Home Sweet Home by CN Winters

Home Sweet Home
by CN Winters
Poetry by Meluu
Part 3 in the Homecoming Series

Chapter 1

Xena stood knee-high in the water. Her ear crooked toward the surface. She should have been back to camp minutes ago but dinner still eluded her. Actually, the fish were present but her concentration wasn’t . Gabrielle filled her thoughts.

Their honeymoon five years before was electrifying to say the least – of course that was after they ‘unloaded’ the wagon, taking their families back home. They decided to finally take advantage of Cleopatra’s offer of visiting Egypt. Cleo was disappointed that Xena was ‘taken’ but she kept her promise of honoring the warrior. Feasts were prepared for every meal and they were given royal quarters overlooking the Nile.

Xena reflected on making love to Gabrielle on the silk sheets unsure of where the bedding ended and the bards body began. Both were soft and luscious to the touch.

But that was five years ago. She couldn’t remember the last time she and the bard were intimate. And the smile that accompanied the honeymoon memory vanished as quickly as it came. It was times like these, when she was alone, that she could feel the pain of the growing distance between them the most.

At first, it was just bickering – nothing more. Soon, however, it became more frequent and more heated. Where to stay, when to eat or even something as trivial as the weather was cause for debate. For the first time in her life, Xena felt incompetent. She felt her list of many skills dwindling each day in the bard’s raging eyes.

Xena shook her head, trying to clear her thoughts and get down to the business at hand. Within seconds she had two perch and then two more. She promptly strung them and headed to camp.

Slowly she made her way to the fire pit and the writing bard. Gabrielle looked up from her scroll as she heard Xena approach. Xena suddenly felt cold as icy green looked with cerulean blue. She knelt by the fire and began the task of cleaning her catch.

“We’ve got perch tonight,” Xena commented conversationally.

“Too bad they weren’t here half a candlemark when I was hungry,” the bard remarked. “What took so long?”

Xena’s back was to Gabrielle and she closed her eyes against the harshness of the bards voice. “When are you not hungry?” the warrior mumbled softly, in defense.

“I heard that,” Gabrielle replied. The smile was devoid from her voice. ‘Tartarus’ Xena cursed silently. ‘When’s the last time I even saw her smile?!’

“I’m sorry. I’m just on edge,” the warrior offered, not wanting to argue. She dropped the fish into the frying pan and Gabrielle put down her scroll.

“Here,” the bard said, moving to her feet. “Go sharpen your sword or something. I’d like the food to be edible.”

Xena turned and hoped upon hope there would be a teasing grin on the bards face. Once again she was disappointed. Gabrielle settled inches away from Xena with fork in hand. Xena watched the bard’s face but Gabrielle refused to look her way. She could feel Xena’s stare, wondering what was going through the warrior’s mind.

“What?” she finally asked, still looking into the frying pan.

Although being a woman who was rarely surprised Xena felt taken aback by the one word question, unsure of how to answer. “What’s wrong?” Xena finally asked softly.

“Nothing,” the bard answered shortly.

Xena threw her hands up in frustration. “Thanks for the standard reply,” Xena said rising from the ground.

Gabrielle shook her head and bit her bottom lip. “And just what is that supposed to mean?!” she snapped before looking at her wife, her bondmate, her ‘former’ lover.

“You always say it’s nothing,” Xena replied with her hands firmly on her hips. “Every time I ask what’s bothering you, you never answer me.”

“What’s the point?” Gabrielle said frustrated.

“What’s the point?!” Xena exclaimed. “The point is: After all we’ve been through; after everything it took to be together, we can’t seem to do anything to KEEP it together!”

“Don’t be ridiculous!” Gabrielle darted to her feet as she continued. “We are together! I’m still HERE aren’t I?”

“Yes” Xena countered, her voice growing softer. “You’re here,” she said motioning to the woods around them, “but you’re not here,” she concluded placing her hand over her heart.

Gabrielle sighed in anger. “I don’t know what more you want,” she said taking a seat in front of the fire again.

“For starters, making love would be nice,” Xena answered hotly, her anger rising again. “Can you remember the last time? Because I can’t!”

“Fine!” Gabrielle answered swiftly pulling the green tunic off as she stood up. She darted to her belt and began to work on her skirt until Xena’s voice stopped her.

“Don’t,” Xena whispered, trying to stay calm. She felt many emotions and arousal wasn’t one of the them; neither anger nor rage. All she felt was hurt and sorrow; cold and hollow.

“But I thought this is what you wanted Xena,” the bard said sarcastically. “Oh I’m sorry! Did you want to do the honors?” she added with just as much acidity in her voice.

Xena gave up and turned, heading back toward the river. As she walked the tears began to fall down her beautiful cheeks and she picked up her pace. Gabrielle waited until Xena was out of sight. Only then did she collapse to the ground in her own sorrow, shaking violently.

A couple of candlemarks later the fish lay uneaten in some nearby bushes and Gabrielle lay in their sleeping roll alone. How could she tell Xena what was wrong? She, herself didn’t know the answer. Her anger; her frustration ran deep with no explanation as to why. It was roughly a year ago when she began to feel restless. But lately things had gotten worse. Much worse.

She no longer felt the magnetic attraction to Xena she once had. There was a time when she could just glance at the warrior and feel her heart rate double. Lately, every time her eyes fell on Xena she had an overwhelming sensation to use the warrior’s body for staff practice. It left the bard feeling guilty and above all else, sad. She knew she loved Xena. She did. But she found herself lashing out at her at every opportunity. And that fact made the bard feel worthless as a wife and a human being.

Gabrielle’s attention perked up as she heard the rustling. Quickly, she sat up, noting the warriors return. Xena noticed the bard was still awake. She stopped in her tracks, unsure of what to do. Should she lay down and try to sleep or should she go back into the forest? Gabrielle’s voice, soft and fearful, made her decide.

“Please come to bed,” Gabrielle whispered.

Xena nodded once and walked over, removing her armor along the way. Cautiously she climbed under the furs, next to the bard. They laid side by side and said nothing. Gabrielle cleared her throat just a tad and softly asked, “Will you hold me?”

Xena shifted and offered her shoulder which the bard quietly snuggled into. “I’m sorry Xena,” Gabrielle confessed. “I know you don’t understand what’s happening between us and I don’t understand it myself. I . . .I . . .”

Xena kissed the bard on the top of the head and pulled her closer. “I love you Gabrielle. I always will. . .Maybe you just need some time away to think about what you want.”

“What do you mean?” Gabrielle asked, the concern ringing in her voice. “What are you saying? Do you want to separate?”

“No. I don’t want to separate,” Xena replied. “But you’re not happy here with me. I’d rather let you go than to cause you pain.”

“You don’t want me?” Gabrielle asked, moving to look in Xena’s eyes.

“No,” Xena said firmly. “I committed myself to you for the rest of my life and I meant it when I said I would have no other . . . Oh Gabrielle . . . all I ever wanted was your happiness. . .and if being happy means I have to walk away then I will. . .It would hurt terribly but I love you that much. Do you understand?”

Gabrielle nodded and began to grin. “That sounds like a beautiful plan. . .that is, of course, if that’s what I really wanted.”

“What do you want?” Xena asked softly.

“I don’t know,” Gabrielle replied, starting to tear up, the weep just as heavy as the frustration in her voice. “But I do know I don’t want to leave you and I don’t want you to leave me.”

“Shhh,” Xena replied pulling the bard back down to her shoulder. “It’s okay.” After a few minutes Gabrielle seemed to relax and a thought occurred to the warrior. “Perhaps we should go to the amazons?” Xena offered. “It’s been quite awhile since we visited them. You can catch up with Lila. I could do some sparing with Ephany. . .Maybe they might have some advice.”

“How are they going to help us?” Gabrielle asked still frustrated. But unlike times past, she noticed the harshness in it immediately. “What I mean is-

“I know what you mean,” Xena giggled at the bard. ‘She’s making an effort’, Xena grinned. “All I’m saying is maybe we’re just too close to this situation to see a solution. It’s like these woods for example. Sitting her you can’t see the forest because we’re surrounded by it. But atop that ridge today, we did see it. We had a different perspective.”

“So in others words,” the bard said thinking, resting on her elbows, “we can’t see the forest for the trees?”

“Exactly,” Xena commended. “You and I are so close to our problems that we are unable to see them. . .Let’s go back to the amazons. Let’s try to find a different perspective.”

Gabrielle smiled. “I think you’ve got a wonderful idea.”

Xena’s heart beamed and she basked in the glow of Gabrielle’s smile. But she wondered how long it would last and felt her own smile fall. Gabrielle quirked her head as if to ask what was the matter. But Xena simply smiled again and shook of the unasked question, bringing the bard to her bosom again. “I love you Gabrielle,” she whispered.

“I love you too Xena,” was Gabrielle’s reply. Minutes later, with a plan in tact, the couple fell asleep.
Chapter 2
Apollo began to make his first appearance over the ridge giving the warrior enough light to begin quietly collecting their belongs. As Xena returned from washing the cookware, she noticed the bard still slept. She packed the saddlebag in silence, half watching the slumbering bard. When she walked over to Argo, Xena noticed the scroll that lay next to the bard.

After returning from the mare, Xena stopped and looked at the roll of parchment. Slowly she walked over and knelt next to the sleeping bard. ‘Don’t do it,’ Xena told herself. Her actions, however betrayed her mind and she soon found her fingers unrolling the scroll; her eyes scanning the ink.

Gods, how long has it been?
I can’t even remember how it felt. . .
No lingering memories of it even,
Yet I know I was there once. . .

I must have felt it all
The nervous moments, the shuddering
Blushing as our eyes met and held. . .
The wonderfully suffocating passion

Never enough time to say it all. . .
Always finding a reason to touch
Everything was fresh, untried, joyful
Fought sleep couldn’t bear to part

You feel complete, a little smug
You speak sentences with just a look. . .
You now say “we” not “I”. . .
Giving to your love becomes everything.

The laughter comes so easily
The tears just as quickly
Emotions so near the surface
Being apart is too much pain. . .

It must have been like that
. . .to be in love. . .
But. . .I just can’t remember. . .

It was too long ago.

Quietly, Xena re-rolled the scroll and laid it beside the bard again. ‘She’s no longer in love with me’. Xena found it difficult to breathe. She wanted to shake the bard awake, burn the parchment on the campfire and, while she was at, perhaps raid and loot an innocent, defenseless town. ‘Well, maybe not the last one,” the warrior reassessed with a dismal grin. ‘But a good tavern brawl might work out some frustrations’.

And the warrior realized that’s what the really issue was – her frustration. Something was driving a wedge between the pair, so much so that Gabrielle felt complied to put it on paper; declaring that she was no longer in love with the warrior. Xena knew Gabrielle loved her but that euphoric feeling of enlightenment was absent. She decided it wouldn’t return anytime soon if the bard realized Xena had gone through her personal things. In that instant, Xena felt guilty, perhaps more guilty than she had felt in her life. And that was saying a lot given the warrior’s brutal past.

Xena put the scrolls in Gabrielle’s bag quietly and resumed picking up the camp. All that was soon left was the bedroll which the bard still made good use of. She started to mumble and Xena walked over to listen, hoping for any clue has to the bards behavior of the several past months. But nothing distinguishable came from the bard so the warrior decided to snuggle back into the bed rolls close to her wife.

“Gabrielle,” Xena whispered. “You need to wake up. If we’re going to make it to the amazons by this evening we have to get moving.” When that didn’t do anything but manage a grumbled protest, Xena knew something that would work. “Are you hungry? I collected some strawberries this morning.”

“Huh?” the bard said sleepily, beginning to rise. “Strawberries?” she asked with a yawn.

Xena smiled. “Thought that would get ya movin,” Xena replied, reaching behind her. She pulled a berry from the food pouch they always carried and offered it to the bard. “They’re really sweet, just the way you like them.”

Gabrielle took a bite from Xena’s fingers and both women felt a jolt that neither had experienced in weeks – sexual arousal. Both women examined each other as Gabrielle chewed wondering if the feelings were only one sided.

“Could I have another?” Gabrielle asked after swallowing.

Xena found herself fumbling with the bag before successfully retrieving another one. ‘Oh yes. She felt it too’, Gabrielle grinned briefly, before Xena could catch her. This time as Gabrielle went for the fruit her tongue played with the tip before she brought it into her mouth. Xena expelled a whimpering sigh of desire. As Gabrielle finished the second berry, the warrior found her voice.

“Would you like another?” Xena asked, doing her damnedest to keep her breathing even.

Gabrielle nodded and watched the warrior’s movements. She had forgotten how much she loved watching Xena move and the shy, reserved side she was seeing from the warrior excited her even more.

This time when Gabrielle was offered the fruit, she held onto Xena’s hand with both of her hands. She lightly ran her fingertips across the warrior’s hands, traveling to the wrist. All the while, she nibbled on the berry taking little bites and swallowing quickly. When she worked her way to the end, her lips continued up nipping along to the warrior’s wrist.

Xena closed her eyes as her free hand found the back of the bards head, stroking her hair affectionately. Xena honestly couldn’t remember when they had been this tender with each other. She could feel her desire, her passion growing stronger by the second. She had the overwhelming sensation of throwing the bard to the bed rolls, showering her with velvet kisses and long, deep caresses that came from the very bottom of her soul.

Xena steadied her breathing and pulled away. ‘No.’ Xena told herself. ‘Not until we find out what’s wrong.’

Gabrielle opened her eyes and looked up to see what brought on Xena’s need to depart her hand. The bards eyes questioned Xena silently.

“If we keep enjoying breakfast,” Xena grinned, hoping to keep the conversation light, “I’m going to end up taking you. . .and I don’t want that. I mean I do,” Xena said quickly. “I just . . .It’s that. . .Oh Tartarus Gabrielle. . . I want a better understanding of what’s bother us. Know what I’m sayin?”

Gabrielle grinned but the disappointment hung in her eyes. “Yes. I know what you’re saying Xena. . .but you gotta admit. . . it felt pretty wonderful.”

Xena smiled. “No arguments here.” Her fingertips began to caress the bards cheek. “It’s still there,” Xena whispered. “We just have to find out why it stays dormant for so long.”

“We will,” Gabrielle whispered, moving into the warriors arms. “Even if it kills me.”

“Well I won’t let it come to that,” Xena grinned. “We’ve gotta get moving Beautiful.”
Chapter 3
They had walked together, side by side for the last two candlemarks with Argo in tow, behind them. They felt fortunate to have the full moon to guide them through the darkness. They stopped when they got to the familiar patch of trees.

“Anytime now ladies,” Gabrielle smiled.

Suddenly the ropes fell and soon they were surrounded by the masked women. As usually Solari was the first to pull up her disguise. The queen and the amazon warrior embraced hard and long.

“How are you two?” Solari asked gripping Xena’s arm in greetings. “We’ve missed you, ya know,” she added before turning to the runner with a nod.

“How are things around here?” Gabrielle said to be friendly on one hand, and evasive on the other.

“Pretty quiet actually,” Solari replied as they began to walk. “Ephany is planning the summer festival for when the final troops arrive.”

“Yeah I heard Ephany sent them to King Licieus kingdom. What was that all about?”

“Slavers had taken an entire town and I mean an ENTIRE town. His kingdom was next but our warriors put a stop to it. He traded us grain last year when that flood destroyed most of our crops. Ephany thought it was only fair since he helped us. Hopefully they will be arriving this week.”

“Guess they put an end to the raiders huh?” Xena asked.

“Our best and bravest,” Solari grinned.

“I thought you were one of the best and bravest Solari,” the warrior teased. “What are you doing still here?”

Solari smiled at the good natured ribbing. “I have commitments to consider back at home.”

“Lila wouldn’t let ya leave huh?” the warrior replied.

“Nope,” Solari chuckled. “And in truth I don’t mind. What do I want with trampling around the countryside, fighting in a kingdom that isn’t mine, for a bunch of people I don’t know when I can come home in the evening to a beautiful daughter and a warm wife in a warm bed. . .Nah,” Solari concluded. “I like being settled.”

“You sound like your getting old,” Xena joked.

“Not old – just mature,” Solari countered. “Anyway, how’s your mom and Taria doing?” Solari added changing the subject.

“Good. We saw them . . .three months ago?” Xena asked, her eyes looking to Gabrielle for clarification.

“Something like that,” Gabrielle added. “They seemed quite happy. A lot thinner too. Xena thought perhaps they were sick but Cyrene explained it as getting ‘a lot of exercise’.” Gabrielle couldn’t contain her giggle at the end.

“Is that so?” Solari replied with a sly grin. “Gotta look out for those insatiable women of Amphipolis,” the amazon warrior added with a wink to the bard.

“Oh yeah,” Gabrielle replied diplomatically.

As they neared the village, Xena reached for Gabrielle’s hand. It was something the warrior hadn’t done in a long time. She realized they need to put on a ‘couplely’ air for the ‘village folk’ as Xena sometimes teased them. Lila and Ephany waited outside the royal hut and everyone was greeted warmly.

“We’re having you’re quarters prepared.” Ephany informed them. “It’s late, I know, but we’ll be done shortly. Would you like to take a walk to the mess hall and get some food.”

“Actually, I’d like to catch up with Lila if you don’t mind Eph’. I’m sure Xena wouldn’t mind a drink. The waterskin’s been empty for the last two candlemarks.”

Ephany was a bright woman. Not only was she good at being a warrior but she could read people extremely well which made her an effective leader. “Okaaaaay,” she nodded. “Shall we go then Xena?”

“Certainly,” Xena answered. “I’ll see ya later tonight?” the warrior asked the bard.

“Of course,” Gabrielle answered sharply. She noticed the tone and softened a bit. “I’ll be in the hut or at Lila’s.”

They paused a moment summing each other up and trying to decide how to part company. Awkwardly, Xena approached Gabrielle and the bard offered her cheek at the last moment, instead of her lips, for the warrior’s kiss.

“Let’s go,” Xena said to Ephany as she went toward the mess hall. Ephany watched Gabrielle as the bard studied the warrior for a moment. Something was not right Ephany concluded. Not right at all. She jogged a few steps to catch up with the warrior, her curiosity running rampant in her mind.

“You okay?” Lila asked as she watched Gabrielle closely examining her wife and regent as they walked.

“No,” Gabrielle answered honestly. “I’m not.” With that, they walked to the princess’ quarters.
Chapter 4
Xena grabbed some grapes and water before taking a seat, with Ephany close on her heels.

“So what was all that about?” the regent asked.

“What do you mean?” Xena asked casually.

“That ever so warm departure,” Ephany replied. “You and Gabrielle have a fight on the way in,” she added with concern.

