Negotiations by Gin

Negotiations

Negotiations
by Gin

The amazon scout could barely contain her emotions as she approached the largest hut in the village. Her mission had kept her away for weeks and the contents of her final report were not good. In fact, they were bad. Very bad. She ran her fingers through her light brown curls in anticipation of the meeting. Both guards watched her traverse the center commons and uncrossed their staffs to allow her entrance. Hesitantly she stepped into her Queen’s quarters.

The hut’s interior was a clear reflection of the woman who lived here. The quarters seemed sparse, mostly due to the large open area in front and to the left of the throne. These were the only living quarters in the village with a space big enough for an informal council session or an impromptu sparring session.

To the right of the throne the furniture and decorations were as elegant in placement as in quality. She knew the scrolls on the tall set of shelves were carefully organized by date, the scrolls on the large desk were also neatly arranged. Several fighting staffs leaned near the headboard of the oversize bed.

Wood was stacked in symmetrical piles by the fireplace. Her eyes flickered over the large black fur in front of the hearth. The most elegant sight in the room, however, was directly in front of her, the Queen herself. She was so unlike the other amazons, shorter definitely but there was a quality…an aura…around her. Sometimes she seemed to glow with it.

Sitting on the throne, reading a scroll, sparring with her staff it didn’t matter she always radiated a sense of….. goodness….. that made a person feel….. warm……comfortable in her presence. Her natural ability to love combined with laughing green eyes, honey-red hair and a set of the most perfect abs she had ever seen made the scout reaffirm her thought.

The same thought she had every time she saw her. ‘By the Gods….She is beautiful.’ Right now the Queen seemed lost in a scroll so the scout stood and waited to be acknowledged. After a few minutes, she rose gracefully and placed the scroll she had been examining in an empty spot on the desk.

She crossed back to the throne, not as ornate as the one in the council hall but just as powerful a symbol. Anyone who saw the chair would know instantly, the person that sat there was Queen. Absently she brushed a lock of errant hair from her eyes and gestured for the scout to approach.

Letting out a breath she didn’t realize she had been holding, the scout quickly moved to the base of the throne and kneeled on one knee. “I have news, my Queen.” Her lips twitched at the title and the beratement she knew was coming.

The queen sighed. “I have told you before Ephiny you don’t have to call me that. Gabrielle… my name… is Gabrielle. Remember? The one you trained to be an amazon?”

She rubbed her neck to relieve some of the frustration she felt. Unfortunately she knew what the news would probably be and it wasn’t going to be good. Sighing again at the amazon’s complete stubbornness on this point she decided it was best to just act like the queen. She put on her best royal pose, “Report.” softening the command with a smile.

Ephiny cleared her throat hesitantly. ‘Uh oh.’ Gabrielle thought, ‘It’s worse than I thought.’ She watched as Ephiny swallowed hard and began, “My Que….Gabrielle. I have confirmed the reports, a massive army buildup is being housed on the western borders. The Amazon Nation will be outnumbered almost 10 to 1….”

Ephiny paused to let Gabrielle think about the magnitude of the force that had been gathered then continued, “There is something else you should know….”

She waited until her queen shook off the thoughts running through her mind and could focus on her next words. When she saw the green eyes focus on her, Ephiny spoke the two words that had been imprinted on her brain, two words that terrified and thrilled her, two words she didn’t think her queen wanted to hear but had to know.

“She’s there.”

Green eyes opened wider and both eyebrows rose in…what? Ephiny knew many emotions could fill the situation, shock, surprise, terror, but to her surprise the expression in her queen’s eyes looked for all the world like……….hope?

“I have to think about this for a while Ephiny. Find Eponin and Solari. Tell them to gather the council for a dinner meeting.”
Gabrielle sat on the throne and cradled her chin in her hand. They were not going to like what she was thinking but unless they had any better ideas, this was how it was going to be. If she had sent her army with an unknown general to do her dirty work they didn’t stand a chance but now…….maybe.

Ephiny heard her queen sigh as she left to carry out her orders. She hated to see Gabrielle upset but knew that the fate of the entire Amazon Nation depended on the decisions made in the next few hours. She still trembled at the thought ‘Sweet Artemis.
The Conqueror is leading the army herself…..what can we do to stop that!’

———————–

Gabrielle explained her plan to them in her usual pacing style. She stopped near Eponin when she was finished outlining the simple but extremely risky plan, invite The Conqueror to the village and negotiate for peace. She stood quietly waiting for them to protest.

The council stared at their queen with unabashed astonishment. They were all thinking the same thing ‘Impossible.’ and Gabrielle could tell they all thought she was crazy. She smiled at their reaction, knowing it was going to happen, and casually suggested if they could think of any better idea to please let her know.

“But it won’t work.” Eponin was the first to find her voice.

“What can it hurt to try?” Gabrielle reasonably countered.

“What can it hurt? It can hurt the entire Amazon Nation, that’s what.” Ephiny was trying to make sense of the incredible statement her queen had just made. ‘What makes her think this will work?’

“How?” Gabrielle was curious to their reasoning.

“How?” Eponin looked at the others in disbelief. “How, she asks.” Focusing back on the queen. “You can’t just let her stroll through the main village and then let her leave. She will be inside our perimeter. She will see our defenses. It will put us in a much worse position if it fails.” Eponin was trying, without much success, to explain the working of a warrior’s mind.

“But if it works, no one will be hurt.” Gabrielle never liked to pull rank. She worked hard to show the amazons that they could count on her as a friend, but she was Queen. Returning to her seat, that happened to be the throne, reinforced that fact in the council’s mind. “I have an obligation to the Nation to try this. If I didn’t I wouldn’t be much of a Queen.”

They all looked at each other rather guiltily. It was true. The queen should do anything she felt was necessary to secure the safety of the Nation, but this was above and beyond, this was, as far as they were concerned, suicide.

Gabrielle spoke quietly, “I need someone to deliver the message.”

Silence filled the room, until Ephiny’s quiet voice was heard. “I’ll do it.” Gabrielle closed her eyes in gratitude and sorrow as she heard Eponin’s gasp.

Taking a deep breath Gabrielle thanked them and asked Ephiny to wait a moment. Eponin remained just outside, waiting for the curly haired scout. After a tense moment Gabrielle spoke softly, “Thank you.”

Ephiny looked surprised at the gratitude, “For what? You are my Queen.”

Gabrielle thought about her matter of fact statement. ‘I am her Queen.’ She tried to recall her life before the Amazons. Amazingly only fuzzy snippets of memories came to mind. The only thing she could remember with perfect clarity was most of that one day when she was five… and the day the hunting party saved her, so many years later. ‘Have I really only been an amazon for three years?’ Pulling herself out of the reverie she looked at Ephiny again, “Thank you anyway. The message will be ready to go at first light.”

Gabrielle nodded and Ephiny quietly left the council hall to join a waiting Eponin. It broke her heart to watch the scout and warrior’s fingers lace as they walked toward their shared quarters. ‘They think it will be the last night for them.’ Gabrielle sighed. ‘They may be right.’ The Conqueror was known to kill the messenger, sometimes even before the message was read. She rubbed her face and hoped the walk back to her hut would keep her awake long enough to compose the message. ‘It has to be firm but not insulting. This is one messenger that will at least have a fighting chance.’

———————

Ephiny walked with dignity behind the Conqueror’s guard, her hands were tied securely in front of her and a rope led from her bindings to the hand of the man in front of her. The amazon seethed with fury. ‘She was an amazon damnit, no two dinar, scum sucking, son of a Baccae guard was going get the best of her.’

She bored her eyes into the back of his head. So intent on burning a hole through his helmet with her vision she almost ran into him when he stopped. She looked at the tent they had stopped in front of, it was larger by far than all the others. She took several deep breaths to calm herself, not quite succeeding before the guard pulled the rope and drew her through the cloth entrance.

Instantly her senses dismissed the man that brought her here. Every fiber of her body was now aware of the dangerous woman watching her from the darkness. Waiting for her eyes to adjust from the midday sun to the dim interior of the tent, Ephiny recalled the time when a large black cat had been spotted in the hunting grounds. During the hunt for the predator, Ephiny had felt it’s eyes watching them.

‘God’s…..it feels the same.’ That memory reassured her, however, because the pelt of that animal was now in her Queen’s quarters. Not because she invoked royal privilege, or received it as a gift, the Queen had made the kill, the pelt was rightfully hers. Calmer now, Ephiny stood waiting.

“So. You’re an amazon.” The velvet voice rolled out of the darkness. Ephiny knew if that black cat had the ability to talk, this is what it would have sounded like.

She barely controlled the shudder that ran through her. She forced herself to remain still as the purring voice resumed, “You may leave Darfus.”

He tied his end of the rope to a post and bowed to the darkness before he left. Now Ephiny was having an even harder time controlling the tremors coursing through her. ‘Sweet Artemis….I’m alone with her.’

Movement in the shadows alerted her. Unable to stop her trained muscles, she assumed a decent defensive position, despite her bindings.

“You’re trying to defend yourself against me?” The Conqueror seemed amused at this concept. She stepped into the lighter area of the tent to give Ephiny a good look at her captor. “Against ME!”

This time she spread out her arms and turned gracefully, the sleeves of her robe trailing the path her arms made. The purple silky robe fell open to reveal well worn warrior’s leathers. Seeing the amazon’s eyes widen at the glimpse of her warrior’s apparel she tossed the robe aside, all the time laughing at the audacity of the amazon tied in front of her.

Ephiny stood, there was no point in arguing, as long as her hands were bound, she was helpless and they both knew it. She found herself staring at the figure of the most dangerous woman in the world. It was impossible to stop once she started, the deep black leather drew her eyes to the muscular form. Every inch of the Conqueror was a new inspiration for the word beauty. Black silk hair, smooth skin and then there were her eyes, those blue eyes were enough to drown in. ‘I think Ares took one of those cats and turned it human.’

Xena grew impatient. This new game wasn’t very interesting. “I am told you have a message for me.” She reclined on a large sofa just inside Ephiny’s field of vision. “Let’s hear it.”

Xena affected her usual bored attitude reserved for when the leader of whatever land she was about to take over came to beg for mercy. She became suddenly very interested when the woman, despite her bindings, pulled a piece of parchment from under her left bracer.

“I don’t know what it says, only that I was to give it to you.” Ephiny offered the message to the seated woman. She wasn’t sure if she wanted the woman close enough to take it from her hands but she surely wasn’t going to throw it at her either.

She suspected it was the Warrior Princess in her that caused her to cross the room and take the message. The Conqueror saw the intricate seal and rewarded the messenger with one raised eyebrow, ‘Maybe this new game won’t be boring after all.’ She thought.

“If it was written, why didn’t you just give it to one of my men?” She was beginning to think she underestimated the woman tied before her.

“That is not what my Queen commanded.”

Ephiny’s simple statement left Xena with a lot to think about. The Conqueror walked back to her comfy sofa and read the message once to herself then aloud for the benefit of her captive:

“Greetings Conqueror

My scouts inform me that you are preparing an army to invade our land. This is most disturbing to me and I would like to discuss it with you. Perhaps we can come to an arrangement that will satisfy both of us. In hopes of a productive meeting I grant you safe passage to and from the main village.

If you feel the need, three of your guards, preferably female, will also be allowed into Amazon territory but I assure you with the messenger as your escort your safety is guaranteed.

Signed by Queen Gabrielle.

Gabrielle, that’s not an amazon name is it?” Xena looked up at her prisoner. Something stirred in the back of Xena’s mind.

“It is now.” She winced as the Conqueror growled her displeasure at the terse answer.

“Explain that.” Xena was angry at the implication she would be afraid to come to Amazon territory without a guard.

“Three years ago slavers took her from her home village. On their way to be sold they were freed by a hunting party of Amazons. One of them was an Amazon princess. During the rescue the princess was wounded and Gabrielle tried to save her. On her deathbed the princess bestowed her rite-of-caste on Gabrielle. Several months later the Queen was killed in a hunting accident. Gabrielle has been Queen for almost two and a half years.” Ephiny finished her story, she had told it to herself over and over on the trip here. The recitation was just as Gabrielle instructed.

Xena sat for a moment thinking about the ramifications of the story. ‘Not really an amazon? That explains the attempt at peace then. From the stories I have heard no self respecting Amazon would even make the effort, they would just fight. A former villager that had been captured by slavers would be very susceptible to my particular form of intimidation.

She will be young, slavers don’t take the old ones and she has only been Queen a short time. Hmmmm a new game may prove interesting.’ Having made her decision she advanced quickly toward the captive amazon.

Ephiny was amazed at the fluid motion of the woman approaching her. It was like watching water roll down a hill. She was mesmerized by the rippling muscles in the woman’s thighs until the glint of steel caught her eye ‘Where did that dagger come from?’

