The Conqueror’s Destiny by J. A. Zollicoffer

conqueror destiny

The Conqueror’s Destiny
by J. A. Zollicoffer

Summary: Xena the Conqueror meets the Amazon Queen, and together they discover their true destiny.

Part 1

The Conqueror sat on her throne waiting for the next petitioner to be brought in. So far most of the request had been met with unfavorable results.

The headless body that was being removed from the room was the most recent target of the ruler’s ire. The bloody corps was all that was left of a representative from a village that wanted to keep most of their crops claiming that they’d had a bad harvest and couldn’t contribute the standard half profit that the Realm required.

Through informants Xena discovered that the village Elders this man being one of them kept the crop overage planning to sell it themselves for profit to less successful growers.

She ordered his head taken off and his remains returned to his village she also sent word to General Darnel to have the man’s partners in crime treated to the same fate and have their bodies left on display in the middle of town as a reminder to those who dare steal from her what their end would be.

After three springs of living under her rule the nobles and village elders still thought they could manipulate and out smart her believing that her version of dispensing justice was only reserved for the peasants.

They still didn’t realize that if it took her beheading or crucifying each and every one of them to make a point. . . she would do just that with no remorse.

She didn’t discriminate when dispensing out punishments to anyone that challenged her authority or her absolute right rule Greece commoners as well as nobility would suffer equally.

Becoming bored with the entire process she waved a negligent hand signaling the guard to escort the next potential victim forward.

As the new petitioner was led in she couldn’t help but notice the crimson stains on the marble floor at the foot of the dais that the throne sat upon and wondered if her blood would soon be mixed with the thick remains.

She was dressed in Amazon leathers and wore an impressively carved mask over her face in one fluid motion she bowed her head and raised her mask so that it would rest on top of her head.

When she lifted her head the electric blue of the Conqueror’s eyes held her in place as Xena observed the woman that stood before her.

Blonde curls fell from beneath her mask and when she raised her head hazel eyes looked at her with respect but they held no fear her stance was that of a warrior but that wasn‘t odd most Amazons were warriors.

When Xena nodded her head the guard that had led the woman in pushed her forward. “State your business Amazon.”

It took all of the warrior’s discipline not to strike out at the guard instead she focused on the reason that she was in this viper’s nest.

“Conqueror I am Ephiny Emissary of the Amazon Nation I am here to deliver a request to you from our Queen.”

Before the Queen sent Ephiny to Corinth it was decided that her being the nation’s Regent would not be mentioned for fear of her being held against her will.

The Queen didn’t want to send her second in command but after hearing Ephiny’s argument about not trusting any of the other Amazons to deliver the message without losing control and getting themselves killed when faced with the dangerous woman‘s erratic behavior she gave in.

Now she stood in front of the most feared person in Greece hoping beyond hope that her Queen’s attempt to form an alliance would be accepted.

Xena wasn’t surprised by the visit she had been expecting something like this for a while she knew that there were Amazon spies lurking about sending their findings back to their territory.

And once the information of an impending attack on their nation leaked out she knew it was just a matter of time before their Queen would want to negotiate.

The problem was the Amazons didn’t have a choice if Xena wanted their lands she would take it if she wanted their warriors she would take them and they could serve die or become slaves she didn’t care which.

She laughed to herself when a thought crossed her mind. ‘Those stubborn women would probably rather die than submit.’

A wicked smiled creased the woman’s beautiful face as she thought. ‘Well if that is the path they choose it will be fun trying to break them.’

She held out a strong hand and a scroll was placed in her palm long fingers broke the wax seal and she started to read the message.

It took her a few seconds to focus on the words because for some reason the writing on the parchment seemed familiar to her the elegant lines and confident strokes spoke to a part of her being that the written words didn’t reach immediately.

Greetings Lord Conqueror

I am sending my Emissary with this personal request asking that you will allow a meeting between the two of us in hopes of forming an alliance between the Amazon Nation and the Realm.

If you are willing to consider this request please send the details back with Ephiny and if you are not willing to consider this request please. . . Just send Ephiny back.

The delicate signature on the bottom read simply. I await your decision Queen Gabrielle.

Xena laughed out loud at the last part she noticed that the request held just enough submission to show respect but not so much that the Amazon Queen would appear weak ending the note with a plea laced in humor also showed that the Queen was a woman that didn’t use force to get what she wanted instead she used intellect.

All in all the Conqueror was impressed so she did something that was totally out of her character she quickly wrote out a response agreeing to the meeting sealed it and handed it to the Emissary.

“Tell your Queen she chose her words wisely.”

The smile that Ephiny saw was more predatory than humorous and knew that she was lucky to be leaving Corinth with all of her limbs still in place.

Part 2

When Ephiny returned to Euboreas she was immediately escorted to the Queen’s hut Amarice and Chilapa were the two Royal Guards that were stationed at the entrance when the Regent approached when she stepped up on the porch they uncrossed their staffs and allowed her entry.

Gabrielle was sitting at her desk doing what she had been doing for the last two moons going over scrolls that laid out treaty and negotiation protocol.

The only problems that she ran into was the scrolls of the past hadn’t dealt with anyone like the Conqueror the woman was ruthless and ruled with absolute power rarely listening to her advisors.

She was also savvy and from all accounts could be very charming Gabrielle knew that this could be a very dangerous combination.

Her spies had informed her that the ruler used all of her many skills to obtain what she wanted and her charms were just one of the components that helped her achieve her ultimate goal.

A few of the spies had even tried to gain the Conqueror’s trust by getting into her bed but the former Destroyer of Nations didn’t seem to be in need of carnal pleasures and never entertained them.

From the reports Gabrielle had received it seemed that Xena hadn’t shared her bed with anyone in the three springs that she had ruled Greece.

