Coming Home by CN Winters

Coming Home
by CN Winters
Part 2 in the Homecoming Series

Chapter 1

“I’m nervous,” Xena confessed softly.

They spent the last league traveling in silence atop Argo. As the small village came into sight Gabrielle could hear her wife’s sigh of uneasiness. It had been half a moon since they left Lesbo with the promise they would visit Sappho within the next 12. Gabrielle was taken aback by the confession of the brave and stoic warrior. She knew that she was going to have to be the heroic one this time. It was never a position she was comfortable with but one she could handle exceptionally well just the same.

Gabrielle cleared her throat before tightening her grip around the warrior’s shapely waist. “We’ll be fine. We have each other,” she replied.

“Yes. But what if he-

“No,” Gabrielle replied. “I don’t care what he might say. You are my home. You are my life. Anything that happens here, stays here. . .when we leave.”

“It could turn out to be a really short visit,” the warrior pressed.

“Then that’s fine,” Gabrielle answered. “I owe them the truth. They need to know I’ve chosen my future. And that future is with you.”

Xena didn’t reply vocally. She tightened her grip on the bard’s arm and let her head lean back into the strawberry blond hair for a few moments. As they neared the village, they spotted the bard’s sister straining at the sight coming before her. Gabrielle noticed and gave a wave.

“Gabs!?” she shouted, still unsure as they approached. “Gabrielle!” She broke into a run down the dirt road. “Mom; Dad! Gabrielle’s here!”

Gabrielle smiled at the excitement of her sister. Xena smiled too but she still couldn’t stop the curing in her stomach. Quickly, as Lila approached, the bard slid off of Argo. The two young women gathered each other in their arms, as Xena made her dismount as well.

“It’s great to see you Gabs! Where have you been? What have you been doing? We got your last scroll. How long are you staying?” her sister rambled.

Gabrielle held her hands up to stop the barrage of questions. “Please Lila. One at a time okay?”

Lila and Gabrielle met in another embrace. “It’s so good to see you,” the bards’ sister beamed. As she pulled away, she noticed Xena watching with a great deal of interest.

“Oh. Hi there Xena,” she replied casually, in the briefest of moments. The warrior nodded. Before Xena could offer her greetings, Lila turned and began to tug Gabrielle toward the house. Gabrielle looked back to catch Xena’s reaction. The warrior simply shrugged and followed along.

Hecuba and Herodotus were outside by now and moved to meet their daughter as well. “Come in! Come in!” her mother exclaimed. “Tell us how you’ve been.” As Hecuba led her daughters inside Herodotus stood sizing the warrior up. Xena didn’t falter under the glare.

“Stables that way,” he said pointing as he casually strolled inside the house. Xena rolled her eyes in frustration. ‘This is not going to go very good’ Xena reflected as she led Argo. ‘Not at all’.

When Xena arrived in the kitchen after seeing to Argo all eyes fixed on her. It wasn’t the warmest of receptions, except for Gabrielle of course. “Here,” Gabrielle said rising. “Take my chair.” She practically had to lead Xena. “Tea?” the bard asked.

“Yes please,” the warrior answered softly with a smile.

Gabrielle brushed the warriors shoulders upon traveling to the teapot, which didn’t go unnoticed by the family, but no one said a word. The silence played on the warrior’s nerves. She realized she liked it a lot better when they were telling her to get out of town. That was honest. This forced cordial business was taxing.

“So how’s things around here? Do you have a fella yet Lila?” the bard asked.

The warrior silently thanked the bard for the chit-chat. At least until she heard Lila’s response.

“No. I can’t say I have,” Lila answered. “What about you?”

Gabrielle nearly dropped the cup of hot tea in the warriors lap, but Xena managed to steady her hands. Gabrielle met Xena’s eyes. ‘It’s now or never’ the bard thought. Xena gave the slights of nods as encouragement, reading Gabrielle’s mind.

“Actually,” she said softly, before getting her nerve up. “I got married last month.”

The family looked at each other in confusion. “So where is your husband dear?” her mother asked innocently.

Gabrielle’s throat was tight. The only sound she could make was a noise between a hum and strangle.

“You’re lookin’ at ’em,” Xena answered. She reached out and took the bard’s hand in hers. She’d be damned to let this all fall on Gabrielle’s shoulders. She could feel and hear the bard exhale.

Gabrielle family studied the pair for a moment. Then looked to each other. Then back at the pair. “No Way!” Lila exclaimed.

Gabrielle nodded and Xena could feel the bard tighten her grip on her hand. “We were married, by the poet Sappho actually, when we were on Lesbo.”

A few moments passed with no one added anything. Xena could see the pain growing in Gabrielle’s eyes the longer the silence persisted, not to mention the pain in her hand from the bard’s capturing fingers.

“Get out.”

Xena and Gabrielle turned to see her father rising from the table, his tone was soft but the message was very clear, not to mention the sight of his growing anger. He walked around the table as Xena stood up.

“You,” he said pointing at the warrior. “You! . . . You ride into town. Steal my daughter. Then brainwash her into some kind of pervert!”

Xena saw it coming but she did nothing to stop it. A right hook. It caught her square on the jaw, knocking her head sideways. ‘Not bad for a man his age’ she mused, trying to keep the situation light in her mind. If she gave into her anger Gods only knew what she might do to her ‘father-in-law’.

Xena’s head shot back to see him menacing toward Gabrielle. “I didn’t raise no harlot!” he yelled. He brought his hand back but before he could make a connection he felt his fingers becoming bruised in the vice grip.

“Do what you want to me,” Xena warned. “but harm her. . .and I’ll break every bone in your body to see that it doesn’t happen again.”

Gabrielle was in tears at this point. Quickly Xena let go of Herodotus and spun him away from Gabrielle. She took his place in front of her and smoothed her forearms, kissing her on the forehead.

“Please get me out of here,” the bard whispered.

“Anything you want Beautiful,” the warrior answered loud enough for the room to here. She gathered her sobbing wife in her arms and they walked out together toward the stable.

“I left Argo’s saddle on,” she whispered. “Just in case.”

Gabrielle clung to Xena as they walked in to meet Argo. Immediately she noticed the distress of her two mistress’ and gave a whinny. “It’s okay,” Xena reassured with a love pat to her mane. She mounted the mare and offered her arm to Gabrielle which the bard took. “Come on girl,” she directed the horse, once the bard was secure.

Gabrielle’s clinging didn’t end. She held Xena tightly around the waist. The warrior, in like-fashion, gripped onto the bard’s forearm. As they started to leave the small town, the bard’s sobs quieted considerably.

“I love you Gabrielle,” the warrior whispered, turning to look into the beautiful green eyes.

Gabrielle smiled as her eyes grew cloudy again. “I love you too Xena,” she whispered snuggling into the strong shoulders.
Chapter 2
“Let’s stop for the night okay?” Xena asked. “I don’t think either on of us is up for Amphipolis yet.”

“I have to agree,” Gabrielle answered. “How about over there?” she asked as she pointed.

The mare trotted over to the clearing in the wooded area. A league down or so was a river. They stopped for water first. Then settled into making the camp. Silently Gabrielle went off to collect the evenings firewood as Xena searched for some game, both women preoccupied by the days events.

When Xena returned with two skinned rabbits, Gabrielle already had the fire going and water on for tea. Xena busied herself for a few moments but the bard had yet to speak one word to her.

“You have to talk to me at some point Gabrielle,” the warrior started, as she brought out a cloth to polish her sword. After a few moments of stroking the bard still didn’t say anything. “Please. We need to talk about this,” she added.

Gabrielle smiled and shook her head. “Who’d have ever thought YOU would be asking ME to talk?”

Xena had changed a lot in the last few months or so. Her need to engage Gabrielle’s mind as well as her body surprised the bard at times. The once silent, strong warrior now often asked the young amazon to express her feelings. It still filled the bard with wonder even though it had become a natural occurrence since the joining. At times Gabrielle couldn’t be happier with the change. But today it was something she wanted to bury deep inside her; never letting it escape. All the hurt. All the anger. All the pain. She wanted it hidden deep inside her heart. ‘But she won’t let me will she,’ Gabrielle thought. ‘Might as well get this over with.’

“It’s not you,” Gabrielle began. The warrior waited to see if she would continue on her own. “I can’t believe he hit you. . .and lived to tell about it,” she added jokingly.

Xena grinned. “He’s just lucky he didn’t hit you . . . He may not be dead but he certainly would have trouble talking. It takes a long time for a broken jaw to heal.”

The warrior laid her sword down and opened her arms. Gabrielle snuggled in close. “I wish they could see what I see,” she whispered. “I wish they understood everything you mean to me.”

Xena slowly stroked the red-heads tresses, listening to the soft voice. A few moments passed in silence until the bard’s movements captivated Xena’s attention. “What are you doing?” she asked.

The bard who had started kissing the warriors shoulder had moved to her neck. “Do you really need to ask?” she teased, resuming her soft administrations to the warrior’s flesh.

“Gabrielle?” Xena asked pulling the bard away. “I think we should discuss this some more.”

“What’s to discuss?” she said sarcastically. “I love you. My parents hate me. . .I told you what ever happens in Poteidaia stays there. I had every intention of loving you tonight and I’ll be damned if I let them take that away from me . . . or even you for that matter.”

Xena was taken back by the threat in Gabrielle’s voice. “Are you going to rape me?” the warrior asked with a growing smile.

“You think I couldn’t take you if I wanted you?” Gabrielle asked pulling the tunic from her body, exposing the warrior to her bare breasts. “I could you know. . .take you, I mean. . .if I wanted. But what I really want is for you to make love to me. I want to know that I’m right; that their narrow minds won’t steal the love you have for me. I need to show myself that their disapproval won’t tame my arousal, my affection, for you.”

Gabrielle skirt was now discarded, as well as her boots. She straddled Xena’s waist, physically placing the warrior’s hands on her hips. “Gabri-

“Shhh,” the bard answered placing her finger on the warrior’s lips. “No more talk . . . please. . .Just love me.”

The first kiss was slow; lingering. Xena was convinced her amazon was in no shape for physical love. Funny. Why was the warrior’s body giving her different signals?

Gabrielle’s fingertips were so light as they caressed Xena’s shoulders, pulling down the straps of her leathers. The amazon’s mouth captured her neck, sucking and licking the skin into abandon. Xena realized Gabrielle was right. The bard could take her. . .if she really wanted to. . .and Xena could feel, under the delicate yet passionate touch, the amazon most definitely wanted her. Slowly she felt her self-defiance slipping away.

“Please Xena,” the amazon whispered. “Please make love to me. Tell me I’m what you need.”

Xena felt her heart skip at the words. She cradled the bard’s face in her hands for a brief moment before her desire over came her. She stole Gabrielle’s breath as her lips captured the bard’s. Her passion was unmistakable. She would show this young woman just how much she loved her; needed her.

The warrior broke away first, before picking the bard up. As she walked to the bedroll, Gabrielle wrapped her legs around the warriors waist, while Xena supported the bards weight by gripping her bottom. She laid her precious cargo down softly before rising to remove her own attire. Once she was naked, like her lover, only then did she return. Xena’s knees barely hit the ground when Gabrielle pulled the warrior to her with such passion, it knocked Xena off balance and the two tumbled to hard earth below. The crash still did nothing to unlock their lips.

They both smiled behind the kiss. Then they began to chuckle and reluctantly pulled away. “I love you so much,” Xena whispered stroking the young amazons delicate facial features – her cheeks, her nose, her lips. Soon Gabrielle was on her back and the warriors lips followed the same path her fingers just lead. The bard sighed at the contact, feeling the growing wetness at her center. Her hips rose into the warrior’s thigh as Xena’s tongue began to massage her hard, pebble-like nipples.

“Yes.”

The bard’s whisper was so soft. It was only Xena acute hearing that could detect it. She could feel Gabrielle’s want rising higher. She loved watching the woman arch to meet her expert mouth. The arching always made the warrior grow wetter, knowing the effect she had on the young amazon.

“Lower. . .Please. . .Take me.”

The voice was faint but the desire behind it was undeniable. Xena had never gotten so much pleasure out of giving pleasure. But Gabrielle was unlike anyone she ever had. At times it still scared the warrior.

She could watch Gabrielle do the simplest of tasks like drawing water from a well or filleting a fish and all she could think about was how sexy she looked. ‘Nothing says love like an overwhelming desire to kiss a woman covered with fish guts’, Xena joked inward on one occasion. She realized, as she watched the dangling fish that day, it was really her who had been hooked. It was a frightening feeling but she had to admit. . .incredibly wonderful too.

Her body moved down the length of the bards body breezily and with such grace. Gabrielle loved to watch Xena move. She always did; even long before her admiration turned into love. This evening wasn’t any different. Her fingers twined themselves in the dark mane pulling; guiding Xena to the heart of her sexual heat. Xena could tell Gabrielle was more than ready tonight. Neither woman needed nor wanted anymore build-up. Their desire was at a fever pitch. And in realizing so, she gave into the bard’s unspoken demand.

“Gods yes,” Gabrielle groaned.

Xena smiled. That line was becoming a favorite of the bards once the warrior’s lips finally made contact with her sex. Xena could count on it and much to her amazement she knew she’d never tire of it.

Xena held onto Gabrielle’s hips as the amazon thrashed up and down and around on the bedroll. Her fingernails would be dirty in the morning with all the clawing she was doing into the ground below them. Gabrielle could feel the rumbling of her approaching orgasm.

Xena could feel it too. The heavy, short pants the bard made as she neared got even quicker. The shaking of the young woman’s thighs was a sign satisfaction would soon come. Gabrielle stride for all the passion she could get from Xena’s lips and tongue until she could take no more.

“Oh Xenaaa.”

The bard held the warriors name as the shockwaves swept over her body making it slightly convulse. Xena eased up on her sweet torture as Gabrielle’s body began to settle. Slowly she kissed up the length of Gabrielle’s body. When she arrived at the bards beautiful face the sight she witnessed froze her. The bard was crying, trying her best to hold back her tears and failing miserably.

“Come mere,” the warrior whispered, gathering the weeping woman in her arms.

“Why Xena?” she asked sobbing. “Why do they hate me for following my heart? I’m not hurting them. I’m not hurting anyone. . .I love them Xena but now they hate me. What am I supposed to do? Leave you so I can be the perfect daughter. . .and be perfectly miserable for the rest of my life.”

Xena felt three candlemarks tall. ‘Should have followed your first instinct warrior,” she cursed herself silently, holding the quivering woman close.

“I don’t know what to tell you Gabrielle,” Xena whispered. “Except I’m sorry for what I’ve done tonight.”

“Don’t say that!” Gabrielle insisted. “I don’t want you to ever regret the fact we’ve shared our bodies with each other. Don’t say that!”

All Xena wanted to do was comfort the girl but she got just the opposite effect. The warrior rose to recline against the tree behind them and pulled Gabrielle into her lap. She stroked the amazons hair until she finally felt the bard’s head relaxed against her thighs. Only then did she speak.

“I’m never sorry for making love to you. I just wish the timing would have been better. You’re on edge tonight and I can’t help but feel that I took advantage of you. . .And that’s something I never wanted to happen.”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Gabrielle answered. “You didn’t take advantage of me Xena. If anything you brought all this to the surface. You helped me do that through your kiss and your touch. . .And I truly thank you.”

“I never want to be a source of pain in you life Gabrielle and I feel like this is all my fault,” the warrior confessed. “I don’t want to cause you problems with your family.”

Gabrielle grinned. “You are my family,” she whispered. “You’re my home, remember?”

All Xena could do was smile for the moment. “It’s a position I’m very grateful to fill Beautiful. You know that don’t you?”

“Yes I do,” the bard whispered back.

Xena settled back down upon the bed roll and gathered Gabrielle in her arms. She listened as the bard’s breathing deepened and became steady. Xena thought back all the events of the day but her last waking thought of was the day to come. ‘Amphipolis,’ her mind called out as Morpheus over came her.
Chapter 3
“Get me some of that slop you call stew and make it snappy!” The warriors voice boomed through the tavern with a snarl on her lips. The bard couldn’t help but grin. The customers, however, stopped their meals and discussions to watch the duo.

Cyrene turned and smiled as she saw the pair near the entrance. “We don’t serve your kind here. You’ll have to go elsewhere,” she said losing her smile; walking toward them, just as menacingly.

When they stood within an arms reach of each other they dropped the false facades and began to grin.

“Well, perhaps you could suggest another establishment of fine dining in the area,” Xena teased, her pearly whites blazing.

Cyrene pulled the warrior into a tight embrace, giving her a light kiss on the cheek. As she pulled away she quickly pulled Gabrielle into a hug too. “How are my two favorite girls in the whole wide world?” she asked putting her arms around both of them. “Come in! Come in!” she insisted.

Xena and Gabrielle took a place at the bar and they turned when they heard some commotion at the side door. “Hey Mom!” they heard the yell.

Xena ran and pushed the door open. “Need some help?” she asked, taking one side of the keg, leading it inside.

“Hey Xena!” Taurus exclaimed. “What brings you to town?”

“I could ask you the same thing,” the warrior answered as she walked backwards. “I heard you were living in Athens.”

“I am,” he replied. “But with Amphipolis’ harvest festival here I thought Mom could use some extra help.”

They sat the barrel down and Taurus pulled Xena into his arms. “It’s good to see you. Is Gabrielle here with you?” he asked inquisitively.

“Yes,” the bard grinned. They were practically nose to nose. “I’m right here.”

He moved around the bar to stand in front of Gabrielle, taking in her features. “By the Gods you’ve changed,” he whispered in amazement, picking her hands up and holding her arms out. Xena watched as Taurus eyes washed over Gabrielle’s body like a lovers hands.

“I hope it’s not a change for the worse,” the bard said casually as possible. She could feel Xena’s jealous glare from over her shoulder.

“By Olympus no! You’re absolutely beautiful. So . . .grown up,” he answered. Xena swallowed down her growing anger. She realized she had no right to feel anger. It’s not as if Taurus knew it was her wife he was drooling over.

“Thank you Taurus,” Gabrielle replied diplomatically. “You’re looking very well yourself.”

“You think so?” he asked quietly. The sly grin of his sisters flashed onto his face. Gabrielle came to realize just what the look meant when Xena did it but she wasn’t sure about Taurus. “Well, maybe tonight after dinner the two of us could take a walk by the river?”

‘Oh yeah’ Gabrielle thought as she grinned. ‘One in the same’.

Gabrielle wasn’t exactly sure how to handle this situation. She glanced at Xena who appeared to be dazed – except for her knuckles she continuously rubbed. Any more wooing and Xena would be leaving impressions of her fists in her brothers face.

“You’re being out of line Taurus,” Cyrene warned her son. Xena dropped her hands to her side. She hadn’t heard her mother come in from the kitchen with the stew. “Eat up,” she instructed, giving them the bowls.

“What’s wrong with asking Gabrielle to go for a walk. She’s a free woman,” he argued.

“Not as free as you think,” Cyrene replied.

“What do you mean?” he asked.

Cyrene didn’t want to continue this debate with her son. “Don’t you have another barrel to fetch from old man Tericus?” she asked.

“Well, yeah but –

“Go get it please,” she ordered in gentle yet threatening tone.

Taurus paused a moment before making his way out the side door again. Cyrene casually strolled around the bar, taking a seat next to Gabrielle.

She studied both women for a moment before she spoke. “Was I wrong to make that assumption?” she asked with a grin.

Gabrielle had never seen Xena blush – at least not like this – her whole body got as red as the famed rose garden of Athens. The warrior looked down at her feet trying to hide her growing smile. The bards only reaction was shock.

“How did you know?” Gabrielle asked, pulling Cyrene from her study of Xena.

“About the two of you?” she asked for clarification. The bard nodded. Cyrene nodded at Xena. “She seems. . .settled, content. . . She’s loved you for a very long time. But it wasn’t until you came in today and I watched you look at her that I knew it was true.”

“And you’re okay with this?” Xena asked raising her eyebrows.

“Why wouldn’t I be? Gabrielle’s a wonderful person . . .So don’t screw it up,” she said giving the warrior’s arm a playful swat.

“Well things didn’t go very well back home,” Gabrielle confessed. “My father hit Xena. He almost hit me. . .It wasn’t very pleasant to say the least.”

