An Awakening part 1 by Hunter Ash

An Awakening: A Visit Home
by Hunter Ash

Part 1 in the Awakening Saga

Summary: A “first time” story with Xena and Gabrielle visiting Gabrielle’s family and the relationship between them being forced to the surface.

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Argo nudged the warrior when Xena’s hand stopped brushing the horse, the warrior lost in thought. Xena smiled at her horse and continued the brushing and talking.

“It’s probably a good thing you can’t talk back, girl. You’d probably tell me I’m an idiot too. Gods, this is hard.” Xena leaned her head forward and buried her face in Argo’s mane for a moment.

She hated visiting Gabrielle’s family. Gabrielle’s father barely tolerated the warrior and the bard’s mother kept trying to play matchmaker for her runaway daughter. Lila, Gabrielle’s little sister, was filled with questions, almost as curious about things as her older sister. Each family member seemed determined to drive the usually stoic warrior out of her mind.

Gabrielle had finally suggested that Xena see to Argo for awhile so she could help her mother with lunch. Xena had quickly seized the opportunity and almost dashed out the door, leaving the bard to fend for herself and now Xena was feeling guilty about that too.

“Gods, Argo, I have to be more patient. I can’t strangle her father, I can’t strangle her father, I can’t strangle her father.” Xena whispered, resuming her brushing.

The fierce warrior spun rapidly on her heel, face blushing bright red when she heard a giggle behind her. She tried to stammer something out when she caught Gabrielle’s green eyes laughing at her. The young bard was holding her ribs, trying not to fall to the floor laughing. Xena tried glaring at her friend and that only succeeded in making the blond laugh even harder. Gabrielle finally caught her breath and closed the barn door.

“Gods, Xena. Don’t you think I feel the same way!?” she giggled, watching the warrior resume brushing the horse with a scowl.

“I know, sorry I left you alone in there.” Xena mumbled.

The battle-scarred warrior was surprised but pleased when Gabrielle’s arms circled around her and she found herself in a tight hug.

“It’s okay, I figured I had to get you out of there before you threw him through the window.” the bard giggled again.
Xena was very aware of how hot she suddenly was. Her breath began to quicken the warrior found herself closing her eyes and leaning back into the embrace. With a start Xena realized that she was about to turn and take the bard in her arms and kiss the small woman. She straightened up and felt Gabrielle’s arms leave her. Xena kept from whimpering and with years of self taught control. She thought she was in control and turned.

Looking deep in Gabrielle’s eyes the warrior almost lost all that control but managed to hold firm. Gabrielle seemed just as lost in the moment and both seemed frozen.

The barn door slammed open before the spell was broken between the two women and both blinked in the sunlight and intrusion. Lila rushed in with a frustrated look on her face.

“There you two are! Lunch time!” and she was gone.

Xena found Gabrielle blushing, eyes downcast and stammering. “I… we should go in.”

“Uh huh.” Xena agreed. Gabrielle quickly turned and was gone after her sister, leaving a stunned warrior holding a brush with a puzzled look on her face.

“Argo,” she whispered, “what just happened?”

Xena kicked at a non-existent pebble as she walked back towards the family home. She was confused and that always made her grumpy. She hated not being in control and the one thing she was NOT in control of was her feelings towards her best friend any longer. Xena didn’t know when she had fallen totally in love with the bard but she had finally admitted it, at least to herself. To no one else, of course. Well, Argo didn’t count.

The problem was that she knew the bard wasn’t interested in women sexually and only thought of Xena as her best friend. It was beginning to drive the warrior crazy. With the cool fall weather they were spending every night under the same blankets, the bard in Xena’s arms. The warrior had lost count how many nights she had lain awake with the blond sleeping peacefully in her arms. Xena didn’t know how many times she had leaned down and kissed the bard softly on the hair, the forehead and finally the lips, careful not to wake the young woman. Every muscle and fiber of her being wanting to take the bard and love her.

It was becoming more and more of a distraction. Xena found herself thinking of the blond every other minute. Gabrielle’s hair shining in the sun; the movement of Gabrielle’s well toned body as she dried her hair and body after a swim or bath was enough to almost bring tears to the warrior’s eyes in frustration; Gabrielle’s muscles rippling as she practiced with her staff; the thoughts of the bard’s hands as the young woman slowly removed her boots at night; the contented sigh she also gave when she settled into Xena’s arms. Xena smacked a house pillar, hoping to distract herself somehow.

‘Some self-punishment streak,’ the warrior decided, realizing that she was torturing herself slowly.

No one seemed to notice that Gabrielle was quiet during lunch, something really unusual for the young woman. Her mother had noticed the dark circles under her daughter’s eyes and had commented on it several times with a disapproving click of her tongue, eyes glaring at the warrior.

Xena clenched her jaw again. She had noticed Gabrielle wasn’t sleeping well lately and had done everything she could think of to help her bard and she was at a loss and having the mother point out her failing didn’t help Xena’s mood any.

Gabrielle snapped that she was fine and to drop it. Lila had raised her eyebrows and had gone quiet, the energy was almost visible in the room, dancing between the parents and the daughter. Xena knew that visiting her parents had been bothering Gabrielle but now she could see it was also wearing on the bard’s nerves.

Gabrielle’s father scolded her for snapping at her mother and her mother snapped back about just caring for her daughter’s health and Gabrielle’s father scolded her for not caring how her mother felt and Gabrielle’s mother began to cry and Gabrielle lost it.

“Stop it, both of you! I am fine, I’m doing what I want to be doing! Can’t you let it alone?” Both the tears could escape the green eyes the bard had jumped up and rushed out through the kitchen.

Lila kept her eyes fixed on her food and Gabrielle’s parents faces were bright red.

Xena stood up slowly, “I think I’ll take Argo out for a ride, excuse me.” she carried her dishes to the kitchen and looked out the back door. She frowned when she didn’t see her bard anywhere in sight. She sighed, hoping to find the young woman in the stable, knowing Xena would follow but she was disappointed not to find Gabrielle there.

Xena began feeding Argo an apple and trying to sort things out, especially her feelings.

Xena had only taken Argo out for a short romp through the countryside, taking it easy on the horse. The warrior knew if she released her feelings and translated that the horse they might end up in Athens before Xena could think straight again.

She had come back before dusk, knowing the family would be expecting her for dinner and discussion afterwards. The last thing she wanted to face was another meal and discussion with Gabrielle’s family but she didn’t want the bard to think Xena was avoiding her as well. Again she had frowned when Gabrielle wasn’t in the stable or nearby waiting for Xena.

Usually the bard sought her out when she needed comforting but lately the woman had been withdrawn and more quiet than usual.

Xena was wondering if Gabrielle was changing her mind about leaving the road. Was her parent’s arguments getting to the bard? She had left Xena once for marriage, for a simpler life and the warrior wondered if the bard was craving that again but struggling against her family’s overbearing wishes.

Xena had decided to enter through the kitchen, the door being the closest to the barn area and stopped suddenly and ducked back out the door when she spotted Gabrielle standing by the door separating the kitchen from the living area of the house. Xena glanced around and saw her bard was listening at the door and Xena held her breath. The body language of the younger woman was readable even in the twilight. The bard was furious.

Gabrielle’s fists were clenched, one at her side and the other on the door jam as she listened at the door. Xena was surprised to see the bard’s body trembling and she recognized the stubborn set of Gabrielle’s jaw. Whenever Xena saw that familiar clenching she knew that she was in for an explosion or an unbending bard. Xena knew people called her stubborn but most of them had never gone up against Gabrielle once the smaller woman had set her mind to something.

Xena smiled to herself, even the Conqueror of Nations gave in before her little bard.

Xena’s curiosity was more than blazing and she quietly left the doorway and made her way around to the window just the other side of the doorway of where Gabrielle was listening. She wanted to know what was causing Gabrielle such distress.

“I still say it’s not right!” her father was saying loudly, Xena presumed to Gabrielle’s mother.

“I agree. Who will have her when she finally decides to settle down? After traveling with that she-demon! We were fortunate that Perdicus still wanted her, but he had been a soldier, after all.” the voice of Gabrielle’s mother reached the warrior and she found herself seeing red.

Then Xena sagged against the wall and sat down with her back to it. She could still hear everything but her strength seemed to have fled.
Were they right? What man would want to settle with Gabrielle after being with Xena, one of the most feared warriors in the land. One of the most feared women warriors of the land? Was she cutting off Gabrielle’s future?

“You know what they are saying about our daughter?” her father demanded.

“Don’t,” her mother’s voice pleaded.

“You know what that stupid merchant said last week? Before he knew who I was?!” the father’s voice was loud and angry.
“Please don’t, I don’t want to hear it. We hear good stories about them, too.” her mother protested.

“Oh yes, the good that they do, rescuing people, doing good deeds but this is about the two of them together!” he raged.
“Don’t!”

“They actually think our daughter lies with that demon!” he ranted.

“Stop it!” her mother’s voice went shrill.

“I agree, it’s time to stop this!” Xena’s head snapped up at the sound of her bard’s voice, sharp and calm but Xena could hear the tension undertones. The warrior didn’t dare risk a glance through the window, Gabrielle was probably right in the doorway across from her.

Xena’s heart skipped a beat and she nearly died when Lila crawled around the corner. The little sister signaled the warrior to keep quiet and crawled along the walkway to join the warrior. She smiled and placed a finger on Xena’s lips and pointed to the window. Xena understood, Lila did this often. Xena blushed a deep purple having been busted spying on her best friend’s family and then having Gabrielle’s sister join her in that spying.

Gods, this was complicated!

“Gabrielle, please, we …. we….” the mother’s voice stammered.

“Yes, I know, just discussing my future and your concern for me.” Xena could almost see Gabrielle’s clenched jaw and she saw Lila’s eyes were wide and curious. “Yes, mother, I know. What you both need to get through your heads is that I am where I want to be! I don’t care what anyone thinks about me! I don’t care what they whisper! And I especially don’t care what some idiot farmer thinks about my marriage potential!” Gabrielle’s voice finally rose to a shout.

“But you’ll want to marry someday!” her father protested.

“I want to get married now!” Xena’s heart sank and her head dropped forward.

“You do? To who? Do we know him?” her mother’s voice was excited.

“Yes, you know who I want for my bondmate but it’s not going to happen.” Gabrielle muttered, Xena and Lila barely catching the words.

“What? Why not? Aren’t you good enough?” her father demanded.

“It’s not like that, Father. I am in love, so deeply in love that no one else will ever touch my heart like this again, ever.”
“Oh, Gabrielle, then what’s the problem?” her mother wailed.

Lila rolled her eyes at her mother’s tone and Xena growled. Who could Gabrielle be talking about? Not Perdicus, could she? Was she still silently grieving that much?

“She doesn’t realize it.” Gabrielle said simply and Xena could almost imagine the bard steeling herself as if for a physical blow.

“She?” Gabrielle’s father, mother and Xena all asked in the same moment, fortunately Xena had whispered her question. Lila’s eyes were as wide as saucers. Xena’s heart began to pound almost louder than she could hear.

“What!? It’s true? You do bed that demon!?” her father demanded.

“That’s enough! Right now! You say another word against Xena and you’ll never talk to me again! No, I don’t have sex with her. I sleep with her but we only share the same space, that doesn’t mean I don’t want to!”

“Gabrielle, you want…..” her mother’s voice broke and Xena could hear the woman begin to cry. Xena herself was stunned. Gabrielle wanted her? Was she hearing right? Was this a weird nightmare sent my Morpheus?

“Yes, Mother. I want her. Not just sexually but…. oh gods, talking relationships with your parents is not my idea of a good time.” the bard muttered. “I love her, do you understand? I want her as my mate, totally – emotionally, spiritually, physically, everything. She doesn’t want me in that way, though.”

“I can’t believe this! You want to travel around, fighting all the time, putting yourself in danger just to bed a woman?!” her father demanded.

“No! I travel with Xena not only because I love her but because of the good we do. I will be content to spend the rest of my life with her and not touch her, if necessary! She is the best person I’ve ever met, damnit!” Xena heard Gabrielle smack her hand on the table with a frustrated growl.

Lila was looking at the warrior with wide eyes. “You didn’t know?” she whispered.

Xena shook her head and dropped her eyes.

“You love her like that?” Lila whispered and Xena nodded.

Lila reached out and hit the warrior on the arm, hard. Xena looked up.

“That’s for making her wait.” the young teen hissed and then cocked her ears to listen.

“Why doesn’t she want you?” Gabrielle’s mother asked.

“She doesn’t, all right.” Gabrielle muttered.

“You haven’t told her?”

“What do you mean, asking her that? You approve?” her father’s voice was shrill and Xena resisted the urge to rush in and grab the man by the throat and throw him out the window.

“I don’t know. I want her to be happy.” her mother protested.

“Happy? How can she be happy with a female warrior? How can she be happy fighting for her life all the time? Just traveling with Xena will get her killed. You know what we’ve heard. How many times have you been attacked, just traveling the road?”

“None of your business!” Gabrielle snapped. “I would spend an eternity in Tartarus just to be with her!”

“Gabrielle, don’t say that!” her mother’s voice was horrified.

Xena was stunned, surprised at the depth of the feelings the bard was voicing about her.

“It’s true! She came back from the dead for me and we aren’t even lovers.”

Lila started to ask questions but Xena held a finger up to her lips.

“I forbid this! It’s not natural! It’s not right!” her father yelled.

“Oh shut up, Father. Who says it’s not natural, even the gods share their beds with someone of the same sex.” Gabrielle’s voice was growing weary and Xena ached to hold the young woman in her arms, anything to comfort her.

“Family, how can you have a family with her?” Xena sensed that the bard’s father was losing his hold on the argument and searching for any ammunition to use.

“Who says we can’t have children and we can’t raise them? Besides, all that assumes that we’re lovers. We’re not and it’s killing me!” Gabrielle’s voice cracked and Xena heard the kitchen door slam and then the outer door. Xena sat against the wall, still stunned.

Lila punched her in the arm again and motioned for Xena to follow her. When they had gotten away from the house Lila turned and punched the warrior again. Xena’s eyes narrowed, she had let the teenager hit her enough, thank you.

“You two are so damned stubborn!” Lila yelled at her and looked like she was going to hit the warrior again. Xena held up her hand warningly. “She told me last time you were here how she felt, I thought you two would have settled this by now. Do you know she’s planning on leaving?” Lila demanded, hands on her hips, the same stubborn set to her jaw.

“No, I thought we were staying another night.”

“No, not with you,” Lila shouted. “Without you!”

Xena’s heart stopped and a chill came over her body. “Without me?” she whispered.

“Yes, she can’t take it any longer. It’s killing her to be near you and not touch you. She thinks you don’t want her because she’s not in your league.”

“What? I’m the one that isn’t good enough!” Xena protested. “After everything I’ve done, how could she want me?”

“Beats me, I think you’re okay.” Lila shrugged with a smile. “She thinks you’re from the gods and would do anything for you but she’s dying inside.”

“She’s light itself!” Xena continued to protest. “Anything I am today is because of her!”

“Then tell her, not me.” Lila snapped. “Adults! You make it so complicated!”

“Wait till you fall in love,” Xena snapped back, “and see how easy it is.”

“You love her, right?” Lila demanded.

“Yes, with all of my being. I don’t think I can live without her.” Xena whispered.

“Xena?” Xena and Lila spun around to see Gabrielle in the doorway of the barn, her bags in her hand.

Xena and Gabrielle found themselves caught in another moment of frozen time. Both losing themselves in each other’s eyes. Lila finally broke the moment by shoving the warrior and bard back through the barn door and shutting it behind them.

“You mean it,” they both asked at the same time, both breaking into smiles and relaxing finally. Gabrielle sighed and sat her travel bags down and walked over to a hay bale and sat down. She brushed a lock of hair from her eyes and Xena once again found herself wanting to do that for the young woman, to touch just her hair would be enough.

Then heat spread over the warrior and she thought that maybe just touching Gabrielle’s hair might not be enough anymore. They had both heard too much to go back and she knew Gabrielle sensed that too.

“I love you, Xena.” Gabrielle said quietly, not lifting her eyes up.

Xena moved slowly and carefully, kneeling in front of the bard. Tenderly she lifted Gabrielle chin up until the green eyes were looking into her deep blue ones. Tears were filling both their eyes.

“I love you, so very much, Gabrielle. I’ve been in love with you for so long.” Xena said softly.

“Xena!” Gabrielle threw her arms around the warrior’s neck and grabbed her in a tight hug, tears falling.

Xena, feeling tears falling from her eyes as well, welcomed the bard in the hug and held the other woman tightly. The warrior felt months of tension easing out of her muscles and a healing of her soul beginning. She pulled back slightly to look Gabrielle in the eyes.

“I….” the warrior stammered. “I love you so much, I’ve never felt like this before.” Xena took the bard’s hands in hers. Gabrielle kept quiet, watching her warrior struggle with the words. Getting Xena to talk about emotions was like pulling a tooth from a horse, almost impossible, the bard knew.

“I’ve had lovers, many of them but not like I want you. Not even Borias. It’s different with you. If you want me I’m yours but it has to be a commitment. If you let me love you it will be forever.”

Tears flowed freely from both women as the warrior struggled with the words.

“I love you, Xena, more than life.” Gabrielle whispered.

“You are the other half of my soul and I know if you love me that we’ll be together for eternity. I don’t want just sex, I want to marry you.” Xena managed to stammer out.

Gabrielle was so quiet for a moment that a feeling of fear began to grab at the warrior’s heart and then the bard grabbed her again in a bone crushing embrace.

“Yes! I love you totally and completely. I’ve wanted you as my mate for so long!” Gabrielle whispered.

Both women held together for several moments before Xena pulled out of the embrace. She held a finger up to Gabrielle’s lips to indicate silence. She slowly stood up and unlaced her chakram and placed it at Gabrielle’s feet and then did the same with her sword and the dagger hidden between her breasts. She knelt on one knee in front of the bard and Gabrielle thought her breath would stop forever.

“I offer you my sword and my life. I will love you forever if you’ll have me.” Xena pledged.

Gabrielle wiped tears of joy from her eyes. She knew this warrior’s pledge was the ultimate pledge Xena could make and was touched beyond words.

“I love you, and I accept your pledge and your love, warrior Xena. I pledge my love and trust in you and promise to love beyond time itself. I know that not even death will separate us from this point on.” Gabrielle pledged and pulled the warrior up to her lips.

The kiss was meant to be soft and gentle but the electric shock that passed through both women at the first contact sent both of them backwards.

“Wow.” Gabrielle whispered, touching her lips in wonderment.

“Wow? I’ll say.” Xena agreed and sat back up, reaching for her bard when angry voices brought her to her feet, chakram at the ready. Gabrielle reached up and placed a reassuring arm on Xena’s arm.

“It’s all right, it’s my father, not an army.” the bard grinned and Xena lowered the chakram, blushing that her warrior instincts had won out again. Even after the time she spent traveling with Gabrielle, she was surprised she hadn’t broken one of Gabrielle’s bones by accident when the bard startled her. Xena didn’t think that her instincts would ever ease totally up and neither did Gabrielle.

Lila’s voice was shrill and answered by an angry shout from her father. The door of the barn slammed open and he stood in the doorway, obviously fuming.

Gabrielle stood up angrily. “What, Father? Expecting to find me rolling naked in the hay with her?”

Xena blushed, it was what she had been intending with the bard moments before but wasn’t going to say that to the girl’s angry father.

“I want her gone!” he demanded.

“We were just about to leave.” Gabrielle snapped back.

“You’re not going anywhere this time! You’re still my daughter and I won’t have you become the laughing stock of Greece sleeping with her!”

Gabrielle quickly grabbed Xena by the arm as the warrior growled and took a step forward. The bard reached out and eased the chakram out of the warrior’s hand and Xena let her, trying to calm her breathing and the roaring in her head. She fought against the raging anger building up.

“If you keep this up I won’t be your daughter any longer!” Gabrielle threatened. Lila stepped into the barn, holding her cheek. Her eyes red from crying. This time Gabrielle growled. “You hit her?” she demanded.

Her father’s jaw clenched and his eyes narrowed. “You are not leaving here,” he hissed.

“Don’t threaten her,” Xena growled back, stepping a half step in front of Gabrielle.

“What will you do, warrior?” her father sneered. Gabrielle’s head was spinning, this was happening too fast and everything was out of control. With a moment of clarity she knew that Xena was about a moment away of injuring or killing her father and her father was going to push the warrior into it. And a good chance existed of Lila or Gabrielle getting in the way.

Gabrielle quickly pulled Xena back and stepped in front of the warrior, placing her hands behind her back to keep bodily contact with Xena.

“Father, calm down! Both of you! I love you both!” Gabrielle pleaded and felt Xena relax slightly behind her. Her father scowled but didn’t move any closer. Gabrielle almost screamed in frustration when her mother peeked in the doorway and entered. “Fine! Everyone come in and let’s settle this!” she muttered. Her mother crossed over to Lila and began to examine the girl’s cheek.

“Xena has just asked me to bond with her, to marry her and I have accepted. What that means to us is more than just a simple bonding ceremony like I had with Perdicus. If Xena agrees, we will be bonded in an Amazon ceremony. I’ve already pledged my soul to her and plan to spend eternity with her. Accept this or lose me.” Gabrielle said simply.

“I love you, Gabrielle. I don’t understand but if she makes you happy then we’ll both be welcome here.” her mother said quietly and Lila nodded enthusiastically.

“I forbid it!” her father shouted.

“Oh shut up, Herdoctus.” her mother snapped and he looked at his wife, stunned.

“She’s our daughter and all that should matter is that Xena is a good person now and Gabrielle thinks that she will be happy with her. Accept it, I’m not going to lose my daughter because of your pride!” She approached her husband in a fury and he backed up quickly, surprised and stumbling. She poked a finger in his chest and he took it.

Gabrielle and Lila’s eyes were equally wide with surprise.

“Don’t you ever lay a hand on either Lila or Gabrielle again or you’ll never wake up again!” her mother shouted and then spun away from her husband. She approached Gabrielle and Xena slowly. With a hesitant smile she gathered her daughter into a hug and Gabrielle grinned, hugging her back. Lila, unable to resist to moment, rushed over and joined in. Xena was grateful they didn’t try to include her in the family hug although Gabrielle’s mother did hug her awkwardly after detaching herself from Gabrielle.

“Make her happy, please.” she said to the warrior.

“I will spend my life trying.” Xena promised.

“We’re leaving, Mother.” Gabrielle stated.

“I know. Let me pack your food bags before you go.” none of them were surprised to find her father had slipped out of the barn. “Don’t worry about him, he’ll fume for awhile but settle in once you two are gone.” her mother reassured them. She turned to her other daughter. “Lila, go and pack Xena’s bags, I’m sure she doesn’t want to run into your father right now. They need some time to cool off.” Lila hugged her sister again and then surprised Xena by hugging the warrior and then dashing off quickly.

“Xena, could I have a moment with Gabrielle?”

“Of course, I’ll saddle Argo.” Xena retrieved her chakram from the bard’s hand and her other weapons with panther-like grace. Gabrielle was unaware of the desire on her face as she watched her warrior move. Her mother, however, knew the look and smiled, it was just awkward to see that type of look on your daughter, she thought. She’s still my little girl. She then touched her daughter’s arm and they moved outside the door.

“Gabrielle, I love you and I’d like to you to visit again.” her mother brushed a tear away from her face and Gabrielle hugged her mother again.

“We will. Just give us a little time, this is new for us too.”

“Gabrielle, your father….” her mother stammered and they moved to sit on two hay bales by the door. “I think he’s always sensed something about you and has fought against it since you were a baby.”

“That I prefer women to men?” Gabrielle asked, puzzled.

“No, something else. If anything happens to him or me I want you to go to your uncle Harpalion in the next village, he has a parchment for you.”

“What is it, Mom?”

“I can’t tell you right now. Just know that it might answer some questions you’ve had during your life.” her mother smiled and held up a hand to cut off protests. “I know your curiosity, Gabrielle. Promise you’ll wait.”

The stubborn jaw was well known to the mother but she continued to stare sternly at her daughter.

“All right, I promise.”

Lila came running out of the house with the packs. “I’ll go and pack your food bags,” her mother said with another quick hug.

Lila grinned at her big sister. “Finally got your warrior, huh? How far did you get?”

“Lila!” Gabrielle shrieked.

“Xena?” The warrior was surprised and more than a little cautious when she turned and found Herdoctus standing near the stall. She slowly walked out from saddling Argo and faced her love’s father. He dropped his eyes and when he looked back at the warrior she was stunned to see tears in his eyes.

“Can I talk to you before Gabrielle comes back in?” he asked softly.

“Sure.”

“I’m….. I’m not a good father.” the man began to pace and Xena waited for him to continue. “I try, I just don’t know how to handle emotions and feelings. I swore the gods when Gabrielle was born that I would never lay a hand on her like my parents did me but…. I’ve failed both her and Lila.” He looked over at the warrior. “I’ve heard things about you, can you understand the rage?”

Xena nodded, softening a little. She had been fortunate, her mother and her brothers had been good family.

“I swear I will never touch Lila again.” he swore passionately. “I’m sorry about earlier. You asked her to marry you?”

“Yes,” Xena nodded.

“You mean it, you won’t just use her and then tire of her?” Herdoctus stopped, looking the warrior deep in the eyes.
“I’ve told Gabrielle that I’ve had many sexual partners, most one time encounters. Gabrielle is different, I intend to spend my life with her.”

“You’ve not been with her yet, have you?”

“Herdoctus!” Xena growled.

“No, please, don’t misunderstand. It’s just that, how do you know you’ll stay with her?”

“How does anyone know? She is my soul, I can’t live without her any longer.” Xena shrugged and Herdoctus nodded.

“Swear to me that you’ll try and make her happy.”

“I’ve already sworn that oath to Gabrielle.”

“Then that’s enough. I’m sorry, warrior. She deserves better than me for a father.” Herdoctus complained.

“You’re attempting to change, Herdoctus. So am I and with Gabrielle’s help I’ll make up for my past. It’s up to you to make up for yours with your family. Go talk with Gabrielle and tell her you’re trying.”

“No,” Herdoctus shook his head. “It’s too soon, she won’t believe me.”

“Yes, she will. She has a talent for seeing only the good in people, she’ll believe you.” Xena insisted.

“Next time, warrior.” Herdoctus promised and was out the door before Xena could protest further.

“Damn! Stubbornness must run in the family!”

Xena was grateful that Gabrielle had agreed to ride on Argo when they left the village. They were late in getting started, later than Xena liked but she knew that Gabrielle didn’t want to spend another night in her family home. Xena hadn’t been able to convince either father or daughter to talk to each other, Gabrielle still angry and hurt over his words and he too ashamed to take them back yet.

Gabrielle had been pleased but surprised when Xena asked her to ride in front of her and didn’t understand why until Xena slipped her arms tightly around the bard and began to nuzzle her neck from behind.

“Oh, no fair!” the bard protested with a moan as Argo walked steadily along once they were out of sight of the village.

“All’s fair, my bard.” Xena whispered and began to nibble on Gabrielle’s earlobe.

Gabrielle leaned over and Xena finally was able to kiss the bard like she had wanted to in the barn. Gabrielle’s arm circled around the warrior’s neck and held her tight in the embrace. The kiss was everything both women had been dreaming about. Gentle and tender at first but quickly turning into something very passionate. Xena was surprised to find that her inexperienced bard was a bundle of energy and passion, her tongue demanding entry past Xena’s lips and Xena moaned with the contact and she felt Gabrielle’s hand tighten in her hair, holding her prisoner at the bard’s lips. Both tongues began a fight for dominance that left both women breathless. Xena pulled back laughing.

“Must remember to breathe,” she muttered.

“Oh, Xena,” Gabrielle reached back and grabbed her warrior by the thighs, welcoming the growl she received and delighting in the warmth her hands were causing on the taller woman.

Xena’s lips moved down, trailing her tongue along the bard’s neck, sending shivers over the blonde’s body. The lips settled on the bard’s neck and the warrior’s teeth began to lightly nibble on Gabrielle’s neck, causing her moans to increase, the bard’s hand’s beginning to move seductively between Xena’s thighs.

Argo stopped dead in the road with a snort, drawing the women out of their haze.

“I think we need to find a place to camp.” Xena suggested.

“I agree totally, my warrior.” as a hand crept up between Xena’s thighs and Gabrielle was delighted with the gasp from her warrior as her fingers began to struggle past the undergarments.

“You keep that up and we’ll never get off this horse and that is not how I intend my first night with you!” Xena lightly slapped at the hand.

Gabrielle giggled but withdrew, leaning back into her warrior.

“Hmmm, doesn’t look too inviting around here, we’ll move on a bit.”

“Okay.” Gabrielle settled back into her warrior’s arms and let the motion of the road lull her into a light sleep.

Xena was pleased with the trust the bard gave her, always trusting Xena to keep her safe, even on the back of a horse going down the road. The bard hadn’t been sleeping lately and the visit with her family had been emotionally exhausting for everyone. All Xena wanted to do was get somewhere safe and secluded for both of them to rest, heal and discover each other and what this new development meant for them. Unfortunately the landscape wasn’t cooperating very well. Potedia may have been a small village but the surrounding land was well developed farm land and wasn’t offering much in the way of secluded campsites. Xena frowned.

It was well into dusk when Xena finally found a site that would do. She moved Argo carefully through the brush and almost thanked the gods when the horse worked her way unerringly to a good sized creek, tumbling over lots of boulders and creating mini waterfalls and pools. The clean water promised fish and bathing and relaxing in the morning.

Xena managed to dismount Argo and pulled Gabrielle down into her arms and cradled the bard, softly carrying her to a fallen log. Gabrielle mumbled and started to blink. “Stay here,” Xena ordered. “Just rest, I’ll make camp.”

The bard started to protest but Xena stopped her with a light kiss. The bard smiled and leaned against the log. Xena smiled and quickly went about setting up camp. There was a chill in the air and she wanted a fire going as soon as possible. They were both tired and their cold tolerance would be low. Xena wrapped the bard in her traveling cloak and a blanket and set about starting a fire. Within a candlemark she had a fire roaring, food cooking over it and their sleeping mat and blankets set up. Xena was a little worried, Gabrielle had curled up next to the log and had been tossing in her sleep again, although she quickly slipped further into sleep when Xena would touch and whisper reassurances to the bard.

Moving to the log with their dinner she sat next to her bard.

“Come on, sleepy-head, time for food.” Xena lightly shook her bard and was pleased to see Gabrielle smiling at her.
“Smells good, you actually cooked.” The bard sat up, rubbing sleep out of her eyes, looking around in wonderment. “Wow, I must have been out.”

Xena smiled. “Yup, you’ve been tired and today wasn’t easy.”

“That’s an understatement!” Gabrielle took the plate of food and began to eat with an appetite that Xena was glad to see return. “Gods, I can’t believe we went through that today!”

Xena frowned, “Any regrets about us?” she whispered.

“Never a chance!” Gabrielle lightly hit the warrior on the arm and leaned against the taller woman. “Now that I’ve got you I’m not going to let you go.” the bard promised. “I’m just glad I overheard you before I left. Thank the gods for Lila.”

Xena grinned in agreement. “I think that stubborn streak of yours runs in the family.”

“Hey! What stubborn streak?” the bard protested playfully. Her eyes beginning to droop a little. “Whoa, did you put something in the food?”

Xena laughed and took the plate from Gabrielle’s hands. “No, little one. It’s just all catching up with you and me.”

Gabrielle looked up and saw the weariness on her warrior’s face. “You too?”

“Yup, neither of us have slept decent for weeks. We’ve been driving ourselves crazy with our feelings and hiding them that we’ve been a bundle of nerves. Then the scene with your family wasn’t exactly relaxing.”

“You’re right.” Gabrielle agreed, her head beginning to drop forward and she snapped it back up with determination. “This isn’t how I wanted the night.” she complained.

Xena knelt down and placed a finger over the bard’s lips. “Quiet, little one. Get ready for bed. We’ve got the rest of our lives and I don’t want to rush this.” Xena held out her hand and the bard was stunned to see it shaking.

“Xena?”

“I’m nervous, I’m so scared of loving you and I’m too tired to think right. I want to hold you tonight and convince myself that it’s real. Am I making any sense?”

Gabrielle reached out and held the hand to her lips, kissing each fingertip and then the palm. “Yes, my love. Perfect sense. I want it to be special too.”

“Let’s sleep, little one.”

For the first time in months they both slept soundly, Gabrielle laying curled against Xena, their fingers intertwined with Xena’s arm over her bard, both dreaming of the coming day and their coming future.

Xena was surprised to find her arms empty when she woke in the morning. She frowned, Gabrielle almost never beat her up, preferring to sleep as long as possible. Xena looked around and realized that the sun had been up for over an hour.
“Wow, I must have been tired.” she mumbled and then smiled. “And content.”

Xena noticed a towel hanging on a tree branch near her and grinned. Taking the hint she left her armor off, content to just carry her chakram with her down to the river. When she spotted Gabrielle the warrior thought her heart had stopped.
The bard was breath-taking. Xena couldn’t find the words. Gabrielle had already been in the water and was now on a smooth rock, leaning back on her elbows, letting the sun dry her beautiful skin. Xena hadn’t seen the bard look so relaxed in forever. Xena felt her heart pounding as Gabrielle lay back on the rock, her naked skin shining in the sun. Xena grinned and stripped out of her nightshirt and left the towel and shift on the bank as she slowly entered the water, trying not to make any extra noise. She almost yelped at the cold water though but gritted her teeth.

She ducked under the water and easily swam the short distance across the current and, with absolute silence, slid out of the water and up onto the rock where Gabrielle was sunning herself. With the grace of a stalking tiger, the warrior moved slowly and carefully up close to her bard and then, with an evil grin, shook her head quickly, sending cold water flying all over the bard.

“Xena!” Gabrielle shrieked, sitting upright in a flash only to be captured by the warrior’s waiting arms. A muffled protest was cut short by Xena’s lips and hands traveling over the bard’s back. The bard let the warrior lower her back to the rock slowly, keeping a firm hold around Xena and refusing to break contact with the woman’s lips. Again the kiss was passionate with tongues exploring, tasting, and revealing in the different textures and feelings the kiss was invoking. Gabrielle’s hands, no longer restricted by Xena’s leathers, moved along the taller woman’s ribs, feeling the soft skin covering the firm muscles underneath. Xena’s head moved down, kissing every inch of skin between the bard’s lips to her nipples and back again. By the time Xena’s lips seized one of the nipples Gabrielle was gasping for air and running her hands through her warrior’s black hair.

“Oh gods, Xena.”

Xena continued her exploration of Gabrielle’s body with her tongue and kissing, licking away the remaining water off the bard’s skin, sending shivers of delight over the young woman’s body, her hands replacing her lips on the bard’s nipples. Gabrielle was squirming and gasping, her hands in the warrior’s dark hair, unconsciously encouraging Xena’s head lower. Xena smiled and eagerly slid down the length of Gabrielle.

Xena looked up as Gabrielle moaned, green eyes meeting blue. The warrior had never seen such unmasked desire on anyone’s face like this before and she moaned with the intensity of Gabrielle’s eyes.

“Xena, please…. I’ve waited so long!” Gabrielle pleaded, raising her legs, her hips bucking, begging the warrior with her body as well as her voice. Xena moaned again and gently parted the bard’s lower lips, lovingly exploring her lover, causing Gabrielle to growl and toss her head back. “Xena! Now, please!”

Xena groaned at how wet the bard was and knew this wetness wasn’t from the water. With ease she slipped two fingers into her lover and began her explorations of the bard’s sexual lips with her tongue. Within moments Gabrielle was rocking, matching the rhythm of Xena’s fingers, entering slowly and backing out, teasing the small woman into a frenzy. The dark haired woman’s tongue reached out and began a slow teasing of the bard’s clit, bringing forth cries of passion from the small woman. Xena felt her own body responding to her lover’s building orgasm. Her attention to Gabrielle’s body increased in speed and roughness and Xena was rewarded with hearing the bard screaming the warrior’s name again and again as Gabrielle’s muscles began contracting, waves of her orgasm overcoming her, again and again.

When she could breath again, Gabrielle found herself in Xena’s arms, being cradled and rocked.

“Hey, you okay?” Xena was asking. In response Gabrielle hugged her lover fiercely.

“Gods, I never thought it could be like that!” she whispered.

Xena felt herself blushing and held her love tight. “I love you.”

“By the gods, I love you more than life itself, woman!” Gabrielle grabbed the back of Xena’s head and pulled her down for a rough kiss, moaning at the softness of the lips and the taste of her own passion on those lips.

Xena looked down at her lover, her fingers lightly tracing Gabrielle’s lips. “You scared me for a moment.”

“Hmmm,” the bard muttered and began nuzzling Xena’s neck, causing the warrior to shiver. “You literally took my breath away, my love.”

“I’ll take that as a compliment.” Xena grinned.

“You have no idea! Let me show you.”

Xena found herself on her back on Gabrielle’s towel with the bard attacking her neck with renewed energy and the warrior found that it was her that was breathless, gasping with the dancing energy play shooting through her body. Gabrielle moaned in Xena’s neck as her hand found one of the warrior’s nipples. She moved from the neck to Xena’s lips with a rough kiss that again took the warrior’s breath away and then moved back to the neck.

“Remember the bacchae cave?” Gabrielle whispered as her hand began to dancing lightly across the warrior’s ribs and around her breasts. Xena felt her body arching under the bard’s hands, her body being played like a fine instrument. The warrior wasn’t sure if she was in any kind of control over her body any longer and was surprised to find that she didn’t care right at that moment.

“Yes!” she hissed.

“You have no idea how many nights I’ve dreamed of biting you again.” Gabrielle’s voice was low and husky and brought forth a moan from her warrior.

“Yes!” Xena’s hands found the bard’s hair and then her shoulders, grabbing on almost painfully, as if needing something to center on. Gabrielle smiled and continued the downward trek of her fingers, playing in the dark triangle of Xena’s hair, causing the warrior to growl with need.

“Gabrielle, please!”

“Begging, my warrior?” Gabrielle whispered and then bit down a little harder. Any reply Xena might have had was lost in her cry as her body began to shake. The younger woman sensed that her lover needed her and quickly. She knew there would be time later for the soft and gentle loving that she suspected the warrior was capable of but for right now they needed each other, almost with a sense of desperation. Having denied themselves for so long had taken a toll and their bodies demanded satisfaction and their souls demanded connection on all levels.

Xena felt herself giving over all control to the fierce little bard in her arms. Never had she given up so much to a lover. The warrior had always struggled to stay in control, never leaving herself open, especially her heart and now she found she was lost. She couldn’t control her body and it’s dance of delight under the bard’s roaming fingers and talented bite, she couldn’t control her emotions any longer, Gabrielle had possessed her heart and soul totally and now was claiming her body. Never had her body responded like this to anyone, not even Ares, with all his charm of a god.

Xena felt Gabrielle filling her with the bard’s smaller fingers and her own body responding, trying to capture the bard’s fingers inside, demanding more. Xena lost all coherent thought when Gabrielle’s thumb found her most sensitive spot and began stroking her clit. Xena’s hands grabbed the blonde’s shoulders, her fingernails beginning to dig into the soft skin, and Gabrielle moaned in response, her own passion lost with the warrior’s.

Xena wasn’t sure which sensation was causing her body to rock and her soul to soar higher, the fingers dancing inside her, the thumb over her swollen clit or the teeth that seemed to have a talent of finding the most erotic spot on the warrior’s neck.

Xena found herself approaching a point of no return and realized something that startled her, she was afraid to step over that point. She had never gotten this far with anyone, her need to be totally in control at all times having stopped her before this point. She whimpered with all the feelings running through her body and soul.

Gabrielle looked up from her nibbling and saw a tear escape the warrior’s closed eyes and felt Xena’s muscles tightening around her fingers and the warrior’s nails almost breaking the skin on her shoulders. Xena’s body shaking uncontrollably.

“I love you, Xena. Let go.” she whispered and bit down again.

Xena screamed a primal scream and then the bard’s name. Wave after wave overcame the tall woman. This time it was the warrior being soothed, held safely in her bard’s arms. She reached out and held close to Gabrielle, tears flowing softly.

“It’s all right, Xena. I’m here. I’m never letting you go.”

“Sorry, don’t know where that came from.” Xena tried to sit up but the bard caught her lips again.

“Don’t apologize, damnit. All I know is that something incredible is between us. I love you.”

Xena smiled and reached up to caress her lover’s cheek. “I love you, marry me.”

Gabrielle grinned. “I thought I already said ‘yes’.”

“Amazon wedding?”

Xena grinned at the surprise and hopeful look on the Amazon Queen’s face and sat up to face her lover.

“You mean it? A bonding ritual?”

“I’m already your champion, let me be your mate.” Xena leaned forward and kissed the blond again.

“Yes, yes, a thousand times, yes!” Gabrielle threw herself into the warrior’s arms, both laughing and kissing.

It was only minutes before Gabrielle found out that Xena could, indeed, be a gentle lover as well as a tiger.

THE END
Gabrielle’s Awakening – A Visit Home

Storyline: You might recognize this piece in a slightly different focus. This is Gabrielle’s point of view of the story A Visit Home, An Awakening. Hope you like the different slant on the same story. There are different scenes and different information in it.
Gabrielle had finally broken away from her mother and her endless questions. The bard was tired and irritable. She and Xena had been at Gabrielle’s home for two days, and nights, and the bard was more than ready to leave.

As she slowly walked around the house, heading for the barn, she stopped. The little Amazon realized that she was more than ready to leave, in more ways than one. Gabrielle stood looking at the barn door, as if trying to make a decision. The little bard nodded to herself and changed direction, heading for the pen that held the goats, picking up the food bucket, as she moved.

Unknown to Gabrielle, her mother Hecuba was standing at the kitchen window, watching her daughter, reading the young woman’s body language with a frown. The older woman was well aware that Xena was in the barn attending to her horse, Argo and now Gabrielle was moving away from the barn.

The last two days had been tense and it was tearing at Hecuba to see her daughter withdrawn and obviously upset. No matter what questions the worried mother asked, she wasn’t getting any answers from her daughter. The bard’s mother could sense that Gabrielle was at a crossroads.

Gabrielle was also wondering the same thing, as she fed the goats.

The bard would have also used the description of a crossroads to describe her thought process. It just seemed time for decisions and Gabrielle was not amused with any of the choices or paths. The blond unconsciously brushed a hair back from her forehead and reflected again on how tired she was. Countless nights of fitful sleep, long days spent tense, were beginning to take a toll on the small woman. She was tired and she was tired of being tired.

She was also tired of frustration.

If Hecuba could see her daughter she would see a familiar setting of the bard’s jaw. The bard replaced the bucket and headed for the barn.

Gabrielle opened the door slowly and slipped inside, not surprised to see her best friend Xena tending to Argo. The bard had given the warrior an easy out earlier by suggesting that Xena look in on Argo and escape the bard’s mother’s endless questioning.

Gabrielle was surprised that Xena hadn’t heard her come in; this was highly unusual, and the bard decided to take advantage of it, standing a moment, watching Xena brush Argo’s coat and mane. The bard felt a familiar heat beginning in her loins and spreading throughout her body, as she watched the warrior’s muscles rippling under the tanned skin with the long brush strokes. Gabrielle quickly fought her heartbeat back to a regular beat.

“Gods, Argo, I have to be more patient. I can’t strangle her father, I can’t strangle her father, I can’t strangle her father.” Xena whispered while brushing.

The fierce warrior spun rapidly on her heel, face blushing bright red when she heard a giggle behind her. She tried to stammer something out when she caught Gabrielle’s green eyes laughing at her. The young bard was holding her ribs, trying not to fall to the floor laughing. Xena tried glaring at her friend and that only succeeded in making the blond laugh even harder. Gabrielle finally caught her breath and leaned against the barn door.

“Gods, Xena. Don’t you think I feel the same way!?” she giggled, watching the warrior resume brushing the horse with a scowl.
“I know, sorry I left you alone in there.” Xena mumbled.

Gabrielle moved behind the warrior and wrapped her arms around the taller woman, with a giggle.

“It’s okay, I figured I had to get you out of there before you threw him through the window.” The bard giggled again. Gabrielle leaned into the warrior, relishing the scent that was uniquely Xena: leather, soap root, and musk. With a start, the bard realized she was rubbing her face against Xena’s leather top and holding the warrior tight. A roaring filled her ears and she felt her entire body flush with heat. Gabrielle quickly backed up out of the hug, trying to catch her breath.

Xena turned around, and Gabrielle lost all the control she thought she had over her mind and feelings. Looking into those bright blue eyes caused the bard to lose her breath again.

The barn door slammed open before the spell was broken between the two women, and both blinked in the sunlight and intrusion. Lila rushed in with a frustrated look on her face.

“There you two are! Lunch time!” and she was gone.

Gabrielle felt her face blushing, eyes downcast and stammering. “I… we should go in.”

“Uh huh.” Xena agreed. Gabrielle quickly turned and was gone after her sister, almost breaking into tears.

Lila grabbed her older sister’s arm, stopping the bard, looking back at the barn door and realizing that Xena wasn’t stepping through immediately, Lila turned to Gabrielle.

“Well?” she demanded.

“Well what?”

“Did you tell her how you feel?” the youngster snapped.

“No, of course not! I’ve told you, she doesn’t care for me like that!” Gabrielle snapped back, beginning to walk back to the house again. Lila caught up with her sister.

“Looks like it to me!” Lila protested.

“We sleep under the same blankets every night, I’m in her arms every night, we eat together, bathe together, sleep together and she hasn’t shown any interest in me, sexually. She thinks I’m a kid.” Gabrielle complained.

“I think you’re both hooked and won’t admit to each other!”

“Glad you think so, I’m the one living with this!” Gabrielle stopped dead and glared at Lila. “It’s torture, Lila. My body and soul ache just to touch her. I almost just kissed her!”

“Do it! What can you lose?”

“My best friend and I couldn’t live with that.” Gabrielle whispered.

No one seemed to notice that Gabrielle was quiet during lunch, something really unusual for the young woman. Her mother had noticed the dark circles under her daughter’s eyes and had commented on it several times, with a disapproving click of her tongue, eyes glaring at the warrior.

Gabrielle clenched her jaw, the familiar setting that warned most anyone who knew her that she was tense and her infamous stubborn streak was about to show itself. The bard looked over and saw Xena concentrating on her food, her jaw also clenched. Gabrielle was confused. At times, Hecuba questioned her about the men she met, wondering if there were any she was interested in and then her mother would turn around and ask detailed questions about Xena, as if sizing up a potential mate for Gabrielle.

The bard knew that her father could barely stand having the warrior around but tolerated her so he could see Gabrielle. The bard knew that he still blamed Xena for his daughter running off to the road, following the warrior woman and pursuing the dream of being a bard. Hecuba was more receptive of the warrior, but uncomfortable at the same time. Gabrielle wanted to scream.

“Are you sure you’re all right, Gabrielle?” her mother asked again.

“I’m fine!” the bard snapped.

“Hey, don’t talk to your mother in that tone, young lady!” Herdoctus threatened, pointing a finger at his oldest daughter.

“I’m just worried about you,” Hecuba said softly.

“I’m fine, Mother.”

“You could visit your mother a little more often! You act as if you don’t care about her feelings. Leaving here with only a short note!” Herdoctus’ voice began to rise.

“Traveling around, putting yourself in danger, of course she’s worried!”

“Stop it, both of you! I’m fine, I’m doing what I want to be doing! Can’t you let it alone?” Before tears could escape the green eyes, the bard had jumped up and rushed out through the kitchen.

Gabrielle hit the back door running, and didn’t stop until she was through the fields and running by a stream. The bard finally collapsed beside a familiar old oak, gasping for air and trying not to cry.

The bard sank to the ground with her back to the tree, welcoming the shade and the soothing sound of the water rushing by over the rocks. She crossed her arms over her knees and rested her head. It was then that she finally let loose and began crying.

After awhile the tears had finally slowed down and she leaned back against the tree. She closed her eyes and let her body relax.

“You know you were always my favorite tree when I was a kid,” she said simply to the tree behind her. “You always listened and you never told another soul of my doubts, my dreams, my fears or my pain. I’m glad you’re still here, old friend.”

“Gabrielle?” a tentative voice questioned.

The bard opened her eyes and smiled at her younger sister standing nearby. “Hey,” she answered and motioned her sibling to sit down with her.

“Hey,” Lila sat down looking around. “I come here when Dad gets angry.”

“Was my favorite spot when I was home.” Gabrielle said with a smile.

“Want to talk?” Lila picked up a rock, and tossed it into the stream.

“Yeah, I need to talk to someone.” Gabrielle hesitated, “I’m leaving tonight.”

“I didn’t know you two were leaving until tomorrow.”

“I’m leaving alone.” the bard whispered.

“What? Without Xena?!” Lila demanded, and saw Gabrielle’s eyes filling with tears.

“Yes, I can’t take it any longer!” again the bard’s control broke and Lila took her bigger sister into her arms and held Gabrielle while she cried once again. “I love her so much but I can’t keep going the way it is and I can’t stay here!”

“Where will you go?”

“Athens, I was accepted into the Academy there once, they’ll have me again.”

“You can’t leave Xena, you two are just right for each other.” Lila protested.

“I can’t live like this!” the bard cried and Lila held her close.

The two sisters made their way back to the farm when it started getting close to dinner time. Lila hurried off to feed and water the pack horse, while Gabrielle started towards the kitchen to help her mother with final dinner preparations.

The bard was puzzled to find the kitchen empty and voices from the common room. She moved across the room and started to open the door and stopped at the tone of her father’s voice. She knew that tone and it chilled her to the bone. If Gabrielle had been fifteen she would have crept back out the door and headed right back to her favorite oak tree, maybe to even spend the night in it’s welcoming branches, but she wasn’t and she was determined not to be afraid any longer.

“She can’t leave here again! It’s time she settled down and gave us grandchildren!” he snapped.

Gabrielle moved close to the door and opened it a crack, listening with her jaw beginning to clench.

“You can’t keep her here, Herdoctus. She’s not a farmer and she’s a grown woman.” Hecuba protested.

“You going against my wishes?” he hissed.

“No, of course not!” her mother’s voice held a familiar tone: fear. Gabrielle almost opened the door to throw her father through the window, but held tight.

“I thought this mess was behind us when she married Perdicus, but, not! Because of that damned warlord bitch, he goes and gets killed and our daughter takes up with that warbitch again!” he yelled.

“It wasn’t Xena’s fault he died! It was that madwoman, Callisto.”

Gabrielle’s head was roaring and her eyes were hazing over in red. She could feel her body trembling with the rage that was building inside of her.

“I still say it’s not right!” her father said loudly.

“I agree. Who will have her when she finally decides to settle down? After traveling with that she-demon! We were fortunate that Perdicus still wanted her, but he had been a soldier, after all.”

Gabrielle felt a growl beginning in her throat.

“You know what they are saying about our daughter?” her father demanded.

“Don’t,” her mother’s voice pleaded.

“You know what that stupid merchant said last week? Before he knew who I was?!” the father’s voice was loud and angry.

“Please don’t, I don’t want to hear it. We hear good stories about them, too.” her mother protested.

“Oh yes, the good that they do, rescuing people, doing good deeds but this is about the two of them together!” he raged.

“Don’t!”

“They actually think our daughter lies with that demon!” he ranted.

“Stop it!” her mother’s voice went shrill.

“I agree, it’s time to stop this!” Gabrielle threw the door open and stormed into the common room, facing her father and mother, hands clenched and jaw muscles twitching. The bard felt like she could spit fire, at the moment.

“Gabrielle, please, we …. we….” the mother’s voice stammered.

“Yes, I know, just discussing my future and your concern for me.” Gabrielle snapped, through gritted teeth. “Yes, mother, I know. What you both need to get through your heads is that I am where I want to be! I don’t care what anyone thinks about me! I don’t care what they whisper! And I especially don’t care what some idiot farmer thinks about my marriage potential!” Gabrielle’s voice finally rose to a shout.

“But you’ll want to marry someday!” her father protested.

“I want to get married now!” the bard snapped and wished she could take back the words. This was not where she wanted the conversation to go but now it was too late. “You do? To who? Do we know him?” her mother’s voice was excited.

“Yes, you know who I want for my bondmate but it’s not going to happen.” Gabrielle muttered, trying to fight back tears.

“What? Why not? Aren’t you good enough?” her father demanded.

“It’s not like that, Father. I’m in love, so deeply in love that no one else will ever touch my heart like this again, ever.”

“Oh, Gabrielle, then what’s the problem?” her mother wailed.

“She doesn’t realize it.” Gabrielle said simply and steeled herself for the next blow, whether physical or verbal.

“She?” Gabrielle’s father, and mother asked in the same moment.

“What!? It’s true? You do bed that demon!?” her father demanded.

“That’s enough! Right now! You say another word against Xena and you’ll never speak to me again! No, I don’t have sex with her. I sleep with her, but we only share the same space; that doesn’t mean I don’t want to!”

“Gabrielle, you want…..” her mother’s voice broke and she began to cry.

“Yes, Mother. I want her. Not just sexually but…. oh gods, talking relationships with your parents is not my idea of a good time,” the bard muttered. “I love her, do you understand? I want her as my mate, totally – emotionally, spiritually, physically, everything. She doesn’t want me in that way, though.” Gabrielle wiped an angry tear away.

“I can’t believe this! You want to travel around, fighting all the time, putting yourself in danger just to bed a woman?!” her father demanded.

“No! I travel with Xena not only because I love her but because of the good we do. I will be content to spend the rest of my life with her, and not touch her, if necessary! She is the best person I’ve ever met, damnit!” Gabrielle smacked her hand on the table, in frustration.

“Why doesn’t she want you?” Gabrielle’s mother asked.

“She doesn’t, all right?” Gabrielle muttered.

“You haven’t told her?”

“What do you mean, asking her that? You approve?” her father’s voice was shrill and Gabrielle wanted to shove him through the door.

“I don’t know. I want her to be happy,” her mother protested.

“Happy? How can she be happy with a female warrior? How can she be happy fighting for her life all the time? Just traveling with Xena will get her killed. You know what we’ve heard. How many times have you been attacked, just traveling the road?”

“None of your business!” Gabrielle snapped. “I would spend an eternity in Tartarus, just to be with her!”

“Gabrielle, don’t say that!” her mother’s voice was horrified.

“It’s true! She came back from the dead for me and we aren’t even lovers.” Gabrielle fought back from having her voice break, from the tears that were filling her eyes.

“I forbid this! It’s not natural! It’s not right!” her father yelled.

“Oh shut up, Father. Who says it’s not natural, even the gods share their beds with someone of the same sex.” Gabrielle suddenly felt weary. She could sense that her father was losing his steam of anger, and she felt hers draining away. The bard was also wondering why she was arguing with her parents about this and explaining everything? She would be with Xena, anyway, soon.

“Family, how can you have a family with her?” her father demanded.

“Who says we can’t have children and we can’t raise them? Besides, all that assumes that we’re lovers. We’re not and it’s killing me!” Gabrielle’s voice cracked and she quickly fled out the door she had come through.

Gabrielle had grabbed her travel packs she’d hidden in the barn earlier that morning, and started out the barn door, when she heard Lila’s irritated voice just outside.

“You two are so damned stubborn!” Lila’s voice carried through the door and Gabrielle opened the door a crack and saw the teenager facing down her warrior. Lila yelled at her, and looked like she was going to hit the warrior. Xena held up her hand warningly. “She told me last time you were here how she felt, I thought you two would have settled this by now. Do you know she’s planning on leaving?” Lila demanded, hands on her hips, the same stubborn set to her jaw.

“No, I thought we were staying another night.”

“No, not with you,” Lila shouted. “Without you!”

“Without me?” the warrior whispered, a stunned look on her face.

Could Xena care whether she stayed or went, Gabrielle wondered.

“Yes, she can’t take it any longer. It’s killing her to be near you and not touch you. She thinks you don’t want her, because she’s not in your league.”

“What? I’m the one who isn’t good enough!” Xena protested. “After everything I’ve done, how could she want me?”

“Beats me, I think you’re okay.” Lila shrugged with a smile. “She thinks you’re from the gods and would do anything for you, but she’s dying inside.”

Gabrielle was considering killing her young sister for telling Xena all of this. The bard wanted to crawl under the ground somewhere and hide. Xena would know everything! She wouldn’t want the bard, she wouldn’t want her around anymore!
Then Gabrielle listened to the warrior’s words.

“She’s light itself!” Xena continued to protest. “Anything I am today is because of her!”

“Then tell her, not me.” Lila snapped. “Adults! You make it so complicated!”

“Wait till you fall in love,” Xena snapped back, “and see how easy it is.”

Love? Gabrielle thought her heart had stopped.

“You love her, right?” Lila demanded.

“Yes, with all of my being. I don’t think I can live without her.” Xena whispered. Without thinking the bard opened the door.

“Xena?” she called, softly.

Xena and Lila spun around to see Gabrielle in the doorway of the barn, her bags in her hand.

Xena and Gabrielle found themselves caught in another moment of frozen time. Both losing themselves in each other’s eyes.

Lila finally broke the moment by shoving the warrior and bard back through the barn door, and shutting it behind them.

********

“You mean it?” They both asked at the same time, both breaking into smiles and relaxing finally. Gabrielle sighed and sat her travel bags down and walked over to a hay bale and sat down. She brushed a lock of hair from her eyes. The bard sat for a moment, trying to think rationally and couldn’t find a way to make any sentence hold together. She swallowed deeply and risked it.

“I love you, Xena.” Gabrielle said quietly, not lifting her eyes up.

Gabrielle watched the warrior’s legs come in front of her, the warrior was kneeling. Slowly and tenderly, Xena lifted her chin up and Gabrielle found herself staring deep in those blue eyes again, tears were forming in both green and blue eyes.

“I love you, so very much, Gabrielle. I’ve been in love with you for so long.” Xena said softly.

“Xena!” Gabrielle threw her arms around the warrior’s neck and grabbed her in a tight hug, tears falling.

Gabrielle felt the warrior welcome her into the hug and held the other woman tightly. Xena pulled back slightly to look Gabrielle in the eyes.

“I….” the warrior stammered. “I love you so much, I’ve never felt like this before.” Xena took the bard’s hands in hers. Gabrielle kept quiet, watching her warrior struggle with the words. Getting Xena to talk about emotions was like pulling a tooth from a horse; almost impossible, the bard knew.

“I’ve had lovers, many of them, but not like I want you. Not even Borias. It’s different with you. If you want me, I’m yours; but it has to be a commitment. If you let me love you, it will be forever.”

Tears flowed freely from both women, as the warrior struggled with the words. “I love you, Xena, more than life.” Gabrielle whispered.

“You’re the other half of my soul, and I know if you love me that we’ll be together for eternity. I don’t want just sex, I want to marry you.” Xena managed to stammer out.

Marry me? the bard questioned in wonderment. The bard grabbed her again, in a bone crushing embrace.

“Yes! I love you totally and completely. I’ve wanted you as my mate for so long!” Gabrielle whispered.

Both women held together for several moments before Xena pulled out of the embrace. She held a finger up to Gabrielle’s lips to indicate silence. She slowly stood up and unlaced her chakram and placed it at Gabrielle’s feet and then did the same with her sword and the dagger hidden between her breasts. She knelt on one knee in front of the bard, and Gabrielle thought her breath would stop forever.

“I offer you my sword and my life. I will love you forever, if you’ll have me.” Xena pledged.

Gabrielle wiped tears of joy from her eyes. She knew this warrior’s pledge was the ultimate pledge Xena could make, and was touched beyond words.

“I love you, and I accept your pledge and your love, warrior Xena. I pledge my love and trust in you and promise to love beyond time itself. I know that not even death will separate us, from this point on.” Gabrielle pledged and pulled the warrior up to her lips.

The kiss was meant to be soft and gentle, but the electric shock that passed through both women at the first contact sent both of them backwards.

“Wow.” Gabrielle whispered, touching her lips in wonderment.

“Wow? I’ll say.” Xena agreed and sat back up, reaching for her bard when angry voices brought her to her feet, chakram at the ready. Gabrielle reached up, and placed a reassuring arm on Xena’s arm.

“It’s all right, it’s my father, not an army,” the bard grinned and saw the warrior blush as she slowly lowered the chakram.

Gabrielle knew that Xena’s heightened senses and warrior instinct had only lessened slightly all the months they had been on the road together, and she had come close several times being knocked unconscious by the warrior, when the bard had accidentally startled Xena. She didn’t think Xena would ever be totally relaxed and without those highly toned and trained muscle instincts.

Lila’s voice was shrill and answered by an angry shout from her father. The door of the barn slammed open and he stood in the doorway, obviously fuming.

Gabrielle stood up angrily. “What, Father? Expecting to find me rolling naked in the hay with her?” She certainly wasn’t going to tell her father that’s what she had been hoping for, just a moment before.

“I want her gone!” he demanded.

“We were just about to leave.” Gabrielle snapped back.

“You’re not going anywhere this time! You’re still my daughter and I won’t have you become the laughing stock of Greece, sleeping with her!”

Gabrielle quickly grabbed Xena by the arm, as the warrior growled and took a step forward. The bard reached out and eased the chakram out of the warrior’s hand, and Xena let her. Gabrielle could see Xena struggling with her anger and her breathing.

“If you keep this up I won’t be your daughter any longer!” Gabrielle threatened. Lila stepped into the barn, holding her cheek. Her eyes red from crying. This time Gabrielle growled. “You hit her?” she demanded.

Her father’s jaw clenched and his eyes narrowed. “You’re not leaving here,” he hissed.

“Don’t threaten her,” Xena growled back, stepping a half step in front of Gabrielle.

“What will you do, warrior?” her father sneered. Gabrielle’s head was spinning, this was happening too fast and everything was out of control. With a moment of clarity she knew that Xena was about an instant away from injuring or killing her father;, and her father was going to push the warrior into it. And a good chance existed of Lila or Gabrielle getting in the way.

Gabrielle quickly pulled Xena back and stepped in front of the warrior, placing her hands behind her back to keep bodily contact with Xena.

“Father, calm down! Both of you! I love you both!” Gabrielle pleaded and felt Xena relax slightly behind her. Her father scowled but didn’t move any closer. Gabrielle almost screamed in frustration when her mother peeked in the doorway and entered. “Fine! Everyone come in and let’s settle this!” she muttered. Her mother crossed over to Lila and began to examine the girl’s cheek.

“Xena has just asked me to bond with her, to marry her and I’ve accepted. What that means to us, is more than just a simple bonding ceremony like I had with Perdicus. If Xena agrees, we will be bonded in an Amazon ceremony. I’ve already pledged my soul to her, and I plan to spend eternity with her. Accept this, or lose me.” Gabrielle said simply.

“I love you, Gabrielle. I don’t understand but if she makes you happy then you’ll both be welcome here.” Her mother said quietly, Lila nodded enthusiastically.

“I forbid it!” her father shouted.

“Oh shut up, Herdoctus,” her mother snapped and he looked at his wife, stunned.

“She’s our daughter and all that should matter is that Xena is a good person now and Gabrielle thinks that she will be happy with her. Accept it. I’m not going to lose my daughter because of your pride!” She approached her husband in a fury and he backed up quickly, surprised and stumbling. She poked a finger in his chest and he took it.

Gabrielle and Lila’s eyes were equally wide with surprise.

“Don’t you ever lay a hand on either Lila or Gabrielle again or you’ll never wake up again!” Her mother shouted and then spun away from her husband. She approached Gabrielle and Xena slowly. With a hesitant smile she gathered her daughter into a hug and Gabrielle grinned, hugging her back. Lila, unable to resist to moment, rushed over and joined in.

“Make her happy, please.” she said to the warrior as she awkwardly hugged Xena.

“I will spend my life trying.” Xena promised.

“I know. Let me pack your food bags before you go.” none of them were surprised to find her father had slipped out of the barn. “Don’t worry about him, he’ll fume for awhile but settle in once you two are gone,” her mother reassured them. She turned to her other daughter. “Lila, go and pack Xena’s bags, I’m sure she doesn’t want to run into your father right now. They need some time to cool off.” Lila hugged her sister again and then surprised Xena by hugging the warrior and then dashing off quickly.

“Xena, could I have a moment with Gabrielle?”

“Of course, I’ll saddle Argo.” Xena retrieved her chakram from the bard’s hand and her other weapons with panther-like grace. Gabrielle was unaware of the desire on her face as she watched her warrior move. Her mother, however, knew the look and smiled, it was just awkward to see that type of look on your daughter, she thought. She’s still my little girl. She then touched her daughter’s arm, and they moved outside the door.

“Gabrielle, I love you and I’d like to you to visit again.” Her mother brushed a tear away from her face, and Gabrielle hugged her mother again.

“We will. Just give us a little time, this is new for us too.”

“Gabrielle, your father….” her mother stammered and they moved to sit on two hay bales by the door. “I think he’s always sensed something about you and has fought against it since you were a baby.”

“That I prefer women to men?” Gabrielle asked, puzzled.

“No, something else. If anything happens to him or me I want you to go to your Uncle Harpalion in the next village, he has a parchment for you.”

“What is it, Mom?”

“I can’t tell you right now. Just know that it might answer some questions you’ve had during your life. It may even answer some of the questions I’ve been asking you. Is she your soulmate?”

“I think so. I just know that I couldn’t go on without loving her totally and I can’t live without her.” Gabrielle hesitated. “What’s in the parchment, Mom?”

Her mother smiled and held up a hand to cut off protests. “I know your curiosity, Gabrielle. Promise you’ll wait.”

The stubborn jaw was well known to the mother, but she continued to stare sternly at her daughter.

“All right, I promise.”

Lila came running out of the house with the packs. “I’ll go and pack your food bags,” her mother said with another quick hug.
Lila grinned at her big sister. “Finally got your warrior, huh? How far did you get?”

“Lila!” Gabrielle shrieked.

*********
Gabrielle knew that Xena was grateful she agreed to ride on Argo when they left the village. It was a late start and Gabrielle had been grateful in turn that Xena had agreed to leave so late.

Gabrielle had been puzzled by Xena’s actions; up to the point when they left, the warrior trying to convince the bard to talk to her father. Gabrielle’s jaw had taken on that familiar clench and the warrior had to concede defeat. The bard was just too angry to talk to her father right then!

Gabrielle had been pleased but surprised when Xena asked her to ride in front of her and didn’t understand why until Xena slipped her arms tightly around the bard and began to nuzzle her neck from behind.

“Oh, no fair!” the bard protested with a moan as Argo walked steadily along once they were out of sight of the village.

“All’s fair, my bard.” Xena whispered and began to nibble on Gabrielle’s earlobe.

Gabrielle leaned over and was finally able to kiss the warrior like she had wanted to in the barn. Gabrielle’s arm circled around the warrior’s neck and held her tight in the embrace. The kiss was everything both women had been dreaming about. Gentle and tender at first, but quickly turning into something very passionate. The bard’s hand reached up and tightened in the warrior’s hair and Gabrielle felt Xena moan.

The bard was surprised at the intensity she felt as she kissed her warrior, but felt helpless against it. Both tongues began a fight for dominance that left both women breathless. Xena pulled back, laughing.

“Must remember to breathe,” she muttered.

“Oh, Xena,” Gabrielle reached back and grabbed her warrior by the thighs, welcoming the growl she received and delighting in the warmth her hands were causing on the taller woman.

Xena’s lips moved down, trailing her tongue along the bard’s neck, sending shivers over the blonde’s body. The lips settled on the bard’s neck and the warrior’s teeth began to lightly nibble on Gabrielle’s neck, causing her moans to increase, the bard’s hand’s beginning to move, seductively, between Xena’s thighs.

Argo stopped dead in the road with a snort, drawing the women out of their haze.

“I think we need to find a place to camp.” Xena suggested.

“I agree totally, my warrior,” as a hand crept up between Xena’s thighs. Gabrielle was delighted with the gasp from her warrior, as her fingers began to struggle past the undergarments.

“You keep that up and we’ll never get off this horse; and that is not how I intend my first night with you!” Xena lightly slapped at the hand.

Gabrielle giggled but withdrew, leaning back into her warrior.

“Hmmm, doesn’t look too inviting around here, we’ll move on a bit.”

“Okay.” Gabrielle settled back into her warrior’s arms and let the motion of the road lull her into a light sleep. “My warrior,” she whispered.

Gabrielle felt familiar hands shaking her, and the most wonderful voice in the world talking to her; and she sat up, blinking.
“Come on, sleepy-head, time for food.”

“Smells good, you actually cooked.” The bard sat up, rubbing sleep out of her eyes, looking around in wonderment. “Wow, I must have been out.”

Xena smiled. “Yup, you’ve been tired and today wasn’t easy.”

“That’s an understatement!” Gabrielle took the plate of food and began to eat with an appetite that Xena was glad to see return. “Gods, I can’t believe we went through that today!”

Xena frowned, “Any regrets about us?” she whispered.

“Never a chance!” Gabrielle lightly hit the warrior on the arm and leaned against the taller woman. “Now that I’ve got you I’m not going to let you go,” the bard promised. “I’m just glad I overheard you before I left. Thank the gods for Lila.”

Xena grinned in agreement. “I think that stubborn streak of yours runs in the family.”

“Hey! What stubborn streak?” The bard protested playfully, her eyes beginning to droop a little. “Whoa, did you put something in the food?”

Xena laughed and took the plate from Gabrielle’s hands. “No, little one. It’s just all catching up with you and me.”

Gabrielle looked up and saw the weariness on her warrior’s face. “You too?”

“Yup, neither of us have slept decent for weeks. We’ve been driving ourselves so crazy with our feelings, and hiding them, that we’ve been a bundle of nerves. Then the scene with your family wasn’t exactly relaxing.”

“You’re right.” Gabrielle agreed, her head was beginning to drop forward and she snapped it back up with determination. “This isn’t how I wanted the night.” she complained.

Xena knelt down and placed a finger over the bard’s lips. “Quiet, little one. Get ready for bed. We’ve got the rest of our lives and I don’t want to rush this.” Xena held out her hand and the bard was stunned to see it shaking.

“Xena?”

“I’m nervous, I’m so scared of loving you and I’m too tired to think right. I want to hold you tonight and convince myself that it’s real. Am I making any sense?”

Gabrielle reached out and held the hand to her lips, kissing each fingertip and then the palm. “Yes, my love. Perfect sense. I want it to be special too.”

“Let’s sleep, little one.”

For the first time in months they both slept soundly, Gabrielle laying curled against Xena, their fingers intertwined with Xena’s arm over her bard, both dreaming of the coming day and their coming future.

********
Gabrielle was very surprised when she opened her eyes and found the sun was all ready up. She was almost stunned when she realized that Xena was still behind her and still asleep. This was such a rarity that the bard lay there, fingers intertwined with the warrior’s, enjoying the moment, relishing the feel of Xena nuzzled at her neck.

They had been spending many more nights under the same blanket since fall had began but Gabrielle had never felt this connection before. After months of agonizing over her feelings for the warrior Gabrielle now felt peaceful, nervous, calm and excited. She wanted nothing more than to turn over and begin loving her warrior, but she wanted both of them awake and coherent when it happened. With a twinge of fear, the bard realized she wanted to really be sure that’s what Xena wanted between them.

Careful not to make too much noise or movement the bard got up and grabbed a towel from their travel packs. Xena had mentioned a stream nearby and Gabrielle wanted some time to herself before the warrior woke up.

With a grin, she left the other towel over a tree branch, grabbed clean clothes and her staff, and headed for the water.

The water was cold but refreshing and Gabrielle felt like months of tension was falling from her body as she streaked through the water in the pools and currents. Feeling like a river otter without her clothes on in the water, the bard delighted in the sensation of the water and the sun beating down on her skin. It promised to be a warm day for fall and she was grateful. With a smile she crawled up onto a rock on the opposite shore and stretched out along the rock, letting the sun begin to warm her body.

Gabrielle reflected on her mother’s question: Was Xena her soulmate? The bard certainly thought so, and probably had since the first time she saw the warrior. Gabrielle hadn’t known the total depth of what feelings she would come to have for the former warlord, but she had been drawn to Xena since the beginning. It felt like she was waiting her whole life to meet the warrior.
Why had she resisted all her parents’ attempts at marriage? Every girl in the village was usually married by fifteen, except Gabrielle. She remembered the long fights her mother and father had over it; he insisting she find a suitable mate and her mother holding him off. It had always puzzled Gabrielle about that. It wasn’t often that her mother stood up to Hedoctus but when it came to Gabrielle’s dreams of something beyond Potedaia, Hecuba had always been encouraging.

When Xena had saved Gabrielle and the other village girls from the slavers, the bard had seen fear in her mother’s eyes and hatred in her father’s. Her mother had always puzzled her, she reflected. She had been grateful to Xena for saving Gabrielle’s life but had also been very thankful when the warrior had moved on.

Gabrielle’s parents hadn’t counted on the bard following on her own accord.

It was almost like Hecuba had been waiting for someone to sweep her daughter away, and had feared that was Xena. Now, Gabrielle grinned to herself, it had been. Gabrielle shrieked when she found herself splattered with cold water, rushing to sit up with a squeal and right into the arms of her warrior.

A muffled protest was cut short by Xena’s lips and hands traveling over the bard’s back. The bard let the warrior lower her back to the rock, slowly, keeping a firm hold around Xena and refusing to break contact with the woman’s lips. Again the kiss was passionate, with tongues exploring, tasting, and reveling in the different textures and feelings the kiss was invoking. Gabrielle’s hands, no longer restricted by Xena’s leathers, moved along the taller woman’s ribs, feeling the soft skin covering the firm muscles underneath. Xena’s head moved down, kissing every inch of skin between the bard’s lips to her nipples and back again. By the time Xena’s lips seized one of the nipples Gabrielle was gasping for air, and running her hands through her warrior’s black hair.

“Oh gods, Xena.”

Gabrielle felt Xena continuing her explorations of the bard’s body with her tongue and lips, licking away the remaining water off the bard’s skin. The blond shivered with delight and then moaned with absolute pleasure when Xena’s hands grasped her nipples. Gabrielle was squirming and gasping, her hands in the warrior’s dark hair, unconsciously encouraging Xena’s head lower. Xena eagerly slid down the length of Gabrielle.

“Xena, please…. I’ve waited so long!” Gabrielle pleaded, raising her legs, her hips bucking, begging the warrior with her body, as well as her voice. Xena, moaning, gently parted the bard’s lower lips, lovingly exploring her lover, causing Gabrielle to growl and toss her head back. “Xena! Now, please!”

Xena groaned and Gabrielle knew it was from how wet the bard was, and she knew this wetness wasn’t from the water. The smaller woman felt herself being filled as Xena began her explorations of the bard’s sexual lips with her tongue. Within moments Gabrielle was rocking, matching the rhythm of Xena’s fingers, entering slowly and backing out, teasing the small woman into a frenzy. The dark haired woman’s tongue reached out and began a slow teasing of the bard’s clit, bringing forth cries of passion from the small woman.

Gabrielle felt Xena responding to her pleading, and the bard’s begging by taking the bard higher and higher. Her attention to Gabrielle’s body increased in speed and roughness; Xena was rewarded with hearing the bard screaming the warrior’s name again and again, as Gabrielle’s muscles began contracting, waves of her orgasm overcoming her, again and again.

When she could breathe again, Gabrielle found herself in Xena’s arms, being cradled and rocked.

“Hey, you okay?” Xena was asking. In response Gabrielle hugged her lover fiercely.

“Gods, I never thought it could be like that!” she whispered.

Xena held her love tight. “I love you.”

“By the gods, I love you more than life itself, woman!” Gabrielle grabbed the back of Xena’s head and pulled her down for a rough kiss, moaning at the softness of the lips and the taste of her own passion on those lips.

Xena looked down at her lover, her fingers lightly tracing Gabrielle’s lips. “You scared me for a moment.”

“Hmmm,” the bard muttered and began nuzzling Xena’s neck, causing the warrior to shiver. “You literally took my breath away, my love.”

“I’ll take that as a compliment.” Xena grinned.

“You have no idea! Let me show you.”

Gabrielle surprised the warrior by flipping Xena onto her back, on Gabrielle’s towel, with the bard attacking her neck with renewed energy. The warrior found that it was her who was breathless, gasping with the dancing energy play shooting through her body. Gabrielle moaned into Xena’s neck as her hand found one of the warrior’s nipples. She moved from the neck to Xena’s lips with a rough kiss that, again, took the warrior’s breath away and then moved back to the neck.

“Remember the bacchae cave?” Gabrielle whispered as her hand began to dancing lightly across the warrior’s ribs and around her breasts. Xena’s body arched under the bard’s hand, her head thrashing back and forth, hands digging into the towel.

“Yes!” she hissed.

“You have no idea how many nights I’ve dreamed of biting you again.” Gabrielle’s voice was low and husky and brought forth a moan from her warrior.

“Yes!” Xena’s hands found the bard’s hair and then her shoulders, grabbing on almost painfully, as if needing something to center on. Gabrielle smiled, and continued the downward trek of her fingers, playing in the dark triangle of Xena’s hair, causing the warrior to growl with need.

“Gabrielle, please!”

“Begging, my warrior?” Gabrielle whispered and then bit down a little harder. Xena cried out as her body began to shake. The younger woman sensed that her lover needed her and quickly. Gabrielle instinctively knew there would be time later for the soft and gentle loving that she suspected the warrior was capable of, but for right now they needed each other, almost with a sense of desperation. Having denied themselves for so long had taken a toll, their bodies demanded satisfaction, and their souls demanded connection on all levels.

Gabrielle was amazed, as the warrior’s body responded to her every touch, and then felt a shock pass through her body as it responded to Xena’s moan. Gabrielle whimpered with the intense feeling racking her body, matching her warrior’s rhythm.

The bard had never felt anything like it before, not even on her wedding night with Perdicus. Gabrielle also knew she would never feel like this with anyone else, again. She willingly gave her heart, soul and body to the tall woman writhing beneath her hands and teeth.

Gabrielle thought she was going to go over her own edge, as she entered the warrior with her fingers. The feeling was so incredible that the bard lost all coherent thought. She whimpered as the warrior’s body responded, muscles contracting to try and capture the bard’s fingers and expanding, demanding more. Again the warrior cried out in the new sensation, as Gabrielle’s thumb found her sensitive spot and began stroking the warrior’s clit.

Xena’s hands grabbed the blonde’s shoulders, her fingernails beginning to dig into the soft skin, and Gabrielle moaned in response, her own passion lost with the warrior’s. Gabrielle could feel the connection, her soul to Xena’s – body to body. Sensations she was pulling from the warrior, causing her own body to tremble.

The bard sensed the build up of energy in Xena as well, as within herself and glanced up to see the warrior’s body arching, every muscle standing out as sweat covered both their bodies. Gabrielle could feel the edge for both of them, she felt Xena’s body shaking uncontrollably, saw a tear escape from the warrior’s closed eyes and heard a small whimper.

Gabrielle suddenly knew. “I love you, Xena. Let go,” she whispered and bit down again, hard, marking her lover.

Xena screamed a primal scream and then the bard’s name. Wave after wave overcame the tall woman.

Gabrielle quickly drew the warrior into her arms, softly holding the gasping and sobbing woman, stroking the dark hair. The bard kept repeating over and over again, until she felt Xena responding.

“It’s all right, Xena. I’m here. I’m never letting you go.”

“Sorry, don’t know where that came from.” Xena tried to sit up, but the bard caught her lips again.

“Don’t apologize, damnit. All I know is that something incredible is between us. I love you. That was so intense.”

Xena smiled and reached up to caress her lover’s cheek. “I love you, marry me.”

Gabrielle grinned. “I thought I already said ‘yes’.”

“Amazon wedding?”

Gabrielle caught Xena grinning, at the surprised and hopeful look on the Amazon Queen’s face, and the warrior sat up to face her lover.

“You mean it? A bonding ritual?”

“I’m already your champion, let me be your mate.” Xena leaned forward and kissed the blond again.

“Yes, yes, a thousand times, yes!” Gabrielle threw herself into the warrior’s arms, both laughing and kissing.

It was only minutes before Gabrielle found out that Xena could, indeed, be a gentle lover, as well as a tiger.

Gabrielle stood up from the small table in the room and began pacing again, parchment and pen discarded on the table. She knew it was going to be another sleepless night and it wasn’t the first of the week either.

Once again she cursed the bandits who were causing all the trouble for her and her mate, her beloved Xena. The bandits had attempted to take over two villages and Xena had spent her time running back and forth between the villages, building defenses, training the villagers and tracking the bandits for over a week now.

Gabrielle had barely seen Xena in all that time and never overnight. The bard was beginning to get a little more than irritable from worry and lack of sleep. She also felt helpless and that made her even more irritable than usual. No matter how often it happened she just couldn’t get used to being left behind when Xena left for battle.

Gabrielle looked out the window again, looking at the stars. It wasn’t that she wanted to fight, the bard knew herself well enough to know that she couldn’t kill. It was just being left behind from Xena that was bugging her.

The reddish blond woman smiled to herself. How many times had she and Xena fought over this very issue? How many times had she disobeyed the warrior? Then she smiled ruefully to herself, how many times had she gotten into trouble because of it?

She had reluctantly agreed to stay out of the way this time. The bandits were hitting in several places at once and no one knew where they were going to strike.

Xena hadn’t wanted to worry about her and everyone else at the same time. Added to the danger was that these bandits were slavers, a chill ran down any woman’s spine at the thought of being captured by this lot.

The bard practically flew across the room at the soft knock on the door. She cautiously opened the door, hand on her staff by the door and looked into the hallway.

The tall cloaked figure pulled the hood back and Gabrielle gave a small cry of joy when she saw her mate’s face and tired smile. She quickly pulled the warrior into the room and barred the door.

Gabrielle quickly grabbed at the cloak clasp and pulled the heavy wet cloth from Xena’s shoulders and stepped back to get a look at the warrior. “Oh gods,” she muttered.

Xena was covered in mud, road grime, blood and other….. stuff. Gabrielle had seen her mate after battle before but it was always a shock when Xena came in from the field. The bard’s eyes quickly took in the torn leathers, dented metal, and slashed bracer. She also gasped at the vicious looking slash across the warrior’s thigh that was bandaged, probably two days before. Blood was still trickling from a wound on the warrior’s sword arm and her left eye was swollen and beginning to turn black and blue.

“Come on, love” Gabrielle coaxed the warrior into a chair and began removing the dented and cut leather armor. After the smaller woman removed the upper armor Xena leaned back in the chair.

“Missed you,” she said softly, closing her eyes.

“I missed you, my love.” Gabrielle responded, kneeling down before the warrior and beginning to tug at the knee protectors and laces of the warrior’s boots. With a little more encouragement she got the warrior to stand and was able to remove everything but the leather shift from the tall woman. Xena barely opened her eyes as she let the bard lead her to the bathing room.

Gabrielle quickly barred the door and pulled the leather off her warrior and gently guided the battered body into the tub. The bard was frowning as Xena sighed with pleasure at the warm water. Gabrielle made a mental note to find and thank whoever had the foresight to fill the tub when they saw the warrior come in. Xena’s lead dropped forward almost immediately as Gabrielle grabbed a sponge and began rubbing the tired body in front of her.

“Can’t let you stay in too long, my love.” Gabrielle said softly. “Don’t want to open those wounds any more than they are.”

“Hmmm,” Xena mumbled.

Gabrielle frowned. It wasn’t like Xena to relax this much anywhere except maybe in a barred room in the arms of her bard. Gabrielle couldn’t say that she had ever gotten used to Xena’s heightened sense of alertness, brought about by years of being a warrior and a target, but she knew it was in the warrior’s nature now and for Xena to drop off like this was unusual and worried the bard.

A knock interrupted her and she carefully unbarred the door to find the Captain of the Guards standing there, helmet in hand, looking about as grime covered as Xena had been.

“I wanted to make sure she made it here. It’s over, the bandits have cleared out and both villages are safe. She rode very hard to get here.” he told the bard.
“Thank the gods, can you send for the healer, she has a bad cut on her leg.”

“Of course, I’ll get her personally. Both villages owe you both a great debt.” Misenus replied with a smile.

Gabrielle waved off his thanks. “Don’t worry about it, it’s what we do.” With an answering grin he was gone and the bard turned back to getting a nearly unconscious Xena out of the tub and dried off. With another curse about bandits she got the warrior back to their room and into bed.

Within a candlemark the warrior’s leg was stitched and all wounds bandaged. Gabrielle frowned and noticed the healer frowning as well. Xena hadn’t even flinched when the medicine woman began sewing up the vicious wound. The healer moved alongside the bed and felt the warrior’s forehead.

Gabrielle’s heart skipped a beat and she was beside the healer instantly when she heard the other woman curse under her breath.

“What is it?” the bard demanded.

“Fever. Might just be from exhaustion. I’ll leave some herbs for healing tea. Get her to rest, no fighting, no traveling, nothing, just rest.”

“She’ll rest.” Gabrielle felt her jaw tighten with resolve. Xena had often told Gabrielle that she had a stubborn streak even wider and stronger than the warrior’s and the bard had to admit to herself that Xena was probably right. Seemed to run in the family, she thought.

The healer refused payment, telling Gabrielle that everything would be paid for by the three villages Xena had just saved. Once the healer left the bard felt overwhelmingly tired. It had been a long week for both the warrior and bard. She pulled off her clothing and changed into her night shift. With a sigh the bard crawled into the bed next to her warrior and wrapped her arms around the taller woman. For once Xena slept soundly in the bard’s arms instead of the other way around.

Gabrielle was a little surprised to find Xena still sleeping soundly when she woke up the next morning. After their travels on the road the bard was accustomed to having the warrior wake her up or find Xena all ready up and cooking breakfast or something. Having the warrior holding her hand tightly in her sleep was new.

The bard gently nuzzled the back of Xena’s neck and lightly hugged her warrior and got out of the bed and got dressed. When she returned a few minutes later with a breakfast tray she was surprised to find the warrior attempting to sit up in bed.

“You shouldn’t be sitting up!” Gabrielle scolded.

“Why not? I’m not out of bed. I have a feeling you’re not going to let me out.” Xena attempted a small grin.

Gabrielle smiled and placed the tray over her mate’s lap and then felt Xena’s forehead. She felt herself frown.

“Still running a fever, you are definitely not getting out of bed today.” she announced.

“Does that mean you’ll be joining me?” the warrior teased and the bard yelped as she scurried out of her lover’s reach.

“No you don’t, my Princess.” Gabrielle grinned, “the healer said you were to rest and you’ll rest.”

“At least kiss me,” Xena complained and Gabrielle quickly removed the tray and began kissing her lover, finally letting all the pent up emotions of the last week become translated into the kiss. She felt Xena relax and her own body begin to melt and meld into the warrior’s. The bard felt her own temperature rising and trailed her kisses from Xena’s wonderful lips to her neck and then down towards her breasts. Gabrielle felt herself moan as Xena’s breath became rapid and shallow, her own quickly matching it.

“You keep this up and you won’t be getting out of this bed,” Xena growled.

With a slight shake of her head, the bard moved out of reach again and stood by the bed, trying to catch her breath.

“Gabrielle,” Xena growled again.

The small woman couldn’t resist an evil grin at her mate. “Nope, healer said you were to rest.” Then she turned serious and put the tray back on the warrior’s lap and encouraged her mate to eat. She sat down on the edge of the bed, making sure Xena ate.

“Seriously, how bad was it?” she asked.

Her quick green eyes didn’t miss the look of pain that passed over her lover’s blue eyes. Xena’s smile disappeared and she looked tired again.

“Not good. We lost a lot of good men and it turned brutal at the end.” she whispered.