The Amazon Queen found this information a little strange there were several stories floating around about the woman’s proclivities and her numerous bed partners during her quest to conqueror Greece most of them being the men and women that she led into battle.

As Ephiny approached her Queen she dropped to one knee and bowed her head.

“I bring a response to your request my Queen.”

Gabrielle rolled her eyes. “Ephiny how many times do I need to tell you to drop the ‘My Queen crap’ especially when we are alone?”

The curly-haired Regent stood and smiled. “We must stay disciplined Gabrielle.”

“So what’s the word?”

Ephiny laughed out loud at the Queen’s relaxed way of communicating she handed the blonde woman the sealed scroll Gabrielle opened it and started to read out loud.

“You request is granted you may come to Corinth with four escorts in seven days time.”

That was all that was written.

“Okay seems that I need to make plans to leave the day after tomorrow if I am to be there in the time allotted.”

It had taken Ephiny three of the seven days to return to the territory leaving one day to prepare and three days to make the trip.

“It seems that Xena has given me just enough time to receive her message pack and leave.”

Gabrielle stood and walked into her sleeping quarters with Ephiny close on her heels.

When Gabrielle reached the side of her bed she reached down and placed a packed bag on top of the covers.

“Uhm. . . Gabrielle why do you have a travel bag already packed?”

As the Queen checked her pack she looked at her Regent. “I had a feeling that if Xena agreed to meet with me she wouldn’t give me a lot of time get there.”

“Do you know who you will take with you?”

“Of course. Eponin Solari Meslena and Tara.”

Ephiny shook her head from side to side causing her blonde curls swing.

“Are you sure you want to take Tara you know she has a bit of hero worship where Xena is concerned.”

“I know but she is brave skilled and smart maybe if she meets the Conqueror she will see how misplaced that adoration is.”

Ephiny rubbed the back of her neck. “I hope she doesn’t learn that lesson at the end of the Conqueror’s sword.”

“So do I she is a little over zealous in her attempts to prove her skills.” Gabrielle thought back to when she first encountered the girl.

*******

She and the Amazons had stopped in a town to rest while on their way back to Euboreas after attending a local carnival where they sold their jewelry and leather goods.

As they took their seats at a large table in the back of the tavern a dark-haired girl looked at the women warriors with admiration.

After a long observation she determined that Gabrielle was their leader she thought if she wanted to impress the women and possibly have a chance to join them she would need to challenge their leader and from the looks of the small blonde that wouldn’t be hard.

Her first mistake was approaching the table and heading in Gabrielle’s direction with menace ten warriors stood to defend their Queen before the stranger even got close. Gabrielle ordered the women to stand down before the girl accidentally got hurt. Tara’s second mistake was to challenge the Queen.

Gabrielle accepted the challenge and proceeded to teach the girl a lesson in staff maneuvers that she wouldn’t soon forget.

After her defeat Tara thought all hope was lost but Gabrielle surprised her by inviting her back to the nation and after many moons of training the girl proved to be an asset and was now one of its finest fighters.

*******

That was two summers ago and Tara had blossomed into a very skilled warrior her abilities with knives were unsurpassed and if she would work more on her discipline she would become an excellent Amazon.

Their conversation was interrupted by a knock at the door.

“Come in.” Was yelled from the Queen’s sleeping area.

They both recognized the sound of the rushed heavy footsteps that crossed the floor and wasn’t surprised when they saw a familiar figure appear in the doorway.

Eponin crossed the threshold and wrapped Ephiny in a tight embrace as she spoke.

“I was worried sick.”

Ephiny rubbed her lover’s back. “I know love but I had to make my report before I could come to our hut.”

“When word came that you had returned I waited as long as I could.”

Gabrielle smiled at her friends the two women had known each other since childhood and their devotion to one another was obvious to all who knew them.

When it had been decided that Ephiny would be the one to deliver the message to Corinth Eponin was livid the women argued for two days before the Weapon’s Master finally gave in to her lover’s decision.

After being able to make physical contact with the hazel-eyed woman Eponin released the Regent and became all business.

“Well what’s our next move?”

Gabrielle nodded her head in Ephiny’s direction giving her permission to inform the stocky Amazon of the conditions given that would allow her an audience with the Conqueror.

“The Conqueror has given our Queen seven days to reach Corinth she has also been instructed to bring no more than four escorts with her.

It has taken me three of the seven days to return so she and the warriors that she chooses to take with her will be leaving the territory day after tomorrow.

Eponin stood tall and offered her services. “I volunteer to be one of your escorts my Queen.”

Both women laughed this was expected from the dedicated Amazon it had been Ephiny Eponin and Solari that had taken Gabrielle under their wing when she first arrived in the nation five winters before.

And it had been those same three that supported her right to claim the Queen’s Mask a full season later after Velasca had defeated Queen Melosa in a Royal challenge.

“Eponin I want you to gather Solari Meslena and Tara. I don’t know how long we will be away so have them pack enough supplies for seven days.”

The stocky woman looked confused for a moment. “My Queen are you sure that you want to take Tara you know she may get to Corinth and desert the Amazons in favor of joining the Conqueror’s army.”

The Queen and the regent laughed out loud. “You may be right Eponin but I need her skills and as for the rest. . . well we’ll just have to play it by ear.’

Part 3

Xena was in the war room looking over a map of the new Amazon territory. What her scouts had discovered surprised her. In the four winters that the new Queen had ruled their holdings had increased. Their farm lands had expanded and their hunting grounds now extended into the Tanagra forest.

To Xena’s strategic mind this could only mean one thing the Amazon Nation had grown much larger than she had realized and if it continued they could possibly become a major enemy within the Grecian boarders their presence in Tanagra proved that.