“Actually no,” Xena grinned for show. It was useless, however, because Ephany saw through it. “The last day has been pretty quiet by comparison.”

“Comparison to what,” Ephany prodded.

Xena played with her grapes for a moment, reluctant at first.

“About a year ago, not long after we were here last, things began to change. Gabrielle and I . . .”

Xena didn’t quite know what to tell the regent. Ephany waited a moment before prompting her.

“What?” the blonde warrior asked.

“That’s just it,” Xena replied with frustration. “I don’t know what happened. . .We rarely talk anymore. Everything is an argument. I can’t do anything to please her. . .I know she’s unhappy but she tells me she doesn’t know why.”

“Do you believe that?” Ephany interrupted.

“Yes . . .I do now. . . This morning while she slept I looked at the scroll she was working on before our fight last night. I know I shouldn’t have but I need to know if she was hiding something from me.”

“What did it say?” Ephany asked.

Xena began to play with the grapes again. “She’s not in love with me anymore,” the warrior whispered.

Ephany could hear so much in the quiet admission – hurt, anger, fear. She was a bit surprised the warrior had been so open with her. She reached across the table and took a firm grasp on Xena’s now shaking hand.

“It’s okay,” Ephany stated firmly, holding the warriors hand tighter. “You and Gabrielle will get through this. There’s no such thing as happily ever after Xena. It takes work and you and Gabrielle. . .” the regent said beginning to grin. “Let’s say you’re both very determined and like to see things through. . .I know you’ll see this through.”

Xena began to shake her head. “I don’t know if that’s true Eph’. I mean. . .I don’t even know where to begin.”

Ephany thought for a moment. “Terris!” she exclaimed quietly. “That’s what you and Gabrielle should do! Go see Terris.”

“The dead princess?” Xena asked.

“No. Not THAT Terris. The village healer.”

Xena considered the reasons as to why she would need a healer. When she came up empty, she moved to inquire Ephany further about the suggestion but the regent was one step ahead of her.

“She doesn’t just care for physical healing but spiritual healing too. She can be very helpful in mending the heart. You should strongly consider it,” Ephany implored.

Ephany finally saw Xena’s first genuine grin of the evening. “Thanks Eph’,” Xena said sincerely.

“Don’t mention it. . .Besides I owe you. I may not be with Diteria now if you hadn’t put me up to asking her out for the evening.”

“Things are going well then I take it?” Xena smiled; happy for her friends’ happiness.

“Yes. We’re doing okay,” Ephany nodded without looking too joyful. She was still sorrowed by her friends’ sorrow. “Eat up,” Ephany added as she rose. “I’m going to speak with Terris. . .that is if you’d like to meet with her tomorrow.”

Xena paused a moment. Would Gabrielle be open to the idea? She wasn’t sure but she decided that she would go even if Gabrielle wouldn’t and she politely nodded to Ephany an approval.

“Good,” the regent smiled. “Now try to get some rest. I expect you on the practice field bright and early,” she added with a wink. “I got 10 dinars that says I can drop you with a staff before you can drop me.”

The sly, mischievous look returned to Xena’s eyes and lips. “You’re on,” she taunted.

Meanwhile, Gabrielle and Lila were in her royal hut. It wasn’t as large as Gabrielle’s but it had bathing facilities and an extra room like the queen’s quarters.

“She’s gotten so big!” Gabrielle exclaimed softly as Lila’s daughter waddled to her mama.

“Yeah. She has,” Lila said helping the child to her lap. “She was just learning to sit on her own when you were last here.”

“Can I hold her?” Gabrielle asked.

“Sure,” Lila answered. “Do you wanna go see Aunt Gabby? Come on sugar,” she whispered rising with the baby in her arms.

Lila and Gabrielle met in the center of the room and they waited a few moments letting the child get familiar with the stranger. Sensing her mothers comfort, the child moved for Gabrielle’s now open arms.

“Aren’t you precious?” Gabrielle cooed. The child smiled and snuggled into the bards shoulder. “Maybe a little sleepy too huh? It’s late isn’t it angel? It’s past your aunt’s bedtime too,” Gabrielle giggled.

The bard took a seat in a nearby rocking chair and cuddled the bundle in her arms. “She’s got mom’s eyes,” Gabrielle smiled to her sister.

“And her Aunt’s defiant nature,” Lila teased.

“Are you sure she doesn’t get that from her mama?” Gabrielle countered.

“Perhaps your right,” Lila admitted. “Solari can be pretty pig headed at times.”

Gabrielle chuckled and kissed her niece on the top of her head. “Your mama’s silly,” she told the young one in her arms.

Lila studied her sister and after a few moments Gabrielle could hear the silence and felt her sisters eyes upon her. “What?” Gabrielle asked softly.

“Are you gonna tell me what’s up with you and Xena?” Lila asked. “I mean, I’m assuming that’s what the problem’s concerning.”

“It’s more me than Xena,” Gabrielle offered. “She tries . . .I try too but. . .”

“I’m not sure I understand Gabrielle,” she confessed after a brief silence.

Gabrielle sighed and rested her cheek on her nieces’ head. “I love her Lila. I do but. . .something is missing. I don’t feel complete anymore. I don’t know how to explain it. . .Xena was patient for a long time but her patience is wearing out. She suggested we come here. Maybe find out what’s wrong.”

Lila nodded. “Sounds like a good plan. In fact, our healer Terris is wonderful at talking to couples. After I gave birth to Ruth it was difficult for Solari and I to have time for ourselves and I’ll admit, it started to take it’s toll on us. . .But Terris gave us some wonderful ideas. She’s been a great asset to this village. She’s mended everything from broken arms to broken hearts. Maybe you should see her.”

“I don’t know,” Gabrielle replied. “I don’t know if Xena would be willing to talk about things with someone she doesn’t know. . .Tartarus, it took years for me to get her to open up to me.”

Lila pursed her lips for a moment. “Give her a chance Gabrielle. She may surprise you.”

Gabrielle considered her sisters comments. She looked down to find the toddler now asleep. “I think she’s got the right idea,” Gabrielle told her sister, feeling her own lids growing heavy themselves.

“Go get some rest,” Lila advised as she picked up her daughter from her sisters arms. “We’ll talk some more in the morning if you like.”

Gabrielle rose and they kissed. “Thanks for the ear sis’.,” Gabrielle called as she moved toward the door.

“Anytime,” Lila replied. “Just think about Terris okay?”

“I will.” Gabrielle nodded. “Good night Lila.”

“Goodnight Gabrielle.”

With that the bard left and made her way back to her hut. When she entered she found the guards on post at the front door. “Is Xena back yet?” she asked.

“Yes. Your highness. She just returned minutes ago.”

“Thank you,” she replied. “You two can take the night off. We’ll be fine.”

“As you wish,” the nearest guard said with a nod as the pair made their departure. She slipped in the door to find Xena standing by the bed naked. She couldn’t help but smile. The warm gesture made Xena smile as well.

“Just getting ready for bed,” the warrior replied as she pulled a shift over her head, covering her slops and curves from the bard’s eyes. Gabrielle moved and took a seat on the bed pulling her boots off first.

Xena walked over and handed Gabrielle a clean shift. “Here you go,” she said offering it.

“Thanks,” Gabrielle whispered, locking eyes with the dark-haired warrior. “I know I haven’t said it much lately but. . .I still think you’re the most gorgeous woman I’ve ever seen.”

Xena grinned and took a seat next to Gabrielle. “Thank you, Beautiful” she whispered, pushing Gabrielle’s hair behind her ear. “You’re not so bad yourself,” she added with a smile.

Gabrielle smiled but Xena could feel the bard’s tension so she rose. “I’m going to get a drink while you get changed. Did you want anything?”

“No I’m okay,” Gabrielle replied, allowing herself to breath again. “Thanks.”

Xena nodded and picked up the waterskin on the way out to the well. When she returned Gabrielle was dressed and already under the covers.

“It’s cold out there tonight,” Xena mentioned. She took a drink of the cool water as she walked over to the bed. “Would you like some?” Xena offered.

Gabrielle reached without comment as she sat up. The water was very cool and clean. After several gulps she handed it back to Xena. The warrior shook it, noticing it was nearly gone. “Yeah!” she joked in good nature. “You drank all my water!”

“Fine,” Gabrielle replied sharply. “Give me the skin and I’ll get you some more.”

“I was only kidding Gabrielle,” the warrior replied, sounding wounded, as she climbed into the bed next to the bard.

Gabrielle closed her eyes. “I’m sorry,” she whispered. “I’ve seemed to have lost my sense of humor huh?”

Xena and the bard examined each other without comment for a short while. “Things are real . . .delicate. . .I should just watch what I say. It’s my fault.”

“No it’s not,” Gabrielle countered. “You just made an innocent comment in the spirit of fun and I jumped down your throat!”

“Kinda like now,” the warrior answered with a growing smile.

Gabrielle started to feel anger but the longer she looked at Xena’s smile the more the sensation of rage died down and she found herself with a small smirk on her face. She promptly picked up her pillow and hit the smiling warrior. Xena returned fire with her own bedding and soon both of them were swinging and swatting; laughing and bouncing.

Xena stole Gabrielle’s pillow and sent it across the room. She swiftly caught the bard by the arms and pinned her to bed, leaning over her. Their eyes were shining with playful tenderness and the more the two women locked eyes the more the smiles faded.

It had been so long since they actually ‘played’ with each other but instead of mourning the last few months, Xena began to smile again enjoying the moment they had right now. Gabrielle reached up and stroked Xena’s face tenderly.

The warrior closed her eyes against the gentle assault, enjoying the sensation of Gabrielle being so affectionate. When she felt the fingertips leave her cheek; floating down to her cleavage, she opened her eyes again to find the look of desire burning brightly in the bards’ eyes and an unasked question.

Xena uttered one word and it was all the bard needed.

“Yes,” the warrior said softly, releasing her hold.

Gabrielle rose up and captured Xena’s lips with her own. The warrior’s arm slipped behind the bards’ back, offering support. She had almost forgot how soft Gabrielle’s lips were and she reveled in the sensation. As the kiss continued the warrior could feel her wetness growing stronger between her thighs. And when the bards tongue punctured through her lips, Xena was unable to control her moan of pleasure.

The sound of Xena’s pleasure heightened the bards arousal and her hand cupped the back of Xena’s head, pulling her as close as possible. Her other hand worked on the thin straps of Xena’s shift, pushing them down to expose the velvet soft breasts to the cool night air. The combo of the draft and Gabrielle’s kisses made her nipples erect.

The bard’s lips fled from the warrior only to return on her nipples making them harder than before. Xena shifted until Gabrielle’s back was on the bed again. Only then did she roll onto her own back. The bard moved with her – her mouth refusing to give up its prize.

“Oh Gods Gabrielle,” the warrior mumbled. She could feel her orgasm approaching quickly but she did nothing to stop it. She loved this sensation. Needed it. Craved it for so long.

Gabrielle’s thigh found the warrior’s center and both women began rocking their hips. The bard could feel Xena’s contact and, she too, let her want take hold of her. The feel of Xena’s nipple in her mouth, her thigh rubbing against her wet core – it was Elysia. Suddenly, she felt the need to warn the warrior.

“Oh Gods,” Gabrielle whimpered. “If we keep this up . . . I’m not going to be able to stop,” the bard confessed in a ragged breath.

“Don’t stop,” Xena answered, her hand now gripping the back of the bards leg. “Don’t stop,” she began to repeat over and over.

Gabrielle reclaimed Xena’s lips when she felt herself beginning to crest, inching higher and higher.

“By the Gods Xena,” Gabrielle exclaimed as her back arched and her hips jerked sporadically.

The sight of Gabrielle in uttermost physical pleasure – not to mention the pounding sensations of the bards jarring hips – sent the warrior over her edge as well.

“Gabriellllle,” she cried as her orgasm overtook her. Her hands locked on the bards’ hips, riding the feeling for all that she could. Gabrielle collapsed into Xena’s shoulder as the warrior’s ripples slowly subsided.

Her joy didn’t last long however. She could feel the bard’s tears on her shoulder. Xena pulled her as close as she possibly could without crushing the small woman.

“I love you Gabrielle,” Xena whispered. “With all my heart.”

The bard cried openly now at the warrior’s confession. “I love you too Xena,” she sobbed. “but why doesn’t it last. Why can’t we feel this way all the time like we once did?”

“We’ll be okay,” Xena said trying her best to sound confident. “We’ll find out. . .together.” Xena thought back to her conversation earlier with the regent. “You know Ephany said the healer in the village might be able to help. I’m going to go see her tomorrow. I’d like you to join me but I won’t force you if you don’t want to.”

Gabrielle sat on her elbow, looking down at the warrior. Her eyes were still glassy from her tears and Xena wiped the bards cheeks with the back of her finger tips. Gabrielle turned her head, lightly kissing the fingertips. “I think that’s a wonderful idea. Lila had mentioned it to me too. . .I’m ashamed to admit it but I told her I didn’t think you would go.”

“Gabrielle,” Xena said pulling the bard back to her shoulder. “I’d go to Tartarus and back for you.”

“After these last few months with me I’d say you already have,” Gabrielle replied, the depression filling her voice.

“I love you Beautiful,” Xena said tightening her hold. “Let’s just try to concentrate on the here and now for the time being. . . I’d always rather be with you than without you. Just try to remember that ‘k?”

“I love you too Xena.”

With that the women snuggled closer in each others arms and for the first night in months had a deep, restful sleep.
Chapter 6
“It’s gonna bruise,” Gabrielle grinned as they sat waiting for Terris.

The warrior’s red eye was beginning to grow into purple and blue hues.

“She got lucky,” Xena grinned back at the bard.

Gabrielle laughed and shook her head. “I don’t know what I’m gonna do with the two of you. . .But at least you won the bet.”

“Guess I shouldn’t have agreed to two outta three huh?” Xena replied, carefully touching the puffy eyelid.

Just then Terris walked in. “I’m sorry to keep you wanting. One of the girls in the dorms had a fever and –

Terris stopped and looked at the warrior’s blackening eye. “Did you do that?” she asked Gabrielle.

Gabrielle seemed a bit confused at first then she realized what Terris meant. “No,” she giggled. “Her and Ephany were on the practice field today.”

Terris smiled. “That’s good,” she smiled warmly. “I’ve seen couples who’ve walked in looking a lot worse,” she teased. “Come on in back,” she added waving the two inside the examining room.

Obediently, Xena and Gabrielle followed behind her in silence.

“So what brings you here today?” she asked casually.

All three women took a seat. Xena looked to Gabrielle but the bard said nothing.

“We. . .fight. . .a lot,” the warrior started.

Terris nodded. “Any thing in particular?” she asked.

“No,” the warrior grinned, trying to mask her discomfort. “You name it and we’ll argue about it.”

“Do you think that’s true?” Terris asked Gabrielle.

Gabrielle nodded. “Yes, it’s true.”

“Why do you think that is?” she asked the couple.

“We don’t know. That’s why we’re here,” Xena replied for the two of them.

“Fair enough,” Terris replied. “How does the argument usually start?”

Gabrielle cleared her throat. “Umm. . .Sometimes. . .Actually most of the time Xena says something and I. . .get angry.”

“What does she say that makes you angry?” Terris asked.

“Oh I don’t know . . . anything. . .like ‘We’re having perch tonight’.”

Terris grinned. “So what you’re saying is anything is cause for debate? There’s not one subject in particular that sets of the alarm.”

Gabrielle nodded again.

“What do you do when this happens Xena?” the healer asked.

“At first I brushed it off but as the months have gone by and it’s gotten worse I just snap back at her.”

“How do you feel when that happens?” Terris replied.

“Worse. . .It hurts a lot because I love Gabrielle. . .very much.”

“What about you Gabrielle?” the healer asked. “Do you love Xena?”

“Yes I do,” Gabrielle replied quietly.

“But she’s not in love with me,” Xena told Terris softly.

Gabrielle looked over at Xena. “What do you mean?” she asked the warrior.

“You’re not in love with me,” Xena repeated this time looking at the bard.

“Says who?” Gabrielle asked growing angry.

“Says you,” she replied softly. Xena realized she would have to make her confession. “I read your scroll,” she added quietly.

Gabrielle felt the flames go to her cheeks. “You what?!”

“I didn’t want to,” Xena insisted. “I had to. It was lying next to you yesterday morning. I had to find out what was bothering you and since you wouldn’t tell me-

“You read my scroll?! Just because it was lying out, you think that gives you the right?!”

“It was wrong! I know!,” Xena admitted. “But I don’t know what to do anymore. I don’t know how to make you happy.”

“Well going through my private things is not the answer Xena! How could you?!”

“I told you! I am desperate!” Xena shouted. “I can’t do anything right at this point so what does it matter if I looked at it. . .Go on! Tell her how incompetent I am!” Xena said as she pointed to Terris.

“I never said you were incompetent!” Gabrielle retorted just as boldly.

“Not directly!”

Xena was on her feet now and Terris knew she had to step in. “Okay. Okay,” she said softly, trying to calm the room down. “Let’s just relax a moment before something ends up getting broke in here,” she said with a comforting grin. “Would you please sit down again Xena?” the healer asked without judgement. Quietly the warrior complied.

No one said anything. Xena sat with her head hung low; Gabrielle with her arms folded across her chest. “What are you thinking Gabrielle?” the healer asked.

“I can’t believe she did that.” Her hostility coated the words.

Xena raised her head and looked over at the bard. “I didn’t know what else to do,” the warrior sighed, on the verge of weeping. “I’m sorry and I won’t do it again.”

“Is that supposed to make it all better?!” Gabrielle snapped. “You say you’re sorry so I’m supposed to say ‘Oh that’s okay Xena. No harm done’. Well your wrong! . . .How can I trust you when you don’t trust me?”

“What do mean I don’t trust you?!” the warrior replied hotly.

Gabrielle looked at Terris, refusing to look at Xena. “The night before, after the latest fight, I told her I didn’t know why I was feeling the way I’ve been feeling-

“Please,” Terris interrupted. “Tell her. Not me.”

Gabrielle waited a moment and took a deep breath before she faced Xena. “I don’t know why things have gotten so far off track but that wasn’t enough for you. You didn’t believe me and you thought you would find the answer in my scrolls. . .You didn’t trust me.” Gabrielle’s anger melted away replaced by her sorrow.

There were no more arguments the warrior could offer because she knew the bard was correct in her assessment. “You’re right,” Xena whispered. “I don’t think I trust you.”

“Why?” Gabrielle pleaded.

Xena thought for a moment unable to look at the bard any longer. “I don’t know. All I know is that we are so far from where we started. I know you’re not happy with me. . . but you won’t tell me why. You won’t tell me what I’ve done that’s put this distance between us.”