“Brutal?” Gabrielle asked softly.

“You don’t want to hear this, little one.”

Gabrielle felt a wave of love for her mate, Xena was always trying to protect her. She smiled and placed a reassuring hand over Xena’s. “Yes, I do. You’re wounded badly, exhausted and I have the feeling that you almost died. I want to know that it worked out.”

“It did,” Xena sighed. “but not before they hanged several townspeople that they had taken prisoner earlier. They hanged the men right in front of us.” Gabrielle noted the warrior’s jaw clenching tightly and the hand she was holding tightened as well.

“Oh gods,” Gabrielle whispered. The young bard closed her eyes as she pictured the scene and felt the overwhelming sorrow that the villagers must have felt. She was also angry, it was all so damned senseless! The men who died, their families who watched and to Xena who had to lead those men. Gabrielle feared what that might have done to her battle scarred warrior’s darker side.

“Yes. We finally broke them. What’s left of their leaders will be facing those same ropes when the villagers are through with a trial.” Xena said grimly.

“You didn’t….” Gabrielle let the question trail off, afraid to finish the sentence but she was rewarded with a reassuring smile from the warrior.

“No, I didn’t give into the darkness, even with that.”

Gabrielle squeezed her warrior’s hand. “I love you!”

“I love you too, little one.” then Xena looked frustrated. “For crying aloud, get me the pack from last night. There was a reason I was riding like demons were after me and I fell asleep!”

“You were feverish, exhausted and in pain.” Gabrielle countered as she handed the warrior the pack. She started to ask the warrior what was going on but Xena held up a hand and stopped her. The warrior finally pulled a folded up piece of parchment that had been sealed with wax and handed it to the bard.

Gabrielle examined the parchment but found no writing and no seal in the wax. She looked back at her warrior with a puzzled look.

“A messenger found me yesterday from your family. I figured I could move faster than he could after the battle was over.”

Gabrielle felt her heart skip a beat. “My family?” A wave of fear crashed over the bard. No one hired messengers unless it was very important. She looked up into Xena’s eyes.

“You won’t know until you open it, little one.”

Gabrielle took a deep breath and opened the seal and unfolded the parchment. The little bard read the writing twice, blinking rapidly. It wouldn’t sink in. What?
“No!” Gabrielle found herself by the window again, trying to think. Father?

She heard Xena’s voice softly reading the parchment behind her:
Dearest Gabrielle,

Patronius, the healer is writing this for me. I hope this finds you well. I must tell you that your father suffered an accident two days after the Spring Full Moon and is gone. I do not know if this will reach you in time for the funeral but it would be good of you both to come home for a few days. I love you and you are both welcome.

Lovingly, Hecuba.
The words finally sank in as she felt Xena’s arms grab her and turn her around. She slid into her warrior’s arms as the tears began to fall. With the last bit of confusion and strength she let Xena lead her to the bed and let herself be enveloped into the warrior’s strength and finally let go as she realized the impact of the words her mother had written.

Her father was dead.

“Xena, I was so angry when we left!” she cried. “He thought I hated him!” she clung to the older woman.

“No, he didn’t. We talked before we left, little one. He loved you very much and knew that you loved him.” she heard Xena’s voice telling her.

Gabrielle was confused. When they left Gabrielle’s home her father had been in a rage.

“You talked?” she raised her head to look into Xena’s eyes. The warrior nodded. “Even after the fight? After he found out I loved you? Remember his face?”

She saw Xena smile with that memory. Of course, Gabrielle also remembered Xena’s face and eyes when Herdoctus had threatened Gabrielle and had struck Lila.

Then he had been on the verge of threatening Xena. Gabrielle wasn’t sure if her father ever realized how close he had come to being thrown through the closed barn door that day. Or killed.

Gabrielle remembered coming between the two strong willed people and settling everyone down. She looked up at the warrior for answers and Xena began telling her how Herdoctus had come to her while Gabrielle was talking with her mother. How her father had apologized for his behavior and for striking Lila and promised never to do it again. Gabrielle listened, stunned. Her father apologized for his behavior?

Xena went on to tell her that he admitted he hadn’t been a good father sometimes and regretted it. The warrior also blushed when she told her mate how Herdoctus had questioned Xena about her love for Gabrielle and how he made the warrior promise to make his daughter happy.

“Why didn’t he tell me?” Gabrielle whispered, tears beginning again.

“He was too stubborn. He thought it was too soon after the fight and he promised to tell you the next time we visited.” Xena again held the bard as she began crying again.

Finally, Gabrielle felt like the tears had stopped, at least for awhile. “I need to see my mother,” she whispered.

“Of course, we’ll leave right away.” Xena agreed.

Gabrielle frowned and sat up on the bed, looking at her mate. With careful eyes she noted the haggard look of her mate, the thinness, the bruising and the flushed feverish look. “What are we going to do, you can’t travel with those wounds and fever.”

“I’m not staying here! Not with bandits still running around!” Xena insisted.

Gabrielle stood up and went towards their packs. “You can’t travel either.”

The bard spun around at the sound of Xena’s muttered curse in time to see the warrior throw her drinking cup across the room in frustration. Gabrielle stood still with her arms crossed for a moment and smiled. “Feel better?” then the bard turned and began packing her packs. “I’ll even take a horse and it’s in the opposite direction of the bandits.” she told the warrior.

“I am not amused!” Xena growled. Gabrielle felt her heart grow heavy with the thought of leaving Xena, of being separated again so soon and crossed over to the bed. She reached out and gently stroked Xena’s cheek and Xena’s nuzzled the hand.

“I know, my love, but I have to get home and I need to stop on the way and see my uncle. My mother left a parchment with him in case anything happened to her or my father.”

“Parchment? What about?”

“I don’t know, she said it would answer some questions I had growing up and why my father sensed something different about me.” Gabrielle moved back to packing.

“Why didn’t you tell me?” Xena questioned, her own curiosity awakened.

“I didn’t want to think about it. You know how curious I can get, I figured if I forgot about it I might be able to resist wanting to know what it was. That and I didn’t want to think about reading it soon.” Gabrielle turned and fought back another round of tears. To read that parchment meant that her father or mother was dead. It was too soon!

“You hate to ride,” Xena commented.

“Yes,” Gabrielle simply agreed, not rising to an argument.

“You’ll be careful?” Xena’s voice sounded small and lost and it dragged at the bard’s heart. She found herself in her warrior’s arms again, another round of tears flowing despite her wishes. She let Xena hold her tight, both crying.

Gabrielle did hate traveling by horse. She hadn’t grown up around horses and they made her nervous. After several disasters with Argo, Xena had finally been able to teach the young bard how to care for Argo but Gabrielle still hadn’t gotten used to riding. Now, as she approached her uncle’s home she was feeling it. Fortunately the stable owner had given her a very gentle mare and Gabrielle had been grateful over the day’s ride. Now she just wanted off the horse and a warm bed for the night.

The bard frowned as she stopped the horse outside of the door. It was getting close to dark and there weren’t any lamps lit inside and no smoke coming from the fireplace. Gabrielle dismounted cautiously, staff in hand and ready. No one answered her knocks and she entered slowly.

After a quick scan through the house she realized that no one was home and hadn’t been all day. She lit a lamp and went back to the horse and retrieved a piece of blank parchment and her pen and ink.

She had decided to leave a quick note to her aunt and uncle and continue onto the next village for the night. She didn’t want to impose on her uncle’s home without permission.

Movement caught her eye as she walked out of the door and she instinctively flung her staff up over her head in time to catch a sword blow. She felt the broken staff catch her cheek and felt blood begin flowing. She ducked back through the door but it crashed inward before she could bolt it. She felt the table against her back and grabbed for the lamp as her attacker was framed in the doorway. With a growl she launched the lamp at him and was satisfied and horrified at the same time when the fire caught his clothing. The man screamed and fell back out of the doorway. Gabrielle ran to the door to see him rolling on the ground, attempting to put the flames out.

“Damn you, Gabrielle!” he cried out, batting at the flames.

Gabrielle stood stunned, looking at the man. A memory flashed to the surface, her wedding.

“Mens?” Perdicus’s brother? “What?”

“You’re dead, bitch.” he muttered as the last of the flames went out.

Gabrielle looked in his eyes and saw the light of madness in them. She quickly flashed on several decisions and tore at the necklace around her neck, letting it drop beside the broken staff at her feet. Then she bounded onto the horse, sending the poor mare flying down the road.

“Gabrielle!” Menestratus screamed after her.

Gabrielle suddenly wished she was on Argo.

Gabrielle entered the village slowly, leaning over the poor mare. Both looked and were exhausted. She had taken the road leading to Potedaia and then backtracked, as she had learned from Xena, hoping to throw off Mens from her trail. So far, she hadn’t heard him behind her for a couple of hours. The bard wasn’t going to count on that though, Perdicus’ brother was a soldier and hunter. She was sure he could pick up her trail, if not in the dark then at first light.

She had kept riding, having to slow down for the poor horse. The bard spotted the welcome lights of an inn and hitched her horse to a post outside.

Gabrielle entered the tavern carefully, just as Xena had taught her, she thought. She felt a familiar longing in her heart and soul, a longing and fear. She really wished Xena was with her. Even when under attack she was rarely afraid with Xena around, now she was being chased by someone who said they wanted her dead and she was unarmed and without her mate.

Seeing only local farmers and such the bard moved slowly to the bar and smiled a tired smile at the barkeep, a middle aged man getting around on a pair of crutches.

“Can I help you?” he asked. “I have excellent rooms and my cook is wonderful.”

“No, thank you. I need to trade my horse, she’s done in and I’m in a hurry. It’s very important.”

“I’m sorry, young lady, but I don’t think so.” he frowned.

“The stablemaster?”

“I own the stable too.” he seemed to be looking Gabrielle over and frowned again. “You need a bed, food and rest, not another horse.” he commented.

“You’re right but I don’t have the time or the option, thank you. Listen, do you trust the word of Xena?”

“Yes, totally.”

Gabrielle was pleased and surprised, Xena’s name could bring a lot of reactions out of people and they weren’t usually positive. She was pleased that she had taken the chance with this man. She was also determined to change those other opinions of Xena someday.

“I’m a friend and she should be a couple of days behind me. I swear before all the gods that she’ll make up any difference in the value of any horse you want to trade me. Please.”

The barkeep frowned and then nodded. He began moving down to the other end of the bar and around it. He stopped for a moment to talk with a very large woman serving drinks. Then he joined Gabrielle at the door.

“What demon is after you, girl?” he asked as he looked over her horse and began pulling the saddle and bags off.

“I need to get somewhere quickly.”

“Listen, I’m not a fool. You’ve a cut on your cheek that hasn’t been attended to. You’ve been riding hard for quite awhile, your clothes, hair and horse show it. You’re on the run from something or someone.”

Gabrielle fought back the tears that threatened to spill out of her eyes. “Someone wants to hurt me and I’m going somewhere safe.”

“Until Xena can find you? Or is it Xena that you’ve pissed off?” he asked with a grin.

“What? No, nothing like that. She’s my friend.”

“I’m Timicus,” he said, extending his hand.

Gabrielle let her instincts take over and smiled at the man, returning his handshake. “I’m Gabrielle,” she responded.

“The bard that travels with Xena.”

“Yes,”

Gabrielle was surprised when the large woman came around the building leading a large horse. Timicus smiled at the young woman’s surprise.
“Xena’s a friend of mine, too. You need to travel fast and this guy will do it.”

Gabrielle swallowed. “Okay.”

“You should stay, you’ll be safe here. My word as Xena’s friend that I’ll protect you.” he said seriously.

“Thank you, Timicus. I don’t know if Mens is alone or not, I know he’s a bandit and there might be others with him. Where I’m going it would take an army to reach me. I just have to get there in time.”

“All right, I’ll watch for Xena and you can trade horses when you come back this way. You’ll also find a pack of food on the big guy.”

“Timicus, I can’t….”

The bar owner held up his hand, cutting off her protests. “Don’t worry about it. You’re always welcome here. Orithya, help her onto the horse.”
Gabrielle blushed but accepted the larger woman’s help up into the saddle. Timicus reached up to shake her hand again.
“He’s a good horse and not stubborn. Just ride straight there and he’ll fly.”

“Thank you both.”

Gabrielle let the horse have his lead and he began to fly and the young bard felt a ray of hope as she hung on for dear life.

Gabrielle allowed the horse to slow down a bit as she approached Amazon territory, beginning to think that she might make it to safety. She stopped the horse to take a drink from a waterskin when a crossbow bolt shot past her head. With lightning speed she found herself holding another bolt in her hand, having caught it on instinct. She looked over down the road and saw Menestratus reloading his crossbow. With a snarl she urged her stallion back into a run and headed across the meadow, heading for Amazon territory, clinging to the horse.

As her horse broke through a line of trees Gabrielle heard a challenging bird cry but didn’t stop her horse until she was across a clearing and in another tree line. She fell off the horse and dashed behind a tree, raising her hands and clasping her wrists together in a sign that she was unarmed.

She heard Menestratus break into the clearing on his horse, looking for her.

“Stop there or die!” a harsh voice shouted out from the trees.

Gabrielle peeked around the tree and saw the man stop his horse, looking puzzled. With a snarl he began to move the horse forward again only to pull up suddenly when several arrows penetrated the ground in front of the horse.

“You are entering Amazon territory and you are not welcome. Leave or die.” the voice ordered.

“Send the girl out! She’s not one of you!” he demanded.

Gabrielle sensed movement and turned to see several Amazons drop from the surrounding trees, weapons at ready. They went to their knees immediately upon seeing her face.

The lead border guard spoke, “My Queen, do we kill him?”

“No,” Gabrielle glanced back at Menestratus. “Tell him you have granted the bard sanctuary and to leave.” she instructed.

The lead border guard shouted that at Menestratus who glared about him, obviously debating whether to risk it.

“Let me kill him, my Queen.” one of the Amazons demanded.

“No, put an arrow over his head. Part his hair.” Gabrielle smiled grimly.

The Amazon grinned and took careful aim. The Amazon Queen had no doubt in the archer’s ability, even shooting at a target on a horse shifting on it’s legs. Menestratus cursed and turned his horse at a run when the arrow clipped his ear.

The border guard leader turned to her Queen, noting the exhaustion and and cut cheek. “My Queen, I’ll send a runner ahead to announce your return. Menthia will ride behind you and escort you to the village. I’m going to double the guards on the border.”

Gabrielle nodded as one of the guards bounded onto the horse and then helped the bard into the saddle. By the time they reached the village Gabrielle felt her head dropping forward and the Amazon behind her discreetly put her arms around the small bard, holding onto the reins and keeping her Queen from falling out of the saddle.

Gabrielle was barely aware of reaching the village, hearing anxious and demanding voices. Not really listening as the runner and her escort told the Regent Ephiny what they knew of Gabrielle’s presence there. She was aware of being helped down off the horse and into someone’s arms.

“Xena?” she whispered.

“No, my Queen. I wish she were here to explain this, though.”

Gabrielle smiled at Ephiny’s voice. “She’s safe.” she whispered and closed her eyes again.

Gabrielle moaned as she opened her eyes, her body felt like it had been under the horse and not on top of it for the last two days. She raised up on her elbows, looking around and taking in the familiar sight of the Queen’s hut. She sighed with relief, barely remembering making it to the Amazon territory.

Ephiny rose from the chair she had been sitting in and sat on the bed next to her Queen.

“I hope you don’t mind me watching over you.” the Regent smiled.

“Not at all, my friend.” Gabrielle looked around again. “How long was I asleep?”

“Twelve hours.” she grinned at the bard’s shocked expression. “I figured from your condition and how tired that horse was that you’ve been riding hard for at least a day and night.”

“That’s my second horse.” Gabrielle confessed with a smile. She groaned again as she tried to move. “This reminds me why I prefer walking.” she complained.
Ephiny grinned and stood up, helping the bard to her feet. “Get dressed and we’ll feed you. You can also tell me what’s going on.”

Gabrielle did explain from the point of leaving Xena behind in one village and getting attacked at her Uncle’s home by her ex-brother in law. Ephiny looked as puzzled as Gabrielle felt.

They sat down in the eating hall with food. Gabrielle welcomed the sight of food, having eaten little for several days. She hadn’t been eating well when Xena was gone and she had been on the move and then on the run for days after that. Ephiny frowned at the sight of her Queen, too tired and too thin, she decided.

“I don’t get it,” Ephiny complained. “Why would he want you dead?”

“I haven’t a clue!” Gabrielle complained right back. “And I don’t know what to do with him!”

“What can we do? If he’s determined to kill you then he has to be killed.” Ephiny said simply.

“No, you know how I feel about killing.”

“Gabrielle, my Queen,” Ephiny placed a hand over the bard’s. “I know how you feel but it’s sometimes not an option. Either we kill him or Xena does.”

“Xena, any word from her?”

“Not yet. You said she’d be three days behind you, it’ll take her time to get here.”

“Maybe I can talk to him and find out what is going on.” Gabrielle suggested.

“No! I approached his camp last night while you were asleep and asked that very question.” Ephiny said slowly.

“And?” Gabrielle demanded, her jaw taking that stubborn set. She felt really frustrated and irritable. Much like her warrior, the bard hated not being in control like this.

“He refused to say why he wanted you, only that we should send you out and soon. I told him that you were under our protection and he wasn’t happy about it.”

“What in Tartarus could he want?!” Gabrielle snapped.

“I don’t know. I’ve got scouts watching him. He’s staying just outside of our territory, waiting for you.”

“I need a bath.” Gabrielle muttered.

“And something to hit too, I think.” Ephiny grinned and ducked Gabrielle’s playful swipe at her head.

“Gods, I wish Xena were here.” the bard muttered.

Ephiny watched as her young Queen crossed the common grounds towards the Queen’s Hut. “So do I, Gabrielle. I’ve got a feeling you two are even closer than ever and that you really need her right now.”

Gabrielle, feeling the same, let her tears fall into the bath water. Crying for her father, her family and her lover, and herself.

She also cursed Menestratus, whatever his reasoning, he was keeping her away from her family, her father’s funeral, and her mate.

Gabrielle was wrapping leather around a new staff when Ephiny ran from between some huts and skidded to a stop in front of her.

“Gabrielle! My Queen,”

Gabrielle quickly stood up and grabbed Ephiny’s arm. “What is it?” she demanded.

Ephiny swallowed visibly and then brought up a familiar shiny object. Gabrielle took it in her hand, staring at it, stunned.

No one else had a chakram like this, no one but her mate.

“Xena?” she whispered.

“Menestratus told the border guard that he has Xena and that you are to meet him in a clearing five marks from here at sundown or she dies.” Ephiny said through gritted teeth.

“No,” the bard whispered and Ephiny placed a hand on the young woman’s arm to steady her.

“Gabrielle, you can’t do it.” Ephiny growled.

Flashing green eyes met the Regent’s. “I won’t let her die!” Gabrielle hissed.

“And I won’t let either of you die!”

“Then let’s get her back.” Gabrielle said simply, heading for the main hut. “Bring the scout and guard leaders in. I want the best archers we’ve got ready to leave in half a candlemark.”

“Yes, my Queen,” Ephiny dashed away to get the instructions out before joining Gabrielle in the hut.

“Hesione,” Gabrielle called out to another Amazon as she walked.

“Yes, my Queen!”

“Tell the Healer to be prepared.” she ordered.

“Yes, my Queen!”

Gabrielle entered the hut with a curse. She had been afraid for herself, now she was terrified for her lover. She knew Xena wouldn’t go down without a fight, which meant the warrior was probably even more wounded than the last time the bard had seen her. Gabrielle felt the stirrings of hatred beginning. She could understand just a touch of that darkness Xena had once fallen into. She was beginning to hate Menestratus.

Gabrielle followed behind the scout quietly. Travelling with Xena had taught the bard how to walk silently through the forest and through the tree tops. Having been adopted into the Amazon tribe had furthered her training. Xena had been pleased whenever they visited the Amazons that Gabrielle had taken every opportunity to train with the women warriors and scouts in addition to her studying of the Amazon scrolls.

The scout stopped and motioned her Queen forward. Gabrielle moved cautiously along the large tree branch and glanced into the clearing. The scout grabbed the bard’s arm to steady her as the scout heard a growl from her Queen.

Gabrielle felt a roaring in her ears and eyes clouded over, seeing red. Then she shook her head and cleared her vision.

Chained and blindfolded between two trees was her mate, her lover, her life. Gabrielle was close enough to see the bloody wound at the warrior’s thigh and the blood seeping from a wound in her shoulder. She clutched her bow as she saw Menestratus approach Xena and then hit her in the face, sending the warrior’s head snapping back and forth. Gabrielle bit her own lip as Xena’s began to bleed.

“How soon is everyone in position?” she whispered to the scout. The scout sent out several bird calls and received several back.

“They are in place.” she answered.

“Good,”

Ephiny joined them. “Everyone is ready, Gabrielle. Let one of the archers take him.” she urged.

“He’s mine.” Gabrielle said flatly.

“Scout, take a position in the next tree.” Ephiny ordered and the smaller Amazon scurried through the tree and away. “Gabrielle, let one of the archers take him. Don’t give into this feeling, this is what Xena fights against for you.”

Gabrielle felt her muscles begin to relax and the roaring in her ears began to die down. She lowered her bow and her head.

“You’re right. I couldn’t even kill Callisto when I had a dagger at her throat. I can’t do this.” she whispered.

They both looked up to see Menestratus hit Xena again and Ephiny found herself growling along with Gabrielle. Ephiny whistled a bird call, knowing every one of the archers were pulling back on their bows as they answered.

Gabrielle saw Xena’s head snap up when she heard the bird calls and felt a surge of joy, Xena knew the Amazons were there!

“Tell them to fire if he starts to touch her again.” Gabrielle ordered and Ephiny called out the orders in the special code the Amazons shared.

Xena and Menestratus seemed to be arguing and the man yelled something and raised his dagger as he rushed the warrior woman.

“No!” Gabrielle cried out, drawing her own arrow back. Before Menestratus could clear the space between him and Xena he was pierced through the throat with a cleanly placed arrow. Several more followed, piercing his chest from front and behind. None of the arrows came close to the warrior woman.

Gabrielle knew she risked her neck at the speed she left the trees but didn’t care. Nothing existed except to get to her lover. The other Amazons trotted to catch up.
“Xena!”

“Gabrielle!” Xena cried out as Gabrielle grabbed her. The bard quickly kissed her lover’s lips and removed the blindfold. The Amazons crowded in and began undoing the chains at the trees as two of them helped the warrior to the ground.

“I love you, little one.” Xena whispered and closed her eyes.

“Xena! No!” Gabrielle wailed.

Gabrielle felt someone lifting her up and mumbled a weak protest.

“Quiet, my Queen. You’ll not do Xena any good if you grieve yourself to death with exhaustion. You’re going to get some sleep. I’ll watch over her.” Ephiny’s voice carried to Gabrielle’s ears and, despite whatever her mind might have wished, the bard found herself settling into the strong arms that carried her to the next hut and placed her in a bed.

“Ephiny, wake me if anything changes,” she whispered as Ephiny covered her.

“Immediately.” the Regent promised.

Ephiny smiled at her mate, Solori as she joined the woman outside the hut and headed back to the Healer’s hut.

“You actually got her to sleep?” her mate asked.

“No, her body finally did.” Ephiny smiled a very tired smile. “I’m going to stay with Xena while Gabrielle and the healer sleep.”

“All right, lover.” Solori hesitated. “Do you think there’ll be any change? It’s been days and her fever was so high.”

Ephiny closed her eyes and shook her head. “I don’t know. She’s strong but Gabrielle says that she was sick before that bastard got a hold of her.”
“Gods, everyone is praying on this one.” Solari mentioned.

“Good, can’t hurt. I do know one thing,” Ephiny said softly, stopping outside the hut door.

“What’s that, love?”

“If Xena crosses over then Gabrielle will follow.”

“What!? No!”

“I think so, look at her now! She’s wasting away and I can’t stop it.” Ephiny growled.

“Have they figured out what their relationship is, yet?” her mate asked, a note of frustration in her voice.

“I think so. If not they both need to be hit over the head and dumped in a cage for a week until they do.” Ephiny smiled. “You know we rarely see this kind of grieving.”

“I know. Go let the healer get some sleep. I’ll keep watch out here.”

Ephiny stroked her lover’s cheek fondly. “Thank you, my love.”

“You bet.”

Ephiny settled in for a long night, watching the warrior sleep fitfully in a fever induced coma. The infection raging through her body. Ephiny felt tears beginning to well up in her eyes. She truly didn’t know how long the warrior could go on like this.

“Come on, Xena!” she whispered fiercely. “Fight this! Gabrielle needs you!”

It was another two days and another struggle to get the bard to sleep or eat. Ephiny was also looking very worn out and the strain was getting to the Healer as well.
Gabrielle had finally settled into nightmare plagued dreams on the fifth day since they had brought Xena in. Nightmares of blood and of losing Xena kept the young Queen tossing and turning. Her body was demanding rest but her mind and soul were refusing it. The bard knew she, herself, was running a fever from the exhaustion and had dropped even more weight. Ephiny had almost punched the Queen into unconsciousness to get Gabrielle to sleep.

Gabrielle was awake instantly when Ephiny touched her shoulder. She sat up blinking rapidly, trying to focus both mind and eyes.

“Easy, Gabrielle.” Ephiny said calmly.

“What’s happened?” she demanded. Fear gripping her heart. She knew Ephiny would only wake her up if there had been a change and the Healer and Ephiny had warned her that it was unlikely that Xena would recover up from this point on.

“She’s awake,” the Regent grinned and grabbed Gabrielle to steady her as the bard leaped out of bed and then swayed from the lack of sleep and food. “Easy, she’s talking and alert.”

“Xena!” Gabrielle broke from Ephiny and dashed out of the hut.

In moments Gabrielle was in her warrior’s good arm, kissing Xena and crying at the same time.

“Shhh, Little One,” Xena said softly. “I’m all right.”

Gabrielle finally pulled back and sat on the stool, holding Xena’s hand while the other hand ran over the warrior’s body, once again reassuring herself that her warrior was in one piece.

“You are not all right, you’ve been out for days.” Gabrielle held the warrior’s hand to her cheek.

“When was the last time you slept or ate?” the warrior demanded.

“They made me eat and Ephiny made me get some sleep.” Gabrielle protested.

“Uh huh, let me guess, you’ve spent most of the last five days right there next to me.” Xena gathered the bard back into her arm for another kiss and reassuring hug. “I love you, Gabrielle.”

“Gods, I was so worried!” Xena reached up to brush away a fresh set of tears. The bard couldn’t seem to stop touching Xena’s hair, face, arms.

“It’s okay. Just wasn’t my week.” the warrior smiled.

“Hah! That’s an understatement.” the bard grinned.

“What about your family, they were worried sick.”

“I sent a runner to let them know I was okay and that you were safe.”

“I’m sorry about your father’s funeral.”

“It’s all right, just as long as you’re safe, my love.”

“For once you rescued me. Remind me to keep you around.” Xena smiled and Gabrielle let the warrior pull her back into her good arm and found herself sighing as she snuggled into her familiar and favorite position, curled in Xena’s arms, head on the warrior’s shoulder. She carefully placed her arm around the warrior’s waist and hugged softly.

“Forever.” she whispered.

She felt Xena’s body relax along with her own and drifted into nightmare free sleep.

Neither of them heard Ephiny enter the hut and smile at the sight of both of them asleep. Nor did they hear her order the guards that they were not to be disturbed.

After a day of bed rest and food the bard felt better than she had in weeks and was glad to be out of the hut. She and Ephiny had a more difficult time keeping Xena down though. Gabrielle smiled at the memory of the frustrated look on her mate’s face. It did help that Xena couldn’t put any weight on the leg and Gabrielle kept the crutches out of reach.

It was also extremely difficult for both women to keep their hands to themselves. It felt like forever to the bard since she had touched her lover with more than five minutes between them. Her body was aching to feel Xena’s touch but neither of them had recovered enough yet.

The Amazon Queen was pleased that Ephiny had sent a messenger to her family, letting them know that Gabrielle was safe and Xena was with them. Ephiny had carefully worded the message so as not to alarm the family but to let them know the Amazons had both women and would protect them.

She let Ephiny catch her up on the politics that needed tending to, what documents needed signing, and such. Then they began planning for a bonding.

After two days Gabrielle had a headache and begged off any more planning. Xena had grumbled that this was probably going to get complicated and she was right. Combining a traditional Greek wedding with an Amazon bonding, then throwing in the politics that came with a royal wedding were getting to the bard.

The bard was delighted to find herself at the practice yard and several Amazons were eager to spar with her and the bard’s new staff. Gabrielle was irritated with her own body when she quickly realized that she wasn’t up to her usual speed and stamina but kept at the sparring, wanting to work her aching muscles and frustrations. The Amazon Queen always delighted in the training, especially the sparring. It was very much like a dance between opponents and Gabrielle loved to dance.

In the back of the Queen’s mind was the events of the last two weeks and her frustration about all of it. She didn’t understand why Menestratus wanted her dead, neither did Xena. Even after talking about it and finding out that the man had been with the Warlord on her worst raids, it didn’t make sense. Why blame Gabrielle for Perdicus’s death?

With a spin she swept the legs out from under one of her opponents and blocked a blow coming from overhead. She quickly put a foot in the other woman’s stomach and pushed that attacker out of reach. She spun and blocked another parry with the staff laced along her forearm. The bard yelped and dived forward under another blow, coming up swinging.

With a laugh Gabrielle disarmed one opponent, tapped another on the head to signify a killing blow and swept another off her feet, then she found herself sitting on her tailbone rubbing her ribs where someone had tagged her with a staff. She grinned and stood up and helped up one of her sparring partners. Gabrielle was covered in sweat and dust and felt great. She had managed to work out a lot the tension and felt ready to face everything again.

She looked over at the sound of applause and felt her face blushing red when she saw Xena and Ephiny clapping on the other side of the fence.

The bard felt this followed up with a huge grin at the sight of her lover. It was good to see Xena moving about the village with the aid of crutches. Her face was strained from the pain and the fever she had gone through but she looked a lot better than she had in days. Gabrielle felt hope that everything just might be turning their way.

With the familiar set of her jaw line, the bard made a decision. Then she broke into a smile again seeing the love dancing in her mate’s eyes. She vaulted over the fence and quickly hugged Ephiny and turned to hug her mate.

“You look great out there,” Xena smiled and Gabrielle felt her face blushing again. She loved it when Xena complimented her on her developing fighting skills. Gabrielle was also aware that Xena was feeling conflicted about it. She didn’t want Gabrielle to be a fighter but it was becoming a necessity.

“Thanks, I’ve been working at it,” the bard replied, slipping into her lover’s arms.

Ephiny stood up, “I’ve got things to attend to and a wedding to plan. Lots to do.” she grinned.

“Why do I get the feeling this could get complicated,” Xena complained.

Gabrielle laughed and sat down next to the tall woman.

“Probably. Ephiny says that it can get quite formal when it’s the Queen getting married. There’s two actual ceremonies – one for us, family and the blessing of the gods; then a public one that gets complicated and pompous.” she warned with a smile.

“Gods, I should just throw you over Argo and drag you to a lonely island for the rest of our lives. I suppose you’ll want me to dress fancy.”

Gabrielle lightly punched Xena’s arm, pretending to look annoyed with her warrior. “Can’t have you scaring the foreign diplomats with your sword and chakram at the ready, can we?”

“Diplomats?” Xena frowned and the bard laughed heartily.

“Xena, mighty Warrior Princess! You’d rather face an army alone than a royal court, wouldn’t you?” Gabrielle giggled.

“Yup, you bet.” Xena readily agreed with a smile.

“It’s just show. Being the Queen they want to put on a big production, I’m getting them to tone it down a bit. I think you’ll like the private one.” Gabrielle leaned her head on the warrior’s shoulder. “How’s the pain?”

“Better. Beginning to itch, always a good sign. The healer says the shoulder will probably hurt in cold weather from now on, guess that’ll go with the other aches and pains. Are you sure you want this old war-horse?” Xena teased.

“Let me show you.” Gabrielle leaned up and, with one hand behind the warrior’s head, pulled Xena’s lips to hers. The bard surprised her warrior by pulling the woman down into her arms as Gabrielle sat down on the hay bale. It wasn’t often that Xena let the bard hold her like this, it required absolute trust, one movement and the woman would be on her tailbone. Xena was usually more self-conscious about showing affection in public for her bard and Gabrielle knew it. Having Xena relax in the Amazon village like this was a treat for the bard.

Being a hopeless romantic and optimist, Gabrielle wanted to shout to the world about her love for the warrior woman. Common sense told her that this wasn’t the safest thing to do in the world but that didn’t mean she kept quiet easily.

Then Gabrielle thought about a secret she was ready to face. Xena sat up and stroked her lover’s cheek.

“What is it, Gabrielle?”

“I’m ready to read that parchment,” Gabrielle said softly.

“All right, go grab a bath and I’ll meet you at the stable.” Xena told her.

“Can you ride yet?” the bard looked worried.

“I’ll use a fence to get on. Riding is easy, you can help me off when we get to the stream.”

“Okay, I won’t be long.” Gabrielle jumped up and kissed her lover again and then dashed off. The bard marveled again at how quickly Xena had read the change in Gabrielle’s expression and body language. She wondered again for the hundredth time how they could have kept their feelings for each other hidden so well. Then the bard corrected herself with a smile, not from anyone around them, just themselves. How could they have been so blind?

Gabrielle sat down slowly on the cloak she had spread out, her face showing her concern as Xena approached from Argo, hobbling along on her crutches. Even though the warrior tried not to show any pain or emotion most of the time, the bard could see the tension in the warrior’s face from the pain. Xena sat down cautiously, bring blankets and a couple of their travel packs with them.

They had come to a small stream that flowed over many boulders and rocks and offered many small ponds.

The bard reached into her own pack and pulled out the bottle and second parchment. After Xena had regained consciousness, Gabrielle had taken the parchment and bottle from the warrior’s pack and opened it while lying back in Xena’s arms. She had been very surprised to find the letter had been written by her mother while she was still pregnant with Gabrielle. The letter had instructed the bard to find a quiet lake, pool of water or a fountain, drink the contents of the flask with wine and watch to water. The letter also instructed her daughter to do this with her soulmate.

The bard turned the bottle over in her hand several times, frowning at it. She set it back down and turned over the folded parchment, also frowning at it.
Gabrielle was curiosity personified but this was a little nerve wracking.

“It’s okay if you’re not ready,” Xena said softly. Gabrielle looked into her warrior’s blue eyes with her green ones, a wide range of emotions showing: fear, concern, sadness, excitement, and love.

“I don’t know,” she admitted. “I’m as curious as a cat with a closed bag, but this…” she pointed to the bottle. “What could it be? What could my mother want to tell me before I was even born?”

“She said it might have some answers you’ve had.”

Gabrielle growled her frustration and sat staring at the bottle for several moments, took a deep breath and grabbed the bottle up. With a quick movement she uncorked the bottle and turned her eyes to Xena.

The warrior pulled two goblets out of a pack and a wine flask. She filled the goblets and held them steady while Gabrielle poured the powder into them.
“I love you, Xena.” Gabrielle said simply.

“I love you, Gabrielle.” the warrior smiled a reassuring smile. “No matter what we find out.”

Gabrielle lifted the goblet to her mouth and watched as Xena drank along with her. The bard watched her mate settle back against a rock and the bard moved between the warrior’s legs and leaned back against her lover.

Gabrielle watched everything start to go fuzzy and felt like she was detaching from her body. Try as she might, the bard couldn’t keep her eyes open and felt her head drop forward onto her chest.

Gabrielle didn’t know how much time had passed but had the feeling it wasn’t long. She opened her eyes and couldn’t help but gasp and tighten her muscles. She felt Xena’s body tense up as well.

The bard was stunned, they were by a lake, not a stream. A very calm and gentle lake and Gabrielle realized with a start that she knew the lake, it was near her home in Potedaia.

The small woman resisted the impulse to leap to her feet at the sound of someone crashing through the brush. Gabrielle felt her heart skip a beat as a young woman fought her way through the brush and trees nearby and ran right past her and Xena.

It was as if the woman didn’t even see them.

“Mother?” Gabrielle felt herself whisper and Xena’s body jump as she, too, recognized the young woman throwing herself down on the water grass near the lake, in tears and holding her face.

“She can’t hear or see us, Gabrielle. We’re like ghosts.”

“But she’s younger.”

“Yes, we’re watching back in time somehow.”

Gabrielle leaned back into Xena’s arms again. “Hold me, please.” she whispered and the warrior wrapped her arms around the bard and Gabrielle grabbed onto the arms, holding tightly.

Hecuba, the woman destined to be Gabrielle’s mother was sobbing, her body shaking, being racked by the tears. Gabrielle felt helpless, she wanted to take the young woman in her arms and comfort her, she also wanted to know why her mother was crying so hard.

Gabrielle felt a chill pass through her. “Someone’s there.” she whispered and felt Xena’s muscles tense up again as the warrior realized the same thing.

There was a stranger with her mother.

“Why are you crying, woman?” the man asked.

Hecuba squeaked and sat up, stumbling backwards. It was almost dark and she was alone with a stranger.

“I mean you no harm, why are you crying?” the stranger sat down on his haunches, probably trying to put young Hecuba at ease.

“My husband, he….. he came home drunk and…..” Hecuba continued to sob.

“He hurt you and forced you.” the stranger stated and Xena felt her bard’s muscles tighten. The warrior held tighter.

“No, not force, just not…..” Hecuba stammered.

“Not pleasurable for you.”

“No,” Hecuba dropped her head. “Who are you, I can’t see your face.” she whispered.

The stranger smiled and held up his hand and all the women were shocked when it began glowing, putting out more light than a torch. He grinned. “Better?”

“Apollo!” Xena hissed.

Hecuba went to her knees. “Lord,” she whispered.

“Don’t kneel, please. Just sit with me for a bit. I have a tale to tell you, young Hecuba.” Apollo ordered and sat down on the grass next to Hecuba, the light surrounding them.

“You know me?” she asked.

“Yes, I came to see you.” he stated.

“Why?”

“I can’t tell you everything but what I can tell you is that you are going to have children. The first of them will be a girl and you will name her Gabrielle.”

The bard felt her head reeling and clung tighter to Xena’s arms holding her. What could this mean? Apollo? A roar was attempting to drown out Gabrielle’s thoughts and hearing. She shook her head.

“Gabrielle?” Hecuba questioned.

“I like it.” Apollo shrugged. “You will have others but Gabrielle has a special fate. Sometimes the gods meddle a little too much in the affairs of you humans and upon occasion some of us have to step in and counter some of those affects.”

“I don’t understand, Lord.”

“I know. What I can say is thus, with the help of one of the gods a dark soul will fill this land and could destroy the very civilization that gives all of us life. This dark one must have a balance and your daughter will be that balance. She will be the light to end the darkness. She will be blessed by the gods and especially by me, a child of the Sun.”

‘By the gods, he’s talking about me and Xena!’ Gabrielle’s mind shouted. “Blessed by Apollo?” she whispered to herself.

“Why me?” Hecuba questioned.

“Why not? You are intelligent, gentle, loving and you have a strength that she will inherit. It is her fate to shine the light of the sun on the soul that fell into darkness. It will be Gabrielle’s light that saves this soul and changes the Fates of the world.”

“Xena?” Gabrielle whispered.

“Shhh, little one.” Xena’s voice was strained. Gabrielle was quite sure that she, herself, was trembling.

“This dark soul, won’t it destroy my daughter?”

“It might, we can’t control everything. It will be up to Gabrielle and the Dark One. It is a difficult path to go from the dark to the light but a very easy one for light to fall into dark. The Dark One may drag your daughter down.”

“Please take this away. I only want a simple and happy life for my children.”

“The Dark One is her soul mate though their lives will be difficult. If their love prevails it will be the envy of the gods themselves. It will be a bond that will span beyond eternity.”

Gabrielle wasn’t sure if she was going to be sick or faint. For a bard who dealt in myths and legends all the time, this was a little too close to home for the young woman. She was trying to process the information she had just received.

Dark Soul? The world? Soul mates throughout eternity?

“You’re telling me that a child of mine will change the future of the world by changing just another person?”

“No, she will touch many souls along her way, not just the Dark One. In reaching the Dark One and showing this soul love, together they will defeat the plans of some of the gods that wish to conquer the world of man to rule over them. Together they will be like the Sun and Moon, each reflecting the best of each other and sharing the same light.”

“Will my child be happy?”

“If they find their way to love your daughter will gladly go through all the hardship it will mean to be with the Dark One. She will love this soul beyond any love before, not even death will stop this bonding.”

Gabrielle felt a tear escaping her eye. She had known in her heart and soul that she and Xena were meant to be but this was an overwhelming validation of that love.

“You send a harsh fate to my child,” Hecuba complained.

“Yes, I know. My blessing will be one of the Light. She will be curious, intelligent and a dreamer. Encourage this in her, don’t let her dreams die. Do not let your husband break her spirit. The talent of the God of Poetry will be hers.”

Apollo reached over and touched Hecuba’s face, instantly healing the black eye that was beginning to show.

“He’s a good man, just a troubled spirit. Be tolerant, he’ll provide well for the family, just don’t let his temper rule your children.”

“He was raised hard.” Hecuba complained.

“The visit he’s receiving from Aphrodite right now will mellow him out a bit. We can’t change him totally,” Apollo warned. “He’ll still fall short of a perfect husband but he will be good for you and the girls.”

“Girls, I’ll have more than one girl?” Hecuba gleamed.

“Uh oh, not supposed to reveal anything about the other one and you can’t reveal anything about me until Gabrielle’s either succeeded or failed with the Dark One.” Apollo grinned. Then his smile changed and he leaned over towards Hecuba who leaned back, a slight fearful look on her face. “Relax, I don’t seduce every maiden I see, no matter what the stories say.” Apollo grinned and placed his hand over Hecuba’s womb area.

Gabrielle, Xena and Hecuba gasped as light from his hand enveloped the young woman. When the light faded Apollo was gone and Hecuba was smiling. She reached down to touch her womb area.

“Gabrielle, you will my dreamer.” Hecuba promised.

Gabrielle felt the darkness crowding around and her head dropped forward once more.

When Gabrielle opened her eyes again it was dark and they were by the stream. She felt Xena’s arms around her and knew she was safe. The bard frowned, they were covered with Xena’s cloak.

Then everything she had just seen hit the blond and she turned around and held Xena tightly and the warrior responded by holding even tighter herself.

“He was talking about us! About you.” Gabrielle whispered.

Xena let the tears run from her eyes. “I know. He’s right, you did save me. I would have slipped back into the darkness if it hadn’t been for you.”

Gabrielle held close to her warrior for a moment. “Wow, we are soulmates. I knew it.” she whispered.

“Yes,” she heard her mate agree.

Gabrielle frowned and sat up. “Hey, who covered us?” she lifted the cloak.

“Maybe one of the scouting parties found us and covered us,” Xena suggested but Gabrielle could tell that the warrior herself thought that unlikely and was equally as puzzled.

“Maybe,” Gabrielle said doubtfully. She started to sit up and felt something fall from her chest. With furrowed brows the bard picked up two strands of what appeared and felt to be necklaces. It was too dark to see anything clearly. She sat back on the cloak beneath them.

“Hey, how about lighting that fire up?” Gabrielle suggested, trying to get a look at the pieces in her hand. The bard started cursing herself when she heard Xena gasp when the warrior tried to move.

“Oh gods, Xena, I forget about your leg!” she cried out, moving close to her mate again. “Are you okay?”

“Yeah, that’s the problem.” the warrior ran her hands up and down her leg, a puzzled look on her face.

“What’s that mean?” the bard demanded.

“There’s no pain. None at all.” Xena whispered.

Gabrielle, puzzled and suddenly feeling tired of mind games, grabbed up the travel pack and quickly got the fire started that Xena had laid earlier. She went back to her mate’s side and watched closely as the warrior cut away the bandage from her leg. Gabrielle felt herself whistle and heard the warrior gasp in surprise. There was absolutely no wound at all. The leg looked like it hadn’t been cut at all. With a frown of puzzlement, Xena cut away the bandage on her arm to find no wound there either.

“Your shoulder?” Gabrielle asked.

“Nothing, like I was never wounded.” Xena’s voice reflected her disbelief.

Gabrielle leaned forward and gently touched Xena’s face, running a finger from the warrior’s eyes to her chin. “Your face is healed too,” the bard whispered.

Gabrielle closed her eyes as Xena touched the bard’s face in return, gently. The calloused hands tenderly holding Gabrielle’s face with such devotion it brought tears to the woman’s eyes.

“What did you find?” she heard Xena’s voice ask.

“Oh yeah!” the bard cried and raised the objects to the light of the fire. One of them was the Amazon necklace she had left behind for Xena to find, the warrior’s hands quickly found that the necklace had been removed from her neck. The other was a matching necklace. To the one Xena had been wearing a small silver crescent moon with knot work in the center had been added and on the other one was a gold blazing sun.

“Wow.” the bard muttered.

“What’s the second parchment say,” the warrior asked as Gabrielle handed her the necklace Xena had been wearing since Gabrielle’s disappearance from her uncle’s home.

“I just found out I’m the daughter of a god, sort of; I’m blessed by the gods, destined to save the world, and my soul mate was destined to destroy the world, what makes you think I want to know what else there is?” the bard grinned at her mate.

“You did save the world, my world.” Xena laughed as the bard launched herself across the small space and tackled the warrior. Gabrielle delighted in the warrior’s laughter, it was music to the young woman’s ears. Gabrielle held Xena close, nuzzling the warrior’s neck.

“I love you, no matter what the gods had in mind. I would have found you and loved you.” Gabrielle whispered, lightly kissing Xena’s neck.

“Same here, little one,” Xena whispered back.

Feeling comfortable and safe, Gabrielle rearranged herself, staying on top of her warrior. She grinned and quickly kissed the lips of the woman below her and then reached for the parchment. Xena grinned and lightly tickled the bard’s ribs, getting Gabrielle to giggle a little as she unfolded the paper.

The bard slowly unfolded the paper and turned it towards the light. Once again that evening the bard found herself overwhelmed with information, her mind refusing to process any more. She turned the paper so Xena could see it, her face puzzled.

A sun symbol with Xena’s chakram and a parchment with pen in the center was the only thing on the paper. Gabrielle found herself trying to put together a coherent sentence while the warrior laughed.

“Wow.” Gabrielle muttered, remembering what she and Xena had seen in the vision. Was she the daughter of a God? Looked like it might be. Touched by the Gods, Apollo in particular, seemed definite.

The coherent thought that the bard was trying to put together became totally elusive when Xena began kissing her, passion quickly turning the kiss from a gentle and tender one into something deeper. Gabrielle moaned and dropped the parchment as her fingers laced through the warrior’s hair. Holding Xena close the bard shifted slightly on her warrior’s body, bringing her thigh between Xena’s legs and bringing the knee up, causing Xena to moan with pleasure.

The heat spread through the bard’s body, bringing another moan from the small woman. Her hand quickly found it’s way in between their bodies and somehow unbuckled the belt holding the warrior’s skirt together and shoved the belt aside. She shifted her body to allow the skirt to open fully, giving her access to the warrior’s beautiful body, her beautiful skin.

Gabrielle growled and reached under Xena’s tunic to grasp the woman’s breasts, causing Xena to hiss and moan, arching her back. Gabrielle moaned in response and dropped her head to the warrior’s neck, anxious to find the spot that she knew could drive Xena into an absolute frenzy. After they had finally become lovers, the bard had been delighted to find that Xena’s neck was highly sensitive to the bard’s teeth and Gabrielle was always reminded of the adventure when they dealt with Bacchus. Gabrielle had very fond memories of biting Xena with her bacchae fangs and feeling the strong warrior moaning and writhing in her arms as the erotic bite filled her veins with the call of the bacchae, of the blood.

Gabrielle didn’t miss being a bacchae, but she did admit, usually with a blush to the warrior, that she found the bite extremely erotic still.

Gabrielle growled with the intensity of the energy running between the two of them as she felt Xena’s hands unlacing her tunic top. She was surprised and yelped when Xena sat up suddenly, holding the bard tight. Gabrielle smiled as she found herself straddling her warrior. Xena’s head dropped suddenly and took one of the bard’s nipples in her teeth and lips, causing the small woman to cry out in suddenly increased passion. She felt her head arch back as she clung to Xena’s shoulders.

“Oh gods, Xena!” she gasped.

“I can’t get enough of you, Gabrielle.” the warrior whispered, beginning to kiss the bard from tne nipples all the way up to Gabrielle’s lips. The bard, lacing her fingers in Xena’s hair, held the warrior’s head close and tight as they kissed roughly, tongues exploring each other, fighting for dominance, revealing in the energy passing back and forth. Gabrielle lightly nipped Xena’s lower lip and the warrior answered by grabbing the bard’s nipples with her fingers. The bard gasped again and found her hips rocking and moving from the lightning streaking through her body, a high point at each place the warrior was kissing and touching.

Gabrielle found herself breathing quicken as Xena broke away from the bard’s lips and began a journey back towards the blonds’ nipples. Within moments the warrior had her bard squirming, first ravishing one nipple and then the other with her teeth, tongue and lips. Gabrielle felt herself whimpering with need.

“I haven’t been able to touch you in so long like this,” the bard heard Xena whisper and she groaned in response and her hands frantically pulled and tugged until she had the warrior’s tunic off and could grasp the woman’s breasts more easily.

Xena growled and grabbed the back of Gabrielle’s hair, pulling her head up to the warrior’s lips. They both moaned and whimpered with the kiss, neither sure who was making what sound any longer. Gabrielle brought a cry out of her warrior by tweaking the woman’s nipples and Xena responded by quickly removing the bard’s belt and dropping the wrap around skirt away from the blonde’s lovely body.

Gabrielle whimpered as Xena’s fingers slid easily along the folds of her lower lips, teasing just at the woman’s entrance and her clit, never quite reaching either destination. Gabrielle bit her lip in frustration and moaned. The bard knew she was very aroused and wasn’t sure if she had ever been that wet for her lover before. Gabrielle cried out when Xena seized one of her nipples roughly with her teeth and entered the bard with several fingers.

Gabrielle whimpered and clung to Xena’s shoulders, her body demanding more of the warrior with each thrust. She felt the warrior begin trembling as she bit down on Xena’s neck and shoulder, her own body trembling out of control. The warrior’s lips, teeth and tongue continued dashing between each of the bard’s nipples and Gabrielle heard herself whimpering and moaning, her voice getting louder and louder.

All conscious thoughts fled in the onslaught of the waves that swept over the bard and she felt her head tossing back with a scream as her body collapsed over her warrior, trembling as the waves kept her body moving.

Gabrielle found that they had fallen back onto the cloak and she was still on top of the warrior. She grinned and brushed a lock of dark hair from the woman’s forehead, falling deep into the satisfied blue eyes staring back at her.

“Wow,” she whispered to her lover.

Xena grinned back. “For a bard, you seem to have short sentences.”

“Sometimes one needs to do their talking with the body and not the voice. I think I can find a use for my tongue elsewhere, what do you think?” Gabrielle was delighted with the moan and the trembling of her lover’s body when she began nibbling on the warrior’s earlobe. Her hand danced around Xena’s nipples for a moment and then slowly worked it’s way down to the warrior’s sex.

“Yes!” Xena hissed as Gabrielle’s fingers began a dance of pleasing torment. First entering and then leaving Xena, leaving the warrior’s body begging for more. Then the bard’s thumb began rubbing the warrior’s swollen clit and then the dance with the fingers again. Within moments the warrior was moaning and thrashing.

Gabrielle, worshipping at the body she adored, left the warrior’s neck and moved her teeth, lips and tongue to Xena’s nipples and began a wonderful torment of those as well.

“Gabrielle, please!” Xena cried out, her hands grasping the bard’s hair and head, unconsciously urging her lover to go lower with her lips and tongue. The bard took a moment to grin and reached out to grab one of Xena’s hands, interlocking her fingers with the warrior, giving her lover something to grab onto and push against as Xena’s body arched and moved with the rhythm that Gabrielle was creating with her fingers and tongue.

Gabrielle continued her path down the warrior’s body with her tongue and lips. “Oh gods, yes!” Xena cried out.

“Patience, my love.” Gabrielle whispered and was delighted when the warrior growled in frustration. When she finally positioned her body between Xena’s legs, the warrior was writhing in need, tossing her head back, one hand clenching the bard’s hand painfully and the other digging into the cloak they were laying on.

Gabrielle breathed a sigh of amazement, she never tired of her lover and could never get enough of touching her. The bard remembered when she caught herself watching Xena every chance she got and was actually fantasizing touching and tasting the other woman. She had fought against those feelings but now she couldn’t imagine life without the warrior woman.

Gabrielle felt herself moan with passion as her tongue parted the lower lips of the warrior. She felt her own body begin trembling. Both Gabrielle and Xena were always amazed and pleased with this aspect of their relationship, somehow they were so connected that their bodies responded to each other’s growing passion, taking them over their own small orgasmic edges along with their lover.

She drank deeply of her lover, never losing the rhythm with her fingers. She felt Xena’s hand grasp hers painfully and the warrior’s muscles standing out and straining. Gabrielle felt her own body trembling and beginning to spasm at the sound of her lover’s cries that were increasing in speed and intensity.
Hearing Xena’s cries was something that pleased the bard immensely. Gabrielle hadn’t really been surprised to learn that she was the only lover Xena had ever been vocal with. She had smiled and teased Xena about ‘control issues’ and the warrior had growled that it had been for security reasons. The admission had ended in a tickle fight when the bard laughed and insisted it was a control issue for the warrior.

Gabrielle welcomed the cries of passion and used her tongue over Xena’s clit to encourage more sounds from her mate.

The bard knew they had reached the point of dropping off the edge that her lover always welcomed and fought against, all in the same moment. It had been difficult for the warrior to admit to but Xena had admitted that no one had ever taken her over that final edge of total release, of total loss of control. Gabrielle was the first to ever get her that close and the only one to get her over the edge.

The struggle was evident on the warrior’s face as Gabrielle closed her eyes, her own body shaking with the waves that were beginning for both of them. Xena had actually described the feeling as of falling or dying. Gabrielle understood.

“Let go, I’ll catch you.” Gabrielle glanced up into her warrior’s face.

Xena screamed, back arching, body stiffening and imprisoning the bard’s fingers inside of her. Wave after wave swept over them until they both cried out many times and fell back onto the cloak.

Gabrielle blinked and sat up suddenly, aware of a bright light falling over her and her sleeping warrior. She was startled to see Apollo standing next to them, the light shining from his hand, just as in the vision.

Gabrielle quickly turned and found Xena sleeping soundly, arm still thrown over the bard’s stomach.

“Don’t worry, she’ll sleep.” Apollo smiled and offered his other hand to help the bard up.

With a blush she grabbed one of the blankets and pulled it around her and accepted his hand. He continued to hold her hand and they walked a few feet away from the sleeping Xena. He motioned to a place in the grass and they both sat down.

Gabrielle was grateful for whatever magic Apollo had worked on her warrior, the thought of Xena being awakened by a god after the intense lovemaking they had just gone through was frightening. The bard smiled to herself, Xena hated dealing with the gods.

“You’re sort of my father?” Gabrielle asked.

“Yes,” he answered easily.

“Are you my father or just had a hand in blessing the child that was all ready in my mother’s womb?” the bard questioned.

“I’m your father and the other gods had hands in blessing you.” Apollo smiled. If Xena had been awake she would have realized where the light that shined in Gabrielle’s eyes and smile came from.

“Why me?”

“You were destined to meet Xena whether we influenced anything or not. We decided to give you an edge, to bring your natural light to the surface and we prayed your light would reach her inner soul and bring it to life again.”

He brushed a hand fondly over her hair.

“Ares had gained such influence over the world at the time. Sparta was a military state, totally dedicated to his purpose, all the Greek states were fighting each other and Rome was beginning it’s trek towards the military might she has and will continue to become. The Fates foretold that he would influence a soul beyond all our belief and this child would grow to be the fiercest warrior the world had seen, a soul for the darkness. Some of us demanded a chance at balance and Zeus and Hera agreed.”

“We were meant to be without your influence?” Gabrielle whispered, looking at her sleeping warrior. The bard shuddered when she thought about the future Xena had been destined for. Total domination of the known world and destruction.

“Yes, child. Your talents are natural, Gabrielle, just as the light of your soul is. Xena has a natural fighting ability, Ares just enhanced it and brought it out in her. I brought out your natural bardic skills and the light of your soul.”

“What about the other gods, you said they had a part in this.”

“They had a hand in your development as well.” Apollo suddenly looked serious. “Some of that influence wasn’t of the light either. It’ll be up to you to find out what your blessings are and how sometimes they can be mixed with darkness.”

“Be careful what you ask for?” Gabrielle smiled a grim smile.

“Yes, exactly.” then he grinned at her. “Some mysteries you have to find out the old fashioned way. Stumble over them.”

He laughed at the glare his daughter gave him at that one. Even in Olympus, the bard’s stubborn streak was becoming known.

“What happens now?” Gabrielle asked, her head spinning from all the implications and information.

“There will be many trials, many tests of your love with Xena. It’s a hard task we’ve set before you, the darkness will always be there with both of you.” Apollo leaned back on his elbows, watching the bard closely.

He noted the stubborn set of the jaw again.

“I knew that when I met her, we both know that. We’ll meet whatever comes.”

“Well said, bard.” he sat up and then stood up. “When Xena begins to question her parentage again and discovers some aspects of herself, call on me. You have inherited certain rights from me. I am proud of the life you’ve led and are leading, Gabrielle.”

“Rights? You mean like Hercules?”

“Yes, I do.” He leaned down and kissed her cheek. “Remember, I am the God of Youth.” and with that he was gone.

“Youth? Oh boy.”

A voice called out of the darkness, “Don’t forget to invite some of us to the bonding.”

“Wow.” Gabrielle stood up and looked down at her sleeping warrior. “I wonder how you’ll feel about that one, my love. I know how you hate dealing with the gods.” Gabrielle grinned and then snuggled back into Xena’s arms.

Her mind already whirling, a bonding ceremony to plan for.

The End
Discovery, An Awakening II

Storyline: This story answers a question put forth in the story “A Visit Home, An Awakening.” I hope the story stands alone on its own but you might want to read A Visit Home first. I hadn’t intended on starting a series of stories but, there it is. It happened and I hope you like ‘em.

Gabrielle learns some truths about her past and some surprises.
PART 1
The dark haired warrior knocked softly on the door and was pleased that it opened almost immediately. It was late and she was afraid the occupant would be asleep and she didn’t want to go pounding doors down looking for the small figure that opened the door.

She smiled and pulled back the hood of the cloak she was wearing to let the woman see her face.

“Xena!” Gabrielle exclaimed and dragged the warrior through the door. The bard quickly removed the wet cloak from her tall mate and gasped. She had seen Xena after battle before but it still always surprised her. The warrior was covered in road grime, blood and stuff the bard didn’t want to know about. There was one vicious looking gash across a thigh and another on Xena’s sword arm. The warrior’s left eye was swelled and a patch of black and blue beginning to show.

Gabrielle moved the warrior further into the room and began removing the dented, torn and filthy armor. She sat the warrior down in a chair and began removing her gauntlets, bracers and boots. Xena leaned back in the chair and sighed heavily and closed her eyes.

The warrior woke up enough to let the bard totally undress her and moaned with pleasure when Gabrielle lead her to the bathing room and helped the battered body into a tub of hot water. Almost instantly Xena’s head dropped forward.

Gabrielle was pleased and worried at the same time. She didn’t want to keep Xena in the tub too long, not wanting to reopen the wounds but she also wanted Xena to keep relaxed. It wasn’t often Xena fell asleep like this, she was usually so intent on being in control and alert. She began to clean the body in the tub when a knock on the door broke her concentration. The bard was irritated to find the Captain of the Guard standing in the doorway, holding his helmet.

“What is it, Misenus?” she whispered.

“Just making sure she made it to the room. I don’t know if she told you, she and the guards cleared the bandits out of the next village over and she rode hard to get here. It’s over, they’ve cleared out.” he smiled a very tired smile.

“Thank the gods, can you send for a healer, that cut on her leg looks bad.”

“Of course, I’ll rouse her up right now. I’ve got her horse being cared for as well. Both villages owe you both a great debt.”
The small bard waved his thanks off. “Don’t worry about it, it’s what we do.” With a grin he was gone and she went back and managed to get an nearly unconscious warrior out of the tub and began drying the woman.

Gabrielle hadn’t seen Xena this tired in a very long time. It wasn’t unusual for Xena to lose sleep when fighting but this had gone on for a week. “Stupid bandits,” the bard muttered as she led Xena back to their room.

Within a candlemark the warrior had her leg stitched up and both arm and leg bandaged and was sleeping sounding in the bed. Gabrielle was worried, Xena hadn’t even woken up when the healer began stitching the leg. Both Gabrielle and the healer looked at each other and the healer moved up the bed and felt the warrior’s forehead. The bard was instantly by her side when the young woman swore under her breath.

“What’s wrong?” the bard demanded.

“Fever. It may just be from exhaustion. Get her to take some of this herb in a tea and get some food and liquid in her. Rest is the best thing right now.”

“Then she’ll get rest.” Gabrielle promised, the healer recognized the stubborn set of the bard’s jaw. The healer knew the fierce reputation of the former Conqueror of Nations but she had a feeling that this smaller woman in front of her was just as stubborn as the warrior.

“Good. No roughness, no fighting, no traveling. Her body needs rest.”

Gabrielle thanked the healer and was surprised when the woman refused payment. “The village Guard Captain said the village would pay for all your keep and Xena’s care.”
***

Gabrielle crawled into bed beside Xena and, for once, the warrior slept sounding with Gabrielle’s arms around her instead of the other way around.

***

Xena woke up and groaned, her body hurt everywhere all at once. With experience of a hundred battles she assessed her condition, feeling the bandages on her leg and arm and bruises everywhere. She took in her surroundings and was glad to find herself in a solid room with a solid bed. The warrior sighed, she began remembering making it back to the village and to Gabrielle.

Another moan escaped her lips as she attempted to sit up. Xena smiled a painful smile when the bard entered the room with a tray in her hands.

“You shouldn’t be sitting up!” Gabrielle scolded.

“Why not? I’m not out of bed. I have a feeling you’re not going to let me out.”

The bard smiled and placed the tray over Xena’s lap and then sat down on the bed beside the warrior. She frowned and felt the tall woman’s forehead.

“Still a little warm, you are definitely not getting out of bed today.” the bard announced and Xena grinned.

“Does that mean you’ll be joining me?” she invited and Gabrielle laughed as she suddenly darted out of reach of the warrior.

“None of that, my Princess. The healer said you were to rest and rest you shall have.” Gabrielle giggled at the frustrated look on her mate’s face.

“At least kiss me,” the warrior complained and the bard quickly agreed by removing the tray and lavishing kisses all over the warrior’s face, neck and almost to the warrior’s breasts. Xena’s breath became rapid and shallow.

“Keep that up and you won’t get out of this bed either,” she growled and the bard danced out of her reach again. “Gabrielle,” the warrior threatened.

“Nope, rest you will have.” then the bard sat down on the bed again, replacing the tray of food, encouraging the warrior to eat. “Seriously, how bad was it?” she asked and Xena’s smile disappeared.

“We lost a lot of good men. They just wouldn’t give in and it turned brutal at the end.”

“Brutal?” Gabrielle whispered.

“You don’t want to hear this.” Xena protested. Gabrielle placed her hand over her warrior’s.

“Yes, I do. You’re wounded, exhausted and probably came very close to being killed several times. I want to hear that it worked out.”

“It did, but not before they hanged several of our men they had taken prisoner. They hanged them in front of us.”

“Oh gods,” the bard whispered. Gabriellle was sorry on several levels, she realized. For the men who had died, for their fellow villagers and families who had witnessed their deaths, and afraid for what it may have awakened in Xena.

“Yes. We finally broke them. The remaining leaders will probably face those same ropes when the villagers have tried them.”

“You didn’t…..”

Xena smiled at the unasked question. “No, I didn’t give into the darkness, even when that happened.”

“I love you, Xena.”

“I love you, my bard.” Xena suddenly looked frustrated. “For crying out loud – hand me my pack from last night.”

Gabrielle handed her the pack with a puzzled look on her face. She started to ask questions but Xena held up a hand for silence while she rummaged through the pack. With a worried look she pulled out a piece of parchment and handed it to Gabrielle. The bard turned over the folded paper several times, it had been sealed with wax but bore no impression in the wax and no writing on the outside.

“A messenger came yesterday with that from your family. I figured I could move faster than he could after the battle.”

“My family?” the bard whispered. A look of concern overcame the bard’s lovely features and she unconscious pushed a lock of hair out of her eyes. Green eyes sought out the blue ones of the warrior.

“You won’t know until you open it, little one.” Xena encouraged, feeling the same dread grip her own heart. Families like Gabrielle’s didn’t hire messengers for simple letters to relatives. It had to be important.

With a sigh the bard broke the wax seal and unfolded the parchment. With a cry she threw the parchment down and went to the window, looking out at the rain. Xena carefully removed her breakfast tray and picked up the parchment.
Dearest Gabrielle,

Patronius, the healer is writing this for me. I hope this finds you well. I must tell you that your father suffered an accident two days after the Spring Full Moon and is gone. I do not know if this will reach you in time for the funeral but it would be good of you both to come home for a few days. I love you and you are both welcome.

Lovingly, Hecuba.

“Oh gods, Gabrielle, I’m sorry.” the warrior, ignoring the advice of the healer, was out of the bed in an instant and took the bard into her strong arms, letting Gabrielle finally break down and cry. She moved the two of them back to the bed and pulled Gabrielle into her arms like a child and held the woman as she grieved.

After awhile the tears had slowed down and Xena began to make out words.

“Xena, I was so angry when we left! He thought I didn’t love him!”

“No, little one.” Xena stroked the lovely reddish blond hair and held her little bard tight. “We talked before we left, he loved you very much.”

“You talked? After all that shouting and ordering you out? You remember his face when he found out I loved you!”

Xena smiled, she did remember his face. She also had a pretty good idea what her own face had been like when he had ordered her gone, Gabrielle to stay and challenged the warrior. Fortunately, Gabrielle had stepped between them and calmed everyone down. Xena was now grateful she hadn’t thrown him through a window like she had wanted.

Herdoctus had come to her later and apologized for his behavior and the way he had treated Gabrielle and Lila growing up. He was willing to try and change. Xena cursed his stubbornness now, he hadn’t wanted to approach Gabrielle and tell her that just yet. Now it was too late to say it himself.

Xena told this and everything to her bard as she held the younger woman. The warrior tried to comfort as best she could, she knew Gabrielle both loved and sometimes hated her father. Herdoctus had been quick to use his fists too many times on his daughters for Xena’s taste, the thought of anyone hitting Gabrielle could bring the warlord back to the surface instantly, but she had tried to be understanding for Gabrielle.

“I need to see my mother,” the bard whispered.

“Of course, we’ll leave immediately.”

The bard sat up facing her lover with a frown. “What are we going to do? You’re still sick and shouldn’t be traveling with those wounds and your fever.” Gabrielle protested.

“I’m not staying here!” Xena protested right back. “There’s still bandits out there.”

“You can’t come right away either!”

Xena began muttering. Then threw her drinking cup across the room with a scowl. She knew Gabrielle was right, her leg was in incredible pain just from crossing the room to the bard and she felt as weak as a newborn.

“Feel better?” the bard asked with a smile. Xena scowled as Gabrielle began packing her things. “I’ll take a horse and you can follow in a couple of days. It’s a short ride and it’s in the opposite direction of the fighting.”

“I am not amused!” Xena growled.

Gabrielle quickly sat down next to her love, touching Xena’s face gently. “I know, but I need to get to my mother and Lila. I also have to stop in a nearby village and see my uncle. My mother left a parchment for me if something happened to either her or my father. For once I need to leave you behind, my love.”

The irony was not lost on the warrior, it was usually Xena who left Gabrielle behind at some inn for up to a couple of weeks at a time to settle some war or bandit problem, especially when she needed to move fast. Gabrielle’s reluctance to ride a horse often meant her staying behind. The bard continued packing.

“You hate to ride,” Xena mumbled.

“Yes,” Gabrielle agreed simply.

“You’ll be careful?” Xena’s voice suddenly sounded small and the bard turned from her bags and threw herself into her warrior’s arms, both crying.
***

Xena reluctantly stayed in bed for two days, having promised Gabrielle. That didn’t mean she was happy about it and on the third day she was ready to travel before the sun came up. Argo, picking up on her master’s energy, stomped her hoof, ready to be going as well.

Misenus met her at the stable door as she mounted Argo.

“Thank you, Xena. Any time you need anything you just have to ask. I’ll always be in your debt.”

“Call it even for the healer, Misenus.” she smiled and grabbed his arm in a warrior’s handshake.

The young man shook his head with a grin. “Can’t call it even yet, warrior. My little sister was one of the women you saved from those bandit slavers when you snuck into their camp by yourself and freed them. Don’t think I don’t know what risk you took for that one.”

“We’ll call it even if you don’t tell Gabrielle exactly how many times I risked my neck.” she grinned back.

“Nah, but I agree. Farewell, Xena.”

***

Xena made good time and was pleased to be entering Poteidaia by the next evening. She had taken it easy on Argo and the horse had kept up a good steady pace. She directed the horse directly to the house where, just four months before, she had wanted to toss Herdoctus out the window and had discovered the exact nature of Gabrielle’s feelings for the warrior. Fortunately because of the family confrontation, both the bard and warrior had been forced to admit to each other the depth of their feelings and had bonded immediately as mates.

Lila greeted her knock at the door and surprised the warrior by hugging her tightly. “Whoa, little one. What’s wrong?”

“We were worried, the messenger said that he had reached you and when you didn’t get here a couple of days ago we began to get worried.” the teenager said, pulling the warrior into the living area of the house where Hecuba rose from her chair and hugged the warrior as well.

“Didn’t Gabrielle tell you I was following behind?” Xena asked.

“Isn’t she with you?” Hecuba whispered.

“What? She left me two days ago.” Lila grabbed Xena and pulled her over to a chair, noticing the stunned look on the warrior’s face and the heavy limp.

“She’s not here and we’ve had no word.” Hecuba said softly, looking to the warrior for answers.

“She said she was going to stop and see her uncle and then come here for the funeral.” Xena told the two women. She stood up quickly and winced at the pain in the leg. “Where does your brother live?”

“Two villages over to the east. His name is Harpalion and he’s the baker. Hurry, please.”

“Don’t worry, I’ll find her.” Xena promised, heading out the door.

Lila followed her out. “Let me come with you.” she pleaded.

“No, your mother needs you here and I’ll travel faster alone.” Xena quickly mounted her horse and leaned down and touched Lila’s hair. “I’ll find her.” she promised again and urged Argo off at a gallop.

***

“Where does Harpalion live?” Xena asked in the tavern later that night. She was dusty from the road and her voice was stern and short.

“I’m Harpalion, you must be Xena.” a voice said next to her. The warrior turned and found a middle aged man standing at the bar. She could see the family resemblance between him and his sister.

“Yes, is Gabrielle with you?”

“No, please come to my house, I think I might have something for you.”

Once inside his simple but well kept house he sent his wife to bed and came back from their bedroom with Gabrielle’s broken staff in his hands. Xena’s heart sank as she took the pieces in her hands.

“What? How?”

“My wife and I were away to her family for a wedding. When we returned I found this note,” he handed the warrior a parchment.

“Dearest Uncle Harpalion,

Sorry to come in while you were gone. Mother told me about the parchment you had for me if something ever happened to my father or mother. I don’t know if you heard about my father’s accident but he has died and I came to retrieve the parchment. I will come back and get it after the funeral, I am going home now.

Love, Gabrielle.”

“I found the staff just outside the doorway, that’s what is puzzling me. The staff and this,” he handed the warrior a necklace of beads, bones and feathers.” He frowned. “That’s Amazon, isn’t it?”

“Yes, it is. She never made it to Poteidaia. Something’s wrong and she’s telling me she heading for safety with the Amazons.”

“Find her please, warrior.”

“My word on it, Harpalion.” Xena pledged as she slipped the necklace over her neck.

“Here, take this with you, I know she’d trust you with it.” he said, handing her a small pouch. “Inside is that parchment and a bottle of something that her mother left with me.”

“Thank you.” Xena frowned at the pain when she mounted Argo again. She looked down and saw the bandage on her thigh was bloody. She cursed under her breath and urged the horse down the road.

Xena was more than a little worried. It had to be something very serious for the Bard to be fleeing to the Amazon nation and to miss her father’s funeral. Especially serious for the bard to put off finding out the answers to a mystery. Xena smiled to herself, Gabrielle seemed to be born with an innate curiosity that could drive Xena crazy upon occasion. Keeping secrets from Gabrielle was almost impossible, especially when she got her teeth into a mystery.

***

In the next village Xena finally got some partial answers from an old friend.

“Xena?” the older man hobbled out from behind the tavern bar on crutches to shake the warrior’s arm. “I don’t believe it! How are you? What brings you here?”

“How are you Timicus?” she asked, letting herself be led to the bar.

“Better than you, I think.” he commented, looking her up and down. Xena merely shrugged. “Orithya, bring my guest food and port!” he called to the barmaid.

“I don’t have time, Tim.”

“Yes, you do. When was the last time you ate?” he demanded, pulling a chair up to a table for her. “And when was the last time someone changed that bandage. “Orithya, the healing supplies too! And clean water!” he shouted.

“I really don’t have time, I need information if you have it.”

“Then you’ll have it while I change that bandage and you eat.” the barmaid completed the delivery of all the items her boss wanted with several trips and then helped Timicus in changing the bandages. He whistled when he saw the wound. With a shake of the head he poured healing herbs on it and followed that with salve. Xena hissed as he rebandaged the leg while Orithya bandaged the arm.

“That wound is not looking good, warlord.”

“I’m not your warlord anymore, Tim. I’m not anyone’s warlord.” Xena said between bites.

“I know, thank the gods.” Tim grinned. “I couldn’t afford to lose another leg.”

“Tim, I’m sorry about that…..”

He held up a hand and laughed. “Enough! We’ve been through this. Losing that leg was the best thing to ever happen. Got me out of your army and soldiering and into this bar. I’m married, got four kids, money set aside, good employees and I’m happy. How about you? I hear you’ve changed.”

“Yes. Tim, I don’t have time, I promise I’ll be back and we’ll catch up.”

“All right, finish eating and tell between mouthfuls what brings you here.” he sat back in his chair after whispering to his barmaid.
“Have you seen a bard traveling through, probably in a hurry. She’s small, reddish blond hair, small but wiry build.”

“Yes, named Gabrielle.”

“Yes! You’ve seen her?”

“Yes, two days ago. She came in here and offered to trade her horse for a fresh one. I wasn’t going to trade but she asked if I trusted your word. I told I trusted you with my life and she said you’d pay any difference between the animals and that you’d probably be following. I asked her what devil was after her. I mean, Xena, she was scared. Her hair was messed up and she was dusty from the road and she drank two goblets of water real quick like. She told me to tell you that someone is after her and she’s heading for the Amazons. I made her grab some food and she was off immediately.”

Xena was nearly frantic but Timicus held up his hand to stop her. “Finish your food. It won’t do her any good if you fall out of your saddle.”

The barmaid came back with a pair of saddle bags and handed them to Xena. “Filled with travel food, my friend.” Tim answered her questioning eyebrows.

“You were always a good man, Tim.” Xena stood and winced at the pain and wiped her forehead with the back of her hand. Tim looked concerned and reached forward slowly to feel her forehead as well.

“You’re burning up, my friend.” he scolded.

“I’ve got to go, Tim.”

“You need rest, you’re friend is either safe or dead by now.”

“She’s not dead, I’d know that. I’ve got to get to her as soon as I can.” Xena threw the saddlebags over her shoulder.

“Is it true then, warrior?” Tim smiled and Xena hesitated at the door.

“Is what true, friend?”

“That the mighty Conqueror was conquered?” he grinned and then laughed when Xena began blushing. “Go and come back this way, I want time to meet her.”

With a sheepish grin the warrior was back on the road.

***

The closer Xena got to Amazon territory the better she felt about Gabrielle. She hadn’t found the bard yet and hopefully that meant she had out rode whoever was after her and Xena was confident in the ability of the Amazon’s to protect their Queen.

With her arm wounded the warrior wasn’t as fast as normal and it cost her. Xena found herself coughing in the dust of the road, wincing in pain from the arrow sticking through her shoulder and from landing hard. With a growl she rolled off the road and drew her sword as she regained her feet. She was limping heavily and the pain was trying to cloud her eyes. The warrior barely even caught a glimpse of the butt end of a crossbow before it hit her.

***

“This is not my week,” the warrior muttered to herself as consciousness began screaming at her. Once again, her trained mind took over and assessed herself and her surroundings. She muttered another curse. The warrior was blindfolded and that always presented extra problems when you didn’t know where you were and you weren’t ever sure when you were being watched.

Xena took several deep breaths and extended her senses. She felt manacles on her wrists attached to chains, arms outspread, holding her body weight up. She stood up to relieve the stress on her arms and wrists, especially the wounded shoulder which was feeling like a hot poker was being prodded into the wound right then. Bird and other animal noises reached her as well as the scent of forest. She hadn’t been taken far then, she thought. No sunlight but it was still warm, not night time yet, that meant she hadn’t been unconscious long.

Personal assessment: head hurt like Tartarus, thanks. The leg was throbbing and felt swollen and that was not good. The wrists hurt, of course, but the major pain was the shoulder wound. Xena moved slightly and it felt like the arrow had been removed but the shoulder wasn’t bandaged.

All in total, the former Warlord summed up: not good. Manacles would be extremely difficult to get out of, especially blindfolded. Not bandaging the warriors wounds probably meant her attacker didn’t mean to keep her around. Kidnappers usually wanted their captives healthy until they got their money. She didn’t think this one wanted ransom.
“I know you’re there.” Xena said simply. “What do you want?”

Further movement told the warrior that her armor had been removed and so had the dagger between her breasts. Damn!

“Your death,” a male voice answered, in a simple conversational tone.

“Terrific, stand in line.”

The male laughed and Xena felt him approach in front of her. Then Xena’s head was rocked back and she could taste blood in her mouth and felt it flowing from her nose from the punch she had just received. ‘I hate being blindfolded,’ she thought to herself again.
“I think I moved to the front when I caught you. Although your wounds probably helped slow you down.” Xena did scream this time when she felt fingers jammed into her leg wound and quickly bit her lip.

“That’s better,” the voice approved of the sound.

“Who are you and what do you want?” Xena demanded. It was hard standing on one leg for any length of time but it hurt too much to put weight on the other leg. She didn’t want to drop and let her wrists and arms take the weight of her body either, that would set the shoulder bleeding, not to mention the pain. This was not a good situation, she decided again.

“I told you what I want, your death.”

“What for? Who are you?”

“I am Menestratus, brother of Perdicus.”

“Why in all the hells of Tartarus would you be stalking Gabrielle, your sister-in-law?” the warrior demanded and was surprised when her head rocked back and forth from the force of the blow from Menestratus’ fist connecting with her jaw. The warrior knew if she could see it would be only stars for the moment. She shook her head and moved her jaw around, testing it’s movement. She spit blood at where she had last heard his voice.

“She is no sister of mine!” he hissed, this time in her ear. She hadn’t heard him move while she was still reeling from the blow. He was now behind her. Xena felt the familiar sensation of a blade at her throat. She hadn’t been on the receiving end of that kind of threat often but she knew how a blade felt.

“Because of both of you my brother is dead.”

“Gabrielle loved Perdicus.”

“And now she loves you. The only good thing in my life is dead. She talked him into giving up his sword and your creation, Callisto, killed him. Gabrielle took something away from me and now I’m going to take something away from her.” While ranting Menestratus left a small and shallow wound along the warrior’s throat, just enough to sting and draw blood.

“This isn’t going to bring Perdicus back and it won’t help you. Listen to yourself, you’ve become just like Callisto, the one who murdered your brother in cold blood.” Xena said calmly.

The warrior gritted her teeth as she took several punches to the small of her back. The blows managed to knock her leg out from under her and the full weight of her body was snapped up by her wrists, arms and shoulders. As lightning hot pain shot through her body from her shoulder the darkness claimed the warrior again.

***

“Are you awake yet?”

“Fuck you.” Xena mumbled. Again a slap to the face.

“That wasn’t a nice thing to say.”

Menestratus seemed to be waiting for the warrior to say something else but she refused.

“That little bitch managed to get into Amazon territory before I caught up with her so I’ve sent word that I have you and for her to come alone. Good thing for me those Amazons don’t like to leave their territory and they won’t trouble about a lowly bard. I don’t know how long those she-demons would grant her sanctuary but I’m not waiting. When she gets here she’ll find you hanging here like a slab of meat.” he informed her.

“You’re not going to ambush her?”

“No, I want her to live with what I’ve lived with. She can try and sleep nights with the image of you like this.”

For the first time in days Xena felt the beginnings of hope, Menestratus didn’t know about Gabrielle being the Queen of the Amazons. For her they would go to the end of the earth and for her champion, Xena. They would also protect Gabrielle if they didn’t arrive in time to get Xena out of the mess.

“This is not what Perdicus would want.”

“That’s the ironic part of this.” a voice insisted. “We are so much alike, warlord. I’m a mercenary, a bandit at times. Perdicus was like light itself to me, always trying to get me to change. All he wanted was to help people and couldn’t understand why I rode with warlords like you.”

“Strats?” Xena whispered. “I know your voice.”

“Damn you,” the voice sounded tired.

“You rode with me,” Xena felt sick to her stomach. She did remember him, a good soldier and an even better bandit. “You were at Cirra.”

The impact of the situation made Xena’s head reel.

“Yeah, I was there.”

Xena’s sharp ears picked up a bird call that was followed by an answering one. She turned her attention back to the man she had known as Strats.

“Damnit! You’re as much responsible for Perdicus’ death as I am!” she snapped. “You were there, you helped slaughter Callisto’s family and turned her into the monster who murdered your brother. You can’t blame Gabrielle for this.”

“I realize that, warlord. That’s why after Gabrielle finds your body I’ll fall on my sword and accept my guilt.”

“It doesn’t have to be like this!” Xena protested. “We both made mistakes and people have paid for it. Don’t make Gabrielle suffer for our actions.”

“It’s too late for me, warlord and now for you.”

Xena had the feeling he was about to strike when she heard the sounds of arrows through the air and a slight grunt followed by something hitting the ground. Then bird calls and animal sounds filled the area.

“Xena!”

It was the sweetest sound that the warrior had ever heard. “Gabrielle!”

She felt the bard’s hands on her face and then the tender lips she had missed more than life itself. As other hands began supporting her weight and working at the manacles Xena let herself slip away, feeling safe in the arms of her bard and in the company of the Amazons.

“I love you, little one.” the warrior muttered as darkness claimed her.

PART 2
Xena groaned and opened her eyes slowly. The familiar surroundings of an Amazon hut greeted her eyes. Ephiny came into her view and sat on a stool next to the warriors bed. The Regent looked tired but was a welcome site.

“Hey,” she smiled down on the warrior and lifted a cup of water to the bruised and parched lips. Xena sipped gratefully.

“Hey,” she responded finally. “Where’s Gabrielle?”

“Next hut over, I finally got her to sleep. Remind me not to try and change her mind about anything again.”

Xena tried to smile but winced with the pain. “How long?”

“Five days.” Ephiny put a hand on the warrior’s shoulder as the woman attempted to sit up with surprise. “You’ve been sick and hurt. Fever and the pain took you the first day and we’ve been fighting the fever ever since.”

Xena took stock of her body and wasn’t surprised she felt like she had been run over by a wagon, twice.

“How bad now?”

“Not bad, the healer managed to get the infection down in your leg and the shoulder is actually healing nicely. Other stuff is minor cuts and bruises. You’ll be off that leg for another week.”

“A week!” Xena protested.

“That’s what the healer has ordered. I’ll send for Gabrielle.” Ephiny started to stand up and Xena placed a hand on the Regent’s arm.

“Strats?”

“Menestratus? Target practice for my archers when we found you.”

Xena merely nodded at this information, it was what she had expected from the Amazons. “Thank you, Ephiny. I knew Gabrielle would be safe with you.”

“Always, Xena.” Ephiny stopped at the door and looked back on the warrior. “By the way, I am finally reading your relationship with Gabrielle right? You two finally got together?”

Xena grinned, “Did everyone in Greece know but us?”

“Yup, there’s been running bets as to when you two would finally figure it out. When did it happen?”

“Bets? Four months ago.”

“yup,” the Amazon grinned at her friend. “I lost two months ago.”

“Ephiny,”

The Regent turned with a questioning eyebrow lifted.

“I asked her to marry me, Amazon ceremony.”

The life came back to the Regent’s eyes and she smiled a huge smile. “Really?” Xena nodded, smiling herself. “If you weren’t wounded I’d hug the stuffing out of you! Nothing could make Gabrielle happier! By Artemis, we’ve a lot to plan for.” The Regent was gone before Xena could ask for details.

“Terrific, I’ve asked for the ceremony and don’t have a clue what the ritual is.”

Any other thoughts of the ceremony were interrupted a moment later when Gabrielle rushed into the hut and into Xena’s good arm, showering her mate with kisses and tears.

“Shhh, Little One,” Xena said softly. “I’m all right.”

Gabrielle finally pulled back and sat on the stool, holding Xena’s hand while the other hand ran over the warrior’s body, once again reassuring herself that her warrior was in one piece.

“You are not all right, you’ve been out for days.” Xena got a good look at her bard’s face and was dismayed. She’d never seen the bard looking so haggard.

“When was the last time you slept or ate?” the warrior demanded.

“They made me eat and Ephiny made me get some sleep.” Gabrielle protested.

“Uh huh, let me guess, you’ve spent most of the last five days right there next to me.” Xena gathered the bard back into her arm for another kiss and reassuring hug. “I love you, Gabrielle.”

“Gods, I was so worried!” Xena reached up to brush away a fresh set of tears. The bard couldn’t seem to stop touching Xena’s hair, face, arms.

“It’s okay. Just wasn’t my week.” the warrior smiled.

“Hah! That’s an understatement.” the bard grinned.

“What about your family, they were worried sick.”

“I sent a runner to let them know I was okay and that you were safe.”

“I’m sorry about your father’s funeral.”

“It’s all right, just as long as you’re safe, my love.”

“For once you rescued me. Remind me to keep you around.” Xena smiled and pulled Gabrielle onto the bed and the bard eagerly curled up in Xena’s arm, both sighing with the feeling of being together again.

“Forever,” Gabrielle agreed.

When Ephiny came back to check on the patient she found the Amazon Queen and her warrior asleep in each other’s arms. She smiled and backed out of the hut and left orders with the guards that the couple wasn’t to be disturbed.
***

After a few more days in bed regaining her strength, Xena was able to move around the village with the aid of a crutch. Both she and Ephiny had finally gotten Gabrielle to eat and sleep and both the bard and warrior were looking much better.

Xena sat down on a hay bale, watching her lover spar with several other Amazon women with her new staff. The warrior was pleased when Ephiny walked up and sat next to her.

“How are you feeling, friend?” Ephiny asked.

“Better everyday, thanks to all of you. Thanks again for the rescue.” Xena grinned.

“My pleasure, none of us would have been able to live with Gabrielle if we hadn’t. Tell me about the man.”