The Conqueror had never paid any real attention to the small area of Tanagra she knew that because of the men joining her army that there were many small villages along the Skyros river that were populated by a majority of women.

But she never fathomed that they would join with the Amazons that lived near those villages or that the closed nation would allow the merger.

She was becoming more and more impressed with the Amazon Queen “Well Queenie I’ll be sure to thank you for the new lands when you arrive.”

Palaemon opened the doors to the room and approached the ruler with caution. “You sent for me my Liege?”

“Yes Palaemon I want you to have General Glaphyra gather two hundred of her best soldiers and prepare them. We will be marching into Amazon territory in ten days time.”

The General hesitated. “Highness I thought you had decided to negotiate with the residents of Euboreas.”

Palaemon was the only person in her military that Xena allowed to question her from the moment she met the cocky young man he had always challenged her and never showed any fear… she had liked him from the start.

Palaemon’s loyalty to the Conqueror was born from his respect of not only her fighting skills which she easily proved to him several seasons before upon their first meeting but also because he thought the woman was brilliant.

Her battle strategies were something that should be studied by the leaders of other nations and her uncanny ability to predict an enemy’s next move never ceased to amaze the young General.

Xena decided that she would give the faithful soldier an answer without her usual quizzing. “I agreed to allow their Queen to come to Corinth I never said that I would negotiate with her.”

The General found this behavior odd. Xena never spoke personally with any leader after her mind was set on invading their lands.

She would correspond with them through messengers giving a false sense of hope but that was the extent of her communication.

When she had determined what lands she was going to take over she would just take it they never saw her until the attack and as far as he knew the Conqueror had decided that the Amazon territory would be hers.

“Then why invite her to Corinth?”

This was the question that Xena had struggled with since the Amazon Emissary had left the day before and she still didn’t have an answer so instead of trying to explain to Palaemon something she didn’t understand herself she tried humor.

“Well General there is a first time for everything. . . consider this a lesson in. . . flexibility.”

The General raised a blonde brow thinking. ‘Since when have you been flexible?’

The tall ruler’s gaze bore into the large man with hard blue eyes daring him to voice his thoughts Palaemon had survived with Xena as long as he had because he wasn’t a stupid man he held his tongue and bowed to leave the room and carry out her order.

“By your will my Liege.”

Part 4

Seven days after the Amazon Emissary left Corinth with her answer from the Conqueror the Amazon Queen arrived in the Capital city with her four escorts.

Xena was in her private rooms when her guards announced that she had two visitors.

“Let them in.”

Salmoneus and Jace entered the volatile woman’s receiving room with caution and lowered their heads in respect.

“My Empress we have been informed that the Amazons have arrived we wanted to make one last plea to you hoping that you will give permission to hold a banquet in honor of your guest.”

This had been an on going request since the two men learned of the impending arrival of the Amazon Queen.

Jace found his voice and added to Salmoneus’ plea. “Lord Conqueror it would break protocol to have the leader of a nation visit the palace and not give them a proper welcome.”

Xena listened to the same arguments that she had been hearing for the past seven days and she was becoming very weary of the subject so she finally threw her hands in the air in defeat.

“Fine! Put something together nothing fancy just enough to look good.”

Both men immediately became giddy Jace mentally laid out his plans for the entertainment and Salmoneus was thrilled that the drawings he had commissioned showing the seal of the Realm and the seal of Euboreas intertwined in unity could now be sold at the booths in the agora.

They thanked the ruler and bowed out of the door just as the door was closing Xena heard Jace say. “The nobles will be very pleased that her Highness is extending this branch of goodwill.”

That almost. . . almost made her change her mind she made it a habit to do very little that the nobles desired the bastards still plotted and schemed behind her back they didn’t think she knew about their little plots to overthrow her but very little went on in her Realm without her knowledge.

They did not accept her as their supreme ruler at least not in private in public they appeared to be perfectly loyal subjects but she knew that privately they held a deep hate for her it wasn’t her fault that they couldn’t accept that she ruled because she was the strongest.

She was pulled out of her negative thoughts when she heard Jace and Sal’s voices raise in excitement in the distance.

“Why I give in to them I’ll never know.”

*******

The Conqueror sat on her throne waiting for her guest to enter she was a little nervous and was filled with anticipation.

She didn’t care for these feelings never had the stoic woman looked forward to meeting anyone let alone been nervous about it but for some reason ever since she cracked the seal on the Amazon Queen’s request she had been filled with anticipation. . . as if something huge were headed her way.

Finally the doors to the throne room opened and the Amazon Queen’s arrival was announced.

Xena was immediately impressed when four masked Amazon warriors entered the room and scanned it for any threat that may await their Queen.

When the women felt that the area was secure they aligned themselves on both sides of the double doors two to a side and waited for the Queen’s entrance.

Xena sat mesmerized as a small woman entered the room wearing what was obviously royal leathers gauntlets and a mask more intricately carved than any that she had seen previously.

‘So this is the Amazon Queen she looks too small to lead a nation of warriors if this is who they follow the battle will be over in half a days time.’

The woman approached the dais and straightened her back just a little more than it already was so as to add just a bit more height to her regal stance.

This caused the Conqueror to experience a small bought of internal laughter the woman must have been at least a head shorter than the ruler.

Before Xena could bring her focus back to the small woman that was standing in front of her the patiently waiting Queen spoke.

“Thank you Lord Conqueror for agreeing to this meeting.”

As Gabrielle lifted her mask from her head Solari was by her side before the motion was completed the escort took possession of the mask and then returned to her post.

What was revealed when the mask came off took Xena’s breath away.

The small woman’s long blonde hair fell around her shoulders and down her back an angelic face with intelligent green eyes looked at the tall woman and held her in place leaving the Conqueror momentarily dazed.