“That’s unfortunate. . . for them,” Cyrene said, making the girl rest her head on her shoulder, stroking her hair consolingly. “Just remember you’ll always have a home here my dear. . .Always.”

Gabrielle pulled back from the loving embrace to meet Xena’s mother’s, HER new mother’s, eyes. The eye contact however was broken by the sniffle from the warrior. “Thank you,” the warrior whispered to her mom. All her joy. All her hope for the future filled the two words.

“No. Thank YOU . . . You’ve brought me a beautiful daughter in law. . .Plus someone I can tell Xena baby stories to that will embarrass you thoroughly,” she teased, making the warrior grin. “Like when she was two,” Cyrene said leaning closer to Gabrielle. “Her and Taurus were out back in this sand pit their father had made-

“Oh no!” Xena interrupted. “You’re not going to make me listen to the sand pit story and you’re not telling Gabrielle.”

Cyrene stuck out her tongue. “Make me,” she challenged. “I’ve been waiting years for this day.” Xena threw up her hands and she went to the kitchen. She could hear her mother’s voice behind the closed door. As she poured the wine, she could hear Gabrielle’s laughter float to her ears.

‘Oh gods,’ Xena thought. ‘I’m never going to live this down’.
Chapter 4
When Taurus had returned, Cyrene promptly took him to the back and set him straight, so to speak. When he had finally emerged from the kitchen he walked over to the couple with a sheepish grin. He apologized and was warmly accepted.

But it was late now. The fire was dwindling and it was now Gabrielle telling Xena stories. The warrior had walked out onto the porch for some air but she could still hear the bard. She was talking about Xena’s flying parchment and how the warrior refused to give up on the idea . . .and how she ultimately succeeded because of her perseverance.

“It’s kinda cold tonight,” Taurus remarked walking behind Xena, covering her with a cloak.

“Thank you,” she replied sincerely.

Neither one said anything. They sat and listened to the nighttime sounds around them and the bard’s voice behind them. It felt calm; peaceful.

“You’re a lucky lady,” Taurus remarked. “Gabrielle’s one in a million.”

“You don’t have to tell me,” Xena smiled. “But it’s still nice to hear.”

A few more moments passed until Taurus spoke again. “I’m jealous,” he said honestly. Xena met his eyes, waiting for him to continue. “I always wanted a girl like Gabrielle and . . .It’s you who got her. . .my sister.” He smiled uncomfortably at the thought.

“Taurus if you have difficulty with my relationship with Gabri-

“No,” he said quickly. “You’re my sister Xena. I love you and I want you to be happy. It’s just . . .I always thought I would have the girl like Gabrielle and you’d find some brave, strong warrior.”

“I did,” Xena smiled. “Gabrielle is very brave and very strong. And she’s a warrior too. An amazon warrior. You should see her handle herself in a fight now. She’s unbeatable and I’d bet she could take on anybody and defeat them. . .So what you said was true Taurus, to a certain extent.”

“Ahhh, but could she beat you?” he prodded.

“With a sword? No. With a staff?. . .Maybe,” she quietly admitted.

“Really? She doesn’t look the type,” he answered.

“That’s part of her skill. . .I mean, honestly, a beautiful woman carrying around a piece of wood. How much of a threat is that?” Xena teased. “Many men have thought the same and many men will never walk the same again.”

“So I shouldn’t upset her?” Taurus joked.

“Not if you want to stay healthy . . . and father children some day. . .no.”

The siblings smiled at each other before they heard the door open. Gabrielle peered her head out. “Mind if I join you for a little while before I head up to bed?”

“Of course not,” Xena answered, patting her lap. “Have a seat.” Instinctively, Xena took off her cape and draped it around the bard. “See,” the warrior said as the bard cuddled up in her arms, the cloak tightly around her. “Already warm,” she added speaking of the garment.

“This is nice,” the bard cooed affectionately, snuggling into the warriors shoulder.

“I know you just use me for my body heat,” the warrior teased, trying her best to sound put-out.

“That’s not true,” Gabrielle smiled mischievously. “I use you for much more.”

Xena chuckled and looked over to see her brother turn twenty shades of red. The sight made her giggle even harder.

“Goodnight all,” the heard Cyrene call outside.

“Goodnight mom,” they all said in harmony.

“I better get to bed too. I told the town council I’d help build some benches for the festival,” Taurus said as he rose to go inside. “Don’t do anything I’d love to do,” he winked to his sister. “At least not too much. . .I may need your help tomorrow.”

“Consider me there,” Xena smiled. “Goodnight Taurus.”

“Goodnight you two,” he replied.

As Taurus went inside Xena and Gabrielle continued to cuddle on the porch listening to the crickets and light rustling of the autumn leaves.

“Today went much better than yesterday,” the warrior remarked softly.

“Yes,” Gabrielle agreed. “Yes it did.”

Xena smiled. “You know my brother is jealous. Who would have ever thought anyone in this family would be jealous of me?. . .Ashamed. . .most definitely. . .but not jealous.”

“Xena,” the bard said sympathetically.

Xena raised her hand to silence Gabrielle. “I know what you’re going to say. ‘It was a long time ago. I’m a different person now. I should just let it go’. Am I right?”

Gabrielle grinned and nodded.

Xena smiled too until it scurried away. “I just can’t forget all the damage I’ve done. I can’t forget all the people I’ve killed. – all the lovers I took from someone. . . I always knew what I had done but since Lesbo it’s haunted my mind even more. . .I don’t want to see your life taken the way I took so many others.”

Gabrielle didn’t know how to respond at first. “Don’t worry you’ll have me around for a very long time. If Hades calls me I’ll just have to tell him I already have other plans,” she smiled.

“When it’s your time to go Gabrielle. It’s your time to go,” the warrior whispered.

“Oh right,” the bard answered sarcastically. “Look who’s talking. . .How many times have you returned from Hades grip? Twice if I remember correctly.”

“That’s different,” Xena muttered.

Gabrielle had to laugh. “Oh I see. Only the brave warrior princess can return. Is that it?”

Xena thought back to the healing temple during the first year of their travels. “You’ve come back to Gabrielle. I’ve almost lost you before. I would have if I hadn’t beat the life ‘back’ into you.”

Gabrielle was quiet for a moment. She wasn’t sure how to respond to the memory – or more to the point – she wasn’t sure if she should confess how much she learned from Ephany regarding that day.

“What are you think about?” Xena asked the bard upon her silence.

Gabrielle considered a moment longer. “Ephany told me about that day. . . The way you cried. . .The way you refused to listen to everyone around us telling you to give up. . . She said she had never seen anyone so determined, so angered. . . That scares me you know?”

“What scares you? Being gone?” Xena asked.

“No,” Gabrielle grinned gently. “You being that angered again over losing someone you love. I don’t want the darkness to come back if I’m killed. . .In some way it will seem like my life was useless. . . That I didn’t make one bit of difference while I was here. I couldn’t bare that.”

“You’ve made a difference,” Xena said pulling the bard’s head down to rest on her shoulder. “I don’t think I would have stayed on the path I’m on now if I hadn’t met you. . .And I know that since you’ve touched my life, I’ll never be able to walk in darkness again. . .whether you’re by my side or not. . .Of course I want you by my side for as long as possible.”

“Well, if I get to Elysia first, I promise to wait for you,” the bard replied, kissing the warrior on the neck. Xena grinned at the gesture before yawning.

“Tired my brave warrior?” Gabrielle teased.

“Yes,” Xena admitted.

“But I planned on returning the favor you did for me yesterday,” the bard cooed, before kissing the warrior on the neck, the earlobe, the cheek. . .

“Maybe tomorrow,” Xena answered.

Gabrielle was slightly surprised. Xena was actually serious. “I guess the honeymoon’s over,” Gabrielle teased.

Xena chuckled. “No. The warrior is just exhausted,” she answered. “Besides, once I have my rest,” she added seductively. “. . .I’ll be so much better. Good things come to those who wait Gabrielle.”

Gabrielle considered the words. “Okay, I’ll let you know tomorrow if that’s true.” She stood and held her hand out to Xena. Arm in arm they walked into the house and up to Xena’s room.

It wasn’t long after they settled into bed when Gabrielle heard Xena’s nasal noise. The sound reminded the bard of a child playing joyfully saying ‘weeee’ ever so softly and repeatedly. ‘She’s out’ Gabrielle grinned. The bard’s libido, however, wasn’t and she considered ‘taking matters into her own hands’. But she quickly decided against it. ‘You better be worth it warrior mine.’ It was the last conscious thought she had as slumber fell upon her.
Chapter 5
Gabrielle was having the most peculiar dream. She was sitting by a river when a wolf cub trotted up and began licking on her toes. Slowly she opened her eyes, looking down at her feet. Azure eyes looked up at her with a guilty grin.

“Nice to see you’re awake,” Xena replied, before going back to suck on the bards right big toe.

Gabrielle giggled. “That tickles!”

The warrior raised her leg slightly and began to lick and suck on her calf. “What about that?” Xena asked slyly. “Does that tickle?”

“Not as much,” Gabrielle replied, feeling herself growing wet.

Xena worked her way a little higher, to the bard’s inner thigh. “What about now?” she asked before nibbling on the tender flesh.

Gabrielle moaned at the contact and the little jolts that rose through her body from the delicate touch. Xena worked even higher. The warrior was close enough to smell the woman’s growing, passionate scent.

“Bet that doesn’t tickle,” Xena remarked with a grin. Her fingers reached up and took command of the bard’s alert nipples, feeling the tautness. “Oh no,” Xena teased. “This doesn’t tickle at all does it?”

“No,” Gabrielle whispered, reaching down to tangle her fingers in the warriors silken hair. “Not at all,” she added in a moan.

“You smell divine,” the warrior complimented, moving her head back and forth, her nose batting at the bard’s sensitive nub. Instinctively, Gabrielle raised her hips to meet the warrior’s face. She watched disappointed and frustrated as Xena moved away.

“Oh no. Not yet,” the warrior scolded playfully. The warrior’s hands caressed the bard’s entire body – her arms, her legs, her breasts, her sides – every area except one. Gabrielle’s ache was bordering on actually pain; her insides dying for release.

“Please Xena,” she begged. “Please.”

“What Gabrielle?” the warrior played. “What do you want?”

Gabrielle groaned in frustration and arousal. The warrior’s finger tips pulled and twisted on her erect nipples, making them even harder than she dreamed possible. “You know what I want,” Gabrielle replied in a short breath.

“Tell me,” Xena ordered. She now supported her body weight on her arms, hanging over her bard. “I want you to tell me what you want,” she added. The small battle of wills was making her as extremely wet as the bard.

Gabrielle felt Xena’s arousal drip onto her thigh. “Oh Gods Xena,” the amazon cried, pulling her into a fiery kiss. Her reserve had been totally wiped away but instead of needing the warrior’s touch, she found herself wanting to touch the warrior. “You,” she breathed. “I need to fuck you.”

Before having a chance to reply Xena was on her back, the bard pinning her to the mattress. A second later she felt two of the bards fingers plunge into her sexual cream – hard and fast. A third finger was added. Then a four. The bard was relentless as her finger prodded and her lips sucked the warriors nipples.

“Now you tell me,” the bard whispered triumphantly as the bed creaked at the lusty motions. “You tell me. Do you like being fucked? Do you Xena?”

Xena’s desire was raging. The look of pure lust shown in her lover’s eyes. Gabrielle was fucking her alright. Fucking her good. The warrior’s hips rose to meet every thrust the bard delivered. She couldn’t reply to Gabrielle’s question she could only moan an answer.

“Oh yeah,” the bard said, her lips latching onto the warrior’s sweat covered neck. Gabrielle herself was perspiring and the glistening of her skin only added to the warrior’s arousal. “You love it don’t you? Gods, I know you do. . .You love getting fucked by me.”

Xena could only grunt an approval. She loved it when the bard was this hot for her; the passion uncontrollable. Anyone could walk in that door now and she knew Gabrielle wouldn’t stop – couldn’t stop – because she was consumed by her desire. At times like these she loved it when the bard used her mouth to pleasure her.

It took all of her strength but Xena pulled the bard’s hand from her dripping sex and made the bard taste it. Her breathing was hard and voice was hoarse but the warrior did her best to speak.

“Taste me,” she whispered.

Gabrielle licked her fingers clean but not before spreading some of Xena’s juices over her nipples. Xena loved to watch that particular ritual of the bards during one of their love sessions. Xena also loved the affect it had on the bard. She knew those soaked fingers alone weren’t enough to satisfy the ever-hungry amazon.

Quickly, and with what Xena could only categorize as a growl, Gabrielle swooped down upon Xena’s sex, devouring all the cream she found there. The lusty, hungry sounds the bard was making did the warrior in. She had to delight her palette as well. Xena had to have the amazon too.

“You,” Xena managed to whisper. “Let me have you.”

Without breaking contact with the warrior, Gabrielle straddled her. Finally, they were stomach to stomach, breasts to thighs, and warm mouths to hot centers. Both women groaned in time with each other and when both inserted fingers at the same time the sighs were so similar they couldn’t tell them apart.

Xena smiled as she felt her impending climax near . . . but not because of the overwhelming sensations, which she would admit were absolutely wonderful. She loved this because she knew this was Gabrielle’s favorite position and it didn’t take long at all for the waves to override her partner. And almost on cue she felt Gabrielle’s hips buck and her back arch.

“Oh Gods Xena!” she cried in ecstasy. “Oh yes. Oh yes. . .”

Xena loved the little oh yes’ Gabrielle gave with each wave that washed over her. She loved them so much in fact that, those two little words, repeated over and over, brought her to her own climax. Listening to the bard’s voice and feeling the bard’s fingers sent Xena over the edge.

“Gabrielllllle!”

Xena rode each wave, striving for as much pleasure she could get out of them. Finally she settled into the mattress as Gabrielle moved to take her favorite place on the warriors left shoulder.

“Umm . . .That was fun.” Xena grinned lazily, giving the amazon a light, affectionate kiss on the forehead.

“You were right,” Gabrielle added, stroking Xena’s hair, twirling it around on her fingertips. “You’re worth the wait.”

“Told ya,” the warrior teased, pulling her closer.

“Yes. You certainly did,” she replied, moving up onto her elbow and giving Xena a sound, loving kiss on the lips.

“Come on,” the warrior said rising and stretching. “We’ve got to get moving.”

“Can’t I just go back to sleep for a little while?” Gabrielle begged, snuggling into the pillow.

“Nope,” Xena replied, ripping the blanket off the bard. “Mom, I’m sure, is going to be needing help in the kitchen soon and I promised Taurus I’d help him, so let’s get going.”

Reluctantly, and with a groan that didn’t go unnoticed by Xena, the bard got dressed. The two walked down stairs to find Cyrene in the course of making breakfast.

“Good morning,” she smiled. “Here – have some eggs. It sounds like you two worked up an appetite this morning,” she teased.

Gabrielle’s eye widened and her hands shot in front of her mouth in embarrassment.

“Oh now she covers her mouth,” Cyrene said, adding further embarrassment to the room, while loving every moment of it.

“Mother!” Xena whined in shock.

“What?! You two are the one’s making all the noise. . .But seriously, for future reference, I have paying guests here who don’t need you as a rooster my dear. Please keep it down or wait until later in the day before. . .well, you know. . .

Cyrene walked out into the tavern and began to take down the chairs for the days business. Gabrielle still sat speechless, looking at the plate of chicken eggs. Xena shot a quick look over to the bard. “Eat your eggs,” she ordered to the bard as she went out to help her mother.

Cyrene grinned at Xena who at this point began to smile herself. “I’m sorry,” Xena said sincerely. “We’ve both been used to being alone and I didn’t think . . .”

Cyrene held a hand up. “You don’t have to explain. . .Besides, I’m sure nobody heard you. . .I mean except for me. . . And Taurus. . .who incidentally came looking for you about a quarter of a candlemark. . .He left and asked that you meet him in the square.”

When Cyrene finished her drawn out equation of the days activities so far, Xena apologized with a promise they would ‘behave’. “What exactly did you hear?” Xena asked.

Cyrene smiled. “Are you sure you want to know?” she teased.

Xena couldn’t meet her mothers eyes. “No I’m not sure,” Xena smiled. “I’m going to say good-by to Gabrielle and met Taurus.”

Swiftly Xena went back to the kitchen to see the bard nibbling on the eggs. She gave her a quick kiss on the cheek before rising and heading to the door. “I’ll see you and mom later. I’ve got to met Taurus.”

“Wait a minute! You’re not leaving me alone with your mother. I mean not now. . . after this morning.”

Xena grinned. “It’s okay. I talked to her. She’s not mad or anything. We’ll just have to keep things quieter than normal. Okay?”

Xena could tell the bard wasn’t convinced and she walked back to meet her. “Look I’ll be gone for a few hours and then I’ll be back. If you’re still upset we’ll talk then alright?”

Gabrielle smiled at the feel of Xena’s hands stroking her arm affectionately. “It’s okay. . .I just. . .Oh gods Xena! Your mother!” she whispered.

“So my mother heard me making love to my wife. Married people do it all the time. My mother understands so please relax okay?”

Gabrielle nodded. “Okay,” she agreed, sounding a little more at ease.

Xena winked as she made her way out. “I’ll be back soon. . .Oh and uh. . .Thanks for the payback this morning,” she added slyly.

“My pleasure,” Gabrielle teased. “Really.”
Chapter 6
Cyrene noticed the strangers moving toward the bar. Their shifting eyes, moving around her tavern made her nervous.

“Can I help you? She asked politely.

“Yes,” the stranger spoke. “I’m looking for the inn run by a woman.”

“Well I’m the only female innkeeper in these parts. Is there something I could do for you?”

Gabrielle walked out from the kitchen with a lunch tray. Upon meeting the strangers eyes she dropped the tray, spilling everything to the floor. Cyrene heard the commotion and rushed to help.

“Mother!” she whispered with her heart pounding. “What are you doing here?”

Hecuba looked at Lila before she spoke. “We were hoping we’d find you here. . .We really didn’t get a chance to speak with you.”

“Where’s father?” she asked the pair.

“We crept out last night after he fell asleep,” Lila answered.

“You traveled alone?” she asked amazed and slightly angered. She knew the dangers of two women on the road.

Hecuba nodded. “We had to see you”

Cyrene bent down and started to clean the mess. Gabrielle motioned to help her but Xena’s mother refused. “No,” she smiled. “You have more important matters to attend to. Go.”

Gabrielle wiped her hands on her apron and gave Cyrene a kiss before rising to face her mother. “Thank you,” she whispered to Cyrene.

Just then Xena and Taurus returned, laughing as they made their way through the tavern.

“You did not make more benches than me,” Taurus argued.

“Three is more than two,” Xena countered.

“We built the last one together,” Taurus insisted.

Xena stopped and faced her brother. “You put one leg on it. One leg. That doesn’t count.”

Xena began to move to the bar again but she stopped in her tracks.

“What’s wrong?” Taurus asked, sensing his sister growing tense.

“Hello Xena,” Hecuba offered as the two women locked eyes.

“Hello Hecuba; Lila,” Xena replied non-judgmental. “Where’s Gabrielle’s father?”

She tried her best not to sneer when she said the word – father – but the memory of his raised hand about to strike her wife made it impossible for the warrior to stay diplomatic.

“He’s still in Poteidaia,” Gabrielle replied, rushing over to stand before Xena. The warrior kept her eyes on Gabrielle’s kin even after the bard moved in front of her.

“They came to see me,” Gabrielle smiled.

She could see the joy on Gabrielle’s face but she couldn’t muster the bard’s light attitude. ‘They’re probably here to talk her out of stay with me,’ the warrior thought silently.

“What do they want?” Xena asked, the mistrust present in her voice.

Gabrielle considered. “I’m not sure. They just arrived before you walked in. . .Could you stay and take over the kitchen duties while I speak to them?”

Xena wasn’t sure she should be alone with them. What if they talked her out of her love? ‘No’ Xena reconsidered. She knew the bard loved her. But what if they tried to kidnap her and take her back home. ‘No’ she considered again. ‘They would know I’d come searching for her and I wouldn’t be too pleased once I found her.’ After the warrior considered the question she realized the bard would be safe.

