ll cut your heart out with your own sword she vowed. There was nothing more she could do for the woman they had taken away. They could only wait and treat her battered body and broken spirit when she was tossed back into the women’s stockade.

She sprinted in the direction of the main group of women as soon as the general turned away, easily slipping back into the confinement of the stockade as she saw the expectant faces turned to hers. She shook her head from side to side noticing the sad resignation in turn on their faces.

“Halima!” she called out to the women’s healer and cook. “Boil water and get clean cloths. We’ll need it for her.”

“Right away, Kunjana.” The heavy set woman replied gesturing to another woman to start a fire. “That poor child.” She muttered. “How many more like this?” She asked of no one in particular.

                                                *          *          *          *

A large detachment of the army had been gone for a quarter of the moon’s cycle. With the general out of the encampment, the remaining soldiers had become more unruly and unmanageable. The officers failed to maintain any discipline and were just as guilty as the men, growing more and more aggressive, and abusing the women at will. Kunjana prowled the stockade at night, trying to rescue any of the women that she could, bringing their fragile bodies to Halima for healing.

As the sun reached its zenith in the heavens, a loud, distinct and recognizable horn sounded in the distance. As though awakening from a deadening stupor, the soldiers and officers hastily rushed about the encampment trying to reestablish some shred of the order that the General had left it in.

The women heard the horn as well and those not too bruised or injured, made ready under Halima’s direction, for the new women slaves who were sure to be among the returning army. Water was boiled, cloths were ripped and leather strips torn to hold the compresses and bandages.

Within a candlemark they could see the dust cloud of the approaching army with the Scorpion banners held aloft. The din of horse’s hooves and men’s voices preceded their arrival.

When the army entered the grounds, the general leading the way, Kunjana was puzzled as she realized there were fewer surviving slaves on this raid. The general lifted his hand and a small group of frightened women were herded forward like goats, the men prodding and pushing their weary torn bodies. Several of the women had been severely beaten and were being carried by their comrades. One in particular looked like she’d been beaten almost senseless and would require all of Halima’s skills if it weren’t already too late.


Kunjana watched the proceedings thinking that many of the women looked like they’d fought back valiantly. This pleased her immensely as she needed more women with courage in her own encampment. She thought that when they were healed perhaps a few of them would still be fighters.

The general flicked his wrist and two soldiers rushed forward to open the stockade doors.

The new slaves were pushed from behind into the stockade, some falling forward upon each other onto the hot desert floor. Halima and several women rushed forward to help them when they heard the General’s booming voice.

“Fix that one quickly or you’ll die too, fat woman.” He said pointedly at Halima. “I want her on her feet again.” He pointed to the fallen body of the most severely beaten of the slaves as he laughed viciously.


Turning his horse back to the camp, the general stopped seeming to see the disarray for the first time. Empty flasks lay about, broken camp stools and shattered crockery littered the ground.

The color rose up his neck from his tunic as his anger made itself known. With his face turning from red to puce, the general bellowed, “Lieutenant Hvar.”

From the edge of camp, a swarthy, disheveled man swaggered over. A smirk on his face, the former warlord stood with arms folded across his chest in an attitude of indifference before the furious general.

“General.” The man stated confidently as he looked up at the commanding officer astride his big stallion.

Noticing a red wine stain on the front of the officer’s tunic, the general’s anger escalated.

His voice trembling with outrage, the general asked. “Why is this garbage lying about? This is an army camp; not a brothel. You were in charge. What is the meaning of this?”

Lieutenant Hvar had never been more than an unimaginative thug. In his younger days, Hvar had sought to make his fortune by leading a small band of murderers and thieves. They had barely eked out a living preying on small caravans.

Dreaming of riches beyond his wildest dreams, Hvar and his men had been some of the first to join the general in his quest for world domination when it became obvious that there was real power behind this new army. The general had made him an officer because he was big and cruel and brought with him, twelve recruits.

Now the foolish lieutenant made a fatal error in judgment. Attempting to win the general over with the attitude of camaraderie, the former warlord chuckled conspiratorially, his hand on the stallion’s bridle.

“Well, you know how it is, general. All work and no play and all that. I figured the men had earned a little party is all. No point in letting all the little ladies dry up from lack of use.” He laughed at his own joke, failing to notice he laughed alone.

The rest of the men noticed however and began backing away as the General erupted in fury.

“It is not your job to decide when the men shall work and when they shall play. This is an army destined to rule the world and I will have discipline! Do you hear me?”

The volume of his voice rose to such a degree that the horses began stamping the ground nervously. Without further discussion, the general raised his right arm above his head. A brilliant blue fireball instantly materialized.

Realizing his mistake too late, Hvar’s eyes grew round with horror and disbelief as he backed away from the madman. Turning, he ran. The general’s insane laughter was the last sound he heard before his body erupted in flame. Within moments, all that remained of Lieutenant Hvar was a pile of smoking ash.

The silence in the camp was deafening, as the general looked at his troops.

“This is an army and every man in it will behave accordingly. If any one of you has other ideas, you may resign now and join Lieutenant Hvar. I want this camp cleaned up. And no one is to touch the slaves without my express orders. Is that clear?”

Apparently, it was, as not one soldier ventured to ask a question.

“And I’ll see my officers in my tent, now.”

Dispassionately, he watched them for a few moments then turned his stallion, dismissing the men.

                                    *          *          *          *          *


Kunjana watched Halima and her helpers gather up the fallen women. The death of one of these brutal animals that passed themselves off as soldiers held little interest for her. The woman warrior however was near death and had to be carried by four of the others to the healer’s hearth. She held her attention.

She turned and walked to the perimeter of the stockade looking back in the direction of the departing soldiers knowing that only the ire of the general had saved the new slaves from the inevitable rape that night.

This cannot continue she thought angrily as she gripped the wooden barrier. She wondered how she would protect them all when there was barely any protection from the sun in the wasteland of the camp. I long for the hills and forests of home she thought.

A hand touched her back softly stroking it, trying to erase the anger and hurt. Penda she smiled as the name of her lover caressed her mind. At least you’re safe now she thought, exhaling loudly the breath she’d been holding.

“Kunja, my beloved, you tried. You’ve done everything you could. It’s in the hands of the gods.” She spoke in the sing song accent of her Numidian tribe using the name of endearment she knew Kunjana loved.

Kunjana turned and looked at the face of her lover. She remembered when Penda was brought in as a slave. Her black eyes shone with defiance as the men herded the new captives into the enclosure. She was beautiful. Her skin was glossy ebony and she was thin and lithe as a reed in the wind. She’d fallen in love with her from the first moment she laid eyes on her and she swore she would do anything to protect her from being raped by these barbarians.

Her story had been the same as that of all the other slaves brought into the encampment. The Red Scorpion army attacked a village, killed all the people in the tribe and, as though selecting fine stock, some of the women were taken as body or camp slaves. They took only the slaves they wanted in each of their raids.

“It’s never enough, Penda. They will take others. I can’t fight their whole army. There are too many of them. If they take you….” Her eyes filled with tears with the disquieting thoughts that filled her.

“Shhh. Shhh. It’s all right, Kunja, it’s all right. You’ve seen to that. Don’t you know that I know what you do? Don’t you know how I feel knowing what you do to protect me?” She continued stroking the back and shoulder of the woman.

“I do what I do, Penda. I won’t let them touch you.”

“I know, my beloved. Shhh. Be still.” The black skinned woman put her arms around the slightly taller woman and held her tenderly.

Kunjana allowed herself to be held. The small pleasure was all encompassing. For a few moments she could relinquish her leadership role with this woman who held her heart. She didn’t have to be strong, or have all the answers. She didn’t have to direct anyone or plan any attacks on unsuspecting soldiers. She thought back to the time before coming here when her life was so simple and she pondered the turn of the fates that had changed her life forever.

She came from a privileged family. Her mother had long ago resigned herself to the fact that this daughter was like no other and would never take a husband. Her mother, in her wisdom had named her Kunjana meaning Forest Girl. She played rough games and was unbeaten in weapons and sparring matches with the boys of the Indus valley where she lived. Her father had presented her with a magnificent horse, providing she could tame the beast. In no time, she had and she and her horse often raced alone across the plains or through the deep forests.

She remembered that day, as thought it was another time so long ago. She’d been out riding the hills with her horse, her hair streaming behind her in the wind as she galloped with no cares on her mind. After mid-day she turned back for home. In the distance she saw thick smoke and knew something was dreadfully wrong.

She kicked the horse with a fury and raced back towards the town. As she neared she heard screams punctuated by explosions as the ground under her shook. Then she saw the army – evil looking red scorpions were affixed to the banners carried by the soldiers. The men were larger than any she’d ever seen, and the horses towered over her own. She drove her horse towards her family home and pulled up when she saw it in flames.

Her younger sister was being dragged from the house by a ferocious warrior with a sword held high in his hand. He clearly intended to kill her. She jumped from her stallion, pulling her dagger from her trousers as she leaped onto the man’s back. She pulled the dagger across his throat and felt the warm red sticky blood flowing across her hands. The massive man fell forward onto her sister, his raised sword striking her in the chest.

She screamed as hands grabbed her and pulled her off the fallen soldier but there were too many of them. The huge soldiers disarmed her and held her, waiting for orders from their officers. She heard bets already being wagered on whether the captives would be slaughtered or taken as slaves.

“Kill me” she screamed as the men laughed callously.

“This one would make a good slave. We need a cook.” said one soldier.

“She’d make a better bedmate” said another as he reached out and squeezed her breast.

Kunjana pulled back from her captor’s hold and spat in his face.

“I’ll teach you” he bellowed, and hit her in the stomach then backhanded her in the face with his fist, knocking her senseless to the ground.

She didn’t remember much more. She assumed her family was dead. A few of the other younger women in the village had been taken captive with her. They traveled for some time with no medical care and little food until they reached an encampment where they were all thrown into a pen together, guarded by the massive soldiers.

During the night, soldiers would come and single out the women, taking them to their tents. Cries and screams echoed through the campground. And her time inevitably came as well.

She vowed the night she was taken that she would never surrender her inner self and she began plotting her revenge for the slaughter of her family and the destruction of these innocent young women. This was how she’d come to be leader of the slave women. They relied on her cunning and her bravado with the soldiers but she was only one woman and there were so many soldiers.

The soft sounds of Penda’s voice brought her back to the present.

“You always go back there in time my beloved. You cannot change what is. Don’t dwell on what you cannot change. Dwell on now and what you can change.”

“I’m going to kill that son of a slithering serpent, Penda. I’m going to kill him and get us out of this infernal pit.”

“I know you will my love. I know you will. Shhh now. Try to put these anguished thoughts from your mind, eh?” She cocked her head to the side, her braided black hair swinging out. It was a familiar gesture that beguiled Kunjana’s heart.

“We will get out of here Penda, I promise you.” She said it as an oath.

“Don’t get yourself killed doing it, my beloved. I could not go on living without you.”

Kunjana studied her, then smiled and hugged her tightly. “I won’t get killed, my heart.”

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Chapter 9 - Seven Magnificent Women     


The four women emerged from the temple into a throng of curious Amazons hungry for information. All eyes were trained on the young queen. Flanked by Xena at her right shoulder and Ephiny and Yakut on her left, Gabrielle stood straight and addressed her Amazon sisters.

“We’ve spoken with the goddess. The Olympian gods are well aware of this scourge in the east. We, the Thracian Amazon tribe, are the chosen ones to meet this threat.”

Immediately, questions were hurled at her from all sides. From the more mature women, came concerns about daily tribal practicalities.

“Are we going to war?”

“How can we defeat an army of giants armed with weapons of the gods?”

“Who will tend our crops and hunt for next winter if we’re off in Persia fighting a war.”

“Are you sure this army will come here…”

But blood lust fervor rose up from the invincible younger ones, their cries for vengeance ringing out:

“Yessss! Kill the Persian bastards!”

“No one attacks an Amazon sister and lives to tell of it…”

When it seemed the shouts of outrage and concern would continue unabated, Xena stepped up next to her lover. “Quiet!” she shouted, clearly having had enough of this. “Quiet, all of you. Give your queen a chance to talk and all your questions will be answered.” She paused and glared at several of the more vocal ones before continuing. “Now be quiet or you’ll answer to me.”

With the voices dying down to a murmur and then to deadly silence, she stepped back behind Gabrielle, crossing her arms in the stance of queen’s protector. It left no doubt in anyone’s mind that the next person who spoke before the queen was finished would be tossed across the camp. Gabrielle threw Xena a grateful look.

Taking a deep breath she began again.

“Artemis has supplied us with a powerful aid in the form of the Persian goddess, Anahita. The enemy can be defeated but it will take powers both human and divine. To answer some of your questions; yes, we are going to war.”

At this pronouncement several women gasped and the queen’s champion glowered, lowering her arms threatening to come forward again. Immediately, quiet descended on the assembled Amazons. Nodding to Gabrielle to continue, Xena stared down the crowd of distraught women.

“Okay, let me continue. Yes, we are going to war, but not all of us. Artemis told us to take only a small group of warriors. So, most of you will remain here to handle the daily needs of our tribe. When we get to Persia we’ll be given instructions by their goddess on how to defeat this army. If we succeed then, no, the red scorpion army will not come here. Now, I will answer your questions.”

Casting a quick glance at the warrior princess, one woman dared to speak. “Who will go to Persia, my Queen?” she asked respectfully.

“There will be a party of seven of us. I leave it to Xena and Ephiny to decide who the other four warriors will be.” At this news, both Ephiny and Xena stared incredulously at Gabrielle, who studiously ignored them both. “Are there more questions?”

“Queen Gabrielle,” another woman ventured, “Are you going with the warriors?”

“Yes, I am. Artemis seems to think I have a role to play in this.”

“Then who will rule, if both you and the regent are going?” came another query from an older Amazon in the back.

“Fortunately, Yakut, Ephiny and I were discussing this very subject at breakfast. At that time, I asked our shaman, Yakut, to assume these duties should it ever happen that both regent and queen were away from Amazon lands and unable to rule. I have the highest respect and trust in her. Despite her youth, her wisdom is of the ages and I believe you will be well served with Yakut as your leader in our absence.”

There were murmurs of agreement that seemed to surprise Yakut. Always self-deprecating, she had a hard time understanding everyone’s faith in her. As she saw it, she merely served her goddess and tribe; certainly it was nothing so special. She caught snippets of conversation before the queen began speaking again.

“Yes, Yakut is wise and fair.”

“I feel better knowing she’ll be in charge.”

“And with Otere as her champion, well who can stand against them?”

Gabrielle shouted over the women as they began discussing this latest development.

“I’m glad everyone is comfortable with this arrangement. I will present the mask and staff to her this evening. We’ll want to leave for Persia as soon as possible and we’ll need everyone to contribute to do that. Xena will be in charge of making us ready for travel. If she asks anything of you, please treat it as a request from me personally. Those chosen for this mission will be contacted immediately. I think that covers it. Let’s all work together. Thank you.”

Talking among them selves, many of the Amazons continued to stand around in small groups. Casting backward glances over their shoulders in case another announcement should be forthcoming, they were reluctant to leave. However, when the queen and her champion began speaking in urgent tones to each other, most of the stragglers moved away. The big warrior seemed agitated and no one wanted to be in the line of fire.

Xena turned on Gabrielle. “What do you mean, Xena and Ephiny will be in charge of who’s going? I know these Amazons well enough to pick four. I certainly, don’t need any interference from your regent.”

She did nothing to modulate her voice so that Ephiny was well aware she was the topic of conversation even as Gabrielle sought to steer Xena to a quiet place to discuss things.

“Xena, please, I know you’re an excellent judge of fighting skills, but Ephiny knows everyone’s fighting ability too.” Sighing deeply, the young queen rubbed the back of her neck releasing the pent up tension there. She began again. “Mostly, I need you two to get along. We have a huge task ahead of us. How can we hope to win if we fight among ourselves? Please, Xena, I need your help. This war you have with Eph has got to end.”

The warrior blew out a breath and looked skyward. Mentally, she counted to ten before replying. In her heart she knew Gabrielle was right and her own knowledge of battle strategy confirmed it. Xena knew well the value of a tight knit fighting force, especially during covert operations where each person’s life depended on the split second response of a partner. And truth be told, she actually liked and trusted the regent. What happened during the solstice party was nothing more than too much port in too charged an atmosphere. Gabrielle loves me, how much proof do I need, she ruminated to herself.

“Yeah, you’re right Gabrielle. I’ll work with Eph.” Then she smiled down at her lover, moving closer so she could whisper in the young woman’s ear. “You’ve acquired a lot of wisdom in your young life, ya know that?”

Blushing, the young queen pushed her away. “Thank you, Xena. Now get to work.”

Giving her a quick peck on her downy cheek, Xena moved away, “Your wish is my command, my queen.”

Gabrielle laughed shaking her head as she walked over to speak with Yakut. She wanted to glean any further enlightenment the shaman could provide on the meaning of her dream vision and what she might know of the Persian goddess.

Ephiny unconsciously backed up as the warrior approached her. Smirking as she registered this reaction, Xena began stalking her quarry, but then thought better of it. Damn, I need to get a grip. Gabrielle is right. We can’t win if we can’t trust each other. With this thought in mind, Xena held out her forearm in the warrior’s sign of friendship. “No hard feelings Eph?”

Breaking into a huge grin of relief, Ephiny crossed Xena’s arm with her own. She continued to marvel at the young queen’s ability to tame the savage beast within this warrior who brooked no argument from most people.

“None at all. Let’s get to work, shall we?”

Standing there in the center of camp the two women began discussing what they would need in terms of skills for a small guerilla force to invade and distract the Persian army.

“The way I see it, we’ll need warriors skilled at stealth and in the use of swords for close in fighting. But also, I’d like at least two archers. Who’ve we got that fits the bill?” Xena asked.

“Well, I’m a pretty damn good archer myself and can handle my sword or so I’ve been told. Noalani is the best archer we have. At solstice she won all the games, if you recall. And Pony is the best with a sword, but Solari is second only to her. And both of them are captains of the perimeter guards. You want stealth, they’re the best. So, those three for sure.”

Xena pondered this for a few seconds. Solari, she knew only in passing. The woman was quietly intense, taking all of her duties seriously. And Xena did indeed remember that no one even came close to Noalani’s skill with the bow during the solstice contests. Other than that she did not know the woman very well. She got along well with Pony and knew her abilities first hand, having spent every morning of the past fortnight sparring with her. The woman in question stood a respectful distance away, her attention divided between the proceedings and the newcomer. Xena waved Pony over to join them.

“I agree about Pony. Don’t tell her, but there’ve been a couple of times that she almost had me. She’s good all right.” Xena said sotto voce and then in a normal tone continued, “I’ll take your word for the other two. We need one more.”

Before Ephiny could answer, the two women were interrupted by a new voice. “I’m going with you. I’m the seventh.”

Startled by the interruption, their heads came round in the direction of the voice. They were confronted by Adara, still looking tired and drawn.

Xena spoke gently, “Adara, I can appreciate what you’ve been through and what you’ve lost. But we need warriors. Can you handle a sword or a bow?”

“I only know the staff well. But I am a healer in my tribe. I could be of use to you. There will be injuries.”

“Adara, we can’t take you. I need another sword and your children need you.” Xena stated kindly, laying a hand on her shoulder and giving it a squeeze of encouragement. Then she started to turn back to Ephiny.

Grabbing Xena’s arm with unbelievable strength, Adara spun the warrior back around. Years of getting her own stubborn warrior’s attention had taught her a few moves. Raising her voice so there could be no mistaking her resolve, she said, “I’m going if I have to follow you all the way to the Caucus!”

Hearing the loud voices, Gabrielle and Yakut hurried over to the other three women.

Pony, who was never far from Adara’s side, was also in attendance.

“What’s the problem?” asked the queen.

Xena looked with compassion at Adara, fully aware of the young woman’s pain and her need to avenge her hearth mate. Trying again to reason with Adara, but speaking softly to Gabrielle, Xena said.

“Adara wants to go with us. But Gabrielle, she’s needed here with her children. And we need one more sword.”

Holding Adara’s golden eyes with her own blue ones, Xena tried to convey her real sorrow at this decision, “I’m sorry Adara. But I promise you, we will bring home your sisters and I swear; I will personally avenge your mate.”

Having voiced Adara’s own unspoken hope of some survivors, the eastern Amazon drew in a breath to steady herself. She wasn’t going to be defeated on this. No matter what, she’d be the seventh woman.

She knew her slight frame and quiet demeanor were deceptive. In a fond memory of the previous summer, she recalled that Tynet’s immediate response had been “no” when Adara had announced that she and the children would be traveling to Thrace with Tynet to trade their horses. Adara had merely begun packing what they would need for the long journey. No amount of argument about the trials of taking two small children, the younger being only one and a half, on such an arduous trip could dissuade Adara, who simply continued her preparations. She remembered hearing her lover laughing and telling friends questioning the decision, “My Adara, she’s a force to be reckoned with. You talk her out of it if you can. Me, I have better uses for my energy.” They’d all made the trip.

“I know you think you’re doing what’s best for all the Amazons. I understand that, but I can be of help. I know the quickest way to my camp and I know the area and its people. I am a healer and you will need my skills. Since they took captives from my tribe there may be other prisoners, and if that’s so, perhaps I can find other warriors to fight with us.”

Pony had been following the arguments pro and con. Looking with compassion at Adara, her heart broke open. For the first time in her life her heart was full of understanding and empathy. She actually felt Adara’s pain as if it were her own. The young eastern woman was suffering and Pony, in her desire to guard this woman against any further hurt, felt compelled to step in. Before Gabrielle could respond, Pony voiced her thoughts on the matter.

“I’m against it,” she said. All eyes turned to the weapons mistress, but she focused solely on the Eastern Amazon.

“Please trust me Adara, I too promise to avenge your mate. Xena’s right. You belong with your children. And you need time to heal from your loss. Please, stay safely here. My lodge is yours, all my possessions, I give you. If we don’t return, your children will be raised in the safety of this tribe.” Such a declaration of generosity could only mean one thing. In a short time Pony had come to care deeply for this brave, beautiful stranger. With her heart in her throat, Pony waited to see if her gift was accepted.

Even through the depths of her grief, Adara understood what it was that Pony was truly offering. In their often harsh world, survival depended on family and tribe. The need to provide for her children would mean re-establishing a hearth for them. Even so, it was impossible just now to imagine that she’d ever want another lover in her life. The pain was too real, the wound in her heart too raw. All of her life, empathy came easily to Adara and she sought to let Pony down gently.

“Thank you, Pony, your offer of friendship touches me; but if you don’t return, there is no place on this earth my children will be safe. I need to go in order to heal and I know I can be of help.”

Knowing she’d continue to protect Adara and her family even if it was only as a friend, Pony wondered at the strangeness of life. She’d always been the one to play the field. There had been a couple of women who truly cared for her and wanted a life with her and yet Pony had been unable to respond in kind. Now she stood in their boots and felt the terrible emptiness of loving someone who was not able to love her back. With this new insight, Pony swallowed the rejection and sought to mask her own pain so as to not add to Adara’s already burdened heart.

“I understand. I’ll do whatever I can to help you.”

Adara acknowledged the offer with a wan smile and a simple, “thank you” and then turned pleading eyes on the queen.

“Please, Queen Gabrielle, I know the secrets of both the mountains and the deserts. My skills with weapons may be limited, but having an ally that knows the area will be invaluable.”

Gabrielle could easily put herself in the young woman’s place. The mere thought of living a lifetime without Xena by her side, tugged at the queen’s heart. Her own inclination was to take Adara. She knew there was more to winning battles than weapons and strength, but she had given the choice of who went and who stayed to Xena and Ephiny. She needed to bear in mind the needs of the tribe as well as this Amazon’s personal need to finish what she’d started. Gabrielle turned to her warrior, knowing that she had been digesting all the arguments. “Xena?” she asked.

Even though she was still concerned about Adara’s children, Xena couldn’t disagree with the young woman’s logic. It would indeed be invaluable to have someone familiar with the landscape, weather patterns and watering holes along the way.

“Adara, are you sure? You’ll leave your children orphans if we fail.”

“I do understand, Xena, better than you can imagine. I’ve seen this army. I know what we’re up against. Here, my children are with family, my aunt, Marana.” She paused taking in a much needed breath. “And, I know, their lives will be greatly shortened if we don’t succeed.”

Studying the determined woman in front of her, Xena nodded once. “All right, we have our seventh.”

Pony’s heart clinched in her chest, even as she silently pledged I’ll make any sacrifice to see you happy.


Gabrielle forestalled any further argument, “The decision is made then. We need to get ready to travel. When do you want to leave, Xena?”

“At first light” was the succinct reply.

“Let’s get moving then.” Gabrielle said.

Xena began issuing orders for the preparations. “Everyone will need to pack their personal gear. Pony, you and Solari gather as many small hand weapons as you can, breast daggers, small knives and I want strips of soft leather for garrotes. We’ll need to slip into their camp and arm as many of the captives as we can. I don’t know what condition they’ll be in, but the element of surprise is our biggest weapon. Also, pick good horses, fast, agile and strong.”

As Pony moved off to find Solari and fulfill their list, Xena spotted Noalani a few feet away watching the proceedings. It was obvious from her stance; she knew she was one of the chosen. Motioning to the woman to join them, Xena turned to Ephiny. “Would you and Noalani check on the supplies of arrows as well as dried food, blankets and the rest that we’ll need for travel? I want to move fast. We’ll hunt when we can, but for the most part we’re looking at cold meals, especially when we get within range.”

Both women responded at the same time with, “Done.” and “Got it.”

Looking at Gabrielle and Adara, Xena continued. “All right, let’s sit down with Artemis’s precious piece of parchment and see if Adara has any idea where this place is.”


The morning dawned cool and crisp. Smoke from breakfast cook fires lay like a light fog over the compound.

In the previous eighteen hours there had been a flurry of activity. Every Amazon had participated. Some prepared food for the journey, while others readied the best horses for the long ride, and placed supplies into neat bundles ready to be strapped onto three sturdy pack animals. Many women had worked through the night so that the small band could get under way by dawn’s first light.

Seven chosen warriors slowly made their way to the center of camp for Yakut’s blessing, each lost in her own thoughts.

Solari poked her head out of the flap of her hut, and then emerged holding the hand of a blonde, hazel eyed woman, Calliope, who had spent the last few hours with her in her lodge. The two young women had become close over the preceding spring. Neither had felt any need to hurry their relationship, thinking they had all the time in the world, now each mused over the possibilities and knew a sense of destiny. Calliope squeezed Solari’s hand as they reach the central fire pit and stood silently beside the compact brunette who had come to mean so much to her.

Noalani and Ephiny approached from opposite directions. Ephiny had spent most of the night seeing to the last minute details, before falling into a dreamless sleep just before dawn. The two arrived at the fire pit at the same moment acknowledging each other with tentative smiles.

Noalani had not spent the night alone, but in the company of a close friend of many years, Idola. The two had become like sisters over the years and although they had been lovers many season ago, they had come to realize that they made better friends than lovers. Still, last night the two had laid together in each others arms talking until at last they had fallen quiet, each knowing they might never see the other again.

Seeing to the last minute details, Xena had not bothered with sleeping. Watching her approach with Gabrielle at her side, Ephiny marveled at the warrior’s stamina. Even now without any rest, Xena appeared alert and competent, walking with her typical long stride, a tired queen hurrying to keep up with her. Two candle marks earlier, Xena had sent both queen and regent to their respective huts, stating that they were next to useless as tired as they both were. Neither had argued, but hurried away for a few precious minutes of slumber.

Last to appear, but ready for travel was Adara with her family. The combined hearts of her Amazon sisters went out to the young mother when she bent down to say goodbye to her children.

Hugging her somber, five year old to her breast, she kissed the side of the child’s head, and then held her at arms length. Seeking to give the small family a bit of privacy for their farewells, the others moved nearer their horses so that the whispered goodbyes couldn’t be heard. The youngster could be seen shaking her head before she bolted back into the seamstress’s lodge. Sighing, Adara stood and took Ursa from her aunt’s arms. The baby seemed confused by the early hour and the activity in the camp. Kissing the toddler and holding her tight one last time, she finally relinquished the child back to the protective arms of the formidable Marana, who then hugged Adara with her free arm.

Finally pulling away, she turned to join the others at their horses; but was stopped in her tracks at hearing her daughter’s voice behind her.

“I’m ready to go.” Thaddea said.

Adara’s heart clinched as she observed the small five year old warrior, so like her mother, standing with feet planted wide, bedroll under one arm and small wooden practice sword hanging from a leather thong at her side. With only a glance of apology to the others waiting patiently, Adara knelt before her resistive child.

“Thaddea, sweetheart, we’ve had this conversation. You are not going. This is dangerous business. As much as you have the heart of a warrior, you’re still only a child.”

Unconvinced, Thaddea adamantly shook her head, no.

From her vantage point seated on Argo, Xena could see that Adara wasn’t having much luck convincing the child. Resigned, she dismounted and approached the mother and child. Kneeling down next to Adara, Xena waited until the youngster looked at her.

“What’s the problem, warrior?”

Tearing her eyes away from Xena’s, the child stared at the dust on her boots. She was close to despair, her tears of rage and frustration threatening to flow. “I… I promised my mama.” She stammered in an almost inaudible voice.

Only Xena’s keen hearing allowed her to understand what had been spoken. “What did you promise her, Thaddea?” She asked the child tenderly.

“That I would come find her. She’s not dead.” Here she looked at her mother, begging her to understand. “Amma, I know she’s not dead.”

Adara’s heart split wide open. With tears running in rivulets down her cheeks, she cradled her daughter’s head to her shoulder, choking out her words.

“Oh Thaddea, my baby, I want her to be alive too, believe me I do.”

Gabrielle and Pony had approached the small group. The child’s misery struck a sympathetic cord in everyone assembled. It was Xena who most clearly understood the commitment behind the small girl’s pledge to her dead mother. Such a promise would override every other promise made and demand a lifetime attempting to fulfill that which could never be accomplished. This she knew from personal experience. The last thing Xena wanted was for this innocent child to be caught in the same trap she herself had lived in for so many years and was even now still atoning for.

“Thaddea,” Xena said, “Do you know what a warrior’s surrogate is?”

The distraught child shook her head, no.

Xena continued, “You know the Queen has a champion, someone who is her protector and fights on her behalf.”

Thaddea nodded her understanding.

“Well, a warrior can designate a champion too and it’s called the warrior’s surrogate. Warriors are allowed to do this when they cannot fulfill their solemn duty themselves. I will be your surrogate, Thaddea. I will assume your pledge to your mama. If she lives, I will bring her back. If she does not live, I will avenge her death. This I swear to you on my sword and warrior’s honor.”

Xena struck her chest once with her closed fist. Then raising her forearm to the child, she asked, “Will you accept me as your surrogate?”

Having spent most of the previous day following the tall warrior woman around like a shadow, and seeing her strength and authority, Thaddea knew if anyone was capable of finding her mama, it was Xena. She knew she had promised to find her mama herself, but it would be no shame to send Xena in her place, the child reasoned. I’m sending the best warrior I could get, Mama. Next to you, she might be the best in the world. She’ll bring you back to me, she thought to herself. Then the child, realizing she’d made her decision, slowly extended her small arm and crossed Xena’s.

There was a collective sound among the assembled Amazons who had gathered to bid the seven goodbye. Sniffles could be heard from many and sobs from a few. The story of the towering warrior and the tiny one would be told for days to come.

She still had one worry eating away at her, and she voiced it to her mother now. “What if you die, Amma?” she choked out the question.

“I’ll be very careful sweetheart. I… I plan …” Adara struggled to find words that would give some measure of comfort to her child.

Before she could finish, Pony stepped in. “I promise you, Thaddea, I will sacrifice my own life before I’d let anything happen to your mother.”

She could not bear to look the weapon’s mistress in the eye. She didn’t like the way she looked at her amma, the way she always touched her shoulder and smiled at her. Her thoughts were turbulent with her inner fears. She belongs with mama. You don’t understand; my amma and my mama belong together. But her options were limited. In her heart she knew all the women going were very brave and would each fight to protect the others. Her eyes downcast, Thaddea grudgingly acknowledged Pony’s offer, “okay.”

It appeared that all was settled then. Xena stood and squeezed Thaddea’s shoulder. Adara hugged her one last time. Finally, moving as a group back to their animals, the chosen warriors mounted up.

Yakut stepped forward raising her feathered rattle in her right hand and a twisted rope of sweet grass in the other. As the riders waited patiently for the Shaman’s blessing, Yakut circled the group three times east to west chanting an ancient incantation stopping finally in front of them. “Warriors, you travel under the protection of the goddess and with her blessing. Come safely home to us.” She then stepped aside.

Seven brave, magnificent women filed out of camp, Xena and Gabrielle in the lead, with Adara at the rear, looking back at her children for as long as they were visible.

As they entered the forest, the tree line obscured their view of the main village. Gabrielle turned to Xena and said. “I’ve never heard of the warrior’s surrogate.”

“Not surprising, since I made it up.” Xena answered.

Reaching over and taking her lover’s hand, Gabrielle squeezed Xena’s fingers before letting go. “Have I told you how much I love you?”

Xena smiled broadly. Her heart swelling with pleasure that this beautiful woman thought highly of her, she said simply. “Yes, and I love you too, you know that?”

Back in camp, a small girl stood watching the forest’s edge long after the horses had disappeared from view. The sound of a whiny close by alerted her that someone approached from behind.

Cleese and Thalia stepped forward leading a beautiful white mare. Each of the girls had her hand on the reins, but it was Cleese who spoke.

“Thaddea, would you help us train our new horse?”

Her heart heavy with grief and loss, Thaddea continued to look east in the direction of the departed warriors. I don’t want to train a horse. I want my amma and my mama. I want to be back home, she thought.

Then from a secret place deep within her heart it seemed her beloved mother was speaking to her. Thaddea, Tynet’s voice seemed to say, Go with these girls and help them as I’ve taught you. An Amazon always helps her sisters. I promise you, I will never leave you. I am with you even now.

It was that inspiration that allowed her to understand why her Amma had had to go, to help all the Amazons. Thaddea too, was an Amazon, a member of a proud group of women and she knew where her duty lay. Goodbye, Amma, bring Mama back to us, she sent this final prayer to her beloved mothers.

Casting one last, longing look in the direction of home, Thaddea accepted that her role was to wait here and to be a strong Amazon. “Okay.” She said.

                                    *                      *                      *                      *



Chapter 10 – Ride Across the Caucus


Additional acknowledgment disclaimer: This chapter contains a song by Canadian singer- songwriter Loreena McKennitt, called “Night Ride Across the Caucasus”. It was used without permission. We mean no copyright infringement of this song. This singer sings magical songs with a celtic flavor. If you are interested in her wonderful music you can purchase it online or at your favorite music store. She’s a treat to listen to. The song can be found on Loreena’s CD, The Book of Secrets.


Riding single file up the steep incline, the seven dusty and road weary women sat silently on their mounts. The top of the mountain peeked in and out of view as the trail twisted and turned back on itself. For the past two days, they’d been climbing, always leaning forward in their saddles to guard against sliding back over their horses’ rumps. Even though most of them sported sore backs and thighs, they pressed on knowing their goal, Adara’s camp, was only half a day’s ride further.

Reaching a level meadow with a few stands of pines scattered about, they were relieved to be able to ride over even ground for a bit. The flat terrain would only provide a short respite as the trail started back up again at the opposite end of the meadow to what would be the final pass into the valley on the eastern side of the mountains.

Astride Mahtab, Adara quietly took in the familiar landscape. Riding just ahead of her was Xena. Adara’s thoughts drifted to the queen’s champion.

Admiring the stoic warrior’s focus, strength and compassion, Adara noted again the qualities Xena shared with her Tynet. Even their body types were very similar, and in fact, several times she’d caught her breath when seeing the warrior princess from a distance. Those moments had made the journey even more difficult for Adara, as it had seemed that her beloved hearth mate was riding just up ahead.

As she’d come to know Xena better, Adara became aware of a major difference between her lost mate and the warrior princess. Tynet had always been at peace within her soul, whereas something troubled Xena.

Adara had pondered this as the miles passed beneath their horse’s hooves. An astute observer of people and life, she’d finally realized what it was. Xena was still unsure of the queen’s love.

Adara had watched as shadows of disbelief crossed the warrior’s face when she watched Gabrielle. It was sad to realize that Xena felt unworthy of the queen’s love, as Adara had also recognized Gabrielle’s love was given without reservation.

Now, as she observed the tall woman’s back, Adara hoped one day Xena would come to understand, worthiness had little to do with the heart. Lost in thought, she allowed her mare her head and was soon abreast of Xena.

Xena’s eyes were in constant motion scanning the horizon as she led the band of tired Amazons.

“Adara, how’re you doing?” Xena asked smiling at the preoccupied woman, knowing that seeing the destruction of her home would slam home the reality of her loss. For now, it was still an unbelievable nightmare, one that still held some hope.

Adara appreciated the way all these wonderful women had taken her in and made her one of them. Pony had become a friend, allowing Adara to reminisce for hours without interruption. For her part, Adara made every effort to keep a positive attitude, even while her heart was breaking.

With this in mind, she replied to Xena’s query.

“I’m doing alright, but it’s as if I can’t get my mind to accept this. I look around and everything seems so normal. I know that even though we’ll soon reach my home, there won’t be much left to see.”

She paused, her voice taking on a wistful, far away quality, almost as if she’d stepped back into that black time. She sucked in a ragged breath as her inner vision filled again with the horrors she’d seen that evening.

“Everything, all of it, was taken that night….” She paused. “My life as I knew it….my heart.” The impact of the words being said aloud ripped through her making her shudder with the realization.

Xena knew the best thing was for Adara to get it out, to speak of it in the light of day.

“Tell me again, Adara; everything you can remember. Even the smallest bit of information is a weapon I can use against them.” Xena said as Pony trotted up next to them. She was seldom far from the eastern woman’s side.

As the angle of the late afternoon sun elongated their shadows, Adara once again told her tale in a flat empty tone. When she got to the death of her life-mate, her voice dropped to a whisper and was even more emotionless,

“… from my hiding place in the rocks, I peeked over the edge of a large boulder. Below me, it was chaos. The camp was in flames, the smoke was so thick details were hard to make out. The screams of the dying and of those still fighting reached me over the noise of explosions and the insane laughter of the giant soldiers as they cut down one Amazon sister after another.”

Needing to breathe before the memories of that day crushed her she paused before continuing.

“Then I saw her, my Tynet, standing bravely in front of maybe a dozen women, the last of our tribe. Her blade was in continual motion. She fought one, then another of the huge soldiers. They were so big, Xena, ugly, malformed, hideous monsters. I know I sound like I’m seeing impossible visions made worse by my anger and grief, but I still wonder; how can any human be so large?”

She stopped, the pain etched in her features as she relived the death of her life partner.

Reaching over, Xena took her hand and squeezed it softly. Kind blue eyes gently took hold of golden ones, as if to say trust me.

“If you can, please finish. Believe it or not, it’ll help us both. Every time you tell it, you remember a few more pieces. Let your memories and anger be your shield. Time enough to grieve after this is over. I need to know all I can about these soldiers, what makes them strong, so I can know their weakness. And they do have them, Adara, they do have them.”

Adara took another deep cleansing breath gazing into the middle distance to compose herself.

Noting Adara’s emotional pain, Pony moved closer glaring at Xena daring her to cause the beautiful woman to weep yet again. She looked protectively at Adara with an expression of helpless devotion written on her face. Despite having resigned herself to being the friend Adara needed right now and giving the woman space to work through her grief, Pony was still protective. I’d give anything to see you smile. I’d bring back your Tynet if I could. Her thoughts were interrupted when the eastern woman resumed her story.

Returning Xena’s kindness with a weak smile, Adara continued.

“I knew it was hopeless. As my sisters died, more soldiers took up the battle against the few remaining. Even from the rocks I could see Tynet was tiring, her sword slowing, but still she fought and killed the dark soldiers. Then an ugly coward crept up behind her. He was larger even than the others and carried a mace. Most of the monsters wore helmets, but not this one. He must have always fought with out protection on his head, because he had a hideous red scar running from his filthy hair to his chin. It ran through the edge of his eye; maybe from an axe, I don’t know. Because of the smoke I couldn’t tell if he could see out of that side or not. He raised his mace and, and my Tynet, she tried to move away, but, but...” Her voice cracking, she stopped again, reliving the blow as it fell. Fat tears overflowed her eyelids and bathed her face.

Now, Pony moved closer to the distraught woman, shooting a glower at Xena as she did so.

“You think you have enough information now, Xena? Can’t you see this retelling is tearing her apart?”

Adara put a hand on Pony’s forearm. “It’s all right Pony. You need to understand what these animals are like if we are to have a chance to defeat them.”

Xena gave a helpless shrug unable to defend her motives when, a sharp whistle pierced the afternoon stillness. Pulling to a stop, Xena glanced back at the Amazons strung out along the trail. At the rear, Solari was dismounted and examining the lead pack horse.

“I’d better see what’s wrong.” Xena said, turning Argo back to the rear of the small caravan.

As she rode past, Gabrielle raised her eyebrows in question, catching the simple statement from Xena, “Pack horse.”

With Xena backtracking, the rest of the women took the opportunity to dismount and rest their backsides. They’d been riding almost non stop for nearly a fortnight.

They all had a new respect for Adara, who’d just made the trip in only two weeks time with two small children only to turn around and ride all the way back the very next day.

Dismounting, Xena stood next to Solari who was running her hand down the front of the big gelding’s leg and asked the obvious question. “What’s the problem?”

“He’s pulled up lame; seems to be favoring his right leg.” The Amazon stated as she lifted and examined the animal’s hoof. Cleaning dirt out of the soft area in the center of the horny arch, she dislodged a small rock and lowered the foot to the ground.

“Here it is,” she said holding up the stone. “I think he’ll be okay. Looks like some bruising, though. We’re gonna need to stop and treat this.”

Pony and Adara rode up as Xena and Solari were discussing the situation. Soon the other three women had moved closer as well.

Xena looked at Adara. “Are you familiar with this area? We need a place to camp for the night?” She patted the pack animal on the flank as she continued. “This boy needs to rest.”

Looking around the meadow, Adara recognized the area as the same place she and the children had stopped that first terrible night. “Yes, there’s good cover over in that stand of pines and there’s a small creek nearby.” She said as she pointed to the far end of the valley where the trail wound through the moraine and began its ascent again.

“Okay, we’ll make our camp over there.” Xena decided for the group. Then to Solari, “Can he walk that far without further damage?”

“Yes, but let’s unload him.”

The other Amazons began taking sacks of supplies to carry on their horses. At last only the pack frame remained. Once the weight was distributed between the other horses, the women remounted and rode for the thick copse of trees indicated by Adara.

The pines did indeed make for good cover. The tall trees, whose boughs reached all the way to the ground, almost completely surrounded a natural enclosure which opened only on the western end. They’d only need to post a single sentry. They’d be protected from wind and a small fire wouldn’t be visible to the east.

After two weeks on the trail, each woman knew her job setting up camp. They worked in silence and symmetry moving about the campsite, laying out bedrolls, fetching water, picketing the horses.

As soon as camp was laid out, Xena, Pony and Noalani left to hunt for dinner. Gabrielle and Ephiny chatted amiably as they dug fresh tubers and collected fruit and seeds for their evening meal.

“What do you make of Pony and Adara?” Gabrielle asked the regent as they worked side by side picking early summer berries from a thicket of brambles.

Sighing, Ephiny glanced at the hunters as they disappeared in the distance. Pony’s height was second only to Xena, making her easily distinguishable.

“Well, she’s got it bad, Gabrielle. I’ve never seen her like this with anyone; ever. She’s always played the field. Pony’s never led on any of her lovers either. She’s always been very honest with ‘em. She was out for a good time and from what I’ve gathered, she could make a woman feel pretty damn good. But if anyone dared to assume they were a couple, Pony ended it, gently, but firmly.

“Are you speaking from experience, Eph?”

Ephiny paused looking with a kind of longing at her queen and slowly shook her head.

“No, I’ve never been interested in one night stands. When I fall, it’s with the hope of more and Pony’s never offered that promise to any woman, until now.”

“I pray she doesn’t get hurt then, Eph. Because I don’t get the impression Adara returns those feelings, do you?”

Looking back toward the stream where Adara and Solari worked on the pack animal, Ephiny shook her head.

“No, I don’t. That poor woman is in love with a ghost. And I believe she always will be. I’ve seen it before; two halves to one soul. Even if she eventually took a new hearth-mate, it would not be the same blending of spirit. She was joined with her soul mate. There’s no other for her.” Now, the regent looked meaningfully at the queen.

Gabrielle blushed even as she acknowledged the truth of it to herself. A life without the warrior princess in it would be a colorless existence for her. The truth was emblazoned in her heart, Xena was her mate, beyond time and space, and there was no other for her.

“You’re right Ephiny. Goddess, poor Pony.”


Adara worked with Solari on the injured pack horse. While Solari soaked the bruised hoof in cool stream water, Adara found the comfrey she needed in her pack. Comfrey was widely known for its exceptional ability to heal bruises. She considered them to be favored by the goddess to also have found wild onion, another healing plant, growing near the stream.

Kneeling next to the creek, she pounded the herbs into a thick paste. Solari raised the injured hoof so that the eastern healer could thoroughly cover the bruise with the gooey substance. Then they tied a piece of cloth over the entire foot. The relief was immediately visible, as the horse wandered away to graze barely favoring the foot.

With her hands on her hips, Solari watched the gelding move over to where the rest of the pack animals were picketed.

“Thanks for the help, Adara. You’re good with animals.”

“Thank you for saying so. But it’s my Tynet who is the horse woman in our tribe. There’s not one of them she can’t ride or train, and the way they respond to…” She stopped as she realized that she was using the present tense.

The beautiful woman looked away. Turning toward the trail that led home, tears filled her eyes and spilled down her cheeks. She swiped at them angrily. She needed to stop this incessant crying, there was much work to do if they were to help the captives and stop this menace from spreading.

Solari was a kind soul. She’d always been one who could put herself into another person’s boots. Pulling the eastern woman to her, she awkwardly patted her back. In the distance she could see her friend, Pony, with the other hunters. Her heart broke for all of them, Pony who was obviously in love with this woman, Adara whose heart belonged to a dead woman and two small children who would never know the amazing woman that their mother appeared to have been.


In a ravine not far away, Xena and Pony crouched low on the slope directly across from Noalani on the other incline. They’d spotted fresh deer signs at the entrance to this canyon.

Bow in hand and arrow nocked, Noalani was leaning over a boulder ready to fire as soon as the decision was made. Pony also had an arrow ready to fly.

Xena didn’t want any left over meat to attract predators to their campsite. So the plan was to bring down a small animal and take away just the amount of meat they could eat that evening, leaving the carcass deep in the ravine for the scavengers to feast on far from the Amazon campsite.

A small group of five fallow deer grazed on the sparse grasses of the canyon floor. Although unaware of their peril, the three adult does and two fawns occasionally lifted their heads testing the air. Scanning the group, Xena picked out a small older female among the group and watched intently. Immobile, the three warrior women waited. After observing long enough to determine which youngster belonged to which doe, Xena signaled Noalani, that it was the older female they were hunting. Watching the interchange from her position of cover, Pony felt a small surge of adrenalin course through her veins.

Xena raised her arm. Both archers pulled back on their bow strings simultaneously. As she dropped her hand giving the signal to fire, the zing of the taut strings releasing alerted the timid deer a moment too late. The older female dropped with a thud, dead before she hit the ground as both Amazon arrows found their mark. Terrified, the rest of the small group sprinted deeper into the underbrush disappearing from view.

Small rocks and pebbles preceded Noalani as she made her way down the opposite slope. Xena had just started down to help when Pony forestalled her by gripping her bicep.

“Xena, can I ask you something?” Pony said.

Glancing down at Noalani who’d already reached the canyon floor and had her knife out to butcher the fresh kill, Xena reluctantly turned back to her friend. She knew what was coming but had no answers for the love-sick weapons’ mistress. It was painfully obvious, that her friend had lost her heart to a woman she could never really have. It tore at Xena to see the hopeful expression on Pony’s face, clearly asking for answers she didn’t have. What good is talk, when there is no solution?

“Sure Pony, what’s on your mind?” Xena feigned ignorance.

“Well, it’s about Adara and me. I mean not Adara and me exactly, but … I mean… I’d like it to be Adara and me; someday… you know, when things are better… oh Hades Balls! Xena, do I have a chance with a woman like her?”

Gods, I hate heart to heart talks. I’d rather bite the heads off rats than give advice about love. She knew little about it. Mostly her life had been a series of mistakes in that department, until Gabrielle and that had been a gift beyond her comprehension. Still, she needed to tell Pony something.

“Pony, I don’t know what to tell you. You can see as well as I that she’s grieving.”

Pony interrupted impatiently, “I know that. I’m not blind, not completely insensitive.”

“Like me you mean,” replied Xena, trying to spark an argument rather than go any further with this painful topic.

“Centaur Crap! I didn’t mean that and you know it,” Pony argued before blowing out a breath. “It’s just that I… I really care for her. I’ve never felt anything like this before. You know what I’m talking about.”

“Yes, I do. I know exactly what you’re talking about. It wasn’t that long ago you called my attention to just that fact.”

“And now you won’t help me; you’re getting the last laugh, is that it?”

“Pony, believe me, I’m not laughing at you. I know what you’re feeling. For almost two years I carried my own love for Gabrielle hidden inside, because I didn’t think she felt the same and it turned out I was wrong.”

“But this is different. I just met Adara and from the first moment she’s all I can think of. I know she’s grieving for her hearth mate. It’s only natural. How can I show her I care? Should I? Damn it, what can I do?”

“Pony, you’re already doing all you can. It’s going to take time. After we find the army and defeat them, then it will be time for her to heal. She’ll need someone to lean on when she finally accepts the truth. Just be there for her. I know it’s not much help.”

“I guess you’re right.”

“Come on, Noalani could use our help.”

As there was nothing else to say on the topic, Xena tried for a change of subject.

“Look Pony, would you mind riding up on that ridge with me after we get this meat back to camp? I want to make sure no unexpected company shows up tonight.”

“Sure, whatever you need. I would have hated sitting around relaxing all afternoon.” Pony joked, forcing herself out of the morose mood.

Xena clapped her friend on the shoulder. “Thanks; it’ll work out. Everything always does.”

The two women joined Noalani who was already well into dressing out their kill.


The moon waxed nearly full in an indigo sky glittering with stars. It had been nearly a full moon cycle since the mid-summer celebrations.

As the evening meal had been prepared, Xena, Pony and Solari scouted all the way to the top of the pass looking for any sign that the army had passed this way. After a candle mark’s fruitless search, Xena had called a halt, assured their camp would remain undetected.

The thick stand of trees even muffled sounds such that, the three trackers were almost back in camp before they had heard the women within.

Dinner had been a veritable feast after so many cold meals on the trail. And now the seven warrior women lounged around the small evening campfire.

Xena, who’d just returned from walking the outer perimeter of their campsite, sat with her back against one of several boulders strewn about, Gabrielle between her legs leaning against her chest. Unconsciously drawing small designs on the warrior’s thigh, Gabrielle enjoyed the feeling of Xena’s chin nuzzling her hair.

Ephiny, Pony and Solari huddled close together speaking in low tones striving to keep their conversation to themselves. They mulled over all that could go wrong and how they could be prepared for it. Even though the injured pack horse seemed much better after a few hours rest and would be ready to travel in the morning, they discussed redistributing his load amongst the two other pack animals.

Casting furtive glances over at the beautiful woman sitting next to Noalani near the fire,

Pony could hardly keep her mind on the conversation.

It had been determined that they would reach Adara’s home by mid morning the next day. The woman, whose life had been decimated only four weeks before, sat deep in thought, staring into the flames as they flickered and danced over the logs. Painful memories played at the edges of her consciousness. Even though she didn’t want to entertain her misery, there seemed to be no place to hide from her loss.

Noalani reached into her saddle pack and rooted around until her fingers closed over her most cherished possession, a small flute made by her best friend, Idola. She’d given it to Noalani as a winter solstice gift two years prior. Closing her eyes, she put her lips to the instrument and began playing a slow haunting melody that matched the somber mood of the entire company of women. Spying the lonely woman and seeking to ease her out of her depression, Noalani switched to a song that Adara had taught them last summer.

As she’d hoped Adara’s head came up as the soothing music entwined itself around her consciousness like the embrace of an old friend. Adara swayed along with the tune for a few minutes, before she joined her voice with the flute’s melodious strains and began to softly sing. Noalani encouraged the young woman by smiling around the mouth piece and nodding her head while she played.

Ride on Through the night Ride on
Ride on Through the night Ride on

There are visions, there are memories
There are echoes of thundering hooves
There are fires, there is laughter
There's the sound of a thousand doves

While her voice floated up on each note, Adara stared into the middle distance, her inner eye seeing so many scenes from happier times: She and her mate as children, and then as young lovers riding out across the mountains on a night much like this. The moon goddess had shone down her blessings as her daughters frolicked and laughed and loved.

In the velvet of the darkness
By the silhouette of silent trees
They are witnessing life's mysteries

Pony’s eyes were riveted on the woman singing. Even as she knew the words were sung to another, she vowed to make Adara’s life joyful again, whatever that took, whatever that meant. From out of nowhere came an unbidden thought, be careful what you wish for, warrior.

Cascading stars on the slumbering hills
They are dancing as far as the sea
Riding o'er the land, you can feel its gentle hand
Leading on to its destiny

Revisiting in her mind all the times she and her lover and best friend had enjoyed these same images, Xena’s heart swelled. And she chuckled at the memory of Gabrielle seeing animal shapes in the stars glittering over head. It was a dipper, anyone could see that, but if Gabrielle wanted a bear, then a bear it was and she leaned down with her lips close to her lover’s ear whispering, “It’s a bear!”

In reply, Gabrielle turned her head and lightly brushed Xena’s lips with her own. Then she settled deeper into her lover’s embrace as she let Adara’s clear beautiful voice flow over and through her.

Take me with you on this journey
Where the boundaries of time are now tossed
In cathedrals of the forest
In the words of the tongues now lost

As Ephiny looked over at her friend, her heart opened in a silent prayer. You are such a good hearted woman Pony; may you find happiness. Sometimes you don’t see what’s right in front of your face. But if Adara is who you want then may she come to love you as much as you love her.


Reflecting that the ways of love were strange; as fulfilling and pleasurable as it was, love was a force unto itself and could be devastating. Ephiny understood that this powerful emotion came from a place beyond the heart and beyond time and even beyond the gods.

Find the answers, ask the questions
Find the roots of an ancient tree
Take me dancing, take me singing
I'll ride on till the moon meets the sea

As the words drifted away, each woman sat silently caught up in her own special memories. Solari looked back to the west thinking of Calliope, Please Artemis, take care of her till I get home. I want to make memories with her. Then she wondered if Artemis could even hear her out here. Maybe their goddess, Anahita will deliver the message.


It was Gabrielle who finally broke the reverie. “That was beautiful. Thank you both for taking us out of this fearful place we’ve been in and helping us to remember there is beauty and life always.”

All the women spoke at once adding their thanks and expressions of appreciation to the two musicians. It seemed that the song had delivered its gift and as the hour was late, the women slowly moved over to their bedrolls to sleep before the final push into Adara’s valley in the morning.

“Who’s got the first watch tonight?” Xena asked. She actually knew who it was, but was hoping she was wrong.

“I do” chirped her partner.

She groaned inside. After that song, Xena wanted nothing so much as to hold her bard tight and look at the stars for a while. Maybe she could. Sliding closer to her lover and lowering her voice to an intimate level, she said.

“I’ll stand watch with you then.”

“Xena, you stood two watches last night. When do you sleep?”

“I’m not that tired and I could make the time pass faster.” She added with a suggestive lift of her eyebrows.

Glancing around to see that none of the others appeared to be listening to this exchange, Gabrielle replied, “Xena, I need to keep alert. Why do I have the feeling with you there I wouldn’t be so attentive to sentry duty?”

Shrugging her shoulders and lowering her voice even more, Xena said, “I have many skills. I could keep watch and entertain you.” She smiled and winked to emphasize her lascivious point.

“Xena I can’t do that. I need to pull my weight and set a good example for the others.”

Feigning capitulation, she said, “Okay, if that’s what you want.” Then Xena leaned in; first brushing her lips against the bard’s and then using her tongue she sought entry and kissed the woman deeply, eliciting a low moan from Gabrielle.

“Are ya sure?” Xena asked when she pulled back for a breath.

Gabrielle’s knees wanted nothing more than to buckle. Despite her youth and her feelings for Xena, she knew her duty and was determined to perform it. Pulling away as she caught her breath, the young woman tried to regain her composure.

“Nice try Warrior Princess, but no… I mean yes… I mean; I’m the queen and I don’t think…” Blowing out a breath of exasperation, she said, “Xena, I have to do this my way.”

Finally, feeling a bit more in charge of her body, she gently patted Xena’s leather-covered chest and backed away heading for the opening in the trees. At the perimeter, she turned and waved to the thwarted warrior who stood with arms akimbo and a stunned expression on her face. Then the queen disappeared around the tree line.

Turning back to her own bedroll, Xena kicked the furs in frustration.

“Problem, warrior?” Pony’s sarcastic voice was close by.

“Don’t you have anything better to do than eavesdrop?” Xena’s response was terse as she flung herself down on the bedding.

“Sor-reeee, just making conversation. What a grouch. I don’t know why she puts up with you.”

Xena didn’t bother answering. The rest of the camp was quiet. The others were already asleep or lost in their own thoughts. With her hands behind her head, Xena stared up at the stars, seeing the dipper first and hearing her bard’s voice in her mind, “…look, see it’s a bear… see there are the cute little ears…” Damn.

She flipped over on her side. In another minute she turned over on the other side. She needed to touch Gabrielle, to hold her close and breathe in the very essence of her. Flipping onto her back again, Xena expelled a huge discontented sigh and stood up.

The ever vigilant Pony whispered to her. “Can’t be away from her for a minute can you?”

“You don’t know what you’re talking about… I need to use the bushes. Go back to sleep and mind your own business.” Xena hissed back as she walked by the prone Amazon.

Suddenly repentant, Pony reached out and held Xena’s boot, “I’m sorry Xena. Sometimes making jokes is the only way I can stop this hopeless feeling.” She whispered in a voice choked with emotion.

Empathy flooded Xena, as she recalled her own intense loneliness before Gabrielle had come into her life. Leaning down so only the weapons mistress could hear her, she whispered, “S’Okay, Pony. I understand.”

Before either of the two strong women could be embarrassed by this display of perceived weakness, Xena straightened and made her escape from the slumbering women.


Gripping her staff lightly with two hands, the young queen stood with feet apart just at the edge of the trees staring intently into the distance. With the moon almost full, the valley was bathed in an eerie light that illuminated the rocky features of the trail leading to Adara’s camp. Since an intruder would be easily spotted in the twilight-like light, Gabrielle’s mind drifted.

Guard duty is so boring. I wish I had let Xena come with me. At least I’d have her to talk to or hold hands with or feel the warmth of her arms around me, her lips nibbling on my neck... whoa, down girl; we know where that leads.


Scanning the horizon and seeing nothing, Gabrielle tried distracting her self from her lascivious thoughts by inventing a story. She tried out an opening line, mouthing the words without sound, let’s see, I sing the song of Xena and the Amazon queen… no, no, no, I’m not going there tonight.


Looking to the star filled heavens for inspiration, she smile as an idea struck her, I sing of the time before the Titans came to Earth and all the gods still lived in the crystal cities in the heavens…

Careful not to disturb even a pine needle Xena stole to within ten feet of where her young lover stood unaware. Standing well back in the thick foliage, Xena had a clear view of Gabrielle in the soft moon light. She only intended to stay a few minutes to ensure the bard was safe from intruders.

Scanning the horizon from her place of concealment, Xena noted the empty landscape with a sense of comfort. All was quiet. Planning to return to her bedroll long before Ephiny relieved Gabrielle, Xena settled in for a moment’s pleasure of gazing at the woman she loved.

Smiling broadly, she watched the bard’s lips move in the silvery light, wondering what Gabrielle was saying. Probably making up a story; it’s what she usually does when she’s bored.

The simple enjoyment of watching Gabrielle swelled the warrior’s heart. Etheric light silhouetted the young woman, tantalizing the love-struck watcher. The rounded mounds and curves of the young queen’s body was an aphrodisiac. Xena’s eyes traced a loving path from graceful neck, down strong shoulders and back, over slightly swelled hips and compact buttocks to shapely tanned legs that disappeared into leather boots at mid-calf.

Xena’s passion grew as she drank in the vision that was Gabrielle. Larger and larger the feeling grew as her heart opened in a fruitless attempt to contain the boundless emotion. Standing so close to the woman she loved, wave upon wave of intense desire flooded the warrior’s chest spreading down into her belly. She felt herself getting wet. Staggered by the effect this incredible woman had on her, Xena literally shook with arousal.

Oh, oh, not the right time or place for this.

Aware of the dangers of a tryst with Gabrielle when they were so close to enemy country, and having assured her self that Gabrielle was safe, Xena reluctantly decided to return to her bedroll. Turning too quickly, she was sabotaged by desire spinning out of control, and stepped on a dry twig, snapping it cleanly.

Instantly alert, the hairs on the back of Gabrielle’s neck stood up. Having the distinct feeling she was being watched, every nerve ending on her skin began tingling as she assessed the situation.

That sounded close.

She felt the presence of another being near by. Whether animal or human she didn’t know. Almost certain the sound had come from behind her, she peered into the trees but saw nothing.

Maybe I’m wrong. Sounds can be deceptive at night.

Scanning the open valley floor from north to south and back revealed nothing out of the ordinary. Still, the feeling of being watched persisted.

Quietly, Gabrielle moved around the trees. At the edge of their forested retreat, she looked out in all directions. The eastern horizon stood out clearly in the moonlight; nothing moved. Unerringly she turned back toward the wayward warrior’s hiding place.

Separated from the bard by only a couple of feet, Xena cursed herself for a fool. With few alternatives, she waited to see how good the bard was; maybe she could escape undetected.

How wrong she was. She’d trained Gabrielle herself and the bard was an apt and eager student.

Gabrielle stopped. I know I heard something. I need to shut out what my eyes are telling me.

Breathing deeply once, she expelled the air and then with eyes closed to eliminate unwanted visual stimuli she allowed the night sounds and smells to filter into her senses. Slowly, she felt her senses expand as Xena had taught her. The light evening breeze kissed her skin. She sipped a small breath of air identifying the various smells invading her nose and mouth; pine, mulch, musk, cinnamon… What’s this? Cinnamon and musk? A small knowing smile crept over her lips. She identified it as her lover’s distinctive scent.

“Are you there Xena?” She spoke quietly into the darkened trees before her.

Facing Xena’s hiding place, she tilted her head to the side sniffing the air again. The scent was unmistakable. She was certain Xena was close at hand.



Damn, damn, damn. Xena flattened her body against the trunk, waiting, watching and looking for an opportunity to slip away.

Less certain now, Gabrielle looked behind her. She saw only the empty plain bathed in moonlight. Then she peered back into the thick branches trying in vain to make out shapes in the filtered moon light. Her lover’s scent was still there, but less distinct now. Although her quarry had moved, she was certain Xena had been there.

“Xena, I know you’re here. Quit fooling around. You’re scaring me.” Gabrielle spoke softly but with an urgency bordering on fear.

At that very moment, strong arms slipped around the smaller woman, one hand covering her mouth so that the rest of the camp wasn’t awakened. Gabrielle was rigid with fear until familiar lips next to her ear whispered, “Looking for me?”

Relief quickly turned to anger as the young woman spun free, landing a sharp smack with her staff to Xena’s upper arm.

“Just what in Tartarus do you think you’re doing Xena?” Gabrielle spoke quietly but the ire was obvious as she enunciated each word.

Rubbing the sore spot on her arm, an abashed Warrior Princess had the grace to look repentant as she attempted to explain sneaking up on the bard like that. “Ummm, I just… ummm, just wanted to see how you were getting along.”

Gabrielle was having none of it. “Well, the way to approach a sentry on watch is to announce yourself, not skulk around in the bushes.”

“I don’t skulk.” Xena quickly defended.

“Oh yeah, then what do you call hiding in the dark spying on someone without their knowledge.”

Unwilling to admit the depth of her need for Gabrielle, Xena tried for the middle ground.

“I couldn’t sleep.”

“Well, you hardly gave yourself a chance to get to sleep. I’ve been out here less than a candle mark. You were checking on me Xena, thinking I can’t take care of myself, not treating me as an equal. We’ve had this discussion over and …” the bard was warming to her favorite topic and gaining a head of steam heading into a full blown argument.

Xena needed to close this avenue off before it escalated and the only way to do that she realized was the truth. Defeated, she spoke softly.

“That’s not it, Gabrielle. Not it at all.” She stopped and blew out a breath.

That simple act of resignation stopped the bard’s flow of words. “Then what is, it?” she asked one hand on her hip the other grasping her staff.

Looking first to the moon for inspiration, Xena almost heard Artemis gloating, her voice taunting the warrior in her mind, Yes, what is it Warrior Princess? Let’s see you be honest with her. You wanted her, now be worthy of it, because I will always welcome her.

Oh shut up, Artemis.


Having never been able to express her deeper feelings easily, Xena did what she’d always done. She took a breath and began at the beginning.

“Well, I couldn’t sleep,” she stated and held up a hand to forestall Gabrielle’s objection. “Please, let me say this, okay.”

All vestiges of anger gone now, Gabrielle sensed her lover’s struggle to speak her heart. Placing her arms around Xena’s waist to encourage her, she relented, but wasn’t going to do it for her, so she said simply, “Okay.”

Relieved and encouraged, Xena touched Gabrielle’s cheek, tracing the bone over to her ear and down the rounded jaw line. Clearing her throat, she tried to find words that would explain without revealing the ache in her heart, without giving away her fears.

“I couldn’t sleep, that’s true. I saw your bear in the sky and it made me think of us alone together… of all the times we lay looking at the stars. I knew… I mean, ummm, I just needed to see you. Okay? I just wanted to see you.”

Raising her arms in a gesture of surrender, Xena stopped talking.

Realizing this was as close to a declaration of love as she was likely to hear from the stoic woman, Gabrielle relented and laid her head on the warrior’s chest. They stood as one for several moments; Xena resting her face against Gabrielle’s golden hair. Finally, the bard leaned back and planted a delicate kiss on her lover’s mouth.

“Thank you, Xena. I know that was from the heart.”

Relieved, Xena smiled at her lover. “Let me stand watch with you. I promise to behave.” She stood back and struck her chest with a closed fist in a mock Amazon salute.

Gabrielle laughed lightly. “Okay, you win.”

Xena smiled again and kissed the bard once more, chastely, before becoming all business. “Okay, let’s walk the perimeter and meet back here.”

When Ephiny arrived to relieve the queen two candle marks later, she smiled at the sight. The two stood as one, Gabrielle wrapped in the warrior’s embrace, both looking out onto the moonlit plain.

                                                *          *          *          *          *         


CHAPTER 11 – You Can’t Go Home Again


For the first time in days the warriors rode, their bodies sliding forward in their saddles, as they descended into what had been Adara’s home. Rounding the outcropping of boulders where the village sentry post had been, Xena called a halt.

Dismounting, all the women gathered around the queen and Xena to be assigned their tasks. As leader of the team, Xena spoke to the waiting Amazons.

“Adara, is this the guard post you told us about?”

Her golden eyes shuttered, she nodded and then spoke. “Yes, they were killed up there.”

Xena would have loved to have the eastern woman come up to the sentry post with them, but she knew looking down on the village would break her. In an act of kindness, she decided against it for now. If needed, they could return later.

“Okay, would you watch the horses? Pony and Solari, you’re with me. We’ll take a look up there. Ephiny, take the rest, fan out below the guard post and see what you can find. We’ll meet back here and compare notes. Then we’ll all go into the village together.

Turning, she quickly ascended the rocks. The two Amazon women were close behind her. They found the remains of the guards exactly where Adara had described them. What was left of the bodies looked like little more than pieces of bone scattered around. The scavengers had done their job well.

After crouching down to examine the remains, Xena stood and looked to the camp below. She had an unobstructed view of the village and the carnage done. Beyond the edge of camp was an open plain. How could these sentries not have seen an army coming?

Then she looked uphill the way they’d just come. Higher up, it was heavily wooded yes, but not near the guard post. Here it was cleared for a good fifty yards to the nearest tree. An intruder would have been plainly visible.

Shaking her head as if to clear her mind, she contemplated how this might have played out.

“How could these guards been caught unaware.” Xena mused aloud.

“I’m wondering the same thing,” Pony said. “You can see forever up here.”

“If the guards were somehow taken out first, then a small strike force could have flanked the camp on foot. After initiating the attack, then the rest could have come barreling in on horseback.” Solari offered her opinion pointing to the edges of the camp below.

Then she too looked up hill wondering, “But how in Hades did they get to the guard post unseen.”

“That’s what’s bothering me,” Xena said. “To do this, the attack had to be coordinated. So I’m wondering if these animals have some way of camouflaging themselves. I can’t imagine soldiers the size Adara has described being able to sneak up on these sentries, can you?”

Pony concurred. “No, Amazon sentries are better trained than that. Not much escapes notice.”

Xena continued to scan the enclosure while the two Amazons discussed the possibility that they were dealing with invisible foes, a thought that did nothing to encourage their confidence in defeating this army.

“We’re going to need the help of the goddess if these animals can’t be seen.” Solari said.

Sniffing at the contents of a water skin, Xena nodded absently in agreement.

“We’re going to need all the help we can get. Ummm, nothing in this skin but water. I’d hoped that perhaps, the guards had been enjoying the mid-summer celebration.” She added as she tossed the vessel to the ground.

Pony quickly defended Amazon perimeter guards the world over. “No Xena, the guards at festivals are even more alert than usual. We always post volunteers, and of those, we take only the most seasoned. They wouldn’t have had a drink until they’d been relieved. According to Adara, it was early in the evening. So no, these guards would’ve been the best and fully alert.”

“Too bad!” Xena responded. “Okay let’s look around above this post.”

Stooping, intensely scanning the ground around the enclosure, the three women moved in an ever widening arc from the lookout post. Suddenly Xena crouched down peering intently at a small hole in the ground.

Seeing Xena, the other two hurried to her side.

“You find something?” Pony asked.

“What do you make of this hole?”

“Well, whatever it is, it’s too small for anything human to have come out of.” Solari said before turning to her friend who had gone deathly quiet. “What?”

“I found one over here too.” Pony said moving back to where she’d been looking.

After examining Pony’s find, they spread out again soon discovering three more of the same small round holes going deep into the ground.

“I want to hear your opinions. You’re both trackers.” Xena said.

Pony ticked off what they knew on her fingers.

“They’re too small for a gopher or ground squirrel. Insects live in the ground, but that’s ridiculous. There are only a few holes.”

Skeptical Solari spoke. “Well it could be nothing; a coincidence. On the other hand, there’s something about them that bothers me. I can’t put my finger on it.”

“Same here.” Pony agreed looking to Xena for her impressions.

“Okay, here’s what’s bothering me. Look at how the five spots line up.”

Three heads swiveled in the same direction scanning the positions.

“They seem like they’re surrounding the guard post.” Pony observed.

“And this is the only place we find them.” Xena added. “So given we’re dealing with something we don’t understand, then I have to conclude that this is important to what happened here. I just don’t know how it fits in; yet.”

Deciding that they’d seen all there was to see, they descended to the others.

There wasn’t much additional information to be gleaned from the lower area. All that had been discovered were huge boot prints below the rocks and then evidence of Adara and the children passing through there. It seemed likely that they had missed running into the marauders by inches.

Xena nodded as each woman reported her findings. Looking with compassion at Adara, she spoke. “Let’s check out the camp then.”

Pony moved nearer the beautiful woman who looked stoically ahead.

Leading their horses, they moved through the trees and down into the decimated village.

In fact, there wasn’t much left to see. Charred circles scattered about indicated where lodgings had once stood. Fanning out they entered the compound. Each woman was lost in her own thoughts as the complete and utter destruction of the eastern Amazon tribe hit them.

The main campfire had burned outside of its ring and the ash there was immense. It wasn’t difficult for the women to determine that the Amazon dead had been tossed there in a heap and ignited.

Adara slowly walked to the edge of the dust and cinders. She knelt down just outside the circle. Her bowed head and flowing tears confirmed this was the final resting place of her tribe. Pony had been watching the woman’s every move and seeing the tears, went to her. She knelt down next to Adara and pulled the pliant and unresisting woman into her arms.

Finally, after all these weeks, the force of the emotional dam she had been holding in burst. Throwing back her head, Adara wailed out her grief, shattering the quiet. It was the sound of a wounded animal in more pain that its soul could contain.

Scattering before the onslaught, birds in the surrounding trees took flight. Without any self-consciousness at all, the woman screamed out her agony and loss to the heavens. Pony held her like a wounded bird, rubbing circles on her back, and crooning meaningless words of comfort.

As each gut wrenching cry broke free, Adara’s tormented mind silently shrieked in concert, Nooooo! Tynet, Tynet please don’t be dead… you can’t be gone… You’re my heart, my soul… please, please, please... Pouring out the pain she’d held in check for so long, the woman finally came face to face with the devastating truth. Tynet was gone and she would now walk a lonely solitary path. The endless days and nights stretched in front of her mind’s eye like a gaping hole piercing her heart to its core.

Holding the broken woman in her arms, Pony lamented that she didn’t have some magical cure for the pain in Adara’s heart. The weapons mistress shook as the grieving woman convulsed in her arms. With each new surge of grief released from Adara’s throat, Pony wondered at the amount of pain this woman had held inside for weeks.

On and on surged the unrelenting agony. Just when it seemed as if it would never stop, the sobbing began to subside to be replaced by soft mewling and unsteady panting as the woman struggled for air. Finally even the tiny whimpers stopped. Only Adara’s ragged breathing, as she tried to calm down, broke the quiet.

Feeling boneless and oddly cleansed after the outpouring of grief, the broken woman began to take stock. It was then she noted that the sharp pain that had lived inside her since the night of the attack had receded to a dull ache. Tynet, my love, help me get through this.


The short prayer seemed to help soothe her and a certain peace calmed her mind. Now, she knew exactly what she had to do. Her lover had been taken from her yes, but the danger still remained. Her children and others were relying on their success. It was as if she could hear Tynet comforting her. Adara, together we will defeat this menace. I haven’t left you. I would never leave you. Until the day of your own journey to the land of the dead, I will be by your side and on that day, I will again hold you in my arms.

Someone pushed a clean cloth into her shaking hands. She looked up to see the concerned face of Pony peering worriedly at her. Managing a weak smile, Adara blew her nose and struggled to compose herself.