Gabrielle was experiencing similar feelings as she stood before the ruler of Greece in a temporary trance she knew that the Conqueror was rumored to be beautiful but she wasn’t prepared for the goddess that sat before her.

The midnight hair framed a face that was flawless she realized why it was rumored that so many had fallen at her feet the blue eyes that looked at her were a color that she had never seen before to say that they were the color of a cloudless sky didn’t even begin to describe their brilliance.

Even sitting she could see that the woman was tall taller than most men the tight leather pants that covered her long legs showed every muscle in her thighs with each small movement that she made.

The two women were caught in a timeless moment Xena’s eyes traveled from the beautiful face down to an ample bosom and from there down to where the leather top stopped to reveal a stomach that was so well defined it would make the most physically fit man jealous.

When her eyes reached the impressively muscled thighs and strong calves they started back up the perfect body as she took her time to admire the landscape once more.

When their eyes met again she found herself standing up still in a haze before she realized what she was doing she was walking down the three steps from the dais with every intention of taking the blonde into her arms and kissing her.

Before she could follow through she caught a small movement from the corner of her eye and realized that it was Palaemon settling the weapon that rested on his side that was enough to shake the cobwebs from her head and return her to reality.

So instead of kissing Gabrielle senseless she took the shorter woman’s hand in her own raised it to her mouth and softly brushed the smooth knuckles on the back of the small hand with her lips.

“It is an honor to have you here Queen Gabrielle.”

Everyone in the room was shocked by the Conqueror’s actions especially Gabrielle. ‘Oh my for a moment there I thought that she was going kiss me.’ To the small Queen’s amazement she felt disappointed that the dark woman hadn’t done just that.

Never had Xena shown anyone this type of respect Palaemon smiled and shook his head as he thought to himself ‘I don’t think we’ll be invading Euboreas.’

*******

Xena guided Gabrielle to a cushioned bench that ran along one of the walls of the throne room and waited for her to sit down before she joined her.

She was suddenly filled with guilt for making the small Queen travel on such short notice. “Queen Gabrielle I hope the journey wasn’t too much of burden on you.”

Gabrielle graciously accepted the veiled apology. “Not at all Lord Conqueror.”

Then she smiled in a way that made her nose crinkle on the sides Xena immediately thought that it looked adorable.

The blonde woman placed her small hand on the ruler’s forearm. “If we are to be allies please call me Gabrielle.”

Xena never allowed anyone to touch her without permission but she found herself welcoming this woman’s gentle touch.

Then she did something totally out of character she covered the small hand with her much larger one and smiled. “Then you must call me Xena.”

The blonde head dropped a little as a smile crossed her lips. “As you wish. . . Xena.”

No one used Xena’s given name. . . ever but hearing it come from this beautiful woman’s lips made her knees weak she was silently grateful that she was seated because she didn’t think that she would have been able to continue standing on her own.

Xena looked into clear green eyes and was relieved that she had given in to Jace and Salmoneus’ request to hold a welcoming dinner.

“Gabrielle we have planned a banquet in your honor it is scheduled for later this evening that is if you aren’t too tired from your trip.”

Gabrielle saw the nervousness that the tall woman tried to hide and somehow knew that this was out of character for the self assured ruler.

“That will not present a problem Xena.”

Then she leaned in to speak more intimately to the Conqueror. “We Amazons are very strong of body a few days of hurried travel wouldn’t begin to tax our physical resources.”

Xena couldn’t stop the small shiver from coursing through her body the woman’s close proximity and the thought of what it might take for the small woman to reach her physical limits made her nerve endings spark.

Gabrielle was momentarily shocked as she thought. ‘Sweet Artemis am I flirting with this woman?’

The ruler stood and reached down to help the Queen from her seat she then instructed the servants that appeared from no where to show her guest to their rooms.

Xena felt like she needed to be alone for a few candle marks so that she could try and understand her reaction to her first meeting with the Queen of the Amazons.

Part 5

Xena was in her bed chambers pacing back and forth trying to get a hold of her emotions for the first time in several seasons she found herself…. feeling.

She sat down in a high back chair to relax a little and allowed her mind to take her back to the beginning….

*******

Xena was a naive village girl of sixteen winters when she left her home in Amphipolis it was right after a warlord had invaded her village. She was smart had great fighting skills and was determined to keep her home safe from being attacked again.

In the beginning it had shocked the young woman how easy it was for her to gather an army it was even more shocking when she was later able to acquire a ship and set out to patrol the waters of the Ionian Sea with the intentions of keeping the western boarders of Greece safe.

It was a full season later while in her seventeenth winter that she had the misfortune of having her men bring aboard her vessel a prisoner named Julius Caesar.

By the time he was finished with her she had no ship no crew and barely had the use of her legs her feelings for him had cost her everything.

The experience was so life changing that except for the short time she had spent in Chin with Lao Ma Xena hadn’t allowed herself to feel anything since she was seventeen winters old.

That was how old she was when she returned to Greece filled with a cold detached determination her only focus… conquering its lands.

It took her six springs and many hard fought battles but now here she stood twenty-six winters old and in her third spring as the Sovereign ruler of all that she surveyed.

And she had achieved it all because she refused to feel.

*******

Now after a brief meeting with the beautiful Amazon Queen she found herself staring into the depths of a black hole that was threatening to pull her into uncharted territories.

When she was in the small blonde’s presence she started to feel things that she didn’t know was inside of her things that she didn’t want to know was inside of her.

The few times in her life that she had thought that she was experiencing deep feelings didn’t begin to touch what she was battling now.

She didn’t much care for the behavior that she exhibited when she was around the small woman she found herself acting before she thought and that just wasn’t acceptable.

She stood and started to pace around the room again as she debated with herself. “Come on Xena you have been attracted to women before Hades you’ve had a couple of very impressive men and women over the years this woman isn’t any different.