“Okay,” Xena replied, stroking the bard’s cheek in support. “Take as long as you need. I’ll be here when you get back.”

“Thank you Xena,” she replied pulling the warrior down for a soft, gentle kiss.

When they looked up they noticed the entire crowd that lined the bar was watching them – Cyrene, Taurus, Heca and Lila. Xena grinned while Gabrielle blushed. It had been different on Lesbo. They were, for the most part, oblivious to the locals, who saw their displays of affection as nothing out of the ordinary. Gabrielle was aching to come back to the mainland but now she suddenly longed for Lesbo again. ‘We definitely have to visit Sappho soon’, Gabrielle said making a mental note to tell Xena.

“Have any trays that need to come out?” Xena asked her mother.

“Sure honey,” Cyrene replied, leading both her children to the kitchen. “This way.”

Gabrielle strolled up to her family. “Want to go for a walk?” she asked.

They both nodded and soon the trio was on the streets of Amphipolis.
Chapter 7
About an hour later Xena watched her wife and in-laws walk back through the door smiling.

Gabrielle went over to Xena as Hecuba and Lila took a table.

“How’d it go,” Xena asked.

“They would like us to take them back to Poteidaia after the festival. I told them we would, if that’s alright?”

“Fine by me,” Xena remarked. “But what happened during the talk?”

“My mother was always worried about my safety on the road with you. After the incident with my dad she’s convinced I made a good choice. . .Of course she says she’d like to have seen me settle down the a man but. . .She’s starting to accept things.”

“And Lila?”

“Well, most of her questions I plan on answering tonight when she and I are alone,” the bard blushed.

Xena smiled at the bard’s reaction. “What did she want to know?”

“Things,” the bard said shyly. “About us . . .and when you and I are alone.”

“Look at those cheeks Gabrielle,” Xena teased whispering in Gabrielle’s ear. “It’s hard to believe you’re the same woman from this morning who needed to fuck me.”

Gabrielle swatted the warrior. “Keep teasing me and you may never have another morning like that again.”

“Are you using sex as a weapon Gabrielle?”

“You bet’cha,” the bard retorted boldly. “And don’t you forget it.”

Xena smiled and ran her fingers over the amazons cheek. “I’ll keep that in mind.”

Gabrielle’s admiration for her warrior was interrupted by a thought. “Does Mom have any rooms available?”

“I’m not sure but I think she’s full up.”

“Do you think we could give my mom and Lila our room? They need a place to stay. . .Besides we could go to the stables and be alone. . .and be as noisy as we want,” she added seductively. “It’s gotten a little colder out but I’m sure you’ll be able to keep me warm.”

“A roll in the hay tonight?” the warrior questioned. “I’m game.”

Gabrielle smiled and stroked the warrior’s arm tenderly. “Why don’t you grab some drinks for the table and meet us over there, okay?”

“Okay,” Xena replied. She grabbed the drinks and asked her mother about the sleeping arrangements. Cyrene took their bags upstairs to the room and came down to join the table at Gabrielle’s request.

The five of them settled into a mutual comfort after a tense beginning. By nightfall idle chit-chat turned into stories and laughter. Tonight it was Gabrielle’s childhood in the spot light and her chance for embarrassment.

Lila sat and yawned a few times. Gabrielle knew their ‘discuss’ would have to wait until tomorrow. Lila needed her rest and Gabrielle needed to experience a few topics she’d be ‘discuss’ with Lila.
Chapter 8
“You’re up early,” Xena commented as she returned to the stable with tea to find the bard already dressed. “I was hoping you’d still be naked,” the warrior replied with a wiggle of her eyebrow.

“I promised Lila we’d do some shopping at the merchant stalls today.” Gabrielle watched as the warrior cringed. “Don’t worry. You’re not invited,” she added. Xena suddenly looked hurt. “Do you want to come?” the bard asked in disbelieve.

Xena reflected briefly. “Nooo. . . but it would be nice if you asked.”

“Well, I told Lila we’d talk about ‘things’ and it would be easier for me if you’re not there.”

Xena pondered the comment. “You can do all these ‘things’ with me but you can’t talk about them with me?”

Gabrielle blushed. “Doing and talking are two different things,” Gabrielle offered.

Xena smiled. “I do love the things you do,” the warrior answered with a kiss to the bards earlobe. “I love it when you talk too. . .when the occasion arises,” she added with a wink, reminiscing about the night before.

“Lucky we were in the stables last night, huh?” the bard replied, slipping her arms around the warriors neck.

Xena’s lips captured the bards slowly and sensuously. “Absolutely,” she whispered, before going back to control the bard’s lips.

Gabrielle felt their body heat rising along with her tunic. Reluctantly she pulled away. “I’ve got to get going,” she said, straightening her garment.

Xena groaned in frustration. “Don’t be gone too long,” she relented. “There’s a place not far from here I want to show you. . .Very quiet, very secluded. It’s a place I think you’ll enjoy.”

“What is it?” Gabrielle asked impatiently.

“Oh no. I’m not telling. You’ll just have to get done with your little sex chat with your sister before the sun is high.”

Gabrielle was enthralled by the mysterious and mischievous look in her wife’s eyes. “Okay,” she drawled. “I’ll meet you at the inn then.”

Xena nodded and Gabrielle walked out to meet her sister. When she arrived at the tavern she met her mother and sister as they ate breakfast. Lila rose anxiously when Gabrielle entered.

“Are you ready?” the bard asked.

“Yeah. Sure,” she replied. “I’m going shopping with Gabrielle,” she said kissing her mother on the cheek as the two scurried away. Cyrene who was washing a table behind them witnessed the exchange.

“Remember when we had that much energy and spirit?” the warrior’s mother teased.

“It must be a dormant trait,” Hecuba smiled. “I don’t think I’ve ever had that much energy.”

Cyrene smiled before a thought occurred to her. “Do you quilt?” she asked.

“Yes. From time to time,” Hecubaa answered.

“They have a few quilt exhibits this year. Would you like to take a walk there with me after Xena takes over the kitchen?”

Hecuba smiled. “After listening to those stories last night do you think it’s wise to let Xena do the cooking?” she mused.

“The cooking is done,” Cyrene smiled. “All she has to do is serve. That, I’m sure, she can handle. What do you say?”

The bard’s mother smiled. “That sounds pleasant. Thank you.”

“No problem.”

^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

“Okay,” Gabrielle said to her sister, while riffling through some scarves. “What do you want to know?”

“Gods Gabrielle,” Lila whispered. “Do you have to be so . .so. . .”

“So what?” the bard asked.

“So . . .Outspoken.”

Gabrielle tried to comprehend just what Lila meant but it just wasn’t coming to her. “I thought you had questions . . .about me and Xena?”

Lila studied her sister trying to think of a starting point. “Well, how do you. . .you know . . .do it?”

Gabrielle had to laugh at the comment and she watched her sister blush. Finally she settled enough so she could speak. “Okay. Let’s See. How do we. . .do it? . . .It’s not all that different from what I did with Perticus. . .That’s not true,” the bard reflected. That’s not even a good comparison. “With Xena, there’s more.”

“Like what?” Lila asked inquisitively.

“I loved Perticus but it was more a friendship love. With Xena, she just looks at me the right way and my toes curl,” the bard had to giggle at her sappy equation. “But as far as how we ‘do it’ we use other parts of our bodies for the same effects.”

“Other parts?” Lila asked.

‘Oh Gods’, Gabrielle thought. ‘This is a lot harder than I thought.’

“Yes,” the bard finally replied. “Instead of a man . . .with his . . .” The bard found herself stumbling on her words but she was relieved that Lila could comprehend. ” . . . instead of that. . .we use other things, like our fingers . . .or our mouths.”

Lila looked like she’d been run down by a fully loaded horse and cart. Gabrielle had to laugh again – out of embarrassment for herself and her sister.

“You wanted to know,” Gabrielle replied.

Lila broke from the haze she was in to reply. “I know. I know. . .I just never imagined . . .”

“Well, now you do,” Gabrielle replied, going to another stall. Lila noticed Gabrielle had moved a few heartbeats later and bolted to catch up.

Lila looked past Gabrielle and noticed their mom with Cyrene. “Hey, look who’s here,” Lila pointed.

“Come on,” Gabrielle said as she spotted them, tugging her sister by the arm.

Gabrielle crept up behind Cyrene about to cover her eyes.

“I wouldn’t do that if I were you. You could get seriously hurt,” she replied dryly.

Gabrielle dropped from her offensive stance. “How do you two do that? Xena is exactly the same way. Do you have eyes in the back of your head?” the bard asked searching through Cyrene’s hair.

“I’ll never tell,” she said pulling the bard close by the waist. “Find anything good?” she asked, peeking in the bard’s satchel.

Gabrielle playfully smacked Cyrene’s hand. “No looking. Solstice is coming up and there just might be a gift in there for you.”

Cyrene and Gabrielle smiled at each other. Hecuba felt happy and nervous all at once. It was warming to know Gabrielle had a soulmate whose mother truly cared for her. It also made her anxious that she herself would no longer be needed as her true mother. She didn’t have long to fester in the conflicting emotions. She heard her name yelled in the marketplace with hostility.

All four turned and watched as Herodotus appeared. Quickly he walked over to his wife. “What do you think you’re doing here?” he spouted.

The fear showed on Hecuba and Lila’s faces. Cyrene and Gabrielle however stood stone faced. When the woman couldn’t find her voice Cyrene spoke for her.

“She just stopped by to enjoy the festival,” Cyrena challenged. “Gotta problem with that?”

The voice was gravely and oh so familiar, although the tone was deeper and older. For a brief moment, Gabrielle witnessed what Xena would sound like someday.

“Who the Tartarus are you?!” he asked defiantly.

“Someone who doesn’t like to see women ordered around like a two dinar whore,” she hissed.

Herodotus studied Cyrene for a moment before recognition washed over his face. “You’re the mother of that butcher aren’t you?” Cyrena didn’t let his words affect her. Thinking he had won he reached for Hecuba, violently tugging her arm.

Cyrene’s leg shot up breaking the connection. He looked shocked before she pushed him back. He charged and Cyrene whipped her hand back, stealing Gabrielle’s staff. Like lightening, the man was on his back side, a cloud of dust settling around him. She tossed the weapon back to the bard and leaned over the fallen man.

“The way I see it you have three choices: I can beat you senseless and throw you out of town . You can turn around quietly and walk out of town. Or you can start acting like a mature gentleman and discuss your problems peacefully with your wife. . .So tell me. . .What’s it gonna be?”

The townspeople and visitors watched the scene with a great deal of interest. Herodotus knew all eyes were on them. His eyes, however, refused to leave the deep blue of Cyrene’s. As gracefully as possible he backed down from a fight. Sensing his defeat Cyrene stepped back and offered her hand. Reluctantly he took it and she helped him get upright.

“Wise decision,” she commended with a grin. “Now let’s all get back to the inn and talk things over.”
Chapter 9
Gabrielle raced to the inn ahead of everyone. Xena was filling a mug of port when the bard rushed through the doors.

“Xena!” she said dashing toward the warrior, getting to the bar before Xena could even take a step.

“What’s wrong?!”

“My father’s here,” she answered short of breath.

“Where?” she asked ripping the apron off. “Did he hurt you?”

Gabrielle smiled. “No. He didn’t have the chance. Your mother . . .” the bard said trying to regain her wind.

“What is it?! What did he do to mom?” Xena’s voice was urgent. By the Gods she would have to kill that man.

“Nothing,” Gabrielle smiled with a pause. “She was phenomenal. She did things with my staff I never even seen Eponin do. . .It was. . .amazing.”

Just then the four returned, walking in casually. Xena started to stride toward them but Gabrielle grabbed her by the arm. “Please don’t,” she whispered. “Let them talk things out.”

Xena shifted her weight impatiently. “Gabri-

“Please Xena,” she urged again; this time grabbing both arms. “For me. . .Please.” Xena sighed and hung her head low. Gabrielle lifted the warriors chin with her fingertips. “Besides didn’t we have a date this afternoon?” she smiled shyly. “I gotta know the big mystery.”

Xena smiled with the remembrance of the plan. “Okay,” she agreed. “Let me pack a few things and then we’ll go.”

The bard nodded and joined the table with her family. As Xena brought the picnic basket over, she nodded toward her ‘father-in-law’. Gabrielle stood up and put a vise grip on Xena’s arm. “Are you ready Gabrielle?” she asked politely.

“Certainly,” she smiled. “We’ll be back a little bit later. We’ll see you then,” she commented to the table.

With a push and a gentle tug, the warrior followed Gabrielle out the door and to their mare. “So where are we going?” the bard asked with excited impatience.

“You’ll see Beautiful,” Xena smiled with a wink. “You’ll see.”
Chapter 10
“Whadda ya think?” Xena said proudly, pointing in the distance.

It was quite beautiful – the autumn hues of yellow, brown, red and orange surrounding them – but Gabrielle still wasn’t quite sure what was so special. The sight that Xena pointed to didn’t seem all that ‘magnificent’ but Gabrielle tried to be enthusiastic.

“That’s nice,” she replied. “A waterfall. . .but I don’t get it.”

“Come on,” Xena replied, slipping off Argo gracefully. “Let’s go for a swim.”

Gabrielle eyes widened. “Are you nuts? It’s too cold to go swimming,” she insisted.

Before she could pose another argument, Xena stripped off her clothing and jumped head first into the water, with so much as a splash. Gabrielle admired how much control Xena had over her body. When she jumped in it was like a bag of boulders being tossed but Xena caused barely a ripple.

When she resurfaced, the warrior motioned the bard with her finger. “Come on in,” she answered, stroking her wet hair back with her palms. “Or don’t you have the guts,” the warrior egged.

Gabrielle made her mind up. Soon her clothes were on the rocky ledge and she was contemplating just how cold that water was. Before she could talk herself out of it, she held her breath, jumping up as high as she could. She wrapped her arms around her legs and gave a huge splash that soaked the warrior. Xena smiled quietly and waited for her return.

“By the Gods!” Gabrielle exclaimed once she emerged. “I don’t believe it. . . .it’s . . . .it’s warm.”

Xena smiled and nodded.

“I don’t think anyone knows it but this pool is fed by a hot spring up there,” she said pointing. “I wouldn’t have know either but Lyceus fell in one autumn when we were kids. We promised we’d never tell anyone so we could have this place to ourselves long after summer was over. . .We promised when we both found mates the four of us would come here some autumn and spend the day swimming.” Xena’s voice had grown almost silent as she finished and she felt herself frowning. Quickly, she met Gabrielle’s eyes and she began to grin again.

Gabrielle pulled her closer. “Thank you,” she whispered. “Thank you for sharing this place with me.”

“I don’t think Lyceus will mind that I showed you,” the warrior grinned. “As a matter of fact, I’m sure he would have been quite fond of you. He had a wonderful habit of seeing the good in people. . .not unlike a certain bard I know,” she added with a wink.

Gabrielle grinned but began to study Xena. The warrior felt the bard’s examination. “What?” Xena asked in a chuckle.

Gabrielle shifted her head to the other side before she began. “Would you tell me more . . .about Lyceus I mean. . .I know you don’t like to talk about-

“What do you want to know?” Xena asked taking a deep breath.

“What was he like? How did he look?” Gabrielle replied, giving the warrior a starting place.

“He looked a lot like my dad from what I remember. Sandy brown hair, dark eyes. . . .Taurus and I favored mother more but Ly looked more like my father. . .He and I would practice swords together – they weren’t real; just sticks. We climbed trees. We wrestled. We rode horses. . .He was my best friend. . . We were inseparable. . .at least I thought. . .A big part of me died the day he was killed. . .And I still think about him everyday.”

“I wish I could have met him,” Gabrielle replied, stroking the warrior’s face.

“Me too,” the warrior croaked.

Gabrielle moved to rub the tear that had cascaded down Xena’s cheek but quickly the warrior ducked under the water. Xena popped up behind Gabrielle giving her a splash. Gabrielle grinned and turned around before paddling toward her lover. “Are you alright?” the bard asked concerned, given the recent discussion topic.

“Yeah. I’m okay,” Xena grinned. “Besides I came here not to cry, but to play. Wanna play with me?” the warrior asked wiggling her eyebrow.

“I’d love to play,” the bard answered just as seductively, trying to get back to lighter conversation.

“Come to me,” Xena whispered floating backwards toward the waterfall.

It wasn’t a large fall by any means but it felt quite refreshing and relaxing against one’s back. It wasn’t pounding or trickling. As Xena leaned into the fall with closed eyes, she became reacquainted with just how glorious this place felt. She could literally feel her tension floating away with the current.

Gabrielle paused a moment to admire how beautiful her love looked. When she could stand it no longer she eased in front of the warrior. Carefully her tongue captured a few droplets that were cascading down the warrior’s breasts. The water; the skin. Both tastes delighted the bard and she couldn’t suppress her moan against the sweetness of it.

With the water massaging her back and Gabrielle massaging her front, Xena felt like she was in Elysia. She looked down to meet the bards eyes. Gabrielle stopped her administrations to meet the ardent gaze of her warrior.

“I’ll always adore you Beautiful,” the warrior whispered. “Always.”

“Me too warrior mine,” the bard replied, taking the warrior’s earlobe between her lips. “Me too.”

Xena rational thought escaped at that point. She simply gave into the sights and sounds and touches of her amazon queen. Yet again she let Gabrielle weave her magic around her heart.
Chapter 11
It was late afternoon when the duo arrived back in town. Gabrielle and Xena both enjoyed playing in the warm spring. Getting out however was a problem. Chilly winds on wet bodies produce the most amazing affects on the female body. At least that’s the way Xena put it to the chattering bard.

When they walked into the tavern they noticed Lila serving some port to some obnoxious men, who pawed at her skirt. Xena as about to charge over but Taurus beat her to the punch. He walked over and causally told the men ‘the brothel was that way’ as he pointed. He added ‘if that’s what they were after, that’s where they should go’. He tossed them a dinar and told them to have a little bit of fun for him. They all chuckled heartily and ordered another round of ports with the promise Lila was off limits.

Xena admired Taurus. He brought the peace without cracking heads. She knew if she had gotten there first all three men would be in the horse trough by now. When Cyrene came from the kitchen they walked over.

“Where are my parents?” Gabrielle asked.

Cyrene looked uncomfortable with the question. “She went back home with him,” she replied softly. She didn’t add more. She didn’t need to. Gabrielle knew the answer.

“What about Lila?” Gabrielle asked.

Cyrene grinned. “She refused to leave without saying good-bye. I told your mom you and Xena would bring her back home. . .Here, your mother wanted you to have this.”

Gabrielle examined the scroll before opening it and Cyrene turned to Xena. “Think you could help me move some things in the kitchen little one?” she said to her daughter.

“Certainly. Lead the way,” she motioned. She looked over her shoulder as Gabrielle began to read the scroll.

“Dearest Gabrielle,” it began. “I wish I could tell you good-bye face to face but your father insists that we leave. I don’t have much time but let me say that I’ve looked into Xena’s eyes and I see the love she has for you. You travel at her side and she sees all the brightness you bring to this world. I always hoped you’d find a man who could see you for who you are. . .You don’t have a man to do that for you but you do have someone – I think that someone is mighty special too. There are many sides to Xena I never saw until last night. You made the right choice my dear – no matter what anyone tells you. Take care and visit me soon. Love, mother.”

Xena returned from the kitchen to find the bard’s eyes filled with tears. “What did she say?” Xena asked, fearing the worse.

Gabrielle wrapped her arms around Xena’s waist and rested her head on her bosom. “She sees,” Gabrielle whispered softly. “I never thought it would happen but she sees.”

Xena read the parchment as the bard held onto her. When she finished she kissed her wife on the top of her head. “I think you made the right choice too,” Xena smiled.

Gabrielle pulled away and took the parchment from Xena. “We should take Lila back tomorrow,” Gabrielle stated. “I don’t need to get her into any more trouble with my father.”

“I agree,” Xena replied. “Besides all these people in town make me edgy.”

Gabrielle smiled. “Yeah but at least it’s not Athens. You’re as jumpy as a cat there.” The bard reached out, grabbing the warriors arm. In the same instant she made a hissing noise and sharp meow, which made the warrior laugh.