“Thank you.” She said with difficulty.

Looking into the ashes beyond the woman holding her close, Adara bade a final silent, loving farewell to the light in her life. She cleared her throat offering a wan smile to the kind hearted woman who had offered her friendship.

“Pony, you’ve been a dear friend.”

“I, ummm… is there anything I can do?”

“No, there’s nothing; you’ve been kind. It just hit me… you know; hit me that it’s real.” Adara swallowed around the burning in her throat as she spoke.

“I knew you shouldn’t have come.” Pony said; her face a mask of self-reproach. “I would have done anything to spare you this.”

Adara sought to ease the guilt she saw in the weapons mistress’s face.

“Pony, I needed to come. I would have always held out hope… hope that I’d not seen clearly that night. Now, I know. I know and I can go on. Now I will avenge my Tynet. She is lost to me, but I will see to it that she did not die in vain.” Adara’s voice and determination grew with each passing moment. It was as if with acceptance came inner strength.

Pony nodded. “You’re a very strong woman. I’ve never met anyone stronger.”

The others, rocked by the outpouring of grief, had moved away to examine their surroundings and give the women some privacy. Without discussion, they each began searching the camp for signs of the invading army. It was immediately clear that the area had not been visited since the night of the attack.

Joining each other at the eastern edge of the camp, Gabrielle took Xena’s hand in hers. “Gods, it’s so hard to see Adara crumble like this.”

Glancing back toward the central fire pit, Xena could see that the worst of Adara’s anguish had finally subsided to hiccupping and ragged breathing. Even from here, she could see that the woman’s normally dusky complexion looked pale and her golden eyes red-rimmed and haunted.

“I know Gabrielle. I’ve been expecting it. And it’s the best thing that could happen. Now she can heal. She would never have been able to accept Tynet’s death without coming here. I’m glad we brought her.”

Breathlessly jogging over to the two women, Solari excitedly pointed southeast and said, “I’ve found the trail. It’s clear as a Roman highway. The bastards figured no one would be following.”

Both Ephiny and Noalani joined them as Solari finished. Compassion written on their faces, all five of them looked over to the fire pit unsure how to proceed now.

Feeling the eyes of the others on them, Pony rose offering her hand to Adara. Gratefully accepting it, she got to her feet slowly. Drawing in a final cleansing breath, she straightened and said to her friend.

“I’m ready. Let’s join the others.”

“Are you sure? You’ve been through a lot. Take as much time as you need.” Pony protested.

“Thank you again, Pony. But we have much to do now. At least a dozen Amazons, including my own birth mother, were taken captive. If there is any hope of saving them, then there is no more time to waste. It’s time to go.”

As they joined the others on the eastern edge of the village, they caught the last of Xena’s comments.

“… and since there’s nothing left to salvage here, we need to find some place where we can restock. I hate to waste time, but there’s nothing else to do. We can’t go into the desert without food and water.”

Her voice thick and raw, Adara said. “There may be something left Xena. The soldiers were intent on killing and burning. They took few spoils. Our hidden stores may still be untouched.”

Xena was very interested. “Stores? You had supplies not kept in the camp?”

“Yes, our winter food, extra weapons, some furs and blankets. It’s over in the rocks below the guard station.” Adara said as she pointed back across the compound indicating a huge mound of tumbled boulders.

Six other heads turned the direction she indicated. “I don’t see a thing,” Noalani said.

“That’s the idea,” replied Adara. “Follow me, I’ll show you.”

The women moved as one back in the direction they’d come. When they were almost to the rocky jumble, Adara turned to the right and went behind the pile of rock and dirt. She smiled when she saw what she was seeking. Stopping in front of a landslide of dirt, grass and small rocks, Adara nodded.

Xena was the first to recognize what they were looking at. “Brilliant,” she exclaimed in admiration and respect.

Adara unlatched a secret catch and Xena pulled back the rock slide to reveal a hidden cavern within. What appeared to be a slide, had in fact, been a door. The rocks and other debris were cleverly affixed to the wood and deer hide door with tallow wax to create the illusion of meaningless rubble.

Adara lit a torch near the entrance and shone the light around the interior. It was clear that no human had been inside for almost a moon. There was evidence that some smaller rodents had taken up residence. Nuts and dried corn littered the floor. When the tribe was in residence, traps were set and small scavengers dispatched without fanfare. Now it seemed the local mouse population had discovered the Elysian Fields on earth.

“Damn, we could have used those nuts.” Solari observed. After two weeks on the trail, the more tasty supplies were completely gone leaving only a small amount of dried jerky and corn meal cakes.

“Even after the long winter we had, I think we can find plenty left to restock seven women,” Adara replied. “Most food is kept in sealed clay jars. Looks like the mice knocked a couple over, but there are more.”

Xena began issuing orders.

“Okay, everyone, let’s refill our saddle bags and gather enough food for a week at least. Load up the pack animals with the additional weapons.”

“What about water?” Xena asked.

“We have a spring on the north side of the camp. The spring comes from the rocks, hard to despoil.”

Another thought occurred to Xena and she asked, “Adara, is there oil in here?”

“Yes, those two jars hold all the cooking oil we collected during the season. There should be some left.”

“Good take those jars too.” and then she asked, “What else is there that we might need?”

“These will be invaluable if the trail leads to the desert.” Adara replied, holding up a white robe in one hand and long white scarves in the other.

“It does,” replied Solari. “I saw their trail. It leads out of the mountains to the southeast.”

“Then, everyone will need to take desert attire, robes, head coverings and scarves for the face. The sun and wind are merciless out there. You don’t want to expose much skin to the elements. Death comes quickly in the desert lands.” Adara warmed to her role explaining to the other women how to live and survive in the desert.

“You heard her. Everyone find something to cover your self and meet outside on the east side of the village. We’ll eat and then head out. I want to follow the trail while there’s still light.” Xena said, issuing the orders.

While the rest of the women were searching through the pile of clothing, Pony moved over next to Xena and spoke in a low tone. “Xena, I think Adara might need a bit more time to adjust.”

“Pony, we don’t have time. If there’s a chance to find any of the prisoners alive, then we need to move out, now. Get yourself outfitted and meet us outside.” Xena’s curt answer stung the weapons mistress.

Glowering, Pony was ready to snap back a retort, when she felt a hand on her arm.

“Xena is right Pony. We need to help the others. My own mother may be among them. And I’m all right now.”

Pulling her dour look away from Xena, Pony graced Adara with an adoring smile, “You sure?” she asked.

The beautiful woman nodded once. “Very sure,” she said simply handing the weapons mistress a full set of robes and head gear.

                                                *                      *                      *                      *

CHAPTER 12 – Know Thine Enemy

They’d been tracking the red army for over five candle marks. The further east they rode, the hotter it had become. After leaving the cool mountains behind, empty barren land lay before them for as far as the eye could see. Not a tree had gained a foothold in the inhospitable environment.

As they had been exposed to the relentless sun for some time, Xena called a halt and ordered everyone to don the robes and head coverings over the skimpy Amazon leathers. The relief from the blazing sun was immediate.

Ephiny had voiced her opinion that in such hostile conditions they’d soon run out of water. Adara’s worth as a member of the raiding party became evident as she directed them to hidden springs along the way.

It was nearing night fall when the trail they followed took a sharp turn eastward directly into the desert. With Gabrielle riding at her side, Xena led the small band of women. Her keenly honed night vision made following the army child’s play. The fact that they’d done nothing to disguise their route indicated an arrogance that Xena hoped to exploit.

“We don’t want to turn east. I know where we’re headed, Xena,” Adara said as her horse came abreast of the warrior and queen.

Xena looked over at the eastern Amazon. She could hardly believe the transformation of the woman. In a matter of candle marks, she’d gone from tentative grieving widow always on the verge of tears, to competent warrior whose face gave no sign of emotion.

“Where?” Xena asked.

“Just ahead are sandstone cliffs. Below them is the desert floor. It’s where we celebrate our spring rituals. It’s an excellent place to house an army. There is much space on the desert floor and no way to come directly over the cliffs without being seen. And there is water, several good springs in fact. And I know more than one way down.”

Staring into the distance, Xena asked, “How far ahead?”

“Not too far; less than a mile.”

“What about cover?”

“There’s good cover on the cliffs above, but we’ll need to be silent when we’re close. They’ll be able to hear us if they’re camped directly below the cliffs. We can set up an outpost just over there. There’s a small spring and plenty of rocks and crevices to conceal us.” She pointed further south to a rocky outcropping.

“Okay.” Xena raised her hand calling a stop.

When all the women were gathered around, Xena related what Adara had told her. Then she added, “I’m taking Adara to check out the army. The rest of you set up a cold camp over in those boulders.”

Pony cast a discontented look at Xena, clearly hurt to be excluded, but said nothing.


Appearing to take no notice of Pony, Xena rode off with Adara toward the cliffs. They rode at a slow pace maintaining silence. When they were about a hundred yards from the precipice, Adara pulled up on Mahtab’s reins and dismounted. She waited silently until Xena had also dismounted and had moved closer before she spoke.

“We’ll leave the horses here.”

After bending to put a loose hobble on Mahtab to prevent the grey horse from following her, Adara then stood and looked expectantly at Xena.

With Argo, it was only necessary to let the intelligent animal know what was expected of her.

“Stay with Mahtab, girl.”

With a nod to Adara that she was ready, the two women moved quickly toward the cliffs. Flattening themselves to the hard earth when they reached the edge, they peered out over the army encampment below. Both women stifled groans when they saw the size of the force. Tents and evening cook fires spread out for a great distance.

“Must be several hundred of them,” Xena commented in a hushed breath. “Great place for an army camp too; sheer cliffs on this side, so they only need to defend from the east.”

Fluttering in the light evening breeze was their military banner. The army’s banner, bearing sinister images of red scorpions racing across a field of black, left no doubt as to the purpose of this army. They meant to move with stealth, strike fast, and kill with venom.  It was an army of death.

Suspended from a tall pole, the flag flew over a large opulent tent in the center of the encampment. It reminded Xena of the lavish pavilions she’d seen some of the nomads use, colorful with streamers and gleaming metal coat of arms near the tent flap. Clearly this was the headquarters of their leader, as all other lodgings paled by comparison in both size and richness.

Xena’s eyes moved over the tableau below her assessing the enemy’s strength and weaknesses. Unfortunately, she didn’t immediately see many of those. Finally, near the southern boundary she spotted a large enclosure made of wooden poles driven into the sand. It looked like what it was; a jail for holding prisoners. It was also the first positive sight she’d seen, as its proximity to the edge of camp might make it possible to communicate with the captives without being caught.

Lastly, she saw a large open area, near the slave pen. The ground was beaten into a smooth flat ring. It was discolored and darker than the surrounding sand. It looked to Xena like blood had been spilled there. She understood the military mentality, the need to make an example of misbehaving soldiers or captives. She’d also seen such a spot used for sport, where two or more soldiers faced off to show off their fighting skills or worse, where prisoners were tormented and killed for entertainment.

She was certain she was looking at just such an area and it sickened her that some of these women may have died on that spot. Her suspicions of the area’s multiple uses were confirmed when she spotted two stout posts with hanging leather restraints near one edge of the circle.

Dragging her attention back to the cliff they lay on, Xena asked herself, “How in Hades did they get down there?”

“There are only two trails near here wide enough for horses and gear, Xena.” Adara whispered back.

“And those will be heavily guarded; so there goes the element of surprise.” Xena quietly observed.

Adara smiled at her companion. “Not necessarily. Follow me,” she said.

Still on their stomachs, they backed away from the cliff before they stood. Adara signaled for Xena to follow as she led them south along the high drop-off. Hunched over in their white desert attire, they were hard to see in the moon light.

After jogging for a quarter of a mile, she pulled to a stop near a small non-descript crevice. A rider passing this spot would never even think to stop and examine this small crack in the rocks. Both women again approached the cliff’s edge on their bellies.

Peeking over the side, they noted they were positioned just at the southern perimeter of the base. Xena smiled placing her hand on Adara’s shoulder to get her attention.

“Is this the way down?”

“Yes, it’s only narrow here at the top; wide enough for one woman at a time. About ten feet down there’s a wide flat area and a depression in the stone wall. It’s not quite a cave, but from below it’s virtually invisible. Seven women could easily take refuge there. And there’s lots of tumbled boulders and rock to hide a small invading force as they climbed down. No one knows of this secret passage, except the women in my tribe. Follow me.”

Quickly, Adara slid over the rim feet first and out of sight. Drawing her breast dagger, Xena followed. She wasn’t so sure that the way was undiscovered. However, once in the crevice, she placed the knife between her teeth, needing both hands and feet to lower herself down the narrow shoot formed by the fissure in the rocks. Within a short way, her feet dangled free and she heard Adara whisper.

“It’s only a foot. You can drop.”

With no more hesitation, Xena let go, landing with a small thump next to the eastern woman. She remained stooped over slightly as the ceiling in the small depression was slightly lower than her head. Xena looked around with approval. The rubble from the landslide that had created the depression provided a natural barrier from prying eyes below.

“Yes, this is perfect. I wonder why they haven’t discovered this and posted a guard. If I was running this operation, I sure would have,” she commented to the Amazon woman.

“Many times Xena, men will underestimate the skills and strength of a woman. They think because most men wouldn’t fit through there, it’s not worth their trouble. I doubt they even thought to look in the first place.” Adara said and then continued.

“As you can see, from here it’s a short way to the bottom. If there’s a sentry down there, we’ll see him before he sees us. Shall we take a closer look? Maybe we can see the prisoners better.” Adara said as she looked longingly toward the captives in the pen hoping for a glimpse of one of her tribal sisters.

From their vantage point only one woman was visible moving about the inside edge of the pen, as the others hunched over their evening meal. To Adara’s eyes, the pacing woman looked like a caged animal. Adara didn’t recognize the woman, but knew it wasn’t a member of her tribe.

As she watched, a smaller dark woman came to the uneasy one, touching her arm, seeming to plead with her. It was too far away to hear their words. Finally, the smaller woman must have convinced the other to come back to the group, because she shrugged lowering her shoulders in defeat and allowed the smaller woman to lead her away from the fence.

“No, there’s too much activity in the camp right now. We’ll come back later when things have settled in for the night. Let’s get back to the others now and let them know what we’ve found.”

With a sigh of regret, Adara nodded her assent. She went to stand under the fissure and waited for Xena, who cupped her hands into a step for the eastern woman. Pushing herself up, Adara grabbed the rocky face on both sides and scrambled to the surface. Xena’s greater height allowed her to follow unaided.

Quickly and quietly, they returned to their horses and rode back to the others.


Just as Adara had promised, the boulders provided perfect cover for the Amazons to set up camp. In no time, their meager outpost was ready. Ephiny took charge, asking the women gathered to take inventory of their new supplies.

Despondent and needing to be alone, Pony settled near the entrance to their hideout, waiting for the scouts to return. Seeing the woman looking so lost and alone, Gabrielle couldn’t help but go to her.

“Hi Pony.” She said by way of opening a conversation.

“My Queen,” was the terse response.

Oh great another stoic warrior. Why do I always have to deal with the ones who hate to talk, she asked herself. “Pony please, we’ve been traveling together for too long to stand on ceremony.”

Sighing, Pony looked at her queen and offered an olive branch. “I’m sorry Gabrielle. I guess I’m just a little worried.” Then just as quickly she faced back toward the empty desert night.

Gabrielle tried again. “I know you care very much for Adara…”

Before she could finish her thought, Pony spun around, her anger evident. “What did Xena say to you? I knew she couldn’t keep her mouth shut.”

“Pony, she didn’t say anything. It’s not really a secret from any of us that you’d die for Adara. It’s clear by the way you look after her.”

“Great, now everyone knows what a fool I am.”

“No one thinks anything of the kind. It’s not foolish to fall in love. I understand what you’re feeling. And I also know Xena is not trying to hurt you or put Adara in undue danger. She’s trying to find a balance. If there are any survivors, they need our help sooner rather than later.”

Blowing out a huge frustrated breath, Pony relented. “I know it, Gabrielle. I’m sorry. I can’t seem to help but worry about her… and I,… I’d just like for it all to go away.”

Putting a comforting hand on the weapons mistress’s arm, the queen replied, “Don’t we all? Don’t we all?”


The scouting party returned in less than a candle mark. By the pained looks on their faces it was clear the news was not good. After dismounting, they joined the others and Xena explained the circumstances.

“Well, it’s a good news and bad news situation. We took only a cursory look before coming back here, but we were able to pick out a large pen where thirty or more women are housed. Based on what Adara saw the night of the attack, there are more women than were taken from her village. Fortunately, the cage is near the southern boundary, so with some luck and stealth, we’ll be able to get close.”

She took a breath before delivering the bad news.

“On the down side, it’s a big army, bigger than I expected. Hard to tell at night how many soldiers but their cook fires spread out over the desert for quite a distance; there’re a few hundred fighters, at least. We’ll know more in the morning.

“A few hundred…” Noalani gasped. It was all she could think to say, the disbelief was evident in her tone. The others nodded their heads in silent agreement as the fear and futility overwhelmed them.

Immediately, Gabrielle stepped in to bolster their spirits. “We’re Amazons. Yes, the tasks ahead of us are formidable and the odds against us are overwhelming but we're going to do this and we'll win.  Do you understand?” She looked at them sternly, taking hold of each woman’s eyes until every one of them had seen the fire and determination in their queen’s face.

Each woman wore an expression of shame on her face. They were Amazons born and bred; taught from childhood to be fearless in their harsh world. To die in the defense of an Amazon sister was the highest glory.

From the start of this journey, they had dispensed with protocol at Gabrielle’s request, but now as a group they responded as one to their queen’s call to honor by striking their chests with closed fists. It was Noalani who replied.

“Forgive me my queen. I will gladly give my life if needed to defeat this menace.” She knelt on one knee before Gabrielle with her head bent in supplication.

Placing her hand on the shoulder of the kneeling woman, Gabrielle lifted her to her feet before responding.

“As I’ve said at the beginning of this mission, we are equals here. I am your queen yes, but here and now I am also your friend. My name is Gabrielle and you will all honor me by addressing me as a friend, by using my name.” She used virtually the same words she had spoken their first night on the trail, when one too many ‘my queen’ had set her teeth on edge.

Continuing in a softer tone, she said, “I feel fear too. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. Real courage is doing what we have to in the face of our fears. It is that kind of courage that gives us an edge that these mercenaries do not have.”

She paused for breath smiling with affection on these brave young women before continuing. “All right, on this mission, Xena is our leader, so let’s hear what she has in mind.”

When each woman acknowledged Gabrielle’s words with a nod, the queen looked to her lover with absolute confidence.

“Okay, Xena, what’s the plan?”

Six heads turned toward the stalwart warrior waiting for Xena to unfold her plan. Each one was quiet, their fears subjugated to their Amazon pride.

Ever the mistress of the blank but self-assured expression, Xena exuded confidence even though she knew she had no plan. She had random thoughts and pieces floating around in her head. It was typical warrior princess strategy, find the enemy and design a plan on the fly.

She’d been thinking of options while traveling over the mountains, but still needed too much information. They needed to scout the layout of the Red Scorpion Army encampment more thoroughly and observe them in the light of day to determine any weaknesses. She wanted confirmation from highly trained warriors like Ephiny, Solari and Pony. Pony’s assessment especially, would be invaluable, assuming she could buckle down and get past her need to protect the beautiful easterner.

“We need more weapons and more soldiers. Seven women won’t stop this army, no matter how talented you are.” Xena explained the reality of the situation to them. “That doesn’t mean we won’t try. It just means we need…”

“I can help,” Adara interrupted. “I know something of the desert peoples. We’ve traded with them for many years. I can go to them and ask for their aid.”

“Adara, how well do you know them? Do you really think they’ll help you?”

“Tynet is…” Adara caught herself. “Tynet was known all across the desert. She trained magnificent horses and all the desert chieftains wanted her highly trained mares and stallions. Animals responded to her command and touch. She never resorted to a whip and the desert people admired that. She took great care with her horses and made sure those she traded with respected them the same way she did. I traveled with her on many trading missions and came to know many of the tribal chiefs.”

Listening intently, the warrior was dumbfounded. The desert tribes were well known for keeping their horses’ blood lines pure, only trading animals with their own people. How I would have loved to have met this woman, she thought in awe of Tynet’s many skills.

Incredulous, Xena asked, “Tynet traded horses with the desert chiefs?”

“Yes,” the golden eyed woman responded. “Tynet traded her horses with the leaders of several of the most powerful tribes. The chiefs never sold their horses outside the tribe. It was forbidden. Their horses were well cared for and sometimes bred with a special mare or stallion belonging to another tribe. The Chieftains kept detailed records of all their horses and could go back through the lines for generation upon generation. But they never traded horses outside the tribes, until they met Tynet.”

The rest of the women were wrapped up in the telling as she continued her story, “When we were first joined, Tynet found a young colt wandering in the desert. She raised him with her gentle hand and trained him into a prized stallion. He was so perfect in every way. The stallion responded to her every command and wish. He was the most beautiful and fastest horse in our herd.

“We rode into the desert looking for Kadar, leader of one of the most powerful desert tribes, to sell some of her horses. His warriors found us and brought us to his tent. Kadar recognized the bloodlines of the colt. He told Tynet this was one of the lost sons of his best breeding mare who had died two winters before in a bad storm. They thought both the mare and the colt had been lost in the storm.

“Tynet was torn. She didn’t want to part with him, but she knew the bloodlines of our own horses needed to be strengthened with those of the Arabians, so she made a gallant sacrifice and gave the horse to Kadar. He gave her in return a pregnant mare for our own herd. Forever after this, she was the only person the desert tribes would trade horses with outside their own peoples. She learned how to keep records of all her horses the same way they did.”

“Just as the chieftains did, Tynet could always go back to her records and know any one of her horses’ history; sire, mare, grandparents and who she had traded an animal to.” Adara continued, her yellow eyes glowing and her high cheekbones flushed as she relived the beautiful memories of her time with Tynet.

Pony watched her from under heavy lids. She couldn’t help but admire Adara’s fire and she understood something more of the magnificence that was her mate.

Xena interrupted the reverie of both women with a succinct, “Do you know how to find this Kadar?”

“Yes, I think so. If I’m right I can reach their encampment in eight or nine candle marks. Maybe less if Mahtab is up to it.”

“Does Kadar have any influence with the other chieftains?”

“His name means Powerful One. He’s a great leader among the desert tribes.”

“Will he send his soldiers? Could you convince him?” The words tumbled out as Xena saw a ray of hope for the small group of seven women.

“When I tell him what has happened and that Tynet was killed, I believe he will help.” Adara responded quickly.

Knowing she was pushing, Xena asked the impossible of this incredible Amazon. “How soon can you ride? Time is of the essence.”

“I’ll leave at once. I should be there by dawn.”

“Then go. We need Kadar’s and the chieftains’ help.” Xena said as Adara moved to Mathab’s side preparing to mount.

“Xena, I think my mother, Isaura, was one of the prisoners taken. If you get to her, please tell her, her grandchildren are safe.” Adara added.

“I will,” Xena replied squeezing her shoulder.

“Thank you.” Adara was a woman with a mission and proclaimed, “I’ll return before the moon is high in two days. Now, I need to ride.”

“Wait!” The word was out before Pony could stop it. “You’re going now, tonight, when you’ve been in the saddle all day? Your horse needs rest.”

“Mathab is an Arabian. She can run for days. But tonight, I’ll pace her.”

“Please, at least let me go with you.” Pony’s voice was frantic with worry.

Adara placed her hand on Pony’s arm seeking to calm her. “This is something I can do for all of us. The night is the best time to cross the desert sands.” She stopped, gracing Pony with a warm heartfelt smile before continuing, “And you, my friend, are needed here.”

Before Pony could protest further, Adara swung up into the saddle. With an Amazon salute to the other’s she rode out into the night. Stunned, Pony stared after her.

Clapping a hand on Pony’s shoulder, Xena tried to reassure her. “She’ll be all right. She knows the desert and these people.”

Pulling the woman’s attention to the job at hand, Xena said, “I need your help, Pony. Are you with me?”

Forcing her eyes from the desert, Pony looked at Xena, nodding her understanding.

“We need to get to the prisoners and see if they can fight. If so, we’ll need to supply them with weapons just before our attack. Our only hope is surprise. I need more information before we can plan that. You, Solari and I are going on a little reconnaissance mission.”

Turning back to the other three, she continued. “Ultimately, we’re going to need lots of arrows tipped with Greek fire, but we should have at least a day to make ‘em before Adara returns. Eph, you and Noalani get started on that. Gabrielle, try to get some sleep. You and I have a date with a goddess in the morning.” She gave her lover a smile before continuing.

“You all know what we need to do, let’s get to it.” Xena finished and spun on her heel with Pony and Solari hurrying to keep up.

The three women left behind watched the warriors until the night swallowed them up and then turned to their task. Each deep in thought, they settled down together to work. Doing anything in preparation to defeat this enemy was like a balm after so many days of riding and not knowing what they faced. Each woman knew she was hand picked for this mission, and whatever the outcome, they were Amazons and they would be proud to die as Amazons.


*          *          *          *          *


CHAPTER 13 – Adara Rallies the Desert Tribes


Adara had circled well south of the encampment. Finally, a mile further, she reached another trail leading off the plateau. The dark skinned woman guided the gray Arabian mare from the sandstone cliffs. She watched the trail as the horse began its descent in the moonlight, careful not to dislodge loose rocks. Even at this distance sounds carried and could signal the Red Army camped below that an intruder was near. She knew stealth and silence were essential and had full confidence that the sure-footed Mahtab would not signal one of the enemy’s horses as she guardedly and precisely made her way to the desert floor.

She knew the large pen where women prisoners were held was located on the south perimeter. She pondered the information that had restored a small measure of hope in her heart. Maybe – just maybe, she survived, she thought wistfully. As quickly as the thought materialized it dissipated. Pull yourself together, dammit, she angrily told herself, you saw that huge pile of ashes. You saw her fall.

Her sudden anger prodded her into action. She realized she was not doing herself any good trying to steal into the camp alone and she could potentially do more harm to the plan. Besides, she’d been given a mission to bring in the desert tribes. She had to get help quickly so, leaving her thoughts behind, she shifted her weight, nudging the mare with her knee and moved cautiously southward into the Persian desert away from the women’s pen.

As soon as she put some distance between herself and the torch lights of the army encampment she felt safer. Her trail had not been seen. She dug her heels into the horse’s flanks, leaned over and said to the mare, “Run Mahtab, run like the wind tonight, girl!”

The horse, sensing the woman’s intent, accelerated and sped across the sands. Adara pulled her head cloth tighter around her face, leaving only a narrow slit open across her eyes. Riding at night was far better for both she and the horse. They’d make much better time in the cooler air. She had to reach Kadar’s tribe by morning.

She rode on, aware of the enormity of her mission and yet mindful of the condition of the horse that had already brought her such a great distance. She didn’t want to push the mare too hard, but she knew time was the enemy. Every so often she’d lean over the long gray neck and whisper encouragement to the mare. “Tynet named you well, didn’t she, Mahtab? Run in the moonlight, Moonlight! Run to your Arabian sire like our very lives depend on it.”

She’d been riding steadily as the moon, marking her time, moved across a quarter of the wide open black sky. She looked in the distance for the small oasis that she remembered was hidden in a small outcropping. She and Tynet had stopped at this oasis many times in their past travels with their herds so she had a good idea where it was located. It wasn’t hard to distinguish the outline of the oasis’ outcropping in the night light as both she and Mahtab wearily made their way towards the welcomed refreshment of the water hole.

“It won’t be too much longer, girl” she said as she nuzzled the horse’s face, grateful for the company of the mare. She walked the horse a bit, cooling her down before allowing her to drink any water.

She knelt beside the cool water refilling her water skins and drinking her fill alongside the horse. She watched Mahtab carefully so she didn’t drink too much water or too quickly. Stretching her weary body, she looked out across the blackness of the desert sky, seeing the brilliant stars in the heavens over her head. We used to lay in each other’s arms on these same warm sands after making love she thought. How many stars did we count my love? The memory of those nights ripped at her heart. By the Goddess, when will these sweet remembrances stop haunting me? She kicked a rock with her boot in disgust at her weakness, startling the mare.

“Let’s go, Mahtab. We need to ride on.”

She placed the water skins over the horse’s back and mounted her in one leap. “Let’s go.” She said, softly kneeing the horse in the direction of the tribal lands.

                                    *          *          *          *          *          *

At dawn the following morning, she saw an encampment in the distance. Large tents were visibly jutting out above the flat plains of the desert. She recognized the brilliant yellow standard of Kadar flapping in the already warm breeze over the largest of the tents. She pushed the weary horse a bit more begging her for another gallop where she knew food and rest would greet them. Horse and rider were exhausted from the punishing ride but Mahtab sensing her mistress’s rising spirit, raced forward towards the distant landmark.

A cloud of dust appearing on the horizon alerted the tribal sentries. They peered into the distance as the form of a horse and rider began to take shape. The older of the guards directed one man to go inform Kadar, while he and the third sentry mounted their horses to meet the newcomer. They rode out, passing the pyramid shaped stones that marked their tribal boundaries.

As they came closer to the rider one sentry said, “It looks like the Amazon horsewoman.”

“It can’t be the Amazon horsewoman.” The old sentry replied with authority. “She would never ride her horses like that.”

The horse’s heaving flanks and heavily lathered body were mute testimony to the hard ride the two had endured. The rider could barely be seen under the desert robes, her upper body hugging the horse’s neck. Adara looked up as Mahtab changed her speed, and saw the two approaching tribesmen on horseback. She pulled back reining in the horse to a canter.

The tribesmen circled her, no longer sure who this rider was. Adara recognized the older of the two, a trusted long time warrior in service to Kadar.

“Abdul Hadi?” she said, questioning his name.

“Who are you that know my name?” answered the sentry still not able to see the woman’s face.

“I am Adara of the Caucus Amazon tribe.” answered the woman, as she removed the al amira desert scarf from around her face.

“Adara? Is it you?”

“Yes, it’s me. Please, I need to see Kadar right away.”

“Marhaba (hello), Bara-kul-lah (May Allah bless you)” he said not forgetting his manners.

“As-salamu’ alaikum” (Peace be upon you) she responded properly almost forgetting her own manners with the desert tribes.

“You’ve been riding hard. Where is your hearth-mate Tynet? Is something wrong?” It was evident to the older man that something was indeed wrong. The warrior horsewoman would never have ridden her horse half to death like this and by the looks of this horse, something dire had happened.

“Please Abdul Hadi, I need to see Kadar now.” She said imploring the older man.

“Come, I’ll take you. But we walk. The mare needs to be rested and it seems to me you could use a rest yourself, sadik (friend.)”

“There’s no time. We have to hurry.”

“There’s always time, ukhtee (my sister). You need to recover your strength, as does your mare. Kadar will insist upon it.” the tall thin Bedouin explained to the woman. He knew the protocol of the desert tribes and there would be no amount of rushing without the proper exchange of greetings and blessings and time for any guest to be looked after, pampered and fed. Then business would be discussed.

“You don’t understand…”

“Shhh” he interrupted her. “Bis-millah (in the name of Allah) all will be well.”

She realized it was hopeless to argue with the older man. The walk will revive both of us, she reasoned, patting Mahtab’s damp neck, and then I can explain everything to Kadar when I see him. They walked the horses in silence towards the bright tents in the distance as the morning sun rose higher in the sky heating the sands.

                                                *          *          *          *          *

The chief and his trusted senior clansmen had just been served the morning meal by the women of the tribe when the third sentry who had been on patrol in the desert rode directly to the opening of Kadar’s tent. The commotion and noise alerted those in the tent immediately.

“What can be so ominous that you disturb your leader in this fashion?” said Ikram, the wife of Kadar as she intercepted the rider outside. “Have you lost your senses that you approach his tent on horseback in this manner?”

The rider leaped from the stallion, bowing and apologizing to the woman. “Please, Muhsanah, I am to relay a message from Abdul Hadi to the all powerful one.”

“What message?” she asked, sure there was no urgency that would require disturbing her husband’s morning meal with his advisors.

“A rider approaches” he said breathlessly, “Abdul Hadi has gone out to meet him.” The young sentry would learn later that it was a woman who accompanied Adbul Hadi to the Sheik’s tent.

“For this, you disturb your lord as he breaks the night fasting? You should be beaten with a cane for this insult.” The woman pronounced.

“But, Um…” He used the word for mother, honoring the woman’s place of honor in the tribe as he was interrupted by the great chieftain.

“What is it Ikram? Who disturbs my morning?” Kadar’s deep voice resonated from inside the tent before his huge form appeared, filling the opening. He pushed the flap back and stood with his legs wide apart and his hands on his hips. His long wild salt and pepper hair was barely contained by his kufiyya (headgear) cloth. His hair escaped from the confines of the cloth and surrounded his face like a frame. The chieftain was formidable and held supreme reign over the various tribes by the force of his charisma and power.

The young man, awed by the sight of the great Chieftain, was unsure of what he should have said or done. He touched his chest and forehead with his thumb and index finger, bowing low to his leader.

“Speak up, ibn (son), what is so urgent?” The Chieftain demanded his thick mustache waving like a pendant over his white teeth as he spoke.

The sentry pointed back towards the direction he had come. “A rider… a rider approaches from the desert, riding hard.”

“Yes, what of it?”

“Abdul Hadi ….” He stumbled and stuttered, “He went out to meet him. He told me…. he told me to come…. He told me to alert you.”

“You have,” Bellowed the Chieftain dismissing the young man. “If Abdul Hadi is on patrol then why should I have any concern over a single rider?” He asked the young man.

The boy hung his head, “Forgive me, Imam, for the disturbance… I, uhmmm…”

The great leader grumbled and turned back inside the tent his intent clear that he was no longer interested in what the boy had to say and that he had every intention of eating his meal undisturbed.

Ikram, who had been standing next to the sentry, took command of the situation as her husband went inside the tent. “Go and get yourself something to eat, boy. And see to your horse.” She directed him. She didn’t scold him further, allowing him to save face in front of all those who had witnessed the interchange with Kadar.

                                                *          *          *          *

Kadar strode back inside to reclaim his morning meal. Some of the tribal women continued to serve and attend to his various deputies, bringing fruits and flat breads and cheeses and hot tea to the men. Kadar had called the session with his deputies to discuss what they had been hearing about a renegade army terrorizing and laying waste to the western and northern desert lands.

“Imam, is there trouble?” His long time friend and trusted advisor Alim asked.

“No! It seems however that a single rider has stirred up my sentries.”

“We’re all nervous these days, Kadar. The news from the north is not good. We all wonder when our own tribes might become engaged with this army.”

“Hasbu-nallah” (May Allah save us) was softly echoed by the other deputies in the tent.

The tent flap opened once more allowing the desert heat to flood the interior again.

“What now?” questioned the Imam.

Ikram approached her husband. She was an ample woman, equal to the man whose tent she shared. She was dark skinned like the members of her tribe with dark brown eyes and long dark hair, held in check under a tribal head cloth marked with her husband’s colors. She barely reached his shoulder in height, but her personal magnetism knew no bounds. She was an equal force with Kadar and she was well respected by both the men and women of the tribe.

She bent over her husband and whispered in his ear, “Abdul Hadi has arrived with the rider. You need to come out again.”

“Can a man not eat his morning meal and confer with his deputies without these incessant interruptions, Ikram?”

“Come outside, Kadar! Now!” she whispered forcefully, fixing him with an intense look.

The Chieftain looked at his wife and grumbled his acquiescence. He too respected and loved this stout woman and he knew she would not interrupt him unnecessarily. “Please excuse me” he said to his deputies and followed her back outside.

Abdul Hadi walked towards the Sheik’s tent, leading a woman on a gray mare. He saw the sheik emerge from the tent and continued his approach.

“What have we here Akhee (my brother)?” Said the Imam.

“The amazon horsewoman’s mate, Adara, my Lord.” The old sentry responded as he bowed before the Chief touching his heart and mouth and forehead with his thumb and index finger in the tribal sign of respect.

“Ahlan, Adara, bara-kul-lah!” (Welcome, Adara, May Allah bless you!) The sheik said. “To what do we owe the pleasure of your visit? And where is Tynet?”

“Bara-kul-lah!” Adara responded correctly. “My Lord Kadar, I need your help. My village has been attacked by a savage horde and …..” She began speaking rapidly to the tribal leader.

“Tut tut” said the Chieftain. “Come inside out of the hot sun, ukhtee” he said, using the same word for sister that Abdul Hadi had used in addressing the woman. “You must be tired from your long ride and in need of refreshment. Please, please, go with Ikram and then join me in my tent. We will talk about all your troubles when you are rested and refreshed, yes? Ikram?”

“Of course my Lord” said his wife in response. “Come Adara, you look near exhausted. Let me take you to the woman’s tent and make you comfortable.”

“Sheik Kadar, there’s no time. Please” she begged, anxious to plead her case to the tribal leader.

“Ikram?” he turned to his wife. He clearly expected that Ikram would take the young woman to the tent of the women, make her comfortable, feed her and rest her. Then later he would entertain her story with his trusted council.

“Come ibna (daughter)” said Ikram “Let us go! You need to rest and be fed. We have many wonderful fruits for you to enjoy.”

“Kadar, please, you must help us. My village has been destroyed and only a handful of women survived. An awful menace sweeps the lands to the north, burning, torching and murdering. We need the help of the desert tribes…”

“Go with Ikram to the women, Adara!” It was a command, the sheik’s expression piercing, as he interrupted her words.

Ikram, knew her husband must be obeyed on this issue so gently ushered the weary woman away from the sheik. “Come ibna! Come! Later you will talk with him. For now, let us care for you in the maharama (the tent of the women).”

Adara realized it was hopeless. These tribes had great respect for the dangers and hardships inherent in the desert and meeting other tribes or people was a noteworthy event. Their culture was justly known for its hospitality and generosity as honored guests were welcomed and then nourished with food, hot spiced teas and music. She had to accept their conventions or by her anxious behavior, insult the chieftain, so she sadly allowed herself to be led away towards the maharama.

                                                *          *          *          *

The maharama was aptly named ‘the place of the women.’ It was one of the largest tents in an encampment and only women were allowed inside. At the entrance doorway, multicolored tassels signifying the colors of the imam adorned the tent. It was festively decorated inside with wall hangings made of golden threads and small jewels. Hand woven rugs of varying sizes in colors of red and blue and brown were scattered across the floor of the tent. Cushions and pillows, brilliant with natural dyes, were placed on the rugs throughout the interior. The tribal leader’s wife reigned supreme in the maharama and her rug, the largest in the room, was placed at a vantage position to receive all guests.

Ushering the beautiful Amazon into the huge women’s tent, Ikram called out, “Muhsanat (chaste and virtuous women) we have a guest!”

From all corners of the tent, conversation stopped as the women turned to look at the visitor. Their social graces returned instantly as Adara was greeted according to their custom.

“Ahlan (welcome), As-salamu’ alaikum (peace be upon you)” they said one by one.

“Shukran (thank you)” Adara responded.

“Come, come” said Ikram, her hand on the back of the young woman as she maneuvered her towards the beautiful large red and black hand-woven rug on the far side of the tent. The brightly colored pillows were spaced all across the rug for comfort when sitting. Ikram gathered several of them and beckoned the woman, “Come and sit.”

“Ma ismok? (What is your name?)” A young woman asked.

“Where are your manners, girl? Let the woman be made comfortable and fed.” The Sheik’s wife scolded. “Bring wet cloths so she can remove the desert grime from her face. And you,” she pointed to another, “Bring food!” She barked orders to the gathered women, assigning more menial jobs to the younger ones.

“It’s alright, Um, I’m not hungry.” Adara used the formal word for mother, to reply to Ikram.

“You are simply tired child, your hunger will return.” She said gently, followed by a stern, “Where is the food?” to the younger woman. Hospitality demanded that food be served to visitors quickly as a sign of honor and respect and these young girls were not acting quickly enough in her opinion.

A very young woman ran towards Ikram, carrying warm damp cloths on a silver inlaid leather tray and a brass basin of hot water for the young woman to wash herself.

Adara did what was expected and used the cloths and water to wipe her face and hands and clean herself. Ikram nodded her approval.

Another woman appeared carrying a large urn with steaming spiced tea. She knelt beside the visitor and poured the hot cardamom tea into a cup and with a slight bow, placed it into the hands of their guest.

“Shukran (thank you)” Adara responded, bowing back to the woman.

“Drink!” Ikram said. “You’ll feel better.”

Someone lit an incense burner as platters of food arrived which were placed on a separate rug in front of their guest. The women gathered around the Amazon anxious for news of the outside world, yet mindful of their manners, especially with Ikram watching them. Food was served to the visitor first and then passed around to the older women in rank first then down to the youngest. The chatter of women’s voices and laughter filled the air as the tribal women devoted themselves to Adara’s comfort.

The Amazon allowed herself to be honored and cared for by these women, accepting their hospitality and generosity, if only for a short time. She knew the dangers she’d left behind, and yet in the company of these women, she indulged herself, grateful not to think of what still lay on the horizon. For now, she tried to forget the Red Army, tried to forget she’d lost the woman who held her heart, tried to forget everything she’d experienced since the summer solstice.

The women talked of family life, and of their children, of who was courting whom and who was sure to be wed by the next season. They gossiped and laughed in the way women do. Their talk soon turned with excitement to the upcoming gathering of the desert tribes at the summer tribal reunion. This gathering was held every summer and all the tribes rejoined their families for two quarters of a moon’s cycle. It was a time of great celebration and festivity.

“When is your sister arriving, Ikram?” one of the women asked.

“She’s late. I expected her ashira (tribe) before now. She sent word with the last caravan that crossed our territories to tell me she would come early this year for the festival. Perhaps they took a different route but I am getting concerned. I’ve asked Abdul Hadi’s men to keep watch for her ashira.”

Ikram, ever observant and mindful of her duties as head of the maharama, watched her guest intently for any sign of want or need. She saw a dark veil move over the beautiful woman’s golden eyes and a deep sorrow descend on her face. She knew intuitively something terrible had happened to her. The woman had never come to the desert tribes before without her hearth-mate and the manner in which she rode into their camp told her a great tragedy had befallen her. This is why she asks for help from Kadar she thought to herself. Whatever it is, Kadar and the rest of the tribes must help this woman.


She got up from her pillow commanding the attention of all the women in the tent at once and pointed to the group of younger women who sat to the side, “All of you, out now. It’s time for the elders to talk.”

There was grumbling from those being sent out from the tent, but Ikram’s longest and dearest friend, Hala, clapped her hands together and began herding the youngsters towards the exit. Hala was the wife of Alim and the four were trusted and dear friends and confidants for seasons and seasons since their tribes first came together.

“Come, you heard Ikram.” She said. “It’s time for the older women to sit in council. You may return later.” She steered them all outside suggesting they go attend to their chores of gardening, cooking or watching the herds.

As she returned inside the tent she heard Ikram ask the beautiful young woman, “What has happened, Adara. You may speak freely with us.”

The Amazon looked up into the dark brown open and trusting eyes. She’d spent time in the past in this same tent with these same women as Tynet met with Kadar and his deputies bargaining over the sale of their horses. They’d spent many nights talking together, telling stories and laughing together in sweet sisterhood. She felt a duty to tell them her story, yet she knew the heartbreaking agony it would bring to Ikram when the tribeswoman found out that members of her own family had been butchered and enslaved by the Red Army.


She began her story at the beginning, telling them about the invasion by the huge beastlike men on horseback and the firebombing of her village. She related the story of Tynet’s brave stand and her fall. She told them of her escape with their children and her travel to the western Amazon tribe.

The noontime sun baked down on the tent as she continued the story. Water, teas, fruits and cakes were brought into the tent to refresh the women who listened intently to all she told them. She told them she had returned over the Caucus with only six other Amazon warriors who were intent on taking down an entire army.

She saved the story about Ikram’s family for last dreading what she had to say to her host. She told the woman that during her night ride, she encountered a passing caravan of traders who told her a story of horror. They had passed the purposely laid out pyramid of stones that marked the boundaries and territories of the desert tribes. Many of the stone markers had blister marks of a great firestorm. They had wandered into the tribal boundaries and everything looked as though it had been scorched by fire, even the very sands. They didn’t know what could have caused this devastation. There were huge piles of ashes and they could make out the bodies of camels.

The women listened in silent dismay. The rumors they’d been hearing with each passing caravan were being confirmed. Each new report indicated that a destructive force was moving closer and close to their borders.

Adara continued her story. There were no signs of life, though signs of a struggle. It appeared to the nomad leader that some might have had been taken into slavery as there was a long line of footprints in the soft ground that had been churned up by large horses. She told them that the leader had found some scraps of material. She reached into the pocket of her borque and pulled out the remnants of a scorched fabric and held it reverently for Ikram to see. The markings on the fabric were unmistakable. It was from Ikram’s sister’s tribe.

Time stopped inside the maharama, as Adara’s news hung in the warm air. No one moved in the deathly stillness. Then a piercing anguished wail rose up from the big woman. She clutched at her face, screaming in despair as her tears flowed freely.

Hala jumped up and rushed to the side of her friend, holding her, and gently rocking the large form in her arms, while trying to contain her own grief. Allah have mercy, she thought to herself. The tall slender woman fixed Adara with a questioning look.

“You’re sure? Do you know this to be true?” Hala asked the Amazon.

“I only learned of it during my ride last night when I stopped to rest my horse. I do believe the caravan leader, Hala. I’ve seen the destruction he described. I saw it happen to my own village. How can it not be true?” She held up the scorched fabric for the woman as if to prove her point.

“She’s had horrible dreams and visions of her sister and her tribe,” Hala said to Adara, looking sadly at the sobbing woman in her arms, “but she chose to put other meanings on what she saw. Second sight can be a difficult curse and a magical blessing.”

“I am so sorry, Um” Adara said, gently touching the big woman’s shoulder.

Ikram’s loud wailing brought a gathering crowd to the outside of the maharama. Hala, seeing the throng, directed another woman to close the tent flaps while she dealt with the grief-stricken woman that she held carefully. She took some of Adara’s unused cloths and bathed the face and eyes of her dear friend, pushing back the hair from her damp forehead.

“Shhh, shhhh, dear friend. Let us see what we can do, eh?” She continued to minister to her friend.

Under the gentle care of Hala, the big woman cried herself out. When her sobs turned to gasps for breath, the thin taller woman, kissed her forehead, comforting her friend by her love and her presence.

In time, she stopped crying and stared into space. She reflected on the dreams and visions she’d been having, recalling the horror that she’d seen. Yet, somewhere in all the dreams, she had a strong feeling that her sister was still alive. I’d know if you crossed over, Rida, she thought to herself. We cannot be closer and not know this about each other. Mother said she knew at your birth you were favored by Allah so gave you your name. I pray to Allah he continues to favor you.

The small prayer comforted her and she knew what she had to do. Breathing deeply, she gathered herself together, summoned and reclaimed her power, and faced Adara.

“You’re sure?” she asked pointedly unaware that Hala had asked the Amazon the same question earlier.

“I can only tell you what the caravan nomads related to me, Um. I am so sorry.”

“Come, we go to Kadar!” the Imam’s wife said pulling herself out of Hala’s embrace and lifting her ample body from the pillows. The women in the tent cleared a path as Ikram led them from the tent.

                                    *          *          *          *          *          *


Chapter 14 - The Powers Behind The Throne

The Imam had remained in the relative coolness of his tent, conferring with his advisors. He questioned Adbul Hadi about everything the Amazon had said on the way back to the encampment. The leaders deliberated and tried to put together all the pieces of the various stories they’d been hearing for weeks.

“What do you think Alim?” the Imam asked his closest confidante as he paced in front of the men.

“I believe we should talk to the Amazon. She may have information that will help us make a better decision.” He replied in earnest.

“You’ve been on patrol Abdul Hadi. What do you hear from the passing nomads?”

“The nomads appear to be running from the marauding army; some south to the sea and some to the east, my Lord"

They tell tales of massive horses and equally massive warriors. This army is not intent on conquering, but in annihilating and destroying everyone and everything in its path. They scorch the earth and even scorch the sands of the desert. What kafir (infidels) would do that?” He asked. “They take few captives from what I’ve been told and those only women.”

Kadar listened solemnly to this news considering his options. “Hasbu-nallah (May Allah save us).” He meant every word of the little prayer.

“Hasbu-nallah” the men replied in unison.

“Bring the Amazon to me!” he commanded.

As his deep voice resounded, the higher pitched tone of women’s voices near the entrance to his tent surprised him. No women were expected at this time.

“Imam, I believe the Amazon is already here. She comes with your wife and the council-women.” The guard at the tent door informed him.

Ikram pushed past the guard and strode into the tent walking directly to her husband, while leaving the group of women at the doorway.

“Za’og (husband) I ask that you listen to the Amazon woman’s story” she said without preamble.

The chieftain looked at his wife, considering whether to reprimand her for this breach of protocol or let it slide as he usually did wherever she was concerned. He decided to ignore the customs. This woman was his life’s challenge and yet, the love of his life.

He looked at Ikram closely, seeing her red puffy eyes and wondered what darkness had caused his beloved’s distress. It was custom that he not ask her any personal questions in front of the others. That custom he would follow. He’d inquire about her sadness when they were alone.

“I’ve just sent for her, Za’oga (wife) and here you bring her to me. I’m ready to hear her story.”

His wife nodded and said, “Shukran (thank you).”

She walked back to the entrance of the tent and summoned both Adara and Hala inside. The other men watched this breach of protocol but held their tongues. If the Imam had asked for Adara they wondered why Ikram and Hala were also joining the discussion without permission. No one uttered a word.

Given his wife’s discomfort, the Imam also said nothing. He watched the three women approach awaiting his invitation to sit among the men. He gestured to the rug and pillows that had suddenly materialized in front of the men’s seating arrangement.

Ikram invited both Adara and Hala to sit next to her as the women settled themselves waiting to be addressed.

“Kaifa-halok (how are you) Adara?” The Imam addressed the Amazon directly. “Are you more rested now?”

“Shukran, Imam. Ana bakair (I am fine). Your hospitality is renowned as always. Fi amaan Allah (May Allah be with you)!” she said formally.

“Afwan (You are welcome)” he responded then got to the point of the visit. “I understand you have news to share with me?”

Adara looked at Ikram before speaking and received a nod of support in response.

“Imam, I’ve come a great distance riding all night, to ask for your help.”

“What is it you need of me?” the Imam inquired.

“Let the child tell her story, Kadar, there is no time for formalities.” Ikram said pointedly to her husband.

There was a collective intake of breath in the room as Kadar’s advisors expected their leader to finally censure his wife. Ikram stared at her husband as he fixed her with a scowl. Already she’d challenged many customs since entering his domain. He nodded, hiding the slightest grin at the spunk his woman continually hurled in his face.

With a flick of his right hand, he commanded the young woman, “Tell me your story.”

Adara told her tale for the second time that day. There were no interruptions as the men took in every detail she related. She shared with them how the marauding army attacked her village, corroborating what the nomads had told Abdul Hadi. She told them the soldiers were larger than any she’d ever seen and rode horses twenty-one hands high or more, she told them about the firebombs torching everything in sight. The tribal leaders looked fearfully at one another as they absorbed the news, some commenting with a prayer to Allah. Throughout the telling, Kadar said nothing as he listened to the woman’s story.

Then she explained why she was there. She told them of the ride from the western Amazons of Greece back to the Caucus and what they hoped to accomplish.

“There are seven Amazons counting myself” Adara explained. “We’re led by Xena, the warrior princess. She means to stop this army but there are so many soldiers in this army. She needs the help of the desert tribes in turning them back.”

Bedlam erupted.

“What? You want the desert tribes to follow a woman?” One advisor said.

“This is lunacy. We should pack up now and go east.” Another pleaded, his fears getting the better of him. .

“How will we get news to all the tribes in time?” A third asked.

The men spoke as one, each shouting out a question to their leader, each declaring his position by the question.

Still Kadar said nothing as he contemplated the woman’s words. Ikram knew her husband was weighing all the advisors questions as well as his own. For now she held her own counsel, waiting for her husband to speak.

“We have no fight with this army of which you speak” he finally said, “And until we have cause, I see no reason to engage them.”

Several of his advisors nodded in agreement with their leader.

“You will have cause, Kadar” the Amazon challenged him. “This army attacks without provocation. They brutally murder and destroy entire villages for the sport of it. We did nothing to them either yet they burned our village and tossed our women into the fires. They torch everything for the joy of it. They murder children.”

He considered her words before answering. “We can pull up our tents and move the tribes further east or south to the sea. We may still evade this army.”

“You won’t evade them, Kadar. They intend to destroy everything in their path. Neither the mountains nor the seas will stop them.” She said forcefully.

“Alim?” the imam called to his top advisor. “Your counsel?”

“The news is the same, no matter where we hear it, Imam. Those that run will escape for only a short time. I fear what this woman says is true. We must join forces now while we have a chance to fight back. Otherwise, there will be no one left to fight with us.” The advisor spoke his words thoughtfully.

“The tribes will never follow a woman into battle” the advisor who had said these words before spoke again as others joined in the discussion.

The imam held up his hand to silence all of them. “I need more time to think this through” he said.

“There is no time Imam” the golden eyed woman spoke, her fears betraying her. “Xena will lead the others into battle against these animals without help if necessary, but I beg you, we can not win alone. I have promised to bring help by sundown tomorrow.”

“Tomorrow? This Xena would engage an army with only six women?” the chieftain was incredulous.

“Seven, Imam. If you send no help, I return alone to fight with the Amazons.” Her statement was impassioned.

Ikram could contain herself no longer. “Kadar, you’ve not heard the whole story. My own sister’s tribe has been slaughtered and some of the women taken into slavery.”

The chieftain immediately understood why his wife’s eyes were red and swollen. “Yur-humma-kul-lah (May Allah have mercy)” he said to his wife. “Ikram, your loss is great and I am so sorry to hear this news. You ask me to sacrifice the desert tribesmen if I attack this army with the Amazons.”

Slowly, Ikram rose to her feet before she responded. “Kadar, my za’og, you will sacrifice all the desert tribes if you don’t join forces with the Amazons.

When her husband still hesitated, the rotund woman moved closer and leaned down next to his ear where only he could hear her. “And I tell you this old man, you had better think about how much you enjoy the company of these tribesmen because you’re going to be sleeping with them. You will not be welcomed in my bed furs if you don’t help the Amazons.” The woman had fire in her eyes as she whispered her oath.

Despite her attempt to keep her threat private, Alim heard her and chuckled out loud but his friendship with the Imam didn’t save him from the deadly look that was directed at him. He bowed his head in response, studying a loose thread on the rug.


The Chieftain swore to himself even as he thought about publicly reprimanding his wife. The look on her face told him she was deadly serious and he wasn’t sure he wanted to challenge her.

“Abdul Hadi” he bellowed, directing his fleeting anger to the task at hand. “Bring me five riders, now!”

“Yes lord” replied the old sentry.

“Alim, where are our tribal brothers now?”

“All within hard riding distance, Imam. A good rider can find them and bring them here before the moon is high. ”

“Abdul Hadi” he yelled again to the sentry before he’d reached the doorway of the tent.

“Yes lord?” replied Abdul Hadi.

“I want your five best riders and mounts. Tell them what you heard today so they can relay it to the chieftains. Give each chieftain the message that Kadar summons the tribes to war.

“Yes, Lord. What about Abbas? What shall I tell him?”

Kadar laughed remembering that Abdul Hadi was generally apprehensive around his brother. The sentry never understood Abbas’ sense of humor and Abbas took full advantage of the fact. Kadar’s brother was a daring warrior and men clamored to ride with him.

“Give Abbas this message. Tell the Lion of Allah that his brother has need of his services and tell him I want him to lead the tribes into battle.” Kadar knew he’d get his brother’s attention immediately.

“It shall be done, Imam!” Abdul Hadi said, bowing to the imam and backing out of the tent. He was grateful for he knew that once Abbas got the Imam’s message he would focus on the war at hand instead of badgering him like he always did.

The sentry left the tent to summon his riders. The Imam had told him to select five of the best riders and horses but he planned to select only four. He would be the fifth. If they fanned out across the desert they could reach all the tribes, deliver the Imam’s message, and lead them back to Kadar’s encampment by the time the full moon was high.

Adara had been listening to the interchange of the men. She heard the instructions and her heart skipped a beat. If the tribes didn’t return until the moon was high and the customary tribal welcome observed, they would not reach the others by sundown tomorrow as she’d promised. Without understanding why, a growing sense of urgency threatened to swallow her, forcing her to abandon her manners.

“Kadar, we must leave as soon as your soldiers arrive. There’s no time left.”

The men seated around Kadar were sure he’d finally put one of these women in her place.

Several hoped he’s usher them out of the men’s tent and back to the maharama where women belonged. Instead the Chieftain looked solemn.

“Sabr, ukht (Patience, sister)” he said to the dark skinned woman. “Please. Go with Ikram and Hala to the maharama. Let the riders do their duty. When they return they’ll need to rest and refresh themselves. Then in the morning, you’ll join us and we’ll ride out.”

“But Imam, in the morning it will be too late” the woman pleaded.

It was clear the Imam was done. He looked at his wife who understood the unspoken message that the women should leave. Ikram took the woman’s elbow, and with Hala, they left the tent to the men.

                                    *          *          *          *          *

Walking back to the maharama, Adara tried unsuccessfully to conceal her displeasure from her host.

“Ikram, if we wait till morning we’ll never arrive in time. I can’t explain it, but I know we’re out of time. We must be there by sundown tomorrow.” Although she didn’t know the reason for her certainty, the anticipation and dread in her stomach seemed to grow with each second.

“As my husband told you, ‘patience, Adara, patience.’ Let’s see how this plays out, yes?”

“I don’t have time to see how this plays out, Ikram. If need be, I’ll ride back alone and die fighting with my sisters.” She replied, her frustration mounting.

“Yes, I know child. The truth is you’re asleep on your feet. You’ll die in the desert and help no one when your horse drops from under you. You both need food and rest.” She said patiently as they reached the maharama.

They were greeted by dozens of women eagerly anticipating the story of the encounter with Kadar.

“Bring us hot tea and cakes” she directed one of the young women who was standing by the doorway.

The majority of the women gathered around outside the tent door trying to overhear the conversations inside, while the council women joined Ikram and Hala inside with Adara.

“Let me tell you a little story, Adara” Ikram said as she settled herself on her pillows.

“An old camel driver, after completely loading down his camel, asked the poor camel what he would like best – to go up the hill or down the hill. The poor beast replied not without a touch of reason, ‘Why do you ask me? Is the level way through the desert closed?”


The assembled women, hearing the fable, howled with laughter. Adara looked puzzled.

“I’m not sure I understand this joke, Ikram.”

“Ah child, let me explain it then. You see, most men are like the old camel driver. They plan and they plot and they study every angle of a problem, but all that they do is confuse the issue. Why would the poor camel want to go up or down a hill when the easy way is through the flat desert?” The women laughed again, hearing her explanation.

“I see” the Amazon replied, “but how does that fit here?”

“Kadar and his men will continue to study every angle of the problem facing them. Will they fight? When should they fight? Who will lead? Who will follow? Is it up or is it down a hill? In the end, the level way through the desert is open and the camel knows the way.”

The women murmured their understanding and assent.

“So what do we do now?” she asked still not sure she understood.

“Now? Now we rest. There’s nothing more to be done. The men will talk and plot and plan. The tribes have been called together and they won’t arrive until late tonight. So, let us drink tea, and eat sweet cakes and tell stories and the young girls will play the shabbaba (flute) and rababa (single stringed violin) and sing the songs of the desert for us. When it’s time, the camel will know the way.”

                                                *          *          *          *

Evening fell and the moon rose in the black sky. Two of the tribes had arrived with great fanfare and a typical tribal welcome was extended to all in the riding party. The horses were cared for and staked out for the night. Music and food filled the night air as Kadar awaited the remaining tribesmen.

Adara too kept watch in the moonlight from the doorway of the maharama, counting the numbers of men and horses who arrived. So far the numbers were small and she fretted over the count.

“They will all come soon” Ikram told her, standing beside her in the moonlight. “Come, let us sit with some of the women. I want you to hear the words of Nadirah.”

Adara allowed herself to be led back inside where she was introduced to a tiny elderly woman with shiny silver hair. The wrinkled dark skin and bent form revealed her great age but her clear blue eyes captured those of the Amazon and held her gaze.

“Nadirah, may I present Adara of the Caucus Amazon tribe.” Ikram said formally touching her forehead with her thumb and index finger and bowing to the elderly woman. She was the Imam’s wife, but like all members of the desert tribe, she paid deep respect to the oldest among them.

Adara followed Ikram’s movements and bowed to the old woman in turn saying, “As-salamu’alaikum (peace be upon you).”

“Wa’alaikum salam (and upon you be peace)” the old woman responded, pleased with the Amazon’s respectful greeting. She gestured to the younger woman to sit down.

Several other women moved over closer to hear what Nadirah was going to say to the Amazon guest.

“I’ve heard of your story.” the old woman began in a shaky voice. “Bis-millah hir-Rahman nir-Rahim (In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful) do not fear this kafir (infidel) army, child. Things are not always what they appear to be. Do you understand me?” She fixed the Amazon with a penetrating look.

The way the old woman said the words and the way in which she held Adara’s eyes, gave the Amazon hope for the first time since she’d returned to the desert, though she didn’t understand why. She nodded a yes response.

“I will say a prayer for you, Adara of the Caucus Amazons” she continued.

“I seek the protection of Allah for this woman and her people.” She began her intonation in a sing song voice.

“Allah-hu-akbur (Allah is great)” responded the gathered women, knowing the prayer verses by rote.

“May Allah lead her to victory over the infidels.”

“Allah-hu-akbur (Allah is great)” responded the women.

“May Allah accept my prayer for this woman.”

“Allah-hu-akbur” the women said again.

“May Allah reward you.”

“Allah-hu-akbur” sang the women ending the prayer.

“Allah will be with you tomorrow” the old woman told her.

Then Nadira opened a gnarled hand which held a thick hammered silver medallion with an intricate and ornate design carved into the face of it. It looked like a maze of knots entwined around themselves with no beginning and no end. There was a deep blue silk cord knotted on one end so it could be worn as a pendant over the neck. She held out the object so Adara could see it better.

“What is it?” the young woman asked.

“A sacred talisman with sacred powers of protection,” she replied. “The goddess gave it to me when I made my vision quest as a young girl. I've never needed it, but it's from the goddess, herself. Tomorrow when you ride into battle, I want you to wear this. It will keep you safe.”

Adara felt a chill with the old woman’s words and shivered. Someone just walked on my grave, she thought as the Amazon expression for second sight premonition resonated in her consciousness.

“Bend down” the old woman told her. She placed the amulet over the young woman’s head, moving her long dark hair out of the way as she settled it securely around her neck.

“Thank you, Nadirah. I don’t know what to say.” She was touched by the old woman’s heartfelt prayer and gift.

“May Allah be with you.” The old woman said as she gently stroked the young woman’s cheek.

“And with you too, Nadirah.” She responded, turning bright red at the old woman’s gesture.


The sounds of galloping horses signaled the arrival of the remaining tribes, with Abbas leading the largest, loudest and most colorful group of riders. His horses were beautifully decorated with brightly colored halters and saddle blankets hanging in stark contrast to the white or gray Arabians’ bodies. Multi-colored tassels hung from the horse’s reins and Abbas’ brilliant green and yellow tribal colors were braided into their manes.

The women rushed to the entrance of the maharama to watch the arrival. Clouds of dust billowed up in the moonlight as horses were reined in and men dismounted and jostled each other. Yells and hugs and laughter greeted the arrivals as brothers and cousins and friends greeted one another after so many months of separation.

Abbas’ loud booming voice could be heard above the fray. “Where’s my fat brother?” he yelled with great affection.

Abbas was a tall dark muscular man with a proud bearing. He had flashing black eyes and long black hair like his older brother. His mustache was thick and filled his face. He cut a handsome and dashing figure and his brilliant white toothed smile was known to melt many women’s hearts. Many of them had joined him eagerly in his bed hoping to capture the warrior’s heart, but he’d never wed.

Laughter from his group of riders washed over the crowd. They clearly knew their rank and stature among all of Kadar’s tribes.

“Fat? You call your Imam, fat?” Kadar’s booming voice echoed his brother’s.

Abbas jumped from his stallion and rushed into his brother’s embrace. They laughed as they kissed each other on each cheek. “May Allah bless you, my brother.”

“And you, Abbas. You look well as always.”

“I serve you, Imam. Tell me what you need.” The younger brother said earnestly.

“Come inside. Let me welcome you properly and we’ll talk there.”

Adara and the women watched the interchange between the brothers and the other riders. She had only one thing on her mind, to return to help Xena with as many soldiers as possible. She began counting riders again. In the commotion of moving men, horses and dust she thought she’d counted one hundred but she wasn’t sure.

“Should we talk to Kadar about when we can leave?” she asked Ikram.

“No, no child. Let them visit and enjoy each other’s company. They need to rest themselves and their horses or they’ll be no good to you in the upcoming battle. Tonight? Let them be men tonight. Remember the camel, Adara? The camel knows the way. At first light you’ll join them and ride out to help your friends. Now, you need your rest too. It’s very late.”

                                                *          *          *          *

It was still dark but Kadar had ordered an early start hoping to make better time in the still cool early morning. The noises of men breaking camp assailed the ears as horses were saddled and weapons were checked over. The voices of the tribal leaders could be heard barking orders or giving direction to the men.

Adara had been summoned to Kadar’s tent before the others to discuss how they would travel. He explained to her, that while she knew exactly where they had to go, as a woman, she was not allowed to lead the small army nor would she be near the front. She had to ride behind the tribal chieftains and must follow all their orders. The woman bristled at the news but held her tongue. At least we’re moving, she thought.

Those not joining the battle group lined the way into the desert as the riders mounted up. Women hastily said goodbyes to their husbands and sons. There was a sense of pageantry and pride as the tribal colors were hoisted on tall lances. It was clear that Abbas’ horsemen would have the honored position of vanguard of the small army. His horsemen, each one proudly holding their colors aloft, rode out in front of the other chieftains. In deference to his brother’s rank, he rode next to Kadar and right behind his men. A mighty roar erupted as the horses broke into a canter.

Adara, astride a somewhat rested Mahtab, brought up the rear. As she approached the place where Ikram waited, she touched her index finger and thumb to her mouth and forehead and bowed to the formidable woman, grateful for the many honors and kindnesses she had bestowed upon her. If it were not for Ikram she knew there’d be no army going out this day. Out of the corner of her eye, she caught a glimpse of Nadirah standing in the doorway of the maharama and she bowed low to the old woman and said a silent prayer “Bara-kul-lah (May Allah bless you)”.

In response, she saw Nadirah put her hands together as though in prayer and bend her frail body towards her.

“Bara-kul-lah” she said to Ikram as Mahtab slowly came alongside the woman.

“As-salamu’ alaikum, Adara (peace be upon you)” she responded.

Reaching out, she stopped the Amazon’s mare. Gracing the rider with a brilliant smile, she reached up and tied her red and black colors, into the horse’s mane. Then, releasing the mare, she began a high pitched trilling in the direction of the Amazon – “ala ala ala ala ala.”

The chant was picked up one by one as the women saw what Ikram had done and joined in with her. Louder and louder it rolled across the encampment. The high pitched incantation reached the ears of the tribal leaders who pulled up their horses and turned around to see what had caused the commotion.

“What in the name of Allah is that racket?” Abbas asked his brother, his horse anxious to gallop jumped about nervously.

“Keep moving” Kadar directed his brother. He guided his stallion to the side and rode back towards the sound. As he approached the end of the line of horses he saw the source of the noise. Ikram stood with the women of the tribe as they chanted in honor of the Amazon warrior. The imam reined in his horse, watching his wife proudly. Every man should have the honor of a wife like mine, he thought.

He rode his horse in the direction of his wife as Adara passed him by. Seeing his wife’s colors on the Amazon’s horse, he continued towards Ikram while removing one of the agal-ropes that held his headgear in place. The agal’s colors signified the rank and responsibilities of the wearer and was an important part of the Imam’s attire. He kissed the agal handed it to her and bowed to his wife, then turned his horse and galloped back to the front. She beamed her love to this man of her heart as his retreating form grew smaller and smaller.

                                                *          *          *          *          *

They rode till first light when they stopped to rest the horses and eat an early meal. The women had prepared dates and figs and cheeses and flat breads so the men would be well fed for this journey.

Adara heard the chieftains discussing how they should proceed for the rest of the day. Several wanted to stop before noon and travel again after dark. When she heard that, her sense of urgency again threatened to overpower her and she leaped into action, forgetting her agreement with Kadar.

“If it please the Imam” she began “If we wait much longer the battle will be lost; you know six women won’t stop the barbarians, Kadar. We need to keep moving now.”

Her words caused loud grumbling among the tribal leaders. They were already disturbed by the breach of custom which allowed a woman to ride with them. But this one was trying to direct their plans and for this they had no tolerance.

“Who is this woman that seeks to tell a desert tribesman how to ride to battle?” Abbas demanded.

Kadar introduced her to his brother. “This is Adara of the Caucus Amazons, brother.”

The big warrior turned on the charm and slowly circled the beautiful dark woman.

“She has fire in those golden eyes, Kadar” he said. “Maybe she has fire in her loins too?” he laughed suggestively with a wink to the woman.

“She is misliyah (woman who loves women), Abbas, leave her alone.” Kadar replied.

“She loves women because she’s not met a real man” Abbas continued circling the woman.

Adara chose to ignore the big man and addressed the Imam again. “Please Kadar. You know we have to get to the north quickly. We have to move out now.”

“Impatient too” Abbas said as he touched her cheek.

She whirled and threw a kick to his mid-section and caught the big man in his gut. He groaned and held his stomach.

“She does have fire!” he said a bit more respectfully.

“Abbas, this woman is the hearth mate of the woman who bred the stallion you now ride. I would hope my brother would show her some respect.”

“You are Tynet’s woman?” He asked. “Please accept the apologies of a big fool, Adara.” He respectfully bowed to the woman. “That woman knows horses like no other. It seems she knows women too. How is she?” He smiled indicating it was a compliment.

It was the first time the Amazon had been asked the words directly and she knew that voicing the reply would etch it in the stones of time. She took a deep breath and looked directly at the big warrior and said, “She was killed by the barbarian army that we ride against.”

“Allah be merciful” the tall man replied with deep understanding. “I see the reason for your urgency. I am very sorry, Adara. Perhaps she’s right, Kadar. Perhaps we should ride on.”

                                                *          *          *          *

They headed out again, riding six abreast. They crossed the barren plains as the sun rose in the sky. At mid-day, the dry hot winds blew in from the west with the force of a gale, the resulting sandstorm leaving them little visibility. The men pulled their head cloths tight around their heads and faces with only a narrow slit to see out of. No one knew how long the sandstorm would last.

“We should try and make the shelter of the big oasis” Abbas told his brother. “There’s a rocky outcropping where we can rest till the storm dies down.” Kadar agreed.

“No one dismount” Abbas commanded. “Pass a rope from man to man and tie it securely around yourselves so we don’t lose anyone.”

The command was passed from rider to rider as they moved slowly and cautiously across the open plains. Abbas had never lost a comrade to a sandstorm and didn’t intend to lose one this day.

By late afternoon the storm had let up and the winds died down. They reached the large oasis hungry and tired from the heat, grueling winds and the drain of keeping focused on every person their rope touched. They dismounted to eat and water the horses and figure out how long they would rest before moving out again.

Kadar made his decision. They’d already braved the worst of the day’s heat which only fools and the suicidal ever attempted. They would water the horses, rest them a short while before moving out again when the sun began its descent.

Adara satisfied that this was the best she was going to get from the tribal chief, took Mahtab to the far side of the oasis, the same one she’d stopped at on her way to find the desert tribes. As she let the parched mare drink, she stared out across the desert in the direction she knew the Amazons were waiting. Anahita, tell them we’re coming. And tell my beloved Tynet I miss her, she prayed to herself.

She patted the horse’s neck continuing to look to the north when she heard the unmistakable voice of Tynet inside her head say, “Adara, you are my light and my strength and in my heart I will love you always!”


“What?” she gasped out loud startling the mare. She looked all around hoping she’d see her hearth-mate. All too soon she realized she must have been daydreaming about her lover again. That must be it, she thought but you sounded so close, my beloved.

The mare finished drinking and the woman led her to the shadow of a large rock so they could rest a while before venturing into a battle from which she feared she’d never return.

                                                *          *          *          *          *







Breathing hard, the three women crouched at the edge of the cliffs near the crevice Adara and Xena had descended only a candle mark earlier. In an effort to minimize the evidence of their presence, they had jogged the one-mile distance instead of traveling on horseback. With only two candle marks until the dawn, they had a short time to complete their mission. Already Xena's sensitive eyes had noted the slight lessening of the night's stranglehold on the landscape in the east.

With a nod of her head, Xena indicated the small fissure in the stone and began to lower herself through the sandy cleft. When only her head was visible, she spoke in a barely audible tone, "Follow, one at a time."

Pony and Solari looked at each other after the dark-haired warrior had disappeared. Shrugging, Pony went next. Giving the thumbs up signal to Solari, Pony disappeared through the opening. Glancing around one last time to assure herself they were alone on the cliff, Solari followed her friends.

Legs dangling, Pony felt hands grasp her calves guiding her and heard Xena's muffled voice commanding her to drop. Years of depending on her comrades allowed Pony to let go. She found her feet guided to the smooth stone below her. She straightened as much as she could under the rocky overhang while moving out of the way. Just as she turned, Solari landed beside her.

With a finger to her lips, Xena indicated the need for complete silence. She pointed to the camp below them. The three warriors made their way closer to the tumbled boulders concealing them from the soldiers camped on the desert floor.

Using only hand signals, Xena pointed out the various landmarks, first the slave pen on the southern perimeter and next to it, a large tent about ten feet away. Most likely it was used for supplies as boxes, and barrels were stacked next to it. Pointing to several places around the encampment, she indicated the sentry positions and finally, the central pavilion. Decorated with black and red streamers, it featured a malevolent looking banner dangling from a tall pole above the entry.

When they saw the size of the sentries, who looked to be at least seven feet tall and muscular, both of the Amazons blanched and stared at each other in disbelief.

When they'd seen all they could from that vantage point, they turned and slid down to a sitting position. Unaware of the Amazons' initial reactions to the size of their foe, Xena began explaining her plan for this evening's reconnaissance. There was no danger of them being overheard. She spoke so softly that the other two women had to lean in close to hear her orders.

"We need to get to the prisoners. We have to know what their condition is and how many able bodies we can count on to fight when the time comes."