Then she stopped mid-stride and snapped her fingers. “The problem is it’s been too long since you’ve shared your bed with anyone…. you just need to …….”

Before the thought could fully enter her mind and take root she discarded it and allowed a little truth to seep in.

‘You know it’s more than that Xena.’

Then she inhaled. You better be very careful Conqueror you may be in some trouble here.’

*******

As the Conqueror was trying to understand her reaction to the Amazon Queen Gabrielle was fighting her own internal battle.

“Okay Gabrielle get a grip on yourself so what she’s gorgeous big deal. Power rolls off of her again so what you live in a nation full of gorgeous powerful women.”

It was then that a small voice made its presence known. ‘And you’ve never felt an attraction to them.’

“Shut-up! I’m not attracted to Xena!”

Just speaking her name out loud caused the blonde woman to pause.

Her small voice laughed at her. ‘If you say so…. but we both know better.’

A sudden knock at the door stopped her mental debate and she was shocked when her mind wondered if it was Xena. She rubbed her face with both hands.

“Oh Gods…. I may be in trouble here…. Come in!”

*******

Jace slowly opened the door and lowered his head in respect when he raised his head to speak to the Amazon he was momentarily taken aback.

This wasn’t the ruler that he had envisioned this golden beauty was more suited to pursue artistic endeavors not lead a nation of women warriors.

“Queen Gabrielle I am Jace one of the Conqueror’s entertainment organizers I am here to inform you that if you find it acceptable the banquet that is to be held in your honor will begin in three candle marks.”

The small woman was immediately taken in by the man’s gentle demeanor and she couldn’t stop the genuine smile that pulled at her mouth.

“Thank you for your concern Jace but that will be more than enough time for us to prepare.”

Jace couldn’t stop the excitement from showing on his face it had been many moons since the Conqueror had hosted a celebration at times it was extremely difficult to arrange a celebration of any kind within the palace walls.

It seemed that without fail someone would somehow do something to infuriate the tense ruler and she would commit an act of violence thereby ending the festivities immediately.

He looked at the green-eyed woman in front of him and hoped that tonight would be different. As he was leaving he bowed graciously before he spoke. “We look forward to your presence your Majesty.”

As he backed out of the door Gabrielle wondered how someone so lively and exuberant could serve happily in the palace of the ruthless former warlord.

Part 6

As was her habit Xena entered the banquet hall early and waited for her guest to arrive she sat at the head of the table and watched as the nobles and the heads of her army took their seats.

The chair to her immediate right remained empty waiting for the Amazon Queen to fill it her most trusted Generals were sitting along the sides of the table to her left and to her right.

Palaemon Meleager Darnel and Glaphyra had taken their places Palaemon headed her Royal Guard Glaphyra led her first army Darnel led her third army and Meleager because of his experience but advanced age trained her troops.

While they were sitting and talking quietly amongst themselves essentially blocking out the nobles that were seated around them the doors to the banquet hall were suddenly pulled open and the guard announced the arrival of the Amazon Queen.

As the small woman entered the room flanked by her escorts Xena had to stop herself from once again rising from her seat in the Queen’s presence. There was something about the blonde woman that made her feel like she should always bow to her.

As Gabrielle made her way to the head of the table her bearing was regal and she was surrounded with an air of confidence.

Xena took notice of the admiring glances that the seated guest bestowed upon the Queen and for some strange reason she was filled with pride by the small woman’s impressive entrance.

But the more admiring the glances became and the longer the eyes rested on the Amazon leader as she moved forward the more Xena started to feel the darkness in her rise and briefly she stopped to wonder why.

When she saw the way that Glaphyra was looking at Gabrielle she started thinking up extra drills that she would add to the Generals training exercises.

When Gabrielle reached her seat the female General put on her most charming smile and stood to pull out the chair for the beautiful blonde.

Gabrielle took her seat and smiled at the polite gesture. “Thank you…. uhm.?”

The General bowed from her waist before she spoke. “I’m the General of the Conqueror’s first army my name is Glaphyra.”

A slight blush started to rise up Gabrielle’s neck because of the chivalrous treatment she was receiving knowing it was because of the woman‘s obvious interest in her.

“Thank you Glaphyra.”

Palaemon noticed the extra attention that the General was showing the newly arrived guest so when she returned to her seat the head of the Royal Guard leaned over to speak with his comrade quietly.

“I think you should back away from this challenge Glaphyra.”

The General raised an eyebrow. “And why is that Pal-o-mine?”

Palaemon rolled his eyes and nodded his head in Xena’s direction before he answered. “If I’m not mistaken I believe that our ruler’s interest has been piqued by the small Queen.”

When Glaphyra looked in the Conqueror’s direction she knew that her friend was speaking the truth Xena’s blue eyes had a storm raging behind them and from the way that she was looking at the first army’s General she knew that she was the cause.

Xena’s blood started to boil when she saw the pink tint rise on Gabrielle’s neck she didn’t like what she was feeling or seeing Glaphyra would be reprimanded for…. for…. the ruler stopped to think.

‘What? She hasn’t done anything.’ The dark woman took a moment to calm herself. When she felt more grounded a simple thought crossed her mind. ‘I must be losing it.’

After being on the receiving end of that look the General immediately erased the Queen from her mind as a possible conquest after all there were other women at the table that would be more than willing to have her attentions for an evening.

*******

The Queen settled herself in her chair and Xena signaled for the food to be served then she took the opportunity to speak to the small leader.

“Gabrielle I hope your rooms are to your liking.”

Green eyes twinkled as she answered the ruler. “Yes Xena your accommodations are more lavish than I could have ever imagined.”