“Please Gabrielle,” Xena said trying to look serious. “Save those noises for when we’re alone.”

Gabrielle smacked her playfully as Lila came up. “Now what are you two up to?”

“Not much; just a little tormenting,” Gabrielle smiled. “How about we get outta here tomorrow and head home? Xena’s had about all she can stand of the festival life and I really don’t want to keep you any longer with Dad already angry.”

Lila looked at her feet, shifting nervously from side to side. “Actually I was wondering if I could go with you back to the Amazons. I mean you were heading there next weren’t you?”

Gabrielle tried to get the stunned look off her face before her sister looked up. Xena sensed Gabrielle’s discomfort and fielded this question.

“Why do you want to go to Arborea?” Xena asked, inquisitively.

“I’m not sure. I’ve never saw an Amazon and since Gabrielle said she’s queen and all. . .I thought I’d like to see the place.”

Sounded like a good enough reason to Xena but that didn’t mean that Gabrielle reciprocated. So Xena offered Lila an answer that was agreeable to everyone. “I’ll tell you what Lila. Gabrielle and I will consider it. It’s very dangerous on the road and I’m not sure if we’re up to watching over you. It’s been a pretty stressful week. . .Whatever we decide it will be for your own good. Understand?”

Lila smiled and nodded. ‘At least they didn’t flat out reject me’ she pondered as she went back to the kitchen to begin serving again.

“Thank you,” Gabrielle whispered. “I didn’t know what to tell her. What are we going to do?”

Xena grinned. “We’ll talk about it tonight like I told Lila and then, in the morning, we’ll give her an answer.”

Gabrielle stroked her warrior’s face. “I really love you. Always there for the save,” she giggled.

“Like I’ve said. It’s a position I’m very grateful to fill,” Xena replied kissing Gabrielle’s cheek. “So don’t forget.”
Chapter 12
Lila was surprised when Xena and Gabrielle announced they would be taking her to the amazons. But they insisted stopping by her parents’ home to let them know where is was and that she was, for the most part, safe. The first night was quiet with all three sleeping in the same bedroll for warmth.

When they returned to Poteidaia, Hecuba warmly greeted all three. Herodotus still barely acknowledged the warrior and spoke little to Gabrielle. They were going to leave that afternoon but Hecuba insisted that they stay for the evening. Lila offered her room over the grumbling of Herodotus but Xena insisted they would stay in the stables and be gone at daybreak. Hecuba agreed but only if they came in for breakfast before leaving.

After the meal of potatoes, eggs and some bacon the trio readied for their departure. It was an educational experience for the warrior. She learned where Gabrielle got her cooking skills. As they packed Argo, they noticed Herodotus standing by the barn doors.

“Xena,” he called. “A moment with you please.”

‘Oh Gods’, the warrior thought as she watched the man standing before her with his hand on his hips. “Sure,” she replied vocally.

Slowly the warrior walked outside to meet him.

“You know how I feel about all this. . .I can’t help but feel you’re stealing another daughter of mine. . .Just keep her safe too okay?”

Xena could have sworn she saw the man’s lips curl just as tad in the smallest of grins. “I will,” Xena promised.

With a nod he turned and walked back into the house. Gabrielle and Lila lead Argo from the stable. “Everything okay?” the bard asked. “What did he say?”

“He wants to make sure you’re both taken care off. I told him I would. . .Give him time Gabrielle. Maybe he’ll come around,” the warrior added.

“I’m not gonna hold my breath,” the bard smiled.

Xena had to smile too. “Me neither but anything is possible. . .Are we ready?”

The bard nodded and the trio were on soon on the north road to Arborea.

^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

“Heads up” Xena smiled as they entered the Amazon territory.

Lila looked at Gabrielle in confusion. “The guards are in the trees,” the queen explained.

Seconds later the ropes dropped and they were surrounded. Lila grabbed Gabrielle’s arm for protection. Gabrielle found herself grinning at the innocence of her sister. It seemed like ages that she had the same wide-eyed wonder and a part of her ached at that very moment at her ‘loss of innocence’. Xena, noticing Gabrielle’s arm was ‘occupied’, gave the friendly gesture alerting the amazons of their status within the tribe.

Xena recognized the mask before the woman behind it showed herself. “Hello Solari,” she grinned. The amazon warrior pushed the facial covering back and hugged Xena firmly.

“Hi there yourself stranger,” she whispered. She turned to quickly to Gabrielle. “How are you my queen?” she asked, beginning to bow.

“Cut the queen crap and get over her,” she said opening her arms to accept Solari. “It’s good to see.”

“You too. I’m sure Regent Ephany will be pleased with your arrival.” With that Solari motioned the runner, who took off into a sprint. Solari then watched Lila peek out from behind Gabrielle’s back. She seemed so shy, delicate. Long dark hair, bright blue eyes, petite nose and sculptured lips. Solari felt suddenly smitten. She tried to find a sense of peace as she asked, “Who’s your traveling companion?”

“Solari this is my sister Lila. My biological sister – not an amazon,” she added for some unknown reason. Maybe it was the scrutiny of Solari’s eyes that forced her to include the last fact.

Solari fell to one knee briefly before quickly rising. “It’s an honor to meet you,” Solari nodded casually.

“Likewise,” Lila smiled, still unsure of her surroundings.

‘That smile. That beautiful smile’. Solari realized she was staring at the young woman, the sister of her queen no less. Although she knew she was a brave warrior who had seen many battles, she didn’t feel worthy to be giving the queen’s sister such an intense gaze. She cleared her throat before turning to the party.

“May I escort you all back to the village?” Solari asked formally.

“Of course,” Gabrielle replied.

The walk to the village was relatively quiet. Solari and Xena took the lead with Gabrielle and Lila following behind. Neither noticed the other, but both women watched hypnotically, following the sway of the women in front of them. Lila began to wonder if Solari was familiar with the things she and Gabrielle had discussed. When Solari looked back ‘to check on her queen’ she gave Lila a lingering smile. ‘Oh yeah’ Lila figured with a sly grin. ‘I bet she knows. . .and then some.’
Chapter 13
Ephany was tickled to see the group arrive. She hugged all of them – even Lila to whom she was just introduced. Xena noticed the once ‘stand-offish’ amazon regent had softened yet remained a powerful leader. She held the right combination of respect for her people without being a push-over and she did it without instilling fear. Xena admired that; even envied it.

After some brief conversation and catching up, Gabrielle turned to Xena. “Why don’t you show Lila around while I discuss something with my regent?”

“Trying to get rid of me are you?” Xena teased.

“Only for a little while and only if you promise to come back,” Gabrielle smiled.

Xena walked next to Gabrielle who was sitting in a chair in the royal hut. “I promise. I’ll be back,” Xena whispered.

Ephany watched wide-eyed as the warrior leaned down and took the bard’s lips with her own. She watched her queen’s hands encompass the back of the warrior’s head drawing her closer. As the warrior pulled away the bard sighed in approval. “Don’t be gone too long,” Gabrielle called as her wife and her sister, exited the hut. Ephany couldn’t find a single word to say and Gabrielle laughed at her expression. “Would you like me to pick your jaw up off the floor before someone trips on it?” the queen joked.

With a snap the regent shut her mouth. “I’m sorry . . .I just wasn’t expecting . . .THAT!”

“Yeah sometimes I get caught by surprise myself. . .Xena is certainly not dull.” The Queen found herself blushing at her own comment.

“Apparently not,” Ephany agreed with a teasing grin.

The two women studied each other for a moment. “Anyway,” Gabrielle spoke. “The reason for our visit is not just social I have a favor to ask.”

“Ask away,” Ephany offered.

“This summer Xena and I were married on Lesbo. I’d like you to announce that the queen as chosen a consort and we would like you to do the honor of making it official in the eyes of the amazon nation.”

“Oh Gabrielle,” Ephany answered, rushing over practically smothering the queen in an embrace before pulling away. “I’d be proud. You have no idea how much this will mean to the nation. . .I’m so happy for you.”

“Thank you,” Gabrielle replied. “Do you think we could do this tonight? I mean the announcement.”

“Certainly,” Ephany answered. “We’re having a banquet in honor of your return so it would be a wonderful time to announce the plans.”

“Thanks again Ephany,” Gabrielle offered once more. “You’re a wonderful friend. There have been so many times I wouldn’t have known what to do without you.”

“You too,” the regent replied. “You and Xena both helped bring Xenon into this world. I can’t thank you enough for seeing me through the happiest yet most painful time of my life. I lost a husband and gained a son in the course of a few days. I’m glad you stood by me.”

“Come here,” Gabrielle said opening her arms, before the two embraced again. “So on to other important things. What’s on the menu tonight?” she joked as Ephany joined her in her laughter.
Chapter 14
Ephany rose from the table and raised her glass. “Sister amazons,” she began.

At that moment Gabrielle felt a knot tighten in her stomach. “I have an announcement,” the regent continued, glancing for the queen’s approval. Gabrielle gave a nod of encouragement, letting her know to go on. “Queen Gabrielle has chosen a consort. She has asked me if I would do the honor of joining her and her suitor, Xena of Amphipolis, in a bonding ceremony.”

A barrage of claps and whistles and war cries filled the square with approval. Ephany expected the village would be supportive of the union.

“As a formality,” the regent said teasingly, which brought a few laughs through the crowd, “I must ask if anyone would like to challenge for the queen’s hand.” No one made a move. “Oh come on,” Ephany continued to joke, “Isn’t there anyone here who’d like to take on the warrior princess for the hand of our lovely queen?”

In the distance someone shouted. “Hades no! We enjoy breathing!” That brought another roll of laughter through the banquet area, making the warrior blush.

“Okay,” Ephany smiled. “Point well taken. . .And one last point. Is there anyone here crazy and silly enough to speak out against this prospective union?”

As Ephany said the final words an explosion rocked the tables and benches. A few huts even swayed with the impact tremor. The majority of amazons took cover on the ground – Xena, Gabrielle and Lila included. Looking up from the smoke and dust that began to dissipate, Xena noticed a figure emerge.

“You inferior mortal!” the figure said, stalking closer. “How dare you take something as meaningful as MY Queen’s bonding so lightly?”

Ephany found she was having a hard time breathing – a pressure tight around her neck refused to let any air flow. She sank to her knees, gasping for every little breath she could get.

“Know this amazons. I am your Goddess, Artemis. . .And I refuse to let the hand of my queen be given to this weak mortal! The Queen will be joined only to one of amazon blood.”

Gabrielle listened to Artemis’ words but her eyes stayed focused on Ephany, struggling harder and harder to breath. She shrugged off Xena’s protective arm and raced to Ephany’s side. Xena followed suite, ordering Lila to stay put.

“Your days of travel are over my queen. Only one of amazon blood is worthy for travel with you. You must stay in the village until you have wed under my requirement. Then and only then will you be allowed to leave Arborea with your consort.”

With a wave of her hand, Ephany began to breathe again in a huge gasp. She collapsed on the ground, trying to regulate the air back into her lungs. Artemis crept closer to the trio on the ground before turning before her nation.

“Gabrielle will rule as my queen. Any harm to her will be harm to you. . .And as for you my queen,” the goddess replied, reaching down stroking her face, “you will heed my wishes or your people will suffer a terrible price.”

Gabrielle moved away and gathered Ephany in her arms, stroking the regent’s hair reassuringly. With a blinding blue light the goddess disappeared. “It’s my fault,” Ephany croaked. “If I had treated this announcement more sincerely-

“She still would have been here Ephany. Of course your throat would feel better than it does now but. . . it’s not your fault,” Gabrielle replied.

The bard looked to Xena. She wanted reassurance. She wanted a plan. “What are we going to do?” Gabrielle asked, the worry and sorrow filled her voice.

Xena couldn’t meet Gabrielle’s eyes. “I don’t know what we can do. . .I don’t know.”

“There must be something. . .” The bard said reaching out to grasp Xena’s arm.

“Argggg!” both women cringed in unison. Gabrielle’s fingers were hot and tingling. Xena’s arm at the location the bard touched felt the same. They looked at each other in despair.

“I can’t . . .I can’t even touch you,” Gabrielle managed to reply.

Out of reaction to see the bard tear up the warrior reached for her once more, with the same effects.

“Oh gods, Xena. What are we gonna do?” the bard pleaded with more urgency in her voice.

Xena watched helplessly as the tears fell down Gabrielle’s cheeks, unable to stop them or even wipe them away. “I don’t know,” Xena whispered honestly. “I don’t know.”
Chapter 15
“She should have never taken the mask,” Xena whispered hostile.

Xena wasn’t the only one with fine hearing. The regent picked up on it. “Well, I didn’t see you stop her,” Ephany shot back.

“Sorry,” Xena replied sarcastically. “I had my own troubles. I was a little bit dead at the time.”

The five women stood, sat or paced in the royal hut – Xena, Gabrielle, Ephany, Solari and Lila. There had to be something that could be done. Xena was never one to give up but a day had passed with no solution. They debated back and forth, trying to keep their voices down. Hearing argument now between their leaders would do no good to the already shaken villagers.

“Tell me again why I can’t give the mask away?” Gabrielle replied after another exchange.

“You heard Artemis,” Ephany answered. “She has chosen you. No one else. If you give the mask away who knows what she would do to you and this village.”

Xena grinned inward. Gabrielle was ready to give up her throne for her, if need be. Her admiring thoughts, however, were broken by Gabrielle’s voice.

“Would everyone please leave?” she asked softly. “I need to speak with Xena.”

The regent and her guard looked at one another as Lila rose.

“Sure,” her sister replied, making her way outside the hut.

Ephany added, “We’ll be outside if you need us.” Gabrielle simply nodded, studying the look on Xena’s face.

Xena sighed uneasily. Gabrielle made a motion for the warrior but stopped herself. She was beginning to remember the physical pain the shock would bring as their bodies touched.

“I’m not sure how to say this,” Gabrielle began with the weep heavy in her voice. “I never thought I would say this. . .”

At first Xena was unsure what the bard was conveying but realization began to take hold of her. “No Gabrielle. Don’t say it. We’ll find a way around this curse – together. We can-

“I can’t Xena. . . because this is no longer about just us. The lives of every one of those women out there is in my hands. . .Please leave,” the last words were spoken just above a whisper.

“And go where?!” Xena cried angrily. “And do what?!”

“I don’t know!” Gabrielle replied just as fiercely. “All I know is if you stay here I run the risk of Artemis striking out at these women. . . The longer we wait the sooner Artemis will return. . .You saw what happened to Ephany.”

“You’re walking out on us just like that?” Xena asked, her eyes moist now with unshed tears.

Gabrielle met Xena eye to eye. “No. I’m saving my people,” she whispered. “I’m not asking you to leave forever just . . .” Gabrielle didn’t really know how long she would need so she changed her train of thought. “Just go home,” she finally added.

Xena closed her eyes and the tears sitting there began to roll down her beautiful cheeks. “But you are my home,” Xena answered. “Just like I’m yours.”

Gabrielle wrapped her arms around her chest and began to sob loudly. She wanted to reach out and touch the aching warrior. She wanted to show this woman just how much she did truly mean to her life. “Please Xena,” Gabrielle cried. “Oh Gods, don’t make this harder than it already is.”

Xena was angry – no – hurt. As she roughly grabbed her saddle bag and began loading her belongs. She stopped and looked at Gabrielle. The bard began to speak. “I know you’re mad –

“No,” Xena cut her off, now crying as well. “I’m not mad. Not at you. . .I’m . . .I’m. . .heartbroken. . . My rage is with Artemis, not with you. I can see why you’re doing this but I don’t agree with it. . .We’ve handled everything together. . .everything. . .”

Xena trailed off as she stuffed her last night shirt in the bag, flinging it over her shoulder. Slowly she took a few deep sighs, gathering her nerves together before she faced the pack of curious amazon’s outside. She waved casually to Gabrielle, “I’ll see ya around,” she whispered, trying to be a carefree as possible.

Gabrielle raced over. ‘To Hades with Artemis’ curse’. She pulled the warrior to her and planted her lips firmly on Xena’s lips. Both women summed up all of their strength to induce the torturous pain the shock was sending through their bodies. When they broke away, they took a moment to regain their breath.

“Come back home soon,” Gabrielle whispered. “I’ll be waiting for you.”

“Will you?” Xena asked. “I don’t want to see you waste your life Gabri-

“Finding a solution to this problem will never be a waste, even if it takes my entire lifetime. Please come back. Promise me?”

Xena looked into the bard’s eyes. The woman’s love was true; the most genuine thing she saw in all her travels. “I promise,” Xena whispered, beginning to tear up again. “I better go.”

Without waiting for Gabrielle’s reaction she left the hut. A few amazons watched as she strolled quickly to the stables. Minutes later she emerged upon the mare and was galloping out of the ‘city’. All three women who had been in the queen’s hut earlier watched as the warrior left.

“I’ll go talk to her,” Lila offered.

“No,” Ephany insisted. “Let me. Solari could you please see Lila to the tailor for her new attire?”

“Certainly,” Solari nodded. “This way Princess Lila,” Solari nodded.

Lila had to grin. It was the first time anyone called her by a title. After a brief discussion the day when the trio arrived, it was decided that since Lila was blood to the queen, she was a princess.

Once the two women were on their way, Ephany walked over and knocked on the Queen’s door.

“Who is it?” Gabrielle asked softly.

“Ephany. Could I please come in and speak with you Gabrielle? Please?”

Gabrielle could tell by the tone in Ephany’s voice that Ephany was worried, perhaps sorrowful. Gabrielle knew at that moment that Xena had done as she was asked. The warrior princess left.

When Gabrielle opened the door and Ephany walked in, the bard burst into tears all over again. All Ephany could do was hold her and rock her. She knew what it felt like – losing a soulmate – and she knew she had no words to take it away. So the regent held her queen close to her chest and tried to squeeze some of the pain from her heart.
Chapter 16
“If I may be so bold princess, I’d say you look quite beautiful,” the tailor replied, finishing a few stitches on the skirt.

“Thank you,” Lila blushed. She turned and faced her escort. “What do you think Solari?”

The question totally caught the always alert guard ‘off-guard’ and she found herself fumbling. “I . . .I. . I think. . .she’s right. I think you look beautiful.” Now Solari felt herself blush and she quick reprimanded herself. ‘Amazons don’t blush. We are brave warriors. We don’t allow emotions to interfere with our duties.’ Slowly Solari’s eyes traveled the length of Lila’s body coming to rest at the deep blue eyes. ‘Oh Hades, who am I kidding? She’s gorgeous.’

“All set,” the tailor interrupted. Both women broke eye contact to see the tailor.

“Thank you,” Lila replied. “Should we go now?” she asked Solari.

“Certainly my princess,” Solari answered giving a small bow.

Lila giggled. “Please don’t call me that,” she said shyly. “For some reason when you say that it feels. . .I don’t know. . .funny.”

“What would you prefer?” Solari asked.

“Lila is fine or hey you,” she grinned. “I’ll answer to just about anything.”

“Anything?” Solari teased. The warrior suddenly felt a level of comfort and confidence with her young princess. The tailor shot the warrior a knowing grin before going to busy herself in the back room.

“I said just about anything,” Lila replied with a coy grin.

Solari felt a boldness strike her deeply and she found herself closing the distance between herself and Lila. “Gorgeous? Would you answer to Gorgeous?”

Lila could feel a fear of the unknown creeping over her body. The warrior was getting closer by the second. She didn’t want to do anything to scare Solari and she didn’t want to put her foot in her mouth either.

“It depends on who was saying it – A drunk in a bar or a dark, beautiful warrior?”

Solari felt herself grinning now too. “How about a dark, beautiful, drunk warrior in bar?” she said trying to lighten the air surrounding them. Lila picked up on it but she didn’t want this little seduction to end.

“Would you happen to be the warrior?” Lila replied boldly, surprising herself and her village chaperon. She watched Solari’s eyes widened briefly before gathering her warrior strength.

“Would that make a difference?” Solari asked honestly, hanging impatiently for a reply.

Lila moved a little closer, locking eyes with the ebony-haired amazon. “Yes,” she whispered huskily. “It would.”

“Well,” Solari smiled. “Since we’re finished here, maybe I could take you to the orchards. We could get some fruits for your sister – a small token of some kind. And perhaps later I could escort you to dinner tonight?”