She felt a surge of adrenaline as she realized who held the dagger and exactly how much danger she was in. Her hazel eyes closed refusing to let The Conqueror see the sadness she knew was there. Images of her son and Eponin floated across the darkness.
‘I will miss you.’ She thought.

The Conqueror watched the amazon’s eyes close at her approach. She laughed to herself, ‘Probably praying to the Gods that I don’t kill her. Huh, I guess maybe it worked.’

The look of relief on the amazons face, when she discovered her bindings cut, was just too funny. She couldn’t help the cold laughter in her voice when she called for Darfus to come in.

The fact that he hadn’t gone far and the look of disappointment on his face increased her amusement. ‘He always wants to hear them scream.’ The Warrior Princess in her was not amused at all, but she knew now was not the time to challenge The Conqueror.

“I am going to meet the Amazon Queen. Take care of things until I return.” She turned to get her armor and weapons from deeper in the tent.

“You can’t go without an escort.” He protested. He wanted to be there when she killed the Queen of the Amazons.

The word ‘can’t’ raised her eyebrow significantly. She casually gestured to Ephiny, “This messenger will take me. Her Queen” The Conqueror sneered, “has assured me she is capable of protecting me from danger.”

“Who will protect you from her?” The minute he said it he knew it was a mistake.

The Conqueror glanced at the scout then back to the terrified man. The brief contact was enough for Ephiny to think, ‘She’s going to pounce.’ Xena’s voice was low and dangerous, “Are you saying I can’t protect myself from her?”

“No. No no. I just…..I only……Your protection is always my first concern.” He was desperate now. Images of his own body lying on the floor of the tent were threatening his ability to reason. He tried to let the matter drop, hoping she would to. “How long will you be gone?”

Xena looked expectantly at the captive turned escort. She noted the red marks around the woman’s wrists. The fact that the amazon did nothing to acknowledge the painful rope burns spoke volumes about amazons in general and this one in particular.

Ephiny cleared her throat, “Three days to get there…..” she lied. “…three days to return and however long you think you will need to talk to the Queen.” The amazon left the exact number up to Xena.

The smile on Xena’s face again reminded Ephiny of the cat. “In that case, I’ll be gone seven days.” Xena buckled the last fastening on her armor and inwardly laughed at Ephiny’s glare. Allowing such a short amount of time speak with Gabrielle was rude almost to the point of insult.

————–

The unlikely pair traveled only a short time before a wide feral grin crossed the Conqueror’s face, “So how long will it really take to get to the village?”

Ephiny’s step faltered then she resumed her steady pace, not looking at Xena when she replied, “We will be in the village before sundown this evening.”

The Conqueror laughed, out loud for once. She loved it when she was one step ahead of everyone else in the game. ‘This may be the easiest conquest I have ever made.’ She thought. ‘Why was Ares so worried about the Amazons.’ Remembering her last discussion with the God of War and his insistence on leaving the Amazons alone.

She assumed it was because of some deal he made with Artemis. ‘Well I haven’t made any deals with her so she can kiss her precious amazons goodbye. Of course, if she wanted to she could try to persuade me to the contrary. I wonder if I could withstand a Goddess’ persuasion.

I certainly can Ares’ What would the amazons do if they found I was suddenly their patron Goddess’ consort. What if I just told them I was, and I only agreed to this meeting because of Artemis.’ The possibilities of her involvement with the goddess kept her silent and intrigued.

Ephiny was thankful for the reprieve. She wasn’t much for talking, that was Gabrielle’s department.

————-

“APHRODITE!” The goddess’ bellow could be heard all over Olympus. She was furious.

A shimmer of light was followed by the laughing voice of the Goddess of Love. “Chill, Babe. Your gonna wake up Bliss.” She indicated the baby in her arms.

“Geez, ‘Dite, can’t you get someone else to babysit. You are constantly taking care of that kid!” Artemis was quieter now but no less furious.

The doting grandmother, who didn’t look anything like a grandmother, snorted, “Yeah right, like who…Discord…or…Strife, maybe?” She shifted the sleeping infant, careful not to bend his wings and looked through the window to the mortal world. “Who ya watchin?”

Her innocent question brought Artemis’ thoughts back to the reason she had called her. She explained the Conqueror’s current plans to take over the amazon’s territory and her rather rude comments about how Artemis could possibly ‘persuade’ her to change her mind. Then she requested that Aphrodite put a love spell on Xena to make her fall for Gabrielle. It was a hard decision, Gabrielle was one of her favorites and Xena was hardly her first choice for her Chosen.

Aphrodite looked through the window a while longer then back at the Goddess of the Hunt. “It’s a good idea Arti but I don’t have to do anything. Those two are already connected. Big Time.” She paused to settle the baby in her arms and looked back at the confused Goddess. “See for yourself.” She indicated the window and passed her hand in front of it.

The view shifted to a general overview of the Amazon territory. It seemed to be crisscrossed with fine strands of silk, but it wasn’t silk it was light. Artemis understood, each person in the range of the window had thin strands of light emanating from them connecting them with the people they loved.

The intensity of light surrounding the Queen startled her. ‘Great Zeus….she has a strand for everyone.’ Another startling discovery for the Goddess was a large ray of light from her Chosen connected directly to Xena. While the others were thin, wispy strands of cobweb thickness that pulsed occasionally with waves of feeling, this was entirely different. It was thick, intense, constant almost…….solid. It was the only thing coming to or from Xena.

Her voice was full of feeling when she spoke, “Have you ever seen anything like that before?”

The Goddess of Love shook her head, “It is rare and NEVER in two people that only met once when they were children. Gabrielle has the largest capacity for love and forgiveness I have ever seen.

If you hadn’t Chosen her…..I would have.” She looked at the Goddess’ awed face once more and waved her hand across the window again. The lines disappeared and the view was normal again.

“Everything will work out fine there. Trust me.” She tugged on the worried Goddess’ arm. “Com’on Bliss is about to wake up. Maybe you can give him few archery lessons.”

Artemis reluctantly let herself be dragged off. ‘Oh well’ she thought ‘I can always play it back later.’

———–

Gabrielle sat at her desk reviewing a scroll. It must have been over a year ago that she completed this particular report. Now she hoped her suspicions and speculations were correct. Her sharp ears picked up the sentries whistle code. Almost here. Then it struck her, ‘I never had any doubt she would come.’

She quickly scanned the room. Everything seemed in place. The only addition was a low table jutting out from the far wall and two comfortable cushions so that the evening meal could be enjoyed here instead of the communal dining hall. She sighed resigned now to the course of action she had set in motion. ‘I hope I’m right.’ Looking at the formal leathers laid out on the bed she sighed again and began dressing for her guest.

————

Xena grinned at the back of her escort, confident enough to let a little of her knowledge be known. “It’s not true, you know.” Her blue eyes flashed at the hesitation her voice caused in the woman.

“What….What’s not true.” The amazon’s hazel eyes flicked briefly to the Conqueror.

“Your signal to the sentries.” She replied matter of factly and repeated the message only this time not in whistles, “Two women, no danger.”

She smiled as the scout’s eyes widened at her admission to knowing the code. She dropped her voice to it’s lowest register and allowed a wicked grin to touch her eyes. “I am dangerous.”

Ephiny took a deep breath and turned to continue toward the village. “Yes, I know.” ‘Gods…I’m going to have to leave her alone with Gabrielle.’

———–

Every sense The Conqueror had was telling her this was stupid. She was alone in a camp of people she was about to invade. ‘Why did I agree to this.’

She walked, outwardly calm, following her escort toward a large hut on the edge of the village circle. The guards at the door saw them approach and per their Queen’s instructions let their staffs fall to the ground beside them. They knocked twice on the door and when Ephiny was close enough they opened it for the women to enter. Xena was impressed with the discipline they exhibited.

She doubted her guards would drop their weapons like that, especially since she still had her sword at her back and her chakrum hanging from her waist. Xena was definitely glad she was going to meet the woman that commanded so much loyalty…..before she killed her.

Gabrielle heard the staffs fall before the knock at the door. Her heart skipped a beat then settled. ‘This is it.’ She sat as regally as she could on the throne and waited. Her first sight of Ephiny followed by the imposing figure of the Conqueror almost made her lose her composure.

She forced herself to focus on the amazon, keenly aware of the internal buzzing Xena’s presence was having on her. The scout turned messenger approached the throne and kneeled on the customary one knee. The sentries reports said she was OK but usually Gabrielle relied on her own eyes for reassurance of her friends condition. She frowned briefly as her eyes stopped at the woman’s red wrists. “Report.”

Ephiny looked up to see a flash of anger in her Queen’s green eyes and a flicker toward her wrists. “The Conqueror has accepted your offer for a meeting.” Hazel eyes begged the Queen to drop the subject of her injuries.

“Rise.” Gabrielle couldn’t quite keep the twinkle out of her eyes at the use of such a formal command toward her friend. “We have already been supplied with dinner but I believe later we will require some more wine. Have the healer check your wrists and then see to it OK.” Gabrielle heard a voice outside the door. “I believe someone wants to see you now.”

The Queen smiled and her voice became mockingly stern, “The wine can wait and your wrists can too but please go and reassure Eponin before she takes out my guards.”

She waited until the woman was almost even with Xena before adding, “and give Phantes a hug from me too.” She saw Ephiny’s flickering glance at Xena then her short nod before she took the two steps needed to propel her out the door, into the waiting arms of Eponin.

——–

Xena stopped two steps inside the door. She waited for her vision to adjust to the new light level and watched her escort kneel to the Queen.

Xena had several individual personalities, Ruthless and cold Xena: The Conqueror was dominant most of the time. Xena: The Warrior Princess was a noble fighter for the greater good. The Destroyer of Nations was the strategist. The Conqueror as the dominant personality kept the others neatly stored and in some cases locked in their own little rooms of Xena’s mind.

The innkeeper’s daughter, the village girl, little sister, big sister, and even to a small extent mother were content to stay there, hardly ever even voicing an opinion. Others such as the Warrior Princess would break free at times and try for control. Even the Conqueror tried to keep her darkest part, Ares Chosen, under tight guard. She was simply too difficult to restrain once unleashed.

One look at the Amazon Queen caused The Conqueror a distinct slip of control. In a brief second she found herself in an unexpected internal battle with a very determined, too long suppressed, Warrior Princess. Xena pushed the rage filled Conqueror to the back corner cell of her mind.

Ignoring the screams of rage from the imprisoned Conqueror, Xena’s eyes were drawn to the woman sitting on the throne. ‘By the God’s…..She is beautiful.’ The Conqueror was subdued for a moment by the warmth that flowed from the warrior to the leader of the amazons.

Xena knew that the battle was over but the war between she and The Conqueror had just begun. At the moment though, none of that mattered. She was lost in the vision of the Amazon Queen.

She ached to hear her voice, Xena suddenly had to hear her speak, not just terse commands. The Warrior Princess closed her eyes at the sound of Gabrielle speaking to the scout. ‘God’s I have my eyes closed and I can tell……’ she opened her eyes and saw the Queen smiling ‘…….she’s smiling.’

Her escort was leaving now and the Queen’s voice called out again, so intent on the sound Xena almost didn’t hear the words. It was the scout’s hateful glance that shook her out of her sense overloaded stupor. ‘Phantes? That sounded like a male name. Males weren’t allowed on Amazon Land, were they?’

“You may come in. I did invite you, you know.” The Queen’s melodic voice drew her two steps closer before she even acknowledged she was going to move.

Xena’s sudden stop however had less to do with regaining control of her muscles than it did the sight of the Queen rising gracefully from the throne.

Xena was mesmerized by the ripple of muscles in Gabrielle’s abdomen and thighs. She watched as the amazon gracefully settled on one of the cushions at the low table. As fortune would have it, rays of light from the fading sun bathed the seated woman.

Xena couldn’t remember any sunset that would rival the sight before her. For all she knew Apollo took his inspiration for sunsets from her. ‘No.’ she thought. ‘One look at this woman’s sea green eyes surrounded by her honey-fire hair and the Sun God would give up painting sunsets forever, knowing he could never create anything as beautiful.’

Gabrielle seated herself and looked up at the standing woman, she tried to keep the amusement off her face as she gestured toward the corner cushion. “Please. Join me.” She knew her voice had dropped to almost its lowest register and mentally berated herself. ‘Don’t go there.’ Too late, now it was the Queen’s turn to watch muscles ripple as Xena crossed to sit on the other cushion. It was placed so when she sat, Xena’s back was to a corner and she could see the entire room.

Xena took the opportunity to scan the room again, It was sparse but neat. The scrolls on the large desk were neatly arranged, wood was stacked in perfect orderly piles by the fireplace. Her eyes flickered over the black fur in front of the hearth then were drawn to the large bed that occupied the corner opposite them. Xena quickly began to examine the table in front of her and the wonderful dinner it promised. With only minor difficulty, she regained control of her racing heart.