For some reason the reply pleased Xena greatly she waved her hand for the servants with wine pitchers to start pouring.

When her goblet was filled Gabrielle raised it to her mouth and was rewarded with the best honey mead she had ever tasted.

“Uhm Xena this is delicious where does it come from?”

Xena hesitated just an instant before she answered.

Because Gabrielle was looking into the other woman’s eyes she didn’t miss the tiny flicker of pain in them she didn’t know what it meant but for some reason it made her feel the need to make physical contact with Xena.

She reached over and touched the large hand that rested on top of the table and in an attempt to lighten up the strange mood that had fallen upon the ruler she tried a bit of jesting.

“Don’t worry Xena I won’t try to steal your supplier from you.”

The attempt at humor worked. “No no I wouldn’t mind if you had the mead delivered to the territory it’s just a little out of the way. I have the mead dispatched from Amphipolis the inn keeper there makes the best honey mead and port that I’ve ever tasted.”

Gabrielle could have sworn she saw that quick flash of pain pass through the other woman’s eyes again before she put a wall up to hide behind.

“Well that is a bit further north than I would like to do trade with.”

Xena’s mouth took over before her brain could stop it. “I can order extra in my next delivery and have it sent to you…. that is if you want it.”

The small Amazon didn’t miss the deer caught in the torch light look the Conqueror was giving her after speaking without thought.

“That would be fine Xena but you don’t need to have it delivered my Pilsner can have a couple of her apprentices come and pick it up.”

The ruler tilted her head to the side. “Your Pilsner and her apprentices?”

Gabrielle leaned in and spoke into the Conqueror’s ear. “You see we Amazon’s like to get together and share the occasional drink without having to plan an entire celebration around it

so instead of making everyone wait for the festival seasons to come around I had a hut built along the western tree line of the village it serves ale mead and wine for the first five marks after the sun sets.”

Xena had to get control of her body’s reaction to the smaller woman’s hot breath in her ear as she turned to look at the Queen her eyes fell upon the blonde woman’s pink lips and all Xena wanted to do was press her mouth against them until she felt the need for air. Instead she took a sip from her goblet before she spoke.

“You mean like a tavern?”

Gabrielle propped her elbow on the table and rested her chin in her palm. “I guess it’s kinda like a tavern we don’t need anything on that grand of a scale and there is no cooked food only smoked meats but I guess the idea is the same.”

Before Xena could ask another question Palaemon jumped into the conversation. “Queen Gabrielle is this your first visit to the Capital?”

Gabrielle remembered the blonde man with the facial scar from earlier she found it interesting that the scar didn’t detract from his looks on the contrary it gave him a strong rugged look.

“Yes….” She looked at him waiting for an introduction.

“My name is Palaemon your Majesty I’m the General in charge of the Conqueror’s Royal Guard.” The bright smile that followed the statement warmed her heart.

“Yes Palaemon this is my first visit but please call me Gabrielle.”

She scanned the table with twinkling green eyes. “Please all of you call me Gabrielle.”

Every member of the military and even a few of the nobles looked like she had asked them to shove knives under their fingernails.

Then she realized where they were all looking and it definitely wasn’t at her although the Conqueror hadn’t said a word her message to the seated guest came across loud and clear.

Palaemon cleared his throat. “Thank you your Majesty but that will not necessary.”

She noticed the nodding heads and murmured consensus of agreement coming from around the table.

Then it dawned on her Xena wouldn’t tolerate such familiar interactions coming from her military leaders or from the members of her court she chose not to upset the applecart by insisting that they drop her title so she didn’t pursue the subject any further.

Instead she inspected the food on her plate before she took a bite she swallowed a piece of the roasted fowl and the small Queen’s senses were overwhelmed by flavors that she had never experienced before.

“Oh Xena this meat has the most wonderful flavor I’ve never tasted anything like it you must have the best cooks in all of Greece.”

Before the ruler could respond Falsted one of the nobles from northern Achaia spoke up he didn’t see any reason to show this harlot any respect after all in less than a fortnight the Conqueror would be invading her lands essentially making her a commoner. He just couldn’t sit through another moment of forced politeness.

“I don’t doubt that you’ve never tasted any food like this or slept in such luxurious accommodations after all aren’t the Amazons just a group of uncivilized women that refuse to bow to the will of a man live out in the wilderness and commit Sapphic acts on each other?”

The room became so quiet you could hear a quill drop Palaemon and Glaphyra seized the hilt of their swords in anticipation of the Conqueror’s order knowing that she would have the man detained.

Jace and Salmoneus exhaled loudly and flung their hands into the air as they turned to leave the hall from experience they knew that the evening would be over in a matter of moments.

Jace ran his fingers through his brown curls as he spoke to Sal. “Why did he say those things to that gentle woman? He had to have known that the Conqueror wouldn’t tolerate it.”

Salmoneus just patted his friend on the back as they left the hall. “Just because they’re nobles doesn’t mean that they have common sense.”

Gabrielle heard what sounded like a growl coming from the woman beside her and turned just as Xena started to rise from her chair with every intention of ripping the stupid man’s tongue out.

Eponin Solari Meslena and Tara dropped their utensils before the food that was piled on them could reach their mouths and stood so quickly that their chairs fell over behind them.

Xena spoke through gritted teeth. “Falsted you arrogant bastard you’ll pay for your disrespect.”

Gabrielle knew she had only a couple of heartbeats to defuse what was rapidly escalating into a situation that was without a doubt going to have a deadly outcome.

She gently wrapped her fingers around Xena’s wrist and stopped her movement the instantaneous flow of warmth that came from the tender touch made Xena look down at the firm hand that held her in its grasp.

Then her eyes traveled up and were pulled into the most beautiful pool of green that she had ever seen the combination of the warm touch and the soothing eyes relaxed the angry woman.