“That sounds like a wonderful idea,” Lila grinned.

The gesture didn’t last long and it was mostly for show. She wanted to know that although she did enjoy the idea of Solari’s proposal, she felt guilty for feeling so happy at this moment when just across the village her sister was more than likely in tears. Solari noted the change that swept through Lila.

“Are you sure?” Solari questioned. “I wouldn’t want to impose on your time here. You look a bit undeceive.”

“It’s not that,” Lila reassured touching Solari’s arm. Suddenly she felt distracted by the texture of the smooth skin and the harden muscles underneath. She removed her hand, almost in a jerking motion when she felt it lingering too long. “I’m worried about Gabrielle, that’s all.”

Solari smiled. “They are both very resourceful,” the warrior complimented Xena and her queen. “I’m sure they will find some resolve to this problem. They’ve faced worse after all.”

“What do you mean?” Lila asked.

Solari realized it would be best if she kept her mouth closed. She wasn’t sure just how well Lila knew her sister and her many exploits with Xena. ‘That’s it’ Solari said silently as she deduced an answer.

“Life on the road is, at best, difficult,” Solari offered. “They’ve faced many. . .battles. . . I’m positive they will find a solution.”

That answer pleased Lila and Solari sighed inwardly. “Well, maybe we should head to the orchard,” Lila replied.

“Certainly,” Solari said with a nod.

Lila scolded Solari with her eyes for the royal gesture. Solari quickly apologized and they both left the hut with a smile. Upon traveling to the orchard Solari grabbed a bushel basket and they heading into the trees. They picked cherries, apples and pears for their queen, making sure to grab only the freshest ones. The chatted about their lives – Solari spoke of her early childhood amazon customs and Lila told Solari about life in Poteidaia. Suddenly in mid-sentence, Lila stopped and clutched her hand as she yelped.

Solari, who was a few feet away, rushed to her princess’ side. “What’s the matter?” she asked concerned.

Lila showed Solari her right index finger. “Something bite me,” she winced.

Solari examined the ‘wound’. And she grew concerned. “You haven’t been bitten,” Solari replied, gently holding Lila’s hand. “You’ve been stung. . .Have you been stung before?”

Solari watched a friend in childhood die from such an infliction unable to breathe. A warrior also died two summers ago and she was grown. Some people could fight the poison of the bee, others could not. And she was worried.

“Yes,” Lila replied. “When I was a child, Gabrielle was playing in the yard when my mom made me fetch her for dinner. Damn thing bite me on the back of the neck.”

Solari sighed and took Lila’s hand more firmly. “I have to get the stinger and the poison out, okay? This may hurt a little,” she warned.

Lila nodded quickly and held her breath. Solari maneuvered Lila’s hand into the dwindling sunlight. As fast as possible she captured the singer between her fingernails and pulled it out. Lila groaned but kept her hand still. Next Solari raised the injured finger to her lips and sucked on the tip, trying to draw any poison that had settled there.

Solari’s suction on her flesh, sent a shot to Lila’s sex like quicksilver. She tried to focus on breathing again but the feel of the warrior’s wet lips on her finger did nothing to help. The young princess’ eyes were fixed on Solari and even when the warrior turned her head to spit out the poison, it looked sexy. ‘Oh Lila’, the young princess told herself. ‘You are in big trouble if you find even that arousing’. Lila began to wonder what those lips would feel like on her shoulders, her lips, her breasts . . .her. . . other lips. The princess shook her head to get her attention back. The motion caught Solari’s eye.

“Are you okay?” the dark-haired warrior asked. She still had hold of the princess’ hand and lightly began to message the injured finger. Lila could feel her pulse raising as fast as her illicit thoughts.

“Yes,” she croaked. She had to clear her throat before she continued. “I’m fine. . .It’s just. . .” She was unsure of how much to reveal at this moment. ‘What the Tarturus’, she thought. “That feels really good. Maybe too good. Maybe you should stop now.”

Solari grinned at the honesty. “Do you want me to stop?” Solari whispered. “You are my princess you know? I do as you order me.”

Lila felt herself back into the apple tree as the warrior crept closer. “You do huh?” the ‘new amazon’ asked, trying to sound conversational.

“Oh yes,” Solari answered huskily. She didn’t want Lila misunderstanding her intent. “What would you like me to do?” Solari teased. “Should I work on extracting some more poison?” she asked. Without waiting for a reply, Solari took the fingertip in her mouth once more. But instead of sucking she let her tongue roll around the digit. Lila closed her eyelids and could feel her eyes rolling into the back of her head.

Now Lila wasn’t a tramp. But she was no stranger to love either. There were a couple boys in the village she had dated since Gabrielle’s departure. All the kisses and pecks she’d received felt nothing like this moment. ‘So this is what Gabrielle meant by curling toes’, Lila thought. She grinned at the conversation she had with her sister about why she loved Xena so much. Solari took the smile as encouragement to continue in her task.

“Is there anything else I can do for you my princess?”

It sounded more like a beg than a question. Lila opened her eyes to find Solari’s eyes locked on her face, studying her lips. The warriors fingers came up and began to trace them. Something odd began to happen. Lila could feel herself grow wet and she had the overwhelming desire to feel contact, any contact, against the wetness. She moaned, trying to block herself from lowering her hand to her center.

“Oh gods,” Lila whispered. “What’s happening to me?”

Solari smiled at her innocence. “It’s called desire,” Solari replied softly. “It’s called passion. . .It’s called want.”

Lila closed her eyes again and moaned, “Yes. . .Want.”

“Want what?” Solari asked coyly.

Lila moaned again. “You,” she whispered. “I want you to kiss me.”

Solari pulled the young woman closer by the waist, crushing her against her. Lila eyes shot open but quickly closed again when Solari captured her lips. When Solari’s tongue pierced through, stroking the inside of her mouth, the young woman seriously thought she was going to swoon. The warrior noticed the sway of her love’s legs and offered her support. Lila took it by placing her hands on Solari’s shoulders. Of course this gesture only left her weaker to stand as the desire between her legs grew stronger.

Solari’s hands caressed Lila’s sides gently, protectively. Lila, however, had other plans for the warrior’s hands. She took Solari’s forearm and guided her southward. She let her hand float down Solari’s arm to her fingers. Both women moaned when Solari’s fingers made contact with Lila’s wetness.

The young amazon broke the kiss first and set to work on the warrior’s neck. Solari tilted her head, offering her flesh to the hungry young woman. Her princess. The sister of her queen. With that thought Solari tensed and Lila felt it.

“What’s wrong?” Lila asked breathlessly.

Solari disengaged herself from Lila as easily as possible. “I think we should slow things down a bit,” the warrior answered sounding just as winded as her princess.

Lila looked at her feet, far away from Solari’s eyes. “Did I do something wrong?” she asked quietly.

Solari looked surprised at first but she didn’t want Lila to see that reaction. Once in check, she lifted Lila’s chin with her fingertips. “You did nothing wrong,” Solari smiled. “If anything, you did everything too right,” she chuckled. “I don’t know about you but I’d much rather make love some place more. . .romantic. . .or at least less dangerous. We could be spending the evening picking stingers out of each other’s behinds.”

Lila giggled and agreed. “Yes I could think of a better way to spend the night with you.” The grin began to fade and the look of ardent desire returned.

“Oh no,” Solari said holding up her hands. “Don’t start looking at me like that. I just made a promise to take things slow here. You keep looking at me like that and you’ll make a liar out of me,” she added with a smile.

Lila smiled again too. “Come on,” she said taking Solari’s hand in hers. “Let’s get these to Gabrielle. What do you say?”

“Anything you wish your highness,” Solari grinned. “Anything you wish.”
Chapter 17
Argo was tiring. Xena could feel the animal growing sluggish. She pulled the reins close to her bringing her mare to a sliding stop. Feeling the distress of her mistress the horse tried to change direction, heading back from where she just came, but Xena tightened her hold.

“It’s okay Argo,” Xena reassured. She could hear her voice betraying her words though. “It’s okay,” she whispered again.

Xena began to sob loudly and the palomino whinnied in response. The horse understood things were not okay. Her mistress was in tears and the short woman she had come to expect wasn’t with them. She began to prance, growing upset herself.

Xena gave up. She dismounted and stroked the cream hued mane. “Let’s take a break, huh girl? Does that sound like a good idea?” the warrior whispered. “Go on,” she added pointing at a near by meadow.

She watched the mare take a spot, nibbling on some grass. The warrior was jealous. The animal could calm itself so easily. After a few moments, she fell to her knees and cried in agony. She ached, literally, for Gabrielle. Her stomach hurt, her head hurt, her lungs hurt. She felt like she’d been in another fight with a harpy . . .and lost. She started to wipe her tears away slowly but she suddenly shot to her feet, sword in hand.

“I told you this would happen but ya just couldn’t listen could ya Xena,” the God of War began.

“Get away from me Ares,” Xena balked. “I don’t have time for this.”

He stood for a moment, studying the warrior. “YOU are a mess. Look at you. You’re not a warrior . . .Any self respecting warrior of mine wouldn’t waste this much time over a broken heart. Get over it Xena.”

“First of all, I’m not your warrior anymore Ares. And second the only waste of my time is conversing with you.”

“Oh come on Xena,” Ares egged. “You’re more mine now than ever. Think about it. You want Artemis’ head on a platter right now. You’d kill her in a flash if you thought you could succeed. . .What if I told you I could help make that happen?”

Xena smiled. “You never give up. . .I will say this about you Ares. You are persistent. . . Thanks but no thanks.”

Xena began to walk to Argo. “You’re just going to go back to Amphipolis then?” The warrior ignored his comments. “Fine. Run back to Mommy. She’ll make it all better right? What you need is revenge Xena! Don’t let Artemis take away the only thing that truly mattered to you!”

Xena stopped and turned to face him. “How do you know what ‘truly matters’ to me? You’ve never known me Ares – Not the real me. . .Take a good look because here I am. I am Gabrielle’s soulmate – not a destroyer of nations, not a warrior of justice. My one and only purpose in life is Gabrielle.”

Ares grinned. “Yeah I heard your little declaration on Lesbo. . . To be honest, I DO understand at least ONE thing that you see in her.” Xena noticed his eyes wonder off with his racing thoughts. She snapped her fingers to get his attention back.

“That happens to be MY wife you’re daydreaming about,” Xena warned.

Ares grinned. “Don’t worry. You were in it too.”

“Comforting to know,” Xena smirked as she walked toward Argo.

Ares watched Xena for another moment before materialized beside her as she mounted the horse. The two warriors locked eyes. “You were my best,” he said quietly. “I’m never going to get you back though am I?”

Xena shook her head lightly but the conviction was strong behind it. “No,” she replied in a similar relaxed tone.

Ares nodded. “Okay,” he began. “I’ll do you a favor.” Xena began to argue but Ares raised his hand to stop her. “For old times sake,” he continued.

“No way Ares. I know that help from the Gods comes with a price. I’m not buying whatever you’re selling.”

“Trust me Xena,” he said forcefully. “The answer to getting Gabrielle back lies in Amphipolis.”

“Why should I trust you?” Xena replied getting annoyed.

“I asked you to trust me in Britannia and you didn’t. Look at the price you paid for not listening.”

“Jeez Ares,” Xena said sarcastically. “I didn’t think you cared.”

“Okay. I guess I deserved that one,” he admitted. “But know this Xena: If you want Gabrielle, do as she said. Go home.”

Xena was torn. She wanted to believe Ares just this once. Maybe the answered did lie in her hometown. Then again, Ares was . . .well Ares. . .and it could just be another elaborate game he had planned. The God of War could feel Xena’s conflicting thoughts and emotions.

“What’s the worse thing that will happen? You’ll see your mom and have to tell her the honeymoon’s over. Give it a thought,” he answered as he began to vaporize.

“Wait! Why? Why are you telling me this?” Xena insisted.

Ares returned to his brief form for a moment. “It’s called a favor. I never repaid you and Gabrielle for giving me back my Godhood. . .Of course if it wasn’t for the airhead of Olympus and that little do-gooder of yours with her scroll it would have never happened but. . .anyway. . .Just Go!”

With that the god vanished. “Come on girl,” Xena said in better spirits to the mare. “We’re going home – tonight,” she nudged Argo and the two galloped away, leaving a trail of dust in their wake.
Chapter 18
Ephany crept into the hut to find Gabrielle lying on the bed, her back to the door. “Gabrielle?” she whispered.

The queen rose up and faced her regent. “What is it?” she asked in a monotone.

“I’ve brought you some dinner,” Ephany replied, closing the distance, holding out the tray.

“I’m not hungry,” Gabrielle answered, still devoid of emotion.

“You have to eat,” Ephany gently begged.

Gabrielle lashed out, striking the tray out of Ephany’s hands and across the floor. “I don’t want it!” Gabrielle screamed.

Ephany flinched and held her breath. Gabrielle looked at the food and dishes scattered across the hut before she met her regents’ eyes. Ephany looked shocked perhaps even a bit fearful. Gabrielle hung her head low.

“Gods, I’m sorry,” Gabrielle cried sincerely. “I know you’re only trying to help. And I –

“It’s alright,” Ephany answered, not letting her finish. “You’re hurt and angry.”

Gabrielle shook her head forcefully. “No. That’s no excuse for treating you like that and I apologize.”

Ephany smiled and pulled the crying woman into her arms. “Apology accepted. . . I’ll just have to learn that no means no.” she teased. “I was just lucky you weren’t hold your staff at the time. I’d be rubbing my back side for a week.” That made the queen grin and Ephany felt more relieved.

Gabrielle took a deep breath, gaining her composure again. “So how are things out there?” she asked.

“Would you like to come out?” the regent asked carefully. “We could go for a walk around the village.”

Gabrielle shook her head. “Don’t think I’m up to it tonight. Maybe tomorrow?”

Ephany smiled. “Okay. When you’re ready,” she answered, stroking the bards’ hair behind her ear.

Gabrielle grinned. “My mother used to do that when I was upset,” the bard replied regarding the physical gesture. “Speaking of family, how’s Lila holding up? I saw her and Solari earlier today. They brought me some fruits.”

Ephany smiled wide but tried to make it disappear quickly. Gabrielle quirked her eyebrow at the response.

“She’s doing fine,” Ephany answered. The smile began to come back to the regents lips.

“I have the overwhelming feeling I’m missing something here,” Gabrielle grinned.

Ephany chuckled. “Wellllll,” the regent dodged.

“Out with it,” Gabrielle ordered.

Ephany moved to the bed with a pounce and patted the mattress. She waited until Gabrielle took a seat. “Rumor has it that Lila and Solari have been spending a lot of time together since her arrival two days ago. In fact, I hear they are inseparable.”

Gabrielle felt her jaw hanging, her eyes widening. “You’re kidding right?”

Ephany kept her lips tight and shook her head. “As a matter of fact, they spent the evening meal together and planned on taking a walk to the river afterward. They’re probably on their way right now.”

Gabrielle shot up off the bed. “I want Lila brought here now. Alone.”

Ephany smiled. “Gabri-

“I mean it Ephany. Right now. And before you ask, yes I’m pulling rank.”

Ephany realized her queen was quite serious. She swiftly went to the guards outside. A moment later she returned. “I’ve sent for her,” Ephany said with apprehension in her voice. “But why?”

Gabrielle considered the question. Why did she send for her sister? What would she say once she had her? “Look,’ Gabrielle replied. “I’m not sure my sister knows everything about the amazons and I KNOW that Solari does. Catch my drift?”

Ephany grinned. “Yes. But Solari is a very honorable amazon. She would never force herself on anyone.”

Gabrielle sighed in frustration. What in particular frustrated her at this moment she couldn’t tell. “I believe you,” Gabrielle answered. “I have a very high regard for Solari. I just think my sister should know more about the birds and the bees before she taking moonlight walks with a woman like Solari.”

Ephany wasn’t sure why but she suddenly felt defensive about her best friend. “What do you mean a woman like Solari?”

“Oh Eph,” Gabrielle answered the frustration rising again. “All I mean is Solari is an amazon – in every sense of the word – I just think that Lila should know what she’s doing. This could be just an experiment to her and I don’t want to see anyone get hurt. Not her. Not Solari. Not anyone . . Understand?”

Ephany smiled. Gabrielle’s own love life – oh Hades, her own ‘life’ – was going to Tarturus in a handbasket but she still wanted to ‘protect’ others around her. Ephany admired Gabrielle in that single moment, more than ever.

“I understand,” the regent whispered. The regent was going to continue but the guard arrived.

“Queen Gabrielle. Your sister has arrived,” one replied formerly.

“Send her in,” she replied regally.

As the guard left Ephany added, “I’ll be outside, my queen.”

Lila walked in and the first thing she noticed were Gabrielle’s blood-shot eyes. “Are you okay?” she asked concerned. “They said you sent for me.”

“Have a seat,” Gabrielle said patting the quilt on her bed. “I asked them to bring you here for . . .you. . .not me. . .According to Regent Ephany you’ve been spending a lot of your time with Solari since you’ve been here.”

Lila was a bit taken back by Gabrielle’s tone. She sounded so ‘queenly’. This wasn’t like the late-night discussions when they cuddled together in one bed gossiping about boys and chores and village life. She didn’t know how to respond so she simply nodded her head.

Gabrielle nodded in like fashion. “I like Solari. I trust her. And I trust you. . .I know you we’re very curious about my life with Xena.” Even as Gabrielle said the name it brought the familiar ache to the surface again. She paused a moment to regroup and Lila gave her that time in silence. “Anyway, I’m curious about your relationship with Solari. Is there anything you’d like to talk about? . . .Anything you’d like to ask?”

Lila smiled and giggled. “Come on Gabs can we just cut the royal stuff for a minute?” The regal tone of the conversation was getting to the bard’s sister.

“No,” Gabrielle said firmly. “Because you are the princess of this village. Everything you say, everything you do, will be closely watched by everyone. I don’t mind that you’re keeping company with Solari but you do have to realize, my dear sister, all eyes are on you now.”

That was a fact Lila hadn’t really considered. “Everyone is talking about me and Solari?”

Gabrielle grinned and nodded slowly. “Yep. Now do you see why I wanted you to understand how important you’re actions are?” Lila nodded without comment. “Good,” Gabrielle smiled. “Now we can cut the ‘royal stuff’ . . . and you can give me the scoop!”

Lila smiled and the two sisters climbed under the covers, giggling. After two hours of laughing; crying; Lila telling Gabrielle how she loved Solari’s blue eyes; Gabrielle telling Lila how much she missed Xena’s, the pair fell asleep in each others arms. Gabrielle was restless but she felt much better with Lila next to her once more. Thanks to her sister, Gabrielle managed to survive her first night without Xena.
Chapter 19
Xena opened one eye when she heard someone grab the handle of the barn door. As it creaked she moved to her elbows, slightly turning her head from the light.

“Xena?! What are you doing here? Where’s Gabrielle?”

“Is mom up?” she asked ignoring the questions.

“Yeah. She’s preparing breakfast,” Taurus answered. “Gabrielle’s okay isn’t she?”

Xena understood that ‘okay’ really meant ‘alive’. “She’s with the amazons. . .I’ve got to talk to mother.”

Taurus simply nodded and watched his sister walk toward the tavern. Once in the kitchen she found her mother making some sugarcakes, a favorite of Gabrielle’s, and the warrior could feel herself choking up with the thought. Everything, it seemed, reminded her of the bard.

Cyrene felt the presence behind her. “Taurus?” she asked.

“No mother,” Xena replied.

Cyrene turned sharply to find Xena standing alone. Her eyes were darkened for lack of sleep. Her hair was still wind blown from the ride in; her shoulders and back slumped in exhaustion. She looked like Tarturus but the fact that she was alone stood out more than anything.

“What happened?” her mother whispered. “Where’s Gabrielle?”

Xena lost what little composure she had left as the tears began to cascade down her cheeks.

“Oh Gods,” Cyrene said rushing to Xena, taking her in her arms. “Oh little one, what happened?”

Xena started to explain the story in between sobs; the words coming out like one long hiccup after another. Cyrene did her best to decipher just what Xena was saying. She understood that Gabrielle was alive and with the Amazon. There was also something about Artemis and Ares but she couldn’t make that out.