The room grew quiet again until Terris spoke. “When’s the last time you made love?”

That got the girls attention and they looked to Terris. “Last night,” Xena answered.

Terris looked surprised. “Last night?” she asked. “It was consensual wasn’t’ it?”

“Yes,” Xena answered offended. ” I would never-

Terris held up her hands, bringing the warrior to a stop. “I just wanted to be sure. With all the problems you’ve been having, it just took me for a loop that you would even want to make love.”

“I love Gabrielle very much,” Xena replied. “I love ‘being’ with her.”

“How exactly did you end up together last night?” Terris asked. “I mean what happened before you made love.”

Both women glanced at each other as Gabrielle spoke. “We had a pillow fight,” she giggled.

“A pillow fight as a prelude to sex?” Terris grinned. “That’s a new one.”

Xena and Gabrielle both smiled and chuckled. “Nah. . .” Xena began. “We were just playing. We used to play physically with each other all the time – you know tickle fights, ‘catch me, catch me’. . .It’s been a long time since we did something like that. . . All I know I had her pinned, she caressed me and one thing led to another.”

“What happened afterward? After you made love?” Terris asked.

The smile fell from Xena’s face. “She cried,” Xena whispered.

“And let me guess how you felt Xena. . .incompetent?” the healer added.

Xena grinned briefly but the gesture left as soon as it had come. “Yes,” she whispered.

“I didn’t mean to make you feel that way,” Gabrielle insisted softly.

Xena looked over at Gabrielle with a small grin. “I know you didn’t. . .and I know you’re hurting too.”

The room again grew silent until Terris spoke. “Before last night how long had it been since you made love?”

Xena considered the question. “A few moons at least,” she replied.

“That’s quite a while,” Terris pointed out.

“Yes it is,” the warrior replied honestly with a nod.

When Xena didn’t add more Terris spoke again. “May I make an observation?”

Both women nodded.

“It’s obvious to me that you two truly care and love each other. . . Many people think hate is the opposite of love but it’s not – indifference is. . .You may argue and fight but that’s because you still care. You haven’t given up yet.”

Terris stood up and walked to the counter behind her, grabbing two scrolls.

“I’d like you two to do some exercises for me. I’d like you to use these scrolls and write down something about your relationship – positive, negative; doesn’t matter. The only requirement is that it talks about how you feel. Do you think you could do that?”

Gabrielle nodded and looked to Xena. Xena was nodding as well and Terris handed them over to her.

“Good. I’d like you to also do another exercise. I’d like you both to be naked for this one,” the healer grinned. “Would that be a problem?”

Xena grinned. “No problem here.”

“Gabrielle?” Terris asked.

“That’s okay,” she said quietly.

“Good,” Terris smiled. “I want you to touch each other – only fingertips to skin. And the touching can’t be sexual. You can touch each other anywhere as long as it’s agreeable to both of you. However, the exercise shouldn’t go any further than light caresses. Understand?”

“No,” Xena shook her head. “I mean I understand you want us to just touch each other without making love but what’s the point?”

“The point is it gives you the chance to become physical again without the pressure of sex. And so there’s no arguments as to who goes first – Xena, you’ll touch Gabrielle for a quarter of a candlemark. Then Gabrielle, you’ll do the same. Tomorrow night you’ll trade and Gabrielle will go first. Is that agreeable?”

Both women nodded gently. “Alright. You’ll need to make this a daily ritual so be prepared. How about we see each other in two days? See how things are going? That way I can answer any questions you might have okay?”

The bard felt herself begin to giggle uncontrollably. “I’m sorry. . .I’m just nervous I guess. . .I. . .”

“It’s alright Gabrielle,” Terris told her. “You both will do just fine.”

Gabrielle smiled. “Thank you Terris,” she said as she started to rise.

Xena rose as well, offering her arm in a shake. “Yes thank you,” she said sincerely.

“You’re very welcome and don’t worry. Anything said in here stays in here. No one in this village knows anything unless you tell them. I thank you both for being honest.”

With that the two women left the medical hut with a new plan of attack.
Chapter 7
“Boy! Sure looks like someone beat the stuffin’ outta you,” Ephany teased, taking a seat at the bench for dinner. The warrior’s eye was officially ‘black’ now. It looked extremely painful but in truth it didn’t hurt that much. Xena had taken worse in a practice session.

“Ha. Ha. Very Funny . . . You’re never goin’ let me live this down are ya?” Xena replied before stuffing some bread in her mouth.

“You gotta take these rare and beautiful moments when they come along,” Ephany explained.

“I’ll remember that for future reference . . . So should you,” Xena said menacing toward Ephany.

Ephany refused to be intimidated and met Xena’s challenge until they were forehead against forehead, eyes still locked on each other. “Wanna go again?” she taunted. “You still got another eye I can bruise.”

That did it. Xena’s tough warrior façade fell and she pulled back laughing.

“You know Gabrielle and I haven’t been getting along all that great lately but I still think it would upset your queen if I lost another eye to you,” Xena replied.

“Speaking of,” Ephany prodded gently. “How’d it go today?”

“Okay,” Xena replied.

Ephany waited while she watched Xena continue to eat.

“What?” Xena asked with a mouth full of food.

“Details please. How did it go?”

Xena chewed and swallowed. “Okay. She gave us some exercises to do. Of course that in itself became an argument too.”

“What do you mean?” Ephany asked scrunching her eyebrows.

Xena began with a sigh. “We have to work on scrolls. Each day we have to write something down about how we’re feeling. I wanted to work on them in the hut together. . .I mean not together – she would do hers and I would do mine – but we’d do it in the same room.”

“What’s the problem?” Ephany asked.

“Wish I could tell you,” Xena shrugged. “She said she felt uncomfortable with me there. I got defensive and we went back and forth. Finally I got feed up and left. End of story.”

Ephany was unsure of what to say. “I’m sorry,” Ephany finally answered.

“Well, at least it gave me an idea for writing material,” Xena grinned.

Ephany didn’t prod any more. The pair of friends finished their meal in relative silence. “There’s an amazon at the far right table who’s been watching us the entire meal,” Xena whispered. “Who is she?”

Ephany looked in surprise. “I haven’t felt watched,” she replied, casually looking over to see just who Xena was referring to.

“That’s probably because she’s been keeping her eyes on me most of the time,” Xena smiled. “Seriously,” she added with an honest expression, “who is she?”

“I think you’re talking about Nagen. The blonde, right?”

Xena nodded and took a drink. “I can only catch bits and pieces of her conversation with the red-head over there but I’ve heard my name mentioned more than once.”

Ephany smiled and shook her head in disbelief. “How do you do that? I can barely hear myself think with all this noise, let along a conversation half way across the room. . .No. Wait! . . . Let me. . .You have many skills.”

Xena laughed out loud at the exaggerated gesture of Ephany’s hands which followed her words. “Nice to see someone still thinks so,” Xena answered.

The self-berating comment startled the regent. If any thing, the warrior princess was always self-confident. And for the first time since their arrival, Ephany could see just how much the warrior was hurting. “It will be okay,” Ephany said grasping Xena’s upper arm. “It will. You’ll see.”

Just then Diteria, Ephany’s lover and soon to be bondmate, walked up. “Hope I’m not interrupting anything,” she teased.

“No,” Xena replied. “The regent is just trying to seduce the queen’s consort. Have a seat and enjoy the show.”

“You ARE looking for another black eye,” Ephany smiled. Xena only replied with a wide-toothed grin. “Actually I have to get going. We’re going to get some archery practice in before bed. She likes to practice in the dark too.”

Xena wiggled her eyes suggestively at the last comment.

“You know what I mean,” Ephany said slapping her arm. She rose but before she left she added. “Will you be okay? You’re welcome to join us.”

“Nah. . .Get outta here,” Xena said waving her off. “I’ll be fine.”

Ephany gave a short nod and Xena watched the two women leave, hand in hand. But she was suddenly distracted by a presence beside her. “Yes?” she asked without moving back to meet the face. When she did turn, she noticed it was Nagen, the blonde she spoke of earlier. “Can I help you?” Xena asked politely.

“My name’s Nagen,” she said offering her forearm. In good nature, Xena shook it. “May I have a seat?”

“Sure,” Xena replied casually.

“I watched you on the practice field with Queen – I mean Regent Ephany today. I must say you are the best warrior I’ve ever seen.”

With the flattering comment out of the way, Xena took the time to ‘size up’ the young amazon – blonde hair that covered her shoulders, light blue eyes (perhaps even lighter than Xena’s own eyes) and muscular, yet not too large, arms. Xena deduced she was about twenty summers old – twenty three at the most.

“Thanks,” the warrior finally replied after giving the young woman an appraising eye. It didn’t go unnoticed by the young warrior and she smiled.

“I was wondering, if you’re not too busy, could we spar tomorrow? Maybe you could give me a few pointers?”

Xena felt herself melting into the young smile and she felt a scream deep inside, she didn’t let dare escape. “I’ll have to check,” Xena replied with a slight squawk in her voice, that she quickly coughed away. “Excuse me,” she added politely.

“You’re excused,” Nagen said with a gentle smile. “So what do you say warrior princess? Do you think you could teach me a thing or two? Queen Gabrielle says you have MANY skills.”

Xena recognized the tone and the leer. It was very similar to the one Gabrielle used to give her and the warrior was finding it harder to breath. She had to remember that this was a conversation which meant she had to talk as well.

“What did you have in mind?” Xena asked, trying to sound as friendly and neutral as possible.

Nagen grinned. She knew her presence, her closeness, was effecting the warrior. And she loved it.

“Whatever you desire,” she replied, her voice filled with seduction. “I’m sure anything you’d be willing to show me would be . . . admired.. . .So what do you say? The practice field same time tomorrow?”

Xena nodded nervously. “Sure,” she replied softly.

“I’m looking forward to it,” Nagen complimented. Her hand reached up and gently stroked Xena’s bruise. “Don’t worry. You’ll be much safer and well cared for with me than the queen,” she added.

“You mean the regent,” Xena corrected her.

Nagen smiled knowingly and shrugged. “Maybe both,” she whispered, close to the warriors ear. So close in fact it sent goose bumps down the warriors back. “See ya tomorrow.”

Nagen left and Xena, after she regained her senses, wondered just how many amazons witnessed the recent display. Xena didn’t do anything but her mind couldn’t control the guilt that was now flooring her. She let the young amazon play with her in front of the mess hall. But worse than that, she enjoyed it. She would have shook her body out to dull the sensations coursing through her but with so many eyes upon her, now was not the time and the place. Besides she had to get back to the royal hut. She had a beautiful, naked bard to caress in a non-sexual manner. ‘Best of luck warrior,’ she told herself as she made her way home.
Chapter 8
The smell of vanilla candles filled the hut. Gabrielle’s hair was damp but beginning to dry from her recent bath. For the moment, she lay on their bed working on her scrolls. She looked up and caught the sight of Xena and she quickly buried herself back into her work.

Xena had been gone all day after the spat that afternoon. And the more the warrior thought about it the more ridiculous she felt. She walked over and tested the bath water. It was still warm so she stripped and climbed in carefully. Gabrielle got off the bed, walking to the hut entrance. Xena didn’t turn but she heard the bard instruct them to bring two pails of hot water immediately.

“Thank you,” Xena said when the bard made her way back to the bed.

“Don’t mention it,” Gabrielle replied with a grin.

The bard and the warrior locked eye for a brief moment. “I’m sorry,” they said in unison, causing them both to grin and shy away. “You first,” Xena offered.

“I’m sorry for getting upset today. This is as much your hut as it is mine-

“No Gabrielle.” Xena insisted. “The point of these ‘exercises’ is that we express ourselves constructively. If you’re not comfortable with me around while you write, I should have respected that. . .Maybe from now on when I practice in the mornings you could do your writing and then, at night, I could do mine. That way I won’t be around you when you’re trying to concentrate and I’ll have you close by – even if that means you’re in bed sleeping – when I do my scrolls. We both get what we want. See?”

Before Gabrielle could respond, two amazons arrived carrying extra hot water to warm the tub. Xena did a double take that didn’t go unnoticed by Gabrielle. One of the amazons was Nagen.

“The water you requested Queen Gabrielle,” she said nodding to the bard. When Nagen turned she noticed the warrior soaking in the tub. “Funny meeting you here,” she giggled.

Xena walked the thin line between being civil to Nagen without arousing Gabrielle’s suspicion.

‘Suspicion of what?’ Xena’s mind said defending her. ‘You’ve done nothing wrong here. The young amazon wants you – that’s all. It’s not the first time someone has wanted you, so what’s the big deal?’.

After emptying her pail Nagen turned to Xena. “Is that hot enough for you Consort Xena?” The emphasis placed on the word ‘hot’ didn’t go unnoticed by Xena. . .or Gabrielle.

“I think that will be all,” Gabrielle answered, before Xena could speak. The bard’s ‘hands off MY warrior’ tone was in full swing.

“Yes my queen,’ Nagen replied with a nod. As she made her way out she stopped and turned to Xena. “I’ll see you on the practice field tomorrow Consort Xena. I’m looking forward to it. Good night.” Nagen addressed both Gabrielle and Xena with the last comment but the bard knew it was strictly for the warrior.

Xena turned and began to hunt for the soap, avoid the bard’s eyes. She could still feel them burning into her flesh however. “Ah! Got it!” Xena said showing the bard the bar. She could no longer avoid Gabrielle since the bard was now in front of her.

“Who is she?” Gabrielle asked, the jealousy unsuccessfully disguised from her voice.

“Her name’s Nagen,” Xena offered as she soaped up her body.

“What was all that talk about tomorrow?” Gabrielle continued.

Xena tired to put on her best bewildered mask as she rinsed herself off. “Oh that!” Xena replied with a grin. Gabrielle grinned too but it didn’t look very joyful. Xena could tell if she picked the wrong words here the bard could very easily gouge out her eyes with that same demonic grin in tact. “She wanted me to show her a few things on the field tomorrow morning.”

“She wants you to show her a few things? And, just exactly, what things did you plan on showing her?” Gabrielle asked sarcastically.

Xena lost her temper and her cheeks flared red. “You tell me Gabrielle! What should I show her?”

“Show her whatever you want!” the bard whispered angrily. She began to move to the bed again but stopped at Xena’s reply.

“You don’t care?” Xena said softly. The flame had disappeared from her voice as sadness took over. “Terris said-

“I know what Terris said,” the bard interrupted. “I didn’t mean it. And I do care Xena. I don’t want you to show her anything you reserve only for me.”

Gabrielle was near tears. Although her back was turned away from Xena, the warrior could still hear it in the bards voice. Xena rose from the water but Gabrielle still couldn’t turn around yet. She felt the warriors wet hands on her upper arms.

“I wouldn’t do that Gabrielle. . . I love you,” Xena whispered. When Gabrielle still didn’t turn around, Xena released her hold and walked to get a towel. As she dried herself off she heard Gabrielle finish her journey to the bed and sit down.

“Do you think she’s beautiful?” Gabrielle said softly, playing with a fray in the quilt.

“I think she’s young,” Xena replied. “And ambitious.”

The pair locked eyes. “You didn’t answer my question. . .Then again, I guess you just did.”

Xena didn’t respond vocally at first but Gabrielle could sense Xena’s uneasiness. “I can’t win here,” the warrior finally replied.

“What does that mean?” Gabrielle asked.

“Exactly what I said,” she answered with frustration. “If I say she’s not beautiful you’ll call me a liar. If I say she is beautiful you’ll call me a cheater. I can’t win because it’s a loaded question.”

Xena rubbed her hair vigorously, trying to get it as dry as possible.

“Okay,” Gabrielle nodded. “Let me rephrase it. Do you want that beautiful woman? Am I going to lose you to her?”

Xena stopped the towel movements when she heard the sorrow in Gabrielle’s voice; the worry in the words.

“Of course not,” Xena whispered sincerely, taking a seat on the bed next to the bard. “I’m in this for the long haul and the only way I’ll ever leave is if you tell me to go.”

Gabrielle grinned bittersweetly. “Yes but are you going to give me a reason so that I’ll ask you to go away?”

“You mean like fool around with Nagen?” Xena asked with a playful grin. “That’s not going to happen.”

“But she wants you,” Gabrielle argued.

Xena paused a moment. “Yeah, I think you’re right. But she can’t have me. I belong to somebody else.”

“You belong to no one but yourself Xena,” the bard argued softly.

Xena reached out and caressed Gabrielle’s cheek. “How wrong you are my precious bard. Everything I’ll ever do will be for you.”

Gabrielle felt better. Xena could feel it in the bards sigh and she herself felt better about the whole evening too. She enjoyed these quiet times between the two of them.

“You’re tangled,” Gabrielle said breaking the silence and running her fingers through Xena’s dark, damp tresses. “Would you let me brush your hair?”

Xena couldn’t help but smile. It had been a long time since they enjoyed this simple ritual. Quickly she turned her back, settling between Gabrielle’s now outstretched legs. The first strokes of the brush were gentle, as not to harm the warrior’s scalp. Soon they became move even and quicker as the knots untied. After a few minutes, the warriors hair was slicked back, her mind and body totally relaxed. She felt the bards hands move up her back robbing the towel from her neck. As she turned she watched the bard pull the shift from her body to join her in her nakedness.

“Are you ready to begin our exercise?” Gabrielle smiled. Xena nodded gently. “Good. Lila gave me that hourglass on the night stand.”

Xena looked to where the bard motioned and turned the glass to put the sand in motion. “Where should I start?” Xena asked, admiring the bards body.

“Anywhere you’re comfortable,” the bard answered.

Xena took a deep breath to steady her shaking nerves. She straddled the bards hips and began to lightly caress Gabrielle’s arms and shoulders. The bard closed her eyes soaking up the feel of the warriors finger tips lightly dancing across her flesh. After a few moments, Xena’s hands moved over Gabrielle’s breasts to her stomach. She didn’t linger on the orbs but the bard still took a sharp breath as her fingers made the journey southward.

Gabrielle could feel her own wetness beginning to seep when Xena swept across her nipples. She knew the warrior wasn’t teasing her. She was only doing what Terris said. It didn’t stop Gabrielle, however, from feeling totally aroused.

Xena shifted her position down so she could feel the bards, hard muscular thighs. The warrior had a flash of her cheeks being caressed by those very thighs as her tongue. . . ‘No’ Xena warned herself. ‘You can get through this. Just concentrate.’

As Xena’s fingertips came dangerously close to Gabrielle’s inner thighs she watched the bards’ hips rise. The moan that slipped from Gabrielle only added to the warrior’s arousal to take the amazon queen. Xena realized at that moment she could no longer continue. Gabrielle opened her eyes when Xena’s hands didn’t return after a few seconds.