Gabrielle had been watching her guest and knew exactly where she was looking when the pulse point in her neck doubled its rhythm. She cleared her throat and forced herself to speak in a conversational tone. “My warriors tell me that sitting with their back in a corner facing the door is preferable. I told them I thought I would feel cornered if I found myself in that position, but they assure me it is better to know that no one is coming at you from behind.” Gabrielle let her voice trail off as if unconvinced of the logic.

“It’s true.” Xena casually examined the table’s contents again and continued. “With your back to the corner no one can sneak up on you ….” she gestured toward the wall behind her “……at least you’re sitting with your back to a wall.” She was startled to see Gabrielle smiling at her.

The Queen leaned across the narrow table conspiratorially, “Don’t tell me you are concerned with my safety, too.” She let a hint of exasperation creep into her voice.

Xena barely controlled the shudder that went through her at the woman’s proximity. She tried to take a deep breath to calm herself only to find her senses under triple assault from leather, lilacs, and another that only took her a minute to realize was Gabrielle herself. She found her voice barely a whisper, partially to keep up the conspiracy, partially that was all she could manage at the moment. “All right, I won’t.” Even though, from this moment on, the Queen’s safety was a major concern to her.

“I guess I would feel safe too if I had all those weapons.” Gabrielle sat back and gestured in Xena’s general direction, knowing there were probably as many weapons hidden as seen.

Xena laughed “You didn’t say I couldn’t have weapons.”

The Amazon Queen smiled “That would have been foolish on my part, wouldn’t it”

Xena nodded but suddenly felt very large and threatening toward the other woman. “Yeah…..but I guess I am a little overdressed for an informal dinner. Do you mind if I take off my sword?”

At Gabrielle’s negative gesture Xena snaked an arm behind her and quickly undid the bindings of her scabbard. She propped the sword up in the corner behind her then hesitated. Xena glanced at Gabrielle and then removed the chakrum from it’s belt loop and hung it from the hilt of her sword. Favoring the amazon with another grin she pulled a dagger from each boot and a small knife from her left gauntlet and placed them carefully in the corner. Two small throwing knives came out of their belt holders at her back and joined the others.

The Queen sat with her elbows on the table resting her chin on interlaced fingers. She watched the display intently. “My, my. You’re just a walking armory aren’t you.” Gabrielle’s teasing grin widened when Xena produced a small breast dagger and placed it with the other weapons. This made the Queen laugh out loud. “Like your breasts aren’t dangerous enough.”

The thought of Gabrielle even thinking about her breasts was enough to send a blush creeping up her neck. ‘Gods I haven’t blushed in years.’ The Conqueror seethed, ‘Blushing! The Warrior Princess will be sorry she ever tried this little stunt.’ She was quickly reaching her boiling point.

“I am very hungry.” The laughing amazon settled back into her cushion. “Let’s eat.” Gabrielle turned two tumblers right side up on the table and poured a portion of wine into each of them. She grinned at the warrior “Do you want to choose?” Gabrielle indicated the cups and waited. Her eyebrows rose when Xena picked one and immediately took a drink. ‘That’s a surprise. I didn’t think she would trust me that fast.’ Grabbing the other tumbler quickly she drank deeply. “This was a good pressing.”

Xena agreed, “I have invaded countries for less.” The Conqueror laughed from her cell. It was one of her favorite phrases. Xena silenced her evil counterpart. Enjoying good food and good wine with such a beautiful woman actually made her forget, for a moment, why she was here.

Gabrielle’s smile vanished, her tone turned sad, “The vines would burn before you got them.”

“Hey, I only meant that you were right. It is very good wine.” Xena was desperate to bring her smile back. A small smile tugged at the corners of Gabrielle’s mouth and as the beat of her heart eased closer to normal, another lock was added to The Conqueror’s restraints.

“Can I ask you something.” Gabrielle looked at her with twinkling green eyes.

“Sure.” Xena didn’t care what the question was the voice asking it was the important part. She felt her heart once again increasing speed.

She dropped her eyes to the table shyly. “Well I was wondering……Since this isn’t really a formal negotiation….if…..I could…..” Gabrielle looked into her guests startling blue eyes and smiled, “…..call you Xena?”

Xena no longer had to worry about her heart beating out of control. The Queen’s smile, along with her own name falling from those perfect lips, stopped it completely. She reminded herself to breathe. Once her goal in life was to rule the world. ‘Well now I do, so I need a new goal.’ She thought wryly, ‘I think I’ll try to hear my name from those lips as many times as possible, before I die’ Confident her new goal was a good one, she smiled at the amazon, “Only if I can call you, Gabrielle.”

Gabrielle felt her heart leap at that voice saying her name. She wanted to reach out, to touch the woman across from her and wished the table didn’t separate them. She knew it was a bad idea to startle a warrior, especially this one, but they were making a deal right. Gabrielle tentatively reached her hand toward Xena, “Agreed.”

Xena accepted the hand as a binding contract. She was amazed at the softness of the Queen’s hands, despite the staff callus’. Staff not sword. Interesting…..Xena continued to think about the softness of the Queen’s hands and imagined what it would be like for them to touch her someplace other than her hand…………A bar was firmly put into place across The Conqueror’s cell door.

Gabrielle knew many amazon warriors. She had shaken hands with them on all sorts of formal occasions but this was different. She knew that swords, staffs, chobos and even bows each created different callus patterns on a proficient users hands. This woman’s hands had the distinct and recognizable pattern of all the weapons she knew and, she realized, some she didn’t.

All she wanted to do was feel those hands on her. She pulled her closer in another conspiring whisper. “It might be wise to keep it formal in front of our guards though. They may get the wrong idea.” Her eyes flickered briefly toward the opposite corner. She felt Xena’s pulse quicken and knew that Xena felt her own heart matching the pace. She reluctantly released her grip and began eating the feast that was before them.

Xena had assumed that the large amount of food laid out was simply for display. A way to show her what the lands had to offer and allow her a few bites of each for her approval. She was quickly discovering that was not the case. Gabrielle seemed intent on eating everything on the table and she realized she had better hurry before it was all gone.

They ate in companionable silence, broken only with Gabrielle’s urgings for Xena to try this or helpful suggestions to try dipping that in this sauce. It was a very pleasant meal. One of the few Xena could remember. They remained on the low cushions relaxing, sipping wine and to Xena’s surprise dozing off. The warrior was startled awake by her own wine dripping into her lap.
Her reaction to straighten the cup overcompensated and flung the balance of the contents onto Gabrielle. The amazon looked at her wine-stained chest then to Xena’s lap then to Xena’s expression. Xena looked from her wine-stained leg to Gabrielle’s chest to the expression on Gabrielle’s face. Both of them burst out laughing so loud the guards at the door entered quickly. The guards were perplexed at the sight of their Queen rolling on the floor laughing with such a dangerous woman. They noticed the weapons that were stacked in the corner. Gabrielle waved them out, “It’s OK really. It was an accident.” She took a deep breath to control her hysterics. “I don’t want anymore interruptions unless it’s my son with more wine.” The guards nodded.

Xena got her own hysterics under control only to have other emotions take over. The mention of a son made her irrationally jealous. She suddenly wanted to know who the father was so that she could personally make him regret touching Gabrielle. She watched Gabrielle glide across the room toward the bed. ‘Gods even I couldn’t do anything to make a person regret that!’ She continued staring as Gabrielle walked through a narrow door on the other side of the fireplace. She returned with two towels, two washrags, a bowl and a warmed waterskin.

She smiled apologetically, “Sorry I only have one washing bowl. Do you mind sharing?”

Xena shook her head negative and took the rag and towel offered. Gabrielle reclaimed her cushion and pushed the small table out from between them setting the bowl between them on the floor. She poured the warmed water into the bowl and began to wash her chest clear of the sticky purple stain.

‘Lucky washrag’ Xena thought as she diligently began cleaning up her own mess. Xena began in a conversational tone, “Gabrielle, you mentioned a son to the guards…..” Xena saw that all the Queen’s attention was on her now. “…and earlier you told the scout to hug ‘Phantes’ is he your son? I mean I didn’t think males were allowed on Amazon territory, much less in the main village…” Finished with the cleaning Xena began to absently dry her leg and looked up into see a wave of remembered pain wash
across her face and then it was replaced with a warm smile.

“No Phantes is Ephiny’s son. His father was killed in battle two years ago. His home village is..was not far from here. My son is adopted, his father was killed long ago and his…uncle was killed in another battle not long after Phantes father. They are both exceptions to the rule.” Gabrielle saw the distant look in Xena’s blue eyes and waited only a moment. “Do you have any children?”

“If I did it would be very dangerous for them if anyone ever found out they were mine.” Xena paused. The Conqueror was telling her it was too dangerous to give the Queen any personal information. ‘She will use it against you.’ Her protests were dismissed by Xena’s simple reply, ‘I trust her.’ Gabrielle’s
nodded understanding of the danger prompted Xena to continue. “Yes, I once had a child. He was stolen from me by his father.”

“Where is he now?” Gabrielle tried not to sound to nosy but she needed to know, badly.

“The father or the child?” Xena tried to smile.

“Both.” This was too important to waste time on word games.

“The father is dead.” She held up a hand to stop the next question, “He was killed against my orders.” ‘Well that seemed to relax her.’ “As for the boy, I assume he was killed as an infant. I don’t know who his father gave him to. If he was spared, then it is better that he be raised by people who love him. If word spread that I ever had a son, every ten year old in the world would be placed in jeopardy. If he is alive he would be found and used against me. I wouldn’t want to see him, or any child, hurt.” Xena thought about that logic. “Yeah, It is better for him not to know me.” The Conqueror laughed at Xena’s
weakness.

“When Phantes died Ephiny was so distraught I made an exception for her son. Shortly after that I found my son and he stayed too. Ephiny and Eponin are the caretakers for my son. He and Phantes are like brothers. They were both raised in a centaur villages, before they came here.” Gabrielle was watching Xena closely. When the warrior began to speak the Queen let out a breath she didn’t realize she was holding.

The Conqueror plotted from her captivity. ‘I can’t break free right now but I do have a little control. I remember that battle, that name. Let’s see how long Xena can stand up to me without the little Queen’s eye’s being all goo goo for her.’ A laugh of evil glee escaped the confines of her mind and Xena shuddered.

For a moment she lost control of her speech function as The Conqueror began the story. “Once I battled a group of centaurs and men…….” She began slowly. “……they fought well, almost too well. In the end there were only two people left, me and one very determined centaur. He was strong but….I finally defeated him…I had him down on all fours. I think I expected him to beg me for his life…I wanted him to…”

Xena watched Gabrielle’s face closely dreading the look of horror she always found in people’s eyes. A distant laugh from her dark prisoner echoed in her head. “….but he didn’t….he simply closed his eyes and said, ‘Ephiny, forgive me.'”

She saw Gabrielle’s eyes close and closed her eyes as well. Her prisoner waited as one of the locks on the door dropped away. Slowly she continued. “…..If he had not received so many wounds during the fight, I think I would have spared him, by the force of that statement alone, but I knew he would never survive any one of the injuries sustained, much less all of them. So I………..”
Xena’s voice trailed off. She took a deep breath, steeled herself to the hatred she was going to face and opened her eyes. She gasped at the unexpected sight and another lock dropped from the Conqueror’s door. Gabrielle was crying. Her face was buried
in the towel she had been using to clean up with. ‘God’s I’ve made her cry.’ Another lock fell away, the Conqueror laughed.

Gabrielle looked up at her gasp. Xena saw her liquid green eyes were filled with tears and…gratitude? Xena was totally perplexed, “Hey, I didn’t mean to make you cry.” Truthfully Xena didn’t know why she had told the story, her prisoner’s influence was unconcious. Now, seeing the result, she was kicking herself. The Conqueror prepared herself for the bar to drop from her cell. Xena pushed the washing bowl under the table and tentatively reached out to hold the sobbing woman.

The amazon took a ragged breath and accepted the embrace quickly, “Thank you.”

“For making you cry?” Xena was trying to reconcile the woman’s actions with her words. The fact that she was holding her in her arms was doing nothing for her concentration. The Conqueror was pounding on the door now, sensing possible defeat.

Gabrielle curled around the warrior’s forearm and rested her cheek on the cool bracer. “For telling me. I have been trying to find out how he died. It hasn’t been easy since everyone there was killed.” Another ragged breath escaped her. “Ephiny deserves to know and little Phantes will want to know when he is older.”

“You mean that centaur and Ephiny……” Xena was confused. “I saw a scar on her stomach….but I thought…….Gods” She had definitely underestimated the curly haired messenger.