“Here.” Cyrene led Xena. “Have a seat. I’ll get you some tea. Once you calm down, we’ll start at the beginning okay?”

Xena nodded, like a small child and Cyrene couldn’t resist kissing her on the forehead. After all she was a child – Cyrene’s child and the older woman knew she would ‘mother’ this warrior for the rest of her life.

Once Xena calmed down, blew her nose and drank some tea, she began to relax enough so the conversation could be understood. Xena told about the events at the banquet and Artemis’ curse. As she finished she looked into her mother’s eyes.

“What do I do?” Xena plead.

Cyrene was angry. Xena could tell. The older woman took a deep breath and held up her finger. She went to the front door and shouted toward the barn for her son.

“Taurus?”

Upon hearing his name, he darted from the barn, sprinting to his mother. Knowing his sister was so distraught earlier, he didn’t waste a second getting to his mom.

“What is it?” he asked breathless, once he was in front of her.

“I know you were on your way back to Athens today but could you stay and run the inn for a few more days. I have to go to Arborea with Xena.”

“Sure. . .Is she going to be okay?” he asked concerned.

The older woman grinned, looking back at Xena who was listening to the exchange. “Yes. Come Hades or high water.”
Chapter 20
A full day had passed since Xena’s arrival back in Amphipolis. They were near the amazon border when Xena couldn’t take it any longer.

“That’s it,” she sighed. “Why are we back here mom?”

“I told you. I’m going to have a little chat with Artemis. I think it’s wrong what she’s doing and I’m going to tell her.”

“What do you think this little chat is going to solve?” Xena asked.

“Don’t worry dear. . .I have many skills,” her mom grinned.

Before Cyrene could add more the ropes fell from the trees. Solari once again was on duty.

“Xena! You’re back already?!” Solari exclaimed. “I mean not that it’s a bad thing. But it’s only been two days. Did you find the answer?”

“No,” Xena replied. Solari knew the warrior wasn’t going to be adding more. “Solari this is my mom. Mom – Solari. She’s a friend to me and Gabrielle.”

Both women nodded to each other in respect before Solari motioned the runner.

Ephany had finally talked Gabrielle into a walk around the village. They were approaching the practice field when they saw the runner approaching.

“My queen,” the runner said falling to one knee. “Xena and her mother are here.” Just as she finished the sentence, Gabrielle could see them appear on top the small hill. Ephany couldn’t contain her smile and neither could Gabrielle, who broke into a strong run.

Xena smiled when she saw Gabrielle take off. Cyrene watched her daughters’ reaction and encouraged her.

“Go get her,” her mother said, gently patting Xena’s back, leading Argo. “Go on.”

Xena gave her mother an appreciative gaze before taking off. The queen and the warrior ran a full speed and when they were close enough to see each other’s facial features they slowed down almost coming to a halt. They moved gingerly toward each other, each woman wanting to feel the other.

Gabrielle grinned mischievously. “Are you ready?” she asked.

Xena smiled wickedly.

“Bring it on,” she said opening her arms.

The pain was instant and constant but neither woman refused to break the lip lock until both were satisfied. The moans of pain sounded so similar to the moans of passion they expressed to each other. When they finally were willing to separate, they took a few moments to regain their breathing back to normal. By this time their traveling companions had arrived. After introductions to Ephany and Cyrene, the four women traveled to the village square.

“Well, let’s get this over with,” Cyrene said moving to the middle of the square.

Gabrielle, Ephany and Xena stood holding hands. Ephany offered herself as a link/translator between them. Each time Gabrielle squeezed Ephany’s hand, Ephany would squeeze Xena’s. The loving, helpful gesture was warmly accepted by the bard and her warrior. A few amazons surrounding them stopped to take notice as Cyrene took the platform stage.

“Artemis!” she yelled at the top of her lungs, her hands clinched in fists at her side. The amazons who weren’t watching as she took the stage were certainly watching now. A large circle began to form. “Artemis I’m callin’ you out!”

Nothing. Amazons from the huts now began to emerge – the cooks, the washers, and the carpenters. Every soul in the village had their attention on Xena’s mother.

“Where are you Artemis? What are you afraid of?” she taunted. Amazon’s turned to each other gossiping about the ‘crazy’ woman challenging their God. Their attention, however, still manage to stay focused on Cyrene too.

“You’re a double-face, back-stabbing, piss-poor excuse for a goddess. You make Aphrodite look like –

Cyrene didn’t have the chance to finish. The flash of blue light circled Cyrene, stopping dead in front of her. Artemis materialized in front of the older woman who refused to look intimidated.

“Who do you think you are?!” Artemis demanded.

Xena was ready to charge the stage. Both out of protection of her mother and her anger with the goddess. Ephany held tight and shook her head. “She’s got a plan Xena,” Ephany whispered. “Let her follow it through.”

The regent felt Xena relax and she lightened her grip on the warriors well-muscled arm.

Cyrene paced around the goddess. “My name is Cyrene. My mother was Agena. . .Ring any bells?” she said sarcastically.

“Melosa’s Aunt?” Artemis asked. Cyrene only nodded. “Cyrene? Cyrene? . . .” the goddess said searching her memory banks. Artemis suddenly grinned, “Cyrene! You’re. . .old. . .”

Cyrene smiled and nodded. “Yeah it happens to us mortal. . .if we’re lucky.”

“You’ve returned to the village?” she asked hopefully.

“No. I’m here for my daughter. . .my daughter Xena.”

Cyrene didn’t add anymore.

Artemis looked to where Cyrene pointed. “Xena is your daughter?” the goddess asked.

“Yes. And she seeks the hand of your queen. And yes, she is of amazon blood. Royal amazon blood in fact.”

Everyone in the village square fell silent. Artemis considered the situation. Gabrielle was all smiles. Xena was all shock.

“You left the village before she was conceived,” Artemis argued.

“Once of amazon blood, always of amazon blood. You know that Artemis. Regardless of my marriage, me and my daughter are both amazon.”

Cyrene turned to walk around the platform when a villager caught her eye. Before she could utter a syllable, the amazon she admired turned, making her way from the stage and through the crowd that had formed. Cyrene was on the verge of following but stopped and turned to Artemis.

“What do you have against my daughter? What would please you so she could have Gabrielle’s hand?” Cyrene asked.

Artemis rested her bow down and met Cyrene’s eyes. “She’s a weak woman. She maybe an amazon. But I refuse to have my queen bond with someone as weak as Xena.”

That was it. Xena couldn’t be contained this time. “I’m weak?! I’m weak?!” she shouted as she took the stage steps two at a time. “I would challenge any one of your warrior’s for Gabrielle’s hand! I’ve fought Hades to come back to her! Tell me how I am weak!”

Suddenly Xena dropped to her knees and clutched her throat. Cyrene rushed to her side and held her. “What are you trying to prove?!” the warrior’s mother yelled furiously.

“Just how weak she is,” Artemis replied casually.

“She’s not weak!” Cyrene insisted. “She’s mortal!”

Xena fought unconsciousness with all her being, yet knowing she was losing. Artemis bent over and whispered, “Pick a God. There’s only one that can save you now and it’s certainly not me.”

Ephany could have sworn she saw the warrior give the smallest of grins.

“Ah.. . .Ah,” Xena said trying to say the name but only managing a croak.

Artemis released her grip. “Say it!” she screamed. “Who do you call on?!”

Xena took a deep breath while she could, settling her shoulders to yell. “Athena!” she screamed.

Artemis got wide-eyed and forgot about the grip she was going to restore on the warrior’s throat.

A bolt of purple light flashed, knocking Artemis off balanced.

“I’d ask what’s going on but I already know,” Athena said scowling at Artemis. She was a lovely woman with flowing white robes, looking older than Artemis and not nearly as physically fit. “You are way out of line Artie,” she added. Athena offered her hand to Xena, which the warrior took. “You’ll be okay,” she told the warrior.

Artemis was going to start to protest and explain her actions.

“I know you don’t want your queen with someone who deals with Ares. And to be honest I don’t blame you. But by harming this mortal I’m forced to inform Zeus.” Athena was disgusted and she had to take a moment to regain her composure. “Let’s just say you’ve got your answer Artemis. Xena belongs to no one but herself. All she seeks now is wisdom and truth. Give your queen’s hand to her. She’s earned it. . .and besides . . . I KNOW it’s the right thing to do.”

Artemis watched the other goddess and looked at her people. They seemed to be in agreement with Athena too.

“Alright,” Artemis whispered in a voice so tiny, even those next to her barely heard her.

“I don’t think they heard you in the back,” Athena boasted sarcastically, pointing toward the mob.

“I said OKAY,” Artemis replied throwing her hands up in frustration. “Xena can bond with my queen.”

Xena and Gabrielle grinned ear to ear and rushed toward each other. The first time since the curse they didn’t feel the sting of touching each other. And they enjoyed every moment of it. A group settled around them and congratulated them. Xena turned back to thank her mother and watched her slip off toward the mess hall. She didn’t follow – in truth she couldn’t – they were too closed in. But she’s whispered in Gabrielle’s ear. “Let’s get outta here as quickly and politely as possible.”

“What did you have in mind?” Gabrielle asked seductively.

“Finding mom,” Xena replied.

Gabrielle lost the playful grin and nodded in agreement. ‘Yes’ Gabrielle considered. ‘Looks like Cyrene has so explaining to do’.
Chapter 21
Cyrene crept into the mess hall where an older amazon was picking up lunch trays. Slowly, the warrior’s mother approached her.

“Taria?” she asked softly.

“Hello Cyrene,” the woman answered just as quietly. She refused to turn and face her.

Cyrene paused a moment but decided to press the reunion. She walked in front of the women. After a few resistant moments the warrior’s mother was reward by seeing the warmest brown eyes she’d ever seen.

“How have you been?” Cyrene asked cautiously.

“Surviving,” Taria replied coldly. She began to take the tray back to the kitchen area.

“Here,” Cyrene offered. “Let me help you.”

Taria pulled them away forcefully. “I don’t want your help. . .I don’t want anything to do with you. . .You made your choice years ago. . .Now go. Leave me!” she added as she raced away.

Cyrene sighed despondently. When she watched her daughter at the door. She knew Xena caught the tail end of the conversation. “Who is she?” Xena asked quietly.

Cyrene ran her fingers through her hair, hoping to tease the tension. Her mind grasped for an explanation. “Guess I should start at the beginning?” she asked walking over.

At that moment Gabrielle came in with Ephany. The queen asked her regent to post a guard outside, not letting anyone inside. Ephany nodded and went back out. The bard studied the warrior and Cyrene.

“Anytime you’re ready,” Xena instructed. Cyrene took a set at the nearest bench table. Xena and Gabrielle sat down next to each other and locked hands, waiting for Cyrene to begin. The older woman sighed and took a deep breath.

“It was during one of our ‘raids’ that I met your father. He was in an army in the northwest pasture that was resting after traveling. That night we ‘attacked’. I spent hours talking to him and I realized I could love the ‘enemy’. . . Your father asked me to stay with him that evening – leave the amazons – but I told him no; I had to return. When I realized my mission was complete and I was with child, I thought of him often. I was worried too. . .If I had a boy then. . .I would have to leave the child. And I couldn’t bare the thought of leaving my son to die.

Taria and I were to be bonded that summer. She was convinced I carried a girl. I told her I wasn’t sure that I could give the baby up if it were a boy. I was also honest about my feelings for your father. A few weeks later I accidentally ran into your father. He begged me to go home with him to his mothers inn. I told him I would consider it. After that I returned to Arborea. I spoke with Taria about my feelings. . . We made an agreement. I would go to Amphipolis and have the child. If it were a girl I’d return to Taria and we would raise her together. If it was a boy. . .then. . . Needless to say the child was Taurus. And I never came back. . .until today.

Taria hates me and I don’t blame her. . . I did love her. I did. . .but I couldn’t choose her over my child. . .I considered coming back after . . . well you know. . .but I knew they wouldn’t accept me. Besides I still had Taurus and Lyceus. Things weren’t the same back then as they are now. Ephany would have never been able to keep in contact with her son. She wouldn’t have been accepted back into the tribe after her departure, let alone become the village regent. Funny how times change. Even within a lifetime.”

The table fell silent. Xena covered her mother’s fidgeting hands. “You never said anything,” Xena observed. “When Gabrielle got the right of caste, when I told you about my friendship with Ephany, you never said one word. . . Why?”

“Ashamed. Embarrassed. Uncertain,” Cyrene grinned bitter-sweetly. “There never seemed to be a very good time to tell you. . .Besides it was a part of my life I spent years trying to put behind me. . .We all have things that we look back on and say ‘I wish I had done this or I wish I had done that’.”

Gabrielle and Xena both knew exactly what the old ‘amazon’ was saying. They too had issues, moments, decisions they would have changed if given the chance. But what was in the past was in the past. There was nothing they could do and they tried not to dwell on it.

“What did you do here Cyrene?” the bard asked. “What position did you hold if you don’t mind me asking?”

Cyrene smiled. The bard was always so gentle and compassionate. Not at all as forceful as her daughter, but just as effective.

“I was an instructor. I taught the younger amazons how to use a staff,” she grinned knowingly at the bard.

Xena grinned. “And the subject of being an amazon never came up,” Xena teased.

“Okay,” Cyrene confessed. “Maybe I had a few times I could have mentioned it. . .like every time Gabrielle walks in my door . . .but it was so long ago. . .And I have a lot of feelings about it all that I’ve never resolved.”

“Like Taria?” the bard inquired.

“Yes. Like Taria,” Cyrene whispered.

Xena and Gabrielle looked at each other. “Well, there’s no time like the present I feel. . . I should write that down,” the bard added making a mental note. “I mean it’s like you said the past is over and that can’t be changed. And you don’t know what the future will hold. All you have is right here and right now.”

Cyrene grinned. “She’s bright,” the woman complimented.

“She is,” Xena beamed. “It’s one of the things I love about her.”

“Me too,” Cyrene agreed nodding. “I think maybe I’ll find Taria. . .Resolve this issue, once and for all.”

As Cyrene began to stand so did Xena and Gabrielle. The three moved out from the table and joined in an embrace. “Go on,” Cyrene insisted. “You two have a joining ceremony to plan.”

Xena and Gabrielle watched Cyrene walk back toward the kitchen where Taria had darted to.

“Good luck,” Xena called out with deep sincerity. “And thank you.”

Cyrene looked back and gave a small nod. Xena wished there was something she could do to help her mother heal but she knew the road to healing ones heart was different than the body. For one, the heart can only be healed by the person who owned it. And two, the heart took much longer to heal. Xena silently prayed to Athena to give her mother the wisdom she needed for her healing. The warrior understood it was a long time coming.

She took Gabrielle by the hand and they left the mess hall. The guards began to walk with their queen and her betrothed until Xena stopped. She looked at them. That’s all. She just looked at them and the pair began to walk again.

Xena turned her head just a tad and listened. They no longer followed, taking the subtle hint from the warrior. Xena grinned. ‘That intimidation thing still comes in hand’ she grinned to herself as they walked from the village into the nearby forest.

“Are you alright?” Gabrielle asked, noticing the uncharacteristic silence of the warrior.

The bard briefly reflected on a time when hours would pass with maybe 5 words spoken from the towering woman. In the last few months it seemed she was making up for lost time, chattering more than the bard at times. Gabrielle didn’t mind, in fact she loved the change in Xena. She squeezed the hand that held hers, letting her admiration flow from her fingertips.

“Yes. I’m okay,” the warrior answered, giving a squeeze of her own. “I’m a lot better now – especially since I can do this,” she replied, holding up their locked hands.

“I mean your mother Xena. Are you-

“Upset that she deceived me for years? That I had more in common with her than I realized? . . .Yes and no. . .I’m glad she told me but I wish it would have been sooner. . .But I understand why she didn’t. The most important thing is that we’re together now.”

Gabrielle smiled at the warrior’s openness with her. “I never want to be away from you again warrior mine,” the bard said stopping, pulling Xena closer by the waist. “I never thought I could love like this and when I thought there was no hope. . .

Xena put her fingers under Gabrielle’s chin to pull the amazon’s wondering eyes up to meet her steady blue. “Listen to me. As long as we believe in each other, trust each other and promise to do right by each other we can conquer anything. . .Do you hear me? . . .Anything.”

Gabrielle pulled the warriors head down to hers. She kissed Xena softly, tasting the sweet and salty lips of the beautiful woman. The more connections her lips made the more forceful the kisses became. Soon she found herself twining around the warrior, her leg wrapped around Xena, her arm gripping her shoulder; her fingers buried in the ebony hair.

Xena wasn’t without her explorations. Her tongue prodded into the bards mouth; her hands gently cupping and squeezing the amazon’s shapely behind. Xena was very near taking the bard right then and there. The little whimpers Gabrielle was giving did nothing to help Xena’s self-control.

Gabrielle was enjoying the taste and feel of her warrior when she suddenly felt Xena tense and pull back.

“What is it?” Gabrielle whispered as she watched her lover examine the trees over head.

“Shhh,” she answered stepping back, placing her finger over her lips.

Suddenly a groups of young, ‘young’ amazons fell from the trees giggling. Xena figured them to be in their early teens, probably training to replace Solari and her crew someday.

“Who was on the right side?” Xena asked strickly. The harshness showed on her face. All four girls came to attention in front of the dark, dreaded warrior.

“Us ma’am,” a weak voice announced.

“Stand up straight!” Xena answered. All the girls made the effort to stand taller. Slowly Xena walked over to where the young amazon stood. She tried, with all of her reserve not to smile. With Gabrielle grinning behind her it didn’t make it very easy. She didn’t see the bard grin but she could sure ‘feel’ it.

“What’s your name warrior?” Xena asked formally.

“Icies ma’ma,” the girl responded. “This is Ceterus,” she added with a quick nod.

“You two were on the right?” the warrior asked.

The girl gulp nerviously. “Yes ma’ma.”

“My name isn’t ma’ma,” Xena said proudly and intimidating. “It’s Xena. Xena: Warrior Princess.”

“Yes ma’ma. I mean warrior princess,” Icies answered.

“Well, Icies I have to admit you did a pretty good job. I didn’t know you were there until you fell. . .Your friends on the left however are as silent as a stampeede,” the warrior teased.

Gabrielle couldn’t hold it in any longer and she could bear to see the young girls trying so hard ‘not’ to begin shaking in fear. “Okay,” she interupted. “You’ve scared four children today Xena. That’s one over your limit. I think you should call it a day.”

“Ya think so,” Xena asked turning back to the smiling bard. Seeing her ‘light’ beam at her made Xena smile as well. “I guess your right,” she sighed. “You’re dismissed,” she told the young girls. “And by the way,” she added to them making them stop. “You did a wonderful job, even I almost couldn’t tell you were there. . .almost.” Xena smiled at the young women and watched relief float over their faces.

As the jogged away Xena could hear them chatting.

“Told ya she was totally cool,” one said.

“Yeah!” another agreed.

“Queen Gabrielle sure is lucky to have a woman like that. Xena could be my personal guard any day,” another commented.

Gabrielle could hear the exchange as well and rested her hand on Xena’s shoulder. “I think you have a few young admirers,” Gabrielle teased.

“Yeah. Who knows in another 10 years or so. . .” the warrior teased back, filling the bard with the illusion have perhaps have a dance card filled with beautiful young women.

“Don’t EVEN think about it. You’re my warrior. Got that?” Gabrielle threatened just as falsely.
Chapter 22
Taria was cleaning some trays when Cyrene tiptoed into the kitchen.

“Can I please talk to you?” Cyrene said softly.

Taria stopped her duties and turned to face the ex-amazon. “There isn’t anything you could possibly say. You promised if you had a daughter you’d return and you lied to me Cyrene.” Taria turned around again, going back to her work.

“Taria,” Cyrene began, moving closer to her former lover. “My first child WAS a boy – Taurus. Xena was my second child. . .I had a third child Lyceus but he died many years ago after Cortese’s men attacked our village.”

Taria turned to meet Cyrene again. “Xena is your second?”

Cyrene nodded. “My husband was going to kill her when she was a child and I . . .stopped him. . .with an ax. . .I considered returning but I still had my boys. . .”

Cyrene paused to take a deep breath before she continued. “I know I made the right decision. My only regret was . . .you. . .”