The Queen then focused on her escorts and using her free hand gave the discreet signals that told them to retake their seats.

Being the disciplined warriors that they were they immediately obeyed their Queen they picked-up their chairs and settled back into them.

The Amazon Queen then fixed her gaze on the dark-haired older man that sat midway down the long table.

“Falsted is it?”

The noble just stared at her and didn’t offer any response so she continued.

“Lord Falsted you are correct in a few of your assumptions it is true that I’ve never slept on a bed as soft as the one that is in the rooms that I am now occupying and if this evenings meal is an example of the Conqueror’s usual fair then it is also true that the cooks in Euboreas can’t hold a candle to whoever prepares the meals here in the palace.”

She finally released the hold she had on her dinner companion’s wrist pushed her chair away from the table and stood up with every intention of leaving.

“But even without the breeding that you so obviously feel we lack know this there is not a person that lives in the Amazon territories that would show such disrespect towards a visitor to our nation.”

She then addressed the people that had been sitting closes to her. “It was a pleasure to meet all of you and I hope that you will enjoy the rest of your meal.”

Then she turned to the Conqueror. “Xena regardless of how the evening has ended I would like to thank you for a delicious meal at least what I’ve sampled of it and your very pleasant company.”

She ended her statement with a small smile so that the ruler would know that all was fine.

She then gave a subtle hand signal to her escorts while walking towards the doors of the banquet hall as she approached them the warriors stood in unison placed their right fist over their hearts and then raised them in a salute as their Queen walked passed them with her head held high.

When she cleared the last warrior they all fell in behind her in a perfect double line formation and followed her out of the room.

The military personnel at the table were very impressed by the women warrior’s discipline precision and obvious devotion to their Queen.

The other occupants of the table begrudgingly felt a small amount of respect for the dignified way that the small Queen had kept control of the situation and had stopped the Conqueror from committing what was guaranteed to be a bloody act of violence.

After the Amazons left the hall the Conqueror stood to her full height and slammed her fist on the top of the table causing plates and goblets to rattle all the way down the length of the wood.

“You will pay for that Falsted. Since when is it your job to insult my guest? This time you have over stepped your place greatly and your insolence will be rewarded in kind.”

She called for two of the palace guards to step forward. “Escort Lord Falsted to a room in the palace that has no windows one sleeping cot and a chamber pot.”

The two guards stood behind the nobleman’s chair and waited for him to rise and come with them.

When the man made no move to stand the ruler purred in a dangerously low voice.

“You can go with them under your own power or I can personally see to it that you have to be carried to your new room.”

As the fated man stood to follow his escorts the Conqueror’s advisor quickly approached the ruler.

“Your Majesty you can’t possible be planning to incarcerate Lord Falsted.”

“Oh he is most definitely going to be detained until I decide what his punishment will be.”

“But Majesty Lord Falsted only spoke his mind to the leader of a nation that you will be attacking before the next new moon.”

The already angry woman was quickly losing her patience. “Look Tellus if you don’t want to share his fate I advise you to take your seat and finish your meal.”

The panicked man didn’t see the danger that he was in all he could think about was keeping Lord Falsted in unrestricted quarters. The noble was one of his main backers in his plan to remove Xena from the throne and replace her with one of their own.

Ever since Xena and her army had stormed into Corinth three springs before and took control of the country using brute force and barbaric tactics the privileged class had been desperate to find a way to remove the vile woman from the throne.

And now with the possibility of Falsted becoming unavailable it would set them back indefinitely and Tellus felt like they were too close to have it all fall apart now.

“Your Majesty all I ask is that you recon….”

The advisor’s air supply was suddenly cut off and he felt his feet leave the floor. In one swift motion the dark woman had grabbed the man around his throat and lifted him off of the flat surface.

“If you utter one more word about what I should do with one of my subjects I’ll see to it that you become a part of the next shipment of fertilizer sent to the outer villages do you understand me Tellus?”

Spots were forming before the man’s eyes and darkness was closing in from the side of his vision he barely had enough air to speak but he was able to force out an answer.

“Yes…. your…. Ma…. jesty.”

She released the man and took pleasure in watching him crumple to floor while rubbing his now raw throat.

She rounded the table and started for the open doors but in mid stride she stopped and turned to face the now dour noble before he was escorted out.

“And Falsted in case you have forgotten…. your ruler is a woman that bows down to no man. A woman who spent many seasons sleeping out in the wilderness while mounting a campaign to rule Greece.” Then a wicked smile spread across her face. “And a woman who has participated in her fair share of Sapphic acts.”

With those final words Xena left the hall hoping to catch the blonde woman before she reached her rooms.

*******

The four Amazons that followed their Queen were livid. Eponin spoke first.

“When I get my hands on that man Cybela will be serving a different kind of smoked meat in the Brewer’s Hut when we return to the territory.”

Gabrielle couldn’t stop the laugh from erupting from her chest at the threat.

“Did you see the Conqueror’s Generals ready their hands for battle?” Solari added.

“General Glaphyra had her hand in position before any of the others could take a breath.” She continued.

Meslena was taking a moment to remember how the muscles in Palaemon’s arms bulged when he gripped the sword hilt.

The tall Amazon knew she was attracted to the head of the Royal Guard when she first saw him in the throne room she had felt a pull towards him when they arrived she hoped that while they were in Corinth she would have a chance to get to know the man better.

“I thought the Conqueror was going to take the man’s head off” Tara said.

Then she continued in a dreamy voice. “That is until the Queen touched her then she just stopped moving and you could almost see the anger leave her body.”

Gabrielle stopped walking and turned to face her escorts. “Is that what happened?”

Tara’s face lit-up. “Oh yes my Queen as soon as you touched her she relaxed and you could feel the dangerous energy start to recede it was… I don’t know… It was like magic or something.”