After casting a quick glance to the rocks behind them, the two Amazons looked at each other, incredulity mirrored in each face. Swallowing hard, they both looked back at Xena. It was Pony who spoke for both of them.

"Big bastards, aren't they?"

Admitting to herself that the initial shock of seeing these troops had given her pause, Xena understood their reaction. Still, they didn't have time to waste.

"Yeah, it looks tough, but we can't let our own minds work against us. We need to know we can win or there's no point in trying and we might as well head back to Thrace."

"Hades balls, Xena," Pony whispered back in a low undertone. "We didn't say we're quitting. Just kind of shocking is all."

"Yeah, I know it is," Xena agreed. "I think we can beat them, but we need more information. Are you with me?"

Blowing out a collective breath, they nodded, indicating she should continue with her plan.

"Okay then, this is what I want to do. We're going to go down there. Solari, you'll stay in the rocks, just high enough to see what's happening. Use a night call to warn us if anyone approaches the slave pens."

Solari nodded and said, "I'll use three short bursts if I see anything."

"Pony, you're with me. We're going into camp. This late, everyone but the guards is bedded down. Adara and I watched the sentries earlier and they seem to make a half candle mark circuit. But I don't know that we can count on that. This isn't the most disciplined group I've ever seen. I want you to hide near the supply tent, the one with the water barrels next to it. From there you should be able to see the back of the prisoners' compound. You see anyone coming or hear Solari's warning, let me know."

"You want me to get a look in that supply tent?" Pony asked quietly.

Xena thought about that for a second. "Okay yes, but only a quick peak. I need you at my back. I can hardly believe the stupidity of the way this camp is laid out. I'd never have left my prisoners and supplies so exposed on one side like they have."

"Maybe it's arrogance as much as anything." Solari suggested. "Look at 'em. The men are huge ugly monsters, and it's a big fighting force. Who would think of attacking them?"

"You mean besides seven women?" Pony made a halfhearted attempt at levity and the other two broke into grins before sobering once more.

Xena broke the silence whispering, "Okay, one last thing; if I get caught, you two get out of here and alert the others. I mean that, got it?"

Both Amazons were well aware of the dangers and the rules of a covert operation. The safety of the mission was always put above the individual. Every Amazon child knew this from an early age. But they also knew that they'd always return for a comrade. The two women answered as one, "Yes."

"All right, let's go." Xena said as she rose to her feet.

Only minutes later, the three squatted behind a pile of rubble about fifteen feet above the encampment. Silently, they watched as the sentry passed beneath them. Xena squeezed Pony's shoulder.

Careful not to disturb any of the loose scree, the two of them moved noiselessly down the remaining trail. Reaching the edge of camp, they ducked behind the sizeable tent next the slave pen. Wordlessly, Xena indicated to Pony to take up her position next to the water barrels.

Relying on stealth and crouching low, Xena ran undetected across ten feet of open area to the edge of the prisoner enclosure. Quickly, she moved to the rear of the pen away from the center of camp squatting down on her haunches. Peering inside, it was clear that most of the women had also been asleep for some time. Only one was still up. Xena watched as the woman paced like a caged animal. Back and forth she walked, eyes always focused into the main camp beyond. Xena thought her senses might be deceiving her, when she heard a low growl emitted from the woman's throat. Ahhh, here's one that's ready to fight.

Attempting to catch the woman's attention, Xena pursed her lips making a sound, "psssttt".

The prisoner's head snapped around at the foreign noise. She stared hard in the direction of Xena's darkened form before cautiously moving in that direction. It was evident the woman was well indoctrinated into the ways a prison worked as she covertly looked around to see if she was being observed. When she reached Xena's position, the woman casually leaned back against the bars, folding her arms across her chest. Before speaking, she allowed her black eyes to study the soldier's campground. Satisfied that no one and nothing was out of place, she acknowledged Xena's presence.

Her lips barely moving and the timbre so low that no one but the warrior princess could have heard it, she asked her questions in rapid succession.

"Who are you?"

"How did get here?"

"What do you want?"

Standing up and positioning herself directly behind the woman inside the bars, Xena leaned close to answer the questions. To anyone looking it would appear that there was only one woman standing there.

"My name is Xena. I came with a group of Amazons. One of them, whose camp was attacked by this army, came to us for help. She led us here. We want to help free you and stop them."

The dark skinned woman sucked in a breath at this news, looking side ways at Xena. Disbelief warring with hope, she asked, "How many fighters do you have?"

Xena almost didn't want to answer, knowing it would crush the woman.

"Seven." She admitted.

The woman leaning against the bars, snorted in disgust before she could catch herself.

"You're on a fool's errand then." She spat. "You can't think to defeat these animals with only seven women."

Ignoring the woman's disdainful remarks, Xena asked. "What's your name?"


"Well Kunjana, let me worry about defeating them. I've got a few tricks." Xena replied before continuing. "I'm looking for someone, a woman named Isaura. She in here?"

"Yes, a good woman. Her lover died fighting these scum. How do you know her?"

"Her daughter is the one who came to us. Let me talk to her." Xena replied as she glanced around. "We don't have much time before dawn."

The dark woman regarded Xena over her shoulder for a moment seeming to consider this request before nodding once in agreement.

Glancing around her, Xena hunkered down again to watch.

Kunjana went to an older woman wrapped in a threadbare blanket. She shook her shoulder and indicated with a finger to her lips that she should remain quiet. The woman, disoriented by heavy sleep, looked around confused.

Disturbed by the shuffling noises, two other women with dark hair, one smaller and one much larger, also sat up. They all listened attentively to Kunjana as she appeared to explain the situation. The older woman audibly gasped. Immediately, Kunjana clamped her hand over the woman's mouth and adamantly shook her head, no. Then the taller woman pulled the older woman to her breast and held her tightly.

From Xena's vantage point, it was clear that the older woman's relief had overwhelmed her causing an outpouring of tears. The big woman seemed to be crying in empathy. And then they pulled apart turning toward Xena's hiding place. Kunjana motioned to the shorter woman who immediately got up and began patrolling the inside edge of the enclosure closest to the main compound. Cautiously, the other three moved to Xena.

She eyed the newcomers assessing their health and strength. The older woman was perhaps forty-five summers, maybe more. Except for looking thin and malnourished, she appeared healthy and still muscular. The bigger woman was another story. Xena was truly taken back at the evidence of physical abuse this woman had suffered. She too was muscular, but thin and fairly young, perhaps twenty eight to thirty summers. Her black hair hung long and matted with blood and dirt. Innumerable large bruises, cuts and a swollen knot on her temple indicated she'd been in more than one battle. Some of her wounds appeared to be old, while others were much fresher. Before Xena could wonder any further, the older woman spoke.

"I'm Isaura. You've spoken with my daughter?"

Xena tore her eyes away from the battered woman focusing on the woman speaking.

"Yes, Adara and her children reached us in Thrace two weeks ago. We've come to help."

Relief clearly written on the woman's face, she collapsed against the tall Amazon, who enclosed her in a comforting embrace.

"They're safe. Thank the goddess, they're safe."

Now the tall abused warrior spoke. "Are my children well?"

Your children? Having come to believe that Adara's mate had long since passed to the Amazon Land of the Dead, Xena was having some difficulty comprehending this question.

Then the truth hit her and she whispered urgently, "Your children? By the gods, are you Tynet? Adara thinks you're dead."

Waving away Xena's incredulous reaction, the bruised warrior pressed on; she had no time for this small talk.

"Tell me about my daughters and my mate. Are they well? How did they manage to travel so far so quickly?" her words poured out like water from a broken vase.

"Yes, the children are well. We left them with their aunt Marianna in Thrace." Xena spoke to both the mother and grandmother of the youngsters.

Still in mild shock, the older woman muttered, "Bless the goddess, bless the goddess, bless the goddess."

Tynet would not be denied. She'd not missed the fact Xena hadn't said her lover was in Thrace. Insisting that Xena tell her of her hearth-mate, Tynet prodded. "And Adara, what of her?"

Reluctantly Xena admitted that Adara had not stayed safely behind. "She's here. She's ridden into the desert to get more men. We're gonna need it."

Relief turned quickly to fear and disbelief. Tynet said. "She came back with you? She's no warrior, she's a healer… what were you thinking?"

Acutely aware that dawn was fast approaching, Xena cut her off. "My friend now is not the time for debating that. Your mate is a persistent woman, shall we say."

At first the tall warrior continued to glare at Xena, and then for the first time in almost a moon, Tynet's eyes lit with the simple pleasure of happy memories and she acquiesced "Yes, she is that." A smile broke through the bruised and torn lips.

Xena was about to reply; when she heard the warning calls and saw the woman across the enclosure motion them down. Quickly Xena turned and ran in a stooped over crouch to Pony's hiding spot.

Kunjana hustled Isaura back to her blankets. They both lay down just before a large man carrying a mace appeared out of the gloom. Clearly, he was the night sentry on his rounds. Wearing no helmet, an angry red scar on his face could be seen in the moon light. It ran from his hairline to his chin passing through his left eye.

Tynet had remained rooted to the spot, looking lost, and staring after Xena's retreating form.

Spying the lone woman near the bars, the massive brute moved nearer to taunt the helpless woman. "Ahhh, it's you, the ugly cow whose worthless life is about over." He chortled at his own cleverness.

His words brought Tynet back to the present. She looked hard into his eyes before she spoke.

"Whatever happens, Malvik," she said using the guard's name familiarly, "the likes of you won't have anything to do with it. You couldn't kill me with your precious club when you hit me from behind like the coward you are. You wouldn't last a minute with me in the ring."

Even with only the faint light of the moon, crimson could be seen flushing his unpleasant features. Spraying spittle, he raged, cursing her.

"You bitch," he spat. "Enjoy your last two days of life, because when they take you to the ring this time there is no question of the outcome."

Sneering he moved closer to the woman, his foul breath nearly gagging her. "You'll die slowly I promise you. And then we'll fuck your precious baby Amazons until they beg for death. Oh yes, we'll show 'em what they been missing." Leering, he cupped his crotch waggling it at her.

Gripping the bars until her knuckles glowed white in the moonlight, she cursed him in return. "You couldn't show anyone anything, you miserable eunuch."

Without warning, he grabbed hold of her neck through the bars squeezing hard until Tynet's breath was choked off. Using her fingers she levered under his hands loosening them enough to allow her to draw a small sip of air. But a month with only minimal nourishment had left her weakened and she was unable to break the hold. Even her ability to keep up the pressure to insure she could breathe slowly failed. As the blackness began to close in, she was aware of a flash of motion and the sound of a short yelp.

Bending over and sucking in big gulps of oxygen, Tynet barely heard the growled curse, "You bitch!" The sound of running feet, announced the arrival of another sentry.

Looking from the two women inside the stockade, one with blood on her mouth to his fellow guard, who was clutching his damaged right arm, the newcomer demanded, "What's going on here, Malvik?"

Embarrassed at having been bested by the fiery Indus slave, the scarfaced man shrugged it off, rubbing his arm and glowering into the enclosure.

"Nuthin's wrong. Mind your own god's be damned business."

"Up yours, Malvik. I heard you cry out." The second sentry cursed him right back.

Then grabbing Malvik's forearm and examining the wound, he laughed, "You scream over a scratch like this. What are you, a woman?"

Wrenching his arm free, Malvik minimized the event. "The little whore caught me by surprise. Get back to your watch. I can take care of them."

"Well unless you want to eat a fireball, asshole, you better leave the big one for the General's party." The other guard tossed back as he strode away to the east.

Glowering into the pen, Malvik lobbed more insults at the imprisoned women.

"You slut, I'm gonna be there when your day comes. Bet on it." He threatened Kunjana.

"In your dreams, you fat sow." She retorted knowing the female gender for the animal would enrage him further.

Tynet merely stood looking at the menacing guard. Knowing her life was at its end, a strange calm had possessed her for days. Saying nothing, she continued to stare as one might examine a particularly disgusting pile of dung.

"Don't look so smug. Tomorrow night, we'll each have a piece of you before you draw your last breath." He said to Tynet, and then added "after we toss a blanket over your ugly face." Laughing at his own joke, he snorted dismissing her.

Striding away, he walked north through camp, passing within a foot of Xena and Pony crouching behind the water barrels.

They both stood up after the sentry passed by. Under her breath Pony asked, "What's that all about?"

Xena replied softly, "I'm not sure, but that big woman is Tynet."

Trotting back to the prisoners, Xena left Pony to continue watching the camp from behind the supply tent.

The power of the words nearly felled the Amazon. That big woman is Tynet…That big woman is Tynet.

Stunned disbelief sucked the air out of Pony's lungs. Helplessly staring after Xena, all thoughts of the battle and their mission were forgotten. She was assailed with tumultuous thoughts each battling with one another for domination. Hope that she might have a future with Adara was dashed. Despair replaced that hope. That big woman is Tynet. By the goddess, she's still alive. A hole opened up in her heart and she felt the ever-widening ache inside engulf her entire being making her nauseous.

Throughout the time she had spent with Adara, she knew she was always battling Tynet's ghost but she thought, given time, she just might have a chance to win Adara's heart. Whatever chance she thought she had was gone. That big woman is Tynet. Tynet is alive. She'd never win Adara now, no matter what.

Hopelessness replaced the initial feelings of shock and disbelief. As the reality of the situation hit her, Pony's heart seemed to shatter. Grief and loss ripped the joy from her very soul. Relentlessly, these painful emotions battered the woman and a new mantra repeated itself until no other thought could enter in.

Tynet is alive. Adara belongs to Tynet.

Left alone to deal with the jarring revelation Pony watched Xena and the others as if in a dream.

When Xena reach the two women inside the enclosure, she asked them the same question Pony had asked her. "What's going on?"

Kunjana looked to Tynet expecting the fierce woman to explain to the newcomer, but the large woman remained silent glowering into the distance as if her tormentor was still visible.

In Tynet's mind the horrors since the attack on her village played out in images so real it might have been happening now. Pictures, like the engravings in the goddess's temple, had carved themselves into her memory.

Standing here in this filthy pen, held captive and treated like an animal, she found herself face to face once again with the events leading up to this night. Perhaps because of the blow to her head, she could not remember the initial attack on her village. Her first conscious memory was of being helped roughly to her feet.


                                    *          *          *          *          *          *          *

Chapter 16 – Reliving a Nightmare


Hands grasping her shoulders shook her violently, while urgent voices begged her to get to her feet. The nausea rolling through her gut kept her doubled over even as she regained her footing with the help of several blood stained women.


Someone was laughing manically and talking loudly, cursing all who stood in his way. It made no sense to Tynet, whose head was pounding in agonizing waves.


Bent at the waist, with hands on her knees to keep her unruly stomach from losing its contents, she panted drawing in huge gulps of air. A deafening explosion nearly brought her to her knees as the sound reverberated though her injured skull.


Then the smell of burning flesh assailed her nostrils and she vomited, falling forward on all fours. Retching and coughing, her evening’s meal was rejected by her abused body and pooled around her. The other women stayed close to her forming a natural barrier from the soldiers who were distracted by the flames shooting high overhead. The women also watched the fires of the funeral pyre at the center of camp saying a silent farewell to friends and loved ones.


Finally when there was nothing left to come up, she wiped her arm across her mouth and stood. All she wanted to do was lie down, but another shouted order was given and the women were roughly shoved away from the scene and forced to run to keep up with the horse soldiers leading the way out of the mountains.


Every step had sent blinding pain through Tynet’s head and she’d stumbled again and again. Each time a cruel soldier would jab at her naked skin with the tip of his spear forcing her to go on or die. Several times she thought dying preferable to jarring her head with another step.


Her sister Amazons did their best to protect the woman, helping her regain her feet when she stumbled. They’d paid the price for slowing to help the big woman, as many of them bore bloody cuts on their bodies from the sharp lances. Having lost all they held dear, friends, families and their homes, the women acted on survival instinct alone to keep moving.


The huge fearful general on his immense black stallion called a halt after they’d emerged from the mountains at the desert’s edge. Just ahead a small temporary camp with a supply wagon and some tents stood out in relief under the silvery light of the full moon. Gratefully, the women dropped to the ground when they were ordered to stop. The rest was short lived though, as they were soon herded into an enclosed area.


The makeshift pen was formed by stakes driven into the ground and surrounded with thick tamarisk which was lashed together with a rope. It was a perfect temporary prison. The foliage was stiff and acted as an impenetrable barrier preventing the prisoners from sneaking out undetected.


Less than a dozen women were already sequestered within the enclosure when the beaten Amazons were shoved inside. The clothing of the existing prisoners identified them as members of the desert tribes as they wore the borque, the protective robes that shielded them from the relentless sun.


Leaving three armed guards to watch over the captives, the rest of the huge soldiers drifted off to the main fire pit where a boar was roasting on a spit.


The newly arrived prisoners, exhausted from their recent battle and long run to the camp, slumped to the ground near the gate. From the back of the stockade the desert women kept an eye on the both the soldiers and the new arrivals. Once the enormous men began to eat and drink, the desert women regarded the Amazons with interest but made no move toward them. Prisoners learned quickly to trust no one, until they’d proven their worth.


As soon as they had recovered their breath, the Amazon women began seeing to the injuries of their sisters. An open trough of water for the horses stood near the fence within arm’s reach. Several of the Amazons were able to wet pieces of their clothing to swab and dress wounds.


Despite the powerful blow to her head and the ensuing blinding headache, Tynet was remarkably free of other injury. Even with the roiling in her stomach and the slightly blurred vision that had plagued her since the forced march began, Tynet felt sure if allowed to rest for a few days, the head injury would heal.


Her thoughts drifted to Adara and their children. ‘Where are they? Could they have escaped this horror? Please Anahita, keep them safe,’ she silently prayed. A cool wet cloth against her throbbing skull pulled Tynet from her despairing thoughts.


She winced as Isaura tied a makeshift bandage tightly against her injured head. As Adara’s mother worked, Tynet regarded the desert women. She thought she recognized some of the colored ribbons woven into the hems of the women’s clothing marking them as members of the Persian tribes that she knew. Absently, she reached up stopping the older woman’s ministrations nodding toward the other women at the same time.


Isaura glanced over.


“Isaura, if we’re to survive this until help can reach us, all the women must stick together.”


Despite her shock and despair at the death tonight of her hearth mate, Hafsa, Isaura could see the wisdom of this. She nodded in agreement.


“See that short older woman? She wears the colors of a head woman. I need to speak with her. Help me up, please.”


Isaura started to protest, “You need to rest. Wait a day until you are…” but Tynet was already attempting to stand and Isaura quickly gave up the argument pulling her daughter’s mate to her feet.


“There is no time, Isaura. These men will not wait until tomorrow. Please help me.”


On unsteady feet, the two Amazons moved toward the Persian women. The taller younger woman leaned heavily against the shorter older, Isaura.


Despite her intensely pounding head, Tynet did her best to smile and reassure the desert women of her benign intent. She was sure her smile resembled a grimace more than anything, but she was well known among some of the tribes and hoped they had common friends.


Approaching the Persian women respectfully, the two women stopped and Tynet gave the traditional blessing of the desert dwellers.


“Bara-kul-lah.” She said simply, and then repeated it in her own tongue, “May Allah bless you.”


A compact though stout woman stepped forward to greet the newcomer. She spoke rapidly in her own tongue, which caused a bemused look of panic to fall over Tynet’s features. The desert woman understood immediately, the stranger knew only the rudiments of her native tongue. She began again, this time using only the words of children and even then she spoke slowly.


“I am Rida wife of Jimil leader of the Sasanid ashira.”


After she spoke, she bowed slightly, and then raised her eyes to Tynet, waiting for the response.


Following suit, Tynet spoke using her smaller vocabulary to introduce herself.


“I am Tynet, mate of Adara of the Caucus Amazons.” And then she bowed very slightly herself, the incessant pounding in her skull making it impossible to do more.


Immediately she was pulled from Isaura’s grasp and into a hug of welcome as the smaller woman exclaimed, “Even far into the desert you are known, friend Tynet. The leaders of my ashira ride the fine horses of the house of Tynet.” Releasing the taller woman, she beamed and then her face darkened with unspoken pain.


Subdued by the throbbing pain from the hug of welcome which had jarred her head further, Tynet answered softly.


“Thank you, Rida, you are kind to say so.”


Not wanting to appear rude by failing to observe the customary formalities of the hospitable nomadic tribes, Tynet hesitated to ask the obvious questions. Instead she took a moment to assess the condition of the women held captive.


Between the two groups, the crude stockade contained twenty-three women. Tynet noted the state of the desert prisoners. Most had the vacant stare that accompanies severe shock. Many also had the hopeless look of the utterly defeated. On closer inspection she saw the soiled and torn clothing understanding that most of these women had been used by the soldiers.


Bile rose in her throat as she allowed her eyes to track over her own tribe-women. She knew the spoils of war always meant the women were given to the men to satisfy their battle lust. Had she anything left in her stomach she would have retched at the repellant thought that soon her sisters would be subjected to such humiliation and pain. Then her eyes fell on the two youngest members of her tribe. Both girls had only recently entered into womanhood. Groaning, Tynet could not contain her revulsion at what would certainly be their fate.


Needing to know, she could delay no longer. She asked the older woman. “What of your men, Rida? Will they come soon to rescue you?”


The woman’s voice broke as she replied, “No my friend, there will be no rescue. All of our men were slaughtered. These animals appeared out of the dark raining fire and death down on my people. When it was over the few women you see here were allowed to live. It would have been better to have died with my husband.” Resigned she stopped talking, her eyes wandered into the camp where the soldiers boisterously bragged of their exploits.


“Soon they will be drunk and looking to feed their lust.” The desert woman said and she too looked with pity at the two young Amazon girls.


Following her line of sight Tynet adamantly replied, “I swear on my life, they will not touch these two children.”


Placing her hand on the large woman’s shoulder in an attitude of comfort, Rida said, “Then you will die and they will be taken. It’s no use my friend.”


“I can not do nothing.” Tynet stated as she watched and listened to the soldiers who were becoming louder and more disorderly by the moment.


Nodding her understanding, Rida looked out into the camp knowing that soon this brave woman would be dead.


Signaling the rest of her women to join them, Tynet made introductions. Rida did the same for her sisters.


They retired to the farthest corner of the pen. The women huddled together taking what comfort they could from being with others in the same situation. By unspoken agreement, Tynet and Rida assumed leadership positions sitting side my side watching the gate.


The Persian women shared their meager provisions of stale tepid water and bits of left over dried bread with the newcomers as they awaited their fate. The food had been gleaned from the leavings of the soldier’s morning meal. Surprisingly, Tynet began to feel a bit better with the simple sustenance.


The general had disappeared into his command tent as soon as they’d reached camp and the men seemed to have been left on their own. It wasn’t long before many of the huge hateful soldiers were drunk and casting glances back at the prisoners. Nudging each other in the manner of louts, the men’s lewd laughter carried their intent to the prisoners. As if a secret signal had been given, they rose as a group moving toward the captives, laughing and grabbing their crotches.


Tynet came to her feet as well. Silently watching, she positioned herself in front of the other women. As the gate to the stockade was wrenched open, she crossed her arms over her chest and raised her chin defiantly. Laughing and joking, the big soldiers came unsuspectingly into the cage heading directly towards the big woman. They attempted to move around her as only the most desperate man would look twice at Tynet when there was such sweet juicy meat to be had.


Wordlessly she stepped in front of them. As the huge ugly brutes attempted to brush by her, one of them grabbed her arm meaning to toss her aside. It was he who was thrown back while being divested of his sword. All sound stopped.


Brandishing the weapon, she took advantage of their temporary confusion to push her advantage.


“Get out of here while you can and no one gets hurt.”


Unafraid, one immense filthy predator stepped forward laughing. “It’ll be you that gets hurt.” He said to her and then to his comrades, “Come on, she’s one woman, let’s kill her and enjoy our evening.”


The rest of the soldiers began heaping abuse at the lone armed woman as they tried to surround her. Steadfastly ignoring the headache that had immediately flared, she stood in a defensive posture in the center of the men. Swinging her sword, she drove first one and then another man back, slicing through their grubby uniforms and drawing blood against several. The noise of their taunts had reached unbearable levels in her aching head, when suddenly all became deathly quiet.


The soldiers parted as the man in charge strode forward stopping just out of reach of Tynet’s sword. He smirked at her, his anger apparent, “What is the meaning of this? You’re disturbing my dinner.”


The men remained silent, but Tynet spoke knowing her life was already forfeit. “This rabble you call an army is threatening the women.”


The general howled with laughter, “Well, of course they are, you filthy Amazon bitch. You are prisoners, spoils of war. They’ve earned a night of entertainment, shall we say.”


She knew she couldn’t back down at all. She had to challenge his every word. Ignoring his taunts, she replied, “Earned? You say they’ve earned their spoils. Not to my mind they haven’t.”


The general was enjoying himself as he toyed with the object of his derision. Knowing he himself would soon cut down the obstinate woman, he continued to bait her.


“Oh really. They beat you easily enough.”


“If raiding a village of unarmed women and children is considered battle ready, then perhaps we have different ideas of what makes a soldier. So far, all I’ve seen is undisciplined louts drinking and telling lies of their exploits. In our tribe warriors earn their rewards, you simply give them this. I see no army here, only a mob of undisciplined animals.”


Purple colored his face as his anger gripped him. He refused to be defied by a woman and an Amazon at that. Moving swiftly as a snake striking, the general stepped in and backhanded Tynet hard enough to push her back three steps.


She didn’t go down nor drop her blade. Blood dripping down her chin from her split lip and her ears ringing from the blow to her head, Tynet gathered her inner reserve and fired back at the general before he could follow up and kill her.


“Not one of them could best me in a fair fight.”

A muffled gasp could be heard from the rest of the women cowering at the edge of the enclosure.


As she had hoped he rose to the taunt.


No one cast aspersions on his army; it was a direct insult to him. She’d tossed down the gauntlet and now he had to decide whether to meet the challenge. He was sorely tempted to just kill the bitch as his hatred of Amazons knew no bounds, but in truth, he’d noted the disarray of the men himself.


Unknowingly, the soldiers made the decision for him as they began taunting her.


“Kill the slag…”


“Give her to us, we’ll teach her what a real man is”,


“Who’d want to touch the ugly whore? I’d rather fuck a camel!”


His comrades, drunk and disorderly to begin with, picked up on that insult, “Landers, you fuck camels anyway…”


More lewd and disgusting slogans were called out until the roar was deafening. The shouting soon devolved into pandemonium and the general called for quiet. Unable to hear the order over their own catcalls, the soldiers ignored him pressing forward.


In fury the general rounded on them. Seeing the change in their leader, they fell back in fear. He had a clear vision of the rabble he commanded.


Slowly he turned back to Tynet and asked, “How do you propose they prove their worth?”


With no hesitation, she responded, “Put me in single combat with one of your best warriors, he represents the rest. Who ever is standing at the end is rewarded.”


He considered this for a moment before replying, “And what would be your reward?”


Asking for the impossible in order that she might at least procure their safety while in captivity, she said, “Free all the women.”


The general almost bent double laughing at such a ridiculous demand. Controlling himself he said. “In the unlikely event that you might win, you’d better choose a boon that I will grant.”


Pleased at having won half the battle, she forced a neutral expression on her face before replying, “Then if I win, no soldiers touch these women.”


“And if my soldier wins?”


She swallowed hard sending strength to her resolve. Attempting to camouflage her worst fears, knowing the result for her sisters, especially the young women would be akin to the lowest levels of hell, she spoke evenly, “Then, I suppose he’s proved your army is indeed highly disciplined and have earned their spoils.”


“An interesting proposition,” replied the general as he eyed the sword still in her grip.


His innate hatred of Amazons propelled him to place one further condition on the woman. Smiling inwardly he gloated over this stroke of genius that would thoroughly demoralize and humiliate the woman while ensuring her death.


“I’ll do it, but you will fight naked and unarmed.”


She looked with regret at the weapon before dropping it in the dust at her feet.


In reply, the general laughed his hideous cackle. ‘At least she’ll feel the degradation of standing naked in front of me before she dies’, he thought to himself.


Eager to prove their worth before their leader, the soldiers clamored for the honor. One in particular, a disgusting man carrying a mace stepped forward. With an angry red scar running down his face through his eye, he looked every inch an uncivilized beast. Asserting his right to kill this Amazon trash, he shouted above the others.

“Let me. I brought her down in their camp. She’s mine by right.”


He never wore a helmet and was useless with a sword, but swinging his club with brute strength he would bull through a battle leveling all in his path. Most of the men knew him to be both strong and stupid. Even in their drunken state, they suspected it would take more than strength to fell this woman.


“Forget it Malvik. You should a killed her when ya had the chance.”


Malvik rounded on his comrades ready to murder each and every one of them. Watching this exchange, Tynet was heartened momentarily that maybe he would. The hope was short lived however, as the general more disgusted than ever, stepped in.


Angrily he called for his second, “Colonel, pick your best man and let’s get this done.”


A large swarthy man decorated with red and black ribbons stepped forward and regarded his soldiers intently. His eyes scanned the group of men as they shuffled impatiently wanting only to sample the new toys from their latest raid. He smiled when his eye lit on one of the largest men in his command, Hashim. He was well named, Destroyer. Hashim was an expert with most weapons and in hand to hand combat. This would be a quick and decisive contest.


Minutes later, standing naked and unarmed inside a ring comprised of enemy soldiers, some holding torches high, Tynet waited on the balls of her feet. Those nearest shoved her forward, pinching her buttocks while loudly assessing her physical attributes.


“Nice ass…”


“Yeah and her tits aren’t bad either…”


“She’d be worth fucking, if ya had something over her ugly face…”


“Won’t be nuthin to fuck after Hashim gets done…”

Having heard every insult to her looks ever thought up, Tynet ignored them and their jeers, the noise of which threatened to deafen her. She knew her only chance was to out smart this huge beast brandishing his short saber threateningly in her direction. She had one chance and one chance only.


Her mind flew back to the Amazon camp, hearing her Amazon sisters cheering her on as she raced toward the ceremonial fire ring. A feral smile crossed her face. She knew what to do.


As the huge monster stalked toward her, she feinted right then cut left. Planting her foot hard, she leapt high tucking into a ball. She somersaulted over his head landing behind him. A searing pain erupted from under her left arm down to her hip. She’d been cut. Ignoring the pain, she attacked the moment her feet hit the ground. With all her strength she drove her unprotected elbow hard into the big man’s kidneys before he could turn.


Howling with pain, he straightened up facing his tormenter, his blade moving. Tynet didn’t hesitate; she threw her fist into his exposed throat. Her hand hit flesh with the incredible force born of fury and desperation. She spun away from the shiny blade that flashed in the torch light but not before his blade again found its mark. She now bled freely from her left shoulder and side.


Deprived of air, the big man dropped his weapon grasping his throat. His windpipe crushed he would have died anyway, but Tynet didn’t stop. Snatching up the weapon, she ran the man through, finishing him.


With blade hanging unnoticed in her hand, she sought out the general, who stood stunned at ringside. Just as they made eye contact, a small riot broke out and several of the soldiers fell on her, kicking, pummeling and shouting abuse. One man straddled her waist, his hands wrapped around her neck, squeezing the life from her.


The general’s demands for order went largely unnoticed by the men beating Tynet, but the others dropped back in fear.


“Leave her!” he shouted.


When they continued pounding and choking the prisoner ignoring him, he grabbed the colonel's sword and cleanly sliced the head off the man throttling Tynet. A shower of blood and gore covered her. The rest of the men backed away in silent fear. They knew well the penalty for disobedience.


“I will have order!” The general raged at his men, white spittle spraying from his mouth.


His chest heaving with unspent anger, he regarded the half dead woman at his feet without speaking.


Darkness played at the edge of her vision, narrowing inexorably to the nothingness that she craved. Knowing the Amazons’ well-being depended on her maintaining the illusion of strength; she rolled over and pulled herself to hands and knees. The blood coating her dripped on to the sand as she spoke in a barely audible voice.


“I won. Your men have not proved worthy of any reward.”


Not giving an inch, the general replied, “But you are not standing.”


Trapped by her own definition of victory, Tynet knew she had to somehow get to her feet before the blackness creeping in claimed her. Shaking her head, she splattered blood and sweat in an arc. Her left side virtually useless, she pushed herself slowly upright using her right leg and arm. The effort to stand shot pain through her and she wanted to scream in agony. Listing badly to her right and in imminent danger of passing out, she looked defiantly back at the general.


With the back of her right forearm she wiped blood, sweat and snot from her swollen raw lips. She cast a meaningful look at her dead opponent crumpled at her feet before she answered the general in a barely audible voice.


“I'm standing, General.”


He was sorely tempted to just kill this miserable excuse for a woman. It was unnatural for a female to beat a man in combat.


For many reasons he took immense pleasure in killing and humiliating Amazons. They were perverts who preferred to share the bed of women rather than with men which was the natural order of things. The quicker the world was rid of them, the sooner he’d rule a place governed by rules he made. Rules that said women were put on earth for the pleasure and service of man and that only male children had value and any deviation from that model would be crushed out.


While he debated his choices, the inebriated restless men began again demanding their spoils of battle. The outbreak of jeers and curses made the decision for him. He commanded a mob and he knew it. It was time to show some discipline.


“Shut up all of you.” He commanded the men. Although a few continued to grumble, they stopped when the general raised his arm as if to summon a fireball. “No one touches these women until it’s earned. Now get this camp in order. We’re moving out at first light.”


Turning his attention back to Tynet, he spoke with contempt.


“As you say, Amazon, you are the one standing; but you will have to earn the safety of your women each week.”


He issued the challenge to Tynet who stood unresponsive with head hanging down. It was all she could do to breathe. Finally, she managed to look at him and nod in acceptance. Satisfied the general spun on his heel and left her.


It was a miracle that the women had been able to stop the bleeding using their torn garments to staunch her wounds. Still, she’d been unconscious and near death when they’d reached the permanent camp the following day. It was due to the devotion of her Amazon sisters who had carried her and the impressive skills of the healer, Halima, that Tynet had not only survived but recovered and each week she’d fought for the dignity of the captives.

                                                *         *          *          *          *

Chapter 17 – That's What Friends Are For

After shaking Tynet’s arm several times to get her attention, Kunjana finally grabbed her chin and forced eye contact. Tynet, who showed no sign of recognition, looked inquisitively at the Indus woman as if seeing her for the first time. Sighing, the feisty woman began to explain to Xena about the weekly battles. She spoke with admiration in her tone, while the big woman stood stoically by.

“She is the soldier’s entertainment since she’s been captured. Each week she’s made to fight in the ring.” Nodding her head toward the flattened open area in front of the slave pens with her dark head, Kunjana continued.

“First two times it was one man, one of their best warriors. She killed each of them. Then next time it was two men. She still won. Last time it was three and they nearly killed her, but she was faster and tricked one into killing his mate and she killed the remaining ones with their own weapons. The general was as enraged as I’ve ever seen him. I thought he’d kill her himself, but he didn’t. Instead, he promised her death next time. She’ll face six. Last week was a costly fight, as you can see she’s still not recovered from the battle. Look at her wounds.”

Kunjana’s appraisal was accurate. Tynet had a long gash stitched up her left arm from shoulder to elbow and many fresh cuts and bruises from the ordeal. An angry red scar ran from under her left arm to her waist. Xena nodded her head recognizing an even more subtle enemy, poor nutrition.

Xena looked between the two of them. Week after week of little food would mean diminishing strength. That would ultimately lead to the undeniable conclusion of death in the ring even without adding more adversaries to the mix. Without doubt, Tynet was under a death sentence.

“When is the next fight?” she asked.

Dispassionately, Tynet answered. “In two nights, I die.”

Xena reached in through the bars clasping the big woman’s shoulder, holding on, forcing her to look into Xena’s eyes. “Nothing is for sure, my friend. I know a very determined woman who would move heaven and earth to have you back.”

Her voice thick with emotion and the pain of loss, Tynet answered. “And I would give anything to have her.”

“Then hold onto that hope, because I’m not giving up.”

Defeat etched onto her face, Tynet said nothing.

Turning to Kunjana, Xena began to explain the situation quickly as the light in the east brightened. The new day was upon them; they needed to be gone.

“We need to get back to the others soon. If we get you weapons, can you hide them from the soldiers until the fight tomorrow evening?”

A slow sly smile spread across Kunjana’s lips. “Oh yes, you get us weapons, we can hide them.”

“All right then. We’ll return tonight after the camp is bedded down. You’ll have your weapons. And we’ll bring food.”

“And you my friend,” she said to Tynet, “have courage. We’ll find a way to even the odds a bit.”

Signaling Pony to join her, Xena sprinted to Solari’s hiding place.

When all three were together, Xena indicated they should move quickly to the top of the cliffs. Under the crevice, they stopped and peered down into the camp one last time. The soldiers were beginning to stir. The light made it easy to make out details. They could see the four women huddled together in muffled conversation in the center of the pen.

“Let’s go.” Xena said. Making a foothold out of her hands, she knelt under the opening looking at the two Amazons expectantly.

Solari went first followed by a somber Pony each using the step Xena had created. Being the tallest, Xena easily navigated the short jump to grab onto craggy stone and pulled herself up to the plateau.

At the top before moving another step, Solari wanted to know what had happened.

With the dawn breaking, Xena answered in an urgent, hushed voice. “Tynet is alive. We're out of time; the sun is coming up. I'll fill in everyone at camp.”

Solari gasped at the news and glanced with compassion at Pony who was already jogging across the open plain to their hideout in the rocks.


Gabrielle was roused from her bedroll and the six women crowded around Xena. She related the events of the night’s reconnaissance. Stunned silence greeted the warrior princess when she divulged the news of Tynet’s survival. Xena’s obvious admiration of the woman could not be masked as she related what Tynet had endured. All eyes surreptitiously bestowed compassionate looks on Pony.

The woman under scrutiny was quiet, but Xena drew her into the conversation by asking her a question. “Pony, you have anything to add?”

Her mind in such deep turmoil, Pony failed to hear the question. Even though she knew in her heart Adara would never have belonged to her, she couldn’t help feeling that she’d somehow been denied even a chance to prove her worth. Basically a good and generous person, she was happy for Adara knowing the joy she’d see on the eastern woman’s face when she learned the truth. Yet, she also knew she’d never be able to watch the reunion of the two whose love seemed to be blessed by the goddess herself.

Pulled from the depths of despair, Pony heard her name called a second time. “Pony?”

“Ummm, what? I mean, can you repeat that?”

“I said; do you have anything to add?”

“Only that I ducked inside the supply tent. There’re lots of weapons, cross bows, swords, boot knives. Also, I saw regular stores like dried food and extra blankets, that sort of thing.”

“Good. We’ll help ourselves to a few supplies tonight and then burn that tent to the ground once the battle starts. I want as much chaos as possible during the fight.”

Speaking to the group as a whole, but focusing her eyes on Ephiny, Xena laid out the plan for that day.

“Okay, tomorrow… I mean today, you’ll need to get some things done, while Gabrielle and I try to find this goddess, Anahita.”

Without pausing for breath, she issued the instructions. “Eph, you and the others need to really scout out that camp. I want details, I want numbers and I want locations; see about cover for an ambush near the slave pens. I want absolute times for sentries, number of horses versus numbers on foot. See if there’s a way, we can release the horses. Let’s put all the bastards on foot. Then I need as many of the Greek fire-tipped arrows as you can make. Also, let’s make our own firebombs. We’ll fight fire with fire.”

Finally finished, she asked, “Any questions?”

Overwhelmed by the warrior princess’s energy and personality, the four amazons left to do the work, shook their heads no. With humor in her voice Ephiny sarcastically asked, “Is that all?”

Recognizing the joke for what it was, a release of tension they all felt, Xena replied in kind, “Yeah, see if you can find us a hot springs. I’m gonna want a good soak when this is over.”

“Your wish is my command, Warrior Princess.” Ephiny rejoined and Xena smirked before issuing her final order.

“All right, the rest of you post a sentry and get some sleep before full dawn. Gabrielle and I need to get going.”

Pony said, “I’ll take first watch. I’m not that tired anyway.” Without waiting for a reply, she turned and walked unsteadily on wooden legs toward the boulders seeking solace and comfort from the lonely desert sky. Her world had tilted off center and she desired to feel nothing at all. Had they been at home, she'd have retreated with a flask of strong port seeking oblivion. Here with the enemy so close, she'd settle for being alone with only hopeless despair as her companion.

Knowing that the weapons mistress carried a heavy burden, Xena nodded but remained silent. She had no answers for the heartsick woman.

Pony moved silently up onto the rocks on which she’d sat the night before waiting for Adara and Xena to return. Now, with a huge sigh, she settled down to watch the horizon and think her lonely thoughts.

Down below her, Xena and Gabrielle walked side by side to their horses speaking in low tones.

“Xena, I feel so badly for her. I wish there was something we could do to help.”

“I know, Gabrielle, but there isn’t. Even though Tynet is alive, the fact is she might still be dead by the time Adara gets back. For that matter, we could all be dead. Six women against hundreds of huge soldiers equipped with supernatural powers are not the best odds. The only plan I have is to surprise the hell out of ‘em and hope that this goddess has a trick or two up her sleeve. I’d love to wait until Adara gets back with more fighters, but we can’t. There is no way a malnourished unarmed woman can defeat six men. This is our best chance to surprise them.”

When Gabrielle didn’t reply, but looked saddened instead, Xena pulled the queen against her, wrapping her arms around the smaller woman.

“Ah Gabrielle, try not to think about it. Everything will work out," she said hoping to convince herself as much as the small blonde in her arms. She could all too easily allow herself to imagine the pain of losing this precious woman, but she could not dwell on that. If she lost her focus, they'd stand no chance at all.


Watching until the queen and her consort were out of sight, Ephiny rose from her bedroll. Careful not to wake the others, she moved silently to where Pony kept watch.

Announcing herself with the Amazon birdcall, she signaled a friend coming in. Pony chirped the answer back to let Eph know that she’d heard.

Casually, so the woman wouldn’t think she was the object of concern, Ephiny attempted inane conversation hoping to draw Pony out.

“Moon’s almost full.”

“Yeah.” Pony responded listlessly without taking her eyes from the empty sandy plain,

“Hard to believe it’s only been a month since mid-summer, so much has happened.”


Well, the subtle approach isn’t getting us very far and subtle isn’t my style anyway.

“Pony, if you want to talk.”

The weapons mistress looked at her as if she had three heads, but didn’t reply.

“You know, just want to get things off your chest. Some people say I’m a good listener.”

Dammit, I can’t take this. Why doesn’t everyone leave me alone? Adara loves Tynet. And who wouldn’t love her? The woman is more giving than a goddess and more courageous than Hercules. I stood little chance before, but now… She looked at the regent’s compassionate face and her anger flared.

“Gods be damned! I don’t want to talk. Just leave me the Hades alone.”

Ephiny drew back as if she’d been slapped. Hurt written on her face at the complete rejection of her offer of friendship, she turned away.

Seeing her friend’s reaction, Pony felt ashamed at her words. Ephiny has never been anything but kind. What the Hades is wrong with me, turning on my friends?

Softly she called out to the retreating back of the regent, “Eph?"

The regent stopped, but didn't reply or turn. She waited.

"Eph, I didn't mean that. I’m sorry.”

Turning back toward the bereft woman, Ephiny sighed. Walking close to her longtime friend, she laid her hand on Pony’s shoulder squeezing it, trying with actions to say what words hadn’t been able to.

“I’m sorry Eph,” Pony repeated, “it’s just that… that… talking won’t help. And you wouldn’t understand anyway.”

Ephiny moved to sit next to Pony, putting her arm around the woman hugging her, even as Pony remained immobile.

“That’s where you’re wrong, Pony. I know exactly what you’re going through.”

The weapons mistress searched her friend’s face expecting to see pity, but saw only compassion and pain mirrored there. Who could ever reject you Ephiny, you’re beautiful and smart and strong. Any Amazon would kill to share your sleeping furs. Slowly, enlightenment dawned on the weapons mistress and she glanced back towards camp where Xena and Gabrielle were saddling their horses.

“The queen,” She said. It wasn’t a question.

A sad smile gracing the regent's face, she nodded, “Yes, the queen.”

As surprise registered, Pony said, “Ahhh, Eph. I’m sorry. Her heart belongs to Xena just like Adara’s belongs to Tynet.”

Pony now returned Ephiny’s embrace, each taking comfort from knowing they were with someone who did understand.

"How do you stand it?" Pony wondered aloud.

The regent pulled back attempting a half-hearted smile. Gathering her thoughts, Ephiny drew up her knees and wrapped her arms around her legs.

"At first, I didn't. I just kept believing and hoping that she'd come to love me for what I could give her, someone she could talk to easily, especially as we all know Xena isn't the greatest communicator in the world." Ephiny shook her head at her understatement before continuing. "Anyway, I've come to realize Xena gives her what I never could."

"What's that?"

"Xena completes her," Ephiny stated simply, "and Gabrielle makes Xena whole."

"At Solstice I saw you dancing with Gabrielle. I know she cares for you."

"Oh, she does, but as friend. I was stupid that night."

"You mean because Xena was going to kill you?" Pony asked in a teasing way.

Ephiny chuckled. "Well, that too, but I meant because I was coming on to Gabrielle even though I knew she was only having fun. So I was kind of taking advantage and that's what Xena saw."

"I'm not sure how much Xena saw, Eph. She and I were pounding down port. She was pretty far gone."

Ephiny snorted. "Xena will never be so drunk that she doesn't know exactly what's going on with Gabrielle. That's why she was so mad. She saw right through me."

"So how do you deal with seeing them together every day?" Pony re-asked her original question.

"I love her enough."

"Love her enough?"

"To back off and give her what she wants," Ephiny added.

Pony pondered this. Can I love Adara enough? Do I?


Ephiny broke into Pony's self examination. "And it doesn't mean that you'll never find anyone. Love is a funny thing. You might be surprised one day to find someone special where you least expect it."

Pony nodded. "Maybe."

They sat without talking for a while watching the empty desert before Ephiny broke the silence.

“Well, we’re a pair to draw to, aren’t we?”

Pony chuckled at the irony of it. All her life she could have had any woman she wanted, but the one she did want wanted someone else.

“There’s no way, anyone could ever compete with Xena; she’s superhuman. And Tynet; it was bad enough when I thought she was a ghost, but the woman is incredible, the Xena of the east.”

Nodding her head in agreement, Ephiny said, “Yes, but it’s even more than that. They are soul-mates blessed by the gods. They were born for each other. I believe that. Xena could have been an innkeeper and Gabrielle would have loved her as much. And the same seems true of Adara and Tynet.”

Unable to argue with the observation, Pony only nodded in reply. Her mind repeatedly asked the question, do I love her enough?

Sitting in quiet contemplation, they watched the eastern sky turn from red to yellow to full daylight before either spoke again.

When they did talk, it was not of unrequited love. They spoke of home and memories shared in the way of longtime friends.

                                    *       *       *       *       *





Xena gathered up the supplies they would need for the trip across the desert to the oasis. She knew this was important to Gabrielle. After seeing the Red Scorpion army camp, she knew they would need whatever this goddess had to offer.

Because the harsh, inhospitable desert could quickly take the life of the unwary, Xena was not looking forward to trekking further out onto the blazing sand with Gabrielle. She stowed their gear in the packs holding out the map from Artemis. Studying it once more, Xena committed the routes and markings to memory before folding it and putting it in the top of the pack.

Getting to the oasis didn’t seem to be a problem. It was after they arrived that worried her. She thought back to Artemis’s words “Anahita lives in a cave near the desert oasis. I’ll tell you how to get there. But the way will be treacherous before you come face to face with her. The cave is underwater and you will have many obstacles to overcome to reach her.” She didn’t like the sound of this at all. Maybe, she thought, I could tell Anahita I am the Queen’s champion and Gabrielle wouldn’t have to go into the cave.

Xena's thoughts were interrupted when the bard placed a hand on her arm. “Are we ready to go?” she asked worry already evident on her face.

“Ready as we’ll ever be.”

“Do you have the map?”

“Right here,” the warrior pointed to her head. Knowing her bard however, she also tapped the pack. “It’s right here.” Then she added, “Are you sure you want to do this?”

“We have no choice, Xena.”

“We always have a choice. I can go and…”

Gabrielle interrupted her. “You know I have to go. Artemis said I had to personally appeal to Anahita to help us. She’ll recognize me as Queen and, Xena I’ll do whatever I have to do to save the Amazons. You know that.”

The warrior didn’t like the answer but knew the younger woman planned on fulfilling this mission. “Let’s go,” she said in response.

Both women leaped onto the backs of their horses and left their encampment. It was early morning and they needed to cross as much desert as possible before the sun began its relentless assault. They made their way carefully, not wanting to tire their mounts too soon. Xena knew the general direction in which they were riding, but checked the map just to be certain.

Around late morning, they stopped to rest the horses and drink water. As the warrior wiped her brow she noticed a shimmering lake of water in the distance. She questioned if it was a mirage or the actual oasis. The shimmering lake image seemed real. Well, only one way to find out, she thought to her self.


“I think we’re close. Look over there.” She pointed towards the oasis.

“Do you think Anahita will be there?”

“Who knows? The Greek gods show up when they please or when they want something. I guess we’ll find out if these Persian gods behave the same way.” She jumped into the saddle pulling at the reins in the direction of the oasis with Gabrielle following close behind.

                                                *          *          *          *

There was an unusual rocky outcropping to the side of the green water as they approached, which had not been visible from afar. The outcropping had the appearance of a shallow cave and it provided some relief from the scorching sun. The sound of moving water was unmistakable and it seemed to be coming from inside the cave.

There was no one else around the oasis but her and Gabrielle. Xena dismounted and cautiously examined their surroundings, all her senses on alert, as she noticed the stillness of the green pool of water with no visible signs of moving water even though the sound was clear and distinct. She decided she needed to enter the cave and see what was in there.

“This must be the place. Artemis said there was a cave.” The bard’s voice broke through her rumination.

“I’ll go in the cave and look around. It doesn’t look like much but you wait here.”

“Xena, I’m going with you. You know what Artemis said.” Her tone of voice was adamant.

Xena watched her dismount still not convinced this was a good idea. But she held her tongue as she watched Gabrielle march decisively towards the cave ahead of her. She caught up with her in two strides and they entered together.

“It’s cool in here isn’t it?” The younger woman asked, not really expecting a reply.

“This doesn’t look like a goddess’ kind of place” she remarked. “There’s nothing in here. There’s no altar, no offerings. It’s just bare shale walls.”

With her words, the air suddenly grew cooler and the more distinct sound of rushing water caught their attention.

Gabrielle looked at Xena and said, “There’s something here. I think this is her place. I’m going to call her.”

The warrior shrugged and said, “Go ahead.”

“Anahita, goddess of water and goddess war, my name is Gabrielle and I am Queen of the Thracian Amazons. I ask you to appear.” The sound of rushing water increased and a feeling of dampness permeated the air, but there was no sign of the goddess.

Gabrielle continued her petition in a louder voice, “Anahita, goddess of water and of war, I implore you to appear at the request of your Greek sister, Artemis.”

The roar of water became deafening as it echoed off the clamshell shaped cave. A damp foggy mist appeared against the back wall of the cave as the walls themselves seemed to ooze liquid rainbows of colors. Suddenly the Goddess was visible. She seemed to float in the mist, blending with it and yet separate from it. Seeming to emerge from a great depth, she grew larger and more distinct as she approached the two women. The blue green drapes of her gown rippled like flowing water, and her face and arms appeared wet. Her eyes were both fierce and yet compassionate. Looking into the eyes of the goddess, the young Amazon queen felt she could sink and melt into the blue ocean that was her eyes.

“Who summons me?” Cascading like the sound of three enormous waves rolling onto a beach, her voice echoed and reverberated in the cave.

The bard was still enraptured by the depths of the goddess’s eyes so missed the question.

“Gabrielle, Queen of the Thracian Amazons calls you.” Xena answered for her.

Anahita looked at the warrior, then turned her attention back to the young blond woman and repeated her question, “Who summons me?” Again the words were distinctly heard within the loud sound of three waves rolling onto a beach.

As the goddess broke eye contact, Gabrielle was brought back to the present sputtering as though coming up for air, “Me… I mean I… I mean, Gabrielle. I’m the Queen of the Amazons. Uhmmm, this is Xena. Artemis sent us to find you. She said you’d help us.” The words tumbled out as though she’d been released from a giant tidal wave of emotion.

The goddess raised her hand and again the sound of rushing water could be heard in the cave as though it was moving through the very air they breathed. “I know why you’ve come. I need to know your intentions. What you ask of me will require a token sacrifice to show me your intentions are pure.”

“Anything,” the Bard replied. “We brought incense and sweet smelling oils and fragrances from Greece, and one of our best carvers has created a staff for you. I’m sure we have any sacrifice you want.”

The goddess laughed and the sound was like a distant peeling deep tone rippling across the air in the cave. “I have no need of those kinds of tokens, my daughter. The goddess of water demands a different kind of sacrifice.”

Xena stepped forward beside Gabrielle, not sure she was going to like the sacrifice this goddess was proposing. Anahita looked at her again and put her palm up as though stopping her and the sound of water seemed to cascade across the cave again with the motion of her hand.

“What sort of sacrifice are you looking for?” the warrior asked.

Anahita glanced at her for a moment, ignored her question, and then looked directly into Gabrielle’s eyes recapturing them as she spoke.

“Water is the source of all life. It can also be the source of death. But remember this, ata lara mana vata.”

As she enunciated the last words in the dialect of ancient Sanskrit the roar of the ocean was unmistakable and the power of an emotional rip tide seemed to sweep through the shallow cave buffeting them.

“More riddles!” the warrior pronounced with disdain even as she staggered a bit, and was aware of the profound waves of feelings rushing through the misty air of the cave.

The words were barely out of her mouth when an emotionally fierce, raging, look from the goddess propelled the warrior backwards a step or two and the bellowing sound of turbulent waves seemed to swamp the cave. Before Xena could instinctively draw her sword, a soft voice said, “Xena, let me talk to her.”

The warrior struggled to regain her footing and break the intense emotional glare and the feeling of being submerged under water. Gabrielle began addressing the goddess. The younger woman was afraid to look into her eyes again feeling as though she’d be swept into another tidal pool. And this time she was – a pool of immense compassion which released her from her fears.

The young woman began, “Anahita, my sister Amazons have been annihilated by a rampaging army. Only a few survived but they were taken captive. Three escaped, a woman and her children, and came to our camp in Greece and told us what happened. We went to see Artemis and she told us to come to Persia with only seven warriors and that Xena and I were to find you and ask you to help us. I’m fearful we’re all doomed if we don’t stop this evil menace. You asked us for a sacrifice. I’m willing to sacrifice whatever you want of me to save my sisters.”

The goddess stared at the young woman, recognizing the emotional sincerity of her plea and the gentle sweet goodness and love emanating from her heart.

Ata lara mana vata, Gabrielle.” She repeated the Sanskrit phrase and when she said the words, the swells of the ocean could again be heard and felt in the cave. “Unconditional love is the purest essence of water’s many faces and you’ve shown that in your request.”

“What does ata lara… uhmmm.. mean?” Gabrielle asked. She stumbled with the unfamiliarity of the phrase so left out two of the words.

“Ata lara mana vata is an ancient chant and it has mystical qualities when properly chanted.” This time when the goddess said the words, the sound was of a wave gently rolling in and while it lacked the power of the chant when she said the words previously the feelings were no less distinct.

She continued explaining, “It means that without water there is no life. Water is not an easy element to hold or to control. It has a life of its own and can spill out and flow gently or all by itself it can rage like a storm. It’s the source of all physical life on earth and the source of all emotions of the heart and of the spirit. It can also inundate and drown you. Water requires a holder or it may flow out of control. The earth herself holds water in check. When you love someone deeply from your heart, water flows like a raging river from heart to heart and each heart holds the other in safekeeping. When two souls connect as one in unconditional love, the water flows not just between each soul, but from their joining union to all of life and the rippling effect creates joyous bounty in the universe.”

The two women looked at each other as the goddess’s words surrounded them in the magic of the feelings.

As she spoke these words a single humming tone beat in a four part rhythm and blended with the sound of moving water. It grew in intensity and surrounded them in an atmosphere of mystical enchantment. The goddess herself had become fluid as she spoke.

The warrior broke the reverie asking, “This chant is supposed to stop the red scorpion army?” She was clearly not impressed.

“My sister told me you were ever the practical warrior, Xena.” The goddess stared at the woman who challenged gods. She knew from her vast knowledge that when emotional love flowed between two hearts nothing else mattered so she knew better than to question how this young woman of such purity and goodness could love this obstinate warrior.

She waved her arms over the damp mists of the cave and the fog cleared. She became more solid and approachable and less threatening to the two women and her voice sounded more normal.

“You will need special water to stop the fire bombs of the red army, Xena. This water is sacred and unstoppable and it will liquefy the fire bombs. The sacred waters will extinguish the bombs and render them useless. But more importantly, the water you seek reveals truth beyond illusion.”

“Now we’re talking. Tell me where the water is and I’ll go get it.” She began to pace and look around the empty cave, anxious to do something besides talk endlessly.

The goddess of war admired the warrior’s fervor and zeal. “Xena, this is not an easy quest. You will be sorely tested on the way with many dangers to face. You will have to dive into deep waters and it will be arduous. You remember I said water is not only the source of life but it can also be death? This dive could portend a watery grave if you fail. The biggest test is one of trust and love. You must trust your abilities in what you see along the way. You already do this well on land but you’re untested under water. And you also must trust and believe in the feelings in your heart – and that’s something you’ve always had trouble with.” The goddess fixed her with a gaze both tender and fierce.

The warrior heard the Goddess’s words but was much more interested in getting the sacred water. “Fine. Just tell me where to find the water and what I need to do. Gabrielle can wait here till I get back.”

“Gabrielle has a role to play that is even bigger than yours. Gabrielle must stop the source behind the power. You are only stopping the power. You’ll stop the fire bombs and slow down the advancing army but only Gabrielle can stop the power behind the illusions,” the goddess responded.

The warrior gave her a quizzical look thinking Hades balls, all these gods know are useless riddles. “What do you mean? What’s Gabrielle got to do?” she asked.

“Uhmmmm, in case anyone noticed, I’m still here,” the young woman exclaimed.

The goddess laughed and again the distant peeling tone cascaded off the walls.

“Gabrielle you will go with Xena in the journey of trust and love, but only Xena will go to find the sacred water. Then you have another task to accomplish by yourself.”

“Just tell me what the task is, I’ll do it,” the warrior offered.

The goddess smiled and shook her head no. “You’ll find out at the right time,” she said.

“Where’s the sacred water?” the warrior asked, anxious to get into action.

“In the oasis” the goddess responded, pointing to the green pool outside the cave entrance. “You both must dive deep into the oasis then look for an opening into a cave.

You’ll be pulled and buffeted but if you stay the course and trust your heart and your instincts you’ll reach the cave opening.”

“That’s all?” Gabrielle laughed at her own joke knowing there would be hidden perils for which neither of them was prepared.

“I will be with you. I am of the water and in the water and I am the water. You’ll feel me and hear me along your journey if you listen to your hearts and trust what flows between you. At the edge of the oasis facing west where the winds come from, look for a small grouping of three rocks. Look within those rocks and you will see a small golden disc. In the center of the disc is a symbol.” She drew a one lined symbol of a wave in motion in the air ~ as she continued. “Gabrielle, only you should touch the disc in the center of this symbol. Then you should both enter the waters. Do you understand?”

The two women nodded.


“Go now.” the Goddess said ending the conversation. The air in the cave grew damper than it had been and the sound of rushing waters coursed through the atmosphere. Anahita’s gown which had rippled like blue green water in a stream now resembled a deep indigo ocean and the goddess blended with the sounds of water and disappeared.

The two women walked out of the cave remarking on the torrid dry heat and blinding sun which was in direct contrast to the cool wet interior of the cave. They moved towards the edge of the green pool and paused looking westward for the rocks.

“There they are!” Gabrielle exclaimed.


They walked to the rocks carefully looking for the gold disc. She blew sand away and within the base of the crags of the three rocks, just as the goddess had told them, she saw the golden disc. She saw the symbol ~ in the disc and looked at Xena for confirmation.

“Ya ready?” Xena asked.

The younger woman shrugged.

“Then do it. Let’s get going. We don’t know how deep this thing is or how far we have to go. So we need to take several deep breaths. Fill your lungs till they’re about to burst, okay?”

“Help us now Anahita and Artemis” Gabrielle prayed as she touched the center of the golden disc.

They stood on the edge of the pool, Gabrielle mimicking Xena’s deep exhalations and inhalations of breaths. “On my signal, we dive in, okay?”

The warrior gave a sign and cleanly dove into the water followed quickly by the bard.

The upper levels of the water were hot from the sun, but the deeper they dove into the darker green the colder it became. The warrior’s powerful kicks took her deeper and deeper and she realized she might lose Gabrielle so she slowed her pace mindful of the limited air in her lungs. Soon the water was black and they couldn’t see each other.

Xena knew she had to hold on to Gabrielle or she would lose her in the inky liquid. She swam with one arm around the younger woman and began to feel her twitching. She knew she was perilously close to being out of air and yet there was still no cave to be seen.

Trust your instincts. She heard Anahita’s voice like a fluid melody in the water around her. Gabrielle struggled under her arm, kicking frantically. Xena slowed her pace and pulled the woman quickly to her trying to calm her. She cupped her face as she pressed her mouth over the bard’s and expelled some air into her lungs. She felt Gabrielle relax and then gratefully pat her hands. It was then that she realized that her own supply of air was now dangerously low.

A heart that loves will do anything; even die for the beloved. The voice was Anahita’s again. We’re not dying down here Xena thought as the sentiment propelled her into a series of powerful kicks. Xena’s oxygen was nearly depleted. Just as she was about to inhale water her head broke the surface into a small area that had an air pocket. The bard surfaced moments behind her.

They greedily sucked air into their lungs, the effort exhausting them as they coughed and sputtered. There was a dim light and they could make out a low ceiling above their heads.

“Oh by the gods Xena, I thought I was going to drown. Thank you for breathing air into me.” She held tightly to the warrior, fearing to let her go.

Xena returned the heartfelt embrace knowing they’d almost lost their lives in the watery grave. She studied the light looking for the source and thought there might be a way out.

“Gabrielle, see that turn under the surface of the water? I think the light is coming from that direction. If we go back into the water I think we can find a way out.”

“No Xena, I’m afraid. I can’t go back into the water,” the bard said.

The pure of heart always conquer their fears. The voice of Anahita could be heard like a distant rumbling waterfall.

“We can’t stay here. We have to move on. We’ll do the same thing we did before. Take deep breaths. Trust me I’ll get us out of here, okay?” The warrior knew the bard was terrified.

Gabrielle weighed her options. She couldn’t go back, she couldn’t stay there. The only way out was back into the water. I can do this, I can do this, she chanted silently to herself but the chant belied her feelings and she looked at Xena and shook her head no.

The warrior kissed her, ignoring the no, and then said, “Take deep breaths just like before, okay? I’ll be right beside you just like last time.” She saw the look of near panic in her lover’s eyes. “Gabrielle, this is the only way to save the Amazons.”

The words exploded in Gabrielle’s head overriding her fears and she began taking the deep breaths. Xena squeezed her hand and pulled them under the water.

Xena guided them towards the dim light. Again she heard Anahita’s words, trust your instincts and she kicked them forward. They were suddenly caught in a cold magnetic current pulling them forward at a dizzying speed. She tried to hold Gabrielle tightly and lost her a few times in the turbulent rush of water. She saw the light growing brighter and continued to kick powerfully towards it not knowing how far away they were from air.

Hold the water like you hold your love – feel it - contain it - become one with it. They both felt the words surround them and they felt all aspects of the physical and emotional part of their love. As they relaxed into the feelings, the rip tide began to still and the water became brighter. The strong current was replaced with ribbons of light in the water, each a different color of the rainbow pulling them forward. As their lungs were about to explode they surfaced into a glittering rainbow colored cave of light. They coughed and sputtered and breathed in ribbons of color which gently swayed and rippled in the air.

“What is this place?” Gabrielle asked marveling at the plays of light along the cave’s walls.

“Welcome to my altar of water and light” answered the Goddess in the unmistakable voice of deep ocean waves. The goddess stood against a backdrop of golden light, rainbow colors emanating like ripples all around her and down the walls of the cave.

“Your journey was successful I see.”

“You damned near drowned us.” the warrior responded still spent from their ordeal.

“You would have drowned yourself warrior, but you trusted with your heart and you sacrificed with your heart.” the goddess responded.

“And you Gabrielle, you continue to show the purity and unconditional love in your own heart. You overcame your fears to save your Amazon sisters. You see, the sacrifice is the journey through the water that you both took.”

“You mean it’s over?” the bard asked the goddess.

“Not entirely. Xena will continue on the last leg of the journey to find the sacred water. That won’t be nearly as difficult as what you’ve just encountered. But you, Gabrielle, will remain here with me.”

“Why can’t she go with me if the next part is so easy?”

“Because,” The goddess explained patiently, “Only she can stop the source of this evil power that lays waste to the land. It requires a blood innocent that is pure of heart and soul.” She continued, “Gabrielle, have you ever killed another?” asked the goddess.

“No. I could never kill another person” she replied. “I don’t even hunt very much. It pains me if I have to do that and I bless the soul of the animal for its sacrifice. I prefer to cook roots and tubers and food from the fields.”

“That’s why I need you to remain with me. You are a blood innocent, fair and pure of heart. Only a blood innocent can go up against the evil darkness of this god. You will have to enter his lair in the underworld and meet him in his own territory.”

“Stop! No way is she going to do that!” Xena exclaimed. “Gabrielle is not fighting any lords of the underworld. Send me.”

“Only light and purity can face off with darkness and survive. And she is your light and your hope.”

“She’s not going,” Xena said again. “I’ll go.”

“You are not a blood innocent Xena. Only one who is pure can do this. Besides, you have to lead the battle on the land while Gabrielle goes to the underworld.”

“She has no protection. If whole encampments of Amazon warriors can’t fight these soldiers, how is one small Amazon Queen going to fight their leader, a god of the underworld no less?” She was agitated and pacing in the still beautifully glowing cave.

“I will teach her a holy and sacred chant of protection.” The goddess replied. “The chant is very powerful, but if it is not said correctly, and directed only towards the dark one, it will reflect back to the one saying the chant and strike them dead. The chant must be learned in partial words. To say the words before you are ready or trained in the sound means certain death. I, Anahita, goddess of water and of war, will gift this Amazon Queen the power of the chant and protect her.”

“I still don’t like the whole idea,” Xena muttered.

“Please Xena, Anahita is trying to help us all. I need to do this for all of us. Please?”

The warrior still didn’t like the idea but knew time was of the essence. She had to get the sacred water. What harm will come to Gabrielle learning the chant, she thought. Anahita will protect her while I’m gone.

“Fine” she replied. “Now tell me how to get the sacred water.”

The goddess explained it to her. “Go through that opening in the cave and follow the blue river of light in the water. When you reach the end you’ll see a purple river of light. Follow that light underwater and you’ll emerge inside another cave. Remember, follow your instincts. At the apex of that cave you’ll see a golden vessel. The vessel holds the sacred water. Next to the golden chalice, you’ll find a small crystal vial with an emerald stopper. Fill it with the water of life and wait. I will bring Gabrielle to you there.”

“Okay. I’m going” she said. She moved towards the cave opening and went through the portal. But she stopped and waited, listening to the sounds of Anahita’s voice speaking with Gabrielle.

“Gabrielle,” she heard her say, the goddess’s voice taking on the sounds again of moving water, “I will teach you the most sacred chant of all time. It is to be said when you face the dark evil force of the underworld. Your purity and your blood innocence and this chant are the only things that stand between darkness and light.”

Xena strained to hear the words clearly.

“La – ela – ha – ela – la” the goddess chanted several times in a sing song voice that sounded like tones on a musical scale.

“You will need to chant this truth three times, each time in the next higher octave, followed by this; ata lara mana vata intoned deeply once with power from here.” The goddess said as she patted the queen’s abdomen just below the ribs.

“It’s not enough to know the words, you must learn the tones.” Then she demonstrated the entire chant all the way through. The power of it washed over Gabrielle nearly knocking her down.

“So, Queen Gabrielle, shall we commence your practice?” the goddess said.

Xena listened carefully, mimicking the sound and the words in her head, memorizing each part and each tone. I got it, she said to herself as she moved towards the sacred water and the rest of her quest.

                        *                      *                      *                      *




Chapter 19 – Water Water Everywhere



I better get moving. I want to be ready when Gabrielle arrives in the other chamber. This should be a snap; two rivers of light and a cave; no problem, were Xena’s last thoughts as she quietly stepped into the cool underground stream. Mindful of not creating a disturbance that would alert Anahita and Gabrielle that she’d lingered secretly, Xena moved smoothly into the water. Silently sucking in a deep breath, she submerged beneath the calm surface.

Opening her eyes, the warrior surveyed her surroundings looking for the blue light that the goddess had described as the trail she was to follow. An underground tunnel loomed just ahead, an eerie, bluish light emanating from the opening.

Guess that’s it, she thought. Strange how the colors seem to flow within the water, but not merge, she mused to herself as she dove down into the current that appeared as a dark blue stream of light. As soon as her body was fully enveloped by the color, the river felt lighter and took on every hue of blue from aquamarine to deepest cobalt. What was more amazing, she felt as if she could breathe under here.


What is going on? This can’t be right; can I actually breathe in this water? she asked herself.


Get a grip, warrior, there is no possible way you can breathe under water. Do that and you’ll drown. You are truly losing it! she admonished herself.


Using strong sure strokes Xena pressed forward, searching the confining walls, seeking the next place to draw breath. With each passing moment, the need for air grew more urgent, even while the various shades of blue enticed and mesmerized her. Her need for breath was fast becoming desperate.


From out of her deepest consciousness, Anahita’s melodious liquid voice seemed to taunt her, “Trust your instincts.”


Shaking her head, Xena peered ahead; hoping against hope to see how much farther she needed to go before the physical imperative to breathe was mandatory. My instincts? she reasoned. My instincts say I’ll drown if I breathe underwater.


As soon as she thought it though, the goddess seemed to dispute this “No, your fear says you’ll drown. What do your instincts say?”


Instantly, Xena realized that her gut told her she could breathe in this strange blue world she now inhabited. With no more hesitation, she took in a huge breathe. Waiting to die, Xena was totally taken aback by the feelings of protection and comfort flowing over, around and even through her. As she watched the various hues, aqua, azure and turquoise, swirling together but not mixing, the light flowed into her nostrils. She felt as if she was cradled in her mother’s arms. Feeling safe and at peace for the first time since her childhood, the warrior was tempted to just rest here in this loving embrace forever.


Floating in the intense emotional stream, she drifted and twirled about. Her long hair splayed out like a halo around her head in the current, and she lost track of time.


Smiling to herself, and unsure whether it was minutes or hours later, Xena could only feel joy and in that joy, she felt an intense depth of need, a need to share what she was experiencing with the other half of her soul, Gabrielle.

”Gabrielle, you should see this place. I want you to float away with me. We can drift here forever; no worries, no fears, just love, just us.” She spoke dreamily into the wavering blue current, her mind and heart imagining the vision of them together in this beautiful blue stream of contented bliss.


And with those words came this realization, Gabrielle isn’t here.


And then the worrisome thought, I’m supposed to be doing something, something important for Gabrielle, niggled at her consciousness.


Struggling to understand what she needed to be doing, she desperately snatched at ideas, themes and thoughts that floated like bubbles in her liquid world. Army, death, Gabrielle, love, Amazons, help, water… Each of these bobbed through her mind like a cork on her fishing line.


Her mind latched onto the last word. Water, something about water, she mused. I need to find water. But that’s funny, I’m in water. And she laughed uproariously at her own joke.


Soberly, she grabbed hold of that one theme, water, turning it over in her mind, looking at it from every angle as if she’d had too much port and was suddenly terribly interested in the bottom of her cup. Why do I need to find water?


Shhhsh, It’s special water. She whispered to herself and clamped her hand over her mouth as if she were a drunk trying to keep a secret. It’s special water for Gabrielle’s friends.


Ever so slowly she grasped the truth and the impact of it thundered into her conscious mind. I can’t stay here, I’ve been sent to find secret water. That’s it!


She was being diverted from her task. She was being lulled into a false place, a place that wasn’t here and now, but in a dream world. Just as the sirens had lulled the old heroes to their deaths in her childhood stories, so she was pulled like a magnet into a world where nothing mattered. In panic, she began to shake herself free of the lethargy, struggling to come back into her own sense of knowing.


It was as if recognizing the truth of her situation brought complete clarity and she saw before her, the purple stream that she was to follow next. Using her powerful legs, Xena kicked hard, propelling her body forward into the violet colored river. She took no more breaths of the deceptive blue water; further delay of her mission was no longer an option.


The purple river also seemed lighter than the water surrounding her, but there was a difference. The purple was very hazy, details were impossible to discern. She could barely see her hand in front of her face.


Hades balls! These Gods and their damn games! she thought, as she struggled toward her destination. Whatever way that might lie, she complained to herself.


Air and the need to breathe again became a consideration. She had been able to breathe in the blue light, but the cost was a delay in pursuing her goal and losing valuable time.


As she struggled to see into the distance, it seemed to lighten a bit and she could make out a cavern just ahead maybe 50 meters, maybe more. Being underwater distorted the distance. Swimming hard, she struck out toward what she believed had to be the cave.


It felt as if she was swimming upstream against the current as the harder she pulled toward her goal the more energy she consumed. Her need for air pounded against her already weary lungs.


Finally, she gave in and took a breath. Immediately, the colorful water coalesced into a completely opaque solution of various hues of purple and violet. She could no longer see her destination. Frustrated, she punched at the impenetrable wall of purples, doing nothing to clear it. Her actions only caused the cloudy realm to swirl and waver more intensely.

Okay, got to think here. When I breathed the blue, I was trapped in a dream land and lost my way. When I breathe in the purple, my path becomes unclear. So what does that tell me? That I can’t breathe in this damn strange light. Xena silently answered her own question.

Again, unbidden came the goddess’s words, “Trust your instincts.”

I have been and look where’s it’s gotten me? she argued with the voices in her head.


Well, in truth, I’m still alive. Breathing in the blue light saved me, even as it delayed me. And breathing in the purple also is keeping me alive, but it’s also keeping me from my goal. What am I missing? Xena probed her own mind for answers.

As she pondered these questions and the hidden meaning of Anahita’s words, Xena noted that her environment had begun to clear, just as her need for more air was making itself known.

Oh great, she said to herself sarcastically as the irony of it hit her, just great.

Swimming hard for the cave up ahead, she noted that it seemed to recede with each stroke she took toward it. Soon she was out of breath and forced to greedily suck in the purple light. At once the opacity returned and Xena found herself encased in a solid field of purple color with no idea of the direction she wanted to go.