“What’s wrong?” Gabrielle asked.

“I can’t do this,” Xena replied. “I just can’t. I’m sorry.”

Xena climbed over and laid down next to Gabrielle, staring at the straw ceiling.

“Now you don’t even want to touch me?” Gabrielle replied, looking at the ceiling as well. “I remember when you couldn’t keep your hands off of me.”

“It’s not because I don’t want to touch you,” Xena answered. “It’s because I do. . .That’s the problem. I’m just supposed to caress your body. That’s all. And I don’t think I can do that.”

“Why not?” Gabrielle asked.

“Why not?! For Gaia’s sake, look at you! That long strawberry hair teasing those creamy shoulders; those tight abs as soft as silk. . .” Xena could feel herself beginning to salivate just looking at the luscious bard and she literally shook herself to chase away her erotic ramblings. “Look. The point is-

Xena didn’t have the chance to finish. Gabrielle leapt up, wrapping herself around the warriors neck as her tongue pierced through their suddenly joined lips. Xena pulled away with a firm hold on Gabrielle’s shoulders.

“Terris said we-

“Forget Terris,” Gabrielle replied working herself free, straddling the warrior. “If you meant what you said. . .If you really want me and not that young, ambitious amazon make love to now.”

“You’re still quite young yourself Gabrielle,” Xena argued.

“I’m thirty summers now Xena,” the bard pointed out. “I need to know that I’m still what you want. . .Please show me.”

As Xena considered Gabrielle’s logic, she was interrupted by a soul scorching kiss. When they finally parted, they stared deep into each others eyes. Unexpectedly the bard began to giggle.

“What?” Xena asked with a laugh in her voice.

Gabrielle shook her head. “Just thinking. That’s all.”

“About what?” Xena asked.

“Our first time together. . .I was so upset with you. I had wanted you for so long and to have you treat me like a child was unbearable. I was really going to leave that day. . .But instead I let you take me to bed,” the bard released another giggle at the memory before meeting the warrior’s eyes again. “I’ve never asked why. . .”

“Why do you think I took you to bed?” Xena answered, running the back of her fingertips over the bards smooth cheek.

“Well, because you loved me,” Gabrielle answered. “I guess what I want to know is why you chose that day. Why you didn’t . . .I don’t know. . . say anything. I mean you just picked me up and carried me to the bed without a word.”

Xena paused a moment. “I’m not sure. All I know is I was about to lose you and I was angry. Angered by your leaving, angered by my lack of courage to tell you how I felt. I know if I didn’t offer myself to you at that point in time; if I didn’t show you how determined I was to have you as my lover, it would have never happened. . .Besides no words would have sufficed to express everything I felt at that moment. I had to show you how strong and deep my desire ran. . .So . . .I picked you up. . .And I took you.”

Gabrielle shook her head. “No you didn’t take me. . . I gave myself to you. Remember?. . .You asked permission. . .Just like I’m asking now. . .Please Xena. Please give yourself to me.”

Xena knew she couldn’t resist the passionate plea of the bard. Softly her lips sought out Gabrielle’s – delicate and light at first before building stronger; more powerful. Soon the warrior was on her back and the bards body covered her. How she loved the feel Gabrielle stretched across her – the soft flesh and toned muscles rubbing across hers. It never ceased to amaze Xena how wonderfully their bodies fit together. It was as if they were made for each other. For the first time, in a long time, Xena felt the love they truly shared as they made love.

Xena rolled the bard to her back and she felt Gabrielle nudged her southward. Once Xena had kissed her way to Gabrielle’s abdomen, she could smell the bards arousal and judging by the abundance of aroma she knew her bondmate was extremely wet. Her fingers gave a quick check, which in turn, teased the bard of things to come. Xena smiled mischievously. ‘Gods I love it when she’s like this’, Xena reflected silently.

Gabrielle, on the other hand, didn’t smile. Her face was wantoning not joyous. She had to have her warrior inside of her – licking, prodding, sucking. Her ache and need becoming greater with every second that Xena stalled. Xena place a solitary kiss on Gabrielle’s clit, forcing the bard to raise her hips. She wanted to grind those hips into that beautiful face while her hands gripped the warriors head, making sure escape was not an option.

Gabrielle’s hands shot down, locking into Xena’s wet dark locks. “Please,” Gabrielle breathed. “Please don’t make me wait any longer.”

Xena had to smile again. She knew the bard was sincere. Her desire ran deep, so much she managed to soak the sheet beneath them. Xena knew as she looked at the wet spot beneath the bard. Her woman would have anything she wanted.

“Anything for you Beautiful,” Xena whispered, steadying herself between the bards legs. “Anything.”

Gabrielle’s head slammed back into the pillow upon contact of the warriors mouth. Her finger delved deeper into the damp tresses, pulling Xena closer. She loved the feel of Xena so connected; so intimate with her. Gabrielle had never let anyone touch her body in such unique way. And no one had ever touched her soul so thoroughly as the warrior. Xena’s lashing tongue, along with her own amorous thoughts, caused Gabrielle to feel her eruption brewing just below the surface. She knew what she wanted tonight.

“Your fingers,” Gabrielle panted. “Gods, Xena take me with your fingers.”

Xena shifted position in an instant. Her lips released Gabrielle’s center only to find themselves attached to her right nipple. As her tongue began to bat at the rock hard tip, her fingers slammed, deep and high into the bard.

“Gods yes,” Gabrielle exclaimed, matching the warrior stroke for passionate stroke. Xena looked down at the bards moving hips and felt her own wetness build with each thrust of her lover. Quicker and quicker Gabrielle’s movement came. It surprised the warrior that Gabrielle was never sore the next day after their nights such as this, given the bards relentless pounding against her hands. In fact Xena was pleased to say the least. She loved this side to her woman. It was a side few had seen, if anyone for that matter. So ardent; so ferocious. It was incredible.

“Ohhhhh. . .Xena. Gods don’t stop. A little more. A little more.”

Xena could feel the contractions on her fingers. The bard was milking the orgasm for all she could. And Xena loved it.

Finally the bard took a deep breath and released it slowly along with a satisfied moan. Xena watched carefully. The only expression she saw was joy on her bondmates’ face and only then did she allow herself to smile. She felt fortunate to be able to give Gabrielle such pleasure. She was also relieved that the experience didn’t end with the bard in tears.

“Are you okay?” Xena asked sincerely.

Gabrielle opened her eyes and met admiring blue above her. “Very okay,” she grinned. The bard looked over at the nightstand and looked back at the warrior. Xena could tell her little bard was up to something. Gabrielle flipped the hourglass back over.

“Now it’s my turn,” she whispered huskily.

Xena was soon on her back . . .with the known world’s largest grin.
Chapter 9
Nagen was sparing the red-head from the night before when Xena finally began to make her way to the practice field. Upon noticing Xena’s arrival the red-head gave Nagen a sly grin and slinked away.

“You’re late,” Nagen answered with a smile. “I was wondering if you were going to show or not. I thought maybe Queen Gabrielle kept you on a short leash but I see I was wrong.”

“You’re correct. I’m not kept on a leash,” Xena replied firmly. There was no mistaking her tone. She meant business. “But as for the comments toward the queen. . .lets say you should have more respect for her.”

“I meant no offense,” Nagen quickly said.

“I know,” Xena replied with a grin. “You intended seduction. . .I’ve played the kinds of games you’re playing Nagen. Only difference is I won. . .You, on the other hand, will not. At least not with this conquest,” she added pointing to herself, tapping her breastplate.

Nagen considered Xena’s words for a moment. “Rumor has it that there’s trouble between you and the queen. . .I’ve always admired you-

“Admiration does not give you the right to play games with peoples heart.”

Nagen looked at the ground feeling total humiliated. Xena could sense it. “I’m sorry,” Nagen whispered.

“Hey,” Xena replied, lifting the girls chin with her fingers. “Twenty years ago I would’ve given you a strong consideration. . . .You’re a beautiful young lady. However, I am nearly twice your age and crazy in love with our queen. Do you understand?” Xena implored.

Nagen looked up to see Xena grinning. Slowly Nagen began to grin. “Yeah I understand,” she nodded in agreement.

“Good. Now lets spar,” Xena said drawing her sword.

Nagen looked shocked. “You mean you’re still going to spar with me?”

“Of course, why wouldn’t I?” Xena asked.

“Well, since I just tried to seduce you and all I figured you’d never want to be near me again.”

Xena chuckled. “I’ll let you in on a little secret. . .You’re not the first amazon to come on to me and you probably won’t be the last. . .So let’s cut all the chit chat and I’ll show ya a thing or two,” Xena winked.

Nagen smiled and drew her own sword. ‘Today will be a good day after all’ she mused as she began the drill. She may not have the warrior’s body the way she intended but she was grateful for the learning experience. She made a metal note as she practiced with Consort Xena. She would offer her apologies to Queen Gabrielle and unlike Regent Ephany, go much easier on her ‘aged’ opponent.
Chapter 10
“So how have you two been?” Terris asked with a warm grin.

“Okay,” Xena replied. “Pretty good actually,” she added starting to smile.

“And how are the exercises going?” she asked.

Both women looked at each other and began to blush. “Welllll . . .” Gabrielle began. “We haven’t exactly been following the ground rules.”

“Is that so?” Terris teased with a knowing nod. “What rules have you broken?” Xena and Gabrielle looked at each other and began to giggle. “As if I need to ask,” the healer added with a smile.

Xena studied the amazon for a moment. “Wait a second. . .You knew this would happen, didn’t you?”

“Why whatever do you mean Xena?” she answered in mock innocence.

“You know what I mean,” the warrior smiled.

Terris chuckled. “Actually, I didn’t know if you two would resume your lovemaking. Either way it’s a wonderful exercise. If you end up making love or ‘following the rules’ (as Gabrielle explained) you end up winning. You see, you get familiar with each others bodies again or you end up feeling passionate again. . .I’m not sure why but there’s something alluring about the ‘forbidden’ and sometimes to jump start things you need to ‘break the rules’. . . Be honest, since I told you both you couldn’t have each other, has it made you want each other more?”

Xena laughed as she nodded her head. “You’re good,” she complimented. “And we played right into it didn’t we?”

“We’ll I’m sorry if you feel ‘played’ Xena but you both needed to get re-aquatinted with each other. Like I said, one way or another the exercise works. Luckily for the two of you, it happened a lot sooner than for most – most people go weeks before they are comfortable with each others bodies again. . .Anyway. . .How did the writing go? I see you brought your scrolls to share. . .Does anyone want to volunteer?”

When neither woman replied, Terris motioned to Gabrielle. “Why don’t you go first my queen?”

Gabrielle looked a bit unnerved and Xena spoke.

“Could I go first?” the warrior asked. “I know whatever she wrote will blow me out of the water. I mean, after all, she IS the bard,” she added with a grin.

“Okay by me,” Terris replied. “How about you Gabrielle?”

“That’s fine,” the bard nodded.

Xena cleared her throat as she unrolled her scroll. She shifted nervously and her soft voice quieted the room.

“I look at you and see only the past
I cannot look at you and see what is now. . .

For the now is not for me
It is the deepest heartache
I fear I have lost your love
And I cannot bear the pain

I look at you and I see my whole world
Please look at me and see yours too.”

All eyes focused on Xena. She only realized this when she stopped playing with the end of the parchment and looked up.

“I know it’s not Sappho,” the warrior shrugged in her awkwardness.

She suddenly felt naked, exposed. ‘Gods’ she thought quietly, ‘is this how Gabrielle feels anytime she takes a stage’.

Xena always knew Gabrielle was a brave woman – leaving her family to spend her life traveling from place to place; facing down the fiercest of foes that would make any ‘normal’ female faint. But now she had a whole new respect for her bondmate that she never had before.

“What do you think?” Terris asked Gabrielle.

“I never knew,” Gabrielle grinned. “I never knew you could write. I mean I knew you could write but. . .wow. . .”

“You like it?” Xena asked.

“Well, yes and no,” the bard answered. “I respect the fact you can be so . . .eloquent. . .but it saddens me terribly to think I’ve brought you that much pain.” Gabrielle paused a moment and waited until the warrior met her eyes. “And you are still my whole world too. Please don’t ever doubt that.”

Xena reached over and stroked Gabrielle’s cheek. “Thank you,” she whispered softly to her bard.

Terris let their admiration of each other soak for awhile. After a few moments she nodded to Gabrielle. “Would you please share your scroll now Gabrielle?”

The bard agreed and rolled out her parchment as she cleared her throat.

How can I tell you
What I feel right now
The yearning has no name
A shadowy ache

There’s an emptiness I feel
Yet our life is so full
Something is missing
Yet I know no loss

Xena, Abide with me
You are my life, my love
My beautiful champion
You are my world

Terris studied both women. “What are you thinking Xena?” the healer asked softly.

“She’s confused,” Xena replied while a small grin started to tug at her lips, “but she still loves me. She still needs me.”

“Have you been feeling unneeded?” Terris asked the warrior.

Xena nodded. “Yes I guess I have. . .And what bothers me the most is. . .I’d give Gabrielle anything she wants. . .anything.”

Terris was going to continue but her hut door busted open.

“I’m sorry to interrupt.”

All three women turned to face a stricken Ephany.

“What is it?!” Gabrielle asked sensing her regents’ distress.

“We’ve got a problem.”

Ephany paused, wondering if she should disclose her information in front of Terris without first confering with the queen in private. ‘Terris will have to know sooner or later so it might as well be now’ Ephany summized. “Zagreus’ army is two valleys over. A scout returned, moments ago. He’s heading this way.”

“Do you know what he wants?” Xena asked cautiously.

Ephany nodded quickly. “He wants slaves,” she replied softly. “Amazon slaves.”
Chapter 11
“How many men does Zagreus have?” Xena asked.

“Scout says about 200, maybe 250,” Ephany replied.

“I should’ve killed that bastard in Laurel years ago,” the warrior berated herself.

“What’s our defenses look like?” Gabrielle asked moving to her lover, locking around the warrior’s powerful arm.

“3 to 1,” Ephany answered in military fashion.

“And our best and bravest are outta town huh?” The warrior rolled her eyes and gently shook off her bard. The women watched as Xena paced; considering a strategy.

“We’ve sent word,” Ephany offered. “With any luck they are already on their way home. The scouts will tell them the situation to speed up their return.”

“No offense Eph’ but our luck doesn’t look real good at this moment,” Xena snapped. “So let’s not count on it.”

Ephany only nodded, as they watched the warrior deciding on a battle plan.

“Okay, here’s what we’ll do,” Xena began. “We have to keep the fighting away from the village so we’ll make our first strike out at the tree line. Put the archers in place in the trees. We’ll put a sword Calvary together toward the north. That’s the quickest way into the village and knowing Zagreus he’ll take the shortest route. Chances are he doesn’t know I’m here and that will work to our advantage. The guy’s a gutless coward but with an army that size. . .Let’s just say it doesn’t look good. I should, however, be able to guess his troops movements. Ephany I need you to stay with the archers at the tree line. I’ll head the north Calvary-

“Xena,” Terris interrupted. “I only have two assistants here with limited healing knowledge. I need another hands on healer.”

“What about Kelodites?” Xena asked

“Yes she’s a healer but she’s also one of our leading staff warriors. . .She’s with Eponin at King Licieus kingdom.”

Xena sighed in frustration and turned to Ephany. “I don’t believe this,” she chuckled in misery.

“Your skills are need here in the village Xena, not the battlefield,” Terris insisted. “You’ll save many more amazons by helping me.”

Xena considered Terris’ words and reluctantly agreed. “Alright but who will lead the north Calvary?”

“I will,” a voice called from the hut entrance.

Solari walked inside and stood next to Ephany. “I’ll lead the sword Calvary,” she announced.

“Lila will have my head,” Xena argued.

“I’ve sent her to the caves with the young, as well as six royal guards.” Solari replied firmly. “Rations are being sent now as I speak. And as for your head Xena,” the warrior grinned briefly before looking serious again, “she knows I’m volunteering for this battle and she supports my decision.”

Ephany stroked her best friends back in support.

“Okay then,” Xena sighed. “Looks like we’ve got a plan. Ephany; Solari, get your troops ready. Chances are Zagreus won’t be here until tomorrow but see that they are set and assembled. . .if that’s alright with our queen,” she added softly.

Gabrielle nodded in agreement to everyone in the room. The two amazons bowed in respect and quickly left to see to their duties. Terris moved as well, getting to get her medical supplies in order.

“What do you want me to do?” Gabrielle asked, once she and Xena were alone.

“You’re going to the caves with Lila,” Xena announced firmly, not wanting a debate.

“No,” Gabrielle replied. “I’m staying in the village.”

“No. You’re not,” Xena argued. Terris could hear the exchange and bent an ear to listen.

“Yes I am,” Gabrielle insisted. “Now I can help you here or I can fight next to Solari but either way I am not leaving this village!”

“Zeus be damned Gabrielle!” Xena shouted. “This is no time to argue with me. I’m not going to lose you the way I . . .”

Xena didn’t finish. She didn’t have to. Gabrielle knew what she was going to say. “I’m going to do everything in my power to see that neither one of us loses each other,” Gabrielle replied, a calm settling in her voice that, in turn, steadied the warrior.

“I don’t want to take that chance,” Xena answered.

Gabrielle moved and took the warrior in her arms. Xena returned the gesture, planting a soft kiss on the top of her head.

“Don’t you realize by now that I feel safest when I’m near you?” Gabrielle whispered. “In light of everything. . .you’re still my champion.”

Xena closed her eyes, savoring the words; tightening her grip. “Okay,” she returned in a similar tone. “Help me here. You’ve become a pretty good healer yourself,” she grinned.

“Thank you. . .I’m going to see Lila now. I wanna. . .I want to make sure she’s okay,” Gabrielle replied as she slowly pulled away.

“You’re going to give it to her now aren’t you?” Xena asked, knowing the bard would comprehend.

Gabrielle sighed as she turned back around. “I’m sure I’ll be fine I. . .I want to insure that the amazons have a leader. . .just in case. Giving Lila the caste now will ease my mind Xena,” the bard answered. “I won’t be gone long.”

Gabrielle blew Xena a kiss and walked out of the healers hut before Xena could respond. Terris walked over and put her hand on Xena’s shoulder. “Come on,” she coaxed warmly. “We have preparations to make.”
Chapter 12
Lila was in a corner tending to a frightened child who was perhaps 3 summers old. When the guards came to attention she turned to find Gabrielle behind her.

“How ya holdin’ up?” Gabrielle asked.

Lila tasseled the girls’ hair and gave her a cookie. After the child smiled she rose and walked the short distance between them.