“Menestratus,” Xena’s face grew thoughtful. “He was one of my soldiers years ago. I remembered him just before you showed up. He was a good soldier of sorts but blood-thirsty, he delighted in killing anything in his way.”

“Did you know he was Perdicus’ brother when Gabrielle married him?”

“No, I only knew him as Strats and we never talked.”

Xena pulled out a dagger and began balancing it on the end of a finger.

“I never knew. Gods, Ephiny, will my past ever let us alone?” Ephiny didn’t flinch when the warrior suddenly threw the knife, embedding it into a fence post close by. With a casual grace the Regent walked over and retrieved the dagger. Xena shrugged.

“Probably not,” Ephiny said simply. “You’ve made up for your past, and you’ll continue to do so but it will always come back to haunt you, warrior.”

“Thanks.” Xena muttered.

“He blamed you for Callisto,” Ephiny encouraged the warrior to resume the explanations.

Xena laughed a grim laugh. “That’s what’s so messed up! He was there at Cirra! He helped murder Callisto’s family.”

Ephiny thought she would fall off the hay bale and Xena nodded at the woman’s shocked expression.

“Then what in Hades was his problem?!” the Amazon demanded. “He helped create her as much as you did.”

“That’s what I told him and he agreed. I can’t explain it. Maybe he thought by killing me and hurting Gabrielle he could live with his own guilt in Tartarus. He was planning on killing himself after me.”

“I don’t get it.” Ephiny shook her head.

“Neither do I and neither does Gabrielle. Maybe it made sense in his twisted mind.”

“He nearly succeeded, we almost lost you and we would have lost Gabrielle if that had happened.” Ephiny glanced over at the warrior, gauging her reaction.

“I know that. When it does happen to me, I want you to take care of her. Don’t let her follow me, I’d want her to live.” Xena’s eyes flashed.

“You don’t know it will happen.”

“Yes, I do. The life I lead, not much chance of a long life.”

“I know but that wouldn’t be my choice, Xena. Even if we locked her away from anything sharp or long I think she’d grieve herself to death over you.”

“I wouldn’t want that,” the warrior muttered.

“Live with it,” Ephiny said bluntly and Xena looked surprised. “It’s something that we see with some lifebond mates when one dies. One half of a soul can’t live without the other.”

“You think we’re lifebond soul mates?” Xena whispered. She, herself, had felt such an overwhelming amount of love for the bard and felt so empty when Gabrielle wasn’t around, but lifebond soul mates were rare. It was the stuff of legends.

Ephiny looked over at the bard and back at the warrior. “Yes, I do.”

Together they watched the little bard knock the staff out of one warrior’s hands, swipe the feet out from another, and lightly tapped another on the head before someone got the smaller woman in the ribs. Laughing with the others, Gabrielle helped the fallen staff fighter to her feet. She spotted Xena and the smile became wider as she headed towards the warrior.

“She’s good.” Ephiny commented.

“Very, you have good trainers.” Xena agreed.

“Most of that is natural talent. If she ever wanted to turn warrior she could be deadly in a knife fight, maybe even with a sword.”

“I hope that doesn’t happen.” Xena said softly.

“You know the odds, traveling the way you two do. She’ll have to kill someday.”

Xena frowned. “I know, I just want to put it off as long as possible. I don’t want anything to touch that light of hers.”

Ephiny grinned, “Not as long as she has you, Xena. I’ve never seen her so happy.”

Gabrielle climbed over the small fence separating the sparring area from the rest of the village and hugged Ephiny and then her warrior.

“You’re good out there.” Xena commented, pleased with the blush Gabrielle gave them.

“Thanks, I’ve been practicing.”

Ephiny stood up, “I’ve got things to attend to and a wedding to plan. Lots to do.” she grinned.

“Why do I get the feeling this could get complicated,” Xena complained.

Gabrielle laughed and sat down next to the tall woman.

“Probably. Ephiny says that it can get quite formal when it’s the Queen getting married. There’s two actual ceremonies – one for us, family and the blessing of the gods; then a public one that gets complicated and pompous.” she warned with a smile.

“Gods, I should just throw you over Argo and drag you to a lonely island for the rest of our lives. I suppose you’ll want me to dress fancy.”

Gabrielle lightly punched Xena’s arm, pretending to look annoyed with her warrior. “Can’t have you scaring the foreign diplomats with your sword and chakram at the ready, can we?”

“Diplomats?” Xena frowned and the bard laughed heartily.

“Xena, mighty Warrior Princess! You’d rather face an army alone than a royal court, wouldn’t you?” Gabrielle giggled.

“Yup, you bet.” Xena readily agreed with a smile.

“It’s just show. Being the Queen they want to put on a big production, I’m getting them to tone it down a bit. I think you’ll like the private one.” Gabrielle leaned her head on the warrior’s shoulder. “How’s the pain?”

“Better. Beginning to itch, always a good sign. The healer says the shoulder will probably hurt in cold weather from now on, guess that’ll go with the other aches and pains. Are you sure you want this old war-horse?” Xena teased.

“Let me show you.” Gabrielle leaned up and, with one hand behind the warrior’s head, pulled Xena’s lips to hers. The kiss was light and gentle and then deepened as Gabrielle shifted and pulled the warrior into her arms for once.

When they pulled apart slightly Xena noticed a shift in Gabrielle’s expression. She sat up again and touched the bard’s face, pulling the chin up to look in the deep green eyes she always adored.

“What is it, Gabrielle?”

“I’m ready to look at that parchment.”

“All right, go grab a bath and I’ll meet you at the stable.” Xena told her.

“Can you ride yet?” the bard looked worried.

“I’ll use a fence to get on. Riding is easy, you can help me off when we get to the stream.”

“Okay, I won’t be long.” Gabrielle jumped up and kissed her lover again and then dashed off.

Xena pulled herself up and began hobbling towards the stable, thinking about the next event coming. Gabrielle had read the first sheet of parchment and it had been from her mother, written many years ago, when still pregnant with Gabrielle. The parchment instructed her daughter to find a pool of water, a fountain, or a calm lake and to drink the contents of the bottle with her soul mate. Then the daughter would find answers.

Xena hated mysteries. She was good at solving them but she hated them. Gabrielle had wanted to wait until Xena could travel before approaching the next step. They were both puzzled. Xena couldn’t put it quite into words, she knew Hecuba would never do anything to hurt Gabrielle but the contents of the bottle were mysterious and maybe a touch sinister.

Xena wasn’t sure which she dreaded more: facing stuffy nobles or Gabrielle’s mysterious past.

***

Gabrielle led Argo through the woods and along the stream until they reached a small pool of gentle water and helped position Argo next to a rock so Xena could climb off the horse without too much trouble. Feeling somewhat helpless made the warrior feel grumpy and she fought down the emotion.

Gabrielle spread out her cloak and Xena joined her next to the water on a rock. With a heavy sigh the bard pulled out the bottle and looked at, turning it over in her hands again and again. Xena waited. Green eyes looked deep into blue ones.

“It’s okay if you’re not ready,” Xena said softly.

“I don’t know. I’m curious as a cat with a closed bag, but this…” she spread her hands indicating the bottle and the parchment. “What could it be?” she demanded suddenly. “What could my mother tell me?”

“She said it might answer some questions you had growing up.”

“Arrrgghhh!” Gabrielle sat staring at the bottle, as if it might burn her if she touched it again. Then, with a quick motion, she grabbed the bottle and uncorked it. Xena pulled out two goblets and poured wine into both from a wineskin. Gabrielle again looked deep in her lover’s eyes and poured half the powder into each goblet.

“I love you, Xena.”

“I love you, Gabrielle. No matter what we learn.”

With a nod of the bard’s head they both drank and Gabrielle positioned herself between Xena’s legs and leaned back into her warrior. Together they began watching the water.

***

Both women found themselves closing their eyes, feeling like a fog had come over both of them. After a moment Gabrielle opened her eyes and gasped, Xena quickly opened her eyes, muscles tensing. She blinked several times.

She and Gabrielle were sitting beside a lake instead of a stream. A gentle lake at dusk. Very close to them the sounds of someone running through the woods reached them. Xena reached out to grab a branch to pull herself up quickly and stumbled back onto her backside when her hand went through the branch.

A woman ran into sight and went right by them without seeming to notice them.

“Mother?” Gabrielle’s voice called Xena’s attention to the woman’s face.

It was Hecuba but a much younger Hecuba, more than 20 years younger. She was crying and shaking and she didn’t seem to hear the bard.

“She can’t hear or see us, Gabrielle. We’re like ghosts.”

“But she’s younger.”

“Yes, we’re watching back in time somehow.”

Gabrielle leaned back into Xena’s arms again. “Hold me, please.” she whispered and the warrior gladly wrapped her arms around her love.

Hecuba threw herself into the grass by the lake, her sobs racking her body and tearing at the hearts of the two women watching. Both Xena and Gabrielle gasped when they realized someone was standing very near the woman that would become Gabrielle’s mother.

“Why are you crying, woman?” the man asked.

Hecuba squeaked and sat up, stumbling backwards. It was almost dark and she was alone with a stranger.

“I mean you no harm, why are you crying?” the stranger sat down on his haunches, probably trying to put young Hecuba at ease.
“My husband, he….. he came home drunk and…..” Hecuba continued to sob.

“He hurt you and forced you.” the stranger stated and Xena felt her bard’s muscles tighten. The warrior held tighter.

“No, not force, just not…..” Hecuba stammered.

“Not pleasurable for you.”

“No,” Hecuba dropped her head. “Who are you, I can’t see your face.” she whispered.

The stranger smiled and held up his hand and all the women were shocked when it began glowing, putting out more light than a torch. He grinned. “Better?”

“Apollo!” Xena hissed.

Hecuba went to her knees. “Lord,” she whispered.

“Don’t kneel, please. Just sit with me for a bit. I have a tale to tell you, young Hecuba.” Apollo ordered and sat down on the grass next to Hecuba, the light surrounding them.

“You know me?” she asked.

“Yes, I came to see you.” he stated.

“Why?”

“I can’t tell you everything but what I can tell you is that you are going to have children. The first of them will be a girl and you will name her Gabrielle.”

Gabrielle felt her head reeling and clung to the warrior’s arms around her.

“Gabrielle?” Hecuba questioned.

“I like it.” Apollo shrugged. “You will have others but Gabrielle has a special fate. Sometimes the gods meddle a little too much in the affairs of you humans and upon occasion some of us have to step in and counter some of those affects.”

“I don’t understand, Lord.”

“I know. What I can say is thus, with the help of one of the gods a dark soul will fill this land and could destroy the very civilization that gives all of us life. This dark one must have a balance and your daughter will be that balance. She will be the light to end the darkness. She will be blessed by the gods and especially by me, a child of the Sun.”

“Why me?” Hecuba questioned.

“Why not? You are intelligent, gentle, loving and you have a strength that she will inherit. It is her fate to shine the light of the sun on the soul that fell into darkness. It will be Gabrielle’s light that saves this soul and changes the Fates of the world.”

“Xena?”

“Shhh, little one.” Xena’s voice was strained.

“This dark soul, won’t it destroy my daughter?”

“It might, we can’t control everything. It will be up to Gabrielle and the Dark One. It is a difficult path to go from the dark to the light but a very easy one for light to fall into dark. The Dark One may drag your daughter down.”

“Please take this away. I only want a simple and happy life for my children.”

“The Dark One is her soul mate though their lives will be difficult. If their love prevails it will be the envy of the gods themselves. It will be a bond that will span beyond eternity.”

“You’re telling me that a child of mine will change the future of the world by changing just another person?”

“No, she will touch many souls along her way, not just the Dark One. In reaching the Dark One and showing this soul love, together they will defeat the plans of some of the gods that wish to conquer the world of man to rule over them. Together they will be like the Sun and Moon, each reflecting the best of each other and sharing the same light.”

“Will my child be happy?”

“If they find their way to love your daughter will gladly go through all the hardship it will mean to be with the Dark One. She will love this soul beyond any love before, not even death will stop this bonding.”

“You send a harsh fate to my child,” Hecuba complained.

“Yes, I know. My blessing will be one of the Light. She will be curious, intelligent and a dreamer. Encourage this in her, don’t let her dreams die. Do not let your husband break her spirit. The talent of the God of Poetry will be hers.”

Apollo reached over and touched Hecuba’s face, instantly healing the black eye that was beginning to show.

“He’s a good man, just a troubled spirit. Be tolerant, he’ll provide well for the family, just don’t let his temper rule your children.”
“He was raised hard.” Hecuba complained.

“The visit he’s receiving from Aphrodite right now will mellow him out a bit. We can’t change him totally,” Apollo warned. “He’ll still fall short of a perfect husband but he will be good for you and the girls.”

“Girls, I’ll have more than one girl?” Hecuba gleamed.

“Uh oh, not supposed to reveal anything about the other one and you can’t reveal anything about me until Gabrielle’s either succeeded or failed with the Dark One.” Apollo grinned. Then his smile changed and he leaned over towards Hecuba who leaned back, a slight fearful look on her face. “Relax, I don’t seduce every maiden I see, no matter what the stories say.” Apollo grinned and placed his hand over Hecuba’s womb area.

Gabrielle, Xena and Hecuba gasped as light from his hand enveloped the young woman. When the light faded Apollo was gone and Hecuba was smiling. She reached down to touch her womb area.

“Gabrielle, you will my dreamer.” Hecuba promised.

The darkness slowly filled the sight of the bard and warrior. When it cleared they realized they were by the stream, wrapped in Xena’s travel cloak and the stars were out.

Gabrielle lifted the cloak with a question, turned and looked into Xena’s eyes. Suddenly she was in the warrior’s arms crying. Both women found themselves crying.

“He was talking about us! About you.” Gabrielle whispered.

Xena let the tears run from her eyes. “I know. He’s right, you did save me. I would have slipped back into the darkness if it hadn’t been for you.”

“Wow, we are soul mates.”

“Yes,” Xena agreed with a smile.

After a moment the bard sat back up. “Hey, who covered us?” she asked.

“Maybe one of the scouting patrols found us and covered us.” Xena suggested.

“Maybe.” The bard started to stand up and felt something fall from her chest onto the blanket. She picked up what looked like two necklaces.

“Hey, how about lighting that fire?” she asked and Xena started to move, dreading the pain that was about to cause from sitting too long in one position. Gabrielle instantly forgot the necklaces when Xena cried out, grabbing her leg.

“Oh gods, I forgot, are you okay?”

“Yeah, that’s the problem.” the warrior ran her hands up and down her leg, a puzzled look on her face.

“What’s that mean?” the bard demanded.

“There’s no pain. None at all.”

Gabrielle grabbed up the travel pouch and went to start the fire herself. Once the fire was going they were finally able to see a little better, Xena cut the bandage aside to revel an undamaged leg. She then removed the bandage on the arm and found no wound.

Gabrielle’s eyes were wide. “Your shoulder?” she questioned softly.

“Nothing, like it had never been touched.”

“Your face is healed too.” Gabrielle marveled.

“What did you find?” Xena asked, pointing to Gabrielle’s hand.

The bard blinked and then raised the objects to the light. One of them was the Amazon necklace she had left behind for Xena to find, the warrior’s hands quickly found that the necklace had been removed from her neck. The other was a matching necklace. To the one Xena had been wearing a small silver crescent moon with knotwork in the center had been added and on the other one was a gold blazing sun.

“Wow.” the bard muttered.

“What’s the second parchment say?” Xena asked as Gabrielle handed her the necklace she had been wearing when they had first come to the stream.

“I just found out I’m the daughter of a god, sort of; I’m blessed by the gods, destined to save the world, and my soul mate was destined to destroy the world, what makes you think I want to know what else there is?” the bard grinned.

“You did save the world, my world.” Xena laughed as the bard launched herself across the small space and tackled the warrior.

“I love you, no matter what the gods had in mind I would have fallen in love with you.”

“Back at you, little one.”

Gabrielle grinned and leaned over, still laying on top of Xena. With trembling hands she slowly unfolded the second parchment and with a puzzled look she showed Xena.

The warrior laughed. In the center of the page was Apollo’s symbol – the sun, the outer circle of sun was designed like Xena’s chakram and inside the circle was a parchment and feather pen.

She started kissing the bard deeply, pleased not to be in pain for the first time in a month. Gabrielle moaned and dropped the parchment, rearranging her body along the warrior’s to bring a thigh and knee in-between Xena’s leg, bringing a moan out of the warrior.

Gabrielle’s hands moved between them and unbuckled the belt Xena was wearing and pushed it aside, and then moved her hands under the shirt her warrior was wearing to grasp Xena’s breasts, moving her lips down to the warrior’s neck, knowing how sensitive the other woman was to Gabrielle’s teeth at her neck.

Xena moaned, arching slightly as her body responded with it’s own heat. The warrior’s fingers were busy unlacing the bard’s top. Gabrielle yelped with surprise when the warrior sat up and grabbed one of the bard’s nipples between her teeth and lips. The blond threw her head back and moaned in delight.

“Oh gods, Xena.”

“I can’t get enough of you, Gabrielle.” Xena whispered, kissing the bard from her breasts, up the neck and to those lips she always craved. The warrior held the smaller woman tight in her arms while their lips and tongues fought each other, teasing and playing. The bard’s hands working their way through Xena’s hair, holding the warrior’s head and body tight.

Gabrielle moaned and began breathing rapidly when Xena began to kiss her way back down the bard’s neck and to her breasts, first teasing and lavishing one and then the other until Gabrielle was squirming in her lap.

“I haven’t been able to touch you in so long like this,” Xena whispered.

Gabrielle whimpered and pulled Xena’s tunic top off to reach the dark one’s breasts as well.

Xena reached up and pulled the bard’s hair, pulling the woman’s head backwards and seized Gabrielle’s lips with her own. The blond moaned again and her hands grasped Xena’s breasts, causing the warrior to moan as well.

Xena undid the belt holding the bard’s skirt together and unwrapped the cloth from around her bard and was delighted to see her lover wasn’t wearing any undergarments. Gabrielle cried out as Xena’s fingers slid easily between her lower lips, discovering how wet the bard was for her lover. They both growled when the warrior took a nipple in her lips and teeth and entered Gabrielle with her fingers.

The bard clung to her lover’s shoulders, body trembling uncontrollably. Xena felt her own body begin spasming as the bard bit into her neck, Gabrielle cries becoming louder and intense.

Time seemed to stand still for the lovers as passion took over their bodies. Xena was always amazed by the endurance, strength and depth of passion of her little bard. One thing the warrior was grateful, too many people seemed to underestimate Gabrielle.

Together the two fell back, Gabrielle onto of Xena, still clinging to her warrior. When she felt she could breath enough again to talk she grinned into her lover’s bright blue eyes. Her fingers brushing a lock of dark hair from Xena’s forehead.

“Wow.”

Xena grinned back. “For a bard, you seem to have short sentences.”

“Sometimes one needs to do their talking with the body and not the voice. I think I can find a use for my tongue elsewhere, what do you think?” the bard began nibbling on Xena’s earlobe, causing the warrior to gasp and lose whatever complete sentence she had been trying to put together.

“Yes!” the warrior hissed as Gabrielle’s hand trailed down to her womb, parting her lips and began playing. First entering and then pulling back from Xena and then rubbing the swollen clit of the warrior and entering again until Xena was squirming, unsure which sensation was pulling the most intensity from her.

“Gabrielle, please!”

The bard had moved down to the warrior’s breasts and was biting and sucking each in turn. Xena’s hands found the bard’s hair and began urging her lover’s head lower. Gabrielle grinned and grabbed one of the hands with her own, interlacing her fingers.

Xena groaned as her body rocked, hips moving of their own accord and the bard matched the rhythm with her hands.

The bard continued her slow path down with her tongue and lips, never losing contact with Xena’s body with either.

“Oh Gods, yes!” the warrior urged.

“Patience, my love.” the bard whispered and grinned when the warrior growled in frustration.

When she finally positioned herself between the warrior’s legs, Xena was writhing in need and frustration. Gabrielle slowly ran her tongue between the warrior’s lower lips, never losing her rhythm with her fingers. Xena cried out, her hand painfully pulling and grasping the bard’s hand, her other hand digging into the ground next to the blanket. Sweat had bathed both of them and the bard could see every muscle in Xena’s body straining and standing out.

Hearing Xena’s cries was something that pleased the bard immensely. Gabrielle hadn’t really been surprised to learn that she was the only lover Xena had ever been vocal with. She had smiled and teased Xena about control issues and the warrior had growled that it had been for security reasons. The admission had ended in a tickle fight when the bard laughed and insisted it was a control issue for the warrior.

Gabrielle welcomed the cries of passion and used her tongue over Xena’s clit to encourage more sounds from her mate.

Xena had gone beyond the point of any conscious thought and she felt herself reaching the point of losing all control. This was always a point she struggled against, wanting to give everything to Gabrielle and yet struggling to hold back slightly. An inner battle always raged in the warrior at this point, no one else had ever brought Xena over that point before the little bard. It felt very much like falling, like dying, she once thought.

Gabrielle raised her head and looked at her warrior’s face, seeing and feeling the struggle. “Xena, let go. I will always catch you.”
Xena screamed as she fell over that point.

***

Gabrielle blinked and sat up suddenly, aware of a bright light falling over her and her sleeping warrior. She was startled to see Apollo standing next to them, the light shining from his hand, just as in the vision.

Gabrielle quickly turned and found Xena sleeping soundly, arm still thrown over the bard’s stomach.

“Don’t worry, she’ll sleep.” Apollo smiled and offered his other hand to help the bard up.

With a blush she grabbed one of the blankets and pulled it around her and accepted his hand. He continued to hold her hand and they walked a few feet away from the sleeping Xena. He motioned to a place in the grass and they both sat down.

“You’re sort of my father?” Gabrielle asked.

“Yes. You were and are special, Gabrielle. Ares had gained such influence over the world at the time. Sparta was a military state, totally dedicated to his purpose, all the Greek states were fighting each other and Rome was beginning it’s trek towards the military might she has and will continue to become. The Fates foretold that he would influence a soul beyond all our belief and this child would grow to be the fiercest warrior the world had seen, a soul for the darkness. Some of us demanded a chance at balance and Zeus and Hera agreed.”

“Why me?” the bard asked while she watched Xena sleeping peacefully, she shuddered at the thought of what might have been.
“You were destined to meet Xena whether we influenced anything or not. We decided to give you an edge, to bring your natural light to the surface and we prayed your light would reach her inner soul and bring it to life again.”

“We were meant to be without you?”

“Yes, child. Your talents are natural, Gabrielle, just as the light of your soul is. Xena has a natural fighting ability, Ares just enhanced it and brought it out in her. I brought out your natural bardic skills and the light of your soul.”

“What about the other gods?” Gabrielle asked.

“They had a hand in your development as well.” Apollo suddenly looked serious. “Some of that influence wasn’t of the light either. It’ll be up to you to find out what your blessings are and how sometimes they can be mixed with darkness.”

“Be careful what you ask for?” Gabrielle smiled a grim smile.

“Yes, exactly.”

“What happens now?”

“Now you plan for a bonding ceremony. I am proud of the life you’ve led and are leading, Gabrielle. There will be many trials, many tests of your love with Xena. It’s a hard task we’ve set before you, the darkness will always be there with both of you.” Apollo leaned back on his elbows, watching her.

“I know that, I knew that when I met her. We’ll face whatever comes.” Apollo laughed at the stubborn set of her jaw and Gabrielle glared at him.

“Well said, bard.” he sat up and then stood up. “When Xena begins to question her parentage again and discovers some aspects of herself, call on me. You have inherited certain rights from me.”

“You mean like Hercules?” Gabrielle’s eyes were wide with surprise.

“Yes, I do.” He leaned down and kissed her cheek. “Remember, I am the God of Youth.” and with that he was gone.

“Youth? Oh boy.”

A voice called out of the darkness, “Don’t forget to invite some of us to the bonding.”

“Wow.” Gabrielle stood up and looked down at her sleeping warrior. “I wonder how you’ll feel about that one, my love. I know how you hate dealing with the gods.” Gabrielle grinned and then snuggled back into Xena’s arms.

Her mind already whirling, a bonding ceremony to plan for.
The End
Amazon Bonding

Storyline: This is the third story in my Awakening set. As I said before, I didn’t intend on writing sequels but it worked out that way and who knows where these will end up.
The knock on the door caused the warrior to yelp aloud and Solan to grin. Cyrene placed a comforting arm on her daughter’s arm and smiled at the expression on Xena’s face.

“It’s okay, Xena.” Cyrene said softly. “You’ll be fine.”

“Mom,” Xena nervously pulled on her tunic hem. “I’m nervous.” the warrior admitted.

“You’re scared,” Cyrene corrected.

“Okay, I’m scared.” Xena admitted softly. “Why? This is the best day of my life.”

Cyrene laughed again. “It’s all right and expected. You’re taking a very big step.”

The knock sounded again and Cyrene quickly hugged her daughter and then went to the door. She motioned for Solan to join her as they opened it.

“Hercules, as Kumbada to my daughter Xena, you are welcome here and I entrust her into your hands.” Cyrene said formally.

“As if I need protecting,” the warrior mumbled.

Xena turned and was pleased to see her Kumbada standing in the doorway with a stunned expression on his face. The warrior felt herself blushing.

“Xena, you…. you look beautiful.” he finally stammered.

“Thank you,” she replied. “You look great.”

He did, too. In formal blue dyed leather, he was the perfect picture of a Greek God and Xena almost lost her breath. The grey leather of his trousers fit nicely and the gold wrist bands set off his brown hair well, she thought. A small circlet of gold shined across his tanned forehead. He beamed at her and extended his arm for her. With a moment’s hesitation the warrior took it and they walked out of the dressing hut.

The drumming and singing stopped for a moment as the couple was caught in the rays of the setting sun. Then a cheer rose up from the dancers and singers and they surrounded the couple, each wanting to hug the warrior in congratulations and good wishes before the trek to the sacred grove. After a moment the drummers and singers gathered round the couple and her escorts of Mother Cyrene and son Solan and together the small band began to move through the village, drums and chanting setting the pace.

Solan leaned over to Cyrene. “I don’t know much about a traditional Greek wedding,” he admitted. “We have things a little simpler with the Centaurs and Amazons. What’s a Kumbada?”

Cyrene smiled and took his arm as they walked behind the couple. “The Kumbada is usually the best friend of the groom, but in this case there’ll be two Kumbadas. The rituals and ceremonies will be a combination of the traditional and the Amazon, to help satisfy the outside families like me and Hecuba. The Kumbadas will escort the couple to the sacred grove for the bonding ceremony and ensure that things flow smoothly. It’s a very important role. Usually, later in the marriage, the Kumbada acts as godfather to any children.” Cyrene hesitated a moment, “Can I ask you something?”

“Sure, anything.”

“You know about Amazon customs, right?”

“A lot, since the treaty the Centaurs and Amazons have been studying each other’s ways. My father says that it’s important, we’ll probably have to become stronger allies in the future. Both groups aren’t the most popular in the outside world.”

“The enemy of my enemy is my friend?” Cyrene smiled.

“Right. What’s the question?”

“Why is there an armed escort for Hercules, he is an honored guest of the wedding couple.”

“Well, you may also notice that I have a shadow.” he grinned and pointed to a smaller Amazon female that was never far from the young teenager. “Any male on Amazon territory is escorted by an armed Amazon. No matter who it is.”
“Oh,” Cyrene nodded. It had been an interesting week for her and Gabrielle’s family. Not the least was Xena trying to explain Solan to her and then insisting that Solan not know the truth yet. Cyrene had argued with her daughter about that one. Cyrene felt that Solan should know his mother, especially since she had changed so much and he was obviously very fond of her. Xena had countered that it was difficult enough that Gabrielle was often used against her, she didn’t’ want Solan becoming a target that she couldn’t protect. It was hard for Cyrene to interact with the boy without letting him know that she was his grandmother. She was becoming quite fond of him and proud of the young man he was going to become.

As they approached another hut a cheer went up from the drummers and singers surrounding that hut and the two groups merged. Xena stopped and Hercules continued to the door of the hut and knocked.

The door was opened by Hecuba and Lila, Gabrielle’s mother and sister.

They looked great, Xena thought. Both were dressed in traditional white linen, trimmed in green and gold. Lila had a crown of flowers and Hecuba had a crown of orange blossoms. Both wore gold bracelets and necklaces of feathers and beads. Xena looked over at her mother and thought once again that she looked just as radiant in her white linen trimmed in blue.

Hercules addressed the mother and daughter, “It is the wish of Xena of Amphipolis, to wed your daughter, Gabrielle of Potedaia. She pledges to care for her, provide for her and, most importantly, to love her. Do you accept this?”

Cyrene leaned over to whisper to Solan. “Traditionally the Kumbada bargains with the bride’s family, settling the dowry and lands exchanged and all that.”

“We do with open hearts.” Hecuba and Lila answered.

Iolaus, dressed the same as Hercules but his leathers were dyed green, stepped forward from behind Gabrielle’s family and approached Cyrene and Solan. His blue eyes dancing with delight.

“It is the wish of Gabrielle of Potedaia to wed your daughter, Xena of Amphipolis. She pledges to care for her, provide for her and, most importantly, to love her. Do you accept this?”

“We do with open hearts.” Cyrene knew that Solan also agreed, even if he didn’t know it was his Mom getting married. He was overjoyed to be included as a member of the family of Xena and was beaming.

The two families then approached each other and exchanged hugs, tears and laughter. Iolaus and Hercules then exchanged the wedding bracelets that Xena and Gabrielle would use. Passing them back and forth between each other three times.

Solan looked puzzled and looked to Cyrene.

“We’re not sure why they rings or bracelets are exchanged three times. Tradition.” she whispered.

Then Iolaus went back into the hut and after a moment emerged with Gabrielle holding his arm. The crowd went silent and both Hercules and Xena lost their breath in reality.

The bard was breathtaking. Xena couldn’t think of any other words. The sight of her love brought tears of joy to her eyes and she quickly wiped them away and noticed that Gabrielle’s eyes were also bright with tears of joy.

The Amazon Queen was dressed in a white sleeveless leather tunic that was trimmed in gold and green, a green to match her eyes. A white wrap around skirt was also trimmed in green and fur. At her wrists were matching green leather bracers and gold bands decorated her upper arms. Around the bard’s neck was a strand of blue-green feathers and beads. To complete her outfit a ceremonial sword hung at her side.

The surrounding Amazons broke into a cheer and went to their knees and bowed their heads at the sight of their Queen. Hercules and Iolaus also went to a bended knee, as did Solan. Xena and Cyrene bowed their heads as Gabrielle approached the tall warrior. The little bard lifted Xena’s chin up to look her lover in the eyes.

“You are so beautiful.” she whispered. “I love you.”

“You take my breath away, little one.” Xena whispered back. “I love you too.”

Gabrielle took a place beside the warrior and everyone rose. Hercules and Iolaus went to a tray being held by an Amazon and carried two goblets to the couple. Each woman took a goblet and drank half the wine. Then, with grins, they each dropped a coin into the goblets and returned them to their Kumbada’s.

“Wine, the sweetness of life and the coin represents that they each pledge to care for each other.” Cyrene whispered to Solan.

Everyone cheered and the drummers began drumming again. Both families fell into behind the couple and the Kumbadas began to lead them towards the sacred grove of the Amazons.

Along the way the couple’s hands sought each other and interlaced together. In their other hands they carried sprigs of ivy to symbolize the eternity of their love. Along the way the members of the tribe lined the path and tossed blossoms and grain at the wedding party.

As they neared the grove the party passed through an archway of ivy and holly and through the smoke of two smudge pots on either side of the archway.

Solan leaned over to Cyrene. “We pass through the smoke of sacred herbs to cleanse the body. Xena and Gabrielle have already gone through three days of purification. A day of sweating in the sweat hut, a day of fasting, and a day of meditation.”

“Is it true that they couldn’t see each other during that time?” Cyrene whispered.

“Yup, also heard rumors that Xena tried but Ephiny caught her.” Solan giggled.

“I believe that of my daughter,” Cyrene grinned back and she could see Xena’s face begin blushing and remembered her daughter’s uncanny hearing abilities and that she had heard the conversation. Cyrene bit her lip to keep from laughing at her daughter’s discomfort.

As they reached the edge of the trees everyone stopped and the drummers and singers went silent. An Amazon, the shaman stepped forward, sword in hand.

Cyrene started to lean over to Solan but he put up a hand to stop her question and then moved forward to join Hercules and Iolaus as they approached the priestess. Cyrene moved closer to her daughter, curious.

The three males knelt on both knees before the priestess and lifted their heads. The priestess, not speaking, placed the point of the blade against their throats and then moved to the next male after a moment. She abruptly handed the sword to an attendant Amazon and took a bowl from the attendant. She approached Solan first and dipped her finger into the liquid and smeared a streak across his forehead and moved to repeat the gesture to Hercules and Iolaus.

Another bowl was handed to the priestess and she smeared the cheeks of the males with this liquid.

“Xena?” Cyrene whispered.

“Males aren’t allowed into the Sacred Grove without being purified.” Xena whispered as Gabrielle was whispering to her family by her side. “First with the smoke, then blood and finally spring water.”

The priestess nodded to the males and stepped back and into the shadows. The three rose without a word and resumed their places in the group. Instantly the drumming and singing began again.

“It’s rare for a male to be granted the privilege.” Solan whispered, awe in his voice as he leaned next to Cyrene’s ear.

“Xena loves you very much.” Cyrene commented and watched the young man stand even taller.

The drummers and singers in front parted to the side of the path and joined the tribe members waiting in the grove as the wedding party approached the altar and Ephiny. Xena grinned as she heard Solan behind her, “Wow!”
The warrior had to agree with the assessment. Standing on the stone platform that held the altar, the Regent Amazon looked amazing. She was in full royal outfit, complete with mask and shining leathers. In her hand she held a sword. Two attendants stood off to the sides of the altar with notched arrows in ready bows, symbolizing Artemis, their patron goddess. All the tribe members were in their very best clothing and ceremonial masks.

Xena glanced over and found Hecuba and Lila’s eyes wide at the sight of the fierce and almost fabled warrior women. Not many outsiders had seen an Amazon ritual before, especially a private bonding ceremony.

Two of the Amazon warriors approached the wedding party and guided the family members off to either side, Solan included.

Hercules and Iolaus approached the altar and knelt on one knee before Ephiny. They placed the wedding bracelets on the altar and waited.

Ephiny motioned for the two warriors to rise. Hercules and Iolaus moved slowly and lifted the crowns off the altar.
“The crowns represent that a wedding is a royal occasion, no matter the status of the couple. Xena and Gabrielle choose silver and gold, representing the Moon and Sun.” Cyrene whispered to Solan.

Hercules and Iolaus walked around the altar platform three times with the crowns, holding them high for everyone to see. Solan looked to Cyrene for an explanation but she merely shrugged, much like her daughter would. “No one knows why three times.”

After the third circuit the two Kumbadas faced Xena and Gabrielle who moved forward and placed their ivy twigs on the altar and then knelt together before the altar.

Hercules leaned over and placed the silver crown on Gabrielle’s head with a kiss on the top of her head and Iolaus did the same. Then after a moment they switched the crowns and then switched again. After the third crowning the two Kumbadas moved aside and faced the altar with the wedding couple.

“Tribe members! Family and friends of the couple!” Ephiny’s voice carried to the far ends of the grove. “Tonight we honor two friends, two loved ones, and one of our tribe in a bonding ceremony. They have committed to each other and have faced trials together. Tonight is a ritual of something that already exists. Tonight we honor the love between Xena and Gabrielle.”

Ephiny stepped around to the front of the altar and held the point of the sword at Xena’s throat. Even though Cyrene knew it must be part of the ritual, still she felt her heart skip a beat at the threat to her child.

“Do you enter freely into this bonding, warrior?” Ephiny demanded, her face hidden behind the mask.

“I enter freely of my own will and desire.” Xena answered strongly.

Ephiny removed the sword and placed it at Gabrielle’s throat. “Do you enter freely into this bonding, bard and Queen?”

“I enter freely of my own will and desire.” Gabrielle answered in a strong voice as well.

Xena smiled to herself. It had taken some explaining to Hecuba and Lila about the Queen part. Like the situation with Solan, Gabrielle didn’t let too many people know that she was the Queen of the Amazons, it could lead to problems with her family. They were still in shock over the exact nature of their daughter being an Amazon. They had known that she had become a member of the Amazon tribe before, the Queen part was still a shock.

Ephiny handed the sword to an attendant and then pulled out a dagger. With a quick stroke she had cut a lock of the young woman’s hair from behind the girl’s neck and then quickly cut a lock of the warrior’s hair.

The Regent moved behind the altar and held the hair for all to see and then mingled the locks together in her palm. “I offer this hair of the marriage couple to Artemis as sacrifice and ask that she bless this union of Gabrielle and Xena.”

Xena and Gabrielle both threw their hands up and Ephiny jumped backwards as a sudden burst of light filled the altar area. Everyone went to their knees when they realized that Artemis was standing behind the altar next to Ephiny. Then with more bursts of light several new figures joined the ceremony. Xena wasn’t sure whether to curse or welcome them as she took sight of them in.

Apollo, Cupid, Aphrodite, Zeus, Hera, Demeter, Persephone and Hades.

“I’m not surprised Ares isn’t here,” Gabrielle whispered to her lover and Xena nodded.

The gods and goddesses took up places on either side of the area, along with the families.

“Because of the good these two have done for world and the gods, we all offer our blessings to this union and encourage their love. Know this and let all witness our proclamation, their love is destined to span all eternity and beyond this reality. The love between Gabrielle and Xena is rare and it is a soul mate bonding. I call for a blood joining if they are willing to accept their fate.” Artemis announced.

Everyone was obviously stunned by the presence of the gods and the announcement from Artemis but Ephiny quickly recovered.

“As you wish, my Goddess.” the Regent stood and faced the wedding couple. “Do you accept this, Xena and Gabrielle?” she asked simply.

The two women looked at each other, each sinking deep into the other’s eyes. Both reached out at the same moment to caress the other’s cheek. Together, still holding hands, they stood up and faced Artemis and Ephiny.

“We do,” they answered.

“Friends and family,” Ephiny faced everyone. “The gods have blessed this union and have called for a blood bonding. This is a rare binding of soul mates, by binding their blood together in front of the gods they are binding their souls together. It is the ultimate commitment anyone can make, god or mortal. From this point, no matter what happens between them, their souls will be joined.”

Xena and Gabrielle each squeezed their hands tighter, reaffirming their decision with each other.

The shaman priestess stepped out of the shadows and approached the couple slowly. Wordlessly, she peered out from under her ceremonial headdress, her hazel eyes piercing into blue and green ones. She drew a dagger from her belt and Gabrielle and Xena extended the hands they had been holding together, palms up.

The priestess glanced back at Artemis who nodded approval and then she glanced to all the gods, on both sides and they also nodded approval. With quick and deft strokes she sliced open the palms of both women’s hands and let the wounds bleed into a bowl handed to her by an attendant. Then she joined the hands together again and wrapped a leather thong around their wrists, binding them together.

The priestess then turned and handed the bowl up to Ephiny behind the altar. The Regent knelt before the goddess who extended her hand over the bowl in blessing. Ephiny then stood and poured several drops of blood into the wine goblet on the altar. Raising it high in invocation and then walked around the altar to the couple.

“Your vows, warrior.” Ephiny instructed.

Xena turned to Gabrielle and took a deep breath, her eyes beginning to fill with tears of joy again. “You saved my life, my heart and my soul. They are all yours, my love. I pledge to be yours for eternity.”

“Your vows, my Queen.” Ephiny instructed.

“You gave me life and opened my heart and soul. They are all yours, my love. I pledge to be yours for eternity.” Gabrielle said, a tear escaping her eyes.

Ephiny handed Xena the goblet. “With this wine and blood you pledge your soul and blood to each other. You will be joined beyond this life.”

Xena drank half the wine readily and handed the goblet to Gabrielle. “With this wine and blood you pledge your soul and blood to each other. You will be joined beyond this life.” Ephiny repeated and smiled behind her mask as Gabrielle easily drank the rest of the wine/blood mixture.

Ephiny took the goblet back to the altar and faced everyone. She held up the bonding bracelets, interwoven strands of gold and silver. “These are the bonding bracelets chosen by Gabrielle and Xena, they symbolize their commitment to each other.”

Hercules and Iolaus both approached the altar and took the bracelets from Ephiny, each handing Xena and Gabrielle a bracelet. Artemis pointed her finger and the leather thong fell into pieces at their feet. The two women placed a bracelet on the other’s wrist.

“You are bound before your family, your tribe and before the Gods. May you never regret this decision.” Artemis announced.

“Speak total truth, Daughter,” Zeus spoke up and both Gabrielle and Xena turned to him with a surprised look. “You were destined to be together whether we agreed or not. We are pleased, though and you have our blessing.”

With that Zeus, Hera, Demeter, Persephone and Hades were gone. Aphrodite, Cupid and Artemis looking pleased.

“Gabrielle, you are my Chosen and an Amazon and have my special blessing. Because of your binding to her, you have my blessing as well, Xena.” Ephiny was left staring at the space where Artemis had been.

“We’re glad you finally worked out, girls. Catch you later.” Both Aphrodite and Cupid were gone.
Xena breathed a sigh of relief and Gabrielle elbowed her in the ribs.

“Behave,” the bard hissed with a smile.

“With that many gods around, I’m just surprised nothing went wrong.” Xena smiled back.

“Friends, family and tribe, I proclaim this part of the bonding ceremony over. The families, Kumbadas and escort will accompany the couple to the wedding hut on the far side of this grove. Beginning in the morning we will begin the reception of the delegates from surrounding cities and nations to honor our Queen, followed by a dinner tomorrow night. Then we’ll send them all on their way and hold a week long festival here among ourselves and our honored guest and family members.” Ephiny announced. With the announcement over she let out an Amazon celebration cry that was picked up by all the members of the tribe as well as the visiting Amazons from other tribes. Even Solan joined in the shouting.

Still holding hands the two women followed their Amazon warrior escort and their Kumbadas with their families following behind. As they approached the hut the escort broke off to take up positions on either side of the hut door. Hercules and Iolaus stopped and turned to face the two women. With wide grins they each kissed Xena and Gabrielle and hugged them.

“Thank you for choosing us as your Kumbadas,” Hercules said.

“I wouldn’t think of anyone else.” Xena smiled.

Hecuba and Lila joined Gabrielle by her side. They were then hugged by the bard tightly. “I love you both,” the little Amazon said simply.

“We love you too, Gabrielle and couldn’t be happier.” Hecuba smiled and hugged her daughter again.

Cyrene and Solan also came forward to hug and kiss Xena. The warrior wiped a tear of joy from her mother’s face. “I love you, Mom.”

“I love you too and I couldn’t be more proud of your match.”

Xena looked down at the teenager and then hugged him tightly. “I love you too, squirt.”

“Yeah,” he said simply.

Then the families took turns hugging their new daughter-in-laws. Finally, everyone moved aside and the escort opened the door for the couple to enter the hut.

Holding hands once again they crossed the threshold.

Once inside the shut door the warrior gathered the smaller woman into her arms for a long and lingering kiss. When they finally broke away both were short of breath and their knees were trembling.

“It’s been a long three days, my warrior.” Gabrielle complained, beginning to kiss Xena on the neck.

“Yes, it has.” Xena agreed, pulling the bard closer to her by lifting Gabrielle up into another kiss.

The bard took advantage of the wrap around skirt and wrapped her legs around her warrior’s hips and quickly bit down on Xena’s neck. The warrior growled and fell back against the wall of the hut. She couldn’t tell who was moaning more, herself or the bard.

The two Amazon guards outside the hut tactfully ignored the thump and the moans that were increasing in volume inside the hut. All the Amazons had been very aware of the sexual energy between the two women during their stay in the village before the wedding. Ephiny complaining to her own mate that she hadn’t gotten a solid night’s sleep since the two women had arrived.

Hercules and Iolaus moved into the tree line a short distance from the hut. They sat down and leaned against a tree.

“They were beautiful,” Iolaus commented softly, pulling out his sword and laying it across his lap.

“Yes, very beautiful.” Hercules agreed.

“Herc,” Iolaus began slowly. “Do you ever regret letting Xena go?”

“No. I love her and she loves me but we’re not in love with each other. She is a remarkable woman, though, and stunning.” Hercules commented, almost wistfully. “How about you?”

“No, that was just lust.” the smaller man grinned.

Hercules lightly shoved his friend and they settled in for a long night. Xena and Gabrielle might not be a traditional Greek wedding couple but Hercules and Iolaus were prepared to complete their roles, including protecting the wedding couple on their bonding night. Besides, Hercules was worried. Where in Tartarus was his half-brother?
Hercules and Iolaus found themselves on their feet and running before their minds had caught up with their instincts a few minutes later. They blinked as they ran, taking in the sight of the God of War sitting on his tailbone in front of the wedding hut. He was sitting on the door that someone had just thrown him through.

Before the two male warriors reached the small yard Ares had stood up only to find himself pierced several times in the chest by arrows from the Amazon guards. He snarled and broke the arrows off.

Everyone stopped when Xena bounded out of the hut, broken ceremonial sword in her hand. Hercules and Iolaus started running towards the fight again, ignoring the fact that the warrior woman was dressed only in her wrap around skirt and missing her tunic.

“Sword!” the warrior hissed and one of the Amazon guards quickly drew her sword and handed it to the Warrior Princess.

Hercules and Iolaus ran in between Xena and Ares. “Let us handle this, Xena. Amazons, see to your Queen,” Hercules instructed.

“All right, enough of the games!” Ares snarled. “Either way you want it, Xena. I was just going to take the irritating little wench for a couple of days. Her absence would be enough to start some minor wars between the delegates, but since you object so strongly – I’ll settle for your death or hers, either way works for me right now!”

With a flash of his hands both Hercules and Iolaus went flying backwards into the walls of the hut.

Ares and Xena met in the center of the yard, swords clashing, sending sparks flying between them. Hercules shook his head and looked up at the fighters and shook his head again. The sword strikes were moving faster than he could even follow. He stood up and helped Iolaus up.

“Protect Gabrielle, whatever you do, don’t let him near her.”

“You got it.” Iolaus disappeared into the hut.

“No!” Hercules screamed as Ares reached behind his back and pulled out a dagger. Before Xena could counter the sword and dagger the God of War had sliced her sword arm and followed through with a sword strike that knocked the sword from her weakened hand.

A sword point at the warrior’s throat stopped Hercules.

“Xena, it doesn’t have to be this way.” Ares said. “Come back to me, leave the wench here and everyone lives.”

“I’d rather be dead.” Xena answered calmly.

“Ares, you do this and I’ll track you to the ends of the universe and find a way to kill you myself.” Hercules warned.

“Oh shut up, brother.” he turned his eyes back to his former Warlord. “You married her?” he demanded.

“Worse than that, Ares. We are blood bonded.” Xena held up her hand to show him the bandage.

Ares’ face turned extremely red with rage and he raised his sword with a scream and Hercules began moving again.

“Don’t you dare hurt my mother!”

Xena looked up in time to see Solan launch himself from the nearest tree and land on the God of War’s back. Ares screamed with rage and when he turned Xena saw a dagger embedded in the back of his neck. If he had been human his spinal cord would have been severed.

With a scream the God backhanded the young teen, sending him flying across the yard and into a nearby tree where he sank unconscious. Hercules grabbed Xena from launching herself at Ares.

“See to Solan, I’ll take care of him.”

As the warrior knelt beside her son, the God of War found himself grabbed by the ankles and lifted over the head of Hercules. With a yell of rage, Hercules slammed Ares right into a tree. Without releasing his hold, Hercules swung Ares over his head and into another tree.

By now a large number of Amazon warriors broke into the clearing, armed to the teeth and ready for battle. With another yell, Hercules rammed Ares to the ground. The God of War lay in the dust stunned.

“You leave Xena and Gabrielle alone or I will keep ramming your head into things until you can’t even remember your own name!” Hercules threatened.

Before Ares could respond Hercules had grabbed him by the ankles again and began swinging him around and around until he had built up quite a bit of speed and then released the War God, sending him flying over the tree tops with a yell.

The large demi-god quickly ran over to where the Amazons and Xena were gathered around the young teen. Solan opened his eyes with a groan and found himself in the arms of the Warrior Princess.

“Hey, you’re crying.” he whispered.

“Are you okay?” she answered.

“I think so, that kinda hurt.” he admitted. Ephiny and Xena helped the young man stand up and then steadied him as he swayed on his feet. Xena quickly ran her hand over the young man’s body and looked in his eyes. Satisfied she stepped back and looked at him.

“Xena!” Everyone turned to see Gabrielle standing in doorway of the hut, flanked by the two Amazon warriors and Iolaus. With a smile she ran into her mate’s arms.

Ephiny frowned and approached the two, lifting Gabrielle’s face from her mate’s chest. All the Amazons muttered or growled when they saw the black eye and the trickle of blood from their Queen’s lips.

“I’m all right,” she reassured them. “Ares wouldn’t take ‘no’ for an answer.” the Queen looked over at Solan. “Are you okay?”

“Yeah, a little bruised, I think.” he shrugged, instantly reminding the young bard of the boy’s mother, Xena.

Iolaus stepped forward and handed the warrior her tunic. She grinned at his blush.

“I thought you might like this back.”

The warrior stepped out of Gabrielle’s arms and slipped the tunic over her head. “Ephiny send word to our families that we’re fine, I’m sure they heard the commotion. Let’s have the healer take a look at Solan and Gabrielle too.”

“I’m fine,” both the teenager and bard said at the same time.

“For me?” blue eyes pleaded with both of them and they finally nodded. “Go on, I’ll be there in a moment.”

Together her son and mate began walking with the Amazons towards the healer’s hut.

Xena placed a hand on Hercules’ arm. “Thank you, my friend.”

“Any time,” he grinned. “Go see to your mate.”

With a grin the warrior was off at a trot to the healer’s hut. Then she stopped dead at the door before entering. Solan had called her ‘Mom.’

“Oh gods,” she muttered and then took a deep breath and entered the hut, walking slowly past the armed guards at the door.

Part 2

After a hectic candlemark of explaining what had happened to Ephiny and both families, having the healer check both teenager and Queen, and finally getting everyone to settle down, the warrior found herself sitting at a table in the healer’s hut, alone with Solan and Gabrielle.

“Solan,” Xena began slowly and was surprised to see the young teen blushing.

“I’m sorry,” he stammered.

“For what? You saved my life.” Gabrielle leaned over and hugged the boy and he seemed to relax a bit.

“I’ve been practicing my stalking in the trees. When I heard the sounds of a fight I knew it had to be you,” he explained in a rapid sentence.

“Of course it had to be Xena,” Gabrielle agreed with a grin.

“I’ll get you for that, bard.” Xena threatened with an answering grin. “Go on, Solan.”

“I made my way through the trees. I know I’m not supposed to enter the grove, but I was afraid you were in danger!” his eyes looked panicked and she placed a hand over his in a calming manner.

“I was.”

“I saw that man, Ares, about to strike and I didn’t think.” Solan dropped his eyes, as if expecting to be scolded.

“You saved my life,” Xena repeated. “I might have been able to fight back, probably not.”

“You certainly weren’t dressed for the occasion,” Gabrielle giggled.

Xena glared at her and then grinned.

“I think it did distract him for a moment. Besides, who got me in that condition?” Xena countered and then turned back to the boy. “Solan, you said something as you struck Ares,” she hesitated, wanting to see what he meant by the cry he had sounded out.

Solan began blushing even more and wouldn’t meet Xena or Gabrielle’s eyes. Xena leaned over the table and raised his chin to meet her eyes.
“I’m sorry, I know you didn’t want me to know.” he whispered.

“Solan, what do you know?” the warrior whispered back.

“That you’re my mom.”

Xena caught Gabrielle’s surprised eyes and motioned the bard to stay, when her mate began to stand up. “You’re my mate and my family. Please stay”, she asked and Gabrielle sat back down. “How do you know?” Xena asked.

“I figured it out. Dad said that my mom was a warrior in your army, who had died giving birth to me, but I felt it. Every time you were near it just felt….. it felt right. And I have your eyes.”

“And my stalking talent.” Xena grinned and then grew serious. “Solan, I….”

“I figured it out, with Dad’s talk about alliances and the treaties. You’re afraid for me, aren’t you? Is that why you left me?”

Xena couldn’t stand any longer and grabbed the boy into a bone crushing embrace, across the table.

“Solan! I always wanted you!” Xena whispered. She pulled back from the embrace but kept both hands on the boy’s arms, keeping her eyes locked with his. “I was the Warlord when you were born. I couldn’t take you with me. I would have been killed and you would have been killed, as well. At the very least, someone would have hurt you or kidnapped you to get to me. I wasn’t a good person and I wasn’t fit to be a mother. I left you with the Centaurs because I knew they would protect you, and no one would figure it out.” Xena tried to explain.

“I kinda figured that, but you’ve changed. You do good stuff now, why didn’t you tell me?”

“The danger is still there! Ask Gabrielle how many times someone has tried to use her or hurt her because of me. I love you, but you can’t be with me.” Xena felt a tear escape and brushed it away.

“I know that, but can’t you just visit a little more often?”

Again the warrior crushed her son in a hug while Gabrielle gave her a tired smile.

When the two finally separated, Xena ruffled the boy’s hair. “You bet, kiddo. Now, go back to bed. I don’t think Ares will dare come back tonight.”

Solan reached out and grabbed Gabrielle in a hug. “This means you’re my mom too.”

“You bet.” she agreed.

With a grin he scampered out the door, his Amazon escort close behind.

Xena ran her hand through her hair. “Gabrielle, I’m sorry about all of this. It isn’t exactly how I wanted our wedding night.”

Gabrielle laughed and grabbed her lover’s hand, leading them to the door. “I know that, but I just married Xena, Warrior Princess. Am I surprised things got a little exciting?”

Xena managed a smile at that, then frowned, sadness clouding her eyes as she touched the beginning bruise at Gabrielle’s eye. “I could kill him!” the warrior hissed, her eyes turning an angry ice blue. Gabrielle reached up with her own hand and stroked Xena’s cheek and was pleased when Xena’s eyes softened at the touch.

“I know, love, but let it go tonight.” Gabrielle asked softly.

“For you, anything.”

“Then let’s finish what he interrupted, thank you.” Gabrielle whispered as she leaned up and grabbed one of the warrior’s earlobes in her teeth and lightly pulled.

Xena growled and picked Gabrielle up off the ground into her arms. The bard yelped and clung to her mate, laughing as Xena began carrying her across the village common grounds.

Ephiny, watching from the shadows of her hut, smiled approvingly. She was also cursing Ares and thanking the gods for Hercules and Iolaus being around. She knew that without the demi-god things would have gotten bloodier than they were, probably with several deaths.

She shook her head and followed behind the couple, keeping to the shadows. It wasn’t like Ares to make such a bold move. To actually attack the couple? Ephiny knew he was usually more subtle. To actually be willing to kill Xena, that was new. The Regent of the Amazons realized that Xena’s bonding with Gabrielle must have rattled him more than they had thought it would.

“Could he be more attached to her than he lets on?” Ephiny wondered to herself.

Xena knew the Regent was behind them but didn’t mind. She also knew that warriors filled the trees along the path and around the wedding hut. For once the warrior was grateful that Ephiny was cautious.

Xena grinned at the sight of Hercules and Iolaus trying to replace the door to the hut that she had kicked Ares through. The sound of him smashing through the door had been satisfying for the warrior; especially when she was seeing nothing but red. He had struck Gabrielle twice, after knocking Xena across the room.

Hercules and Iolaus spotted the couple approaching and with an exaggerated gesture, moved the door aside so they could get through. Xena grinned and bowed slightly to their Kumbadas and entered the hut. The two men attempted to replace the door as best they could to ensure privacy.
Xena and Gabrielle were quite sure they were going to be on guard, along with the Amazon warriors.

Gabrielle yelped as Xena tossed her onto the bed and then grinned when the warrior joined her, half pinning the bard to the bed.

“Now, where were we?” Xena asked and then began nibbling on the bard’s neck.

“I think I had your tunic off and your breasts in my mouth.” Gabrielle whispered, tugging at the tunic.

Xena groaned and let the bard pull the tunic off and arched her back as the Queen took a nipple into her teeth.

“Oh gods, I think that’s about the point,” Xena agreed.

With an answering moan, Gabrielle agreed. She reached down and undid the belt holding Xena’s skirt together. Unbuckling the restricting leather, she tugged the leather skirt aside and pulled Xena close to her. Xena broke the contact long enough to pull Gabrielle up into a sitting position and lift the bard’s tunic off. The warrior sat back for a moment, marveling in the beauty of the body in front of her. Gabrielle reached out tenderly, as if afraid to touch a dream, thinking the same thing about Xena’s body.

“Gods, it’s always like I’m seeing you for the first time. You are magnificent!” the bard whispered, running her hand over the perfect breasts, sending shivers down Xena’s spine. “When I look into those eyes of yours it feels like I’m falling into the sky.”

Xena smiled and touched the Queen’s cheek. “I’m always here to catch you”, she promised. They came together for a kiss that seemed to last a lifetime, between them. Everything faded away as they lost themselves in the feeling of each other, the first true kiss of their blood bonding. Xena melted into her bard and was able to put aside the worry of Ares reappearing and Gabrielle, for her part, sank deeper into her warrior and forgot about the politics facing her the next day. Finally, nothing existed for either of them but the other.

“My Queen, if you’re going to grab breakfast and bath, you need to get up now.” a voice called from outside the hut.

Gabrielle moaned and threw an arm over her warrior’s stomach. Xena opened her eyes slowly. It had been a long night and she would prefer to stay in bed as well.

“We’ll be right there, thank you.” she called out.

“Hmmmph,” Gabrielle answered.

Xena grinned and moved her bard’s arm to the side and leaned over her grumpy Queen. She began kissing the bard from the back of the neck and down the spine. Gabrielle responded with a hum of pleasure. Xena continued her trek back up the spine and leaned over and began nibbling along the bard’s shoulder and neck. Gabrielle arched her neck, giving her warrior more access and then gasped as Xena’s hand went between her legs.

“Oh gods, you definitely know how to wake someone up!” Gabrielle whispered, her body instantly responding to Xena’s touch.

“I can’t stop touching you,” Xena whispered back and half turned the bard over to kiss her roughly, her fingers entering her lover, causing Gabrielle’s body to begin trembling. Then her teeth sank roughly into the bard’s neck and Gabrielle grasped the edge of the bed with a whimper, her body rocking to a rhythm with her warrior. The Amazon Queen began a series of cries that escalated with the warriors strokes in and out, and with the thumb caressing her swollen clit.

“Gods, Xena!” Gabrielle hissed, biting into the blanket twisted under her body.

“Yes,” Xena whispered and then resumed biting and working the bard’s neck. The warrior’s eyes were dancing with delight behind her eyelids as the bard’s body stiffened and clamped down on the warrior’s hand, attempting to capture her fingers totally, as she climaxed. The bard screamed out her name and then continued trembling, as wave after wave shook her body.

Xena wrapped her arms around the smaller woman, holding tight, as her mate regained her breath.

“You are incredible,” Gabrielle whispered, turning over to face her mate.

“So are you, little one.” Xena smiled back.

“I love you.”

“I love you. I wanted you for so long, now I can’t get enough of you.”

“When did you realize you were in love with me?” Gabrielle asked, running her fingers through Xena’s hair and down the warrior’s arm, sending shivers over the warrior’s spine.

“I thought you were cute from the start. I realized I was attracted to you very early. I remember feeling a twinge of jealousy when we dealt with the Titans.”
“You mean, when you thought I slept with a man?” the bard asked, a teasing lilt to her voice.

“Yup,” Xena agreed. “Then I had to face, it down the line, that I wasn’t only attracted to you. That I could deal with; but that I had fallen for you, as well. That was a little more to deal with.”

“I don’t remember exactly when I realized what I was feeling for you. All I knew was that I was thinking of you all the time and my feelings were definitely beyond the friendship thing.”

“We’re going to miss breakfast,” Xena reminded the bard.

“For once, my warrior mate, I am willing to miss breakfast.” Gabrielle grinned and began to kiss her warrior from the lips, down the chin and throat. Xena relented, rolling onto her back as the bard covered her, and slowly worked her way down the warrior’s body. The tall woman found herself clutching at the blanket as well, as fingers began dancing across her stomach and nipples, while the bard’s loving lips and tongue moved lower, beginning it’s own dance between Xena’s folds.

Xena was surprised to hear herself cry out loud when the bard entered her with several fingers and her tongue began dancing around the woman’s clit. The bard’s other hand kept up it’s dance between Xena’s nipples, working them torturously until the warrior was thrashing back and forth on the bed, gritting her teeth as her body began to shake.

“Gods, yes, Gabrielle!”

The bard moaned herself as she drank in, of her mate. Again nothing existed for the two of them except each other and the sensations being aroused. Gabrielle felt herself giving over to the passion of her warrior, whimpering as Xena arched and then sat partially up to grasp the bard’s shoulders. As the warrior’s fingers dug into her skin the bard felt her own buildup beginning and increased the speed and intensity of her own devotion to Xena’s body. The younger woman felt like she could make love to her mate for all eternity, and never get enough.

Gabrielle felt Xena’s body stiffen and begin the strong spasms. She gasped herself as fingernails broke the skin on her shoulders and began leaving slight furrows. The bard looked up at her warrior’s face.

“Let go,” she whispered and was rewarded with Xena falling backward with a scream of the bard’s name, her body arching and spasming, over and over again. Gabrielle moved up Xena’s body and held her lover close.

When Xena regained her strength, she moved so the bard could snuggle in her arms, a comfortable and familiar position they often slept in. She frowned and brought her hand up to her face.

“Oh gods, Gabrielle!” she exclaimed, starting to sit up but was stopped by the bard. “Your back!”

“Don’t worry about it, my love. I enjoyed every minute of it.” Gabrielle whispered softly with a smile, pushing her warrior back down.

“You’re bleeding!” Xena insisted.

“Yup, I think you marked me.” Gabrielle answered simply.

“Ack!”

“Besides, my love, when you get a look at your neck, I think you’ll find that I already marked you.” the bard smiled a mischievous grin.

“This will look good for the delegates.” Xena complained with a smile, settling back down with her lover.

“Oh well, they can go to Tartarus if they don’t like it.”

They both jumped at a pounding at the door.

“My Queen, I must insist!” Ephiny’s voice carried through the broken door. “You just have time to get dressed before receiving your guests!”
“I guess we better get up, little one.” Xena suggested with a laugh.

“Be right there, Ephiny!” Gabrielle called out.

Ephiny, meanwhile, noticed the guards wouldn’t meet her eyes. “How long have they been awake?” she demanded and watched her two sentries shift uneasily on their feet.

“Uh, a little while now.” one finally answered.

“Those two! I swear they can’t hold off for ten minutes!” she muttered.

***********

Xena had reluctantly separated from her mate for the first part of the morning. All the warrior had to do for the morning was bathe and get dressed for the long day in front of them. Gabrielle, on the other hand, had to bathe, get dressed and go over once again with Ephiny, and some of the Amazons versed in politics, which delegates were coming and little details about their dealings with the Amazons and with each other.

Xena grinned, hopefully Ephiny would take pity on her little bard and have something brought in for the Amazon Queen to eat while studying the politics and politicians. Xena felt the bruise at her neck and felt herself blushing remembering exactly how she had gotten that bruise that night and why the little bard had missed breakfast, a rarity, indeed.

Xena’s thoughts were abruptly shattered into stunned silence when a Roman stepped in front of her. His Amazon guard on alert, watching his every movement.

“Brutus?” she whispered, hand instinctively reaching for her chakram. The Roman held up his hands to show he was unarmed.

“Easy, Xena. I’m a guest here.” he smiled and pointed to his escort who also had her hand on her sword. “They don’t let us have weapons here, remember?”

“I didn’t know who they were sending from Rome or if anyone would even come to the wedding.” Xena commented simply. The Roman fell into step beside her and his escort behind them.

“I got the lucky duty. I’m here with a small Cohort of Praetorian Guards from Caesar.” he grinned at her expression and the darkening of her eyes. “I see his name still gets a reaction out of you.”

“Caesar…..” the warrior began in a low growl.

“Pax, Xena. I didn’t come to trade insults or threats about Caesar. I’m here to offer Rome’s official congratulations on the Amazon Queen’s wedding,” he continued as they entered the eating hut and followed her along the food table. A quick look around told Xena that several delegates and their parties had arrived all ready and were sitting around, eating and eyeing each other. The energy in the place was stifling. Not actually wishing to leave Brutus, Xena led them to a table near some of her favorite Amazon warriors.

“Tell me, warrior. Do you know the Queen?” Brutus asked as he bit into one of the celebration cakes being offered.

“Yes, I’ve known her for some time. I’m good friends with a large number of this tribe.” Xena answered carefully and Brutus merely acknowledge with a nod.
“Why do they keep her identity a secret?”

Normally Xena would suspect that the Roman was trying to get information out of her but she knew that almost every delegate in the room would be asking that question sometime during the next few hours.

“The Amazons adopted that policy awhile back. Sometimes the Queen moves and travels outside the territory and it makes it easier and safer if no one knows who she is.” Xena answered, biting into her own food, careful to seem unconcerned about the questioning.

“But you know her,” Brutus observed.

“Brutus,” Xena warned, eyes flashing.

The Roman laughed. “No, I’m not asking you to tell, warrior. Just baiting you. I personally hate these functions. Everyone tripping over themselves to be noticed and out intrigue each other. I hate politics.”

“I thought Rome was politics,” Xena smiled and the Roman shrugged.

“Comes with the territory,” he agreed. He looked around and then back to the warrior. “Where’s your friend, Gabrielle?”

“She’s around, why?”

“I’d like to see her.” Brutus shrugged when he noticed Xena’s questioning look. “She’s nice and it’s not often we get to meet nice people, don’t you agree?”
Xena had to laugh at that in agreement.

“She’s so unusual,” he continued. “She travels with you and yet she’s…. hmmm, what words to use?”

“She’s like the light of the sun compared to the darkness we live in?” Xena offered and was actually pleased when the Roman grinned.

“Exactly! Now don’t get pushed out of shape, warrior. I know how protective you are of her, I mean no harm to her.”

“I think I believe you, Brutus,” Xena countered. “Because if you did, you wouldn’t live long.”

“I know that. What is she up to?”

“She’s helping with the preparations. Gabrielle was adopted into the tribe a couple of seasons ago.”

“Really?! The Amazons don’t take in adult females often.” he whistled. “Tell me, do you know if the Amazon Queen is marrying a man or woman?” he changed the subject.

“Female.”

“Thought so, then it’s probably not a political marriage.” he nodded to himself.

“No politics involved at all.” Xena smiled.

“Good, that answers one of the questions that everyone coming today will have. You know how these damned petty tyrants get,” he complained, waving his hand around to indicate the majority of the room. “Afraid that one might marry into a more powerful family, everyone has been buzzing about this all morning. Since no outsiders know who the Queen is they have no idea who she’s marrying. They’re all afraid that the wedding couple will come out and they’ll find one of their worst enemies is marrying into a very small but powerful nation.”

“Can’t they figure that out by noting who’s here and who isn’t?” she grinned.

“Nope, some have only sent delegates, others are here themselves, but not talking. To them, it could be any of them. I’m the only one not in consideration!” he grinned.

“Why is that?”

“You know Caesar would never let me marry someone that powerful and you know damned well that he’d never marry an Amazon. You scare him enough, as it is.”

Xena’s eyes flashed again. “Good, let’s keep it that way.”

Brutus laughed. “He may be my friend but I have the feeling that you two will settle this one day and I don’t think I want to be around when you do.”

“Is Caesar anyone’s friend?” Xena countered.

Brutus lost his smile and held up his hand. “Xena, let’s not get into this, please. I was enjoying breakfast.”

Xena allowed her eyes to soften. “You’re right, Brutus. Pax.” the warrior stood up to go and Brutus held up his hand again.

“Xena, you’re well known here. Can you do something about this damned shadow of mine. Gives me the creeps to have someone half a step away from plunging a dagger in my back and I’m unarmed. I’m not here to hurt anyone.” Brutus complained.

“Sorry, Brutus,” Xena grinned, rising to her feet. “Even Hercules gets an escort.”

“You don’t.” he grumbled.

“I’m female.” she grinned even wider.

“Why do I get the feeling that you’d be more of a danger to their, uh, feminine natures than I would?”

Xena felt a blush coming to her face and was considering throwing the Roman through the wall. He grinned and then laughed. “Nice bruise, warrior,” and he rose himself to take his dishes to the cleaning room.

Xena felt the blush complete itself and willed herself not to touch the bruise on her neck that she knew he was talking about. Xena knew that it would be obvious to anyone seeing her that day how she had spent the night. She found herself almost uttering a prayer that no one would figure out with whom she had spent the night with outside of the Amazons and her family.

Xena suddenly felt tired. When she was a Warlord she was accustomed to everyone around her being a threat and being threatened. It came with the territory, as Brutus had said. Trusting no one was the best advice anyone could give a Warlord. Xena’s eyes narrowed in thought as she carried her dishes to the cleaning room. She didn’t even notice the kitchen help thank her for carrying the dishes in.

Xena remembered when she had trusted someone in those days. She had ended up on a cross. She especially remembered Caesar’s face and voice when he had ordered her legs broken and then left her to die. It had taken years for her to trust anyone.

Xena, still deep in her memories, walked across the common yard towards the bathing hut. The first person she had ever really trusted after that was Gabrielle. With a smile the warrior remembered how she had fought against that, too, and how she had fought against her feelings about the little bard.

“Xena!”

The warrior’s head came up at the voice and smiled when she saw Ephiny heading her way. The Regent looked tired and hurried.

“Glad I found you. You were with Brutus, what did he ask?” Ephiny got right to the point.

“Basically, if I knew who the Queen was, who she was marrying and if I’d tell him.” Xena grinned. “The other stuff was how terrific Gabrielle is and Caesar is his friend.”

Ephiny almost dropped her mouth open. “He talked about Gabrielle and you let him live?”

“Must be getting soft,” Xena agreed with a smile. “Everyone is interested in the identity of the Queen, of course. They’re also dying to know who she is marrying. Seems the delegates are all afraid it’s a political marriage and one of them might end up with more power than the others through marriage.”
Ephiny nodded. “That’s what our escorts have been reporting. We’ve caught two delegate members trying to give their escorts the slip and spy on the wedding hut. Fortunately, they were caught and our Queen isn’t there right now.”

Xena noticed how they were both using the title and not the name of the Amazon Queen while in the open. The warrior had the feeling that they would be doing that for the rest of the day.

Ephiny shook her head. “I’ll be glad when this part of it is over. I hate having all these people here!” she growled.

“Especially the men?” Xena teased and Ephiny glared at her.

“What did you tell Brutus?”

“The truth. I know who the Queen is and who she’s marrying, and that I wasn’t going to tell him. I did tell him that it wasn’t a political marriage, it was to a female and no power was involved.” Xena answered, continuing along with Ephiny towards the bathing hut.

“Good, let’s hope they all figure that out soon enough. Go bathe and get dressed. Stay close to the main huts and I’ll send for you when it’s time to get ready for the wedding ceremony and reception.” Ephiny started to move away.

“Ephiny, how in Hades are you going to keep the Queen’s identity a secret? She’s not exactly unknown to some of the delegates.”

“The wedding couple will both be in ceremonial clothing, masked and neither of them are going to say a word.” Ephiny grinned.

“The Queen not say a word? I want to see you pull that one off!”

Ephiny laughed and trotted away.

Xena found Hercules and Iolaus sparring with some of the Amazon warriors in the training yard and stopped to watch. The warrior was pleased with the Amazons, they had actually worked up a sweat on the demi-god. Iolaus was breathing very hard and looked like he had been on the wrong end of several blows.

The smaller man spotted Xena and held up his hand to stop the session for himself. With a warrior’s handshake to his sparring mates, he grinned and walked over to Xena, leaning against the fence, watching Hercules with her.

“Hey,” he said simply.

“Hey, how’s the Queen?”

“Got a headache, I think. She took mercy on me and let me out of that damned hut. We’re about to go clean up, it’s getting about time for the royal stuff.”
“Yup. You looked good out there,” she commented.

“Yeah, sitting on my tail, mostly.” he laughed. “These warriors are good.”

“Yes, they are. Let’s hope it stays peaceful today.”

“No sign of Ares, Caesar stayed home, might work out.” Iolaus grinned.

Xena spotted a runner signaling to her and quickly hugged the small man over the fence. “Got to run, I think the Queen would like to see me.”
“See ya around the tables.”

Within minutes, Xena found herself in her mate’s arms, losing herself and her surroundings totally. The two finally broke apart when Ephiny coughed to get their attention.

“Sorry, you two, but you need to get dressed.” Xena grinned and noticed her bard blushing. “Your families are already dressed and, to keep everyone safe, both mothers and Lila are in masks and Amazon clothing. No outsiders will know they aren’t Amazons. Solan is with Hercules and Iolaus and no outsider knows who or where he comes from.”

“Thank you, Ephiny.” Xena said simply.

“Get dressed and I’ll send an escort for you both. Remember, Hercules and Iolaus will do the speaking for both of you. Too many people know the two of you throughout Greece, and several kingdoms outside of that. It wouldn’t be hard to figure out who the small blond and a tall dark haired warrior getting married are, if they hear your voices, or if you wear your traditional weapons.”

Xena reluctantly stepped out of her mates’ arms and loosened her chakram and handed it to Ephiny and then her sword.

“Brutus knows I’m here and I’m sure several other delegates also recognized me, won’t they miss me and put things together?” Xena asked.

“I’m going to have one my tall warriors dressed in your armor and your weapons with a mask and cloak on. Hopefully, they’ll figure it’s you. We’ll keep her away from most everyone, especially the delegates.”

Xena frowned at the sight of her weapons moving away from her, but sighed and began tugging at her armor.

“Let me do that, my warrior.” Gabrielle grinned, and began the familiar task of helping Xena out of her leather armor. She reached up and kissed the back of the warrior’s neck, and probably would have kissed more and longer if Ephiny hadn’t growled.

Gabrielle hurried, with a blush that only matched Xena’s.

“You two!” Ephiny complained with a smile.

PART 3
Xena hated royal functions. It was one thing that she had liked about being a Warlord. She could do away with all the fluff stuff and get right to business when she wanted to. Now, she felt trapped, and she was sure that Gabrielle probably felt the same.

They had been brought in from opposite sides of the yard by armed escorts, knelt before Ephiny at the altar, and had suffered through the speech required of the Regent. Ephiny had spoiled everyone’s suspense, by stating that the wedding couple’s identity would not be revealed to the outside world. Xena had resisted jumping to her feet instinctively at the rumbling of the crowd. Ephiny had insisted on silence, stating that the protection of their Queen was more important than anything else.

To help relieve the situation, Ephiny had stated that the marriage was a love bonding and not a political one. Knowing that most of the delegates and royalty in the crowd probably wouldn’t know a loving relationship if it bit them, she emphasized that this was a wedding and not a political battleground.
Most of the grumbling settled down when it was announced that the wedding couple would not be exchanging lands or political/royal offices. They were told, the Queen’s mate, who was already her Chosen Champion, was becoming her Consort. Ephiny explained that this role had privilege, but no political power, in the Amazon nation.

By this point Xena was getting quite tired of kneeling. Her hand reached out and found Gabrielle’s hand seeking hers as well. She leaned her head over onto the bard’s for a moment in reassurance. She knew Gabrielle couldn’t see her attempt to smile because of the mask but trusted that her mate could feel the love pouring from her. The bard squeezed her hand in return.

Xena had been impressed with their ceremonial clothing. The feather and leather masks effectively covered the entire face, even the eyes were difficult to see and the feathers continued over the head and down the back, hiding even the hair.

Xena had been concerned about her height and noticeable black hair. She was easily recognized, especially since a large number of the outsiders had seen her before. She was a little more reassured when she knew that the only thing really noticeable about her was her height. Even her manner of walk wasn’t totally unusual among the nation of warrior women.

Ephiny then turned to the couple and raised her hands over their heads. The Shamaness approached and walked around the couple, carrying a bowl of smoldering incense and spread the smoke over them. Then she sprinkled several drops of spring water over them. Then she disappeared back into the trees.

Ephiny motioned the two Kumbadas forward and Hercules stepped next to Xena and Iolaus next to Gabrielle. Together the men reached out and grabbed the crowns off the altar and placed them on the heads of the wedding couple and then exchanged them three times before leaving them. Then the two men helped the women to their feet.

Both Xena and Gabrielle drew their ceremonial swords and handed them to their Kumbadas. Hercules and Iolaus held the swords up to Ephiny and then turned to the crowd and held them aloft.

“These sword represent the power of the warrior and the spirit of our tribe members. Together this couple have expressed the desire to enter into a bonding.” Ephiny spoke ritually.

Hercules stepped in front of Xena and knelt before Gabrielle, holding the sword aloft over his head in his hands and bowed his head.

“It is the wish of your Champion, Queen of the Amazons, to be wed to you and become your Consort. She pledges her life, her heart, her soul and her love to you. To symbolize this, she offers you her sword.” he spoke loudly.

The Queen leaned forward and took the sword from his hands and held it aloft, over her head.

“The Queen accepts this token of love, this pledge of loyalty, honor and trust.” Iolaus spoke and Gabrielle sheathed the sword at her own belt. Hercules stood and moved back beside Xena.

Iolaus stepped in front of Xena and repeated Hercules’ movement. “Healer, Shaman and warrior, it is the wish of the Queen of the Amazons to become your mate and to take you as Consort. She pledges her life, her heart, her soul and her love to you. To symbolize this, she offers you her sword.” he also spoke loudly.

Xena leaned forward, took the sword from his hands, and held it aloft, over her head.

“The Consort accepts this token of love, this pledge of loyalty, honor and trust.” Hercules spoke and Xena sheathed the sword at her own belt. Iolaus stood and moved back beside Gabrielle.

Xena again was impressed with Ephiny’s planning. By using the titles of ‘healer’ and ‘shaman’ before her traditional one of ‘warrior,’ the Regent was hoping that it would be more difficult for the outsiders to identify the Warrior Princess. Not many knew her roles in life as healer and shaman.

Xena found herself holding her breath for a moment when Ephiny invoked and sacrificed to the gods, wondering if they were going to make a second appearance. She finally began breathing when it was apparent that they weren’t. Gabrielle grabbed and squeezed the warrior’s hand again. Xena grinned under the mask, knowing the bard was thinking the same thing. The night before had been exciting enough with a large number of the Gods and Goddesses showing up to personally bless the marriage of the bard and warrior. And then Ares had shown up later to protest the bonding. Xena reflected that not many of them had slept much.

As Ephiny chanted her prayers Xena found her thoughts drifting to the night before. Ares getting pounded into the trees by Hercules, Solan admitting he knew that Xena was his mother, and then the bliss of her lover’s arms. It had been quite a night.

Finally the prayers were over and the couple held up their arms to show their bonding bracelets to the crowd.

“Last night, this couple was joined in a bonding ceremony of the Amazons and were blessed by the gods. Let it be known, that our Queen has taken a Consort.”

The Amazons let out a shout of celebration and the other members of the crowd began clapping. Hercules and Iolaus escorted the two women to the wedding table, leading them around it three times and then sat on either side of the couple. Solan had looked to Cyrene for an explanation of the table thing but she merely shrugged.

“Another three thing,” he whispered to himself.

For the next candlemark the couple shook hands with each delegate and their party members, accepting their congratulations. Hercules and Iolaus voicing their acceptance.

Finally everyone was allowed to begin eating. Then came the toasting and it seemed to the wedding couple that every single person, especially the delegates, had to get a toast in and didn’t want to be outdone by the others.

Both Xena and Gabrielle were actually grateful after awhile for the masks, it hid their boredom, frustration, and finally their weariness.

After the toasting and the meal the wedding party was delighted when the Amazon drummers and singers took up the pace and a large number of Amazons leaped into the center of the yard and began dancing and leaping about. Traditional Greek dances were also included and quite a number of the delegates joined in the celebration. Then the area cleared and the wedding couple stood up, escorted by their Kumbada to the dance area. The drummers took up a beat that was akin to a heartbeat and which both women found very erotic and enticing. The Kumbada bowed and moved away from the couple as they began their courtship dance.

Xena wasn’t much for public dancing but she knew her little bard delighted in it. The warrior found this dance different. She wasn’t sure if it was wine she had been drinking, the sensual beat or the masks hiding their identities and lending an air of anonymity, but she was enjoying the dance. Gabrielle was obviously enjoying it as well and Xena found herself totally flushed with a heat that began in her loins and quickly traveled throughout her body as the Queen moved in close to her mate, bodies almost touching and then moved away, moving to the beat. Xena almost groaned in response.

Xena found her body responding and matching Gabrielle’s moves until they moved as one, each dancing and teasing, drawing the other into the other’s space and world. Gabrielle spun around and fell back, letting her lover’s arms wrap around her, catching her and protecting her. Their bodies continued moving with the beat and Xena suddenly wished they didn’t have the masks on, she wanted to nuzzle Gabrielle’s reddish blond hair and nibble at her neck very badly right then. By the way Gabrielle’s head arched back into her lover’s breasts, the warrior knew the Queen was wishing the same thing. So did everyone else.

Xena resisted the urge to move her hands in either direction over the bard’s body but it was a challenge. Then Gabrielle grabbed one of her hands and spun out of the warrior’s arms and then back into them, holding her lover close as the drums slowed to a stop. The two women held each other for what seemed an eternity, each looking deep in the other’s eyes through the masks.

Cheers, howls and whistles from the Amazons and guests brought the couple back to reality and they bowed to everyone, acknowledging the end of the dance.

The crowd began filling the dance area again as the couple started moving back towards the feast table. Several delegates and Amazons stopping them along the way to congratulate them again and wish them the best. Xena grinned under the mask, somehow Gabrielle hadn’t spoken a word yet.

Xena was surprised when Gabrielle, still holding her hand, stopped before they reached the table. Xena turned and suddenly wished she could see the bard’s face. The smaller woman was standing near the table and Xena couldn’t see Gabrielle’s eyes because of the mask. She was about to break her silence when Gabrielle crumbled to the ground.

Brutus, standing very near the couple, started to rush and bend over the fallen woman when a voice stopped him.

“Touch her and die,” the taller of the wedding couple threatened.

“Everyone stand still or die where you stand!” a shout went up over the beginning commotion.

Xena, bending next to Gabrielle, looked up and saw Ephiny standing on the feast table, sword in hand. Xena glanced around and saw the area ringed with Amazon archers, each with arrow ready.

“Consort, your Queen to the healer’s hut!” Ephiny ordered as Xena gathered the small woman in her arms. She quickly moved through the parting crowd with Hercules and Iolaus following, swords drawn.

Once in the healer’s hut Xena quickly tore her mask off and removed Gabrielle’s. She hissed when she saw the bard’s face.

Gabrielle was covered in sweat but was deadly pale and cool to the touch. Xena’s face showed her terror as the healer entered the hut, followed by Ephiny. Together the healer and warrior examined the unconscious Queen while the Regent looked on, a look of concern and fury on her face.

Gabrielle’s eyes fluttered open but seemed unfocused. “Xena?”

“I’m here, Gabrielle. Can you tell us what’s wrong?”

“I don’t know. Everything started spinning and then went black. Everything’s fuzzy.” Gabrielle closed her eyes again.

“Gabrielle! Stay with me!” Xena begged, rubbing the bard’s hand.

Gabrielle opened her eyes again but was having trouble keeping them open.

The healer reached out and touched the warrior and motioned for Ephiny to move closer. She held up the bard’s hand so they could both see a slight scratch across the back of the bard’s hand, red streaks beginning up the woman’s arm.

“Poison.” she announced simply.

“What kind? Can you tell?” Xena asked, turning back to find Gabrielle had closed her eyes again.

“No, not yet. Think, both of you, who had contact with her?”

“Oh Tartarus!” Ephiny cursed, “Everyone! They all shook your hands!”

“Ephiny, get back there and have everyone searched, there must be a needle in a glove or something.”

“Right. They won’t be happy and this might just cause a war but I’m going to find that son of a bacchae!” Ephiny was out the door in a flash. Xena caught a glimpse of Hercules, Iolaus and several Amazon warriors standing outside the hut, weapons drawn.

The warrior wasn’t surprised when both families came barging into the hut. Hercules closed the door behind them.

“Xena?” Hecuba pleaded as she knelt beside her daughter.

“We don’t know. We think she was poisoned.”

“No,” the mother whispered, stroking the bard’s forehead.

“Mom?” Gabrielle whispered and managed to open her eyes.

“I’m here, so is Lila.” Hecuba tried to smile.

“Xena,” Gabrielle attempted to sit up but the warrior held her back down.

“I’m here, my love.”

“Is the healer here?” Gabrielle whispered, trying to keep her eyes open.

“Yes,” the warrior answered.

“It’s beginning to hurt. It feels like my veins are on fire, spreading to every muscle. The stomach is starting to hurt too.” the bard described. Xena looked to the healer who shook her head.

“I don’t know yet. We need to know what they used or if they have the antidote with them.”

Xena’s eyes narrowed. “Hercules!” she called.

The demi-god opened the door. “Find out if Ephiny has found anything. Poison!”

He was gone without a word.

Xena cried out as Gabrielle’s body suddenly arched, pain racking her face. Her fists grabbed the blanket under her and she whimpered with pain, biting down hard on her lip. After a moment it passed and she collapsed back onto the cot.

“Warrior, something that attacks the nerves and muscles. I don’t have an antidote here. You’re looking for something foreign to this region.” the healer told Xena.

“It’ll take time for everyone to be searched. Hecuba, stay with her. I’m going to see if I can find some answers.” Xena knew she didn’t have to instruct the mother to stay by her daughter. Hecuba’s jaw took on that familiar stubbornness that Xena knew from her mate and the woman nodded.

“Xena, your mask, your identity.” the healer pointed out.

Xena stopped and thought for a moment. “Damn! As Xena I could probably terrify some answers out of someone but that might lead to more danger later.”
“The danger is now, Xena.” Hecuba said softly.

“Yes,” Xena agreed and stepped out of the hut without her mask on and trotted to the reception area. On the way she spotted her double and quickly grabbed the Amazon. “My weapons,” she instructed and the woman quickly surrendered them to the tall warrior.

Xena began strapping her sword on as she continued towards the delegates, surrounded by Amazons and being methodically searched by them before being allowed to return to the shade of the trees.

Xena ran up and joined Ephiny who took in Xena’s weapons and lack of mask quickly and then nodded in understanding.

Xena jumped up on the feast table and heard several gasps of recognition as the crowd took in her wedding clothes and her identity.

“Most of you know me. For those who haven’t seen me before, I’m Xena and I’m really pissed off.” Everyone went quiet. “My mate has been poisoned and I want the antidote and I want it now. My mate is also the Queen of the Amazons, so you also have them to deal with. If you give up the antidote or the name of the poison now, you’ll have three hours head start before they come after you. If not, then not even the gods will save you from me or them.” she said simply and waited.

Both she and Ephiny watched the crowd shift uneasily, each looking at each other but not wanting to meet each other’s eyes. Xena’s eyes narrowed.

“Ephiny, start with the ones who would have the most to gain by a war with the Amazons and work from there. Did anyone leave the area or the territory just after the wedding?”

“I’ll find out.” Ephiny promised and moved away. Hercules caught up with Xena as she jumped down from the table.

“So far nothing.” he said simply.

“How good are they searching?” Xena asked, watching the delegates try to move away from her.

Hercules grinned a grim smile. “Not even a gem smuggler could get past them.”