Treading water, she continued to decipher the clues floating around her consciousness. She considered the futility of swimming against the current to a goal that just kept moving further out of her grasp. The more she struggled to get there, the more energy she used forcing another breath, causing her to once again lose sight of her goal.

What’s the key that I’m missing, Anahita? No sooner had she asked the question than she recalled what the goddess had said when she and Gabrielle had reached the “altar of water and light”…you trusted with your heart and you sacrificed with your heart” reverberated through her mind as she recalled the goddess’s words.


Puzzling it through, Xena examined what she knew about this colorful, watery world with no equivalent for reference in her reality. Everything worked differently here. When she swam toward the cave entrance, she lost ground. It felt as though she was swimming against the current.

It started to make sense. Anahita said she’d help us. And unlike other gods, she seems to keep her word. Of course being a god she has to speak in riddles and innuendo, but that’s just the nature of gods.

Again, the words of the goddess came to her. A heart that loves will do anything; even die for the beloved. The pure of heart always conquer their fears.

But I don’t have a pure heart, she cried out mentally.

Gently, the voice of the water goddess came to her, “Your love for Gabrielle is pure. Use that purity to conquer your fears, my daughter.”

My fears, what fear is that? she pondered.

Her legs kicking in a rhythmic pattern holding her steady in the purple liquid, the warrior admitted her deepest fears to herself. I fear that if Gabrielle ever saw the monster that I am, she’d run like a mad woman into the night. I fear trusting that she loves me unconditionally as she claims, no matter what I’ve done. I love her so much nothing could ever change that, but I don’t trust that she could love me the same. I can’t seem to trust.


And that was the basic issue for her, Xena realized. It was almost impossible for her to give up control and to just trust.


With that admission, a brilliant flash of violet light exploded in her swirling purple chromatic world. She realized that was her answer. I need to trust; to just let go and trust.

As the truth hit her, she drew in a final breath of the violet light, allowing the world of purple to encase her fully and lay back in the current. Swiftly, the stream picked up speed and she was propelled into the cavern that she had struggled to reach on her own.

When her head broke the surface, she found herself in a beautiful cave of greens and golds. Emeralds the size of her fist were embedded in the walls. Golden veins ran through the rock face glittering in a surreal light. Above her, a silver waterfall dropped straight down one hundred feet into the pool she swam in.

While spinning slowly in a circle, she searched the smooth walls from her vantage point in the water and failed to see any golden vessel, which contained the sacred water.


Nothing, she thought. But it’s here. All the other directions were right, so it’s here.

Inexorably, her eyes were drawn to the waterfall following it up to its source. There high above the floor of the cavern was the ledge, just to the right of the falls. The golden chalice, completely out of her reach, sat glittering on the ledge, mocking her in the water a hundred feet below.

Damn, damn, damn! she cursed silently.

Resigned she swam over to the sheer rock face under the falls. It was covered in slick green moss. As smooth as ice on a frozen lake, it showed no evidence of any footholds. She paddled back out a few feet and looked up again.

Okay, think warrior. Xena was tired of the games and decided to decipher the riddle before jumping into action. Now there’s a novel idea, she chided herself.

She had no idea how long she’d been on this quest, but in the other two environments, it had something to do with the water. Maybe she needed to breathe in this water too. Oh well, nothing ventured, she thought.

Scooping up a big handful of water, she held it under her nose, snorting in the silvery liquid. Immediately, she was coughing, spluttering and gasping as she tried to regain her composure. Well, so much for that idea, she conceded, while sucking in huge gulps of cleansing air.


Still treading water, she examined the pool she floated in. It looked almost normal. She considered this as she stared at the shimmering surface. But maybe not, she decided. This is way more silvery than any water I’ve ever swum in before. Studying it closer, she scooped another handful. Peering at her palm, she noticed she couldn’t really see the lines in her hand. Hmmmm, I wonder.

Facing the falls, she swam toward it. In two strokes she was at the sheer rock face again, looking up. There was nothing up there and really no way to climb. Slowly, she backed away from the sheer cliff and moved into the falls themselves. She felt it before she saw it. It was a long silver cord all but hidden in the camouflaging water.

Smiling to herself, she grabbed onto the rope with both hands. Using the wall as a floor, she literally started walking up the cliff face to the top of the falls. The force of the water against her chest was formidable and several times she felt her grip slipping. Redoubling her efforts, she grabbed on tighter continuing the struggle upward.

Finally, after what felt like an eternity, Xena arrived at the top and heaved herself over the edge with what remained of her strength. Her breathing coming in gasps, she lay on her back staring at the crystal ceiling another hundred feet above her head. While she rested a moment, she enjoyed the way the crystal reflected a rainbow of colors against the walls. It seemed to be the source of illumination for this cavern.


Well, this isn’t getting the job done, she thought as she sat up.

Carefully, she coiled the end of the silver cord and set it in a neat loop near the falls for her descent later. Turning slightly, she beheld the golden vessel just as Anahita had described. Next to it was a small crystal vial with an emerald stopper.

Mindful of her previous pitfalls, Xena carefully reached for the vial, cradling it in her hand. When nothing out of the ordinary happened, she removed the stopper and set it aside.

Before dipping the vial into Anahita’s sacred water, Xena peered into the chalice. The water shimmered with colors too numerous to identify. This has got to be it, she thought as she lowered the vial into the bowl. She watched the air bubbles escape from the small ampoule in a steady stream until it was completely filled. Pulling the small container free, she carefully fitted the emerald stopper into the opening.

Holding up the precious treasure before her eyes, Xena wondered at the power in the tiny bottle that only this small amount would stop the supernatural powers of the evil army they were to face. A sly smile gracing her face, she stowed the vial safely away down the front of her leather bodice. Okay, time to go. Gabrielle should be here soon.

Reaching for the end of the silver cord beside her, her fingers found only the rough surface of the narrow ledge on which she perched.

What in Hades? But of course, it was just going too smoothly, she reflected. Evidently, the rope had slipped back into the falls while she was filling the vial.

Sitting back, she pondered this latest development, one recrimination after another assailing her mind. Real swift, warrior; a hundred feet is a long drop. Ya should’ve checked the depth of that pool. It looks to be a good way to die if it’s shallow.


You’re getting careless, and old. Pony’s taunts from the sparring grounds replayed in her mind. But what choice do I have really? she thought.


Resigned, Xena stood on the very edge and spoke loudly into the empty cavern. “Okay, Anahita, you want trust; here’s trust.”

Without waiting for the echo to stop bouncing off the walls, she dove into the shiny placid pool below. With a mighty splash, her finger tips split the cool wet surface and she plunged down, down, down. Water pouring past her ears, she sensed the bottom rushing up to meet her. Just as her fingers scraped the sandy bottom, she slowed and stopped. Feeling the exhilaration of thwarting death, she bent her knees and pushed off the bottom with great force, streaking toward the surface.

Hair slicked back like an otter, the water cascaded off her head. Rolling onto her back, she spit a stream of silvery water over her head, elated. Her mission completed, Xena swam for the shore with smooth steady strokes.

Looking around, she saw nothing but sheer crystal walls and no entrance or exit. Please tell me, I don’t have to swim back to that other cave, she thought to herself.

A brilliant white light was her answer, as both Anahita and Gabrielle materialized before her tired eyes.

Laughing before she spoke, it sounded like rain merrily pattering down like a refreshing spring shower. “I would never tell you that, Xena,” the goddess answered Xena’s unspoken thought.

Gabrielle ran to her lover, pulling her into a tight embrace. “I was so worried about you.” Pulling back she looked into Xena’s blue eyes. “Was it as easy as Anahita said it would be?” she asked.

Dragging her gaze from the love of her life, Xena looked knowingly at the goddess in question. “Yeah, not difficult at all.”

Anahita merely smiled the enigmatic smile favored by the gods.

“It took me forever to learn the chant. I don’t seem to have perfect pitch like some people I know,” she said as she bumped Xena with her hip.

Xena chuckled at the joke, but sobered quickly. “We need to get back to the others.”

Gabrielle turned to the Water Goddess. “Anahita, is there anything more we need to do here?”

“No. I’ve helped you all I can. You know the chant and I’ve told you how to find the entrance to the dark god’s lair. The rest is up to the two of you and your Amazons.”

“Then I thank you, Anahita. We are forever in your debt.” The queen bowed before the Persian goddess.

“It is I who thank both of you. You are brave women and you do the world a great service. You’ll always have my blessings and protection whenever you are in my domain.” Her words bathed them in a warm bath of love and protection.

Xena was getting antsy. “How do we get out of here?” she asked without preamble.

“Some things never change, do they, warrior? I hope you remember the lessons you’ve learned here.” Pointing behind them, she continued, “Go right through there.”

Both women turned at the same time to see a huge opening in the wall. Before they could thank the goddess, they heard a loud roaring like huge waves during a winter storm on the Aegean crashing against the shore. When they turned back to her, they found they were alone in the original ordinary cave they’d first entered.

It was late afternoon when they emerged to find both horses standing placidly near the oasis pool waiting for their riders.

“We need to get moving” Xena said. “We have to get back to the prisoners by dark.” Mounting up quickly, they hurried back in the direction of their camp.

                                                *                      *                      *                      *





It was early evening when Xena and Gabrielle finally approached the small Amazon encampment on foot, walking the horses silently. Even under cover of darkness, they had no intention of giving away their precarious position by galloping the horses and stirring up the sands. Though daylight had passed, the sands were still hot under their feet from the relentless onslaught of the blazing desert sun. The day been long and they were both weary from the trek, but the trip had been successful and Anahita had delivered as Artemis hoped.


As they neared the rocky outcroppings where the warrior knew the Amazons waited, she softly whistled the call of the desert lark. They’d seen and heard enough of these birds on their journey from Thrace to identify the sound of the common bird. With a very slight change in inflection it became the Amazon’s call to each other while on sentry duty. Xena’s whistle was answered quickly.


“There, Gabrielle” the warrior said, pointing to a small sudden flash of light seen on the ridge. They’d agreed to this all clear beacon for their approach before leaving earlier in the morning. “Let’s move.”


As they reached the encampment the Amazons eagerly questioned Xena and Gabrielle for news of their trip and on their meeting with Anahita. Ready hands took the horses’ reins while others removed the supply packs.


“What happened?” Pony asked. “What did you find out from Anahita?” She’d been on watch when they approached the camp and had sent out the responding lark’s call alert to the others.


“Where’s Solari?” Xena replied, ignoring the question. She mentally raced through the names of the six women and found one missing.


“On sentry watch.” Pony replied. Then she asked again, “What happened at Anahita’s cave?”


“It went well. We'll tell you all about it later.” Xena said. “First, I want to find out what’s been going on since we left. What about the weapons and the prisoners?” She easily resumed the leadership role.


“There’s some food left” Noalani said, fairly sure they’d not eaten. The Amazon was always attentive to nurturing comforts, no matter where she was. “I suppose you’re hungry?” She said pointedly while winking at the young blond woman.


“Oh, very hungry! We haven’t eaten since we left here.” Gabrielle said.


The reply brought relieving laughter from the women. Some things were predictable and one of them was Gabrielle’s empty stomach.


“When aren’t you hungry?” Xena asked with a good natured jab to the blond. “All right, let’s eat something and we can talk. I want to hear everything, Ephiny.” She directed the question to the Regent having left her in charge to ferret out as much information on the camp, the sentries, and the army as they could.


As Noalani brought them some cold leftover food the other Amazons gathered round to listen to the tale of Anahita and to give Xena the information she wanted.


“What did you find out?” The warrior addressed the Regent.


“We’ve been checking the perimeter and the hollows. It’s a large army, Xena. There are about four hundred soldiers.” Ephiny began to expound on the great number of soldiers when Xena interrupted her.


“I like the odds.” The warrior said with a grin.


“Xena, these soldiers are large. Larger than any you’ve ever seen.” Noalani couldn’t keep the fear from her voice.


“Don’t worry. We have our own surprises for them. All right, what else?”


“Solari spotted an area that will provide good cover for the attack tomorrow night. We can set up kindling and be ready to light the flaming arrows as soon as the fight starts. They’ll easily find their mark into the camp.”


“Good.” She replied. “Did you start moving and storing the torch arrows there yet?”


“Yes. It’s good cover, with lots of nooks to hide our weapons and they never spotted us.”


“What else” asked the warrior princess?


“I even found your damn hot springs, Xena. When this thing is over we’re all going to want a long hot soak.” She spoke with bravado knowing none of them would be left alive to soak in the springs.


“I like this even more.” Xena replied throwing a friendly arm over the Regent’s shoulder. Ephiny bit her tongue to keep from replying.


“What about the prisoners and the weapons?” Xena asked.


Tonight was the night the plan would start to come together. She’d left them with instructions to scout out the Red Army camp and to gather together the weapons they’d brought from Thrace in addition to the arms they’d found in Adara’s camp. The captives needed to be well equipped.


She’d also told them to make arrows and firebombs. Tonight all was in place. Three of them would sneak the weapons and supplies to the prisoners so they could join in when the battle started the following night.


Ephiny succinctly laid out the situation.


“I think we have enough weapons to arm every woman down there. I know we have enough firebombs that they’ll see the glow in Thrace. We’re ready. The prisoners kept to them selves today, pretty much ignored the activity of the camp. The soldiers on the other hand looked a bit agitated. You can tell they’re expecting big fun tomorrow night.”


“We should get some rest then. When all is quiet down below, we’ll go down to the prisoners. Ephiny, Noalani, you’ll be with me. I want to see where you’ll be firing from.” Xena said.


“I’m going too!” the Queen announced.


“You can go as far as the rock ledge over the camp. You’ll be able to see down into the camp and you can mark your route to the underworld God from up there.”


Gabrielle considered arguing with her but knew Xena didn’t want her in harm’s way tonight. Her mission the following day would be treacherous and yet vital to the battle. So she simply nodded her agreement. She’d scout the routes to the underworld from the top of the ridge and keep watch on the women below her.


“I’d like to go too Xena,” Pony spoke hesitantly at first and then more positively. “I can make up any short fall in arms from their supply tent. I was in there, remember.”


Xena pondered this for a moment before nodding in agreement. She didn’t want to take a chance that any woman was without some kind of weapon, a knife or club.


“All right, let’s get some rest. We move at midnight.” The warrior said.


The women dispersed knowing sleep would be fitful or non-existent this night.


+ + +


The five women crouched low in the darkness, moving with practiced stealth and using hand signals to communicate. They moved from shadow to shadow barely visible as they made their way to the ridge. Quietly, they gathered their personal weapons to avoid them clanging and alerting the guards below. After signaling Gabrielle to remain on the ledge, Xena moved into the opening first and dropped from view. She was quickly followed by Ephiny, Pony and Noalani.


Using the large boulders and keeping well into the shadows as cover, they made their way silently, moving towards the slave pen. The camp appeared to be asleep but they were taking no chances. Xena was just about to signal the women to move out when she saw something from the corner of her eye. A big tall man in a Persian army uniform swaggered over to the slave enclosure. She saw an insignia gleaming on his shoulder and realized it was the Persian General. Hades be damned she thought, realizing they had to stay in position until he passed. She gave the all quiet signal and the Amazons blended into the darkness.


The General fingered the dagger at his waist as he approached the slave pen. His army was sleeping and he thought most likely so were the slaves except for the Amazon warrior. Beaten and battered, he knew she’d be there, wide awake.


Facing the prisoner compound, he called out in a surprisingly soft voice into the darkness knowing she was well aware of his presence. “Amazon, are you contemplating your last night on earth?” He laughed in his maniacal manner. “Are you making peace with your goddess?” He asked.


From the rocks, the Amazons had clearly heard his words and knew Tynet had heard his taunts also. At first it appeared she would ignore him. Turning her head in his direction, she appeared mystified by the man, but then as if she’d made her choice, determination replaced the perplexed look.


She slowly rose from where she’d been sitting and walked toward the bars, stopping several feet away.


The General watched her approach. The _expression on his face gave mute testimony that he respected her fighting skills and her bravery. She’d faced his best soldiers and beaten each one of them. The look of admiration quickly passed to be replaced by one of disgust for the Amazon woman. He moved closer to the bars and stood in front of the woman. Now that they were closer their voices were less audible.


“You die tomorrow, Amazon!”


“You’ve seen to that. I’m ready to die.” She said. “Are you?”


From their hiding place, Xena watched the interaction intently. Even with her acute hearing, she could barely make out what was being said, but she was ready to move in an instant. She calculated how many steps it would take to bring the General down but she remained still.


“You still fight to the very end, don’t you? You never give up. I’ve actually enjoyed watching you.” He said.


“I’m an Amazon warrior. I will fight to defend my sisters till I’m dead.”


He spat on the ground at her feet when he heard her words. She merely squinted at him in the darkness. Looking at him quizzically, she seemed to come to a decision. Slowly she approached the bars until she was so close they shared the same air.


From their hiding place, they could see Tynet’s lips move in the pale moonlight, but even Xena was beyond hearing what was said.


It was clear the general was considering his response. Hesitating he seemed to assess her worth to own his reply. Finally after looking over her bruised and battered body and face, he began to speak quietly and at length.


A procession of emotions sped across the large woman’s face. Disbelief, followed by eyes widening in something like recognition and then finally compassion settled on her countenance. She shook her head and stepped back a moment as the power of what she’d heard washed over her. Recovering, she moved back towards him, reaching through the bars and touching his arm, in what appeared to be an attitude of comfort.


Her words were interrupted by his screaming curse as he hurled her hand from his arm. “Don’t touch me you filthy excuse for a woman. I don’t need the pity of an Amazon whore.” He raged at her. “Tomorrow night I’ll enjoy every moment you have to spend with my men. Then, I’ll watch you die. I will curse you to the bottom of Tartarus; you and every vile perverted Amazon!” As he turned and stalked off towards his tent, Tynet sunk to her knees staring helplessly after him through the bars.


The four women heard the screaming curse and looked to Xena for direction on how to react. She saw the General leave the fenced area so signaled that they remain quiet. They all wondered what the warrior had said to the General to warrant such an outburst.


They waited in silence for a full candlemark before moving. After the guard’s regular pass by the pen, Xena signaled to the women to begin the transfer of weapons. They gathered the knives and shivs and swords that had earlier been hidden in the crevices of stone waiting for tonight’s delivery. Noalani was left hidden in the rocks to keep watch for the night sentry’s return.


While Xena and Ephiny moved toward the compound, Pony made a dash for the supply tent. She was in and out with an arm full of daggers in a matter of minutes. Quickly rejoining the others at the stockade, she gave Xena a triumphant smile. Xena nodded her appreciation in return.


Kunjana had been ever vigilant inside the slave pen. She had seen Tynet and the General talking and had been ready to move against him if he’d threatened the big warrior. She wanted to kill him and any excuse would do. She saw the Amazons approaching with the weapons. None of the slaves had been asleep, contrary to the General’s thoughts. She motioned to them to get the weapons from the Amazons. Penda reached the bars first and began taking the knives and passing them to the others.


As Xena appeared Kunjana approached her. “We don’t have much time till the sentry comes again. What’s the plan?”


While looking at Tynet sitting on the sand, lost in thought and unresponsive, Xena explained the plans to Kunjana who knelt touching Tynet’s shoulder hoping to break through to the warrior.


“As soon as the first fighter makes his move towards Tynet, Noalani and Ephiny will send flaming arrows into two of the other soldiers.” She said to Kunjana “Tynet will kill the one closest to her and then the gates of Tartarus will open.”


“What else can we do? There must be something else?” Kunjana said as Penda came and stood beside her.


“Get the women and form a phalanx and kill as many of the soldiers as you can. I’d like to release the horses but I don’t think we have enough warriors for that.”


“I’ll do it.” Penda said.


“No, Penda. It’s too dangerous. I don’t want you to do it.” Kunjana said as fear of losing her lover overtook her.


“My Kunja, I’m not a fighter. You know that. I’m small. I can slip through the horde fighting and cut the horses loose. No one will ever see me.”


“No. I want you beside me, Penda. I can’t protect you if you’re off by yourself. I need to see you beside me in this fight.”


“My beloved, my heart, you can’t fight while worrying about me. If I stay beside you, you’ll worry about protecting me and you won’t fight well. If I go and I release the horses you’ll worry about that too. It’s better if I can do something for all of us.” She explained.


“If we all die tomorrow, Penda, I want to die with you at my side.”


“If we die tomorrow, my Kunja, we’ll both be in the Spirit-Lands tomorrow night. Either way, we’ll be together.” She touched the tall Indus woman’s face gently and kissed her. “I need to do this for these women. I need to do my part. We’ve all been held captive too long. I want to be free or die fighting for it.” She said it in a way that all those who witnessed the conversation knew she’d made a decision to release the horses or die trying.


The helplessness on Kunjana’s face was clear, but she said nothing.


Xena turned her attention to Tynet. She took her breast dagger and handed it to the big woman. “Tynet, I know you feel it’s hopeless. But take this dagger and use it.”


The fallen warrior showed no interest in the coming battle, clearly her conversation with the general had left her broken, without hope.


Xena shook her head, perplexed at how to reach the despondent warrior. Feeling a hand on her arm she turned to see Pony mouthing the words let me try. She nodded her acquiescence handing the dagger to the weapons’ mistress.


Pony stepped forward and knelt outside the bars within touching distance of Tynet. She didn’t know exactly what she’d be able to say to give Tynet hope, to convince her that life was worth living. She only knew that she owed it to the woman who’d captured her heart to try.


To Pony’s way of thinking, this was the gift of love she could give the beautiful eastern woman, the one gift Adara would want. Even as she sought the words to make a difference, Pony’s gut twisted inside with the realization of what she was about to do. Among her sister Amazons, Pony was known as an honorable woman, and so, as she’d always done, Pony chose the higher path.


“Tynet” Pony whispered, watching for any sign the imprisoned warrior had heard her. Hoping that she’d be able to reach the despondent woman, Pony forged on. “I have seen your mate grieve for you these past many weeks. She would lay down her life for you without hesitation. The night before this, I watched as she rode alone in to the desert, without thought for her self. Tomorrow she will be here with the desert tribes. My question for you is this; will you be here for her?”


As Pony’s words washed over her, a glimmer of recognition broke through the dark cloud hovering over the tired, beaten warrior and she made eye contact with the weapons’ mistress. Seeing she’d finally reached Tynet, Pony continued her plea.


“You are blessed my friend, to have such a woman love you. Will you have her efforts, be in vain? Will you love her as much as she loves you? Will you fight for her? Will you do it for Adara?”


Slowly, as if watching another person’s hand, Tynet reached up and took the dagger. Then she simply said, “For her, I will fight.”


Pony smiled grimly as she squeezed Tynet’s shoulder. “Please live for her too.” She spoke so softly only Tynet could hear.


Tynet knew a friend's plea when she heard it. She heard the sincerity in the woman's voice. Though they'd not met before tonight, she realized the Thracian woman cared what happened to her and Adara; cared beyond the Amazon's code.


Tynet covered Pony’s hand with her own and looked deeply into Pony’s earnest brown eyes. Detecting no guile, she replied, “What’s your name, my friend?”


“Eponin, but my friends call me Pony.”


“Thank you, Pony. I will do my best to live for her too.”


Xena interrupted the two women. “All right, we’re almost out of time. The sentry will be heading this way shortly. Does everyone understand what has to be done?”


The women nodded as one.


Ever the planner, she asked Kunjana one more time, “Are you sure about when Tynet will fight?”


“Yes. As soon as the sun drops and the goddess of the moon rises, they will fight. They will all gather, expecting it will be Tynet’s last fight.”


Xena nodded, clapped the Indus warrior on the back and signaled her Amazons to move out.

                           *       *       *       *       *       *





The mid-afternoon sun glinted off her long black hair as Xena paced back and forth across the ridge. Each of her steps was measured and exact. Like every previous battle she'd fought in, the warrior slowly and methodically went over the battle preparation in her head, ticking them off with each step she took. The weapons had been made and stockpiled. They'd marked off the cadence and timing of each sentry's watch. The prisoners had been armed and knew when to attack. She looked for pitfalls in each step of the battle plan, knowing this one had to be precise and flawless. As she paced, the other women idly watched her, each one lost in her own thoughts and aware of their dire circumstances.

"Everybody understand what we have to do?" She asked forcefully, her exacting personality evident.

"We've gone over it twenty times, Xena," Pony looked up from sharpening her sword.

"We'll go over it twenty more times till we have it down." She responded with a glare.

"We have enough of the Greek fire bombs, right, Solari?"

"All we've done is make fire bombs and watch that gods be damned camp." She replied. "We have enough."

"What about your arsenal?" she asked Ephiny.

"We have enough to light up Thrace. We're ready." Ephiny replied.

"Everyone is ready and knows what has to be done, Xena." It was Noalani's attempt to ease the unfolding tension between the warriors.

"All right then! I want everybody to keep a sharp eye. If you see any movement below, let me know. Meanwhile, try to get some rest. Any questions?"

The women shook their heads no. But Gabrielle rose from where she was sitting and approached the warrior.

"Xena, we need to talk."

"What is it Gabrielle?"

"Please can we go somewhere?"

The warrior studied the bard noticing the intensity in the green eyes looking back at her. She'd come to know this woman well and knew something was wrong. Besides, she thought to herself, if Adara doesn't get back in time with the tribes, I don't know how successful we're going to be. This could be our last time to talk.

"Let me get some blankets, ok?" she said. "We can go up on that ridge over there. It's out of the way."

She looked at the bard for confirmation, and got a nod in response.

* * * * * In The Desert --

"You're sure we should ride now?" Abbas asked his brother.  He removed his headgear which was filled with fine sand while shaking his long black hair loose.  His once shiny hair had been dulled by the piercing sands they'd encountered in the fierce desert storm.

The tribes under the command of Kadar, had stopped at the oasis to rest the men and horses.  The howling winds and blinding sands had taken a toll on both men and horses.  Abbas knew however, that whatever the Imam told him, he would carry it out knowing his men would ride wherever and whenever he led them.

"I'm sure." Kadar replied.   "As soon as the horses are rested we move.  The men can eat in the saddle while we ride on."  He knew that decision would not be welcomed news to the men.  

"No real food?"  Abbas bellowed, laughing and clapping him on the back.

"Abbas, I have a bad feeling about this.  We have to get there this night," he confided, as though not wanting to say the words out loud and give them power. 

"You've been hanging around the maharama too long, brother" the affable handsome man replied.  "You know what we're supposed to do with the maharama women, eh?  Or do I need to remind you?"  He raised his eyebrows then winked at his brother with a brilliant white grin on his face.

The younger man's good natured jibing eased the tension in the older one a bit.  "You have a one track mind little brother.  The gods help the woman who catches you." He grinned. 

"Or did that one over there finally get to you?"  Abbas gestured towards Adara who was alone on the far side of the oasis with her horse. 

Abbas continued more seriously.  "That woman is different, my brother.  I spoke with her as I passed and she never acknowledged me.  She looked like she was talking with a spirit.  Even her horse was jumpy."

Kadar was thoughtful before he replied.  "Women do that, Abbas.  They see things we men never see.  If she's seen a spirit it's all the more reason that we move quickly.  Allah help us."  He fixed his brother with an intense stare then said, "Get the men ready now.  We're heading out." 

The Imam had given the order and Abbas moved to fill it.

* *

From her position near the oasis Adara was sure she'd heard the voice of Tynet say the words "Adara, you are my light and my strength and in my heart.  I will love you always!"  She'd looked around but, seeing nothing, sadness gripped her heart again.  The reality of her situation, the reality of the sure death awaiting her Amazon sisters and these tribal warriors, bore down on her.  Tonight we'll fight to our deaths she thought.  Her heart was broken as she responded into the evening air to the voice she'd heard inside her.   I will love you always, Tynet, my heart.  We never had our second joining ceremony my love, but tonight I'll join you in spirit. Our joining in spirit will be as one -  forever and always.   Then she added, Anahita, protect the daughters of Tynet and Adara. 

A loud piercing command shattered her reverie. "Mount up!  We ride; tribesmen!"

Broken from her thoughts by the loud command, she quickly moved to Mahtab in a flowing stride, grabbed the bridle and swung herself over the mare's back. 

The men who'd been milling about and talking began to jostle each other as they gathered their belongings and their mounts. 

"We're going now?"  one asked.

"We haven't eaten yet," another commented.

"Yes, we're riding now," Abbas answered the first.    To the second, he patted the man's belly and said "You don't look like you've missed too many meals, eh?"  The comment was greeted with laughter from the others.

"Ready the horses and your weapons.  We eat in the saddle from now on." he said.

 He was not deaf to the grumbling of the men, however.  He heard the broken sentences and grousing as the men readied their supplies and prepared to move out. 

"It's the nisaa (woman)," one said accusing Adara. 

Adara caught the word and accusation as she brought Mahtab towards the gathering crowd of warriors and horses.

 "We never travel in a sandstorm," another said. 

"Bis-millah (in the name of Allah) the horses are tired," a third added.

 "Shall I set up the maharama for you?"  The voice of Abbas asked the complainers.  His words pointedly insulted all of them.

He watched as the men took the bait, hurriedly gathering their weapons and saddling their horses for the next leg of the journey.  He knew they had doubts but it was his job to raise their spirits and lead them into battle with the doubts put aside.

"Akhee (brothers)," he addressed the warriors in a loud commanding voice.   They heard the rising tone in his voice and as one, turned to the tall dark warrior.   Then he looked across the tribesmen to the Amazon woman who was approaching on horseback.  He added, "Ukhtee," (my sister) and nodded to her.

The tribesmen turned and watched the woman on horseback.  By addressing her directly, Abbas had dignified her presence and had declared that she was now one of them and was to be treated as a sister of the tribe.

Adara heard his address as she rode towards the men.  She raised her thumb and index finger to her heart, her lips and her forehead bowing to the long haired warrior ahead of her.  With this respectful gesture, the men had a sudden change of heart and bowed or nodded to the woman as she rode past, allowing her to take her place among them.

Abbas noticed the change in their behavior and addressed the tribe.

"Only fools ride in the noon-day sun.  But this day is different.  You've heard the stories of this barbarian army and what they've done to our fellow tribesmen.  Today, our lives and our families depend on us.  From now on, we ride like the wind.  We will meet the ulooj (foreign infidels) and take the battle to their doorsteps." 

The men heard his voice and moved towards him, excitement mounting with each sentence from the powerful leader.  They pushed their mounts closer around him so they could get a better view. 

Seeing the momentum swing in his favor, he continued warming to the task.  "Tonight, akhee, ukhtee, again nodding to Adara, you will plant your tribal colors into the skulls of these barbarians who have taken your women and killed your tribal brothers.  The day after that, you take your place of honor as all the desert tribes sing your praises.  You are the tribes of the desert; you are the heart of this earth.  Take your stand and take your victory." 

He quieted as the men gathered round him then loudly proclaimed, "Inshallah (God willing)."  Then he said it again, "inshallah" and again "inshallah" and again.

The men heard him and picked up the chant; the thundering voices of the tribesmen joined his, yelling "Inshallah, inshallah, inshallah."

Kadar, mounted beside his long time friend Alim, watched the display.  He knew he'd chosen well when he named Abbas leader of the army.  No one could rally troops like this Lion of the Desert.  My brother could make a crusade out of death he thought.  And this day there will be many deaths.  He made eye contact with his brother and nodded, giving him the signal to move out.

Abbas grabbed his lance, and, with his colors held aloft, pointed to the north.  He dug his knee into his horse's ribs and yelled over the din, "On Rakasa!" addressing his stallion.  At a canter, the desert tribesmen, followed Abbas, and began their ride.

 * * * * *

Gabrielle and Xena climbed up the ridge and headed for a series of rocks out of sight of the other women. They moved carefully up the shale face so as not to dislodge any stones that might give their position away. When they reached the very top of the ridge, there was a small flat secluded area where Xena spread the blankets for them to sit. The ridge gave a sweeping view over the western desert and the late afternoon sun promised a spectacular sunset.

"This looks like a good place" she said. "We can be alone here and talk. I brought some dried fruit and some bread in case you were hungry." She removed her sword and chakram placing them near a large rock. Then she removed her bracers from her legs and forearms.

Grinning, she saw Gabrielle's appreciative smile as she laid out the food. I don't want to think of never seeing that smile again, thought Xena as she gazed at the woman beside her. She shook the bleak thoughts away as they made themselves comfortable side by side. She tore off a chunk of bread and handed it to the bard relishing the late afternoon sun's highlights gleaming in her hair.

"You know me so well" the bard laughed, breaking a piece of the bread.

"Gabrielle, everyone knows you like to eat. That's not news." Let's get this over with, she thought. "So, tell me, what did you want to talk about alone? Or did you have something else in mind?" She grinned wickedly at the younger woman.

"You're incorrigible, Xena. You have a one track mind." She nudged the warrior in the ribs.

"It's what happens whenever I'm around you. Besides, we have a secluded area, may as well put it to good use." the warrior smirked.

"Not now. We need to talk." Gabrielle replied.

"You always want to talk, Gabrielle." Xena quipped, but then sobered when she noted Gabrielle's solemn expression. "Okay, so what did you want to talk about?" Xena asked.

The bard broke the bread into small pieces, reflecting on the thoughts she'd been having. She was frightened – frightened for herself and the dire thought of losing her warrior. That feeling more than any other brought her to the brink of despair and anguish.

"Xena, this is the first time I've ever felt like we might not make it." The bard began. "By tomorrow, one of us, or both of us might be dead." The latter was barely audible.

Xena put her arms around Gabrielle, pulling the younger woman into her strong embrace. She couldn't dispute her words as she'd had the same feelings herself. But she tried to ease her worries.

"We'll get through this. We always have." She kissed the top of the younger woman's head, her lips lingering against her hair taking in the slight lemony smell that was the bard's. Her words belied her true feelings.

"We may not make it this time." Gabrielle said simply echoing Xena's thoughts.

Both of them were stilled by the words. Xena held her tight as the bard reveled in the embrace and the feeling of security she always got when she was held by the warrior.

After several moments of quiet, Gabrielle continued. "Do you remember when we went to see Anahita what she said to us about water?"

"You mean putting out the fires with the sacred water" the warrior asked?

"No! I mean what she said about water and love. She said when you love someone deeply that it was like a raging river of water with wave upon wave flowing from heart to heart. She said each heart holds the other one in safekeeping. Do you remember that?"

The warrior nodded. She remembered when the goddess had spoken the words and how she'd felt. Both of them had looked at each other and in that moment, the power of the words, swept them into a blended flow of the most profound emotion, pure love.

"I'm so frightened of losing you, Xena. I feel like we've just found our love for each other and if something happens to you…." she choked and began to sob. "I…. uuhh…. I don't want to live without you." Her tears flowed steadily.

"Shhh, shhh" the warrior responded stroking her hair and her face and trying to stop the young woman's tears and ease her anguish. The warrior had had the same thoughts and fears but had always pushed them away. "It'll be alright." She said unconvincingly.

"I don't think so. Not this time." The bard sobbed, holding on tightly to the taller woman afraid to let her go. The depths of her fears engulfed her.

The warrior stroked the bard's hair and face, wiping the constant tears with her fingertips as they rolled down the younger woman's cheeks.

"We didn't come this far for nothing, Gabrielle. You asked me to remember Anahita's water story. Do you remember what she made us do? We had to swim through the depths of that watery lair and all we had was trust and our love. And we made it. She said, she'd help us and we're going to make it."

The bard heard the words, wanting to latch on to a shred of hope.

"Something happened to you in that cave, didn't it?" It was an innocent question yet the bard needed to know. She needed to know this day as much as she could learn about the warrior. She knew they might never have another day to discuss it.

"Yes, something happened." The warrior replied remembering her time in the cave swimming in the stream of purple light. She remembered surrendering to the flow she was in. She trusted and in the trust felt the powerful love of the bard surround her and capture her heart all over again.

"Tell me what happened, Xena."

It's now or never, she thought. I need to tell her.

She took a deep breath and said, "You always trusted me, Gabrielle. But I didn't trust you enough." She felt her throat constrict and dry up as she said the words clearly for the first time.

The bard pulled out of her embrace as the words were finally spoken. She thought back to how the warrior constantly protected her and wouldn't let her fight her own battles. She never felt like she was treated as an equal. Now, the truth was out – she didn't trust her.

"You don't trust me, Xena?" She looked at the warrior, catching the blue eyes off guard before they lowered in sadness at the admission.

"I do… I don't… I mean I didn't…Hades Balls!" she tried to explain everything in a rush of words that made no sense.

Gabrielle watched the woman go through an emotional roller coaster even as her own emotions were in turmoil. She knew she could give way to her feelings of sadness and betrayal or try to understand the woman she loved so deeply. We may never have another night together, she thought and her emotional war was over as quickly as it had begun. She decided maybe Xena didn't love her enough to trust her, but she loved the warrior enough to trust her and the outcome – whatever it was.

"Tell me what you mean, then." She said softly, linking her fingers with the warriors.

"I learned…" She started and stopped. "I learned about myself in Anahita's waters, Gabrielle. I learned about things that hurt me and that hurt the ones who loved me." She drifted off remembering the lessons in the water. "I heard Anahita telling me to trust my instincts. I knew if I didn't I would have drowned."

The warrior stared off in the direction of the afternoon sun, her thoughts outpacing her words. She knew she had to tell the bard everything now. She never wanted to hurt her but she owed it to her. She had to be told everything.

"My instincts told me I couldn't breathe under water, but I did breathe. When I breathed the water, I floated in a state of pure love that was joyous and I didn't want to come out of it. I wanted to share the purity of that love with you. But I couldn't stay there. I knew I had to get the sacred water. I had to prove myself….I, … I always have to be in control … to prove myself worthy." The warrior stopped talking and stared out over the horizon again.

The bard watched her intently. She knelt in front of her and looked into her eyes. She leaned in and pressed her lips to the warrior's, urging her, with her tender touch, to go on.

As lips touched lips, the pressure increased and the warrior put her arms around the younger woman, pulling her tightly again into an embrace. She held her like she never wanted to let go kissing her deeply and yet reverently trying to convey in the power of the kiss, how much she loved this woman.

Even as she wanted to hear the rest of the confession, the bard responded to the kiss, a slow familiar heat rising in her. The warrior felt the response and slowly grazed the tip of her tongue over the bard's partially opened lips as a heated sigh escaped clearly asking for more. Gabrielle knew with their passions enflamed they could easily make love, and it might be for the last time. While her body ardently responded to the warrior's kiss, her heart needed to hear what happened to Xena in the water.

"I need… aaahhh," she groaned into the kiss. If we don't stop now, she thought, we'll never finish talking about this. "Xe-na" she exhaled the sound of her lover's name slowly, pulling back from the ever deepening kiss. "I need you to tell me the rest of the story."

"Uhhm, later…. Tomorrow," the warrior barely responded. Pulling her back into an embrace, her hands moved under the younger woman's skirt as she fondled and squeezed the bard's tight buttocks.

"Now, Xena" she said in a raspy voice, her own heated emotions betraying her. "We…" she paused a moment then continued, "We may not have tomorrow."

The simple statement felt like a punch to the stomach and instantly cooled the warrior's passion. She struggled to regain her composure; the reality of the words having a sobering effect on her. She wrapped her arms around the young woman's waist and held her tightly.

"I want you to hold me, Xena and I want you to talk to me, okay? Tell me what your heart wants to say." the bard said.

The warrior rested her cheek on top of the woman's head wondering how to continue. If there is no tomorrow she thought she has to know. What do I say, she thought to herself then decided to jump in where she'd left off.

"Gabrielle," slowly, she began. "You told me you how much you loved me and you showed me in so many ways. But I didn't trust that love. I never thought I was worthy enough. How could you love someone like me?"

The bard remained silent knowing how difficult this confession was for the warrior.

"There are so many who love you, Gabrielle, so many who are better than me. You're an Amazon Queen with a tribe that adores you. You're so beautiful. I've seen how the women look at you. I've seen how Ephiny looks at you. I know she loves you. Why do you think I was so enraged when she danced with you? There are so many who could make you much happier than me. You could have any woman you wanted. They all wonder why you're with me." The words tumbled out, more words than she'd spoken in any one setting before this.

The bard decided it was finally time to say something. "Xena, I waited for you to notice me for a long time. And then I waited for you to love me. I never thought you'd love me like I love you. Whatever you were willing to give me was enough. I only know this, there's no one else I want to be with. And there’s no one else I love like this."

"Yes, but all these others – Ephiny, the others, they can give you a tribe, a family, a place to call home. I can't give you any of that."

"Xena, you're my family, you're my home." She thought about those words and took the warrior's face in her hands. "Xena, you’re more than that. You’re my life." She enunciated each word.

The warrior looked into the green eyes still not sure about trusting the young woman's words. "But Gabrielle, I have nothing to offer you. All I have to give you is a lonely life on the road. If we get out of this."

She then said the heavy words that had been hanging in the air. "Even now – this life is taking us into a battle tomorrow that we may not come back from. I never wanted to endanger you like this, but here you are in more danger than we've ever faced before."

The bard put her finger over the warrior's mouth to stop her from talking further. She'd made a choice to follow this woman losing her heart in the process. She had to make Xena understand and realize how she felt.

"Where you go, I go. Your life is my life. Your path is my path and if that path takes us into death tomorrow, then I'll die knowing I loved you more than I have ever loved another. And I'll happily go to the Elysian Fields with you because I won't want to live without you." She put her head against the warrior's chest as the power of the words overwhelmed her.

The warrior closed her eyes, the weight of the words searing her heart. This woman had told her before how much she loved her. Why had she never trusted her enough? She finally realized that it wasn't until she released her fears in Anahita's purple waters of trust that she actually felt the essence of pure love and knew it was exactly how she felt and how much she loved the bard. She had finally come to comprehend the love and devotion Gabrielle had for her and the power and the purity of the love overwhelmed her.

She faced the fact that the words Gabrielle had just spoken to her were precisely what she'd breathed in while swimming in the purple stream. When she'd let go and trusted in that pure love, she was propelled safely into the cave with the water of life. If she let go and trusted in Gabrielle's pure love there was nothing she couldn't accomplish. It was this pure love that was in the water of all life.

She remembered the Goddess's chant, Ata lara mana vata - without water there is no life. The next thought rocked her. Without Gabrielle she had no life either. Just like the earth needed water to sustain itself and water needed the earth to contain it, she needed this woman and her love to sustain her and she wanted to return that love. Without her, she was an empty shell.

Unable to stop herself, a single tear escaped and fell.

The bard felt the tear drop onto her cheek where she’d laid her head against the warrior’s chest, but she remained motionless. She knew the stoic warrior never wept. She knew she had to tread softly with her.

"Tell me what you're feeling, Xena." she said without moving.

The warrior's breathing was ragged as she tried to control herself. "I can only give you my love, Gabrielle. And my heart. That's all. I have no home. I'm not settled anywhere. I'm just a warrior. I have nothing else to give you." She didn't feel like much of a warrior at this moment. She was crying and she felt vulnerable and weak in front of this woman.

"That's enough" the bard whispered. She turned and looked into the teary blue eyes.

Cupping Xena's face between her hands she said, "If we both die tomorrow, I want you to know that I lived the fullest life possible and I was blessed with your love. And if I do die it will still have been enough. I never regretted following you."

Gabrielle placed a gentle soft kiss on the warrior's lips sealing them in this sacred moment. "You've been enough, Xena." She said whispering the words.

The warrior felt the reverent kiss and returned it with equal gentleness. Her heart, always guarded if not locked, opened up to this beautiful woman in her arms. She knew Gabrielle had just offered her a most precious gift; one she'd never allowed herself to receive before nor had she wanted to. Without judgment, without struggle, without regret, the bard told the warrior that she was enough and in that flow, she'd pledged her life to her. The gift melted Xena's heart and waves of emotions poured out. I'm enough, she thought. She took the bard's hands touching each fingertip lightly with her own hand. Then she brushed each finger, one by one, with a delicate kiss in silent homage.

The sweet gesture was not lost on Gabrielle who watched this ritual unfold with growing wonder at Xena's transformation. She'd never seen this side of the warrior and she was enchanted by it. Startled, she realized she was falling in love with her all over again. Her heart raced as she felt each kiss on the tips of her fingers. She quietly whispered, "I love you."

The passion which had been kindled earlier and seemed to have diminished returned. But this time it was soft and gentle rather than torrid. She stretched out pressing her body against the warrior and pulling her down beside her on the blankets. Xena's long black hair smelling like cinnamon mixed with musk, floated over her face. The warrior softly caressed Gabrielle's cheeks with her fingertip, tracing lines along her jaw and over her mouth. Then she bent down and kissed her tenderly.

The bard, wanting more, opened her lips using her tongue to part Xena's. She tasted the slight saltiness from her lover's recent tears and her heart swelled with love. The kiss was returned and soon tongue found tongue entwining together in the velvety softness of each other's mouths. A deep inhalation of breath escaped from Xena as the bard sucked Xena's tongue into her mouth.

Lying close, Xena raised herself on one elbow and slowly traced swirling patterns over Gabrielle's chest; but the halter she was wearing was in the way. She reached a practiced hand behind the bard's back and loosened the leather binding, smiling as she heard the change in Gabrielle's breathing. She slid her hand under the garment pushing it off to the side. When her chest was bare her eyes lovingly feasted on what she saw.

"You're so beautiful, Gabrielle" She said sweetly bending to kiss a breast.

Suddenly a hand reached up and stopped her. "Xena," she said softly, "I want to love you. I want to show you why you're enough. Let me love you."

"Gab-ri-elle, uuuhhhh," the warrior drew out the name unsure about this development and clearly uncertain if she was going to let her take the lead in their lovemaking, especially right now.

"Shh" the bard replied putting her finger to still the warrior's reply. "Please, let me love you."

Eyes met eyes one pleading the other weighing the request. The bard didn't wait for an answer. She pushed the warrior onto her back and began unfastening her leathers. "I want to feel you, Xena, all of you. Please take these off." Her hands roamed over the warrior's chest.

The warrior tried to pull the bare-chested woman onto her but Gabrielle removed the strong hands from her arms and gently placed them to the warrior's side. "Please let me love you." She repeated holding Xena's arms down.

With that she removed Xena's chest plate and loosened her leather skirt shoving them to the side of the rocks. She then removed the coarser muslin shirt and undergarments. Gently, Gabrielle pushed the warrior back down onto the blankets as green eyes locked onto blue eyes, begging her to let go and trust her. "Let me," she whispered. She knew how hard this was for Xena.

Without waiting for approval, her eyes traced and memorized the hard brown muscled contours of Xena's body fearing she might be seeing it for the last time. She touched the scars of so many battles with her fingertips, as though searing each cell of her lover's body into her consciousness. She grazed many of the now healed wounds sensitively. She lingered over the knotted laceration on her torso; the now healed scar was a vivid reminder from her wild warlord years. Xena I would have loved you even then, she thought to herself as she kissed the twisted scar.

The warrior lay back uncertain of the passive role she was about to play. Gabrielle's fingers tracing over her body ignited a heat in her core. She wanted to hold the bard and make love to her, but she knew something had shifted between them and she'd lost control of their lovemaking. She was naked and in uncharted territory and she didn't know what to do. She started to rise up again and a gentle hand pushed her back down stroking the tender pulse points inside her forearms. She inhaled deeply as the smell of musk permeated the air.

The smaller woman lying down beside her pressed her body along the full length of the tall hard muscular one. She delicately touched then held each breast, one at a time feeling the tenseness in the warrior's body start to evaporate. She looked into the blue eyes willing her to be still and to be loved. Then seeing resignation mixed with smoky passion on Xena's face, she moved her tongue over each breast. As if in silent adoration, she lazily drew spirals on them, blowing cool breaths across each of the nipples. She heard the hitch in Xena's breath and felt her squirm as each breath passed closer to a now hard and erect nipple.

She leaned over the larger woman, one leg draping and settling between the taller woman's thighs. As her knee pressed against the now moist mound, she smiled when she heard a groan and felt the taller woman shift and begin an easy rocking motion against her knee.

"Not yet" she said to the warrior with a somewhat serious smile. "You have to trust me just as you trusted your instincts in Anahita's waters." She slowed her movements though continued the lazy spirals around the darker brown breasts. "When you let go in the cave waters and trusted, you fell into a state of pure love and bliss. You had to give up all control, remember?"

The warrior nodded, not sure where this was going. Her thoughts weren't on Anahita's waters at the moment. All her senses were focused on Gabrielle's leg against her groin.

The bard continued. "I want you to feel that pure love again but I want you to feel it from me. You have to let go completely and let me love you. Let go and let me," she repeated.

She looked into the warriors eyes as she bent over taking a nipple in her mouth and rolling it around on the tip of her tongue. As she rolled it she bit down softly and heard Xena's breath exhale loudly in response. She felt the warrior's arms move around her, pulling her head down and pressing it hard against her breast. She sucked the nipple again and felt a responding quiver.

She heard Xena moan; the sound fueling her passion further. She attended to one breast with her mouth while her hand gently stroked and tweaked the other, teasing the other nipple to hardness. Xena began to tense against the bard, her muscles twitching. She pulled Gabrielle's head against her other breast, guiding her head firmly as though begging her to do more.

The bard complied, continuing to stroke and squeeze and tease each breast in turn. The warrior tried to roll her over but each time she was gently held in place by Gabrielle's leg or by her hands pushing her back.

"Let me love you." She said softly.

Xena's sudden inhalation of breath was the only reply as Gabrielle's knee pressed against her very wet center.

"You don't have to do anything but let go." She whispered as her tongue licked Xena's ear and lobe. Her tongue traced below the ear sucking the pressure point pounding along her neck. She felt the warrior grow rigid as she gently bit down on it while she ground her thigh against the taller woman.

A soft "aaahhh" greeted her efforts.

She moved her fingers down the warrior's stomach, touching and feeling the rock hard muscles defined there. Lips following fingers, she stopped just above Xena's navel then slipped her tongue into the opening feeling the taut muscles of the tall body ripple in response. As the warrior reached for the bard, Gabrielle again gently removed Xena's arms and placed them at her sides, kissing the backs of the callused hands before she did so.

A large sigh escaped the warrior's lips. "I know this is hard, Xena," she said. "I need to do this for you and for me. This may be our last time together." She continued touching the hard torso, cupping her palms at the swell of each breast. "I want you to know you will always be enough. This is how I want to show you."

The warrior breathed raggedly as the bard continued her silent homage. "Stay with me," Gabrielle whispered again, "Let me love you."

She next touched Xena's face tracing a path around her lips, and then she leaned over a breast sucking it hard as she moved her hand down across the dark wet curls and placed it between the warrior's legs.

"Uuhhh" Xena responded as the bard paused over her pubic mound. Her legs parted readily, offering easy entry. Gabrielle deftly rubbed one finger over the moist folds as ragged grunts escaped from Xena. The warrior tried to keep her body still the way she'd been instructed but it was nearly impossible. She shivered with anticipation under the bard's touch feeling her wetness on her thighs.

Gabrielle felt Xena's hips begin to push against her hand as the warrior's arousal mounted feverishly and her need increased. "Gabrielle," Xena rasped. "Please." She begged.

The bard's strong fingers circled her mound and entered the heated wet folds circling Xena's center. She heard the warrior labored panting and went deeper feeling for the tight bundle of nerves then slipped two fingers deeper into the tight opening moving them in and out. The warrior bucked against her demanding release. She felt the taut tension but was determined to slow the pace of their lovemaking.

She shifted her body and slipped down between the taller woman's legs her two fingers barely moving inside the warm wet opening. She heard the dark woman groan and felt the warrior's hands on her head guiding her lower and lower as her hips rocked against the still fingers.

"Please," the warrior moaned again. All thoughts of making love to Gabrielle had been abandoned. She'd surrendered herself to the small blond woman who now controlled every sensory feeling she was having. She was back in Anahita's watery grave floating under an intense tidal wave of love. She was sinking deeper and deeper and all rational thoughts had disappeared from her mind. Flowing in a state of pure blissful love, the sensations washed over her and carried her helplessly and endlessly along.

Gabrielle's tongue entered the slick folds searching for the swollen knot. She felt the change in Xena's rhythm and sought to match it with her tongue and fingers. She increased the motion in and out of the heated opening and began sucking intensely on the rock hard nub. As she sucked, she nibbled the tip gently with her teeth. At that moment Xena's body bucked and contractions rocked her insides clamping down on Gabrielle's fingers.

She released herself into Gabrielle's mouth groaning as the intensity of her orgasm reached her core and rocked her. She shuddered gasping as she floated free into a heart racing freefall of brilliant light. In that moment she believed Gabrielle's words I am enough.

Strong arms wrapped around Xena and held her as she spiraled down from the peak. She heard the bard's voice as though from a distance telling her how much she loved her. Xena opened her eyes seeing the powerful love reflected and flowing from the depths of the green ones so close to her own. As her heart continued to beat erratically to its own rhythm she touched Gabrielle's face and kissed her, tasting herself on the bard's lips.

"You love me enough." she said softly, tears in her eyes.

"You let go and trusted me enough." The bard said in reply as she put her face against the warrior's heaving chest cradling her lover.

They spent this last time in devoted homage to one another, touching, exploring and making love with each other. They honored the revelations unburdened from their souls even as they knew this late afternoon had become their benediction. It was their final sacred blessing to each other before the battle was engaged.

Lying spent in each other's arms; they watched the sun begin its descent towards the horizon. Soon the sun would paint the sky in streaks of gold and pink. It was time to go.

                                    *          *          *          *          *



The late afternoon sun glinted off her long black hair as she paced nervously back and forth across the ridge. Like every previous battle she’d fought in, the warrior slowly and methodically went over the battle plans in her head. The weapons had been made and stockpiled. They’d marked off the cadence and timing of each sentry’s watch. The prisoners had been contacted and knew when to attack. She looked for pitfalls in each step of the battle plan, knowing this one had to be precise and flawless. As she paced the other women idly watched her, each one lost in her own thoughts and aware of their dire circumstances.

“Everybody understand what we have to do?” She asked suddenly, nervousness evident in the question.

“We’ve gone over it twenty times, Xena” Ephiny looked up from sharpening her sword.

“We’ll go over it twenty more times till we have it down.” She responded with a glare.

“We have enough of the Greek fire bombs, right, Solari?”

“All we’ve done is make fire bombs and watch that gods be damned camp.” She replied. “We have enough.”

“What about your arsenal?” she asked Pony.

“We have enough to light up Thrace. We’re ready.” Pony replied.

“Everyone is ready and knows what has to be done, Xena.” It was Noalani’s attempt to ease the unfolding tension between the warriors.

“All right then! I want everybody to keep a sharp eye. If you see any movement below, let me know. Meanwhile, try to get some rest. Any questions?”

The women shook their heads no. But Gabrielle rose from where she was sitting and approached the warrior.

“Xena, we need to talk.”

“What is it Gabrielle?”

“Please can we go somewhere?”

The warrior studied the bard noticing the intensity in the green eyes looking back at her. She’d come to know this woman well and knew something was wrong. Besides, she thought to herself, if Adara doesn’t get back in time with the tribes, I don’t know how successful we’re going to be. This could be our last time to talk.

“Let me get some blankets, ok?” she said. “We can go up on that ridge over there. It’s out of the way.”

She looked at the bard for confirmation, and got a nod in response.

They climbed up the ridge and headed for a series of rocks out of sight of the other women. They moved carefully up the shale face so as not to dislodge any stones that might give their position away. When they reached the very top of the ridge, there was a small flat secluded area where Xena spread the blankets for them to sit. The ridge gave a sweeping view over the western desert and the late afternoon sun promised a spectacular sunset.

“This looks like a good place” she said. “We can be alone here and talk. I brought some dried fruit and some bread in case you were hungry.” She removed her sword and chakram placing them near a large rock. Then removed her bracers from her legs and forearms.

Grinning, she saw Gabrielle’s appreciative smile as she laid out the food. I don’t want to think of never seeing that smile again, thought Xena as she gazed at the woman beside her. She shook the bleak thoughts away as they made themselves comfortable side by side. She tore off a chunk of bread and handed it to the bard relishing the late afternoon sun’s highlights gleaming in her hair.

“You know me so well” the bard laughed, breaking a piece of the bread.

“Gabrielle, everyone knows you like to eat. That’s not news.” Let’s get this over with, she thought. “So, tell me, what did you want to talk about alone? Or did you have something else in mind?” She grinned wickedly at the younger woman.

“You’re incorrigible, Xena. You have a one track mind.” She nudged the warrior in the ribs.

“It’s what happens whenever I’m around you. Besides, we have a secluded area, may as well put it to good use.” the warrior smirked.

“Not now. We need to talk.” Gabrielle replied.

“You always want to talk, Gabrielle.” Xena quipped, but then sobered when she noted Gabrielle’s solemn expression. “Okay, so what did you want to talk about?” Xena asked.

The bard broke the bread into small pieces, reflecting on the thoughts she’d been having. She was frightened – frightened for herself and the dire thought of losing her warrior. That feeling more than any other brought her to the brink of despair and anguish.

“Xena, this is the first time I’ve ever felt like we might not make it.” The bard began. “By tomorrow, one of us, or both of us might be dead.” The latter was barely audible.

Xena put her arms around Gabrielle, pulling the younger woman into her strong embrace. She couldn’t dispute her words as she’d had the same feelings herself. But she tried to ease her worries.

“We’ll get through this. We always have.” She kissed the top of the younger woman’s head, her lips lingering against her hair taking in the slight lemony smell that was the bard’s. Her words belied her true feelings.

“We may not make it this time.” Gabrielle said simply echoing Xena’s thoughts.

Both of them were stilled by the words. Xena held her tight as the bard reveled in the embrace and the feeling of security she always got when she was held by the warrior.

After several moments of quiet, Gabrielle continued. “Do you remember when we went to see Anahita what she said to us about water?”

“You mean putting out the fires with the sacred water” the warrior asked?

“No! I mean what she said about water and love. She said when you love someone deeply that it was like a raging river of water with wave upon wave flowing from heart to heart. She said each heart holds the other one in safekeeping. Do you remember that?”

The warrior nodded. She remembered when the goddess had spoken the words and how she’d felt. Both of them had looked at each other and in that moment, the power of the words, swept them into a blended flow of the most profound emotion, pure love.

“I’m so frightened of losing you, Xena. I feel like we’ve just found our love for each other and if something happens to you….” she choked and began to sob. “I…. uuhh…. I don’t want to live without you.” Her tears flowed steadily.

“Shhh, shhh” the warrior responded stroking her hair and her face and trying to stop the young woman’s tears and ease her anguish. The warrior had had the same thoughts and fears but had always pushed them away. “It’ll be alright.” She said unconvincingly.

“I don’t think so. Not this time.” The bard sobbed, holding on tightly to the taller woman afraid to let her go. The depths of her fears engulfed her.

The warrior stroked the bard’s hair and face, wiping the constant tears with her fingertips as they rolled down the younger woman’s cheeks.

“We didn’t come this far for nothing, Gabrielle. You asked me to remember Anahita’s water story. Do you remember what she made us do? We had to swim through the depths of that watery lair and all we had was trust and our love. And we made it. She said, she’d help us and we’re going to make it.”

The bard heard the words, wanting to latch on to a shred of hope.

“Something happened to you in that cave, didn’t it?” It was an innocent question yet the bard needed to know. She needed to know this day as much as she could learn about the warrior. She knew they might never have another day to discuss it.

“Yes, something happened.” The warrior replied remembering her time in the cave swimming in the stream of purple light. She remembered surrendering to the flow she was in. She trusted and in the trust felt the powerful love of the bard surround her and capture her heart all over again.

“Tell me what happened, Xena.”

It’s now or never, she thought. I need to tell her.

She took a deep breath and said, “You always trusted me, Gabrielle. But I didn’t trust you enough.” She felt her throat constrict and dry up as she said the words clearly for the first time.

The bard pulled out of her embrace as the words were finally spoken. She thought back to how the warrior constantly protected her and wouldn’t let her fight her own battles. She never felt like she was treated as an equal. Now, the truth was out – she didn’t trust her.

“You don’t trust me, Xena?” She looked at the warrior, catching the blue eyes off guard before they lowered in sadness at the admission.

“I do… I don’t… I mean I didn’t…Hades Balls!” she tried to explain everything in a rush of words that made no sense.

Gabrielle watched the woman go through an emotional roller coaster even as her own emotions were in turmoil. She knew she could give way to her feelings of sadness and betrayal or try to understand the woman she loved so deeply. We may never have another night together, she thought and her emotional war was over as quickly as it had begun. She decided maybe Xena didn’t love her enough to trust her, but she loved the warrior enough to trust her and the outcome – whatever it was.

“Tell me what you mean, then.” She said softly, linking her fingers with the warriors.

“I learned…” She started and stopped. “I learned about myself in Anahita’s waters, Gabrielle. I learned about things that hurt me and that hurt the ones who loved me.” She drifted off remembering the lessons in the water. “I heard Anahita telling me to trust my instincts. I knew if I didn’t I would have drowned.”

The warrior stared off in the direction of the setting sun, her thoughts outpacing her words. She knew she had to tell the bard everything now. She never wanted to hurt her but she owed it to her. She had to be told everything.

“My instincts told me I couldn’t breathe under water, but I did breathe. When I breathed the water, I floated in a state of pure love that was joyous and I didn’t want to come out of it. I wanted to share the purity of that love with you. But I couldn’t stay there. I knew I had to get the sacred water. I had to prove myself….I, … I always have to be in control … to prove myself worthy.” The warrior stopped talking and stared out over the horizon again.

The bard watched her intently. She knelt in front of her and looked into her eyes. She leaned in and pressed her lips to the warrior’s, urging her, with her tender touch, to go on.

As lips touched lips, the pressure increased and the warrior put her arms around the younger woman, pulling her tightly again into an embrace. She held her like she never wanted to let go kissing her deeply and yet reverently trying to convey in the power of the kiss, how much she loved this woman.

Even as she wanted to hear the rest of the confession, the bard responded to the kiss, a slow familiar heat rising in her. The warrior felt the response and slowly grazed the tip of her tongue over the bard’s partially opened lips as a heated sigh escaped clearly asking for more. Gabrielle knew with their passions enflamed they could easily make love, and it might be for the last time. While her body ardently responded to the warrior’s kiss, her heart needed to hear what happened to Xena in the water.

“I need… aaahhh” she groaned into the kiss. If we don’t stop now, she thought, we’ll never finish talking about this. “Xe-na” she exhaled the sound of her lover’s name slowly, pulling back from the ever deepening kiss. “I need you to tell me the rest of the story.”

“Uhhm, later…. Tomorrow” the warrior barely responded. Pulling her back into an embrace, her hands moved under the younger woman’s skirt as she fondled and squeezed the bard’s tight buttocks.

“Now, Xena” she said in a raspy voice, her own heated emotions betraying her. “We…” she paused a moment then continued, “We may not have tomorrow.”

The simple statement felt like a punch to the stomach and instantly cooled the warrior’s passion. She struggled to regain her composure; the reality of the words having a sobering effect on her. She wrapped her arms around the young woman’s waist and held her tightly.

“I want you to hold me, Xena and I want you to talk to me, okay? Tell me what your heart wants to say.” the bard said.

The warrior rested her cheek on top of the woman’s head wondering how to continue. If there is no tomorrow she thought she has to know. What do I say, she thought to herself then decided to jump in where she’d left off.

“Gabrielle,” slowly, she began. “You told me you how much you loved me and you showed me in so many ways. But I didn’t trust that love. I never thought I was worthy enough. How could you love someone like me?”

The bard remained silent knowing how difficult this confession was for the warrior.

“There are so many who love you, Gabrielle, so many who are better than me. You’re an Amazon Queen with a tribe that adores you. You’re so beautiful. I’ve seen how the women look at you. I’ve seen how Ephiny looks at you. I know she loves you. Why do you think I was so enraged when she danced with you? There are so many who could make you much happier than me. You could have any woman you wanted. They all wonder why you’re with me.” The words tumbled out, more words than she’d spoken in any one setting before this.

The bard decided it was finally time to say something. “Xena, I waited for you to notice me for a long time. And then I waited for you to love me. I never thought you’d love me like I love you. But whatever you were willing to give me was enough. I only know this, there’s no one else I want to be with.”

“Yes, but all these others – Ephiny, the others, they can give you a tribe, a family, a place to call home. I can’t give you any of that.”

“Xena, you’re my family, you’re my home.” She thought about those words and took the warrior’s face in her hands. “Xena, you are my life.” She enunciated each word.

The warrior looked into the green eyes still not sure about trusting the young woman’s words. “But Gabrielle, I have nothing to offer you. All I have to give you is a lonely life on the road.”

She then said the heavy words that had been hanging in the air. “Even now – this life is taking us into a battle tomorrow that we may not come back from. I never wanted to endanger you like this, but here you are in more danger than we’ve ever faced before.”

The bard put her finger over the warrior’s mouth to stop her from talking further. She’d made a choice to follow this woman losing her heart in the process. She had to make Xena understand and realize how she felt.

“Where you go, I go. Your life is my life. Your path is my path and if that path takes us into death tomorrow, then I’ll die knowing I loved you more than I have ever loved another. And I’ll happily go to the Elysian Fields with you because I won’t want to live without you.” She put her head against the warrior’s chest as the power of the words overwhelmed her.

The warrior closed her eyes, the weight of the words searing her heart. This woman had told her before how much she loved her. Why had she never trusted her enough? She finally realized that it wasn’t until she released her fears in Anahita’s purple waters of trust that she actually felt the essence of pure love and knew it was exactly how she felt and how much she loved the bard. She had finally come to comprehend the love and devotion Gabrielle had for her and the power and the purity of the love overwhelmed her.

She faced the fact that the words Gabrielle had just spoken to her were precisely what she’d breathed in while swimming in the purple stream. When she’d let go and trusted in that pure love, she was propelled safely into the cave with the water of life. If she let go and trusted in Gabrielle’s pure love there was nothing she couldn’t accomplish. It was this pure love that was in the water of all life.

She remembered the Goddess’s chant, Ata lara mana vata - without water there is no life. The next thought rocked her. Without Gabrielle she had no life either. Just like the earth needed water to sustain itself and water needed the earth to contain it, she needed this woman and her love to sustain her and she wanted to return that love. Without her, she was an empty shell.

Unable to stop herself, a single tear escaped and fell.

The bard felt the tear drop onto her cheek but remained motionless. She knew the stoic warrior never wept. She knew she had to tread softly with her.

“Tell me what you’re feeling, Xena.” she said without moving.

The warrior’s breathing was ragged as she tried to control herself. “I can only give you my love, Gabrielle. And my heart. That’s all. I have no home. I’m not settled anywhere. I’m just a warrior. I have nothing else to give you.” She didn’t feel like much of a warrior at this moment. She was crying and she felt vulnerable and weak in front of this woman.

“That’s enough” the bard whispered. She turned and looked into the teary blue eyes.

Cupping Xena’s face between her hands she said, “If we both die tomorrow, I want you to know that I lived the fullest life possible and I was blessed with your love. And if I do die it will still have been enough. I never regretted following you.”

Gabrielle placed a gentle soft kiss on the warrior’s lips sealing them in this sacred moment. “You’ve been enough, Xena.” She said whispering the words.

The warrior felt the reverent kiss and returned it with equal gentleness. Her heart, always guarded if not locked, opened up to this beautiful woman in her arms. She knew Gabrielle had just offered her a most precious gift; one she’d never allowed herself to receive before nor had she wanted to. Without judgment, without struggle, without regret, the bard told the warrior that she was enough and in that flow, she’d pledged her life to her. The gift melted Xena’s heart and waves of emotions poured out. I’m enough, she thought. She took the bard’s hands touching each fingertip lightly with her own hand. Then she brushed each finger, one by one, with a delicate kiss in silent homage.

The sweet gesture was not lost on Gabrielle who watched this ritual unfold with growing wonder at Xena’s transformation. She’d never seen this side of the warrior and she was enchanted by it. Startled, she realized she was falling in love with her all over again. Her heart raced as she felt each kiss on her the tips of her fingers. She quietly whispered, “I love you.”

The passion which had been kindled earlier and seemed to have diminished returned. But this time it was soft and gentle rather than torrid. She stretched out pressing her body against the warrior and pulling her down beside her on the blankets. Xena’s long black hair smelling like cinnamon mixed with musk, floated over her face. The warrior softly caressed Gabrielle’s cheeks with her fingertip, tracing lines along her jaw and over her mouth. Then she bent down and kissed her tenderly.

The bard wanting more opened her lips using her tongue to part Xena’s. She tasted the slight saltiness from her lover’s recent tears and her heart swelled with love. The kiss was returned and soon tongue found tongue entwining together in the velvety softness of each other’s mouths. A deep inhalation of breath escaped from Xena as the bard sucked Xena’s tongue into her mouth.

Lying close, Xena raised herself on one elbow and slowly traced swirling patterns over Gabrielle’s chest; but the halter she was wearing was in the way. She reached a practiced hand behind the bard’s back and loosened the leather binding, smiling as she heard the change in Gabrielle’s breathing. She slid her hand under the garment pushing it off to the side. When her chest was bare her eyes lovingly feasted on what she saw.

“You’re so beautiful, Gabrielle” She said sweetly bending to kiss a breast.

Suddenly a hand reached up and stopped her. “Xena,” she said softly, “I want to love you. I want to show you why you’re enough. Let me love you.”

“Gab-ri-elle, uuuhhhh,” the warrior drew out the name unsure about this development and clearly uncertain if she was going to let her take the lead in their lovemaking, especially right now.

“Shh” the bard replied putting her finger to still the warrior’s reply. “Please, let me love you.”

Eyes met eyes one pleading the other weighing the request. The bard didn’t wait for an answer. She pushed the warrior onto her back and began unfastening her leathers. “I want to feel you, Xena, all of you. Please take these off.” Her hands roamed over the warrior’s chest.

The warrior tried to pull the bare chested woman onto her but Gabrielle removed the strong hands from her arms and gently placed them to the warrior’s side. “Please let me love you.” She repeated holding Xena’s arms down.

With that she removed Xena’s chest plate and loosened her leather skirt shoving them to the side of the rocks. She then removed the coarser muslin shirt and undergarments. Gently, Gabrielle pushed the warrior back down onto the blankets as green eyes locked onto blue eyes, begging her to let go and trust her. “Let me” she whispered. She knew how hard this was for Xena.

Without waiting for approval, her eyes traced and memorized the hard brown muscled contours of Xena’s body fearing she might be seeing it for the last time. She touched the scars of so many battles with her fingertips, as though searing each cell of her lover’s body into her consciousness. She grazed many of the now healed wounds sensitively. She lingered over the knotted laceration on her torso; the now healed scar was a vivid reminder from her wild warlord years. Xena I would have loved you even then, she thought to herself as she kissed the twisted scar.

The warrior lay back uncertain of the passive role she was about to play. Gabrielle’s fingers tracing over her body ignited a heat in her core. She wanted to hold the bard and make love to her, but she knew something had shifted between them and she’d lost control of their lovemaking. She was naked and in uncharted territory and she didn’t know what to do. She started to rise up again and a gentle hand pushed her back down stroking the tender pulse points inside her forearms. She inhaled deeply as the smell of musk permeated the air.

The smaller woman lying down beside her pressed her body along the full length of the tall hard muscular one. She delicately touched then held each breast, one at a time feeling the tenseness in the warrior’s body start to evaporate. She looked into the blue eyes willing her to be still and to be loved. Then seeing resignation mixed with smoky passion on Xena’s face, she moved her tongue over each breast. As if in silent adoration, she lazily drew spirals on them, blowing cool breaths across each of the nipples. She heard the hitch in Xena’s breath and felt her squirm as each breath passed closer to a now hard and erect nipple.

She leaned over the larger woman, one leg draping and settling between the taller woman’s thighs. As her knee pressed against the now moist mound, she smiled when she heard a groan and felt the taller woman shift and begin an easy rocking motion against her knee.

“Not yet” she said to the warrior with a somewhat serious smile. “You have to trust me just as you trusted your instincts in Anahita’s waters.” She slowed her movements though continued the lazy spirals around the darker brown breasts. “When you let go in the cave waters and trusted, you fell into a state of pure love and bliss. You had to give up all control, remember?”

The warrior nodded, not sure where this was going. Her thoughts weren’t on Anahita’s waters at the moment. All her senses were focused on Gabrielle’s leg against her groin.

The bard continued. “I want you to feel that pure love again but I want you to feel it from me. You have to let go completely and let me love you. Let go and let me” she repeated.

She looked into the warriors eyes as she bent over taking a nipple in her mouth and rolling it around on the tip of her tongue. As she rolled it she bit down softly and heard Xena’s breath exhale loudly in response. She felt the warrior’s arms move around her, pulling her head down and pressing it hard against her breast. She sucked the nipple again and felt a responding quiver.

She heard Xena moan; the sound fueling her passion further. She attended to one breast with her mouth while her hand gently stroked and tweaked the other, teasing the other nipple to hardness. Xena began to tense against the bard, her muscles twitching. She pulled Gabrielle’s head against her other breast, guiding her head firmly as though begging her to do more.

The bard complied, continuing to stroke and squeeze and tease each breast in turn. The warrior tried to roll her over but each time she was gently held in place by Gabrielle’s leg or by her hands pushing her back.

“Let me love you.” She said softly.

Xena’s sudden inhalation of breath was the only reply as Gabrielle’s knee pressed against her very wet center.

“You don’t have to do anything but let go.” She whispered as her tongue licked Xena’s ear and lobe. Her tongue traced below the ear sucking the pressure point pounding along her neck. She felt the warrior grow rigid as she gently bit down on it while she ground her thigh against the taller woman.

A soft “aaahhh” greeted her efforts.

She moved her fingers down the warrior’s stomach, touching and feeling the rock hard muscles defined there. Lips following fingers, she stopped just above Xena’s navel then slipped her tongue into the opening feeling the taut muscles of the tall body ripple in response. As the warrior reached for the bard, Gabrielle again gently removed Xena’s arms and placed them at her sides, kissing the backs of the callused hands before she did so.

A large sigh escaped the warrior’s lips. “I know this is hard, Xena” she said. “I need to do this for you and for me. This may be our last time together.” She continued touching the hard torso, cupping her palms at the swell of each breast. “I want you to know you will always be enough. This is how I want to show you.”

The warrior breathed raggedly as the bard continued her silent homage. “Stay with me” Gabrielle whispered again, “Let me love you.”

She next touched Xena’s face tracing a path around her lips, and then she leaned over a breast sucking it hard as she moved her hand down across the dark wet curls and placed it between the warrior’s legs.

“Uuhhh” Xena responded as the bard paused over her pubic mound. Her legs parted readily, offering easy entry. Gabrielle deftly rubbed one finger over the moist folds as ragged grunts escaped from Xena. The warrior tried to keep her body still the way she’d been instructed but it was nearly impossible. She shivered with anticipation under the bard’s touch feeling her wetness on her thighs.