Gabrielle sat up, now very close to Xena, still in the embrace actually. She smiled, “Yeah, he is as stubborn as she is. I guess he decided he didn’t want to make an appearance. Our healer had other ideas.” Her expression turned sad. “They were very much in love.”

There was really no reply to that quiet statement. Xena looked at the amazon in her arms. She lightly traced the imprint of her bracer on the reddened cheek. She felt Gabrielle’s still form and suddenly realized exactly what she was doing. ‘Gods she’s scared stiff.’ Xena dropped her arms and moved back to her corner. The Conqueror was screaming for release which Xena stubbornly denied. She watched Gabrielle pick up the washbowl and carry it back to the washing room. ‘She can’t even stand to look at me now. Stupid. Stupid.’

Gabrielle could still feel the light touch on her cheek. ‘Why didn’t I just kiss her? Stupid. Stupid. She can probably hear my heart pounding from in here. Gods…..’ She put the bowl down and went out to her desk, retrieving a large folded piece of parchment. She gestured for Xena to join her by the fireplace. Settling cross-legged at the end of the black fur rug, she felt her left side pleasantly warmed by the fire. Xena stretched out the entire length of her body along the fur, receiving heat mostly on her upper torso and face.

“This is nice.” Xena stroked the soft fur. “Predatory cat?”

“Yeah,” Gabrielle watched Xena’s hand absently petting the rug. “It was spotted in the hunting grounds several months ago.”

“They aren’t easy to kill.” Xena had hunted the large cats once. It wasn’t something she really wanted to repeat. Several of her hunting party had been killed by the beast before they had finally subdued it. That pelt had been destroyed in the process. “Especially hard to keep the pelt intact.”

“Yeah, I got lucky.” Gabrielle thought about the hunt and how scared she had been.

“You killed it?” Xena was surprised. The woman didn’t seem to have the….fierceness it would take to kill an animal like this.

“It threatened the Nation.” Gabrielle stated and unfolded the parchment in front of them.

Xena ignored the map, “It threatened the Nation, so you killed it.” Xena couldn’t help make the comparison, “I am a threat to the nation.” She changed her tone to a teasing lilt. “Are you going to kill me too?” The shock in Gabrielle’s eye’s answered but not fully.

“I don’t kill people.” It was a flat statement.

“Never?” Xena was trying to wrap her mind around the concept.

“Never.” Gabrielle confirmed.

To never have killed anyone, what must that feel like? Xena tried to think back to her childhood. Before the first battle, when she was happy to hang out with her friends. ‘Did I even have friends?’ The Warrior Princess tried to catch the elusive memories of those days to no avail. ‘Why can’t I remember.’ She shook her head and tried to focus on the map.

It was a shock to see the detailed map before her. Xena had always assumed the Amazon Nation was quite a bit smaller that what the map indicated. Each faction was clearly marked with a dark border. Many had buffer zones between them. It looked sort of like a mirror that had been shattered and glued back together. The Conqueror quietly studied the map.

“This is how the Nation looked when I first became an amazon.” Gabrielle indicated the individual tribe’s territories. “Each faction had their own Queen. Many times they would fight among each other.” Gabrielle held her breath. Just showing her the map was risky but telling her the rest would almost be considered treason. “This is the Nation as it is today.” She turned the parchment over.

Again Xena was shocked, but for a different reason. It was carefully, almost lovingly sketched with the orchards, vineyards, and farms carefully plotted and marked with each individual crop. Xena was impressed. “Whoever drew this is an artist.” She stretched out her hand and lightly traced the border of the hunting grounds with her index finger.

A slight smile pulled the corners of Gabrielle’s lips, “Thank you.”

“You?” Xena wondered if she would ever cease to be amazed by the woman.

“Yes.” Gabrielle forced herself to breathe. Risking the Nation was hard enough without blacking out in the process.

“You left out the faction borders.” Xena teased. “How will you know who holds what?” The Conqueror began throwing herself at her door, berating the Warrior Princess in the process. ‘I don’t care who holds what you fool. LOOK AT IT! I can win. They will never defeat my army in that terrain.’ She rejoiced when she felt the wood give and continued her assault with renewed energy.

‘Breathe, Gabrielle, Breathe.’ “When…..you….began attacking the centaurs….I had just been made Queen of this tribe.” She hesitated.

‘That confirms the story Ephiny told back at camp.’ Xena nodded, urging her to continue the story. Ignoring the pounding in her head.

“I…..we….the other queens and I, decided that the only way to win against you, when you came after us, was to stand together.” Gabrielle saw the confused look on Xena’s face and smiled, “It took many months of negotiations but what you see on the map is true. We are no longer a group of warring factions. We stand together as one.” Gabrielle looked directly into the widening blue eyes.

“Sooo…you’re……” Xena didn’t quite believe what the woman was telling her. She wasn’t sure she trusted her logical powers just now and wanted verification.

“I am not an amazon Queen.” Gabrielle took a deep breath and confirmed. “I am THE Amazon Queen.”

The Conqueror threw herself at her prison door once more and was free. ‘This is it. This is the opportunity to take it all. Cut off the head and the body withers and dies. All you have to do is kill her and the Amazon Nation is yours.’ ‘NO, I WON’T LET YOU KILL HER!’ The internal struggle was taking it’s toll. Xena’s trembling voice sounded strange even to her. “You’re taking an awful risk telling me this.” She looked into the trusting, ‘Gods..trusting?’ green eyes. Xena locked The Conqueror back in her cell.

The amazon leaned close to the warrior, never breaking eye-contact. “You won’t kill me, Xena.” She whispered.

“How do you know?” Xena asked and the The Conqueror sneered.

Breathless words escaped the Queen, “Because I love you.” She closed the distance between them and brushed Xena’s lips with her own.”and because I think you love me.”

The softness of Gabrielle’s lips nearly brought Xena to tears. The Conqueror’s cell door became steel. She had lost. Big time. “I think you’re right.” When their lips met again, both women thought Zeus had thrown a bolt from above. Xena struggled to rise to her knees only to have her armor catch on the edge of the fur.

Breaking off the kiss, Gabrielle tried to catch her breath and asked, “Do you really need that armor in here?”

Xena didn’t answer, she simply reclaimed the lips she had been denied and simultaneously began undoing the clasps and buckles that held the hateful armor.

The only thing Gabrielle could do to help was lace her fingers behind Xena’s neck to hold her in place while she squirmed to undo the final clasp. They swallowed each others moans as the metal barrier dropped to the floor.

A sudden thought occurred to Xena. She broke off the kiss, not without protest from the Queen. “How long until your son brings more wine?” She didn’t want to rush things. This was too important. This was NOT a game.

Gabrielle smiled regretfully, “Soon.”

Sighing heavily, Xena bent to pickup her armor pieces. She placed them in the corner with her weapons. Glancing back at Gabrielle, she indicated the nearly empty wineskin. At the Queen’s enthusiastic nod, she grabbed their cups and as an afterthought a small loaf of bread and a container of honey from their dinner.

Gabrielle quickly folded the map and replaced it on the desk. “We wouldn’t want to spill anything on it.”

“Oh, I don’t know, ” Xena grinned, “Maybe some wine on the vineyards, a little honey dripped on the hives and some bread crumbs on the wheat fields. Then it would taste as good as it looks. Whadda ya think?”

Xena suddenly found herself being poked in the chest. “You said it was a work of art.” The amazon accused playfully.

“So I did.” Xena captured the Queen’s hand firmly, “And so it is.” She looked deeply into a sea of green and dropped a kiss into the palm of her new possession, before releasing it. “Not fair poking me when I only have one hand to defend myself with.” She shook the other hand, still holding the desert makings.

“I think you defended yourself fairly well.” She took the wineskin and cups back to the end of the fur. Settling in almost the exact same spot as before. She divided the contents of the skin into the cups and handed Xena the one with the larger quantity.

The warrior resumed her position as well and arranged the bread and honey on the fur. She took the offered cup. One eyebrow raised at the level of liquid. “Trying to get me drunk?”

“I believe your tolerance for wine is greater than mine.” Low chuckles took the royal dignity right out of that statement.

Xena narrowed her eyes at the Queen, “All right…..but if I think for one minute you are trying to take advantage of me…..” She left the threat hanging but in her heart she knew ‘I’d love every minute of it.’

Gabrielle laughed, “I would never….” Trying for indignant, not managing the feat.

“Uh huh.” Xena didn’t sound convinced. She broke a piece of the bread from the loaf and drizzled some honey on it. She tore a small bite from the preparation and offered it to Gabrielle.

The woman leaned forward and took the offering between her teeth. She smiled at the raised eyebrow. “From that expression it looks like my virtue may be at risk.”

“You are a very wise Queen.” Xena reached for her cup, smiling at the blush creeping up the amazon’s neck.

Gabrielle cleared her throat. “If that is the case, I think you should know something…..”

“What’s that?” Xena took a bite of the honey bread and chewed while waiting for the response.

“I……..” ‘Gods why is this so hard’ Gabrielle could feel her blush deepening. “I…….” She heard a faint noise from outside. “I think our wine is here.” Suddenly she was extremely nervous, this did not effect the Nation, this time the danger was to her personally….emotionally. Now she could only pray to the Gods that Xena meant what she said earlier. Gabrielle looked up to see her son standing in the doorway. ‘He needs another haircut.’ She grinned at the first and only Amazon Prince.

He stood motionless in the doorway, stunned was not the word for what he was feeling but it was close. When Ephiny told him his mother had a guest and that he should take her some wine later, he hadn’t been surprised. When he found out who the guest was he nearly choked. The Conqueror, alone with his mother! It took all of two minutes to find a wineskin and pelt to her hut. He didn’t know what he thought he would see inside but he definitely didn’t expect to see the Ruler of the Known World lounging on the floor eating bread and honey. He cleared his throat, “I brought more wine Mother.”

Gabrielle gestured for him to bring it and glanced at Xena. She was staring at the boy so hard Gabrielle could tell it was beginning to frighten him.. She grinned as he circled wide around the warrior, never taking his eyes off of her. Gabrielle took the wineskin and settled him in the depression formed by her crossed legs. She wrapped both arms around him and whispered in his ear.

He relaxed slightly and looked up at her. “Promise?”

Xena found herself on the receiving end of a wide grin, “Promise.” Gabrielle made the affirmation as solemn as possible. She squeezed him tightly and began the introductions, “Honey, this is Xena. Xena this is my son…. ” ‘Breathe.’ “….Solan.”

Xena found herself caught in a flood of memories. ‘Gods he looks just like Lyceus.’ It was impossible not to stare at the mother and child in front of her. She thought she could have watched them all night. Suddenly the child’s expression shifted. His eyes turned angry. She flinched and turned away.

Gabrielle saw Xena’s flinch and looked down at Solan. “Hey, what’s up?”

“Her army killed Phantes’ father, and my father, and my uncle.” He was getting angrier by the minute.

Gabrielle hugged him tighter, “Solan, remember what I told you?”

“It was war.” he said reluctantly.

“That’s right.” She smoothed the boys hair back from his shoulder and put her chin on it. “And what have I, and every other warrior in this village, told you about war?”

He let the back of his head rest on her shoulder, “In war, people get killed.”

She kissed his cheek, “I think you owe Xena an apology.”

“If I ‘pologize will you tell a story?” Solan’s eyes twinkled.

“Solan I have a guest. I can’t just leave to go tell a story.” Gabrielle was trying desperately to figure a way to grant the child’s wish. It was a rare occasion indeed when she won a battle waged by the youngster.

“I’ll bring them here then, please mother.” He grinned and pulled his hero card. “You promised.”

“I am sure Xena doesn’t want to take time out from negotiations to be invaded by a bunch of amazon children.” Gabrielle was almost to the point no return. She didn’t want to leave Xena alone. There were too many amazons that would be glad to see her dead. Neither did she want to subject Xena to 10-12 amazon children all clamoring for a story.

Xena couldn’t help be amused at the exchange from mother to son. He was so much like Lyceus it was difficult not to tell him a story herself. Really the only reason she didn’t was the fact that she knew for sure none of the stories she knew were suitable for a child his age. She decided that the Queen needed help. “Gabrielle.” The warrior’s lips quirked at Solan’s reaction to that. “Maybe if you just told them a short story with the promise of a longer one later…” She let her thought trail off.

“Are you sure?” Gabrielle wasn’t sure Xena understood what exactly was going to happen.

“I wouldn’t want you to break your promise.” It was important to her that the boy knew promises were something to be kept.

“Well Ok then.” Gabrielle relented. “Go ahead Solan, I’ll be ready in a few minutes.” She gave him a fierce motherly hug and sent him out the door. Her expression softened considerably when she noticed he no longer took the wide way around Xena. She picked up the wineskin and the desert. Moving everything back to the corner table, she noticed the weapons and armor. ‘How will I handle this?’