A runner approached the warrior and went to one knee. “Consort, Regent Ephiny says that four members of the Roman party left immediately after the receiving.”

“Brutus!” Xena yelled loudly and everyone and everything went quiet. The crowd parted and left the Roman and three of his men standing in the center of the yard.

Brutus raised his chin in defiance as the warrior and Hercules approached. Xena saw Ephiny running from another direction towards them. With a growl she lifted the Roman off his feet.

“What did you use?” she demanded.

“Not my doing, warrior!” he said through gritted teeth.

“Brutus, four of your men are on the run and the Queen is poisoned, what am I supposed to think?” the warrior dropped him and knocked his feet out from under him. His three men started to move forward in a protective stance when they found several Amazon warriors had swords at their throats. The men held still.

“Tell me, damnit!”

“I didn’t do it!” he insisted.

“Hercules, bring him! Amazons, hold them!” the Consort instructed and began moving quickly towards the Healer’s hut.

Inside the hut Xena found her armor on a chair and Hecuba in a chair next to the bard. The healer was mixing herbs in a mortar bowl. She shook her head discouragingly.

Hercules dragged a reluctant Brutus through the door with Ephiny right behind them. The Roman went pale when he saw the Queen of the Amazons on the cot, thrashing and sweating in pain.

“Gabrielle?” he whispered.

“Yes,” Xena answered. “Now what poison did you use?”

“Xena, I swear to all the gods, I had nothing to do with this!” Hercules grabbed him by the collar and lifted the Roman off his feet again. “You know I would never harm Gabrielle!”

“You didn’t know it was her when she was poisoned!” Xena shouted back.

“I do now and I still swear that I didn’t do it!”

“Who are the men that ran?” Xena demanded.

“They were personally assigned to me by Caesar.”

Xena’s eyes narrowed and began flashing. “Caesar?”

“Yes, Xena, I swear I didn’t know!”

“Put him down, Hercules.” the demi-god obeyed, still holding onto the Roman’s collar. “Do you have any idea what I am going to do to you if Gabrielle dies?” Xena whispered, coming in close to him.

“Xena, I didn’t know and I didn’t have a hand in this.” he pleaded.

“Which direction would they go?” she demanded.

“Not towards Rome. Caesar said something about Egypt to one of them.” Brutus answered.

“If you’re lying to me or if you’re wrong, I’ll turn you over to the Amazons. Gabrielle is their Queen, do you think they’ll be gentle with you?” Xena promised.
“Xena, let me ride with you. I can approach them and get the antidote or the name of the poison before you could.”

“No, you’ll slip away the first chance you get.” Xena shook her head and removed her tunic, turning her back to the Roman and grabbing her leather shift. She quickly began putting on her familiar armor.

“No, I swear I won’t. I want to save Gabrielle, you know I do.”

“You’re also a Roman and Rome comes first. Caesar has decided that the Queen of the Amazons would be a better ally if she’s dead. You serve Caesar.”

“I serve Rome first and I don’t agree with this move. Let me help!”

“Xena, we must move!” Ephiny insisted.

“All right, but no weapons.”

Xena quickly went over to her mate’s side and fought back tears as the bard’s body once again arched in unbearable pain. When she collapsed again on the cot the healer shook her head.

“These herbs may slow it down but you must hurry, her body is being torn apart. She’s all ready lost all of her stomach contents and she can’t take much more of the pain.”

“Hecuba, I’ll most as fast as I can!” Xena promised, looking in the tear filled eyes of the mother and Lila.

“I know, Xena. I’ll pray.”

The war party moved quickly through the countryside, spurred on by the enraged and desperate warrior leading them on her beloved Argo. With Amazons and the Warrior Princess tracking them, the Romans were quickly overtaken.

“Let me approach them, Xena. I can order them to turn over the antidote.” Brutus pleaded.

“No, how do I know that you won’t destroy it?” Xena said flatly, watching the Romans moving up and down a river, looking for a suitable place to pass with their horses. On the rocky cliff overhead Amazons and warrior watched.

“I swear I won’t. Something I didn’t tell you,” Xena looked at him with narrowed eyes. “I thought this would be an easy assignment. One of the soldiers we left behind with the Amazons is my son. If I fail, his life and mine are both forfeit.”

“Your son?”

“Yes, I swear it by all the Gods.”

“All right, you have five minutes. Alcyonia, give him his sword.” Xena instructed one of the Amazon warriors.

“Brutus,” the Roman turned to look at Xena. “If you fail, I’ll personally castrate both of you.”

The Roman turned pale but nodded his understanding.

In moments he was riding up to his men. Xena couldn’t hear the conversation but she was watching closely. At her signal Amazon archers had taken up positions on the cliff overlooking the Romans, ready to unleash their famed deadly arrows.

Xena watched, chakram in hand as Brutus appeared to argue with the men. The sound of shouting reaching the warrior’s ears. Finally one of the men shouted something and drew his sword and the others followed. Brutus pulled his own sword and ran the first soldier through and the other two fell with arrows in their chests and throats. The fourth one dropped his sword and held up his hands in surrender.

Xena ran to Argo and quickly sped down the trail to find Brutus ripping the saddlebags off the Roman horses and spilling the contents onto the ground. Xena leaped off Argo with chakram at hand. The Roman looked up, frowning.

“Bastards wouldn’t go back on Caesar’s orders. It’s got to be here!”

Xena joined in the search as the Amazons and Hercules rode up. Brutus let out a shout and held up a flask. He grinned and handed it to the warrior.

“Hercules, make sure they get back to the village. I’m going to move fast.”

“You got it.”

Xena was grateful that the border guards and scouts let her fly past without challenge. She had answered the bird and animals calls with her own and didn’t slow Argo’s flight any. The noises managed to beat her into the village and she found the way clear for her all the way to the healer’s hut with armed Amazons lining the road and yard. Ephiny and Iolaus stood at the door with swords drawn. Xena leaped off Argo and dashed through the door as Iolaus held it open.

The healer quickly moved forward and opened the flask, with a satisfied look she began pouring the herb into her mixing bowl. “This is it, warrior. Just pray we’re in time. She’s very weak, it’s been hours.”

Xena was very aware of how long it had been and how fast poison could work. Torches were already being lit in the village. She quickly moved to Gabrielle’s side across from Hecuba and Lila. Cyrene and Solan kept vigil off to the side.

“She’s been unconscious since you left.” Hecuba said softly.

“The pain?” Xena asked, tears flowing down her face as she stroked her bard’s forehead. The bard’s face was drawn and pinched with pain and her muscles continually twitched and spasmed.

“Worse. She finally stopped screaming half a candlemark ago.” Lila answered with a sob, burying her head in her mother’s shoulder. Cyrene walked up behind her daughter and placed her hands on the warrior’s shoulders.

“Screaming?” Xena whispered.

“Yes, the pain has been bad.” Cyrene answered softly.

“Gabrielle!”

The healer moved around the warrior and with the help of Hecuba, pried the bard’s jaws open and forced the unconscious woman to swallow. “We can only wait. The damage may be too much for her.”

“No! Gabrielle, listen to me! You fight back! I’m not going to lose you now!” Xena growled through gritted teeth and sat down on the stool next to her lover.
Ephiny entered the hut and took in the scene. “Did she get it?” she asked the healer.

“Yes, we can only wait and see if it was in time. Our Queen is very ill.”

“All right. I’m sending the delegates on their way. I’ll tell them the son of bacchae have been caught and are dead. I’ll send runners out once we know the outcome.” Ephiny tried not to choke on the last words and stumbled out of the hut.

After some convincing the healer finally got the two families to go and eat something while Xena watched over her lover. The healer knew better than to insist that Xena leave Gabrielle’s side and didn’t even try. She helped the warrior keep cool clothes on the Queen’s forehead and wrists and helped the warrior hold her mate down when the pain racked her body once more. Xena whimpered, each time the bard was getting weaker and weaker.

Xena felt the hairs on the back of her neck stand up. She turned to the healer. “Can you get me some bread and water, please?”

The healer was surprised but pleased, she hadn’t expected the warrior to even think of eating or drinking.

Once the healer was out of the hut Xena stood up and drew her sword.

“Ares!” she hissed.

“I hate how you can do that!” he said as he appeared.

“Come to gloat?” she demanded, sword at his neck. The War God merely ignored the sword.

“No, not at all.” he moved the point away and moved closer to his once Chosen. “Look, I’m sorry about last night. I was upset.”

“What do you want!?” she demanded again, sheathing her sword.

“You,” he answered simply as she turned back to Gabrielle’s side.

“What else is new?” she asked in a tired voice. The bard whimpered and gritted her teeth again. Ares watched with disinterest as waves of pain ran through the small woman’s body.

“Always, of course. Look, I can heal her.”

“What price?”

“The usual deal.” Ares shrugged.

“I come back to you like before. Total Warlord.” Xena said simply.

“Yup, you bet. What do you say? We can leave her here with the Amazons and go back to how it was.”

“Ares,” Xena held up her bandaged hand. “We’re blood bonded, if I go back to my war ways she’ll die and then I’ll die.”

“Remember, you convinced the Furies that you and I are blood. Come back, all ready! You know I’ll win in the end. The fight is in your blood. You can’t deny that your blood sings every time you go into battle or a fight. That after a good fight you’re so turned on that you can’t stand it. Come back.” He moved behind her and placed his hands on her shoulders.

Xena shrugged them off. “No, Ares. I don’t care if you are my father or not, Gabrielle is my life.”

“Does she answer that call of the blood after the fight? Can she understand the fury in your blood? Can she answer it? Only a warrior knows what it feels like.” he purred in her ear.

“You’d be surprised,” Xena managed to grin. “At what Gabrielle can do, in more ways than one.”

“Humph!” Ares snorted and moved to the end of the cot. “If you are my daughter then take your rightful place at my side and become the Goddess of War!” he insisted.

“Isn’t that position all ready taken?”

“Athena, who cares. She can go back to her weaving, she’s not the warrior you are!” he insisted.

“No, just leave.” Xena ran a tired hand over her face.

“Okay, I’ll just wait till the irritating little wench is gone, then you’ll be back.” Ares said smugly.

“Ares,” Xena’s voice stopped him from disappearing. “Know this, if she crosses over that I’ll follow her.” Xena’s eyes met the War Gods.

“No, you can’t do that!” he demanded.

“Yes, I can. She’s the other half of my soul and I won’t lose her.”

“You can’t mean that!”

“Yes, I do. Now leave, all ready.” Xena turned her eyes back to her lover. Without looking she knew that Ares was gone and she was alone with Gabrielle. Xena finally let herself break down in tears as she felt how rapid and shallow the bard’s breathing was. “Gabrielle, I hope you can hear me.” she whispered. “Don’t leave me, please! I can’t live without you!” Xena checked her armor and sighed to herself after feeling the dagger between her breasts.

“Hey,” a harsh voice whispered.

Xena looked up, tears of joy beginning to fall instead of terrified ones. Green eyes met blue ones and Xena quickly grabbed the bard’s hand and held it.
“Gabrielle!” Xena grabbed a cup and moved behind the bard to help her sit up and take a drink. The smaller woman couldn’t even raise her hands to help. “Shhh, little one, drink slowly.” Xena instructed.

Gabrielle leaned back into her warrior. “What happened?” she whispered.

The healer walked through the door and took in the sight of her Queen in the arms of her Consort with eyes open and broke into a grin. She quickly put the bread and wine down and ran back outside. Xena smiled when they heard a cheer outside. The healer quickly came back in and with experienced hands, began examining the bard.

After a moment she stepped back and looked at Gabrielle’s tired face.

“Well?” the warrior demanded, holding her arms around her lover.

“It’ll be a few days before we know if there’s permanent damage or not.” the healer warned.

“I’ll be fine.” Gabrielle insisted, her head starting to fall forward.

“Gabrielle?”

“It’s all right, Consort,” the healer reassured her. “She’ll sleep a lot for the next few days. It’s the body’s way of healing.”

Suddenly the room was filled with happy relatives, Amazons, and friends, all shedding tears of joy while the bard smiled a very tired smile.

After a few minutes the healer ran all of them out when Gabrielle’s head fell forward onto Xena’s arms and didn’t’ raise back up. She motioned for the warrior to lay the bard back down on the cot.

Xena crossed over to the healer’s table. “Well?”

“She’s very weak. We’ll know probably tomorrow if there’s muscle damage. It may be a few days before we know if there’s problems with her stomach or nervous system.” the healer warned.

“She’s alive, that’s what counts right now.”

“Yes, and everyone is waiting outside. Hercules brought in the Roman and the prisoner.”

“You’ll stay with her for a few minutes?”

“Of course, she’s my Queen.”

Xena found Brutus and the other three Romans sitting at one of the tables, surrounded by Amazons. Brutus looked tired but pleased when the warrior approached them and sat down opposite of him. Xena knew the assassin was in the prisoner hut.

“I heard she’s alive. Thank you!”

“Thank you for your help.” the warrior acknowledged. “Ephiny agrees to let you go back to Rome. I don’t believe you had anything to do with it or you would have run with the others.”

“Thank you.”

“What will you tell Caesar?” the warrior asked. Xena noticed that he didn’t ask about the proposed fate of the other Roman.

“That someone attempted to poison the Queen of the Amazons but they failed and I haven’t heard from his men.”

“It’s dangerous going up against Caesar’s wishes,” Xena mentioned.

“I know, that’s why I prefer to count him as my friend rather than my enemy. It’s either let the Amazons kill us for being Roman or tell Caesar the truth and let him kill us, my son included. I don’t think I like either of those options. My son and these two will keep quiet because they know what will happen if they don’t. A cross is not where I want to end up for me or my son.”

“You should probably leave soon. I know it’s dark but the Amazons aren’t happy with any outsiders right now. It probably wouldn’t turn out well if one of your men even looked cross-eyed at one of them.” Xena suggested.

“You’re right, of course. Will you walk me to our horses?”

Xena was surprised but agreed. Brutus fell into step with her.

“Thank you for giving me the chance to save my son and my men.” he said simply.

“It was a way to save Gabrielle.”

“I know, but it also saved my son too. Your identity as Consort to the Queen is safe with me, warrior. It was before she was poisoned.” Brutus grinned.
Xena’s eyes narrowed. “What do you mean?”

“I recognized you in the ritual and figured the only one who could grab your heart enough for a bonding ceremony like this would be Gabrielle.” Brutus shrugged.

“How did you recognize us? Even our hair was covered.” Xena was curious.

“Nice bruise on your neck, Xena. Also, I noticed your bandaged hand at breakfast.”

“Oh son of a bacchae!” she complained and he laughed as he took his reins and mounted his horse.

“I swear by the gods that no one will know that Gabrielle is the Queen of the Amazons and that you two are bonded.”

“Thank you, Brutus. It could be used as political power.”

“Yes,” he agreed. “but I hate politics and I like Gabrielle and respect you.”

“Goodbye, Brutus. I hope we don’t have to cross swords in the future.”

“So do I, warrior.”

When Xena returned to the hut she found Hercules and Iolaus walking out the door. She hugged both of them tightly.

“Thank you both for being here.”

“Any time.” Iolaus offered and Hercules nodded.

“We’re going to get something to eat and some sleep. Things should be quiet tonight. All the delegates have left and Ares hasn’t shown up and the Romans are gone.” Hercules said.

“Ares did show up.” Xena said simply.

“What? What did he want?” Hercules demanded.

“The usual, me.” Xena smiled and shrugged. “He offered to save Gabrielle if I would come back to him. He was using the moment because just after I turned him down she woke up. I think he knew she was going to get better and was seizing the moment to try and get to swear I was his again.”

“I’ll kill him one of these days, Father’s wishes or not.” Hercules grumbled.

Xena hugged him again. “Thanks, you might have to stand in line for that one.”

She moved past him to enter the hut and found Ephiny and both families. She moved into the room and gave Solan a big hug and then her mother. Xena turned to the healer.

“She’s sleeping, not unconscious. You need some sleep too.”

“I’ll stay with her.” Xena insisted.

“I figured that, but at least take off the armor and crawl into bed with her and sleep!” the healer said in frustration. Xena grinned a tired smile and Ephiny laughed for the first time in two days.

“She’s right, Xena. I’ll see to your families. Warriors will watch the hut outside.”

Xena quickly hugged everyone and then struggled out of her armor. With a heavy sigh she settled down into the familiar position behind the bard and slipped her arms around Gabrielle.

The warrior was pleased when the bard sighed in her sleep and snuggled into Xena’s arms. She was asleep in moments.

Xena knew the recovery would be long and hard for the bard but had no doubt of the bard’s inner strength.

Xena also knew that she would be there every step of the way.

The End
Gabrielle’s Amazon Bonding

Storyline: This is Gabrielle’s viewpoint of “Amazon Bonding” – I hope it offers some different insight and new scenes but it will be familiar if you read the original

PART 1
Gabrielle shifted nervously and readjusted her wrap around skirt for the 10th time. Her mother, Hecuba smiled and wiped a tear away from her eye. The bard spotted her and tried to smile.

“Don’t you start!” Gabrielle warned. “You’ll get me going!”

Lila, watching from a stool in the corner of the dressing room, giggled and the bard glared at her little sister. That made Lila giggle even more.

The knock on the door caused all three women to jump considerably.

“Oh gods!” Gabrielle whispered, feeling her heart sink into her stomach and her courage take a quick exit.

Hecuba, looking much like she did twenty years before in her white linen, sleeveless dress trimmed in a green that matched her daughter’s eyes, quickly hugged the bard.

“You’ll be fine. It’ll be over before you know it.” Hecuba reassured her daughter.

“Gabrielle! I hear them coming!” a male voice called from the other side of the door.

Hecuba and Lila went to the door, reaching out and holding hands as they opened it.

Gabrielle turned and saw Iolaus standing in the doorway holding a sword and belt. He started to say something and then stopped dead, beginning to stammer.

“Wow, I… uh. You’re gorgeous.”

Gabrielle felt a familiar feeling of blush coming over her face.

“Thanks.”

Then she was across the floor and hugging the blond man tightly. He grinned and hugged her back and then moved out of her arms and began strapping the sword around her waist. He was grinning from ear to ear.

Gabrielle again reflected that he was quite handsome with his blond hair and blue eyes. He was about her height (one of the few people she knew that wasn’t taller than she was) and today he was dressed in a formal leather tunic dyed green to match the trim on her skirt and sleeveless tunic. Grey trousers were tucked into fur boots and cross laced with green leather thongs. Gold wrist bands decorated his wrists, a gifting from Gabrielle’s tribe and a simple gold band circled his forehead.

Gabrielle swallowed visibly as the sound of drumming, singing and cheering got louder, getting closer.

Iolaus grinned. “Are you going to get sick?” he teased.

“No,” Gabrielle lightly punched his arm.

“Herc did.” he whispered loud enough for everyone in the room to hear.

“Hercules got sick the day of his wedding?” Hecuba asked in an awed voice. She was still getting accustomed to dealing with Amazons, Gods and demi-gods.

“Yup,” Iolaus grinned. “Got so nervous that he lost his breakfast.”

“Iolaus, thank you for being my Kumbada.” Gabrielle said quickly as the sounds outside grew very loud.

“My pleasure.”

Gabrielle was pleased as well with Hercules and Iolaus both acting as Kumbadas for the ceremony. Since this wasn’t a traditional ceremony but a combination of traditional, Amazon and quite a bit of adaptation, Xena and Gabrielle had decided on each having a Kumbada for the rituals they were facing and had instantly chosen Hercules and Iolaus. The women also agreed that they couldn’t find a better pick for the traditional role of best man for their bonding, nor better godfathers if there were children later in the relationship.

Iolaus moved to the door and waited until there was a knock and opened it. Hecuba and Lila stepped outside the doorway and Gabrielle could hear Hercules’ voice.
“It is the wish of Xena of Amphipolis to wed your daughter, Gabrielle of Potedaia. She pledges to care for her, provide for her and, most importantly, to love her. Do you accept this?”

Gabrielle knew that in a traditional wedding, the Kumbada would be bargaining with the bride’s family for the dowry, monies and land exchanges and not love pledges. She was grateful once again to her mother for holding Gabrielle’s father back from insisting on marriage at a young age for her oldest daughter.

“We do with open hearts,” she heard Hecuba and Lila respond.

Then she could hear Iolaus asking the same of Xena’s family.

Gabrielle had always been curious as to why Hecuba had fought back against Herdoctus about marriage for Gabrielle. Now that the bard knew her true father was Apollo and she was destined to have met Xena and, the gods had hoped, save the warrior from the darkness that had consumed her. The bard had been meant to save the world.

The little bard now understood why her mother had been so surprised when she came home and announced she was marrying Perdicus but pleased. Hecuba had been hoping that her daughter had saved Xena from her dark future but had broken away from the dangerous life being with Xena would mean. Gabrielle couldn’t blame her mother for that one, marrying Perdicus should have been safe. A calm and secure but hard life as a farmer and healer.

When Callisto killed Perdicus day after their wedding, Hecuba had quit struggling against what the gods had said was inevitable: Xena was Gabrielle’s soulmate. Gabrielle’s mother was just surprised that it took both the bard and warrior so long to figure it out. Gabrielle grinned to herself, everyone around them seemed to know it except themselves.

“Sometimes for a bard you can be a little thick,” she muttered to herself.

Then her heart skipped a beat as Iolaus came back to the door and offered his arm.

“Oh gods,” she whispered and went to join him, adjusting the necklace of blue-green feathers and beads.

Gabrielle blinked as the cheer from everyone surrounding the hut washed over her and she self herself blushing again. Then her eyes caught sight of her mate and her heart skipped a beat again and she felt her eyes filling with tears of joy.

Everyone except Xena and Cyrene went to a bended knee for the Amazon Queen. Xena and Cyrene bowed their heads as Gabrielle began to approach them.

The warrior was dressed the same as Gabrielle was but her sleeveless white tunic was trimmed in blue and gold, to match her piercing blue eyes. The wrap around white skirt came down to the top of Xena’s blue dyed boots that were laced up with white leather thongs. Matching blue leather bracers covered Xena’s forearms and silver bands decorated her tanned upper arms. Around the warrior’s neck was a necklace of black-blue feathers and beads. The sword at the tall, black haired woman’s side was a silver ceremonial sword.

Gabrielle stood in front of her chosen mate and lifted Xena’s head to look into those blue eyes. “You are so beautiful. I love you.” she whispered.

“You take my breath away, little one,” Xena whispered back. “I love you too.”

The bard moved to stand next to her mate and everyone stood. Hercules and Iolaus went to a tray being held by an Amazon and carried two goblets to the couple. Each woman took a goblet and drank half the wine. Then, with grins, they each dropped a coin into the goblets and returned them to their Kumbada’s.

“Wine, the sweetness of life and the coin represents that they each pledge to care for each other.” Gabrielle heard Cyrene whisper to Solon.

Everyone cheered and the drummers began drumming again. Both families fell into behind the couple and the Kumbadas began to lead them towards the sacred grove of the Amazons.

Along the way the couple’s hands sought each other and interlaced together. In their other hands they carried sprigs of ivy to symbolize the eternity of their love. Along the way the members of the tribe lined the path and tossed blossoms and grain at the wedding party.

As they neared the grove the party passed through an archway of ivy and holly and through the smoke of two smudge pots on either side of the archway.

Solon leaned over to Cyrene. “We pass through the smoke of sacred herbs to cleanse the body. Xena and Gabrielle have already gone through three days of purification. A day of sweating in the sweat hut, a day of fasting, and a day of meditation.”

“Is it true that they couldn’t see each other during that time?” Cyrene whispered.

“Yup, also heard rumors that Xena tried but Ephiny caught her.” Solon giggled.

“I believe that of my daughter,” the bard heard Cyrene whisper and Gabrielle looked over at her mate and discovered Xena had also heard her mother and Solan. Xena was blushing and Gabrielle bit the inside of her lip to keep from laughing.

As they reached the edge of the trees everyone stopped and the drummers and singers went silent. An Amazon, the shaman stepped forward out of the shadows with a sword in hand and two attendants following, each carrying a bowl.

Hercules and Iolaus started to move forward and Solan moved around the two women to join the men. As they knelt in front of the priestess Gabrielle felt a swelling of pride and could feel the same emotion radiating from the warrior next to her for the young man. Gabrielle had heard the argument between Xena and her mother about the boy. Once Cyrene knew Solan was her grandson she had wanted him to know that as well and get to know the boy. Xena had been firm that he shouldn’t know the warrior was his mother yet. The warrior had tried to convince Cyrene that it was just too dangerous and that he was better left in the dark and with the Centaurs. That argument hadn’t been settled yet, Gabrielle knew. The bard could see where Xena inherited her stubborn streak from.

The three males knelt on both knees before the priestess and lifted their heads. The priestess, not speaking, placed the point of the blade against their throats and then moved to the next male after a moment. She abruptly handed the sword to an attendant Amazon and took a bowl from the attendant. She approached Solon first and dipped her finger into the liquid and smeared a streak across his forehead and moved to repeat the gesture to Hercules and Iolaus.

Another bowl was handed to the priestess and she smeared the cheeks of the males with this liquid.

Gabrielle could feel the unasked questions radiating from her mother and sister and leaned over to whisper to them. “The males have to be purified before entering the sacred grove of the Amazons, dedicated to Artemis, our patron goddess. First with the smoke that we passed through and then with the blood of one of the forest animals and finally with pure spring water to signify rebirth.”

The drummers and singers in front parted to either side of the path and joined other tribe members and the members of visiting tribes waiting in the grove. The family members moved off to the sides as well, in front of the other guests.

Hercules and Iolaus approached the altar on the raised platform with Ephiny, Regent of the Amazons behind it.

“Wow!” the bard heard Solan exclaim and had to agree with him.

The Regent looked amazing. The chestnut haired was in complete royal outfit. Her white leathers gleamed in the setting sun and the leather and feathered mask made her look somewhat terrifying. In her hand she held a sword and an Amazon stood on either side of the altar, both in ceremonial clothing and with notched arrows, symbolizing Artemis.

Hercules and Iolaus knelt before the altar and placed the wedding bracelets on it.

Ephiny motioned for the two warriors to rise and the men slowly stood and lifted the crowns off the altar and held them high and then carried them around the altar three times.

Xena had asked the bard and Amazon Queen about that one and Gabrielle had found herself shrugging. “The crowns represent that a wedding is a royal affair, no matter what the status of the couple is. A ribbon joins the crowns to symbolize the joining. Why the bracelets or rings are exchanged three times between the kumbada or why they carry the crowns around the altar three times is beyond me. I can’t find an answer for that one. It might represent the three phases of a woman’s life: maiden, mother, crone. The three different types of Goddesses, who knows.”

Xena and Gabrielle moved to the altar and placed their twigs of ivy that represented undying love on the altar and knelt. The men approached them and placed the crowns on the heads of the women with a kiss on top of the head. After a moment of silence the men then switched the crowns. After the third crowning the two men moved aside and left the crowns. Gold for Gabrielle and silver for Xena. The Sun and the Moon.

“Tribe members! Family and friends of the couple!” Ephiny’s voice carried to the far ends of the grove. “Tonight we honor two friends, two loved ones, and one of our tribe in a bonding ceremony. They have committed to each other and have faced trials together. Tonight is a ritual of something that already exists. Tonight we honor the love between Xena and Gabrielle.”

Ephiny stepped around to the front of the altar and held the point of the sword at Xena’s throat. The warrior held her head up, eyes fearless.

“Do you enter freely into this bonding, warrior?” Ephiny demanded, face hidden behind the mask.

“I enter freely of my own will and desire,” Xena answered in a strong voice and Gabrielle felt her heart soaring.

Ephiny removed the sword and placed it at Gabrielle’s throat. The bard felt no fear but determination and felt that familiar clenching of her jaw, something her family and Xena were well aware of. “Do you enter freely into this bonding, bard and Queen?”

“I enter freely of my own will and desire.” Gabrielle answered in a strong voice as well.

Ephiny handed the sword to an attendant and then pulled out a dagger. With a quick stroke she had cut a lock of the young woman’s hair from behind the girl’s neck and then quickly cut a lock of the warrior’s hair.

The Regent moved behind the altar and held the hair for all to see and then mingled the locks together in her palm. “I offer this hair of the marriage couple to Artemis as sacrifice and ask that she bless this union of Gabrielle and Xena.”

Gabrielle instinctively threw up her hand to shield her eyes as a brilliant light filled the altar area and found herself going to her knee when she realized Artemis was standing in front of the altar.

A quick glance around told the bard that everyone else had gone to their knee as well.

The bard grabbed her mate’s arm as more flashes of light filled the crowd. When she blinked again a large portion of the Gods and Goddesses from Olympus were standing with the crowd.

Apollo, Cupid, Aphrodite, Zeus, Hera, Demeter, Persephone and Hades.

“I’m not surprised, Ares isn’t there.” Gabrielle whispered in Xena’s ear and the warrior nodded. Gabrielle knew she had to be relieved of that small favor. The warrior was still tense, just as Gabrielle would expect, Xena hated dealing with the gods.

“I thought Apollo was kidding about coming to the wedding,” Xena muttered under her breath and the bard bit her lip to keep from laughing at her warrior.

“Because of the good these two have done for world and the gods, we all offer our blessings to this union and encourage their love. Know this and let all witness our proclamation, their love is destined to span all eternity and beyond this reality. The love between Gabrielle and Xena is rare and it is a soul mate bonding. I call for a blood joining if they are willing to accept their fate.” Artemis announced.

Everyone was obviously stunned by the presence of the gods and the announcement from Artemis but Ephiny quickly recovered. Gabrielle was stunned, she felt Xena squeeze her hand tightly.

“As you wish, my Goddess.” the Regent stood and faced the wedding couple. “Do you accept this, Xena and Gabrielle?” she asked simply.

The two women looked at each other, each sinking deep into the other’s eyes. Both reached out at the same moment to caress the other’s cheek. Gabrielle, with her empathic gifting, felt the love pouring from her lover and and the bard felt like her heart would burst with joy. Blue eyes began to fill with tears of joy, matched by Gabrielle’s.

. Together, still holding hands, they stood up and faced Artemis and Ephiny.

“We do,” they answered.

“Friends and family,” Ephiny faced everyone. “The gods have blessed this union and have called for a blood bonding. This is a rare binding of soul mates, by binding their blood together in front of the gods they are binding their souls together. It is the ultimate commitment anyone can make, god or mortal. From this point, no matter what happens between them, their souls will be joined.”

Xena and Gabrielle each squeezed their hands tighter, reaffirming their decision with each other. Gabrielle felt tears beginning to escape her eyes. She leaned against Xena’s strong arm, wanting to be closer to the warrior. Xena squeezed her hand again.

Gabrielle watched as the shaman priestess stepped out of the shadows and approached her and Xena slowly. Wordlessly the woman’s piercing eyes sought out Xena and Gabrielle’s. She drew a dagger from her belt, the headdress hiding most of her face in shadows.

Together Xena and Gabrielle held up the hands they had a moment before been holding. They extended the hands, palms up before the priestess. Artemis nodded her approval as the priestess glanced back and the other gods and goddesses also nodded their approval.

The priestess turned back to the couple and held the dagger over their palms for a moment and then, with quick and deft strokes, sliced open the palms of both women’s hands. A bowl appeared from somewhere within her robes into her hand as she caught a portion of the blood from both hands. She handed the bowl to an attendant, who also seemed to appear from nowhere, and then clasped the hands together again.

Gabrielle’s breath caught in her throat at the sensation, the intensity. The bard heard Xena gasp as well, it felt like lightning was flowing through their veins. Gabrielle threw her head back with the surge of power and her body began trembling, she felt Xena’s body responding the same.

After a moment the bard blinked and watched the priestess hand the bowl of blood up to Ephiny and tie the warrior’s hand to the bard’s.

Regent Ephiny knelt before the Goddess Artemis and the Goddess of the Hunt, patron of the Amazons, extended her hand over the bowl in blessing. Ephiny then stood and poured some of the blood into a wine goblet on the altar. Raising the goblet high, Ephiny chanted an invocation and blessing and then walked down from the altar to stand in front of the couple.

“Your vows, warrior.” Ephiny instructed.

Xena turned to Gabrielle and took a deep breath, her eyes beginning to fill with tears of joy again. “You saved my life, my heart and my soul. They are all yours, my love. I pledge to be yours for eternity.”

“Your vows, my Queen.” Ephiny instructed.

“You gave me life and opened my heart and soul. They are all yours, my love. I pledge to be yours for eternity.” Gabrielle said, a tear escaping her eyes.

Ephiny handed Xena the goblet. “With this wine and blood you pledge your soul and blood to each other. You will be joined beyond this life.”

Xena drank half the wine readily and handed the goblet to Gabrielle. “With this wine and blood you pledge your soul and blood to each other. You will be joined beyond this life.” Gabrielle easily drank the rest of the blood and wine mixture and felt similar sensations that she had when she joined her cut to Xena’s.

Ephiny took the goblet back to the altar and faced everyone. She held up the bonding bracelets, interwoven strands of gold and silver. “These are the bonding bracelets chosen by Gabrielle and Xena, they symbolize their commitment to each other.”

Hercules and Iolaus both approached the altar and took the bracelets from Ephiny, each handing Xena and Gabrielle a bracelet. Artemis pointed her finger and the leather thong fell into pieces at their feet. The two women placed a bracelet on the other’s wrist.

“You are bound before your family, your tribe and before the Gods. May you never regret this decision.” Artemis announced.

“Speak total truth, Daughter,” Zeus spoke up and both Gabrielle and Xena turned to him with a surprised look. “You were destined to be together whether we agreed or not. We are pleased, though and you have our blessing.”

With that Zeus, Hera, Demeter, Persephone and Hades were gone. Aphrodite, Cupid and Artemis looking pleased.

“Gabrielle, you are my Chosen and an Amazon and have my special blessing. Because of your binding to her, you have my blessing as well, Xena.” Ephiny was left staring at the space where Artemis had been.

“We’re glad you finally worked out, girls. Catch you later.” Both Aphrodite and Cupid were gone.

Gabrielle heard Xena sigh in relief and couldn’t resist elbowing her mate in the ribs. “Behave,” she whispered, grinning.

“With that many gods around, I’m surprised nothing went wrong.” Xena smiled back.

“Friends, family and tribe, I proclaim this part of the bonding ceremony over. The families, Kumbadas and escort will accompany the couple to the wedding hut on the far side of this grove. Beginning in the morning we will begin the reception of the delegates from surrounding cities and nations to honor our Queen, followed by a dinner tomorrow night. Then we’ll send them all on their way and hold a week long festival here among ourselves and our honored guest and family members.” Ephiny announced. With the announcement over she let out an Amazon celebration cry that was picked up by all the members of the tribe as well as the visiting Amazons from other tribes. Even Solon joined in the shouting.

Still holding hands the two women followed their Amazon warrior escort and their Kumbadas with their families following behind. As they approached the hut the escort broke off to take up positions on either side of the hut door. Hercules and Iolaus stopped and turned to face the two women. With wide grins they each kissed Xena and Gabrielle and hugged them.

“Thank you for choosing us as your Kumbadas,” Hercules said.

“I wouldn’t think of anyone else.” Xena smiled.

Hecuba and Lila joined Gabrielle by her side. They were then hugged by the bard tightly. “I love you both,” the little Amazon said simply.

“We love you too, Gabrielle and couldn’t be happier.” Hecuba smiled and hugged her daughter again.

Cyrene and Solon also came forward to hug and kiss Xena. The warrior wiped a tear of joy from her mother’s face. “I love you, Mom.”

“I love you too and I couldn’t be more proud of your match.”

Xena looked down at the teenager and then hugged him tightly. “I love you too, squirt.”

“Yeah,” he said simply.

Then the families took turns hugging their new daughter-in-laws. Finally, everyone moved aside and the escort opened the door for the couple to enter the hut.
Holding hands once again they crossed the threshold.

As the door closed behind them the bard felt herself swept into her taller lover’s arms for a long and lingering kiss. Gabrielle wrapped one arm around the warrior’s neck and the other around Xena’s waist. As the kiss refused to lessen for either of them, the bard found her knees go weak and her body trembling.

“It’s been a long three days, my warrior.” Gabrielle complained as they broke apart slightly. The bard began to trail her kiss down to the warrior’s neck.

“Yes, it has,” Xena agreed and pulled the bard close again, lifting the smaller woman off her feet for another kiss.

Gabrielle took advantage of the wrap around skirt and surrounded her legs around her warrior’s hips and ducked her head down to bite Xena’s neck. Xena grabbed the bard’s nicely shaped ass and pulled the bard tight against her as she groaned and whimpered. Gabrielle answered with a growl of her own as they fell against the wall of the hut.

Gabrielle moved back from Xena’s neck back to the warrior’s lips, both tongues fighting back and forth, the bard’s hand lacing through the warrior’s hair, holding the woman’s head tightly into the kiss. Gabrielle felt Xena regain her feet and move them to the bed in the center of the room. The bard kept a tight hold on the warrior as they fell to the bed and with the agility of a cat, flipped Xena over onto her back.

Gabrielle was pleased when her mate yelped in surprise and then moaned in pleasure as the bard begin tugging at the laces of the warrior’s tunic. With a growl she pulled the restricting cloth from Xena’s body. Tears almost sprang to the bard’s eyes as she slid down the warrior’s body, position a leg between her lover’s legs. The feeling of Xena’s body melding into hers felt like a melding of fire and ice, intense heat that sent shivers over her body. She wasn’t sure who was moaning more or louder, herself or her mate as she took a nipple in her lips, lightly rubbing her teeth over the tender flesh. Xena’s hands in her hair captured her head in place as the bard began devotions at Xena’s breasts.

The last thing Gabrielle expected was to be hitting the far wall of the hut with her back and the back of her head. Everything went black for a moment as she slid down the wall. The bard shook her head in time to see someone reaching for her, grabbing her by the collar of her tunic and lifting her off the floor and high on the wall, feet nowhere near the ground.

The bard blinked, staring into intense brown eyes and familiar beard.

“Ares!” she hissed.

Without looking back he snapped a fist back and caught her mate along the jawline, sending the warrior flying backwards to the floor next to the bed.

“Hi, can’t say I’m sorry to break up this little scene. I need you to disappear for a couple of days, what say we get out of here?” he grinned.

“Never!” Gabrielle hissed and the God of War smacked the bard’s head into the wall in response. The bard clawed as his arm, knowing it was useless.

Both the bard and War God looked down in surprise at the blade sticking through his stomach. For a moment Gabrielle had hope that this might be over but he merely brushed as the sword, breaking the blade off and backhanded Xena again.

Gabrielle, seizing his momentary distraction, jammed two fingers in his eyes when he turned back to her. With a howl of rage and pain Ares dropped the bard to the floor. Gabrielle quickly got to her knees and started to dive past him but was surprised with the speed of his recovery, receiving his downward fist blow at her temple and eye, sending her to the floor.

Before she could even blink and realize she was bleeding, he had lifted her up again and the bard was thrown across the room with the force of his blow to her mouth. The bard lay stunned.

As the darkness tried to claim her, the bard her Xena screaming in rage and the sound of blows.

When the bard’s vision cleared she found an Amazon warrior bending over her, checking her pulse and head and Iolaus standing right beside the warrior. Then the Amazon Queen noticed another Amazon guard standing next to her, arrow notched with two more in hand ready.

“What’s happened?” she whispered as Iolaus reached out a hand to help the small woman to her feet.

“What do you remember?” he asked cautiously.

Gabrielle’s eyes narrowed and her jaw clenched. “Ares!” She quickly shoved past her Kumbada and saw a small crowd of warriors at a nearby tree. Through the crowd the bard saw her mate bending over someone.

“Xena!” she called, hurrying towards her warrior.

Gabrielle smiled when she realized that her warrior and Solan were standing and both in one piece. She rushed into her mate’s arms with a sigh of relief. Ares was nowhere in sight.

Regent Ephiny approached the couple and Gabrielle attempted to resist her Regent lifting her chin to the torchlight but the Amazon was insistent, showing the Amazon Queen’s battered face to the light.

The bard shrugged as several warriors growled or muttered curses. “I’m okay. Ares wouldn’t take ‘no’ for an answer.” The Queen looked over at the shaken Solan, realizing that he had somehow been involved with whatever had happened with Ares. “Are you okay?”

“Yeah, a little bruised, I think.” he shrugged, instantly reminding the young bard of the boy’s mother, Xena.

Iolaus stepped forward and handed Xena her tunic. Gabrielle saw the warrior grin at his blush.

“I thought you might like this back.” he muttered.

The warrior stepped out of Gabrielle’s arms and slipped the tunic over her head. “Ephiny send word to our families that we’re fine, I’m sure they heard the commotion. Let’s have the healer take a look at Solan and Gabrielle too.”

“I’m fine,” both the teenager and bard said at the same time.

“For me?” blue eyes pleaded with both of them and the bard knew she could deny her lover nothing, they both finally nodded. “Go on, I’ll be there in a moment.”

Together her son and mate began walking with the Amazons towards the healer’s hut with Ephiny explaining to the bard what had happened with Solan filling some in.
The bard shook her head, realizing how close she, Xena and Solan had come to possibly dying at the War God’s hands. It sent a chill down her spine for her warrior. She had no idea what Solan’s or her death would do to the warrior. Gabrielle didn’t want to find out.

The healer quickly looked both the teenager and her Queen over carefully and put some salve on the cut above the bard’s eye and pronounced them fit. Ephiny sighed with relief and gave Gabrielle a quick hug.

As they waited for Xena to join them Solan became very quiet and withdrawn.

PART 2

After finally getting both sets of families calmed down and reassured that the War God probably wouldn’t be back, getting a final checkover by the healer and Ephiny out of the hut to see to heightened security, the wedding couple found themselves alone with Solan.

Solan sat with his head lowered and Gabrielle could see something different about her warrior, her new wife. What was it? Xena was nervous? The bard was suddenly very curious as to what was up.

“Solan,” Xena began slowly and was surprised to see the young teen blushing.

“I’m sorry,” he stammered.

“For what? You saved my life.” Gabrielle leaned over and hugged the boy and he seemed to relax a bit.

“I’ve been practicing my stalking in the trees. When I heard the sounds of a fight I knew it had to be you,” he explained in a rapid sentence.

“Of course it had to be Xena,” Gabrielle agreed with a grin.

“I’ll get you for that, bard.” Xena threatened with an answering grin. “Go on, Solan.”

“I made my way through the trees. I know I’m not supposed to enter the grove, but I was afraid you were in danger!” his eyes looked panicked and she placed a hand over his in a calming manner.

“I was.” Gabrielle knew how hard that must be for her warrior, to admit that she had been in trouble, that was quite an admission.

“I saw that man, Ares, about to strike and I didn’t think.” Solan dropped his eyes, as if expecting to be scolded.

“You saved my life,” Xena repeated. “I might have been able to fight back, probably not.”

“You certainly weren’t dressed for the occasion,” Gabrielle giggled. The bard was very sorry that she had missed the fight with Ares and her half-naked mate.

Xena glared at her and then grinned.

“I think it did distract him for a moment. Besides, who got me in that condition?” Xena countered and then turned back to the boy. “Solan, you said something as you struck Ares,” she hesitated.

Solan began blushing even more and wouldn’t meet Xena or Gabrielle’s eyes. Xena leaned over the table and raised his chin to meet her eyes.

“I’m sorry, I know you didn’t want me to know.” he whispered.

“Solan, what do you know?” the warrior whispered back.

“That you’re my mom.”

“Whoa,” Gabrielle muttered and started to get up.

“You’re my mate and my family. Please stay”, she asked and Gabrielle sat back down. “How do you know?” Xena asked.

“I figured it out. Dad said that my mom was a warrior in your army, who had died giving birth to me, but I felt it. Every time you were near it just felt….. it felt right. And I have your eyes.”

“And my stalking talent.” Xena grinned and then grew serious. “Solan, I….”

“I figured it out, with Dad’s talk about alliances and the treaties. You’re afraid for me, aren’t you? Is that why you left me?”

Gabrielle felt tears springing to her eyes and wasn’t surprised when her warrior stood up and grabbed the boy from across the table, hugging him tightly. The bard knew that hug, it was the same one Xena had given her when Gabrielle had crossed back over from dying.

“Solan! I always wanted you!” Xena whispered. She pulled back from the embrace but kept both hands on the boy’s arms, keeping her eyes locked with his. “I was the Warlord when you were born. I couldn’t take you with me. I would have been killed and you would have been killed, as well. At the very least, someone would have hurt you or kidnapped you to get to me. I wasn’t a good person and I wasn’t fit to be a mother. I left you with the Centaurs because I knew they would protect you, and no one would figure it out.” Xena tried to explain.

“I kinda figured that, but you’ve changed. You do good stuff now, why didn’t you tell me?”

“The danger is still there! Ask Gabrielle how many times someone has tried to use her or hurt her because of me. I love you, but you can’t be with me.” Xena looked to the bard for confirmation but Gabrielle refused to answer. She had Xena had gone through that argument enough on their own. The bard had flatly refused to leave Xena, even when it was dangerous. She watched Xena brush a tear away.

“I know that, but can’t you just visit a little more often?”

Again the warrior crushed her son in a hug while Gabrielle gave her a tired smile.

When the two finally separated, Xena ruffled the boy’s hair. “You bet, kiddo. Now, go back to bed. I don’t think Ares will dare come back tonight.”

Solan reached out and grabbed Gabrielle in a hug. “This means you’re my mom too.”

“You bet.” she agreed, her heart filling with even more love for the young teenager.

With a grin he scampered out the door, his Amazon escort close behind, leaving the bard with her warrior.

Xena ran her hand through her hair. “Gabrielle, I’m sorry about all of this. It isn’t exactly how I wanted our wedding night.” She ran a hand over her jaw, beginning to swell from where Ares had caught her twice with his fist.

Gabrielle laughed and grabbed her lover’s hand, leading them to the door. “I know that, but I just married Xena, Warrior Princess. Am I surprised things got a little exciting?”

She watched Xena manage to smile and then her eyes turned cold and bright with anger as the warrior reached out and touched the bard’s face, lightly touching the cut above Gabrielle’s eye. The bard reached out and stroked Xena’s cheek and was delighted when Xena’s piercing blue eyes softened for her.

“I could kill him,” the warrior had hissed.

“I know, love, but let it go tonight.” Gabrielle asked softly.

“For you, anything.”

“Then let’s finish what he interrupted, thank you.” Gabrielle whispered as she leaned up and grabbed one of the warrior’s earlobes in her teeth and lightly pulled.
Xena growled and picked Gabrielle up off the ground into her arms. The bard yelped and clung to her mate, laughing as Xena began carrying her across the village common grounds. The wedding couple laughed and whispered promises of things to come as they walked along.

Ephiny, watching from the shadows of her hut, smiled approvingly. She was also cursing Ares and thanking the gods for Hercules and Iolaus being around. She knew that without the demi-god things would have gotten bloodier than they were, probably with several deaths.

She shook her head and followed behind the couple, keeping to the shadows. It wasn’t like Ares to make such a bold move. To actually attack the couple? Ephiny knew he was usually more subtle. To actually be willing to kill Xena, that was new. The Regent of the Amazons realized that Xena’s bonding with Gabrielle must have rattled him more than they had thought it would.

“Could he be more attached to her than he lets on?” Ephiny wondered to herself.

Gabrielle spotted several Amazon warriors in the trees and knew there were many more surrounding the hut in the shadows and trees. She had also seen Ephiny following behind the couple when the bard glanced over Xena’s shoulder. In her lover’s arms and surrounded by Amazons, Gabrielle felt safe.

Hercules and Iolaus spotted the couple approaching and with an exaggerated gesture, moved the door aside so they could get through. Xena grinned and bowed slightly to their Kumbadas and entered the hut. The two men attempted to replace the door as best they could to ensure privacy.

Xena and Gabrielle were quite sure they were going to be on guard, along with the Amazon warriors.

Gabrielle yelped as Xena tossed her onto the bed and then grinned when the warrior joined her, half pinning the bard to the bed.

“Now, where were we?” Xena asked and then began nibbling on the bard’s neck.

“I think I had your tunic off and your breasts in my mouth.” Gabrielle whispered, tugging at the tunic.

Xena groaned as the bard pulled the tunic off and arched her back as the Queen took a nipple into her teeth.

“Oh gods, I think that’s about the point,” Xena agreed.

With an answering moan, Gabrielle agreed. She reached down and undid the belt holding Xena’s skirt together. Unbuckling the restricting leather, she tugged the leather skirt aside and pulled Xena close to her. Xena broke the contact long enough to pull Gabrielle up into a sitting position and lift the bard’s tunic off. Gabrielle reached out tenderly, as if afraid to touch a dream. The bard could see the same emotion in her bondmate’s eyes.

“Gods, it’s always like I’m seeing you for the first time. You are magnificent!” the bard whispered, running her hand over the perfect breasts, sending shivers down Xena’s spine. “When I look into those eyes of yours it feels like I’m falling into the sky.”

Xena smiled and touched the Queen’s cheek. “I’m always here to catch you”, she promised. They came together for a kiss that seemed to last a lifetime, between them. Everything faded away as they lost themselves in the feeling of each other, the first true kiss of their blood bonding. Xena melted into her bard and was able to put aside the worry of Ares reappearing and Gabrielle, for her part, sank deeper into her warrior and forgot about the politics facing her the next day. Finally, nothing existed for either of them but the other.

“My Queen, if you’re going to grab breakfast and bath, you need to get up now.” a voice called from outside the hut.

Gabrielle moaned and threw an arm over her warrior’s stomach. She muttered something about another few minutes of sleep. She and Xena hadn’t slept much with the excitement of the attack from Ares, discovering Solan knew that Xena was his mother, calming the families down after the attack, and then a very long session of love making, the bard was tired and her muscles were refusing to move.

“We’ll be right there, thank you.” Xena called out.

“Hmmmph,” Gabrielle disagreed. The bard’s senses began waking up when she felt Xena’s soft lips slowly beginning to kiss a trail up the bard’s spine from her neck to her lower spine and then began working her way back up again. Gabrielle moaned in pleasure, her body stretching. The bard arched her neck as she felt Xena’s lips reach it and then felt a gasp torn from her as Xena’s hand reached between the bard’s legs, Gabrielle’s body instantly responding to her lover’s touch as the talented fingers began dancing between her folds and over her clit.

“Oh gods, you definitely know how to wake someone up!” Gabrielle whispered, grabbing onto the blanket that had gotten twisted under them.

“I can’t stop touching you,” Xena whispered back and half turned the bard over to kiss her roughly, her fingers entering her lover, causing Gabrielle’s body to begin trembling. Then her teeth sank roughly into the bard’s neck and Gabrielle grasped the edge of the bed with a whimper, her body rocking to a rhythm with her warrior. The Amazon Queen began a series of cries that escalated with the warriors strokes in and out, and with the thumb caressing her swollen clit.

“Gods, Xena!” Gabrielle hissed, biting into the blanket.

“Yes,” Xena whispered and then resumed biting and working the bard’s neck. The bard’s body stiffened and clamped down on the warrior’s hand, attempting to capture her fingers totally, as she climaxed. The bard screamed out her name into the blanket and then continued trembling, as wave after wave shook her body.
Gabrielle managed to catch her breath after a few moments, Xena holding her tight.

“You are incredible,” Gabrielle whispered, turning over to face her mate.

“So are you, little one.” Xena smiled back.

“I love you.”

“I love you. I wanted you for so long, now I can’t get enough of you.”

“When did you realize you were in love with me?” Gabrielle asked, running her fingers through Xena’s hair and down the warrior’s arm, sending shivers over the warrior’s spine.

“I thought you were cute from the start. I realized I was attracted to you very early. I remember feeling a twinge of jealousy when we dealt with the Titans.”

“You mean, when you thought I slept with a man?” the bard asked, a teasing lilt to her voice.

“Yup,” Xena agreed. “Then I had to face, it down the line, that I wasn’t only attracted to you. That I could deal with; but that I had fallen for you, as well. That was a little more to deal with.”

“I don’t remember exactly when I realized what I was feeling for you. All I knew was that I was thinking of you all the time and my feelings were definitely beyond the friendship thing.”

Gabrielle stroked her lover’s arm, a frown coming over her face.

“What is it, little one?” Xena asked softly, stroking the bard’s face.

“You were in love with me when I married Perdicus, weren’t you?” Gabrielle whispered.

“Oh boy,” Xena muttered. Gabrielle knew this was uncomfortable for both of them but she wanted the answers they had both avoided. She as feeling guilty about Perdicus’ death and having Menestratus, his brother, try to kill her and Xena didn’t help those feelings.

“Why didn’t you say anything?” Gabrielle whispered, sinking her head down into Xena’s chest.

“I thought you would be better with him and I didn’t think you could be interested in me. Did you marry him knowing you wanted me?” the warrior asked softly.

Gabrielle felt tears beginning to well up in her eyes and fought them back.

“Yes,” she admitted, finally giving it voice for the first time. “I didn’t think you wanted me. You treated me like a kid a lot then.”

“That doesn’t explain why you married him.” Xena muttered.

“He loved me very much and I was fond of him. I thought I could fall in love with him and we had a good start on a friendship. I thought it would be better than my parents if I couldn’t have you.” the bard whispered, beginning to cry.

“It’s not your fault he’s dead.” Xena held her wife closer.

“I know and yet it is.” Gabrielle insisted. “It’s mine, yours, Callisto’s, Menestratus’ and even Perdicus himself. If I had told you how I felt maybe he’d be alive.”

“He’d still be a soldier and maybe dead.” Xena reminded her of Perdicus’s chosen profession. “It’s not your fault, little one.”

“I know, it just hurts knowing I married him for the wrong reasons.”

“Those reasons are better than most people have when they enter a marriage, you know that.” Xena said simply.

“I know, I feel so guilty about his death! I’m sorry he’s dead but it brought me back to you!”

Gabrielle felt the warrior’s arms tighten around her and the bard finally let the guilt pour out. After a few moments the bard felt drained but better. Xena was stroking her head and holding her tight.

“I know, little one.” the warrior whispered. “I have the same guilty feelings. I wanted you happy but I thought I would die when you left. I didn’t know how to go on without you.”

“I love you so much!” Gabrielle hugged her mate tightly.

“We’re going to miss breakfast,” Xena reminded the bard.

“For once, my warrior mate, I am willing to miss breakfast.” Gabrielle grinned and began to kiss her warrior from the lips, down the chin and throat. The bard rolled her mate over onto her back and Gabrielle covered the warrior with her body, slowly working her way down the length of the bed. The bard began a dance with the warrior’s body, like playing a musical instrument, Gabrielle drummed and stroked her fingers across the tight stomach of her warrior and back to the aroused nipples.

Gabrielle moaned with pleasure as her lips and tongue found her lover’s wetness and she lovingly began a dance with her tongue. Moaning from the feeling of entering her lover with several fingers, Gabrielle almost missed her warrior moaning as well. The bard glanced up and saw Xena’s head thrashing back and forth on the bed, the warrior gritting her teeth as her body began shaking uncontrollably.

“Gods, yes, Gabrielle!”

The bard moaned herself as she drank in, of her mate. Again nothing existed for the two of them except each other and the sensations being aroused. Gabrielle felt herself giving over to the passion of her warrior, whimpering as Xena arched and then sat partially up to grasp the bard’s shoulders. As the warrior’s fingers dug into her skin the bard felt her own buildup beginning and increased the speed and intensity of her own devotion to Xena’s body. The younger woman felt like she could make love to her mate for all eternity, and never get enough. Gabrielle often thought that this must be what paradise would feel like, akin to the emotions and overwhelming joy that grabbed her heart and soul and body as she made love to Xena. The bard thought this must be what true worship of a Goddess was, total connection, total love.
Gabrielle felt Xena’s body stiffen and begin the strong spasms. She gasped herself as fingernails broke the skin on her shoulders and began leaving slight furrows. The bard looked up at her warrior’s face.

“Let go,” she whispered and was rewarded with Xena falling backward with a scream of the bard’s name, her body arching and spasming, over and over again. Gabrielle moved up Xena’s body and held her lover close.

When Xena regained her breath she shifted and Gabrielle eagerly fell into their most comfortable position, the bard’s head resting on her mate’s shoulder, arm thrown over the other woman’s ribs, still quivering from the intense onslaught from the Amazon Queen. Gabrielle sighed deeply as Xena wrapped an arm around her and they snuggled. Suddenly she felt Xena stiffen as the warrior brought a hand to her eyes.

“Oh gods, Gabrielle!” she exclaimed, starting to sit up but was stopped by the bard. “Your back!”

“Don’t worry about it, my love. I enjoyed every minute of it.” Gabrielle whispered softly with a smile, pushing her warrior back down.

“You’re bleeding!” Xena insisted.

“Yup, I think you marked me.” Gabrielle answered simply.

“Ack!”

“Besides, my love, when you get a look at your neck, I think you’ll find that I already marked you.” the bard smiled a mischievous grin.

“This will look good for the delegates.” Xena complained with a smile, settling back down with her lover.

“Oh well, they can go to Tartarus if they don’t like it.”

They both jumped at a pounding at the door.

“My Queen, I must insist!” Ephiny’s voice carried through the broken door. “You just have time to get dressed before receiving your guests!”

“I guess we better get up, little one.” Xena suggested with a laugh.

“Be right there, Ephiny!” Gabrielle called out.

Ephiny, meanwhile, noticed the guards wouldn’t meet her eyes. “How long have they been awake?” she demanded and watched her two sentries shift uneasily on their feet.

“Uh, a little while now.” one finally answered.

“Those two! I swear they can’t hold off for ten minutes!” she muttered.

A candlemark later and Gabrielle was in clean clothes and sitting with Ephiny while she and several Amazon elders ran down a list of visiting delegates and small details about them. After another candlemark the bard found herself rubbing her eyes and neck, lack of sleep and politics were giving her a headache. She glanced over and saw Iolaus nodding off in the corner, almost about to fall off his stool.

She reached out and threw an unlit candle at him and tried to keep from laughing as he fell off the stool backwards, hit his head in the corner and slid down the wall. The Kumbada looked up at his responsibility and grinned.

“Go on, get out of here. Ephiny and I will be talking for a bit longer.” Gabrielle ordered and the man quickly scurried out of the hut, his escort right behind him.

Ephiny grinned along with her Queen and elders. She had to admit that Hercules and Iolaus were good friends to the Queen and her Champion and Ephiny had to like them for that.

“Ephiny, remind our escorts that they should be like shadows, I want the delegates to be comfortable. The more comfortable someone is the more they talk.” the bard grinned.

“Yes, my Queen.” Ephiny grinned back. Over the seasons of being Queen, even an absent Queen, Gabrielle had impressed the life long Amazon. At first Ephiny had resisted the small woman, she hadn’t been trained as an Amazon, she wasn’t Amazon royalty and here the outsider was her Queen. Ephiny had come to respect Xena as a warrior and Gabrielle as an intelligent young woman who was up to the challenge of the office of Queen. Ephiny pitted anyone who underestimated her Queen on any level. “Did Rome send a delegation?” Gabrielle asked, almost holding her breath.

“Yes, my Queen. A Cohort of Praetorian guards, led by Brutus of Rome.” one of the elders answered.

“Thank the gods that Caesar didn’t decide to come,” Gabrielle breathed a sigh of relief. Just the sight of a Roman uniform would probably send her warrior reaching for her weapons, the bard knew.

That was one point Gabrielle didn’t think she’d ever get Xena to let up on, the warrior’s hatred for Caesar. The bard knew that the Roman had betrayed Xena’s trust, love (or was it lust) and had the warrior crucified and her legs broken on a cross. Gabrielle knew that was something Xena wasn’t likely to get over until Caesar was dead and she knew the warrior was hoping it would be at her hand.

“Ephiny, have someone keep an eye on them. Xena’s not known for rational thinking when it comes to Romans.”

“Yes, my Queen.” the Regent called an attendant over and whispered to the young girl who was off out the door with a dash.

“I take it Xena doesn’t care for Caesar?” one of the elders asked with a smile.

“No, if Caesar were here we’d have to tie her to a bed to keep her from wringing his neck.” Gabrielle smiled back.

After another candlemark Gabrielle called a halt to the session. She knew she had absorbed about all the information she could at that point. Ephiny grinned as the elders left and pointed to a cot alongside one of the walls.

“Grab some rest, I’m going to find out what the delegates have been talking about and send you some food. Seems my Queen missed breakfast this morning.” Ephiny teased.

Gabrielle smiled in return and rubbed her eyes, looking at the cot longingly.

“Go on, I’ll be back in half a candlemark, you can get some energy back before dressing for the ceremony.”

Gabrielle sank onto the cot with a sigh and was asleep instantly.

Gabrielle became aware of the body next to her, lightly running a finger up her thigh and under her skirt. The smell of leather was reassuring to the bard and she snuggled into the arm under her.

A frown crossed the bard’s face just as a hand reached her sex. Gabrielle opened her eyes.

“Ares!” without a thought she shoved the god right off the cot, dropping him on his tailbone next to the bed. She quickly swung upright and, again without thinking, tackled the warrior, hitting him up each side of his head while he threw up his forearms to block her blows. He finally grabbed her arms and threw her back onto the cot and stood up, holding up a warning hand to keep her sitting down.

“Hey, can’t blame a guy for trying!” he protested.

Gabrielle could feel that her face was an extreme shade of red. “What do you want?!” she hissed, regretting that her staff was by the door, all the way across the room.
“Just a friendly discussion,” he smiled, holding up his hands in a gesture of peace. Gabrielle’s eyes narrowed suspiciously.

“What do you want all ready?”

“What would make you happy?” Ares asked, sitting down on the edge of the table.

“What?” Gabrielle looked puzzled.

“What would it take to make you leave Xena?”

“Oh gods, you have got to be kidding! When will you ever give up?” she demanded.

“Never and I have a long life ahead of me. Why don’t you give up? You know the darkness in her is mine and that she’ll eventually go back to it.”

“Never! Why don’t you just leave before Hercules adds some more bruises?” Gabrielle snapped.

“Careful, or I’ll add some more to yours.” he hissed.

“Try it!” the bard tensed her muscles for a spring, not intending on being surprised again. “Artemis is probably really pissed at you right now.”

“She’s always pissed at me. I’m not giving up, you know.” Gabrielle blinked, staring at where he had been.

“Oh gods, why can’t that god get a life other than us?” she muttered and then broke into a smile when Xena entered with Ephiny. She quickly ran into the warrior’s arms and kissed her mate deeply.

The two finally broke apart when Ephiny coughed to get their attention.

“Sorry, you two, but you need to get dressed.” Xena grinned and noticed her bard blushing. “Your families are already dressed and, to keep everyone safe, both mothers and Lila are in masks and Amazon clothing. No outsiders will know they aren’t Amazons. Solan is with Hercules and Iolaus and no outsider knows who or where he comes from.”

“Thank you, Ephiny.” Xena said simply.

“Get dressed and I’ll send an escort for you both. Remember, Hercules and Iolaus will do the speaking for both of you. Too many people know the two of you throughout Greece, and several kingdoms outside of that. It wouldn’t be hard to figure out who the small blond and a tall dark haired warrior getting married are, if they hear your voices, or if you wear your traditional weapons.”

Xena reluctantly stepped out of her mates’ arms and loosened her chakram and handed it to Ephiny and then her sword.

“Brutus knows I’m here and I’m sure several other delegates also recognized me, won’t they miss me and put things together?” Xena asked.

“I’m going to have one my tall warriors dressed in your armor and your weapons with a mask and cloak on. Hopefully, they’ll figure it’s you. We’ll keep her away from most everyone, especially the delegates.”

Xena frowned at the sight of her weapons moving away from her, but sighed and began tugging at her armor.

“Let me do that, my warrior.” Gabrielle grinned, and began the familiar task of helping Xena out of her leather armor. She reached up and kissed the back of the warrior’s neck, and probably would have kissed more and longer if Ephiny hadn’t growled.

Gabrielle hurried, with a blush that only matched Xena’s.

“You two!” Ephiny complained with a smile.
The End
Healing

Storyline: A hurt and comfort beginning. Gabrielle is recovering from being poisoned at her wedding to Xena then things get complicated after Xena drinks some special wine from a God.

Joxer alert: sort of.
================================================================
“Xena, wake up and help me give Gabrielle some of this tea.” a voice insisted, cutting through the warrior’s sleep fuzzy awareness. She slowly opened her eyes and groaned. She was awake in an instant when she focused on the healer of the Amazons standing over her.

“What is it?” she asked, sitting up.

“I need to give Gabrielle some of this tea,” the healer repeated.

Xena sat up slowly and pulled the little bard into her arms, holding her head up. She frowned at how heavily the woman was sleeping. The healer managed to get most of the liquid down a semi-awake Gabrielle and watched until the bard slipped back to sleep again in Xena’s arms. The healer helped Xena position the bard back onto the bed. Xena carefully brushed a lock of hair out of the bard’s eyes and gently stroked Gabrielle’s cheek. She frowned as she felt the bard’s body still twitching sporadically.

Xena got up and pulled the healer to one side.

“What’s going on? What’s in the tea?” the warrior asked.

“Xena, Gabrielle is going to be very sick for awhile and in considerable pain. The poison those Romans slipped her at your wedding always kills. Those convulsions she went through usually shuts down the breathing and stop the heart. Her muscles may be ripped apart inside. At the very least they’re going to hurt like Hades hounds are tearing them apart. I want to keep her sedated as much as possible, the pain alone might still kill her.” the healer explained bluntly, putting away some of the herbs into jars.

“What do you mean ‘always kills.’?” the warrior questioned. “We got the antidote to her.”

“There never was an antidote, Consort.” the healer sat down at the table and motioned for the warrior to sit across from her. Xena’s eyes narrowed but she sat. The warrior was suddenly cautious and she had the feeling she wasn’t going to like what she heard.

“What do you mean? The Romans had it.”

“No, they had charcoal in that flask you got from the bodies. It’s meant to cause vomiting, probably in case they accidentally poisoned themselves with their own poison. The poison they used takes only a small amount and is deadly. The batch they had must have been old, not very potent or Gabrielle didn’t eat or drink all of it. I had already induced vomiting with charcoal while you were searching for the assassins.” the healer said in a very tired voice, rubbing a hand over her face. The warrior realized that the healer probably had gotten less sleep than Xena had in the last couple of days.
It had been a rough night, waiting to see if Gabrielle was going to live. Rough on everyone, Amazons, family, friends, lover and healer as they watched the bard trying to recover from the poison. All of them helpless as she thrashed in pain, occasionally screaming in the pain, mostly crying.

Xena had learned from her mother that the bard had been in agony while Xena was chasing down the bard’s assassins. Her body bent over backwards, spine bending against nature and then her head and legs would bend backward while her body thrashed forward. Xena hadn’t tried to stop her tears as she listened to her mother describe Gabrielle’s torture. The only relief seemed to come when the small woman slipped into a coma.

At first Xena had been thrilled beyond words when Gabrielle had managed to open her eyes but then the warrior had been terrified when she and the healer realized that the slightest touch on the bard’s skin would cause her to scream. The warrior wanted to scream herself, unable to touch her beloved bard was killing her.

“But she was scratched,” Xena frowned.

“Yes, probably during staff practice the day before or something. The poison was given to her either in her drink or food, probably slipped into her wine when they shook your hands in the receiving.”

“Then that might explain it, Gabrielle doesn’t drink much, she didn’t finish the wine.”

“Yes,” the healer agreed.

“What do we do for her?” Xena demanded.

“You’ll not be able to touch her for probably another few hours unless she’s asleep. I want to keep her sedated as much as possible for the next few days. After that, continual massage of the muscles, especially the legs and back. Keep the muscles stretched. Lots of liquid and sedated as much as possible. It may be awhile before we know if there is permanent damage to the muscles or internal organs. I’m still worried, Consort.”

“When did you know what type of poison it was?” Xena suddenly asked and the healer turned her eyes away.

“Almost immediately. I’ve seen this type of poisoning when visiting the Northern Amazons. They call the plant Cowbane. The dilation of the pupils, excess saliva and muscle twitching comes first, usually within minutes. Rapid pulse and breathing, shaking and then violent convulsions. Coma and death follow shortly.” the healer said softly.

“You knew there was no antidote?”

“Yes,” the healer admitted.

“You let me chase after those damned Romans while Gabrielle could have died? What if she had died while I was gone?” Xena’s eyes grew bright with anger.

“A judgment call, Consort. Once Gabrielle was unconscious there was nothing anyone could have done, she was either going to live or die. If she woke up, she’d live. If she didn’t, she would have never opened her eyes again.”

“I wouldn’t have been there!” Xena protested.

“Yes, that possibility was very likely.”

“Then why send me out on a wild chase?” Xena slammed her hand on the table.

“Was it a wild chase? It gave you something to do, a way to focus your energy, and it gave the Amazons and yourself justice.”

“If she had died?”

“I would have told all of you that the amount of the poison was too high and the damage too great for the antidote to work.” the healer admitted.

“You would lie.”

“Yes, being a healer means caring for everyone, not just the patient. You all knew she could die, that she probably would die. The antidote gave you, the family and the Amazons hope, it also kept the Amazons from killing all the delegates in their rage.” the healer smiled.

“I still don’t like being lied to.” Xena warned.

“I’ll not make a habit of it.” the healer smiled and promised. Xena growled and went back to her bard, taking the woman in her arms as she had so many nights before. Xena bit her lip until the healer left the hut before letting her tears fall. The bard’s arms, legs and head continued to twitch.

“I can’t lose you, little one, you are my light.” she whispered.

The healer had been correct, whenever Gabrielle woke up it was agony for the little bard. Her screams had awakened the warrior sleeping next to her and half the village.

The warrior leaping out of bed, mortified that she couldn’t hold Gabrielle and couldn’t seem to offer any other comfort than soothing words and singing to the little bard. The healer would quickly pry Gabrielle’s jaws open and force more of the sedative tea into the twitching body. Any noise, light or touch could send the bard whimpering and crying. Xena was beside herself and the healer looked beyond exhaustion.

A large number of the Amazon women kept a vigil outside the Healer’s hut, Ephiny and Solari among them. Hercules and Iolaus took turns pacing.

After another twelve hours the warrior found that she could touch Gabrielle once again and whispered a prayer of thanks that she could hold the bard in her arms once more, even if Gabrielle was still in agony. Again, the Amazon Queen woke everyone with her screams.

Xena quickly hit several pressure points and began massaging the muscles in the bard’s legs. Lila had run in and followed

Xena’s directions in rubbing Gabrielle’s other muscles until the healer had worked up another dose of sedative and got it down the bard.

Xena crawled behind her mate and held Gabrielle until the bard’s cries settled down into small whimpers and then back into sleep.

The warrior looked up in Lila’s tear filled eyes, tears that were matching her own.

“Healer, how long will this go on?” Xena asked quietly.

“Not long, Consort. As long as we keep the muscles stretched and massaged, the pain should ease up in a few days, getting less and less. I don’t think any muscles are permanently damaged, thank the gods.”

Xena held the bard close as the smaller woman’s body twitched with pain, even with the pain meds.

Lila curled up beside her sister, gently massaging the blonde’s arms and legs while Xena softly sang to her little bard. Hecuba came in later and relieved her younger daughter and began gently massaging Gabrielle’s muscles, tears streaming down her cheeks as Gabrielle thrashed in pain.

Cyrene then took over and forced her daughter Xena to go and eat something while she and Hecuba watched over Gabrielle. After another night the Healer finally made the announcement that she thought the Amazon Queen would live but it would be days before they knew the extent of any damage to her muscles or internal organs.
With a tired cheer the Amazons keeping vigil received the news.

It was a long week for the patient and her family. Even after the pain had subsided after four days it was still agony for the bard to try and move. Even more frustrating for the Amazon Queen was the weakness that now encompassed her body. Gabrielle felt as weak as a newborn kitten and felt as if she had been trampled by a Cyclops. The Queen had been surprised at the amount of time she had spent in a drugged sleep and very surprised at how sick she had been. It took awhile to sink in how close she had come to dying a very painful death and faced an even more painful recovery.

After a week the bard was able to move stiffly for short periods of time and started the long process of rebuilding her muscles and strength.

Xena was very impressed with the strength and stubbornness of her mate. It hurt the warrior to watch the small woman struggling with just walking until sweat stood out all over Gabrielle and her body shook with exhaustion and still the bard wouldn’t complain. She would just grit her teeth and struggle on until the warrior would sweep the Queen off her feet and make her rest.

Xena would share her mate’s tears as Gabrielle cried from the pain and exhaustion every night until the sedative tea would send her into sleep. Between Xena, her mother Cyrene, Hecuba and Lila they were able to keep Gabrielle comfortable enough to finally get through a night of sleep without the bard waking up screaming.

Xena and the family felt like they had been under a very long siege with little sleep, constant worry and tension.
Finally after nine days the Queen was able to get through a day without the pain herbs and the families were ready to return to their homes after a good night’s sleep for the first time in two weeks.

“Gabrielle, are you sure you won’t come home with us?” Hecuba asked again and the small blond woman smiled and hugged her mother.

“No, Mom. I’m better off here with the healer and Xena. You travel safe.” the Amazon Queen leaned heavily on the crutches that helped her get around while her leg muscles continued to improve.

“We’ll send Xena back immediately.” Hecuba promised and Gabrielle quickly hugged her sister and then watched Lila get into the wagon.

The Amazon Queen then turned to her mate, trying not to let the tears overwhelm her.

The sight of Xena always took the bard’s breath away. The tall warrior standing beside her beloved horse, Argo, in her leathers and weapons always sent a rush of heat through Gabrielle’s body. The bard reflected that she must be recovering if she was getting turned on again by her mate, she thought with a smile.

Looking in the clear blue eyes the bard became lost and rushed into her mate’s arms, fighting back the tears.

“Come back to me soon,” Gabrielle whispered as Xena stroked her hair.

“As soon as I can. You promise not to overdue it?”

Gabrielle looked up at her mate and attempted to smile. “Yes.”

“Good,” Xena bent down and lightly nibbled on the bard’s earlobe, sending shudders through her body. “I have plans for that body of yours and I don’t want you wearing yourself out.” the warrior whispered. Gabrielle moaned and held her mate close.

“Gods, Xena, you’d better get back here quick!” Gabrielle whispered and kissed the warrior deeply.
The Amazon Queen stood next to her Regent, Ephiny and watched the wagon with Xena mother, Cyrene and Gabrielle’s mother and sister leave the Amazon village.

“Gods, Ephiny, I miss them already.” the bard complained.

“Come on, my Queen,” Ephiny grinned. “Let’s see if we can stretch those muscles of yours with some bending exercises.”

Xena sat sharpening her sword while Hecuba finished cooking dinner for the small group. The warrior found herself missing Gabrielle very much. She had gotten used to their routine on the road and she found it a little weird having Gabrielle’s mother and sister taking up the bard’s space and chores. She also missed Gabrielle’s body next to hers during the night.

Hades, the warrior thought, she just missed Gabrielle terribly. It had been a long two days and nights.

Hecuba glanced over at the warrior and found herself smiling.

The warrior woman could look intimidating enough to scare a hydra, she thought, but she had also seen the softer side of Xena. The warrior holding her daughter during endless nights and days, attentive to the bard’s every need. The terror on Xena’s face when they thought Gabrielle might die. The endless days of pain and feelings of helplessness.

Hecuba knew from Apollo that Gabrielle had been fated a difficult future, to be soulmate with a dark soul. A soul that was destined to destroy the known world if her daughter Gabrielle hadn’t reached into that darkness and shined a light on the warrior’s lost soul. Gabrielle’s future had always terrified Hecuba and the mother had tried in small ways to fight against it.
She shook her head with her thoughts, she had thought her daughter had beaten the prediction when Gabrielle had married Perdicus only to have Callisto kill him the next day. Hecuba had accepted the Fates for her daughter when the bard rejoined Xena on the road.

Now that she had spent time with the warrior and had seen the depth of her love for Gabrielle, Hecuba was pleased with Gabrielle’s life and soul choice of mate. The mother had never seen such a love before between anyone. She knew that they would die for each other if it came to that.

Xena caught Hecuba glancing at her and watched the woman’s face. The warrior had been very much aware of how Gabrielle’s family felt about her and was pleased when Hecuba had came to the wedding and accepted the couple. It had been a difficult few seasons for both families, accepting the warrior and bard and their futures and their past. After learning the strange events surrounding Gabrielle’s conception and predicted future, Xena could understand why Hecuba had wanted something different for her daughter. Any mother would. Even Xena’s own mother hadn’t wanted Xena’s future until Gabrielle had come along.

The only one that wanted Xena as warlord, it seemed was Ares. Xena’s eyes narrowed and she frowned as she thought of the War God. Once again she found herself wishing that he would just give up on her already and leave them alone. Then the warrior sighed, she knew that wasn’t likely.

Xena was on her feet, sword at ready before Hecuba and Lila was even aware she had moved. They both froze as the warrior focused on the woods, on alert. Then they both heard a rattling and someone breaking through the brush. Xena seemed to relax, which seemed strange to the two women. She smiled and resheathed her sword.

“It’s a friend.” she said simply as Joxer the Mighty broke into the small clearing with a goofy grin.

“Joxer,” Xena said simply, suddenly feeling a little awkward. She knew Joxer’s feelings for Gabrielle, how in Hades was she going to explain their wedding without destroying him?

“Xena!” the young man broke into a smile and rushed to hug the warrior. Xena ignored the raised eyebrows of Hecuba and Lila. Finally he pulled back. “I’m so glad to see you! I was headed to the Amazon Village to see you and smelled your campfire.”

“Joxer, this is Gabrielle’s mother, Hecuba and her sister, Lila. This is Joxer, a friend of ours.” Xena turned the wanna-be warrior towards the family. They didn’t notice the clinching of his jaw but Xena did.

“Very happy to meet both of you. Is Gabby with you?” he asked, looking around hopefully.

“No, she’s staying in the Amazon Village while I take Hecuba and Lila home, we just dropped off my mother.” Xena answered, sitting back down on the rock, pulling out her sword and beginning to sharpen it again, giving herself something to do.

“Dinner’s ready, Joxer, if you’d like to join us.” Hecuba offered.

“Go ahead, Joxer, she’s a better cook than I am.” Xena grinned.

“Okay, I’d like that.” after getting a plate of food he sat down on the ground next to Xena’s rock. “You’re taking them home after your wedding to Gabrielle?”

Xena quickly glanced down but he refused to meet her eyes. “Yes, how did you hear?”

“I heard the Queen of the Amazons was getting married to a female. Knowing Gabrielle is Queen of the Amazons, I figured the rest out, I’m not totally blind.”

“Joxer, we didn’t want to hurt you.”

“I know that’s why you didn’t invite me and you were right, it does hurt.” Xena heard his voice threatening to break. “But I’m a big boy and as long as she’s happy then I’m happy.”

“Joxer, I love her.” Xena said softly.

“Good, that makes two of us.” the young man quickly got up and moved next to Gabrielle’s mother, coaxing stories about the young bard from her mother. Xena let him go, letting him deal with the pain on his own. She knew there was nothing she could offer him right then that could comfort him. He loved Gabrielle almost as much as she did.

The next morning Xena found that she was grumpy. For some reason the warrior hadn’t slept well the night before and her body ached, as if she had spent the night on guard duty. It was bad enough she hadn’t gotten much sleep while Gabrielle had been suffering but this didn’t help, she thought with a growl. She couldn’t shake a feeling of unease and barely heard Joxer talking to Hecuba and Lila.

“There’s an old abandoned shrine near here, near a cave behind a waterfall. I’m heading that way to make an offering in honor of Gabrielle and Xena’s wedding. Xena, would you like to go with me?” Joxer waited a moment and getting no response, called again to the warrior by the fire. “Xena, want to go with me?”

“Huh, yeah, sure.” the warrior rubbed the back of her neck, wondering why her hackles were going crazy. “After we drop Hecuba and Lila off at their place.”

“Okay.” Joxer agreed with a grin.

Within two candlemarks they had left the two women back in Potedaia and were retracing their steps back towards the river. Hecuba and Lila had wanted both of them to spend the night but after three nights on the road Xena was anxious to get back to her mate and didn’t want to impose Joxer on the family any more than possible.

As they got closer to the shrine the young man became unusually quiet and Xena chalked it up to his thoughts about Gabrielle.
When the inept warrior pulled the bushes back from the carved stone niche in the cliff face Xena was impressed. The shrine had been abandoned long ago but it had once been a dedicated and active shrine. It had obviously once held a statue of some kind and a small ledge for offerings. A simple shrine but one the gods delighted in.

“How did you know this was here?” she asked.

“Well, last season I was being chased…. I was chasing some bandits and stumbled onto the cave behind the waterfall. I fell climbing along the rocks and found the shrine.”

Xena resisted smiling at the description of Joxer being chased into the water. She peered close at the markings on the inside of the niche and frowned.

“I don’t recognize the marks.” she commented.

“I do, it was a small sect dedicated to Artemis. That’s why I chose this shrine for my offering, since Gabrielle is chosen by Artemis.”

“Good choice.” Xena agreed, keeping her thoughts to herself. Between Ares giving her grief, Apollo being Gabrielle’s father, Artemis choosing Gabrielle as a favorite and half the rest of them blessing the wedding, Xena had enough of the gods, thanks.
Joxer pulled out a flask of wine and muttered something and poured a small amount over the small ledge and then left two gold coins in the niche with more muttered prayers.

He was blushing when he stood up and faced the warrior as if embarrassed by the prayers. “I know warriors don’t pray but I was asking that my dreams for both of you come true.” he shrugged.

Xena smiled a friendly smile. “Thank you, Joxer.”

“Would you like to make an offering?” he asked, holding the flask out. Xena frowned. “It’s okay, it’s a special wine I brought for the occasion. Can’t hurt.” he grinned and the warrior took the flask.

Almost blushing herself, the warrior poured a small amount of wine over the ledge and reached into a pouch and pulled out a small but wonderfully designed carved rabbit made out of jade and shoved it into the niche.

“Say something!” Joxer encouraged.

Xena growled but turned back to the shrine. “Okay, may the spirit of this shrine offer their blessing.” she muttered.

“Good, shall we drink a small drink to your happiness?” Joxer asked and took the flask. With a grin he took a very long pull from the wineskin.

“Joxer,” Xena began but he held up his hand, toasting with Joxer was feeling strange.

“I’m doing my best, Xena. I want you both to be happy.”

“Okay.” Xena took the flask and raised it salute and then drank deeply of the sweet wine.

The warrior suddenly dropped the flask with a cough and stumbled into the wall of the cliff. She looked over at Joxer but couldn’t seem to focus. Xena went to her knees, unable to keep her balance.

On her hands and knees the warrior looked up at the figure standing over her.

“Hello, Xena.” a strong voice said simply.

“Ares?” The warrior fell forward onto the ground.

“That’s me, sweetheart. Welcome back.” strong hands began to lift her as darkness claimed her mind.

****

“Xena!”

Ephiny and Solari both broke from their hut at top speed, racing towards the Queen’s hut. Inside they found an Amazon guard struggling with the Queen, trying to keep the young woman still.

Ephiny and Solari quickly went to the bard’s bedside, helping hold her down as she struggled out of a dream.

“Gabrielle!” Ephiny cried out. “Gabrielle! Wake up!”

After a moment the bard stopped struggling and looked into the hazel eyes of her friend, blinking rapidly. With a whimper she sank back onto the bed. Ephiny nodded, dismissing the guard.

“Something’s wrong with Xena.” the Amazon Queen whispered, staring at the ceiling.

“It was just a dream,” Solari stroked the blond woman’s forehead.

“No, it was different, something is different.” Gabrielle sat up in her bed, tears filling her eyes. “The connection, something’s blocking us.”

“What do you want us to do, my Queen?” Ephiny asked.

“Get the shaman.” Gabrielle muttered as she reached for a robe.

***

Xena opened her eyes slowly, and turned over quickly as whatever she last ate decided it was going to come back up. It was a few moments before the warrior was able to focus her eyes and look around from her hands and knees.

A cave, water, dark. Fire on the other side of the cave with a figure with its back to her. She knew the shape instantly.
“Ares.” she said softly.

“Sorry about the vomiting, it’s an unfortunate side effect of the special wine you drank.” he said as he turned around.

Xena sat back against the cave wall, a surprised look on her face. “You’ve changed?” What happened to his long hair? What was with the fancy cut of his beard? Earring?

The War God grinned at her. “So have you.”

The warrior looked down and frowned at herself. “This isn’t my usual armor.” she commented.

“It is these days.”

Xena’s eyes narrowed. “What does that mean?”

“You’ve lost a couple of years there, kid. I just brought you back to what you were.” Ares sat down on his haunches in front of the warrior.

“Years? I don’t believe you.”

“When have I ever lied to you?” Ares asked, somehow keeping a straight face.

“We’ll ignore that one. What happened to me, why do I feel funny?” Xena demanded.

“Well, I took your mind back to a short time before your army attacked a small village named Cirra. That tiny little village was your downfall, my love.” Ares sat down, getting more comfortable.

“My what? I’m one of the most powerful warlords in the world.” Xena growled.

“Were,” Ares corrected. “You’ve got a lot of time to make up for. What do you want for your future, Xena?”

“What kind of question is that? What I’ve always wanted, the power to control fate itself. The ability to rule nations, what else is there for me?” Xena asked with a frown.

“Exactly my thoughts and our plan from the start.” Ares grinned. “Let me tell you a story of a fallen warlord. A couple of years ago you showed weakness, you spared the lives of some insignificant villagers and attempted to punish your men for trying to wipe out that rebellious village.”

“I am not weak!” Xena hissed.

“I know but something happened and you showed weakness and they forced you out of your army with a gauntlet. You barely survived.” Ares looked so concerned that Xena was surprised.

“Why can’t I remember this?”

“The wine was a special mixture, I’m giving you a chance to think clearly and choose your path unbiased without any outside influence.” Ares shrugged.

“Outside influence?”

“The other gods have been meddling in our plan, my love.”

Xena growled. “Go on,” she demanded.

“You were nearly beaten to death, the first one to ever survive the gauntlet. Injured, you went back to your village to try and heal. Are you sure you want to hear this?” Ares suddenly sounded concerned again.

“Go on,” she demanded.

“Your mother turned her back on you and turned you over to the unhappy villagers. They were in the process of stoning you to death when Draco arrived. You two had a disagreement about who would be Warlord and you fought, you were still injured and barely fought to a stand still. Draco let you live and sent you on your way.”

Xena couldn’t believe her mother had turned her away, the Warlord also couldn’t believe that she had turned to her mother for help. She must have been hurt badly, she thought.

Ares moved next to Xena and pulled her close to him, extending an arm around her shoulder.

“It was then that the gods sent someone into your life, a little irritating blond bard female. With Apollo’s powers she turned your head and preyed on your weakness.” he continued.

“Impossible! I trust no one!” Xena protested.

“Not even me?” Ares grinned.

Xena grinned back at him. “Especially you.”

“Good, keep it that way and you’ll live longer.”

“The bard?” she questioned.

“With help from Hercules,” he grinned at her frown at the name of the demi-god. “she turned your mind away from the conquest, away from the battle. You’ve been traveling around for the last couple of years, fighting against warlords and bandits. Doing ‘good’ deeds. She seduced you with the help of Apollo and Aphrodite.”

Xena snorted and leaned up to nuzzle his neck, sending shivers down the War God’s body. “And where were you during all this time of my madness?” she whispered.

“Busy with the gods and their meddling. With Apollo and Artemis protecting the bard, it wasn’t easy to get to you. You made a sacrifice at one of my ancient shrine and called on me, finally. I was able to get you back.” he muttered as he took the warrior into his arms and slid down the wall of the cave onto his back, pulling the dark warrior with him.