“I’d hate to be the cause of regret for anyone,” Taria said sarcastically, going back to her job at hand. “I’m sorry knowing me has caused you pain.”

Cyrene bridged the rest of the distance between them and put her hands on the woman’s shoulders. “My pain is not in KNOWING you. . .My pain came from being WITHOUT you. . . I truly loved you. But I also knew I couldn’t leave a child I carried to die. . .That night when Taurus was conceived, I told you my reservations. Remember?”

“Yes I remember,” Taria turned yet again to meet those deep blue eyes, her fingertips stroked the soft skin of Cyrene’s cheek. “I also remember how you told me you fell in love with Xena’s father,” she added pulling away again, recoiling into herself.

“That’s true,” Cyrene confessed. “But the love I had for him doesn’t compare to the love I had for you. . .He was like . . .a best friend-”

“And me?” Taria asked getting short. “What about me?”

Cyrene’s blue eyes locked with Taria’s brown. “You were the love of my life,” she whispered.

Taria wept openly at the words, closing her eyes. She felt Cyrene’s arms encompass her, drawing her near. It felt so warm, so natural as she let her arms slip around Cyrene’s waist pulling her closer, burying her face in the thick, dark hair.

Cyrene stroked Taria’s ash blond hair and she began to cry as well. The memories bombarded her as her fingers worked down the strains repeatedly. She remembered washing that long hair tenderly down at the river, brushing it at the dorms; feeling it cascading down her young, well-toned naked body. Taria’s thoughts were as equally powerful and similar.

“I loved you too,” Taria whispered. “I’ve spent years missing you.”

Cyrene’s lips found Taria’s earlobe and captured it softly once. Then twice. Then three times.

“Taria? Can I kiss you?” Cyrene pleaded softly in Taria’s ear, continuing with her short pecks.

Cyrene never got a vocal response. Taria seized Cyrene’s lips with her own, muffling any further begging from the warrior’s mother. After a few moments of delicate kisses, they became deeper and richer – their tongues searching each other’s, fighting for control. With a labored breath Taria pulled back, the earlier look of desire chased from her face.

“You’re going to leave me again,” Taria realized, studying the older woman. “I’m sorry I did that.”

“I’m not,” Cyrene teased. “You’re the best kisser in the world.”

Taria grinned at the compliment but it didn’t last long. Cyrene took the amazon’s hand in hers.

“Yes,” Cyrene admitted. “I am going home to Amphipolis but I’d like to take you with me. I know I still feel the same way as I did then. You are the love of my life. There’s nothing stopping us from being together.”

“I can’t leave the village,” Taria argued.

“Says who?” Cyrene countered. “Do you have a bondmate?”

“No, I don’t,” Taria grinned for a moment. “It’s just that . . .this is my home. Like Amphipolis is your home. I just can’t leave.”

Cyrene stroked Taria hair behind her ear and caressed her cheek. “We finally have the chance to be together after all these years . . .please. . .I’m begging you. At least consider the possibility. . .Please?”

Taria grinned again. “We’re different people now Cyrene-

“Did you feel your heart jump in your throat when you saw me today?’ Cyrene asked. Taria giggled and smiled. “You did, didn’t you?” she teased before she looked extremely serious. “I did too,” she whispered. “We’re not that different.”

Cyrene picked up Taria’s chin with her fingertips and laid a searing kiss on the woman’s lips that made her whimper. She pulled away and waited for Taria to open her eyes again. When she did Cyrene whispered. “Think about it. That’s all I ask.”

Without adding more or waiting for a response, Cyrene walked out of the kitchen. Taria watched as her former lover strolled calmly and confidently outside. ‘Maybe’ Taria considered inwardly. ‘Maybe’.
Chapter 23
After meeting in the royal hut, Ephany, Gabrielle and Xena discussed the bonding ceremony. The sooner the better they all agreed. Ephany and Gabrielle left to make preparation for the bonding feast as Solari and Xena went in search of materials for the wedding – royal attire, joining gifts and various odds and ends.

It was late evening by the time Xena and Gabrielle were together again. Xena entered the hut to find Gabrielle working on one of her scrolls. “What’ca writing?” the warrior asked, beginning to rid her body of her armor.

“A story,” Gabrielle answered not looking up.

“What kind of story?” the warrior asked.

Gabrielle shot Xena her ‘Don’t bother me. Can’t you see I’m working?’ look.

“Okay,” Xena whispered, placing her finger over her lips with a promise she would be quiet until Gabrielle finished her train of thought. Xena smiled mischievously as she studied the bard.

Gabrielle was lying on her stomach on the width of the bed. Xena couldn’t help but admire how beautiful Gabrielle’s breasts looked when the bard was on her forearms. Slowly she walked behind Gabrielle. As she pulled the leathers from her body she examined those long, well-muscles legs. Her eyes traveled from the bards ankles to the hem of the bards’ skirt, which given her ever shifting position on the bed, was hiked up more than usual, barely covering her backside.

Carefully and quietly the warrior pulled her boots from her own feet. Not that the noise would break the bards’ concentration. She was too wrapped up in her writing to notice her partners movements. Xena moved to her knees and started by kissing Gabrielle’s ankles. It was only when Xena had reached the spot behind Gabrielle’s knee, that the bard noticed what Xena was doing.

“Please Xena,” the bard insisted. “I’m almost done,” she added returning to the scroll.

Xena grinned and continued to kiss her way up the bard’s leg. When she reached the hem of the skirt, the warrior pulled it up exposing the bard to her hungry eyes. But the sight that met the warrior surprised her. The bard didn’t have on her underclothes. That fact fueled the warrior’s desire even more. Her fingers wasted no time in finding the bard’s center, searching for any wetness. The warrior was reward with a deep moan and a sweet slickness covering her fingers.

Gabrielle continued to lay on her stomach but she turned back just in time to watch the naked warrior, enjoying the delicacy on her fingertips.

“Delicious,” Xena replied, going back for more. As the warriors fingers made contact again, Gabrielle’s eyes closed and she moaned once more. The feel of Xena’s fingers, the knowledge that her warrior was naked brought a second wave of wetness that dripped from her sex, soaking the front of her skirt.

After Xena had licked her fingers clean once more, she moved to her knees. Gabrielle began to move too but Xena put a loving yet forceful hold on the bard’s shoulder. “Stay put,” Xena whispered huskily. Gabrielle did as Xena commanded and settled back onto her stomach.

She could feel the warriors’ hand still pinning her to the mattress. She wasn’t sure what the warrior had in store for her but she shuttered with anticipation. She pushed the quill and the scroll away, letting them fall to the floor.

“I thought that was really important,” Xena teased, the passion refusing to leave her voice.

“Not as important as this,” Gabrielle answered with her own voice taunt with longing.

Xena loved the bards voice like this; so much richer and deeper than usual. All of the bards emotions could be found in the tone as she uttered her words. Xena’s free hand made it’s way to the bards triangle; this time entering her fully. Gabrielle tried to rise put Xena kept her down. Gabrielle realized what Xena wanted to do. She wanted to take her, control her.

They had done this once before since leaving Lesbo and they both enjoyed it thoroughly. Gabrielle remembered how the more she ‘fought’ Xena the more passionate the warrior became. Xena’s fingers were now building a steady rhythm and Gabrielle found it difficult to fight against the luxurious feeling of Xena buried deep within her but she gave an attempt.

Xena realized Gabrielle had picked up on the game. “Remember –

“That’s enough?” the bard asked, clarifying the codeword.

“Right,” the warrior purred.

Gabrielle knocked Xena’s hand off her shoulder and tried to push herself off the bed but the warrior was far too quick. She pinned her with ease, quickly going back to the task of working on her sex. ‘Gods she so wet’ Xena thought as she continued to stroke the young woman.

“Please don’t,” Gabrielle whispered, letting herself get lost in Xena’s little role-playing. “Don’t touch me.”

Xena’s pace quickened below and her grip got stronger on Gabrielle’s shoulder. The bard moaned into the feel of being totally captured. “Oh gods,” she whispered passionately. She tried to shake how wonderful it felt to be possessed by this beautiful blue eyed goddess behind her.

“Please stop. Let me go,” Gabrielle said trying to fight again.

She didn’t get very far. Actually she ended up lying back into Xena. The warrior saw a wonderful opportunity. Gabrielle saw it too and tried to hide her grin. After all she was supposed to be reluctant, right?

“You’re not going anywhere,” Xena threatened, pulling the bard beside her on the bed.

The warrior ripped open the green top, exposing the perfect cream colored breasts. She pushed them together and took both nipples into her mouth at once. Gabrielle pushed on Xena’s shoulders but the warrior was too big to move. Gabrielle discovered the more she pushed, the greater Xena’s suction became. ‘This I can handle,’ Gabrielle admitted silently as she continued to fight harder all the while enjoy the effects.

Xena could feel her arousal, slipping from her own sex, coating the bards upper thigh. Her skin was on fire and she could feel her bangs growing damp. Gabrielle really enjoyed these little games. She couldn’t blame her. She remembered how it felt when she submitted to Gabrielle and how liberating it was for her being the submissive one.

Gabrielle’s thrashing was making the bards’ thigh rub rhythmically against her clit. The feeling was too good to pass up and both women found their bodies straining against each other. All legs spread; both hips rocking. Gabrielle gave up her fight and gave into the pleasure of Xena’s body. The warrior grabbed Gabrielle by the hips as their grinding against each other quickened. Soon they were slapping against each other forcefully enough to make the bedposts creak.

The warrior’s eyelids grew heavy. Gabrielle knew that look well. It was only a matter of moments before the warrior would tumble to bed in a heap of spent passion.

“Oh gods yes Xena. . . Come for me. . .come for me. . .Come. . .Come,” Gabrielle repeated the words over and over in a whisper.

When the sensations rose deep within herself she was taken aback for a moment. She was sure the warrior would peak first but let the shockwaves ride through her body and into her soul. “Oh Xena. Yes. . .Yes. . .Yes. . .”

Watching and hearing Gabrielle, put her over the top. Xena’s back ached as the waves of pleasure swept over her body. She studied Gabrielle’s own quaking body – the beautiful sights and sounds filling her eyes and ears.

“Gabrielllllllllle!” she yelled, her fingertips glued onto the bards hips striving for all the fire she could possess. After a few moments she collapsed, next to the strawberry blonde; eyes closed and a huge grin.

Gabrielle giggled and stroked Xena’s face. “You sure know how to show a girl a good time,” Gabrielle commented snuggling into Xena’s shoulder.

“Look who’s talkin'” Xena answered kissing the bards’ forehead.

After a few lazy moments, the bard shot up. Xena tired to rise as well, to see what startled Gabrielle but the bard tackled her to the mattress.

“It’s my turn,” Gabrielle demanded, the hunger and the intent evident in her voice. “You WILL see to my wishes.”

‘Thank the gods’, Xena thought with a devilish grin. ‘It’s going to be a long night’.
Chapter 24
“Rise and shine everybody! Rise and Shine!”

Xena sat up with a jerk and eyed the regent, trying her best to look intimidating. The bard rolled over and reached for Xena and when she came up empty she noticed the warrior was sitting up.

“What’s . . .” Gabrielle asked in a sleep voice. She looked at the entrance to see Ephany smiling at the pair.

“Making up for lost time, I see,” Ephany teased the naked women. “What’s it been three, maybe four, days apart?”

Xena ignored the comment and rubbed the sleep from her eyes. “Hand me my robe, would ya?’ the warrior asked motioning behind the amazon.

Ephany reached back and tossed the garment to the warrior who promptly put it on. “I figured you would be hungry my queen so the kitchen is bringing something over,” the regent remarked.

“What about me?” Xena asked trying to sound offended. “I’d like to eat to you know.”

“We are going to the dining facility so don your warrior attire. You two are to be separated until the bonding ceremony tonight. . .Actually, you were supposed to be separated last night but I couldn’t be that cruel.” Ephany answer batting her eyelashes. “I’ll be outside waiting for you Xena. Don’t take too long.”

Ephany walked out and Xena pulled Gabrielle up by the forearms. “Thank you for last night,” the warrior smiled pulling the bard into a kiss.

“Thank YOU,” Gabrielle replied, pulling away. “We should spend a few days apart more often,” she grinned.

Xena studied the bards face intensely as she stroked her cheek. “I had doubts that I’d ever be able to touch you again. That’s something I’ll never take for granted.”

“Nor will I,” Gabrielle muttered as she began to nuzzle Xena’s neck. “Let me touch you some more,” she added mischievously pulling the warrior on top of her. The first kiss was slow, delicate but seconds later it deepened, with both women moaning simultaneously. Gabrielle’s hands had managed to work the robe free from Xena’s shoulders. The bard was about to move it down the length of the warriors’ body when they heard a stirring at the door.

“Ahemm,” Ephany began in a mock attempt at clearing her throat. “Today Xena. Please?” she prodded, tapping her foot.

Xena pulled away from the bard but not before Gabrielle followed the warriors’ journey on the way up. Her arms latched around the warriors neck as the bard continued to kiss and nibble on Xena’s face and ears. The sheet fell, giving the regent a full view of her queens body. She felt mesmerized as she watched Gabrielle hanging on the warrior. ‘Damn that Xena is one lucky lady’ the regent thought silently. At least she thought she said it silently. Xena and Gabrielle looked at Ephany with surprise and then at each other before they busted out laughing.

Ephany felt her cheeks flame up. “Did I just say . . .what I thought I said?” she asked in a weak voice. She couldn’t contain her grin of embarrassment.

“Well, I’ll tell you what,” Xena began as she began to get into her leathers. “If you come to me tonight and tell me about some amazon custom that involves the consort sharing the queen with the regent I’d seriously doubt the validity of such a custom. . .but not the motivation behind it.”

Ephany felt herself relax when Xena winked at her. She leaned over and kissed Gabrielle softly; affectionately on the lips. “I’ll see you tonight,” Xena whispered with a huge smile.

“You better not stand me up,” Gabrielle warned, waving her finger.

Xena kissed the finger tenderly. “You know I’ll be there.”

Ephany still was unable to take her eyes off Gabrielle. Xena continued to smile and faced the bard once she was at the Ephany’s side.

“For Gods sake Gabrielle,” the warrior joked, “cover yourself or get dressed. You’re driving your regent to distraction. Isn’t that right Eph?”

Ephany realized she was being spoken to. “Huh?” she asked.

“See. Wadda tell ya?” the warrior teased the bard. “Come on Eph,” she added putting her arm around the regent. “What do you say we get something to eat?”.

“Great idea,” the regent sighed walking out of the hut, avoid eye contact or conversation with Gabrielle. Xena blew Gabrielle a kiss. “See ya tonight beautiful,” she whispered.

Once outside in the sunlight, Xena stretched and yawned trying to get more awake as she walked with Ephany. She had to be honest – Gabrielle had worn her out. Xena didn’t say anything and Ephany wasn’t sure what to make of the silence.

“Xena,” the regent began. “I’m sorry about back there. I just-

“Been awhile?” Xena asked.

Ephany knew what that meant. Her sex life. Did she seem like a deprived woman? She wasn’t sure.

“Come to think of it . . .yeah,” Ephany replied. “I spend so much time keeping the nation in order I don’t have time to really think about it. Except of course when the occasion does arise like this morning. . .I’m really sorry.”

“No Eph’. You’re really horny,” Xena teased. “Do us all a favor? Find a young, beautiful amazon. Throw your royal weight around. Impress her with your tales of battle. . .then bed her ’til you can’t see straight.”

Ephany slapped Xena’s arm. “Xena!” she exclaimed in disbelieve.

“Don’t think of it as doing something for you. Think of it as doing something for your people. After all, a relaxed ruler is an effective ruler,” Xena grinned.

Ephany laughed as they walked into the hall.

“Seriously,” Xena continued. “Look at all these beautiful women in here. Which one would you chose?”

Ephany shook her head. “This is ridiculous!” she whispered.

“Na ah,” Xena replied, shaking her finger in disapproval as the cooks filled her breakfast plate. “You tell me. Is there anyone in this village you have noticed in your ‘spare time’?”

Ephany couldn’t meet Xena’s eyes, “Yes. . .her name’s Diteria. She an archer.”

Xena smiled slyly as they took a seat. Ephany looked up to see that smile.

“Oh no!” Ephany replied, shaking her head. “You wouldn’t?!”

“Is she here now?” Xena asked, the smile getting slyer by the moment.

“Xena,” Ephany begged, not offering any information.

“Well, there’s one way to find out,” Xena said beginning to rise and clear her throat.

Ephany grabbed Xena by the arm, pulling her down to the bench seat. “Okay! Okay! Yes she’s here,” she whispered. “Two benches back, directly behind me.”

“The blonde or the brunette?” Xena asked looking over Ephany’s shoulder.

“The blonde,” Ephany whispered. Xena was still studying the women at the table until Ephany reached over and slapped the warriors arm. “Would you stop looking over there?” Xena jumped just tad as Ephany’s hand made contact.

“So who’s going to do it?”

“What?” Ephany asked totally confused.

“Who’s going to go over there? You or me?”

Ephany dropped her grilled bread into her eggs. “You’re serious!” she replied, absolutely stunned.

“Yep,” Xena nodded confidently. “It’s either you or me baby. So what’s it going to be?”

“I don’t believe this. I don’t believe this.”

“What’s not to believe?” Xena prodded. “You need a date tonight right?”

Ephany knew there was no way out now. She knew she had to go over and talk to the young amazon. “I hate you,” Ephany giggled.

“I bet later tonight you’re thanking me. If things go real well you might not thank me until the morning,” Xena replied wiggling her eyebrows suggestively. “Seriously, Ephany. . .you are an intelligent, brave and beautiful woman. Any warrior in this village would be blessed to have you in their company. Now go and ask her.”

Ephany smiled and took a deep breath. She rose quickly but took her time getting to the table. Xena watched as Ephany asked if she could sit down. Xena couldn’t contain her smile. The young amazon seemed in awe of Ephany and Xena had to giggle at the look of pure surprise on the archer’s face as Ephany asked about the young lady’s plans for the evening. Soon both women wore huge grins and Xena knew it spelled success.

Casually Ephany strolled back and took her seat across from Xena. “Don’t say it,” Ephany warned pointing her fork. Xena watched the regent a few moments longer with the same sappy grin on her face as Ephany began to eat. Ephany finally looked up and gave a grin of her own. “Thank you,” she whispered to Xena.

“You’re very welcome.”
Chapter 25
“How are you doing? Nervous? Ephany asked as the handmaidens readied the warrior for the joining ceremony.

“Okay,” Xena responded in a shaky sigh. “How’s Gabrielle?”

“She’s doing good,” Ephany nodded. “Looks like you’re all set,” she added as she adjusted the amazon shoulder armor before resting her hand on it. “You’ll do fine.”

Xena smiled and placed her hand over Ephany’s. “I wanted to thank you again.”

“Hmm?” Ephany asked.

Xena’s eyes met the regents. “After Solan died . . .and I came back. . .You could have marshaled me for what happened but you didn’t. . .Thank you. You have no idea how sorry I am. I –

Ephany grinned. “I know exactly how sorrowful you are. Like I said then – All is forgiven. No permanent damage. See?” the amazon answered moving her arm around. “Come on warrior princess. Your amazon queen awaits.”

Xena was positioned by the hut doors. Ephany smiled before she left and made her way to the center of the square. The regents’ two personal guards accompanied her trip up the runway to the stage area, where Solari waited.

“Amazons,” she spoke loudly for all to hear. “The village will now witness the joining of your queen Gabrielle with her soulmate Xena. Please rise.”

As the amazons rose both hut doors were opened. Xena was met by the vision of Gabrielle dressed in crimson and gold. She was perhaps 200 steps away in the hut directly across from her but she could still she the jade of her eyes and the reddish tones in the honey hair. It reminded Xena of the outfit Gabrielle wore the day she took the mask of queenhood. But she never looked as beautiful then as she did on this day.

The guard nodded to Xena and the warrior began walking to the queen, who had begun her journey as well. When the were a few steps shy of touching, Xena unsheathed her sword and dropped to one knee as earlier instructed. She held the sword flat on her palms and offered it up to Gabrielle. The queen took the sword and cradled it across her forearm. Xena rose to her feet again and arm in arm they walked the runner to the stage. Once upon the stage, Xena bowed on one knee again. This time to the regent.