Xena was busily pouring molten iron around The Conqueror’s door, chanting in a sing song voice, ‘My son’s alive. My son’s alive.’ when she noticed Gabrielle staring at her personal armory. A flash of empathy possessed her. Her welding task temporarily forgotten she grinned and rose from the fur quietly.

“Gabrielle.” The Queen jumped at the voice so close to her ear. Xena put her hand over the amazon’s mouth before she could scream. Her other arm circling in front of the woman’s shoulders. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to scare you that badly. Do you see my point about people sneaking up behind you now?” The warrior felt Gabrielle’s head nod and dropped her hand also circling the woman. “I won’t let the children near my weapons.”

Gabrielle breathed a sigh of relief. She leaned back against the warrior’s chest, softer now that the armor was gone, and relaxed for a moment in the warmth of her arms. “Do you want to put them in the clothes chest?”

“I don’t think you have that much room in there” Xena quipped. She reluctantly broke the embrace. “No, I think it would be best if I just stayed over here next to them. I assume you will gather in front of the fire.” Xena doubted any of the children would come near her, if Solan’s initial reaction was anything to
judge by.

Gabrielle nodded. “Usually, or on the bed. Depending on the number and the season.” The Queen scanned the room once more and looked apologetically at Xena. “I’ll be right back.” She crossed over to the other side of the hearth and went through the narrow door.

Xena understood and waited a little nervously. It simply hadn’t occurred to her earlier but now that the idea was planted in her head the only thing she could think about was how much wine she had been drinking. She didn’t miss the twinkle in the amazon’s eyes as she exited the facilities. Xena grinned and entered the washroom quickly.

The guards were startled when Gabrielle poked her head out the door. She instructed them to be sure the children were properly subdued. She commented.”I don’t want The Conqueror startled. I would hate to wake the healer at this hour.” Both guards understood perfectly. They were often on duty during a storytelling session. Gabrielle chuckled as she moved her staffs to the other side of the headboard, out of the path of grabby hands.

“What’s up?” Xena shut the narrow door behind her and smiled at the chuckling Queen.

“Just taking some preventative measures.” She tilted her head. ‘Not a moment to soon’ “They are coming.”

Xena nodded and took her place in the corner. She grinned and winked at Gabrielle, before crossing her arms over her chest and putting on her best Warrior Princess scowl.

Gabrielle chuckled and shook her head. She stood between Xena and the door. Directing the children to the bed. She grinned when they got their first glimpse of the corner occupant. Only six others plus Solan and Phantes. Gabrielle glanced at Xena when Phantes appeared. She saw the muscles working in the warrior’s jaw but otherwise no outward reaction.

She fearlessly positioned herself at the head of the bed, once again placing Solan on her lap. “My son has reminded me that I promised you a story.” She waited for their enthusiasm to subside. “It will have to be a short one….” Their groans of protests were overridden. “….My guest and I have a lot to discuss.” Gabrielle bit her lip to stop from laughing as every head slowly turned to look at Xena. “She has been gracious enough to allow a short story so everyone thank Xena.”

No choir in the Realm was more polished than these eight, six she amended, amazons. The fact that Solan and Phantes refrained from the thank you pack didn’t bother her a bit. In fact, it probably would have bothered her if they did say thanks. Xena nodded her ‘Your welcome.’ Not trusting herself to speak. She narrowed her eyes at Gabrielle’s wink and simply raised her hand to signal she should continue with the story.

Solan felt the familiar muscle spasms of his mother’s laughter. He looked up to ask her what was so funny and he saw her wink. ‘She winked! At her! What’s going on here?’ He had seen Ephiny and Eponin act this way but his mother had never, not once, been this friendly toward anyone else. He wasn’t sure he liked that narrow eye thing or the way Xena imperiously waved at her. He looked over at the corner and gave her a narrow eye look of his own.

Everyone jumped at Micha’s squeal. “You look just like her.” Solan did not like being compared to the Conqueror and turned his new found expression on the squealing girl. To his annoyance all it did was start a round of giggles in the group. Rolling his eyes he said, “Can we get on with the story now?”

Gabrielle shook him slightly to get his attention. “Remember this the next time you want a story.” She grinned at the prince.

He mumbled grumpily, “She won’t be here next time.” He shot a dark glance at the corner.

Xena had heard the mumbled reply and endured the dark look stoically. She was curious, however, as to what the woman whispered in her son’s ear to make his eyes turn thoughtful. She didn’t wonder long because as soon as the Queen began to speak she was as caught up as the children were but for an
entirely different reason, at first. They wanted to hear a story, she wanted to hear that voice.

“This is the story of a day in the life of a little village girl. Just for the sake of argument let’s say her name is Gabrielle. Once when Gabrielle was about five, her parents took her with them on the merchant’s caravan. One day they stopped in a small village that was preparing for a festival. They needed to set up their tables so a local tavern owner said that her daughter would be happy to babysit. Just for the sake of argument let’s say her name was …. Xena.”

The girls giggled as the Queen delighted them with the adventures of little Gabrielle and her sworn protector for the day, Xena.
part 2

Xena closed her eyes and prepared to let the pleasant voice wash over her. She chuckled when she heard Gabrielle as the name of the main character. ‘Cute’ When she heard her own name being invoked however she surpressed a groan. She tried to glare at the storyteller.

Her mistake was opening her eyes. One look at the woman holding Solan, surrounded by children hanging on every word melted any annoyance that remained in the warrior’s heart.

The story itself was quite funny. The little Gabrielle causing all kinds of trouble for the forced babysitter. She found herself chuckling at the description of the little girl attacking the vicious tree with her stick/sword/staff. Xena couldn’t help smiling when the child fell asleep in the older girls arms.

She could almost feel the girl’s heart beat as if she were the Xena in the story. The Warrior Princess found herself as breathless as the children waiting to hear the outcome of the confrontation with the disgusting man. She was sorry that little Gabrielle had to witness the fight between the man and her protector. Children shouldn’t see such things.

The warrior found herself almost disappointed when the story was over. She watched Gabrielle say goodnight to the girls until only Solan and Phantes were left. She saw the little centaur pull the Queen’s hand and when she bent to his face, he whispered something to her.

The amazon’s eyes flew open and she glanced at Xena. Pursing her lips the Queen nodded and Phantes hesitantly walked toward Xena’s corner.

Phantes closed the distance between them slowly. Xena sat very still. The child looked ready to bolt at any moment. “Thank you for not hurting, Mama.”

“Queen Gabrielle said I would be sorry if I did.” He glanced wide-eyed at the Queen. Xena tilted her head and smiled. “Your welcome anyway, Phantes”

“You know my name?” The fact that he was a centaur aside, Phantes was a typical boy and despite all the evil conquerer stuff her prowess as a fighter was legendary. Any boy would be crazy not to claim the casual association if he could.

“Your mother is a brave woman, Phantes.” ‘Your father was too.’ she thought. “She stood up to me you know.” He looked at the muscles in her crossed arms and his eyes widened at the thought of his mother facing off with such a scary lady. It pained her heart to think of how close The Conquerer came to making this boy an orphan.

“I think Solan is ready to leave.” She indicated the young prince by the door.

“Ok….’night.” He hesitated.

She slowly offered her hand. She didn’t want to scare him. “Goodnight, Phantes.” He shook her hand solemnly warrior style.

Gabrielle watched silently until the two princes were out the door. “Wow, I didn’t think he would do that!” Gabrielle was impressed at the tenderness Xena showed toward the young centaur.

She approached the corner and retrieved the desert makings. This time however she didn’t sit near the fire. She put her fare down on the foot of the bed and took a scroll from the top shelf of the archive. She stretched out face down with her head at the foot of the bed and gestured Xena to bring the wine and join her.

The warrior wasn’t sure she could walk as far as the bed. Her knees had suddenly become weak. It was sheer determination that allowed her to accomplish the task. Supported by the soft bed she could concentrate on speaking, “Another work of art?” She indicated the scroll.

“No, it is the story I was telling the children.” The Queen unrolled the scroll for Xena to see. She drizzled some honey on a piece of bread and offered it to Xena. It was more than one bite so she assumed the warrior would take it and she would make herself another.

The warrior seemed to have other ideas and simply took a bite out of the chunk that was offered. Gabrielle’s narrow eyed look had nothing to do with intimidation and alot to do with amusement as she finished the offering and prepared more. ‘Never assume.’ She chuckled.

Xena chewed the honey bread and read the scroll. It was exactly the same story she told the children. “Why are you showing me this?” Xena took another bite of offered bread and waited for the bard’s response.

“I just wondered if I left anything out.” Her green eye’s twinkled mischievously.

“Huh?”

“You know, I thought maybe you remembered something I had forgotten. After all I was only five, and you were what….13…14?” Gabrielle could tell Xena didn’t remember that day. ‘It was a long time ago.’ She reminded herself. ‘A lot has happened to her.’

“You gotta be kidding me. You’re saying this really happened?” Xena was able to recall the name of every general in her army. She knew strategic information of every strong hold she had ever been to. She could recite verbatum every agreement she had ever signed.

She remembered every battle, every conquest, every lover in detail but she had no recollection whatsoever of the day in question. ‘Why can’t I remember?’. She heard a very faint chuckle from The Conquerer.

Gabrielle swallowed the last of the bread and set the honey container on the floor. “It really did.”

She took the scroll and placed it back in it’s space on the shelf. “A long time ago.”

She returned to the bed. Propping herself up on her elbow she reached out to stroke Xena’s hair. “It’s ok if you don’t remember. Sometimes I feel like it’s someone else’s life I’m remembering.”

She lost herself in the silky texture flowing through her fingers.

Xena pulled her closer and shuddered at the light kisses Gabrielle dropped on her neck. She was having trouble breathing but had to say this before too much time passed. “Gabrielle, ” She looked into the stormy green eyes. “Thank you. ” Pausing to draw a deep breath breath she whispered. “For loving my son.”

“Our son,” She corrected. “and I had no choice.” Gabrielle found Xena’s ear and whispered. “He’s a part of you.”

She trailed kisses down her jaw until the warrior princess couldn’t stand anymore torture. “Gods ……Gabrielle.” Her thought was cut off by a determined amazon capturing her lips. She groaned at the sensation and suddenly found herself holding Gabrielle,
with the Queen’s back on the bed.

The sudden change of position caused Gabrielle to cry out in surprise and then moan loudly with desire. The feel of Xena above her was exquisite. She reached up to caress the warrior’s face and found both her wrists were captured and held securely to the bed. Gabrielle ached to kiss the hovering lips. “Kiss me.” Xena complied with such passion, both women moaned…loudly.

Xena stretched out, covering the smaller woman. She released the amazon’s wrists and immediately found them tangled in her hair, caressing her back, exploring her waist. The gentle approach was on the verge of being discarded. Capturing the wandering hands again, Xena moved to straddle the waist below her, knocking over the staffs at the head of the bed in the process. She tensed and snarled at the door. “Come back, later.”

The Queen slowly turned her head toward the door, two motionless guards assessed the scene. “It’s OK. Really.” She reassured them. They didn’t move. Gabrielle looked up at Xena, pausing only long enough to grin, she kissed the hovering woman’s tension away. When the kiss was over she looked back at the guards.

They had lost their paralysis but were still unsure of the situation. This was their Queen and she said it was OK but the woman pinning her to the bed was The Conquerer! Maybe Gabrielle was forced to say that. It wasn’t common knowlege but the royal guard knew that the Queen didn’t act like this…..ever.

“Xena.” Gabrielle spoke softly. ” I don’t think they will believe me until you let me up.”

Several colorful responses came to mind, Xena considered them all before releasing her hold, “As you wish, ” she grinned. “My Queen.” Mischievous blue eyes twinkled at the amazon below her. She stretched seductively for the benefit of all eyes.

The royal guard were not prepared for that at all! Gabrielle chuckled and playfully slapped the woman next to her as she rose from the bed. “Come on you two.” She linked arms with her protectors and led them back towards the door. “Let me explain.”

“That will take far too long.” Xena purred and smiled.

Gabrielle glanced over her shoulder and winked, “Right.” She turned back to the guard and continued out the door. “Let me sum up….”

In less than three breaths Gabrielle was back. “That was fast.” The warrior commented wryly.

The grinning Queen shrugged, “It really doesn’t take that long to say, ‘I’m fine. Stay out.'” That wasn’t exactly what she had told them but Xena got the point. Stories were her gift, but in the space of three breaths she had aquired a great appreciation for the art of summarization.

“Do you think they will?” Xena was unconvinced.

“Sure. Why wouldn’t they?” Gabrielle was used to her orders being followed, questioned sometimes yes but always obeyed. Xena’s presence was proof of that.