“Solari’s joining the battle,” she replied softly.

“I know,” Gabrielle responded. She didn’t want to add the fact that Solari wasn’t just joining, but actually, leading the battle. “She’s a wonderful warrior. Quick and smart. And believe you me, I know my warriors,” the bard added with a smile.

Lila seemed coaxed by the words. With that Gabrielle motioned three of the guards over to them. “I realize you’re the princess of this village but I need to make things official Lila. In case I don’t make it through this battle, I’m giving you my rite of caste.” Gabrielle turned to the guards. “I need you to witness this in case there’s a problem.” Gabrielle then turned back to her sister again. “I would still like Ephany to rule as acting queen until you’re comfortable with the role. This is my last request Lila so please see that it’s carried out.”

“Gabs don’t talk that way,” Lila insisted. “You’ll be fine.”

“I believe you, however, I also know that anything is possible. . .I want to insure that the nation will go on, alright?”

Lila nodded without argument.

“Now where’s that little niece of mine,” Gabrielle grinned as she looked around. She spotted the young one- cookie muck covering her beautiful face. Gabrielle smiled larger at the sight and walked over.

“That sure looks good,” Gabrielle said kneeling down to her nieces level. “Think I could have a some?” the bard asked, acting like she was going to take a bite. Reflexively, Ruth pulled the treat away with an odd look on her face. Gabrielle had to laugh.

“Better learn now Ruth. Hide your food when Aunt Gabby’s around,” Lila said walking over.

Gabrielle leaned back and smacked her sisters shin playfully. “I wouldn’t steal cookies from a baby. . .a baby sister yes. . .but not a baby,” Gabrielle smiled. She picked the toddler up in her arms. “She’s so beautiful,” Gabrielle commented, before trying to tickle the girls belly. When Ruth let out a giggle, the bard giggled as well.

“You’d make a wonderful mother Gabrielle,” her sister commented as she watched the two.

“Maybe,” the bard began. “But that’s never going to happen. . .I’m never going to have a child.”

The words stung. It brought up the painful memories of years past. But it wasn’t just memories that caused the ache now. It was also expectations that would never be met. She loved the idea of having kids. ‘In fact,’ the bard reflected silently, ‘I didn’t really think about it until Ruth came along. . .Ruth. . . About a year ago. . .BY THE GODS!’.

“Are you okay?” Lila asked. In the course of a few seconds she watched her sister go from joyous cooing to total shock to . . .realization? Lila couldn’t quite put her finger on the change that overcame her sister. “Gabrielle?” Lila prodded when Gabrielle didn’t reply. “I said are you okay? Maybe you should sit down?”

“It can’t be that simple,” Gabrielle muttered to herself.

“What?” Lila asked in total confusion.

Gabrielle looked up, coming back from her thoughts as she met her sisters eyes. “I want a baby,” she whispered.

“Then have one,” Lila replied.

Gabrielle handed Ruth back to her sister. “It’s not that easy. There are other factors to consider.”

“Like what?” Lila asked.

“Like Xena for one. I mean honestly, can you see her with kids?!”

Even as she spoke the words she could envision it. Xena, nervously trying to steady a small bundle in her big hands. Xena draping a toddler over her shoulder while they both laughed. Xena teaching the finer points of self defense to a pre-teen. Xena inspecting prospective suitors seeing who she could intimidate the most. Yes. . .Gabrielle could honestly see Xena with children. But whether the warrior could was a different story.

She decided to hold her tongue until this mess with Zagreus was settled. She realized the warrior didn’t need any more pressure right now. Announcing that she wanted kids was not the time or the place now.

“It’s getting late and I need to help Xena prepare,” Gabrielle told her sister, giving her a hug.

“Take care Gabrielle,” Lila said firmly holding on. “I’m glad you’re here and although it isn’t going to be necessary,” Lila grinned. “I will do as you’ve requested.”

“Thanks Lila. You don’t know how much that means to me,” Gabrielle replied. “Until later than.”

“Later,” Lila answered.

Gabrielle wasted no time and walked swiftly out the door. Lila realized, as did the rest of the village, it would be a long, restless night.
Chapter 13
Xena stood over a wounded amazon, tending a broken arm, when Gabrielle rushed over.

“What’s that noise Xena? Is it thunder?” she asked.

Xena listened carefully. “The archers didn’t stop them,” she whispered.

Xena, Gabrielle and Terris all raced outside and the warrior turned to the healer. “How are you with a weapon?” Xena asked with concern. She saw the approaching troops – about 150 men on horse back.

“Fair,” Terris admitted.

“Go find the other villagers and set up a guard around the huts. Judging by those touches,” Xena grinned. “He’s going to try to touch the village. . .but he won’t succeed. I won’t let him.”

Terris took off finding her two assistants. After brief instructions all three headed in different directions. “Now what?” Gabrielle asked nervously.

Xena could feel her pulse pounding in her head, her heart thumping in her chest. She loved the feeling. With a wry grin she replied, “We wait. . .And then we fight.”

Gabrielle ran back inside grabbing her staff. When she returned she watched the first melee between the sword Calvary and the warlords army. Solari was quick; fast – just like she told Lila. She took out three soldiers and went back for three more. When more and more men got closer to the village she pushed the defenses back until both sides were deep into the village. Gabrielle looked over to find Xena already engaged in sword play.

A solider thought Gabrielle would be an easy target but he ended up on his back side. Soon two more suffered the same fate. She worked around them but they were stronger than she imaged. The blows to the head she gave them weren’t enough to break their spirit. For a brief moment she became distracted by Xena. Her warrior fell to her knees; an open gash, sliced across the upper legs. Gabrielle tried to rise upon being struck to the ground but she got shoved back down by the men who ‘playfully’ kicked her in the ribs and stomach.

The new location gave her another perspective now. This time her attention fell on Solari. She watched helplessly as her sister’s mate was attacked from behind, a soldier driving his blade deep and long through her back. She was gone instantly. Gabrielle watched as the life suddenly vanished from her body, toppling to the ground like a rag doll as he withdrew his sword.

Gabrielle could feel her rage exploded. She shot up, taking one of her attackers swords. She twirled, slicing all of them across the chest. Two men charged her in anger. She kicked one and sent the blade through the other. When the remaining two came back for some more action, she handled it in a like fashion. In a matter of seconds all three men lay dead at her feet.

“Xena!” she yelled as she watched the warrior laying motionless in the dirt. The attackers were gone and Gabrielle prayed that Xena was only faking – trying to throw them ‘off guard’. But the bard knew the truth in her heart of hearts. . .

She walked over and pulled Xena up to her. When she did, the warrior’s head fell back far – the only thing keeping the warriors head attached was her spinal cord. As the head fell, it covering the bard in blood. All Gabrielle could do was scream. . .and scream. . .and scream.

Gabrielle felt strong hands on her shoulders. Strong, sword callused hands. Hands she knew well; intimately. Her eyes shot open.

“It’s okay,” Xena whispered. “Whatever it was, it was just a dream,” the warrior added, giving a light kiss to the bards sweaty forehead.

Gabrielle moved slowly to a sitting position. Gabrielle shook her head forcefully. “No. . .No. . .I want you to go the cave tomorrow. You and Solari both..”

The bard was shaking now, coming down from the adrenaline rush as she rested her head on the warrior’s shoulder. Xena held her tight.

“It was only a dream Gabrielle,” Xena insisted once again.

“Remember when the Persians came,” Gabrielle asked, a pleading expression on her beautiful face.

“Of course,” Xena grinned. “But it didn’t happen. I was okay.”

“Xena,” Gabrielle argued. “It happened just the way I saw it. He fell from the ceiling. He was ready to strike. . .but you moved remember? You changed your position and it changed the outcome.”

“Then tell me what happened in the dream,” Xena whispered, lying back down taking the bard in her arms. “Tell me everything so tomorrow we’ll be prepared okay?”

Gabrielle began to weep at the words and understanding nature of her warrior. Xena simply held the bard tighter, not entirely sure of what to do or say. “It’s okay,” Xena reassure her again. “We’ll talk it out tonight and we’ll one up on Zagreus tomorrow. Bet he doesn’t have an oracle in his corner,” she grinned.

“It’s not just the dream,” Gabrielle replied in a whimper. “It’s you. The way you’re treating me right now.” The warrior started to look concerned and began to rise. “No,” Gabrielle said quickly. “That didn’t come out right.” Once she felt Xena relax, she continued. “People. . .in my village always laughed at me when I spoke of things that would come to be. They looked at me oddly, making comments. When I was around 12 summers I had a dream about my house burning, my neighbors. . .everyone. When the town caught fire because some drunk knocked over a lantern at the tavern people no longer laughed at me. . .They shunned me. I was a freak. My friends no longer associated with me because their parents didn’t approve. . .No one ever considered what I have as a gift. . .Not until tonight,” she finished beginning to sob again.

“Everything about you is a gift to me,” Xena replied as the bard snuggled closer. “Please don’t forget that.”

Gabrielle was close to disclosing her recent revelation about wanting children. She wanted the warrior to know she was beginning to find the answers they sought. At the last moment, however, she changed her mind.

“I love you Warrior Mine,” she whispered instead.

The term of endearment that Xena thought was long since forgotten brought a smile to her lips and a tear to her eye. ‘Gods how I need this woman,’ she thought silently.

“I love you too Beautiful,” she replied softly. “I always will.”
Chapter 14
Ephany sat in a tree, stoic as ever, as Diteria approached.

“Dinar for your thoughts?” Diteria asked.

Ephany smiled at her lovers gentleness. “Just wishing Eponin was here,” she said softly. “We could really use her now.”

Diteria placed her hand over Ephany’s. “We will be triumphant today.” she said confidently.

“But at what price?” Ephany prodded. “We’re heavily outnumbered. Casualties will be high. . . Why did I send so many to King Licieus’ Kingdom?” she added belittling herself.

“You did it because it was the right thing to do. He needed the help and you gave it. Just like when we need his help. If I die today-

“Don’t say that,” Ephany whispered. “You’re going to be fine.

Diteria disregarded the objection. “If I die today, I die knowing you made the right choice. You did right by helping King Licieus and I don’t want you to think otherwise.”

Ephany smiled. “Thank you,” she replied sincerely. “For the last twenty four hours I’ve been beating myself up over this. . .a two minute talk with you and I’m better. . .much better.”

“Next time don’t wait twenty-four hours. Come see me sooner Eph’. You don’t always have to be the brave, strong one. Sometimes the bravest and strongest thing to do is tell someone how you feel. Remember that?”

Ephany leaned over and kiss Diteria, lightly; lingeringly on the lips. “I really love you.”

“That’s wonderful because the feeling is very mutual,” she smiled.

Their eye contact however was disrupted by horse hooves – many, many horse hooves.

“Here they come,” Diteria whispered, taking her position.

Ephany shouted the first orders to her troops. Everyone stood ready, high among the trees; their bow strings taunt just waiting for the arriving troops and their queens signal.

About 50 men charged toward the tree line, toward the 30 women waiting their arrival. When Ephany could see Zagreus’ emblem on their armor, the regent swiped her arm. The gesture sent 30 arrows flying through the air. Ten men dropped instantly with arrows through their necks, attacking the main artery. The next on-slot of amazon arrows arrived as Zagreus’ archers began to return blind fire into the trees. Ten more of Zagreus’ best men met their fate.

“Pull back!” Ephany heard a captain yell. “Regroup! Regroup!”

She knew she had to try to hold them off though the next wave. She knew they would bring more soldiers up-front and she wasn’t sure if she could hold them off again. She ordered her amazons to change their locations with a bird call. Quickly she looked over to check on Diteria. She found her pinned to the tree by one of Zagreus’ arrows.

“Oh sweet Artemis,” she whispered. She leaped over in two fluid movements to sit next to her lover. She began to shake as she took Diteria’s hands.

“We’re goin’ get you outta here love. We’ll get you back to Xena. She’s really good ya know.”

“Saved you and Xenan. I know. Told me quite often,” she replied with a warm smile, not quite able to give her full sentences. From the pain throbbing in her side she knew she wasn’t dead. This hurt way too much to be death.

A scout leaped next to Ephany. “Zagreus has pulled back from the tree line,” she informed Ephany. “We’ve got three others hurt as well. We’ve got to move quick and get them to the village.”

“Get the others down,” Ephany replied quickly, “and to the litters. . .This is gonna hurt love,” Ephany warned Diteria. The regent broke the arrow head to free her lover from the tree. The archer, bit her bow. She didn’t dare make a sound. She wanted their locations to remain secret. ‘Always the warrior’, Ephany thought when she realized what her lover was doing.

Two amazons readied to take Diteria down. “Be easy on her,” Ephany instructed. It was an order; an instruction because Ephany was their leader. But her voice didn’t sound very regal. It was scared; pleading. They nodded in agreement. Not as soldiers but as people who also had lovers they want to see come nightfall.

As quickly and gently as possible Diteria was on the ground. Soon she was strapped down to one of the litter, that was recently in hiding behind some overgrown bushes.

“I’ll take the reins,” Ephany told the driver.

“No,” Diteria insisted weakly. “Stay.”

“I have to make sure-

“Defend the village,” Diteria said, struggling with her words. “To help me, you must stay.”

Ephany felt her eyes grow watery. She knew Diteria was right. There was nothing she could do for her. . .nothing except stop as many of Zagreus men from reaching the village.

“For you,” Ephany whispered, placing a gentle kiss on her lovers lips. “For you.”

Ephany nodded to the litter driver. “Go,” she instructed. “Like Hermes! Go!”

The litter took off carrying Diteria to the village, to Xena. ‘She’ll know what to do’ Ephany sighed, trying to reassure herself. ‘And I know what I have to do’, she added in her mind. With that she turned to her second in command.

“Zagreus will pay dearly,” she told her commander. “And make sure everyone knows – I want no prisoners. Do you got that?. . .He wanted this fight. So he’s gonna get it.”

Her commander was a bit taken back by the regents order and killer mentality but she nodded just the same. Once all the litters were gone, the remaining ground amazons took to the trees once more. ‘Come on Zagreus’, the regent thought silently in her growing rage. ‘I’m waiting.’

Meanwhile Solari was getting her infantry in line and conversing with Xena. The consort was pointing toward the horizon and back toward the village when Gabrielle left the healers hut. Without comment she walked up, trying to pick up on the nature of the conversation.

“Sounds like a good idea,” Solari told Xena. “But do you think the older amazon will be able to defend the houses.”

“Their main priority is to get those touches out and defend themselves. We’ll. . .I mean. . . you’ll be able to then strike the offensive at that point.”

“But how do you know he’ll try to torch the village?” Solari asked. “Do you know him that well?”

Xena grinned wickedly, glancing at the bard briefly, before come back to Solari’s eyes. “Let’s just say I have some inside information.”

Solari released a chuckle. “I’ll take your word for it.”

Nagen rushed up to the trio. “We’ve got all the water in place,” she said breathlessly. “Now what Commander?”

“We wait,” Solari replied placing her hand on Nagen’s arm in compliment. “Go join your formation.”

“What?” Xena asked. “Her formation? She should be in the caves with the children.”

“I’m almost 21 summers old,” Nagen replied. “I don’t belong in ‘the cave’.”

Xena could tell the girl was quite offended but before she could reply Gabrielle spoke up. “She’s not that young Xena.”

“What are you kidding?” Xena replied looking at her bondmate.

“What?!” Gabrielle answered. “She’s older than I was when we started traveling together.”

“Get outta here? Really?”

Gabrielle simply nodded.

“You were never THAT young!” the warrior answered.

Now the bard looked offended. ‘Just great’, Xena mused. ‘It’s not too late. Perhaps I could open my mouth and offend Solari too. Just to make things complete.’ Two women boring holes into her flesh with their adamant stares as Solari tried to cover her growing smile with her hand. Before Xena could speak the bard cleared her throat.

“And just what does that mean?” Gabrielle asked a bit miffed.

Xena knew Gabrielle wanted an answer. “You just look old, that’s all,” the warrior replied, spitting the words out quickly. . .and regretting that fact as soon as she heard the sentence float to her ears. She closed her eyes and heard Solari let out a groan. Quickly she opened her eyes again. “What I mean is you. . .you . . .

“I’m sorry,” Solari chuckled, “but this is just too painful to watch. Xena take my advice now. Don’t explain. Just apologize and shut the Tartarus up. You’re just digging yourself in deeper. . .Trust me on this one.”

The warrior began to giggle and soon she looked at Gabrielle, who was trying her damnedest to not look amused. . . yet failing miserable.

“As you can see Solari,” Gabrielle smiled. “Interpersonal communications is not one of Xena’s many skills and if it HAD been a major requirement, I would have left her years ago.”

“Impersonation Communities? . . .What did you just say about me?” Xena asked the bard. Gabrielle began to laugh and the warrior turned to Solari. “Call me crazy but I think I was just insult and I don’t even know how?”

Gabrielle hugged the warrior around the waist and Xena rested her arm on Gabrielle’s shoulder protectively. “You know I love ya don’t ya?” Gabrielle asked.

Xena felt a flood of awareness wash over her. The bard was joking with her, smiling with her. “I do. . .Love ya too,” she answered kissing the bard on the forehead.

Solari just shook her head. She was going to make a smart comment about the mushy love display before her but she never got the chance. The sight over the warrior’s shoulder made her squint. The warrior and the bard turned to see what caught the dark warrior’s attention. Four litters, coming their way.

“I’ll get Terris,” Gabrielle said, taking off into a sprint to the healers hut.

“Give us a hand?” Xena asked, although knowing the answer.

“Xena!,” one of the riders yelled loudly. “Here! Xena!”

‘Oh gods,’ Xena thought silently. ‘Ephany!’
Chapter 15
Xena rushed up to the litter and locked eyes with Diteria. “Ephany says you’re good,” the archer joked in a shallow breath.

Xena could see the arrow and the blood surrounding it, coating the litter where she lay.

“I’ll do my best Diteria,” Xena replied. She motioned two Calvary guards and they carried her inside. Xena followed behind but not without commenting to Gabrielle who was checking on the other arrivals. “Are you okay out here?” Xena asked the bard as she walked.Gabrielle nodded as she went to work prepping the other patients before moving them.

Diteria was placed on a long table as Xena tore through the amazons clothing. “You made her stay didn’t you?” Xena smiled to Diteria, trying to keep the archer focus on other things aside from the pain.

“She wanted to come. Wouldn’t let her,” Diteria grinned.

“This is going to hurt,” Xena told Diteria as she reached for the arrow. Swiftly she pulled it out and the assistant instantly cauterized with a hot poker.

After a few moments, Xena took her hand and brushed the ash blonde locks from the archers face. “Aside from the pain,” Xena asked, “how are you feeling?”