Gabrielle felt Xena’s hips begin to push against her hand as the warrior’s arousal mounted feverishly and her need increased. “Gabrielle” Xena rasped. “Please.” She begged.

The bard’s strong fingers circled her mound and entered the heated wet folds circling Xena’s center. She heard the warrior labored panting and went deeper feeling for the tight bundle of nerves then slipped two fingers deeper into the tight opening moving them in and out. The warrior bucked against her demanding release. She felt the taut tension but was determined to slow the pace of their lovemaking.

She shifted her body and slipped down between the taller woman’s legs her two fingers barely moving inside the warm wet opening. She heard the dark woman groan and felt the warrior’s hands on her head guiding her lower and lower as her hips rocked against the still fingers.

“Please” the warrior moaned again. All thoughts of making love to Gabrielle had been abandoned. She’d surrendered herself to the small blond woman who now controlled every sensory feeling she was having. She was back in Anahita’s watery grave floating under an intense tidal wave of love. She was sinking deeper and deeper and all rational thoughts had disappeared from her mind. Flowing in a state of pure blissful love, the sensations washed over her and carried her helplessly and endlessly along.

Gabrielle’s tongue entered the slick folds searching for the swollen knot. She felt the change in Xena’s rhythm and sought to match it with her tongue and fingers. She increased the motion in and out of the heated opening and began sucking intensely on the rock hard nub. As she sucked, she nibbled the tip gently with her teeth. At that moment Xena’s body bucked and contractions rocked her insides clamping down on Gabrielle’s fingers.

She released herself into Gabrielle’s mouth groaning as the intensity of her orgasm reached her core and rocked her. She shuddered gasping as she floated free into a heart racing freefall of brilliant light. In that moment she believed Gabrielle’s words I am enough.

Strong arms wrapped around Xena and held her as she spiraled down from the peak. She heard the bard’s voice as though from a distance telling her how much she loved her. Xena opened her eyes seeing the powerful love reflected and flowing from the depths of the green ones so close to her own. As her heart continued to beat erratically to its own rhythm she touched Gabrielle’s face and kissed her, tasting herself on the bard’s lips.

“You love me enough” she said softly, tears in her eyes.

“You let go and trusted me enough.” The bard said in reply as she put her face against the warrior’s heaving chest cradling her lover.

They spent this last time before darkness fell in devoted homage to one another, touching, exploring and making love with each other. They honored the revelations unburdened from their souls even as they knew this late afternoon had become their benediction. It was their final sacred blessing to each other before the battle was engaged.

Lying spent in each other’s arms, they watched the sun begin its descent towards the horizon. Soon the sun would paint the sky in streaks of gold and pink and it would be time to go.

                                    *          *          *          *          *



The sounds of women’s voices not far away interrupted their reverie. Neither of them wanted the moment to end, but they knew the time had come to meet the enemy and their fate. They stood up putting on their clothes and gathering the last of the food and the blankets.

“I still don’t like you going off to see this god of the underworld by yourself, Gabrielle.”

“I know, Xena, but each of us has an important job to do this time. You have to go with Ephiny and the others to the Red Scorpion camp. I have to do mine. I only hope Adara returns in time with the tribes to help you.”

“I do too. There aren’t enough of us without the tribes.”

Again the truth of their situation overwhelmed them as they were lost for a moment in their own thoughts. I want to wake up tomorrow morning in her arms and find that all this is just a bad dream, the bard thought gazing at the warrior.

Xena sensed the change in mood, put down the blankets, and put her arms around the younger woman. “I love you,” she whispered into her golden hair.

“I know you do. I love you too. This is so very hard,” the bard replied with a deep sigh, placing a gentle kiss on the warrior’s cheek.

They stayed in the soft embrace for a few moments until Xena took the bard’s hand in her own. “We should start down. It’s getting late,” the warrior said quietly.

“I want you to remember something important, Xena.”

“Yeah? What?”

“Anahita promised to protect me. She told me how to get inside the cave and that I’m the only one that can pass through. She said she’d give me the sight and I’d be able to see the entrance that’s visibly blocked to everyone else. I can see it and pass through.”

“Yeah, I heard. I’d still rather be going with you,” the warrior said, her mistrust of the gods intact. Even though her experience with Anahita had been more positive than most of her other encounters with the gods she was still concerned for the Bard’s safety.

Gabrielle looked deeply into Xena’s eyes. “When it gets hard for you, please remember that, ok? Promise me?”

The warrior grunted as they wound their way back down the rocky slope in the direction they’d left the other four women. Their long dark shadows from the setting sun preceded them. The warrior carried her fears for her lover in her heart. She went over the original plans again in her mind, looking for a way to be in both places at once. Logically, she knew that was an impossibility and that knowledge made her shake her head with dismay.

As they approached the other women, Xena took command, going into battle mode.

“Everyone get some rest?” She asked.

They nodded though none of them had truly slept. They’d lain around or made small talk to kill time and break the anxiousness permeating the group. Seeing Xena return, they knew time was up and they gathered their weapons quietly, each locked in her own thoughts.

“Let’s get going then. We need to move out soon.”

The four women moved away as a group, giving the warrior and bard a last moment of privacy. Xena turned to Gabrielle and looked at her for a long moment, the depth of her love clear in her blue eyes. She put her hands on Gabrielle’s shoulders and said, “Be careful. Come back soon.” There was so much more she wanted to say, but couldn’t. Her heart was in her throat.

Gabrielle responded by putting her arms around the warrior’s waist and burying her face on her shoulder. “I love you,” she said simply, turning away quickly and heading in the opposite direction before the tears consumed her and drained all her courage.

“Gabrielle,” the warrior called out.

The young woman turned, looking back towards her lover’s voice. She saw Xena mouth the words, “I love you too.”

“I know,” Gabrielle mouthed back. She took a deep breath, smiled at her lover, then turned and headed over the side of the cliff.



                                    *          *          *          *          *          *

As Gabrielle descended the cliff towards the main roadway into the army camp, she knew it would be heavily guarded. Armed only with her staff, she made her way carefully, hiding behind large boulders and trying not to disturb loose rocks along the way.

Carefully reviewing her time with Anahita, she went over the details of the powers she’d been given. The goddess had promised her protection, had given her a sacred chant, and told her how to invoke the various gifts of sight and invisibility she’d bestowed upon the queen. Gabrielle’s fears began to rise as she made her way further down the cliff, knowing she was going to come face to face with some god of the underworld.

She began deep breathing as Anahita had taught her – taking a deep breath through her nose, pulling air into her forehead, concentrating on the cool air reverberating between her eyes, holding it and then slowly releasing the air through her mouth. It had a centering and calming effect on the bard. Focus on the goddess, she said to herself. Call her name if I need her but put my thoughts on the goddess without wavering and she’ll help me.

Focusing on the Goddess and her own breathing, Gabrielle repeated the exercise over and over. Soon she felt lighter and then noticed that the landscape had taken on a surreal quality as if she were underwater. Relief flooded her as she understood the goddess’s camouflage was working. At least I hope it’s working, she thought momentarily, before catching herself. Damn, none of that non-belief. If this is going to work then I have to have absolute trust in Anahita. Glancing out into the desert toward the goddess’s lair, she sent out a silent prayer of gratitude, Thank you Anahita.

As she made the first turn in the trail, Gabrielle saw a big brute up ahead. She didn’t realize a soldier would be this high up on the trail and she froze in stride, her fear overtaking and drowning her focus on Anahita.

This wavering of focus momentarily revealed her form to the guard. She caught herself and mentally called out, Anahita protect me. The soldier looked up; sure he’d seen someone or something. He looked befuddled as he moved towards the void where the wavy form of a woman had stood. He saw nothing but a bright light reflected back. He shielded his eyes and the darkness inside of him cowered from the brilliance.

“What in Tartarus,” he muttered to himself, picking up his wineskin and smelling the contents. Think I’ve had enough to drink, he thought as he tossed it onto the rocks.

Gabrielle used the distraction to move past the soldier and on down the trail which meandered along the rocky face of the cliff. She encountered two more sentries on her way to the desert floor, one mid-way and the other at the bottom. After her initial scare, she’d become accustomed to the invisibility and moved with more confidence past these other impediments.

Once on the flat surface of the desert floor, Gabrielle took stock of her location. She was at the northern edge of the encampment. The sandstone cliffs were at her back; to the south was the main part of the camp and just beyond that the prisoners and Xena. Her soul, yearning for its other half, caused her to turn in that direction. Xena, I love you. I pray somehow we’ll come through this. By the goddess’s grace, we will. I want more time in this world with you my love.


The bard held those precious thoughts close to her heart for a moment. Then she turned her attention to the north and began searching the ochre-colored cliffs for the landmarks Anahita had described.

She was within a few hundred yards from the main camp when she saw two giant outcroppings and what appeared to be the entrance to the cave. She drew back and stared at the boulders which had been chiseled in stone to resemble two huge lizards with forked tongues hanging out. She stumbled over a large jagged object on the ground and then looked down to see a row of sharp rocky teeth carved in a semi-circle. Looking up, she saw an identical set above her. This must be the place, she thought. Once I enter this portal, I’m in the belly of the monster. Anahita be with me! The prayer was heartfelt.

She walked towards what appeared to be another opening, noticing the teeth-like rocks that guarded the entrance to the lower cave. Again her focus on the goddess wavered and she became visible. She saw her boots materialize and she jumped back behind one of the rocky projections to protect herself should any more guards appear. She remembered Anahita’s words, “to pass beyond this world and into the next, you must give up your beliefs of what is real.”

I have no idea what’s real or not, she thought as she studied her legs which were wavering in and out of focus. “Anahita, I need help, please,” she whispered breathing hard.

As soon as she said the words, she heard a sound like rushing water against her eardrum and the voice of the goddess spoke in her head. My daughter, trust me and give up your false beliefs. Walk right through the entrance.

Gabrielle looked at the entrance and saw it was solid stone. I can’t do this, she thought, her fears consuming her. She wanted to be back in Thrace. She wanted to run back to the safety of Xena’s arms where she had no fears and where the strength of the warrior protected her from all harm. She’d left her home, taking a chance on this warrior, and she’d done it with total trust and abandon.

The word trust came back to her in a rush of emotion. Trust me Anahita had said. She had said those same words to Xena and in time the warrior had finally loved her and trusted her. Then the sweet memory of she and Xena making love not long ago came to her mind. She recalled the blending of their spirits, the total merging of their love and fully trusting the other without reservation. The thoughts and feelings overwhelmed her. I have to do this, she thought, for Xena, for the Amazon nation, for all of us. The thoughts galvanized her and she concentrated on the goddess’s image. Trust me, Anahita had told her. She remembered Ahahita’s visage in the watery grotto and fixed it in her mind.

Holding the image, she stood up facing the entrance as her blood pounded in her ears and her breath came raggedly. Give up what I know is real, she said in her head as she walked forward towards the rock wall. Give up what I know is real, give up what I know is real. Repeating the mantra over and over, she forged ahead, and then without fear, passed through the solid wall of rock.

As soon as she was inside, she felt a searing heat which propelled her backwards. She was shaken as she realized she’d just walked through solid rock. Releasing her cloak of invisibility, she looked around for the source of the heat. There were rivers of molten fire slowly coursing their way through the tunnels and caverns of the underworld. The stench of decay and death assailed her nostrils causing her stomach to heave.

The darkened interior was tinged with the orange glow of the fires. As her eyes grew accustomed to the gloom, she saw grotesque mutilated bodies and gruesome life forms hanging on the walls of the cavern. The god of the underworld had hung the corpses as well as the half dead mutilated bodies of his enemies like trophies on the walls.

Smells of rot and sulfur washed over her. The offensive odors were so powerful she could taste the stench on the back of her tongue, a bitter acrid tang that pulled huge amounts of saliva into her mouth. Gagging, trying to hold down the food in her stomach, she saw mutilated tortured beings writhing in agony, begging for death. The pitiful screams of those still living assailed her ears. I’ve entered the deepest blackest hole in Tartarus, she said to herself.


She tried to walk past the putrid forms and recoiled as they reached out for her, trying to grab her and drag her to them. Dodging back and forth along the pathway lined with bodies, she tried to escape the disgusting stench and rotting flesh on the hands that stuck out from every part of the wall. A rotting arm fell in front of her and she recoiled in horror. Sickened, she ran through an opening, only to reach another blackened chamber with corridors going in every direction.

She was at the entrance to a maze and every hallway seemed to go back into itself. Every direction looked the same and she stopped, trying to figure out which way to go. She noticed one hallway that looked a bit different. In fact, the rocks were not as red and glowing with fire as the others and it didn’t have the awful stench. She stopped a moment to weigh the information. I would love to go in that direction she thought, but knew instinctively that the less darkened hallway was the wrong way. She looked in the opposite direction which was pitch black.  Wherever this god of the underworld lived, it would be dark, and no light would escape.

“Anahita protect me,” she said again softly as she turned into the black pathway.

She halted immediately when she realized she couldn’t see her hand in front of her face. Fear rose up like bile in her throat. Whether she’d been here minutes or hours, Gabrielle didn’t know. The impenetrable darkness had stolen the touchstone of time.


Frozen in stride, she was about to turn back when she heard the voice of the goddess in her head say, trust me, Gabrielle. She swallowed hard, pulled herself together, and shut her eyes. Using her hands to guide her through the blackness, she moved down the corridor realizing she could see more with her eyes closed, almost sensing where she was going.

She came to the end of the long passageway and ended up in a round cavern that reflected a greenish colored glow bouncing off the shiny black rocks. The underground colors surprised her. She’d assumed everything in this world would lack any color. Noticing six different exits from this cavern she became more confused and disoriented. Centaur Crap! This is a living nightmare. She wanted to scream as feelings of helplessness threatened to overwhelm her composure.

Once again she heard the goddess’s voice in her head. Breathe my daughter; I am with you. Trusting the goddess who’d brought her this far, Gabrielle stopped and took in a cleansing breath through her nose and released it in a sigh out her mouth. Immediately, a peace settled within and she found she could think clearly. Resigned to the task at hand, she began a mental pep talk to herself. Well, I’ve gotten this far on trust and using my instincts so let’s see if I can figure out which of these tunnels is the one.


She examined each opening, looking for a sign or a clue on which exit to take when she heard maniacal laughter ring out and echo off the black rocks. She jumped at the sound and hid behind one of the largest rocks as the General of the Army emerged from one of the openings. The man was far larger than any of the soldiers she’d encountered and she cringed back in fear behind the boulder, trying to make herself smaller. True to her promise, Anahita continued her protection and Gabrielle became invisible.

The general had keen senses. As he came from the hallway, he stopped, sniffing the air as if he could smell her terror. Sensing something was amiss, he seemed to intuit the presence of another in this gods-forsaken hole. Looking around furtively, he was sure something was there but all he saw was the large blue-black jackal following him snarling at his heels. He kicked out at the growling animal, trying to discern what he sensed was wrong.

Gabrielle shrunk back into the shadows as he lashed out, just missing his touch. His foul breath repulsed her.

The General stood a moment more; his head cocked to the side as though he could almost see her, then shook his head clearing it and proceeded down one of the corridors out of the cavern.

Gabrielle took note of it, hoping it might be a shorter way out of this hell hole.

The jackal turned back and meandered down the hallway, snarling as he went past the rocky area where she hid. As the large gruesome dog passed her, he emitted an odor of molten sulfur which made her gag again. She breathed the rotten stench knowing she had to follow the direction he was going. She let him lead the way, leaving a safe distance between them. Every so often, the dog turned and sniffed, growling at something he sensed in the air but couldn’t see, and then he’d continue on his way back into the bowels of hell.

Eventually, they emerged from the darkness and went through an unlocked iron gate to a wider area. The dog began to wag its tail as it approached an area glowing in red and orange flickering colors.

Gabrielle followed behind not certain if she was visible or invisible. She sensed she was invisible, but the entire underworld seemed to have a wavering appearance to it. Above ground in natural light it would be obvious to her; under here, the waves from the intense heat made it impossible to judge.

Everything in this new underground cavern seemed to have shifted in magnitude and perception. It was a large open area and felt hotter than the other tunnels and caverns. Her breathing was ragged and erratic in the torrid air and the magnified smell of molten sulfur threatened to engulf her. Huge droplets of sweat snaked down between her breasts as heat and horror took its toll on her body. Why didn’t I bring water? She mentally lamented as she licked dry lips.

The jackal, cowering on its belly, approached a sanctuary set back in the cavern’s far wall. In the dim light she saw the silhouetted outline of a large throne like structure looming inside it. A large, gnarled, scaly hand with twisted long yellow fingernails reached out of the shadows for the animal. The benign gesture turned ugly as the hand grabbed the dog by the throat and lifted it off its legs causing the animal to bellow in pain. A hideous, callous laugh filled the cavern as Gabrielle recoiled in horror at the inhuman treatment of the jackal.

The dog was thrown to the side as the large chair slowly turned towards her as though it were on a swivel. A large monstrous form loomed in front of her. It had three gruesome heads and its body was covered in scorpions and snakes and other hideous reptiles. The motion of the turning chair caused some of the snakes and scorpions to fall off and scamper towards her. She jumped backwards in horror and fear. The creatures continued to move towards her as she backed up against a wall. She was trapped.

The insane laughter rang out again, magnified now as three mouths spoke as one.

“What brings a little thing like you to the home of the underworld?” The words echoed over and over.

She opened her mouth to speak but no words came out.

The three heads laughed with maniacal glee as more scorpions fell off.

“My… my…. my name is Gabrielle, ” she finally stammered, finding her voice.

“Aaaah, little Gabrielle,” one more dominant voice said. “Only the malevolent and wicked come this far. Are you malevolent and wicked too? You’re much too pretty I think, unless you hide your sins well. And if you do, then I want to meet you, little one.” Laughter rang out again from all three heads.


“No, I’m not malevolent,” she replied in a fearful voice kicking out at the asps and lizards and scorpions which drew back with hisses and pops at her feet. More of them continued to march towards her, seeming to grow spontaneously as the others fell off.

She blanched, realizing they were now swarming towards her.

The insane laughter ricocheted around the walls as the demon god watched the spectacle playing out before him. “You’re not malevolent?” He asked her with a screeching laugh. “I’ve watched evil men fall before the scorpions. If you’re not evil, then what are you?” He sneered out his question as sulfur plumes rose up like geysers around the chamber punctuating the questions.

She recoiled from the snakes and used her staff to push them off her feet and legs as he continued his verbal attack.

“Murderers have entered this chamber thinking to best me and the dogs have ripped them to shreds. What makes you think you can walk in here and not be devoured? Don’t you know that only the pure of heart can enter here without my permission?”

“I’m not a murderer,” she replied simply. “I’ve never killed anything.”

“Impossible,” he bellowed. “Everyone has killed something.”

“That’s not true,” she responded. “I haven’t.” She continued pushing the scorpions away with her staff, trying to evade them.

Something in the way she said the words caused him to pause in his tirade. He watched her carefully. Most who got this far flailed at the scorpions and snakes, trying to kill them before they were stung to death. This woman wasn’t doing that. Even more interesting, the scorpions while swarming weren’t stinging her either. He grew wide-eyed and cautious. There was something about this woman that disturbed him.

He unfurled a gnarled arm and hurled a fireball towards her expecting to retake control of the situation. She easily jumped aside as it appeared to slow down and change trajectory in flight obliterating a wall near her. He looked around thinking she had help, but there was no one in the cave with her.

“Who are you?” he screamed, slime spewing from his mouth.

She jumped back as the venom struck near her boots incinerating dozens of scorpions.

“My name is Gabrielle,” she said when her heart stopped racing. “I’m an Amazon Queen from Greece.” She kept her distance from the incinerating bile.

“If you’re an Amazon, you’ve killed.” He said it like a challenge.

“I’m an Amazon and I haven’t killed nor will I,” she retorted. “I don’t believe in killing. I believe in talking through all difficulties.” She saw her words having an effect on the hideous creature so she continued. “If we only love each other, really love and forgive, we can overcome all ills and pains in life. We don’t have to go to war and we don’t have to kill anyone.”

“Love, forgive? What does a young thing like you know of love or of forgiveness?” The monster was clearly becoming enraged as he warmed to his subject. “In order to forgive you must know pain. Do you know pain Gabrielle, Amazon Queen? Do you know the pain of battle, the pain of rejection, the pain of great loss?” He was shouting his challenge as he came to his clawed feet. Leaning toward her, his six red eyes bulging in their sockets, he spewed more of the acidy saliva in her direction. “Well, do you?”

Gabrielle knew in the next moment he’d attack her and that would be that. She had to act quickly, now. If only I can show him what real love and redemption is, he must see there is hope for him too, she thought.

She struggled to think. In all her short life she’d always been able to talk her way out of adversity and she believed in the power of love to redeem. If ever there was a time for her gift of the spoken word, she knew this was it. Then she remembered how she and Xena had met and recalled that. She spoke without further thought as the evil creature began to move toward her.

“Wait!” she said. “Let me tell you of love and the power of love to change us, to cleanse our hearts and restore our souls. Let me tell you of one so thoroughly lost that she’d given all hope of love, of forgiveness, of redemption.”

Seeing the angry god hesitate, she quickly began telling the tale of her own beloved Xena, of her struggle to find salvation, of the almost insurmountable task of forgiving herself and of her eventual surrender to the love that had been freely given her all along.

As she spoke, the monster began to listen as he slowly lowered himself back onto his throne. Even the scorpions and reptiles were beguiled by her voice and seemed to settle in to listen, to see if this blonde creature could assuage the anger of their master. With the god’s eyes intently on her, Gabrielle warmed to her subject.

She had been singing the praises of her lover for so long that she was tempted to tell only the tales of her wonderful triumphs over evil. Instinctively, she knew this was not the best way to win this evil monster over and convince him to withdraw his support of the Red Scorpion Army.


She began first with the unjust attack on Xena’s village by the warlord, Cortese. She told of a young girl child taking up her sword, the death of the girl’s favorite brother and the recrimination of the mother and town’s people which drove the girl alone from home.

As she spoke, Gabrielle grieved in her heart for this child she now knew so well. She paused in the telling as she thought of her own lover, learning to hate and taking revenge while only a child. With each death at the tip of her sword, Xena had learned self loathing, until she became nothing but an empty shell. It broke the bard’s heart.

Interjecting a hideous snort of disgust into the silence, the monstrous creature spat, “Well, your little tale is just proving my point. There’s nothing but pain and death in the world and it’s time people come to understand that. The only power is strength and force. Love! Love is a pathetic joke. The ones who should have loved this child, been grateful to her, turned on her.” His eyes were blind with fiery rage as he screamed at her. “Even her own mother turned - typical of so called mother love."

Leaning forward in his chair, his foul breath came in huge pants. The stench of it almost brought Gabrielle to her knees. He challenged her to deny his world view. The scorpions and lizards seemed to come alive again and resumed their attack.

Then the horrid monster paused, his eyes slid sideways from Gabrielle. All three heads turned as if listening to something. His fiery breath became even more agitated. Plumes of sulfurous steam billowed from his nostrils as he sniffed the air above his head.

Gabrielle suspected the battle above ground may have started and she would soon be out of time. She realized that if she didn't divert his attention, they'd all be dead and soon. Although she held only a small hope she could redeem the monstrous god, she felt compelled to try harder. She knew that the sacred chant would kill him and she was loath to do it.


“Wait, wait, wait.” Gabrielle begged, using her staff to keep the small deadly creatures at bay. “There’s more. That’s how is started, but she was saved.” More of the story spilled out as she sought to stem the tide of his anger and recapture his attention. She poured herself into the telling, using every skill she'd learn in her years of holding an audience rapt. She prayed she could reach his scarred soul before it was too late.



* * In the Desert – Earlier that Afternoon * *

The men rode out from the oasis, their spirits high.  They followed Abbas's stallion and his pennant which fluttered aloft in the hot afternoon sun.  Kadar and Alim astride their mounts, stood to the side watching the procession go by.  "Godspeed warriors," he said repeatedly as the tribesmen nodded to their sheik.   

As Adara's mare drew alongside, Kadar motioned her to stay with him and Alim.   

"Imam," she said in a questioning voice, her face registering alarm as she thought he'd had second thoughts about her riding into battle with the tribe.    

He smiled to reassure her.  "Soon enough you'll be at the front, ukhtee.  We still have a long journey ahead of us.  Ride with me." 

She pulled Mahtab alongside the two older men as the last of the mounted tribesmen rode past them.  The three of them fell into line riding abreast.  The double rows of riders in front of them, cantering two abreast, kicked up a cloud of dust all around them. 

"Will the dust from the riders alert the enemy?" Adara asked the sheik. 

 "The more dust the better," Kadar replied.  "The infidels will think we're many more than we are.  And we need all the advantages Allah can give us."

He caught the look on her face and realized his words had done nothing to ease her tension.  He noticed his wife's red and black colors knotted into the mane of the woman's horse and smiled to himself remembering the scene as they left the tribe that morning.  

"My wife honored you with her colors, ukhtee," he said to her. 

 "Ikram was the friend I needed when I came to your tribe, my Lord," she replied.

He nodded in agreement then said, "I have pledged my best warriors to this cause.  Perhaps, Allah willing, we will be victorious and Tynet will raise horses for us again in the future."

"Tynet is dead.  I saw her fall," she said defiantly to the sheik.

"Aaah, ukhtee, you saw her fall, but did you see her die?  There are miracles that happen when a lover wishes to be reunited with its aziza (beloved)… no matter the odds."  He looked into her eyes with compassion and tenderness.

"Shokran (thank you), Imam but my aziza fell and did not get up. I can not live on false hope." 

She prodded Mahtab in the ribs and moved ahead of the two older men, tears stinging her eyes.  She wanted to believe Kadar's words but Tynet could not still be alive, she admonished herself.  She'd seen the bonfire and had heard the death screams of the injured women that had still been alive when the fires took them. The medallion, given to her by the old woman Nadirah, felt hot on her chest against her desert coverings.   She thought of the old woman's words and kindness to her as she kneed Mahtab into a gallop towards the front of the line.  If you want dust, Kadar, I'll make much dust, she said to herself.

 "That woman has the soul of a gifted healer, Alim, but inside beats the heart of a warrior," Kadar said to his trusted friend as he watched Adara spur her mount to the front of the line near his brother.

* *

The trek in the hot sun had been exhausting.  Abbas knew he had to rest the mounts and his men one more time before engaging the enemy.  Seeing an outcropping of rocks not far ahead, he felt this would be the last place with any shade before nightfall.  He raised his hand to slow their advance.  The signal was picked up along the line as, one by one, the tribesmen reined in their horses, walking them to the irregular shade in the rocks.

"We'll rest a short while," he said to them.  "Eat your fill now and water your horses from your skins.  The next time we stop will be after the infidels are destroyed."

The men gathered in groups as they watered the horses and checked their weapons again.  One tribesman, seeing Adara's staff approached her.

"Ukhtee, is that all you have to fight with?" he asked.

 "I'm not a warrior.  It's all I have," She replied with a shrug.

 "Then let us even the odds, sister."  He smiled as he drew a long knife out of his belt.

 "May I?"  He asked taking her staff.  He put the knife's leather handle along the top end of her staff and then pulling several strings of leather from his pack, he secured it tightly to her weapon.  He parried with the air, testing the new lance, and then flung it high towards the rocks.  It descended in a graceful balanced arc and buried its head deep into the sands.  When he pulled it out, the knife had held firmly to the staff.

"If this knife holds in the hard desert sands, little sister, it will easily slip between the ribs of the barbarian infidels and cut out their hearts." He paused and then added, "Inshallah!"  His wide white smile, cut through his sun-browned-face, as he beamed at her. 

"Thank you," she responded wondering how she could ever have avenged Tynet's death with only the short staff.

Abbas, astride the mighty stallion Rakasa, moved among the horses and tribesmen.  "Mount up!  Darkness falls soon," he urged them.  "From now on, we ride silently.  Stealth is our greatest ally." 

He then turned to the woman on the mare.  "You know where this army camps and how to reach them, ukhtee?  You will guide us to them, yes?"  His face was solemn and serious. Gone was the easy lighthearted manner.  Abbas had become a warrior intent on battle and sure of victory. 

Adara, nodding her head in answer, turned Mahtab towards the northwest.  She rode alongside Abbas as the rest of the tribal warriors silently followed the smaller gray mare and the big black stallion towards their fate.

** Amazon camp **

After casting one last longing look at Gabrielle walking away into the bowels of hell, Xena did something so completely out of character that it startled her… she prayed.


Anahita, since I can't be there to protect her, you'd better be; you said you would. Not sure if she'd emphasized the importance enough, she added a postscript. I mean it; when I get done here, I'll go after anyone who hurts her. Xena paused, trying to think of what to say next. She knew her prayer might be seen as menacing. A chagrined smile tugged at her lips. Ummm, thank you she finally added. She'd never had much use for the gods and had no reason to trust them. Hoping she hadn't turned the goddess against Gabrielle, Xena looked east where the moon's glow would soon be visible. She thought she heard a muted chuckle, but none of the other women seemed to have said anything.

After checking the position of the setting sun once more, Xena knew it was time. I love you Gabrielle; be safe. Then with effort she pulled her focus away from Gabrielle's journey and back to the task at hand. For them to have any chance at all, Xena needed to be fully present.

"Okay everyone, let's get into position. The fun is about to start."

Silently, the five remaining warriors moved toward the dusky eastern sky.

Most of what they'd need for the coming fight had been hidden earlier along the base of the cliff. Over the millennia, erosion had caused large slabs of rock to crumble then slide down the face of the cliffs. Now, near the bottom, boulders and rubble lay in piles creating literally hundreds of fissures and small hollows all along the sandstone walls.

As part of their preparation for tonight's battle, they'd spent time smudging their scarves and outer garb with the red and orange clay of the earth. Moving quickly across the open plain in their desert robes, they blended nicely into the landscape.

Additionally, by approaching the army's camp from the west, they had the setting sun at their backs. Anyone looking in their direction would be blinded.

Between the westering sun and their camouflage coverings, they couldn't have been given a better cover.

Xena calculated they had half a candlemark at most until the sun was gone. The full moon would rise shortly after that.

Then the battle would begin. It was plenty of time for these seasoned warriors to be in place. They were all tired of waiting and ready to act.

Xena was first through the crevice with the rest following as soon as her head had disappeared below the surface. When they were all assembled, they crouched down for one final war council.

The plan was simple. As soon as Tynet was led into the ring and all eyes were focused on her, the Amazon archers, hidden behind boulders, would light their small fires and be ready to shoot flaming arrows into two of Tynet's opponents. To keep it simple, each woman would shoot the man closest to her position. With Noalani hidden in the rubble to the north of the ring and Ephiny to the south, there would be no chance of each shooting the same soldier and therefore wasting a shot.

At that same moment, Tynet would draw her dagger and kill the soldier closest to her and Xena would use her chakram to take off as many heads as she could in one toss. This would be the signal for the prisoners to draw their weapons and turn on their captors. Pony and Solari would light and throw firebombs into the soldiers before they could retake the women.

It was no plan really, except to create as much confusion as possible as quickly as they could.

Xena hoped the women prisoners would be able to do some destruction. The amount of help these tired and malnourished women would be was debatable. If heart mattered, then they'd fight and go down fighting. Xena was counting on that.

For all their plans, everything really hinged on Adara arriving with reinforcements and Gabrielle somehow conquering a god.

Xena patted the sacred water vial tucked safely below her breastplate, but did not have much confidence in it. She had no idea what she'd really be able to do with such a small amount of water. Doubting its power, she was planning to do most of her fighting with weapons she knew. Still it was from the gods. She hoped it would be of some use.

"You all understand what you need to do?" Xena whispered, looking each woman in the eye briefly.

The women nodded in the affirmative, but Ephiny answered for all of them.

"Xena, we all know what to do. We've thought of nothing else for weeks. Now we're ready to take these bastards to Tartarus."

She'd said, "take" rather than "send". The turn of phrase wasn't lost on Xena. These women were prepared to die tonight. Looking to the north, she sent a last blessing to her soul mate. Gabrielle, one way or another we'll be together when this is over.

Nodding in reply, Xena acknowledged that she couldn't be with a nobler group of women.

"Let's go then."

In silence, the five warriors descended the cliffs, stopping briefly near the bottom to assess the situation.

From their position behind the rubble, they could see the ring where Tynet would be brought shortly. Torches on seven-foot poles had been evenly spaced around the circle. Although they'd been lit, the general was not yet present. Looking toward his tent, Xena detected no movement.

They had arrived in plenty of time as the show would not start without the big man himself in attendance. Many of the soldiers were milling about the arena in hopes of getting a ringside spot. A sense of excitement permeated the air indicating the general was expected shortly.

The prisoners stood in small groups watching either the soldiers or the proceedings within their pen. A sense of high anticipation was evident in their posture.

Inside the cage, only one woman was seated. Tynet sat on an overturned bucket as two women finished preparing the brave warrior for her battle. Isaura and another woman combed Tynet's hair to a lustrous shine and then tied it back. Xena's sharp eyes caught the flash of metal as the women deftly secured the knife beneath the knot. It appeared that all was ready.

Using hand signals, Xena indicated the Amazons should take up their battle positions.

Noalani slipped quietly over a boulder and moved northward along the cliff face, keeping well back in the darkness. She had no fear of being seen. To those below, the Amazon woman would appear as a flickering shadow cast by their own torch light.

In no time, she was crouched behind a large sandstone slab thirty feet north of the fighting area. She'd chosen this spot for her post on her reconnaissance. It was a perfect vantage point. Besides a clear line of sight to the ring, it also was shielded from prying eyes below, so her fire wouldn't be spotted. Her hideout had a natural fissure in which she'd concealed her supplies. Efficiently, she unearthed the stash of arrows and then neatly stacked pieces of wood and strips of cloth for the fire that she'd soon light.

Silently, she removed her flint and a piece of steel from a pouch at her waist. The small pile of kindling had been treated with a bit of the oil to ensure a rapid ignition. Lighting a fire in a hurry was something any five-year-old Amazon child could do. It was the least of her worries. After re-counting her treated arrows, Noalani stripped out of the cumbersome robes. She wanted to have her arms and legs free when the battle became hand-to-hand. Then she settled back in the shadow of the massive stone to wait.

Wistfully, her thoughts turned to home and to her friend, Idola. She loved her life in the tribe and desired to grow old there smelling the fragrant oleander flowers and playing her flute for friends… so much precious living still to be done. She sighed heavily and pushed these images away. They were doing her no favor now. Noalani had a strong desire to live, yes, but to live free, not under the tyranny this army represented. Glancing southward, she could just make out the areas where the others were concealed.

While Noalani was making ready, the rest of the women had deployed to their battle stations and like her, they'd all removed their outer robes.

Ephiny had moved south. Positioning herself behind a similar rocky outcropping about thirty feet south of Xena, Pony and Solari, she waited with flint, steel and arrows. After she had knocked off her primary targets, she'd be igniting the supply tent just below her, to prevent the army from retrieving additional weapons.

Xena, Pony and Solari had taken up positions in the center. Once the battle was engaged, Xena would be joining the fray down on the desert floor, while Solari and Pony stayed in the rocks throwing Greek fire into the troops.

Pony and Solari had uncovered their stash of firebombs. These had been artfully created out of oil-soaked rags affixed to short javelins. Working swiftly, they used the last of the cooking oil to re-saturate the rag covered tips. When the time came, they wanted an intense fire. They'd spent much of their time preparing these weapons while Xena and Gabrielle had been off visiting Anahita.

Pony was an excellent marksman with the javelin. She seldom missed her target.

With her keen eyesight and exceptional hearing, Xena was alert to the nuances of the activity below. Ready to signal the others to battle, she leaned against the rough stone surface listening intently for the general's return. They didn't have long to wait.

A roar of approval from the men below was the harbinger of the general's arrival. Xena rose ever so slowly peering over the edge of the gritty surface.


The general, looking resplendent in his dress uniform, marched to the east side of the arena. The way these huge men parted before him told Xena all she needed to know about the man. They clearly feared him. That meant he held more power than the rest. She wondered how many of them could actually throw the firebombs that Adara had spoken of. A weapon like that could just as easily be turned on the leader, especially among riff raff the likes of these. A gleam of hope began to take form. If they were able to kill the head of this snake, then just maybe the body would die.

Her eyes never left the man as he stepped up on his raised platform. As soon as he towered over the rest, an ungodly cheer went up from the men. Smiling in satisfaction, the general enjoyed the adulation before raising his hands for silence. When quiet descended almost immediately, Xena had her confirmation as to the general's immense power.

"Men! Soldiers of the Red Scorpion Emancipating Army, we are on the eve of our destiny. I have spoken to the great god of the underworld. We have completed our mission here. Tomorrow, we begin our push to the west conquering all in our path. Our god will rule the earth with an iron hand, a hand that metes out justice to the weak and rewards the strong."

Looking fiercely at them, he continued his exhortation. "We will reinstall the balance of power on the earth. This is a world of survival and triumph for the fittest and annihilation of the unfit. Women will enjoy their rightful place as child bearers and handmaids."

His voice grew in volume as his wrath knew no bounds. "And this I swear to you. Every last Amazon who stands in our way will feel the kiss of our blades." He stopped, howling with laughter at his own double entendre. The men, nudging one another joined in his joke.

"All who defy us will die. We are invincible! We will stand on the edge of the great Mediterranean Sea and scream our victory to Rome and beyond. We will rule the world. A world we lay at the feet of our god and who rewards us with all the riches therein."

Up in the rocks, Solari and Pony were watching transfixed. Clearly, this was a madman. Who would be left in his decimated hate filled world to clear the land, grow the food and make the tools if every non-soldier was dead? Shaking their heads in disbelief, they cast a glance to each other before returning their attention to the scene below where the general was just finishing up his tirade.

"…tonight we will dispatch this last group of corrupted Amazon trash. You have earned your reward." He graced his audience with a beneficent smile. "Bring out the women."

A howl of jubilation went up from the men. They were hungry for a taste of female flesh after the past four weeks of abstinence.

With that, the gate to the prisoner's pen was pulled open and huge guards growled at the women within, throwing insults and threats along with shoves and pinches of the women's exposed flesh. Many of the soldiers grabbed their crotches in the time-honored display of male power.

"Get your asses out here you bitches"

"Move along ya sluts…"

"Hey honey, you want some of this? Well, you will before I'm done with ya. You'll be begging for it."

Even as the words and gestures nauseated the women hidden in the rocks, it also strengthened their resolve. There could be no middle ground… complete victory or utter defeat. They would not lay down their arms.

As a nude Tynet prepared to follow the rest of the women outside, the disgusting Malvik stepped into her path blocking her exit. Pushing her back inside, he pinched her naked breast.

"Not so fast ya piece of trash. You stay put until the general calls for ya. You're in for special attention tonight."

Seemingly unaffected by his crude display, Tynet stared straight through the man as if he didn't exist. She neither spoke nor changed her impassive expression.

Earlier this day, she'd sat alone speaking with her goddess and praying for her family, asking for the strength to bear whatever this night brought to her. Over the three candle marks she'd spent in absolute silence, a deep peace had come over her, calming her and screening her from all the activity and fear surrounding her. She trusted in the power of her goddess. Tynet had ended her meditation and preparation with a silent prayer to the love of her life. Adara, you are my light and my strength and my heart. I will love you always!


After the prisoners had been herded into position along the south side, between the ring and their stockade, all grew quiet again, and they awaited the general's pleasure.

Finally, after looking with loathing at the women assembled and finding them wanting, the general called for the main event. With a flair for the dramatic, he summoned forth his champions.

"Who fights for the honor of our god?"

Immediately, six huge men stepped forward and assembled before the general's dais. Each man was outfitted with a smooth leather helmet, thick leather breastplate, leather and brass bracers and greaves on their forearms and shins. One carried a net and trident. Three had long swords; the remaining two had maces. All went down on one knee bowing their heads. It was quite the show of force. The effect of it on the women showed as many of them blanched in the face of such strength.

"Arise men and take your places. Do your god and your general proud tonight."

The rest of the men cheered the army's champions loudly raising an ungodly din. It was at that moment Xena gave the signal to her warriors to ignite their kindling. The sound of flint and steel striking was muffled by the ongoing cheering and foot stomping. All three fires were lit on the first attempt.

Looking with disgust toward the single nude woman still within the prisoner compound, the general raised his arm for silence.

"Bring out the prisoner."

With her head held high, the condemned woman exited the pen calmly. Looking neither left nor right, she walked with dignity toward the ring. The flickering torches cast a shimmering light over her as she moved. The effect conjured up images of a conquering heroine from the stories of old.

Her glossy black hair hung in a single thick plait down the middle of her back. The firelight illuminated the many wounds on her square, flat face. Wide spaced, deep-set eyes looked like burnt coals made darker by the purple bruising surrounding them. Angry welts and scrapes on her forehead and cheeks did nothing to lessen her fierce appearance. Her irregularly shaped nose and unsmiling thick full lips only added to the mystique of an avenging warrior.

Unarmed and naked, her arms hung easily at her sides. Her skin glowed with a copper sheen in the torchlight. Red, raised scars snaked across her body like lengths of rope, giving mute testimony to the torment she'd endured. Her breasts rose and fell in a rhythmic cadence evidencing her self-control.

She was, in a word… magnificent.

With an inner serenity that belied her circumstance, she looked directly at the general on his raised platform and captured his eyes. Her own dark eyes were lit with intelligence as they pierced straight into his heart.

Each of the women, whether prisoner or Amazon, knew a special pride at seeing this woman standing there tranquilly, in complete defiance of the fear she should have been showing. She represented all women everywhere at that moment and she did it with a grace few would ever attain. The warriors hiding in the rocks prayed there was a way this exceptional woman could survive tonight.

Xena reflected that the only other person she'd even known with such presence was the gifted and exotic Lao Ma.

No one there was unaffected by the woman's personal magnetism, including the general. Stunned, he stared at Tynet with a momentary look of admiration. An errant thought flew through his mind. If I had an army of soldiers such as this, I could easily dispense with any god and rule the world. The thought had barely brushed his consciousness when the sick sadness that owned his soul spoke loud and clear. But she's still a woman and a despicable Amazon, the very perversion of womanhood. You and you alone must restore the balance between men and women. Do your duty and destroy these defilers of life.


The thought galvanized the general and he shook himself free of his fantasy.

"Do you have anything to say before you meet an agonizing death, Amazon?"

It appeared to those standing there that she would reply. If only I could reach you, General, but I fear it's too late for talk. As quickly as the moment came, it passed. Shaking her head, she pulled her attention away from the platform and faced her adversaries.

"Then let the game begin," shouted the general.

Slowly turning in circle, Tynet kept moving. Always her eyes sought out the one with the net. He was the most dangerous. At the same time, she listened with a sixth sense for any movement from the other five soldiers. Anytime, Xena.

Week after week the big Amazon woman had surprised the soldiers, defeating their best fighters. Because of this, these six men were erring on the side of caution and keeping their distance. It would be their downfall.

From the rocks Xena gave the signal. As one, the five women stood up and the battle commenced.

The only warning that death was near was the double twang from the bowstrings as flaming arrows found their marks in the backs of two of the competitors. The men screamed in sudden pain. The burning tips splashed oil and fire in a splatter across their bodies and they were soon engulfed in flames. Falling to the ground, they struggled to escape the heinous pain of their scorched flesh. Before the other four could react, two more flaming arrows flew, embedding into the men with the maces.


Tynet was already in motion before the second set of arrows found their targets.

Freeing the dagger from her hair, she lunged for the man with the net. He'd stood motionless as his companions burned, but now made a late attempt at tangling the woman in his lethal web.

Seeing the net billow open above her, Tynet rolled to the ground and narrowly missed being snared in its insidious weave.  Continuing to roll away from the danger, she regained her feet, bringing the edge of the net up with her.   

Then, yanking with great force, Tynet pulled the stunned man in so close to her, she could smell his foul breath.  She rammed the short blade upward and home through his windpipe, which was the only exposed area in the front of his body. 

With a strangled gurgling sound, the huge soldier dropped to his knees. Tynet quickly snatched up his trident slamming it into the midsection of the last confused champion standing with his sword hanging uselessly at his side.

Grabbing up the fallen soldier's saber, Tynet charged the nearest enemy soldiers, killing two more before the rest of the army could regroup.


Over the sounds of mayhem, the whirring of Xena's chakram split the air as five more soldiers dropped to the ground, their blood pumping uselessly into the earth from their decapitated bodies. Ricocheting off the prisoner's cage and taking out three more soldiers on the return flight, the chakram was smoothly caught by Xena as she leapt from behind the boulders screaming her patented war cry, "Yieee, yieee, yieee…"

With her sword brandished in her right hand, she brought down two adversaries and again released the chakram on its deadly run with her left. A feral smile played across Xena's lips as she efficiently went about the business of battle, a business she knew well.

The supply tent erupted in flames when Ephiny's arrow found its mark in the worn, dry material. Soon it was an inferno, the cloth sides bursting into flame. In moments the fabric was burning away, falling in flaming sheets over the supply boxes stored inside. Baskets and bags began to burn. The weapons stored inside would not be useable for a long while. The skeletal frame, also burning, stood out in vivid relief against the deepening night sky.

Some of the soldiers now realized they were under a full fledged attack. They ran in the direction of their tents to retrieve their weapons. Although most carried a knife or dagger, they needed the greater fighting distance a longer blade would provide.

Screams and curses filled the night air. The central arena was filled with a dark greasy smoke choking all within its boundaries. Even though it was difficult to draw a clean breath, the haze also obscured visibility. It was the chaos Xena had asked for.

As the slaves threw off their captors, plunging knives into the guts of those closest to them, Xena moved into the center of the ring where Tynet fought valiantly with a saber against one then another soldier.

Xena herself engaged three soldiers with her sword and assessed the situation. She needed to re-arm the prisoners with longer weapons. The short knives and shivs they carried were fine for the initial surprise attack, but would not be useful against a long saber.

Running through the center of the ring, Xena snatched up as many fallen swords and clubs as she could hold. Then sprinted to the women grouped together holding off the soldiers.

"Kunjana," Xena yelled.

"Here," came the reply from the dark Indus woman as she turned toward the call. She knew instinctively that Xena had better armament for them and held out her hands. Without pausing, Xena handed swords and maces to Kunjana and spun around and headed back into the main melee.


Kunjana quickly handed out the additional weapons to the best of the women warriors. Her lover, Penda, pulled a desert robe from a dead soldier. Swathing herself in its protection, Penda desperately sought out Kunjana's eyes. For one intensely emotional second their eyes locked and held each other. That look conveyed all they felt for each other.

Kunjana mouthed the words, "I love you".

Offering her lover a small hope-filled smile, Penda replied, "I will see you soon, Kunja. I love you."

There was no more time. Knowing they'd never have any kind of life if they failed this night, Penda hesitated no longer. She squirted through the line of soldiers, like a wet watermelon seed through fingers. Running east in a zigzagging pattern, she headed to where the horses were picketed.



From the dais, the general's agitated voice could be heard screaming commands into the pandemonium. At first, it appeared as if the soldiers' confusion would defeat them. As the general yelled his instructions, more soldiers appeared from the rear with weapons from their bivouacs.

Despite the good start to the battle, the women wouldn't be able to hold them for long without reinforcements. Already some of the soldiers had begun to regroup. As all Hades broke loose, the rest of the soldiers finally shook off their astonishment and joined the combat in earnest.

The sheer numbers of the army worked in favor of the women initially. The small battleground precluded more than seventy bodies occupying that space at once. Although they were outnumbered by hundreds, in actual fact the odds at any given time were more like three to one.

As more of the enemy pressed forward, Xena dispatched one soldier then another with her sword and threw her chakram over and over, hoping to reduce the number of enemy soldiers to a more manageable size. Xena was in constant motion, fighting, evaluating, repositioning. Nothing escaped her notice. It was as if she had eyes in the back of her head.



Chapter 24 – No Greater Love


Still launching flaming javelins into the second and third rows of soldiers pressing forward, Pony and Solari inflicted heavy losses on the fresh reinforcements.

The general’s screams of outrage could barely be heard above the cries of agony of the dying and burning soldiers.

The goddess, Anahita, must surely have been aiding the women, because at that point not one woman had been killed or injured.

When the last of their javelins had been launched, both Pony and Solari grabbed up their swords and joined the righteous battle in the main arena.


Most of the captives had immediately formed a circle with their backs inward and their blades turned out as they thrust and parried the weapons of the huge soldiers. Both Ephiny and Noalani now focused on killing the soldiers surrounding the prisoners in the hopes of providing some relief for the outmatched women.

It was poetry to watch either of the archers. In a fluid movement, Noalani lifted an arrow from the stack, nocked it to the bow and gracefully dipped the tip to the flame. The moment the arrowhead was lit, she aimed and fired. With deadly accuracy, another of her flaming arrows embedded itself deep in a soldier's back, setting him on fire.

From the south end of the encampment, Ephiny was matching Noalani arrow for arrow. Between the two of them, the soldiers were ineffective in recapturing or even harming the women. They had their hands full staying alive. For Ephiny and Noalani it was like shooting targets on the Amazon practice range.

Even without the added benefit of the fiery tip, the arrows would have killed their victims. It simply added to the chaos to have the dying man running helplessly through the rest of the soldiers as he burned.

Smoke and dust continued to fill the air making breathing and seeing even more difficult. At least forty soldiers were dead or dying, their agonized cries echoing in the desert air. More soldiers poured in to replace the ones killed and the battle raged on.


The general watched in disgust as his soldiers battled ineffectively against this band of rabble, these despicable women. Assessing the situation, he spotted the two archers shooting flaming arrows from the rocks. In the center of the action a tall warrior woman screamed her war cry as she killed his men with both sword and lethal chakram. With each toss, she killed four or more men. Having lived in the eastern world all his life, he was familiar with the chakram, but he'd seldom seen it used so effectively. He rightly determined the chakram warrior was the greatest threat at that moment.

Towering over the battle, he raised his arm high. Instantly, a bright blue fireball materialized in his palm. Laughing his maniacal cackle, he hurled the sphere straight at Xena, whose back was to him.

He thought he had an easy kill and he was struck dumb when he saw her swing around at the last second bringing up her chakram, deflecting his bomb. The fiery sphere arced over his head landing behind him, killing several soldiers who were running forward to join the battle. Smoke and the acrid stench of their burning flesh filled the air and their agonized cries were deafening.

Ignoring the pandemonium all around him, the general considered what he'd just witnessed. There was no way the warrior could have seen his missile coming. It had to have been coincidence that she'd turned when she had. Thinking he'd be able to overwhelm her with volume, he launched three more spheres in rapid succession. One, two, three fiery blue orbs hurled through the smoke filled sky.

Xena deflected each one as if playing a game. Her hand moved faster than human eye could track. Two of the flaming balls ricocheted back into the army, exploding in a firestorm killing several men each time. The last one headed straight back at him. Instinct took over and he'd dropped safely to the ground as the fiery ball sailed past, killing six more men.

Stunned, the general rolled on the ground pulling on his cloak of invisibility. Many of his men suspected he had the power to become invisible, but few had seen it in action.

The general preferred to keep some secrets to himself. Often, when preparing to attack an unsuspecting foe, he would steal away from the troops and make himself invisible. Then, concealed from human eye, he would call upon his helpers and eliminate unsuspecting sentries, leaving the way clear for his army to attack completely by surprise.

He scrambled back onto the podium. Now he realized he'd need to use his concealment as a weapon against the warrior and her chakram, but first he'd send at least one of their archers to a fiery grave. Instantly, another glowing blue firebomb formed, this time in his invisible hand. He heaved it toward the northern bowman's position.

When another fiery ball appeared hanging in mid-air, Xena knew it was headed for someone else. Screaming, she called out a warning as soon as she saw the trajectory of the newest flaming projectile. "Noalani, run!"

Now, Xena knew the general had another skill… the ability to become invisible. She needed to find and eliminate him and soon. I've got to kill this bastard once and for all; but how the Hades do I find him, she thought as she moved toward the podium. Rapidly twisting her head from side to side, she looked frantically for a way to pinpoint the general.

A quiet voiced seeming to come from within her, answered. Use the water, Xena.


She had no desire to use a weapon she had little confidence in. Gotta find him first.

She continued fighting and killing RSA soldiers one after another as she headed to the dais, where she'd last seen the general.


Noalani had seen the first few fireballs hurtle towards Xena. She had realized she needed to move to a new position or risk dying in the fires of one of the general's flaming missiles. She'd grabbed her arrows and bent double heading south, to a spot closer to Ephiny.

Already crouched over and moving, Noalani heard Xena's warning call. Without hesitation, she dived forward into the loose gravel, covering her head with her arms.

Her arrows flew forward on impact as she felt the intense heat from the exploding fireball sear the skin on her back. The noise nearly deafened her. She was pelted with stones as the debris from the explosion rained down on her, littering her long dark hair with grit and sand. As soon as the larger particles stopped falling, she regained her feet and moved forward, still in a crouch.

Noalani hazarded a look to her former spot and saw nothing was left but a cavern where once huge boulders and slabs of sandstone had been. She'd narrowly escaped death.

Thank the goddess.

Gathering up her few remaining arrows, she resettled herself by Pony and Solari's small fire pit. She saw the two Amazons below with drawn swords, swinging their blades mightily against the huge soldiers where the fighting was most intense and desperate.

The small blaze still burned. Noalani was back in business, at least for a few more shots. Then she'd be forced to join the others down in the arena fighting hand-to-hand combat. She wanted to make the most of her remaining arrows.


Satisfied that at least one archer had gone to meet her goddess, the general now focused on the southern bowman. With the regularity of waves in an ocean, a curly blonde head rose above the rocks and an arrow fired. He chuckled cruelly to himself. I have something special for you. Oh yes a most unpleasant death awaits you.

Standing straight for what he needed to do next, he breathed in and out several times to calm himself. Even though he was invisible to the enemy, he was still vulnerable to flying arrows and the chakram as it sailed through his camp on its endless mission of death. Once he was certain he was in the clear, the general emptied his mind and focused on the image he was calling forth.

Now, he invoked his god to deliver a new instrument of death to purge the earth of these despicable unholy women. Normally, he'd call forth his god's minions away from the hearing of others, but desperate times required desperate measures. Besides, he reasoned, there is no need for secrecy now. The invocation itself will strike fear into the hearts of any who know of its meaning, and that will work in my favor.

Pointing his finger in an attitude of accusation in the direction of the blonde archer, the general brought all his powers of concentration on his creation. In a loud voice that rang out even over the din of battle, he cried out three times, "Ali Aqrab, Ardh Nazir."

His maniacal laughter rang in the air as he turned to his next victim. His laughter died in his throat though when he saw the tall warrior with the deadly chakram. The stupid bitch is coming this way.

He decided to meet her before she found him and began moving in absolute quiet. Completely invisible to those around him, the general maneuvered through the chaos. Stepping over a dead, charred soldier, he ruminated on how much he would enjoy killing the chakram woman. The general moved stealthily toward the unsuspecting Xena, and could barely contain his glee as he visualized stuffing a fireball down her throat.

* *

What the Hades? From the southernmost battle position, Ephiny had heard the Persian words, but had no idea who had shouted them or what they meant. A prayer to their god for help? No help for you, you miserable pieces of centaur dung.

Grab an arrow… nock… light… shoot. Ephiny repeated the litany as she loaded and fired without stopping. The rhythm was hypnotic, but a prickling sensation up the back of her neck began to make her uncomfortable. A casual glance over her shoulder revealed nothing.

She continued firing into the melee. Three arrows later, the feeling of being watched became so overwhelming that she stopped and turned, staring out into the empty desert.

Faint clouds of dust appeared on the eastern horizon. In the moonlight, she wasn't sure if it was a mirage. Then a slight movement caught her eye and she looked down. Three small holes in the earth had appeared about thirty feet from her. Bits of sand and gravel were being pushed up and out of the ground.

Those look like the holes Xena and Pony found in Adara's camp.

Then she saw them. One after another, from the miniscule holes, small scorpions appeared. Tiny little things each followed immediately on the tail of the previous one until they numbered at least fifty. Their small bodies were a deep blood red, while their pincers, legs and tails were a translucent orange shimmering under the full moon.

They stood spread out in a wide-spaced, silent formation as if awaiting orders. Then before her eyes, they began to grow, first to the size of mice, then squirrels. Each time, they doubled in size and then doubled again. Finally, she was staring at a platoon of gigantic crimson scorpions each the size of a full-grown mountain lion. Their orange semi-transparent stingers arched over their bodies dripping a clear liquid. Ephiny knew that the fluid was deadly.

Oh Goddess, red scorpions!

As if a command had been given, they began to move, advancing on her. Their lethal pointed tails strained forward in her direction with each step they took. Although they seemed in no hurry, Ephiny didn't wait another second, but drew and fired a flaming arrow into one at random. The giant arachnid burst into flames and soon turned into a large ember shriveling into itself.

For a moment, the rest of the scorpions stopped, seeming to consider this turn of events. Then the most frightening thing happened. One of them spoke to her.

"Lay down your arms and you'll not be harmed."

Ephiny was stunned. She knew she'd heard no words. Instead, the voice seemed to come from inside her head. This is some damned trick.

"It is no trick. We offer our master's benevolence. You are merely a weak woman in need of guidance. Lay down your weapons. You cannot defeat us."

"Well, I sure as Hades, can try," She said. Having made that pronouncement, she began shooting flaming arrows. Calmly, Ephiny dispatched two more of the creatures turning them to cinders.

"Then prepare to die, Amazon filth."

After making that final declaration, the scorpions once again moved forward.

The cloud Ephiny had seen on the horizon seemed to be coming closer. While drawing arrows and firing at the hideous monsters, she kept one wary eye on the dust that was moving toward them. Goddess, don't let that be more Red Army troops.

Reaching for another arrow, she knew real terror as her hand found nothing but the sandstone grit covering the boulder. Her dread grew as the scorpions just kept coming. With only her sword between her and this deadly foe, Ephiny knew she'd soon be over run.

* * In the Desert * *

Night had fallen as the tribes silently rode across the desert.  Adara noticed the rocky formations that had become visible and knew they were getting close to the camp.  She pointed to them and said to Abbas, “We’re not far now.”

Suddenly, bright lights burst on the western horizon in the direction she’d pointed.  The sounds of thundering explosions echoed across the desert sands.  The horses jumped and fidgeted in fright, trying to dislodge their riders, as the cacophony of the detonations reached them.  Abbas spun Rakasa around looking to his Imam for the final assault.  Kadar gave him the signal to ride.

 “Tribesmen,” he bellowed into the evening air.  Horses and riders continued to jostle each other, anxious to join the fray.  “The time for silence is past.  Tonight we ride into battle for the glory of Allah and to avenge the loved ones we have lost. Ride like the wind, my brothers! Death to the infidels!”

 He raised his sword high, the moonlight reflecting the silver, dug his knees into the horse’s flanks and yelled “Inshallah” as he raced towards the distant battlefield. 

The entire tribal army heard his cry.  Following his lead, they steadied their mounts, raised their weapons, and screaming “Inshallah” galloped behind Abbas into battle. 


Xena was in her element. She deftly slew one soldier after another, sending their blighted spirits to Tartarus. Adrenalin coursing through her veins, Xena reveled in the thrill of the battle. With her senses sharpened beyond anything imaginable, little escaped her attention.

It had been those heightened instincts that had caused her to bring up her chakram at the last second to block the general's fireball. Thinking back, she recalled the look of surprise on the general's face. Right back at ya, you slimy bastard. He had been quick for his size; she’d give him that. He'd dodged the returning missile by nimbly dropping to the ground. She'd at least had the satisfaction of seeing the damage to his troops.

Now however, with the general missing, she was calling on every skill Lao Ma had ever taught her to feel the man's presence.

She continued to battle the soldiers nearest her and focused on feeling the battle scene as much as see it. The smoke filling the area had not lessened but in this case, it worked to her advantage. It allowed her to expand her awareness without relying on her vision, which was distracting. Very often sight was deceptive. As she opened her other senses, especially her hearing and her ethereal body, she was able to "see" in the ways of the ancients.

She listened to the discordant sounds of feet crunching on gravel in the undisciplined dance of desperate battle.

There it is.

She'd identified the sound of boots moving slowly, each step deliberate.

Come on, you motherless son, come to me.

As the footfalls approached her from behind, she thrust her sword into her current opponent pushing his lifeless body away and spun around. There was nothing to see or hear. He'd quit moving. She looked down through the streams of vapor hugging the ground and she smiled. There in the sand were two faint boot prints. Without hesitation, Xena swung her sword in a wide arc. The cry of pain was music to her ears, but she knew from the bite of the blade that it hadn't been a mortal wound.

Two soldiers jumped in to do battle with her just as she saw evidence of the general's retreat. He'd left a trail of blood drops. Xena knew she'd easily track him as soon as she dispatched these two.

With a forward plunge, she impaled one. She drew her chakram and slashing crosswise, beheaded the other. Kicking the dead man from her blade, she turned the sword tip backward, killing a third man who'd been sneaking up on her from behind.

Before moving out of the ring in search of the general, Xena evaluated the situation. What she saw was disheartening. She knew the battle was about to take a turn for the worse.

Seasoned soldiers knew how to fight and fight they did. Some of the women prisoners were down on the ground bleeding as the others fought in desperation against much the larger and better-equipped soldiers.

She saw Solari make her way to the women to help them. Tynet was also near the former captives, killing soldiers like a machine. Pony was busy fighting her way through the troops, trying to reach the women. It was obvious the stronger Amazons intended to make their stand protecting the weaker ones.

Xena was torn. On one hand, they desperately needed her fighting skills in the arena; on the other hand, if she didn't find and kill the general, they didn't stand a chance. She knew this and turned her back from the main event to begin following the small trickle of blood in the sand.


Pony fought two RSA soldiers as the battle raged around her. Despite their considerable size, Pony was an equal match for these men. She was strong and skilled. Stepping to the side, she swiftly brought her sword tip up, catching one huge soldier under the chin and forced the blade deep. He clutched at his throat falling to the ground as his saber dropped harmlessly next to his dying body.

The clashing sounds of metal on metal, the screams of the wounded and the curses spewed by men and women fighting for their lives combined to form a wall of noise. Fighting in the center of a battle was surrealistic, like being in a cocoon. At times Pony almost felt insulated from the madness as she continued to fight with a determination that seemed to consume all of her being.

Her blade was a blur of motion and she felt the remaining soldier's fear reach her when he glanced at his fallen comrade. She pressed her advantage. Carefully stepping over the fallen man, Pony taunted the other ugly brute boldly, "Come on you son of a eunuch, let me send you to Tartarus with your friend." Her bravado was only that though; she also knew the women were fighting a losing battle. Goddess, I hope help arrives soon.

As she battled the soldier, Pony was aware of the others taking a stand around the women prisoners. Turning her head slightly Pony saw Tynet fighting about twenty feet away. A motion behind Tynet caught Pony's eye.

She recognized him. It was the despicable mace-wielding Malvik, the guard who'd baited the eastern Amazon that first night. Pony couldn't believe her eyes. She had heard the story so many times on the journey from Thrace. She felt like she had stepped into Adara's nightmare and was watching the same scene unfold. The bastard was sneaking up on Tynet again.

Tynet was completely focused on the three huge soldiers she was battling. Pony knew that the large Amazon was unaware of the danger from behind.

Malice and hatred filled Malvik's countenance giving silent testimony of his intention of slaughtering the unsuspecting woman.

Noooo, this can't be happening, Pony pleaded silently.

With incredible force, Pony slammed down hard against the sword hand of her adversary, cutting the arm cleanly through. She ignored the screams of the wounded soldier. As his sword with the hand still holding the pommel fell to the ground, Pony spun towards Tynet.

Time slowed down. Tynet, you must live. Adara needs you. Even as the thoughts flew through her consciousness, the brave weapons mistress had flipped her sword up so that she was holding it at the balance point with tip facing forward. With all of her strength, she heaved the weapon like a javelin at the murderous Malvik.

The sharp steel edges glinted with silvery light as it sliced through the night air like a spear. The blade found its mark, drilling deeply into Malvik's chest. A look of complete surprise replaced the hate-filled expression he'd worn. The mace fell harmlessly to the ground as the big brute toppled raising a cloud of dust directly behind Tynet.

Feeling the disturbance, Tynet glanced down for a second and then up at the weapons mistress. She barely had time to flash a grin at Pony before her attention was forced back to fighting off more soldiers.

Pony returned the smile and bent to retrieve the sword from the fallen soldier at her feet. Feeling a strange tingling sensation, she looked down to find a dull gray blade protruding from her gut. Slowly, she straightened up, bringing the sword with her. She turned to confront the one who had just run her through.

She saw only a huge man with one bloody stump and no weapon and was confused. It never occurred to her as she ended his life that his sword was in her.

There wasn't any pain, just an overwhelming tiredness as Pony's legs buckled, bringing her to her knees. Slowly as if being lowered by an unseen hand, she slumped over on her side. With eyes open, seeing and yet not seeing, she noted as if from a great distance that the battle still raged around her.

Then the darkness began to close in.  Through the deepening haze, she watched the fighting as though she were in a dream.  Her Amazon heart was telling her, that her friends needed her.  She knew she needed to get up and yet, she was so tired, she just couldn't move.   

The fallen warrior called for her friend, "Ephiny," but her voice was only a whisper.  No answer came back and as her consciousness began to fade Pony knew she would not be seeing her sisters again.  Ephiny, she thought, thank you for showing me what real love means.

Her heart and mind drifted to Adara one last time.  She loved Adara with all her heart, but something had changed for her.  Adara's happiness had become more important than her own, and as her life-force ebbed, a peace came over her and she realized, I love you enough, Adara, be happy.

In ever smaller concentric circles, the light diminished, until only a pinpoint remained and then it winked out, and the big-hearted woman finally knew peace.

Chapter 25 – Inshallah, Call to War


Perspiration ran down Gabrielle's chest and back from the intense heat and the effort of trying to divert the underworld god from his path of death and destruction. She prayed to Anahita, please, let my words; let something reach his barren heart.

Suddenly, the earth shifted and Gabrielle had to use her staff to keep her balance as the rocks beneath her feet heaved and then resettled.

The horrid monster swung his massive heads upward sniffing the air. A long, low growl escaped from the back of his throats as he rolled his eyes toward the blackened rocks overhead. Nodding one, two, three times, he smiled a feral grin that did nothing to reassure Gabrielle. Something is happening up there.


Gabrielle knew the battle above had not only begun, but had heated up considerably. She knew she was running out of time and that the despicable god was losing patience. She called upon every story-telling skill she knew to distract the beast once more.

"But don't you see? Xena had become a most ruthless and cunning warlord. Nothing and no one could withstand her forces. She was invincible," The bard spoke powerfully to emphasize her point and then her voice dropped to a whisper as she inserted the doubt. "…or so she thought…"

From her endless reservoir of Xena tales, she began telling of Xena’s men turning on her and of Hercules forgiving and helping her. Pacing and waving her hands to emphasize her points, she doubled her efforts to recapture his attention. She told of Xena fighting against Titans, walking into the underworld to help a god and leading the Athenian army to defeat an invincible foe, a horde so intent on destruction that they had been unstoppable.

As Gabrielle spoke, the deadly underworld god grudgingly returned his attention to the storyteller and appeared to become absorbed in the tales she told. I can listen for a bit more, little Gabrielle, but I'm not fooled by your tricks. Your friends and you are already dead. The hideous heads sighed. It's almost a shame that I'll have to kill you. You spin a nice yarn. Hmmm, perhaps I'll keep you and you can tell me stories forever. Then all three heads chuckled maliciously.

The sinister laughter unsettled Gabrielle and she glanced over at the evil god. For the present, he seemed mollified and caught up in her story once again and so she forged on.



While cursing his inattention and serious underestimation of the chakram warrior, the general made his way back to the dais where he could see above the battle. As he carefully threaded his way through the combatants, he tore a piece of cloth from his uniform and staunched the blood dripping from his left arm. The injury was not fatal, barely more than a scratch; still it galled him to be so easily wounded. It bruised his ego to find himself vulnerable to the weakness of flesh and bone. His special powers, and apparent invincibility, were part of what held him in command.

The general hoisted himself up on the raised platform with his uninjured arm. He had a clear view over the heads of those fighting. What he saw pleased him. The women had been forced into a small circle with his men surrounding them. It wouldn't be long before they'd be over-powered and retaken.

He knew he could end it now by tossing several fireballs into the midst of the prisoners. Of course, he'd lose a few men, but that wasn't what stopped him. His wounded pride would not let this outrageous rebellion go unpunished and he intended to make a hellish example of these women once they'd been recaptured. He had methods of torture that had been conceived in the very depths of the netherworld and he intended to try every one of them out on these loathsome women. They'd know the price of disobedience in his new world order.

With a self-satisfied grin on his face, the general looked southward where his minions were advancing on the blonde woman, but his contentment was short-lived. There on the horizon, he saw the cloud of dust coming out of the desert, heading directly toward his camp. As they came closer, he could make out horses and riders.

Just as he was about to yell for his cavalry to mount up, he watched in total disbelief as his own horses seemed to rise up in terror and then streak away into the night. Over two hundred horses, fleeing the flames and battle sounds, made a thunderous noise. Producing their own clouds of dust, they ran in the direction of the oncoming riders.

While cursing these women to the depths of hell, he waved his arm. An extrasensory command traveled from the general to the gigantic scarlet scorpions. As one, the huge arachnids ceased their attack on the blonde woman and waited. He wasted no time and telepathically instructed them to meet and kill the intruders. Responding as a group, all but three of the scorpions turned suddenly and scuttled with deceptive speed, toward the newcomers. The few brothers left behind would easily dispatch the woman who'd run out of firepower.

Frantically, the general looked around. Many more of his soldiers were still pressing forward trying to reach the fighting. Their sheer numbers hampered them from joining the battle in the small arena. Their participation was limited to cheering their comrades on and then sending in replacements as their fellow soldiers fell to injury or death.

A skilled tactician, he knew they'd be more useful meeting the threat from the desert. Scanning the reinforcements, he spotted one of his officers next to the dais.

"Dagart!" he bellowed. "Take your men and meet the intruders." He pointed towards the direction the scorpions had run, not realizing that Dagart couldn't see him. "Follow the scorpions!" The general continued screaming his instructions at the bewildered officer.

Startled, Dagart swiveled his head this way and that trying to locate the source of these orders. Try as he might, he couldn't see the general, although, he was almost certain it had been the general's voice he'd heard.

When Dagart didn't move but continued looking around in confusion, the general reached down and slapped the man hard and shouted even louder, "Now!"

It shook Dagart to his core. The general's invisible. I don't fucking believe it! But even as the thoughts left his mind, the officer struck his chest with his fist, "Yes general."

He yelled loud enough to be heard over the battle noises while turning to the men around him. "You men, come with me."

The large force of soldiers ran double time into the desert, raising more dust, and further obscuring the already opaque air.



Dust and sand billowed like an approaching storm, as the tribal warriors shrieking “Inshallah,” raced across the desert sands towards the nighttime melee. They waved their sabers high over their heads, staying just ahead of the choking dust.

As the desert tribesmen rode towards the Red Army camp, they were met by an equally large cloud of sand coming directly toward them. For a moment, the tribesmen pulled up expecting to engage the enemy in open desert. Instead, a herd of huge, terrified horses raced past the incoming riders. Abbas, ever vigilant and concerned about horses, yelled to Kadar.


“Should I send some men to round them up?”

“No,” replied Kadar. “We’ll get them after we finish off these swine. It will be a glorious reward from Allah to own that herd.”

With renewed purpose, Abbas encouraged the men. "The enemy is on foot. Ride hard now."

As the men kneed their animals into greater speed, the battle cry, "Inshallah," pierced the night air as though shouted by a single voice. Riding the sturdy Mahtab, Adara easily kept pace with the leading edge of cavalry.

As the tribes approached the battlefield, Adara could make out something in the moonlight racing toward them. Her mind couldn't put a label to what she was seeing, but her gut put a feeling to it. Danger, her insides screamed.

She pointed and yelled to Abbas who was riding next to her. "What’s that?"

Squinting into the gloom of the moonlit night, he saw the hideous insects moving towards them like a wall of metal. "I don't know, Ukhtee (little sister), but it doesn't look good."


Converging on the incoming riders with the inevitability of a tidal wave, the scorpions sped forward in a phalanx. A loud screeching wail preceded the moving wall. The animals' claws and body armor clacked together sending up an ungodly racket like thousands sticks being banged together.

Kadar surged forward, joining Abbas and Adara. Abbas was fearful for the horses, but before he could say a word, Kadar took command. Born of generations of warriors and innately tied to the desert, Kadar knew all the creatures that lived in the sands and how to fight them. This group of scorpions, although much larger than any Kadar had ever seen, was still an inhabitant of a world he knew intimately.


“Fan out! Move in on them from all directions. Aim for their tails and their claws. Slash them with your swords. Above all else, protect your horses from their stingers,” Kadar screamed to his men.

The men rode furiously into the battle, sabers held ready to attack, scarves and robes fluttering behind them. They had been trained for battle and followed their sheik’s order without question. They attacked the scorpions from all directions.

Abbas, leading the charge on Rakasa, was relentless as he took down one monster scorpion after another. His men wielded their swords, attacking the prey all around them. He heard a shriek and saw a tribal brother fall to his death as a scorpion’s tail pierced him through the middle of his body.

Adara lie along Mahtab’s neck and spoke to the mare. “Now, Mahtab!” The horse, as if answering the woman, accelerated in the direction of the camp, leaping over the dead and dying scorpions in the sands.


She tore past a tribal warrior just as his horse faltered, causing him to fall. The man tried to jump out of the way of a lashing scorpion’s claws but was caught by the talons. He screamed, falling victim to the monstrous insect. A second warrior came to his rescue a moment too late. He dispatched the scorpion with one swipe of his blade.

Mahtab, racing towards the encampment, jerked sideways and narrowly missed a darting tail. Another struck from a different direction and grazed her flank with its claw. Adara was pulling frantically on the reins trying to maneuver the horse out of the way of the deadly stinger when both mare and rider went down.


The scorpion, seeing the advantage, reared up, claws in the air, as it positioned itself for the kill. Quickly, the valiant mare regained her feet and prepared to protect her rider. Adara pushed against Mahtab while shouting, "No, get back!" She maneuvered in front of the mare intending to fight the hideous monster with her staff. Adara hesitated when she heard the creature’s voice taunting her.

How can this be, she wondered? Yet, she heard the voice clearly in her head, as if it was talking directly to her.

“Now you’ll die you unholy bitch, just like your perverted sisters. Women are for the use of men and you will bow down to all men. Die you filthy Amazon!” The scorpion’s words were like sickening venom being spewed into her face.

Overcoming her shock, Adara spun and rolled sideways as the stinger lashed out towards her stomach. She evaded a second thrust as she heard the scorpion’s voice again.