“Is this the warrior you have chosen as your consort Queen Gabrielle?”

The playful banter that Ephany gave during the joining announcement was no longer presence. She was strictly business and absolutely regal. Not that she feared Artemis’ return. It was more for the respect she had for the institute Gabrielle and Xena were entering into, as well as Gabrielle and Xena themselves. She was honored they asked her to do the ceremony. And being an honorable women, she wanted to do her best.

“She is,” Gabrielle answered proudly, handing the blade to Ephany.

The regent never held Xena’s sword before and she was surprised by the weight of it but she tried not to let it show. She handed the blade to Solari, who was at her left, next to Xena.

“Do you choose our queen as your consort?” Ephany asked Xena.

“I do,” Xena said softly, looking over at her bard.

Ephany held out her hands and Gabrielle and Xena each gave one of theirs to the regent. Solari pricked each woman’s finger drawing a tiny amount of blood. She took a royal robe and got a dab from each woman. Then she ran the cloth up and then down Xena’s sword.

Gabrielle glanced at her lover for a moment before turning away from Xena’s admiring gaze. It still amazed Gabrielle how much Xena could convey by just a simple look – whether it be an enemy or a lover. Gabrielle had witnessed that look through both relationships and she was extremely grateful that the gaze she was receiving now was the latter of the two. She was also convinced it would stay that way forever. Nothing could drive them apart. Nothing. ‘Not even in death’ Gabrielle reflected briefly with a grin, remembering how comforting it was having Xena so close in her time of need.

As Gabrielle eye’s briefly caressed the warrior’s once more, she could see all the love and devotion the warrior held in her heart. And the warrior could tell her bard felt the same way. ‘Her bard’. Xena considered that fact as she watched the woman she loved. Not an amazon queen. Not a small town girl. But Her Bard. Gabrielle was a storyteller above all else, except of course, for the fact that she was Xena’s .

But even as Xena considered that she realized, she didn’t possess Gabrielle. If anything, the young woman had her. Anything this woman asked for, Xena knew she would strive to do. The moon. The stars. No problem. The warrior would climb the highest mountain and bring them to earth if that’s what Gabrielle wanted. All she had to do was ask and Xena knew it would be done. Xena couldn’t contain the grin as she thought ‘Yeah. You really are hooked warrior. . .And you know that’s exactly where you want to be.’

“Please rise,” Ephany motioned to Xena breaking her private thoughts. “And lock arms.” The two women did as Ephany asked joining both forearms as they faced each other. As Ephany laced their arms with the joining ribbon she spoke. “Artemis has given her consent. Athena has given her wisdom. By the power of these beautiful goddesses, I present to you Queen Gabrielle and her amazon consort, Xena of Amphipolis.”

Xena and Gabrielle looked at Ephany who grinned and nodded. She leaned over and whispered. “I know it’s been 10 whole hours and you can’t stand it any longer . . .Go ahead and kiss her.”

Xena was going to make some comment to Ephany but Gabrielle pulled Xena’s chin so they met eye to eye. “Argue later,” Gabrielle whispered. “I got other plans for those lips now.”

The kiss was passionate. . .and long . . .at least by conventional joining standards and the amazons made sure to provoke its duration even more with the whistles and cries of approval. Some cheered on Xena. Some cheered on Gabrielle. But both women knew they need air and they reluctantly pulled away.

They unbound their hands and Gabrielle gave Ephany the joining ribbon. As the couple turned to make their way, Solari sheathed Xena’s sword carefully behind her back. Cyrene and Taria stood in the front row, both women all smiles. Lila stood next to them as well looking equally proud; every once in a while stealing glances of Solari up on the stage.

Afterward, Gabrielle and Xena greeted the amazons one by one, the tables were set and the feast was brought out. Finally, after what seemed like hours, they had a moment alone.

“It feels complete now,” Gabrielle whispered affectionately. “It feels like we’re truly joined, doesn’t it?”

“Yes. It does,” Xena agreed whole-heartedly. “And ya know what?”

“What?”

“Ephany was right. I’m the luckiest lady in the world.”
Chapter 26
It was late now but the bond-fire still roared and the wine still flowed. Gabrielle decided that another glass of wine couldn’t hurt her this wonderful evening and Xena agreed. Right now Gabrielle would have the time of her life. Come tomorrow morning that would be a different story. By dawn the petite woman would feel the effects of too much celebration, like she did on Lesbo only a few months before. Xena had to grin at the woman she loved. ‘Will she ever learn?’ she wondered. ‘Probably not. . .and probably for the best. . .I love her the way she is’.

Gabrielle was talking about the finer point of story telling with one of the royal guards – all the while doing it with a hardly noticeable slur. Xena watched Ephany in the distance with her young, admiring archer. The young woman leaned against a tree, with Ephany leaning in close. The regent’s arm rested on the tree over the smaller woman’s head. They made a nice couple although neither woman looked TOO comfortable. ‘First date jitters’ Xena figured with an appreciating grin.

“I must admit I was surprised when you asked me to accompany you to the queen’s joining,” Diteria confessed, meeting Ephany’s eyes for brief moments at a time.

“So am I,” Ephany quickly responded before back tracking. “I mean I didn’t plan on asking you – no wait. That’s not what I meant either-

“Look,” the younger amazon said putting her hands on Ephany’s shoulders to steady her. “Take a breath and start over, okay?”

Ephany smiled at the young woman. “I realize I’m not very impressive right now,” Ephany answered giving into her growing self-doubt and allowing a nervous giggle.

“You’re wrong,” Diteria whispered. Her hands moved from the regents shoulders to cup her face. “You’re the most impressive person I’ve ever saw. And on horseback you’re beyond impressive. . .You’re godly.”

Ephany grinned. “You flatter me.”

“No,” Diteria counter. “I’m only telling you what I see. But anyway. . .getting back to asking me out –

“Xena put me up to it. I mean she didn’t make me. She just – encouraged me. I don’t think I would have had the guts to walk up to you if she didn’t insist that I try.”

“I’ll have to thank her tomorrow,” Diteria smiled seductively.

“Yeah,” Ephany replied, her voice soft and gentle. The regent could feel the young amazon tenderly tugging her face toward her. “Me too,” she added in a whisper as their lips met with feathery softness.

Ephany tried to keep her composure although the electricity was shooting through her body uncontrollably. She let Diteria lead and was slightly surprised when Diteria deepened the kiss. Ephany pulled back and studied the young woman. When she did, Diteria took a moment to play with one of Ephany’s long, blonde curls.

“I love your hair,” she replied twirling it around her finger. “I’d be lying if I said I haven’t fantasized what it would feel like traveling down my body.”

Ephany took the young woman’s hand. “Listen. . .I love spending time with you and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t wonder the same things but . . . I’m not sure if I’m ready to make a deep commitment to anyone right now.”

Diteria grinned. “Again Ephany. . . I’m just being honest.”

“Could you be just a little less honest? My heart is pounding in my eardrums and I can barely stand,” she giggled.

Diteria joined her amusement. “Okay,” she agreed. “But promise me this. Promise me we could meet again. I want to know the woman behind my infatuation. Who knows? It could turn into love.”

“You got a deal,” Ephany said putting her forehead on the young amazons before raising her eyebrow. “And there’s no backing out.”

Diteria licked her lips and studied Ephany’s bright blue eyes, “I won’t dream of it,” she whispered.
Chapter 27
Taria was in the kitchen, starting to clean up what she could. Cyrene walked in carrying some more plates. As she sat them down on the counter, she moved behind Taria and put her hands on her shoulders.

“Don’t think I’m prying Tar’ but have you made any decisions?” Cyrene asked softly.

Taria grinned and turned to Cyrene. “The answer’s yes. Yes, I’ll leave with you.”

Cyrene pulled Taria to her and kissed her gently on the lips. “Thank you. . .I don’t know what to say. . .What made you decided?”

“The last day we’ve spent together,” Taria smiled. “It’s almost as if you never left. There’s something between us I can’t explain. Almost as if we were destine to be together. All the space. All the years between us. It hasn’t changed. I’d still give my life for you. . .Those beautiful, blue eyes don’t hurt either,” she teased.

Cyrene laughed and pulled her close again. Taria pulled back slowly was the kitchen doors opened. Cyrene turned to meet the intruder.

“Thought I’d bring these in for ya,” Xena said making her way to the counter.

Taria looked at mother and daughter. “I think I’ll go round up some more,” Taria offered. “Can you start some cleaning?” she asked the pair.

“Sure,” Cyrene smiled.

Taria left quietly as Cyrene turned to her daughter. “It was a lovely ceremony. Where’s your consort by the way?”

“Passed out on a table,” Xena said nonchalantly.

Cyrene chuckled at the news. “Is she okay?” she asked.

“Okay? Yes. But far from sober,” Xena grinned.

“How much did she drink tonight?” Cyrene asked concerned.

“Three glass of wine.”

“That’s it!”

Xena nodded as she began to scrub a pan. “Yeah. She’s got a really low tolerance.”

“I never would have guessed it,” Cyrene smiled.

Xena started to chuckle, almost out of nowhere. Before Cyrene could ask, Xena offered her thoughts.

“She got loaded on nutbread once that was tainted with henbane,” Xena remarked as she giggled. “She was in a cave and the rocks were talking to her. She said they told her to come find me even though I told her to stay put. . .She was so young then,” Xena reflected with a bit of melancholy in her voice.

Cyrene put her hand on her daughters shoulder. “I knew you loved her for a long time.”

Xena simply grinned. “Speaking of love, what’s going on with Taria?”

“She’s decided to come with me,” Cyrene said flashing a similar smile.

“That’s great!” Xena replied. “That’s . . .great!”

Cyrene stepped closer. “You seem a bit . . .unnerved.”

“No!” Xena answered sharply. “It’s . . . wonderful. . .really. . .wonderful.”

“Out with it now Xena. What’s the problem?”

Xena sighed. “Have you considered that maybe you’re moving a little too quick. I mean I’m happy that you’re . . .happy. . .But have you thought this through.”

Cyrene grinned. “Let me set a little scenario for you if I may. Let’s say that Perdicus didn’t die. He and Gabrielle moved back to a little farm community and you didn’t see her for years. . .Then for some reason fate brings you together again. She’s no longer married. You’re also alone. And when you look at her you don’t see the gray hairs or the wrinkles or the extra pounds. What you do see is the heart you fell in love with years ago. . .Now I ask you, if you had the chance to be with her again how quick would you move?”

Xena nodded. “Not fast enough,” she whispered.

Mother and daughter studied each other a few moments. “This feels sooooo right,” Cyrene commented softly.

“Well, then,” Xena replied taking a deep breath. “You have my blessing. Not that you ever needed it,” she added with a grin.

“I need it more than you realize little one. Respect and admiration go both ways.”

“C’mere,” Xena said pulling her mother into a warm embrace. “I’m glad you’re happy. After all these years there’s no one who deserves it more. . .No one.”
Chapter 28
“Gabrielle?” Lila asked, leaning her head on the table to look at her sister. “Are you okay?”

“She passed out about an hour ago. Xena went in the kitchen and asked me to keep watch over her,” a royal guard explained. “Is there something I could do for you Princess Lila?”

“Maybe we should put her to bed,” Solari interjected.

The guard shook her head. “You better ask the queen’s consort. If she comes out here and Gabrielle’s gone I might met the business end of her chakrum. . .No thank you. But she’ll be fine until Xena comes back.”

Solari smiled and took Lila’s hand. “Come on. I’m sure she’ll be okay.”

The pair began to leave the outlined area of the huts and traveled to the river. There was a chill in the air by the waters edge and Solari gave Lila her cloak as well so the princess would have double the warmth.

“Are you going back with Xena’s mother tomorrow?” Solari asked breaking the silence.

“More than likely,” Lila answered meeting Solari’s eyes briefly before returning her focus on the water.

Solari played with the pebble that was in her hand for a few moments. “I’ll miss you greatly,” she admitted with a firm nod. “I’ve gotten kinda used to having you around.”

“I wish I could say I got used to being here but I haven’t. There’s so much to the amazons; I haven’t even begun to scratch the surface,” she giggled nervously.

“Like what?” Solari asked to keep the conversation rolling.

The two young women locked eyes. ‘Do it now’ Lila told herself. ‘The chance might never come again’. With that thought the princess pulled Solari to her, kissing her softly yet passionately. All her longing and quest for knowledge seeped into the kiss.

“Are you sure?” Solari asked, knowing what the young woman was silently asking. Lila positioned herself on Solari’s lap so she was facing her.

“Yes,” Lila whispered. “Make love to me Solari. I want you to be my first.”

“I’m not sure if I’m worthy of this gift,” Solari answered, staring into Lila’s hazel eyes.

“Who should I share this with?” Lila prodded. “A husband I may grow to despise? Or perhaps a young man who will promise me heaven then drag me through Hades on my knees? . . .No. . .I trust YOU Solari. I want this first time to be joyful and safe. I feel both those things when I’m in your arms. . .Please say yes.”

Solari’s hands traveled the length of Lila’s arms a number of times. Finally the amazon guard pulled Lila’s eager mouth to hers, kissing her with gentleness and passion.

“Yes,” Solari conceded as she pulled Lila with her to the earth below. “Yes.”
Chapter 29
“Are you all set?” Ephany asked as she entered the royal hut.

Gabrielle was dressed but she was still on the bed. At the sound of the regents overly loud and obnoxious voice she stuffed her head in a pillow and waved her arms.

Xena put a finger over her lips, “Shhh,” she instructed in a faint whisper. “Herbs haven’t kicked in yet.”

Ephany started to laugh but promptly stopped herself. Xena motioned the regent outside and the two women left.

“Give her about a quarter candlemark and a few grapes. Then she’ll be good as new,” Xena smiled. “Anyway, how did it go last night? Did ya get lucky?” Xena added wiggling her eyebrow up and down.

“Yes and no,” Ephany answered evasively.

“And that means. . .?” Xena prompted.

“I think I met someone I could really fall for. I haven’t felt this happy since Phantes,” the regent paused. “It doesn’t hurt to say his name anymore. . .I think I’m ready Xena. I’m ready to move on. . .So yes I got lucky. . .However, if you’re inquiring about my sex life that hasn’t changed. . .at least not yet,” Ephany added giving a tiny grin.

Xena smiled at her friend. “I’m happy for you Eph’.”

“I’m happy for both of us Xena. . . I think we’ve both grown up in the last few years. . .Take care of the lush,” she teased pointing to the hut as she began to walk away. “Oh and when you’re getting ready to leave let me know, I’ll round up some amazons to help you load Taria’s wagon.”

Xena smiled. “What about you? Aren’t you going to help?”

Ephany gave Xena a cocky smile. “It’s good to be the queen,” she smirked, ‘polishing’ her fingernails on her tunic before examining them in mock conceit. Finally she dropped the façade and waved, “I’ll see ya later.”

Xena offered her farewell and went back into the hut. Gabrielle was up and moving, packing away her scrolls. “How you feeling?” Xena asked softly.

“Much better, thank you,” Gabrielle responded in a normal voice. “Did you finish the packing already?”

“Yeah. I got an early start this morning.”

“Name a morning that you don’t have an earlier start,” Gabrielle observed.

“Well, there were a few mornings on Lesbo that I slept in. . .Of course I don’t know if that would count as sleeping in. I didn’t get to bed UNTIL sunrise!”

“Are you complaining Xena?”

Xena pulled the bard close, planting a passionate kiss on her consorts’ lips. “Not in the least,” she muttered.

Gabrielle rested in Xena’s arms; her head on the warrior’s shoulder. She reflected on how perfect they fit together.

“It’s going to be a wonderful honeymoon,” Gabrielle sighed.

“Oh yeah,” Xena agreed in a slow, seductive draw. “You. . .and me. . .and mother. . . and Taria. . .and Lila –

“Cut it out!” Gabrielle said swatting at the muscular arm she was recently holding tenderly. “Come on. Let’s get going.”

When they arrived at Taria and Cyrene’s hut they were surprised to see the wagon already loaded with Ephany standing by. Lila and Solari were locked in a tight embrace, oblivious to the world around them. Casually Xena strolled up to Ephany.

“What’s this?” she asked.

“Told you I’d help,” she grinned. “I didn’t do it all myself. I had help,” she replied pointing to ten amazon who now stood at attention.

“Thank you,” Xena replied, hugging Ephany. “We’ll be back soon. I promise.”

“Good,” Ephany answered as Gabrielle walked over. “Now you keep this warrior out of trouble understand?” the regent remarked as she pulled Gabrielle into a tight embrace. “I’ll miss you,” Ephany added with a whisper, her eyes beginning to tear up. The bard knew she meant every word.

“I’ll miss you too,” Gabrielle replied in a like tone.

“Okay. Enough of the mushy stuff,” Xena said lightening the farewell. “Take care Ephany” she said offering her forearm. Ephany took hold of it soundly with her own.

“You too Xena,” she added giving a shake.

Xena turned and looked at her traveling party. “Okay everybody! We’re movin’ out. Let’s go!”

Taria said the last good-byes to her friends and Gabrielle walked over to Solari and Lila.

“Gabrielle,” Solari said with a nod. “Take care.”

“You too Solari. Thank you for looking after Lila,” she replied with a knowing smile.

Solari nodded. “My pleasure. . .I wanted to ask if it would be alright if I visit Lila soon. I have to do some traveling and I’ll be near Poteidaia. I’d like to have your approval.”

Gabrielle looked at Lila and she could see the expression of hope in her sisters eyes at seeing Solari again soon. “Sure. That sounds like a wonderful idea,” she nodded. “We’re leaving soon,” Gabrielle added to her sister. Gabrielle looked back at Solari and gave her a wink.

Solari and Lila hugged once more and Solari kissed her tenderly on the lips. “I’m not going to say goodbye,” Solari said. “Because I’ll be through in the next few moons. So I’ll say I’ll see you later okay?”

Lila stroked Solari’s face tenderly, much like after their love making the night before. “I’ll wait.”

Solari smiled and pulled Lila closer once more. “Go on,” she motioned. “They’re waiting.”

Lila made her way to the wagon and stopped to see Solari one last time but she had vanished – there one moment and gone the next. Much like their first meeting when she had suddenly appeared from the trees.

Lila hopped up next to Gabrielle who sat next to Xena. Taria and Cyrene took to the back of the wagon with Taria’s last 20 years packed inside.

“Everybody ready?” Xena called out. “We didn’t forget anyone did we?” she teased. “Everyone’s with their designated buddy, right? We don’t want to leave anyone behind.”

Xena felt a pillow smack the back of her head and turned to see her mother’s lover wearing a guilty smirk.

“I’ll take that as a yes,” Xena replied dryly.

As she put the wagon in motion, with Argo and Taria’s mare in the lead, the villagers waved goodbye.

Once on the road, Gabrielle rested her head on Xena’s shoulder. “What are we going to do for a honeymoon? Any ideas on where to go?”

“Oh yes,” Xena smiled.

“Where?” Gabrielle asked. After a few seconds she could tell the warrior wasn’t going to give any details voluntarily. “Are you going to tell me?”

“Oh no,” Xena smiled again.

“Come on!” Gabrielle insisted. “At least give me a clue.”

Xena looked at Gabrielle. “Let’s play questions.” Xena answered.

Gabrielle scolded Xena with her eyes but she began to play their favorite game just the same. After five turns and no luck, Xena turned seriously to Gabrielle.

“Give it up Gabrielle,” Xena replied. “You’re not going to get it,” she replied with a tiny smile.

“What I wouldn’t give to be able to do that pinch thing right now?” Gabrielle muttered under her breath.

“What’s that?” Xena asked. She heard the bard loud and clear but she liked the feel of annoying Gabrielle just a little.

“I know you heard me,” Gabrielle answered with a smile. “You can’t play dumb with me warrior mine.”

Xena reflected. ‘No, I can’t. You understand me like no one ever has or will. You owned my heart for the longest time. And now you own my soul.’

“You’re right Beautiful,” Xena replied as they traveled into the sunrise. One hand on the reins and one hand on her bards’ thigh. “You’re absolutely right.”

The End

Continued in Home Sweet Home

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