“How do I get my army back?” the warrior whispered, biting the war god’s earlobe.

“First you kill the bard and then the army. How about we discuss that in the morning?” he suggested as she bit down on his neck. “It’s been too long, Xena.” he whispered.

Neither of the warriors heard a splash of water in the twilight.

***

The shaman moved around the Queen slowly, chanting and dancing, filling the small and dark hut with incense as she carried the burning bowl around the room. Gabrielle bit the inside of her mouth to keep from crying out. She had pulled a back muscle during her nightmare and wasn’t too comfortable sitting on the ground. She closed her eyes to concentrate on her breathing.
Gabrielle opened her eyes when the priestess sat down in front of the Queen, placing the burning incense between them, filling the space with smoke. She took a rattle and began intoning again, shaking the rattle all around Gabrielle’s head and body. The Queen waited.

After a few minutes the priestess put the rattle down and took up a dagger. She gently took Gabrielle’s hand, the same one she had bonded to Xena with. With a quick stroke the bard found her hand bleeding once more. The priestess let the blood drip into a bowl and then wrapped the hand with a bandage as she peered into the bowl, chanting and singing.
After what seemed like forever to the bard the priestess sat back and closed her eyes for a moment. When she opened them Gabrielle saw the woman she was accustomed to seeing around the village and not the priestess she had just seen in a trance. The woman doused the incense and poured the blood onto the ground floor.

“Come, let’s go into the sunlight.” she suggested, helping the bard to her feet. She noticed the wince from Gabrielle. “You’ve injured yourself again.”

“Yes, during the nightmare.” Gabrielle explained as she hobbled out of the priestess hut. She blinked against the bright sunlight and was momentarily blinded. The priestess led them to the tree line and they sat under a very friendly looking oak.

“It’s not good, my Queen,” the priestess began.

“I know that, it never is when I get these types of dreams.”

“The dark one has lost her light and her connection to you.”

Gabrielle felt a chill settle over her body. “No,” she whispered.

“Yes, something or someone has stolen that light.” the priestess said slowly.

“How?” Gabrielle demanded.

“I don’t know, just that it’s not natural and not of this world.”

“Ares!” Gabrielle was suddenly on her feet shouting. The priestess was surprised at the speed with which the Queen moved but not the intensity of the emotions. “I know you’re involved with this, show yourself!” she yelled, ignoring Ephiny and Solari running towards them.

Gabrielle’s jaw clinched when the War God appeared in front of her. The priestess was sure the Queen would have attacked the War God if she had a weapon to hand, the Queen was shaking with rage.

“What have you done!?” she demanded through clinched teeth.

“Undone your damage. She’s mine.” with a laugh he lifted his chin, revealing a beginning love bruise on his neck and was gone just as Gabrielle launched herself at his face with a scream.

The Amazons were stunned as their Queen lay on the ground, wincing in pain. “Damn you, Ares. I’ll personally cut them off and hang them from my staff!” Gabrielle threatened.

“Gabrielle?” Ephiny questioned as she and her mate helped the Queen to her feet. The bard cried out in pain, grabbing at her back.

“Back to my hut, please.” the bard hissed.

***
================================================================

Xena was pacing back in forth in the cave when Ares suddenly appeared.

“Where have you been?” she demanded, grabbing him in a kiss.

“Had some business to take care of.” he grinned.

“Now, what’s the plan to get my career back on track?” Xena asked.

“First, we eliminate the power of that little irritant out of your life and then you take Draco’s army from him.”

“Why bother with the woman? I’ve got my mind right again.” Xena questioned with a frown.

“Because she has been influenced by the gods, they could use her again to trick you. We get rid of her and no one can stand in your way again.” he pulled out of her embrace and walked to the entrance of the cave, peering through the waterfall. “Besides, it’ll help your reputation.”

“What about my reputation?” Xena demanded. Ares could feel her moving up behind him, could feel her dangerous energy but remained with his back to her.

“You’re the laughing stock of Greece, Rome and several other countries as well.” he said simply.

“What!? I am the most feared warrior in this part of the world!” Xena yelled.

“Not anymore, babe. You fell for a bard, left your warrior ways and married her, becoming a simple consort to the Queen of the Amazons.”

Ares turned in time to see Xena’s face go pale and then red with rage.

“Married a bard? I was willing to be a consort and not the Conqueror?” she whispered in disbelief.

“Yup. You have no title, warrior, other than Consort to a small woman.” Ares pushed verbally.

“I couldn’t marry anyone!” the warrior protested.

“You did, even Caesar laughed at that one.”

“Caesar?” the warrior whispered. Ares disappeared in a flash of light as the warrior lost her final control and went into a berserk fury.

It was a couple of hours before the War God approached the cave again. He was delighted with himself. He had Xena back, she would get rid of her last tie to the path she had been on and she would be his totally and forever. Maybe they would even challenge Athena to her title of War Goddess, he thought with a grin. Not only that, he grinned even wider, she was still a tiger in bed. Gods, even he couldn’t’ keep up with her. For a moment the War God wondered how the little frustrating bard could. Then he shook his head.

He found the warrior tired but still angry, just the way he liked her.

“Once I kill her we get back to business?” Xena demanded.

“You bet. You and me and the world for our taking.” Ares promised.

“Where is she?”

“Let’s go.”

***

Gabrielle sat up wincing as a familiar figure burst into the hut and into her arms.

“Lila? What on earth?” she asked as her young sister burst into tears. Gabrielle wasn’t surprised when Ephiny and Solari followed behind the teenager.

“She came riding in here at full speed on Argo.” Ephiny explained all she knew.

“Argo? Lila, talk to me, what’s wrong? Where’s Xena?”

Everyone was wondering that one, for Argo to let anyone ride her except Xena or Gabrielle would be amazing.

The teen attempted to slow her tears down. She pulled back in the embrace and looked at her older sister and Gabrielle was shocked. The dark haired teenager looked like she had been through a whirlpool, twice. Her hair was disheveled, face covered with road grime and she looked exhausted.

“Solari, get some water and some food. Now, Lila, take a deep breath and tell me what happened.” Gabrielle ordered.

“I, …. we were on the way back home after leaving Cyrene when we ran into someone named Joxer,” Lila began.

“That would ruin my day,” Ephiny muttered and Gabrielle glared at her with a grin.

“Xena knew him and introduced us. He suggested they stop at a shrine on their way back here to celebrate your wedding.” Lila continued.

“He knew about the wedding?” Gabrielle frowned.

“Yes, I heard him tell Xena that he heard the Queen of the Amazons got married, knew it was you and that the only one you’d turn to would be Xena.”

“Go on,” the bard encouraged.

“Something wasn’t right!” Lila wailed, pulling at the hem of her tunic in nervousness. “Xena was jumpy as a cat and didn’t sleep well. She kept looking around like she was expecting an attack or something. I thought it was Joxer. He made my skin crawl.”

“Joxer? He’s about as dangerous as rabbit.” Ephiny complained.

“I know, he seemed such an idiot but something wasn’t right about him. After we got home I talked with Mom and she had the same feeling. She let me follow them.” Lila whispered.

Gabrielle was stunned. Hecuba? Her mother let Lila follow Xena when it might be dangerous? Wow.

“What happened?” Gabrielle urged gently. Solari entered with a tray of food and an Amazon guard entered with fresh water and soap root. “Eat something and tell us between bites.” Gabrielle ordered.

“I followed them. Xena should have heard me! I know that!” Lila looked like she was about to cry again and Gabrielle gathered the younger girl in her arms again.

“She’s right, she should never have gotten near them.” Ephiny agreed.

Gabrielle nodded. “See about some clean clothes for her while Ephiny gets her to eat.” the queen ordered the guard who nodded and was gone.

After a few moments they managed to get Lila seated at the table and eating.

“I found them at a cave behind a waterfall. I saw Xena fall to the ground unconscious and Joxer changed.” she whispered.

“Changed? How?” Ephiny questioned.

“He became someone else.” she whispered, stopping eating with the impact of the memory. “Xena called him Ares.”

Gabrielle surprised her Regent and little sister by swearing a string of curses that would have made a Corinth dockworker proud and then turned to her sister to continue.

“He took her into the cave and I went into the water to listen.”

“What, it’s freezing in the water.” Ephiny was impressed with the teens courage and tenacity.

“When Xena woke up she was different too.” Lila frowned.

“How was she different,” Gabrielle questioned softly.

“I don’t know, her eyes were hard and her face was tight.”

Then Lila went on to describe the conversation Xena had with Ares and how he had twisted the truth of Gabrielle and Xena’s relationship and the bard’s love for Xena. She began to blush when she started to reach the end of her tale, remembering how the warrior woman had been in the arms of the War God.

Gabrielle caught Lila’s blush and remembered the bruise on Ares’ neck. She clinched her teeth.

“It’s all right, Lila. Ares was here and made it clear that Xena was once again in his bed.” she said softly, her eyes blazing green. “Did you ride all night and day to get here?”

“What do we do?” the teenager cried as she nodded.

“First we get you some rest, they’ll be about a day behind you. I know Ares, he’ll take is time getting her here to twist her mind and body some more before she meets me.” Gabrielle said aloud.

“Gabrielle, we can’t let her near you.” Ephiny said softly.

“We’ll figure it out,” Gabrielle countered.

“She dies before she gets near you,” Ephiny insisted.

“No! There has to be a way!” Gabrielle smacked the bed she lay in and winced with the pain the motion brought.
“You can’t even sit up right now!” Ephiny protested.

“I’m not going to fight her, I’m going to talk to her.”

“She’ll kill you before you get the chance.” Ephiny said angrily.

“That’s a chance I’ll have to take.” Gabrielle’s jaw took on that familiar stubborn set.

“You’re Queen of the Amazons, it’s not just your life we’re talking about.” Ephiny pressed harder.

“I know that and I have to succeed. If she kills me and gets away, which is possible for her, then all the Amazons throughout the known world will be after her. It won’t take her long to gather an army, especially with the help of Ares – we’re talking a major war.”

“I know that, but I can’t risk you! Let me take your place here.” Ephiny insisted.

“No, Ares would warn her of that. If we don’t stop her here then Greece would soon be at war with Rome and the entire civilized world might fall into darkness.” Gabrielle stated simply.

“Rome?” Ephiny frowned.

“Now that Caesar has control of Rome Warlord Xena would stop at nothing to bring Caesar and Rome down, even it meant every man in Greece falling in the battle.” Gabrielle predicted.

“Oh gods, this could be the end of anything good.” Ephiny realized and Gabrielle nodded, remembering one of the fates Xena had been destined for before she met Gabrielle.

“Ephiny take Lila and get her cleaned up. I’ve got some thinking to do.” the Queen ordered.

Once the two women had left Gabrielle pulled out the feather and bead necklace with the sun symbol in the center. “Apollo, can you come to me?” she whispered.

A brilliant light filled the hut and the most handsome man the bard had ever seen stood before her, surrounded by light. He smiled and sat down on the edge of the bed.

“I can’t answer much, Gabrielle.” he warned.

“Can you help?” she asked bluntly.

“No.” he shook his head with a sadness. “We thought you had won the fight for Xena’s soul and the world wasn’t threatened by her darkness any longer but now there’s a very real possibility that she will live out her dark destiny and destroy the world and us.”

“We beat that once! I can do it again!” Gabrielle insisted.

“I hope so, but we can’t help. This comes under that unknown fate thing. If you succeed then your destiny becomes clear again, if not then everything is headed for darkness.”

“But we had won!” Gabrielle protested. “Ares twisted it somehow, he interfered!”

“Yes, and our hands are tied because we play a little more fair. It that right? I don’t know. Most of us would love to zap your mate back to her right mind and kick Ares all the way across Tartarus but we can’t help.” Apollo said softly.

“Can any of you help in anyway?” Gabrielle asked.

“Not that we can think of. Artemis is beside herself with anger and taking it out on target practice. Aphrodite and Cupid are fuming, the world may not see any new love for a week. Athena is planning and plotting revenge.” Apollo complained.

“What about keeping Ares out of the picture when I face Xena?” Gabrielle asked.

“You can’t face her. He’s twisted your relationship until she is battle frenzied just thinking about you. She’ll see any talk as an attempt to trick and twist her mind. Xena will kill you before she lets you talk.” Apollo protested.

“I have to try, isn’t that my destiny?” a tear slowly fell down the bard’s cheek and Apollo brushed it away with tenderness.

“We’ll keep him busy.” he promised and was gone.

Gabrielle allowed herself to break into tears.

***

Xena was more than pissed, everything was upside down in her world now. Even Argo was gone, someone having switched Argo for a simple farm horse before she and Ares had left the cave. Ares had shrugged and dismissed the incident, not quite understanding how much she loved that horse. Not even the gods would be able to help whoever had taken Argo when she caught up with them, she promised herself.

How had it gotten so confused? How had she gotten to this point? She was Xena, Destroyer of Nations, damnit! Last thing she remembered was having an army that was wiping out everything in it’s way. Now Ares was telling her that she had no
money, no army, no power, and only a reputation as a good fighter.

It all seemed to center around the woman Ares said she had married, a private bonding and a public bonding. Xena, Conqueror of Nations, getting married to someone? Accepting the title of Consort instead of Conqueror? Xena shook her head, it didn’t make sense! How had this woman twisted her up so badly? What power of the gods did she hold over the warlord?

Gabrielle, Ares had called her. A simple bard from Potedaia that had become Queen of the Amazons and conqueror of Xena.
The warrior growled, no one conquered her, not even Ares!

Ares, riding alongside Xena, noted the warrior’s growl and fierce look of rage but held his tongue. He had been working hard on the warrior’s mind and was content to let it all simmer and boil. Soon the irritating little bard would be dead and Xena would be lost to the light forever. The battles to come would be glorious!

“Ephiny, I want you to get Lila as far away as you can before Xena gets here, and take Argo with her. Send her to the caves and get a message to the Centaurs to get Solan to safety. We have no idea what will happen if she escapes here and is still Warlord.” Gabrielle ordered.

“Yes, my Queen.”

“Next, I want you to let Xena through,” Gabrielle held up a hand, cutting off the protests from Ephiny, the Elders and the battle leaders. “This isn’t open for debate. I have to try. If I fail then I’ll attempt to kill her myself,” Gabrielle’s voice threatened to break and tears threatened to spill over but the Queen fought both down. “If I fail then I want you to kill her as quickly and painlessly as possible. This isn’t her fault and she’s been a good friend to the Amazon Nation for the past few years.”
The Elders and Battle leaders nodded in agreement.

“Next, send word to Hercules and Iolaus that I’m in trouble and explain what’s happened. If we can’t stop her here then maybe they can.”

“My Queen, she doesn’t remember you and Ares won’t be around, let me take your place, please!” Ephiny begged.
All of the battle leaders immediately volunteered as well.

“No, this is my destiny, or part of it. She’ll know, the connection isn’t broken totally, I’m counting on that.” Gabrielle smiled at her Regent. “Thank you, thank all of you but I have to do this.”

“My Queen,” one of the battle leaders protested, “You can’t even stand!”

“No, but that doesn’t matter, I couldn’t take her in a fight anyway. This will be a different kind of battle. Now, go, she’ll be here after dark.” Everyone started to leave the hut, none of them happy with the plans for the coming night.

“Ephiny, please send the healer to me.”

“Okay.”

A few minutes later the healer entered the hut and approached the Queen.

“I need to be able to move without too much pain. I’m not going to fight but I need to move without crying out in pain. Can you give me a light painkiller or something to block the pain?” the Queen asked.

“Yes, it will help a little. I’ll try and keep the dose low enough to where you’re not too fuzzy.”

“That would be best.”

***
Xena was amazed at the skill of the Amazon guards. It had taken all of her measurable skills not to be spotted by the guards and scouts. She had no hesitation about killing any of them but she didn’t want an alarm raised and from observation she knew that she couldn’t get into the village and out again before one of the guards or scouts was missed.

It had taken her longer than she had wanted to get to the village but she was confident she could get out again before dawn. At least Ares had been helpful enough to provide her with a layout of the village before he disappeared, cursing at Aphrodite about something. That suited the warrior, she needed to kill her former mate without the god’s help to reclaim her reputation.
The warrior stopped for a moment. Mate? This woman must be incredible to have conquered the Conqueror, Xena thought. Ares had described her as “irritating” and “little.” Xena was puzzled and curious.

The warrior shook it off and moved like a night demon through the village.

Ephiny, waiting in a nearby tree, shook her head. If she hadn’t been watching the same spot for over the last two hours, she never would have seen the warrior enter the Queen’s hut. The Regent reflected that it was a good thing they knew the warrior was coming or they wouldn’t stand a chance at stopping her. The Regent opened the hood of the lantern she carried, once and quickly. They had decided against noise since the warrior was notorious for her uncanny hearing ability and Xena probably wouldn’t see a single flash of light from the hut.

Ephiny knew that a large number of Amazon warriors were moving into position. If anyone moved out of the hut without a recognition signal they would be bathed in light and arrows in the same instant. The Regent also knew that if Gabrielle were forced to kill Xena and actually succeed that the Queen probably wouldn’t live long after that. Soulmates rarely outlived their mates for very long.

Ephiny found herself beginning to pray for both women in the hut.

***
Gabrielle felt the change of energy in the hut and quickly drew in her breath, her heart skipping a beat. The next few moments could determine the future of her and Xena and possibly the world. She took a deep breath.

“Xena, I know you’re there. I want to light a lamp if you’ll let me. I want to see your face when you strike the blow.” Gabrielle said softly and heard a creak of leather. It seemed like forever before a voice came out of the darkness.

“All right, one wrong move and you’re dead.”

Gabrielle, knowing the warrior’s night vision and skills, moved very slowly, sitting up carefully and reaching slowly to strike flint and spark. The bard closed her eyes against the flash of light and then opened them to light the lamp next to her bed. She carefully turned, sitting on the edge of the bed.

The bard tried to fight down the wave of fear that struck at her when she caught sight of the warrior, of her mate. Xena was in her battle gear, sword drawn, crouched like a cat very near the bed.

“You’re here to kill me anyway,” Gabrielle stated simply.

“Yes,” Xena agreed, eyes constantly darting around for hidden dangers.

“I give you my word as Amazon Queen that no one will enter this hut until I give them permission.”

“You knew I was coming.” Xena stated, straightening up, keeping the sword at ready.

“Yes,” Gabrielle acknowledged.

“The Gods are helping you again.” the warrior spat the words out like venom.

“No, my sister followed you and stole your horse. She heard you planning to come here.” Gabrielle attempted a small smile.

“That explains Argo. What say we get this over with, Queen. I’ve a feeling I’m going to have to fight my way out of here.” Xena said with a grin that sent chills down the bard’s spine.

“All right, but first I’d like a warrior’s promise from you.”

“What could you want me to promise before you die?” Xena questioned, cocking her head to one side. The woman in front of her puzzled her and Xena wanted out of here quickly. The one called Gabrielle was small for an Amazon, Xena reflected. Golden reddish hair and a beautiful face, lovely green eyes. All right, the Warlord thought, she’s beautiful, but my mate? The Warlord’s experienced eyes could also tell the Queen had recently either been injured very badly or very ill, her face was slightly gaunt and tight with controlled pain, even though the Queen sought to hide it. Her movements were intentionally slow, as not to startle the Warlord but there was also stiffness and pain behind the movements.
Xena waited for the request before striking.

“That you’ll never approach Solan or hurt him.” Gabrielle said simply and noticed the warrior’s rapid blinking in response to her son’s name.

“How do you know about Solan?” Xena demanded, moving forward quickly, the point of the sword at Gabrielle’s throat.

“We’re bondmates, soulmates. I know about Solan. He was at our wedding and he also figured out that you’re his mom and is very proud of you. I don’t want you destroying that memory. It’ll be difficult enough for him when he hears you’ve returned as the Warlord.”

Xena frowned. “What should I care what he thinks? He wouldn’t understand.” she muttered.

“No, he wouldn’t. Just like I never did and never will. I fell in love with a different Xena, so did he.” Gabrielle said softly, slowly moving the blade away from her throat.

“Love? You were sent by the gods to destroy me.” Xena sneered.

“No, I found my soulmate, whether you destroyed me or not with your darkness. No matter what, I love you and won’t live without you.”

“You’re trying to trick me with fancy talk.” Xena growled and raised the sword over the bard’s neck.

“No, I’m letting you know that I love you, even if you kill me now. I also want you to know that if you do this then you’ll find yourself in Tartarus very soon and that I’ll be waiting.”

“What, to torment me for eternity? Aren’t you bound for the Fields?” Xena smirked.

“Yes, I believe so but I’ll choose to be in Tartarus waiting for you. Not to torment you but to face whatever eternity is your destiny, together. I’m counting on you remembering our love on the otherside.” Gabrielle said.

“What?” Xena whispered.

“I told my father when he confronted me about my feelings for you that I would face an eternity in Tartarus with you and I meant it.” Gabrielle said simply.

Xena lowered the blade with a frown. After a moment she raised it again with a snarl.

“You brought me down from warlord to wandering warrior, not again!” Xena growled.

“And you brought me from simple farm girl to one who has known love. You saved me and my village women from slavers. That’s how we met. Did Ares tell you that?”

“You’re twisting things!” Xena hissed.

“No, I’m not. Do you trust anyone?” Gabrielle stood up and faced the warlord.

“No, not even Ares.” Xena admitted.

“Look at your hand, your left hand.” Xena looked down at the healing wound and was stunned to see a similar wound on the bard’s left hand. “We were blood bound by the gods themselves. You trusted me with your love and I gave you my heart.”
Xena frowned, sword lowering slowly. Blood bond? She would never trust anyone like that, not even Ares, she thought. Blood bond? Tying together of souls for eternity?

“When we met you had been driven out of your army because you tried to save a small infant and a little girl. Your army went against your orders and killed everyone and everything, men, women, children, even the animals. They put you through a gauntlet, almost killing you. Hercules and Iolaus found you and tried to convince you to change your ways, they saw a light in you.”

The bard approached the warrior slowly, keeping her hands in sight.

“Then you decided to give up your weapons, YOU gave up your warlord past. We hadn’t even met yet, Xena. You were burying your weapons when the slavers attacked us. You rescued us and I followed you.”

“Why? How do I know this is the truth?” Xena demanded, her head spinning.

“Because if you search your heart and soul you’ll find me there. I followed you because I had to.” Gabrielle shrugged. “I don’t know why, truly. I couldn’t stay in the village any longer, I knew I was destined for something more than that and that you were part of it. When your mother refused to believe that you were changing and that you wanted to protect the village from Draco, I helped talk the villagers out of killing you.”

“Wait a minute! I was trying to convince my mother that I wasn’t the warlord anymore?”

“Yes, you even left your sword on the bar and walked out of her inn.”

“Never!” Xena protested.

“Yes, you were determined to prove it to her, even if took years. When Draco attacked you made a single challenge to him and won, forcing his army to leave the village alone.”

“Ares said I didn’t win.” Xena muttered.

“If you hadn’t Amphipolis wouldn’t be standing. You refused the treasure wagons and moved on, satisfied when your mother accepted you once again. Then I kept following you until you grew used to me.”

“I didn’t take the money?” Xena finally allowed her curiosity to win out over the battle warrior screaming inside for her to simply kill the small woman and get out of there. Her mind screaming that she was falling into a trap. The warrior sat down in a chair at the table, replacing the sword in her hand with her chakram. Both Gabrielle and Xena knew that the bard wouldn’t be able to take a step before the chakram could cut her down.

Gabrielle grinned. “You refused.”

“You must have been annoying in the beginning, you talk a lot.” Xena grumbled.

Gabrielle moved slowly to the other chair, keeping her hands in sight. “Yup, no doubt about it but you came to like my stories and we came to be friends and then partners.”

“Ares calls you ‘irritating,'” Xena commented.

“Want to hear what I call him?” Gabrielle countered with a grin and was pleased when Xena grinned back.

“No, not right now. You’re telling me that we travel around doing good things?” Xena looked extremely doubtful.

“Yes,” Gabrielle answered simply.

“Why?” Xena demanded.

“Well, you found that kicking the Tartarus out of bad guys more satisfying than picking on defenseless villagers.” Xena grinned at the thought of that. “You were quite pleased with yourself when you defeated Draco that time. You leap into battle with your famous warcry and a grin on your face, this time facing equal opponents. Men and women armed and attempting to kill you or someone else. Not terrified villagers defending their homes.”

Xena growled.

“When did we become lovers? How did that happen? From what you describe I don’t think that I just grabbed you on the first night and you stuck around.”

“No, you were patient.” Xena again gave her a doubtful look and Gabrielle laughed at the warrior. “We were both so terrified of losing each other’s friendship that we kept our feelings to ourselves until we nearly went mad.”

“You weren’t sent to seduce me?” Xena whispered.

Gabrielle blushed a beet red. “Would the gods send an inexperienced virgin farmgirl to the Conqueror?” she managed to stammer out.

“Probably not. When did it happen?” Xena was now extremely curious.

“Recently, actually. We finally figured out that the other one was feeling the same emotions and desires and finally acted on them. You asked me to marry you before we even kissed.” Gabrielle said carefully, watching Xena’s reactions.

“No way!” the warrior protested.

“Yes, truth. In my parent’s barn. You took your chakram off and laid it, your sword and your dagger at my feet and pledged your love for me. I pledged my love to you in return and stood down my father. We became lovers the next morning.” Gabrielle felt her face flush with the memory of the first time with Xena.

Gabrielle felt her breathing speed up as she closed her eyes with the memory. She let the emotion and desire flow over her, knowing Xena was watching her. Sunning on a rock after a cold swim, the warrior had surprised the bard and quickly showed the bard how much Xena desired the blond woman.

Xena’s eyes narrowed as Gabrielle opened her eyes. A warrior’s pledge? Xena? The warrior glanced down at her hand and the wound. The bard reached out her left hand, showing her wound.

“Give me your dagger,” she demanded from the warrior.

Xena raised her eyebrows and raised the chakram.

“You know I’m no match for you. Let me see your dagger.” Gabrielle insisted and the warrior carefully pulled out the dagger from her side, keeping the chakram at ready.

Xena watched fascinated as the bard slit her palm, opening the wound again, letting the blood pool in her palm. Gabrielle laid the dagger on the table.

“Are you brave enough to test whether we’re connected or not?”

“Some trick of the gods,” Xena growled.

“No, my word as Queen. No trick from the gods, just our hearts.”

Xena frowned, no one challenged her bravery!

“You have several seasons of missing memories, don’t you want them back?” Gabrielle asked. “Ares is using you. Why would he wipe out your memories if he wasn’t?”

Xena sliced her palm open with her chakram and grabbed the bard’s hand in hers.

Xena felt a rush that was akin to the drug induced trances Alti had taught her in the North. The warrior’s head snapped back and she tightened her grip on the bard’s hand.

She cried out as wave after wave of memory hit her. Xena didn’t resist when she felt the chakram being gently taken from her hand, nor did she open her eyes when she felt Gabrielle pull the warrior to her feet and guide her across the room. Xena gratefully slid into the bard’s arms on the bed as her body shook and her mind screamed in agony.

After what seemed an eternity the warrior became aware of her surroundings and that she was in the arms of the bard she had come to kill. The woman she had taken as soulmate. “No!” she cried out. Xena felt the tears streaming down her face and her body began to shake as she sobbed. Gabrielle turned the warrior over until Xena was facing her and then held the taller woman close.

“I wanted you dead!” Xena whimpered, attempting to pull away from Gabrielle but the bard held fast.

“No, the Warlord wanted me dead, not you. That’s no longer you.” Gabrielle argued.

“I almost killed you! How do we know it won’t happen again?” the warrior shouted, sitting up, turning away from Gabrielle. The bard grabbed her from behind and held tight.

“Because he won’t win. He’ll never win. As long as we have our love, no one can win against us!” Gabrielle argued.

“I love you so much but I’m going to end up hurting you, I know it!” Xena cried.

Gabrielle sighed heavily and crawled out of the bed. Taking the lamp to the door she opened it slowly, letting the Amazons see her clearly and called out a bird call. She slowly went back to the bedside table and sat the lamp down. She then knelt in front of her love.

“I love you and you probably will hurt me.” Xena looked up into the bard’s green eyes, terrified. “We will always have that power over each other. It’s hard to hurt someone unless there’s deep feelings there. I love you but I accept that I might hurt you in the future. I’ll chance being hurt and pray I never hurt you.” Gabrielle insisted.

“I almost became the Warlord again. I WAS the Warlord again,” Xena countered.

“Only because Ares messed with your memories. Let it go, he’s lost and we’ve won. Come back to me, my love.” Gabrielle insisted.

“I can’t, I was a moment away from killing you!” Xena growled, resisting the bard.

Gabrielle decided to stop arguing with words and grabbed the warrior’s face and pulled herself up into the warrior’s lips. Xena resisted and Gabrielle fought back, following the warrior until they were laying back on the bed, the small bard on top of Xena.

The warrior finally gave into the kiss and her strong arms wrapped around the moaning bard. They broke away from the kiss when Gabrielle yelped. She leaned up slightly and tapped the armor beneath her.

“This has got to go, warrior.”

Xena grinned and nodded. The bard eagerly got up from her warrior and began helping the woman remove the leather and metal covering. As the bard helped remove the armor from behind she leaned into Xena’s ear.

“How much do you remember?” she asked.

“Everything, the first time together, the wedding, you being poisoned, taking my mom and your family home, everything.” Xena answered, leaning back into her bard.

“Good, then you’ll remember that it’s been awhile since I was up to touching you.” Gabrielle reached out and bit the warrior’s earlobe and found herself quickly enveloped in the warrior’s arms as Xena turned and they fell back onto the bed. With a growl of impatience they both managed to get each other’s clothes off somehow.

Xena quickly sought out Gabrielle’s lips, almost painfully. The bard countered with her tongue and teeth, lightly nipping the warrior’s lips. The bard’s hands pulled Xena on top of her, grabbing the warrior tightly, working a leg between the other woman’s legs. The warrior moaned and bit down on an aroused nipple, sending the bard arching her back and crying out.
Suddenly the bard felt Xena stiffen and then move away from her to sit on the edge of the bed. Catching her breath, Gabrielle sat up quickly.

“What is it, Xena?” the bard asked.

“I…. I can’t.” the warrior whispered.

Gabrielle sighed, insight sweeping over her. “Because you were with Ares?”

“You knew?” Xena refused to meet Gabrielle’s eyes and the bard pulled the woman’s face around to look at her in the eyes.

“Yes, he came around to brag.” Gabrielle admitted, pain showing in her eyes.

“Son of a bacchae!” Xena hissed.

“I agree. That wasn’t my mate, that wasn’t my Xena. You didn’t even remember me, Xena.” Gabrielle argued.

“I slept with him! Arrrggghhh!”

“From what I hear you didn’t do much sleeping,” Gabrielle grinned around her pain and was rewarded with a warrior suddenly tickling her.

“I remember now that you’re ticklish,” Xena warned.

“Good, then you remember you love me, not him. Come here and show me how much.” Gabrielle insisted, pulling Xena back on top of her. The warrior quickly responded to the encouragement.

***
“Xena!” a male voice demanded outside the hut, sending both women scrambling for weapons. In a moment Gabrielle had a spike in her hand that had been hidden in her wrist bracer and Xena had her chakram ready. Xena looked at the spike with raised eyebrows and Gabrielle merely shrugged.

The warrior wrapped her cloak around her and opened the door to the hut cautiously. She wasn’t surprised to see Ares standing in the common area, hands on his hips and a furious look on his face. He was ignoring the fact that he was surrounded by armed Amazons, each with his heart or head lined in their arrow sights.
Xena walked out of the hut, holding the cloak closed around her, pulling the cloth up over one bare shoulder. She stopped in front of him.

“Oh you are in such trouble!” he hissed.

“I usually am with you,” the warrior commented easily.

“How did she do it? Talk you to death again?” he demanded. “No, don’t tell me, I can see you’ve been doing more than talking.” he pointed to her bare shoulder and Xena pulled the cloak up again.

“Nope, well, sort of. She told me the truth and I recognized it.” Xena grinned.

“I told you the truth, you grew weak and lost your edge and you lost the warlord.” Ares countered.

“I gave up the warlord before Gabrielle, she merely helped me find the light.” Xena said simply.

“You can’t deny what we have together.” his voice softened.

“We had sex between us, with Gabrielle it’s love.” She opened her left hand, showing the fresh wound.

“This isn’t over, Xena!” he promised and was gone.

“You better hope it is.” she muttered and grinned at Ephiny and Solari, both holding bows with notched arrows. “Uh, I’ve got my memories back.”

Ephiny grinned at the warrior’s discomfort. “Consort, I think your Queen needs your attention.”

Xena blushed and started past the Amazons who were resisting laughing at the warrior. “Xena, be careful, she pulled her back out a couple of days ago,” Ephiny suggested.

“I want to ask her about that spike,” the warrior muttered. Xena closed the door blushing and turned in time to catch Gabrielle in her arms as the bard leaped for her warrior.

“Some backache,” Xena muttered.

“You’re my cure for everything,” Gabrielle whispered, beginning to nibble on the warrior’s neck, sending the warrior stumbling back into the door.

Ephiny rolled her eyes at the thump and the following moans coming from the hut. Solari laughed and wrapped an arm around her mate’s shoulders.

“Terrific, another sleepless night for anyone near the Queen’s hut.” Ephiny complained.

“I’ll take this over fighting the Warlord Xena,” Solari grinned.

“Any day, my love, any day.” Ephiny agreed, nuzzling her mate’s neck.

The End
Trial of a Roman, Trial of a Couple

Storyline: one of Gabrielle’s attempted assassins is put on trial by the Amazons and Gabrielle and Xena discover an unforeseen complication from Xena’s recent memory loss.

Xena watched her mate swing the staff over her head in a complicated pattern and bring the weapon down on the foot of one of the warriors, who yelped and dropped her guard. The bard quickly followed up with a kick to the warrior’s chest that sent the woman flying backwards. The Amazon Queen started to spin around and jerked to a stop. Instantly, everyone froze and Xena was on her feet and over the small railing that bordered the practice yard.

The two warriors sparring with Gabrielle were by her side and the fallen one was regaining her feet when Xena reached her mate’s side. Gabrielle was gritting her teeth, hand at the small of her back. She smiled through her pain at the sight of her soulmate’s blue eyes suddenly looking down on her.

“I’m fine, just a twinge,” the bard protested before Xena could say a word.

Gabrielle shook off the concerns of the other warriors and reached out to take Xena’s arm. “I’m fine, thanks for the practice. Time to quit, I think.”

Only Xena noticed that the bard was actually leaning on her arm for support and not just as an excuse to touch her mate. Xena kept a frown from her face as they left the practice yard and headed for their hut. Once inside the door she turned to look closely at Gabrielle and hissed as she saw the intense pain on the Amazon Queen’s face.

“I’m okay, just overdid it.” Gabrielle said softly, closing her eyes. Xena took the staff from the woman’s hands and placed it beside the door. Then she stood in front of the bard again. Gabrielle opened her eyes and Xena wanted to break into tears at the amount of pain she saw there. She reached out her arms and Gabrielle grasped her warrior’s forearms and let Xena lead her to the bed they shared, the bard leaning heavily onto the strong arms of her warrior, gritting her teeth in pain.

The bard sighed with relief as she lay down on the bed, taking some of the pressure off her spine and muscles. Xena sat down on the edge of the bed and stroked her lover’s forehead, silently cursing.

It had been three weeks since their wedding and Roman assassins had attempted the kill the Amazon Queen. Gabrielle had barely survived the poison and her body still hadn’t healed totally. Somehow the bard had lived, but the poison had been so devastating to her body that she was still suffering. And with her, Xena suffered.

Gabrielle opened her eyes and smiled at her mate.

“It’s been a rough month, hasn’t it?” the bard asked softly, echoing her mate’s thoughts. Xena smiled back.

“Yes, it has, little one.”

“I didn’t intend on overdoing it, I must have twisted wrong,” the bard complained.

“I know, Gabrielle. I’ll have dinner brought here tonight and get the Healer to make you some of that pain killer tea of hers.”

“No, no more drugs, please.”

“You’re in pain.” Xena protested.

“I’ll live, warrior mine. Those teas taste horrible and they make me fuzzy. It’s the muscle that’s pulled, I can feel the difference between the spine injury and the muscles now. I’ll be fine as long as I take it easy for a couple of more days,” Gabrielle said, holding Xena’s hand.

“All right, little one. About tomorrow,” Xena began, slowly, to bring up a subject they had been dancing around for a couple of days. One that brought a frown to Gabrielle’s face instantly and that infamous stubborn set to her jaw.

“There has to be another way,” Gabrielle insisted.

“You’ve been pouring over those old scrolls looking for a way for four days. The Amazon law is clear, your assassin faces the death penalty,” Xena countered.

“You know how I feel about killing. I can’t be responsible for his death.” Gabrielle’s voice grew edged.

“You’re not responsible,” Xena protested. Her continued argument was cut short when a knock broke their conversation. “Come in!” she yelled and smiled when Regent Ephiny walked in.

The Regent saw Gabrielle on the bed and frowned. “I thought so. One of the warriors thought you were hiding your pain well, but that you had been hurt again.”

Gabrielle rolled her eyes in frustration. “I didn’t want them to know I had pulled my back again. They already treat me like I’m fragile. If this keeps up they’ll never spar with me again!” the bard complained.

Ephiny sat down on the other side of the bed with a smile. “Just give it time. The Healer doesn’t even know how you’re alive, my Queen. That poison kills full grown cattle in a matter of minutes.”

“I know she has the appetite of a full grown cow, but really,” Xena was rewarded by her bard with a pillow to her face.

Ephiny grinned at the two women, and then grew serious.

“Gabrielle, your presence is required tomorrow,” she said softly.

“I know, Ephiny,” Gabrielle began but the Regent held up her hand.

“We’ve been over and over this, my Queen. The Elders will judge the Roman for his crime. You don’t have a say in this. You can speak when they pass sentence on him but I can tell you this, it won’t count for much. The law is clear. He attempted to kill an Amazon. He attempted to assassinate the Queen of the Amazons. He attempted to kill a royal member while under a banner of truce in the Amazon Nation, and he left his delegate here to take the blame. On top of all of that, he confessed.” Ephiny ranted off the charges facing the one Roman assassin Xena had captured after Gabrielle’s poisoning.

“You didn’t torture him, did you?” Gabrielle demanded, flinching when she attempted to sit up. She lay back down, with a grimace.

“No, he freely confessed, proud of his mission. His only regret is that you aren’t dead and he can’t get to a sword or rope to kill himself,” Ephiny answered easily.

“Why would he want to kill himself, he’s facing death already?” Gabrielle asked.

“Because he failed, he wants to die like a soldier, not a criminal,” Xena answered.

“What manner of death is he facing?” Gabrielle asked, the scrolls had been unclear about that point, apparently leaving it up to the Elders to decide.

Ephiny shifted uneasily. “The traditional punishment for murderers is poison,” she said softly.

Gabrielle went pale and closed her eyes. “Anything like they used on me?” she whispered.

“Yes.”

“I can see why he would want to fall on his sword,” the bard muttered.

“It’s actually a quick death. Like Ephiny said, we don’t know why you lived through it, other than I’m damned happy you did.” Gabrielle opened her eyes to smile at her mate in agreement.

“What else?” the bard asked, looking back over to her Regent.

“Hanging, decapitation by sword, execution by arrows.”

“Not too bad, I’ve seen worse.” Xena commented and shrugged at her bard’s frustrated look. “In Rome he’d be crucified, that is not a nice death.” Xena’s eyes grew narrow in memory. She remembered Caesar’s face as she was hung on a cross and her legs shattered with a hammer. Gabrielle reached out and touched her mate’s face gently, bringing her warrior back from the memories. The bard knew about Xena’s crucifixion and broken legs. She also knew of Xena’s intense hatred for Caesar.

“Any death is too much for me,” Gabrielle complained.

“I’m sorry, little one. After this is over I’m taking you somewhere quiet and restful. I owe you a honeymoon.” Xena smiled at the bard’s suddenly hopeful face.

“Really?” the bard whispered and even Ephiny grinned at the small woman’s delight.

“Yup.” Xena nodded.

Ephiny frowned again. “My Queen, you have to attend the execution,” the Regent whispered.

Gabrielle didn’t answer. Ephiny looked up and saw Gabrielle’s clenched jaw and Xena’s pained eyes. The Regent moved quietly out of the hut.

Both of them were very aware of the bard’s reluctance to kill, even when it was Callisto, the murderer of the bard’s husband. Gabrielle had been unable to kill the insane woman, even when it meant her death at Callisto’s hands.

Xena sat quietly with her mate as Gabrielle struggled with her inner demons. The warrior knew the time would come when the bard would probably kill someone, most likely in self defense or in defense of someone else. The warrior still dreaded that and would almost offer a prayer to the gods that it not happen anytime in the near future. The ex-warlord was terrified of the bard losing her blood innocence and what that could do to a person. The only way Xena kept from falling into the darkness was Gabrielle, and the warrior knew that same darkness could claim anyone, even someone like Gabrielle. It nearly had when her husband Perdicus had been slaughtered in front of her.

Xena didn’t know how to help her mate with this one. Falling into darkness and being able to kill was something Xena didn’t have a problem with. Although she did have to admit she could no longer kill with ease and without reason, not with Gabrielle’s guiding light showing her the difference between the warrior and the Warlord.

Xena sat with the bard, watching the smaller woman thinking, and tossing, and struggling with the inner and outer pain until food was brought to their hut.

The main hall of the Amazon Village was packed to the rafters for the trial. At the far end of the hall a platform had been raised for the judges, the tribal Elders. On the right another platform was for the Amazon Queen’s chair and one for her Consort. On the left was the platform for the accused and his speakers.

In the center was a platform for addressing the Elders and the crowd. The rest of the hall was taken up with chairs for the spectators. Among the crowd were representatives from various other Amazon tribes. Also in the crowd were Hercules and Iolaus, as potential witnesses to the Roman’s capture.

One missing face was Brutus and Xena was glad. Having anything to do with Rome made her nervous, even if Brutus had helped capture the assassin. The warrior trusted no one much and Romans even less.

At the table of the accused the Roman sat, staring straight forward. His hands and feet chained together and a chain running between that. The Amazons had allowed him to wear his armor and rank of Centurion for the trial and Xena could see that he had been treated well, despite his crime against their Queen. The Amazons were being patient.

One possible outcome of sentence that Ephiny hadn’t told Gabrielle was for the Roman to be turned over to the crowd for punishment. Xena secretly hoped it didn’t come to that, the Amazons would rip him into pieces for what their Queen had been through. She also knew that it would be a painful death, beginning with an assault below the belt.

Everyone was restless but the room went quiet as the Elders walked through the center and took their places at their table. Xena nodded to Ephiny across the common ground and the Regent disappeared into the Queen’s hut. A moment later she emerged with Gabrielle, in full ceremonial dress, including mask and feathers.

Xena, as Consort, put on her mask and waited for her Queen to join her at the door. She offered the Queen her arm and drew her sword in a ritual gesture of protection. Together they walked down the center of the room and Xena lent her arm to her Queen as the smaller woman mounted the platform and stood before her throne. The royal Consort joined her and knelt on one knee, everyone followed. Gabrielle sat down and everyone regained their seats as Xena took her seat slightly to the right and behind Gabrielle.

Ephiny entered and walked to the accused’s table, having been given the task to speak for the accused. Byblis, an Amazon scholar like Gabrielle, had been chosen to speak against him to the Elders.

Byblis took the center platform, facing Gabrielle, taking in the Elders and the crowd with her back to the accused table.

“My Queen and royal Consort, tribal Elders, honored Regent, honored guests,” she began, removing her ceremonial mask to speak better. “Before you is a man accused of one of the most horrible crimes we can image as Amazons. This Roman, Octavion, a Centurion of the Praetorian Guard, is accused of the attempted murder of our beloved Queen.”

The crowd grumbled and shifted in their seats. The Roman raised his chin in defiance. Xena’s eyes narrowed in anger.

“By his own admission, one of his accomplices poured a powdered poison into the Queen’s wine cup when he shook the Queen’s hand. This took place at our Queen’s wedding. A public and royal function that acknowledged the Queen’s bonding to her Consort the night before.”

Again the crowd rumbled, especially the Amazons.

“Our Queen drank some of that wine and fell ill, so ill that she almost died many times in the coming week. By this man’s own admission he knew about the plot, he assisted in it, he fled the area with his accomplices and he resisted arrest by his Commanding Officer, Brutus – Proconsul of Rome, and by the Royal Consort.”

Byblis paused for a moment.

“The Roman was a guest of our tribe, a delegate of Rome, of Caesar. Our Queen almost died and even now isn’t totally recovered. I would like the healer to speak to you of this.” Byblis looked to the Elders who nodded their approval.

Out of the crowd, the Healer stepped forward and bowed to the Queen and Consort, the Elders and then faced the accused. She bowed to Ephiny and then, with a glare, turned her back on the Roman.

“Scholar Byblis speaks the truth. Let me describe the effects of the poison that this man and his comrades used. I will speak in simple terms and without feeling. My feelings I will tell you after you have heard what your Queen suffered.”

Xena reached out and held Gabrielle’s hand as she shifted uneasily on her throne.

“First the powder was introduced into her wine. Our Queen doesn’t drink much so she only had a small dose. This poison is deadly and usually kills within an hour. I swear by the gods I don’t know how she lived but I give thanks and sacrifice every day that she did. Within minutes she was salivating a lot, then the muscles began to twitch. With her Amazon training our Queen ignored this as exhaustion and danced the courtship dance with her Consort. By the end of the dance our Queen was breathing rapidly, her pulse was racing and she couldn’t see any longer because her eyes were dilated. The tremors started getting worse. Her consort quickly took the unconscious Queen to my hut. By this time the tremors were worse and she was slipping into a coma. Violent convulsions seized her body. I induced vomiting with charcoal and tannin tea. By the time Xena, warrior friend of the Amazons, went in search of the assassins with the Roman officer, Brutus, our Queen was in violent convulsions.”

Everyone was deathly quiet and Xena was somewhat pleased the Roman had enough sense to drop his head at the description of his handiwork.

“Her breathing stopped several times. I was able to keep her breathing with a technique that our friend, Xena, had shown me last time she and the bard Gabrielle visited.”

Xena swallowed with difficulty. She didn’t know about Gabrielle’s breathing stopping while she was gone. She could tell by the way the Queen was gripping her hand that the bard hadn’t known either.

“Her skin turned blue and I fought, along with assistants, to keep the blood circulating throughout our Queen’s body and kept forcing air into her lungs.”

Xena and Gabrielle knew those “assistants” must have been Ephiny and her mate Solari; Gabrielle’s mother Hecuba and little sister Lila, Xena’s mother Cyrene and her son Solan.

Gods, they both thought to themselves, they must have been terrified!

The Elders, guests and Amazons thought so too.

“Her muscles kept contracting in unnatural positions and she was in agony, screaming agony. Her body was literally being pulled into pieces by her own muscles. I managed to get enough of a strong sedative tea into her of help calm some of the contractions but not much. Her screams ripped through the village for hours.”

Xena was impressed with the descriptive language of the healer, but was just in anguish hearing what Gabrielle had gone through.

“Hours later the warrior woman returned with the prisoner. All the other assassins were killed resisting. The Roman Brutus turned the prisoner over to the Amazon Nation for judgment.”

“Did our Queen recover that night?” one of the Elders asked. Xena knew that all the Elders knew the answer to that but they wanted to drag out all the information of just how Gabrielle had suffered.

To put a Roman Centurion of the Praetorian Guard and a delegate from Rome, they would have to show extreme just cause and they intended to do just that.

“No, as I said, she still hasn’t recovered. All of us waited the night to see if she would survive. I truly didn’t think she would. I knew the poison they used and it’s always deadly and very painful. The body rips itself apart from the inside and the muscles constrict the lungs and throat until the victim can’t breath and they die. When our Queen regained consciousness it was horrible,” the healer’s voice choked for a moment. “The merest touch of anything would cause her to scream. Her muscles had so torn at her that her skin was so sensitive even clothing and her own hair could cause pain.”

Xena could see Ephiny going pale from that memory and the warrior knew she probably didn’t look much better behind her mask either.

“It was hours before she could tolerate touch, light or noise again and even then only in small measures. Her Consort was also in agony during this entire time, watching her beloved suffer like this. It took another four days before the Queen could get through a day without pain medication and constant massage of her muscles from my assistants and her Consort. This required night and day attention. Almost all the village kept a vigil outside the hut for their Queen. The danger finally passed and our Queen is now attempting to recover. It has been most painful for her. The Queen’s muscles are weak and damaged and will require months of rebuilding before we know for sure that she can make a complete recovery. Her internal organs might be sensitive to some foods from this point on, we don’t know yet. Only the Gods know for sure if her life was cut shorter because of this.”

Everyone sat stunned, contemplating what they had heard from the Healer, as she finished.

“Healer,” finally one of the Elders spoke. “What the Romans used as a poison, they knew there would be no survival?”

“Yes, it was a combination of an herb from the north called Cowsbane by our Northern sisters.” Everyone heard the Northern tribe gasp in recognition. The Northern Amazons looked up at the Queen in amazement. “And they combined it with strychnine. Both are deadly unto themselves. Our Queen shouldn’t be alive but she is, thank the gods.”

Everyone muttered in agreement.

“Thank you, Healer. Byblis, continue.”

“Thank you, Elder. I would like the Consort to speak on this.”

Xena was surprised, the scholar hadn’t asked her or Gabrielle about this. The warrior could almost feel Gabrielle frowning under her mask. The warrior slowly stood and squeezed the Queen’s hand before jumping down from the platform and joining Byblis on the platform in the center of the room. She bowed before her Queen, the Elders and Ephiny.

Just like at the wedding Xena and Gabrielle were hidden by their masks and different clothing and weapons. Most of the delegates had found out that Xena was the royal consort but Gabrielle and Ephiny had insisted that they downplay that part of the events. In case some of the delegates hadn’t figured it out, weren’t there or whatever, they wanted to keep Gabrielle’s identity as Queen as secret as possible. Her habit of traveling with Xena unprotected by a large guard of Amazons was enough to drive Ephiny crazy, everyone agreed they didn’t want all of Greece and the outside world knowing that she was also Amazon royalty -a potential hostage. She was already a target just traveling with Xena.

Xena faced Byblis, face hidden by her mask.

“Consort, you were there when your Queen took ill with the poison.”

“Yes, I carried her to the Healer’s hut,” Xena answered simply.

“How long had you been bonded to the Queen?” Byblis asked.

“We were bonded the night before by the Regent and the Gods. Our public bonding had just taken place when she was poisoned,” Xena answered.

“Not long.” Byblis stated.

“No, not long.”

“What did you feel when the Queen took ill?”

Xena frowned and shifted on her feet. “I can’t describe it, I’m not a bard or scholar,” Xena began. “It was like all of my soul was dying as I watched her screaming and thrashing in pain.”

“How long did you stay with the Queen during her recovery?” the scholar asked.

“Almost every minute. Only our Regent Ephiny or my mother could get me to leave her side to eat or get cleaned up.” Xena said simply.

“Did you sleep?”

“Not much,” Xena admitted. “I would hold her, singing and talking until the pain would pass enough for her to sleep. I would sleep in-between the attacks of pain when the medicine would wear off.”

“How long did this go on?”

“Days and nights. It was over a week before anyone slept through the night, including the Queen.”

“Has she recovered?” Byblis asked.

“No, she is still in pain. She is working on regaining her muscle strength but it is too slow for our Amazon Queen and she is frustrated. She whimpers at night in pain and she gets up to pace the floor at least twice a night, working out cramping muscles.”

Xena saw Gabrielle flinch and smiled under her mask. The bard hadn’t realized Xena knew about her pacing at night. The Amazon Queen hadn’t wanted to worry the warrior. Gabrielle grinned to herself, as if she could keep something from Xena!

“Will she heal totally?”

“If stubbornness can heal muscles, she will.” Ephiny grinned at that comment, then Xena was serious. “I don’t know. I’m a warrior and I haven’t seen many injuries that caused this type of damage without being permanent. We can only pray she keeps getting stronger.”

“Thank you, Consort. Do the Elders have any questions for the Consort?” Byblis asked.

The Elders looked to each other and then shook their heads. Xena quickly took her place by the Queen’s side once more, glad to be out of the center of the mess. Gabrielle took her hand and squeezed.

“My Queen and Consort, Honored Elders, I would now turn to Regent Ephiny to address this matter before you.”

“Thank you, Byblis.” one of the Elders said as the scholar stepped down and resumed her place at the accused table. Ephiny stood up and took her place in the center of the room, carrying her royal mask.

“Regent Ephiny, you are acting Queen when our Queen is away.”

“Yes, I am her successor if anything should happen,” Ephiny answered.

“You were here when the Queen was poisoned,” an Elder stated.

“Yes, Elder. It was just as the Healer and the Consort described it. Our Queen was in such agony that I thought she would die just from the pain.”

“You took charge of the prisoner when the Roman Brutus and Xena brought him to our village?” another Elder asked.

“Yes, Elder. I quickly saw that his armor was removed and all hidden weapons found. I then had him chained hand and foot in the center of the prison room. I then kept vigil outside the Healer’s Hut until we knew if the Queen would live or not.” Ephiny answered.

“And if she hadn’t?”

Ephiny lowered her head. “I don’t know, Elder.” she whispered. “I hope I would be strong enough to hold my hand until the prisoner had been judged but revenge was in my heart as I waited for news of our Queen. If she had died I might have killed him that night.”

Gabrielle whimpered and Xena squeezed the bard’s hand again.

“We understand Regent and don’t fault you for your feelings of love for the Queen. I think every Amazon in this tribe was feeling and thinking the same thing,” one of the Elders stated.

“When did you question the Roman?” another Elder asked.

“Three days later when we were sure that our Queen would live. He freely admitted to the plot to kill the Queen with poison. He admitted that he knew it was a fatal combination and dose. He admitted he knew the plan of how to poison the Queen. He admitted that he and his accomplices quickly left the wedding reception in an attempt to escape capture. He freely admitted that his officer, Brutus and the other Romans left behind at the reception were not in on the plot and had been left behind to take the blame if it were discovered who had poisoned the Queen,” Ephiny stated.

“Was the prisoner mistreated or tortured for this admission?”

“No, he was given the same food that we served on our tables and plenty of water. He was given the opportunity to bathe himself with bucket, water and soap and given a bucket that was cleaned daily for his personal use.”

“Was he given a blanket?”

“No,” Ephiny smiled a grim smile at that one.

“Why not?” an Elder asked.

“Because, when he confessed everything he stated that it was fortunate Xena and Brutus had taken him before he could fall on his sword and that he would kill himself like a Roman the first chance he got. I didn’t want to find him hanging from the rafters or the bars with his blanket.” Ephiny admitted.

“Very well.”

“Regent,” another Elder spoke. “What do you think his judgment should be?”

Ephiny looked at Gabrielle’s eyes behind the mask and hesitated. The Queen could see the pain on her Regent’s face.

“I saw one of my best friends almost die a most horrible death. I heard her scream for nights on end and I’ve seen her suffer with the after affects. I’ve seen her Consort go nearly mad with worry and grief and I’ve seen their families run themselves into exhaustion trying to care for the Consort and the Queen.” Ephiny lowered her head. “I would wish death for the Roman in whatever manner you deem fit.”

“Does the Roman wish to speak on his behalf?”

The Roman, Octavion, stood and bowed to the Queen and Consort and then to the Elders.

“I am Octavion, Centurion in the Praetorian Guard of Rome. I was sent on a mission and I have failed in that mission. My fate is death and I accept that.” The Roman sat down again.

Byblis stood and faced the Elders. “There is one thing the Roman didn’t admit to, Elders. Who ordered the attack on our Queen? Who ordered her death?”

“Roman,” an Elder began and the Roman stood. “Who ordered your plot against our Queen. Your answer might spare your life.”

“I cannot state that, even if I knew. I took my orders from the man Brutus killed when capturing us,” he answered.

“Isn’t it true that you are one of Caesar’s guards?” Byblis questioned.

“Yes, that is what the Praetorian Guard is.”

“Isn’t it true that Brutus stated to the Consort that you were assigned to his delegation by personal orders from Caesar?” Byblis questioned.

“I don’t know what Brutus told anyone. I was ordered by Samvius, my officer, to come on this mission and then told after we were on the road what the real mission was. I never met with Caesar and have never spoken with Caesar.”

“Damn,” Xena muttered under her breath.

Byblis faced the Elders. “Honored Elders, although the circumstances point that this was a plot from the highest ranks of Rome, we have no proof to bring public charges against any other Roman than Octavion.” Byblis’ face was red with anger and Xena felt the same anger. They had all been hoping for enough proof to at least publicly embarrass Caesar over the incident.

“Consort, what is your feelings on judgment for this man?” an Elder questioned.

Xena stood up and glanced down into Gabrielle’s eyes. “I’m sorry, little one. I have to speak the truth,” she whispered. Gabrielle’s eyes filled with tears but she squeezed her mate’s hand in support.

“I would wish death for him in whatever manner you choose.” Xena sat down, praying that Gabrielle wouldn’t be angry with her. The Queen leaned over to her Consort’s ear.

“It’s all right, my love. I always want the truth from you.”

Xena sighed with relief.

“My Queen, what would be your wish for this man?”

Gabrielle took a deep breath and stood, almost stumbling as her legs refused to hold her upright. Xena was on her feet in a flash and helped steady the Queen.

Gabrielle grinned a frustrated smile under her mask. After a moment she nodded to her Consort that she was all right to stand on her own and Xena sat back down, on alert to spring forward again if the little bard needed her.

“As you can see, I am not fully recovered from the murder attempt. They tell me I may never totally recover my strength. Before this I could walk miles each day with little tiredness, I could swim a river easily and I was dangerous with a staff. Now I can barely walk across the common to the eating hut without pain. I have suffered and continue to suffer because of this man and his obedience to a murderous plot,” the Queen hesitated.

“I am bitter. This man and his officers attempted to kill me on my wedding day and take me away from my soulmate.” Gabrielle remembered another wedding day and watching Perdicus die, unarmed right next to her. “I know the pain of that loss and what it would have done to my Consort, my love. I don’t think this man can understand this but I hope that all of you do, I am against killing in general and have fought against it many times. In the last few days I have come to realize that a line has been crossed in my soul.” again the Queen hesitated and Xena frowned beneath her mask.

“I call for this man’s death.” Xena heard herself gasp at the words from her little bard. “Not because of his attempt to kill me or because of the suffering I’ve gone through and continue to go through. I call for justice because of the pain he caused my beloved Consort, my blood-bonded mate and for the pain he attempted to cause with my death. I know that if I had died that my consort would have followed me soon and I can’t forgive that.”

Xena could tell the bard was crying beneath the mask and wished she could grab the Queen in her arms and comfort her. The warrior knew this had to be one of the most wrenching realizations and decisions the young woman had ever faced about herself.

“I also call for his death as justice for the harm he attempted to cause to the Amazon Nation. To him, his act was political and he now accepts the usual political outcome of failure – death. For the good of the Nation, let him face your justice with death.”

Everyone was stunned into silence as the Queen resumed her chair, wincing in pain. Only Xena could tell how much pain Gabrielle was in, both physically and mentally. Then the crowd was grumbling in reaction and agreement.

One of the Elders stood and bowed to the Queen and then faced the crowd. “We will retire and discuss this matter. Please await our decision.” The Elders filed out of the hall and everyone broke into conversation.

Xena quickly knelt down in front of Gabrielle, taking the bard’s hands in hers, seeking the green eyes of her love out through the masks and wasn’t surprised to find the woman with tears in those eyes.

It was less than a candlemark when the Elders returned to the hall. The spokeswoman for the Elder Council stood and bowed to the Queen and Consort and then to Regent Ephiny. She faced the crowd.

“My Queen and Consort, Royal Regent and honored guests; the Elder Council of this Amazon Nation has made its determination in the case of the Roman Centurion Octavion of the Praetorian Guard, accused of attempted murder. In that he has confessed to his role, his guilt wasn’t a matter of question. What faced us was the question of his punishment.”

Xena reached out and held Gabrielle’s hand, finding the bard trembling slightly.

“These are the things we considered: that Octavion came to us under a banner of truce and goodwill; that he accepted our hospitality with the knowledge he was going to commit a horrible crime against the Nation; that he freely participated in this crime; that this crime was political in motivation; that he attempted to kill a member of our Nation; that this member was royalty and that royalty was our Queen herself; that he cared nothing for the suffering he inflicted on our Queen; that he cared nothing for the pain he caused her family and our Nation through her suffering; that his only regret was that he failed in killing the Queen.” the Elder paused.

“Other things we considered; that the man is a soldier and not the one who gave the orders; that it cannot be determined who gave the order; that this man was following the orders of his superiors and had no personal stake in the attempt.”

The Elder turned slightly and faced the Roman. “Roman Octavion, it is the decision of this Elder Council that your crime outweighs any mercy. It is the decision that you shall be put to death tomorrow at sunrise. You will be given parchment to make your will and testament known to your people and any letter you may wish to write to your family. These will be taken to the nearest Roman garrison and official word will be sent to Rome of your fate. Your manner of death will be that of what you attempted for our Queen, by poison.”

Gabrielle’s hand tightened on her warrior’s and her breathing became shallow and rapid.

“We won’t use the same poison that you used on our Queen, we will use the traditional Greek method of executing condemned murderers: hemlock. You have until dawn, Octavion.”

The Roman stood and bowed to the Elder Council and then to the Queen and Consort and followed his armed escort from the Hall as the crowd grumbled in agreement with his fate.

Gabrielle stood up, trembling, and managed to bow to Ephiny and then the Elder Council, allowing Xena’s arm to support her out of the Hall.

“How can I help, Little one?” Xena whispered down to her little bard.

“Get me out of here for awhile, grab Argo while I change, I’ll bring clothes for you.”

Before Xena could agree or protest the bard was moving towards the Queen’s Hut.

The warrior quickly moved toward the stables.
Xena moved Argo through the rocks carefully as Gabrielle gritted her teeth against the pain from riding. The Amazon Queen was pleased to find that her Consort was leading them to the same pool they had visited a short time earlier that season. The same pool where they had shared a vision together that revealed the truth of Gabrielle’s parentage and destiny, a destiny she and Xena had been fated to share and mold, either in the darkness of the Warlord or in the light of the warrior and bard.

The warrior helped the pain-wracked bard off Argo and gently carried her to the shade of a tree by the small river. Without a word the warrior sat against a tree and pulled the bard in between her legs and wrapped her arms around the smaller woman. Together they watched the river flow.

After a time the warrior made a small campfire for her and her mate and changed out of her ceremonial clothing into her usual leathers. Wrapping a cloak around them they watched the stars beginning to show in the darkening sky.

“I have to be there in the morning, don’t I?” Gabrielle finally broke their silence.

“Yes,” Xena agreed.

“Gods, I hate this!”

“I know.”

Gabrielle hugged the arms hugging her. “I love you.”

“I love you too, Gabrielle.”
Just before dawn Xena slowly led Argo back into the village and wasn’t surprised to find Ephiny and Solari waiting.

“My Queen, about half a candlemark. We told the delegates that you were in too much pain for the dinner last night.” Ephiny said simply.

“Thank you.”

Xena reached up and helped her beloved off the horse carefully. The warrior was already dressed in her ceremonial clothing, all she needed to do was put on the mask. Gabrielle leaned up and kissed her mate quickly.

“I’ll be back in a few minutes,” the bard said and moved slowly towards their hut to get dressed in her ceremonial clothing again.

Xena shrugged when she turned to the Regent and her mate. “She needed some time to think.”

“We knew that, so did the Elders. No one thought anything about it. We know what a difficult decision that was for Gabrielle.” Ephiny responded with a smile.

“This whole mess hasn’t been easy for any of us.” Xena complained.

“No, I talked with the Healer, the execution should be quick.” Solari informed the warrior.

“Good, after this is over I’m taking Gabrielle away for awhile. Up north to a small cabin Hercules has in the mountains. A month or more together with no one else around will probably do her some good.”

“I agree, give her some time to heal and both of you to heal. You’ve had a rough wedding month, my friend,” Ephiny agreed.

Xena quickly put on her mask as delegates began leaving their huts and gathering near the common area. The warrior excused herself from the Regent and mate and made her way around the gathering crowd towards the Queen’s Hut and entered with a knock.

Gabrielle sat at the table staring at nothing. She attempted a smile as her mate walked up and hugged the bard from behind.

“It’s time, my Queen.” Xena said softly. Gabrielle nodded and rose in her lover’s arms, reaching for her mask on the table.

“Let’s get this over with.”

The next half a candlemark was a blur to the Amazon Queen. Formal announcement of the charges, Elder decision and call for the prisoner to be brought forth. The Roman was dressed as before in his official military clothing. He stood as tall as his medium height would allow and easily stood on the platform.

An Amazon, chosen by lots and masked, stepped forward from the Healer with a cup in hand. The Roman raised the cup in salute, to whom no one asked or ventured, and then he drink the entire contents.

Gabrielle closed her eyes and listened to the noises, the reactions of the crowd for the next few minutes. Xena stood behind the sitting bard, holding her Queen closely. The bard concentrated on her breathing and on the warmth of the warrior’s arms holding her and finally Xena leaned forward and whispered in her ear.

“It’s over, my love.”

Gabrielle opened her eyes to see the masked Amazon covering the Roman’s body with a blanket as the Healer stepped back.

“The judgment of the Elder Council has been carried out. The Roman Centurion Octavion is dead.” the healer announced.

“Come, my Queen, let’s pack for our journey.” Xena encouraged.

“Yes,” Gabrielle agreed quickly.

The next two days were spent with Gabrielle spending time with the visitors from other tribes, Xena sparring with Hercules and Iolaus, and the Amazon Queen catching up on political stuff for the Nation. With rest and no strenuous activity the bard’s back began healing once again, pleasing both Gabrielle and Xena to no end.

On the third day the Shaman sought the two bondmates out, finding them watching some of the visiting Amazons sparring with Gabrielle’s tribe members and Hercules and Iolaus. The Shaman sat next to the two on a log seat outside of the practice yard.

“Your friends are good.” she commented about Hercules and Iolaus.

“Yes, but the Amazons definitely give them a workout.” Xena grinned.

“Can I talk to you both?” the Shaman asked simply, watching the Amazons and men practice.

“Of course, Shaman.” Gabrielle answered easily.

“I’ve seen a couple of things in visions and have sensed other things,” the Shaman began.

After a moment, Xena spoke. “Shamans, always speaking in riddles.” The warrior complained with a smile and was answered with a smile from both Gabrielle and the Shaman.

“And warriors are always impatient,” the shaman countered and then frowned. “Xena, when Ares took your memories of Gabrielle from you, how did you get them back?”

Xena’s eyebrows furrowed in puzzlement. “You know that, Shaman,” she answered, “Gabrielle.”

The Shaman nodded, it was as if that one word, that name could explain everything about Xena now. About the changes from Warlord to warrior, from darkness to light, from destroyer to lover.

“How did she do that?” the Shaman asked and the bard shifted on the log, uncomfortable being talked about, and not to, but deciding to keep quiet and see where this was heading.

“By reconnecting our blood bond, that brought my memories back.” Xena was also frowning.

The Shaman nodded again, watching the Amazons and men practice. “I sense that our Queen will heal almost completely. One of my visions has been of a very fit and trim body with no sign of pain. You will probably have problems with age, my Queen, but all warriors do.”

Warriors? Gabrielle thought with her own furrowed brows.

“Thank the gods for that,” Xena muttered, missing the word ‘warrior’ applied to her gentle non-killing bard.,
“I’ve seen and sensed other things, warrior” the Shaman said simply.

“Such as?” Xena questioned, eyes beginning to narrow.

“Normally I would approach you separately but you are blood bonded to our Queen. You share almost the same soul now and the same future.”

“What is it, Shaman?” Xena asked impatiently.

“The Queen hasn’t noticed because of her own pain but I’ve noticed that you haven’t been eating much, Xena. Are you getting ill?”

Now both Xena and Gabrielle were frowning, Xena in puzzlement and Gabrielle in concern. “No,” the warrior answered. “With all the stress around I haven’t been hungry.”

“Or did the thought of food make your stomach turn over?” the Shaman asked gently, keeping her eyes on the Amazons and men practicing.

“What are you getting at, Shaman?” Xena demanded and Gabrielle reached out a hand and took the warrior’s callused hand in hers.

“When was your last blood time?”

Xena blinked rapidly, looking like she had just taken a blow to the stomach or head. Gabrielle’s eyes began to grow very wide. The Shaman kept watching the Amazons and men practice.

“I…., the stress has thrown my timing off.” the warrior whispered.

“You were with Ares for a night.” The Shaman said simply.

Xena closed her eyes and ran a hand over her face. “I was due two weeks ago.” she whispered, turning very pale under her tanned skin.

“Shaman?” Gabrielle whispered.

“I think so, my Queen. Xena, you have a son and you know your own body, are you now with child?” the Shaman asked gently.

Xena tried to control her breathing as a roaring filled her head and darkness attempted to crowd in. She could barely feel Gabrielle’s hand holding hers as she fought for control.

“I….,” she stammered, opening her blue eyes filled with tears and seeking her beloved’s green eyes out in fear.

Gabrielle, seeing the absolute fear and pain there, reached out her other hand and began to caress the warrior’s cheek. “I’m here, my love. No matter what,” she promised.

Xena moaned deep in her throat and broke away from her lover at a run towards the tree line.

“Xena! Wait!” Gabrielle jumped to her feet and then winced at the sudden pain in the back. “Damnit!”

Hercules, hearing Gabrielle’s cry and seeing Xena’s flight into the trees, found himself on the ground, having been distracted. With a laugh he held his hands palm up in surrender and let the two Amazon warriors help him to his feet and grasped their forearms in a warrior’s handshake. He quickly moved to Gabrielle’s side, just in time to catch her as she fell into his arms sobbing.

He looked at the shaman with a puzzled look but she merely shrugged. “She’ll have to tell you, son of Zeus,” and the Shaman moved off into the shadows.

Gabrielle paced in front of her hut in the pre-dawn hour. Hercules and Iolaus, leaning against the hut wall had finally nodded off to sleep, having talked themselves to death trying to reassure the bard that Xena would be back and would be fine.

Watching from the doorway of their own hut Regent Ephiny and Solari frowned as their Queen paced.

“Can we do anything?” Solari asked finally, putting an arm around her lover’s waist.

“No, we don’t even know what’s wrong. Gabrielle won’t tell me until she’s talked with Xena and no one has seen the warrior since she disappeared in the trees. It’s eerie how that woman can disappear better than an Amazon.” Ephiny complained.

“I know, she’s the only one who can get past our best scouts without them even being aware she was ever there.” Solari agreed.

“I remember the night she came to attack Gabrielle when she lost her memory. I almost didn’t see her enter that hut. If she wants to disappear then I don’t know if we can find her.”

They both saw Gabrielle’s head snap up towards the north and she seemed to be waiting, a moment later a scout trotted into view and knelt before the Queen. Ephiny and Solari quickly trotted over to hear the scouts report. Hercules nudged Iolaus awake.

“My Queen,” the scout tried regaining her breath.

“Yes, report.”

“The warrior Xena has been found. She is by the river where the large rocks and boulders form small pools and mini waterfalls.”

Gabrielle frowned. “Was she all right?”

“Physically, yes.” The scout answered but wouldn’t raise her eyes.

“Finish it,” Gabrielle demanded.

“It appears that she has been crying most of the night and she now lies curled up on the rocks.” The scout whispered, as if in fear of Gabrielle’s reaction. Every Amazon in the village, including the visitors, were aware of the close connection of the Queen and her Consort. For something to drive the warrior away from the village and her Queen, it must be devastating. For something to make the former Warlord, the former Destroyer of Nations to weep through the night, the scout shuddered at the thought.

“Thank you, go and get some food and rest.” Gabrielle said distractedly.

“Gabrielle, my Queen,” Ephiny began.

“Have Argo saddled, please.” Gabrielle began to turn inside her hut when Ephiny placed a hand on the small bard’s arm.

“Gabrielle, what is it? How can we help?” she asked, the concern on her face and Solari’s grabbed at Gabrielle’s heart and she quickly hugged her Regent and friends.

“It will be all right, I just need to talk to her and reassure her about something. Get Argo saddled, I’m going to bring her back.”

From the scout’s description, Gabrielle had a pretty good idea where Xena had ended up. The same place where she and Xena had shared a vision journey into Gabrielle’s past to discover the truth about the bard’s conception and parentage. When they learned that Apollo was her father and that they were both fated to be together. If they weren’t then the darkness that consumed the Warlord could consume the known world. It was also the place where Xena had taken Gabrielle when the young Amazon Queen was struggling with the coming execution of her Roman assassin.

Gabrielle led Argo carefully around the rocks until she spotted the warrior curled up on the same rock they had laid on before. The warrior seemed to be sleeping but Gabrielle could see the tenseness of Xena’s muscles. Letting Argo’s reins drop, the bard made sure to make noise as she approached the battle trained warrior.

She stopped just before the boulder. “Xena?” she said softly.

The warrior didn’t turn but nodded her head in acknowledgment of her mate. Gabrielle carefully climbed up on the rock and sat behind her mate. She slowly reached out and touched Xena’s arm and was pleased when the warrior didn’t pull away. The bard began to slowly stroke her warrior’s arm and then her forehead and cheek lightly.

Fresh tears fell from behind closed eyelids.

“Xena, talk to me, please.” Gabrielle said softly.

“I don’t know what to say.” Xena whispered. “Ares.”

“Yes, he happens to be the contributor to this.”

Xena opened her eyes and turned over on her back and looked at the bard. Gabrielle kept from crying out at the sight of the torment on the older woman’s face, the pain filling the crystal eyes the bard adored.

“Gabrielle?” Xena whispered.

Gabrielle smiled a reassuring smile and held open her arms and held tight as her warrior melted into them. She began to rock slightly as Xena wept again. Finally this round of tears seemed done and Xena pulled back slightly to look at her mate.

“I knew when I followed you that it wouldn’t be an easy road and I accepted that. That decision has been challenged many times, my love, and we’ve met them each time together. We’ll face this together as well. I love you and I will love your child as my own.” Gabrielle said, holding Xena’s face tenderly.

“With Ares as the father?” New tears ran down the warrior’s face and Gabrielle gently brushed them away.

“Ares may have been there but that doesn’t mean he’s going to be father to any child of ours.” Gabrielle growled, bringing a slight smile to Xena.

“You want to have this?”

“My love, nothing could please me more than to have a family with you.” Gabrielle smiled and was grateful for the hug she got for those words.

“This is going to be complicated,” Xena complained, pulling back and looking deep into Gabrielle’s green eyes. She was slightly surprised when Gabrielle laughed.

“When isn’t it with us?” The bard giggled, her nose and eyes wrinkling in amusement, something else that the warrior adored about her bard.

“That’s true. I’m sorry I freaked last night.”

“Don’t apologize, this isn’t exactly like finding out you’re coming down with a cold.” Gabrielle smiled.

“Oh gods, what are we going to do?” Xena cried.

“Well, first off, we’re going to go back to the village and get something to eat and then I’m going to hold you in my arms until we both fall asleep. Then we’ll decide what to do from there.” Gabrielle announced simply and stood up, trying not to wince.

Xena’s eyes narrowed as she looked up at her bard. “You didn’t sleep last night, did you? And you’re in pain.”

“No, I didn’t sleep and yes, I’m in some pain. Don’t you dare blame yourself for that!” Gabrielle warned as Xena got to her feet.

“Who knows what’s going on?” Xena asked as she helped the bard off the boulder and they began to walk towards Argo.

“The Shaman, Hercules and Iolaus. I used Herc’s shoulder for a crying post.”

“I’ve been thinking all night,” Xena began, reaching down and helping the smaller woman up on Argo. “It all depended on you, but I’d like to have the child. I made so many mistakes with Solan and I don’t know how to fix them, but this feels right. Even if it was Ares.”

Gabrielle reached around to hug her mate closely, rubbing her face along Xena’s leathers.

“I want the child, too. We don’t have to let Ares into our lives just because of this. I’m going to refuse to let this wonderful thing drag you back to him,” Gabrielle promised and Xena leaned back slightly into the bard.

“I love you, little one,” the warrior said simply.

“I love you, both of you.” Gabrielle giggled.

“Since this is going to get complicated really fast, should we tell the others right away?” Xena asked with a frown.

“Before you make it past the three month point?” Gabrielle countered with a question.

It was common for women not to announce pregnancy until after they had carried the child beyond a three month period, they both knew. It was very common to lose a child within that period and women usually wanted to be sure they were past the first season of trouble before making plans for a child.

“The Shaman seems to think I’ll carry it,” Xena commented.

Gabrielle laughed again. “That’s true! I think we should since we have to decide where, when and how and it will probably concern my status with the village.”

“Gods, complicated and it hasn’t even been a full day.” Xena complained.

Gabrielle giggled and held close to her warrior.

Solari dropped her drinking cup and Ephiny thought she would fall off the bench they were sitting at when Gabrielle explained what was going on. The Amazon Queen resisted laughing at their incredulous faces and Xena’s dismayed look.

“Ares? For crying out loud!” Ephiny hissed and Xena dropped her head.

“Enough, Ephiny,” Gabrielle warned. “You know she wasn’t in control of the situation. Now we deal with it. Personally, I’m delighted.”

Xena looked up with a grateful half smile for her mate. Hercules leaned over the table and kissed the warrior on the cheek. Iolaus sat next to his friend grinning. Ephiny and Solari shook their heads in amazement at the situation.

“This isn’t going to be a typical pregnancy, birth or child.” Hercules warned and Xena and Gabrielle nodded in acknowledgment of that fact.

“Hey, Herc,” Iolaus punched his friend on the arm. “You’re going to be an uncle!”

The demi-god broke into a wide grin. “I couldn’t think of a better mom either.”

Xena blushed beet red.

“Or Moms,” Iolaus corrected, grinning at Gabrielle.

“I agree, it’s just a surprise.” Ephiny said. “I am happy for both of you but Hercules is right, this will give Ares an open door to your life.”

“Not if we can help it,” Gabrielle growled and Xena reached an arm around her mate’s shoulder and pulled Gabrielle close to her.

“I’ve seen how he tried to take Evander from his mother,” Hercules said, “I can’t see him stopping at anything to get hold of a child of yours, Xena.”

“I know, when someone comes up with an idea, let us know. I’m tired and I think Gabrielle is too. Come on, my Queen.” Xena stood up and helped pull her mate up and into her arms. Blue eyes catching green ones caused time to stop for both women for a moment until Ephiny coughed. Both women blushed and separated.

“You two!” the Regent complained with a laugh.

“You have to get out of Greece and away from Ares’ influence.” Hercules suggested as they gathered at the dinner hour. Xena frowned.

“But where? Not any of Rome’s territories either.” Gabrielle said quickly.

“Agreed. I wouldn’t suggest the Persians, they aren’t too keen on women running around with swords or the Arabian lands.” Hercules thought aloud.

“Judea is definitely out, way too much Roman control and your type of relationship is a stoning offense,” Iolaus commented.

Gabrielle looked frustrated and Xena agreed with the sentiment.

“What about the Northern Amazons?” Ephiny suggested.

“We can’t.” Xena said quietly.

“Why not? That might be far enough away from main Greece to get out of Ares’ hands and the Romans won’t find you there.” Solari asked.

“I can’t.” Xena whispered, dropping her eyes and head.

Everyone became quiet. Gabrielle reached over and grabbed her mate’s hand.

“It’s okay.” she said quietly.

“Xena, you’ve been forgiven and accepted by the Amazon Nation, they’ll take you in,” Ephiny encouraged.

“I don’t think they can forgive what I did those years ago. Drop it, please Ephiny.”

“Okay.” Ephiny looked distressed for causing the warrior pain but Gabrielle reached her other hand over to her friend and squeezed the Regent’s hand.

Gabrielle once again cursed the past of her mate that just wouldn’t stay buried. It seemed that every time they got on track with something and seemed to be moving forward the past would come back to haunt her love.

“Britannia?” Solari suggested.

“Always a trouble spot for Rome, we might be able to blend into one of the tribes.” Gabrielle suggested.

“That’s a possibility or even further north into Caledonia. Even the Romans can’t conquer those clans.” Xena grinned.

“Getting accepted by them might be a problem.” Hercules said. “When I was up North I heard stuff about the Caledonians, fierce clans and tribes and they are very closed societies. One of their favorite past times is fighting among themselves when not taking on the Vikings and Romans.”

“Egypt?” Iolaus ventured.

“We’d stand out there a bit.” Xena grinned. “Gabrielle’s hair would instantly identify us as Greek or Roman and Rome is getting quite a foothold in Egypt.”

“Germania,” Hercules stated.

“Would their northern tribes accept us?” Xena asked.

“I believe so. They accepted me easily, they are naturally curious and love a good fight, almost better than drinking and no one does that better!” Hercules grinned. “They are light haired and skinned, no one would notice any of us as outsiders right away. They also don’t care about the type of relationship you two have. They don’t care as long as the family line is continued.”

“So as long as you produce for the tribe, they don’t care who else you sleep with?” Gabrielle asked with a grin.

Hercules actually began blushing. “That’s about it.”

“Well, we got that covered, don’t we, my love.” Gabrielle grinned at her warrior who also began to blush.

“Just don’t get any ideas about those tall, blond warrior men types,” Xena growled.

Gabrielle giggled.

“Now, getting you there before Ares finds out what’s going on and tries to stop us.” Hercules again thought out loud.

“Us?” Xena asked, eyebrows raising.

“If you’ll have us, we’d like to help.” Iolaus grinned.

“I think we’d be grateful,” Gabrielle looked to Xena who nodded.

“There’s been trouble on the border north of us, either we sail through the Mediterranean, along the coast, past Britannia and land up north or we go through Roman territory until we’re past the Celtic and Samaritan tribes.” Hercules proposed.

“Sail?” Gabrielle whispered and Xena grinned at how pale her mate suddenly went.

“Then it’s overland through Macedonia, Illyricum, Pannonia, Noricum, Rhaetia and into Germania.”

“Gods, this is going to take awhile,” Gabrielle moaned.

“And the sooner you get started the faster you’ll be out of Ares’ reach.” Ephiny smiled.

Gabrielle dropped Xena’s hand and took both of Ephiny’s in hers. “My friend, I want you to assume the rank and title of Queen.”

“No, you are the rightful Queen and it will stay that way!” Ephiny argued, attempting to pull out of Gabrielle’s hands but the bard held firm. Solari shifted uneasily in her seat.

“No, I’m leaving and we don’t know when we’ll be back. My first concern will be Xena and the Nation will need a Queen who thinks only of the Nation. Rome is getting more and more powerful and the lands will keep getting smaller and smaller until they force an action. I probably won’t be here and the Amazons need a full time leader.” Gabrielle urged.

Ephiny’s face became pained. “You fought hard when the right of caste was thrust upon you.” Ephiny reminded the bard. “You fought against me and Melosa and won that right, don’t give it up now.”

“I gave that up when I married Xena and you know it,” Gabrielle said gently and Ephiny dropped her head.

“My Queen,” Ephiny pleaded.

“No, it’s the best decision for the Nation and you know it. I’ll sign all the papers and turn my staff and mask over to you. I don’t want a formal ceremony because I don’t want word getting out that Xena and I are leaving for as long as possible.” Gabrielle said simply.

“You’ll always belong here,” Ephiny insisted and Solari nodded firmly.

“Thank you, my friend. We know that and we will be back.” Gabrielle promised.

“Hercules, we should start early.” Xena suggested.

“As soon as possible. Have any of the gods gotten hold of this yet?” he asked the two lovers.

“Not that we know of.” Gabrielle answered.

“Good, let’s keep it that way until we’re almost out of Greece, if necessary. The fewer who know about this the better, until Xena is safe.”
Xena knew Gabrielle was keeping her emotions under control by a thread and wasn’t surprised when the little bard turned and threw herself into her warrior’s arms when they closed the door to their hut.

Xena moved them to the bed and sat against the wall, holding the bard while she cried.

“It’s okay, little one. We can always come back here,” Xena kept whispering.

After a short time Gabrielle’s tears finally stopped but she still clung to her warrior.

“I’m going to miss them,” she whispered.

“I know. I wish we could stay here and build our family,” Xena smiled at Gabrielle’s surprised face. “Yes, I know that’s what you would hope for too. I just can’t trust that Ares can’t reach us here. He already attacked us here once and has come to me when you were sick.”

“Damn him!” Gabrielle growled.

“I’m sure that’s at the top of the list for a lot of people and fellow gods.” Xena grinned.

“I won’t let him harm you or your child!” Gabrielle hissed.

“Our child.”

“Our child? Wow.”

After a moment Gabrielle began running her fingers over the skin where it met the leather armor. Her face leaned up and began nuzzling the warrior’s neck, pulling a moan out of Xena.

“How long can we…….?” Gabrielle whispered.

Xena laughed heartily. “A long time yet, little one,” she said as she leaned down and captured the lips of her mate.

A few minutes later Hercules was about to knock on the door when he heard familiar moans coming from inside the Queen’s hut and decided that whatever it was he was going to ask would wait until morning. He grinned and headed for the guest hut, his Amazon escort grinning along with him.

The End
Gladiator, Bard, Warrior, Mother

Part One

Iolaus slowly drew his sword and moved his horse forward slightly. “Look, I already told you, we are free citizens. We’re not German, we’re Greek. Leave us alone.” he growled at the scruffy Roman soldiers blocking their way on the road. “When I move, ride like Hades and get out of here,” he whispered to Gabrielle.

“I’m not leaving you!” she hissed.

“Get Xena and Hercules, the Roman camp can’t be far from here, you can help rescue me. I don’t think you and I can take all of them,” he hissed back.

Gabrielle frowned but moved her horse a couple of steps away from his, ready to turn and bolt.

Iolaus cursed every mother of the bandit soldiers in front of them. He knew that they couldn’t count on Xena or Hercules rescuing them either, they were still at camp further down the river. Iolaus and Gabrielle had been on their way to a nearby village for fresh supplies before the four of them crossed into Germania, determined to get a pregnant Xena out of reach of both Ares and Caesar. Now this. Life definitely wasn’t boring with his friends, Iolaus thought. Definitely not boring and definitely dangerous.

The Roman leader grinned at the two smaller Greeks. “I don’t care who you are. Me and my men need some gambling money and your wife there will bring a very nice price with the slavers. You might even be worth a couple of gold pieces, little man.”

Iolaus let out a yell of anger and charged forward with his horse and Gabrielle, with a frustrated growl, turned her horse. “Go, Gabrielle!” he yelled. He heard her horse begin pounding away.

Iolaus ducked under a sword slash and buried his sword quickly into the ribs of the attacker and threw up his left arm to block another sword, wincing as the sword cut through his leather bracer, skin and muscle. He slashed out and caught another Roman at the throat and the soldier dropped his shield and sword to grab at his throat before falling off the horse. The Greek’s horse pushed forward, looking for a way through the pack of Romans but Iolaus and his horse were both frustrated; the Romans kept in close, crowding the horse and the sword of the smaller man.

The bard shook her head, trying to clear the sudden fuzziness and realized that her horse had been arrow shot out from under her. She was trapped beneath the horse and couldn’t even reach her fallen staff. The bard began pulling at her legs and pushing at the dead weight of the horse and looked over to her friend.