“You will die Amazon filth!”

The scorpion turned again, intent on ending her life with a final strike but the Amazon was too quick. As the creature reared up, she embedded her lance into its soft underbelly, scoring a direct hit. She quickly backed away as the carcass dropped in a heap.

Adara heard Mahtab’s raging snort behind her and turned to see another beast coming directly for her, its stinger erect for the kill. She had no time to defend herself and knew she was going to die. Tynet was the only thought that crossed her mind as she prepared to die. Then she heard the creature scream in agony and fall, crushed to the ground. She saw Mahtab rear up and smash the scorpion over and over, as her hooves continually struck the lifeless brute.

“Mahtab,” Adara said in grateful thanks as she took hold of the loose reins and vaulted onto the horse. She turned Mahtab towards Abbas just in time to see him finish off the last few large scorpions. The remaining creatures were on the defensive and no longer posed a threat.

Kadar gave the command to ride to the main battle area. The men had whetted their battle appetite on the scorpions. Feeling victorious, they were now anxious to take on the soldiers. Resuming their war cry, “Inshallah,” they turned their horses towards the main battle. At that moment, a battalion of huge soldiers emerged from the camp screaming their own war cry.


The tribesmen were momentarily shocked to see the large oncoming soldiers, but Kadar would not allow their size to intimidate his men.

“You are as large on horseback as they are. Slay the infidels who lay waste to our families and our lands.”

Abbas raised his sword and picked up the chant, “Death to the infidels, Inshallah!”

The men, hearing their sheik’s confidence and their commander’s exuberance, joined in the chant again and rode against the Red Scorpion Army slashing and fighting towards the heart of the camp.



Xena followed the blood splatter toward the dais. She'd heard the man shouting orders and knew he was close by. She took small sips of air noting the various scents close to her. One in particular, a smell like lightening, grabbed her attention. His fireballs had given off the odor of Zeus's thunderbolts and some of the scent lingered on his clothes. He was right here and she whirled just as something hit her in the back pushing her to the ground.

Still invisible, he jumped from the podium, the momentum carrying them both to the ground. Invisibility and size gave him an advantage, but the warrior princess used every trick she knew even as a mantra began repeating in her mind.

Use the water… use the water… use the water.

Her momentum never stopped and she continued twisting in his grip until her hand was free. She saw a blue fireball materialize above her and she came up swinging wildly. Her fist connected with something solid. The satisfying crunch of cartilage told her she'd punched him in the face.

Howling as his broken nose bled freely, he was momentarily blinded.

"You bitch!" he raged.

Use the Water, Xena. Use the water, now.


Xena heard Anahita's voice, but she was still trapped beneath the weight of the huge man. He brought the fiery inferno closer to her face intending to burn her alive where she lay.

Xena had other plans.

The heat from the intense blue flames seared her skin as she bucked and arched her back. Using all of her strength, she twisted first one way and then the other and suddenly, her other arm was free. With one hand holding back the fireball, she reached between her breasts with the other and clasped the small vial. Uncorking it with her teeth, she hurriedly splashed the fabled water in his direction, emptying the contents in one throw.

Instantly, three things happened. The general became visible, the fireball went out, and the man shrunk to the size of a normal man.

Xena wondered if Gabrielle had conquered the god. But a quick glance around told her that hadn't happened. All the rest of the men were still impossibly large.

With a mighty heave, Xena shoved the general hard. The unexpectedly forceful push toppled him backwards but he scrambled to his feet. The blood from his broken nose still ran freely down his chin. Looking down at his visible form, he realized what had happened. It would be a cold day in the Sahara before a woman would defeat him. Even at normal size the general was a big man. Quickly, he turned toward the dais to get his sword.

Xena didn't hesitate. She rolled to the side retrieving her sword where it had fallen. She stood, grasping her blade in one hand and saw that she was still holding the small ampoule in the other. So much for that. Xena tossed the empty vial away from her and took a battle stance as the general prepared to attack her.

She laughed and taunted him. "Not so tough now that you're down to size, are ya?"

"You unholy abomination," he screamed.

"Ahhh, now you've done it… that hurt my feelings…" Xena baited him as she balanced on the balls of her feet, shifting her weight back and forth and twirling her sword.

Although Xena could easily beat most men with her sword, she sensed they might be evenly matched. Her words were intended to enrage the man. She wanted him mad, because angry people did stupid things and she wanted every advantage.

Then Xena raised her eyebrows. "Well… come on toy soldier, let's see what ya got."

He charged her.

The clash of their swords clanged loudly above the rest of the din. Sparks flew as the two adversaries began to duel for their lives and the lives of their troops. With every ounce of strength he had, the general swung his sword, thinking to overpower the woman. Xena deflected each blow with equal force sending the reverberation down his blade into his arm.

Back and forth the advantage swung. First, he forced Xena back. Then she ducked under his blade and was behind him. Suddenly he was on the defensive.

Sweat and blood slicked the pommel of Xena's sword, making it difficult to maintain a solid grip. Fortunately, the general seemed to be sweating equally as much in the hot desert air. Their blades met repeatedly in resounding clashes of metal upon metal. The winner of this contest would be the one who made no mistake.

Even as Xena realized this, she moved back, her foot landing awkwardly as she stepped onto the corpse of a Persian. Cursing her luck, Xena tried to maintain her balance, but her leg buckled and she landed on one knee, dropping her sweat-covered sword.

The general immediately pursued the advantage, raising his blade for the kill, but he was unused to an adversary the likes of Xena. She rolled away from the danger, grabbing her chakram from her hip as she regained her footing and blocked his death stroke. Her chakram had been forged by the gods and rang loudly against the general's blade sending a blinding bolt of energy through his sword. Shockwaves of electricity ran down the general's arm, stunning him and he stepped back a pace.

It was all Xena needed. She swept up her sword and executed a back-flip landing squarely on both feet. Hoping to further infuriate him, she flashed him a savage grin and taunted the man again.

"Seems you're not the only one with many skills... I know a few gods myself." She laughed at him. "Come on big boy. We're not done yet."

With disbelief written on his face, he ran at her with his sword raised high, screaming in frustration. "Arrrgggggggg!"

The battle raged on and the magic water began to evaporate in the dry desert air. As it did, Xena noticed that the general was slowly becoming transparent again. They needed a miracle; if he regained his powers, all would be lost.


The tribal army was still some distance from the camp and fighting the much larger RSA soldiers to a standstill. While the tribesmen fought valiantly, the enemy soldiers were a strong force and not easily beaten. Each side had suffered losses. Adara was becoming desperate. If she was to die, she wanted it to be with her Amazon sisters, but beating this enemy and getting to the others seemed impossible.

She was looking longingly towards the camp, when just at the edge of the horse corral, she saw a short shiny black man running helter-skelter trying to evade a group of monstrous soldiers. She saw one of the large soldiers raise his sword to kill the smaller man. The smaller one darted between the bigger man’s legs and began to run for his life.

Adara had no idea what was going on, but it offended her sense of fair play to see odds so skewed. As she thrust and parried, she looked for an opening through which to charge into the camp. Then she saw it. An RSA soldier fell and left a brief gap in their lines. There! She leaned down. "Go girl!" They shot through the hole she'd spotted, her robes flying and her hood thrown back.


As she turned Mahtab to intercept the small man, she reasoned he couldn't be one of them or he would be a giant like the ones chasing him.

She kneed Mahtab towards the fleeing man. Before the tall soldiers could catch him, Adara swept in and reached out an arm to the hapless fellow. Without slowing up, the smaller ebony colored man reached out in desperation, catching Adara's hand and flung himself behind her on Mahtab. As they galloped into the heart of camp and away from his pursuers, Adara looked over her shoulder and was stunned speechless to find a woman sitting behind her.

"Who are you?" she yelled to her small passenger.


"Penda. I released their gods-be-damned horses," she crowed with glee. Even with the hazy dust obscuring the moonlight, high excitement was visible in Penda's face.

Adara grinned. "Good job," She yelled to her new ally.

Penda pointed over Adara's shoulder and shouted her wishes, "Let's get back to the others."

"You need a weapon first."

Penda reached under her robes and pulled out a small dagger.

Under other circumstances, Adara would have laughed at the small woman's tenacity. "You have heart, my friend, now you need a real weapon." It was one thing she'd learned from traveling with the tribesmen.

She spurred Mahtab toward a lone unsuspecting soldier and the mare ran him down. Dazed, the man stood up shakily and looked for the cause of his fall. Adara spun Mahtab around and raced back with her spear held like a club, clipping the unprepared soldier under his chin. The man dropped like a stone and Penda jumped from the back of Mahtab and retrieved his sword.


With a hand up from Adara, Penda remounted as Adara asked, "Can you use that thing?"

"Doesn't matter. Let's go," the brave woman answered. "I can learn on the ride in!"

Adara grinned at the woman’s confidence, nodded and pointed to the main part of camp where at least a hundred soldiers still remained between them and the rest of the women, "We ride then. Inshallah!" She shouted as she too took up the desert people's call to war.

Penda had no idea what it meant, but she liked the sound of it and felt the power of the word roll over her. "Inshallah!" She answered as the two rode to their destiny.

They rode directly into a group of large soldiers, whose only warning that death was coming was the fearful war cry they heard from behind. Adara jabbed and thrust at soldiers with her spear as they engaged the enemy soldiers in earnest. Penda swung her sword in a broad arc while arms reached to pull them off their horse and weapons were turned against the two women.

They took down several men before they realized some of the soldiers had formed a circle and were mounting an organized attack against them. The women were surrounded by five huge soldiers glaring and blocking their path.

Mahtab reared up on her hind legs, screaming in rage, her hooves beating the air, daring any of the soldiers to approach them. The soldiers backed away from the horse’s dangerous hooves. But gravity pulled the smaller woman off the mare's back and she was dumped unceremoniously to the ground, her sword skidding to a stop just out of reach.

The heinous men laughed hideously at the women’s predicament and began to move to take the smaller fallen woman. Adara, jumped off Mahtab’s back and stood with Penda against the brutes. Penda pulled out her small dagger once more.

Back to back, the women turned slowly, round and round, keeping all the men in view. Then all of a sudden the soldiers rushed the two women. Time seemed to stand still as the men came at the women, swords drawn. As time slowed, Adara saw the moon shining above her and sent up a prayer to her goddess.

“Anahita, help us,” she said to the sky.

As the prayer left her lips she felt an intense heat coming from the medallion around her neck. She’d not given the medallion any thought since leaving Kadar’s camp. But in an instant, a stream of silver light radiated down from the moon. It bounced off the medallion and dispersed into five rays of fire, incinerating the five soldiers where they stood.


Penda stared at the woman for a moment, not believing her eyes, but she had no time to wonder at the miracle she'd witnessed. She knew there was still a battle going on to free the women.

“Hurry, we must get to the others. Follow me,” she said to Adara. Without waiting for Adara's reply, she began running between the soldiers legs and dodging their weapons, making her way to Kunjana. If I’m going to die today, beloved, it will be by your side, she thought to herself.

Adara grabbed Mahtab’s reins and mounted up. Even from her higher vantage point, she still had trouble seeing over the tall soldiers and lost sight of the much shorter Penda. May the goddess protect you, my friend, she prayed when she realized they were both on their own now.


Adara assessed the situation. Whether it was better to circle back outside the camp to the south and come in from that direction or try to move through so many huge men arrayed in front of her, seemed not to matter. The tribesmen were still engaging the enemy behind her. She determined it wouldn't be any faster or safer to go that way.

Oh Tynet, I'll be with you soon my love. She sent the silent prayer to her hearth mate and prepared to press forward in the direction Penda had gone.


Noalani noted that no arrows were coming from Ephiny's position. She looked southward and immediately saw the problem. Three immense scorpions were threatening Ephiny who was swinging her sword at them.

Frantically jumping from side to side dodging the deadly venom-filled stingers, Ephiny swung her blade wide as she attempted to drive the creatures back. They seemed to have a rudimentary intelligence and stayed just out of range of the blade. Unfortunately for Ephiny, their tails had an even greater range. She had only a few seconds between strikes to regroup. Perspiration poured off the regent as she dodged and feinted and she was rapidly tiring.

Never questioning where these creatures had come from, Noalani took aim. She fired a flaming arrow into the closest scorpion and prepared another arrow for flight.

Gratefully, Ephiny watched as one of the hideous creatures crumbled in a fiery heap. The other two seemed to communicate with each other. While one sped like lightening toward Noalani, the other continued to stalk Ephiny.

Noalani hadn't won the solstice archery competition because of her good looks and friendly smile. She was simply the best in her tribe with a bow. Calmly, she lit the arrow which was already nocked and fired. The scorpion running at her emitted a long high-pitched squeal of agony and died in flames at her feet.

Realizing that her best defense was a brazen offense, Ephiny went on the attack. Sweat ran down her face in rivulets stinging her eyes. After dodging yet another strike by inches, she raced forward blindly swinging her sword.

Noalani saw Ephiny's suicidal run, and lit the tip of her final arrow. She fired. She didn't entertain any "what if" scenarios with her weapon of choice. Noalani's arrows always found their mark and this was no exception as the large creature crumbled in a fiery ball a hair's breadth from Ephiny.

The two women acknowledged each other with quick grimaces. Then they turned toward the main battle. What they saw as they came over the boulders was disheartening. The women were fighting a desperate battle as the soldiers forced them into an ever-tightening circle.

Screaming their unique Amazon war cries, the two archers drew their swords and charged into the fray. They began killing surprised soldiers from behind as they fought their way to the others.

The entire center ring was a mass of blood and gore making footing treacherous. Several times warriors on both sides slipped in the unspeakable horror of human blood and tissue.

The reinforcements heartened the beleaguered women and they fought harder. Several of the slave women lay dead or dying. The Amazons, who had had better nourishment, were spearheading the defense. As a result, the women were still holding their own.

Even though it was painfully obvious that they couldn't win by themselves, the women knew they would not give up.



Gabrielle was running out of steam, but she looked up as she told of Xena’s reconciliation with her mother, thinking that this tender moment in her story was the ultimate proof of love restoring a blighted soul. She was mystified when she saw his expression morph from amused attention to unspeakable fury. She stopped cold. She knew she’d said something wrong. Dread grew like a swollen river inside her.

His three heads swiveled and changed colors, growing redder and redder and then turning to bilious green. His rage increased and she knew she was in mortal danger. At that moment, she heard Anahita in her head. The chant, the chant.


The Goddess had been beside the young woman though she couldn’t see her. She’d watched the interchange hoping the Queen would somehow reach a small place of light in the black heart of the Underworld God. But it was not to be. I’ve failed again to reach him the goddess thought even as she was intent on saving Gabrielle.

The chant. Gabrielle struggled to recall the correct intonation as fear gripped her like a vice. The knowledge that failure to say the words correctly meant death paralyzed her.

The god rose from his seat slowly. He straightened to his full height and his heads brushed the ceiling. Placing one clawed foot on the cavern floor, he stepped from the dais moving with deliberation toward the speechless bard. Green acid dripped from his lips as he stalked his prey at his leisure. He would enjoy devouring this sweet piece of meat. "First I'll destroy you and then I'll destroy your friends, you lying little tramp."

Gabrielle was beyond any terror she'd ever known. She backed up to the rocks behind her, the sharp edges poking her skin as flattened herself against the hot walls. Oh gods, Xenaaaa, her mind screamed for her lover, Anahita… anyone help me!




Chapter 26 – Checkmate 

The general's body grew fainter as Xena continued battling him.  It was like fighting a ghost and Xena had to expand her awareness to its limits in a desperate attempt to keep him in view.   She focused on the resounding clang of the metal in their swords crashing against each other.  The noises were more tangible than his form, so it was by feel and sound that she pursued her elusive enemy 

As the situation grew worse, Xena's thoughts flew to Gabrielle who was facing the god of the underworld.   She knew it must have gone badly as they were in such dire straits above ground.  Her most fervent desire was to be with Gabrielle, but she knew that at day's end, Gabrielle would be in the Amazon Land of the Dead and Xena would be greeting Hades in Tartarus. 

Even before consummating their love, Xena and Gabrielle had developed a sixth sense about each other.  Since becoming lovers, Xena was acutely aware of Gabrielle, especially in times of danger.    If I could be with her and just tell her once more… then she realized she could.  Still engaged in the desperate battle with the general, she focused on her lover.  Her heart and soul went out to the bard with her thoughts.   Gabrielle, I love you.  You are the best part of me. 

That was when she heard it.  Gabrielle's plea for help was as clear as if they'd been in the same room, "Oh gods, Xenaaaa."   Xena "saw" the situation.  Deep inside, Xena felt Gabrielle backing away, terror constricting her throat.  Xena knew instinctively what the problem was.  Her tone-deaf bard couldn't find the cantillation she needed to vocalize the chant.  The more scared Gabrielle was, the less chance she'd be able to sing it.

While hammering her sword against the general's blade, Xena divided her consciousness, half of it on the hopeless battle she fought and the rest of it on Gabrielle.

 First, she tried to calm the bard.  Gabrielle, listen to me.  I know you can hear me.  You can do this… just breathe and follow my lead. 

Ata lara Mana Vata – La Ela Ha Ela La… Xena sung the chant in her mind over and over, letting the intonation reach out to Gabrielle.  She trusted that the bard was hearing her, for to believe otherwise was to accept their defeat.   

Xena still felt Gabrielle's paralyzing fear and she coaxed her on.  Say it with me love, you can do it.  Ata lara Mana Vata – La Ela Ha Ela La.  Xena continued intoning the chant while the music of her sword, clanging against the general's, matched the rhythm. 


Adara sat astride Mahtab looking toward the main battleground in the distance.  There were tall soldiers as far as the eye could see.  Glancing back once more to Kadar's men who were fighting behind her, she realized the tribal army had made little progress toward the prisoners. 

Either way, the odds of reaching the Amazons were against her.  Her choices were to return to the tribesmen and be stalled where they were or make a desperate suicide run through nearly a hundred well-armed giants to get to the rest of the women.  It didn't seem to matter now.  They were losing.   Soon they would be dead and she had no desire to live any longer without Tynet.  

She released all remnants of fear.  As the feeling of fear slipped away she felt herself possessed by the spirits of all her ancestors.  She was descended from warriors and a warrior she would die.

"All right, Mahtab, we're going through them." She leaned over speaking right into the gallant horse's ear. 

The mare snorted.  Mucus and steam spewed from her nostrils as she pawed the ground in anticipation.  Adara positioned the makeshift spear like a lance and laid it along the horse's foamy, lathered withers.  Then she gave the command, "Now girl, now!"  She kneed Mahtab, urging her on.

 Mahtab shot forward into the crowd of men.  Shouts of surprise and cries of pain erupted as the valliant horse ran down several men.  Adara, screaming at the top of her lungs, stabbed and slashed at them.  Some men dropped to the ground injured, while others jumped aside out of the path of the insane woman on the charging steed. 

One huge man turned to face down the menace coming from behind them.   He held his sword out to the side, ready to swing it like a club. 

Like a madwoman, Adara charged right into him, her hair streaming out wildly behind her and her lance pointed at his heart, hoping to penetrate his armor.  

"Yah, yah, yah!" she yelled, the cords in her throat straining with effort.

At the exact moment her spear made contact with his chest, the man swung his sword, striking Mahtab across her chest.   The makeshift lance tip broke off leaving the knife embedded in the soldier's chest plate and Adara holding the broken shaft.

 If it hadn't been for the rudimentary leather breastplate all the desert horses had been outfitted with, the animal would have died instantly.  As it was, the mare screamed in pain from the force of the blow, and stumbled with the wind knocked from her.  As Mahtab went down Adara jumped clear and hit the dirt, doing her best to remain on her feet.  The silver mare lay on her side panting, her eyes wide with terror.  

Quickly, Adara straightened, shaking off the effects of the abrupt dismount.   Armed only with the broken staff, she stood in battle stance between Mahtab and the rest of the men now circling them.  

The man with the sword pulled out her small dagger which had penetrated his leather armor.  He threw the tiny knife to the ground seemingly unaffected by it.   Adara held her staff like a club in two hands and prepared to die.

The big soldier threw back his head and roared with laughter.  "Spunky little thing aren't ya?  I think we'll have a little fun before I cut your heart out."

Adara blanched, but held her ground.  We'll see who cuts whose heart out.  I'm not going to die easily.


The tribesmen fought like demons against their much larger foes and were winning, but progress was slow.  They had made only minimal movement forward since engaging the enemy.  

Kadar and Abbas continually shouted words of encouragement to the men as they slashed one enemy soldier after another.

"Kill the infidels!"  yelled Kadar, "Inshallah!"

His saber flashed again and again as he lunged at the enemy soldiers impaling many of them and then using his boot to kick them aside. 

"You are descended from desert warriors.  Our ancestors are with us in this glorious battle.  Make them proud,"  Abbas shouted as he encouraged the men.  He too was fighting like a man possessed.  Heads rolled from the enemy's shoulders under his sword.

Their leader's words and actions spurred the tribesmen to fight harder than they would have believed possible.   The sand beneath the horses' hooves was churned up in reddened clods held together with human blood.   The red muck seemed to glow with iridescence in the silvery moonlight. The air was filled with a cacophony of sound, grunts, screams and snorts from men, animals and loud resounding clangs of metal meeting metal. 

Cutting down RSA soldiers as they pushed forward, the desert army moved inexorably closer to heart of the battle, but it was like swimming through quicksand. 

Abbas, sitting high on his stallion, could see the fighting in the camp and knew his men were needed there.   Although he couldn't see any of the women warriors, huge RSA soldiers were visible everywhere.  The fact that those soldiers were still fighting told him the women were holding out, but he couldn't imagine how they had not been retaken. 

Abbas yelled to his Imam, "My brother, we need to get to the camp!"

While hacking and killing yet another RSA infidel, Kadar shouted back, "I know.  We need a miracle."


Relief flooded the bard as she clearly heard Xena's voice.  She looked back down the tunnel she'd come through expecting to see Xena there.   Nothing was visible in the dark gloom of the empty cavern that seemed to suck the breath from her lungs.  Xena's voice was so real; she could have sworn her warrior was with her.  It doesn't matter, she realized.   Xena is always with me.  Gabrielle gathered her courage, and did as Xena bade her. She took a calming breath.

“Ata lara Mana Vata – La Ela Ha Ela La,” she hesitantly whispered the words at first. 

The underworld god reacted to the chant immediately and grew fearful clutching at his throats and began hurling fireballs around the expanse of the cave.   Ducking out of harm's way, Gabrielle witnessed his reaction and said the words louder. 

“Ata lara Mana Vata – La Ela Ha Ela La”    

He screamed at her, retreating to his throne, “Stop! Stop!  Get out of here. Leave this place.”

The scorpions turned to cinders and the snakes in his hair began to shrivel and fall off.  Everything in the vast cavern began to shift in perception.  What had been large grew smaller.  Even the jackal turned into a common camp dog half its original size.

Gabrielle was heartened as she witnessed the changes in the cave and in the god himself.  Three heads merged into one and the gnarled fingernails grew shorter.  She continued to chant matching her lover's voice in her head, “Ata lara Mana Vata – La Ela Ha Ela La,” as the god stammered and spewed long trails of green spit at her.

The sound of water was heard.  It sounded like an ocean rushing through the cave.  Within the sound of the water, a woman’s voice could be heard.  The oceanic sounds blended with Gabrielle's chant, bolstering the volume and enriching the tones a thousand-fold.  The chant sounded as though it was coming from all directions in the cave at once.  The evil god gasped in horror when he heard the new voice which echoed like thunderbolts in his head.

His skin began to shrivel and smoke as the large gruesome scales fell away.  He screamed in agony, clutching at his reptilian flesh as it dropped to the ground.  He twisted and turned, writhing in pain, screaming and promising vengeance on the young woman.

The roar of the ocean could be heard trying to drown out his threats. 

“I will see you on the altar of the underworld, Amazon Queen” he yelled.  “You have not seen the last of me.” He turned and fled from the cave running as smoke and fire trailed out from behind him.

Disbelief and relief overwhelmed the bard.  I did it... no, we did it… we did it!   Xena, I love you.


Just as the general faded completely from view, a blue fireball materialized in mid-air.  Xena knew the end was upon them.  She watched dispassionately as the ball of fire rose higher and was hurled at her.  Balanced on the balls of her feet, she deflected it with her chakram.  One fire-ball and then another materialized.  She could deflect them for a while, but the outcome was unavoidable, she would tire eventually.

As she backed away, Xena redirected one then another of the fiery missiles harmlessly into the desert.  She dared not risk sending them into camp.  Her arm was a blur as the fireballs came in a steady stream.  Xena prepared to meet Hades. 

Suddenly, the fiery death orbs fizzled and disappeared.   Xena looked around, cautiously uncertain what had happened.  Everything around her, the entire camp and all the men suddenly wavered as if they were made of liquid.  The general appeared terribly confused as he saw that his entire army had returned to normal size. 

A roar from the women told Xena that Gabrielle had succeeded.  

Xena glanced over to see that Tynet was now leading the Amazons and the women prisoners on the offensive. Tynet’s wounds from the nightly fights had taken their toll on her body, but Xena knew, above all else, that the woman was a warrior and would fight valiantly, no matter how extensive her injuries. She mentally saluted the great eastern Amazon warrior.

From out in the desert a war cry reached the heavens. "Inshallah!"   Then a large band of horsemen dressed in desert robes and with scarves streaming behind them charged into the camp.

The sight of reinforcements arriving lifted the spirits of the other Amazons higher.   As if they’d been jolted by Anahita herself, they began to fight even more fiercely and with greater determination.  The utter hopelessness of their predicament began to fade as they heard the tribal voices and thundering hooves echoing into the night air.

“Let’s get these bastards,” Solari yelled.

“We’re right behind you, sister,” Noalani hollered back.

“Adara, you did it,” Xena said to herself.  Grinning, she wielded her long sword, taking down a soldier as he ran past her. 

With the addition of the desert men, the battle quickly turned in favor of the rebels and the red army soldiers knew it.  They were primarily mercenaries looking for easy victims and this war had lost its appeal.  Many of the soldiers became demoralized and wanted to escape. 

Some tried to run past Kadar's men, but were shown no mercy.  They were cut down like wheat at harvest.  When the rest realized what was happening, they began retreating in the opposite direction through camp towards the horse corral.

Abbas yelled to his men, "Get after them!  Let not one of these accursed animals live."  

He raised his saber high over his head and led the charge with at least half of his men following him.

As Xena had not spotted Adara with the tribesmen, she assumed that the tribal leaders had forced her to remain safely in their village.  It would make sense.  Xena had seen few desert tribes that would allow a woman to ride with them.  Good, Xena thought, this is no place for a non-warrior.

Gloating, Xena turned to the general just as Abbas and his men rode past in hot pursuit of the mercenary soldiers.  "So general, not the outcome you expected, hey?"

"The outcome is still to be determined," he hissed as he charged her swinging his sword wildly.  His fury knew no bounds.

Xena stepped aside and began fighting him again.  His anger worked against him.  Xena coolly and efficiently maneuvered him up against the podium.   With his back to the dais, he had nowhere to run.  The general was forced to stand and fight and, as he did, he began to tire. 

Xena pressed her advantage, but moved forward slowly feigning exhaustion herself.  Then she left an opening to her heart.  The desperate man lunged as she knew he would and with a flick of her blade, she sent his sword flying into the air.  They both watched as the sword revolved, hilt over blade, scribing a perfect circle, before falling harmlessly to the ground.  

Breathing hard through his mouth, the general realized his dreams of glory were gone.  He dropped to his knees with his head bowed as he gasped for breath. 

Xena stepped forward pressing her sword tip into the flesh under his chin, raising his head and drawing a small trickle of blood.   She forced eye contact with the man who'd so wantonly slaughtered women, children and unarmed men.

He swallowed hard and defiantly challenged her to end it. "Kill me then.  I justly deserve a warrior's death."

Sickened by the stories she'd heard and what she'd seen in this camp, Xena was sorely tempted to grant his request.  She put more pressure on the blade, watching dispassionately as the thin blade-cut opened.   A thrill, like sexual energy, coursed through her belly as she imagined seeing the general's blood gush from his severed neck.   Enthralled by the way the moonlight danced off his sweat-covered skin, Xena let desire and lust fill her as she prepared to engage in a human's most intimate act.

The longing to feel her blade bite into his neck was so strong, that her arm shook with the rage and power of it.  She put a bit more pressure on the blade, when something stopped her.   Something inside her wouldn't allow her to murder this heinous animal.   Since traveling with Gabrielle, Xena had changed.  Now she thought she heard Gabrielle's voice.  Xena, I love you.   

A soft glow began to spread inside as she acknowledged Gabrielle's path of nonviolence.  What would Gabrielle say if she was here?   Xena please, this isn't the way.  If you kill him, you become him.   The warm love Xena felt for her bard filled her and slowly melted away the battle lust and the need for revenge.  She blinked, breaking the spell she was under, and, with Herculean effort, she pulled the blade back.  I love you Gabrielle; you make me a better person.  

"Not so easy as that general.  You'll be tried for your crimes in an Amazon court.  That's how justice works," Xena replied slowly as the remains of the battle lust drained away.

No sooner had the words left her lips, than a blur streaked onto the podium and a blade flashed out.  The general's eyes went wide with disbelief as he realized he had been executed.  He struggled to speak, but the gaping wound in his neck made it impossible and the words came out as a gurgling noise.  Slowly, he toppled over, his life force draining into the sand.

Kunjana stood over him with her knife dripping red blood and her chest heaving from pent up rage.  She spat on the fallen man.  "You filthy pig, I promised you death at my hand… and I always keep my promises.  That’s for all my sisters, you bastard."  Wordlessly she looked at Xena and defied her to object or reproach her. 

Xena understood the woman completely as she had come close to killing the man herself.  Although she was learning the futility of trying to right a wrong at the end of a sword, trying to explain it to this rightfully outraged young warrior was beyond her at the moment.

Xena shrugged then nodded to Kunjana.  The battle was mostly over, only small pockets of resistance persisted.  

"Come on.  This isn't finished,"  Xena said as she turned away and moved back towards the battle, heading for one of the small groups of soldiers still fighting.   The Indus warrior looked once more with disgust on the fallen general, spat again, and turned to follow Xena. 

"Kunjana! Kunjana!"   Hearing her name being shouted, Kunjana turned to see Penda fighting her way through several soldiers. 

Kunjana didn't hesitate and ran to help her partner.  "Penda, I'm coming," she shouted back as she ran to the small woman's defense.   Coming in from the enemy's blind side, Kunjana dispatched two of the soldiers while Penda ran her adversary through. 

More RSA soldiers ran past them without stopping as the two women stared at each other for what seemed an eternity, but in fact, was only a moment.  Then with expressions of absolute joy written on their features, they melted into each other's arms. 

Holding one another in a short life affirming embrace, the two breathed in the glory of having survived, but then pulled back. 

"You did it," Kunjana said proudly to Penda.

"Yes, my love, sometimes being small has its advantage." 

They longed for nothing more than to just hold each other, so they stood staring into each other's eyes for a moment longer.  

"I love you," they both said at the same time, grinning stupidly at talking over each other.

"Let's get back to the others,"  Kunjana said finally.  The two women ran hand in hand back to the arena to finish this fight with their sisters.


Adara watched in fascination as the huge soldier wavered.  Everything, the tents, the men, even the weapons looked watery.  Then the men solidified but into normal sized men. 

Panicked RSA soldiers from the camp were pouring through the area where Adara stood facing off against the soldier with the sword drawn.  Terrified men brushed against the single man who held his ground and kept his eyes pinned on Adara.  

The medallion around her neck grew warmer and glowed and pulsed in a brilliant silvery light.   An unseen force met the fleeing soldiers and they hurried around Adara and Mahtab, like a river flowing around a boulder.   They had no time to stop and slay the lone woman.  Their lives were forfeit and so they hurried past her and melted into the night.  Soon all that remained was the single soldier with his sword drawn against Adara. 

The enemy soldier wasn't so easily frightened and charged her with his sword raised for the kill.  Adara didn't flinch.  She planned on inflicting some damage as she died.  Just as he reached her, she knelt down, then swung her staff at his middle, connecting with his belly. 

She was astonished to see his sword fall harmlessly to the ground.  His mouth opened in a soundless cry and then he dropped face down in the sand at her feet, a lance through his back.  Confused, Adara looked at the dead man and then up.  The tribesman who had made her spear for her at the desert oasis was looking back. 

"Ukhtee (sister), are you hurt?"

"No, I'm … I'm fine… thank you,"  Adara said softly, still stunned by what had happened.

Then she knelt down by Mahtab.  "My horse is injured."  She was already running her hands under the mare's breastplate.  "She was hit by a sword."

The tribesman dismounted.  Desert people revered their horses and it disturbed them greatly to see an animal in pain.  Most of the tribesmen had at least rudimentary healing skills in caring for their animals.  He knelt next to Adara and felt the wound also.

"It feels like a bad bruise,"  Adara said.

"I agree.  Let's see if she can stand."

Together they urged the valiant mare to her feet.   Mahtab stood up, but shied away from further contact of her injured chest.

"I believe she'll heal, but I wouldn't ride her."

"I wasn't planning to."  Adara turned and looked into the camp seemingly in a daze.

The tribesman looked the other way to the edge of the desert where RSA soldiers could be seen in retreat and then turning back to Adara asked, "Are you well?"  He pointed to the retreating men.  "I still have work to do."

"You go.  I'll be fine now… Thank you, my friend."  She smiled at the man who was already mounting up.  Adara lifted Mahtab's reins and began walking into the center of camp.  She barely registered the man riding off. 


Gabrielle was spent.  She leaned heavily on her staff, gasping for breath.  She looked around the cave and saw it differently for the first time.  It had all been an illusion created by this monster.  The enormous throne was nothing but a chair, the giant jackals nothing but small dogs.  Everything began to change in shape and form.  For a moment, she thought she saw Anahita sadly watching the underworld god but when she blinked, the image was gone.

“Oh Goddess, it’s an illusion” she said to herself.  “I have to tell Xena.  They need to know what they’re really dealing with.”  She rushed from the cavern in the direction she’d come.  The gruesome forms that had greeted her before had also disappeared.   

I have to get Xena.  With growing anxiety, she ran in the direction she’d come earlier.   

She emerged from the rocky mouth of the cave breathing hard.  She’d run the entire nine levels never stopping.  Instinct propelled her forward, but she also seemed to be guided on the way out.  This was sure easier coming out, she thought to herself.

Gabrielle knew Xena and the Amazons were in the opposite direction to where she was.  So she sprinted towards the south side of the encampment.  As she made her way there, she could hear the sounds of thunder in the distance and the screams of men engaged in battle. 

“Oh Goddess, let me be in time” she prayed.

Stragglers from the Red Scorpion Army appeared in front of her.  Even though they were now the size of any normal man, there were many of them.  They surrounded the young queen, intent on taking her down. 

As they rushed her, Gabrielle knelt into a crouch, sweeping her staff low below their knees and dropped three of them easily, breaking their legs.  Four more rushed her but though weary, she was still too quick for them.  She used her staff as a pole and jumped upwards as the four went past her without touching her.  She turned quickly and with two quick jabs, flattened two of them with brutal stabs in the middle of their backs, knocking the wind out of them.

Only two were left.  They had planned on an easy kill, but when they saw how she felled their comrades they became more cautious.  Gabrielle, however, needed to get to Xena so she pushed the attack.  She spun round hoping to drop them as she’d done the first three but they jumped away easily.

They circled her sensing her weariness.  As one, they attacked, one from the front and the other from behind.  The soldier behind her grabbed her around her torso and wrapped one hand around her throat.  The other moved towards her with his sword aimed at her chest. 

She knew she only had one chance to evade this attack.  Still holding her staff, she went limp in the soldiers grasp, giving her just enough room to swing the staff between his legs immobilizing the man.  He screamed in agony, holding his testicles.  With one turn, she kicked the sword out of the approaching soldier’s hand.  As it flew into the air, she caught it before he did and turned it on him.  Adrenalin poured through her as she now held the sword. 

I’ve never killed anything she thought.  The words she’d used with the underworld god ran through her head.  The point of the sword was at the man’s neck.  Fear coursed through him as his bladder emptied involuntarily and warm urine ran down his legs.  She felt raw power surge through her.  She knew she could kill him as he had tried to kill her.  In that instant, she looked into his eyes and knew she couldn’t. 

“Get out of here” she commanded in exhaustion.  He turned and ran.

She kept the sword, picked up her staff and without a backward glance at the others, made her way towards the sounds of battle. 

“Xeeeeeeeeenaaaaaaaaa… ” she yelled as she saw the Warrior in the distance.


For all intents and purposes the battle was over.   Revenge was clearly written on the tribal men's faces as they slaughtered the escaping RSA soldiers.   With the realization that there would be no mercy, a few of the vanquished soldiers stood their ground and fought desperately.     

Xena was easily handling two of them. 

Her head snapped up, hearing her beloved's voice calling her name.  Quickly, she dispatched the two soldiers she'd been sparring with and barely had time to plant both feet before a small blonde hit her full force in the chest.

"Xena… Xena… Xena…"

"Gabrielle… by the gods, you're safe," the warrior responded as she buried her face in the soft blond hair.  It smelled of sulfur and sweat even as Xena thought it was the most beautiful fragrance she'd ever experienced.

Gabrielle peppered Xena's neck with kisses and washed her skin with tears of joy. 

"Oh Xena, I was so scared... but I heard you.  You came to me when I called you.  We did it…"

Xena thought her heart might explode from joy.  Then she realized what Gabrielle had said.  "Gabrielle, you did it."

"No Xena, I was so scared.  My throat closed up… but then I heard you and… and, I sang it with you... I couldn't have done it without you." 

The realization that they had come through the battle hit them.  The fact that both of them were alive, given the odds, stunned them.  They stopped talking and looked at each other.  Tears filled their eyes as they embraced.

“I thought we were going to die,” Gabrielle said, the premonition from the afternoon was startling.

“So did I,” Xena said.  She didn’t tell the bard that she knew if she died she’d go to Tartarus and Gabrielle to the Elysian Fields.

The magnitude of the words of death struck them.  They wrapped their arms around each other as though they’d never let go.  Their hearts surged in love and each one said a silent prayer of gratitude to Anahita, unbeknownst to the other.

 “I need to be alone with you, Xena.”

“You will be.  First let’s make sure everyone’s accounted for.”

 The bard nodded as the warrior placed her arm protectively around the smaller woman, not wanting to lose physical contact.

CHAPTER 27 – From The Ashes

Gray tendrils of acrid smoke twisted heavenward in silent testimony to the devastation of the battle just ended.  Shadows of the last of the routed red army could be seen as the soldiers fled over the sand dunes.  Silent desert riders, their robes fluttering in the breeze, gave chase.  Every so often a piercing cry could be heard in the distance as another of the marauding army met his end on the blade of one of Kadar's men.  

Adara could hardly believe the speed with which the war had ended once the soldiers had been reduced to the size and strength of mere men.   She stood next to Mahtab staring at the destruction.   Her legs were so heavy, she wasn't sure she could take one more step. 

She had to consciously shake off the lethargy that had gripped her once the fighting had ended.  The loss of adrenalin left her feeling tired, more tired than she'd ever been since Solstice night.  Leading Mahtab by her reins, Adara began walking in the direction of the prisoners' compound.  Carefully, she stepped over and around dead and dying men.  There was no point in attempting to aid these condemned men.  Kadar's men were moving silently among the wounded RSA soldiers offering the only mercy they would find, a quick end.    

She'd stopped only once to help a fallen RSA soldier that she'd found piteously crying for his mother.  As she'd bent to see if anything could be done to relieve his suffering, a sword had fallen and that question was answered by Abbas himself.   

He'd smiled grimly and said, "I believe your sisters have more need of your skills than these ill-fated heathens.  They are surely damned by Allah."  

Adara had only nodded.  With bile in the back of her throat, she'd moved on, trying hard not to retch.  Why? Why? Why do humans make war?  What purpose has this served?  The questions had no answers. 

Adara hoped her mother still lived and perhaps a friend or two.  She sighed heavily as she made her way to the others.   A life devoid of joy, or laughter, or hope stretched out before her.  

When she reached the outer edge of the arena, Adara stopped.  Stunned by the utter destruction in the center of what had been the hardest fighting, she stood paralyzed with horror as her eyes scanned the carnage and her mind refused to accept it.   

Here, bodies were stacked one upon the other.   Some of the women walked slowly through the devastation as if in a trance, while others aided their wounded sisters.  Xena and Gabrielle were together; Xena's arm wrapped protectively around the queen's shoulders, in an unspoken challenge to any who would dare to come between them.  Another tall warrior woman who was covered in gore stood with them.  With their backs to Adara, the three talked quietly, oblivious to her presence.    

Something about the filthy warrior picked at Adara's mind.  The way the large woman held her head, the curve of her neck, her lower back slopping gracefully and flaring slightly at hips and buttocks, gave Adara pause.  Tynet?  No, it can't be.  Get hold of yourself; Tynet is dead.  

She took a step forward on shaky legs, her heart pounding hard and fast in her chest, screaming the truth that her mind denied.   A lump, hot and burning painfully, formed in her throat.   Tynet?   Can it possibly be you?  Oh goddess, can it?  Even as her mind kept telling her, this is just another false hope; her body insisted on the reality, which against all reason could not be true.  It was her hearth-mate, her life-mate, her lover before all time.   

Her hand flew to her mouth and she stood frozen in disbelief.  She forced her body to put one foot in front of the other, moving in slow motion toward the figure in the distance. Then as hope began to turn to fact, she gained speed, moving more fluidly, faster and faster.  Finally, she found her voice and forced a single word past her frozen lips.  

"Tynet," she whispered.  "Tynet," she spoke louder.  "Tyyyneeeeeet," she screamed in disbelief, in joy, in wonder as the momentum of her body hurled her forward toward her heart's desire. 

Tynet's head came up as she heard her name whispered.  She started to turn toward the sound as her name was spoken again, louder.  As her name was screamed, she focused on a woman dressed in desert robes, hood thrown back, and dark hair streaming behind her, to find her Adara hurtling towards her.   

Tynet's heart nearly burst open with joy.  She barely had time to open her arms wide, before the woman she never thought she'd see again this side of the Land of the Dead, was there sobbing and clinging to her.   

Tynet closed her arms securely around Adara's back; lifting her up, holding her tenderly, intending to never let go.   

Oblivious to the filth and gore that covered her lover's body, Adara buried her face deep in the crook of Tynet's neck and sobbed.  As Adara wept with relief and pure happiness, she felt her lover's own tears soak through her robes.    

They were beyond coherent speech.  Neither woman's mind could formulate thoughts.  At that moment in time, they existed in pure emotion and pure essence.   There was nothing else.  Joy and disbelief struggled for control, but it was relief that was voiced in the deep gut wrenching sobs as their minds began to accept the truth. 

"Ahhhhh… ahhhh…ahhhh."  Inarticulate sounds came from their throats as the inexpressible emotions poured out.   

"So'kay… shhh, so'kay now…" Tynet finally responded around an emotional ball wedged in her throat.   Tynet was so overwhelmed with feelings, she almost strangled as she spoke. 

"Oh goddess… Tynet, Tynet, Tynet…" Adara choked out between deep gasping breaths. 

Hanging on desperately to each other, the two women stood amid the devastation, unaware of their surroundings while the other warriors pulled back to give them privacy for their reunion. 

Finally, after an indeterminable amount of time, Adara pulled back a little in Tynet's embrace.  For the first time she had a good look at the damage that had been wreaked upon the woman she loved.  Seeing her lover so battered, so bruised, so mistreated, Adara's heart felt as if it had been ripped from her chest and she choked on the horror of it.  Oh my goddess, my love, what have they done to you?    

As injured as Tynet's face was, it paled in comparison to the pain etched in the sad, dark eyes.  When Adara looked deep into Tynet's soul, she saw an unspeakable agony and a white hot rage possessed Adara.   She began to shake with the force of it.  She knew pure hatred for the animals that had done this. 

She saw a question form in Tynet's face.  Fearing that Tynet would think her reaction was from disgust or revulsion, Adara carefully schooled her features into a neutral expression and smiled gently, as she attempted to dampen the fury tearing at her insides.  With trembling fingers Adara traced her lover's face blessing each injury, healing it with the force of her love.  Touching brow, feeling each angry wound and scar, she brought her finger tips slowly down one bruised cheek to full lips, cracked from weeks of captivity under the relentless sun.  Then slowly, so slowly it appeared she hadn't moved at all, she brought her lips in close to replace her fingers.   

"My love," she whispered as she finally closed the distance between their mouths and kissed, oh so gently, the woman she had thought lost to her.   

Tentatively, Tynet returned the kiss.  She'd seen the shocked expression on Adara when she'd examined Tynet's injuries.  Tynet didn't want to repel the woman who owned her heart and so she held back, knowing she must surely look like a monster.  

Adara understood instinctively what was going on in Tynet's mind and was having none of it.   She moved her own lips slowly, softly, back and forth over Tynet's bruised skin, all the while whispering, "My love… my love… my love." 

"I'm a mess," was the anguished reply even as Tynet's lips desperately maintained contact.  The message of inner turmoil was unmistakable, how can you love me; please love me.  

Adara spoke softly against Tynet's mouth without moving away, "I love you."   

Those three words were all it took.  It was as if a dam had broken free and the watery emotions poured out.  Tynet had the confirmation she sought and returned her lover's kiss with a force that aimed to cleanse all the pain of these last weeks from her soul.  It wouldn't heal her completely, but it was a start. 

They deepened the kiss and a peace began to take shape inside them.  Where once there was a gaping hole, now it was filled with golden, honeyed warmth.  For the first time since the raid on their village, the two women saw light and felt hope return.  

Finally, as the need for air asserted itself, they pulled apart slightly in the way of long time lovers and smiled at each other.   Adara's feet hadn't touched the ground since throwing herself into Tynet's arms.   As the realization began to dawn on them that this was real and that they had a life ahead, fresh tears began to flow.   

More tears came; tears of joy, tears of relief, and tears of healing began washing away the pain they'd carried so long.  They stood as one, Tynet rocking Adara in her arms.  Pulling back finally, they grinned stupidly at each other as big tear-drops clung to their eyelashes, and their vision blurred.   

Carefully, Tynet set Adara on the ground but didn't release her embrace.  She touched Adara's hair in wonder and brushed the wet streaks from Adara's cheeks.  Adara's hands never stilled and she continued to stroke her lover to assure herself that Tynet was whole.   

It was then that Adara realized that her mate was completely naked.  While wondering at this, she removed her own desert robes and began pulling them over Tynet's head to cover her.   The robes did a passable job of clothing the larger woman, the hem falling to near knee level.    

A hand reached out and tentatively touched Adara's shoulder.  The young woman turned and came face to face with an old woman she barely recognized.   

When realization set in, Adara cried, "Mama!" and threw herself into her mother's arms. 

"My baby, my baby, my baby…" Isaura repeated like a litany. 

Tynet wrapped her arms around both women.  This was her family, restored to her.  She thanked the goddess for this blessed gift.


Xena and Gabrielle had moved a discrete distance away to give the reunited family as much privacy as possible.  The intensity of emotion from Adara and Tynet came as no surprise and yet it triggered a similar response in Xena and Gabrielle.   Gabrielle wrapped her arms around Xena's waist as the emotion of what they'd just witnessed filled her heart with overflowing love.   

Xena returned the embrace.  With a smile stretching her lips, she laid her head down on Gabrielle's blonde hair and breathed in the essence of this wonderful gift in her arms.  Oh gods, how did I ever deserve to find you?  The wonder of it, the unbelievable wonder of it, never ceased to amaze the warrior princess.  

Whispering against Xena's breastplate, Gabrielle tried to voice some of what she felt.  "Xena, I never really believed… I mean, I never… I mean, I believed in you, but I never thought…" 

Xena pulled back a bit.  "What's this?  Is my bard at a loss for words?" she teased. 

Blushing, Gabrielle leaned back in Xena's embrace and smiled up at a grinning Xena.  "I love you, Xena." 

Xena sobered at the wonder of those simple words.  She knew it was time to reply honestly and from her heart.   

"You complete me, Gabrielle.  Being with you makes me a better person.  I don't know what else to say."  

"Say, I love you." 

"It never seems enough."  Xena began her usual self-deprecating speech but paused when she saw Gabrielle give her the look.   

"I love you, Gabrielle."  

Gabrielle was about to reply, when an agonized scream split the night. 


All heads swiveled in the direction of the loud outburst. 

There amid bodies strewn haphazardly, sat Ephiny cradling Pony's head in her lap.   

Over and over the distraught woman lamented, "No, no, no… Pony, no…" 

Everyone in the immediate area converged on the two women.   Helplessly, they stood, frozen with incredulity as they stared down at the fallen warrior clutched in Ephiny's arms.   

Tynet, Adara and her mother arrived next and forced their way to the center of the group.  Horrified by what she saw, Adara knelt down across from Ephiny at Pony's head.  Oh no… Pony… not you… In a few short heart-beats, Adara had gone from the heights of joy to the depths of hell.   A hand squeezed her shoulder and she heard Tynet's voice above her. 

“She saved my life twice,” she whispered.   Tynet couldn't believe her eyes.  This woman had given Tynet hope and then sacrificed her life so that Tynet might live.  Oh Anahita, why this one?    

Adara looked at her lover confused.  She hadn't realized Pony had even met Tynet.  Her own heart was torn with grief.   Pony had befriended her, had offered whatever measure of friendship Adara could accept.   Her mind just couldn't accept another loss.   She clutched Tynet's fingers on her shoulder drawing strength from the contact.  

Each one of them was besieged with the feelings of outrage and disbelief.  The battle had been won; against impossible odds, the battle had been won.  How could such a bright light have been taken from them?   How could this be?  They'd won.  All of them deserved to be joyful, to celebrate the victory.  This was impossible.  

Ephiny continued to cry, small animal sounds coming from her throat.  In an unsuccessful attempt to give voice to the fire-storm of feelings inside, she could only gag out inarticulate cries of grief.   

Images of the loss pummeled Ephiny.  The hopes of her and Pony exploring a life together would now never materialize.  She'd never know what might have been.  Random thoughts tumbled over each other like stones tossed haphazardly in a creek during spring run-off.  Pony, we never had a chance… we might have had so much more… One day, I'll find you in the land of the dead, I promise… Oh goddess, I can't believe I've lost you.   

Xena and Gabrielle were each adrift in their own private misery at this latest tragedy.  Gabrielle had admired Pony's ability to bounce back from adversity.  Pony was a woman who was always ready with a helping hand and a light-hearted remark to ease any burden.  The queen knew she'd be hard-pressed to find her equal as weapons mistress, but also realized that Pony as friend and Amazon could not be replaced.   

Xena squatted next to the regent and took hold of the pommel to remove the sword, so the weapons mistress could be prepared for her funeral rites.  Ah Pony, you were some kind of warrior… and a good friend… we had some fun times didn't we?  One day you might have even taken me in a fair contest, you were that good.  Xena sighed. 

Every head was bowed with sorrow, watching as Xena reverently pulled the sword from the fallen woman's back.  Blood followed the blade, running in rivulets down the Amazon's smooth torso.  

Ephiny continued to weep quietly, her tears splashing on Pony's head. 

Xena watched curiously as blood flowed from the wound and then spoke, "She's not dead."  

Still weeping, Ephiny struggled to take in the statement and looked incredulous.  "Whh… Wh…What?" she asked in a voice choked with tears, the disbelief evident. 

"She's not dead." 

"Are you sure?  The sword… Xena, the sword went clear through," Ephiny persisted.  

Always the pragmatist, Xena said simply, "The dead don't bleed." 

All eyes flew to the warrior princess who'd made the impossible pronouncement.  The assembled women then looked skeptically at the pallid woman lying so still in the desert sand.  Aghast, they watched as the volume of blood increased, pouring steadily from the gashes.   

Xena clamped her hands over both the entry and exit wounds and pronounced, "If we don't stop the bleeding, she'll be dead soon. We need some clean cloths to staunch the blood." 

Quickly, women sprang into action.  Both Solari and Noalani ran to the rocky cliffs where they'd thrown their robes.  The cloth was relatively clean and would make passable bandages.   

Adara looked up at Tynet.  "My healer's kit is on Mahtab's pommel; and bring my water flask. Hurry, my love." 

Mahtab? You found Mahtab? Tynet wondered in disbelief as she spun on her heel and pushed her way through the gathered warriors.  Quickly she spotted the remarkable horse waiting patiently at the edge of the arena.  In her joy at seeing Adara again, Tynet had not seen the young mare.  Tynet put two fingers to her lips and whistled, calling the mare.    Mahtab's head shot up, she whinnied once and trotted over to her mistress. 

Though she had no time for a proper reunion, Tynet took a moment to embrace and nuzzle the mare’s neck.  Then she removed the leather pouch from its resting place.  “I’ll be back,” she said to the mare, patting her once more.

Adara reached for the kit as Tynet returned to her side.  While Xena applied pressure to the lesions, slowing the blood loss, Adara tested for a heartbeat.  The pulse was weak and thready.

"She's failing… we need to do something fast," Adara said as she scanned the contents of her medical kit. "These herbs will help her heal once we stop the blood."   Adara worked as she spoke, mixing a paste of herbs and water in the palm of her hand.  Then she applied the balm to the seeping wounds.

Ephiny captured Adara's eyes and pleaded wordlessly with the eastern Amazon healer to do something.   

Adara was at a loss.  She was a healer, but against a wound this serious, she felt powerless.  Then she remembered the words of Nadira as they were leaving Kadar's camp, “A sacred talisman with sacred powers of protection…" She touched the medallion hanging in her cleavage.  It had protected her in battle; perhaps its magic would help here.  She removed the medal from around her neck and placed it over Pony's head.  The blood flow seemed to lessen, but whether that was from the medallion or because Pony had precious little blood left, she didn't know.   

Rapidly, Xena ripped strips of bandage from the robes handed to her.  Even as she worked furiously to save her friend, Xena knew it was no good.  With an injury such as this, there had to be internal bleeding.  With a heavy heart, she tied the knot tightly around Pony's torso.  

Use my waters, Xena.  My waters are life.

Xena rejected the words in her head even though she knew it hadn't been her own thoughts.  She argued silently with the voice of Anahita.  The damn water is gone.

Use my waters.  My waters are life.

Xena cursed under her breath.  I told you, the pitiful amount of water you sent is gone.  Don't you get it?

Use my waters Xena… my waters are life.  Trust me.

Xena looked around the group to see if any of the others had heard the voice.  Apparently, they hadn't.  All eyes were trained on the weapons' mistress as she slowly bled out. 

Xena snorted.   Trust you?  Gods always have a trick, always want something.  Why should I trust you now?

Life is founded on trust, Xena.  I haven't broken my word.  Use my waters.  My waters are life.

Xena contemplated this.  She looked over at Gabrielle briefly and felt that familiar sensation of her heart opening and flooding with love.  The goddess had been true to her word.  Gabrielle was safe here with her now.  She sighed.  What can it hurt to look?

Gabrielle wondered at Xena's demeanor.  Even when their eyes met, Gabrielle had no idea what was going on.  She was completely perplexed when Xena sighed, got to her feet, and began walking toward the dais.  What in the world?

Head down, eyes focused on the ground, Xena began searching for the small vial in the middle of the destruction.  Armament, bodies, and churned-up, blood-soaked clods of dirt littered the area.  Where the Tartarus did I throw it?  The task of finding such a small bottle in all the debris would have been daunting even in full daylight.  In the dim moonlight, it seemed hopeless. 

Turning in a full circle, Xena eyed every particle of sand.   She made a second and third revolution and then a fourth.  She was about to give it up as a lost cause when the moon light glinted off something shiny wedged underneath the general's corpse.  The gaping wound in his neck looked like a sinister smile.

Blowing out a breath to dislodge the sickening images, Xena rolled his heavy weight away from the vial and picked it up carefully in the unlikely event that there was anything left in it.  Squinting one eye, she tilted the ampoule into the moonlight and peered inside.  Maybe there were some droplets of the precious liquid there, she couldn't really tell.  The moon's silver light was reflecting off something.  It wasn't much.  I told you, the water is gone.

The goddess was adamant, her tone unmistakable.  She was out of patience.   Use my waters, Xena. Now!

Xena flinched.  All right, what can it hurt?  She trotted back to the others with the tiny bottle.

"Here try this," Xena said, handing the vial to Adara.

"What is it?"

"It’s the sacred water from your goddess.  There might be a couple of drops left."

Reverently, Adara took the ampoule from Xena.  Clearly she believed in the power of the goddess.   "Ephiny, see if you can open her mouth a bit.  There's only a small amount.  I want to be careful with it."

While Ephiny tilted Pony's head back and used her fingers to part the now cooling blue lips, Adara raised the bottle and angled it to pour.  For what seemed an eternity, nothing happened.  Just as it appeared that there was, indeed, no water left, one tiny rainbow bubble formed and then a second one gathered on rim of the smooth glass.  As they all watched transfixed, the precious droplets fell… plop, plop. Two shiny beads sparkled for an endless moment on Pony's lips and then slid into her mouth.  

Again, they waited.  Nothing happened.   Feet shuffled.  Hearts pounded.  The fallen warrior had the complete attention of her comrades.  As one, they leaned in.  It was as if, by paying closer attention, they could influence the outcome. 

Xena was impatient. Come on.  Do something.  She'd trusted the goddess, but now she expected results.  Hands on her hips, Xena cast a glance heavenward at the moon. 

So slowly it might have been imagination, or a trick of moonlight, or even shadows cast by torches, the blue lips seemed to lighten and then turn pink.  As they watched, hope rose up out of their disbelief.   Then Pony's pasty skin began to change, first mottling and then flushing to a rosy hue.    Before astonished eyes and ears, the weapons mistress stretched and then moaned.    Pony blinked several times and then seemed to focus on her surroundings.

Surprised to see all of her companions circling her, Pony smiled uncertainly and asked, "Are we in the Land of the Dead?"  

When she'd lost consciousness, things hadn't been going too well, so it wasn't surprising to her that they were all dead.  I wonder why they let Xena in here?  Guess maybe the goddess rewarded her for fighting for the tribe.

She was shaken from her thoughts by an exuberant Ephiny hugging her, laughing and choking out the answer.  "No, you big fool, we're alive!  We won!"

"We won?"  Pony could barely take it in and then everyone was talking at once, congratulating each other and touching her.    We won?  Did everyone make it?

As her mind tried to grasp the meaning, Pony scanned the women surrounding her and her eyes landed on Adara.  That familiar lump formed in her throat and she swallowed around it.  She didn't know what to say, except the woman's name.  "Adara!"  Goddess it feels good to say that. 

She took in the beautiful woman's form, assuring herself that Adara had survived unscathed.  As her eyes traversed from Adara's face to her neck to her shoulders, she spied a hand resting proprietarily there.  She followed the hand up the arm to see Tynet peering down at her with a concerned expression.  Back and forth Pony's eyes traveled from Adara to Tynet, blinking as her mind put the pieces together.  And when she did, she knew her prayers had been answered, but never had an answered prayer felt so bitter-sweet. 

As her insides struggled to accept this, she breathed deeply.  She knew this was the best outcome and the only outcome that could have ever made Adara happy.   As she looked into Adara's eyes, Pony saw something that had been missing the whole time she'd known the eastern Amazon.  She saw in Adara's eyes, hope, and a reason to live.   She mulled the realization as it moved from her head to her heart and her own prayer of thanksgiving came unbidden.  Thank you for making Adara happy in a way I never could.  No sooner had that prayer formed than the truth of it settled in her heart and she knew she could accept it and be truly happy for them both. 

"Tynet, you made it."  Pony smiled at the simple statement of fact.  And the honesty of her next words took her by surprise, "I'm so glad."  She was happy for both of them as her eyes misted over more for their joy than her own loss. 

Tynet reached down and took Pony's hand and squeezed it gently.  "Thank you my friend,” she said sincerely.  “You've cared for my family and you saved my life.  I will never be able to repay you or to thank you enough." 

Pony's complexion deepened further and glowed red in the faint light.  Thoroughly embarrassed for ever having resented, however briefly, this generous woman, Pony finally stammered, “Uuh … Aaaa … Forget it.  It was nothing.  Any Amazon sister would have done it.”  

Smiling and shaking her head, Tynet replied, “Perhaps so, but you're a brave woman.  I'm proud to call you my friend."

 Pony smiled and nodded.  "I am too, Tynet.  You are one of the greatest warriors I have ever seen.” She glanced at Xena for a moment and then continued, “I'm honored to be your friend."

The embarrassment of Tynet's words caused Pony to look away. She noted she was still being held in Ephiny's arms. She looked up at the woman holding her and saw the tears and grief-stricken face of the regent. Is she crying for me? Ephiny had been a true friend by telling Pony of her unrequited love for the queen. It was what had made it possible for Pony to accept the reality of her own situation. I need to thank her…but goddess, I wish Eph wouldn't cry.

Awkwardly, Pony patted Ephiny's arm. The weapons mistress had never been very comfortable around emotional displays, especially when they were directed at her. "Hey, Eph… I'm okay… please, don't cry, okay."

Ephiny smiled and nodded, relief at seeing Pony alive, flooding her. Too overcome with joy to say much, she wondered if Pony would ever see her as more than a friend and sighed.

"Ummm, thanks for helping me," Pony continued, smiling at her friend and squeezing her arm.

"No problem," Ephiny replied accepting that it would take time before Pony was able to look at another woman as more than a friend.

"Uhmm…. I can get up now? I'm sure there're things we need to do…" Pony trailed off. She felt like a fool with everyone staring at her.

"Pony, you were stabbed… run through. I think you can rest for a bit," Adara said.

"I feel fine." Pony twisted at the waist and she sat up to prove her point. "See, no pain. I'm fine."

Adara reached over and pulled the bandages away as she looked at all those gathered with stunned disbelief.  There, on Pony's abdomen, was some of the herbal salve, but there was no sign of any injury at all.  The Amazon had been completely healed. 

 As Pony stood up, the women gathered around her in wonder exclaiming over the miracle that she’d been restored to complete health.  Prayers to both Amazon goddesses and to Allah were heard throughout the crowd.  The fact that they had been victorious against insurmountable odds and that Pony had been returned to them left them awed.

 Xena looked up to the moon.  Finally a goddess of her word, she thought.  She pulled Gabrielle to her and whispered.  "I wouldn't have believed it, Gabrielle, not of a god." 

Gabrielle raised her head to speak into Xena's ear. "I know. But Anahita has come through on every front. I feel so indebted. How will we ever be able to repay her?"

Ever practical, Xena replied to Gabrielle, "I'm sure she'll find a way."

"Xena, be fair. Anahita promised to help us and she did. We suffered few losses against incredible odds."

Xena had to admit that was true. Her own thoughts filled with gratitude, as she recalled how tenuous this war had been, how out numbered they were, how impossible it had seemed and how the goddess had delivered. Xena held the proof in her arms. Gabrielle's right; thank you Anahita, I owe you one.

After a few moments more of quiet reflection, Xena took a breath. Then, remembering that after a battle there was hard work to be done, she announced, "I hate to break this up, but we need to clear up this mess. We can't leave the dead to rot. There's too much risk of disease."

She looked around capturing the eyes of each woman as she began issuing orders.

"Adara, I'll leave it to you to set up the triage for the injured women.” She turned to the rest of the women, “If Adara asks you to help with the injured, work with her. The rest of us will spread out and begin accounting for all of the women. Take the injured to Adara. Carefully lay the dead over near the boulders. You all know what to do. Let's get to it." 

Chapter 28 – A Child Waits


** Thrace - Morning after the Full Moon Celebration **

Using a stick, the young Amazon child poked through the remnants of what had been the "full moon" fire from the previous night. Warm ash rose in tiny puffs of white dust. With her tongue protruding between her lips, Thaddea concentrated on her task and smiled when the branch struck something solid. Carefully, she speared and then lifted the object clear of the hot cinders laying it on the stone fire ring to cool

While squatting down on her haunches to wait, Thaddea brought her lips close to the stones and blew across her prize dislodging the remaining ash from the shiny object and hastening its cooling. The glossy grey surface and intricate black designs burned into it gave the charm a mystical feel and Thaddea closed her eyes as soft waves of peace flowed over her.

The normal morning noises of the village rolled past Thaddea unnoticed as she focused entirely on the amulet before her. With a tentative touch, she gently caressed the smooth planes expecting to be burned but the charm had cooled enough to be held. Delicately, in reverence and awe, Thaddea placed the object in her palm and fingered the designs feeling them to be sacred.

She sat on the bare hard ground now, oblivious to the small stones and twigs poking her behind. Her entire focus was on the small amulet that she'd crafted the day before by carefully following the instructions of the mysterious Amazon warrior who'd told her how to make it.

Hoping for a bit of quiet time away from her talkative friends, Thaddea had spent the previous afternoon sitting near the temple of Artemis. She'd been simply talking aloud in the way of children, asking the local Goddess, Artemis, to help her mothers and Xena and the others in the big battle that the little girl knew the rescue party would face.

No sooner had she finished her prayer than a tall, blonde Amazon stopped before her. Thaddea had been almost blinded by the beauty of the woman hunter, who wore glittering silver boots and carried a quiver of silver arrows. At the time, Thaddea thought such attire was a bit excessive to go hunting in, but she was only a child and the ways of adults often made no sense.

However, the huntress had been kind and had taken the time to ask Thaddea what was troubling her and then offering some words of wisdom for the girl. The hunter explained how a talisman worked and instructed Thaddea to make a sacred charm of protection for her mothers. She was told to make it out of clay from the spring that fed the queen's bath and to add a single hair from hers and Ursa’s head. Then she was to dedicate it to the goddess in the full moon ceremonial fire. Assuring the child that the power of her love for her mothers would add to the amulet's power, the Amazon had then dissolved into the forest to finish her hunting leaving Thaddea to proceed with building the sacred talisman alone.

Now Thaddea held the end result in her palm. It was polished by the fire to a shiny silver-grey color. Where Thaddea had woven her and Ursa's hair through the clay, it had blackened into unique designs that looked like words in a language Thaddea didn't know and symbols, some of which she had seen carved into Anahita's altar back home. The clay itself, she'd shaped according to the huntress's instructions into two small interlocking circles, one grey ring lay over the other a bit like the figure "8" but with a space created where the circles met.

"What's this?" Otere asked as she pointed to the amulet that lay on Thaddea's open palm.

Thaddea, who was shaken from her hypnotic state by the arrival of the captain of the guard, continued to caress the precious talisman taking comfort in the smooth surfaces.

"It's a sacred charm that I made for protecting my mothers. It's in honor of the Goddesses, Anahita and Artemis, who protect our people."

Even though it was a rudimentary design, somewhat primitive looking, and obviously made by a child's hands Otere was strangely drawn to the object even as she held the heretical thought, seems to me they could have protected your people a bit better. Otere picked up the amulet and continued to examine it. "How did you make these designs? I've never seen anything like it."

"One of your hunters told me how yesterday. You know the one who wears silver boots and carries silver arrows? She told me to make it and my mothers and the others will be safe."

Otere shot the child an incredulous look before instantly denying the possibility in her mind. No, it couldn't be; could it? Covertly, Otere glanced around. Seeing nothing out of the ordinary, she chuckled to herself. What an imagination, silver arrows? Kids. Otere returned her attention to the handsome amulet instead of pursuing her line of thought. Gazing at the charm, she too felt the waves of power coming from the little talisman. Even though her mind refused to believe there was much hope of the small raiding party succeeding, she still couldn't bring herself to dash Thaddea's hopes.

"Well, it's striking; beautiful even. If love has power, then I believe they will make it home my young friend."

"Do you really, Otere? Because, I really do believe it." Thaddea spoke so earnestly, that Otere smiled and agreed with the child.

"Yeah, I can't believe the goddess wouldn't reward such trust." At least I sure hope the goddesses are at least as caring of these little ones as a human mother would be.

Otere was a typical adult Amazon. She followed the rituals and believed the goddess looked over them in general, but that it was up to the Amazons to really take care of themselves. Even though she was the shaman's lover, Otere had never had a close relationship with any god and wasn't sure she wanted to.

Not knowing Otere's true beliefs, the words warmed Thaddea's heart. It was a validation of sorts.

Handing the small charm back to Thaddea, Otere brought them back to daily living. "You ready to get to work, little one?"

Over the past two weeks, Otere had come daily to get Thaddea and take her to stand lookout during the last two candle-marks of the morning watch.

Now, Thaddea looked over to see her friends, Cleese and Thalia, reluctantly waiting for her at the edge of the village. When Thaddea had been granted the boon of daily guard duty the two of them had also been pressed into service too, partly to keep the younger girl company and partly because it was time they began taking on responsibilities. There was little joy in the older girls who chaffed to run free as they always had, but now, that could only happen when Thaddea was off-duty.

They'd befriended Thaddea and they lived by the Amazon code that said friends stuck together. Truth was both girls liked and admired little Thaddea for herself; they merely preferred play to work, but such was life. If their young friend wanted to stand in a tree on a hot summer day rather than run through the forest, work with the horses or cool off in the stream, well, they were loyal to her.

The small party assembled on the edge of the compound and began the mile-long trek to the perimeter. The trail was only wide enough for two walking abreast, which meant that Thaddea and Otere walked together and Thalia and Cleese came along behind.

Becoming friends with the young girl by her side had changed Otere in ways she'd never have guessed. She'd never wanted children herself, but she found this one interesting and fun to be with. When she’d been sent to bring back Thaddea after the child's abortive escape attempt, Otere had been angry and frustrated with the stubborn little girl. As their friendship grew, Otere had come to appreciate seeing the world through Thaddea's innocent eyes and it benefited them both.

Thaddea had found a mentor in Otere who was the mate and champion of Yakut. Yakut's persona shouted, "Unapproachable" and the young Thaddea was grateful to have Otere's counsel when having to deal with the formidable shaman.

Thaddea was quiet as they walked through the yellow flowering acacia that lined the path recalling how hard it'd had been to settle in here at first and how much trouble she'd made for the older woman. Thinking back, the young child felt pangs of regret for how she'd acted when she'd first arrived at the village.



"I'm sorry I ran away when I first came here. You know … made you chase after me."

Otere laughed. "You were a pain in the butt all right." Then she turned serious and spoke in earnest to the child. "I'm glad to have come to know you though. So it was worth it."

They walked in companionable silence both lost in their memories of that time.

** 2 Weeks earlier **

Once the departing Amazon rescue party had moved beyond the trees and out of Thaddea's view, she'd reluctantly accepted that she couldn't go find her mama as she'd promised. Though it tore at her soul to have to wait behind, she accepted that her duty was to serve the village in any capacity asked. For now that meant helping Cleese and Thalia train their horse.


"Come on Thaddea. Let's go to the meadow," Cleese said to the forlorn girl. "We really need your help."


As the three girls led the white horse across the compound to the open meadow beyond it, Thaddea caught sight of Yakut talking with her champion, Otere. 'Maybe there is another way I can be a good Amazon and help my mothers,' the little warrior thought.


"Just a minute," Thaddea called to her friends as she veered in the direction of the medicine woman. Cleese and Thalia were astonished that their new friend was voluntarily going to speak with the adults and not just any adult, the shaman. No way would they be making that mistake again. They'd already come perilously close to having additional work added to their lives. In keeping with their new policy of staying inconspicuous, the two girls attempted to blend into the foliage at the edge of camp.


Thaddea stopped a few feet from Yakut and politely waited to be acknowledged before making her request. The adult conversation swirled over her head, but already she recognized a few of the names being used.

"… so it's probably best you take over the morning sentries and let Odessa handle the weapons training…" Yakut tapered off as she spied the child listening to every word. Not that their conversation was private, but Yakut wondered why Thaddea was here instead of playing with the other children.


Yakut lifted her brows slightly, signaling to her partner with a slight nod of her head, of the child's presence. Otere had already seen Thaddea and her heart went out to the orphan. That was the way she saw the child. How could it be otherwise? With one mother dead in the initial attack and the other one riding on a suicide mission, this child was well on her way to facing the world with only her aunt and sister. 'Of course, if Xena and the others fail, we'll be up to our necks in a war next. Perhaps it doesn't matter.'

"Um, yes, Thaddea; what business have you?" Yakut asked formally.


"Uh, I wanted to ask." Not sure that was what she wanted to say, Thaddea stopped and began again. She was a bit intimidated by the power of the shaman and hoped she wasn't breaking a taboo by speaking to the woman. Standing a bit taller, she began again, trying to mimic the shaman's way a speaking.


"I mean, I want to offer to serve among your sentries. I have strong eyes and can see very far and my hearing is good too. Either of my mothers will tell you this." She waited hopefully as the two women looked at her and then each other and then back at her as if they were looking at a new species of plant and not quite knowing whether it was safe.


Feeling as if they might find her less worthy than their own tribal children, Thaddea endured their scrutiny. Instead of unworthiness, Yakut and Otere marveled at the child's ability to speak so clearly in their tongue. Their own Amazon children pretty much spoke Greek, so this child was a bit of an anomaly to them and they merely stared at her while gathering their wits.


It was no mystery. Thaddea was no more gifted linguistically than any other child her age, but between her Greek grandmother singing and speaking in her native tongue since Thaddea was a baby and lots of travel with her mothers, she'd been exposed to several languages and had the rudiments of them firmly grasped.


Yakut recovered first and answered without really thinking beyond her initial reaction to the idea. A child sentry was ludicrous as anyone knew; children simply couldn't be still and remain quiet that long.

"I see." Yakut spoke succinctly as she had little experience with children; in fact they made her nervous. She would much rather deal with the gods and the mysteries than an unpredictable child. Still, she wanted to lessen the impact of her refusal, by acknowledging the girl's offer.


"Thank you, Thaddea. This is a very generous offer." The shaman paused to clear her throat before continuing.


In that moment, Thaddea already knew the answer, there was a "but" coming. Adults always did that when they were going to turn you down. First the praise and then the 'no way is this going to happen' couched in endless reasons why it can't be done and so Thaddea was not surprised when the ever-serious Yakut continued.


"But sentry duty requires training. You need a strong voice to alert other sentries with secret calls and you must have stamina as a lookout must be alert and silent for endless candle-marks. Our village depends on our sentries' watchfulness for its protection. It's not a job for a small child."


The matter dispensed with in Yakut's mind, she returned to her own conversation expecting Thaddea to accept the verdict and return to Cleese and Thalia without further discussion.


Completely ignoring the abrupt dismissal, Thaddea stood quietly thinking. 'I'm not just a small child.' It was true. She'd inherited Tynet's height and would be tall like her mother. Even now she was almost as tall as Cleese who was several years older and yet Thaddea understood that most adults considered her a child. As the daughter of Tynet and Adara, determination was Thaddea's middle name and she chose to overlook Yakut's biased decision and instead to promote her abilities.