“Dizzy,” Diteria answered. “Tired.”

Xena stood a moment summing up her ghostly pale patient. “You’ve lost a lot of blood Diteria. That’s why you feel so disoriented. . .I’ll be honest, there’s not much more I can do. I think we’ve stopped the bleeding but. . .it may already be too late.”

“Then tell Ephany,” Diteria struggled. “Tell her ‘I’ said you did everything you could. Okay? Promise me?”

“I promise,” Xena answered with a comforting grin. “Rest now. Alright?”

Xena knew Diteria chances were low but a thought occurred to her. It was a gamble but the odds were not in Diteria’s favor at this point without some kind of action. Judging by her color loss the warrior figured Ephany’s lover would be dead by sundown. . .Unless. . .

Xena walked over to Terris after the archer closed her eyes. “Does Diteria have kin in the village – mother, sister, cousin, anyone.”

“By the Gods,” Terris whispered fearfully. “Is she gone?”

“No not yet.”

Terris thought a moment. “She has a cousin in the village.”

Xena smiled but quickly it left. “Is she here or is she with Eponin?”

“She should be with Solari’s team,” Terris offered.

Xenas’ smile returned. “Finally something has gone right so far. Have an assistant go get her now.”

Terris didn’t ask any more questions she simply nodded and called the nurse over.

“What did you have in mind?” Terris finally asked once the cousin was sent for.

“A procedure. It’s risky but Diteria’s odds look rough now. I don’t think she’ll live to tomorrow morning with all the blood she’s lost on the trip in. Her cousin is going to give her some of her blood.”

Terris looked at Xena as though she had gone mad. “How is she going to give her blood?”

Xena began to look around the office. She found a small hollow reed on the table. “This,” she said holding it up. When the other assistant walked over Xena handed it to her. “Take this,” she instructed. “Divide it into two pieces. Widdle the end to a point and hollow out the top here at the tip.” Xena went on giving perfect instructions for the needle the assistant would be making.

The warrior went back to searching for supplies with Terris looking on. “Now what do you need?” she asked, trying to help.

“Something flexible. Something hollow,” Xena said looking around.

“A vine perhaps?” Terris offered.

“Where?” Xena asked quickly.

“Out back,” Terris answered. “I’ll go get some while you look and see if there’s anything here alright?”

The warrior nodded and continued her search. Gabrielle came up and tapped Xena on the shoulder. “What?!” the warrior answered shortly.

“Sorry,” Gabrielle replied.

Xena turned to find her lover looking hurt. “I’m sorry Gabrielle. I didn’t know it was you. How’s it going out there?”

“We’ve lost two. The third should be alright. Arrow through the leg. The bleedings stopped. . .Who’s over there?”

“Diteria,” Xena replied. “Doesn’t look good but I’ve got an idea. I’ve only done it a few times. It worked twice.”

“Can I help?” Gabrielle asked.

Xena smiled. “I think she needs a familiar face now more than anything.”

Gabrielle returned the gesture. “I can do that,” she said confidently. As she made her way over to Diteria, the bard watched two amazons rush through the door.

“This is Sileece,” the assistant informed Xena.

“I wish this meeting could be under better circumstances,” the warrior offered.

“Where is she?” Sileece asked.

“Over there but I need to speak with you privately for a moment.”

The assistant got the warrior’s hint and wondered off finding some rags to clean.

“What is it?” Sileece asked.

“Diteria will die if I don’t get blood into her – your blood. I could use someone else but sometimes putting the blood of one person into another can cause death to the wounded. I can’t even guarantee that you won’t be harmed. But I noticed when I use people’s kin the odds of surviving are much greater. . .With that said, I need to know – will you help me?”

“Of course,” Sileece answered.

“You understand that this puts you at risk too?” Xena asked.

Sileece nodded. “Whatever it takes, I’ll do it. . .Will it hurt?”

“Briefly,” Xena replied. “I have to tap one of your veins and tap one of hers. The blood from your body should flow into hers. She’s lost a lot so I’m going to put you on bed rest for two days after this operation understand?”

Sileece nodded. Xena yelled for the assistant. “I need a pail of drinking water for Sileece please.” Sileece looked bewildered. “Fluids,” Xena replied. “You’ll need to be making more blood for yourself once this procedures over. . . Are you ready?”

Sileece nodded. “Yeah. Can I see her now?”

“Sure,” Xena answered. “She’s with Queen Gabrielle. I’ll be along shortly.”

The first assistant returned, followed by Terris. “Will this work?” she asked, handing the warrior the reeds. Emotionless, Xena examined them closely.

“Fine job,” the warrior complimented with a smile, after inspecting them.

“How about this?” Terris asked, handing over her item. Xena gave Terris one end, holding the other up to her eye.

“A clear shot all the way through,” Xena smiled. She took the vine back and inserted the needles into each end. “Are we ready?” she asked rhetorically.

Xena instructed Sileece to lay down next to Diteria.

“Gabrielle, tie off her arms here,” she replied showing the bard.

“Now what?” Sileece asked.

“Lay back and relax,” Xena instructed. “Breathe deep and steady.”

Sileece closed her eyes and did as she was instructed. After a few moments she opened her eyes. “Are you done?” she asked.

“Yep,” the warrior replied with a grin. “Wasn’t as bad as you thought huh?”

Sileece grinned. “How long do we stay like this?” she asked, looking at their ‘joined’ arms.

“A while,” Xena replied. “So just lay back and don’t move. You may upset the flow. If you need anything yell and we’ll get it okay?”

Sileece nodded. “Thank you Xena,” she said sincerely. “I’m sure Queen Ephany will be grateful.”

“We’re not in the clear yet,” Xena warned. “but our odds just got better. . .thanks to you.”

Xena stroked Sileece’s arm and motioned Gabrielle to follow her. “Keep a close watch on them both,” she whispered after they stepped away. “If blood seeps from the vine, or anywhere, get me immediately.” Gabrielle nodded in agreement.

“How long will they stay that way?” Gabrielle asked.

“I’m not sure. Watch their skin color. When Diteria looks pinker and Sileece starts getting whiter, let me know. And make sure Sileece drinks fluids, at least a glass every half candlemark okay?”

Gabrielle nodded in agreement. She was going to ask another question but a sound from outside the hut distracted her. “Sounds like thunder,” Gabrielle thought aloud.

“Well, there ain’t no storm clouds out today,” the warrior said dreadfully.

Xena bolted to the door with Gabrielle on her heels. Both women stopped and watched Zagreus’ army approach. Approaching fast.
Chapter 16
Solari sat proud atop Argo, her sword raised high. When Zagreus men hit the last small valley before entering the village she gave the signal. Thirty amazons rushed forth in a fury of war cry’s and hoof beats. Zagreus army would have to ride uphill now. The warrior women would be coming down. The amazons had the terrain advantage which would give them more speed.

“How many men you say Xena?” the bard asked.

Xena took a moment. “About 100,” she grinned slightly. “Looks like the archers took out half.”

Xena turned back to Gabrielle, placing her hands on the bards shoulders. “Go check on Diteria. I’ll be back.”

“No,” Gabrielle insisted, the fear showing in her voice. “You said you wouldn’t join this battle.”

Xena smiled. “And I won’t,” she replied. “I’m going to the look out to see if any more wounded are coming in. . .Okay?”

Reluctantly, Gabrielle nodded as Xena began to make her way to the tower. Only when she watched the warrior begin her climb did she turn back to go to the healer’s hut.

Once Xena reached the top she had a full view of the battle. Solari’s troops were engaged but they were being pushed back. Xena’s mind screamed. She could see them beginning to get surrounded. “Pull back”, Xena whispered aloud. “Pull back”.

Almost by sorcery, Solari heard the words and issued a retreat. Xena watched as the amazons fled back up the hill. Wounded laid scattered across the meadow from both sides – but it appeared to be more Zagreus men than amazons.

Xena started her descent back down when she noticed the remainder of Ephany’s troops bringing up the rear. Xena, in a single back flip, landed on the ground. She raced to a nearby mare and mounted the horse as it galloped. She tore through the amazon retreat and Zagreus’ army, moving as swiftly as possible to the archers. Xena felt a sigh of relieve as she watched Ephany approached. She stopped until the regent could join her.

“Diteria.” It was the first word from Ephany’s mouth.

“She’s still alive Eph’. I want to get these wounded to the hut before you aid Solari’s troops. Double up the litters if you have to,” Xena instructed.

Ephany nodded quickly. In a matter of minutes the archery team was heading to the village racing past Zagreus’ men. Xena followed suit but a sight caught her eye. It was Zagreus himself, looking as wide-eyed as a doe. “You’re dead,” Xena mouthed to him before casting a menacing grin. She kicked her heels sending the horse toward the village again.

“Wasn’t going to join the battle huh?” Gabrielle said with her hands on her hips as Xena rode in.

“I don’t have time to explain myself to you right now,” Xena barked, leaping from the animal. “Help get these women inside.”

Gabrielle knew Xena meant business. The warrior princess mode was certainly up and raging today. Obediently, Gabrielle helped take the women inside – 15 in all. A few were walking wounded and Gabrielle sent them to a special corner.

Ephany raced in and looked frantically for Diteria. She found Sileece who waved her over, being careful not to move too much.

“Diteria?” Ephany asked coming down to her knees to be face to face with her lover.

Diteria opened her eyes and promptly started to cry upon seeing Ephany.

“What’s wrong? What hurts? I’ll get Xena to get you something; anything.”

“You,” Diteria whispered. “All I need is you. I didn’t think I’d see you again.”

Ephany moved to take Diteria in her arms but Sileece warned the regent. “Don’t!” The demanding voice startled the regent and she stopped. “I’m sorry Ephany but Xena said she needed blood, my blood, so she can’t be moved okay?”

“Isn’t that dangerous?” Ephany asked.

Sileece only nodded. “Maybe you should talk to Xena or Gabrielle.”

“I’ll be back love,” Ephany whispered, before placing a tender kiss on Diteria forehead.

Ephany spotted Gabrielle, instructing the group of walking wounded on how to care for themselves. “Sorry it interrupt,” Ephany announced to the group.

“Ephany! I didn’t see you! Thank the gods!” she said hugging the regent.

“What’s going on with Diteria?” she whispered.

Gabrielle led the regent away from the group by her arm. “Perhaps you should sit down,” the bard began, motioning to a nearby chair. Gabrielle kneeled before Ephany. “Diteria lost a lot of blood by the time she made it to the village. Xena didn’t think she would make it by nightfall unless we tried this procedure with Sileece. And even that’s not a given Eph’. As Xena said, it doesn’t look good but her chances are better since Sileece offered her blood.”

“She still may die?” Ephany asked, not really needing an answer.

Gabrielle nodded. “But Xena’s been doing everything she can –

“I know,” Ephany replied, putting her hand on Gabrielle’s shoulder. “I know she’s doing what she can. . .You’re a lucky lady to have her. I hope you realize that.”

“Now more than ever,” Gabrielle whispered. They spent a few moments looking at each other in silence until Gabrielle rose. “We could really use your help in here,” the bard offered. “Could you dress some wounds for us? Your mind’s not ready to go into battle anymore Ephany. You’ll be close to Diteria too. . .What do you say?”

Ephany smiled. Her friend knew her well. It was one of Gabrielle’s traits she admired – always the caretaker and always good at reading the needs of others. “Bring on the bandages,” the regent grinned.
Chapter 17
Diteria’s procedure had recently come to an end and the vine removed when the door of the healers hut burst open. Two of Zagreus men stormed inside. Gabrielle was closest to the door, holding a tray of bandages. With a mighty swing she knocked the first man square in the face. When the other solider swung his sword, the bard vaulted backwards. Instead of the bard, his intended target, he hit his fellow solider burying the weapon deep in his stomach. Gabrielle kicked the soldiers arm free of the blade.

She pulled it from the now dead man and shifted to face the remaining opponent. As he charged, the bard raised the sword burying it deep in his chest. She pushed the man off the blood soaked weapon, letting him drop lifeless to the ground. Terris yelled for Xena who was bringing out more rags. Xena watched as Gabrielle sliced right; then left as two more soldiers tried to enter.

She yelled to the bard but it was as if Gabrielle couldn’t hear her. Helplessly she watched her lover start to leave the hut, heading into the raging battle out front of their door. Xena leaped over the tables, landing on one of the dead men, losing her balance.

“Get them outta here!” she yelled to Ephany as she picked herself off the floor.

Xena looked around and watched the bard taking in the scene. A few huts had managed to catch fire. The remainders of Zagreus’ troops were wearing the amazon troops down, not with skill but by being outnumbered. Gabrielle watched as a solider crept up and slit an amazon warriors throat from behind. When the man began to laugh of his deed, something snapped inside the bard.

The way she walked; the way she carried the blade in her hand, worried Xena. This was not her Gabrielle. This was herself – many, many moons ago. Xena drew her sword and tried to find an opening to get to Gabrielle. She watched as the bard buried the sword in the laughing man’s back, casually kicking him off her weapon once it served it’s purpose.

Another solider came up behind Gabrielle. Xena knew the bard couldn’t sense his approach but before she could scream a warning, Gabrielle thrust the sword behind her, driving the sword high and deep inside him. Xena, released a sigh and speeded her efforts to finally make it to the bard.

“Gabrielle!” Xena yelled as she ran up to her.

Gabrielle swung out of instinct and Xena deflected in reaction. The bards raging eyes registered the face as her lovers although it took her a moment.

“Xena?” Gabrielle asked unsure of her present state of mind. She began to look around at the bodies on the dirt road; the huts burning as orange as the now setting sun. “Look at what they did Xena.”

“It’s okay,” Xena said softly, sheathing her sword. She pulled the bard close. “You’ll be okay,” she added gently.

“It’s not okay!” Gabrielle yelled, pushing away. “Look what he’s done to my people! I swear by any god you name, Zagreus will die at my hand!”

Xena held back her tears and grabbed Gabrielle by the shoulders, giving her a strong shake. “Listen to yourself! You’re letting your hatred get the better of you. Your people need a strong leader, not a vengeful woman!” Xena pulled the bard back into her arms, her words softening. “I know what I’m talking about Gabrielle. I’ve been there and I refuse to watch you start down the path I followed.”

The bard understood the warrior. She let the sword fall from her hands and began to shake as Xena’s words sunk in even more. “What have I done Xena?” she pleaded between sobs. “Look at what I’ve done.”

“Come on,” Xena said picking the bard up in her arms. “Let’s get inside.”

As Xena carried Gabrielle back to the hut she looked to her right. Solari was approaching on horseback from the south.

‘Wait a minute,’ the warrior thought. ‘That can’t be right’.

She took a closer look as the formation spread out and spread out and spread out again, with more and more amazons. “Eponin,” Xena muttered.

Gabrielle started to fidget in the warriors arms upon hearing the name and Xena put her down. The bard wiped her tear stained face. “Thank the gods,” she sighed.

Eponin and her best and bravest ripped through the village. She brought her mare to a skidding halt and leapt from the saddle.

“Time to kick a little warlord ass!” she screamed, taking down two of Zagreus men in the process. She let out a fierce battle cry and slaughtered any enemy foolish enough to take on her blade. Quickly she worked her way to Solari who was now surrounded.

Gabrielle held her breath. The scene. The scene from her dream was unfolding before her frightened eyes.

“Xena?” she whispered as the soldier readied himself to deliver the death blow.

He never did. Eponin saw him first and sent a flying boot dagger into his back. As Solari finished off the two foes in front of her she ran the distance to Eponin. And the warrior and the bard both sighed in relieve as they watched them embrace.

Zagreus’ men began to retreat. At least they tried. A few managed to slip through the wall of amazons now surrounding THEM, but the majority came to realize the error of taking on the Amazon nation. It was an experience they would never live to learn from.

“Get those fires out!” Eponin yelled. “Now! Or the whole damn village is gonna go up!”

In an orderly fashion a team was assembled in seconds. Just minutes later the first hut was extinguished as others followed.

“I need thirty amazons to go get those bastards!” she shouted. Eponin counted women and they began to line up behind her. After she had her total she ordered Zagreus to be captured alive. As for the men in his army. . .well. . .that was up to each warriors discretion.. The troops took to their horses, tearing out of the village as fast as they came.

“What the Tartarus?” Ep told Solari looking around. “I leave the town in your hands and look what happens. . .You’re grounded young lady!” Solari managed a weak smile and hugged her friend again.

Xena shook her head as she and Gabrielle walked over. “She’s nuts,” the warrior chuckled to the bard. “A real loose catapult.”

“Hey!” Eponin exclaimed upon finally seeing the duo. “Long time no see,” she added.

“Would’ve been nice to see ya sooner,” Xena remarked with a grin.

“Got here as fast as I could,” Ep smiled. “Seriously, I’m glad you’re all okay. . .How’s Eph?” she added softly.

Eponin could be a real joker but she also knew how grave the situation really was. In front of her troops and to outsiders she was reserved, emotionless and quiet. To her friends she let her guard down, being more ‘herself’. Gabrielle had noticed after a few visits that the warrior not only had dark features like Xena but many of the same character traits as well.

“Diteria’s been hurt bad,” Gabrielle offered after all three women examined each other unsure of what to say. “But Ephany hasn’t been injured,” she added.

“She gonna make it?” Eponin asked concerned.

“It’s hard to say at this point,” Xena replied.

“Are they inside?” she asked pointing to the healers hut.

Xena and Gabrielle both nodded.

“I’ve got to get to the caves,” Solari said excusing herself.

“Of course,” Gabrielle realized. “I think it’s safe to bring them back.”

Solari acknowledged Gabrielle with a nod and turned to Ep. “I’m glad you’re back,” she said offering her forearm, which Ep took firmly.

“It’s good to be home,” she whispered. “Now go get your princess,” she teased Solari.

As Solari left, the remaining three women went into the hut. Ephany was sitting next to Diteria, just stroking her hair when Eponin spotted her. Ephany was lost in her own thoughts and didn’t notice her friends approach.

“Eph,” the dark haired warrior whispered loud enough to get her attention, yet leaving her unstartled.

Ephany turned and thought for a moment she might cry. She rose slowly and they embraced for a long while. Finally Ephany pulled back.

“How’s she doing?” Eponin asked, looking at the sleeping archer.

“She’s been asleep for the last candlemark,” Ephany softly replied.

Upon recognizing the new yet familiar voice, Diteria opened her eyes. “What brings you to town?” she asked Eponin.

“I heard there was an amazon in here that might need some cheerin’ up,” Eponin remarked with a grin. “Just thought I’d lend a hand,” she added, stroking Diteria’s arm.

“Is Zagreus gone?” Diteria asked.