Iolaus cried out in pain and slashed heavily to the left and looked down to see his side bleeding heavily. His left hand came up to try and hold the wound closed and stay in the saddle but dodging another sword strike caused the Greek to lose his balance and fall from the horse, landing heavily. Iolaus yelped and quickly rolled to his hands and knees and dodged out of the way of several horse hooves aiming for his body.

“Iolaus!” Gabrielle whispered, not wanting to distract the man. She noticed three soldiers beginning to make their way towards her and cursed the dead weight holding her down.

The Romans dismounted and approached the Greek man slowly, most of them grinning. Five of them, terrific, he thought. He wondered if he should make a break for the river and risk freezing to death or drowning rather than the swords, then he glanced over and saw Gabrielle’s horse fallen in the middle of the road and the little bard struggling to get her trapped legs out from under the dead animal.

“Gabrielle, no!”

With a shout he charged the soldiers beginning to crowd him. He quickly cut down two of the soldiers caught off guard by his charge but a third caught his left shoulder and Iolaus dropped his sword to grasp the wounded joint.

The three Romans reached the woman and grinned down on their captive.

Realizing his mistake too late, the Greek couldn’t bend to retrieve his sword before the others were on him. He kept close to them to keep them from using their swords and he utilized his many fighting skills and took another one down with a broken neck, even if he was fighting almost one armed. A sword strike to his back took the man to his knees and kicks, fists and hammering from sword hilts sent him smashing to the ground, bleeding badly and unconscious.

Gabrielle looked over to see Iolaus lying face down on the ground, blood flowing from his mouth and various wounds on his body. The Roman leader kicked the small man in the ribs and received no response.

“Throw him over into the river.” he ordered.

“No!” Gabrielle screamed and lost sight of her friend as the three Romans bent down to claim her.

***

Iolaus’ eyes sprang open as he broke the surface of the water, sputtering and gasping for air. The cold shock of the water hit him like a hammer and the young man couldn’t catch his breath nor fight the current.

He struggled to keep his head above the water and almost swallowed enough to drown when he was jerked suddenly to a stop. He realized slowly that his belt was caught on a half submerged tree stump. Remembering Gabrielle trapped under the horse at the mercy of the Romans, Iolaus summoned his strength and pulled himself along the tree, freeing his belt and let himself drift onto the small beach. Somehow the Greek pulled himself along until he was under the end of the beach at the tree line. He managed to pull himself up and over the embankment by some tree roots and then collapsed under the tree.

He closed his eyes, holding his side tightly.

Something pounded at his awareness and wouldn’t go away. Iolaus opened his eyes and peered around the tree and blinked several times as his exhausted and blood starved mind tried to take in the scene in front of him.

The Romans had Gabrielle in the small clearing. One was examining Iolaus’ sword while another two were dragging the bodies of their comrades off the road. The other three, including their leader, were holding Gabrielle and looking her over.

Iolaus felt a whimper escape his throat.

The bard was struggling but two of the Romans held her tightly by her arms. The leader grinned and ripped her tunic open from collar to hem, exposing her very lovely breasts and torso. Gabrielle screamed and struggled and the men laughed.

Iolaus, tears streaming down his face, fell back against the tree. After a moment, he leaned against the tree and used it to slide up to his feet. He grabbed the tree for stability as he turned and nearly screamed at the sight of his little friend’s abuse. He bent down to grab a fallen tree limb for a weapon and fell forward onto the ground. Tears of rage and helplessness overcame the young man as he listened to his friend scream and he couldn’t move.

***

“Iolaus!” a voice insisted he pay attention. He decided to ignore it, easier to slip back into the darkness.

“Iolaus! Gabrielle!” another voice, higher pitched brought a frown to his face as he lay pressed into the ground. Gabrielle? Something important.

Iolaus raised his head but couldn’t see who was calling and nothing came out when he tried to yell. His head sank back down to the ground and he closed his eyes.

“Gabrielle! Iolaus!” Iolaus grabbed the fallen limb and somehow began banging it against the tree that had once been his friend a couple of times and then darkness claimed him again.

“Hercules! Quick!” a voice shouted above him and Iolaus felt himself being turned over gently. He opened his blue eyes and found similar blue eyes. He attempted a smile.

He heard his best friend come pounding up and slide down to the ground next to Iolaus.

“Iolaus! What happened?” his friend demanded. Iolaus could feel someone tugging at his clothes and the sound of cloth tearing and then pain at his side.

“Hercules, keep the pressure on that wound.” a voice commanded.

“Gabrielle,” Iolaus whispered.

“Where is she, Iolaus?”

“Xena?” he whispered.

“Yes, Hercules is here too. Where’s Gabrielle?” she asked, pressing another bandage on his shoulder wound.

“Took her, hurt her.” he whispered closing his eyes.

“Iolaus! Who took her? Where!?” Xena yelled.

“Romans, sell to slavers.”

“He’s unconscious.” Hercules choked out and the warrior nodded.

“I’ll make a litter to drag him behind one of the horses. You keep pressure on those bandages. I’m going back to camp and get our stuff and blankets, he’s soaking wet.” Xena said quickly.

“We’ve got to get him to the village.” Hercules insisted.

“Where do you think those Roman soldiers came from? If they see him they’ll kill all of us before we can talk. We’ll take him to the small tribe across the river, they deal with sword wounds all the time. Then I’m going to find Gabrielle,” the warrior said grimly.

“Hurry, Xena, he’s in bad shape.”

“I know, lay next to him, cover yourselves with your cloak and try and warm his body up. The cold probably saved his life by slowing his bleeding but it will probably kill him in the long run. I don’t know how he’s alive now.” Xena said as she stood up. Hercules nodded, acknowledging the impossibility of his friend still being alive.

“Gabrielle,” Iolaus whispered.

“Easy, my friend. We’ll find her.” Hercules promised and Xena turned at a run towards the horses. “We have to find her.”

***

It was after dark when the warrior woman stepped out of the small cabin and started towards the horse line. She had her chakram up and at the throat of a shadow before even realizing she had moved. Hercules, the shadow, stepped into the light, carefully stepping around the chakram.

“You can’t go, Xena.” he said simply.

“Those Romans took Gabrielle, they either still have her or know where she is. Don’t try and stop me, Hercules.”

“We’ve been dodging Romans for weeks, ever since Caesar somehow found out you were in Roman territory. I’ll go and find out whatever they know and then we can plan on getting her back,” he argued.

“You know what they’ve probably done to her?!” she hissed, not wanting to bring everyone else from the camp out.

Hercules jaw clenched and he lowered his eyes. “Yes, I know what they do to women, especially beautiful women. Getting yourself captured by Caesar isn’t going to help her.”

“I can’t just wait here!”

“Yes, you can. Both of you can,” he argued, placing his hand on the belly that was beginning to show signs of the growing life inside.

With a growl of anger Xena released the chakram, sending it flying through the trees and bouncing off cabins and past Hercules’ ear into her hand again.

“You asked me to be your Kumbada, your best man and godfather, at your wedding. Let me do this.”

“All right,” she muttered, replacing the chakram as her side.

As she heard Hercules ride off Xena sank to her knees in the snow and looked to the sky with tears falling down her cheeks, her breath ragged in the cold chill.

“Please, I don’t pray, you know that. I’m asking you, any of you, to bring her back to me. Please, I can’t live without her,” she whispered.

Receiving no answer the warrior began to weep.

***

Xena moved quietly into the cabin of the head family of the local tribe and shook the snow off her cloak, hanging it by the door and stamping her feet free of snow. With a pang she remembered that Gabrielle always wanted to see the north in the winter. The warrior bit back the memories and moved quickly to the cot near the fire.

As she looked down at the warrior on the cot Xena thought how horrible he looked. Iolaus was extremely pale from the blood loss and cold. He hadn’t regained consciousness since they found him and Xena’s experienced mind told her that he probably wouldn’t. It seemed that only the stubbornness of the Greek was keeping him alive.

She knelt down next to the healer as he heated another blanket in front of the fire and exchanged it with one on the wounded man. He noted the question in Xena’s eyes and shook his head.

“I don’t know, Greek. His spirit hasn’t crossed over yet so there is always a chance.”

Xena gently took Iolaus’ hand in hers and brushed a curly lock of blond hair from his forehead.

“Hang in there, Iolaus, we need you,” she whispered in Greek.

When Hercules returned hours later he found her still sitting with his best friend, not having moved from the spot. She was on her feet and in front of him in an instant.

He looked around and noticed that the headman of the clan had raised up out of his bed at the noise, sword in hand but, seeing it was his guests, laid back down.

It was a typical cabin for a northern tribe, Hercules knew. One room where everyone slept, cooked and lived, especially in the winter months. He wasn’t sure he could get used to that.

Xena helped him remove his cloak and led him to the fire. Demi-god or not, he still could get cold.

“Well!?” she demanded as he sat down, checking on Iolaus.

“Any change in him?” he countered.

Xena’s eyes softened. “I’m sorry, Hercules. No, no change.”

“The Romans won’t be kidnapping anyone else,” he said softly and pulled out a bloody sword and reached for a cloth next to the bed. “They sold her yesterday while we were looking for her and Iolaus.”

Xena closed her eyes and fought back tears and rage.

“Where?”

“Slavers heading south, they were already on the move. I’m going to follow them tomorrow morning at first light. You’ll have to take Iolaus and move further up north while I’m gone.”

“I’m not leaving the area until we find her!” she protested.

“Listen, damnit! I just killed an entire barracks of Roman soldiers!” he growled, turning his eyes away. Xena carefully touched her friend’s arm and wasn’t surprised to see tears falling. “I lost it, Xena. I just lost it and went mad again.”

“What happened?”

“I pounded them enough to tell me what happened with Gabrielle and where they had sold her. Then I saw this on the table.” he pulled out a gold and silver bracelet from his belt and handed it to the warrior, her tears began to match his.

“Gabrielle’s bonding bracelet.” she whispered.

“Yes, then one of them told me what his fellow soldiers did to her and I lost it. I…. I killed all of them, Xena.”

“You can’t blame yourself for that!”

“I know they deserved it but now this family is in danger and so are we. The Romans will tear this countryside apart looking for us and it’s still winter deep! How can I tell Axel that I’ve just brought the Romans down on his house?”

A voice caught their attention, neither of them having heard the headman getting up out of his bed, wrapping a cloak around himself and joining them at the fire.

“This isn’t the first time the Romans will try and take their anger out on us. We have family north we can travel to. Winter travel hard, ja, but I do not blame you for vengeance, my Greek friend.” Axel said simply in broken Latin. “We will protect your friends.”

“I can’t ask you to do that,” Xena protested.

“Hercules stayed with me once and saved my life. It’s a small thing.” he smiled. “He is family and he says you are his family – that makes you family.”

“Thank you, Axel.” Hercules smiled wearily.

“Clean up, mein freund, you have blood on your hands and face.”

Hercules flinched and looked at his hands and back at Xena, who merely nodded.

“Do not trouble yourself so,” Axel urged. “They earned this from you when they hurt your friend and took the little one.”

“Yes,” Xena agreed, her eyes narrowing. “I’m still coming with you, Hercules.”

“No, all of the territory is looking for a warrior woman, they’re not looking for me,” he protested. “You have to keep Iolaus and Axel’s family safe. I’ll find her.”

“Gods, Gabrielle,” she whispered, closing her eyes.

================================================================

Gabrielle groaned and tried to raise her arm to block the slaps but whimpered with a flash of pain from her arm. The slapping stopped and she cautiously opened her eyes.

“Good, you’re awake,” a female bent over the bard. “Listen very quickly if you want to live another day. Do not, no matter how much they hit you, tell them your real name. You are known to Rome and your capture could mean the death of you. Do you understand? Do not say your name!” the female hissed, grabbing the bard’s face for emphasis.

Gabrielle nodded.

The female moved back and seemed to be waiting. In a moment several men appeared in the dusty courtyard where Gabrielle realized she had been thrown. She recognized a couple of the men from the night before and couldn’t stop the whimper from escaping her throat as she tried to draw back into herself against the wall, feeling very small and helpless. The chains at her wrists rattled and the collar at her throat clinked against the wall.

Gabrielle looked around and found several other slaves/prisoners lining the wall beside her. All of them were beaten, both physically and mentally.

“Greetings, slaves.” A man stood before the others and faced the chained men and women. “I am Lycrassis, owner of this school and villa. When you address me or answer me you will address me as Ômy Lord,’ understand?”

Each prisoner/slave nodded. Lycrassis quickly yanked one slave to his feet and slammed him into the wall. Gabrielle and the others heard the man’s head crack as it connected with the stone wall. Lycrassis released the body and let it slide down to the ground.

“I asked if you all understood,” Lycrassis growled.

“Yes, my Lord,” all of them responded quickly.

“Good, now let’s see what the slavers and the law makers have brought me.” Lycrassis began the long task of judging each prisoner/slave’s potential and, in turn, their future. Gabrielle waited at the end of the line. The female who had warned her earlier kept a close eye on the bard, Gabrielle noticed.

One went to the stables because of bad teeth. A small Egyptian was sent as a sparring dummy, Gabrielle had the feeling that this was a short lived job. Others were chosen for training and another for the kitchen. Lycrassis stopped in front of Gabrielle, who kept her head down.

The Roman lifted her chin to look in her eyes, noticing the beginning black eye and the dried blood around her nose. He grinned and she closed her eyes.

“A little small for training. Send her to the kitchen.” he ordered.

“My Lord, may I speak?” the female who had whispered to Gabrielle before spoke up.

“Yes, Nikki, you may.” Gabrielle opened her eyes as the Roman turned to look at the tall and muscular woman leaning on a crutch.

“I wish to train this one,” she said simply.

“Why?” the Roman frowned and so did the three men standing with him.

“Her arm is broken, one of your men got a little rough last night and she’ll be useless in the kitchen.” Nikki answered. Gabrielle grabbed the chance to take in the female. She was tall, as tall as the bard’s warrior, Xena, but with blond hair and gray eyes. She was built like a blacksmith, Gabrielle thought to herself, with muscles revealing a very strong body. The woman’s face was stern but the bard thought she could sense laughter in the gray eyes that years in the Arena didn’t seem to have touched. Gabrielle also noticed the crutch the woman leaned on, favoring her left leg.

Lycrassis looked at his men and one of them shuffled on his feet. “She bit me,” he mumbled. Lycrassis turned and looked at the small bard again.

“Did she? Maybe she has some spirit after all. She’s still too small.”

“I don’t think so, my Lord. She’ll be fast in the arena and her body is very fit and I see signs of physical training already.” Nikki said simply.

“Why are you interested?” Lycrassis turned to his trainer. Gabrielle kept the curiosity out of her face as well.

“I say she can be a good fighter.” Nikki shrugged.

“Want to bet on it?” Lycrassis grinned.

“You have all my money, my Lord.” Nikki grinned back.

Gabrielle felt her head reeling at the unreal feeling of the situation. Here were two vicious people wanting to bet on her future, which seemed rather bleak and probably short to the bard right then.

“How much would you bet on the little one? And why else do you want to train her?” Lycrassis demanded.

“I fancy her,” Nikki admitted with a shrug.

Oh gods, Gabrielle thought.

“I thought so. Not many have ever interested you before. She is beautiful under all that grime and a tiger in bed when she’s not willing. I wonder what she’s like when she’s willing. Nevermind, I wager this then, she’s either an adequate fighter in three months, adequate enough to hold her own in an afternoon fight, or you lose.”

Nikki frowned. Gabrielle knew that it took months, even years for a gladiator to be trained enough to live. Most of them didn’t make it five years. Three months was impossible. The little bard also knew that gladiator fights lasted all day, the novice fighters in the morning and the experienced fighters in the afternoon for the crowd’s desire for blood. Three month was impossible.

“The wager?” Nikki asked.

“I’ve set the odds rather high,” Lycrassis conceded. “Let’s set the goal high, shall we. I’m bored this week. If she’s good enough to go into the ring in three months and survives three years, she can win both your freedom.”

Freedom? Gabrielle suddenly had a ray of hope and then felt it dashed. Three years in the Arena? Very few of the best gladiators ever last three years.

“She’s mine to train and develop totally, no one else lays a hand on her, day or night,” Nikki bargained.

Lycrassis laughed at his trainer. “What is this, love at first sight?” The Roman looked back at the little bard and noticed the shining eyes. He approached the bard slowly. “What would you do, slave, if you had a clear shot at me and my men with a dagger?” he asked.

“I’d slide it in between your fifth and fourth rib, my Lord,” she growled.

The Roman laughed heartily. He was also tall but not as tall as Xena and Nikki with black hair and dark eyes. Unlike Nikki, the laughter never seemed to reach these dark eyes. He reminded her of Ares, complete with short hair and beard.

“All right, I agree. She’s yours totally, you can even bed her if you wish. I still think there’s a tiger under there and I’m not sure I want her in my bed when she’s up to strength. None of my men will touch her. She even knows where to place a blade. Are you as Sapphic as my trainer, slave?”

Gabrielle felt herself blushing and was confused. How to answer? Wouldn’t kitchen duty be better than the Arena? But the female had warned the bard of potential danger. Xena’s rule of life came to the little bard: trust no one, but Gabrielle felt honesty, up to a point, usually fared her well.

“Yes, my Lord.” she admitted. “Good, maybe you can tame each other. What are you called?” Lycrassis asked.

“Brie.”

“She was taken prisoner from the North,” one of the men stated.

“Germanic? You speak Latin well.”

“I was a free servant to a noble in the north,” Gabrielle answered easily.

“Good, then you know how to take orders.” Lycrassis again laughed at the flash he saw in her eyes before she dropped her head. “Even when you don’t like it. Take her, Nikki. You have three months.”

Gabrielle’s face blushed beet red as the tall woman grabbed her and threw the bard over her shoulder, walking out of the courtyard and the laughter of the men and Lycrassis followed them.

***

Nikki threw open the door of a small room in a corridor of what appeared to be small rooms and gently placed the bard on her feet and shut the door. Gabrielle was livid at such treatment but held her temper, with an effort.

Nothing shocked the bard more than when the tall warrior went to one knee and bowed her head.

“My Queen,” she whispered.

“What?” Gabrielle whispered. Nikki rose slowly and covered Gabrielle’s mouth with her hand, seeming to listen closely. With a snarl she sprang to the door and ripped it open and a small man fell into the room. Nikki grabbed him up by his collar and slammed him into the door frame.

“Listen, you little weasel, you keep away from my door or I’ll take what’s left of your equipment and decorate my shield with it! Understand!” the trainer threatened and the small Arab nodded and she promptly threw him out the door and closed it again. Nikki waited a moment, listening at the door and then turned to the bard.

“I’m Nikkita. My parents were traders from the North and when they were killed, I was an infant and taken in by the Northern Amazons. I was taken slave two years ago just after we received word of your ascension to the rank of Queen,” Nikki grinned. “I’m sorry about the treatment out there, it was necessary to save your life and mine.”

Gabrielle went and sat down in one of two chairs at a plain table. She held her arm closely. “Let me get a splint and bandages, I’ll be right back. Do not say a word if anyone comes in. You’re still in danger.”

“When aren’t I?”

When the trainer returned Gabrielle began to ask one of a hundred questions she had.

“Where am I?”

“You are in Aqualeia, on the coast in the villa and training school of Lycrassis.” Nikki answered easily, slowly and carefully bandaging Gabrielle’s arm.

“I was taken on the border of Germania, beaten, drugged and….” Gabrielle turned her face and fought back the tears. Nikki continued to work on the arm, giving the bard time. The trainer had seen the fading bruises, scratches and even bite marks on the small woman and knew what they meant from slavers. “I think my friend was killed and now Xena doesn’t know where I am!”

Gabrielle was surprised when Nikki’s hand covered her mouth again.

“Listen closely, my Queen. Never say that name here, no matter what! Caesar has a price on your friend and if he learns that you know her, he’ll have you in Rome by the end of the week. Would she risk her life for you?”

“Yes, many times.” Gabrielle nodded.

“What would she do if Caesar sent word that he would trade you for her?” Nikki asked simply.

Gabrielle closed her eyes and felt a tear escape. “She’d sacrifice herself for me.” she whispered.

“Now you know you can’t say your name or hers, ever again.”

“Yes.” Gabrielle nodded, fighting back the tears. “They don’t know you’re an Amazon, do they?”

“No, they think I’m a well trained fighter. I had a chance at winning my freedom after five years but a sword stroke took most of the life out of my leg. Lycrassis was either kind enough or smart enough to make me a trainer. He gets to keep me as slave, gets a good trainer and still tries to get me in his bed.” Nikki grinned.

“Any success?” Gabrielle grinned back, knowing the probable answer to that one.

Nikki laughed. “Not much, he’s afraid he’ll wake up less a man than when he went to sleep.”

“Why did you fight so hard to get me out of the kitchen, wouldn’t I live longer in there?” Gabrielle asked as the trainer fitted a sling around the bard’s neck.

“Probably, a long life as a slave. In the Arena you always have the slimmest chance of winning your freedom. As a slave in the kitchen any of the trainers can take you to bed every night and when the trainees have done well, they are rewarded with taking the kitchen and stable slaves to bed. How many men do think that would mean in a lifetime, Brie?”

Gabrielle went pale and Nikki nodded. “I would kill you myself and then slit my own throat before I let that happen again, my Queen.”

Gabrielle reached out and tenderly touched the Amazon’s cheek. “Don’t you think you’d better stop calling me Queen before someone hears you?”

Nikki blushed and nodded.

“Tell me about yourself and how you got to Germania.” Nikki suggested, taking the seat on the other side of the table.

Gabrielle began her tale of marrying Xena, her attempted murder by the Romans by poison, the awful results of that poison, of Xena’s desire to get away from Ares and Caesar’s influence in their lives. Especially with the fact that Xena was carrying Ares’ child.

She told of the long, endless weeks on the road with Xena, Hercules and Iolaus and ended with her being taken and Iolaus probably killed. She left out what happened next but Nikki was a slave and she knew what happened to female slaves.

Nikki and Brie faced their first task that night. Blushing and dropping her head Nikki began to stammer.

“What is it, trainer?” Gabrielle asked. “They’ll expect me to bed you tonight, by force if necessary. You’ll have to share my bed and sleep without clothes.” the warrior trainer whispered.

Gabrielle smiled a reassuring smile. “I have a soulmate to get back to and soon a child, I will do anything to survive as long as there’s a shred of hope,” and the bard began to disrobe.

Nikkita’s breath caught in her throat at the sight of the bruises and cuts on her Queen’s body but especially because of the Queen’s beauty.

“Your mate is most fortunate,” she whispered.

Gabrielle blushed and quickly climbed into the cot, pulling the blankets over her.

Nikki grinned at the bard’s embarrassment and snuffed the candle out before disrobing herself. Somehow they managed to barely touch each other during the night even though the cot wasn’t that wide. ================================================================

The trip north was difficult and slow. The January snows were thick and the tracks non-existent in winter, especially for wagons. Xena rode in one of the wagons, holding Iolaus, keeping him warm and his body as steady as possible.

The warrior had been impressed with the speed with which the large clan-like family had moved that morning when Axel announced they must travel north and quickly. Everything was packed and moving before noon, leaving an empty cabin and Hercules riding in the opposite direction.

Xena was still uncomfortable with Hercules leaving and her staying to take care of Iolaus but knew the demi-god was being sensible. Not that she was sensible when it came to Gabrielle, she thought. She was also uncomfortable depending on strangers for her existence and she admitted to herself that she needed these Germans. She couldn’t care for herself, the life growing in her and Iolaus in the winter snow of the north alone.

She held close to the small Greek. “Come on, Iolaus, hang in there. I need someone else to speak Greek to.” ================================================================

Gabrielle was surprised to see the other prisoners who had been chosen to train as gladiators outside in the courtyard, their chains having been removed like hers. Nikki, her face hard, pushed Gabrielle into line with the others, her eyes flashing warning.

Lycrassis came out of the villa area and faced his new recruits.

“I am the Lanista, director of this school. Congratulations for being chosen for the dubious honor of being gladiators. If you survive long enough you might become famous, even being taken to Rome to the Arena for the games. You’ll be treated as the slaves you are and worshipped as idols. If you’re smart as well as strong you can wager on the outcome of matches and might even make some money.”

All the recruits noticed the wooden sword he carried in his hand.

“Why do you want to survive? For the future of living in a small room with a single cot? No, plan it right, fight well and you’ll have money, women and fame. You might even earn your freedom. Any gladiator that survives five years under this school earns their freedom and the privilege of teaching at this school.”

Lycrassis raised the wooden sword for all to see it. “There is another way to gain your freedom. Win this in the Arena from the Proconsul, the governor of the territory or from Caesar and you’ll have your freedom.”

He handed the sword to Nikki and turned to the recruits again. “Don’t misunderstand. I doubt any of you will get past year one. It is very rare for a gladiator to reach the end of a five year term and even more rare to win the wooden sword. Your chances are slim to none. Why try? It’s that or face crucifixion. Have I been clear?”

“Yes, my Lord.” they all answered.

“Good, now a formality. All of you will repeat the following oath and the first one to disobey any order given to them, the first one to break the discipline of this school, the first one that tries to escape faces a death worse than crucifixion. Repeat: I swear to endure the whip, the branding iron, and death by the sword for the game.”

Gabrielle found herself repeating the oath along with the others, Lycrassis sharp eye looking for any hesitation on the part of the line of recruits. Gabrielle noticed with a shudder a brazier of coals at the far end of the courtyard with a slave tending it.

Nikki suddenly wouldn’t meet her eyes.

“I run a very well disciplined and tight school here. Any minor infraction of the rules brings swift punishment, usually by flogging. Severe troublemakers face castration, mutilation, hamstringing, and death. This is Nikki, one of my doctors, trainers. You will meet the others later when you begin your training. If necessary, you’ll find yourself chained every night with your wrists chained to your ankles, unable to stand or lay down straight. This is not a pleasant way to spend the night. First, unpleasant things and then breakfast. March in a single file to that slave with the branding iron. Your first test of your oath begins.”

Gabrielle was relieved that she wasn’t the only one who screamed when the red hot branding iron touched her flesh at the shoulder.

After a breakfast of bread, wine, olives, cheese and fish (a rich meal for slaves, Gabrielle thought), she and Nikki faced their second test.

Gabrielle lifted the wooden dagger Nikki handed her and sighed, looking at it like it was a real blade.

“What is it?” Nikki whispered.

“I can’t kill.” Gabrielle whispered back.

“What!? You have got to be kidding me!” Nikki hissed, pretending to show Gabrielle the proper way to hold the dagger in a defensive move.

“No, I can’t kill.”

“How far along was your mate when you last saw her?” Nikki whispered, changing the bard’s stance.

“About 20 weeks.” Gabrielle answered, easily flowing into the moves of the trainer.

“Was she beginning to show?” Nikki asked.

“Yes,” Gabrielle answered again. Wincing at pulling the raw and burned skin of her shoulder.

“What would you do to be there for her and the child?” Nikki asked and wasn’t surprised that the bard stopped dead in her movement. Gabrielle turned and faced Nikki with what Nikki would come to know as the bard’s stubborn jaw set.

“Anything.” Gabrielle whispered.

“Then you must kill, little one.”

Gabrielle felt her heart skip a beat. Xena called her Ôlittle one.’ The bard fought back a tear, missing her mate. She looked down at the wooden knife and took up the defensive stance again, with that same stubborn jaw.

================================================================

On the second day of the trip Iolaus finally woke up and tried to grin at Xena. The healer and Xena were both pleased he hadn’t taken fever with the wounds or the cold soaking he had in the river. They both began to hope that he might actually live.

The trip north took over two weeks and the land became more harsh as they went. Xena was beginning to seriously hope the Germans knew where they were going and that the large group of people would be welcome in a land that obviously couldn’t support life in the snow.

But every day the hunters surprised her by bringing in fresh game and the women managed to find winter herbs, plants and fish to supplement the food.

================================================================

A long month of a routine began that the bard found extremely hard at first but then settled into. Stretching exercises, breakfast, strength training, lunch, siesta time, weapons training, endurance training, dinner, clean up, bed.

Nikki’s trained eyes had been correct in judging the small woman. Gabrielle was quick on her feet, had considerable staff training already, was quick to learn, and quickly rebuilt her muscles from the recent illness.

================================================================

The warrior found herself staying up late with the family most every night. It was easier than facing sleeping without Gabrielle. The Germans were friendly, outgoing and hearty people and Xena was beginning to like them a lot. Xena was quickly picking up more Germanic and they were clearly pleased with her quick knowledge of their language. Axel clearly loved his wife, Sasha and the feelings were returned. The Greek warrior noted that, for a large family that lived in confined quarters, the German family of Axel got along well and worked as a well coordinated team. They also didn’t seem to mind that she was a warrior and mother to be.

Sasha had smiled at the warrior’s confusion over the casual way everyone treated Xena’s warrior ways.

“It is uncommon for women to take up the sword or spear but it is not unheard of. Our friend Hercules said you became a fighter after your father and your brother died, one of our greatest heroes went into her father’s burrow mound to face his ghost and the ghosts of those of the grave to claim his sword. She’s always been one of my favorite stories.” Sasha grinned.

Xena tried to fight back sudden tears. “You’d like Gabrielle’s stories. I’m sorry you haven’t gotten to know her yet.”

“You were only with us one night with the little one, but she is special. She has the light of the gods surrounding her.” Sasha said easily, resting a hand on top of Xena’s, comforting.

“Some say I have the darkness of them about me.” Xena muttered.

“Nein. Darkness cannot give light and you will soon do that.”

Xena smiled, touching her womb. “I never looked at it that way.”

“Life is a gift from the gods and from our fetches, the family spirits that watch over our lives.”

Xena grinned to herself. This life certainly was a “gift” from the gods. One god in particular, she thought, Ares. She felt torn between being happy about the pregnancy to frustration that it was Ares’ child and it was driving her out of Greece and away from the only family she had.

Xena brushed a tear away and Sasha smiled. “You are welcome with my family. The runes say you are one of us.”

“Runes?”

“Sacred symbols given to us by the sacrifice of the AllFather, Othinn. He hung on the World Tree for nine nights without food or water, stabbed by his own spear until he gained the knowledge of the runes. They are sometimes used as writing too.”

“World Tree, the Amazons believe in the World Tree. That there is a tree in the center of the world that has more branches than the gods themselves can count and it holds together all the worlds.” Xena smiled and Sasha grinned, nodding.

“Yes, we believe the same! Our tree is named Yggdrasil.”

“Some language you’ve got.” Xena smiled.”His sacrifice is very much like some of the Amazon rituals I’ve seen of shamanic death and rebirth.” Xena commented. She smiled as Axel joined them by the fire.

“Yes, every act of gain must have an act of sacrifice. Life is hard in the North, Xena, and life can be short. You learn to live with what the Norns have carved for you.”

“Norns?” she asked and Axel frowned, looking for the word the Greek would know.

“One is that what was known, she who is that which is known and she that which will be.” he tried.

“We call them the Fates.” she nodded. “How do the runes work?” Xena asked, accepting the drinking horn and was pleased that Sasha was drinking cider. Ever since discovering her pregnancy Xena hadn’t wanted to drink too much, it seemed to really play havoc with her stomach now and the Germans were very fond of their ale and mead.

“The vitki, the rune worker, must know how to find the right wood, sacrifice for it, carve the wood, inscribe the runes on it and then stain them for effect. Also knowing the right galdr aids in the magic.” Axel explained.

“Galdr?”

“Rune magic of sound.” Sasha smiled and took her husband’s hand.

“And staining them?” Xena was finding this fascinating, after studying with Alti with the northern Amazons, Xena had found she had a knack for shamanistic working and was curious how much the northern peoples had in common with the Amazons. She wished Gabrielle was there once again.

Noticing her expression, Sasha reached out and touched the warrior’s hand again. Xena attempted a smile.

“The runes say she’s alive,” Sasha whispered.

“What do they say?” Xena tried not to snap the question out.

“Only that she lives, my friend and nothing more. They say the future of your child is unwritten as well.” Sasha lost her smile.

Xena frowned, withdrawing into herself. Aching for her little bard so bad that it was a physical ache.

Axel nodded to his wife and they left the warrior by the fire to work with her frustration.

***

The next evening she found several of the men and women relaxing by the fire and listened to them talk, trying to pick up more of the language.

Sasha smiled and joined her. “How is the little man?”

“He’s finally moving around better. I think he won’t be able to use that arm for much.”

“A one armed man is still useful,” Sasha shrugged.

“What do you mean?” Xena asked.

“We look at things simply. A one armed man may still hoe a field or hold a sword. A legless man can sit a horse and fight, a dead man is useful to none.”

Xena nodded, understanding.

“Do both you and Axel work the runes? There isn’t a priest or priestess?”

“There are priestess and priests in the north in larger towns, villages and cities. For small holdings, like ours, the head person of the family acts as the priest for the sacred holidays and rituals. Anyone can work the runes and work the magic if they have the skill. As headwoman and headman we both can serve our people with the holiday rituals.”

“Do you follow one particular god or goddess or all of them?”

“All of them are honored in the celebrations, some more than others depending on the holiday. There are some who are dedicated to one particular god or goddess, many of the Princes, Kings and Chieftains are called to AllFather, while many common man find Thor is their destiny in Asgard.” Axel answered as he came up.

“Asgard? That’s kind of like Olympus, right?”

“Somewhat. It is the realm of the Aesir and Vanir, the gods and goddess but it is also where we go when we die. Depending on how we have lived our lives and who our chosen god or goddess is. We could end up in Freya’s Hall if she calls you or, if you haven’t done so well, you could end up in Hella’s Halls.”

“Hella, a place like Tartarus?” Xena was glad that they had spent time among the Romans and Greeks and at least knew what she was talking about on her end.

“No, it is a place of rest until part of the spirit is reborn. The outstanding among us go to Asgard to one of the halls. Some of Hella’s Halls is spoken of as cold and lonely and the river that surrounds it is of swords and knives and cannot be crossed, filled with venom.” Axel said, lifting his horn as several others did the same.

“It probably means that it’s cold and filled with ice,” Sasha grinned.

“What?”

“It’s a way of talking in the North, especially among the skalds, the poets, the bards, you call them. Sunna’s light can mean gold,” Sasha explained.

“Tyr’s bane!” another called out.

“That means a wolf!” a man laughed.

“Freya’s tears,” a woman grinned, twirling a string of amber around her fingers. “Amber.”

“Wound bees!” Xena frowned.

“Arrows,” Axel grinned.

“Game of iron – a battle.”

“Arrow dew.”

Xena grinned, “blood.” Everyone laughed, pleased that she was getting it.

“Mead of Othinn – poetry.”

“Flying thorn.”

“Spear,” Xena grinned.

“Wolf feeder, a warrior.”

“The Norse are infamous for their riddles.” Axel warned with a grin.

“Terrific, just what I’m not good at.” Xena complained and everyone laughed.

“We especially love good stories and forgive almost any bragging if you can back it up,” another warrior grinned.

“You said part of the soul is born again, not all of the soul? What do you mean?”

“Hmmm, the body is of several parts that come together to make a person, so is the soul. The mind and the soul are several parts. The major parts stay in whatever fate you have earned for yourself after death but a part of you comes back, usually in your family line or someone close to your family line. That is why we look for our ancestors in the little ones.” Axel tried to explain.

“When you say that a child is acting just like his grandfather you think part of his grandfather has come back in him?”

“Yes. How do you believe in the south?” Sasha asked.

“That the soul is complete but that sometimes the gods decide that a soul should come back and be born into a new life. I’ve heard tales of some souls reconnecting over and over again in many lives and other tales say that after you die you end up in the Eleusian fields or Tartarus and stay there for eternity.”

“What are your Fields like?” one warrior asked.

“It’s a perfect day in your life, most don’t realize that they’ve died. They go through their day perfectly happy, waiting for their loved ones to come home who haven’t died yet. Some know they’ve died and wait for their loved ones to cross over, kinda watching and seeing what happens in their lives.”

“Hmmmm, I think I prefer Valhalla – fighting all day and drinking all night!”

“What about Freya’s Hall, the Goddess of Love?” another warrior called out.

“A different kind of fighting at night!” another laughed, kissing his mate.

“Do you have specific gods for things, like a god of war?” Xena asked.

Axel frowned, contemplating. “I know of your Greek and Roman gods. A god of war, one of love, one of justice. It is more complicated with ours, I think.”

“The AllFather is the God of War but he is a poet and magic worker. He sacrificed his eye for a taste of the mead of inspiration,” another man said with a grin.

“Thor is followed by most soldiers but he never pays attention to our battles,” another said gruffly.

“AllFather is followed by most Chieftains but isn’t trusted by any,” another said and some grumbled in their seats.

“Why not?” Xena asked, wanting as much information as quickly about where she might be raising her child, especially if the gods were going to get involved at any time.

“He turns on his chosen, bringing them an early death,” one mumbled.

“He causes their deaths so they may join his army in Valhalla at their peak!” another argued.

“Valhalla, AllFather’s Hall?” Xena ventured and several nodded.

“Freya is the goddess of love but claims half of the slain warriors for her Hall and commands half the Valkyries,” a woman offered.

“Valkyries, warrior female spirits?” Xena asked.

“Yes, they choose heroes for Othinn and Freya and follow their wishes, helping or hindering in battle.”

“I prefer when the gods stay out of my way in battle,” Xena grinned and several of the men cheered, raising their horns in salute

. “I agree, let the gods battle among themselves and leave us be,” one called out.

“At least ours don’t seem as bothersome as the Greeks and Romans seem to think theirs are,” Sasha grinned.

Xena wondered what the woman would think if she knew Xena was carrying the child of a god? She was beginning to have the feeling that not many people in the North had ever seen their gods in person. Xena wasn’t sure how she felt about that one, most of the time she preferred not seeing any of hers, thanks.

Xena suddenly felt tired and made her goodnights and crawled in next to Iolaus, quickly shedding most of her clothing under the warm furs and he mumbled something in his sleep and extended his arm. Blushing, Xena laid down inside his arm and let him hold her and was grateful he pretended to be asleep as she began crying tears she couldn’t hold back any longer. Gabrielle felt so far away but she could feel her mate’s loneliness washing over her.

================================================================

Nikki concentrated Gabrielle’s training on the net, small sword and daggers. Knowing the small woman would be useless in heavy armor, the doctor focused on Gabrielle’s speed, smallness and natural ability. Gabrielle fell easily into a friendship with the tall warrior, in many ways Nikki reminded her of Xena and she found herself learning as quickly as she had under Xena’s watchful eye.

Lycrassis also watched with interest as the small blond woman showed promise. Even though she was small, Lycrassis also knew that small and quick gladiators could sometimes overcome heavily armed men in the Arena.

The sling came off the bard’s arm and she began working on rebuilding those muscles as well. Sword work consisted of taking on a wooden post in the training yard, practicing sword strokes over and over again until it became part of the muscle’s training.

Nikki began to add spear and shield work to the bard’s workout. Lycrassis began to wonder if he was going to lose the three month part of the bet. He grinned, hoping so. He preferred having a money winning gladiator to a corpse any day. He also admired the way the small woman moved, the muscles rippling under that smooth skin.

At night it wasn’t uncommon for Nikki to wake up with Gabrielle crying or screaming in her sleep. She would gather the smaller woman in her arms and comfort her Queen until the little one went to sleep again, calling for Xena.

Nikki felt her heart beginning to thaw and cursed the gods for it.

================================================================

By the second month Xena and Iolaus had found a niche in the homestead of their adopted Northern family. Xena would help the hunters and fishermen and Iolaus helped care for the children and stock while his body still healed. He was surprised and pleased to find that he had a knack for carding wool and sewing and was very pleased when none of the men teased him about it. Xena was grateful for the kindness they were showing both of the Greeks.

Sasha and Axel had been right about being accepted into the family without question. Hercules was thought of as a brother and he said that Iolaus and Xena were family and were in trouble, the Northerners opened their home readily. Willing to take them on for the entire winter and the rest of their lives if the Greeks wished to stay.

The two long houses were a little cramped with the addition of Axel’s small band but everyone just grinned and made room. Xena shook her head at the ready acceptance and additional hardship that the chief family was taking on with grins and hugs. It reminded her of something her mother might do.

The chieftain of the main family, Eddval the Skull-Splitter, didn’t live up to his name when they first arrived, Xena was thankful. He had come out of his long house shouting and laughing and grabbed Axel in a bear hug that Xena would have found bone breaking. The two men had laughed, punched each other and drank from the drinking horn that Eddval’s wife, Alfhild, had brought out, toasting each other, toasting each other’s family, toasting the Gods, and toasting the sky at the end of the horn. Eddval had motioned everyone inside and had greeted each like a family member, even Xena and Iolaus, though he was careful not to bear hug the small and injured Greek man.

Xena had been amused when they started calling Iolaus, Ivar One Hand, finding his Greek name a pain to the tongue. Xena they called Yrsa the Vakr or Vigilant. She was grateful for the nickname, she had heard some of the others around the hearth fire.

“Absent Minded, Belly Shaker, Flat Nose, Gossip, Whelp, and the worst for one of the neighboring Princes – Snake in the Eye.”

Iolaus/Ivar they treated as the wounded warrior he was and respected him, even if they teased him about being so small. Xena was pleased when he began to smile at the teasing even though he continued to wake her up every night with the same nightmare, losing Gabrielle.

================================================================

Into month two and the recruits began practicing with other recruits, those more advanced in training. Having actual bodies to whack against added a new dimension to the training. Mostly the new recruits were the ones getting whacked. It made them learn very quickly.

One day in the practice yard Lycrassis approached Nikki and Gabrielle. They both stopped and stood still.

“How is our dancer today?” he grinned.

“She’s doing well, my Lord.” Nikki smiled.

“Good, believe it or not I hope you win your bout in a month. I think you could make us all a lot of money eventually. Brie, hmmm, not a gladiator name. I like Ôdancer’, it suits your style. Nikki, you are doing well with her.”

“Thank you, my Lord.” Nikki resisted smiling at Gabrielle, Dancer.

“I would like an early demonstration.” Lycrassis said, bringing his hand to his mouth in contemplation. Nikki lost her smile.

“Yes, my Lord?” she asked.

“That little Arab slave of mine, you know he tells me you two aren’t really lovers, that you never touch each other. I would find that strange and wonder about motivations and plots and plans. Slaves should never be allowed to plot and plan, don’t you agree?”

Gabrielle kept all emotion out of her face with a struggle and knew that Nikki was doing the same.

“I don’t know what to say, my Lord. We aren’t plotting against you.” Nikki protested.

“Hmmm, let’s put that to a test, shall we?” Lycrassis grinned.

“How, my Lord?” Nikki whispered.

“The Arab against your Dancer. Trial by combat, so to speak. He’s not gladiator trained but he’s fast as a cat and deadly with a knife. They should be almost evenly matched.”

“You would risk our bet over your slave?” Nikki argued.

“Yes, I am the master of the house and I can call the bet finished when I see fit. I am the master, am I not?” Lycrassis voice was still sweet, but deadly as a poisonous snake. Gabrielle tried not to show her fear.

“Yes, my Lord.” Nikki bowed her head.

“Good, after lunch. Arrange it.” Lycrassis walked away whistling.

Gabrielle almost went to her knees and Nikki grabbed her by the arms. “Steady, my Queen, steady.”

Over lunch the trainer instructed her student.

“He is as fast as a cat. I’ve seen him castrate a recruit in one move before the man knew what was happening. He’s also vicious as Hades and has had the protection of Lycrassis until now. He’ll probably count on that and be arrogant. I don’t think he’s been watching you train so he might not be aware of how fast you’ve developed.”

“I have to kill him?” Gabrielle asked between bites, determined to keep her strength at peak.

“Maybe. He is Lycrassis’ pet, he might not let you kill him but beat the tar out of him or scar him. I don’t know what he’s thinking.” Nikki complained in a whisper.

“He wants me in his bed and he’s unsure of our relationship,” Gabrielle answered.

“What?”

“I’ve seen him watching me. He’s not only looking at me as a prize winner, he’s watching my body with a hunger that I’ve seen before.”

The tall Amazon cursed under her breath. Gabrielle grinned. “We’ll handle that after I defeat that little weasel. Anything about his fighting style?”

“Yes, he leads with his right foot and right hand. He can’t fight left handed.”

“That might help.”

***

“Visiting Romans, ladies of my villa and honored wife,” Lycrassis began, walking around the small arena, taking in all of his guests. Gabrielle and Nikki both wondered how long he had this planned, there were over fifty household members and guests watching the arena.

“This is serious, little one. You’ll have to kill him.” Nikki said simply.

“I thought we didn’t kill in the school unless it was the major games,” Gabrielle protested. It was warm for May and she wiped the back of her hand across her forehead. Nikki quickly grabbed a cloth and tied it around the bard’s forehead.

“Something is going on and I don’t know what.”

“Whatever it is, I’m going to live!” the recruit hissed.

“Good, that’s the only thing important and that’s the only rule out there. There is no playing fair. Don’t let him up if he falls, don’t be honorable, and don’t give him a second chance.” Nikki instructed as she tied the leather sleeve over the bard’s sword arm and positioned the leather with the metal plates over the bard’s wrist and hand. Next she strapped on a sword belt and a dagger in the bard’s belt. Nikki then quickly knelt and hid a dagger in the bard’s boot.

“Never let them know all of your weapons,” she instructed as she leaned on her crutch.

Gabrielle nodded grimly and took up a small round shield in her left hand.

Across the way she saw a trainee handing the small Arab a similar shield.

“He’s not accustomed to fighting with a sword or shield, use this and tire him out. If it comes down to a knife fight, he might win,” Nikki instructed.

“I present to you two novice gladiators who have a personal grudge and I’ve decided to let them settle it in the Arena as good training. May their fight give you enjoyment. I present Achmed the Arab and Dancer of the Northern Barbarians.”

Gabrielle felt Nikki lightly push her into the arena and walked to the center of the space to stand next to Lycrassis, she refused to look at Achmed. She faced the household box where Lycrassis, his wife and honored guests would watch the match and was stunned to recognize one of the honored guests, Brutus.

The bard felt her heart stop beating for a moment as he nearly came out of his chair in recognition as well. He recovered himself and sat back down, looking very pale. Lycrassis stepped back and the Arab went into a defensive position and Gabrielle quickly did the same as Lycrassis trotted out of the Arena area and the wooden door slammed shut.

Gabrielle shifted her focus only onto her opponent, fighting down her fear and all the sounds around her. The bard shifted into the gladiator called Dancer, pulling her sword and readjusting her shield.

Dancer’s travels with Xena and training with the Amazons, in addition to Nikki’s training, paid off in the first few moments when the Arab screamed and rushed the small woman, bashing at her with his shield and raising his sword to smash downwards.

Dancer rolled over with the blow and came to her feet in an instant and let his charge carry him off balance into her, bringing her own shield up to smash him in the face, sending him backwards. The Arab barely got his shield up in time to deflect her sword blow. He kicked out with his legs and took Dancer’s legs out from under her. They both regained their feet at the same time, neither with an advantage. Dancer was grateful at Nikki’s insight with the headband, she watched the Arab wipe sweat out of his eyes and curse under his breath and she was glad that the cloth caught the potential distraction of her own sweat. Dancer attempted to keep her breathing in a normal rhythm and not let the dust cloud her eyes or throat.

The fighters began circling each other, a little more cautious. Achmed screamed again and rushed the bard once more, this time she took the blow and spun with it, letting the energy of Achmed’s movement pull him past her and she sliced as he passed and left a long and deep wound in his left shoulder. He quickly moved out of sword reach, his shield arm hanging. He dropped the shield with a snarl.

Through Nikki’s training, Dancer knew that the little Arab could be even more dangerous now, he was desperate. Then again, she thought, so was she.

With a war cry of her own she anticipated his next rush and rolled forward into it, dropping her own shield and grabbing the dagger from her belt. Her forward roll brought her up under his sword as she blocked it with her own. Dancer sank her dagger into his ribs.

Everything seemed to stop in time for both of the fighters. The swords hung suspended in the air, one blocking the other, as the Arab looked down at the knife in his ribs and the small Greek looked up, stunned she had actually done it.

Achmed, with an angry yell, backhanded the bard, sending her falling backwards, slightly stunned. She quickly turned to regain her feet but the Arab threw himself across her back, grabbing her hair painfully, forcing her head back to meet his sword blade before he would fall to her dagger.

Dancer, having dropped her own sword, reached into her boot and grabbed the second dagger, with a quick movement she snapped her wrist back and cut away a good chunk of her hair, leaving the Arab with only a handful of hair and not his opponent. She threw him off her back, rolled over on top of him and straddled his chest, one foot on his sword hand. She held the dagger in both hands over his throat.

The woman looked to the household box and to Lycrassis. “What do you say, my honored guests and house members? A quick death for him or the slow death of a stabbed lung?” Lycrassis asked, looking to Brutus.

Gabrielle also looked at Brutus as he struggled to keep emotions from his face. Without a word the Roman raised his hand and then gave the pollice verso, the thumbs down and everyone followed.

Lycrassis grinned and gave the pollice verso.

“Forgive me, little man.” Dancer whispered as the blade plunged downward.

Gabrielle wasn’t aware of much after that, not even the gentle hands helping her to her feet and out of the arena and to the bathing area. Gabrielle finally became aware of those same hands cleaning the blood and dust from her body and then Nikki gently holding her as she cried.

***

An hour later Nikki had found a pair of scissors and finished what Gabrielle had started in the Arena with her hair. The bard found short hair a very strange feeling but one she might grow to like, she thought.

They were both startled when the door opened and Lycrassis walked in. He lifted the bard’s chin and took in her bruised nose and short hair with an appraising glance. He nodded approvingly. They both noticed the pair of shackles in his hand.

“Not bad. You did well out there today for a first time and a first kill. Most can’t do the pollice verso judgment on their first kill. You did well.” he commented.

“I’ll never get used to it,” Gabrielle whispered and was surprised when Lycrassis grinned. “No need to, as long as you continue to do it.” He reached out and grabbed the trainee’s wrist and quickly chained the bard and pulled her to her feet. “My honored guest, Brutus, would like to meet you,” he grinned and Gabrielle’s heart skipped a beat, the smile never reached his cruel eyes.

Nikki was on her feet in an instant. “You said no one would touch her!” she hissed.

“I said none of my men would touch her. When making bargains with Romans you should listen carefully to the wording,” Lycrassis grinned. “I didn’t say anything about myself or my guests.”

Nikki’s face turned very red and she grabbed her crutch up. Gabrielle held up her hands towards the trainer.

“I’ll be fine, it’s okay,” she reassured her pretend lover.

Lycrassis yanked her out of the room and slammed and locked the door, leaving Nikki cursing under her breath.

“Not only are you quick, you’re also smart. You just saved your lover a lashing.”

Gabrielle refused to talk and Lycrassis shrugged and led her through the villa to the guest room and opened the door without knocking.

Brutus rose from the sofa, his face without emotion.

“Well, Brutus, hope you enjoy your evening.” Lycrassis grinned and closed the door.

***

Brutus started to speak and Gabrielle moved quickly to him and placed a finger on his lips.

“I’m from the northern tribes, my Latin name is Brie here.” she said quickly and he nodded.

“How did you get here?” he demanded.

“I was taken on the border of Germania by slavers. My family doesn’t know where I am or if I’m alive.” Gabrielle stressed the word family and again Brutus nodded. “Are you going to take me to Caesar?” she asked softly and Brutus looked confused.

“Caesar, no. I’m on my way to Britannia. Please, sit.”

Gabrielle sat on the sofa and the Roman joined her.

“Brutus, my family told me how you helped them and me when I was ill, can you help me now?”

“I’ve tried, Lycrassis won’t sell you just yet.”

Gabrielle frowned. “Why not? I’m not trained enough yet to bring him in money and my chances of surviving the Arena are small.”

“I don’t know but he won’t. He says you’re a mystery and he sees talent in you, he wants to find out what that mystery is and to use your talent,”Brutus complained.

“Mystery?”

“He doesn’t believe that you’re sleeping with your trainer and you haven’t approached any of the men, it puzzles him. You’ve got to find a way to dismiss that mystery. Caesar has heard of your disappearance and he wants you very badly. Every Roman looking for favor is looking for you. He thinks X….. your family will come to him if he has you.”

“I know, I figured that might happen,”Gabrielle muttered.

“I managed to get Lycrassis to wager with me,”Brutus said hopefully, “if you survive the time I’m gone to Britannia, then he’ll sell you to me when I return and he won’t sell you to anyone else before I return.”

“How long?”

“A year.”

“A year is better than the three year bet he made with Nikki, my trainer. A year, though. Brutus, that’s forever in the Arena!” Gabrielle felt tears threatening to spill over and angrily brushed them away.

“I know but my hands are tied. Caesar is in Egypt and I don’t trust anyone to get you to your family if I force the issue.”

“Brutus, I have to ask, why would you help me and go against Caesar, again?”she whispered.

The Roman smiled. “Your mate once asked why I liked you and I couldn’t find the words. She seemed to understand though and said that you were the light in the darkness that we walk as warriors. She was and is right. I care for you very much, G…. Brie.”

“Brutus, you know I’m bonded to another, by choice and by the gods.”Gabrielle gently touched his cheek.

“Yes, that doesn’t mean I can’t be your friend.”
“Thank you,”she said simply.

“Why do you trust me?”Brutus asked with a frown.

“I have no choice. You offer a glimmer of hope of getting back to my mate.”Gabrielle answered simply.

“What else can I do?”the Roman asked, taking the bard’s hands in his.

“Force me into your bed,”Gabrielle whispered.

“What?!”Brutus leaped to his feet and Gabrielle pulled him back down.

“What do you think Lycrassis is expecting? Why else would you send for me? Why do you think my wrists are chained and not my legs?”

“I can’t do that!”Brutus protested.

“You said yourself I have to convince Lycrassis there’s no mystery to solve, that I’m just another scared barbarian fighting for her life that happens to be Sapphic and not interested in sleeping with him.”

“Oh gods, G… Brie. I am not a rapist, I don’t even touch my own slaves.”

“Who says there’s no light in your life, Brutus?”Gabrielle smiled, touching his cheek again. “We have to make it look like you forced me.”

“All right, I can do that, I think.”Brutus nodded.

“Then hit me.”

Brutus rose to his feet again and began pacing in front of the sofa. “I can’t!”he hissed.

Gabrielle stood up and in his way. “Do you think Lycrassis would believe I just fell into your bed?”

Brutus closed his eyes and nodded. When he opened his eyes Gabrielle closed hers and waited.

***

The next morning Nikki opened the guest room to find Gabrielle arms above her head, her chain tied to one of the bed posts and the woman was nude. Nikki whined in her throat when she took in the bruises on the bard’s face and arms and then she went to her knees beside the bed when she saw blood between Gabrielle’s legs.

Nikki quickly wiped tears away when Lycrassis walked into the room.

“Well, get her cleaned up and at practice.”Lycrassis took in the sight as well and grinned. “Well, seems our Roman General was a little rough with your pet, eh?”

Gabrielle opened her eyes and then turned her head, realizing her appearance.

“Tears, Nikki? Maybe you are lovers after all. You better pray I don’t suspect you two of plotting to kill me or run away,”Lycrassis warned as he walked out.

Gabrielle turned to look at Nikki. “It’s all right, untie me.”

Nikki quickly moved to cut the rope with her dagger and then helped the bard sit up on the bed. She quickly grabbed a blanket and wrapped it around the small woman.

“He didn’t hurt me.”Gabrielle tried reassuring her friend.

“But the bruises and blood?”Nikki whispered, helping Gabrielle to her feet.

“I asked him to hit me to convince Lycrassis. Brutus cut his own hand to provide the blood to make it look like rape.”Gabrielle smiled a tired smile.

“I don’t understand,”Nikki complained as they walked to the door.

“Brutus is a friend and he just might get us out of here before three years.”
“Now I’m definitely confused,”Nikki complained.

“We have a lot to talk about and maybe some hope is in sight. If I can stay alive in the Arena.”

“I have some ideas about that,”Nikki smiled.

“Good, I want to get dressed and eat.”

The next hurdle to staying alive came that night when the two women undressed for bed. Gabrielle hesitated and sat down on the bed, pulling a blanket around her. Nikki sat down next to her, pulling on a robe.

“What is it, Brie?”Nikki asked.

“We have to convince Lycrassis that we are lovers and take away his curiosity about me,”Gabrielle whispered.

“Brie, a gentle bard who’s now willing to kill; a woman who’s willing to live with rape; a bonded lover who’s willing to sleep with me just to stay alive. You love her enough to live with all of that?”Nikki asked gently and then pulled her Queen into her arms as Gabrielle broke down crying.

“I love her that much. I love her enough to use people who love me to get back to her. Brutus loves me and I’m willing to use him, to put him in danger with Caesar. I’m willing to use your friendship and body to keep me alive to get back to her,”Gabrielle whispered.

“Brie, you don’t love me, I know that. You would sleep with me on the chance it might keep Lycrassis distracted?”

Gabrielle broke into fresh tears. “Yes,”she whispered.

“A love like yours is rare, my Queen,”Nikki whispered back.

Gabrielle held out her left hand and showed the fellow Amazon the angry red scar across the palm. “We are blood bound by the gods themselves.”

“The gods?”

“Yes, they showed up at our bonding ritual and said that our destiny was to be together and our love was beyond this lifetime and death and they called for a blood bonding,”Gabrielle explained.

“Then, my Queen, I will do everything in my power to get you back to your mate. Even loving you.”Nikki said with a grin, bringing Gabrielle out of her arms as the young woman lightly punched her friend in the arm.

“As if that was a task? You don’t want my body?”Gabrielle teased.

“My Queen, I have been dying to touch your body since the day I first saw you.”Nikki admitted. “Then I saw your mate and thought better of that idea,”she grinned.

“Most people do when they meet her,”Gabrielle giggled.

Nikki leaned down and lightly kissed the bard and whimpered as the bard began kissing her back. “I’m sorry,”Gabrielle whispered as she slowly began kissing Nikki’s neck and the Amazon warrior wasn’t sure if Gabrielle was apologizing for using Nikki or apologizing to Xena. Neither woman was surprised when they heard footsteps outside their window. It had been expected.

================================================================

They were in their third month after the attack by the Romans when Ketli, one of the young boys of the house came running into the second long house and spotted Iolaus/Ivar attempting to sew some deer hide. The boy ran up with a grin.

“Ivar, our Southern brother comes!”He said excitedly, pulling on Iolaus’ sleeve.

“Great!”Iolaus set the deer hide aside and grabbed up his cloak and went outside with the boy, bending down so Ketli could pin his cloak closed.

Iolaus grinned as Hercules jumped off his horse and grabbed his friend in a bear hug. The smaller Greek man punched his friend on the arm as Hercules put him down. He looked into his friend’s face and contemplated the full beard the demi-god had grown during the winter and approved and he knew Hercules was probably doing the same with his blond beard.

“Good to see you up and moving, my friend,”Hercules said.

“Good to be among the living. Gabrielle?”

Hercules’ lost his smile and shook his head. Before he could answer most of the women from the two long houses had come out to greet him and Eddval’s wife, Thora, offered him a drinking horn in a traditional gesture of welcome. He toasted the well being of everyone in the steadying and drank deeply, appreciating the good ale of the north.

Ketli moved to take his horse to the stable and the women parted to let the men walk towards the long house. Hercules answered his friend.

“I lost track of her. The slavers the Romans sold her to sold her again to another set of traders heading into Italia. The Romans told the slavers that she was Germanic and, somehow, Gabrielle has kept quiet and the slavers sold her as Germanic. All I could find from the second slavers was that a lot of females were sold to villas in Italia. I couldn’t even find out what province she’s in.”

“Damn! Xena says she’s alive, that she can feel Gabrielle is alive.”

“I believe it. They have that kind of connection.”

“You’d better tell Xena this one. The baby is fine but Xena isn’t. She spends a lot of time alone and she hasn’t slept an entire night through since.”Iolaus frowned.

Hercules stopped his friend and raised Iolaus chin to look in his friend’s eyes. “Neither have you.”the demi-god commented and lifted the cloak aside to get a look at his friend and frowned at the sling holding Iolaus’ arm.

Iolaus shrugged and continued into the long house. “I have some strength in the hand but not much. The arm is useless.”

“You’re alive, I didn’t think you’d make it from those wounds.”Hercules said softly.

“Neither did anyone else.”Iolaus grinned a sad smile. “What happens now?”

“I tell Xena the miserable news and I leave at the end of the week back for Italia. I’m not giving up.”

***

Hercules met Xena at the barn as she rode in on Argo. Her eyes were hopeful until she met his and he shook his head. The warrior clenched her jaw and climbed down slowly off her beloved horse.

The tall Greek repeated what he had told Iolaus as she unsaddled the horse and began brushing the mare.

“I’m going with you this time!”she snapped.

“No, you’re not. You’re due in two moons with a child and shouldn’t be traveling, let along traveling into Italia. It’s just what Caesar is expecting. He’s got all of the Roman Empire looking for you and Gabrielle. He’s learned that Gabrielle is missing in Italia and has everyone looking for her. He won’t say why but we both know he wants to use her as bait to get to you. The only thing saving her life right now is that they probably think she’s a German slave and not your bard,”he argued.

Xena growled, clenching her fists tightly.

“Xena, I’m not going to stop until we have her back,”he promised.

“I can feel her, I can almost see her and I can’t reach her!”she hissed, throwing the brush across the stall. Argo danced a couple of steps away from her friend, picking up on the dangerous energy growing in the warrior.

“She’s still alive,”he tried to comfort her but Xena shook his hand off.

“She’s had to kill, Hercules. I saw it, a dagger in her hands and then blood. I wasn’t there to protect her or comfort her! Damnit!”

Xena spun around, eyes flashing angrily and darting around. The demi-god held up a hand, palm forward.

“Come on, Xena. You can’t hurt me, you know,”he urged.

“I wouldn’t chance that right now!”she warned. “Do you know what they did to her? What Iolaus saw?!”
Hercules gritted his own teeth and shoved the warrior, hard. The demi-god got the reaction he expected and found himself sitting on his tailbone from a well placed punch along the jawline. He quickly jumped up and held out his hands as sparring targets as Xena screamed in rage and let loose.

“Ivar, what’s happening?” Ketli asked, running up to the barn door. Iolaus held up his good hand, holding the boy back.

“Hercules is helping her work out some frustration.”

When the red finally cleared from Xena’s eyes she was breathing heavy and Hercules was picking himself up from a hay pile, nursing a bloody nose. He grinned at his friend, feeling his jaw.

“Feel better?”he asked.

“Some,”she admitted as she examined her skinned and bruised knuckles.

“I’m just glad you didn’t go for your weapons, my friend. I take it back, you can hurt me,”he grinned and then held his arms open as the rest of her pent up emotions broke and she began to cry.

================================================================

The third and fourth month of Gabrielle’s training saw a new focus. Nikki made a rough wooden figure and used it to demonstrate moves that she wanted the little fighter to try.

“Lycrassis was right, you are a natural dancer and we should use that to our advantage. A typical match is between two fighters who are matched but in different areas. Naked Retiarii fight with nets and a trident against heavily armored fighters. Neither side has an overwhelming advantage. The naked fighter is quick and hard to hit, the heavily amour one is hard to get decent hits on. Both having different skills but an even fight. Your opponents will probably be heavily armed, because of your smallness, I don’t see Lycrassis weighing you down with armor. I want to train you to be able to get past that armor and hit deadly points quickly. A dance under the sword and amour of your opponent, a deadly dance.”

Gabrielle caught Lycrassis watching them discussing movements and his grin as he saw Nikki’s bruised neck. The tall blond Viking Amazon blushed and went back to her descriptions with the little Greek.

“How do you get under the sword and shield without getting killed?”Gabrielle questioned, taking up a typical amour fighter stance. Nikki began plotting out steps, one by one for the little bard.

***

In the fourth month Gabrielle found herself at one of the local games of the month. Scheduled for a fight in the morning with another new recruit, this one a big, strong and heavily armed fighter.

Nikki rubbed the smaller woman’s shoulders as they waited in the dark and stuffy cells before the match. Gabrielle’s hands couldn’t keep still.

“Relax, it’ll be over before you know it’s begun. The hardest part is the waiting for your match,”Nikki urged.

“How did you handle it?”Gabrielle asked as Nikki began helping her strap on the leather arm protector.

“Who says I ever did? I typically lost my breakfast just before going out there.”Nikki grinned and Gabrielle turned pale.

“Thanks for the encouragement,” the bard whispered and Nikki laughed.

“You’re welcome, little one.”

A guard opened the cell door and motioned the bard out. Nikki leaned heavily on the bars as he closed the door.

“Be safe.”

Gabrielle attempted a grin but wasn’t very successful.

***

The bard was grateful that the sun wasn’t on her side of the Arena when she walked out. Fighters were trained to ignore the sun but they always found themselves blinking in the bright sunlight after spending all morning in the dark cells. Gabrielle shifted her sword belt slightly and followed the guard to the center of the Arena. She quickly bounced on her toes a few times and shifted the shield on her left arm.

She barely glanced at the heavily armed Myrmillo type fighter. Heavy plate and chainmaille armor covered his chest and arms and half metal cylinders, called ocreae, covered his upper thighs and he was armed with a heavy sword, dagger and a large shield.

Gabrielle wasn’t amused with her chances. She closed her eyes and began a breathing exercise she had learned from Xena and let the tension drain from her body and let the bard slip away from her and let the Dancer take her place.

When Dancer opened her eyes, they were without emotion and alert. She spotted Lycrassis in one of the royal boxes and he grinned at her. She bowed slightly and then turned towards her opponent.

One thing in the back of Dancer’s mind, the bard part still thinking, the school normally didn’t fight to the death. Lycrassis preferred to develop his fighters rather than just provide blood sport and lose fighters before they had developed enough skills to survive professional encounters.

Dancer dismissed any thoughts and concentrated as the flag signaling the beginning of the match dropped from Lycrassis’ hand.

Anticipating the Myrmillo’s rush, Dancer simply spun on one heel and let her shield scrape against his, carrying his momentum around. She ducked his defensive round slash of his sword and slashed his calf, below the ocreae. Dancer quickly dived out of reach of his sword as he attempted to slam his shield down on the crouched fighter and bring his sword back around and down. She came up behind him and slashed across his lower back with her sword, just where the armor didn’t protect.

He roared and went to his knees, dropping his shield. Dancer parried a sword swing with her shield and danced out the way of a second thrust as he regained his feet. Her opponent didn’t dare reach for his shield so he pulled out his dagger to compliment his sword.

Dancer kept out of his reach, barely turning his sword strikes aside with her shield while dancing out of reach of the dagger. The Myrmillo was breathing heavily and sweating while Dancer kept her breathing as normal as possible. The Myrmillo type fighter let his anger give him a flash of energy and charged the smaller woman and she stood her ground until the last moment and dived forward into him, rolling his legs out from under him. As he fell on his face and lost his breath the small woman scrambled out from under his legs and jumped on his back, sword poised over his neck.

The fighter dropped the sword and held out his arms to his sides.

“Surrender!”he cried out and Dancer looked to her owner’s box.

Lycrassis seemed to consider for a moment and then gave a thumbs up, signifying life. Dancer breathed a sigh of relief and slowly rose off the man. She bowed to Lycrassis and began to walk back towards her end of the Arena when she felt the pounding of running feet and let instinct take over, dropping into a crouch and swinging her leg out as the Myrmillo type fighter charged her from behind. She swept his leg out from under him and he hit the ground hard again. The small woman was on top of him before he could even blink and her dagger was sticking out of his throat.

Shaking, Dancer rose to her feet and looked to her master, wondering what his reaction would be. The Roman rose to his feet and began applauding, everyone else in the spectator seats rising to applaud.

Dancer bowed slightly and retrieved her dagger and walked back towards the cells, shaking all over and wondering if she could make it out of sight before she threw up.

Part 2

Xena was worried about Hercules scouring Italia for a “Germanic slave” with everyone’s emotions running high towards war and she was worried for Gabrielle, mostly. It didn’t help that she was feeling herself getting close to welcoming a baby into her life. Her body was screaming in frustration, she was uncomfortable all the time and irritable. Sasha and the other women just smiled, remembering their own due times and reassured her that it was normal.

Having been irritable most of the time before Solan was born the warrior hadn’t noticed the changes in her mood swings. Now she did and wanted nothing more than to have Gabrielle there at her side.

***

“Yrsa! Quick, raiders are coming!” Ketli yelled as he dashed into the long house. Sasha quickly grabbed up a pack and began throwing containers of herbs, bandages and other things in it.

“Ivar, grab several blankets and get them to the stable. Ketli, hitch up the wagon and throw the blankets in the back and bring the wagon to the back! Hurry!” Sasha ordered.

Xena/Yrsa, struggled to sit up. “What are you doing, Sasha, hand me my sword.” she ordered.

“No, warrior friend, I’ve been timing your pains and you are very close. I am not going to deliver your child in the middle of a battle! Get out and into that wagon. We’ll go to the hunting cabin a couple of miles from here. Move!”

“I can fight!”

“In an hour or so you’ll be doing nothing but screaming, now move!”

Within minutes the warrior found herself being bounced almost out of the speeding wagon as it dashed across the countryside and up an old trail to the hunting cabin that the men used along a trap line in the winter. Xena wasn’t sure if she was going to deliver her baby right then and there with all the bouncing and hung on for dear life as Ketli yelped and Iolaus held tight to the seat next to Sasha.

The raiders had hit quick but Ketli had gotten word to the men working the field and the battle had been going well for Xena’s adopted family when they left and she had tried to convince Sasha to stay and wait it out but the stubborn Northerner had refused.

Sasha had been right though about the timing, the pains were getting closer and more intense. Xena bit her lip and then cried out as a wave hit her. Ketli looked concerned and touched the warrior’s tanned arm. She tried to smile but gritted her teeth as they hit another bump.

The small boy had taken to the Greeks and had kinda adopted them. The dark haired boy’s mother had died in childbirth and his father had been killed on a raid when he was 5 summers old. He stayed close to Iolaus, helping the Greek with the little things, like getting dressed and things that the Greek had problems with now that his arm was barely useful and he liked the strong warrior woman as well and the Northerners has accepted his adoption of their new friends with a smile and shrug. Xena knew the seven year old would soon begin training for his life as a man but in this in-between stage he seemed to be their shadow.

Inside the cabin the warrior couldn’t help but cry out now, with the pains coming closer and closer.

Iolaus sat next to her, wiping her forehead with a wet cloth, smiling his encouragement.

“Gabrielle.”Xena whispered and closed her eyes and he gently brushed away the tears escaping her closed eyes.

***

Everyone in the cabin jumped when someone began pounding on the door. Iolaus quickly drew his sword and went to the door and listened.

“Go away,” he shouted.

“Please, a small band of raiders are headed this way and I seek shelter!” a voice called.

“No,” he said frowning.

“I invoke the right of hospitality, damnit!” the voice demanded and Sasha walked to the door.

“Do you swear no harm to anyone in this room?” she yelled.

“I will swear a blood oath to it before all the gods,” the voice answered and Sasha opened the door.

Xena, sitting up on the bed with her sword in hand, took in the visitor. A tall Viking woman, dressed in male clothing and carrying a bow and arrow in her hand with a sword and ax on either hip. She quickly entered the cabin and closed the door behind her. She lowered the bow and drew out a dagger from behind her belt. She made a small slice across her palm and let the blood drip onto the floor.

“I swear by my blood and that of my kin that I mean no harm to anyone in this room and will fight to protect them to the death,” she invoked. Sasha nodded welcome and returned to Xena’s side as another contraction hit and Xena moaned, gritting her teeth.

“The Norns picked a strange place and time for your little one to be born, friend,” the newcomer smiled and went to the boarded up window and opened the narrow slit.

Iolaus went to the other window and could see movement in the trees.

“Warriors approaching, I see maybe six, probably more in the shadows and behind us.” he said.

“There were at least fifteen when I made it here,” the stranger answered.

“Fifteen, that’s not a small band. They’re looking for us.” Sasha frowned and Xena screamed with another contraction.

“Well, there’s no leaving here now,” the stranger grinned.

“I am Sasha, wife of Axel. This is Ivar the one handed, Yrsa the Vigilant and Ketli the Mouse.”

“I am Grimhild Thornfinndottir. Traveling messenger to the King of the Russ to the East.” “Welcome Grimhild to possibly your last day,” Sasha said with a smile.

Grimhild grinned back. “It’s a small thing. A good day for it, I think.”

She turned back and let an arrow fly, hitting a raider in the eye. She notched another arrow and let it fly, dropping another raider.

“How many of those have you got?” Iolaus asked with admiration.

“Not enough and they’ll be on the roof and at the door before I can drop all of them. ”

Xena screamed again, gripping the bed sheets tightly as Ketli wiped her forehead.

Sasha, helping the warrior, looked over Xena’s legs with a grin.

“Well, timing may not be great but you are about to have your child, my friend.”

Xena cursed in Greek at the timing and at Ares for getting her in the mess in the first place. Sasha grinned, not understanding the language but the sentiment. She had assisted at births before. The mothers always got really pissed, usually at the men who didn’t have to go through all of this.

“Ivar, some of them have torches,” Grimhild said with a growl.

Sasha looked up with something Xena had never seen on the woman’s face, fear.

“They want to burn us?” she asked no one in particular.

“Looks that way. Ivar, you and me outside the door, Ketli – keep an eye out back for any men with torches and yell if they try and fire the back,” Grimhild ordered.

Iolaus nodded and readied his sword as the Viking woman grabbed the door and quickly opened it and dived outside with a Viking war cry. Iolaus followed, sword flashing in the sunlight.

Xena cursed every god she could think of for the timing of this mess, especially Ares and screamed with another contraction. Ketli quickly shut the door behind the warriors and went to the window.

The sounds of the battle faded for the warrior as her body demanded all of her attention and the only sounds she could hear were her own screams of pain and Sasha’s reassuring voice. Ketli yelled several times and grabbed up an ax from beside the door.

In between one of the contractions Xena saw the small boy bury the hatchet in a raider’s skull as he tried to climb in a window. Ketli yelled an imitation of Grimhild yell and tried to yank the ax out of the man’s skull. Sasha jumped up and ran over to help him and handed him the ax.

“Leave the body, it’ll block the others,” she said simply as she looked in his bright eyes.

“Oh gods, he’s so young,” Xena whispered as Sasha rejoined her.

“Yes,” Sasha agreed and then Xena screamed again.

The world disappeared for the warrior as her screams mingled with those outside and inside the cabin.

Then the pain passed like a wave as tears streamed down the warrior’s face. Sasha was grinning at her and wrapping a small bundle in a clean cloth.

“You have a daughter, my friend.”

Sasha and Xena both jumped as the door crashed inward and Iolaus fell into the room, a gash on his head, bleeding down the side of his face. He shook his head growling and flipped up to his feet and charged the doorway as two raiders attempted to enter.

Sasha quickly handed the crying infant to Xena and grabbed the warrior’s sword and joined Iolaus at the door.

Xena watched with horror, unable to move, as she cradled her new daughter and her friends fought the raiders. Iolaus fell under another blow to the head and Sasha was forced back into the room. She grabbed Ketli by the collar and threw him behind her when he attempted to rush in front of her and protect her.

“Ketli, throw me the ax!” she yelled and the boy quickly ran over to her and handed over the ax.

“Sasha, duck!” she called and let the small hatchet fly when the woman ducked at her command. The raider about to cleave the Northerner’s skull found his open with an ax in the face. Sasha grinned and ran her friend’s sword through the chest of another raider but the sword stuck in the ribs.

Xena screamed as a battle ax met Sasha’s neck and collarbone. Xena pulled out her dagger and placed her daughter next to the wall.

Ketli dived forward and grabbed a fallen sword and impaled it through the foot of another warrior and as that warrior dropped his battle ax the little boy grabbed the ax and, dodging the raider’s angry attempts to grab him, scurried back to the warrior and handed her the ax.

The raider pulled the sword out of his foot with a scream and started to limp towards the warrior woman and children when Iolaus’ wrist snapped out and he slashed the back of the raider’s knees. When the man hit the floor Iolaus sat up and decapitated him with one stroke.

Then everything went strangely silent except for the cries of an newborn infant.

Xena looked up with tears in her eyes as Grimhild stood in the doorway, taking in the carnage. She nodded with satisfaction as Xena grabbed up her daughter, cradling and holding her new one.

“I think your friend would be honored if you named her Sasha.” Grimhild smiled.

“I think so too.” Xena agreed, looking up with tears in her eyes. She took in the sight of the blood covered warrior, the massive wounds in the shoulder, stomach and legs and frowned.

“Don’t worry, warrior. You’ll see me again,” Grimhild promised and disappeared out the door.

“What in Tartarus was that about?” Iolaus asked as he dragged himself to his feet, meeting his new godchild. “I don’t know but I have a feeling that wasn’t totally a normal occurrence, even for here.”

“Valkyrie.” Ketli whispered, his eyes wide.

“Valkyrie?” Xena asked.

“She’s your Valkyrie, wow!” then he looked at Sasha’s body and ran into Iolaus’ arms, weeping.

“So much blood, Iolaus.” Xena whispered and he simply nodded, sitting on the bed, taking up one of the cloths and holding it against his head.

“I wish Herc and Gabby were here,” he complained and Xena merely nodded as her daughter, Sasha, began feeding.

“Gabrielle, come back to us,” Xena whispered.

================================================================

Time seemed to blend to Nikki and Gabrielle. Hours into days and days into weeks as July came and went. Most nights were spent too tired to do anything but hold each other. Most every night found itself broken by the bard’s screams or cries for her mate and would end with Nikki holding and comforting the small woman.

One night in June in particular found the bard waking, screaming her mate’s name. Nikki grabbed her friend and quickly covered the bard’s mouth and tried waking Gabrielle. The smaller woman was bathed in sweat and was trembling.

The bard finally nodded that she was awake and Nikki removed her hand.

“It’s Xena, something’s happened!” she whispered in fear. “I saw her screaming.”

“It was a dream, little one.” Nikki whispered.

“No, this wasn’t like other dreams. Oh gods, the baby. It’s time for the baby!”

Nikki let the bard fall into her arms and wept with her friend. She knew that Gabrielle wanted nothing more than to be with her mate at that moment and she could offer little comfort and very little hope.

Gabrielle was amazing in the Arena but the odds were just too great for the woman to escape with her life or without a crippling injury. Nikki didn’t know that Gabrielle’s Regent, Ephiny had once commented to Xena that Gabrielle could be a natural fighter and deadly in a knife or sword fight but the Viking Amazon would have agreed with the Regent, especially after training the small woman. She also knew that having to kill other fighters was tearing the Amazon Queen’s soul apart.

“Shhhh, little one. They’ll be fine and you’ll see them again.” Nikki whispered until Gabrielle fell asleep in her arms.

================================================================

Axel had been pleased to learn of Xena’s choice for naming her child and publicly welcomed Sasha into the Northern family. Everyone celebrated the victory over the raiders and mourned their dead.

================================================================

After that night the bard seemed to lose her sense of hope of getting out. She continued her practicing with diligence that pleased Lycrassis but worried Nikki. Gabrielle wasn’t talking much, that in itself was amazing and a warning sign, Nikki knew. The small blonde’s training was without the fire that a warrior needed in the Arena.

Nikki had seen this type of reaction before in fighters. The ones that had given up all hope of survival and merely were going through the motions until someone killed them. The Viking Amazon was frantic with worry and didn’t know how to reach Gabrielle and bring back the little bard’s fire.

***

The match that month was with another Myrmillo type fighter and this time the match was scheduled in the afternoon, signifying that Gabrielle’s talents had taken her into the serious matches. It also brought more experienced opponents.

The Amazon Queen didn’t say much as the morning wore on and Nikki paced the cell with her crutch.

“Brie, I know what’s going on inside that head of yours. You can’t give up!”

“Brutus has only been gone three months. I can’t take another nine months or more of this. X…. my mate now has her child, she has something to live for,” Gabrielle said flatly.

“You can’t give up, a blood bond is stronger than this! She wouldn’t want this!”

“I’m sorry, Nikki, I truly am. I care very deeply for you but every day I’m alive puts you and X… my mate in danger. We’ve heard from the slaves of other traders and school owners that Caesar is scouring the entire realm for me so he can trap my mate. I’m a danger to you, to Brutus, to my mate and to her child. I can’t live with all this blood and that responsibility any more.”

Gabrielle stood when the guard came. Nikki grabbed her arm, tears falling down her cheeks.

“Please, little one, don’t do this,” she begged.

Gabrielle gently touched the taller woman’s cheek and then walked out of the cell.

Nikki knew the look, usually on older fighters facing impossible odds, it was a look of resignation. An acceptance of death by the sword.

***

Dancer cursed under her breath. The one day she wanted to be beaten and she drew an opponent that couldn’t swat a fly! Dancer realized that the only way this idiot was going to beat her was if she put her sword down and stood absolutely still for his sword strike and even then he might miss.

The frustrated fighter moved in quickly and slashed his sword out of his hand and then cut one of his hamstrings, ending the fight. Before the guards could come and carry the screaming fighter away, Dancer reversed her sword and braced it the dirt and positioned it at her heart.

“No!” she heard Lycrassis scream.

“Xena, I love you,” she whispered as she held the sword and let her weight fall forward, closing her eyes.

Gabrielle frowned and opened her eyes and found everything had stopped. She wasn’t moving forward onto the sword and she seemed to be hovering. The bard pulled back and stood up, looking around.

The bard was amazed, it was as if time had stopped, like a dream. Everyone and everything was frozen, just the same as the moment before. Lycrassis starting to his feet, the scream still on his lips; the guard in midstride, running towards her and the fallen fighter; the fighter holding the back of his knee, his face in agony; the crowd in various stages of standing or sitting, cheering or screaming.

Then Gabrielle saw him standing about ten feet from her, waiting.

“Apollo?” she asked.

“Yes, child.”

“Why did you stop me?” she asked in a tired voice.

“Because that is not your fate. You are still fated to be with Xena.” he said simply.

“I can’t last that long!” Gabrielle protested. “Unless you want to zap me there?” she asked hopefully.

“Sorry, daughter. Comes under the Ôtoo much interference’ thing.”

“Then leave me alone. I’m forced to kill, something I never wanted to do. I’ve become a fighter, deadly with a blade, something I never wanted to do. I use a friend to keep my identity secret, I use her love and body as a shield. Brutus could be killed just for not telling Caesar where I am, Nikki could be killed just for knowing me and Xena would probably walk into a fire trap if she knew where I was. What do you want from me?” she suddenly screamed. “I can’t take it! All of these people could be dead because of me!”

“Yes, and they are willing to be in that position of their own free wills. The other fighters will either kill or be killed, as is their fate. Yours is here,” with a gesture Gabrielle could suddenly see her warrior.

“Xena?” Gabrielle moved closer to her father.

Gabrielle could see Xena sitting by a fire in a small cabin, holding a tiny infant in her arms. The bard began to cry as the baby opened it’s eyes to reveal eyes as blue as it’s warrior’s mother.

“Let me tell you another one about Gabrielle,” the bard heard Xena’s voice as the woman held her child, rocking it. “We were walking through the Bacchae forest and noticed that we couldn’t hear Orpheus’ playing…..”

Xena looked up with a grin and Iolaus walked into sight of the vision carrying a bundle of fresh picked vegetables.

“Iolaus, he lived!” Gabrielle whispered joyfully.

“Yes, the thought of rescuing you and finding Xena kept him alive,” Apollo answered.

“Another story of Gabrielle?” Iolaus asked with a sad smile.

Xena nodded, looking back down at her child. “It gives me hope,” she said simply, tears beginning to fall as she held the child close. “I miss her so much,” the warrior whispered.

The vision faded and Gabrielle went to her knees weeping.

“If you die then she will follow you, child or not. She can no longer live without you or the hope of you. If you die she’ll know it, just as you would know of her death. Without you or Xena, Ares will claim the child and her daughter will take over Xena’s destiny, this time with the northern tribes. Their destiny just may be to wipe out Rome eventually, but with your daughter as their leader, they would wipe out the world and plunge it into darkness.”

“Damn you! All of you! Can’t you find someone else to meddle with for awhile?!” she shouted. “First me and Xena, now her child?” she shouted.

Apollo shook his head. “I know, Gabrielle. None of us want this but the threads are all lined up, it’s up to you once again to determine which one of those threads gets cut or used.”

“I can’t do it anymore!” she cried, tears streaming down her face. “I’m tired, Apollo. I’m so tired.” Her head dropped forward, as if from the weight of her tears.

Apollo walked over and gently touched her head. “I know, daughter, I know. The Fates have not been kind to you and your warrior these past years. I wish I could help more but I can’t. Honor the wishes of your friends and let them make their own choices.”

“How can I face Xena after all of this?” she cried.

“You forgave her worst, do you think she won’t forgive you?”

“We weren’t bonded then. I sleep with Nikki when I’m married to Xena,” Gabrielle whispered.

Apollo gently raised the bard to her feet and took her in his arms.

“You are doing what you need to survive, no one will fault you for that,”he said gently and began walking her back to the fallen fighter.

“Will I see her again?” Gabrielle whimpered.

“I don’t know but the odds are good. You have a natural talent you inherited from your father. You also inherited your mother’s stubbornness. Don’t give up again and you might see your mate on this side.”

Gabrielle sighed and lifted the sword up, looking at it while Apollo, her father waited.

“If I die now?” she asked.

“The Fields for you, and possible darkness for your warrior and the world.”

“Gods, I hate this saving the world stuff,” she muttered and reversed the sword in her hand. She nodded to Apollo and everything began to move forward again, this time with her holding the sword over the fallen fighter and then walking away towards the cells, leaving Lycrassis wondering why he had been leaping to his feet.

================================================================

The season seemed to go by quickly for the Greeks and their Germanic family. Summer hunting and raiding turned into fall harvest and everyone was very pleased to discover that Iolaus had a knack for brewing ale and mead, even though he had never done anything like it before. Axel kept teasing the little man that he couldn’t wait to try the mead his little brother had made and now sat fermenting.

Fall harvest began turning to winter chill as the steady got ready for the snow to fly. Animals were slaughtered, the last of the grain harvested, apples taken in and the last of the brew made. Xena and Iolaus found themselves restless but knowing they faced months of winter snow again and the improbability of finding Gabrielle before Spring.

Even with Sasha to care for the warrior seemed to be losing her spark and Iolaus began to worry. He watched as his friend began looking haggard and not sleeping, even with all the women in the steading helping raise Sasha.

***

January found both Greeks having increased nightmares and depression. The year of Gabrielle being gone was hitting both of them hard and the family around them couldn’t seem to pull them out of it. It seemed like they took turns holding each other at night as they cried.

Iolaus knew it was only Sasha that was now keeping the warrior going. The infant and the fact that Xena knew Gabrielle still lived.

================================================================

January found Gabrielle a fully trained gladiator and holding her own in major fights. It also marked a year’s turning point of when she was taken from Xena’s side and sent the bard into a fury of anger that she took out regularly on the practice pells and sparring partners.

Nikki, realizing the reason for the mood, stayed out of the little fighter’s way as much as possible until Gabrielle had worked it out of her system. Unfortunately, the three fighters she met in the Arena that month weren’t able to stay out of her way and made the mistake of pushing Dancer too far in the ring. One ended up a cripple and the other two ended up dead when they displeased the crowd and Dancer won the match.

Then the bard spent a week refusing to get out of bed, tossing and turning with nightmares and despair. Nikki was able to convince Lycrassis, with the help of the healer, that Gabrielle had an illness. It was days before the Viking was able to get the small warrior to eat again and then to start training again. Then Gabrielle’s jaw took on the stubborn set Nikki had come to know and the bard began training seriously again.