“Well they seemed to be quite confused by the situation.” The warrior smiled at the guards reactions to her attentions on their queen.

“Actually, It is sort of a good thing they stopped us. I really do need to talk to you before we go much farther.” She could feel her cheeks and ears turning pink.

“I am finished talking!” She pounced on the amazon and resumed the recently interruped position. She looked down on her captive once again, “Besides what could you possibly say to me that can’t wait ’til morning?” Her kiss cut off any reply.

Breaking off to catch her breath, Gabrielle started, “Xena…there is something I need to tell you.”

Xena attacked the amazon’s ear, pulling gently on the lobe, tracing the outline with her tongue.

“Gods…..Xena….Please listen. ” Desperation tinged her voice and Xena stopped the assault.

“What is it Gabrielle?”

‘Finally. Oh God’s. Now I have to tell her.’ She closed her eyes and tried to control her breathing. “It’s just that……killing…..is not the only thing I’ve never done.” ‘Whew, that’s a relief.’ She smiled up at the shocked face.

“Never?” Xena released her hold, got up from the bed and paced around the room.

“Never.” Gabrielle caught up with the restless woman. She wrapped her arms around Xena’s waist, holding her close, listening to her rapidly beating heart.

Folding the Queen into her embrace, Xena tried to reconcile her thoughts. “Are you sure you want ……me…. to be……..first?” She felt the woman shaking in her arms and released her. “Gabrielle, are you OK?”

“Xena!” She could barely control her laughter. ‘All these years and she thinks I’m not sure?’ “Don’t you get it? That’s why I haven’t……” She pulled the warrior down to look her in the eye. “None of them were you.”

Those words and the look in Gabrielle’s eyes were enough for Xena. She carried her easily to the bed. “You’re sure they won’t come back?” She indicated the door.

Gabrielle traced Xena’s collarbone with her fingers and kissed the hollow of her throat. “Not even when I start screaming your name.”

At that, Xena didn’t care if they came back or not.

———————–

The royal guard took their orders seriously. No one was to enter. The guards on the previous watch had told them but considering the sounds coming from the hut they would have figured it out anyway. Half the council was waiting outside the hut when Ephiny arrived. She tried to work her way in but the guards were serious. “No one goes in, until the Queen says so.”

Solan had heard they weren’t letting anyone in to see his mother. ‘We’ll see about that.’ He thought. He circled to the back of the hut and climbed through the high small window in the washroom. ‘She better not have hurt her…..’ He left the threat hanging in his mind as he slipped into the main room.

Footsteps in the washroom alerted Xena to the intruder’s presence. She carefully considered the woman sleeping contentedly in her arms and the location of her weapons, still in the far corner. She would have been concerned for Gabrielle’s safety but the footfalls were so light she knew who it had to be.

The warrior quickly pulled a cover over their naked forms and pretended to sleep. She watched through barely open eyes as Solan crept into the main room.

He was totally unprepared for his discovery. Standing at the foot of the bed, he looked at the women. Xena didn’t look nearly as scary lying on her back with his mother in her arms. He took the opportunity to study her face. ‘She’s pretty.’ He thought. ‘But not like Mom.’

He took a moment to look at the only mother he had ever known. ‘She looks so happy.’ Her reddish blond hair was mussed up and she had a slight smile on her face. Her eyes were closed but he knew they were the loveliest shade of green he had ever seen.
Then he looked over at the warrior. Her dark hair fell around her shoulders, graceful even in sleep. She didn’t have any expression on her face. He remembered her eyes from last night when he delivered the wine. Blue eyes looking right at me, just like now. ‘Whoa, She’s awake!’ He froze.

Xena signaled him to be quiet and not to wake his mother. Slowly extricating herself from the sleeping woman, she rose from the bed and slipped a robe around her. She quietly led him to the far corner, so they could talk without waking Gabrielle.

He let himself be guided away from the foot of the bed. Stunned was the word for what he was now. Naturally he had seen naked women before, he was growing up in an Amazon village for Zeus sake, but never had he seen anyone like Xena. His mother was the closest. He guessed being queen had something to do with it. He was right.

It was power that made Xena different from everyone else. Political and physical power flowed from Xena like water from a glacier, naturally, easily, constantly. She was without a doubt the most powerful person in the world and she knew it.

He sat on the cushion Gabrielle had used the night before and Xena placed herself between her weapons and the boy. “I need
your help.” She said, smiling at his reaction to that. ‘He does look like me when his eyes narrow.’ She quietly began stacking the empty dishes from dinner. “I want to surprise Gabrielle.” Now she had his attention.

“How?” He wasn’t sure about her yet but he couldn’t forget how happy his mother’s face was a few moments ago. If she had something planned to continue that happiness then he was going to do everything he could to help.

“I would like you to take these,” she indicated the dirty dishes. “and bring back breakfast.”

She gave him a sideways grin. “I assume you can get out the same way you got in?”

He nodded affirmative. “Good.” She grinned in the direction of the bed. “Your mother is going to be hungry, so you may need some help carrying enough food back.”

An angry look flashed across his face, then he grinned and nodded. His mother’s eating capacity was a favorite running joke all
through the Nation.

“Get Ephiny to help you.”

“She won’t help.” He whispered. “She is to busy….”

“Trying to get in here. ” Xena finished for him. “I’m sure she will jump at the chance.”

She rose gracefully from the cushion and helped him up. “Only her though.”

Her narrow eye look had more impact than his. “She will want to talk to Gabrielle.”

She looked at him speculatively. “What do they usually serve for breakfast around here?”

The face he made was not good.

“Nevermind, If they start to give you the usual, tell them I really enjoyed dinner but I wasn’t sure if they could do breakfast justice. Just be sure to tell them why you want so much. They shouldn’t grumble if they know it’s for all of us.”

He nodded then did a double take. He was included in that ‘us’. Wow! She picked up the dishes and followed him back to the washroom. He quickly and quietly went back through the window.

‘That has taken some practice.’ She grinned ‘I wonder if I could fit through there?’ She stood on top of the shelf filled with towels and handed him the dishes.

“You’re not so bad.” He told her.

‘Oh yes, I am.’ The Conquerer chimed from her cell. Xena gave him a wry grin, “Contrary to popular belief, I don’t eat children.”

Solan returned her grin, “Yeah, well I knew you wouldn’t eat me, anyway.”

Blue eyes narrowed at his comment. “How?”

“Mom.” He chuckled and called over his shoulder. “She promised she wouldn’t let you.”

“Scamp!” She knew he was to far away to hear her, already past a small flower bed, well on his way to carry out his mission. It would take a while though.

She stirred the fire, added a few more logs and headed back to the bed. ‘So that’s what all that promise business was, when he
brought the wine.’ She chuckled and eased herself back into the arms of her sleeping love.

Closing her eyes she heard the internal voice of an innkeeper’s daughter quietly asking if she could speak to the warrior princess. ‘Later’ was the answer and the girl was silent again as Xena lost herself in the warmth of the embrace.

————-

For a brief irritated moment she thought the guards were admitting an unwanted guest then she realized it was breakfast. ‘Gods I must have fallen asleep.’ She looked at the sleeping woman in her arms. “What have you done to me?” She whispered.

“Everything.” Gabrielle opened her eyes slowly, gazing deeply into the ocean of blue above her and smiled. She couldn’t help but pull the warrior to her for a long slow good morning kiss.

“Mmmm Good Morning.” Xena nuzzled her ear and whispered, “We shouldn’t keep our guests waiting.” She slid her eyes past Gabrielle’s shoulder and winked.

Gabrielle couldn’t bring herself to look. “Who is it?” ‘guests?…Gods…how many?’ She was used to the idea of being in love with Xena but the idea of people seeing her like this with Xena took some getting used to.

“Just Ephiny and Solan. They’ve brought us our breakfast.” She brushed a few errant strands of hair from Gabrielle’s eyes and gave her an amused look, “Hungry?”

Green eyes twinkled. “Now that you mention it……I think I am.” Her low voice let Xena know exactly what she was hungry for.

Xena shook her head, chuckling as she rose to slip into her robe and hand Gabrielle a covering as well. She stood, stretching for Ephiny’s benefit. When Gabrielle came out of the washroom she linked arms and escorted her to breakfast.

————-

Solan was pleased with himself as he carried their breakfast into the hut. He looked around to see the women in the bed and snorted, continuing on to the small table without a second look.

He chuckled to himself at Ephiny’s reaction then cursed under his breath, quickly deposited his burden on the table and jumped to relieve Ephiny of hers, before she dropped it.

He glanced at the bed as he narrowly averted disaster, saw Xena’s wink and returned it before depositing the second tray of food on the table. Walking back to Ephiny, he snapped his fingers a few times and passed his hand in front of her face, nothing. He shook his head and went out the door, and before it had a chance to close, returned with two pitchers and a water skin.

They were getting up now so he physically pushed Ephiny toward the corner table and sat her on the cushion against the wall. He sat on the floor next to her and waited for Xena and his mother to join them.
—–
Ephiny was shocked, her body stayed motionless but her mind raced.’Ok think girl, the guards told you what they walked in on last night. It’s not like you’ve never seen two people in bed before. Come on now…breathe…OK Sure I heard what the guards said but I never thought….. Sweet Artemis, Gabrielle IS in bed with Xena!

This is insane. Gabrielle didn’t …. everrrWow…Good Morning.’ Ephiny’s brain was starting to clear when Xena winked. ‘Gods…did she just wink at me? No, that was for Solan and he winked back!? OK OK calm down, Where did my tray go?
Breathe, Ephiny, Breathe. Whoa, she is gorgeous. Hey, what the…..Solan!!….Oh yeah, breakfast… Here they come.’ Ephiny had never seen any couple look more regal or in love. ‘Love!?’
—–
Xena sat on the corner cushion and pulled Gabrielle into her lap. “Looks like the cooks lived up to my challenge.” She grinned at Solan.

“It was pretty funny really. They usually only cook oatmeal for breakfast. When I told them what you said they started grumbling and banging pans around. Muttering stuff like, She wants a royal breakfast, I’ll show her a royal breakfast. I’ll bet her best cooks can’t beat our meals. Stuff like that.” He was laughing. “Then I told them for four people. I thought their eyes were going to pop right out of their heads.”

Gabrielle was smiling at her son’s story. It caused her some apprehension though, Xena and Solan seemed to be getting along a little too well. ‘Gods…I can’t be jealous. He’s her son for Zeus’ sake.’ She took a sip of juice. “You two seem to be getting along.” Gabrielle looked up at Xena clearly wanting an explanation.

“Well it seems, since his mother,” stressing the words and giving her a significant look, “promised him I wouldn’t EAT him. We have become friends.”

Xena could feel Gabrielle’s tension fade as Xena made it clear, she had no intention of publicly claiming relationship to Solan. “After all the Queen of the Amazons always keeps her promises. Right Solan?”

He looked at them and smiled, “You haven’t eaten me yet so……. Yeah I guess so.”

Gabrielle nearly lost a mouthful of juice at that statement. She coughed and looked from Xena to Solan. ‘Oh yeah I have missed something.’

The warrior princess looked at Ephiny and noticed her bandaged wrists. She stood, bringing Gabrielle up with her. “I’ll be right back.” Xena could feel Gabrielle watching her back as she headed for the washroom.

Ephiny snapped out of her stupor as soon as the door was shut. She was instantly at Gabrielle’s side. “Are you OK? Did she hurt you? Did she threaten you?” The scout was examining her Queen’s face intently and physically manhandling her to make sure there were no bruises or marks.

Gabrielle submitted to the examination for a short time then held the scout’s hands firmly together. “I am fine. She would never hurt me or threaten me.” She held hazel in green for a moment not expecting understanding but grateful for at least acceptance. ” I promise.”

“The Queen of the Amazons always keeps her promises.” Ephiny repeated.

Gabrielle confirmed. “Always.”

They were still standing when Xena came out of the washroom. ‘Good’ Xena thought. She held her hand behind her back as she approached them. She saw Ephiny’s cautious move to a better defensive position, slightly in front of Gabrielle. ‘Very good.’ She dropped to one knee in front of them both and produced a single yellow rose from behind her back.

Blue eyes sparkled at twinkling green, “This is for you, Ephiny.” Handing the flower to the stunned amazon on her right. “As an apology for scaring you back at camp, and as a pre-thank you for keeping Gabrielle safe while I’m gone…..and these, ” standing and producing a large bundle of lilacs for the now smiling amazon at her left, ” are for you…..just because.”

“Lilacs are my favorite.” Gabrielle’s face practically glowed. “How did you know?”

Xena chuckled, leaned to Gabrielle’s ear, inhaled deeply and whispered, “How could I not?”