“Oh yeah,” Eponin replied with a sly grin. “But don’t worry. We’re bringing him back.” Diteria was fully aware of what Ep meant. Zagreus was going to pay. And dearly.

Xena excused herself as she stepped between the ladies to come to Diteria’s side. “How ya feeling kid?” she asked casually.

She felt Diteria neck and forehead. She was getting warm but not too warm. That was a good sign. Her skin tone had actually improved too and the warrior felt optimistic although she dare not mention it to anyone there. The last thing she wanted to do was fill Ephany with false hope.

“Have you been drinking your fluids?” the warrior asked Sileece. The cousin nodded. “When’s the last time you had a cup?” Xena asked.

“Half a candlemark.,” Sileece answered.

“Have some more,” Xena instructed. “Do you think you can stand?” Sileece nodded once more. “Good. After you finish go for a walk around the room – not far and not fast. Understand? And make sure someone goes with you for support. You’ll feel quite dizzy I can assure you.”

Xena pulled Diteria’s blankets down to her waist. “I want to keep her uncovered to see if her body is steadying her temperature or if it’s the blankets. Okay Ephany? Make sure she stays uncovered for now.”

Ephany nodded. Whatever Xena said she was sure was for the best. “Thank you for doing everything you could,” Ephany whispered. “Not for just Diteria but for every amazon. I’m sure our casualties would have been much higher if not for your planing and medical skills. . .Thank you.”

“This is my home too Ephany,” the warrior grinned. “I was just trying to save my village. . .but I thank you for the compliment. . .I’ll still always think there was something more I could have done. I . . .”

The warrior began to think of the young swords woman who was brought in moments before she had to chase down the raging Gabrielle. The girl couldn’t have been more than twenty-some winters old. Xena did everything she could but the warrior didn’t feel it was enough, especially when the young woman died in her arms. Too many women in fact. Now that the ‘high’ from the battle was wearing off she felt a growing uncomfort.

“Xena,” Ephany said pulling the warrior back. “I watched you work. Many amazons will be forever be in your debt. . .Myself included.”

Xena pulled Ephany close. “Don’t ever think that you owe me anything?” the warrior whispered, choking on her words a bit. “You’re one of the greatest friends I’ve had. . .Lay down now. Get some rest,” the warrior recommended to the regent.

“I think I’ll take you up on that. . .Might not be a bad idea for yourself,” Ephany added.

“I think you’re right but I can’t. I’ve got to check on the wounded.”

“Let me,” Eponin jumped in. “I’ve got the healing experience and if something major starts to happen I’ll call for you.”

Xena smiled. “I’ll never need my mother again. I’ve got tons of them here,” she joked.

Eponin grinned. “That’s right. And don’t you forget it sweet cheeks. Go grab your bard queen and get to bed.”

Xena took Eponin’s advice. She walked over to Terris and told the healer to go get some rest because Ep’s team was now on duty. After that she stepped over to the yawning Gabrielle. Ephany and Ep watched them walk out arm and arm.

“Ya know,” Eponin said standing back on her heels. “They really make a cute couple,” she reflected upon watching the warrior and the bard leave.

“Developing a romantic streak are we?” Ephany teased.

Ep lost her grin and put the ‘warrior mask’ back in place before turning to Ephany. “Don’t EVEN go there,” she warned forcefully. After viewing Ephany’s sly grin a few more seconds she smiled herself. “Lay down and go to sleep,” she ordered briskly.

Ephany continued to smile and crawled under the covers next to Diteria. “Say what you will,” Ephany began. “But I always knew you were a big softy at heart.”

Ep leaned over Diteria, who was once again asleep. “We’ll just see who the softy is next week on the practice field,” she teased.

“I relish the challenge,” Ephany smiled. Eponin waved her off as she walked away. And Ephany snuggled as close to her lover without too much contact. Moments later, sleep began to claim the regent and she prayed that the longest day of her life had come to an end.
Chapter 18
“Mind if we call it a night?” Xena asked. She and the bard now wore clean shifts after washing the grim of the long day from their bodies. “Terris wanted us to do our exercises but I’d really just like to hold you if that’s okay.”

The bard smiled and snuggled into the warriors shoulder. “Will this do?” the bard sighed.

“Perfect,” Xena purred. The warrior could feel the bard smile against her flesh and tightened her hold. After a few moments of silence, the warrior stoked Gabrielle’s hip. “Today was . . . different,” she said softly.

“In what way?” the bard asked.

Xena paused a moment, contemplating what to say. Gabrielle gave her the time. She knew her warrior would tell her when she was ready.

“Do you know how I managed to be such a great healer?” Xena asked.

“I assumed it was caring for your army,” Gabrielle replied.

“Not caring,” Xena answered. “Experimenting. Everything I know about healing came as a result of trying different procedures. I didn’t care if they died. They were expendable. There would always be more men willing, and sometimes unwilling, to follow me. . .Of all the battles, of all the people I’ve treated. . .today was the hardest. . .because I cared.”

Gabrielle reached up blindly to stroke her warriors face, offering her support. She was slightly surprised when her fingers came back wet. She hadn’t even realized the warrior began to cry.

“That girl died in my arms today,” Xena continued. “I did everything I could but she died anyway. . .I failed her. I failed this village. I failed you,” the warrior added in a whisper.

“Listen to me,” Gabrielle responded by sitting up. “You have not failed me or this village. And as far as the amazon who died today . . . you said it yourself, you did everything you could to save her.”

“But it wasn’t enough,” Xena countered.

“Bad things happen Xena. And you can’t put the weight of this village, or the world for that matter, on your shoulders alone. . .The only person responsible for any amazons dying today was Zagreus. . .And in truth, without you in the healers hut a lot more amazons would have died. You know I’m right,” the bard insisted.

“C’mere,” the warrior grinned pulling the bard back to her, squeezing her tight. She loved the way the bard could turn her spirits around by the storytellers shear force of will. Gabrielle could be very determined when she wanted to be. And today she valued the bards determination to make her feel better. “You are the best thing that ever happened to me. Do you realize that?”

“Yes I do. And I hope you realize that if I had it all to do over again I would still chose this life with you,” Gabrielle confessed softly.

“Then why all the fighting?” Xena asked sincerely, with no judgement. “Why are we at each others throats for days on end?”

“I thought we’ve been doing rather well lately,” the bard remarked.

“We have,” Xena sighed. “But sooner or later it’s going to end again and we’ll be bickering as before.”

“Maybe not,” Gabrielle replied with a giggle. “Maybe I found the answer. . .Actually I know I found the answer.”

Xena sat up. This she had to hear. “Well what is it?” she asked with urgency.

Gabrielle smiled but she couldn’t look Xena’s way just yet. “I think we should wait. Until we speak with Terris.”

Xena started to shake her head. “No Gabrielle. I have to know. I have to know now. ”

Gabrielle chuckled at the warrior. The warrior however was not amused. “Look Xena,” the bard began, “I’m not sure how you’ll react when I tell you and . . . in truth it might be the end of our relationship if I do,” she added, turning very serious herself.

“Gabrielle,” Xena pleaded, “tell me. I promised you forever and whatever it is we can work it out together. I told you I would do anything for you. I would give you anything you ever wanted.”

“You can’t give me EVERYTHING I want!” the bard said getting defensive.

“Yes, I can!” Xena insisted. “If I had to I’d. . .”

The warrior stopped as she thought of the bards words. She could give the bard anything she wanted, everything except one thing. When Xena began to understand what that one thing might be, Gabrielle began to shy away.

“It’s late,” Gabrielle replied, rolling away from Xena. “I’m tired and I don’t want to argue anymore. Not after today-

“How long have you known?” Xena asked, not letting the bard ramble.

“Known what?” Gabrielle asked evasively, her back still to the warrior.

Gently, Xena rolled Gabrielle over and they locked eyes. “How long have you wanted a child?” she asked softly.

Gabrielle closed her eyes. She didn’t want Xena to know. Not yet. Not until they could speak with Terris. She didn’t want to know she was going to lose the warrior; then be all alone without a shoulder to cry on. At least Terris would give her that. Gabrielle didn’t have the chance to respond.

“I think it’s a wonderful idea,” the warrior added.

She could hear the warrior smiling in her voice so Gabrielle opened her eyes. Sure enough. Xena wore a big ole grin the size of Zeus’ ego.

“Do you really mean that?” Gabrielle asked in reaction. “Of course you do,” she added quickly. “I don’t often see a grin that huge.”

“A boy or a girl?” Xena asked excitedly.

Gabrielle laughed and held her hands up. “Just slow down Xena. In all honesty I haven’t really thought past the ‘being a mother’ aspect. . .I haven’t even thought about conception either,” the bard added in afterthought with a frown.

“I do have many skills,” Xena remarked playfully.

Gabrielle let her laughter roll through the hut. “I don’t think that’s on your list warrior mine. Grant it. The list is quite long but impregnation I’m sure isn’t on there.”

“We could try,” Xena smiled slyly. “It would be a lot of fun I’m sure.”

“Oh I don’t doubt that for a second,” the bard said rising up and giving the warrior a long, promising kiss. “Not for a second.”

Suddenly, Xena didn’t feel so tired anymore. She went back to reclaim the bards lips but a pounding at the door stopped her.

“Queen Gabrielle,” someone called out urgently.

“What is it?” she asked, almost dreading the news.

“Zagreus has been captured,” the guard announced.

“We’ll be there shortly. Inform Regent Ephany.”

“Yes your majesty. Right away.”

Both women got out of bed and got dressed. As they walked up to the square they found Zagreus shackled. He was alive – barely. Solari, Lila, Ephany and Eponin all stood by as the queen and warrior walked up.

“Hello Zagreus,” Gabrielle smiled. There was every bit of friendliness and good will in the statement but Zagreus knew it was a cocky display. “Bet you don’t remember me. We met years ago in Laurel although we were never formerly introduced. My friend Minya kicked your butt.”

Realization washed over his face. “You’re that irritating blonde that travels with Xena.”

Ephany charged at him but Gabrielle held up a single hand that brought her regent to a halt. She grinned at the blonde warrior behind her. “You thought the same thing once Eph’,” the queen smiled. “Don’t be hypocritical,” she teased. Ephany’s outrage cooled at the bard’s gentle, good natured ribbing.

“That’s right,” Gabrielle told Zagreus still keeping her smile in tact. “I’m also queen of this village,” she added proudly. Suddenly the happy expression fell from her face. “Lock him up until the trial tomorrow,” she said harshly.

As Zagreus was led to the jail, a few amazons began to bicker and shout obscene comments – some comments directed toward the queen in her reluctance to kill him on the spot.

“Enough!” Gabrielle yelled. “I will have unity in this village!”

Everyone stopped talking at once. Gabrielle had their full attention. And she took advantage of it.

“I want that man guarded until the trial! Any amazon found torturing or killing that man will be ordered to death! Is that understood?!”

A few women looked ashamed; a few defiant. Other such as Ephany and Lila appeared to be in full agreement.

“He will have a trial based on the evidence we have. Then and only then will his punish be carried out if he is found guilty. . .I will not accept vengeance! This society is one built on civilization and in being such we will act accordingly. Is THAT understood?!”

“Perfectly!” Ephany announced. She needed her subjects to know that the two most powerful women in the village agreed on this procedure of justice. “If I may Queen Gabrielle,” she offered, “I suggest we all get some rest. It’s been a long day and it will be a busy day tomorrow as well.”

“Agreed,” Gabrielle nodded, acting just as regal. “Everyone is here by ordered to . . .go to bed!”

Gabrielle turned quickly and walked away. Her group followed behind her.

“Go to bed?” Ephany chuckled. “Boy did that sound. . .regal.”

Gabrielle started to laugh herself and she punched Ephany playfully in the arm. “Shut up!” she countered. “It’s late and I’m tired okay? Bed is the only thing I can think about right now.”

Ephany put her arm around Gabrielle giving her a light squeeze. “You know I know longer think you’re irritating,” she whispered in her ear.

“That’s good,” Gabrielle grinned. “Or otherwise I’d have to get my big, bad bondmate to beat you up.”

Xena smiled as she listened to the two of them banter back and forth. Ephany looked over at Xena and frowned. “Who her?” the regent remarked. “You mean the one I gave a shiner too.”

“Get off it Ephany,” the warrior menaced. The regent only laughed as Eponin spoke up.

“I was wondering how she got that?” Ep said putting in her two cents worth. “But you realize Eph if you were any kind of warrior, like myself, you would have given her two black eyes.”

“Can we drop the eye business?!” Xena exclaimed as she stopped in front of the healers hut. “I have to go on rounds now.” Both Ep and Eph put up serious fronts, nodding agreements, looking orderly – mocking Xena without a single word. “Smart asses,” the warrior muttered, going into the hut.

Ep and Eph both smiled as they walked inside. Xena went straight to Diteria and Ephany was the first to lose her grin as she followed the warrior/healer.

Xena felt Diteria’s forehead and neck once more. She was just as warm. Her skin tone was even better than earlier in the evening. This time Xena couldn’t hide her pleasure of Diteria’s recovery and she felt herself smiling.

“Does it look better?” Ephany asked, still not quite sure what the warrior would say.

“It looks good Eph,” Xena answered holding her smile. “It looks real good. We won’t be certain though until a couple of days alright?”

Xena thought the amazon would begin crying at any moment. Softly Ephany whispered, “I really am sorry about your eye.”

Xena could hear the deep sincerity in the statement and the amazons’ gratefulness of still having her future bondmate alive. Xena pulled the regent close, planting a soft kiss on her forehead.

“I know,” Xena whispered in return. And she did – she understood everything the regent was trying to say with the one statement. ‘It’s a warrior thing,’ the consort thought silently. “I know,” she uttered once more.
Chapter 19
Gabrielle sat high upon her throne in the village square – her consort to her left; her regent to her right. She was dressed in her regal attire of leather and suede which fit her just as perfectly as the first day she wore them, many years before.

Zagreus was shackled as the amazon guards dragged him unwillingly toward the stage. The same stage where Gabrielle took the queen mask, the same stage where she bonded with Xena and the same stage that she would decide a man’s fate.

“The village has heard the evidence against you Zagreus,” Gabrielle announced as she traveled down the steps; only stopping until she was inches in front of him. “Is there anything you would like to say in your defense before I pass judgement?”

Zagreus met Gabrielle’s eyes. The bard watched him snarl once before spitting in her face. Xena tightened her hold on her chair, stopping herself from bolting down to the warlord and carrying out the sentence herself. Gabrielle simply smiled and wiped her face with a cloth a guard handed her.

“Handsome AND charming!” Gabrielle shouted loud enough for all to hear.

Many of the amazons laughed along with the smiling bard as she made her way back to her throne. “In light of the evidence which has been given today the amazon nation finds you guilty of crimes against our state. . . And the punishment is death.”

Zagreus didn’t seem quite as cocky. “I apologize for my behavior today. I meant no disrespect-

“This decision wasn’t reached in the last five minutes Zagreus. It is not based on my ‘wounded ego’. In fact, I don’t feel my ego is wounded. You’ve only proved the point that should be destroyed for the good of my people; if not the world in general. . . My sentence stands. However, I will give you the choice of execution – hanging or beheading.”

After a few moments Zagreus didn’t say anything and Gabrielle knew he finally understood this was very real. He would die.

“Would you like me to chose?” Gabrielle asked.

Zagreus heard all the stories of the peace-loving bard that traveled with Xena. She didn’t even carry a sword, just that stupid stick. She didn’t have the guts he told himself. “Yes Queen Gabrielle. Chose,” he answered sounding so self-confident, the regent thought she would be sick.

“Beheading.”

She didn’t even pause to take a breath. She didn’t even think twice. Gabrielle gave a slight wave of her hand and the chopping block was brought out. The bard watched as the warlords eyes widened at the sight. He tried resisting again as the guards moved him into position. “Don’t do this to me?” the warlord pleaded, looking at the queen, as he was tied down.

Gabrielle locked eyes with the man, thinking what a waste his life had been. “Zagreus,” the queen answered. “You did this to yourself.”

The sack went over his head and Gabrielle watched – elbows on the chair arms, her fingertips touching, forming a triangle shape as she rested her lips on her index fingers. As the executioner raised the ax, the bard closed her eyes. The sound of metal breaking flesh and bone and the cheer in the square told her the deed had been done.

She turned her head toward Xena. Then and only then did she open her eyes. Emerald green searched sapphire blue looking for some peace of mind in her decision. “You made the right choice,” Xena whispered.

Gabrielle gave the weakest of grins. Her chest felt lighter. Her mind a little clearer. Without looking at the body she turned quickly to her regent. “See that his body is disposed of,” she ordered.

“Yes my queen,” Ephany answered. Her voice also conveyed acceptance and admiration.

She knew the queen’s reputation would skyrocket as an effective leader based on the incidents today but she said nothing. She knew Gabrielle would never want glory as a result of her decision to see that another life was taken. For lack of a better word, Ephany felt proud to call Gabrielle ‘queen’. Not just because she delivered justice but because she also felt remorse in doing so.

Gabrielle stood, still unwilling to look at Zagreus’ lifeless body. The rest of the stage came to attention too. Xena offered her arm to the queen, which Gabrielle took immediately. With as much confidence as she could muster she walked down the steps and Xena lead her on the quickest route from the square.

Once a safe distance away, and away from the eyes of the nation, the warrior stopped; turning the bard into her strong, protective arms. All the queen could do was cry into her warrior’s bosom until the warrior’s tight grasp freed her torturing thoughts.
Chapter 20
“It’s been some week hasn’t it?” Terris asked as the trio walked outside, behind the healers hut.

Xena and Gabrielle nodded in unison. “This looks someone has a picnic planned,” the bard remarked as they got closer to their destination.

“It’s a nice day,” Terris remarked. “Besides the hut is still full for the time being and I thought it was important that we get together today. Do you mind?”

“No. We don’t mind; it looks lovely,” the warrior answered honestly.

Terris smiled. “Talking in ‘we’s’ again,” she teased. “That’s a good sign,” she added.

Xena began to blush but managed to fight it down so it went unnoticed. At least Terris didn’t notice. Gabrielle could see it but said nothing as they all took a seat on the spread-out blanket.

Terris smiled when she watched the warrior and the bard chose their positions – side by side, shoulder to shoulder. “Are you sure you two don’t want to sit a little closer? I can still see a crack of daylight between you,” the healer commented with an ornery grin.

Gabrielle giggled and threw a grape playfully at Terris. Xena picked the bard up and promptly set her on her lap. “Much better,” the warrior answered as the bard snuggled in. “Thanks Terris.” Gabrielle continued to try to get comfortable and the warrior warned her, “You keep wiggling on my lap and I won’t be responsible for my actions.”