================================================================

Hercules returned twice each season during the Spring and Summer with the same news. Every Roman in the Empire was looking for Gabrielle and no one had found her or recognized her, Hercules included. He had gone to Gabrielle and Xenas families and told them of Gabrielle’s disappearance and had checked in with the Amazons to find that every tribe in the known world was also looking for the Queen of the Greek Amazons and no one seemed to be able to find her.

After his first visit during the Spring he had carried news of Xena’s child to the families and news from the families to Xena.

================================================================

Nikki and Gabrielle were beginning to actually have some hope in surviving either the year or more Brutus had promised or the three years Lycrassis had wagered with them. They were all making money on Gabrielle’s matches and Lycrassis had left the two women alone in Gabrielle’s training and sex life, which pleased both women. Nikki and Gabrielle kept up the appearance of being lovers and occasionally did find themselves in each other’s arms time and again, mostly for the sexual release and the comfort they could give each other.

Gabrielle kept waking up in the night calling for Xena.

================================================================

The year Brutus had bargained for came and went and neither Nikki nor Gabrielle brought the subject up, both finding it too painful to even discuss. Losing what little hope the gladiator and trainer had was almost beyond their strength.

The training and matches continued and Lycrassis kept counting the money and the women kept counting the time.

***

Gabrielle bit into the blanket as her body trembled and shook out of control. Tears began to flow from her closed eyes as always and she bit the blanket harder to keep from screaming her mate’s name as waves swept over her.

In a moment Nikki was holding her, gently crying herself for Gabrielle’s pain. As expected the footsteps left their window and Gabrielle punched the wall in anger.

“Shhhh, it’s okay, he’s gone.” Nikki whispered.

“I can’t do this anymore,” Gabrielle hissed back. “Either I die or he dies, I can’t keep doing this! It’s not fair!” Gabrielle jumped past her gladiator trainer/lover and began pacing with a blanket thrown over her shoulders. “It’s not fair to you! You touch me and my body responds but it’s X…. it’s HER that I want, I only think of her. I can’t do that to you anymore! When I touch you I want it to be her.”

Gabrielle sank to her knees crying.

“How touching!” a male voice sent the bard flying across the room, coming up in a defensive stance to face the intruder. Nikki grabbed her crutch, facing the tall dark haired and bearded man.

“Ares?! What the…. what are you doing here?!” Gabrielle hissed.

“Looking for you, what do you think? Interesting way you’ve been spending your time since you left Greece, Gabrielle,” he smirked.

“Go away, just leave me alone,” she hissed.

“What in the name of Hades has been going on? I turn my back for a minute and you’re killing people, sleeping with someone else and wearing a slave collar. Where’s Xena?”

“None of your business.”

“Brie?” Nikki asked cautiously.

“Ares, God of War, meet Nikki, gladiator trainer.”

“And your more recent bedmate,” he grinned. “Does Xena know what you’re up to?”

“None of your business!” Gabrielle snapped.

“Look, it’s rather obvious that you two really don’t want to be here. Let me know where you want to go and I’ll take you there. As soon as you get dressed, of course,” he grinned.

“And the price? As if I didn’t know,” Gabrielle demanded.

“Where is Xena and why did she leave Greece and leave you here?” he demanded.

“Go figure it out for yourself.”

“You’re willing to die in the Arena?” he asked with raised eyebrows.

“No, but I’m not willing to deal with you either, Gabrielle said simply.

“How about you, tall and blond one, willing to let her die in the Arena?” he smirked.Nikki frowned.

“Nikki, do not say a word, on my command!” Gabrielle ordered. “He is the last god to ever be trusted.”

“I’m hurt, Gabrielle!” Ares playfully touched his heart in mock pain. “You know I only want what’s best for Xena, to return her to her rightful destiny.”

“Our destiny is with each other, not the Warlord.” Gabrielle argued.

“Doesn’t look like you’re having too much together time here. If I had known you could be so ruthless with a blade I might have offered to train you myself seasons ago.”

“Don’t count on it.”

“Tell me, where is Xena and you’re both out of here.” Ares offered again.

“No, go away.”

“What do you think Xena will do when she finds out about your friend there? And exactly how you’ve been spending your nights? That was quite a show there earlier,” he grinned.

“Gods, can’t you men just leave me the Hades alone!?”

“Not likely. By the way, I like the hair. Makes you look more dangerous, something I think I might have to take notice of in the future.”

With a flash of light he was gone.

“Oh gods, Xena. I hope you’re far enough away.” Gabrielle whispered.

***

“Dancer!” Gabrielle turned as she ducked the sword strike of a sparring partner. Without a glance, she kicked out with her leg and sent the man flying backwards into the mud. The slave calling her grinned. “Lycrassis would like you and Nikki in the Villa.”

She waved an acknowledgment and then turned to help her sparring partner to his feet. With a grin she playfully brushed at the mud on his clothes and then pretended to wipe mud off his face, getting his face totally plastered with mud. He grinned and retrieved his wooden practice sword.

She placed her iron sais into their holders on the outsides of her boots. Nikki had found them from a traveling merchant and had decided they were perfect for her little Dancer gladiator and Lycrassis had been pleased with the choice. Gabrielle had proved deadly with the strange weapons and watching her truly became a spectacle of a dance. She could use one end to bash at her opponents and the other end to kill or block sword, spear and other weapons. In her hands the sais danced a dance of death or defense, whichever the blond woman needed. She had become quite fond of them herself and Lycrassis permitted her to use them in practice and wear them as long as she didn’t use them to kill another trainee. It was a

lso understood that if anyone else died by her hand she would face torture and then the cross. “How do you do it, Dancer?” he asked as they walked towards the courtyard.

“Do what, Thorsvetter?” she asked the tall Slavic warrior.

“Keep a sense of humor in this place?” he asked in broken Latin.

She shrugged. “Either that or cry,”she said simply and they separated, she to follow the slave and he to the bathing room.

Gabrielle almost lost her breath when she walked into the main room of the villa and saw Brutus standing with Lycrassis.

Her Roman owner grinned at her attempt to keep the surprise from her face.

“Well, it seems our friend here has come back to finish our wager. It’s been more than a year but it seems fate has taken you out of my hands, Gabrielle.”

Gabrielle felt her heart stop for a moment. Brutus’ face remained without emotion. “What, my Lord?” she whispered.

“Seems that Caesar has been looking for you this entire time and I’ve had you all along. To think I had a talented bard under my roof all this time. You could have entertained us!ÓLycrassis walked over with the grace of a stalking tiger. Gabrielle froze where she was and he quickly pulled her sais from their sheaths and twirled them in his hands. “She’s gotten to be quite the fighter, Brutus, just as I thought she would. Just as I wagered.”

“Caesar wants her and the trainer and has instructed me to pay double the price we wagered for both of them if you keep quiet about this for awhile,” Brutus said simply.

“Why would he want the trainer?” Lycrassis frowned.

“Your trainer is an Amazon and part of Gabrielle’s tribe,” Brutus answered.

“That’s why she was so protective of you in the beginning!” Lycrassis grinned and Gabrielle felt her face blushing with anger. “Of course, I agree. I’m not one to argue with Caesar. I’ll prepare horses and what few possessions they have.”

“No horses, I want them shackled hand and foot and a chain between that.” Brutus instructed and Gabrielle’s head dropped.

“Caesar must want this one very badly.” Lycrassis continued frowning.

“She’s going to lead one of Caesar’s greatest enemies into a trap, Xena.” Brutus said easily.

“Ah, another one in love with you, Dancer?” Lycrassis laughed and Gabrielle blushed. “Xena, Warrior Princess. Which do you prefer in bed, Dancer? The Viking or the Greek?”

Gabrielle gritted her teeth and refused to meet his eyes. He laughed viciously and grabbed the bard into a rough kiss and resisted her struggles for a long moment. He laughed when he let her go.

“I should have tried to bed you again, Dancer. You must like to play rough.”

The Roman began to move away and Brutus held out a hand.

“I’d like to have those. Caesar may put her in the Arena and would be most pleased to see her fight with these.”

“Of course, Brutus. I’ll get everything prepared.” Lycrassis left the bard and Roman alone. Gabrielle looked up but saw no change in Brutus’ expression and her head dropped again.

================================================================

“Yrsa! Yrsa!” Ketli came running into the yard in front of the long houses, skidding to a stop in the dust as she picked up Sasha. Xena grinned at the young boy, he had grown four inches and was beginning to take on a lean look. He was going to tower over his adopted father, Iolaus/Ivar, Xena thought.

“What is it, Ketli Ax Hand?” she asked, using his nickname from the battle at the hunting cabin, always causing him to stand taller with pride. It was a warrior’s nickname and one that he carried well, she thought.

“Rider approaching, I think it’s Herkavar.”

“Hercules! Iolaus, get out here!” she yelled, shading her eyes against the sun and grinned as she caught sight of the familiar figure coming up the road at a trot.

Iolaus walked out of the long house and grinned at the sight of his friend.

“Gods, I’ve missed him so much!” he complained.

“Me too,” she agreed, but probably not as much as you, she thought with a smile.

Hercules jumped off the horse with a grin that Xena couldn’t help but feel her heart soar with hope.

“I’ve got word!” he said breathlessly as Ketli went to his horse. “Brutus sent word to the Amazons and your families that he has word about Gabrielle and would meet with you on the border as soon as he sends word.”

Xena felt her knees go weak and Hercules caught her by the arms and handed Sasha to one of the women gathering around them with a grin.

“Gabrielle?” she whispered. “He wouldn’t say what it was except that she was alive and well and now safe. He said that he could only tell you what has happened to her,” Hercules grinned.

“Could it be a trap, he is Caesar’s aid?” Iolaus asked.

“Yes, very possible except that he sent this,” he pulled a parchment out of his shirt and handed it to Xena. She quickly unwrapped it and scanned – many of the words were in Amazon symbols and the rest was Gabrielle’s writing.

“Family, I am well and safe but cannot say where I am, it is still unsafe for me and my family. If the gods are kind I will be safe soon. Your daughter and friend, G.”

“Oh gods, Gabrielle!” Xena began to cry as Iolaus grinned.

“When do we leave?” he asked.

“As soon as I saddle Argo,” Xena answered and Bestla, one of the older women, began yelling for food bags to be packed and horses saddled. As the men began pouring in from the fields Hercules repeated his findings and everyone began celebrating the news that Yrsa the Vigilant’s little mate was alive and might be returning to them.

================================================================

Within a candlemark the two women were bundled into the bottom of an open wagon with barely a cloak and a few possessions of clothes. Each had a chain between their legs, wrists and another chain between those, effectively keeping them from moving very easily or far and unable to even reach their own faces. Nikki had been very pissed off when she had been searched and her former master had found the hidden dagger in her boot and the spike hidden in the wrappings of her crutch.

A small female slave drove the wagon while Brutus and two Roman escort soldiers rode beside it and another behind it. Gabrielle and Nikki could see no way to escape.

The first night camped on the road found the two women with another chain attached to theirs and it ended with a lock through the wagon wheel. Neither woman could possibly escape.

Brutus finally approached them, while they ate, the third morning a meal of bread and olives.

“Gabrielle, trust me. Caesar doesn’t know where you are. He didn’t send me. I had to use his name and your real story to get Lycrassis to honor his bargain and sell you to me,” he whispered, keeping an eye on the soldiers and slave.

“What? You’re not going to turn us over to Caesar?” she whispered back, careful not to look at him.

“No, you’re not going to end up on that damned cross,” he growled.

“What about them, they know who I am?” Gabrielle asked, indicating the soldiers and slave.

“Never mind,” he said simply.

“You can’t kill them!” she protested. “Your life or theirs, Gabrielle. They live and I turn you over to Caesar and Xena possibly dies as well. Decide now,” he said brutally.

“Brutus,” she pleaded.

“Don’t ask me again,’ he walked away.

The fourth morning found the soldiers and the slave dead and Brutus driving the wagon with his new slaves.

Neither Gabrielle nor Nikki said a word as he led the horses carrying the bodies into the woods and came back with only the horses. Without a word he had climbed onto the wagon seat and started back on their journey to Rome.

***

The next morning found the warriors leaving at sunlight. Two of them with aching heads from too much mead and ale and a warrior mother trying not to laugh at them. She leaned down and whispered in Sasha’s ear, checking the straps that held the little one close to her. Hercules frowned and Iolaus groaned at her sense of humor that early in the morning. They didn’t complain too much, it had been too long since they had heard the warrior laugh.

Everyone was praying it was good news. Neither Iolaus nor Hercules wanted to be around if it wasn’t. They both knew Xena couldn’t take any more bad news about her mate.

They had set up camp near the border in a secluded clearing off the main road to the North and Hercules had gone to the nearest barracks only to find that Brutus hadn’t arrived yet.

***

Just before entering the City, Brutus placed blindfolds on the women and pulled up their cloaks.

“A lot of slaves aren’t permitted to learn the city as a precaution against escape and plotting. Don’t say a word when we get to the gate,” he instructed.

Within minutes they had entered through one of the gates, having the guards examine Brutus’ ownership papers of the two slaves and his Imperial ring. Then the women’s senses were assaulted with massive noises, smells, and movement over cobblestone roads. They could both sense massive movement alongside of them and both trained scouts were having difficulty separating noises and smells as they traveled along.

“Liberius, these are two new slaves for my apartments. I will see to their training personally. Take their things to my guest room and then take them up there. Have a blacksmith come and strike those chains off of them as well. Leave the collars in place.” Brutus instructed. “Women, stay in the wagon or face the lash,” he ordered.

“Yes, my Lord,” they both answered meekly.

A candlemark later and the women were finally alone in the small apartment Brutus called home when in Rome. He motioned for them to sit on one of the sofas as he unbuckled his armor.

“I’m sorry about all of this. It took longer to get out Britannia than I had planned and then Lycrassis wouldn’t sell you, either of you. I had to force his hand. You’re going to have to stay here until I can get an assignment somewhere near the north and get you out of Rome,” he said as he stripped out of his armor down to a simple tunic.

“All of the Roman Empire is looking for me and you bring us to Rome?” Gabrielle asked.

“Where else? They are looking for an innocent young Greek bard with long reddish blond hair and gentle soul. Do you think that they will see that in you?” he asked simply.

Gabrielle frowned. Her hair was short and had turned totally blond from being in the sun all the time and her skin was lightly tanned and scarred from numerous encounters in the Arena and practice field. Her body was no longer just fit, it was superb and the dangerous abilities she now had showed when she walked. The only thing practically the same was her green eyes and there were probably plenty of women with green eyes in the city.

She shook her head.

“Besides, you are the personal slave to one Marcus Brutus, honored citizen of Rome only behind Caesar, Octavian and Marc Anthony. Caesar hasn’t seen you so he can’t recognize you. They won’t be looking for you in my apartment,” Brutus grinned.

“Brie, when you make friends, you make it count, don’t you?” Nikki grinned and Gabrielle blushed.

================================================================

Impatiently, the three warriors and infant waited a week and moved further into the forest.

================================================================

It was only a week later when Gabrielle found herself being pulled out of the bed she shared with Nikki by rough hands. Instinctively she kicked out and punched, sending whoever flat to the floor.

“Gabrielle, damnit! It’s me!” Brutus hissed.

“Then say something, damnit!” she cursed back at him, grabbing a tunic from the end of the bed as Nikki grabbed the other one, and threw it over her sleeping shift. Brutus hadn’t said a word when he realized that Nikki ended up in Gabrielle’s bed every night. He had heard the bard screaming and crying in the night and knew the other woman was the only comfort he could give Gabrielle.

“Caesar!” was all he said as he regained his feet.

Gabrielle went pale and grabbed for her boots. “What about him?”

“He’s heard that I have two fighters as slaves and wants to meet you. He’s interested in a match in the Arena!”

“Oh by the gods! This is a nightmare!” Nikki complained.

“No kidding!” Brutus snapped.

“What are we doing?” Gabrielle asked, lacing up her boots as Nikki quickly followed suit.

“I’m going to try and get you both out of here before he sends his escort to take all of us to his house. If we don’t get out of here then you’ll be in the Arena by tomorrow afternoon!” Brutus whined.

“Does he know who I am?” the bard asked, grabbing her cloak and helping Nikki to her feet, handing her trainer the woman’s crutch.

“No, or you’d be in his dungeon, not the Arena. Lycrassis was careful not to risk your life too much, Caesar won’t be as considerate. Come on!”

They had almost reached the door when a pounding stopped them.

“Do we fight?” Gabrielle asked, pulling her sais out.

Brutus sighed and took the weapons from her, sticking them in his belt. “No, we’d never get out of the city before they cut us down or took us prisoner. I’ve seen their tortures, Caesar would know who you are by noon.”

Brutus answered the door to find a small squad of Roman Praetorian guards.

“Julius Gaias Caesar requests that you and your two female fighting gladiator slaves accompany us to his villa immediately,” the squad leader said simply.

“We were expecting you, as you can see. Lead the way,” Brutus said simply, motioning the women to follow behind him.

***

After an hour with Caesar, Gabrielle’s head was spinning and she was impressed. ÔGods, I thought Ares could be charming and dangerous at the same time!’ she thought to herself.

They had all managed to keep up the story of Gabrielle’s past as a Germanic barbarian, trained in Latin and Greek on the border. The telling of her capture had been easily enough as was tales of her training and fighting. Not as easy was keeping his piercing eyes from seeing through everything else, she thought.

Gabrielle was tired, stressed, terrified and getting fuzzy. He was handsome, brilliant, charming and powerful. The bard could begin to see why the Warlord Xena had once been had been drawn to him. She could also understand Xena’s hatred of the powerful Roman. He had used her, tossed her aside and crucified her, even to the point of breaking the woman’s legs. All because she was no longer useful to him.

Gabrielle knew that any who were no longer useful to Caesar probably wind up that way or wished they had. The bard wondered how Brutus had kept one step ahead of Caesar.

“Well, I am impressed. I see a well trained body, a sharp mind, quick reflexes and quick instincts, even though you are all still half asleep. I want to see you in action, Brie. What do you say to a match with one of my fighters?” Caesar asked.

Gabrielle hesitated, catching Brutus eyes as he nodded. The bard already knew that she didn’t dare refuse.

“If my master agrees, great Caesar,” she said humbly.

“Good, then it’s settled. Two days from now I’m executing a Senator for murdering his wife. You’ll be the fight before that.” Caesar turned to Brutus. “What weapons and armor would you prefer for your fighter? Talk to my Lanista and arrange it.”

“Light leather and she is astounding with these, Caesar.” Brutus pulled out the sais and handed them over to Caesar who handled them easily, twirling them, spinning them and then throwing them perfectly into a wooden house beam.

“Very nice, indeed. This should be enjoyable,” he said with a grin. “Until then, you are all my guests. The young women will be taken to the slave quarters and you can stay in my guest room, Brutus.”

“As you wish, Caesar. May I escort my fighters down?”

“Yes, and you may spend the next two days with them practicing, if you wish. A soldier always needs practice as well as gladiators, don’t you agree?” Caesar asked with a smile.

“Of course, Caesar. You should know, being the greatest general Rome has seen.” Brutus said easily.

“Do they share a room and the same bed?” Caesar suddenly turned and asked.

“Yes, Caesar.”

“Fine, have the head of my slaves arrange it.”

As they walked down the stairs towards the slave quarters, Gabrielle fell in beside Brutus while Nikki kept the slave leading them talking.

“He knows!” she hissed.

“I don’t think so. He wouldn’t schedule anything this soon, Xena would haven’t time to get here,” he shook his head.

“What was that crack about you needing practice? He’s about to kill you!” Gabrielle protested.

“No, I can’t believe that,” he hissed back.

“Gods, there’s no way out of this, is there?”

“I can’t see one just yet. Listen, let me do some thinking and planning. You’ll probably have to face the fight but in the confusion after the fight and execution, we might be able to get away.”

“You’d turn from Rome?” Gabrielle asked.

“I’d turn from Caesar,” he said grimly.

***

A day in the Arena turned into a month, and then another two months, each week another fight for the small woman.

Gabrielle was about to face another fight when Brutus entered the small cell of his fighter. He began helping her adjust her light leather armor.

“I’ve got a way out. After the fight Caesar is throwing a victory party, he has bet heavily on you and plans on honoring you at the party. You’ll be put on display, fed and given drink and I’ll probably have many offers to buy you or at least rent you out for the night. I’m going to take one of the Senators up on that offer.”

“What!?” Gabrielle shrieked and Brutus grinned.

“Don’t worry, he’s a good friend. Nikki and I will meet the two of you a couple of streets over with horses. He’ll tell Caesar that you overpowered him when he sought to grab you a little too soon and you got away. I’ve already received permission to leave Rome on a mission to the border of Germania with Nikki. Caesar was more than pleased to separate you from her, by the way.”

“Gods, is everyone after my body?” the bard complained and Brutus laughed.

“Just concentrate on the fight for now. Caesar doesn’t honor dead heroes very often, especially if he loses money on them.”

“Thanks!”

================================================================

The months dragged on for the three Greeks and infant. Fortunately the weather was still good and warm for fall. Many days found the warrior woman practicing her fighting skills and hacking away at trees, logs and whatever might be in her way. The tension was driving all of them crazy. They felt they were close to something but stuck.

Xena hated waiting.

================================================================

Gabrielle took several deep breaths and let Dancer take over and drew out her sais into her hand. The other three opponents approached from the other side of the Arena.

Three? Gabrielle felt a wave of fear try to overcome her and faced it down. She and Xena had taken on worse before. A small voice reminded her that those were usually bandits, not trained killers in the Arena. She shook the voice aside and the fighters approached the royal box where Caesar and his guests watched under the shade of an awning.

Raising their weapons high the fighters gave the traditional salute.

“We who are about to die, salute you!” they shouted and then turned to face each other, watching Caesar out of the corner of their eyes for the signal.

Dancer was dressed in light armor, almost like the kind her mate, Xena wore, but with an additional piece of leather running down the length of her right arm for extra protection and a wide leather belt around her waist to help protect her back muscles from giving out. A remnant of the poisoning she had been through.

Two of the other fighters were dressed in heavy armor and carried swords and medium sized shields. The other fighter was dressed in a tunic, light leather armor, small shield and a spear. Dancer was most worried about him.

“Citizens of Rome!” Caesar rose to his feet. “I am pleased to present for your entertainment the gladiator from the barbarian North, the female warrior Brie. More popularly known by her fighting name of Dancer. Facing her are three of Rome’s best, fighting for the honor of Rome against the barbarian hordes.”

Gabrielle wondered who he was betting on.

“Tibor, Helliavius, and Bigarious,” the crowd cheered and waved handkerchiefs. “Let the fight begin!” Caesar announced and dropped his own handkerchief.

Dancer leaped into the air and came down with one foot in the face of Tibor, a heavily armed gladiator. She spun in mid-air and caught Bigarious, the other heavily armed fighter, across the ear. She landed on her feet and hands and dived forward as Helliavius stabbed with his spear where she had landed. She came up in a defensive stance with the sais at ready. With a war cry she quickly leaped forward, somersaulting in the air and landed behind Helliavius and before either of them could turn, the small woman stabbed backwards with her sais, impaling the small fighting man through both lungs.

Dancer pulled out the sais and quickly moved away from the two heavily armed gladiators as they gained their feet. The crowd roared, whether from approval or disappointment, Dancer didn’t know and didn’t care. Nothing existed except her weapons, the conditions in the Arena and the fighters in front of her.

Both separated and began a flanking action. Dancer knew that Xena would merely flip into the air with that infamous war cry of hers, let the two run into each other, come down and smash their heads together and be done with it. Unfortunately Dancer wasn’t that talented and wasn’t the daughter of the God of War, she thought ruefully.

She also backed up slowly, keeping both warriors in her sights but knew she was going to run out of room soon and the crowd was getting restless. Dancer definitely didn’t want one of the guards prodding her into action with a red hot poker, thank you.

Dancer threw up her arms and hands with her sais, catching both swords as the two fighters attempted overhead strikes. Rather than fight against their combined strength, Dancer allowed the swords to continue downward at a slower rate and dived over them, pulling one sword out of the gladiator’s hand. She hissed with sudden pain and quickly moved outsiide of sword ranging, picking up the fallen sword as she scurried a few feet away. She placed one of her sais in its sheath and raised the sword in her right hand.

She glanced down at the back of her thigh and found it bleeding at a fairly good rate.

The gladiator whose sword she now had pulled the spear out of the sand and they began circling again.

Dancer moved back and ripped a piece of her tunic off and kept circling and managed to bandage her thigh. She needed to end the fight and quickly. They could keep feinting and tire her out until she made a mistake and became trapped between them.

With a war cry the small woman raised her sword and charged at the gladiator with the spear, twisting at the last moment as he attempted to impale her. She gritted her teeth against the pain as the spearhead pierced the leather and slid along her ribs. With her elbow she smashed the fighter in the face and then spun around as the other fighter closed the distance between him and her. Dancer grabbed the stunned spearman and spun him around by his collar as his comrade swung a downward stroke with his large sword. Dancer saw the horror in his eyes as he realized he couldn’t stop the momentum and his sword cleaved his friend’s head open, splashing the small woman with blood and other stuff.

She quickly let go of the body and flipped over backwards, drawing her other sai, having dropped her sword when she had grabbed the stunned fighter.

The last fighter yelled in rage and charged. Dancer quickly found that they were fairly evenly matched skill wise and he was in a rage, giving in an additional edge in strength and speed. Dancer attempted to hang on until that edge waned and his anger caused him to make a mistake.

Gabrielle winced in pain and cried out as a sword stroke found it’s mark and sliced her left arm, causing her to drop her sai. She quickly dived forward out of reach of another sword strike and came up holding her arm with her good hand and sai.

She could see victory in the other fighter’s eyes and felt it herself. Nikki, watching from the barred gate, could see the stubborn set of the Amazon Queen’s jaw line and knew that look from experience, Gabrielle was not amused and not about to quit.

Nikki knew this was probably their last chance at freedom, Caesar kept sending better and better opponents against the small woman and now he was sending in more than one at a time. She caught the Queen’s glance and signaled to her trainee with an Amazon hand signal.

She saw Dancer’s head roll back slightly, considering her opponent as they circled each other, neither giving an inch of ground yet.

Seeing the other fighter tensing for a charge the Queen rocked forward on her toes and waited until he was moving. With a scream she flipped the sai into the air, momentarily stopping his charge as he glanced up in surprise. Dancer flipped over backwards and came up in a leap, catching the sai in mid-air with her foot, changing the direction of the weapon, straight into the gladiator’s throat. He fell grasping at the weapon, the last of his breath gurgling around the blood.

Dancer walked over and retrieved her sais and faced the crowd and Caesar.

Gabrielle, coming back into focus behind Dancer’s eyes, realized the crowd was cheering and chanting “the sword,” to Caesar. Gabrielle, covered in blood, raised her hand and sai in salute to Caesar and bowed.

Caesar, an amused look on his face stood and held out his hands to calm the crowd who continued to roar for another few moments before quieting down.

“Citizens, I agree that this was a magnificent display of fighting talent and should be rewarded!” He held out his hand and a slave quickly placed something in his hand that caused Gabrielle’s hear to skip a beat. A wooden sword.

The crowd went hysterical with delight. Most of them had never seen a gladiator win the sword before and they were even more pleased that it was the small woman in front of them.

Caesar held up the sword, displaying it for the crowd. Gabrielle went to one knee as she faced Caesar.

“You have earned your freedom, slave, by your skills with the sword. May your freedom serve you well!” he shouted and tossed the sword down, impaling it in front of the warrior woman.

Gabrielle bowed her head and then took the sword in her hand and stood up. With a triumphant grin she held the sword high to the crowd. The crowd began showering the arena floor with flowers and handkerchiefs with coins tied inside. Gabrielle began a painful trot around the rim of the arena with the wooden sword high, letting the crowd see it. Then she bowed to Caesar and the crowd again before disappearing through the iron gate and into Nikki’s congratulating arms.

***

Brutus caught up with Gabrielle and Nikki in the bath house of the Arena. He ignored the beautiful and naked body in front of him as she crawled out of the tub of water and moved onto a table where Nikki began stitching up her thigh.

“Congratulations!” he grinned. “You are the hero of Rome!”

“I can’t believe it!” she grinned back. “Me, lowly bard from Greece, the darling of Rome. Caesar wanting nothing more than to stake me out as bait like a goat to a tiger and he grants me my freedom. Strange fates.”

“I agree, if you’re willing to chance it, the plan is still in place.” Brutus said.

“What do you mean chance it?” she asked.

“We still have to get you out of the city before someone realizes who you are. Just because you’ve been granted your freedom doesn’t lessen the danger. Caesar expects you at the party. Accept his offer to become one of his paid gladiator fighters and then accept the invitation of the Senator for the evening. Caesar won’t think anything about it when you leave,” Brutus said quickly.

“He knows I won’t leave with a man.” Gabrielle protested.

“It’s not the Senator that the date is for, it’s for his wife,” Brutus grinned.

“Oh crying out loud!” Gabrielle muttered. “Now even Senator’s wives?”

“As one of the top gladiators in Rome, little Dancer, you could have any man or woman you wanted for your pleasure.”

“We’re still leaving, right?” she demanded.

“Yes, in five days you’ll be on the border of Germania,”he said with a grin.

“Xena,” she whispered.

“I’m sending a messenger up north to try and find your family and that I’m coming with word of your fate,” Brutus grinned.

Gabrielle closed her eyes as a tear of hope escaped.

Gabrielle paced the inside of the small rooms assigned to Brutus at the outpost like a caged animal. Nikki, having gotten extremely quiet the further north they got, finally snapped and told the small gladiator to sit down.

“What’s wrong, Nikki?” Gabrielle asked, walking up behind the tall warrior and beginning to massage her shoulders. Nikki shook her off angrily and stood up, moving to the window with her crutch. “What is it?” Gabrielle repeated.

“The closer we get to the border to closer I get to losing you. I’m trying to adjust, all right?”

“I’m sorry, Nikki. I’ve used you badly.” A tear escaped Gabrielle’s eyes and she brushed them away angrily.

Nikki turned and her face softened.

“We used each other, Brie. Don’t blame yourself for that. It’s just that you have someone waiting for you and I feel you slipping away more and more every day. Within the week you won’t be Dancer the Gladiator anymore, you’ll go back to being Gabrielle, bard and Amazon.”

“I don’t know if I can go back. Dancer saved my life and I don’t know if I can just turn that off and go back to being the innocent bard I was.”

“No,” Nikki agreed. “You can’t go back to being innocent. You’ve killed in the arena. It was self defense but it was also for someone else’s sport. You’ve used your friends and your body to survive but you don’t have to be Dancer any more. You’ll find the middle ground. You’ll have your mate to help you.”

“Will I? Will she even want Dancer? She always treasured that innocence about me and now it’s gone.”

“It’s not gone, just bruised a little or else you wouldn’t throw up every time you kill in the Arena,” Nikki teased.

“She won’t even know me anymore. I don’t know me anymore,” Gabrielle complained and brushed a tear away again.

“If she loves you just a fraction of the way you love her then you have no worries.”

“Nikki, I’m sorry about us,” Gabrielle started again but Nikki held up a hand to stop her.

“Enough, my friend. You gave back my life and I helped keep you alive. I’m not asking for anything, Brie.”

“You’ve got my friendship,” Gabrielle smiled weakly.

“I’ll take it,” Nikki grinned.

***

Finally, Brutus came in that night and said that Hercules had been to the outpost to see if Brutus had arrived yet. The Greek demi-god would return the next day to meet with Brutus.

Again Gabrielle cried herself to sleep that night and Nikki wasn’t sure if it was out of happiness or fear.

================================================================

Early the next morning Hercules left to meet with the Roman and Xena paced the forest on the edge of a clearing by the road, waiting impatiently. Iolaus waited further back in the trees, Sasha strapped to his back and the Greek sitting in the saddle, ready to ride if it was a trap.

***

Hercules dismounted and approached the gate carefully, very aware of the Roman sentries and their caution in dealing with anyone coming from the north of the small outpost. He approached the sentry table and looked down on at the common soldier and the Watch Sergeant.

“What do you want here, barbarian?” the sergeant demanded, speaking in rough Germanic.

Hercules considered how he was dressed for a moment, in rough leather trousers tucked inside fur lined boots, crisscrossed with leather thongs, homespun cotton tunic covered with a fur lined vest tunic, a thick leather and cloth cloak with wolf fur on the shoulders. A Viking sword hung at his belt. His typical leather bracers on his wrists accented his muscular forearms and a full beard finished his appearance. Hercules agreed he probably looked very Germanic but this didn’t excuse rudeness, thank you.

“I am here to see Brutus, aid to Caesar. I’ve brought someone to see him at his request.” Hercules replied in perfect Latin.

“Brutus doesn’t see every barbarian walking through the gate, even if they can speak in a civilized tongue!”

The sneering sergeant found himself hovering over the table, held aloft by the tall figure in front of him by his collar. The foot soldier froze.

“My people were civilized while your Romulus and Remus were sucking on the tits of a wolf,” Hercules growled. “Tell him Hercules wishes to see him.”

The foot soldier quickly scurried away while Hercules kept the sergeant held above the table easily. The Roman sentries were unsure of what to do while their sergeant sputtered.

Hercules dropped the sergeant when he caught site of the Roman officer, Brutus approaching quickly.

“Hercules, join me.” Brutus stopped and looked down at the fallen sergeant. “Twenty hours of extra duty this week for being rude to my invited guest.”

Once inside Brutus’ temporary quarters he offered the demi-god a seat and wine. Hercules accepted both.

“I apologize for that idiot out there,” Brutus began, sitting across from the son of Zeus.

“Attitudes like that towards the Germans and you’ll have fights on your hands. They don’t take well to being insulted,” Hercules warned and Brutus frowned.

“I know, trying to get good men on the border is difficult.”

“Nevermind him. Xena is a couple of miles from here waiting for me. You sent word that you had news of Gabrielle?”

“Yes, I understand that she disappeared almost two years ago and I’ve heard that your friend Iolaus, all of Xena’s friends, the Amazons and half of Greece have been searching for her.”

“Yes, March will be two years and we’ve searched with no success. Xena knows that Gabrielle is still alive, that she would know if the bard were dead. What do you know? Is this a trick of Caesar’s to get to Xena?” Hercules demanded.

“Caesar? No. He’d be very unhappy with me if he knew the real reason I asked for this treaty mission with the Northern tribes. Gabrielle is alive and well.”

Hercules’ head dropped forward with a prayer of thanks.

“Before you I tell you more, I have a question.” Hercules frowned but nodded.

“It’s been over a year, does Xena still love her?”

“Brutus, you don’t have any idea how much Xena has suffered with Gabrielle missing. She’s nearly gone mad. Tell me what you know,” Hercules demanded.

“I can only tell Xena of Gabrielle’s fate. I will ride with you, escorted by two of my slaves only. When we get near to Xena you may take my weapons as a sign of truce. Is that agreeable?”

“Yes.”

“Good. My slaves and I will meet you outside the gate in a few minutes.” Brutus rose and grasped Hercules’ forearm in a warrior handshake.

“You better pray the news is good, Brutus. I’m not sure how Xena would treat the bearer of bad news at this point.”

“I understand, I promised Gabrielle to make this trip myself.”

“Why?”

“Like your Xena, I’m in love with Gabrielle. Is that so hard to understand?”

“No, but I’m not sure I’d tell Xena that right now,” Hercules grinned a grim smile.

***

A few minutes later Hercules was surprised to be joined outside the gate by Brutus and his two slaves on horseback. What surprised him was that they were heavily cloaked with their faces hidden and their wrists were chained.

Brutus noticed the demi-god’s look and shrugged. “Slaves have a tendency to try and escape when they’re this close to the border. Policy,” he explained.

“Why bring them with us?” Hercules asked as they began riding towards the north.

“They are witnesses to Gabrielle’s fate this last year.”

After a few minutes Brutus broke the silence.

“Why did Xena leave Greece?”

“She wanted to get away from Ares and Caesar,” Hercules said simply.

Brutus nodded and let Hercules lead them. When they approached a clearing off the path Hercules stopped and reached out a hand. Brutus easily drew his sword and handed it over to the demi-god and then his dagger. Hercules then moved his horse forward again into the clearing.

Stopping in the center of the clearing the large son of Zeus stopped and raised his hands in an Amazon hand signal and then turned and motioned Brutus forward.

Xena stepped out of the tree line slowly, sword drawn. She was dressed the same as Hercules and looked like a dark haired Valkyrie, Brutus thought.

Brutus dismounted and motioned for the slaves to do the same. He turned and slowly approached the warrior with his hands up and palms showing. Xena’s jaw was clenched and her knuckles were white on the handle of her sword.

Brutus resisted grinning.

“Xena, it’s good to see you well,” he said simply with a smile.

“Even though Caesar has a price on my head?” she answered with a smile as well.

Her eyes narrowed at the sight of the slaves, their cloaks and especially their chains. The slaves kept their heads bowed. One was a woman, possibly both, Xena’s trained eyes told her.

“You know I don’t always do what Caesar wants or Gabrielle would be dead by now.”

“You know where she is?” Xena demanded, the smile leaving her face.

“Yes. Word went out from Caesar to find her, so, along with all of your friends, Amazons and half of Greece looking for her, every Roman wanting to get on Caesar’s good side was looking for her. He had learned of her traveling with you from the bard stories we heard and he figured he might be able to use her against you once she disappeared. He was extremely determined to find her before you did.”

“We thought that might happen.” Xena muttered. “Does he have her?” the warrior whispered.

“No, he didn’t know when he found her. I did.” Brutus held up a hand to cut off her questions. “Let me tell you a short story. Short because I’m not the storyteller that Gabrielle is.”

Xena frowned but nodded, motioning to the tree line and the three warriors moved into the shade of the trees while the slaves knelt on both knees, heads still bowed, beside the horses. Xena was considering whether to let Brutus leave with the slaves and knew Hercules was probably thinking the same thing.

“Make it quick, Brutus.” Xena growled.

“Somehow Gabrielle was captured during a border skirmish and because of her light hair and eyes they thought her Northern and took her prisoner. She was sold to slavers.” Xena growled deep in her throat. “She was sold to a gladiatorial school, thankfully.”

“Thankfully? To die in the Arena?” Xena questioned.

“Better a chance at life than on a cross, don’t you think? That’s where most of your Northern friends end up when captured. The Arena or on a cross.”

“Go on.” Xena said between clenched teeth.

“She became a fighter and a good one. I found out where she was by accident.”

“Gabrielle a fighter, in the Arena?” Xena whispered. The thought of her little bard in the Arena with blood on her hands from a recent kill caused Xena’s head to spin.

“Yes.” Brutus said simply. “She ended up in the Circus Arena, Xena.”

“Arena?” Xena thought her heart would stop right then. Her little bard fighting in the Arena? Impossible.

“Yes, fortunately Caesar had never met Gabrielle or he would have known her.”

“Where is she?” Xena demanded.

“Do you want her back, Xena?”

Brutus wasn’t surprised to find a chakram at his throat, just pressing into his neck.

“Xena, listen to me first!” Brutus asked and the warrior eased the chakram back a couple of inches. “Gabrielle has become a fighter and has killed. She kills instinctively and without thought, a true gladiator. She still grieves for each death afterwards but while fighting she is deadly and dangerous, she’s not your little naive bard any longer. Gabrielle has been raped repeatedly, especially in the beginning and she has used her body to stay alive and her identity hidden, all so that she could get back to you. She even offered me her body if I could get her back to you. She’s carrying a lot of guilt, Xena.”

“She has nothing to be guilty of!” Xena protested. “I know what happens to Roman slave women and women gladiators, I can’t believe she’s alive after this!” the warrior brushed away a tear angrily. “I can’t live without her, this isn’t living Brutus, I’m just existing. No matter what has happened to her, I want her back!” Xena hissed.

“Xena!” a familiar voice stunned the warrior and she slowly turned to look at the slaves, lowering the chakram.

Gabrielle slowly raised her chained hands and pulled her hood back, green eyes looking deep into blue ones.

“Gabrielle?”

In one fluid motion Xena dropped the chakram and had crossed the space between her and Gabrielle and pulled the bard to her feet and into the warrior’s arms. The warrior began to cry as she held her mate closely and felt Gabrielle’s tears flowing as well.

“Little one,” Xena whispered. “Oh gods, I’ve missed you!”

Hercules, with a grin, walked over and gently pulled the two women apart for a moment and snapped the chain holding Gabrielle’s arms from holding her warrior. With a grin, the bard wrapped her arms around Xena as the warrior’s lips claimed her own after so long and Xena laughed, lifting her little mate into her arms, holding onto a very tight ass.

Nikki stood up and held out her hands as Brutus unlocked her chains with a grin.

The two reunited lovers finally broke apart and faced everyone else.

“Brutus, what happened?” Xena asked, holding Gabrielle close.

“I bought her and her trainer Nikki. Caesar learned I had purchased a fighter and her trainer and demanded to see her. Then he decided he wanted to see her in action and sent her into the Arena. It took months to figure a way out of Rome and away from Caesar.”

Xena leaned her head on top of Gabrielle’s, continuing to cry tears of happiness and disbelief.

She opened her eyes and looked at Brutus. “Thank you, I owe you.”

“No, warrior. I would do anything for Gabrielle and she wanted you.” Brutus shrugged and Xena nodded, beginning to understand the depth of the Roman’s feelings for her little bard. She felt the same.

Finally Gabrielle pulled back slightly, taking in the sight of her warrior.

“Gods, I missed you! You were the only thing that kept me alive in that Arena, my love,” the bard whispered.

Brutus grinned and walked back to his horse and pulled off two sets of saddlebags and tossed them at Gabrielle’s feet and then threw the warrior the key to Gabrielle’s chains. The warrior smiled and unlocked the chains slowly, silently cursing that her love ever had to wear them. Then her eyes narrowed and she frowned at the slave collar around Gabrielle’s neck. The bard, realizing what her warrior was looking at, blushed and lowered her head slightly.

Xena raised her chin to force the bard to look her in the eyes. “Nothing you’ve done or had to do could cause me to love you any less,” she promised and Gabrielle fell into her arms again.

“Actually, the collar was a ruse for our traveling. It’s easier to explain a slave than a free woman traveling with you.” Brutus reached behind his saddle and began unwrapping something. “She had already won her freedom. From Caesar himself.” Brutus grinned at the warrior woman’s stunned face.

“What? How?”

Brutus handed Xena the wooden sword with the Latin words burned along the wooden blade “Freedom earned through skill, blood, courage and might. – Julius Caesar.”

Xena was stunned. “By the gods, little one,” she whispered.

“In the bags are official papers freeing both of them and granting them citizenship of Rome, just in case you ever come back to Roman territory and someone recognizes either of them. Also clothes and their usual weapons,” Brutus explained

“Weapons? You brought my weapons?” Gabrielle asked.

“Yes, I thought you might like them. You’re so damned good with them,” Brutus grinned.

Xena shook her head. The thought of her bard being good with any weapon other than a staff still confused her.

“Xena?” Gabrielle’s voice brought her attention back to her bard.

Xena grinned and whistled a long note. A moment later and Iolaus stepped out of the trees, carrying a bundle in his arms. Gabrielle began crying with joy when the child turned it’s face towards them and grinned at the sight of her Xena mom, the bluest eyes the bard had ever seen.

“Our daughter, Sasha.” Xena whispered softly as Iolaus, grinning from ear to ear, handed the little infant to Gabrielle.

“Hi, Sasha. I’m Gabrielle,” the bard whispered.

Xena smiled at Brutus’s stunned face.

“She was the only reason I lived without Gabrielle. My daughter and the fact I knew that Gabrielle was still alive, that’s what gave me hope. Thank you, Brutus.”

“My pleasure. Take good care of all of them, warrior.” Brutus turned to leave but Gabrielle’s voice stopped him.

“Brutus!” she handed Sasha over to her mom and trotted over to Brutus. She gently touched his cheek and then hugged him. “Thank you, my friend. I couldn’t be happier,” she whispered.

“I know. I just hope we don’t meet again, Gabrielle. I have a feeling that it wouldn’t be as pleasant. I can’t keep getting around Caesar all the time.”

“I know. I just hope it doesn’t come down to you and Xena,” Gabrielle said sadly.

“I agree, I wouldn’t stand a chance because I couldn’t kill her now,” Brutus said quietly. Then he moved past the small woman and mounted his horse.

“Brutus, you know Caesar will learn from Lycrassis eventually that you had me and let me go. Stay with us,” Gabrielle pleaded as Xena nodded in agreement.

“I’m a Roman, Gabrielle. I know you can’t understand that but it’s in the blood. My first duty is to Her. Caesar has gone too far lately with his ambition and something is stirring in the Senate. I’m hoping he has his hands too full to worry about the two of you. I want to get my business settled here and get back, a shaman in Britannia insisted that I be back in Rome before the Ides of March. My fate is with Rome. Besides, he may not want it to get out that he had you in his grasp and in the Arena itself and granted your freedom by his own hand. Quite a joke on our wanna-be Emperor. Stay well. Vale.”

The Roman rode away, leaving the horses Gabrielle and Nikkita had rode on.

“Come on, Gabrielle. Get acquainted with your daughter and you can introduce us to your trainer,” Xena called and the warrior was delighted at the sleek way the bard moved now, no sign of the pain Gabrielle had been in the last time she had held her little mate. Now there was a dangerous ability behind those movements.

Xena shook her head, there was a lot of catching up to do. She wanted to ask about that short hair too.

She leaned down and nuzzled her mate’s neck as they walked to the horses. “I’ve got a new body to rediscover,” she whispered and grinned at the bard’s shiver and moan of anticipation.

The End
Reunited

Iolaus slowly drew his sword and moved his horse forward slightly. “Look, I already told you, we are free citizens. We’re not German, we’re Greek. Leave us alone,” he growled at the scruffy Roman soldiers blocking their way on the road. “When I move, ride like hell and get out of here,” he whispered to Gabrielle.

“I’m not leaving you!” she hissed back.

“Get Xena and Hercules, the Roman camp can’t be far from here, you can help rescue me. I don’t think you and I can take all of them.” he hissed back.

Gabrielle frowned but moved her horse a couple of steps away from his, ready to turn and bolt.

Iolaus cursed every mother of the bandit soldiers in front of them. He knew that they couldn’t count on Xena or Hercules rescuing them either, they were still at camp further down the river. Iolaus and Gabrielle had been on their way to a nearby village for fresh supplies before the four of them crossed into Germania, determined to get a pregnant Xena out of reach of both Ares and Caesar.

Now this. Life definitely wasn’t boring with his friends, Iolaus thought. Definitely not boring and definitely dangerous.

The Roman leader grinned at the two smaller Greeks. “I don’t care who you are. Me and my men need some gambling money and your wife there will bring a very nice price with the slavers. You might even be worth a couple of gold pieces, little man.”

Iolaus let out a yell of anger and charged forward with his horse and Gabrielle, with a frustrated growl, turned her horse. “Go, Gabrielle!” he yelled.

Iolaus ducked under a sword slash and buried his sword quickly into the ribs of the attacker and threw up his left arm to block another sword, wincing as the sword cut through his leather bracer, skin and muscle. He slashed out and caught another Roman at the throat and the soldier dropped his shield and sword to grab at his throat before falling off the horse. The Greek’s horse pushed forward, looking for a way through the pack of Romans but Iolaus and his horse were both frustrated, the Romans kept in close, crowding the horse and the sword of the smaller man.

He cried out in pain and slashed heavily to the left and looked down to see his side bleeding heavily. His left hand came up to try and hold the wound closed and stay in the saddle but dodging another sword strike caused the Greek to lose his balance and fall from the horse, landing heavily. Iolaus yelped and quickly rolled to his hands and knees and dodged out of the way of several horse hooves aiming for his body.

The Romans dismounted and approached slowly, most of them grinning. Five of them, terrific, he thought. He wondered if he should make a break for the river and risk freezing to death or drowning rather than the swords, then he glanced over and saw Gabrielle’s horse fallen in the middle of the road and the little bard struggling to get her trapped legs out from under the dead animal.

“Gabrielle, no!”

With a shout he charged the soldiers beginning to crowd him. He quickly cut down two of the soldiers caught off guard by his charge but a third caught his left shoulder and Iolaus dropped his sword to grasp his shoulder.

Realizing his mistake too late, the Greek couldn’t bend to retrieve his sword before the others were on him. He kept close to them to keep them from using their swords and he utilized his many fighting skills and took another one down with a broken neck, even if he was fighting almost one armed. A sword strike to his back took the man to his knees and kicks, fists and hammering from sword hilts sent him smashing to the ground, bleeding badly and unconscious.

Iolaus’ eyes sprang open as he broke the surface of the water, sputtering and gasping for air. The cold shock of the water hit him like a hammer and the young man couldn’t catch his breath nor fight the current.

He struggled to keep his head above the water and almost swallowed enough to drown when he was jerked suddenly to a stop. He realized slowly that his belt was caught on a half submerged tree stump. Remembering Gabrielle trapped under the horse at the mercy of the Romans, Iolaus summoned his strength and pulled himself along the tree, freeing his belt and let himself drift onto the small beach. Somehow the Greek pulled himself along until he was under the end of the beach at the tree line. He managed to pull himself up and over the embankment by some tree roots and then collapsed under the tree.

He closed his eyes, holding his side tightly.

Something pounded at his awareness and wouldn’t go away. Iolaus opened his eyes and peered around the tree and blinked several times as his exhausted and blood starved mind tried to take in the scene in front of him.

The Romans had Gabrielle in the small clearing. One was examining Iolaus’ sword while another two were dragging the bodies of their comrades off the road. The other three, including their leader, were holding Gabrielle and looking her over.

Iolaus felt a whimper escape his throat.

The bard was struggling but two of the Romans held her tightly by her arms. The leader grinned and ripped her tunic open from collar to hem, exposing her very lovely breasts and torso. Gabrielle screamed and struggled and the men laughed.

Iolaus, tears streaming down his face, fell back against the tree. After a moment, he leaned against the tree and used it to slide up to his feet. He grabbed the tree for stability as he turned and nearly screamed at the sight of his little friend’s abuse. He bent down to grab a fallen tree limb for a weapon and fell forward onto the ground. Tears of rage and helplessness overcame the young man as he listened to his friend scream and he couldn’t move.

“Gabrielle,” Iolaus whispered.
Iolaus woke up screaming Gabrielle’s name, sitting upright in his bed. Hercules hurriedly jumped out of his own bed and quickly grabbed his friend from behind, wrapping his strong arms around the small Greek and felt his friend’s head fall forward back into sleep.

Movement from the other bed caught his attention, as he gently lowered his friend back down onto the bed and covered his best friend.

“Is he okay?” a small voice asked and Hercules moved quietly across the floor and squatted next to the other bed, moving the screen aside. He wasn’t surprised to see Gabrielle lying curled in Xena’s arms, what surprised him was that Gabrielle was the one awake and Xena still asleep.

“He’ll be okay. He wakes up like that several times a week, nightmares,” he whispered.

“He was screaming my name,” the bard whispered.

Hercules looked at the ground and then back into the bard’s eyes. “Yes, he has the same nightmare for over a year and more now. He keeps remembering the fight with the Romans and what happened to you.”

“What happened to me? He saw?” Gabrielle’s eyes went wide, understanding what Hercules might be getting at.

He nodded, dropping his own eyes as tears filled them. It had nearly killed all of them when Iolaus had told them the entire events of that day. Both Xena and Hercules knew what happened to almost every female prisoner taken by any army or bandits but they still weren’t ready to hear that it had happened to Gabrielle when she was taken a year and a half before. Xena had nearly gone crazy with berserk fury.

Hercules looked up to see tears flowing from his little friend’s closed eyes. He gently wiped them away and she looked at him with beautiful green eyes. He attempted to smile reassuringly.

“You’re home. Now, we can all do some healing.”

She merely nodded and he stood and replaced the screen separating the bed from the rest of the room and returned to Iolaus, seeing his best friend thrashing in the nightmare again. He gently moved his friend over and crawled under the fur blankets with him and held the small Greek close, soothing the nightmare away.

“We’ve got her home, Iolaus. She’s safe now,” he whispered and he felt Iolaus’ body begin to relax.
Xena woke to the sounds of a very hungry toddler; a very hungry and wet toddler, she grinned. She could tell by the crying. A year and four months old and she had a set of lungs, Xena thought as she grabbed the child up in her arms.

The warrior frowned when she noticed the other side of the bed was empty. Xena shook her head. This was the second morning that Gabrielle had beaten her awake and the warrior was having a hard time adjusting to that one. Always before the bard had fought for every second of sleep in the morning, now the trained fighter was up before the dawn, just as Xena had once always done.

The warrior quickly changed her giggling daughter and went to the fire to provide breakfast for her littlest one. Hercules popped his head out from under the covers of Iolaus’ bed and the warrior tactfully avoided raising her eyebrows. Was this getting interesting yet, she wondered.

He quickly moved to the fire, slipping fur boots on. “I’ll never get used to cold floors in the morning,” he complained and sat down next to the fire, watching the child feeding.

“She’s beautiful and so are you,” he grinned.

He truly thought so too, motherhood had softened Xena’s features a little and brought a brightness to her eyes that he had only seen there when the warrior spoke of Gabrielle.

“Thank you, my friend,” she smiled and carried that smile as she looked down at her daughter, hair black as her parents’ and eyes as blue as her mother’s.

“It’s been a rough time since your wedding.” Hercules commented.

“I think that understates things, don’t you?” she grinned.

“Where’s Gabrielle?”

“Out walking somewhere or practicing her sparring.” Xena lost her smile.

“Kinda weird, eh? You in here being the gentle type and she’s out practicing how to kill,” he smiled.

Xena sighed in agreement. “That’s part of it, I think. She’s changed so much, Hercules, and I think she’s terrified I won’t want her.”

“Tell her!” he urged as she shifted from one breast to the other.

“I have, repeatedly the last three days. She’s just withdrawing more and more.”

“Brutus said she had to do some rough things to survive, killing is probably the least of it and that’s a lot of guilt to carry.”

“Don’t I know that! She won’t talk about it. I’ve gotten a lot of the story from Nikki but Gabrielle won’t talk about it,” Xena complained.

“Until she does she can’t heal; and neither can both of you.”

“I know, my friend.” Xena frowned. “When do you want to travel back north to the clan?”

“By the end of the week? I’d like to get up there before the snow gets much thicker. Away from the Romans is my choice right now. Iolaus tries not to show it but he cringes every time he sees a Roman soldier.”

“I’m just glad he lived, even with that arm in a sling,” Xena said grimly. Then she sighed. “Can you watch Sasha?”

“Of course, now that she’s had breakfast,” he grinned.

Xena grinned as she handed over her contented daughter. Xena got up and quickly got fully dressed in woolen trousers, fur lined boots, woolen tunic, fur vest, fur lined wrist bracers and a thick cloak with fur at the collar and hood.

“I’ll be back. This might take awhile.”

He nodded, understanding. He also noticed that Nikki was awake and watching them with a frown of concern on her face.

Xena found her mate in a small clearing near the ice chunk filled river, practicing fighting moves that quickly impressed the experienced warrior. Xena stopped for a moment next to a tree and watched Gabrielle as she danced through an exercise routine meant to strengthen, stretch and work the muscles and polish fighting skills.

The small woman was handling a pair of weapons that she called sais. Long stabbing weapons with two prongs on either side for blocking blows and breaking blades. The ends were sharp enough to stab and be thrown and the other ends were rounded for blunt fighting.

In the bard’s hands they were deadly, used either way, Xena quickly realized. The last time Xena had seen her mate the Amazon Queen had been recovering from a massive poisoning that had devastated her body and almost crippled her. Now there was no sign of that injured body. In it’s place was a sleek fighter with the grace of a tiger, the speed of a cheetah and the tenacity of a war dog.

Xena watched as the bard finished a routine and ran a hand through her short blonde hair. That had been a surprise as well, she thought. Her little bard had reddish blond hair that went past her shoulders. This warrior had hair bleached blonde by the sun, skin lightly tanned, and now the hair was short for easier fighting.

Xena’s bard was astounding with a staff because the young woman couldn’t face possibly killing someone. The gladiator in front of her had scars up and down her arms and legs from numerous encounters in the Arena and Xena didn’t think the bard would hesitate to kill, if necessary.

Xena stepped forward, intentionally making noise and wasn’t surprised when the bard spun into a half crouch with the sais at ready, one poised for throwing and the other in a defensive stance. Gabrielle blinked and then stood up as Xena stepped out of the shadows. She smiled at her mate but Xena wasn’t sure the smile continued to the woman’s eyes.

When the Roman, Brutus had reunited the soulmates Xena thought she couldn’t be happier in her life. Two days had gone past and she found Gabrielle withdrawing into herself more and more and refusing to talk about what had happened during the year and months of her disappearance.

Brutus had told them that after her capture by the Romans, Gabrielle had been sold into slavery to a gladiator school and had become a fighter. After he stumbled across her he had purchased her when he could but not before Caesar had taken an interest in the little fighter and had her fighting in Rome.

To everyone’s surprise she had won her freedom as a gladiator by winning the coveted wooden sword of freedom. Brutus had managed to get Gabrielle and her former trainer, friend and fellow Amazon out of Italia and into Germania before Caesar could figure out who Gabrielle was.

Caesar had been very anxious to find the little bard, Xena knew. He wanted to use Gabrielle as bait. Somehow the military and political leader sensed that the bard was important in Xena’s life and intended to use that to his advantage. Brutus had foiled that plan by freeing Gabrielle and taking her to Xena.

Brutus had told Xena and Hercules of the numerous rapes, beatings and training Gabrielle had been through, he also said Gabrielle had offered him her body if he would get her out of Italia and back to Xena.

Xena figured it was time for both of them to talk about what they had been through that year and months.

Dancer spun, kicking up in the air as she slashed out with the sais, landing lightly in a crouch and spinning out with her leg and then ending upright with the sais in defensive position. She straightened up slowly, satisfied with the session, she was breathing a little heavily and had a good layer of sweat worked up and her muscles sang.

In a flash she was in a crouch again, sais at the ready for throwing and for defense. Her sharp eyes spotted Xena coming out from the trees and she slowly stood up and lowered the sais into her special boot laces and secured them. She smiled as the warrior approached and noticed the concerned look in her mate’s eyes.

Dancer shifted mentally and Gabrielle sighed. She ran a hand through her short blonde hair. How the Hades to explain this weirdness to her soulmate, she wondered and grinned at Xena who grinned back, looking grateful to see the familiar smile on Gabrielle’s face.

“Can we talk, my love?” Xena asked softly.

Gabrielle closed her eyes and sighed. “It’s time, huh?”

“What do you mean?” Xena asked cautiously.

“There’s some kind of wall between us and I know it’s me.” Gabrielle shrugged and bent down to retrieve her cloak. Xena moved forward and helped pull it around the smaller woman and pulled Gabrielle to her, looking down into the bard’s green eyes.

“Whatever it is, it’s not going to last long. I love you.”

“I love you, Xena. So much.” The warrior saw tears welling up in Gabrielle’s eyes but the bard fought them back.

“Come on, let’s go to the barn before you get cold from that workout.”

“All right.”

The barn was a small one room building that held their five horses, hay and not much more. Gabrielle had been curious about the cabin and barn, the place wasn’t a farm, she could tell that. Hercules had explained that it had once been a hunter’s cabin when game was plentiful in the region, before the Romans. They had taken it over when Brutus sent word that he had news of Gabrielle’s location. The Greeks had made their home with a northern Germanic tribe further north.

Gabrielle sat down on a hay bale, suddenly getting a sense of Deja vu – how long ago had it been when the little bard sat down on a hay bale in her parent’s barn, just discovering that Xena loved her as much as she loved the warrior? It seemed a life time.

She looked up and saw the same thoughts going through her mate’s mind. She smiled a weary smile and pointed to the other hay bale.

“Where do I start?” Gabrielle complained, pulling one of her sais and playing with it. It reminded Xena of how she herself would use sharpening her sword as a distraction or a focus.

“The beginning?” Xena suggested.

“You know I was taken by Romans and sold to slavers…”

“No, all of it, little one. Until you talk about you can’t heal from it.”

“Why?!” the bard suddenly demanded, jumping to her feet and pacing, twirling the sais in her hand. “Do you want me to tell you about every man I’ve killed? Do you want me to describe every blow?!” she snapped.

“If you need to.” Xena said simply, keeping her voice neutral.

“Arrrrggghhh!” Xena wasn’t surprised when one of the sais ended up in a barn post followed by the other one. Xena was surprised with the speed of the bard turned warrior.

Gabrielle turned and faced her lover, breathing heavy, looking angry and tears threatening to spill out of her eyes.

“Why, damnit!? Why do you need to hear it?”

“I don’t. I’ve got a pretty good idea of what happened to you. You need to get it out.”

“Why, I thought you forgave anything I’ve done?!” Gabrielle demanded.

“I have, you haven’t forgiven yourself.” Xena answered.

Gabrielle blinked and the anger left her face in a wave. Xena quickly caught her bard as the woman fell forward, her knees buckling. She collapsed into Xena’s arms, the sobs finally beginning.

Xena pulled them to the hay and held her lover close, rocking and talking to her until the tears had slowed enough for Gabrielle to talk.

Xena reached out and pulled Gabrielle’s cloak off of her and covered them with it as the bard settled in between Xena’s legs and into her strong forearms.

“Iolaus tried to fight them so I could get away but they shot my horse out from under me and I couldn’t run. I thought they killed him. He wasn’t moving and they said they were going to throw him in the river,” she whispered.

“They did. We didn’t find him until the next day,” Xena answered.

“How did he live?” Gabrielle asked in wonderment.

“He had to save you. I swear the Greeks will never be totally conquered, we’re too damn stubborn.”

Gabrielle smiled at that one. Then she frowned. “He wakes up calling my name.”

“Yes,” Xena said simply.

Xena felt the bard’s body begin trembling and she tightened her embrace.

“They hurt me. They hit me and ….” Gabrielle hesitated.

“Go on,” Xena urged.

“I can’t.” Gabrielle whispered.

“Let it out, little one,” the warrior urged. “They raped you. They beat you and took turns raping you over and over again.” Xena felt her own tears falling and could feel Gabrielle beginning to cry again. Xena hoped that was a good sign.

“Yes,” the bard whispered. “Iolaus did see it.”

“Yes,” Xena answered.

“I’m glad I didn’t know. I don’t think I could have lived with that as well,” she muttered.

“He lived so we could find you eventually. He wouldn’t quit,” Xena reminded her.

“They sold me to slavers the next day. They beat me, drugged me and …. raped me.” Gabrielle whispered, clinging to her warrior’s forearm, tears falling on the tanned skin.

“It’s all right, little one. You weren’t at fault!”

“Not for that, no,” she agreed and Xena frowned, there was something the bard was feeling guilty over, she thought to herself. “Go on.”

“I was sold to a gladiator school in Italia in the city of Aqualeia. That’s where I met Nikki, Nikkita. She was a trainer at the school and knew who I was and warned me to keep quiet about my name and background. Nikki talked the owner, Lycrassis, into a bet so she could train me to be a fighter rather than a kitchen slave.” Gabrielle continued.

“Why a fighter and not a cook?” Xena asked.

“Because kitchen slaves serve as sex slaves to the men and she didn’t want that for the Queen of the Amazons. She figured I might have a chance in the Arena and none in the kitchen. I found out that she’s an Amazon from the Northern tribes. She became my trainer and protector.”

Xena felt Gabrielle’s body tense up and felt the bard’s hesitation.

“And?” she urged.

“To keep Lycrassis and his men off of me, she said that she wanted me as bedmate and he agreed. We had to convince him we were lovers,” Gabrielle whispered.

Xena felt her jaw muscles clench and knew the answer to the next question already.

“Were you?” she forced herself to ask.

“Yes,” again Gabrielle’s body began to shake as she began weeping again. Xena tightened her hold on the bard as Gabrielle attempted to flee Xena’s arms. She kept her hold tight until Gabrielle quit fighting and turned into her warrior’s body, crying. Xena felt her own tears running down her face.

“Do you love her?” Xena asked.

“No!” Gabrielle cried out and managed to escape her lover’s arms with the quickness of her trained body now. She pulled the cloak around her and began pacing again, looking very small. “And she knew that!” she yelled. “It was to save my neck! Everything that happened, every danger everyone went through was to save my neck! That bastard would stand outside the window and watch!” With a sudden side kick a board in a stall was in pieces. Xena watched her bard carefully, wiping away her own tears.

“I used her, Xena. I took her friendship, her love for me, her desire for me and I used her body as a shield, just to protect myself!” Gabrielle went to her knees in front of her warrior. “I thought my path was to protect others, not use them to protect me!”

Xena gathered the small woman back in her arms as fresh tears wracked the bard’s body.

“First rule in life is survival, Gabrielle. You know that. We can’t protect others if we’re dead.” Xena tried to reassure her little bard.

“I know, I couldn’t think of anything except getting back to you.”

“Does she love you?” Xena asked.

“Yes, I think so. She knows I don’t love her but it went further than just play acting.” Gabrielle clung to her warrior, almost flinching, as if waiting for a physical blow.

“How so? You turned to her for comfort? How is that wrong?”

“How is it wrong?” the bard repeated angrily. “Did you have a lover while I was gone?” she demanded, sitting up in Xena’s lap.

“No, but I was safe and with people who loved me and could support me in other ways. Besides, I was busy having a baby. I wasn’t feeling too sexual there at the end.” Xena grinned and was pleased when Gabrielle shook her head, trying not to smile but unable to help herself. Gabrielle smiled, picturing Xena pregnant in the last stages and crawled back into the warrior’s arms.

“How did Brutus find you?” Xena asked.

“My first kill,” Gabrielle whispered. “I was only two months in training when Lycrassis decided to test me. When I got into the arena I saw Brutus in the guest box. He recognized me, I still had my hair and hadn’t put on my helmet yet. Fortunately, he didn’t say a word.”

“Two months, how long did Brutus know where you were?” Xena growled.

“Easy, lover. He was on his way to Britannia and couldn’t do anything for us until he got back. I….. I won the match.” Again the bard was on her feet and pacing.

“I killed this irritating little Arab eunuch!” Gabrielle kicked another board into pieces. “I became exactly what I swore I wouldn’t! I kill easily, Xena. Without thinking about it, like a machine or a trained animal.”

“Yes, like a trained animal.” Xena agreed, standing up. Gabrielle looked at her puzzled, not expecting Xena to agree with the description. The little warrior stopped pacing.

“You were like a trained animal, Gabrielle. You’re not a callous killer, you were surviving, there’s a difference. What happened after your matches? How did you feel?”

“What do you mean?”

“Did you feel like you were on fire? Like you could take on anyone and anything? Like you either had to kill someone or bed them quickly?” Xena asked, approaching her mate, keeping eye contact.

“No,” the bard whispered. “I usually threw up and wanted a bath.”

Xena smiled reassuringly. “That’s the difference, Gabrielle, you’ll never be a true killer. Like me.” Xena lost her smile but not the sadness in her eyes.

“Like you? That’s how you felt?” Gabrielle asked, eyes widening. Xena sighed, they had never talked about this before.

“Yes,” Xena admitted.

“Wait a minute, watching you fight turns me on, is that the same?”

“No, watching you move, dancing or fighting, turns me on too. Fighting also turns me on and the killing used to do it for me.”

“No remorse?” Gabrielle frowned.

“Not at first, I was too wrapped up in revenge and hatred. My beloved brother was dead and I had been raped. Then later I realized that hatred was an empty feeling and I used fear to fill that. It can bring such a rush to have people absolutely terrified of you. That power thing,” Xena shrugged, sitting back down in the hay, not looking at Gabrielle. The bard followed and sat down in front of the warrior. “Then later I realized that fear was empty too and there was nothing inside of me. The hatred had burned up everything inside.” Xena wiped away a tear. “I began to be sickened by what I had become and everything around me. I didn’t have soldiers, I had bandits, rapists, murderers, all of them scum and they were using me and my skills to destroy anything in their way. When I got in their way, they tried to destroy me.”

“You chose to leave that, Xena. You weren’t dead inside,” Gabrielle said gently.

“That’s my bard, trying to reassure me when we were talking about you.”

Gabrielle grinned and threw a handful of hay at her mate. “Where were we?”

“Brutus found you but left,” Xena reminded her.

“Right, fortunately he had made a wager with Lycrassis that he wanted me very badly and made Lycrassis agree not to sell me or Nikki for a year until he returned.”

“Wasn’t Lycrassis suspicious of a friendship between a high ranking Roman general and a barely trained gladiator slave?”

“No, Brutus forced me into his bed that night.”

Xena growled and Gabrielle grinned and held out her hand. “Easy, lover. He didn’t hurt me. Well, he did hit me but I insisted. He bruised me, tied me up and made it look like he had forced me and had been brutal about it. Lycrassis believed him.”

“It took a year to get back from Britain.”

“Over a year to settle things there. Then Lycrassis wouldn’t sell us. He was making money on me and I think planning to take me to Rome himself soon. Brutus was forced to reveal my name and told Lycrassis that Caesar wanted me but to keep quiet until you fell into the trap.”

“Clever, Brutus, very clever.”

Gabrielle nodded. “Do you know how much he was risking for me? Because he loves me he is willing to risk his future, his fortune, his life!” Gabrielle was shouting again and began pacing.

“You’ll get your exercise just jumping up and down all morning,” Xena complained and Gabrielle glared at her.

“Nikki sleeps with me to protect me, Brutus risks everything and I don’t even sleep with him! What would you have done, Xena?” Gabrielle turned to her lover.

“What do you mean?”

“What if Caesar had gotten me? Would you have left Sasha and risked a trap to try and save me or would you have let me go to raise Sasha safely?”

Xena blinked and frowned. It was a question she had been asking herself for months, ever since Gabrielle had disappeared and they had word that Caesar was looking for her. What would she do?
“I don’t know, I know I can’t live without you, Gabrielle.”

Gabrielle’s anger faded quickly.

“I know that now.” Xena looked puzzled. “I tried to kill myself once.”

Xena went pale and grabbed her bard by the arms, looking deep in Gabrielle’s eyes.

“No,” she whispered.

Gabrielle nodded. “I was tired and couldn’t imagine making it a year or three years in the Arena. No one wins their freedom in the Arena.”

“You did.”

Gabrielle smiled a sad smile. “And many people died to get me there. I couldn’t have even dreamed of winning the wooden sword of the gladiators. I couldn’t even dream of living to see you anymore. You had Sasha and I knew you could go on without me.”

“I couldn’t!” Xena protested.

“I didn’t know that for certain!” Gabrielle snapped. “Everyone around me was in danger because of who I am! You, Hercules, Iolaus, Brutus, Nikki, Sasha – everyone! I was killing people just to survive, just by my living people were in danger and I was using people I loved.” Gabrielle’s head dropped and she sank to her knees. “I couldn’t do it any more, Xena.”

Xena walked up behind her lover and placed her hands on the small woman’s shoulders.

“I understand.” she said simply. “What happened?”

“Hah! I decided that I would go down in the Arena, easy way out, right? Oh no, not this idiot!” she laughed and Xena wasn’t sure she was seeing the humor in this. “I get a fighter that couldn’t fight off a fly. He was worse than Joxer!” Xena wasn’t sure anyone was worse than Joxer but let that one go. “I would have to drop my weapons, place my head on the chopping block and guide his ax before he could beat me,” the warrior bard complained.

“What did you do?” Xena asked with a smile, beginning to see the absurd humor in the situation.

Gabrielle lost her smile. “I cut his hamstring and crippled him permanently. It got him out of the Arena alive. Part of it was my anger though, I was mad at him for being so lousy a fighter. I then turned my sword, blade at my heart and I fell forward.”

Gabrielle felt the warrior’s hands tighten on her shoulders in response and the warrior’s body jerk. Xena had seen that type of death before.

“What?” she demanded, pulling Gabrielle to her feet and facing the warrior. “How?”

“Apollo.” Gabrielle said with a shrug.

“Apollo, as in your patron god?” Xena asked.

“No, Apollo as in my father; the god of the Sun, Apollo.” Gabrielle grinned. “He stopped me and gave me a reason to live.”

“What was that.”

Gabrielle looked up, tears filling her eyes once more. “He showed me you with Sasha and that Iolaus was alive. He told me that you couldn’t live without me.”

“I can’t.” Xena agreed.

Gabrielle hesitated, reluctant to continue. Xena’s eyes narrowed.

“What else did he say or show you?”

“That if I died that you would follow and Sasha would become Ares’ and take over your dark destiny.” Gabrielle turned away from her lover, afraid of how her mate would take this type of news.

Xena answered with a long sentence of curses. She finally came up behind the warrior bard and wrapped her arms around the small woman. “What did you tell him?”

“I asked him why the gods couldn’t find someone else to mess with besides you and me and now Sasha.” Gabrielle grinned.

Xena, knowing Gabrielle’s sharp tongue could picture that scene easily.

“I love you,” Xena whispered, nuzzling the bard’s neck.

“He then said the fate of the world depended on me getting back to you.” Gabrielle whispered as she bared her neck for Xena’s lips and teeth.

“What did you say?” Xena asked, trailing her tongue from the bard’s earlobe to her collarbone.

“Wha…? I told him I was getting tired of the saving the world stuff.”

Xena grinned and nodded in agreement as Gabrielle’s hand reached behind and laced through her dark hair, pulling the warrior’s head back to the bard’s neck. Xena was happy to change her focus from saving the world to worshipping at her lover’s neck right then. Gabrielle hadn’t been ready to be touched since they had found each other again. Xena knew it was because of the guilt the bard had been feeling. Now she was hoping they were past that. The bard seemed past it, she thought.

Gabrielle moaned as the warrior’s hands slid down the bard’s tight stomach and started caressing her thighs, trailing her thumbs on the inside of the little warrior’s thighs, pulling Gabrielle back into the warrior as Xena captured her neck with her lips and teeth.

“Oh Gods, it’s been so long! Just your touch….”

“Shhh, little one.” Xena whispered and bit down on Gabrielle’s earlobe.

The warrior’s hands began caressing Gabrielle through her trousers and the bard’s body began trembling and jerking.

“I can’t stand up!” she whispered.

“Too bad,” Xena growled and slipped a hand down the bard’s trousers while the other hand moved under Gabrielle’s tunic and grasped one of the woman’s breasts. Gabrielle began whimpering and felt her knees buckle but was held up by the warrior’s hand sliding in-between her folds and claiming her body once more. Xena wrapped her arm around the bard’s ribs.

“I remember when you bit me after becoming a bacchae,” Xena whispered in her lover’s ear, causing Gabrielle to moan and then whimper as the warrior’s fingers entered her, impaling her and holding her up at the same time. The sensation of trying to stand and let her body take over was driving the bard crazy and heightening the sensations.

“I never felt anything like that,” Xena continued, kissing the bard’s neck. “when you bit me it felt more intense than any shaman journey I went on with Alti, more sexual than anything I had ever felt. I wanted you so badly right in that moment. I never wanted your fangs to leave me. I wanted your hand inside of me and I wanted to taste your blood and your sex.”

Gabrielle was almost crying as her body trembled uncontrollably. Xena increased the speed and strength of her thrusts and bit down on the bard’s neck, hard. Gabrielle screamed Xena’s name and the warrior let them fall backwards into the hay, maintaining her hold on and in the bard on top of her until Gabrielle’s body quit jerking and spasming with wave after wave of orgasm. Xena carefully removed her hand and let the bard slide off of her and then took the bard into her arms, as the tears began to flow again.

Xena rocked her lover as Gabrielle wept, all the pent up emotions of over a year finally getting released.

Hercules looked up from his wood pile and leaned on his ax as the warrior approached the cabin, carrying a sleeping bard, her boots crunching in the light snow.

“Did you kill her or work it out?” he grinned and was pleased with her blushing face.

“We worked some of it out. It’s going to take a long time to heal.”

“I know. I’m hoping that Iolaus’ nightmares will start to settle down now that Gabrielle’s back and well.”

“He loves you very much,” Xena commented.

“I know, I’m not sure he’s ready for that though,” the demi-god muttered.

“You almost lost him that day and I lost Gabrielle for over a year. I was a fool to wait all that time to tell her how I felt.” Xena urged and then shrugged with a smile.

“Iolaus is inside with Sasha.”

“He’s quite taken with her,” Xena grinned.

“Yup,” he grinned back. “Nikki’s in there too.”

“Good, I’m going to let this one sleep. I’m not sure she’s made it through an entire night in two years.”

Xena carried the sleeping bard to their bed and gently laid Gabrielle on the sleeping furs and tenderly covered the woman. She looked up and saw Iolaus playing with Sasha near the fire, rolling a wooden ball back and forth with her, his left arm in its permanent sling. He grinned at the sight of Gabrielle sleeping and nodded in agreement that he thought this was a good sign along with Hercules.

Xena noticed Nikki watching as well. Xena nodded towards the door and Nikki nodded in agreement and grabbed her cloak.

Iolaus caught Hercules coming in as the two women headed for the barn.

“Did you take away their weapons?” Hercules asked with just a hint of humor.

“Nikki’s in love with Gabrielle.” Iolaus commented, going back to playing with Sasha.

“Yup and I’m not sure what Gabrielle told Xena either.”

“You think there’s something between Nikki and Gabrielle?” Iolaus asked with a frown.

“I don’t know, Brutus said Gabrielle had to do a lot of things to survive. I wouldn’t be surprised if she turned to Nikki for comfort. You’ve never seen the Arena, that’s a very hard life for anyone, especially Gabrielle.”

“Gods, no. Nothing can come between them.” Iolaus shook his head in disbelief.

“I hope so, my friend.” Hercules leaned down and ruffled his friend’s hair fondly and was pleased when Iolaus grinned up at him. Gods, had he fallen for his best friend? Hades, why not? He loved Xena as well. Then the demi-god frowned to himself, this felt different.
Xena motioned to the hay bales she and Gabrielle had been sitting on early in the morning and Nikki carefully sat down, holding her crutch close to hand. One positive thing about being a cripple, she thought, you always had a weapon at hand.

Xena sat down on the other bale, facing the Norse Amazon.

“You love her.” Xena said simply.

“Yes,” Nikki admitted, watching Xena’s hands carefully. “She’s not in love with me, though. I know that, warrior.”

“You were lovers,” Xena stated.

Nikki stopped breathing for a moment. “Yes, did she also tell you why?”

“Yes, at first it was to protect her, then it was something else later.”

“Yes,” Nikki admitted. “I wasn’t exactly unwilling to make love to her.” She heard Xena growl. “I also know it was hard for her. It was your name that she bit into a blanket to keep from calling out when that bastard was watching and listening, it was your name I had to cover her lips from crying out in a nightmare every night. It was your face and your eyes she looked for every single morning. Not mine, Xena. She never loved me, and, give her credit, she never pretended to.”

“You still want her.”

Nikki laughed loudly. “Get some reality, Xena! Of course I do! Hasn’t everyone that’s ever met her?”

Xena did have to grin at that one.

“That doesn’t mean that I would act on those feelings ever again. We’re not in the same situation and she doesn’t think of me like that. Yours is the only body and soul she’ll ever want again. Later as time went on, we sought each other for sex but there was friendship and nothing more. I held her while she cried afterwards but it was you she was crying for.” Nikki told the warrior.

“What happens now?” Xena asked.

“I can either make my way back to the Amazons or go further north and seek my parent’s people out.”

“You can travel and stay with us when we go north,” Xena offered but Nikki shook her head.

“You know I can’t do that. There’s nothing between Gabrielle and me and there never will be but it’ll always be there, Xena. Always. I’ve shared her body with you. I have to find my own mate and keep my friendship with both of you. If I stay I don’t think that would last.”

“You’re right. I’m sorry, you’ve been a good friend to Gabrielle and I know that.”

“She’s my Queen.” Nikki shrugged.

“Didn’t she tell you that she’s not Queen anymore?” Xena grinned.

“Of course, from the very beginning but that didn’t matter. Once a Queen, always a Queen.”

Xena grinned, shaking her head.

Hercules grinned to himself when they walked in. At least neither of them appeared wounded nor dead.

“Nikki, how am I supposed to say goodbye to you,” Gabrielle demanded as they walked along the trail leading south.

The Amazon Viking had already said her farewells to Xena, Hercules and Iolaus a few moments before. She had been surprised when Xena hadn’t protested her lover walking Nikki down the road for a ways to make her own good-byes.

Nikki tried to smile. “Don’t you dare make me cry, damnit,” she teased the small woman beside her.

Gabrielle smiled a sad smile and stopped. Nikki turned to face her.

The bard wondered how to say goodbye when she couldn’t even sort out her feelings right then. Nikki had been her trainer, her friend and sort of lover. The woman had saved her life on many levels and Gabrielle felt guilty for using the Amazon’s love and attraction to the bard to stay alive.

Nikki smiled and lifted Gabrielle’s chin to look gray eyes into green ones. She gently wiped away a tear from the bard’s cheek.

“You could stay and go north with us.” Gabrielle whispered and then shook her head herself. “No, I know you can’t. I’m sorry.”

Nikki raised the bard’s chin again and grinned. “You are no longer Dancer and no longer Brie the gladiator. You have to find Gabrielle again and I can’t help you with that. I have myself to find. I love you and probably always will but my mate is someone and somewhere else.”

“I’m sorry about everything,” Gabrielle whispered, hugging the tall woman.

“Nothing to be sorry for. We were in a position of survival and I found a friend, a friend who helped me get my freedom. Thank you.”

“Thank you for training me and keeping me alive.” Gabrielle smiled as she pulled back out of the embrace. “You’ll always be my friend.”

“Thank you, my Queen.” Nikki grinned and then leaned down and kissed the bard lightly on the lips and then climbed up on her horse.

With a grin she was gone down the road at a fast trot, leaving the small bard to watch. Gabrielle frowned and began walking slowly back to the cabin where Xena waited for her.

The bard felt lost. She wasn’t Dancer, the gladiator; she wasn’t Brie, Roman slave but she didn’t feel like Gabrielle either. Her boots crunched in the light covering of snow on the ground. Hercules wanted to move north as soon as possible to avoid the deepening snow. Gabrielle wasn’t sure how she felt about that. The bard knew they had to get out of Roman territory, so they couldn’t return to Greece but she wasn’t sure she wanted to go North either. Gabrielle didn’t know where she wanted to go and didn’t feel like she belonged anywhere.

She was surprised to find Hercules and Iolaus gone when she returned to the cabin. The bard raised her eyebrows at the sight of Xena cooking at the fireplace while Sasha played on the floor next to her Mom with some blocks of wood. Xena smiled at her mate as Gabrielle pulled off her woolen cloak and stamped her boots against the doorway.

“You okay?” Xena asked as Gabrielle pulled up a chair on the other side of Sasha.

“Yeah, feels weird. Nikki and I were side by side for over a year, the only time we weren’t was when I was in the Arena.”

“She’s a good friend.” Xena commented, stirring a pot.
“Yes, I seem to have a good number of them.” Gabrielle smiled. “Where’s Herc and Iolaus?”

“They’ve gone hunting for a couple of days. I think Hercules is giving us some time alone here and some time alone for them.”

Gabrielle raised her eyebrows again. “Is he going to tell Iolaus how he feels?”

“I don’t know. They seem to be a lot like us, everyone knows but them.” Xena grinned.

“A couple of days,” Gabrielle repeated.

“Yup. Are you okay with that?”

Even though they had talked two days earlier and Xena had even made love to her, Gabrielle still felt the wall between them and was getting more and more frustrated as to how to knock it down. “Yeah, I know we need it.”

Xena watched as her mate began absently pulling on her tunic hem, an obvious sign that Gabrielle was nervous and distraught. The warrior waited. Gabrielle’s head dropped.

“I need you, Xena,” she whispered and the warrior was kneeling in front of her in a flash. Gabrielle looked into her mate’s blue eyes with tears threatening to flow. “I want you so badly that it hurts physically but I freeze every time I start to reach for you. Help me!” she suddenly pleaded and Xena took the small bard in her arms.

“Shhhh, it’s all right, little one. I’m here, I’m not going anywhere as long as you’ll have me,” Xena whispered, stroking the blonde’s hair and holding her tight.

After a few minutes Gabrielle pulled back, wiping tears away. She attempted a grin at her mate.

“I don’t know how to get past this,” she admitted.

“A little bit at a time, my love.” Xena smiled reassuringly.

Sasha laughed and threw a block of wood, hitting her mom in the ankle. “Ouch!” Xena growled and turned, quickly grabbing her daughter and swinging the laughing little bundle in her arms and began tickling the little one.

Gabrielle couldn’t help but grin. Watching Xena with the child had been a revelation to the little bard. She was seeing sides of Xena that the warrior didn’t even know about. The bard grinned even wider and moved down into the floor on the fur with her two loved ones, laying on an elbow, watching the two play.

Xena grinned, watching as Gabrielle began to relax. She surprised the bard by handing over the still giggling Sasha and went to the fireplace and stirred the pot of deer stew. Gabrielle laughed as Sasha tackled her and sat on the bard’s very firm abs.

“Oooofff!” Gabrielle teased, holding Sasha’s hands and rocking her back and forth with her legs.

“I wanted to be there when you were born, Sasha, so badly.” Gabrielle said to the blue eyes that looked so familiar.

“I wish you had been, my love.” Xena commented, walking over and grabbing bowls off a shelf. To the bowls she added spoons, a loaf of bread, some cheese and a bottle of wine.

“Knowing you, it wasn’t your usual birth. Tell me about it.” Gabrielle grinned over her shoulder at Xena, dishing out the stew into the bowls.

Xena grinned back. “Actually it wasn’t a simple birth. Well, the birth was, the place and timing weren’t.” While they ate Xena told her mate the circumstances of Sasha’s birth. The raid on the steading, the quick flight to the hunting cabin with Xena in labor. Gabrielle grinned at the thought of Xena bouncing around in a speeding wagon while in labor. She got a piece of bread thrown at her for that giggle.

Xena lost her smile as she described the battle at the cabin, the strange woman warrior coming to their aid. Sasha, Axel’s wife of their adopted Germanic family, helping deliver the baby and then standing beside Iolaus in defense against the raiders and falling to an ax. Of Ketli the Mouse, a small boy burying a hatchet in the neck of a raider and stabbing another with a sword. A boy only a few summers old. Xena told her mate of the warrior woman finishing off the raiders, suffering what must have been devastating and fatal wounds only to disappear.

“Do you think she was a Valkyrie, like Ketli said?” Gabrielle asked.

“I don’t know. They don’t seem to have many personal visits from their gods up here and everyone was amazed by the story.” Xena shrugged.

“I could get used to the gods not bothering us,” Gabrielle grinned.

“Even though Sasha is the daughter of one?” Xena asked seriously.

“As long as he stays out of our lives until the end of time, I’d be happy.” Gabrielle stated, handing Sasha another piece of bread.

“I’ll agree to that. I wonder if we can ever go back to Greece.” Xena frowned.

“He found me at Lycrassis’ school.” Gabrielle whispered and,watched Xena go pale. Gabrielle closed her eyes, remembering. “He taunted me about Nikki,” Gabrielle whispered and focused on Sasha and helping the little one get more food in her than on her. Xena waited, watching the tears begin to fall from her beloved’s eyes again.

“He offered to zap both of us out of there, to anywhere we wanted, if I told him where you were and why you left Greece.”

“Terrific. I guess he hasn’t given up,” Xena muttered.

Gabrielle laughed a bitter laugh. “Hardly.”

“Why didn’t you tell him and get the Hades out of there?” Xena asked with a frown.