"I know many bird calls already and my amma taught me more while we rode here. I even know the one your guards used yesterday."


Without stopping, she demonstrated her skill by whistling out a perfect wren's mating call followed by the female's answering trill. Then she stood waiting for their acknowledgement of it.


Amazed, the two women returned their attention to the young girl, each with differing opinions. Yakut’s pronouncements had always been accepted by the Amazons without question. This child had basically ignored her. Otere on the other hand was impressed with the child’s bird calls and said so, as many of her own sentries couldn't do as well.


"Hey, that's pretty good." She grinned at Thaddea.


Yakut shot her a look and Otere averted her eyes and began counting leaves in the trees leaving Yakut to deal with the persistent girl. It was clear Yakut wasn't going to budge on this and in truth Otere sided with her lover. While acknowledging the flawless demonstration, Otere also admitted to herself she didn't want to be a baby-sitter in addition to her duties as the new captain of the morning patrol.

Yakut looked across to see the other girls had moved further to the edge of the camp and were waiting without appearing to be waiting. "Otere is right, you do the call well, but it's still too tiring a job for a child. Why not go with your friends and play with their new horse. Do the things of a child. Leave the adult jobs to the adults." She spoke in a soft and kind voice hoping to impart the wisdom of her remarks. "Now it's time for me to wait upon our goddess."


As far as Yakut was concerned the discussion was over. She was unused to having her authority questioned and so without any further thought to the subject, she walked toward Artemis's temple.


Before Otere strode away toward the perimeter to begin her day, she decided to try and smooth over the girl's disappointment. "You really did those calls well, Thaddea, but Yakut is right, being on watch is long and tiring. There are other skills needed that you don't have yet. In time though, I'm sure you'll do your mothers proud."


'You're wrong,' Thaddea thought. 'My mama taught me to track and to cover my trail. I'll show you both; I am more than a small child. I'm an Amazon! And I promised to find my mama.' It would prove to be a liability that Otere couldn't read minds.

"Come on Thaddea," Cleese called to her. Reluctantly, Thaddea joined her friends. She'd already said she'd help with their horse, and so she would. Later she would find a way to help her mothers. 'I could help Xena track the bad men and show everyone what my mama has taught me.'

The little band of young Amazons was subdued and Thaddea's heavy heart was visible to all they passed. Many of the adults looked on with compassion at the little girl as she resolutely made her way past the weapons' area where Odessa was just forming up partners to practice with staff or sword. Several women were already practicing with their bows, firing arrows into bailed straw. Even the youngest of children knew to walk behind the archers and the solemn little procession skirted the practice field.


The tribe's herd grazed in a small meadow enclosed by trees and secured with rope near the Amazon weapons' practice field on the west side of the village opposite from where the rescue party had gone. The three girls moved off in that direction. Several of the alert ponies looked up from their grazing when the group arrived, but soon lost interest when it was apparent that no treats were being offered.


Thaddea's heart ached. It was as real as being punched in the chest and she felt the sensation flow downward to her stomach where hollowness had settled. Tears pricked at her eyes, but rather than succumb to the humiliation of crying, she shook off the feelings and tried to focus on what her mama had taught her about horses. 'The most important thing is always to establish a rapport with the animal, a friendship based on trust and kindness. And a bit of a treat doesn't hurt either.' Thaddea smiled involuntarily as she recalled her mama saying that many times as she'd let an animal nibble a bit of dried fruit from her palm. Tynet had always used a gentle hand in coaxing her horses to work for her and Thaddea mimicked her mother's actions whenever possible.


The white mare had already been accustomed to treats, as both Cleese and Thalia had sought to win the animal over sneaking bits of food to the horse whenever they could. However, she'd also had her head jerked around quite a bit when the two had squabbled over ownership rights. Lately it had been better, but the white mare was a bit wary of this new child. The white horse was about to find that she was now in the hands of a professional, albeit a small, young one, but a real horse trainer at heart.


They came to a stop at the edge of the meadow. Thaddea reached up and gently stroked the young mare's neck with her fingertips and she began to talk to the animal in the soft soothing voice she'd so often heard her mama use.


She asked Cleese to release the lead rope, but Cleese demurred.


"We can't she'll run over to the other horses and it'll take all day to get her back," Thalia interjected before Cleese could answer.


"That's because, you're holding her too tight. She'll always come to you when she trusts you," Thaddea replied knowingly.


Shrugging off their disbelief, Thaddea stroked and whispered to the white mare.


"What a beautiful girl you are," she said speaking in her native tongue. "You know that don't you? I'm Thaddea. It means Brave one." She sighed as she realized that she didn't feel very brave at the moment. She felt lost and alone in a world of strangers. She was overwhelmed with the feeling that she should be doing more to help her parents. 'You are my brave one, Thaddea. Her mama's voice sang in her heart. It was as if her mama continued to live inside Thaddea. Swallowing the lump in her throat, Thaddea focused on the horse, she would not cry again and resumed her one-way conversation with the white mare.

"What are you called my beautiful one? I bet you have a wonderful name. If you were mine, I'd give you the perfect name." As she continued to scratch the mare's neck and cheeks, she looked at her companions standing with the lead still in their grasp.


"What's her name?"


"We haven't given her one yet. We've been," Thalia hesitated searching for the right word, "discussing it."


"Oh, well doesn't have to have a name, but when we work with her, it would be nice," Thaddea said trying to be diplomatic.


Cleese cast an uncertain glance at Thalia who had originally laid claim to the white mare. She didn't want to fight with her friend anymore, especially in front of Thaddea who was suffering from the loss of her birth mother and now possibly her hearth mother too. It broke Cleese's heart to see the younger girl trying so hard to hide her pain.


Thalia was in silent accord and spoke for both the girls.

"Thaddea, why don't you name her? You have experience with this kind of thing," Thalia said hoping to draw Thaddea away from her obvious grief and home-sickness


Thaddea pondered this. She knew her friends were paying her a tribute and she wished to honor them and the beautiful horse with an auspicious name that she could wear proudly. Still scratching the beautiful animal whose hide glowed with an iridescent shimmer under the morning sun, Thaddea thought about it. She knew this color, had seen it someplace before. As she ruminated over the shiny opalescent coat, she thought about other horses. It wasn't quite like Mahtab's hide which was much greyer and besides you never wanted to give two horses the same name as it confused tracking blood lines. Then she suddenly recalled where she'd seen the luminous color before and she broke into a huge smile.


"What about Jumanah? In my land, it means silver pearl. Last summer when we went to Corinth I saw a silver pearl in the market place. A merchant wanted to trade the pearl to my mama for her best gelding. She didn't trade for it, but the color of the pearl was like this white coat."


Both Thalia and Cleese beamed with joy and they exclaimed over the perfection of the name.


"Yes, that's perfect Thaddea. Her coat is so shiny and beautiful that we couldn't decide. I think it’s a wonderful name, don't you Thalia?"


"Yes, me too, I love her new name," Thalia said and then tried the name herself, letting the sound roll off her tongue. "Jumanah."


Having Thaddea name their prized possession made it possible for the two girls to swallow their pride and come a bit closer to navigating the troublesome waters of joint ownership of the white mare, now called, Jumanah.

Even Jumanah seemed to agree and bobbed her head up and down making all three girls laugh at her antics. Even as young as she was, Thaddea was more mature in many ways than either of the older girls and their respect for the youngster grew enough that they finally release the reins.


For the next two candle-marks, Thaddea worked with Jumanah and the older girls. She was able to ascertain that Jumanah had been ridden before as the horse never flinched when Thaddea had laid belly down across the animal's back. Jumanah simply looked at her small passenger and proceeded to walk slowly around the meadow before stopping to graze.


Finally, Thaddea called a halt to the gentle training. With anyone, human or animal, there was a time for work and a time for play. Thaddea had suggested that Jumanah be allowed to graze with the rest of the herd, promising that the mare would return to the girls when she was called by them.


** Thaddea's first night alone in Thrace **


Thaddea had not been able to put her mothers from her mind for more than a few seconds that first day since Adara had left with the others and felt she'd go crazy before they returned. She was plagued by the need to help somehow. She trusted Xena as her warrior surrogate, but she'd promised her mama to come back and find her and it felt like cowardice to stay in the safety of camp when the other warriors might be walking into grave danger.


That night Thaddea slept fitfully disturbed by dreams of horror and pain. Time and again she woke from sleep bathed in sweat and her heart pounding so hard it felt as if it might come through her chest. It was through sheer force of will that the youngster had quieted her breathing and calmed her self each time a nightmare woke her.


Thaddea slept on thick sleeping furs a few feet away from the pallet where Ursa snuggled deep in the ample bosom of their aunt Marana, whose arms were wrapped protectively abound the baby. Thaddea could hear Ursa's steady breath and knew her baby sister was in good hands.


She turned on her side peeking under the hides that enclosed their sleeping hut. It was still very dark and probably several candle-marks yet until dawn. Thaddea closed her eyes and once again sought the comfort of a dreamless sleep, but as soon as she drifted off she once again found herself in the midst of a night mare so vivid she almost choked on the dust and felt her skin seared by the heat.

She was inside an enclosure of some kind, with huge stakes driven deep into hot desert sand. The sun beat mercilessly down on her and the other women there. Across the way, many women were whispering as they gathered around someone. Thaddea forced her way through the women, pushing their sweaty bodies and legs aside as voices swirled around her.


"By the goddess, how can this one survive any more of these weekly battles?"


"If she doesn't, we're doomed. She's all that stands between us and the soldiers."


"I know, but if this keeps up, even Halima's healing skills can't help her."


Thaddea managed to squeeze closer to the unconscious woman lying on a hard wooden pallet facing away from Thaddea. Another woman was stitching many cuts and lacerations on the fallen warrior. The wounded woman seemed familiar and when she groaned, rolling her head toward Thaddea, the child saw true horror. The woman's features were puffy and raw, one eye swollen shut and purpling, her lips were cut and bleeding and there was rough stitching near her hairline. The face was so beaten that the woman's own mother wouldn't have recognized her at that moment, but her child would.

Thaddea came awake with a start, her fist jammed into her mouth to keep from screaming. "Mama," she whispered in horror, as the breath was sucked from her lungs, "mama oh no, mama; they've hurt you." Tears streamed with the force of spring run off, down the child's face, even as she told herself, it was a dream. Her mama had told her many times, dreams aren’t real. But, this felt real, so real that it forced Thaddea to make a decision that she had agonized over. It galvanized the baby warrior to action. She would leave now and save her mama. She knew deep inside, her mama was injured and needed her.


Quietly, Thaddea laid her furs back and scooted onto the floor. She grabbed her clothes, a water skin and her wooden sword. Stealing from the hut without waking either her aunt or sister, Thaddea dressed quickly once she was outside. She saw only one sentry slowly patrolling inside the village.


The guard would not be a problem, as the Amazon was looking into the forest rather than at the camp, which made sense, as intruders would come from outside. Keeping one eye on the sentry, Thaddea moved toward the dining hall and peered inside; it was deserted as she expected at this time of night. With great stealth, she rummaged through bags and barrels stored near the back of the room. Gathering together some dried fruit and bread, she shoved her booty into a sack lying nearby and then made her escape.


The little warrior headed toward the perimeter, in the direction they had arrived from only two days before. She knew she'd need to use every skill Tynet had taught her to escape notice of the night sentries, but thankfully it was the dark of the moon and once she'd passed them, she'd be hard to see.


She crouched at the edge of the bushes watching and listening to the night. Finally she heard the footsteps. She drew back into the shrubs concealing herself as the sentry passed close by and then stopped at the base of the tree. Soon bird calls were heard coming from the sentry and answered from the guard in the tree, and then the sentry moved on. Once out of sight, Thaddea made her way north further from the sentry in that tree and then stole out into the night as quickly and quietly as she could.


Otere had already been awake and was just finished dressing when Marana, carrying a sleepy Ursa, barged into their hut half hysterical with worry and grief.


"She's gone. Goddess, why didn't I pay more attention? This is my fault. Someone needs to do something, now. Please," the seamstress begged.


It had taken several minutes to quiet the woman to find out that, when she'd woken just before dawn, she'd found Thaddea gone, clothes, water skin and wooden sword missing too.


Otere never hesitated. Informing Yakut that she'd go find the child, Otere had bolted from their hut, and then on impulse had returned taking a small, worn leather pouch from their altar. In the meadow, Otere made a cursory inspection of the herd which confirmed that the little miscreant hadn't borrowed the white mare. 'At least the child has integrity and is on foot; I'll have her back here before mid-morning.' .


Tracking a youngster would prove to be no problem or so Otere believed as she rode out of camp. She knew Thaddea would be making for home and Otere headed in that direction. It wasn't long before she'd found the girl's trail.

For so young a child, Thaddea knew many tricks and Otere was impressed when she located the spot that the girl had hidden near the perimeter. She saw where Thaddea had stolen onto the open plain and crossed it before gaining the foothills and better cover. Even though Otere admired the stealth and patience in one so young, she knew she'd easily follow the child's tracks.


Thaddea's trail led to a small stream and Otere effortlessly followed the girl's footprints going in one side and out the other. Scarcely looking at the ground, Otere picked up her pace calculating that she'd catch her quarry very soon. Following the footprints for another one hundred paces beyond the water's edge, Otere had been perplexed when the trail had simply died out. She had fanned out several times, but couldn't pickup the tracks again. It was beginning to become clear to the older woman, that she'd seriously underestimated the small Amazon.


"Damn Hades' balls!" she cursed under her breath. Where are you Thaddea? It was already past mid-morning and there was still no sign of the girl, just this trail that lead no where. Otere dismounted and considered her options. Which way did you go, kid?


Standing there, scratching her head, she had no clue which direction to go but to head east toward the Caucus. Resigned, Otere was ready to ride blind hoping to cross paths with the child on foot, when she suddenly saw something strange about the tracks that she hadn't noticed before and she bent down to scrutinize them. "Why you cagey little Amazon brat," she said aloud half in admiration and half in irritation.

It appeared that the child had used her own foot prints to double back to the stream and then use the cover of the water to go either up or down stream before taking off in her true direction again. 'I won't underestimate you again little one,' Otere thought. She remounted and rode quickly back to the stream.


It took another candle-mark of careful tracking to find where the child had finally exited the stream almost half a mile upstream from the original false trail. Actually Thaddea had gone down stream first and had exited there once too, but mud, dried on a boulder, told the now hyper-observant Otere that Thaddea had immediately re-entered the stream and reversed direction again.


The sun was beginning its slow descent when Otere felt the familiar prickling sensation that told her she was being observed. She'd stopped her horse and appeared to think it over as she inspected the entire horizon, but never allowed her eye to linger on the stand of trees just ahead. 'I know you're up there little one. You're not getting away this time. I'm damn tired of this game.'


Otere dismounted and examined the hard ground as if looking for clues and then remounted. Pretending as if she'd found something, Otere rode away from the trees. Once out of sight of them, she'd swung wide and come back into the stand from the north side.


Resolve flowed through Otere as left her horse grazing and hobbled and proceeded into the trees on foot relieved that this arduous day was about over.


Even though Otere didn't immediately see the child hiding in the branches, she knew the youngster was there and all that remained was to calm the child and talk her down.


"Thaddea, I know you're here."


No answer.


"You've led me a merry chase, but now it's over. Come on out."




"Thaddea, don't make me come in and get you."




Otere was almost ready to doubt her instincts that she'd actually found her quarry, but the intense feelings of being observed persisted. She decided to try a different tack, after all this wasn't a criminal she hunted. This was a small girl who'd lost her mother, maybe both of them.


"Thaddea, listen to me. I know what you're going through." She took a steadying breath before continuing. What she would tell Thaddea few others knew. She felt a bit stupid standing there talking to no one, but her heart bled for this child.


"My own mama died of the fever fifteen summers ago when I was about your age. For the longest time, I hurt inside. The pain wouldn't stop and all I wanted was to go to the Land of the Dead with my mama. I even ran away. I guess I figured, an animal might kill me and then the goddess would send me to my mama. But that didn't happen. The tribe sent someone to find me. You know who came and got me? Queen Melosa. You probably never heard of her, but she was scary to us kids. I thought I was going to get a whipping for sure. But she didn't punish me."


Otere had tears forming in her eyes as she told the next part; the memory as fresh that day as it was all those years ago. She almost choked on the emotion burning in the back of her throat. "No, she hugged me and she cried with me. Little one, come down here to me. Let me do for you what my queen did for me."


At first there was still no response to her heartfelt plea and Otere thought she'd have to shake each tree. Then there was movement in the limbs above her right shoulder and the chastened Thaddea slowly climbed down.


No words were spoken, but Otere went down on one knee with open arms and Thaddea, who'd done her best to be strong for so long, came into those arms as if she were a small boat finding safe harbor from a raging storm.

As Thaddea cried her grief on the older Amazon's shoulder, Otere simply crooned, "I know, I know, I know." And she did.


After a while Thaddea, pulled back and let Otere wipe away the small muddy streams that had formed on Thaddea's dusty cheeks.


"I know you just want to find your mama and help the others. Who wouldn't want to do just what you're doing?" Otere said as she looked deeply into Thaddea's misery-filled eyes. 'Goddess, how can one little girl hold so much hurt?'


Otere's words and kindness reached inside the anguished girl and a small light began to glow in the darkness. Thaddea's pain eased in the simple recognition that someone else knew what she was going through.


"Thaddea, talk to me. Why did you run away? I thought you were okay once you sent Xena to fight for your mama?"


Thaddea felt the need to try to explain why she ran to the compassionate Otere.


"I had a bad dream last night. My mama was in it. They hurt her. She needs me!" She cried out. Her sentences were short, choppy and matter of fact, even as her grief threatened to wash over her again. The nightmare had been so real; it was like a living thing, the images fresh and raw. If this was her mother's fate, Thaddea knew she couldn't bare it.


Otere refused to scoff at the dream or the idea that a child would run based on the content of one. Hadn't she done the very same thing herself? Instead, Otere asked, "Tell me what you saw."


Relieved to see no condemnation in Otere's face, Thaddea related the dream in vivid images, including the women she'd seen bathing the welts and wiping away the blood on her mama. She had felt the concern of those around her mama and worse, she'd felt her mama's anguish for her family. All that had been in the nightmare. It had been the impetus for her nighttime escape.


Otere spent a moment considering the revelations and then marveling at the detail of the dream. Otere was the hearth-mate of the shaman; she was familiar with dreams and their power.


"I can't tell you what your dream means, little one, but I think you can take heart from the fact that she's not alone. Whether it is more than a nightmare, I can't say, but the dream itself holds promise. Your mama may yet live; I don't know, but we are sending help to them. We've sent our best fighters and the goddess has promised her protection, more than that we can't do," Otere said softly.


Watching the play of emotions race across the girl's face from hope to anguish, Otere continued gently, "You're a brave young Amazon, a credit to your mothers' hearth, but running away will not help them."


With frustration and despair ripping through her, Thaddea replied defiantly, "My mama is alive; I know it! She needs me." The child glared at her, but Otere was not deterred. Thaddea needed to wake up to the reality of the situation or the Amazons would be chasing her down for the foreseeable future.


Otere blew an exasperated breath between pursed lips before replying. "All right then, but even if she's alive and I'm not saying she is, but if she is, how can the rescuers help save your mama and the other women, if their attention is divided? It will take all their skills to save any of the Amazons. Would you have them also have to protect you. More lives might be lost, even your Amma, and you'd be the cause of it. Is that what you want?"


The words slammed her and lodged in the girl's heart, 'I might be the cause of them dying? I might hurt Amma too?' The reality of it threatened to bury the child in grief. In defeat, Thaddea hung her head, her heart crying out. 'Mama, I can't come for you. I'm sorry. I only wanted to help.' She knew now her attempt to go back to help her mama had been reckless and dangerous. It had never occurred to her that she might actually get her killed.


Seeing the defeat written on Thaddea's face, Otere reached into her belt and retrieved the small leather pouch that she'd taken on instinct that morning. "Here," she said. "When Queen Melosa brought me back, she gave me this pouch to hold sacred mementos of my mama."


Thaddea reached out hesitantly and touched the aged leather. "I couldn't take this. It belongs with you … to hold your mama's things."


"Little one, I keep those things on our altar in my hut now. I have no need of it, but you do. Will you accept this from me?"


Thaddea thought for a moment. "This is all I have; this leather strap from mama and this cloth from amma," she replied holding up her wrist where a bit of tattered lavender silk dangled from the leather wrist band of Tynet.


"Well, the cloth is going to wear out quicker than the leather, so maybe you want to put it in your new pouch."


Thaddea considered this. It brought her comfort to have these things that her mothers had touched near her. She knew Otere was right about the cloth; it was already more ragged than it had been that morning. "Okay," the child said tentatively.


"Good; let me help you. We'll tie the pouch to your belt here."


As Otere fastened the pouch strings around the child's belt, she softened even more toward the girl's plight. She couldn't help but empathize.


"I understand Thaddea. Believe me I do. You need to be useful too, to help where you can. Let's see if we can find a way for that to happen."


"Yakut will never allow me to help."


"You let me handle Yakut. If you promise me to never try a dangerous stunt like this again, I'll see to it that you can be given more responsibility in the camp."


"Can I stand guard; be on lookout?"


'Goddess, this kid is good. I never saw that coming.' Now Otere needed to find a compromise that Yakut would accept. "Hmmm, maybe, but not a full shift; maybe a candle-mark every other day."

"Four candle-marks," Thaddea bartered.


"One," Otere stated firmly.


"Two," the child pleaded.


Throwing up her hands, Otere gave in. "Alright! Two then."


"Everyday?" the child whispered hopefully.


Otere actually laughed out loud. This kid was the daughter of a horse trader and it showed. The second best warrior in Thrace had just been bested by a child. "Okay, I yield. Two candle-marks everyday," she agreed through her amusement.


On the ride back to camp, the two Amazons hammered out the new living arrangements. Thaddea would be assigned to the morning guards which Otere led. Otere would come get Thaddea and her two friends, Cleese and Thalia, each day two candle-marks before the end of the morning shift. At the end of the duty, the three youngsters would return to camp without argument with Otere and her sentries.


** Present - Thrace

The young sentries had arrived at their destination and Otere helped first Thalia and then Cleese up to their posts. While waiting for her turn, Thaddea removed the smooth amulet from the pouch Otere had given her. Just holding the polished clay seemed to calm her. Somehow she felt that the talisman was talking to her trying to tell her to have hope. She felt this in a way she couldn't explain. Ever true to her beliefs, she silently prayed, Thank you Anahita, for helping my mamas. Om-Ma-ha.


She was still clutching the charm in her hand when Otere was ready to give her a boost up into the tree. As Thaddea stuffed the amulet back into the safekeeping of her pouch, she looked at her friend.


Kneeling, with her hands making a step for Thaddea to climb on, Otere looked up at the little girl. "What Thaddea?"

"I think they're going to be all right."


Chapter 29 - Life Goes On


Small pockets of resistance and fighting continued throughout the night but, in effect, the battle was over. Sabers flashing in the moonlight, the tribesmen continued to deal with any stragglers that they came upon on the battlefield, showing them no mercy. Many of the desert men had lost kin during the Red Army’s rampage and they intended to avenge their fallen brothers and sisters. Their shouts, as they dispatched each of the remaining enemy soldiers, had changed from Inshallah, “God willing,” to Bis-millah – “In the name of Allah,” for Allah had given them victory.

Many of the soldiers in the defeated army had broken into small bands and escaped into the desert. The tribesmen intended to spend the next few days tracking them down, dispatching them to their final reward. If Allah were merciful, the desert would claim them first.

An eerie stillness had fallen over what was left of the Red Army encampment, as Kadar and Abdul Hadi, his wise old sentry, walked their horses in the direction of what had been the women’s prison. Kadar had been told by the gray-haired warrior that there were a few casualties among the women prisoners.

“Tell me my wife’s sister is alive,” he demanded. He left no doubt that it was not a question.

“I don’t know, Imam. There’s so much confusion still and so many bodies. We can’t be sure yet,” Abdul Hadi said to his sheik.

“I cannot take bad news back to Ikram. Find out!” he commanded Abdul Hadi.

As the battle-weary man mounted his horse, the sheik asked him, “Where is Abbas?”

“He’s gathering up the enemy horses, Imam.”

Kadar’s mind turned briefly to the conquest of the enemy and the spoils of war. Allah had been generous. Horses were a worthy prize in any battle and he hoped Abbas would bring back a large herd to increase their trading powers in the desert. But at the moment, he was more concerned about Ikram. “Find my wife’s sister,” he ordered.

“Yes, Imam,” Abdul Hadi said. He spurred his horse towards the women’s compound, silently praying to Allah that Rida, the sister of Ikram, would be found alive.

Moving about, in a thicket of smoke, Kadar saw his trusted and best friend, Alim. His heart swelled with appreciation and gratitude that he too had survived the battle. He waved to the man, catching his attention.

Alim’s robes were covered in blood and gore. In the moonlight, Kadar noticed that Alim had taken a gash to his shoulder. Yet, the warrior gave the wound no attention as he continued to direct his exhausted men to tend to the wounded and to begin burying the dead.

“Let us put these infidels to work digging the graves so we don’t have to,” one of the tribesmen said. “When they finish the hard work, we’ll shove them in with their friends.”

“A fitting end,” another said. “Bury these slimy bastards alive. They deserve no more mercy than they gave others.” There was a chorus of approval from the others.

“What about the ones who escaped,” Kadar asked Alim as he made his way towards his friend.

“I’ll send out some men at daylight to round them up. If the desert has not claimed them, we will. None will be left alive, my Lord.” The formal address, said in front of his men, gave Kadar pause. He had only heard Alim use it in public. Yet even after a battle such as this, when natural bonding blurs distinctions between comrades in arms, Alim continued to use the formality.

“Praise be to Allah for our victory, my brothers,” Kadar said. “We need to bury the dead before the sun begins its work and more death rises out of the corpses.”

Kadar’s words mobilized the men as they prodded the enemy soldiers into action digging mass graves.

“Abbas?” Alim asked, his eyes hopeful.

“Safe,” Kadar said. “You know my brother, Alim. He’s gone to retrieve the horses.” A wide white toothy grin graced Kadar’s battle-weary features. He silently praised Allah for his good fortune and promised a sacrificial goat for sparing those closest to him - his brother Abbas, his friend Alim, and his long time warrior-sentry Abdul Hadi. Then he silently intoned one more prayer to Allah that Rida be found alive. Maybe two or more goats if she’s found alive, Allah he mused.

As though reading his mind, Alim asked, “What about the women?”

“We need to find out. Leave the men to their work. Let us go to their compound,” Kadar replied.

* * *

As the two friends made their way carefully across the ravaged sands towards the women’s enclosure, they saw what the force and fury of the battle had done. Gaping scorched holes, as large as tents, were visible in the earth. Corpses were strewn about in all directions and the devastation was endless. The gravity of this battle sobered them.

“Any word on Rida?” asked Alim, concern for his friend evident in the question.

“Abul Hadi has gone ahead to find out.”

“I spoke with him earlier and learned much,” continued Alim. “These women fought valiantly; more so than some of the slime in this so-called army.” He spat into the sands, punctuating his disgust for the infidels. “There’s talk there was a nightly sporting fight between a solitary woman fighter and several men. They say she battled furiously against them all. They said she was not yet defeated though it was clear her end was near.”

“Who was this woman?” Kadar asked.

“I don’t know, my friend, but she had the respect of all the women. The talk was she protected all of them for another day by winning her nightly battles. She’d made a wager with the scorpion army general that if she won each battle, the women would be left unharmed one more day.”

As they neared the women’s area, they saw a tall dark-haired warrior issuing commands to the other women who were gathered around her. “Let’s get to it.” They heard her say.

“Who is that?” Alim asked. “It looks like Tynet, but our sister Adara said Tynet was dead. What god has brought her to life?”

“That’s not Tynet,” Kadar replied. “I’m not sure who she is.” He stared at the tall figure of a warrior who was obviously used to taking charge and issuing orders.

“Wait!” he continued. “She must be that western Amazon that Adara told us about. I believe she said her name is Xena,” he said, continuing to walk closer to the woman.

Upon hearing the sound of her name coming from a man’s voice, Xena crouched low, turned her body and raised her hand over her shoulder to unsheathe her sword once more. These bastards never learn, she thought to herself.

“Patience, ukhtee (sister),” Kadar replied when he saw the woman move into a battle stance. “We are your friends.”

“The only friends I have right now are these women. Who are you?” Xena asked, her hand still on the sword’s hilt and ready to pounce.

“My name is Kadar! I am the leader of the desert tribes. And this, … this is Alim, my best friend and confidante,” he said pointing to the other man. “And you?” He looked at her height and stature and then, before she could respond, said, “You must be Xena! You’re the one they call the warrior princess?” He touched his thumb and index finger to his forehead as he addressed her.

“I’m Xena,” she relaxed the grip on her sword when she realized they were indeed friends and that this man was the leader of those who had helped turn the battle in their favor.

“We are grateful to you and your tribesmen, Kadar.” She struck her chest with her fist then offered the sheik her forearm, in a warrior’s handshake. He took the outstretched arm graciously. It was unusual in his world to be addressed so forthrightly by anyone, much less a woman.

“Have you taken many casualties?” he asked the now-obvious leader of the women. He quickly scanned an area where many women were being tended to.

“We’re still searching for some who are missing. So far, we believe we lost three women. Several are badly wounded but the healer says that with proper care, they’ll recover.”

“The healer,” he asked. “The healer, Adara?” He offered a prayer once more to Allah that his adopted sister was truly alive. Yet the sheik wondered if he was pushing his God too much, to spare not only Rida, but also Adara. He silently prayed, Inshallah (God willing) Adara is alive. Then just in case, he added for good measure, Allah-hu-akbur (Allah is great.)

A woman he immediately recognized as Adara began slowly walking towards them holding tightly and protectively to the arm of another tall, bloodied warrior. The bigger woman limped with obvious pain, grimacing with each step she took. Her face was barely recognizable; her body was lacerated and battered. But, from her size and carriage, he knew it had to be Tynet. What manner of torture has this woman endured? he wondered. Then, startled, he realized that the warrior battling the soldiers each night to protect the women had to have been Tynet. No woman, other than this Xena could have done that.

“Tynet,” he said moving towards her so that the injured woman did not have to walk any further than was necessary. “What have they done to you?” Concern and compassion flowed from the man.

She recognized the Sheik as he spoke to her, trying to smile while bowing her head to his rank. She knew well the ways of the desert tribes. “Tried … Tried to kill me, Imam,” she replied with an effort. “They didn’t.” She smirked out of one side of her bloody split lip.

“Allah is most merciful to have kept you alive,” he said. Then he continued. “Your injuries are severe, my friend. Yet, if you are able, I will give you the honor of riding with my men to kill off the remaining stragglers. You can avenge your fallen sisters properly.” Seeing her like this, his honor felt violated. What have these barbarians done? he thought.

Tynet knew his offer was gracious and generous as desert tribes would never allow women to ride with the men in this undertaking. Yet, she knew she was in no condition to ride anywhere, much less to continue the killing.

“You … You honor me … Imam,” she said haltingly. “I … I must decline your offer… I feel… I need rest now more than vengeance.”

Kadar understood fully. He touched his heart with thumb and index finger together and bowed to the woman and her bravery. She had courageously defied the Red Scorpion Army and its infidels, saving many of her sisters from rape and torture.

“I promise you, none of them will remain alive. Your sisters will be avenged,” he said to her.

Just then, a rumbling noise thundered across the desert sands. All of them turned to look as a cloud of dust followed an enormous herd of horses. It was Abbas and several of his men yelling in victory and returning triumphantly with their prize. They watched him deftly guiding the horses towards the corral, parts of which were still standing. Some of his men quickly dismounted and began to repair the broken beams, setting them upright, as the others kept the horses together. Soon all of the horses were quartered in a large pen.

Kadar watched his brother with pride as he moved about the horses, giving orders to his men. The herd was large and this prize enormous. He had visions of the endless bartering with other tribes and knew much of that livestock would make for excellent breeding purposes. Abbas had done well.

As the thoughts of breeding formed in his head, he again spoke to Tynet. He knew she loved horses as much as Abbas and in fact had bred magnificent horses that had enriched the bloodlines of his own herds. Seeing the devastation all around them, he knew she would have to rebuild her own herds.

“My friend,” he said. “I would like to offer you all the horses that Abbas has rounded up. Your herds are gone or killed. I would be honored if you would accept these horses.”

Both of them knew she would never accept all the horses, but it was the custom of the desert people to offer a worthy friend all their possessions of value.

“You … you are . most gracious and generous... Imam,” she faltered again. Adara placed her arm around her middle to better support her weary lover. “I … I’ll accept … a few of them… for breeding and rebuilding our herds.”

“It is I you honor by accepting my offer. Tynet, I cannot thank you enough.” he hesitated a moment for he had never used the term with her before, then said “Ibna, (my daughter) You have bravely sacrificed yourself to save the women. Your praises will be sung around the campfires of my people for generations to come. The name Tynet will be spoken of with great honor.” He bowed to the warrior as he said these words. Then he added, “I will tell Abbas you are to be given any mares or stallions that you choose.”

Seeing the exhaustion taking its toll on Tynet, Adara said to Kadar, “I need to get her to a place of rest, Imam.”

He nodded.

Pointing to some supply barrels that had miraculously survived the carnage, Adara spoke to Xena. "Let's use that area as our hospital. Send the injured to me there." Then she guided Tynet to the place indicated and eased her down onto one of the barrels.

As both women walked off together Kadar turned to Xena and said, "When the Amazons return to their homeland I will bring her brood mares of the finest lineage from my stables to help rebuild her herds."

“She will need all your help, Kadar.” Xena did not use the formal address when speaking to the Sheik. “She was severely beaten and had almost given up. The light is gone from her eyes. Right now, I don't know if even Adara can bring it back,” Xena responded.

“Allah, be merciful,” he said and then asked, "What do you need of me now, Xena?”

“We need a pyre for the women who died,” she replied. “The Amazons will do the funeral rites, honoring them and sending them to the afterlife. Then we need to care for the wounded. Whoever is left of Tynet and Adara’s tribe, they will have to decide where they want to go. There are other women who were prisoners but not of their tribe. We’ll have to plan for those women too.”

The Sheik thought about this for a long time. Any woman who had been violated was branded an outcast in his society, no matter the cause. The desert was a harsh place to live and without benefit of husbands or brothers, these women would be shunned by all and would survive only a short time left alone. He pondered the issues confronting him, even as he assumed all the women had been raped by these infidels.

Just then, a woman’s tired voice broke his concentration. “My Lord? My brother, Lord Kadar?”

He turned to see two women slowly moving towards him, one leaning on the other. The head of the one leaning was bandaged and blood seeped through the cloth. Her arm was also in a sling. The other, a blond Western woman, helped her to walk. They were followed by a robed desert man leading a horse with the colors of his tribe.

“Abdul Hadi,” the sheik exclaimed. Is that Rida under the bandages? Did he find Rida? he dared to wonder.


“My Lord,” said the sentry as he got closer to the sheik. “Your wife’s sister has been found alive.”

“Allah be praised,” Kadar said, touching his forehead as he approached the injured woman. “Ukhtee, (sister) are you alright?”

“Yes, My Lord,” she responded, belying her condition.

“Allah be praised,” Alim responded. He too had offered Allah two goats if Rida were to be found alive.

“Your sister feared you dead, Rida,” he said. “She would have been inconsolable had I returned with such grim news,” he continued.

“Are you alright?” he asked again, looking carefully into her eyes. He didn’t know what he expected to see - perhaps the shame that told him she had been violated.

She returned his gaze directly, revealing her truth and knowing her fate was now in his hands. He stared at her a long while, then realized that Allah had indeed answered both of his prayers. Rida was alive and so was Adara. In that moment of realization, his decision was made. He knew the impact it would have on his tribesmen, yet, he had to do it. He had no other choice.

He enfolded her in an embrace as he said, “Ukhtee, you and all the women who have been harmed and who wish my protection, I grant to you all. Your home is now to be made among the tents of Kadar and Ikram.”

Alim, knowing how enormous this decision was, offered no objection to his friend. Instead, he placed his hand on his Kadar’s shoulder and said to the woman, “And also among the tents of Alim and my wife, Hala.” There was no greater demonstration of friendship that he could have offered.

Rida dissolved into tears and wept her grief and her anguish on her brother’s shoulder.

Alim then addressed Abdul Hadi. “Get some men and bring wood. Bring anything that will burn. The Amazons need a funeral pyre to send their dead onward to their next life.”

“Yes, My Lord,” replied the sentry. “We’ll get right to it.”

* * *

By dawn, Abdul Hadi, commanding two guards and four enemy soldiers, had assembled a massive pile of wood for the Amazon funeral rites. The tribal leaders knew the Amazons would conduct the rites themselves and would want privacy, so they moved a respectful distance away from the battlefield to give honor to the fallen women.

“Will this be enough wood?” Abdul Hadi asked Xena. All the men now recognized Xena as the leader of the women.

She turned in question to Gabrielle who replied, “Yes. Thank you. All of you,” she said pointedly, not ignoring the enemy soldiers who had been further burdened with this chore.

“We need to stack the wood in mounds, Gabrielle,” Xena said.

“I know,” the bard replied though she didn’t want the men to have to work longer.

Xena was less circumspect. “Stack the wood there in three mounds for burning,” she said pointing to an area near a corner of what had been the women’s prison. Abdul Hadi gave them the signal and the men began to make the mounds.

After much discussion among the remaining eastern Amazons with their sisters from the west, they concluded that all of the women who died deserved an Amazon burial. The women were not Amazons nor were they warriors, but they had died defending their sisters and there was no greater service in the eyes of the survivors.

As Queen, Gabrielle was expected to preside over the funeral pyre, saying the blessings for the souls of the women and speeding them to the Land of the Dead. Isaura, the mother of Adara, had been gathering cloths to make burial shrouds, and she directed the covering of the women’s bodies. Then, Solari, Ephiny and Noalani carried each of the bodies, one at a time, and respectfully placed each one on top of a wooden pile.

When all three women had been laid out for burial, the women gathered. Some were badly injured, some had only minor scrapes and bruises, yet every woman wanted to be there in attendance to show their respect. Penda, arm in arm with Kunjana, stood next to Tynet and Adara. Penda’s eyes were red from crying. Across the circle, the western Amazons faced their eastern sisters.

Gabrielle, carrying a lighted torch, walked into the center of the circle and began the rites.

“My sisters, by the grace of the goddess Anahita, we are able to honor these three women today. They only knew lives as wives and daughters before they were taken from their homes and brought to this brutal savage end. Yet, they gave new meaning to what we know and call our sisterhood. They were brave and their valor honorable.

None of them knew how to fight, yet they paid the ultimate sacrifice for our safety and freedom by giving their lives. They were not warriors but we will honor them as warriors and as Amazon sisters. We will sing the song of victory to Anahita who delivered us from this evil army; we will sing the song of perseverance to Adara who brought help in time to defeat this scourge; we will sing the Amazon funeral chant and consign our sisters to the Amazon Land of the Dead and to the Elysian Fields.”

She then struck her chest with her fist and watched as every woman around the circle did the same thing. Then she walked to each pyre and lit it. As the flames rose and slowly engulfed the stacked wood, a soft melody was heard. Noalani had pulled a flute from her pack and was playing it in honor of the women. As she blew the mournful tune, a beautiful voice joined the refrain. Adara, with one arm still supporting Tynet, sang to her fallen sisters. She sang the funeral song of love, of life, and of death. Her mother, Isaura, with a voice as sweet, joined her daughter. Then Solari sang and then Ephiny. One by one, the other women joined in, standing and singing as one chorus, while the flames consumed the bodies.

Sitting in the shadow of the ridge, the men were taking a mid-afternoon break when they heard the choir of female voices singing. Some of the men touched their foreheads; others bowed and said a silent prayer to Allah; all stopped to look and acknowledge the sounds of the female voices rising through the smoke of the funeral pyre.

* * * * *

The men had labored all day in the hot sun burying the dead in the mass graves dug by the remaining enemy soldiers. They continued to clean up the mess left after the battle. Kadar was ever watchful and yet compassionate towards the women. His vigilant sentry, Abdul Hadi, had found the hot springs where the Amazons had previously camped and Kadar offered its use to the women first. This was another breach of protocol and custom, but he no longer cared. An image of his wife, Ikram, floated into view. You’ve taught me well, beloved wife, he thought.

“You have suffered much,” he told them. “Please take the springs and let the hot waters give balm to your bodies, and perhaps also to your spirits.”

“Thank you, Sheik Kadar. The women will appreciate your generous offer and your many kindnesses.” Xena had begun to like and respect the tribal chieftain, and had begun using the more formal address, especially after he had offered his tents to all the women who had been defiled by the barbarian army.

“What will they do now?” he asked her.

“I’m not sure. They need to rebuild their lives though. Tynet said this place is forever defiled and they’ll need to find someplace else to celebrate their spring rites. Whether their original village can be salvaged, I just don't know. They still have much to discuss.”

“I’m sure,” he replied. “I am at their service, Xena. I will leave you now to the company of the women.” He bowed, touched his index finger and thumb to his heart and forehead, then began his descent down the ridge to his men.

Xena walked towards the pools hoping to find Gabrielle. She was not disappointed. The bard was lounging against the rocks in one of the pools, her eyes closed from the weariness of the battle, the loss of her sisters and the uncertainty of the future of so many.

Xena quickly shed her leathers and armor and stepped into the hot pool. She put her index finger over her lips to quiet the others into not giving away her intentions. She cautiously approached the bard and placed a gentle kiss on her lips.

Startled, Gabrielle’s eyes fluttered open. “Xena?” She couldn’t believe that Xena had kissed her in this public place.

“Shhh,” Xena said slipping behind her and cradling the bard’s body between her legs and against her chest. Several of the women smiled, while Pony grinned with a wink, at the overt display of affection. Xena gave her ‘the look’ and when the others saw it, they diverted their attention to one another.

“I’m worried about Tynet,” Xena said with a whisper into Gabrielle’s ear. She nuzzled the ear lobe, enjoying the young woman squirming in her lap.

“I know. I am too,” she replied. “Stop that,” she said, not meaning a word of it yet taking joy and comfort in the safety of her lover’s arms.

“They don’t have a home. We need to do something,” Xena said.

“Their children are still in Thrace. Perhaps they’ll want to remain with us. If not, we’ll help them rebuild the tribe. Matter of fact, I want to welcome any of these women to Thrace if they cannot return to their previous lives.” She leaned into Xena’s arms, content in the now of this moment.

On the other side of the pool, they heard Isaura and Rida talking. Both women were soaking their weary bodies, relishing the hot bath after so many weeks of captivity and indignity.

“Don’t get the bandage wet, Rida,” Isaura told the younger woman as she watched her submerge to her chin. “And keep your arm on the rocks if you can.”

“Yes ‘maman,’ she said to the older woman. All the women in the encampment had come to call Isaura, maman, the desert name for mother. They’d all lost their own mothers and Isaura filled their needs.

“What will you do, Rida?” Isaura asked. “Where will you go? What about your tribeswomen who survived?”

“We will go to my sister’s tribe. We have all been defiled, maman,” she said, a far-away look turning her face to sadness. “We are no longer pure and we’re now outcasts. We have no other home,” she continued.

Isaura touched the young woman’s shoulder in acknowledgment and understanding. Rida and the others were now truly outcasts. “Stay with us,” Isaura offered.

“Thank you, maman. You are so kind, but in truth, Allah has blessed us. Kadar has offered us homes and his protection. It is a great honor that he has done. Besides, I will be living in the Maharama with my sister, Ikram. Allah has been merciful.” The younger woman focused on the grace of Allah, rather than the loss of her previous life and her purity.

“We are all blessed, Ukhtee,” Isaura said. She had learned some of their language while they were prisoners. She did feel blessed. While she’d grieved over the loss of her beloved mate, Hafsa, and most of her tribe, her daughter, Adara was alive and Tynet had survived the madman General. But at what cost, she thought.

“What will you do, maman?” asked Rida breaking the woman’s reverie.

“I’ll wait to hear what Tynet and Adara wish to do. Those of us left from our tribe will look to Tynet as our new leader.”

“She is the bravest warrior, man or woman, that I ever saw,” Rida said.

“Yes she is,” Isaura replied. “I only pray my daughter can restore her to life.”

* * * * *

In one of the larger pools, Tynet sat quietly and contentedly holding Adara’s hand tightly. The steaming waters had begun to loosen the knots in her tired muscles. Always the jokester, Tynet had always played hard and worked hard. Yet, now she was reticent, her eyes unfocused. Tynet responded only when asked a direct question. Adara was very concerned. There was no light in her lover's eyes any longer and Adara worried about the damage done to Tynet's spirit.

“Are you ready to get out now, my love?” Adara asked her.

“If you are,” Tynet responded. Without waiting for a reply, Tynet stood up to get their fresh robes lying on the other edge of the large spring. The robes were another of the spoils of war. Kadar’s men had found them near the men’s barracks and had offered the clean clothes to the women.

Pony was not far from Adara in the same pool. She’d been lying with her eyes closed listening to Ephiny and Solari talking about going home when Adara made her way over to her.

“I want to thank you, Pony, for everything you’ve done for my family. You befriended me from the very beginning then offered your hearth to me and my daughters. Then, my friend, you gave your own life so my Tynet could live,” Adara began.

Pony, always uncomfortable with accolades of any kind, opened her eyes and quickly composed herself. “Anyone would have done it. We’re Amazons. This is how we take care of …”

Adara saw through the self-deprecating remarks that had begun and, placing a finger on Pony’s lips, said, “I’m sorry, Pony. I’m so sorry.” It was clear to both of them what Adara was sorry about.

She continued, “But I needed to thank you personally. I know the sacrifice you made. I also know that our Goddess always rewards such sacrifice.”

The sound of laughter – a sound seldom heard in the past few days – tinkled across the pool. Solari and Ephiny were sharing a joke. Adara looked towards the sound of the laughter, then more directly at Ephiny. Then she looked at Pony.

“Nah,” Pony said, leaning her head back into the water and covering her face. When she surfaced again, she said to Adara, “we’re only friends.”

“Tynet was my best friend from early childhood,” she informed Pony, her golden eyes staring pointedly into those of the weapon’s mistress. Then, seeing Tynet return with the fresh robes, she placed a hand on Pony’s arm and said, “Thank you again. I will never forget what you did.”

Adara stood to take the robes from Tynet and water sluiced down her back following the contours and planes of her body. As Pony watched her, a piercing pain tore through her heart and she turned her back on the woman she loved but would never hold in her arms.

Ephiny saw the interaction and the look that crossed Pony’s face when Adara left the pool. She swam over to her friend and asked, “Are you alright?”

“Yeah,” Pony replied. “It’s just some residual pain from that sword. Anahita’s water didn’t cure everything.”

Then a splash of water hit her squarely on the side of the face. She turned with a fierce look of anger to find Solari laughing at her.

“You’ve gotten so lax, Pony. In the past, I never would have caught you off guard like that. But hey, what do you expect from someone who takes a nap in the middle of a battle."

That proclamation brought peals of laughter from some of the other women who were watching the Amazons. A covert look passed between Pony and Ephiny and they both turned at the same time. With their open palms, they launched huge waves of water back to Solari and splashed a few of the other women sitting near by. Instantly, a full-fledged water fight broke out amid squeals of joy and boisterous laughter.

Xena and Gabrielle, leaning against the rocks at the far end of their pool, were out of the worst of it.

“It’s good to see everyone beginning to live again after all we've been through,” she said to Xena.

When there was no comment from her lover, she turned and was met with a wall of water hitting her full in the face.

"You! You are so dead…," she yelled.

"Ya gotta catch me first,” Xena said as she dove under the water.

* * * *




As night fell, a large bonfire was lit. Golden light and flickering shadows danced across the faces of the men and women sitting around it. The mood was both celebratory and somber. Boisterous tales of battle exploits were intermingled with periods of quiet reflection for fallen comrades.

Many of the women were deep in their own thoughts… thoughts of going home, of finding a home, of renewing pledges and reviving their lives. Some had no idea what would become of them or where they would go. Tonight, they all paused to give thanks to their individual Gods. This feast was a way for them to share their victory with those who'd made the ultimate sacrifice.

Food had been prepared. They dined on the Red Scorpion Army's bounty. A rich store-house of rations had been found intact in a supply tent near the general's pavilion.

Sitting quietly next to her hearth-mate, Tynet watched in impassive silence as the festivity swirled around her. Lost to it, she could not bring herself to join in the party. When offered food or drink, she took only a small sampling for the sake of good manners and then passed it on. Tynet wished she could let go of her memories as easily as she passed platters of food around the circle.

One thing she would not relinquish was Adara's hand. To that, Tynet clung like a rider on a run away horse, but, even the close proximity of her lover, couldn't relieve the pain and loss in Tynet.

It was more than grieving for family members and friends who'd lost their lives, that plagued Tynet. During the past four weeks, she'd had been forced to shut down the woman that she was. In place of the warm caring person she had been, stood an emotionally frozen being. She'd built a wall of indifference around her heart by weekly telling herself nothing mattered but killing the RSA animals. It had finally taken its toll when she'd been able to convince herself that they had no soul. Now she wondered if she still had one of her own.

Tynet struggled to reach inside and find some humanity there, but her mind gave her no rest. She replayed each weekly battle in the ring. The abuse and cat-calls of the soldiers had driven her away from her goodness. She began to feel as though she had no worth other than as a killing machine. The blood of dead men, men she'd killed, stained her very soul, and inch by inch, she'd closed her heart off from anything but her survival and the survival of the Amazons under her care. She'd killed those men in the ring and enjoyed the feeling. She'd looked upon dead men as if they had no more worth than discarded rubbish.

She stole a quick glance at her beautiful hearth-mate and wondered. Can we ever go back to what we had? Tynet eyed her hands; one was interlaced tightly with Adara's long slender fingers and the other clinched into a tight fist on her thigh. How can I hold my children with these killing hands? In a matter of a few candle-marks, she'd gone from defeated captive to revered war hero. It was more than she could grasp. The torment continued unabated as her questions found no answers in her arid soul.

Adara was deeply troubled by Tynet's reticence and withdrawal. She knew something must be done to draw out her soul-mate. This was not her Tynet, this woman who sat in stoic silence barely tasting her food. It was obvious from the many new scars and fresh injuries to Tynet's body that she'd been through hell.

Adara's ability to heal had already worked some minor miracles. The cuts had been sutured and healing salves and ointments applied to scrapes and bruises. In only twenty-four hours Tynet already looked more her old self. Adara knew the physical damage was not the issue; her lover's spirit had suffered major damage. Those were the wounds Adara longed to heal now.

She could stand it no longer and leaned to Tynet's ear and whispered, "Come and walk with me."

Seemingly pulled back from a place far away, Tynet looked confused at first and then slowly, but fluidly, rose to her feet offering her hand to Adara. So like her to be the one to help me, when I know she's the one needing help now, thought Adara as she stood. Adara reached to the ground taking up the blanket upon which they had been sitting, a water skin, and her ever present healer's kit.

"Look at Anahita's moon."

Tynet looked up at the brilliant silver disc hanging mid-heaven and sent a small prayer of thanksgiving, I didn't think I'd be standing under your light this night, I didn't think I'd have my Adara at my side, Thank you Mother, thank you… I am unworthy of this gift…


"Let's find a private place to watch."

"All right, where?" Tynet looked puzzled as she glanced around the moonlit landscape. Despite having been here many times for the spring rite, she felt as if she was a visitor in unfamiliar territory.

"This way" Adara led Tynet back into the tumbled boulders away from the noise of the victory party; away where she could hold her lover, away where they could begin to heal.

The moonlight made it easy for Adara to find the path back into the crevices to the special place where she and Tynet had lain in each other's arms each spring for so many seasons in the past. They moved through the rocks in silence, each woman lost in her own worries for the other. Weaving through the stone walls that appeared to never end, Adara turned sideways and easily pulled Tynet through with her. In the past, it had been a tight squeeze for the much larger woman, but since her captivity Tynet was now skin and bone. She easily followed Adara.

They found themselves in an open, flat sandy area surrounded by smooth rock walls on all sides but open to the Great Mother Goddess above. The light of the full moon illuminated the white sand until it sparkled. A cursory inspection assured Adara that no serpents had taken up residence in the enclosed area. It was unlikely that they would since this spot had no ledges or dark places where a snake might hide.

When she was certain they were alone here, Adara spread their blanket on the ground and pulled Tynet down next to her. This was the first moment they'd had alone since the conclusion of the battle and its aftermath. They'd bathed and tended their wounds with all the other women.

In absolute love, Adara allowed her eyes to roam Tynet's face. All she wanted was to touch her Tynet, to honor and bless each angry scar, to soothe and relieve each fresh wound and somehow to reach inside and hold, gently, Tynet's battered spirit.

Slowly, oh so slowly, she traced the outline of her lover's plain broad face with her finger tips. She smiled at Tynet, who could never accept what a beautiful creature she was. Since childhood, Adara had only been able to see the sweet soul of her life companion. It distressed Adara now to see her mate, who'd always glowed with love and life, carrying so much pain that it dimmed that inner light. .

Struggling to find a way in, Adara looked gravely into Tynet's eyes feeling the pain she found there as her own. She leaned in, her soft mouth capturing the pliant lips of Tynet. The kiss was returned tentatively at first, but Adara nibbled and licked gently, but insistently letting her lover know through the soft kisses that she was loved completely.

Returning the kiss, Tynet longed for nothing so much as to be lost in the warmth of Adara's love. Even as she opened her mouth in invitation to Adara to enter, Tynet's mind gave her no peace. What are you doing kissing her? You're not even human… you're incapable of feeling love anymore. She knew it as truth and the thoughts crushed her and tears, held at bay since their reunion, overflowed her eyes.

Lost in the sensation of her tongue caressing Tynet's, Adara was surprised to note a distinctly salty taste. Pulling back she saw her lover's face bathed in tears that ran in rivulets down her cheeks and into the corners of her mouth.

Adara looked deep into twin dark pools of endless misery and her heart broke, "Ohhh, Tynet, oh my love. Come 'ere."

Like a damn bursting, the tears poured out, unabated they flowed down Tynet's dark face. Drowning in a never ending river of agonized grief, she cried out. "Arh…" Tynet tried to speak, but the grief stricken woman choked on her words, "Ahhh, I… I… ahhh…" Each attempt at speech was strangled by another sobbing gasp for breath.

Helpless against the onslaught, Adara pulled her lover tighter against her breast and crooned meaningless words of solace.

"It's all right my love, I'm right here… I'll never leave you… you're all right now… I love you so… let it out… I'm here, let it all out now."

Tynet took refuge in Adara's arms. With her head on her mate's lap, Tynet pulled her legs up like an infant and curled into herself seeking shelter from the unseen demons tormenting her. It was all she could do to breathe.

With Tynet coiled tightly into her self like a small helpless child, Adara leaned over and covered her treasured mate in an attempt to siphon away the agony racking her lover.

Gently, with infinite love, Adara smoothed the thick black hair back from Tynet's face and rubbed comforting circles on the convulsing muscular back.

"That's it my love, just let it out." Adara rocked the woman in her arms just as she had their children when they needed to be comforted. "Let it all come."

As she sobbed out her anguish, Tynet's mind stumbled into the blackest hell. Questioning her self-worth and right to be part of the human race, Tynet couldn't stop the doubts assailing her. She doesn't know what I've become? I'm a killer. What kind of a mother am I, who has killed and killed again and enjoyed it?


Her rage was all she'd had to fight back with. So she'd allowed it to rule her inner world. And now she couldn't find the way back. With each self-condemnation, she was driven further into despair and the sobbing continued and Adara held on to her, anchoring the bereft woman to life.


As with all things, tears and grief, eventually take a respite and finally after more than a half candle-mark, Tynet quieted. She lay limp and unresisting in the lap of her mate. The questions plaguing her spread like scattered leaves in her mind.

Soft lips on her wet forehead brought the large woman out of her silent reverie. Light fingers caressed and smoothed the tangled hair, damp with perspiration and tears. Together they sat bathed in silver moonlight listening to the night sounds.

Tynet's eyes were closed but it was evident she wasn't asleep. Continuing to stroke her head ever so gently, Adara finally broke the quiet with a question.

"Can you talk about it, my love?"

Dark eyes slowly opened and the big woman sniffed and sighed deeply before speaking. "I,… I don't… know… I..., I love you so much, Adara..."

Tynet's forehead was lined by the heaviness of her burden and more tears leaked from the sides of her dark eyes. Not the desperate agonizing deluge of earlier, but the quiet tears of loss of her innocence, of knowing what she was capable of doing in order to survive. How can I tell her? How can I not? We've always told each other our deepest secrets… but nothing like this. We've been like children all these years. We've never had anything but the purest of hearts. And now, now I'm an animal no better than the men I've killed.

Seeing her lover's struggle, Adara was filled with sympathy but she knew the only way back for them was to get it out in the open. Never stopping the path of her fingers, she stroked the troubled brow.

"Tynet, I will wait all night, however long it takes. You need to speak of it. In order to be free you need to talk to me."

"I love you Adara. I've missed you," Tynet began. Taking the hand that traced her brow, she kissed the palm and then held it close to her heart. "I never thought I'd see you…" That thought closed off her throat and she trailed off as fresh tears threatened.

"Just breathe, sweetheart… it's all right now… I'm right here… talk to me," Adara coaxed.

"I love you… you're my only hope and … still… I don't know if I… if … if… I don't even know where to start." Struggling, Tynet faltered through her brief declaration. Her chest ached and felt tight from the intense sobbing.

"Just start… start anywhere. I love you completely," Adara said and then she waited for Tynet. She resolved to let the story come as it would with minimal interruptions.

Sighing deeply again, Tynet knew it as truth. This woman cradling her head loved her without condition and she could unburden herself if she chose. All their lives it was the greatest gift they'd offered each other, a place of acceptance where they could speak and know they would be loved despite everything.

"Adara, I feel so dirty. I killed so many men." Tynet paused after her simple pronouncement.

Adara waited, but when it appeared there was nothing more forth coming, she said,

"You did what you had to do my love... Tell me why you feel dirty."

Tynet stared straight up into the light of the moon. Again, the big woman was silent for so long, Adara began to wonder if she would speak again.

"I didn't have to enjoy it," Tynet finally whispered, the shame was just below the surface. She swallowed hard, waiting for Adara's verdict.

"Ahhh…" Adara continued to stroke the damp hair and forehead, healing with her touch. She understood a bit of what was happening here. It was normal. Tynet was no natural born killer. In fact, Tynet had never taken a human life before this. Their tribe had known a peaceful existence. Of course they all had some skill with a weapon and several of her tribe knew more than one weapon. Tynet had always been athletic and had won many sparing contests over the years. She was an accomplished hunter of animals, but she'd never killed a human before. No wonder her soul is in tatters… Adara planted a soft kiss on her lover's brow.

"I am your other half and you are mine. Let's face this together."

Once again, they sat alone listening to the night sounds. Adara determined she would wait as long as it took. She continued her soothing strokes and waited.

Finally, Tynet began. Her voice cracking and her speech halting, she stammered, stopped and restarted until she'd relayed the worst of her inner torment.

"I… I… I wanted to hurt them, to kill them for all they took from us… and I, I didn't know if you'd made it to safety and so I wanted to kill them for your death and for the deaths of our babies… I hated them so much… I didn't know I could hate like that… and…and… and I… I felt guilty to be alive when you had died," she sobbed.

Tears leaked from Adara's eyes at the revelation. She'd known her own guilt at having survived the holocaust, but was just coming to realize that Tynet had suffered the same agony without any comfort. Adara had made it to her family and her Amazon sisters had rallied to her aid.

"I'm so sorry. After I thought I saw them kill you, we ran. If I'd known, maybe…"

Since that fateful night, Tynet's memories had been foggy. Bits and pieces had come, and the others talking had brought many of the events back. Now in an overwhelming rush the rest came pouring in. Like a deluge, images and emotions hit her with great force. Her lover's voice and arms held her safely even as the force of Tynet's rage pummeled her. Then her feelings and memories poured out in a rush.

"You did the right thing; it's what I wanted for you … I barely had time to ask the goddess to help you… we were in the fight of our lives. After you and the children ran, I saw Hafsa and Isaura and a few others making a stand… I ran to them and we fought side by side… there were so many of them and so few of us … they were animals! I wanted them all to die in agony for what they did…" biting her lip Tynet paused as the vivid memories came flooding back to her. She swallowed convulsively.

Adara continued stroking Tynet's hair, but didn't speak. Tynet had to do this. Adara watched and waited forcing herself to allow Tynet find the way back.

After a few minutes of silence, during which time, the pain of those memories etched themselves into her soul; Tynet continued to unburden her heart. She related the events of that night in vivid detail as if she was reliving it.

"Oh goddess, Hafsa is down… five soldiers against one woman; her blood coats my boots like a red river. It doesn't look real. They're forcing us into a tight ring; only fourteen still live. We're all fighting, but my mind is going crazy… how can I be fighting for my life and still be planning the future? I know the sisters who would not survive captivity. I know it as I swing my sword, feeling its bite into flesh and hoping the pain is unbearable for them… I just want to take some of them to the under-world with us before we all die…"

Tynet stopped, her breath coming in huge gulps as she tried to release her anger and her horror of that night. Finally, emitting a huge sigh, she picked up the story again. Clearly, the vivid recall had released its hold on her and she spoke more dispassionately.

"Sadly I was right, the two I thought wouldn't make it, died later in the camp… there was little food, dirty water, abuse and ridicule a daily occurrence… we were forced to live like animals out in the open under the desert sun…" she paused and then continued. "It was bad; many didn't want to live without their mates… I could understand it."

Adara tried hard not to blanch at the description of the horrors the women had endured. She'd already heard of Tynet's exploits in the ring, fighting every week against impossible odds to save the women. Now she needed her lover to share the cost to her soul for doing this. She knew without doubt this was the path to redemption for Tynet.

Keeping her face impassive, she encouraged her lover to continue. "You're doing fine, my love… tell me what haunts you now."

Her voice completely devoid of emotion, Tynet told of being knocked senseless only to have Isaura and some of the others help her to her feet. She spoke impassively of the pounding in her head as they were forced marched to a temporary camp, of meeting the desert women and the confrontation with the general that first night.

"I worried for the young ones. To be sent to lay with men before they are prepared… I couldn't accept it, so I… I wanted to offer myself… but who'd have me…" she ended that statement with a rueful laugh.

"Me." Adara offered with a small smile of encouragement.

"You are my refuge Adara…" Tynet said, too filled with emotion to say more.

Adara ran soft fingers over her lover's forehead and encouraged Tynet to continue.

Tynet's eyes took on the far away look of one remembering from a distance something too heinous to relive in the current moment, but she knew she must. Impassively she told of the first fight against their best warrior, how she'd used surprise and all her strength to crush his windpipe and bring him to his knees. She wanted to save Adara from hearing this.

"It's not pretty."

Adara was adamant. "I don't care. I will have you back and this is the way. Tell me."

Swallowing around the hard lump in her throat, Tynet continued. "I looked at this dying man, and he looked at me with eyes pleading for mercy… for me to spare him and I… I knew only hatred. I picked up his sword and I felt powerful and I… I fed on the fear I saw written in his face. I pushed the sword tip against his breast plate and felt the leather give. I watched the terror climb up his skin, smelled his bowels release and felt triumph…" Tynet paused and glanced at Adara. The golden eyes of her lover were fixed on her. She saw only love in them. Well, this will kill that my love, she thought before finishing her indictment.

"When I plunged the blade deep into his body, it was thrilling. I enjoyed killing him; it felt, oh goddess, I felt good. I watched him pitch forward into the dirt and I thought him less than human, of less value than animal dung which at least is used to fertilize our fields." She stopped, looked hard into Adara's eyes expecting to see the condemnation she felt she deserved. When she didn't she continued, "I have so much shame."

Adara had carefully schooled her face into an impassive mask. Yes, she was sickened at the detailed description, but more, she knew it was that very anger that had kept Tynet alive. She needed for her to understand that. Carefully, she chose her words.

"My love, I haven't heard anything to change my love for you. Your rage was a gift from the goddess. Don't you see? If you hadn't, you'd have been defeated and the women taken and used by those men. As hard as it is to believe right now, you did what was needed. Those soldiers were mercenaries. They made a choice to follow a monster and they paid with their lives."

"I didn't have to relish it. Week after week, I didn't have to let it feel so good." Her words were no more than a whisper and Tynet swallowed hard, her mouth dry from the effort of speaking.

Little escaped Adara's notice where Tynet was concerned. She reached for the water skin and helped her mate relieve her parched throat. And then Adara took up her rebuttal.

"Yes, you did, you had to be strong and if feeling good about what you had to do was the way, then so be it. It was the only way you could have won."

"I don't know, Adara. I don't know anything now."

"Tynet, look at me. Do you relish it now? Do you miss the feeling of killing?"

Tynet was quiet. Clearly, she was searching inside, trying to find the feeling of killing, trying to find the pleasure in it. After a while she knew that the feeling was gone. She answered as if surprised at the answer, "No."

"No. Because you are a human being, a wonderful human being, who will for the rest of her life have to live with this. But I promise you this, I will live proudly beside you knowing you've walked in the bowels of hell and returned to me, whole."

Tynet squeezed her mate's hand and smiled gratefully. There was one more revelation.

"Adara, there is more. The General… he came to me the night before the battle. He told me something my heart and mind would not believe… something so unbelievable and yet I knew when he said the words, he spoke the truth… and I felt sorrow for him."

Adara was more stunned by this statement than by any previous disclosure and spoke before thinking, "You had pity for the animal that did this to our people, our tribe? I don't believe it."

Tynet understood. She'd had nothing but contempt for the mastermind behind the horrors she'd endured. Adara needed to know what she knew.

"I know. I felt the same. I couldn't understand his utter loathing for us and I asked him, why do you hate us so much? And he told me his name. At first, I didn't recognize it… and he taunted me with it, Darin …

Adara looked confused, but kept her council as Tynet relived the events of that night…

"What's the matter, Amazon bitch, does the name, Darin, mean nothing to you?" the general spoke in a harsh whisper so low that no one else could hear.


Confusion was written in her eyes as she struggled to recall, 'yes the name is familiar, but why?'

"Why am I not surprised? Of course you will know the name, Carine." He watched her dispassionately as the realization slowly awakened in her consciousness. Seeing the recognition written on her face, his anger and hatred flared with a vengeance. In a hushed voice, reeking of loathing, he spat out his indictment against women everywhere, but especially the Amazons.


"So you do remember! Of course, the Amazons will remember the women of their tribe. After all, my mother was the queen's sister. But the boys, the sons are discarded like so much rubbish, given to brutal fathers at an age they cannot hope to protect themselves, no thought given to their fate. Their mothers couldn't care less that they might be sold to the Persians, sold into servitude and slavery, used like a woman by cruel men with big cocks and small brains."


As the general's invective spewed out of him, Tynet was staggered by his words and stepped back. She was sickened and grieved. Of course, she remembered. She was only five summers when Carine and Darin rode out of the camp together. There had been tears in Carine's dark eyes, while Darin had looked bewildered. Tynet recalled many of the older children running alongside the horses yelling their goodbyes to the boy. He'd had friends among the youngsters. Although Tynet was too young to have been one of them, she remembered that day.


Then she understood the agony of what that boy had suffered and what had brought him to this place of hate and fear. Now it was easier to see how the seductive promises of revenge from the dark god would appeal to this man's shattered soul. She understood and compassion filled her. All the abuse and death fell away in her desire to comfort him, comfort the boy still within this man. Instinctively and unconsciously, she'd reached out and touched his shoulder, saying, "I am sorry. I didn't know. I'm so very sorry."


Angrily he pulled away from her touch as if it had scorched his very skin, grabbing her hand he threw it away from him. "Don't touch me you filthy excuse for a woman. I don't need the pity of an Amazon whore," he raged at her. "Tomorrow night I'll enjoy every moment you have to spend with my men. Then, I'll watch you die. I will curse you to the bottom of Hell… you and every vile perverted Amazon!" and then he stormed off toward his tent.




Adara was as staggered as Tynet had been two nights ago. She could barely think let alone speak. Darin was the nephew to our queen… by the goddess. The revelations tumbled through Adara. She tried to make sense of it all and couldn't, but she knew they had not been responsible. Now, she spoke to her lover.


"Tynet, we were children. I don't even remember the day he was sent away. I only know the stories that are told and from that I knew we wanted daughters. It is neither your fault nor mine. It is the law of our people for longer than anyone remembers. If it's a bad law then it can be changed, but you and I have done nothing wrong. Do you hear me? We've done nothing wrong."


"I hear you my love; yes, I hear you. The waste, the death, the terrible pain suffered by everyone involved, that is what wounds me; that is what fills me with sorrow and pulls the air from my lungs."


Adara pulled Tynet up and into her embrace and they held onto each other, rocking back and forth allowing the emotions they felt to first fill them and then release into the desert night. They cried silently in each other's arms as their tears washed them clean at last.


It was Adara who finally spoke.


"Tynet, it's tragic, beyond tragic, that one wounded child could cause such destruction. Maybe he would have turned into a madman anyway. I don't know. Maybe if he'd stayed with us it would have been different. One day, maybe it will be different, maybe this horror will bring about the changes needed. I just don't know. The world doesn't seem able to change without being shaken awake."


Tynet was quiet digesting her mate's words. Adara stopped and breathed for a few moments before continuing. "But now, you and I must go on and rebuild. And we will. We'll rebuild our lives and our tribe with our children and our love. We'll do it together as we always have."


Tynet pulled back and looked deeply into Adara's golden eyes. She saw no judgment, only understanding and infinite love. I pray you are right, she thought.


"Thank you. I bless the goddess every day for you," Tynet said.


Now it was Adara's turn to release some of her painful memories into the certainty of Tynet's love.


"All that has gone before has led us here. I couldn't accept that you were gone. Even when I saw them strike you down, my heart wouldn't let me believe it. I held the hope of your return until we came to the destruction of our village; then I believed and I let my rage shield me for what we needed to do." Adara hoped Tynet could see the similarities and the need for anger sometimes.


"Adara, I would have done anything to spare you and our children this nightmare."


"As I would have spared you," Adara said, her eyes brimming with overwhelming love.


"We've been through so much. The things that happened have changed us. How do we find what we've lost?" Tynet asked, her voice tired and defeated.


When Adara spoke again it was wistfully, with the realization that yes, they'd changed, but that they were stronger too. She carefully chose her words.


"The goddess has returned you to me. I don't know if our lives will be the same. I don't see how they can be, but I believe we can heal, together."


Almost afraid to allow herself to believe that their lives could be returned to them whole, Tynet didn't reply at first. She lay down again with her head in Adara's lap looking at the immense sky and millions of stars and the moon-goddess in the middle of it all. "Do you think it's possible?"


Softly stroking Tynet's forehead and hair, Adara replied, "Yes, I do. As long as I have you, I know anything is possible."


Then Adara began to softly hum the tune of a song so ancient, and in a language so old, that no one knew the exact meaning of the words. It had been handed down by the founding matriarchs of the Amazon nation. The sounds were primal, soft and round like a woman's body and they were passionate and full like a woman's life.


Known as "The Path of Beauty", it had always been lovingly chanted by women for women at the most sacred of times of life. The hallowed sounds blessed women's lives and women's passages. The song sanctified a woman in every age, following her and honoring her from birth to funeral pyre. It had the power to heal great sorrow just as it celebrated the special beauty of a woman's life. In ways that no one understood, intoning the mantra was known to caress a woman's inner spirit and bring wholeness.


In her clear, perfect pitch, Adara began to sing the ancient chant. The full rich sounds of her voice caressed them both. It was like being wrapped in soft furs, as the magic of her voice surrounded the two women.


Yohhh; Oh, Gawnee, Yoh-nay…

Whey-he Yaw-nee-whey

Oh Gawnee-nay

Whey-he Yaw-nee-whey

Gaia, now-he-way-ya


She held each note until it loosed itself on her breath. Adara's soothing voice floated on the evening air as she slowly and repeatedly formed the sounds, serenading them.


Way-dah-hey-ho; Way-yah-he

Oh Gawnee-nay

Way-he Yaw-nee whey

Gaia, now-he-way-ya


Again and again, she intoned the hypnotic chant, letting its magic fill them. Adara sang, repeating the simple mantra, until finally the mysterious sounds moved within them and set them free. Singing and stroking Tynet's hair, Adara watched her lover's face.


Tynet sighed and surrendered to the music. As she relaxed, the worry lines smoothed and her breathing became even.


As the last of the notes faded away, Adara happily saw that her lover was breathing calmly and a peaceful look had replaced the one of despair that Tynet had worn.


"Thank you," Tynet said softly into the silence. Even the sounds of the celebration back in the camp had quieted as though they too had heard the comforting healing sounds.


Adara simply smiled with infinite tenderness and said, "My love," as she bent down and lightly brushed her lips over Tynet's bruised forehead. She was mildly surprised when Tynet's hand wrapped in her hair and guided her mouth to Tynet's swollen lips.


The kiss was sweet and soft and filled with longing. Tynet deepened the contact using her tongue to caress and explore Adara's lips, mouth, and tongue and she groaned as desire began to awaken in her.


Adara wanted very much to make love with her precious mate, but feared, with the injuries, the pain would outweigh the good. She gently touched her lover's battered face. Tynet's eyes bored into hers with undisguised need.


"My love, are you sure?" Adara said in a whisper, "I don't want to hurt you."


"You could never hurt me," Tynet replied, but her eyes were clouded with uncertainty and still unshed tears glittered in them. She swallowed hard averting her face; never had she felt so needy or so vulnerable.


Adara felt Tynet's insecurity like a sharp pain in her own heart. Gently, she pulled her lover's face back to hers.


"I love you so much," Adara said in the softest of whispers.


"Adara, I… I need," Tynet stammered her voice choked with emotion, and her eyes misted over.


"What, my love? What do you need?" Adara leaned close capturing Tynet's eyes. She saw fear. "I would give you anything," she said, the promise coming from the depths of her soul.


"You," Tynet answered simply. "I need to love you. Please…" With her eyes pleading for understanding, Tynet fell silent.


For over a month, Tynet had been held captive, her every move monitored. She'd had no say in any aspect of her life and now despite the horrors she'd endured, she needed to feel alive, needed to be held, and need to love and be loved.


Instinctively, Adara understood those needs and as all-encompassing love flowed through her, she admitted that she needed this too. "Yes, my love and I need you," she whispered.


Adara loosened her braided hair and ran her fingers through the tangles, letting the thick, heavy tresses hang free. She was a vision and Tynet sat up slowly, as though in a trance.


Her smoldering eyes never leaving Tynet's, Adara pulled her robes over her head.