She kissed the Queen on the cheek and motioned toward the table, “We better eat before it gets cold.”

—————————-

“Solan, the next time you see those cooks you tell them I said they put every cook I have ever had to shame.” Xena chuckled at the gleam in his eye.

“How many cooks have you had?” He liked hearing Xena’s voice almost as much as Gabrielle’s.

The Conquerer laughed. ‘Are you gonna tell him?’ Xena took a deep breath, silenced the Conquerer and said, “Too many. The one I have now seems like she might do.”

They were all silent contemplating that statement. Another laugh echoed in her head, ‘I won’t kill her, you mean.’ The warrior ignored her laughing dark side. She wasn’t sure how to continue the conversation, and she wasn’t sure if she wanted to.

“Well, I’m stuffed.” Gabrielle broke the tension and received a grateful squeeze for her trouble.

Ephiny caught the reason why cooks didn’t hang around or more to the point DID ‘hang’ around and chimed in, “Me too.” She tilted her head and gave Solan a sideways glance, “You up for some sparring?”

“Now?” It came out as a squeak and he glanced at Xena. His mom said he was pretty good and she was the best staff fighter the amazons had but he didn’t want mess up in front of the warrior.

Everyone knew she was the best fighter in the world. Hey, maybe she would give him some pointers. Wow, that would be neat. I hope we get to.

“I wouldn’t mind loosening up myself.” Xena looked down at Gabrielle. “Do you mind if we hold off….. negotiations for a while?”

Another mouthful of juice nearly found its way to the floor. Tears formed in her eyes as she coughed and tried to laugh and speak at the same time. “No.” she managed, “I don’t mind.”

She looked from Xena to Ephiny who had been grinning since the warrior’s use of the word ‘negotiations’.

Solan jumped up to retrieve his staff. “Hey! Where’s my staff?”

His mother again went into coughing fits. Xena rubbed her back and gestured, “Try the other side……” She saw him look. “……on the floor.” She added helpfully.

“How’d they get way over here?” Solan knew his mother always kept the staffs between the bed and the door.

Xena saw Gabrielle about to take a drink and casually put her hand over the top of the cup. “I moved them.” Smiling as Gabrielle burst out laughing and Ephiny chuckled. Xena looked at the scout, ‘She talked to the guards.’ “They were in my way.” She shrugged and let go of the cup.

“Bring them all Solan, Xena and Ephiny can pick the one they want to use.” Gabrielle finished drinking her juice and stood to stretch.

Solan brought the bundle of staffs to the corner and handed Gabrielle her favorite. He kept his own and gave the rest to Ephiny so she could choose one. Of the three she chose the one that was just her height and made of her most favorite hardwood, not to heavy, not to light.

Xena was left with Gabrielle’s other two practice staffs, neither of which she liked. She saw Ephiny’s grin at her situation. The practice staffs were perfect for the Queen but they were much to small for Xena. She took one, decided to have a little fun and hoped it didn’t get out of hand.

Jogging over to the door she opened it quickly and pulled a guard inside, took her staff, replaced it with the practice staff and pushed her back out the door. She examined the staff in her hand and casually walked back to Gabrielle’s side. “I like this one.” Looking up from her examination of the weapon, she saw the expressions on everyone’s face, “What?”

Gabrielle got over her shock first. She sighed and went out to talk to the guard. Karis was mortified that she had allowed herself to be disarmed and immediately requested to be transferred to border patrol. Self-imposed exile was unacceptable to Gabrielle. She assured the girl that it wasn’t her fault. The Conquerer was just in a mood. It took a while but she thought she had convinced her when she heard a yell from inside.

Sensing Gabrielle’s absence from the room, Ephiny shook off her paralysis long enough to place herself between Xena and Solan. Xena saw the placement and for a moment was amused at the attempt, like she could stop me. She laughed which in itself wouldn’t have been bad, but she unconsciously used the same tone The Conquerer did when Ephiny delivered the message.
Ephiny whirled at the sound. This time she was not bound and she was armed.

Xena was instictively on the defense. She could feel the dark part of her stir in the back of her mind. The Conquerer laughed ‘You’re going to kill your boy’s guardian and he’s going to hate you.’

Xena could feel The Conquerer getting stronger. The Warrior Princess knew that dividing her efforts between the physical and mental fights meant she would win one, the physical, and lose the other. She wanted it to be the other way around. Gabrielle wasn’t here to help her with the mental but maybe she could catch a break on the physical.

“Ephiny, don’t do this. Drop the staff.” The laughter in her head got louder, ‘You can’t stop me now.’ Xena took a step
toward Ephiny and she saw a glimpse of Solan’s face. ‘Awww,’ The Conquerer taunted. ‘The little prince is afraid of the big bad warrior.’

Xena fought for control, ‘Leave Solan out of it.’ The Conquerer laughed loud and growled low, ‘No No My sister. Solan is next.’
She was within striking distance of Ephiny now. Xena jumped at the Amazon, “NO!” The warrior princess twisted impossibly in midair changing the path of her jump. She brought the staff down on the table, splintering it and the staff and scattering the remains of their breakfast all over the corner of the room.

The yell from Xena and the crashing sound was enough to bring Gabrielle and both guards quickly into the room. The warrior stood next to the splintered table with her back to the door. Gabrielle could see the labored breaths she was trying to get under control. “Xena? Are you all right?” She walked over to the, now calmer, warrior before anyone had a chance to stop her.

Ephiny was stunned at the turn of events and the show of strength. The wooden table looked like it had been stomped by 100 centaurs. She saw Gabrielle headed toward the warrior but couldn’t stop her before she reached the woman. Never, Never startle a warrior, especially this one. This was the most dangerous thing she had ever seen Gabrielle do. ‘Gods…..’

The Conquerer was silenced and back in her cell. ‘All it takes is her voice.’ The Warrior Princess thought. ‘She makes me strong.’ She felt Gabrielle put her arms around her waist. Gently closing the small distance between them she buried her face in Gabrielle’s hair. ‘Lilacs’ Two deep breaths and she was ready to face the consequences.

“Gabrielle, I’m sorry.” She turned to Ephiny and Solan, “I’m sorry. I…..It’s just….” There were just no words to justify her actions, so she stopped trying. ‘Solan is going to hate me now.’ The Conquerer laughed. Xena looked at the boy.

He looked at her holding his mother. That’s how they looked this morning. ‘She’s not so scary, with mother in her arms.’ He walked toward them his eyes never leaving the warrior’s face and hugged them both. “I think I should go now.” He looked up at them and grinned. “Maybe we can spar later?”

“We’ll see.” Xena wasn’t about to make that promise with The Conquerer so close to power. She squeezed him a little tighter and released the embrace.

He stepped back and looked at Gabrielle, “A story tonight?”

She released Xena and stepped forward to hug him. “A story tonight.” She grinned wickedly at Xena. “I promise.”

He turned to leave and saw the guards and a bunch of people watching them through the open door. He gave Xena, Gabrielle, and Ephiny a rolled eye look and plowed through the crowd. “What’s the matter with you people? Sheesh, you’d think you never saw a guy hug his mom before.”

Gabrielle chuckled. She stepped back and circled an arm around the warrior’s waist. She released her hold to survey the damage. One look and she groaned. She heard Xena’s gasp and quickly returned to her embrace. “Hey, Ephiny, Got any ideas on how to get eggs out of armor?” She looked at the scout expectantly.

‘She is dropping this. I can’t believe it Xena attacked Solan and Gabrielle’s dropping it like nothing happened.’ Ephiny looked at the warrior in her Queen’s arms. ‘She’s crying!’

The tear had escaped when Gabrielle’s arms circled her for a second time. She had been so afraid that the woman would hate her. She thought it would be nice if the scout liked her too but it was Gabrielle who mattered.

“I have heard tell of a quaint practice involving soap, water and hard work. ” Ephiny considered her words carefully. ” Seems like a lot of work though, if you’re not going to need the armor anymore.”

The warrior looked at the pile of metal in the corner. ‘I would be dead a hundred times if not for that heap and now I think it would kill me to put it on.’ She knew her dark side did not feel the same way. “If it were up to me, I would let it rust where it sits.” Xena could feel Gabrielle’s eyes on her. She took a deep breath and continued. “But The Conquerer will need it when
she goes back.”

“I guess we better get right to it then.” Gabrielle walked over to the corner and picked up the armor pieces. She was trying to keep her mind off of the fact this was the second reference Xena had made to leaving. She was about to hand Ephiny a piece when she saw her look at Xena and swallow. “What?” Gabrielle followed the hazel gaze to Xena and back.

Xena understood and moved to take her armor from the Queen. “Usually warriors don’t let anyone else touch their armor.” She explained. “Often proper maintenance is the only thing standing between victory and death. To let someone else clean or maintain their armor or weapons a warrior would have to trust them completely. ”

She divided the armor to three parts, breastplate, backshield and shoulder pads. Keeping the breastplate for herself she handed the backshield to Gabrielle and turned to offer the shoulder pads to Ephiny. Seeing the surprised expression she smiled, “Anyone who would stand up to The Conquerer for m…a child can be trusted.”

Gabrielle heard the stumble, she also heard the second instance when Xena spoke about The Conquerer like she was a different person. ‘Of course, just like Gabrielle the Bard is different than Gabrielle The Queen.’ It wasn’t exactly the same. Gabrielle’s personalities were merged into a balanced individual. Xena’s personalities did not merge. When The Conquerer was in control she reacted differently to things, much differently than when The Warrior Princess was dominant. Still the insight Gabrielle gained from her observation went a long way to explaining the outburst.

“It was my fault.” Ephiny said quietly as she took the armor. “When I heard you laugh…..I’m sorry I just reacted.”

“It sounded just like she did in the camp didn’t it.” Xena waited for her affirmative head bob and sighed, “I have to learn to control her better.” She saw confusion in Ephiny’s face but was startled to see understanding in Gabrielle’s.

“You’ll learn.” Gabrielle held up her piece of armor. “Come on this will be easier in the other room.” She led them to the washroom. Gabrielle, absently reaching up as she entered, pulled a small lever. Water began pouring into the large tub. Xena put her armor down and went back to the main room for a minute, returning with her weapons. She would do those herself and
both her fellow wash cronies knew it.

Xena put the breastplate under the running water and looked up in surprise. “This water is warm!”

Gabrielle and Ephiny both smiled. “As long as there is a fire, I can have a warm bath.” Gabrielle was happy to see the raised eyebrow on the warrior. Her smile got wider, “Later….I promise.”

‘Uh Oh’ Ephiny thought. ‘I better finish this fast.’ She washed and polished the shoulder shields as quickly as she could. None of them said much as they each worked on their individual tasks. Suddenly she felt like a Hestian at a Bacchae Festival. Glancing up she saw the look in the blue eyes that were totally focused on green. ‘Whoa, I gotta get outta here. NOW! Thank the Gods
I’m finished.’

She cleared her throat softly, then a little louder, finally she shook Gabrielle by the shoulder, grinning at the Queen’s embarrassment, “I’m finished with these.” She looked at Xena who had already recaptured the attention of the Queen. “I’ll leave them by the fire to dry?”

She took the offhanded wave to mean OK. “I need to get going anyway.” Both of them waved absently. ‘Uh huh.’ “I told Phantes I would help him grow wings so he could be Pegasus.”

Another wave. “Try not to drown OK?” She shook her head as she reentered the main room and chuckled at the sound of armor hitting the floor. Ephiny stirred the fire, added a few more logs and arranged the shoulder armor to dry. Distinct moaning was coming from the other side of the fireplace so she got up to leave and noticed the corner had been cleaned. ‘Xena must have
had the guards do it when she got her weapons.’ She heard a loud splash and shook her head.

Neither guard knew where Eponin was.

—————

Xena woke slowly, absorbing the familiar feel of Gabrielle in her arms. ‘Gods I don’t want to go.’ She snuggled closer to the sleeping woman, smelling the lilac/leather/Gabrielle combination that was now permanently imprinted on her senses. ‘How long can I last without her?’ Reluctantly she broke off the embrace, nearly returning when Gabrielle wimpered slightly in her sleep. She pulled on her leathers and started buckling her armor in place. ‘It feels strange after six days.’ The warrior thought. ‘No’ The Conquerer corrected, ‘It feels ….. good.’

‘Gods, I’ve never even been out of this hut, except to get the flowers.’ She thought about the time she had spent here. Nice meals with Gabrielle and Solan. ‘Solan, wasn’t that a shocker.’ She was even on speaking terms with Ephiny now, sort of. Stories in the evenings and the last few days she had been able to spar a little with Gabrielle and Solan. ‘It will be hard to go back.’ She sighed.

She was just settling her bracers when she felt eyes watching her. She turned to see sad green eyes looking back at her. “Hey, what’s up?”