“I couldn’t tell him where you were and why you left Greece!” Gabrielle protested.

“You could have taken the chance that he wouldn’t be powerful enough outside of Greek and Roman territories and gotten out of that pit.”

“No, I couldn’t!” Gabrielle stormed to her feet and began pacing. “I couldn’t do that, Xena. I didn’t even think about it.”

“Then why do you doubt your love for me now?” Xena asked softly and the bard stopped dead, a shocked look on her face and then she frowned.

“Is that what I’m doing?” she whispered.

“You won’t forgive yourself for everything that happened and you won’t forgive me for not finding you.”

Gabrielle was on her knees in front of Xena’s chair in an instant, removing the warrior’s bowl and grabbing Xena’s hands. “No, that’s not it. I probably would have beaten you senseless if I thought you were putting yourself in danger for me again with Sasha on the way,” Gabrielle protested.

“Then forgive yourself, little one! I’d rather have you alive than a corpse on some fire heap outside a Roman villa,” Xena urged.

Gabrielle closed her eyes and buried her head in Xena’s hands. “I keep seeing the faces, every time I close my eyes. The men who hurt me, the men I killed, Caesar, Lycrassis, all of them.”

“You’re free, Gabrielle. You’re back with me,” Xena whispered, kissing the top of the bard’s head.

“I’m not back with myself, Xena.” Gabrielle looked up into the blue eyes, her face reflecting the feeling of loss that was overwhelming her.

“We have to find a way to settle Brie, Dancer and Gabrielle together. You can’t go back to what you were, little one. You’ve been through too much.”

“How do I get those damned faces out of my thoughts?!” Gabrielle suddenly demanded.

“The ones you killed or the ones who raped you?” Xena asked softly.

“Both,” the bard whispered.

“You don’t.” Xena said bluntly. “That’s what wakes me up at night and then I find you holding me and comforting me. It eases with time but it never goes away.”

Gabrielle frowned and Xena stood up and walked up behind her bard and wrapped her strong arms around her lover as Sasha began banging her spoon in her bowl. Gabrielle grinned at the sight of the little one covered with food.

“Your other little one is calling, my love.”

“Ack!” Xena quickly kissed Gabrielle’s neck and then bent and scooped up her daughter. “Bath for you!” she grinned and Gabrielle followed.

As they waited for water to heat up for the small tub Xena began removing her little daughter’s clothes while Sasha grinned and resisted. “Hey you! Come back here!” Xena said playful, lifting her daughter in the air and getting a delighted squeal from the youngster.

Gabrielle poured water into the wash basin and watched Xena begin the task of bathing Sasha and attempt to keep most of the water in the tub without getting everyone and everything soaked. Gabrielle grinned and then lost her smile.

“Want to talk about it?” Xena asked.

“Why not. You asked me the other day how I felt after a match, after I killed someone,” the bard began and the warrior nodded. “I told you I usually threw up and wanted a bath. That wasn’t it totally.” Gabrielle turned and walked over to the fire and Xena waited for her to continue.

“During the match I was Dancer, nothing existed but the match. The other fighter or fighters. I felt….. I felt, alive. Does that make sense?” Gabrielle turned to her warrior.

“Yes,” Xena nodded.

“My skills kept me alive. It was like a dance, a deadly dance and I was good at it and my body responded to that. The thought of having just killed someone sickened me but the dance, it made my blood sing.” Gabrielle closed her eyes to the admission.

“I understand that,” Xena said simply.

“You asked if I felt the need to bed someone or kill someone else after a fight,” Gabrielle opened her eyes and they were narrowed. Xena wasn’t sure where this was going but the tension in the air was suddenly very thick. She pulled Sasha out of the water and into a warm towel. She moved carefully to a chair by the fireplace to dry the youngster off.

“Yes, it’s common after a battle,” Xena said carefully.

Gabrielle’s jaw clinched and she turned back to the fire.

“Are you still feeling guilty that you turned to Nikki for that?” Xena asked softly.

Gabrielle turned, tears filling her eyes. “You knew?”

“Yes, my love. You would throw up after a match and then find Nikki. A sense of desperation tearing at your soul and body, needing human contact and sexual release, it would hit you like a tidal wave.” Xena carefully kept her eye on Sasha, letting the bard absorb the description. When she glanced up Gabrielle’s hands were tight fists and her eyes were closed. The struggle evident on her face.

“Let it go, Gabrielle. You’re human, I don’t blame you for anything that happened while you were gone.” Xena spoke softly, beginning to dress Sasha, wishing she could hold Gabrielle right then but unsure if the bard would let her.

With a yell of anger Gabrielle grabbed her cloak and was out the door.

Xena sighed and began rocking her daughter. “Time for a nap, Sasha, while your other mom works off some energy.”
Xena sighed as Sasha finally drifted off to sleep. She carefully wrapped a blanket around her little one, grabbed her cloak, and then her sword and went out, following Gabrielle’s footprints in the snow to the one room stable.

The warrior wasn’t surprised to find the little bard practicing with her sais, her body already bathed in a light sheen of sweat and her breathing was a little heavy. Her eyes flashed as Xena entered the stable and dropped her cloak off her tall shoulders.

Xena carefully placed the sleeping child in the middle of a small haystack, arranging the blankets and hay to make a nest for the little one.

“Go away, please,” Gabrielle growled.

“Nope, not this time, little one. You need some practice?” Xena pulled the sword out of its scabbard.

“I don’t think this is a good idea,” Gabrielle growled again and Xena could see Dancer in the eyes.

“You’re used to practicing, why not with me?” Xena approached cautiously, swinging her sword a couple of times around her wrists and then over her other hand, catching it easily in her hand again. Beginning a dance of weapons.

Dancer’s eyes narrowed as her body leaned slightly back, taking a defensive position. “Xena, I’m not… I don’t….” Gabrielle tried to talk past Dancer’s control.

“It’s all right, let it go.” Xena’s experienced eyes sized up her smaller opponent with a nod of approval. Nikki had trained her little mate well, she thought. The small Greek moved like a Dancer, a deadly one. Xena grinned and launched herself forward with a series of sword strikes and found each of them neatly parried or blocked, she quickly twisted away from the blunt end of one of the sais, sliding just past her jawline. Both warriors separated and began circling, each looking for an opening.

Again the warriors met in the center of the room, sword and sais flashing. Xena realized quickly that the bard had been taught to go for crippling moves as soon as possible and barely dodged a heavy blow aimed for her shoulder but didn’t avoid a closed fist alongside her eye from the other direction. She quickly reacted with a kick that sent the little bard back several feet.

Xena knew she could take Gabrielle but didn’t want to end it just yet. Dancer’s eyes were still flashing with the pent up anger of a hundred matches in the Arena and weeks of repeated beatings and rape. She brushed aside a trickle of blood flowing from a cut above her eye. Xena grinned to herself, at least when Hercules pushed her into releasing some of that anger she hadn’t been armed. Xena was facing a deadly opponent who was armed. Countering that was the fact that it was Gabrielle, her mate. Xena was counting on Gabrielle coming through and conquering Dancer.

Xena just hoped that she didn’t get too injured before Gabrielle won out. Also that she wouldn’t have to hurt Gabrielle.

Gabrielle lunged forward and Xena reacted with a parry but found empty space as the gladiator dived forward into a roll and came up under Xena’s sword with her sais in the warrior’s ribs. Fortunately, Dancer was still in control enough to use the blunt end. Xena stumbled back and instinctively struck out with her free hand, catching Dancer across the jaw and sending the smaller woman stumbling back. Xena held back from rushing to her mate in concern as Dancer spit out blood, touching a split lip.

The Dancer was on her again with a shout and Xena blocked two strikes and found herself holding the gladiator to keep from hurting either of them. She dropped her sword and grabbed Dancer around the ribs and held tight.

“Come back to me, Gabrielle,” Xena whispered.

Dancer yelled in anger and bent her legs enough to launch herself back into the warrior, taking both of them to the floor. Xena lost her grip and found herself in a wrestling match with the small woman. The warrior quickly grabbed Gabrielle’s foot as the small fighter dived for her sais and yanked the blonde back. Xena growled in her throat as Dancer kicked out with the other foot and caught her in the chest.

Xena was finding herself at a distinct disadvantage. She was holding back and holding back a lot to keep from hurting Gabrielle. Her mate, however, was lost to the Dancer and wasn’t holding back much.

Dancer grabbed the sais and Xena decided it was enough. She didn’t fight back as the smaller woman tackled her to the floor again and straddled the warrior, a foot on Xena’s sword wrist. Xena looked up into Dancer’s eyes and the sais held over her throat.

“Gabrielle,” she said simply.

Dancer blinked.

“Gabrielle, kiss me.”

Xena watched the shift in Gabrielle’s eyes from Dancer to bard and the fear start to overwhelm her lover. Gabrielle’s foot shifted and Xena gently reached up and removed the sais from her mate’s hands. She shifted underneath the smaller woman and pulled Gabrielle down on top of her, pinning the bard against her with her strong arms.

“No, don’t run from this. It’s part of you now. Kiss me and let that part of you go. I want you, now!” Xena whispered and pulled Gabrielle’s head from behind and forced the bard’s lips to her own.

Gabrielle resisted a moment and then attacked her lover’s lips with a passion that even surprised the former Conqueror. The bard laced her fingers through Xena’s hair and her tongue demanded entrance roughly. Xena moaned and obliged, both tongues fighting for dominance in their new exploration of each other. It was as if she was making love to Gabrielle for the first time.

The bard pulled back, sitting back on Xena’s legs, breathing heavily. Xena looked up into the heavy lidded eyes.

“I want you now, Gabrielle. I want you to take me, claim me! I want your hand inside of me and your teeth in my neck.” Xena sat up as Gabrielle moaned and closed her eyes. “Now!” Xena grabbed Gabrielle’s face with her hands and brought the bard’s lips back to her own, roughly. She pulled back slightly and let Gabrielle feel Xena’s tongue taste the blood from the bard’s split lip.

Gabrielle growled and claimed Xena’s lips again, pushing the warrior back onto the hay they had landed on. As her mouth was working on bringing more moans out of her warrior, Gabrielle’s hands were moving all over Xena’s body, sending shocks up and down the warrior’s body. The bard’s hands grabbed at Xena’s tunic and pulled it up with a growl and off of her warrior. Before Xena could move, Gabrielle’s teeth grabbed one of her nipples roughly, her hand following suit with the other nipple. Xena cried out and felt her body arching and her loins responding with incredible wetness.

“Yes!” she hissed as Gabrielle’s hand began tugging impatiently at the warrior’s belt. She claimed Xena’s lips again roughly as her hands worked at Xena’s belt and trouser drawstring. Xena raised her hips as Gabrielle pulled back and yanked the warrior’s trousers down with a growl and then pinned her back to the floor.

Xena wasn’t sure if she was seeing Gabrielle or Dancer in the eyes any longer. She moved to grab Gabrielle’s tunic and the blonde growled again and grabbed Xena’s wrists with one of her strong hands and held the warrior’s hands over her head. Xena felt a moment of ….. what? Fear, panic? Desire? All of them?

Gabrielle kissed Xena deeply and the warrior could feel the bard’s soul reaching out and grabbing her and her body responding as well as her heart. She felt her back arching as the bard’s other hand grasped one of her nipples and then the bard started kissing her warrior from her lips to her nipples, first one then the other and back to Xena’s lips.

“Please, I need you!” Xena whispered.

Gabrielle let go of Xena’s hands but growled when the warrior started to reach for her. The warrior smiled and let the bard continue with her attack upon her body and in a moment her back was arching, she was biting her lips and moaning as Gabrielle bit one of her nipples and a hand went between Xena’s legs, discovering how wet the warrior was.

With another growl Gabrielle entered Xena, causing the warrior’s hips to buck of their own accord and the warrior to cry out. The dark warrior grabbed fistfuls of hay as her body rocked with the rhythm that her bard was setting and Gabrielle’s teeth moved up to her neck, finding the spot that always drove Xena insane. Somewhere in the back of her mind Xena realized that it was her own voice she was hearing crying out, begging the small bard for more and more, her body begging as well.

Xena’s consciousness fled as she felt the bard’s small fist claim her totally and the teeth threaten to break her skin and claim her blood as well. Everything centered on the rocking sensation and the fingers playing inside of her, threatening to expand the hand inside of her. Xena felt sweat running off her body as her breathing became more and more labored.

Gabrielle moved slowly down along her warrior’s body, between Xena’s legs, slowly moving her fist inside of her mate, her own eyes heavy with desire. The warrior almost screamed as Gabrielle’s other hand found her clit and began massaging the tender and enflamed erotic spot. Xena felt tears falling from behind her closed eyes and her body shaking, hands trembling, opening and closing with the spasms that were wracking the rest of her body.

Gabrielle, feeling the muscles contracting and trembling inside of Xena, increased her speed and bent down to kiss the warrior for a moment and then turned her tongue to her warrior’s clit. Time seemed to stop for the warrior as her body and soul rose higher and higher and Gabrielle tried to hold on. Xena couldn’t tell how long her body shook and begged and climbed, pinned to her bard. She felt like her soul was only held on Earth by her connection to Gabrielle and the hand filling her and sending her higher.

Xena felt everything go red as a scream was ripped from her body involuntarily, her body taking over totally, giving over to her bard. Wave after wave assaulted her, like being tossed about on waves of a rough sea.

As Xena struggled to breathe again she opened her eyes and found her bard holding her, soothing her, wiping tears away from her warrior’s face.

“Oh gods, what was that?” she grinned.

She was pleased to see Gabrielle blushing and reached up to touch her mate’s face gently.

“I’m sorry if I was a little rough,.” Gabrielle said softly.

“Don’t apologize, damnit. I knew what I was doing,” Xena grinned.

Gabrielle arranged herself next to her warrior, snuggling into Xena’s shoulder, sighing with contentment with the familiar comfort.

“You knew?” Gabrielle whispered.

“I’ve been there, remember?” Xena smiled.

Suddenly Gabrielle was leaning on an elbow and looking deep in Xena’s eyes. “You’ve been there,” she repeated. “After a battle or a fight, right?”

“Yes,” Xena admitted, feeling the beginning a blush coming to her face.

“Why didn’t you turn to me if you were feeling that way?” Gabrielle asked with a frown.

“I was afraid,” Xena admitted in a soft voice.

“Of what?” Gabrielle demanded.

“Of hurting you. I was afraid of losing control and hurting you, physically and emotionally. Things can get out of hand when the blood lust hits.”

“No kidding, wait till you see your neck,” Gabrielle grinned. “Xena,” the bard hesitated, looking down at the warrior’s hands.

“What, little one?” Xena smiled.

“How’s your energy level now?” Gabrielle said boldly, blushing all the same.

“Let me show you.” Xena grinned and rolled the bard onto her back.

“Xena,” the warrior hesitated, looking deep in green eyes. “Don’t be gentle, please.”

Xena closed her eyes and moaned, feeling the fire of passion overcome her again. Her energy level hitting a new high. The warrior answered with a moan and quickly began stripping her mate of her clothing. As she reached for Gabrielle she felt a growl leave her throat and heard an answering one from her mate as her hand reached between Gabrielle’s legs and she claimed the bard’s lips at the same time with her teeth and tongue.

As several fingers entered the bard, Gabrielle bit down hard on Xena’s shoulder and her nails dug into as well. Xena, what little conscious thought leaked through her passion fogged mind, reflected that Gabrielle seemed to enjoy those teeth. Left over remnants from being a bacchae?

Xena moaned and roughly added more to her hand and rhythm and bit down on the bard’s neck, almost drawing blood herself. Her thumb found the bard’s clit and Gabrielle cried out, almost pulling Xena over her own edge again with just the sound.

“Yes! Take me!” Gabrielle growled, tossing her head back in passion.

Xena growled and shifted slightly, causing the bard to whimper when Xena removed her hand from the bard. Xena turned the bard into her and quickly entered Gabrielle from behind and biting down on the bard’s neck from behind. Gabrielle cried out, grabbing the hay, hands flailing as if grasping in drowning. Xena pulled back to whisper in her bard’s ear.

“I remember the bacchae, my love. This is how I wanted you to take me right then, so badly. Remember how I moaned as you drank from me? I felt your body connect to me right then, I could feel your passion. It wasn’t just the blood. I should have taken you right then after that fight.”

Gabrielle moaned, arching back into the warrior.

“Xena!” she cried.

“Yes, my love?” Xena smiled, nibbling on the bard’s ear, slowing the rhythm of her hand, pulling a frustrated cry from her mate.

“Take me, damnit! Now!” Gabrielle pleaded and then gasped as Xena added more fingers and increased the speed and depth of her thrusts. Gabrielle cried out, almost screaming right then as her body began to shake at Xena’s hand. “Gods, yes!” she growled and then did scream as Xena bit her neck again.

Xena felt the bard’s body thrashing and bucking, her hips rocking back to meet Xena’s fingers, demanding more and more and the warrior moaned, pulling the bard’s body close to her, whimpering with the contact of skin to skin and the bard’s rising passion.

“Oh gods,” she whispered, feeling her own edge approaching again as she took her mate higher and higher until Gabrielle was crying and whimpering, wordlessly begging for release. The bard bit her own lip, opening the fresh wound and tasting her own blood, and suddenly she felt like a lightning bolt went crashing through her. She screamed again.

Xena felt her own body thrusting against the bard, matching Gabrielle’s rhythm and then the bard’s muscles contracting again and again as the bard screamed her name and curled into a fetal ball in the warrior’s arms. Xena cried out with her own release with Gabrielle and then curled around her mate.

“I love you, Xena,” the bard whispered.

“I love you, Gabrielle,” the warrior whispered, using her sword to grab her cloak and spread it over them.

Xena didn’t say anything about the scars on her mate’s back from lashings of a whip nor about the scar of the gladiator brand on her shoulder. They could handle that later, she thought, nuzzling down into sleep with her love.

When Hercules and Iolaus returned two days later they both raised eyebrows at the sight of the cut above Xena’s eye, bruise along her jaw and the bard’s cut lip and black eye but said nothing when the women didn’t volunteer any information. They also took in the massive bruising at each woman’s neck and decided they probably didn’t want the details of those bruises.

Xena and Gabrielle also noticed, with smiles, similar bruises on the necks of the Greek warriors.

The End
Ides of March
Iolaus frowned at the sound of a rider approaching. Xena and Hercules weren’t due back from hunting for another day. He put down the bucket of water and pulled off a glove and drew his sword. He waited in the light snow of the territory the Romans called Agri Decumates, Gaul.

The Greek felt his pulse begin racing and his stomach turn over when the rider came into sight, a Roman soldier approaching at a trot. The Roman spotted him between the creek and the cabin and stopped in the clearing surrounding the cabin. The soldier approached the man slowly with his hands up and palms extended.

The Roman’s eyebrows raised in surprise when the cabin door opened and a small blond woman stepped out cautiously with a bow and arrow, arrow notched. She was dressed like the blond man facing the Roman with a sword, in a woolen tunic and trousers tucked into fur lined boots.

“Are you the Roman citizen Brie?” The Roman called, stopping in the snow.

Gabrielle cocked her head in puzzlement and stepped further out the door.

“I’m Brie, citizen of Rome.” she answered, slightly lowering the arrow while Iolaus moved closer to the cabin.

“I bring a message from Brutus, aide to Julius Caesar.” he indicated a message tube in his belt.

Gabrielle lowered the bow and straightened out of her stance. “Then you are welcome once you drop your sword.” Iolaus moved to the door with Gabrielle.

The Roman’s eyes flashed with anger but he pulled his sword and approached the two cautiously, hilt extended. Iolaus sheathed his own sword and took the Roman’s.

Gabrielle moved aside and motioned into the cabin to the Roman who went through the door cautiously.

“I am Corin, Centurion.” he said simply.

“I am Brie and this is Ivar of the Northern tribes.” Gabrielle responded, indicating Iolaus. She sat down at the table and the Roman joined her. Iolaus took up a position next to the fire, always keeping an eye on the Roman. Gabrielle poured a goblet of ale for the Roman.

“Thank you.”

The cabin was of simple Northern design. One main room with beds against the walls, the main area being around the fireplace. The Roman noticed the small child playing on one of the beds, staring at him with frank curiosity.

Gabrielle opened the wax sealing on the tube and pulled the parchment out and began reading, frowning. She got up and handed the parchment to Iolaus and went to a shelf above one of the beds. Grabbing a piece of parchment, pen and vial of ink she returned to the table and began writing carefully.

She noticed the Roman’s surprised look and smiled at him.

“I was trained as a bard.”

“I’m sorry, just surprised. I know of you. Brie the gladiator, the only female to win the wooden sword of freedom in the Arena. My brother was there and wrote me of the match. He said you were astounding.” the Roman grinned and Gabrielle felt herself beginning to blush.

“I was fortunate and more skilled that day,” she said. “How did you know I was the same Brie, the one that was in Rome.”

“Caesar sent word to the borders that you might return to your people and if you were to return to Roman territory that he wanted to be informed of it. When Brutus sent the message to one Brie of the northern tribes who also is a citizen of Rome, I put two and two together and got you.” he grinned.

“Clever, you’ll go far.”

Gabrielle rolled the parchment up and placed it in the message tube, lit a candle and sealed the end of the tube once again. She handed the tube to the Roman who stood easily. Iolaus handed him his sword without a word.

Gabrielle opened the door for the soldier.

“Thank you for delivering the message.” she said simply.

“Thank you for the ale. By the way, I didn’t see you if Caesar should ask.” he grinned and mounted his horse easily and turned with a wave, moving down the road.

Iolaus grinned and shook his head. “What is it with you? Everyone you meet suddenly becomes your friend.”

“Don’t ask me.” his blond friend complained with a smile. “What do you think of the message?”

Iolaus unrolled the parchment and began reading aloud.

“Gabrielle, I hope this finds all of you well and safe. A friend of ours has learned where you and your family are and would like to see you. A reunion at this time probably would not be good so I suggest waiting to see him after the spring snows melt. I know he’ll be disappointed if you move north beyond his traveling ability but things will be different in the Spring and I hope all of you can return home in the Spring without worry. Be well, vale. Signed Brutus.”

“Caesar knows where we are and is planning on moving against us.” Gabrielle commented, moving back towards the cabin and suddenly grabbed a running toddler as Sasha attempted to rush by her and out the door. She lifted the dark haired child above her head, getting a responsive squeal of delight from the child. The bard swung the child around and jumped into the snow with her mate’s daughter, both of them laughing and tickling each other.

“How did Caesar find out?” Iolaus frowned and then grinned, watching his friend and child playing in the snow. Gabrielle shrugged her shoulders and launched a snowball at him, catching him at the chest, sending snow down the front of his tunic.

“Hey! That’s cold!” he yelped and began dancing away down the path to the creek to retrieve the water bucket.

When he returned a moment later Gabrielle had Sasha up and moving back inside the cabin to warm up.

“I don’t know but he did. Maybe he threatened Brutus once he found out that Brutus actually owned me and knew who I was.”

“Gabrielle, gladiator and citizen of Rome. That still feels weird.” he smiled and sat down by the fire and removed his arm from it’s sling and began working it back and forth, stretching the almost useless muscles.

“Try being on this side of it,” Gabrielle grinned back, pulling Sasha’s wet boots off.

“What do we do?”

“What else can we do? We go north and hope that the Spring does bring some changes in Rome.” Gabrielle lost her smile. “I want to go home, Iolaus. I was missing for so long, my family must have gone crazy!” The Greeks had moved south at the first sign of Spring in the North, barely getting through the March snow, hoping they would be able to sneak into Greece without Caesar or Ares knowing about it. They all wanted to see their families and their homeland again.

“Over a year without knowing where you were. It drove all of us crazy. Your family, Xena’s family, all the Amazons, everyone looking for you. We just didn’t think to look in a gladiatorial arena.” he teased.

“I certainly didn’t choose it!” she managed to smile back but flinched, remembering the various faces of the fighters she had been forced to kill in the Arena. She didn’t think she’d ever get used to those memories.

“I wish Herc and Xena would get back. If Caesar thinks Xena is here soldiers are probably already marching.” Iolaus complained.

“I know. I don’t know if we should stay here and wait for Hercules and Xena or chance moving North and let them catch up with us. I really do not want to fall into Roman hands again.”

“Me either,” he whispered, looking at his crippled arm and saw Gabrielle looking at her scarred arms.

“We have Sasha to think about, let’s pack.” he suggested.

“I agree.” Gabrielle quickly began moving about the cabin. She stopped for a moment and looked out the window, hoping against the odds to see her mate and friend riding up. Open clearing and woods met her eyes. “Come on, Xena, time to come back.” she whispered, focusing on her mate.

***

A day later found Iolaus pulling his sword again as Gabrielle grabbed her sais from her boots, standing up on the seat of the wagon and looking back down the road. Iolaus stopped the horses and waited for the bard to give directions, fight or flight.

He was relieved when he saw the bard sigh and put the sais back in their holders and leap from the wagon. “It’s them!” she grinned and waited until the two horseback riders approached a couple of hundred yards and then ran to meet her mate, Xena, as the warrior slid from the back of Argo and grabbed the bard into her arms.

“We’re fine, Sasha’s fine.” Gabrielle answered the main questions before Xena could ask them and was rewarded with the warrior’s lips.

Hercules grinned, watching from his horse as they kissed and then, after a moment, coughed to break them up. They both grinned and blushed at him.

“Sorry, Herc. Iolaus has missed you terribly.” Gabrielle grinned.

“Feeling’s mutual,” he muttered and moved his horse towards the wagon.

Gabrielle hugged her mate again. “Gods, I hate it when you’re gone!” the bard muttered.

“Me too, little one. What’s going on? We found the cabin wrecked and signs of a large group of riders on horses. Good thing I knew how to look for your Amazon trail signs.”

“Brutus sent word that Caesar knew where we were.” Gabrielle answered as they began walking Argo towards the wagon where Sasha was looking out the back of the wagon, a big grin for her mom.

Xena grinned back and opened her arms as the toddler struggled out of the wagon and ran the few feet to her mom. The warrior lifted her daughter in her arms and hugged the blue eyed child.

“So you got out of there.” Xena stated.

“Yes, we thought we’d take a chance on the road rather than be captured by the Romans.”

“I can understand that and I’m glad you did. We were frantic when we saw the cabin and then realized that you had escaped. I couldn’t lose you again, Gabrielle.” Xena’s eyes became pained with the thought of being without her mate again and Gabrielle smiled and hugged both wife and daughter.

Xena watched as Gabrielle climbed back up onto the wagon with a sad smile. So much had changed with her mate. Gabrielle had been gone for over a year, captured by Roman soldiers and sold as a slave. Xena shook her head in amazement once again at what had happened to the bard.

Going from a beaten and raped Roman slave to gladiator in the Arena and winning her freedom with those deadly sais of hers. Just the thoughts of all those men abusing her bard was enough to send Xena into a berserker fury. Gabrielle knew that Xena still had to work a lot of it out of her system and didn’t say anything when Xena disappeared into the woods and came back exhausted and her sword needing sharpened. Sai, a dagger like weapon that was absolutely dangerous in the bard’s hands. It still amazed Xena at how skilled Gabrielle was with those sais and with most any weapon put in her hands now. The warrior remembered when Gabrielle hated to even pick up a sword, now she was deadly. Watching the bard work out was a revelation, it was like watching a dance, a dance of a deadly animal about to leap on it’s prey. Dancer had been an appropriate name, Xena often thought when she watched Gabrielle move now.

And Iolaus, the warrior reflected, taking several sword hits and a good beating trying to save Gabrielle from being taken. Losing the use of his arm and almost all the strength in the hand for it. Over a year of nightmares for all of them but particularly hard on Gabrielle and Iolaus.

It had taken time for the healing to begin, even after Gabrielle had returned to them. Time for Gabrielle to figure out who and what she was and Xena wasn’t sure the bard had found all of those answers yet.

The blond was no longer Gabrielle the bard, innocent traveling storyteller and companion of Xena, warrior Princess. She wasn’t Brie, Roman slave, either, nor was she Dancer, Roman gladiator and now free Roman citizen. Gabrielle still woke up some nights thrashing and would spend the rest of the night crying in Xena’s arms.

Xena grinned at the largest change in her life, Sasha. The small child of her one night with Ares when the God of War had messed with her mind and memories, causing the warrior to forget the last two or so years with Gabrielle. She still cursed that night spent in his arms but not the result. Sasha was a delight to her moms and her adopted dads/uncles – Hercules and Iolaus.

Xena secretly thanked the gods for Gabrielle’s acceptance of Sasha. The warrior knew she had been fortunate. The bard had been upset, of course, Xena was upset about the circumstances, but the bard had put that aside and accepted Sasha as her own. Having raised Sasha for the first few months without Gabrielle had been hard and Xena had been worried that Gabrielle might not bound with the child but that had happened faster than Gabrielle had gotten comfortable with her own self.

Sasha grinned back and began chatting with her mom as the warrior rode alongside the wagon, Gabrielle guiding the horses.

Gabrielle yelped and Xena pulled her sword in reflex as a bright light filled the road in front of them. Gabrielle attempted to slow her heart rate down as she looked at Artemis standing in the middle of the road where nothing had been a moment before.

“Artemis?” she asked, eyebrows raised.

“Yes, Gabrielle. I’m sorry to just drop in but it’s important.” the goddess answered.

Xena noticed the tense look and blood on the goddess’ hunting leathers.

“What is it? How did you find us?” the warrior asked.

Artemis smiled slightly. “Some of us have been keeping an eye on you and keeping Ares from finding you. Now I need your help.”

“What it is? What’s wrong, Artemis?” Hercules asked.

“Gabrielle,” the goddess choked and Xena jumped off Argo and moved next to the wagon, closer to her mate. “The Amazons and Centaurs were attacked by the Romans. The survivors are with the northern Province Amazons in Belgica and need you.” Artemis lowered her eyes.

Gabrielle felt her head beginning to spin as a roaring filled her ears. She wasn’t aware of Xena jumping onto the wagon and grabbing her, holding her up.

“The Centaurs, did any of them and their families get out?” Xena questioned urgently.

“Some of them made it out with the Amazons.” Artemis answered.

“Ephiny? Solari? Eponi?” Gabrielle whispered, tears beginning to flow down her cheeks. Xena tightened her hold on the bard, feeling her own heart breaking.

“I can’t say who. The Romans are planning on attacking the northern Amazons next. Caesar knows that they can’t move north in the winter snow and have no allies left in the Roman territories. He plans on wiping them out and dragging the two of you back to Greece.” Artemis answered.

“Caesar will have traps waiting for us every ten miles between here and there.” Iolaus complained.

“Yes, that’s why you’re not going that way.” Artemis said through gritted teeth. “If you agree to help.”

Gabrielle turned to look in her mate’s eyes.

“You could stay here with Sasha and keep her safe,” Gabrielle suggested.

“No way, little one. I was without you for over a year, we’re not going to be separated again.” Xena insisted.

“What about Sasha, we can’t take her into the middle of a war?” Gabrielle demanded.

“Look, I’ll be back in a candlemark, I don’t want to attract Ares’ attention.” Artemis said and was gone with a flash.

The four adults looked from one to the other for answers with frowns.

“I have a suggestion,” Hercules muttered, not looking at any of them.

“Yes?” Xena urged.

“Have Artemis take Iolaus and Sasha to Eddvar’s steading up north and we go to help the Amazons.” he said simply.

“I’m not leaving you, big guy!” Iolaus protested and Xena frowned.

“Gods, this is not easy!” Xena complained. “I lost Solan for so long because I sent him away and was trying to protect him. I can’t take Sasha into the middle of a fight and I can’t stay with her. I have to know what happened to Solan!”

“I can still fight and sit a horse!” Iolaus protested.

“No, my friend. Not in a battle. Someone has to keep Sasha safe and you’re the best one for the job now. Eddval, Axel and the family will protect both of you to the death if need be.” Hercules said softly, ruffling Iolaus’ hair and the blond dropped his head, acknowledging the logic, Iolaus knew that Hercules was right about their adopted Germanic family. The Northerners considered the Greeks family and had welcomed them warmly and would go into a blood feud for any of them.

“Oh gods,” Xena muttered.

Gabrielle sat watching the ground in front of the wagon while the others debated and discussed. Her Amazons? Survivors? That meant a large number must be dead or captured. Her friends, her family. The bard snapped up her head.

“Artemis!” she called, surprising the arguing Hercules, Xena and Iolaus into silence. The Goddess of the Hunt appeared instantly. “How many did the Romans capture?” she demanded. Artemis dropped her head and refused to answer. “How many?” Gabrielle demanded again and the bard felt Xena stiffen beside her.

“Twenty, including Ephiny.” the goddess said quietly.

“Gabrielle,” Xena began, a warning in her voice.

“Don’t even think of stopping me on this one, my love.” Gabrielle countered.

“I’m not going to let you do this.” Xena growled.

“Do what?” Iolaus asked. Then he began frowning. “Exchange yourself? No way! No!” he shouted at Gabrielle.

Xena saw that familiar clenching of the bard’s jaw and shook her head. “No, Caesar will just kill you and the prisoners.” Xena continued to protest.

“No, he won’t.” Gabrielle said simply.

“Why wouldn’t he? He can’t be trusted!” Xena insisted.

“Because, my warrior, you’re going to kill him.”

“What?!” several voices questioned at once.

“Artemis will take us to Rome where I’ll exchange myself as Amazon Queen for my tribe. She’ll take Hercules to the Northern tribe where he will help fight the Romans off until we have a treaty with Caesar to leave Roman territory. Iolaus will take Sasha to the north and, with the money I won in the Games, will buy a good chunk of the most wild forest he can find from the tribes and Hercules will move the Amazons and Centaurs north, away from the Romans.” Gabrielle stated evenly.

The other three Greeks and goddess frowned.

“You’ve always been against killing.” Xena frowned.

“I’ve had to re-evaluate that the last couple of years. He threatens you, Sasha, Iolaus and Hercules and now he attacks my Amazons and the Centaurs, including Solan. No, this war has expanded far enough.”

“Damnit!” Xena cursed, unable to find any other plan that had a chance of working. “Caesar won’t sign a treaty if he already has you.”

“We’ll send word that he may have some of the Amazons but that the survivors have joined up with another group, are dug in securely and the Queen is willing to negotiate the release of the prisoners. He’ll deal because he can figure to make a public spectacle of my death and then go in and wipe out the Amazons anyway.” Gabrielle reasoned.

“I can’t let you do it!” Xena protested again. “If something went wrong, you’d still end up dead.”

“I know that but we can’t just walk away either. If we make a stand with the Amazons now everyone will die, including Solan. The Amazons can’t fight Rome anymore. You know that, Artemis.”

“Yes, I was hoping you’d plan this.”

“Gods, keeping their plans to themselves except when they need help,” Xena muttered.

“Can you get us to Rome, Hercules to the Northern Amazons and Iolaus with Sasha to Axel?” Gabrielle asked.

“Yes.” Artemis asked.

“Don’t you gods lose power outside of your territories?” Xena muttered, unhappy with the situation.

“Sometimes, some of us Greeks get along with the Northern gods very well. You should see Othinn on a Wild Hunt. He’s not bad for a male and he likes you.” Artemis grinned.

“Terrific,” Xena muttered and then turned to the demi-god son of Zeus, “Hercules,” Xena pleaded.

“I can’t think of a better plan right now either.” he muttered.

“Oh gods. Sasha, come here, my little one.” Xena turned and grabbed her daughter from the back of the wagon, tears threatening to spill over her eyes.

Gabrielle bit her lip and jumped down from the wagon, grabbing two sets of travel bags, and walked over to Artemis while Hercules said his good-byes to Iolaus and Xena tried to explain to her toddler that she was going to be gone for a little bit but would be back as fast as possible. Gabrielle looked over to Artemis with a silent prayer that they all made it back, but especially Xena.

“After this is over, you’ll take her to Sasha and not make her travel over land?” Gabrielle whispered.

“Yes, my word on it. Gabrielle, I don’t want you going into this planning on dying. I want you alive!” the goddess hissed at her favorite.

“So do I, goddess. Caesar won’t kill me easily.” the bard promised.

“Good! Stall for time with Caesar, politics are boiling over in Rome and the ice is melting under that pot.” Artemis advised.

Xena jumped down from the wagon and carried Sasha over to her mate and goddess and the two Greek men joined them. Gabrielle ran back to the wagon and led Argo over to the small group and hugged Sasha before handing the small child to her uncle Iolaus, trying not to let the child see her tears.

“Let’s get this over with.” Xena growled.

In a flash Artemis was gone with Iolaus and Sasha. Xena blinked, trying to fight back tears as Gabrielle reached out and held her hand.

“I’m sorry, Xena. You should have stayed with her.”

“No, not if you’re going to do this. According to your plan I’m the only one who can get you out.” Xena smiled grimly.

“You always do.”

Xena ground her teeth, trying not to remind the bard that Xena hadn’t been able to find or rescue Gabrielle for over a year and a half while the bard suffered whippings, beatings, rapes and fighting as a gladiator. Xena wasn’t feeling as confident in her abilities to protect her mate as she once did.

Artemis appeared again and disappeared with Hercules.

“Gods, that is so weird!” Gabrielle complained as they waited. “What about the horses and our stuff?”

Gabrielle turned and found the wagon and belongings gone.

“What?”

“They disappeared with Iolaus and Sasha.” Xena grinned.

“Gods, I hate how they can do stuff like that!”

Xena managed to laugh. “If you ever claim your immortality as the daughter of Apollo, who knows what you could do.” Xena teased.

“Oh, I am not thinking about that! I don’t want that kind of power, thanks!”

“Why not?” Xena asked casually. “You could just zap the Amazons to safety and kill Caesar.”

Gabrielle frowned. “No one should have that much power, not even the Gods. Look what it does to them. Ares is a pain in the neck, causing all kinds of strife just for his amusement, Aphrodite has been known to cause absolute havoc in people’s lives and my own father goes around having numerous affairs with women because he can get away with it.”

Xena grinned, “That’s my love. Just checking.”

Gabrielle punched her lover on the arm with an amused smile.

“Seriously, little one. This isn’t going to be easy.” Xena lost her smile.

“When is it easy?” Gabrielle countered as Artemis appeared before them.

“Where to, my Chosen?”

“Just outside of Brutus’ apartment. Xena, pull up your hood.”

***

Xena was impressed, moving through the streets of Rome after dark could be trickery but Gabrielle was silent as a cat and blended with the shadows almost as well as the Warrior Princess. They had waited in an inn until after dark and then slipped out their window into the streets towards Brutus’ apartment. Xena had made some discrete inquiries and had found that Brutus and Caesar were in Rome and that the Amazons were scheduled for execution on the Ides of March. Two days away.

Xena quickly scaled a wall and leaned an arm down to her mate and was further impressed with Gabrielle joined her at the top without a sound. The warrior moved along the wall quickly and jumped up onto the balcony of what Gabrielle had pointed out to be Brutus’ bedroom. At Xena’s hand signal the bard followed and drew out her sais quietly, watching the street and alley below while the warrior slowly opened the doors and crept in.

After a moment, Gabrielle heard a low whistle and slipped in through the doors and shut them behind her.

“Strike a light,” she heard Xena whisper and quickly lit the candle she had in her pouch and found a lamp on a small table by the balcony doors. When her eyes focused in the light she could see Xena straddling Brutus with her dagger at his throat.

“Xena! Gabrielle! Are you out of your minds!?” he demanded in a low voice.

“Maybe.” Xena agreed with a grin and pulled the dagger back slightly. Reaching under his pillow she pulled out a long and sharp dagger and tossed it to the bard, who caught it easily. Xena sat back on her haunches, pinning the Roman to the bed.

“Why didn’t you go North? Caesar will have you both on a cross!” Brutus demanded, attempting to sit up but not having much success. He settled for leaning on his elbows.

“You have my family members.” Gabrielle answered.

“Oh gods, I hoped you’d have gotten far enough north before you heard.” he muttered.

“Where are they, Brutus?” Xena asked.

“In Caesar’s dungeons and no one gets in to see them, not even me.”

“Any chance of getting them out?” Gabrielle asked her mate.

“No, we might be able to trick one or two people out of there but not that many. Damnit, Brutus! You knew the Amazons are our family!” Xena hissed.

“Yes, I know that! Do you think I had a choice? It was either that or my son on a cross for letting Gabrielle go!” he growled back.

“No.” the bard whispered and Xena was up and by her mate’s side in a flash.

“This isn’t your fault, Gabrielle. It’s Caesar’s!”

“Xena is right, Gabrielle.” Brutus agreed, sitting up in his bed. “It’s Caesar.”

“Well, we’ve got two days to stop him.” Xena smiled a smile that sent chills down the spine of the Roman and then she frowned as he shook his head.

“No, he moved the execution of the Amazons to day next.”

“What? What about the Ides of March?” Xena demanded.

“He’s making a special announcement in the Senate. One he says will rock the world.” Brutus said bitterly.

“He wouldn’t dare.” Xena whispered.

“Yes, he would.” Brutus nodded his head and Gabrielle went pale.

“He’s going to declare himself King or Emperor?” she asked.

“Yes.”

“Rome won’t let him.” Xena frowned.

“The Senate won’t let him.” Brutus matched her frown. He wrapped a sheet around his body and walked over to the two women and gently took the dagger away from Gabrielle’s hands. “I need that for the Ides of March.”

“Brutus, you?” Xena asked, sitting down at a small table as the Roman gestured to a chair, Gabrielle sat between them. “He’s your friend.”

“You once asked if Caesar had any friends. I didn’t want to face that question right then but I have to now. I think he’s planning on killing me and Octavian and naming the child he has with Cleopatra as his heir after proclaiming himself Emperor. I’m supposed to go back to Britannia but he’s chosen my escort for me and there’s only enough supplies packed for a one week trip.”

“Not a good sign,” Gabrielle agreed.

“They’ll kill you, Brutus.” Xena said.

“No, I’m not the only one. There will be many of us. The trick will be getting Marc Anthony to listen to reason before he starts using that sword of his. If we can keep him calm, we’ll live.” Brutus said simply.

“What do we do about the Amazons?” Gabrielle demanded and Brutus shook his head.

“I don’t know. With the announcement coming up, Caesar isn’t about to postpone or stop the execution. He needs the spirits of the Roman citizens soaring and nothing does that like a good day at the Games. He knows the Amazons are amazing fighters and plans on having several bouts with them before crucifying them.” Brutus explained.

“Crucify?” Xena whispered and Gabrielle fought back tears.

“Yes, either that or burn them as torches in the Arena.”

Gabrielle fought back from losing dinner at the thought of Ephiny and her other Amazons on fire.

Xena reached out and held the bard’s hand reassuringly.

“Xena,” Gabrielle looked into her mate’s blue eyes and saw pain.

“No, Gabrielle. We’ll find a way.”

“Can you think of one?” she whispered.

“What?” Brutus frowned.

“Gabrielle, no, please.” Xena whispered but the bard closed her eyes and pulled her hand away from her mate and reached into her pouch. She handed the Roman a message tube, her jaw clinched.

“Take that to Caesar at first light and send a messenger back here with his response.” she told Brutus.

“What is it?”

“My offer of a treaty with Rome as Queen of the Amazons. If Caesar agrees the remaining Amazons and Centaurs will leave Roman territory for the northern woods where, hopefully, they’ll never be seen by a Roman again. It also offers a political exchange of prisoners.” she explained.

“Who would you exchange for the Amazons?”

“Myself.”

Brutus stood up in shock and quickly grabbed at his sheet, blushing as he tried to retain his dignity of being nude under the sheet. “No! I won’t let you! Xena, you can’t let her!”

“I don’t have a choice, Brutus. We can’t let our friends die.”

“What’s the rest of the plan?” he suddenly demanded and Xena’s eyes narrowed.

“What do you mean?” she asked.

“Don’t try and toss me around, Xena. Neither of you would come here without a solution, a way out. How can I help? What is it?”

“I’m going to kill Caesar myself and Gabrielle won’t have to exchange herself.”

Brutus shook his head. “I don’t think it’ll work. If only we could delay the executions until after the Senate meeting, then all of it would be ended. The Senate would gladly accept the treaty terms if they can claim the land and the Amazons leave.”

“When would the executions take place?” Gabrielle asked, frowning in thought.

Xena’s eyes narrowed again.

“Depending on the fights, right near sunset.” Brutus answered, getting up and pouring wine for all of them, still trying to keep his sheet around him.

“How long can someone last on a cross?” she asked, not meeting Xena’s eyes.

“Depends on if he has them nailed to the wood and how badly they’re flogged before.”

Xena’s fists clenched tightly together. “Gabrielle,” she warned with a growl.

“How long?” Gabrielle asked again, ignoring her mate.

“A day or longer, depending on how strong the person is.” Brutus answered with a puzzled look.

“Long enough to survive past the Senate meeting and Caesar’s end?” she asked.

“Gabrielle,” Xena growled again and Brutus went pale.

“No! I mean, yes, it’s possible, but not for you!” again he jumped to his feet and began pacing. “That would mean being on a cross from dusk to probably noonday.” he protested.

“You’re not going in there! We can save the Amazons after Caesar’s gone, they’re strong enough to last that long.” Xena argued with the bard, knowing what was going through her mate’s mind.

“We don’t know that. Most of them are probably wounded and many more will die in the Arena before the cross. They’re tired, hungry, wounded and beaten and saw their families, friends and lovers killed. They won’t last and you know it.” Gabrielle argued back, the jaw taking on that familiar stubborn set.

“Gabrielle, you don’t know what it’s like.” Xena whispered, tears in her eyes.

“No, I don’t but I’ve been in the Arena and I can hold my own in a fight in there. I’m also strong and, as you’ve said, my love – I’m stubborn.” Gabrielle attempted to smile.

“I was crucified in the field, it’s different in an execution. Brutus, tell her.”

“No,” the Roman whispered, turning pale.

“Tell her, damnit! Describe it for her!” Xena hissed.

The Roman sat back in his chair and closed his eyes. “The prisoner is taken to a post, his hands chained above him and his clothing ripped down the back. He is then flogged with a whip that has small iron balls on the ends of the strands. It causes massive welts with the first few strikes. The next strikes rip the skin open and continue until the skin is hanging in ribbons. Then the prisoner is dragged to the patibulum, the cross beam of the cross and tied to it. Then 7 inch spikes are driven through the wrists of the prisoner, causing intense pain through the arm. If the prisoner is lucky and the executioner good, the bones can be missed in the wrists.”

Brutus took a drink of his wine, beginning to sweat in the cold night air.

“Then the cross beam is attached to the stipes, the upright beam, and the legs are twisted around the cross so that the ankles are against the sides. Uncomfortable and painful. The executioner then takes a small piece of board and places it over the ankle and drives another spike through each ankle.”

Gabrielle fought to control her stomach.

“Because of the position, the prisoner must raise themselves up to be able to breath. Eventually they can’t do it any longer and the lungs begin to fill with liquid. The body is starved of oxygen and the heart begins to fight. A strong fighter can last for two to four days, depending on how much blood they lose during the flogging. Eventually the body stops breathing. It’s painful and drawn out.”

“You can’t face that, little one.” Xena whispered. “No one can willingly.”

“Tell me how to save Ephiny and the others.” Gabrielle said simply.

Xena growled, jumping to her feet and beginning pacing. Brutus looked helpless, unable to think of anything different as well.

“All right, but only if I don’t come back tonight.” Xena bargained with her lifebond.

“Where are you going, never mind, I know where you’re going.” Gabrielle also stood up and grabbed her mate in a tight hug.

“Xena, I don’t like this. Caesar knows you’ll come for the Amazons.” Brutus protested.

“I know but I have to try. If I can kill him tonight then Gabrielle won’t have to even think about exchanging herself and you can get the Senate to agree to the treaty and release the Amazon prisoners.” She slipped her dagger back into her belt. “Besides, that would remove the blood from your hands and those of the Senate.”

Brutus blushed profusely.

“If you don’t come back?” Gabrielle whispered, holding Xena closely.

“I’ll either be dead or waiting in a cell for you to show up to join me.” Xena slipped off her bonding bracelet and left it on the table while Gabrielle wasn’t watching. The warrior knew if she were captured she’d lose it.

“You won’t be alone,” the bard whispered and kissed her tall warrior.

“I love you.” before the bard could respond the warrior was out the door and over the balcony.

“Gods, she’s amazing.” Brutus muttered.

“Yes, she is.” Gabrielle agreed. “She’s only got a couple of hours to get in and get out.”

“What do we do?”

“Wait until after dawn, either she’ll have succeeded or you’ll have word of her.”

“Oh gods, I hate waiting.” Brutus complained.

“Well, you might pass the time by getting dressed.” Gabrielle suggested with a smile.

Brutus looked down at the sheet he was still tightly holding and blushed again. “I’ll be right back.” he muttered, grabbing a clothes off a chair and heading for a dressing screen.

Gabrielle spotted the bracelet and fought back tears.

***

Gabrielle couldn’t believe that she had actually fallen asleep as she blinked rapidly, standing in Brutus’ bedroom with her sais in hand in a defensive stance. The pounding on the outer door continued and she heard movement in the other room and went to the door of the sleeping room. She saw Brutus crossing the marbled floors, dagger drawn to the main door. Gabrielle couldn’t hear or see who it was.

After a moment the Roman nodded and turned towards the bedroom. Seeing Gabrielle at the door he motioned her into the room. She walked out of the bedroom cautiously.

“I’ve given the servants the day off.” he explained as he sat down on a sofa.

“What is it?” she whispered as she saw his expression and he ducked his eyes. “He has her?”

“Yes, they were waiting for her or you. Fortunately, he doesn’t seem to know about the other plan. Maybe that’ll work to our advantage, he won’t be looking for assassins in the Senate now that he has Xena.” Brutus said thoughtfully.

“And me.” Gabrielle whispered.

“No, I won’t let you do it!” he argued again.

“Do it, Brutus! It’s the only way I can save her and my Amazons!”

“Damnit! If this doesn’t work I’m pulling you off that cross myself!” he promised as he stormed out the door, grabbing the message tube with him.

Gabrielle let the tears begin to fall silently as she took off her bonding bracelet and placed it next to Xena’s. Then she placed her sais with them. Either Brutus would get them back to her or she wouldn’t need them.

***

Xena growled and threw her head backwards, hitting a Roman guard in the nose and was most satisfied when she heard the crunch under her skull. He yelped and the three other guards dragging her along grabbed on even tighter and the one with the broken nose punched her in the small of the back three times. Xena gritted her teeth and continued the struggle with a yell.

The warrior saw red filling her world when she heard Caesar laughing behind her as his guards tried to drag her down the stairs of the dungeon. She almost shook off her guards when one had enough and crashed his fist along Xena’s jaw, stunning her.

When her head cleared she was chained to a wall at her wrists and feet. She stood up to relieve the pressure on her wrists and looked at Caesar standing in front of her. She growled at his smug look.

“Xena, you never learn.”

“How did you know?” she asked.

“You have one obsession in your life and that’s me. Once I captured the Amazons I knew that would draw you out if I couldn’t find that little bard of yours. I was right. Rest up, Xena. Tomorrow you go into the Arena and you won’t be coming out.”

“Don’t bet on it, Caesar.” she hissed and the Roman laughed and continued laughing as he left the cell area.

Xena looked around and wasn’t surprised to see a large number of Amazons in cells, chained to walls and chained to the pillars. It hurt her to see so many of them wounded and there at all.

“Ephiny?” she called out and saw movement at one of the cells. The Amazon Queen moved to the front of the bars and Xena growled at the sight of her broken arm.

“Xena? What in Tartarus are you doing here?” she demanded. Xena, looking around realized a large number of familiar faces were missing. She prayed they had made it out and weren’t dead.

“Do they know who you are?” the warrior asked, ignoring the question.

“No. Why?”

“Because your Queen has an idea that might get all of us out of here, at least the Amazons.” Xena grinned around the bruised jaw.

“What’s she doing here!?” Ephiny demanded, face turning red with anger.

“She’s safe for now. Tell me something first.”

“What?”

“Were there any prisoners in here when you were brought in?” Xena asked, looking around at the other women.

“Yes, one man in for stealing, why?”

“Where is he?” the warrior asked.

“In this cell with us.” another Amazon answered.

“How does he smell?”

“What?” Ephiny asked and then her eyes narrowed as well. “He doesn’t.” she growled and grabbed one of the Amazons. Xena watched as the Amazon unlaced her boot and wrapped the lace around her hands and moved among the women crowding the cell. After a few minutes Ephiny nodded to the warrior.

“It’s something I used to do in my Conqueror days,” Xena explained with a shrug.

“How did you get here?” Ephiny demanded.

“I tried to kill Caesar but he was expecting me.”

“Gods, will nothing stop that man?” Ephiny growled.

“If we don’t then there is someone who might.” Xena said grimly.

***

Four candlemarks later soldiers began filing into the cell area and the jailer began unlocking manacles. The soldiers lined up the Amazons against a wall with their swords drawn. Caesar walked into the room with a frown.

“All right, listen up, barbarians. You will be escorted to the gates of Rome where you will find horses waiting for you. You will have three hours to get out of my sight.” he yelled.

Ephiny stepped out of the open cell door and approached him cautiously, holding her arm.

“What’s going on?” she demanded.

“Seems someone more valuable than all of you wishes to exchange themselves for you. The Senate agreed, even if I didn’t. Marc Anthony will see to your safe passage.” Caesar growled.

“It’s a trick,” Ephiny protested.

“No it’s not, Ephiny. Go and get the Amazons to your northern sisters in Belgica.” Xena urged.

“Who would trade themselves for us?” Ephiny demanded.

“I would.” a voice caught her attention and Ephiny looked at the door at the top of the stairs and almost went to her knees.

“No!” she yelled and was grabbed by two Roman soldiers.

Gabrielle walked down the stairs slowly and over to Caesar.

“I have his word and the word of the Senate that you’ll be given safe passage out of the city and out of Roman territory. Head straight for Aeolia’s tribe, you’ll find help there.” Gabrielle ordered.

“I can’t let you do this!” Ephiny protested and looked to Xena for support.

“It’s done, Ephiny.” Xena said simply.

“No, you both can’t sacrifice yourselves! No!” Ephiny screamed.

“Get them out of here!” Caesar ordered and the soldiers began herding a protesting number of Amazons up the stairs.

“Go, please. I order it as Amazon royalty. Don’t come back for a rescue either.” Gabrielle ordered. Ephiny was still cursing and fighting as they closed the jail door.

Caesar turned to Gabrielle and began circling her, looking her up and down.

“Nice trick the Fates pulled on me, wasn’t it?” he asked with a grin.

“What do you mean?” Gabrielle asked, keeping her eyes on Xena.

“I recognize you, Dancer.” Caesar hissed in her ear. “I had all of the Empire looking for you and you were in my own slave quarters. Amazing.”

“Now what?” she asked.

“You spend the night in one of these comfortable cells and tomorrow I’m going to send you back into the Arena, both of you. If you live until the afternoon, I’m going to have you crucified. How’s that sound?” he grinned.

“Not particularly amusing but I’ll take it as long as you keep your word to the Senate about the Amazons.” Gabrielle stated easily.

“You know, the Amazon bitch was right, you shouldn’t have sacrificed yourself for them, either of you. Xena, you amaze me, actually.” he commented as he approached the warrior, his hand to his mouth in pretend thought. “The Xena I knew wouldn’t have hesitated to sacrifice all of them.”

“You don’t know me, Caesar.” Xena growled.

“You’re right, I couldn’t believe the stories of you being reformed were true. Tell me, did you conqueror her in bed or did she conqueror you there as well?”

Neither woman answered him nor looked at him. Caesar laughed. “Look where you are, Xena, and tell me I don’t know you now. She must be amazing for you to sacrifice yourself like this.”

“She is.” Xena agreed simply.

“Tell me, Dancer, which would you prefer,” he leaned into her neck again and Gabrielle resisted drawing away. “A night with me and a return to the Games or ending up on a cross with your lover?”

“Gabrielle, take it.” Xena urged.

“No, I won’t leave you and a cross would be much better than a night with him.” Gabrielle hissed and Caesar merely kept grinning.

“You might change your mind during the flogging. Ever see a Roman flogging? I would hate to see that beautiful, lightly scarred back of yours hanging in bloody tatters.”

Gabrielle attempted to keep from showing her fear and anger.

“I’ve seen you fight, I wonder if you’ll die as well. Ever hear the most hardened criminal beg as the spikes are being driven into their ankle bones? It’s amusing.”

“You’ll not hear me beg.” Gabrielle promised with a hiss.

“No? I’ll guarentee you that I’ll hear you scream.” he countered with a promise.

A guard approached at Caesar’s hand signal. “Put her in the cell opposite of the warrior bitch. They can look but not touch, eh?”

The guard shoved Gabrielle into the cell Ephiny had been in and then hesitated to close the cell door. Caesar noticed. “What is it?”

“The prisoner, Caesar.”

Caesar approached and Gabrielle moved to the far end of the cell, letting Caesar and the guard enter. The guard drew his sword and kept it trained on Gabrielle while Caesar bent over and examined the male prisoner laying on the straw. He loudly began cursing and turned to Xena, face an angry red.

“What?!” he demanded.

Xena shrugged with a smile. “Don’t look at me, I was over here the whole time.”

Caesar cursed again and walked out of the cell. “Drag him out of there and leave the body here to keep our ladies company.” he ordered.

Gabrielle leaned against the bars as the jail door slammed shut.

“Hey, lover.”

Xena frowned at her and then smiled. “Hey, couldn’t stay away, huh?”

“No, never. We’ll face everything together.”

“Oh how so sickeningly touching!” a male voice sneered and Ares appeared between the two women.

Xena sighed, looking at the War God with a frustrated look.

“Can’t I go through the last hours of my life without dealing with you?” she demanded.

Ares smirked back. “What in the name of the Gods are you doing here?” he demanded.

“Getting ready to fight?” she asked with an innocent smile.

“Why did you leave Greece for two years?”

“I wanted to travel.”

“Without Miss Blond and Irritating over there? Don’t give me that. Do you know where I found her and what she was doing?” he asked with a grin, pleased when Gabrielle began blushing.

“Yes, I do. She was a slave in a gladiator school and sleeping with her female trainer.” Xena answered in an even voice and was pleased when Ares frowned, obviously disappointed.

“Ares, what do you want?” Gabrielle demanded.

“Oh, he wants the usual. He’ll get me out of here if I come back to him, right?” Xena answered.

“Right. I’ll even throw in Gabrielle in the package. I’ve seen her fight, she’s good. She could be as good as you with a little help.” he grinned.

“No deal, Ares. Leave us alone.” Xena answered.

“You know,” he whispered, moving in close to her body, grinning when she couldn’t move away from him. She growled a warning growl as he began to nibble on her neck. “you look absolutely,” his hand slid up between her legs as she struggled in the chains. “ravishing.”

A string of curses from a cell across the room made him smile. He grinned and grabbed Xena’s jaw and kissed her, forcing his tongue past her lips and then pulled back laughing as she spit at him, eyes flashing bright blue with anger.

“Hey, always been a fantasy of mine.” he grinned and was gone.

“Arrrggghhhh!” Xena yelled, spitting after him.

“I could kill him!” Gabrielle muttered.

“Stand in line!” Xena snapped. “I’d better have a chance to kiss you tomorrow, I refuse to die with him on my lips!”

“We’re not going to die!” Gabrielle snapped back.

“The odds of surviving that long on a cross are not good, little one.”

“As long as you’re with me.” Gabrielle whispered, shaking the cell door.

“I told you that you wouldn’t go to that cross alone.”

“Oh gods, okay, I admit it, I’m scared.” Gabrielle sat down, leaning against the bars.

“Me too.” Xena said quietly back to her mate.

***

“What happens in the Arena?” Xena asked in the darkness.

“They’ll come for us in a little bit. Chain us, blindfold us and take us by wagon to the Arena and put us in cells down below. We might be given the chance at some light leather armor and a small breakfast. Then you’ll feel the heat of the place, it’s like someone pressing on your chest. Then the roar, that feels like someone pounds on your chest. You can feel the energy and hear the animals, they sense it also in another part of the underground.”

“I wish I could touch you.” Xena complained.

“So do I, my love. More than life itself right now.”

“Any tips for the Arena,” Xena grinned in the dark, knowing Gabrielle could sense it.

“Yup, don’t play fair.”

“I think I can handle that one. Can you?” Xena asked with a frown, knowing that killing without emotion in the Arena was one of the things that caused Gabrielle nightmares. Now she was back in the same position again.

“I don’t think I have a choice.” the bard answered with a touch of anger in her voice. “I just pray Caesar kept his word and Ephiny and the others are safe.”

“Me too, and Hercules, the northern Amazons, Iolaus and Sasha and everyone else.”

“That saving the world thing again.” Gabrielle smiled in the dark and felt her heart skip a beat as a key unlocked the upper door. “Oh gods,” she whispered. “See us through this.”

***

Xena frowned as Gabrielle slipped on the light leather tunic and began lacing it up. They had been held below the Arena for hours while other fights had raged on. The bard had been right, the roar of the crowd was like a physical blow to the chest, especially when things got bloody. Xena had seen a number of fighters carried in on litters towards the hospice, most to die in agony or have limbs amputated. Many fighters didn’t come back.

Unlike soldiers facing a battle, these fighters kept quiet and to themselves as they waited chained to the wall or benches. Xena noticed that the guards didn’t look at the prisoner’s faces a lot either. Gabrielle explained that these were the prisoner fighters, they were meant to die in the Arena. On the other side were the fighters from schools and professionals. On that side of the Arena there would be laughter and last minute betting among themselves and the guards.

On this side hope was in short supply.

Xena had been pleased that she and the bard had been chained next to each other, they could at least hold each other and comfort each other a little as the time dragged on.

As it got closer to the afternoon and a simple meal of stew and bread with water was brought in Gabrielle got quiet. When the last of the fighters left the holding area the guards unlocked their chains and motioned to the stack of armor and the bard quickly moved to find a leather tunic that fit. Xena followed her bard’s example.

“When do we get weapons?” Xena asked.

“We don’t.” Gabrielle answered simply.

“What?”

“We’re enemies of Rome. We go into the Arena without weapons.”

“Then we’d better finish the first fight quick and grab their weapons and shields.”
Xena drew the bard into her arms and felt Gabrielle relax and hug her back. “I love you, little one.”

“I love you too, Xena.”

The bard broke the contact at the sound of the crowd roaring. Xena frowned as she noticed the change in Gabrielle’s eyes and shift in the way the bard held her body. The ex-warlord realized that she was looking at Dancer, dangerous gladiator.

The sound of the doors opening caused a shift in the warrior as well as her blood began humming and her pulse started racing.

***

After five rounds of fighting Xena and Gabrielle leaned on their swords, breathing heavily. Gabrielle went down on one knee, catching her breath. They had fought at least ten men and they were all dead. The bard wiped her bloody hand on her skirt and dried the hilt of her sword with the hem.

Xena placed her hand on the bard’s shoulder as the slaves removed the bodies of their most recent kills. Both warriors ignored the roaring and impatient crowd and both glanced at Caesar at the same time. The leader was lounging on his sofa, grinning at the two women. He tossed a grape up into the air and caught it in his mouth easily. The Roman raised his goblet in a mock toast.

“He’s too cheerful,” Gabrielle complained.

“Yup, he’s got something planned. He doesn’t want us to die in a fight, he’ll want to humiliate us and make us suffer with the execution. This can’t go on much longer.”

“If we drag out the fight we get tired and might make a mistake, if we finish them off quickly he’ll just send more in.” Gabrielle stood up and gauged the movement of time by the sun. Still too long till sunset.

“Don’t rush it, Gabrielle. Brutus might be able to get most of the senators to agree to the treaty around Caesar before tomorrow’s session.”

“Most of them are here, Xena. It’s a long shot. Gods, it’s cold for Rome!” she complained.

“Here come some more.” Xena muttered as the doors opened.

***
The warrior bard and Warrior Princess made a good team in the Arena, everyone had to admit who saw the matches that day. When facing heavily armored opponents they worked as a team, dodging under heavy sword swings to dance in and strike enough blows to tire the fighter out until a fatal blow could be struck. Like wolves stalking a reindeer.

When fighting lightly armored opponents they fought back to back, protecting each other and not giving the other fighters any opportunity at a blind side or weak opening.

Time seemed to drag on for the fighters and the body count rose by the end of another four matches. The total of fights unheard of in the Arena, especially by two women warriors.

Xena held a hand against a light sword wound along her ribs and Gabrielle sank to her knees as the slaves cleared away the latest bodies.

“Xena,” the bards gasped. “I can’t…..”

“I know.” the warrior agreed.

Both couldn’t help but look at the posts at the north end of the Arena, set up just for them.

***

Xena dropped the bloody sword with a snarl as seven soldiers ran in from one direction and another seven from the other. She leaned back into Gabrielle and felt the bard’s answering touch along her thigh and the bard dropped her shield and sword as well. Xena spun on her heel and found her mate standing up to reach her as well as their bodies melted together, lips meeting once more.

Rough hands grabbed them and pulled them apart, pinning their arms behind them. Both women found daggers at their throats. Neither resisted.

“Citizens of Rome! You have witnessed the brutal fighting skills of these enemies of the State. Now it is time for them to pay for their war against Rome, their sentence is death!” Caesar yelled to the crowd who roared their approval.

Gabrielle couldn’t help but feel her heart skip a beat when slaves began dragging a patibulum out of the holding area with a ladder. She counted only one cross beam.

The bard saw Xena frowning and look up at Caesar. Gabrielle followed her eyes and sought Caesar’s eyes and growled when he merely laughed at their puzzlement.

“Citizens of Rome! Death by crucifixion for the Queen of the Amazons!” the crowd roared it’s approval. Gabrielle saw Brutus standing next to Caesar, trying not to let emotions show. She prayed that she hadn’t been played for a total fool and that the Roman might actually turn on his would-be Emperor. “For the Warrior Princess, death by beheading,” he paused with a smile, “tomorrow at midday. Until then, she can watch her lover die for Rome.”

Gabrielle was stunned. She wouldn’t face death with Xena? After all this time? After all they had been through? The bard had faced death in the Arena before but always with the thought that Xena was safe with Sasha. Now she’d died before Xena and her mate would have to watch? Xena would face death alone?

Xena went berserk. The guard behind her dropped his dagger when she smashed her skull into his nose and the guard on her left, having loosened his grip, found himself being thrown into the guard on her right, smashing heads together with a bone jarring crack.

The warrior let out with her famous war cry and grabbed up a spear just as another soldier got too close and ran the spear through him. She grabbed his sword away and slashed another soldier’s throat. The remaining soldiers surrounded her and more were pouring into the Arena.

“Xena, no!” Gabrielle called out, struggling with her guards until she felt blood at her neck and stopped struggling.

The warrior took out another two soldiers before she was taken to the ground screaming by a net, followed by blows from fists and sword hilts. Xena was dragged backwards to one of the posts and chained with her hands behind her. Caesar laughed heartily as the warrior struggled against the chains, cursing and screaming at him. The crowd roared it’s approval.

“Xena! Save your strength!” Gabrielle yelled but the warrior couldn’t hear her.

The knife at her throat disappeared and the bard was shoved forward and tripped at the same time. Before she could react she found herself turned over and being dragged by her arms over the sand towards the other post. She was thrown roughly down on the ground and positioned on the patibulum. The cross beam was resting on blocks of wood so the slaves could tie her to it easier. The bard ignored the rough edges at the back of her neck and let the slaves tie her without resisting. Gabrielle tried to control her breathing and rapid pulse without success. She knew that if she were merely tied to the cross then she stood a good chance at surviving at least for a day, if nailed, it could be harder.

She had only a moment to be grateful that Caesar seemed to be skipping the traditional flogging when she felt her heart skip a beat at the sight of a soldier approaching with spikes and hammer.

“No,” she whimpered involuntarily and closed her eyes.

Xena thought she would rip her hands off at the wrists from the chains when she heard Gabrielle’s screams and the sound of the hammer hitting the spikes.

***

“Xena!” the voice finally broke through the warrior’s red berserker haze. She raised her head, breathing heavily. With a growl she rattled her chains again and again they held firm. Xena whimpered at the sight of her bard on the cross fifteen feet from her.

Gabrielle was bathed in sweat even though it had grown quite cold in the Arena after the crowds had left. Xena blinked in the torchlight, realizing that it had grown dark.

“How long,” she croaked through her raw throat.

“Three candlemarks.” Gabrielle gasped.

Caesar had also foregone spiking the bard’s ankles to the cross, merely having them tied to the wood beam. This was a mixed blessing, both bard and warrior knew. On one side it saved the bard shattered bones and pain, on the other side it made pulling herself up on the cross more difficult, thus ensuring a shorter time on the cross before her own body would drown itself and collapse her lungs.

“Talk to me.” the bard requested, pulling herself up with a whimper.

Xena felt herself whimper in sympathy. Her own wrists were a bloody mess from her struggles against the chains but the sight of the spikes sticking out from her lover’s wrists brought fresh tears to her eyes.

“You’re the bard, little one.” she protested.

“Please, help focus.” Gabrielle’s body slumped and she cried out in pain as her body weight pulled on the spikes. She brought her weight back up with a struggle.

Xena began talking. What she talked about she could never remember. All she knew is that she talked and kept talking, watching her lover struggle endlessly against time and pain.

The sky was turning purple in the pre-dawn when Xena couldn’t talk any longer, her voice long gone from screaming and talking. Gabrielle’s eyes were unfocused in the pain and concentration. During the night Xena had talked with her bard in a tone she had learned from Lao Ma, sending the bard into an intense form of concentration, focusing beyond the pain, focusing on nothing other than tensing and relaxing her muscles again and again through the night.

Xena watched the sky, cursing the slow movement of the rising sun. She knew the Senate wouldn’t meet until mid-morning and she had no idea when the assassins intended on striking against Caesar. She hoped it was soon, someone would have to distract Marc Anthony and they would have to move fast.

Then everything depended on Brutus getting Marc Anthony to agree in freeing her and Gabrielle. Time, it would all take time and the warrior wasn’t sure how much more Gabrielle had as the bard slumped again, coughs racking her small frame.

“Gabrielle, fight it!” she growled, fighting to find a voice. “Come on!”

The bard threw her head back and struggled to raise her body again, gasping for air. Xena heard a growl out of her mate as Gabrielle bit her chapped lips in pain and concentration. The bard’s muscles were twitching in cramps repeatedly, reminding the warrior of when her mate had been poisoned.

It was about two candlemarks past sunrise when the bard’s body slumped again and she stopped responding to Xena’s cries and screams and the bard’s coughs got weaker. The warrior pulled uselessly at her chains as the cold wind whipped through the bard’s short blond hair, her skin a deadly pale.

***

“Xena! Gabrielle!”

The warrior raised her eyes to see Brutus running across the sand towards her with several slaves and guards following. He skidded to a stop behind her and the warrior felt her chains being unlocked. She watched two of the slaves grab the ladder and raise it to the cross that held her lover.

Xena looked to the sky and judged the passage of time to be at midday.

Brutus stepped around and pulled Xena to her feet and held her as she steadied her legs under her, watching the slaves over his shoulder as they took pry bars and removed the spikes from Gabrielle’s wrists. The bard didn’t move or respond to the pain and Xena shoved past Brutus, stumbling across the sand to her mate.

The slaves reached out and cut the ropes holding Gabrielle’s arms and Brutus pulled out his dagger and cut the ropes holding the bard’s legs. A part of Xena’s mind noted that his dagger was blood stained and realized that it must be Caesar’s blood if he was there with her.

The slaves gently lowered the bard into the arms of Brutus and Xena. The Roman knelt beside Xena as she sank to the sand with Gabrielle in her arms. He waited as she quickly checked the blond woman.

“Oh gods, she’s so cold.” Brutus whispered.

The Roman felt tears streaming down his cheeks at the sight of Gabrielle. Her blond hair had been matted from her day in the Arena and then a night on the cross but the wind had dried it and was gently blowing it across her forehead. Her face had taken on the racked look he knew well from those executed, the face of extreme pain finally at an end. Her lips were chapped and bloody and he winced at the pool of blood forming in the recesses of the bard’s wrists and noticed how blue her skin seemed.

He closed his eyes as Xena began to cry. Then opened them with a snarl.

“You!” he pointed to two of the guards. “Get litters in here, I want them moved to a wagon waiting just outside the North gate. On Marc Anthony’s orders, move!”
***

Marc Anthony leaned over his horse to look in the wagon at the two women lying on the straw, the small blond in the arms of the dark warrior. Xena opened her eyes wearily and brushed away her tears and held Gabrielle’s body close.

“Brutus will see you safely to your Amazons.” she nodded. “Now that Caesar is dead, is your war with Rome over?” he asked.

Xena closed her eyes and then looked at the handsome general. “If your war with the Amazons is over.” she whispered, throat still raw.

“Get them out of Roman territory and it is.” he stated.

Xena nodded. “My battle was personal. It’s over.” she whispered and he nodded, moving his horse away.

A coughing fit from the bard brought her attention back to Gabrielle.

The bard opened her eyes and smiled at the blue ones looking at her.

“Hey,” she whispered.

“Hey,” Xena answered back. Brutus looked back into the wagon with a frown.

“There’s water and food to your left, Xena. Also bandages and salve for the wounds.” he looked down at Gabrielle who had closed her eyes again. “Is she okay?”

“No. Fluid on the lungs, muscles strain, blood loss, possible infection, exhaustion, dehydration, but she will be. It will be close, Brutus.”

“I know. I know.” he muttered, urging the horses through the streets of a maddened Rome. Xena shut her eyes and mind to the sounds around them as Brutus swore, cracked his whip and threatened anyone in their way. Xena didn’t need to look over the boards of the wagon to realize that Rome was insane right then with the news of Caesar’s assassination and Marc Anthony’s rise to power immediately.

“Thank you, Brutus.” she said hoarsely. “I owe you.”

“Call it even, Xena. Maybe this can make us even.”

“What do you mean? You save Gabrielle from the Arena as a gladiator, you kept her from Caesar, you saved both of us from execution and you helped save the Amazons.”

“I was the one that lead the attack on the Amazon villages.” he muttered.

“What?” Xena’s tired mind tried to absorb this new information.

“Caesar sent me. He said it was either the Amazons and Gabrielle or my son on a cross. I think he was hoping that I would kill Gabrielle with the Amazons and then you would kill me and he would kill you. A convenient way to rid himself of several enemies and gain even more power.”

“I’ll try, Brutus.” the Roman merely nodded.

“I love you,” a whisper brought the warrior’s attention back down to her mate.

“I love you too,” she answered. The warrior smiled as she rummaged through the packs Brutus had brought and pulled out the bonding bracelets. She laughed a grim quiet laugh, realizing that it would be awhile before either of them wore the bracelets again. She reached for the bandages.

***

The wagon caught up with the released Amazons later that afternoon and at the Northern Amazon village two days after that.

Brutus pulled the wagon up slowly inside the Roman encampment, next to the Commander’s tent. The Roman general in charge exited his tent with an obvious scowl on his face.

“Brutus, welcome to my camp. What in the name of Mars is going on? We were just about to attack and finish off the barbarians when the rider from Rome arrived and said to hold, there was a cease fire and now you come in with more Amazons.”

Brutus held up a hand and passed the reins of the wagon horses to Xena, sitting next to him on the wagon seat. He jumped down from the wagon and clasped the other general’s forearm in greeting.

“You heard Caesar is dead,” Brutus began.

“Yes, a messenger arrived yesterday. Marc Anthony is now in power.”

“Yes, for now.” Brutus pulled out a message tube and handed it to the general. General Tiborius opened the tube and read the encased parchment with a frown. He looked at Brutus with a look of puzzlement and anger.

“I’m to let them go?” he demanded.

“Yes, the Amazon Queen has made a treaty with Rome and the Amazons have agreed to leave Roman territory. Let the Amazons pass.” Brutus said simply. Tiborius turned with a snarl and began issuing orders to his surrounding officers and aides. Brutus turned and looked up at Xena.

“It’s done, get your people out of here.”

“Thank you, Brutus, for everything.” the warrior smiled, motioning the Amazons to move through the Roman ranks towards their sisters in the village.

Brutus looked down at Gabrielle in the wagon. She managed a smile.

“Goodbye, Gabrielle. Be well.”

“Thank you, Brutus.”

The warrior urged the horses on and ignored the frowns and scowls from the Romans moving aside the barricades to let the wagon pass along the road towards the Amazon village.

The Amazons had moved barricades on their side of the conflict when they saw their sisters riding towards them from the Roman camp. Shouts of joy broke out on the Amazon side as relatives, friends, and lovers reunited.

Ephiny leaped from her horse and into the arms of Solari who dropped her crutches as her mate embraced her.

“I saw you fall, I thought you were dead!” Ephiny cried, burying her face in mate’s hair.

“I’m all right, love.” Solari whispered, tears also falling from her eyes in happiness.

Xena moved the wagon into the Amazon ranks and broke into a grin as Hercules appeared from behind one of the barricades with Solan, her son.

“Mom!” the blond teenager yelled and ran for the wagon as Xena jumped from the seat and grabbed her son in a tight hug. She pulled back slightly with a worried face as she examined the bandage on his head, taking the place of his usual headband.

He shrugged. “It’s nothing, just a scalp wound.”

She grinned. “You’re getting big.” she commented as he grinned in response.

Hercules looked tired as he walked up to the warrior, a frown on his face. “Gabrielle?”

“In the wagon, can you bring her into one of the huts until we get everyone ready to leave?” he nodded and started towards the wagon, Xena placed a hand on his arm. “Hercules, she’s been hurt,” she said, preparing him.

The demi-god stopped in shock as he looked down at the small bard in the back of the wagon. “Oh gods,” he whispered.

Unknown to Hercules, the bard actually looked a lot better than she had two days before but he was still shocked at how pale she was, the bruises and especially at the sight of the bandaged wrists sticking out from under the blanket. The bard opened her eyes and attempted a small smile.

“Hey, big guy.” she said softly.

“Hey, yourself.”

“Not bad as looks.” she whispered and closed her eyes again coughing. He frowned and climbed into the wagon and gently lifted her into his arms and climbed out the back, cradling Gabrielle in his arms as he walked to a hut with Xena and Solan following, both frowning.

Solan looked to his mother and she shook her head. “I’ll tell you both when we get her settled.”

***

Half a candlemark later, Xena finished telling her friend and son what had happened in Rome. Of her capture by Caesar, the exchange of the Amazon prisoners for Gabrielle, the fight in the Arena, the crucifixion of the bard, Caesar’s assassination and their rescue by Brutus and Marc Anthony.

Solan was looking very pale and Hercules was muttering under his breath at the description of their small friend being crucified. The demi-god looked over at the sleeping bard with a pained expression.

“Will she be okay?”

“If we can clear up her lungs, yes. The bones in her wrist weren’t broken, thank the gods.”

“How about your wrists?” he asked, nodding towards her own bandages.

“Scrapped up some, I kinda lost it when I was chained there.”

“I can imagine.” he grimaced at the thought of Xena being chained to a post while Gabrielle was being nailed to a cross beam. He made a mental note to ask the Healer to check her muscles and nerves for any damage.

Ephiny entered the hut and quickly hugged Solan and frowned at the sight of the sleeping Amazon Queen.

“She’s sleeping a lot.” she commented.

“The body’s trying to heal. It was close.” Xena said softly, fighting back tears.

“Everyone’s ready to move.” she stated, readjusting the sling around her neck.

“Good, let’s get out of here. I’ll feel better with several miles between us and the Romans.” Xena ordered.

***

Xena pulled the blankets up over her and her bard and settled in the back of the wagon after they had gotten several miles away from the Amazon Village and the Roman soldiers. Ephiny had reported that a small group of soldiers were following behind at a respectful distance and Xena had expected that. They all expected to be followed until they reached the border area of Germania. The warrior only hoped that Iolaus had been successful in purchasing land or permission for the Amazons and Centaurs to settle somewhere away from other settlements.

The warrior knew it was a temporary measure but one she hoped would hold off another move or war for a few years. She knew they’d face either the Romans or unfriendly Goths in the future as land became more and more scarce.

Gabrielle whimpered and moved closer to her warrior, settling into Xena’s shoulder with a sigh. Xena felt a shiver run over her body as the bard’s gentle lips nuzzled her neck, her warm breath stroking the warrior’s ear lobe.

“You could have had Artemis take you to Sasha, you didn’t have to stay.” the bard whispered, gently laying an arm over her warrior’s ribs under the blankets.

“I couldn’t leave you, little one. I came so close to losing you again. I couldn’t go through that.” Xena whispered, kissing Gabrielle’s forehead and then moving slightly down to kiss her lover’s lips tenderly.

“I’m sorry it was so close, I couldn’t hold on any longer.”

Xena wiped a tear from her eyes as she squeezed her mate closer. “Don’t apologize, little one. Caesar meant for you to die that night, that’s why he didn’t spike your ankles, it makes it harder to pull the body up to breath. You lasted longer than he anticipated.”

“Is it over?”

“With Rome, for now.” Xena reassured her mate. “I’m sorry about Nikki.”

Gabrielle closed her eyes and fought back sudden tears, remembering her Gladiator trainer, friend and sort of lover.

“Ephiny told me she took several soldiers with her before she fell. Shouting to Valhalla and Othinn with a grin on her face. Reminds me of someone else I know.” the bard attempted a small smile. She could picture Nikkita of the Northern Amazons swinging her crutch and sword with a laugh before falling to Roman spears and swords. Gabrielle would miss the tall, blonde warrior.

Xena held her close.

“Brutus returned our weapons and bonding bracelets.” Xena said gently to her mate.

“Hoped he would.” another coughing fit racked the bard and caused her to whimper in pain. “I love you.”

“I love you, little one.”

***

Later that afternoon the warrior sat with her back to a tree by the roadside while everyone rested and ate lunch. Gabrielle sat between her legs, leaning back into her love.

“You know, during that long night, I thought of some words I wanted to say to you but I couldn’t get them out.” Xena said softly, wrapping her strong forearms around her bard.

Gabrielle leaned into Xena’s arm, welcoming the warmth. “What, my love?”

“Promise not to laugh, you’re the bard, not me.” Xena growled and Gabrielle smiled and nuzzled Xena’s arm.

“Promise.”

“When your head dropped forward that morning, I thought I was going to die right then. The thought of you dying, facing that torture without me, I was insane.”

“I remember.” Gabrielle did remember, even through her pain of keeping her body alive she could see Xena only a few feet away tearing at the post and chains that held the warrior away from her. The madness in Xena’s eyes had been frightening but not as frightening at the callous way Caesar had merely laughed at Xena’s struggles and Gabrielle’s torture. She mentally made a promise not to remind Xena of that part of the afternoon.

“Then I knew I would follow you, no matter what it took. No,” Xena placed a finger on the bard’s lips to cut off any protests. “my choice, love. I knew then I couldn’t live without you and I also realized I no longer feared that we’d be separated on the other side. I’ve always been afraid that I’d lose you in death but something told me that I wouldn’t that day and these words came to me.”

Gabrielle waited patiently, she knew it wasn’t easy for the warrior to talk about feelings and even harder for something like this.

“Feel the cold wind blowing, freezing the ground on a winter’s day,
I wish I could have saved you, but now the time has come
to say our last goodbye and to look into your eyes
I watch the burning tears arise
your way ends here on that cross
tonight on the Ides of March”

Gabrielle felt tears beginning to fill her eyes and felt Xena catch her breath as well, working around her own tears.

“You’re precious life’s been taken, pierced by the nails
driven through your flesh
you were the best thing in my life
still I never took the time to make true love to you
the snow gently covers my skin, releases me from my burden of my sins
tonight on the Ides of March”

“Hold on, trust a little longer until we pass the gate to eternity
then we will be together, share our life forever
you and me, tonight on the Ides of March.”

Gabrielle turned in her lover’s arms to kiss and hold her lover as they both cried at how close they came to dying. After a moment Gabrielle pulled back, cuddled in Xena’s strong arms.

“But you have made true love to me,” she protested.

“No, I’ve held back.” Xena’s eyes dropped slightly and Gabrielle frowned, raising Xena’s chin until the warrior looked at her in the eyes. Green meeting blue. “I always thought I would die before you and we would be separated. I always accepted that but it held something back in me, hope. I never really believed in plans for a long future with you, even when Sasha was born and you came back to me. I thought it was easy to face death until you faced it without me.”

Xena frowned, gathering her thoughts.

“I thought it would be all right, facing it together and then that bastard put you on that cross and let me live to watch. At first I went crazy but then I realized that we had beaten him and everyone else, Ares included.”

“What do you mean?” Gabrielle asked softly.

“I knew we’d be together soon, even if I had to force them to kill me and that I’d find you waiting for me. Caesar wanted to separate us, Ares wants to separate us, the world wants us apart most of the time. They lost because I believe we’ll be together.”

“Forever.” Gabrielle agreed, kissing her warrior’s lips again. Then she grinned. “Wow.”

“Wow?” Xena questioned.

“If you’ve held back in life and in love, what will it be like to make love to you now, I wonder?” Gabrielle grinned and was pleased when Xena began blushing.

“Just remember, I know where you’re ticklish!” Xena warned and Gabrielle began giggling and squirming.

“Hey, no fair! I don’t have hands yet!” the playful moment was cut short by another coughing fit. Xena held her mate close until the bard’s body stopped shaking.

“I guess it’ll have to wait a bit.” Xena groaned.

“Guess so,” Gabrielle gasped and then snuggled into Xena’s arms again, trying to catch her breath. “I’m getting tired of having to do the recovery bit.” she complained.

***
“Xena!” Hercules’ voice brought the warrior up with sword in hand. She looked from behind the tree and frowned.

“Not again.” she muttered. Gabrielle rose up slowly beside her with raised eyebrows. The emcampment stopped as they took in the sight of Artemis in the center of the road. Ephiny bowed her head and Xena frowned.

“Easy, warrior. I came to thank you for saving the Amazons and to especially thank you, Gabrielle. I knew I had chosen well when I picked you.”

Xena was pleased to see her mate blushing, much like the old Gabrielle.

“It had to be done,” the bard shrugged.

“Well, I owe you both and I know a way to repay that debt. Ephiny, take the Amazons north for two days travel and you’ll meet up with a German named Axel and his family. They’ll take you to your new lands deep in the forest they call the Black. It’s wild and hard living but you’ll be out of Roman hands probably for years.”

“What about us?” Hercules asked.

“You all could use some time off from saving the world.” Artemis raised her hands and Xena looked around to see that she, Hercules, Solan and Gabrielle now somewhere else. She looked around and grinned as she recognized the village. Xena noted the fact that their wagon, with their few belongings had accompanied them. They all looked towards the inn of the village when someone yelled at them.

Hercules let out a yell of surprise and pleasure when he saw Iolaus standing in the doorway of the inn with Sasha in his arms.

Xena grinned at a familiar figure walking out of the inn as well.

“Mom!” the warrior reached back and helped her mate stand up. Gabrielle had improved a lot since being taken down from the cross but she was still weak and very short of breath. Xena placed an arm around her mate’s waist to steady her.

“What about Ares?” Gabrielle muttered.

Artemis appeared once again in front of them. “Don’t worry about dark and brooding. Aphrodite is going to keep him busy for quite awhile.”

Xena smirked. “I don’t think I want the details to that!”

Artemis shrugged her shoulders with an equal smirk. “I certainly don’t!” she agreed and was gone.

“Come on, little one. We’ve got some rest to catch up on and my mother’s cooking to help fill you out again.” Xena grinned, lifting the bard into her arms, heading for her waiting mom and little daughter.

 

The End

Continued in Children of Gods

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