Unlike Xena, the bard couldn’t hide her blush which shot from her cleavage to her hairline. “Xeeenaaa,” the bard replied, amazed that the warrior would be so forward in front of Terris. “Cut it out.”

“Cut it out?!” the warrior replied acting total shocked. “You’re the one doing the dance of the three veils on top of me and I have to cut it out.”

Xena didn’t think it was humanly possible but the bard managed to get even redder. She buried her face in her hands for a few moments before turning to Terris. “I apologize for Xena’s uncouth manner.”

“Don’t apologize for me because I’m not sorry,” Xena replied with a wink to Terris that went unnoticed to Gabrielle. Xena patted the bards leg once and then the blanket. “Sit here for a moment and let me get the scrolls,” the warrior added.

With a frustrated sigh, Gabrielle did as instructed as Xena got their scrolls in order. “Would you like to go first or should I?” the warrior asked again.

Terris was all smiles today. She realized she didn’t even need to be there actually. The warrior and the bard were doing just fine on their own. She was relieved. Events that had happen in the last week could make or break a relationship and it was obvious to Terris what path the couple was on.

“You could go first. That is if you want to,” Gabrielle replied.

“Okay,” the warrior answered as she began to unroll her scroll. Suddenly she remembered something, or more to the point, someone. “Is that alright Terris?” Xena asked politely.

“Absolutely!” Terris exclaimed. The healer had a permanent grin on her face as she watched the couple, who was now smiling at each other. Xena cleared her throat and began.

“I promise you this. . .
To lead the way for you
To protect you
To pledge you my unending love.

When our paths grow dark
And out battles turn bloody
Your lovelight never fades
And we endure.

I would die for you
But better this. . .
I will live for you
. . .I promise you. . .”

Xena nodded to the smiling bard, her lashes wet from unshed tears of joy. She knew she dragged the warrior through Tartarus on her knees but the warrior still loved her – lived for her. Without comment the bard cleared her throat and began.

“My champion
You lead and I will follow
That has been our way
And as it should be. . .

No battle, No fear
No anger, No separation
Will divide our love
That is our strength.

We have faced much.
Trust me to be there
I promise you. . .
You lead and I will follow”

Xena smiled for a moment and Terris watched as the warrior began to frown. “What are you thinking?” the healer asked.

“I don’t think that’s true,” the warrior answered honestly, still contemplating the bards words.

“What isn’t true?” Gabrielle asked urgently. “I will always be there for you,” she added firmly.

“I know that,” Xena replied smoothing the bards arm up and down in an affectionate gesture. “But I don’t think I should always lead. I think there will be times when I should follow you. And even more times when we walk together, side by side,” the warrior stated, trying to make her point clearer.

“Like this child you desperately want,” the warrior continued. “I think it’s time we walk together. Are we going to settle or stay on the road? I think those kinds of things should be a decision we make together.”

“You want a child?” Terris asked. “I’m sorry to interrupt. It’s just news to me,” she added quickly.

Gabrielle nodded. “About a year ago when we came to visit Lila and Ruth, I had a wonderful time. Not long after we left Arborea, I started to feel empty and angry but I couldn’t understand why. Xena didn’t do anything so what could I say. . .Nothing. . .So instead of talking to her I started to shut her out; finding fault with everything. . .And believe me with a woman as skilled as Xena it wasn’t easy,” the bard joked, trying to relieve her growing tension. But soon her face grew serious again.

“So I shut her out. And I hurt her. And I hurt myself. . .And I almost lost the one thing in my life that ever meant anything real. . .When I was a child, I had dreams like most little girls. I would find someone brave and strong. Someone who would love me, feed me, cloth me. . .It took me a while to realize it but I found that person. And when I realized just how much Xena truly meant to me I vowed to never let her go . .She was with me all along although I never saw it. . .But I found her. And she found me. .And because of my lack of understanding I almost lost her. . .I’m so sorry Xena,” the bard whispered as she started to cry.

“Shhh,” the warrior whispered, stroking the back of the bards head tenderly while they held each other. “We know why you’ve been unhappy and now we can make things better. Like I’ve told you many times, what’s in the past can’t be undone so don’t worry about it. What we do have is the future, okay? You’ve spent years telling me the same thing Gabrielle,” the warrior grinned.

Gabrielle wiped her eyes and smiled too. “Nice to see you’ve been listening,” the bard teased.

“You may not believe it but I hear every word you say Beautiful. . .I do.”

“Stop it or you’re gonna make me cry again,” the bard giggled.

Xena reached for the grapes. “Here,” she said trying to lighten the mood. “Don’t cry. Have a grape instead,” she answered popping it into the bards mouth gently. “Good?” she added. Gabrielle nodded with a grin as she chewed.

“A baby huh? An heir to the throne perhaps?” Terris asked thinking of the concept. “Next month a raiding party is going down to the next valley. It’s customary for the queen to take the village leader as a mate if she so desires. Have you thought about how to conceive?” Xena shifted uncomfortably. “What’s the matter Xena?”

“Huh?” the warrior asked, pretending that she didn’t hear. Gabrielle was fully aware that the warrior heard every word.

“You seem uncomfortable. . .suddenly. . .when I brought up conception,” Terris replied.

“I know that she has to . . .ya know. . .I just. . .I don’t know how comfortable I am with . . .sharing her.”

“Doesn’t sound like you’re very comfortable at all,” the healer remarked. “But I could be wrong. Would you like to talk about it?”

“I just . . .I wanna be there when it happens but I . . .I don’t know if I can watch someone else touching Gabrielle. I keep having the visions of her in bed with a man and . . .I think about my mother.”

“Excuse me?!” Gabrielle asked with a giggle. “I don’t mean to be insensitive by laughing Xena but . . .you’re mother?”

Xena smiled and giggled a bit herself. It did sound a bit ridiculous the way she had said it. “What I mean is that my mother left Taria for my father. . .What if. . .”

“Xena,” Gabrielle sighed. “I wanna have a baby. Not a husband. And if I have a boy then I’ll simply give Lila the throne. She has the birthright and a precious princess to boot. . .But under no circumstances will I leave you. . .I promise you that.”

“You would do that?! You would give up the throne,” Xena asked surprised.

“Would you?” Gabrielle asked, knowing that Xena would see her point.

The warrior understood. Yes. She would give up anything for Gabrielle.

“Well, let me say I hope you have a girl Queen Gabrielle. . .Does this put your mind more at ease Xena?” the healer asked.

“Yeah it does,” Xena smiled. “But I still might strangle our donor if he tries to kiss you,” Xena added to the bard. “Touching just to keep his ‘mood’ alive is fine but if his lips go anywhere near you’re body I might have a problem.”

“Okay. Well noted,” Gabrielle nodded. “I’ll make it perfectly clear it’s not his lips I need.”

Xena started to nod in agreement but she stopped as she realized just what the bard would be after. Terris and Gabrielle chuckled at the warrior’s reaction. “Very Funny,” the warrior answered in intimidation before cracking the faintest of smiles. “Very, very funny.”
Chapter 21
Night had fallen in the amazon village. Gabrielle sat on the edge of the bed, her back to the entrance, rolling her head back and forth. The bards motions and the dark green silk robe she wore stopped the warrior in her tracks as she walked through the front door. Xena was helpless. Erotic thoughts zipped through her mind. She couldn’t see her bard’s hands and just wondered where those hands might be based Gabrielle’s movements.

“Are you starting without me?” Xena commented, turning the bards attentions.

For a moment, the bard looked confused. One moment she was trying to work the kinks out of her neck, the next the warrior was standing behind her. Then she realized what the warrior could be thinking and smiled warmly.

“Absolutely not!” Gabrielle replied, putting on an air of offense. “How could you think such a thing? I’m not that kind of girl,” she added defiantly.

Xena had no choice. She laughed out loud. “Ohhhh, I know what kind of girl you are Gabrielle,” she said walking over. She leaned down and planted a slow, smoldering kiss on the bards lips that made Gabrielle whimper. As she pulled away and began to disrobe for her bath she added, “And I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

Gabrielle released a staggered sigh as she watched Xena turn and climb into the tub. “I’m glad you like me the way I am,” Gabrielle whispered, making her way over to the edge of the tub, as the warrior soaped up her body.

“You know I love watching you touch yourself,” Xena remarked; her growing arousal evident in her voice.

“Oh yeah,” Gabrielle smiled. “What else do you love?”

“Let’s see,” the warrior answered, carefully considering the question as she rinsed herself off. “I love the way that robe always brings out the color of your eyes. I love the way you sigh hungry and deep when I kiss that spot on your neck right below your left ear. I love the way your small hands wrap themselves around the back of my head when my tongue’s buried far inside you. I love-

“Okay. I get the picture” Gabrielle nodded. She could feel the wetness between her legs growing.

“Don’t stop me Gabrielle,” the warrior teased. “I could go on and on.”

“Don’t have to tell me that. I know first hand,” the bard grinned as she remarked on the warrior sexual stamina.

The pair studied each other for a few long moments, saying nothing. Finally, Xena glided to the other side of the tub until she was just inches away from her bondmate. The smiles left both of their faces the longer they studied each other. It was replaced by want and desperate need.

Without a word, Xena rose and picked Gabrielle up, bringing her into the tub – robe and all. The bard didn’t protest. Gently, Xena set her down; the water making the garment cling to all the bards peaks and valleys. The sight made Xena shudder. Gabrielle could feel her warrior’s trembling hands on her cheeks as the warrior brought her in closer for a delicate kiss.

She could tell the warrior was trying to hold back; trying to be gentle. She knew what Xena wanted and needed. And Gabrielle decided that after months of fragile touches it was time Xena got it – time that they both got it.

Gabrielle swept the warriors hands away and turned her; pinning the mighty warrior princess to the tub wall. Her tongue plunged into the warriors mouth relentlessly, twining with Xena’s again and again. Xena began to protest after a few moments of Gabrielle’s forceful nature.

“Please,” Gabrielle whispered, in the warriors ear, sending goosebumps across Xena’s entire body. Gabrielle felt the bumps as well – her hands never resting on Xena’s flesh, touching every part of skin that was excisable to her. “How long has it been since we’ve done this?” she asked breathlessly. “How long has it been since we’ve really taken each other. How long since we truly gave ourselves to each other? . . . I trust you Xena.”

Even as she said the words her mouth never stopped for an instant – tongue licking, teeth nipping at the warrior’s ear. Xena replied by suctioning her lips to the bards neck, sucking forcefully, knowing that it would bruise; knowing the village would see it. The thought only aroused the warrior further. ‘Mine’ she thought as her lips repeatedly captured the spot. ‘All mine’. Then suddenly it happened and Xena couldn’t continue. She smiled instead.

“That’s it,” she whispered in Gabrielle’s. “That’s the sound I’m talking about. Gods Gabrielle! Do it again please.”

When the warrior returned to the spot, it was automatic for the bard. She gave the warrior just what she wanted. And not by choice. Her body no longer was just her own. It belonged to Xena as well. “So sexy,” Xena murmured against Gabrielle’s skin, her hand reaching for the bards center. “So incredibly beautiful.”

Xena finally reached her destination but not before Gabrielle helped by thrusting her hips forward. “Oh Gods!” Xena exclaimed at the feel of the bards overflowing excitement – so much that she could feel it underwater. It made the bard all the more alluring. It never ceased to amaze Xena how hot the little red-head could get her at times like this.

“Yes Xena,” the bard whimpered in encouragement at the warriors’ stroking. “Gods. . .Take me.”

With that, Xena plunged her fingers deep between Gabrielle’s soft folds, letting her thumb play with the sensitive nub outside. Gabrielle’s erect nipples which stood out from under the wet robe, quickly met Xena’s mouth. The fabric rubbed against her skin as Xena’s mouth continued to explore her mound. The feeling was torture and pleasure all rolled into one. When she could no longer stand it, Gabrielle’s wandering hands ripped the robe from her body, exposing her nakedness to the hungry warrior. Both women sighed passionately in unison as Gabrielle’s hand claimed the back of Xena’s head returning her to her breast.

The bards movements and continuing whimpers told the warrior she was close. Reluctantly and despite the protest Xena took her loving hand away. Gabrielle groaned as the hand departed. She was teetering on the edge of the hardest orgasm of her life and Xena stopped. Suddenly she felt herself being lifted and laid out on the small deck adjoining the tub. She smiled as the warrior submerged herself under the water, only to emerge again between her dangling legs.

“I need to taste you,” the warrior explained in a husky breath.

She didn’t wait a moment longer. Her tongue lapped at the bard as her fingers returned to their task, driving in and out; in and out. Xena reached up for only a moment to grab Gabrielle’s hands; to lead them to the bards’ breasts. Gabrielle grinned down at the warrior watching her – the warrior who still continued to love her with her mouth. With understanding of what Xena wanted Gabrielle rested her head back squeezing her breasts together and pulling at her nipples.

Xena groaned in delight, yet wished she could be a two places at once. The warrior held onto the bards hips drawing her closer, deeper onto her probing tongue. Gabrielle’s hand shot down to the back of Xena’s head, pushing her onward. But unlike the neck reaction of earlier, Xena didn’t smile. Her desire was far too great. Her need to taste, to see, to hear Gabrielle’s pleasure was overwhelming. Nothing would break this connection she had to her bard at this moment. Nothing. And she felt herself growl in determination of the bards satisfaction.

Gabrielle heard the noise and understood it’s meaning. ‘She wants me to come’, Gabrielle’s mind told her. ‘She wants me to come with her mouth all over me. She wants to taste my excitement. Oh Gods. . .’ All rational thought left the bards head; her body now controlled her. She grunted and bucked against the wet, velvet softness of Xena’s mouth, riding the warrior for all she could.

Xena could see Gabrielle’s chest rising and falling rapidly. And she couldn’t contain herself at the sight. Her own hand shot down to her own sex – vibrating, racing against her nub in back and forth motions as well as circular ones. ‘Look at what she does to you’, the warrior told herself silently. The observation did nothing to stop the warriors efforts to please herself however. In fact it only added fuel to the fire and when the warrior watched the bard arch and shudder, riding a wave of pleasure to the height of heights, she thought that she herself might explode as well.

With as much energy as she could muster Xena sprang from the waters, kissing her way up the bard until their lips met and their tongues connected once more. Gabrielle took her time, exploring the warriors mouth, tasting herself on the warriors lips – and in doing so feeling her arousal build all over again.

“You love the way you taste, don’t you?” the warrior asked between kisses. “You are delicious. . .Keep it up,” the warrior insisted between more pecks and probes. “Keep tasting how delicious you are.”

The taste of herself was no longer satisfying to the bard upon hearing Xena’s words. She rolled the warrior over and stared deep into her eyes. “I’m gonna taste you.”

Xena was sure of the tone in Gabrielle’s voice. Desire. Determination. All out lust. She could hear the undying want in the bards words. When she quickly felt the bards tongue she knew she was dead-on accurate. She couldn’t contain the moan as she watched Gabrielle’s hand shoot under the water – mimicking her same actions that she herself did moments before.

The feel of the bard loving her and the sight of Gabrielle pleasuring herself again was too much. She closed her eyes against the onslaught of erotic sights. It still did nothing to stop her sense of hearing which was acute. She could hear the bards labored breathing, the licking noises from her sex, the small splashes cause by Gabrielle’s hand working madly between her own legs as she pleasured Xena.

“Oh Gods Gabriellllllllle.”

The bard always loved the sound of her name on Xena’s lips and it never sounded more sweeter than times like these – Xena’s legs and soul wide open for her, Xena’s body shaking from the satisfaction only she could give her. Watching her warrior crest was all the bard needed. She parted her mouth from her love as her head fell back.

“Oh yesssss,” the bard hissed as her second orgasm ripped through her well-fit body, shaking her, making it difficult to kneel on the tub bench. Xena watched a moment, still not trusting herself to move, as Gabrielle came down from her high as well. Feeling more confident that the blood flow had returned to her limbs again, Xena scooted back down into the water to hold her bard.

“You’re an incredible lover,” Gabrielle sighed, snuggling closer to the warrior.

“A lover is only as good as their partner,” the warrior answered still fighting for air. “I’m very fortunate that you make me look so good,” she replied honestly.

Gabrielle began to relax even more but Xena could not. Someone was there. She could tell they had been there awhile. But still she couldn’t see them. After a quick survey of the room she had summarized it must be just her imagination. With all the events of the week, her nerves were still a little edgy – that’s all.

“Let’s get to bed,” the warrior said giving the sleepy bard a little tug.

Gabrielle had trouble opening her eyes but she did and Xena helped her from the tub. She dried the bard with loving care before seeing to herself. Then she carefully picked the bard up and carried her the few feet to the bed.

“I can walk you know,” the bard teased as she lay in the warriors arms.

“I like holding you,” the warrior replied softly.

Gabrielle smiled and tightened her grip. “I like being held,” she responded as the warrior put her down. Quietly, both women climbed under the covers and into each others waiting arms. After a few moments of silence the bard spoke. “This has been the best and worst week of my life,” Gabrielle remarked.

Xena opened her eyes. “Why?” she asked opening it up to debate.

“Well, Zagreus’ attack. . .His execution,” the bard offered.

“You made the right choice Gabrielle,” the warrior insisted again. “And as far as the attack it could have been a lot worse. I’ve come to except the fact you were right. . .I mean I did do a lot to save the village. I saved Diteria. And as a result maybe even Ephany.”

Gabrielle snuggled closer. “And we met our original goal. We found out what’s been tearing us apart. . .and as a matter of fact, I’ve never felt closer to you than I do right now. . .I didn’t think it was possible to feel closer but I do.”

Xena grinned. “Right back at ya,” the warrior answered with a yawn.

“I’m sorry,” Gabrielle replied.

“For what?” Xena asked.

“For keeping you awake. You’re tired.”

“Gabrielle, you can talk to me anytime, anywhere, anyplace with anybody. Please don’t be sorry for telling me how you feel. Okay? Because no matter how tired I am, I’ll always listen.”

“Well, let’s sleep now and we’ll continue in the morning. Deal?” the bard asked.

Xena smiled. “Deal,” she replied firmly.

With that, both women closed their eyes. Tomorrow they would talk – about their past, about their present and about their future. Xena smiled as she pulled the bard closer; tighter. The future. She actually cared about the future with a need she never felt before. But not just THE future. THEIR future. The life they would build together, passing down all they learned to the next generation. Xena felt her smile grow larger at the idea of parenthood.

‘Yeah’, the warrior thought as sleep began to claim her ‘Life as a parent could be very good.’ She snuggled one last time into her bard – the light of her life and someday the mother of her children.

 

 

The End

Continued in No Place Like Home

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