“You have to leave today.” Gabrielle had told herself she wouldn’t cry.

“Yeah, I am sure Darfus is getting nervous by now.” She looked a little guilty. “And there are a few matters of State that should probably be handled by me.” It was a reality check for Gabrielle.

“Yeah, me to.” She smiled up at the warrior. “I have never neglected the Nation before.”

“The Nation doesn’t have anything to worry about.” Xena sighed. “you’re very self sufficient.” She bounced a few times to settle her armor and weapons and grinned as Gabrielle’s head followed the motion. “The rest of the world however is another matter.” Gabrielle’s puzzled look forced her to elaborate. She walked back and forth at the foot of the bed, counting off items on her fingers.

“Brittania and Gaul fight among themselves constantly. Egyptian and Indian spice traders have formed an alliance against the traders of Chin. India refuses to let ships from Chin use their ports so Chinese merchants have to use northern overland trade routes. That increases the cost of goods from Chin tremendously. Not to mention the Persians, they control the inland water route….” She stopped her tirade when Gabrielle’s smile derailed her train of thought. “Why are you looking at me like that?”

“I just realized…….” Gabrielle’s thought faded off with emotion.

“Realized what? Gabrielle?” Xena was concerned now. “What is it?” She tried to comfort Gabrielle without poking her too much with the armor.

“You’re the ruler of the world. Gods Xena. I never really thought about it before. To me you are just Xena.” Gabrielle felt a little foolish at that admission.

“I had wondered about that. Why is it you don’t see me as anything other than Xena?” It was true. From the very first day Gabrielle had acted like she was an old friend coming for a visit and Xena didn’t even think about it after the third day when The Conquerer stopped putting in her two dinar’s worth. ‘Hey, even I need a vacation every once in a while.’ The Conquerer chimed.

Gabrielle pursed her lips, and got up. She retrieved a scroll from her desk and handed it to Xena. “This is why.” She held her breath as Xena opened the scroll and began to read, blue eyes flying wide at the first line. It had obviously been written by a child.

Got back from ‘phipolis t’day. Gosh I liked my ‘sitter. Xena.

Xena swallowed hard and continued reading.

Traders came in today, they said Amphipolis was attacked. I was scared for Xena until they said that the raid wasn’t successful. I knew she could do it. I was sad for her brother though.

A traveling bard came through here last week. He had a few Xena stories. I remember she told me I should be a bard so I asked him for lessons and I got to hear about her over and over again. Someone should tell her it’s not her fault her brother died.

I heard another Xena story today. It was about Caesar. Killing him is going to cause a lot of problems but he shouldn’t have used her like that. You would think he would know better.

It’s been a while but I finally heard a new Xena story today. She went to Chin! The story is she kidnapped one of the rulers sons and took over the whole country.

I’ve been hearing too many stories to write down but she’s coming back to Greece. I knew she would. Toppling nations on the way back from Chin. I wish I wasn’t stuck here just listening to old stories.

I went with the merchants caravan today. They were stopping in Amphipolis so I HAD to go. I saw the innkeeper. She was looking pretty good. She was playing with her two grandchildren, Lyceus and Atrius. She said if Lyceus had freckles and longer, darker hair he would look like the uncle he was named after. Her oldest son Torris reminded me of Xena. He has the same
eyes and hair.

It’s been a while again, there was trouble with some slavers. Long story but I’m an amazon princess now. Ephiny is teaching me all about the staff and I have to learn hunting and tracking. Best of all I get to listen to the guards when they come back from scouting. They said two of Xena’s guards had been imprisoned because they stopped in Amphipolis and roughed up the
innkeeper. They were lucky they didn’t hurt her too bad.

There’s been an accident. I’m Queen now. I convinced the others to try and make peace because when Xena comes for us we will need to be whole and strong. I don’t know why she hasn’t tried for the Nation yet, but I am sure she will eventually, soon it will be the only thing left.

She’s fighting the centaurs now. All the centaurs have united against her, Ephiny’s husband…. Gods everyone in his village was killed. She was lucky little Phantes was visiting a friend at the time. Of course he will stay with Ephiny now. I signed a declaration that centaur princes are excluded from the ban on men in the territory.

I surveyed the site of another defeated centaur village. We found a boy there. The healers said he had passed out from breathing too much smoke. I made them take him back to the village and help him. I am The Queen now so they had to do it. He looks just like the innkeepers grandchild except he has freckles and longer, darker hair. I think he might be Xena’s son.

I had the scouts report in. Just as I thought. She doesn’t get close to anyone ever. Like she is afraid to love, sure there are lovers, a few of them were the scouts themselves………..

Xena looked astonished at the Queen on her throne. “You sent spies? How in this world did you manage that? There hasn’t been an amazon sighting in years.”

Gabrielle smiled, “Funny thing about amazons. Put ’em in regular clothes and they look just like everyone else.” She laughed. “Very useful.”

“Apparently a few of them looked a little better than everyone else if I….. Gods Gabrielle…how many scouts have I….” Xena looked horrified.

“Enough.” She sounded irritated. “Oh I was super jealous at first but then I realized…”

“Realized what.” The narrow eye look.

Gabrielle gave her the brightest smile yet. “Those are the ones I got the best information from and if you were given a choice…”

“What kind of choice.” Xena was starting not to like this.

“A choice between two people you always, ALWAYS chose the one that looked the most like me.” Gabrielle grinned at her.

Xena looked back at the scroll. The rest of it was filled with accounts of battles and snippets of information gleaned from guards and housestaff. “Amazon scouts are good at what they do.” Some of the information had eluded even her own spies. Not to mention the amazons presence was never detected. ‘Very good.’ She couldn’t hear The Conquerer laughing, but she could feel it.

“That is why I felt like I knew you. All these years I have kept track of you and prayed for your safety, because of this feeling I remembered from when I was five and I fell asleep in your arms.” Gabrielle sat on the edge of the bed next to Xena. “I wasn’t positively sure though until…..”

“Until when?” Xena brushed the hair back from her face and tilted her chin up to meet her eyes.

Gabrielle was lost in the blue mist for a long moment. She was barely able to speak, “Until you walked through the door six days ago.”

“You are making it very difficult for me to leave.” Xena heaved herself off the bed. “But I have to get back or Darfus will take matters into his own hands.”

“I know.” Gabrielle sighed and rose to wrap her arms around Xena’s waist “I will miss you. Do you want an escort to the border?”

“Are you offering?” Xena looked speculative.’That could be rough. And then there is always……’ ‘…Me’ The Conquerer sang from her cell, ‘You wouldn’t want her to be around me, now would you. I might hurt her.’ ‘No you wouldn’t.’ The Warrior Princess was confident now. ‘Why? Because you love her.’ The Conquerer sneered. ‘No.’ The warrior’s quiet reply silenced The
Conquerer, ‘Because you do.’ Xena heard a quiet chorus of voices, ‘We all do.’

“No, It would be too hard and I don’t think I would want to see…..that anyway.” Gabrielle hadn’t wanted to admit that. “Just promise you will come back soon.”

“Promise.” Xena bent for a long goodbye kiss. She started for the door when Gabrielle stopped her. “Gabrielle I have to go. Darfus….. ”

“Will need this as proof.” She finished for her. She walked to her desk and retrieved two scrolls.

“What is that.”

“It’s the treaty.”

“Treaty?”

“Sure. You remember, I asked you here to discuss the option of you not invading our land and burning everything in sight. Is that scorched earth policy The Conquerer’s or Darfus’?”

“But we haven’t once discussed anything of the sort.” Xena was embarrassed to admit she had forgotten. She was simply going to tell Darfus to take his troops and go. This may be easier except now she had no choice but accept the terms of the treaty. She was feeling very trapped until she read the terms.

___________________________________________________

IN THE INTEREST OF PEACE The Amazon Nation hereby enters into this agreement with the Realm of Xena: The Conquerer. After due negotiations The Amazon Nation accepts Xena: The Conquerer’s proposition, the terms of which are listed in this scroll:

1.) In exchange for Xena:The Conquerer’s immediate withdrawl of her troops from it’s borders The Amazon Nation agrees to allow Xena free access to Amazon Territory insofaras Xena agrees to abide by all the laws applicable to her visit.

2.) In exchange for the continued absence of Xena: The Conquerer’s troops along it’s borders The Amazon Nation agrees to provide Xena services unique to the Amazon Nation. Any mass of Xena: The Conquerer’s troops on the border will result in the immediate termination of said services. The size of the troops allowed on the border and the nature of the services to be
provided will be negotiated at a later time.

3.) The Amazon Nation reserves the right to ask for a re-negotiation at any time and recognizes Xena’s right to the same.

Signed and Sealed
Queen Gabrielle of the Amazon Nation

and

Xena: The Conquerer
____________________________________________________

Xena signed and sealed it immediately. ‘This is too good to pass up.’ The Conquerer thought.

—————————————–

It had been almost a month since Xena left to withdraw her troops from the border and three weeks since the last of them had gone. Three sentries had followed her to the armies camp and reported back that Darfus had been killed. Karis was the one who gave her the most detailed account though. She remembered the piping voice replaying the event.

“It was really creepy.” She had said. “We followed her all the way from the border but when she got back to her camp she….changed. It was like not even the same person. She ordered the troops to withdraw and Darfus challenged her. She showed him the treaty and he became very angry. He had apparently been looking forward to the fight. She started to walk away and he commented on the ‘services’ outlined in the treaty.”

At this point Karis’ voice had become shaky, “When he wondered out loud what an amazon queen’s ‘services’ would be like, she changed again. She sorta shook all over and when she turned around I knew he was dead. It was really weird cause I don’t remember actually seeing it happen but she locked eyes with him and … I don’t know how to describe it… she ….glided … toward him slow.” Gabrielle knew Karis was too young to know about that particular walk. “He never moved. I don’t remember her drawing the knife. All I know is she walked up to him and looked really closely in his eye and said, “Don’t trip.” When she said that, he looked down and there were his guts still falling out of him twisting around his feet. I can still see him trying to grab them before he fell over. Then she asked if anyone else had anything to say and laughed when they didn’t.”

Gabrielle still shuddered when she thought about it. She was glad she hadn’t gone with Xena. It worried her because what
Karis described didn’t sound like The Conquerer either. She knew the flowing power Karis had described combined with murderous intent was infinitely more dangerous than The Conquerer ever was.

It took her a while to get over that recitation. Gabrielle knew that everyday Xena stayed away, The Warrior would have a harder time returning to her. The Queen smiled to herself. ‘The Conquerer has to come back though, the ‘services’ clause in the treaty assures it. She will want my scouts to work for her.’ Gabrielle thought.

———

Gabrielle sat at the head of her bed cross-legged with Solan on her lap. She was surrounded by 2 dozen pairs of adoring eyes. They sat on the bed and in front of the fire. There was practically no room for anyone else to fit. “Does anyone have any requests?”

“I have one.” A soft voice purred.

Gabrielle felt her heart race. She looked up at the washroom door to see Xena leaning casually on the door facing. She looked great. No armor, just a long green tunic with matching leggings, and boots. She knew the woman would have been completely invisible in the trees. “What story would you like to hear?”

“If you don’t mind,” She scanned the faces of the children as she made her way to the head of the bed. “I’d like to tell one.” She smiled when no one objected and climbed over to Gabrielle. Sitting cross-legged she pulled Gabrielle. with Solan on her lap, into her lap and settled mother and son into the depression made by her crossed legs. Making sure everyone was comfy she began:

“This is the story of a day in the life of a little village girl. Just for the sake of arguement let’s say her name is Gabrielle. Once when Gabrielle was about five, her parents took her with them on the merchant’s caravan. One day they stopped in a small village that was preparing for a festival. They needed to set up their tables so a local tavern owner said that her daughter would be happy to babysit. Just for the sake of arguement let’s say her name was …. Xena.”

Of course the girls had heard the story before. It was one of Queen Gabrielle’s favorites but Xena told it different. It had some other stuff to it and a different point of view. They all saw when their Queen’s face lit up at the changes. When it was finished, Micha asked, “I never heard that part about little Gabrielle trying to catch a bug for Xena and getting flour all over her. Did you make up that part yourself?”

Gabrielle felt Xena take a deep breath, “No, I didn’t. I just remember more about that day. After all Gabrielle was only five and I was what 13….14?” She looked down at the smiling Queen in her arms.

“You mean it really happened?” Micha squealed in delight.

Xena never took her eyes off of Gabrielle. “It really did…..”

Gabrielle finished softly. “A long time ago.”

END
8/18/98

Continued in Complications

BIG THANKS: The story Gabrielle tells the children is based on ‘The Babysitter’ by Wordwarior. “The Babysitter” is (c)copyright 1997 by WordWarior@aol.com. All Rights Reserved.

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