The thick hair settled in heavy waves, down Adara's back and over her shoulders accentuating her beauty. Filled with awe, Tynet drank in the vision before her, the flaring of Adara's full hips, the delicate curve of her neck, and the soft, round breasts begging to be tasted. Naked in the moonlight, Adara's skin glowed and she smiled in invitation at her lover of many years.


Swallowing around the lump in her throat, Tynet looked with absolute love at the woman who held her very soul. As if a banquet of gourmet delicacies had been placed before a starving woman, Tynet's need to consume her beautiful mate was nearly overpowering and yet, Adara's absolute trust in her held the hunger in check.


Using just her index finger to outline the shape of Adara's breast, Tynet paid homage. They aren't quite as full since her milk is gone now. Tynet felt a small pang of regret for the time they'd lost. Lightly tracing the small stretch marks near the darkened nipples, Tynet let her love reach out to caress Adara's pure heart and she fixed her dark eyes on Adara's golden ones returning Adara's smile.


Adara spoke in a low and husky voice. "My love, let me see you too."


With her hand frozen in mid-air, Tynet hesitated, not moving and barely breathing. She wore the marks of a month of hellish punishment, her face bruised and puffy and her body covered in scars. Adara had already seen the damage, but Tynet knew that her mate had been in her healer persona then. Even as Adara had worked impassively, Tynet saw the anguish in her hearth-mate's eyes as she had stitched and applied the healing ointments.


Now, for the first time since that horrible night, they were together as lovers and Tynet was unable to bear the thought that Adara might reject her. Incapable of meeting Adara's eyes, Tynet hung her head in fear. "I'm afraid," she said in a barely audible voice.


Adara reached out with long slender fingers raising Tynet's chin and cupping her cheek. Using her thumb, Adara, tenderly touched Tynet's bruised lips as she spoke in a whisper, "Don't you know, when I look at you, I see the face of the goddess?"


Stone by stone, the fortress Tynet had painstakingly built to protect herself in captivity began to crumble under the force of Adara's unconditional love. Her heart brimming with love, Tynet leaned in to the caress, and she tenderly kissed the palm of the woman who meant more to her than life.


With her lover only inches away, Tynet rose up on her knees and watched Adara for any sign of revulsion, as she removed her garment, the last physical barrier between them. Completely nude and her stomach clinching in fear, Tynet felt more naked than when she'd fought in the ring.


Anguish tore at Adara's insides to see her lover so vulnerable and so uncertain. Showing none of the rage she felt towards the monsters who'd done this, Adara dispassionately scanned her lover's body. Lines of intersecting scars lay across Tynet's skin like tangled pieces of rope. Angry red stripes crisscrossed Tynet's shoulders attesting that she'd been lashed. Adara smoothed each injury with a feather light touch. Following her finger's path, she kissed the scars she could reach, on abdomen, chest, and neck, blessing them and healing with the strength of her love. Adara raised her head to meet Tynet's frightened look and whispered, "You are so beautiful to me."


The iron-fisted grip in her stomach released and the lingering anxiety dissolved as relief flooded her. The beginnings of a smile formed on Tynet's lips transforming her features. Freed by Adara's declaration, the two women came together in the sweetest of kisses, lips brushing softly, reverently, worshipping the beauty within each other. This was benediction, this was salvation, and this was redemption.


With lips parted and bodies pressed close, they deepened the kiss and lovingly touched each other, delighting in the way their bodies fit perfectly together. The sensations of belly soft against belly and pliant breasts and hard nipples brushing against each other's delicate flesh awakened their ardor. They tightened their embrace and savored the first pleasurable tingling in their centers as their desire began to build.


They slowly pulled back from the kiss, and sighing with gratitude, the two women looked at each other with infinite love. Adara's golden eyes had darkened, the pupils dilated into twin black moons surrounded by golden halos giving them the effect of the dark land awakening to a new day. My sunrise eyes, this is the beginning of our new day. A soft glow spread through Tynet's chest and down into her belly.


The two women gazed lovingly into each other’s eyes. Then Adara broke the spell, pulling Tynet to her. As the big woman leaned in, she couldn't contain the tender emotions unfolding like the petals of a flower inside her, and whispered against Adara's lips, "I love you so much."


Tynet groaned into Adara's mouth receiving an echoing reply from deep within Adara as their kiss grew in intensity. Adara's breathing quickened and her passion rapidly soared, the wetness flowing to her center proclaiming her desire for the wonderful woman she held in her arms.


The exquisite, silky feel of Adara's skin on Tynet's rough hands was a wonderful contrast to what had been her life in captivity. As the sensations washed over Tynet, negating the harsh ugliness of that horrible time, a deep desire to take her lover to the heights of pleasure filled Tynet.


Wrapping her arms around her beloved mate, Tynet ran her palms down Adara's spine and over her hips to cup her buttocks. Lifting and opening Adara, Tynet slid her fingers into the cleft between her lover's thighs, through the wetness pooled there, reaching as far as she could just grazing the center of Adara's need.


Adara groaned and pressed back against her lover's hands, and her center came alive with tingling excitement and she craved more and deeper contact. Spreading her knees further apart, she strained to feel more than the light teasing touch. Oh Goddess, more. Adara had missed this, missed being loved by Tynet. She had accepted Tynet's death, accepted that they'd never be together this way again and now that they were, her arousal began to consume her.


Reluctantly they were forced to break off the kiss to breathe, but Tynet brushed her lips across Adara's cheek to her ear and Adara turned to give those lips easier access. As Tynet nibbled at Adara's earlobe and sucked it inside the warmth of her mouth insistent pulses thrummed between Adara's thighs. Adara moaned again in her desire, as Tynet removed her hands from Adara's slick center and began to caress Adara's buttocks and lower back stroking the downy skin.


Adara groaned in protest at the loss of Tynet's light touch her between her legs, but Tynet silenced her lover with another smoldering kiss, distracting Adara with her tongue moving sensually in the younger woman's mouth.


Tynet couldn't get enough of looking at her lover and pulled back from the kiss capturing Adara's golden eyes, and saw naked desire and unconditional love in the unfocused gaze. Tynet's heart swelled and her center burned knowing that love was for her alone.


Tynet encircled Adara's waist with her palms re-imprinting the size of her lover's body in her memory. The softness of Adara's skin, and her firm flesh beneath Tynet's hands, filled Tynet's soul, like water after a drought, she drank up the sweet sensations of merely touching Adara. Sliding her hands upward, over Adara's ribs, Tynet cupped the full, breasts reveling in the feel of them. She moved her thumb over one nipple and delighted when the flesh puckered responding to her touch her own nipples hardening in empathy.


Letting her head fall back, Adara arched into Tynet's touch craving more. Lightening bolts of pleasure sped from her nipples to her core as Tynet rolled the sensitive flesh between her fingers.


With her head thrown back in ecstasy and her lips parted, Adara looked like a goddess under the silvery moonlight and Tynet was held spellbound by the ethereal sight. "You are so beautiful," Tynet whispered in awe before lowering her head to pay homage to her lover's breasts. Tynet's center pulsed with need, as she worshipped Adara with her lips and hands.


Pulling back once again, Tynet sensuously trailed her fingers down Adara's ribs over the gentle rise of her belly. Adara shuddered and opened to receiver her lover's fingers as they brushed through Adara's dark thatch glistening with wet desire and into the warm creamy center.


As Tynet's fingers found their target, a surge of pleasure ripped through Adara's core and her legs weakened. Clutching Tynet's shoulders, Adara tried to hold herself upright. Tynet's very soul was moved by Adara's complete trust in her and she tenderly lowered Adara to their blanket following her down.


Adara lay supine, with Tynet next to her stroking through Adara's wet folds, caressing the sensitive flesh. Adara groaned in the back of her throat, lost in the sensations controlling her body as Tynet slowly slid two fingers inside her. Adara lifted her hips to take Tynet deeper inside and Tynet's ardor exploded, her sex pulsing in concert as Adara rocked rhythmically against her hand.


Adara's response to Tynet's tender loving was a healing balm to Tynet's battered psyche. The simple act of loving this beautiful woman restored Tynet's self-esteem as the feelings of shame and impotence fell away.


The desire written on Adara's face, and the longing in her moans, told Tynet her lover was fast reaching for the pinnacle, but Tynet wanted to make this last as long as possible for Adara's sake and for her own. A fearful voice inside reminded her of Solstice night and told Tynet this might be their only time together. Slowly, Tynet withdrew her fingers and moved her hand upward lightly massaging Adara's stomach without losing contact with her lover's sensitive flesh.


Adara's body was on sensory overload, abundant juices coating her inner thighs and her body pulsing with need. Her desire was so great, Adara was nearly delirious, but her mate's constant change of pace left Adara feeling off balance and more than a little frustrated. Her heart racing and her breath coming in gulps, Adara insistently pulled Tynet onto her. "Please," she begged as she pumped her aching center against Tynet's body.


Tynet relented a bit and lovingly fitted her body to Adara's. Moving in tandem with her lover, she kissed the smooth skin at Adara's throat and pulled the soft tissue into her mouth. Panting, Adara turned her head to allow greater access and continued to push against her lover seeking the ultimate relief. The wonderful sensation of Tynet suckling at her throat was echoed in Adara's center and her juices ran between her buttocks. Tynet released the soft flesh at Adara's throat leaving a round purpling bruise and spoke into Adara's ear. "I love you Adara. I can't tell you how much," she whispered.


A sweet musky scent filled air. Mingling with the subtle bouquet from the tamarisk flowers that they'd bathed in, the powerful fragrances lifted them and their fervor knew no bounds.


Adara reached for Tynet, positioning her lover so she could look into her eyes. Speaking was becoming next to impossible for Adara, but she tried, appealing to Tynet for understanding. "I love you. Please, please … let me show you how much."


Then a very determined Adara initiated a searing kiss. She buried her fingers deep in Tynet's thick hair and pulled Tynet's mouth down to her waiting lips as she pushed her thigh between Tynet's legs.


As she kissed the woman who held her heart, Adara worked her hands gently over her lover's head and down to her neck, smoothing Tynet's skin, stroking the injured flesh, Adara's love like a healing salve. Goddess, Tynet, how I love you… how I love just touching you. The loving thoughts floated through her consciousness while she kissed and touched and breathed her lover in.


The sensation of Adara’s hands moving through her hair and Adara's leg between her thighs sent heavenly shivers pulsing through Tynet's center and she found her ardor flaring in concert with Adara's need. The burning ache in her core grew into an insistent need and Tynet clamped her legs around Adara's thigh. She bore down, relishing the pressure, the movement sending her fervor soaring.


Tynet was in conflict; while her body was demanding release, she wanted their lovemaking to last longer. As they moved ever closer to cresting, Tynet made a Herculean effort to slow them down, and she pulled back, slowed, and then stopped her movements.


Adara groaned in frustration. "Are you trying to kill me?" she panted, thinking she couldn't stand much more foreplay; she needed release.


Slick with sweat and love's juices, Tynet stammered, "… need to go slow…"


Adara was beyond going slow, and her center burned with desire, but she looked at her lover searching for the hidden meaning to Tynet's words. In Tynet's eyes she saw the fear just below the surface that was telling Tynet that this might be taken away from them and it almost broke Adara's heart. "My Love, we have forever. Will you trust me?"


Tynet's love expanded until it no longer fit inside her body, and the immensity of it prevented her from speaking. Trusting Adara was a given and Adara's words were all it took for Tynet to surrender to her lover's care. Tynet could only nod, yes.


Returning the unconditional love she saw in Tynet's eyes, Adara smiled, and pulled her lover down for another kiss as she gently turned them so that she was on top now. She kissed her way down Tynet's chin and over her throat to the hollow at the base of her lover's throat. Adara licked the moisture pooled there and savored the scents and flavors that were distinctly Tynet's. Simple pleasures, she thought, could I have ever taken this for granted?


Pushing Tynet's breasts together, Adara buried her face between them and using her knee, she parted Tynet's legs sliding between them. Breathing in and luxuriating in the softness of Tynet's bosom, Adara paid homage to the love of her life. Adara ignored her own burning center as she brushed her lips lightly against the rise of Tynet's breast and focused on Tynet's pleasure.


Once Tynet had relinquished control, everything intensified. Even the light tickling of Adara's hair on Tynet's naked skin sent shivers of pleasure pulsing to her sex. Freed by Adara's love Tynet delighted in Adara's touch and pushed into the source of her pleasure, reveling in the deep waves of sexual pleasure pounding through her.


Adara continued moving down Tynet's body, tasting the salty skin on Tynet's flat belly, and finally nuzzling the soft hairs between her lover's legs. In near bliss, Adara breathed in the musky scent of Tynet's essence and settled between her lover's legs. Adara's throbbing center pounded with need as she suckled Tynet's swollen labia savoring her lover's taste on her tongue.


Tynet's panting gasps and questing hips drove Adara's ardor and she held Tynet's thighs steadying her as she pulled the pulsing clitoris between her lips, lightly stroking the swollen nub with her tongue, suckling it as pleasure coursed through her own center.


The effect was immediate; Tynet groaned loudly and she sat up as her passion surged out of control. Desperately Tynet reached for her lover, pulling Adara away from her pulsating sex, forcing eye contact. Struggling to speak, Tynet swallowed before trying to voice her need. "Please, together; I want it to be together," she pleaded as she drew Adara upward.


Adara understood. It was what she wanted too, for them to share their release. With her dark eyes holding Adara's, Tynet spread her legs fully. Adara rose up balancing on one arm and, acknowledging Tynet's desire, she opened and positioned them so that her clitoris was kissing Tynet's pulsing bud and pressed down firmly. Tynet answered Adara's movement by pressing back into her, the action sending an intense thrumming pleasure through both women.


"Oh Goddess, don't stop," Adara gasped, almost ready to explode, as she pushed back into Tynet's throbbing center.


They moved their hips in steady, rhythmic, strokes, pressing forward to meet each other, finding their pace, while gliding smoothly together on the abundant fluids. Their cores burned and exquisite pleasure surged through them each time their clitorises slid together.


They rocked urgently, the unspent energy coiling inside them, pushing their excitement to unbearable levels.


Suddenly, Adara stopped, bore down hard, and hung suspended in that exquisite state between thought and existence. In next moment, the wave crested and broke and Adara cried out, "Godddesssss!" her orgasm taking her in racking spasms.


It was all the impetus Tynet needed and her own release seized her with equal force. The muscles in her thighs tensed and then she convulsed driving her hips upward into Adara's pulsating center. Tightening her arms around Adara, Tynet's voice joined her lover's as she screamed her ecstasy, "Adaraaaaa…"


Together, they rode the tidal wave of pleasure, their bodies rigid as their mutual orgasms coursed through them.


Finally, spent, exhausted, and limp, Adara lowered her body slowly, and lay down on Tynet's chest, her head nestled in the crook of Tynet's neck. Still pressed firmly against her lover's warm moist center, Adara enjoyed the ever-diminishing pulses as the last of their release died away. Like the tiny circles in a pond after a rock is dropped into quiet waters, eventually the waves subside and there is peace.


Adara breathed deeply of this peace, filled with unspeakable love for the woman who cradled her body. She turned her head and kissed Tynet's chin gently: a butterfly's wings couldn't have been more delicate.


With just her fingertips, Tynet raised Adara's face and gazed at her beloved mate. Tynet's love was written in her dark eyes.


"I love you forever," Adara whispered.


The words caressed Tynet's very soul and it was her soul that replied, "I love you more."


Her Tynet was back. Joyful tears brimmed in her eyes and Adara smiled, touching Tynet's cheek. "Welcome home," she whispered.


Those were the last words spoken that night as Tynet pulled the blanket over them and they slept in peace, together at last, under the watchful eye of their goddess.




Chapter 31 - Mother Child Reunion

** Persian Desert - morning after Amazon Victory celebration**

Something sharp poked Gabrielle in the back, causing her to squirm and turn over to get more comfortable. She reached out to pull Xena close, but the lack of a warm warrior to cuddle against brought the queen slowly towards the surface of wakefulness. Oh Xena, the war is over, can't we sleep in for once, she groused in her semi-conscious state.

Her hand touched the blanket where Xena had lain; the warmth of the spot told her that Xena had only just left her. Gabrielle heard the sharp crack of wood being broken and the slap of more pieces clattering as they landed in the fire pit. When the smell of wood smoke reached Gabrielle, she knew she had only a few precious minutes before Xena would come roust her out of her warm nest.

Gabrielle never would have guessed that the heinously hot daytime desert could get so cool overnight. On chilly mornings like this, she despised leaving her warm bedroll. As she lay pondering the idiosyncrasies of nature, a delicious ache between her thighs reminded her of the most wonderfully vivid dream she'd had during the night.

Involuntarily, she blushed as she recalled the graphic imagery.


She and Xena had been camped by a gently flowing stream; the fire crackled, burning brightly, serenading them after their simple rabbit-stew dinner. The rich golden light bathed Xena as she sharpened her sword and the bard stopped scribbling on her scroll to enjoy the sensuous feelings that watching Xena brought her.


Sensing that she was being observed, the warrior had raised her eyes, catching and holding Gabrielle's gaze.


An intense tingling began low in the bard's belly. Gabrielle felt like prey caught in the hypnotic stare of a serpent as Xena set her sword aside and without saying a word, moved around the fire, never losing eye contact with the object of her desire. Gabrielle's stomach clinched in sweet anticipation when Xena silently began stroking the bard's skin. Gabrielle's dream clothing seemed to fall away. In her trance state, she pressed forward, craving more of the warrior's touch against her sensitive flesh. Her desire was rewarded as persistent fingers and lips caressed her body everywhere and continuous, pleasurable pulses rushed to her center.


Gabrielle moaned softly as the relentless ache between her legs grew to an overpowering need. Hovering between sleep and wakefulness, Gabrielle had struggled to hold onto the dream. Then an unconscious decision made, she surrendered fully to the deep stroking and the enticing feelings, letting physical sensation blend with the dream landscape.


Gabrielle's dream world morphed into other images and sensations. Now she rocked rhythmically on an endless azure ocean, the blue water reminding her of Xena's eyes. Gabrielle leaned into her mighty warrior who piloted their craft and Xena smiled, positioning the younger woman in front of her as she continued to steer their vessel.


Moving her whole body against the bard, Xena rolled with the rhythm of the waves, using her powerful muscles to make complex maneuvers while navigating the treacherous waters.


Gabrielle rose up urgently to meet each compelling movement mimicking the rhythm of waves in the heavy seas. Time stood still and the boat hovered at the peak of a wave. She heard Xena's seductive voice calling her to safety, "come to me Gabrielle." The giant wave rolled Gabrielle helplessly over the railing and she cried out as she felt herself falling and then floating free through warm blue liquid.


Then Xena was there holding her close, capturing Gabrielle's lips in a smothering kiss, devouring the sounds that passed the bard's parted lips.


"Xena," Gabrielle breathed the word like a prayer, and Xena had replied, "Shhh, sleep my love. I'm happy." Nestling under her lover's chin, Gabrielle slipped fully into slumber.

As Gabrielle relived the pleasurable sensations, her reverie was interrupted by the scent of fresh mint-tea tantalizingly close to her. She opened green eyes to find Xena squatted down near her holding a steaming mug in her hands.

"Good morning, my bard. Sleep well?" Xena asked with a knowing smile on her lips. Gabrielle was the poet of her heart and it gave Xena great pleasure to make Gabrielle happy.

As the sleep-disheveled bard sat up to take the cup, the blanket slipped from her chest exposing her naked breasts to a chill morning breeze. Her nipples hardened immediately and Xena quipped, "Hmmm, cold?" and then planted a quick good morning kiss on Gabrielle's parted lips.

Gabrielle quickly grabbed the blanket to cover herself before replying. "You really did undress me in my sleep," she said incredulously as she covertly observed that the rest of the camp was beginning to stir.

Xena chuckled and handed Gabrielle the steaming cup before replying. "You're a sound sleeper, my love. You might want to get dressed though if you don't want everyone else to figure out what their queen was up to last night." Smiling broadly, Xena stood up and walked away, leaving a speechless bard staring after her.

Gabrielle shook her head as she watched her departing lover. Oh Xena, I love you so much. You more than make life interesting; you make it worthwhile. She took a sip of the fragrant drink before she began dressing.


Deep in the natural stone enclosure, the reunited lovers, Tynet and Adara, lay tangled together in sleep. Tynet woke first, not moving, simply enjoying the pleasure of holding Adara. As the dawn broke splashing gold and yellow streaks over the rocky cliffs, she breathed in the peace of early morning and sent a silent prayer of thanks to Anahita.

Soon Adara's breath changed from the rhythm of sleep to waking. Tynet looked down into golden eyes watching her.

"Good morning," Tynet whispered before lightly brushing Adara's lips in a sweet kiss.

When the greeting ended, Adara licked her lips savoring Tynet's taste. "Nice," Adara said, as she stretched her body against her lover's.

Tynet smiled and Adara inquired, "How did you sleep my love?"

"All right I guess, well mostly all right; I dreamed of Thaddea and Ursa," Tynet admitted.

"Tell me."

"Hmmm, not much to tell. It was as if they were real, not like dream children. I saw them standing before a tribal bonfire and I heard them praying to the goddess."

"Did you call to them? I thought I heard you talking in your sleep."

"I might have, but now I'm not sure. You know how dreams fade so quickly. I only know I miss them, Adara. I've missed our family."

Gently, Adara kissed her precious hearth-mate before pulling back. "I've missed us too. You can be proud of our children. Thaddea was so brave. She watched over Ursa during our escape west and never complained, never lost patience and never gave up hope that you were alive."

Tynet's heart was pierced with the knowledge of her daughter's maturity. "And what of our Ursa, how did she bear up?"

"Ursa followed her big sister around like a shadow. Some days, Ursa would cry and Thaddea would make up stories as we rode. There's a strong bond between the girls now that will always be there; something good that came out of this hardship."

There were tears in Tynet's eyes. "I'm so proud of all of you. You brought our children to safety and came back to help us. I love you so much, Adara. There're no words for what's in my heart."

"On the ride to Thrace, I'll tell you everything about our flight and you'll tell me of your captivity."

Tynet turned her head away. Sharing the hardship of that time was not something she relished doing. She wanted to spare Adara any more anguish, but Adara pulled Tynet's chin back to look deeply into the fearful dark eyes of her lover.

"Don't worry my love. It will be easier now and we'll do it a little at a time. When we're done, we'll both be free, I promise. Trust me?"

Hugging Adara close, Tynet whispered into her lover's hair. "Yes, I trust you always."

Adara's lips found Tynet's and they kissed again, a soft kiss of renewal and promise. When she pulled back, there was a mischievous smile on Adara's lips. "Besides, we'll have endless hours in the saddle to talk," she said as she rubbed her backside, "Believe me, I can attest to that."

"I can massage the soreness out each evening," Tynet playfully promised, but a lascivious grin plastered on her face belied her intent.

"Oh I just bet you'd love to do that. Well, I'm going to hold you to it once we're finally alone in our lodge," Adara bantered right back and her heart soared to have her playful mate reappear.

From the distance, the early morning sounds of the camp waking up reached them.

"Come on, my love; let's get back to the others. I'm anxious to get going. It's going to be a long trip with the wounded," Tynet said.

Untangling her arms and legs, Tynet rose first and looked around for their discarded clothing. Finding their desert robes, Tynet handed Adara hers.


As she did, she saw the adoring look of love pass across Adara's face, the fleeting moment capturing her heart and holding her motionless. "I love you like that too," she said, before donning her own garments.

Then they made their way back to camp weaving through the rocks with Tynet in the lead holding Adara's hand. Tynet remembered the way through the maze of rocks now. Her night with Adara had released her from the nightmare that had clouded her mind.

When they came through the rocks, they could smell food that sizzled over the cooking fire. The camp was in motion. Horses stamped their hooves as loads of supplies were hoisted onto the pack frames. Xena moved between the various groups overseeing the progress, checking gear and offering help where needed.

Adara spotted her mother, Isaura, holding council with Rida and two of the younger desert women who had decided to make a new life among the Amazons. Rida was speaking earnestly to the younger desert women as Isaura placed welcoming arms over their shoulders indicating she would fill the role as mentor to these new Amazons.

The queen was standing near the central fire holding a cup and talking with Ephiny and Pony. Pony looked up as Adara and Tynet walked into the camp. She said something to the others, nodded to the returning couple and moved towards Noalani and Solari who were packing equipment.

Xena waved good-naturedly to Tynet and Adara as she strode over to Kadar and Abbas who were speaking in low tones while their men completed the packing of the animals for the ride across the desert sands.

Their conversation was barely audible, but Xena's acute hearing picked up their words.

"I want to make the oasis before noon my brother," Abbas said, looking eastward into the ever lightening sky.

As soon as the sun crested the horizon, the temperature would begin to soar. He had much on his mind now, several injured and malnourished women to be considered as well as a large herd of horses to be moved. Much as he'd like to be back to their desert home by the following morning, he knew it was probably impossible with the condition of this group.

"If it takes us two or more days to cross the sands Abbas, so be it. We have precious cargo to return safely to our tents. My Ikram will be beyond joy to find her sister alive. I don't wish to spoil it by our haste."

"I wasn't thinking of haste Kadar. The women and animals can rest until nightfall at the oasis. If they're too ill to continue, we can camp there another day and leave the following night. I'm trying to consider all aspects my brother. We have little feed for the horses. We can't be on the trail too many days and we need to leave soon, before the sun gets any higher."

"Yes, yes my impatient brother. I have only a few goodbyes yet and then we can go. Surely we have time for the good manners that Allah expects of His people."

Abbas threw up his hands in defeat and then spotted Xena standing nearby. He acknowledged her presence with the tilt of his head.

Xena had remained respectfully a few feet away until the men saw her and then she moved closer.

"Sabah AlKair (Good morning) Kadar, Abbas," she said.

"Ah Xena, my warrior friend, Barakallah Fik (May Allah bless you)," Kadar returned the greeting.

Xena nodded in acceptance of the blessing. Having traveled widely, she understood convention and good manners.

She replied with the expected, "Kadar. We are ever in your debt; we can never repay you."

Kadar beamed broadly, "Nonsense. This glorious battle was truly a joining of brothers and sisters in arms, under the protection of Allah."

Looking around at the activity of the desert people, she noted that they were nearly all packed, the horses were being herded together to follow the riders once they were underway. "I see you're about ready to ride," she commented as a means of ascertaining the situation.

"Yes we must leave soon," Abbas interjected, reminding Kadar of the discussion they had just had. He turned to his brother. "I will see to the herd. I await your signal, Imam."

Kadar nodded in understanding. His brother's formality meant Abbas would not engage in further debate; it was time to go. As Abbas strode away, Kadar returned his attention to Xena.

"In the desert, it is always best to be in a protected place well before the sun reaches its zenith. In truth, we should have been gone by now. But I wanted to say goodbye to our Amazon sisters. What of your plans, my friend?"

"We're going to head into the mountains as soon as everyone has eaten and packed up. We should be off the desert in a few candle-marks."

Automatically, they looked eastward where the sun would soon crest the horizon.

After the battle, they'd scoured the red army's encampment for usable supplies and now had enough to outfit the two groups for a few days.

Xena's group had much further to go with some badly wounded women who would require rest and good food in order to heal.

"If there is anything further, any additional supplies you need, you have only to ask," Kadar offered.

"Thank you Kadar. We have access to some remaining supplies in Tynet and Adara's old village. Turns out their winter stores were not discovered by the red army."

Kadar considered this. "If you think it will be enough my friend."

"We've got good hunters riding with us and there's plenty of game this time of year. It'll be slow going but we'll be fine."

As they spoke, Alim, Kadar's trusted advisor, rode up with the chieftain's stallion in tow. "We are ready Imam."

Clapping a hand on Xena's shoulder, Kadar nodded, knowing he'd stalled long enough. "Then I will say my good-bye and we will take our leave." He turned toward the central fire-pit where Adara and Tynet had just arrived and now stood with several other women.

It was Adara who saw him first, and she moved quickly. Completely ignoring all protocol, she hurried over to the desert sheik and threw herself into Kadar's arms. "Thank you Imam. I will miss you."

She had spoken without guile, and Kadar was so deeply touched that tears unbidden leapt to his eyes. He blinked rapidly to dry the wetness before anyone might notice the chieftain’s emotion so near the surface. It wouldn’t do for his men to see him cry, or so he believed.

"Ibna (daughter), you are dear to me, like one of my own children,” he whispered in her ear. “We will see you again in good-times dear child. Once again, the house of Tynet and Adara will trade with the house of Kadar."

Adara understood the depth of this honor and stepping back a bit she bowed and returned it to Kadar. "Shukran Ab (thank you father)."

Tynet had walked up during the exchange and heard the last of Kadar's words.

"Yes, Honored Kadar, thank you. Your name will be revered in our villages forever my good friend."

Kadar slowly shook his head side to side, "My friends, it is I who is indebted; your sacrifice will not go unsung. When you are healed and reunited with your family, you will come to my tents. We will have a great celebration in your honor and your horses will be ready for you."

"You honor me," Tynet replied and bowed humbly before the great chief. A great welling of gratitude filled her heart. Only a few days before she had had no hope and now she had Adara and a future filled with hope.

Nearby Rida and Isaura clung to each other as their tears flowed unashamedly. The desert women who'd decided to return with Rida were hugging the two sisters who would ride west. They knew they might never see each other again. The camp was filled with the sounds of goodbyes in many languages.

Abbas rode up and waited impatiently next to Alim. The three horses, sensing the nearness of their departure, pawed the ground and snorted anxiously.

Kadar knew he could delay no longer. He swung up into his saddle and gave the command, "Mount up!  We ride for home." Reaching down, he touch Adara's head and then Tynet's shoulder, "Goodbye my daughters; we will meet again, insha'Allah."

Abbas whistled loudly and the mounted tribesmen began to move slowly into the desert, followed by the horses pulling the badly injured on makeshift stretchers attached to them. The former prisoners walked beside their injured sisters and brothers making sure they were as comfortable as could be.

Xena and Gabrielle stood shoulder to shoulder watching the tribe as it wound through the sand like a long snake. The great herd of captured horses brought up the rear with riders shouting and waving their arms to keep them moving together.

Before the dust had begun to settle, Xena began issuing her own commands for their departure.

"Let's get ready to travel people. This day isn't going to get any cooler. I want us in the foothills before midday," she said loudly enough for everyone to hear.

There was scurrying and calling to one another as the women hastily worked to finish loading the last of their gear. The Thracian Amazons took leadership roles and directed the new Amazons to their duties. The fire was extinguished, cooking supplies and extra food stored, blankets and bedrolls lashed to the pack animals.

The injured who were able to, would ride and Tynet was one of these. She would lead Adara's horse, Mahtab. A deep bond of love and trust had developed between the white mare and Adara, and Tynet had given the loyal animal to her mate.

The previous day, the desert tribesmen had brought fresh horses from the defeated army's herd for the women to ride. These were fit and sturdy animals, but when Tynet walked over to choose her mount, Kadar had insisted that she have her pick from the very best of the herd and led her to the horses that would be going back with his tribe.

Accepting this honor, Tynet had moved among the rest of the herd, speaking softly to various animals, touching some and then moving on. Finally, she'd spotted a beautiful young bay stallion that stood over sixteen hands. His sleek deep brown coat and black mane were set off by a narrow white blaze on his forehead. She'd scratched his neck and cheek while making an inspection of his overall fitness. She was immensely pleased when he responded to her gentle touch and nuzzled her neck indicating that he liked her too. Smiling, she led him away from the others and he followed eagerly. She'd called him Najee meaning "affectionate one" for his outgoing personality.

Adara planned to walk between the two most seriously injured women who were being transported by means of stretchers pulled by their horses. The makeshift litters were made of blankets stretched across two wooden poles and fastened to their horses. Adara knew it was in the hands of the goddess if these women lived, but if they were to have any chance then they needed to quickly get some place cooler to rest. They had talked of stopping at their old village to retrieve the last of the winter stores, but not staying there. With so many bad memories in their village, the women preferred to make a semi-permanent camp higher in the mountains well away from the reminder of the destruction.

In all there were close to thirty women heading for a new home in Thrace. Gabrielle as queen had offered the opportunity for membership in her tribe to all the women, but it was made clear that none were being forced to stay with the Amazons. Those desiring it would be escorted to any town they chose either on the road or in Thrace.

Most of the women had lost everything prior to their captivity and were not ready to make any decisions yet. Gabrielle knew that many would probably opt to move on when the time came. It remained to be seen who would stay and who would leave.

Kunjana and Penda were among the new Amazons who were eager to begin a fresh life together, a life of promise and joy. Both young women had lost their families and villages to the devastation of the red scorpion army and yet they felt blessed as they looked ahead. They had already made their decision. They would remain with the Amazons where their love would be respected and where they already had made friends. They sat astride their horses waiting for Xena and Gabrielle to give the order to move out.

Xena stood next to Argo surveying the scene around them and found that all was in readiness. Now that the battle was over, her job was completed. She turned to Gabrielle. "If you're all set, my queen, give the command."

Gabrielle swung up into the saddle before answering. "I'm more than ready to be home. But you're still in charge of this company of women until we reach Amazon land. I'll resume my duties then."

Xena had her hand on Gabrielle's thigh. "Why? You're their leader. It's time you led them," she said, looking up at her beautiful lover.

"Because, Xena, you've brought us safely here and you know the ways of the trail better than anyone I ever met. You are my champion and my choice to lead us home. When it comes to Amazon business, I am the queen and I've just made a decision as queen, okay?" She laughed at her own cleverness.

Xena broke into a huge grin as she mounted Argo and the two women cantered to the head of the group. Xena stood up in the stirrups so that all could see her.

"All right everyone! Let's go home," she commanded the group.

As the troop of magnificent women began the long journey home, Gabrielle reached over and took Xena's fingers in her hand and squeezed gently. "Have I told you how much I love you?"

Xena was a bit surprised by Gabrielle's overt demonstration of affection. They had both been changed by this journey. "Yes you have, but I love to hear it. I love you, Gabrielle. Let's us go home."



The first afternoon of their return journey, the women had stopped at Adara and Tynet’s decimated village to retrieve the last of the supplies from their stores before moving up into the high country to rest, heal and hunt. While the Thracian Amazons had gathered the supplies, the woman who had lost their homes, mates and in some cases, children, had wandered through the ruins.

Tynet had been no different. She'd found the blackened earth where their family lodge had once stood. After standing with head bent in prayer, Tynet had taken her sword and began pushing the ash aside, meticulously searching through the rubble until at last her blade struck something hard. Bending down, she’d pulled a piece of twisted metal from the cold cinders. Even so malformed, it was obvious that it had once been beautiful.

"Ah, your mother's candle holder," Adara had said.

"Yes, I want to keep it to remember her by."

Tynet's mother had died when Tynet was only twelve. In honor of her mother, Adara and Tynet had burned candles in the holder at sacred times of year. It was Tynet's treasure. In her mind's eye, Tynet saw the flames from the seven candles flickering over the coppery finish.

"Maybe I can straighten it this winter." Tynet had sighed to herself as she carefully wrapped the object in a piece of cloth.

** Outside Amazon Lands **


The journey had been arduous and had taken well over six weeks. They had been fortunate that none had died of their injuries. A full two weeks had been spent high in the Caucus Mountains allowing the women time to heal and regain their strength.

Today, they were busy breaking camp for the last time. They would reach Amazon land before midday. After so many weeks on the trail every woman knew her duties and the packing was executed like a flawless dance. Everyone moved in harmony loading gear, putting out fires and leaving no trace of their passing.

As she handed Tynet a rolled blanket to be tied behind Mahtab's saddle, Adara sensed tension in her mate's stance. Casually, she reached over and began rubbing slow solid circles on the taut skin of Tynet's lower back.

"Tynet what's wrong? Your back is in knots."

"Oh it's nothing; I just slept wrong," Tynet replied in an offhand tone as she tied the bedroll behind the horse’s saddle.

"Uh uh, tell that to someone who doesn't know you."

The tall woman looked across Mahtab's back into the distance, letting the comfort of Adara's warm hand soothe her. When she looked back into Adara's attentive gaze she realized she wasn't going to get away with prevarication. She released a small sigh and admitted what was bothering her.

"We'll see our children today and… and, I guess I'm nervous."

"Nervous? Why? Tynet, they'll be overjoyed to see you."

"I know, it's just; it's just I feel like I’m different. I wonder if they'll notice it; feel it too."

"Tynet, listen to me. None of us are the same. How could it be otherwise after what we've been through? But I know one thing; our love for each other hasn't changed and I know our love for our children hasn't changed either. If anything, it's stronger. It will be the same for them."

"You don't think they might be, well, angry with us, with me. They're children and I haven't seen them in almost three moons. By now they've settled into a new life."

"Ursa is so young, I'm hopeful that being left in Marana's care, she'll have thrived. As to remembering the mother who has held her on her lap and told her wonderful stories since she was a slumbering infant, yes my love, she'll remember you," Adara assured her mate.

Tynet smiled as she recalled so many nights holding both their daughters as she spun tales of great hunts, magical woodland divas and beautiful love.

"As for Thaddea, believe me when I tell you that Thaddea would never desert you. I had to drag her from our burning village and then practically tie her down to keep her from returning with us to save you," Adara continued.

Tynet thought about this and the fears clinching her belly subsided a bit with Adara's words. "Yes, she's got a mind of her own."

"Yes, just like her mother," Adara replied to this comment. She knew Tynet wasn't nearly as stubborn as Adara herself, but she wanted to banter her mate out of her melancholy. And the ploy worked.

"Me?" Tynet sputtered, incredulous at the outrageous statement. “It's you she gets that from."

"Hmmm, I don't think so, Tynet. Everyone knows how independent and intractable you are," Adara answered as she handed a speechless Tynet the water skins. It was an outright untruth, as Adara was clearly enumerating her own traits.

Adara was swinging up into the saddle just as Xena strode by making a last sweep of the camp before moving out.

"Are you two about ready?" Xena asked never really pausing as it was obvious that the women were mounting their horses.

"Come on love," Adara said to her still stunned mate, "We're holding up the others," she added as she trotted over to Gabrielle and Xena.

"Adara, we're going to talk about this," Tynet said to Adara's retreating back; all concerns of reuniting with her children had flown from her mind. The big woman mounted Najee and rode after the only woman she'd ever want to share her life with.

** Amazon Land - Thrace – midday **


High in the tree, hidden in the thick branches, the silent, young Amazon sentry intently scanned the empty horizon. She stood so quietly, she might have been carved of wood, her breath undetectable. The harsh midday sunlight burned her eyes, forcing her to squint as she peered into the distance and beyond.

With her heart preceding her vision, Thaddea focused on what appeared to be dust rising on the edge of the plain. Uncertain of herself after months of scanning the same empty space, she felt the first prickling of hope.

She'd been wrong before and had been humiliated when Otere had climbed the lookout post only to point out that the sighting had been heat waves rising off the sun-baked terrain.

This time, the disturbance seemed different and she continued to look intently while she implored the Water Goddess in the way her mother had taught her, thanking Anahita even before the request was granted.

Thaddea was truly Tynet's daughter in her unwavering faith in the Goddess to provide, protect and comfort her people. In her innocence, the young girl simply knew that her mothers would return to her.

Her intense surveillance was interrupted when Otere's birdcall reached her ears, but she was reluctant to leave her vantage point.

Soon she heard Otere's voice from the ground directly below, "Come on down Thaddea. You and I have a deal, no arguments."

Urgently Thaddea whispered to her friend, "Otere, I see something."

Otere debated with herself whether or not to demand that the child come down now, but her empathy for Thaddea’s plight always softened Otere’s heart. Sighing in resignation, she peered up the tree. We’ve been through this so many times, and it’s always a false alarm.

Otere had given up hope. She had begun to see each day as just another tour of sentry duty, but her heart bleed for this little girl and she spoke to the youngster intending to let her down gently, "Thaddea, are you sure it's not heat waves?"

"I'm sure," the child whispered urgently. At least I think I'm sure, she added to herself.

Oh what the Tartarus, I can humor the poor kid once more, Otere thought as she climbed upward, joining Thaddea on the branch. "Okay, where?"

"There! See the dust rising near that hill?"

Otere scrutinized the hill in question, one hand shielding her eyes from the harsh glare of the midday sun. She'd already learned that the young girl in her charge was a skilled sentry missing very few intruders.

"I don't see anything. It's probably just a trick of the sun, like we've seen before."

Thaddea knew this time it was different and so she persisted, "I'm sure there's something out there." She stopped and amended her pronouncement, "something is making it dusty, maybe riders, please look again."

In the short time Otere and Thaddea had been talking the dust cloud had grown larger and now the captain of the guard knew it was riders, a fairly large group.

“Hmm, maybe we do have someone coming,” Otere said.

Thaddea's heart jumped into her throat and her hands began to sweat. In an instant, she went from competent Amazon sentry to nervous wreck. What if my mama isn't with them? What if it isn't our people at all? What if? Doubts born of weeks of disappointment tumbled through Thaddea's head and yet hope won out.

"Otere, it's them. I know it's them."

Placing a hand on Thaddea's shoulder to calm her, Otere urged caution. "It's a large group of riders, but we don't know yet who they are; we need to wait." Otere's job was to ascertain the intention of the intruders and until she did, no one was allowed to move.

As they watched the large contingent move slowly closer, Thaddea spotted a white horse, which she now convinced herself was Mahtab.

"Look," she whispered excitedly, "See there, that's Mahtab. It's them."

"Thaddea, there're too far out to tell. There is more than one white horse in Thrace you know. It could still be an enemy. We'll wait til they're closer."

But Thaddea's heart had already determined that not only were the riders friendly, but they were the ones she awaited. The child suddenly grabbed the rope hanging from the branch above her and rappelled to the ground, running toward the newcomers as soon as her feet hit the ground.

Otere was stunned by this sudden turn of events. She whistled, but Thaddea never heard it. The child had seen all she needed; this was her family returning to her; her amma's horse was with them.

"Hades’ balls," Otere cursed as she now grabbed the rope and slid to the ground. Before sprinting after the recalcitrant child, she signaled the others to remain hidden.

Thaddea fairly flew over the rough ground, bounding through the tall summer grasses bending them this way and that. She was tall for her age and fast as she hurtled towards the newcomers.

It was clear that Otere wouldn't be able to reach the child before the intruders were upon her. And in desperation, she called for the child, "Thaddea, stop!"

Tynet's head shot up at the sounds of voices. She focused on the tall golden grass bending in a zigzag pattern that no breeze could make. Then she spotted a small figure charging through the golden stalks with another person in hot pursuit.

As they got closer, some details became recognizable, black hair streaming out behind what appeared to be a dark-skinned child. A mother's instinct took over and Tynet sucked in her breath. Can it be? She already knew the answer and she'd spurred Najee into a gallop, riding hard toward the running figure as she yelled to Adara, "It's Thaddea!"

Now, the child saw a strange horse riding down on her, but the figure on the back was instantly familiar and she began screaming, "Mama, mama, mama!" Thaddea's legs churned, propelling her forward.

Within moments Tynet's new mount had eaten up the distance between her and her child. She began reining in the speeding animal and then jumped from her horse's back before he'd stopped. With her feet pounding the ground, she closed the remaining distance, and never pausing, Tynet scooped Thaddea up and into her arms, hugging her daughter tightly to her chest.

"Oh goddess," Tynet cried, "Oh goddess, yes! My baby, my baby girl!"

"Mama, mama, mama," was the child's endless mantra. Small strong arms enveloped Tynet's neck as the child continued to wail. Tears ran freely over the faces of both mother and daughter.

Tears filled Adara's eyes too and her heart opened so wide her chest hurt as she galloped up a few seconds later. Dismounting, she ran to the reunited pair. She knew exactly what emotions were being played out; she had experienced the same when she and Tynet had found each other in the desert. Without a word, she wrapped her arms around both her mate and their child, laying her head in the crook between the other two.

Slowly, Thaddea became aware of another presence and pulled back enough to see. "Amma, you brought mama home," the child said, stating the obvious. Then with tears of joy bathing her face, Thaddea looked back to her birth mother, "I knew you weren't dead," she said before turning to Adara. "Amma, I knew it," Thaddea whispered in near disbelief. Thaddea's hope had been rewarded even as the days had dragged on, threatening to overwhelm the child with grief.

Reluctant to let go of Tynet, Thaddea nevertheless put her arms around Adara's neck now and held on tight. "Amma, you came back," she whispered as a fresh onslaught of tears was released. In her deepest, darkest nightmares, neither of her mothers ever returned. Today, that false fear evaporated. Her prayers had been answered.

By the time the small family had regained some composure, the rest of the contingent had caught up with them. With Xena and Gabrielle in the lead, the others pulled to a stop leaving the joyful family some space to reconnect with each other.

Otere rushed over to the returning heroines. Before her need to know the details of their arrival asserted itself, she whistled loudly to send the other sentries the all-clear signal. Instantly, a deep resonate drumming sounded from the sentry posts and was answered by pounding drums echoing from the village compound. Soon, a greeting party would arrive.

"By the Goddess, you made it," was all Otere could say. She spoke in utter disbelief that all their warriors had not only returned, but with perhaps twenty additional riders.

Thaddea looked up from gazing fondly at her mothers, spotting Xena. She smiled and waved at the warrior princess; there were no words for the emotions filling her.

"Thank you," was all the child could manage.

It was enough. A warm feeling spread through Xena's chest as she nodded and smiled back, giving the child the warrior's salute. Turning to her partner Xena said, "Gabrielle, I wouldn't have believed we'd be seeing this."

"I know Xena. I know." Tears filled the queen's eyes and spilled over on her cheeks too. Xena reached over and brushed them with her fingertips. She looked at the wetness on her lover's face and whispered, "Yeah, me too."

Then Pony rode up. She wasn't sure what she'd say to the child who'd so fiercely protected her mother’s honor. Finally, she settled on a simple greeting. "Hello Thaddea."

Instantly protective, Thaddea's head swiveled around to fix a steely look on the weapons mistress. With both arms around her mothers' necks, she adamantly declared, "My mama and amma are alive; they're together like they should be." More than the words, the tone was so abrasive that it felt like a slap in the face to any who heard it.

Pony graciously accepted the slight, even though it felt more like a blow. She chided herself for being so optimistic. I should have realized from the beginning, I'd never win that kid over. Instead of showing any hurt, she bowed her head to the family group and let her horse continue its way toward the village.

The encounter was not lost on Tynet who had no idea what was going on, but she had never known her daughter to be so rude and immediately stepped back into her role of mother/teacher. "Thaddea, what is the meaning of this? I have not raised you to speak so harshly, especially to one who is a sister and friend."

Unrepentant, Thaddea fixed her gaze on the ground refusing to answer. She couldn't find the words to express what she'd feared from Pony. Soon the silence became unbearable.

The rest of the contingent was made uncomfortable by this turn of events and moved forward once again heading toward the Amazon village.

Oblivious to the riders moving off, Tynet focused instead on her daughter's behavior. "Thaddea, I'm waiting for an explanation. This is not the homecoming I had hoped for. You disappoint me," she said, the words cutting her daughter's heart like a knife.

Desperately, Thaddea looked up, trying to explain. "Mama, you don't understand. She wanted to... she was going to…" Miserably she trailed off, unable to finish. The explanation sounded lame even to her young ears, but her instincts still railed against the weapons mistress's intentions. Pony was … what? Going to take care of Amma? And Ursa? And me? Oh yeah, that sounds pretty bad. I’m sure Mama would understand that.

Adara knew what precipitated the harsh tone and now intervened. She and Tynet had never discussed Pony's attraction and offer of help. It seemed irrelevant in light of the sacrifice that Pony had been willing to make to save Tynet's life. Now she needed to find a way.

Placing a gentle hand on Tynet's arm, Adara began, "Tynet, you need to know something. When we first arrived here, Pony offered her lodge to us; for as long as we needed it, forever if necessary." She looked deeply into Tynet's eyes, her meaning unmistakable. "Thaddea misunderstood Pony's generosity. That is all."

Tynet looked between the woman who claimed her soul for all time and the daughter of her heart and body, and she understood. Tynet nodded to Adara before turning back to Thaddea. Adara and Tynet would talk about this later, but for now Thaddea needed to know of Pony's selflessness.

"Thaddea, Pony would have given her life to save mine. In battle, she threw her own sword at an enemy soldier who was about to kill me, slaying him instead. Doing that left her defenseless and another soldier ran her through. It was only by the grace of the goddess that she lives. Our family owes Eponin a great debt. One we will never be able to repay."

Stunned, Thaddea stared back at her mother, incredulous at this news. "Mama, I didn't know."

"No, you didn't and that is why we watch what we say and the way we speak. Words have the power to wound."

"I'm sorry mama."

"Well, I'm not the one hurt. I don't need an apology."

Thaddea looked toward the camp where Pony rode ahead of the others. She knew what she needed to do now and wiggled free of her mother's grasp. Racing after the weapons mistress, Thaddea called out to the woman as she ran, "Eponin! Pony wait!"

Pony turned her horse toward the sound of her name and spied the child running toward her. When Thaddea reached Pony, the youngster stopped and stammered. She wasn't quite sure how to begin as she had already decided that the weapons mistress was to be her life long enemy.

"Yes?" Pony wasn't about to help the little brat who was staring at her. The weapons mistress steeled her heart to the coal black eyes glistening with unshed tears.

"Ummm, my mama told me what you did," the child whispered.

"Uh huh." Pony wasn't giving an inch.

Taking a deep breath, Thaddea stood taller. Working with Otere had changed the little warrior and she spoke plainly, without guile. "I'm sorry Eponin. I was wrong about you. I thought you wanted to take my amma away from Mama and instead you saved my mama."

Pony relented. In honesty, taking Adara away was exactly what she would have been very happy to do. She stepped down from her mount to talk with Thaddea. Pony had sworn that she would befriend this child, and now that it no longer really mattered, here was her chance. She would never understand the ways of the fates and blew out a deep breath before speaking.

"Maybe it's time we put the past behind us little warrior. Maybe we've both made some mistakes. Perhaps we can be friends." Pony knelt on one knee and held out her arm to the child.

It was very close to an admittance of guilt by Pony and Thaddea knew it. She also knew the blame lay on both sides. Putting out her forearm in the traditional Amazon warrior's salutation, the child crossed her arm with Pony's, sealing the deal.

Pony smiled at the girl, seeing so much of both Tynet and Adara in this child. One day Thaddea would lead her tribe, of this Pony had no doubt. Placing her hand on Thaddea's shoulder, Pony now turned the child back to her mothers and said, "Go on back to them now. You have a lot of catching up to do." She gently propelled the girl toward her family and smiled at the two women. Thaddea wasted no time and sprinted back into her mothers' waiting arms.

Amazons were streaming from the camp and now joined the returning heroes. Sounds of reunion filled the meadow as jubilant loud voices melded together with cries of relief, recognition and welcome. Soon, the swarming women had completely enveloped the conquering warriors so that no one could move.

Then one distinct accent was heard above the others as the unmistakable voice of Marana boomed out with authority. “My niece, where's my niece? Let me through here. Move aside, I tell you! Move aside. Give me some room." Carrying a plump little girl with black eyes and dusky complexion, Marana moved with purpose into the center of the huge gathering.

As Amazons respectfully stepped back, Adara, Tynet and Thaddea seemed to be left standing alone with the rest of the group forming a semi-circle around them. It was then that the toddler scrubbed her eyes in disbelief and at the same moment, her bigger sister called her.

"Ursa, look! Mama and Amma are back."

The little girl needed no more encouragement. She recognized her mother and began struggling out of Marana's grip. It was like holding a slippery fish and Marana was barely able to set the youngster down before she fell from her arms. Little Ursa ran as fast has her short legs would carry her to Adara, hugging her legs and crying, "Amma, amma, hold me, amma, amma."

Adara scooped up the baby who hugged her neck in a death grip and wailed out her relief. Ursa buried her face in Adara's shoulder and refused to look up as she continued crying. Without realizing who was doing it, she felt a warm hand begin rubbing her back, soothing her, and after a bit she quieted.

Adara spoke softly into Ursa's ear, "Sweetheart, look who else is here."

But the baby refused to let go of Adara's neck in case her mother might be stolen from her again.

Then she heard another familiar voice over her small head.

"Ursa. It's mama."

She knew that voice and stiffened. Can't be Mama; Mama went to the goddess. She argued with herself internally, but the voice persisted.

"Ursa, baby, look at me."

Slowly, Ursa raised her head and her small features morphed from stunned disbelief into total acceptance. Within a heartbeat and the baby reached for Tynet with both arms.

Adara had huge tears of joy as she handed over their baby daughter to her mate.

Tynet enveloped her other daughter in a bear hug that completely hid the baby from view. Adara gathered in Thaddea in one arm and slipped the other around Tynet's waist pulling them together in a knot of family love. For the first time in nearly three months, this small family unit was reunited and there were no words to express their joy.

Pony took it all in. She had no sense of envy or pain, but rather was filled with deep peace. She'd asked for Adara's happiness and she'd been instrumental in seeing to it that it had come to pass. This is what they had fought for, so that all people could have the chance for this ideal.

Pony looked around at the others. Now that Tynet and Adara's family was reunited, others had once again begun their joyous revelry.

This might have gone on for the rest of the day, had not the queen attempted to call order to the milling throng of happy women.

"Ladies! People! Amazons!" cried the queen. She was still mounted, but her voice didn't carry over the cacophony and the celebration continued unabated. Gabrielle looked helplessly at Xena seated next to her on Argo.

One look was all it took. Xena would do anything for her bard and a shrill ear-shattering whistle split the air. All heads swiveled toward a certain warrior princess, who now wore her fiercest look as she stared down the crowd. Truly, her heart wasn't into quelling their joy, but she wanted the queen to be heard. She was, after all, Gabrielle's champion.

"I believe your queen has something to say," Xena stated simply and turned to Gabrielle.

Standing up in her stirrups, Gabrielle beamed at her tribe before beginning. "We have much to celebrate and we will, but first we have things to do. We've ridden a long way and need to get settled, and we have new Amazons to make welcome. So let's move this party back to the village where we can show our eastern sisters how the Thracian Amazons treat each other."

Together with Xena, Gabrielle turned and led the way to the Amazons' home.

A huge cheer went up from the crowd as they began moving in groupings of families and friends, following their queen.

Pony was one of the last to disperse, content to watch Adara with her family as they moved into the village in the company of Adara's mother and aunt. She felt good inside about what they'd accomplished, but a bit of melancholy gripped her. She wanted so much to be walking hand-in-hand with someone special like that. Maybe, just maybe one day, I'll have what Adara and Tynet have. Audibly, she blew out a breath. Get a grip warrior. You're too much of a free spirit to have that. No woman wants someone who can never be serious. Not that I party all the time, she began to mentally argue.

The feeling of eyes upon her interrupted these thoughts as Pony looked over to find Ephiny standing next to her horse smiling enigmatically at her.

"What?" Pony asked.

Eph nodded toward the retreating family. "I was just thinking … anyone willing to work for it can have what they have." It was as if she'd read her friend's mind.

Pony looked from Ephiny to the village and said, "You think so?" even as her mind chided her, Ephiny might have it, but it's not for everyone, especially not you.

Looping her arm through Pony's, Ephiny pulled her friend along, "I know so. Come on Warrior, we’re home."

EPILOGUE – Coming Full Circle


The first trilling of the morning birds awakened Tynet. She lay with one arm across Adara's belly and her face close to her mate's ear, intoxicated by Adara's herb-scented hair and feeling contentment she hadn't known in a while.

Since the women had returned to Thrace, the Amazon tribe had finished building several rudimentary structures for housing the newcomers. Construction continued on additional dwellings while the refugees lived in either established Amazon homes or in the longhouses that were used for guests and for young single women who had left their mothers' hearths.

Although they protested mightily that others should have the new dwellings, Tynet and Adara's family were given the first hut completed. Those whose lives and honor Tynet had protected insisted she be given a private home as soon as possible as a way of expressing their gratitude. Adara and Tynet had moved their family into their new abode only the day before.

Through her sleepy eyes, Tynet quietly surveyed the interior of their new home. It was a fairly large circular area with an entrance that faced the community center. In the rear was a small screened off area where the children slept so they could retire without being disturbed when the adults were still up.

The room was sparsely furnished. There were rudimentary hooks on the walls for hanging belongings like clothing, tools, and pots. Their sleeping pallet was comfortably outfitted with a soft straw mattress and adorned by a quilt made by Adara's aunt, Marana.

There was also a special piece of furniture, a small round chestnut table and four chairs, in the center of the room. The honey-colored wood lent the richness of a palace to the otherwise humble atmosphere. It had been a gift from the heart from Pony that had made with the help of Noalani and Ephiny. Tynet envisioned many wonderful evenings to come with their new found friends sitting around that table.

On the night of the women's return to the Amazon village, Adara had spoken with Tynet regarding Pony's early infatuation with her. With fondness and respect for Pony, Adara told Tynet that at no time had Pony been anything but honorable and generous. Both women understood that the heart itself dictated whom they loved and it was the actions of individuals that determined whether ulterior motives were at work. Pony had more than proven by her willing sacrifice in battle that her love was of the highest level.

The next morning Tynet sought out Pony to discuss the situation. Tynet made it clear that she knew of Pony's attentions and that she was blessed to have such an honorable woman for a friend and ally. Pony was embarrassed to have her innermost feelings so exposed, but Tynet wouldn't allow the weapons mistress to leave feeling anything less than whole. She explained to Pony that she believed strong emotions to be the hallmark of a beautiful being with the capacity for great love and for that Pony should be grateful. By the time the two women were done talking, there was an ease between them of long-standing friends.

It was a relief to have no secrets from the amazing woman and Pony was so grateful for Tynet's openness that she had enlisted the others to help craft the surprise gift. Tears had sprung to the eyes of both women when the table was unveiled. Adara had lovingly run her hands over the smooth finish, repeating the words "thank you" over and over.

Tonight would be the Autumn Equinox Celebration. Tynet could hardly believe that more than three moons had passed since the Solstice of Summer and the attack on their village. Tynet and Adara would finally reaffirm their joining pledge before this tribe of new Amazon sisters. It seemed like a dream. This was not the usual time of year for such pledges, but then the year had not been normal and so the shaman, Yakut, dispensed with the usual rules. Penda and Kunjana had also planned to make joining vows to each other this evening.

Some Amazons wondered if the Queen might also join with her champion, but Tynet doubted that the Warrior Princess would consent to it. In Tynet's opinion, it wasn't that Xena didn't love Gabrielle enough, but that she loved her beyond what any ceremony could sanctify. The Warrior Princess seemed to answer to a higher authority, her own inner truth. In that knowing Xena was already joined with the Queen for all time, above the reach of gods and humans. The mere blessing of Amazons was irrelevant. Xena had not come right out and told Tynet this of course, but they had talked of their partners and from the far-away look passing over Xena's face when she spoke of Gabrielle, Tynet knew.

Tynet and Adara were also joined heart to heart for all time, but they were Amazons and would adhere to their rituals. There was comfort in the ancient rites that both women appreciated and intended to pass on to their children. After the nightmare they'd just endured, the joining would offer stability and continuity to the young ones.

Watching Adara sleep so peacefully roused Tynet's playful nature and she blew softly across Adara's skin. It delighted the mischievous Tynet to watch Adara wrinkle her nose, but soon the slumbering woman relaxed back into a deeper sleep. The reaction was over too soon and Tynet couldn't resist another tiny attack. She used the end of her braid to tickle Adara's upper lip and she was rewarded when Adara brushed at the offending area. Snickering, Tynet used the handy weapon once again, grazing the sensitive skin. This time Adara crinkled up her face, sneezed and woke. But before her eyes opened, Tynet hastily laid her head down, feigning sleep.

"Do you have a death wish, warrior?" Adara whispered through raspy vocal cords.

"What?" The innocent sounding reply was laced with mirth.

"Tynet, you don't fool me for a second. You were tickling me."

Caught, Tynet decided to try a different tack and said in her sweetest and most sincere voice, "well, I was awake and kind of lonely and I sort of thought you might want to wake up and join me and well, you don't want to sleep the day, do you?"

Adara cracked one lid open, glancing over her shoulder toward the children's sleep area before replying pseudo-sternly, "Yes, the babies are sleeping, I'm sleeping." Then she relented, "You could be sleeping too, or you could be…" Adara left the sentence unfinished.

Tynet leaned over her mate, grinning lasciviously, "I could be what?"

"Getting me some hot tea." Adara laughed after she said it.

"Oh it's tea you want," Tynet said as she straddled Adara and menacingly leaned over her mate for a moment.

"You don't scare me," said the smaller woman who then stuck out her tongue.

"Oh you should be real scared my love." Tynet smirked before moving in first, for a deep kiss and then tiny nibbles down Adara's cheek and neck.

Adara groaned and soon Tynet's hands and lips began to roam over Adara's neck and torso.

A prickling of the hairs at the base of her neck distracted Tynet and she broke off the kisses. She had the strong sensation of being watched and turned her head to the side where she spied two sleepy young Amazons intently watching them.

Thaddea gravely asked, "What are you doing?"

Thinking quickly, Tynet said, "Ummm I'm tickling Amma; she wouldn't wake up. I'm making sure she's okay. Do you wanna help?"

Looking a bit doubtful at first, Thaddea shrugged her small shoulders. "Maybe."

"Of course you do; come on, let's get Amma!"

Fully awake now, both youngsters joyously screamed at once, "Yeah!"

Adara had almost no time to react. "Oh no you don't," she called out, but it was too late as her children and mate attacked. She rolled into a ball and began pleading for mercy amid howls of laughter as the loves of her life piled on.


"I don't think it sounds right. Listen again, okay?" Gabrielle said to Xena as they walked together, passing by various huts on their way to the dining hall. Without waiting for Xena to agree to hear the joining ceremony yet again, Gabrielle launched into the speech for what had to be the twelfth time.

"We are gathered tonight to witness the pledges of these our sisters, before us and our goddesses, Divine Artemis, Goddess, huntress and protector; powerful Anahita, Goddess of water and life," here Gabrielle paused to interject, "I think it's important to include their Goddess, don't you? I mean after all, we'd never have made it without her."

But she never left space for Xena to comment. Instead, barely drawing a fresh breath, Gabrielle continued, "And Mother Isis, Supreme Goddess of the ancient ones. We ask Blessings from the spirit of the Four Directionals on these unions.

From East, new beginnings, honest communication and growth of spirit; from the South, comfort of hearth and heat of passion; from the West, peace, wisdom and passion. No, no, no that's not right. Passion is from the South," the young queen fretted.

Xena placed a calming hand on Gabrielle's shoulder to reassure the younger woman. "Gabrielle it's good. You've done nothing but practice this ritual for days. You went to sleep repeating it and now it's the first words out of your mouth this morning. It's fine, better than fine, it's perfect; you're a bard, a natural. Why not leave it? There's such a thing as too much rehearsal, you know."

"Well, maybe, but I don't see why Yakut can't do this. It seems a shaman's job to me. But noooo, turns out the queen gets this honor and she has to make up the ceremony new each time. This is so not fair," Gabrielle groused.

At that moment, they passed by Tynet and Adara's hut. Gabrielle and Xena heard peals of laughter coming from inside. They looked at each other and grinned as they continued on their way.

"You know Xena, Tynet and Adara are already joined beyond any ritual I could perform for them. I feel like an addendum."

"They want this joining to close the circle of their lives interrupted by the Red Army," Xena said knowingly. "And you're anything but an afterthought, my bard. People learn from the things you say. You have wisdom beyond your years."

"That's nice of you to say; I appreciate you saying that," Gabrielle said, but she was lost in her own worries about the ceremony once again and she sighed.

Xena looked thoughtfully at her companion. "I never give out compliments to be nice. You know me better than that."

"Yes, I know that, but thank you Xena. I like hearing it, even if it isn't quite true."

Xena stopped walking and turned Gabrielle to face her. "It is true Gabrielle. You've changed my life, given me a reason for being. You're the most important person in my world. In the deepest part of my soul, I am joined with you forever."

With her hands on Gabrielle's shoulders, Xena stopped speaking to gather her thoughts as she looked around the Amazon village. This is where she's happiest and you know it. If you really loved her, you'd give her this.

Xena took a breath before continuing, "I know you love it here and if you want to stay here in Thrace and be the great queen you're destined to be, then it's what I want too. I'd be happy until the day I buy my ride in Chiron's ferry to serve you, my Queen." Then Xena bowed in such a courtly manner that Gabrielle was charmed almost into believing it.

Gabrielle gazed at Xena with such love she thought her heart couldn't hold it all. She could picture how their lives might be living here among the Amazons. Xena would lead hunts and insure the protection of the village and maybe just maybe they could even raise a child together. Even with the fantasy still solidifying in her mind, Gabrielle knew it was impossible. She sighed inside as she realized the truth of this dream, living here would slowly kill Xena and eventually it would destroy us. Gabrielle knew Xena had demons to slay, but until the warrior realized those demons were inside her own soul, she'd need to search the world for them.

"Xena, come here a minute," Gabrielle said as she detoured from their path. Behind the huts a small silver stream bubbled peacefully over small stones. A short ways downstream the children had built a small dam to make a shallow pool for playing in. Small twigs and a few brown leaves floated in an area of murky water near the barrier where they would slowly decay and then sink to the bottom.

"Xena, there's something else Anahita taught me while you were making your pilgrimage for the sacred water. She told me that my path and yours are intertwined and have always been through many lifetimes and that we both agreed to our soul's journey long before this time. She told me that your spirit is like this water. Here where the dam created that small eddy, it holds the water captive, restricts its movements. The water has become cloudy and lifeless, but there where the stream pours over the top, free, following its destiny, it's clear and clean. I know your soul needs to be free like the running water for you to be who you are. I couldn't stand it if your life became stagnant and without purpose. My place is with you, by your side and my life is so full with you. The woman I have come to love is the one who follows where her soul leads her. My soul leads me to be with you."

Stunned, Xena hesitated before pulling Gabrielle into a tight embrace. "Gabrielle, when did you grow up so much? How did you acquire such wisdom? I don't know what to say. You make me feel humble and more loved than I ever have. But are you certain? Under your leadership this tribe would flourish."

Looking up at her lover, Gabrielle replied, "This is why I want to be with you. You make my heart melt."

She planted a soft kiss on Xena's cheek before continuing. "You know, the Amazons weren't doing so badly before I arrived on the scene." She chuckled with a short self-deprecating laugh.

"Besides, Ephiny has more than proven her valor and wisdom. She's a gifted leader who is just coming into her power. And who knows what will happen with the new women. They may decide to make this a permanent home. If that happens there are even more Amazons who can lead and give good counsel."

"I don't know what I did to get you, gods know I don't deserve you."

"Xena, I don't ever want to hear you say that again. Deserving has nothing to do with love. Our love just is, like air. You're my partner, my best friend. I believe we're twin souls who've searched for eternity for each other. I get so much joy waking up beside you, knowing our day will be anything but quiet." She paused to look more deeply into Xena's eyes before continuing.

"I could just as easily say I don't deserve all you give to me and you wouldn't stand for it. Love isn't about deserving, it's a choice. It's a choice we make to accept each other as we are, the good with the, ahhh… the challenges. You accepted me as a naïve teenager and I accept you, all of you." She smiled as she spoke so that Xena could feel the truth of it. "And I'm ready to leave when you say, my love."

"Gabrielle," Xena almost choked on her lover's name, she was overcome with the depth of her love. "I love you. I promise you, I'll never leave you. Even in death, I'll never leave you."

Then she lowered her lips to Gabrielle's and they shared a tender kiss serenaded by the soft sounds of water splashing over the rocks.

When they broke for air, Gabrielle almost swooned. "Wow, you make me lightheaded."

Xena arched an eyebrow and commented, "You're probably just hungry. Let's go get you something to eat, my bard."


Holding up her bare arms to the heavens, Queen Gabrielle invoked the final blessing;

"The Mother Goddess has you in Her care always. It is so and so It is!"

A mighty cheer went up from the onlookers as each of the joining couples sealed their love with sweet kisses. As the tender moment ended, people became aware of another sensual pleasure awaiting. Now the scents of a delicious repast reached the gathered well-wishers.

Behind the ceremonial dais, tables filled with delectable food of every description were being unveiled. Their boards fairly creaked as additional mouth-watering platters were carried from the cookhouse and placed heavily on the sturdy tables. The culinary choices were mind-boggling especially for the former captives who'd lived in complete deprivation for too long. The women's eyes widened in anticipation as venison steaks, wild turkey, baked yams with onions, apple and nut compote and bowls of fall greens with persimmons and hazelnuts were set before the hungry throng. Added to that were endless beakers of port, mead and cold, clear spring water to slake any thirst.

As if held by an unseen hand, the polite Amazons turned to their queen. Gabrielle understood the protocol. They were waiting for her to have the first serving as was the queen's due. Gabrielle was not standing on ceremony. She'd survived the joining rites; her queenly duties were finished for the evening. She stepped forward to throw open the festivities. "All right Amazons, what are you waiting for? Let's show our new sisters how we celebrate in Thrace! Let the feasting begin!"

The joyful women turned from the dais en masse and moved like locusts toward the goodies.

Xena wondered at Gabrielle's foresight. She knew her lover placed a fine meal right at the top of her favorites list. So she leaned in close to her mate's ear and whispered, "I'll be right back."

With that, Xena emitted her patented battle cry, "iyeeeiyeeeiyeeee" and leapt over the heads of the charging Amazons. She deftly grabbed up two plates, piling them high with food before the others were totally recovered from the yell, let alone her actions. Then laughter broke out when Xena turned and smiled in total innocence at the crowd and made her way back to the Queen with her booty.

Of course there was plenty of food. It was the fall harvest and the larders were full to bursting.

After everyone had eaten their fill, the Amazons lounged around the ceremonial fire in groups of friends and families, listening to music and joining in song when the tune if they knew the words.

Even though the food was long ago demolished, the mead and port continued to flow freely, bolstering courage and dimming the judgment of those who imbibed. Now the games and entertainment began..

The drums took on a more primal beat and many of the women with partners began to dance, while some of the others began to bait each other verbally, testifying to their Amazon skills.

It always started innocently enough with one adolescent warrior claiming superiority and then jumping the flames of the fire to prove it. It was a game with a certain amount of risk. For while the flames of the bonfire had lowered considerably from its initial inferno, the fire still snapped and popped, sending out cinders to sting the bare skin of those straying too close. A fall into the coals would almost certainly result in a trip to the healer's hut for treatment. Many of the older warriors still bore small scars from their younger days. Buckets of cold water were kept nearby and sober warriors, usually the sentries who needed to keep their wits, were ready to pull from the fire any who fell.

The hoots and catcalls reached deafening proportions as they encouraged each other. For the most part, the young women were good, but playing it safe. Only one had attempted to somersault over the ring of flames. And she sustained a minor burn for her trouble when she aborted the jump, landing a bit short. The brave young Amazon kept the grimace from her face as the admiration of her peers deadened any ill effects she felt.

Tynet looked longingly at the fire. She wondered if she still had her edge, if the months of captivity had weakened her so much that she could no longer jump the fire. Hands down, she was always the best in her tribe. No one could top her double somersault. Look at these kids. When I was their age I could already do a somersault. Bet I still can…

Adara, reading her hearth-mate's thoughts, interrupted the idle daydreams, "Tynet, are you thinking what I think you're thinking?"

Tynet didn't try to deny it and her eyes never left the fire pit as she spoke. "It's just that… that I feel so good."

"Darling, it's only a few moons since the battle."

"I know it, but I feel like… I feel if I could make my jump, then… then I would feel… I guess I would feel like me again. I don't know how to explain it really."

Although she had a hard time putting it into words, Tynet knew that if she could do this, she'd feel whole and it while it made no sense to her, Tynet knew she needed to do this.

"Do you mind if I at least try?"

Adara understood the motive behind the words but she made a half-hearted attempt to dissuade her partner. "If you fall in, then I get to spend my joining night attending to your burned behind."

Without missing a beat, Tynet replied, "I can't think of a better nurse." She looked at Adara with the soft puppy eyes that she knew Adara couldn't refuse.

Then Thaddea who'd been listening intently to the interchange, quietly joined in with all the wisdom of her almost six years and added her support. "I think mama can beat anyone in this village." She felt a pang as she glanced at her friend, Otere, who winked in Thaddea's direction relieving the momentary guilt.

Inside Adara thought, I almost have my Tynet returned as she was and if she needs to do this, I won't stand in the way. For the benefit of her audience, Adara heaved a huge sigh of feigned long-suffering and rolled her eyes as she said, "Oh, go ahead. I'll have my ointments ready."

Tynet jumped to her feet and planted a big wet kiss on her lover's cheek. "Save the ointments for yourself in the morning my love; I can do this," she quipped.

Tynet moved through the young warriors gathered around the casualty of the ill-fated cartwheel attempt and asked quietly, "You mind if I give it a try?"

Everyone had heard the stories of Tynet's courage and strength in the battle against the Red Army. She was already a tribal legend. The looks of the younger women made Tynet feel older than her years, but she was determined and waited for permission.

It was given non-verbally, when contestants respectfully bowed. They stepped back making room for this hero. No one knew what to expect, but they knew Tynet wouldn't abort her jump.

Tynet, ever devoted to her goddess, faced the east and sent a silent prayer in the direction of the Persian desert, knowing without doubt, her goddess would hear and bless her. I offer this to you Anahita, bless me, let me make you proud.

Tynet turned her back to the fire pit and paced off the distance she'd need to attain the speed and angle for this feat. She took a few breaths and then began to sprint.

Running full out, Tynet felt the thrill of a victory that was within her grasp. The flickering flames of the ceremonial fire loomed ahead as she careened with a seeming death wish towards the conflagration. With her feet pounding the beaten earth and her lungs heaving with effort, she never wavered in her path. At the last possible moment, before crashing headlong into the inferno, she planted her right moccasin hard and leapt high. Tucking into a ball, she executed a double somersault, landing unscathed on the far side of the fire pit.

Momentarily stunned by her successful landing, Tynet hesitated a moment to be sure it was real before spinning around to face the crowd. She'd done it. She flung her arms wide in relief, thanksgiving and victory. A deafening cheer went up from the entire village. A wide smile split her plain face and she beamed at Adara and her family as she walked proudly back to them, amid cheers and congratulatory pats on the back. She was home now, healed and whole.

Watching the emotional scene, both Gabrielle and Xena had tears on their cheeks. The warrior princess wiped her eyes as if a speck of dust had gotten in them.

Seeing her lover's momentary emotional break, Gabrielle discharged the scene a bit by asking, "Xena, I bet you could do that with your eyes closed. Think you might try it?"

Xena knew what Gabrielle was doing but played along and gave her lover a squeeze. "Nope. This is their night."

Gabrielle turned to her soul mate and kissed the warrior lightly on her mouth. "I love you so much, Xena. You are my hero always."

The End


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