“Is that what the rest of you saw?”

“I didn’t see anything…. Magical” Eponin said. Then she glared at Tara. “My focus was on the person that was insulting my Queen.”

Solari added “I didn’t notice either I was surveying the room making sure there were no other threats near by.”

Gabrielle was filled with pride she knew that these two warriors would always be the ones that put her safety first that was one of the reasons that she chose them for this journey.

Tara chimed in and taunted Solari. “Yeah you surveyed the room after you stopped looking at General Glaphyra.”

Solari bristled at the statement. “My eyes only went to the first hand that could raise a weapon against our Queen.”

Meslena blushed in embarrassment before she answered. “I uhm…. saw it my Queen the Conqueror did release her tension when you touched her.”

Before Gabrielle could ask another question they heard the sound of heavy boots rushing towards them from the loud echo it seemed that there was more than one person approaching.

The four escorts immediately formed a wall in front of their Queen and waited readying themselves to defend their leader at all cost.

As Xena rounded the corner she was shocked to see the Amazons in a battle stance with their weapons drawn it was then that she realized there were ten palace guards behind her and they must have sounded like an army approaching.

The tall woman stopped and addressed her guest. “Please lower your weapons we have no intentions of causing you any harm.”

Then she focused on the Queen. “Gabrielle if I may speak with you for a moment.” She looked around the crowded hallway. “In private I would be very grateful.”

The Amazons didn’t move Xena realized that it was up to her to initiate a gesture of trust so she dismissed her guards after they were on their way back to their post Gabrielle stepped around her protectors.

“Eponin make sure everyone returns to their rooms safely.”

She was standing with her back to them so when she didn’t hear them move she turned to face them.

“Is there a problem?” She asked with a raised brow.

Solari spoke for the group. “No my Queen it’s just that we want to make sure that you get back to your quarters …. uhm…. unrestrained.”

Again Gabrielle heard that low growling sound and for some odd reason she thought that it was very comforting it made her feel safe she looked at Xena and then back to her warriors.

“I think I’ll be okay…. Right Xena?”

The ruler’s face stilled and her features became like stone. “I promise you that as long as you are with me I’ll never let any harm come to you.”

The two rulers stood staring at each other for a long moment they both were a little frightened by the intensity of the statement both women felt that there was a deeper meaning to the declaration.

Eponin cleared her throat and broke the silence. “If it is your wish that we leave you in the hands of the Conqueror my Queen then it will be done.”

Gabrielle turned to face them again. “That is my wish.”

The four women then made an about-face and headed to their own individual rooms when they were out of sight Gabrielle heard Tara speak in a loud whisper.

“I think they would make a beautiful couple.”

The next sound she heard was what Gabrielle knew was Eponin smacking the young woman in the back of the head.

“Stay focused Tara we didn’t come here looking for dates we are here to try and form an alliance with the Realm you would do well to remember that.”

As the voices faded into the distance both women heard Tara’s reply. “Yeah that’s easy for you to say you’ve got a wife waiting for you back home.”

When there were no more sounds Gabrielle turned to face her new escort. “Please ignore Tara she’s a little young and very starry-eyed.”

The ruler smiled showing straight white teeth. “And what about you Gabrielle are you still young and starry-eyed.”

The blonde woman returned Xena’s smile with one of her own as they started walking in the direction of Gabrielle’s assigned rooms.

“Young…. no at twenty-three summers I don’t consider myself young but starry-eyed?” She laughed softly.

“Most definitely I think that was one of the reasons that I wanted to be a bard my imagination was too big to keep the stories that I made-up inside my head.”

“So not only are you a Queen but a bard as well…. it seems you are multi talented.”

Gabrielle couldn’t stop the smile from coming to her face. “Well I don’t see it as a big deal I mean most people can do more than one thing at a time.”

Instead of walking to Gabrielle’s room Xena turned them in the opposite direction the blonde woman was surprised when she found herself standing outside on a balcony overlooking a beautiful garden.

“Xena this is beautiful.” She tilted her head and looked up into the taller woman’s eyes.

“Did you have this planted?”

The ruler felt a bit of shyness rise inside of her and lowered her eyes. “Uhm…. well yes.”

The two women stepped closer to the wall and looked down to see the moonlight shine down on the aromatic blossoms.

Gabrielle inhaled deeply. “I’ve never seen so many different flowers growing together…. it’s so…. peaceful.”

Xena turned her back on the foliage and leaned against the stone wall. “I’ve been to many places some good…. some not so good but everywhere I went I saw the most beautiful plant life.

When I moved into the palace I decided that I wanted to bring some of that here so what you see is a culmination of my travels.”

The Queen couldn’t see all of the vegetation because most of it was hidden in the shadows but she didn’t doubt that what was unseen was just as stunning as what was revealed by the bright moon light.

She mirrored Xena and leaned against the wall also. “I would love to see it in the daylight.”

“Feel free to visit anywhere on the grounds that may interest you.” She responded with a small smile.

Xena looked at the blonde woman and was left breathless she was petite but her body was strong never in her life had she seen such strength residing in a gentle soul.

Lao Ma had been both strong and gentle but there was always something that lived just beneath the surface that made Xena wonder about her true intentions causing the wild child to never fully give in to her lover’s teachings.

But there was something different about Gabrielle it was like she wasn’t of this world and when the moon broke through a cloud shinning its light down on her it nearly took Xena’s breath away.

The golden woman was surrounded by its pale light making her seem delicate ethereal almost translucent something so fragile that you had to handle it with care so that it wouldn’t break.

For a moment the ex-warlord felt like she was in the presence of a celestial being until a cloud passed across the moon and dimmed its light for a moment leaving in its place a small but strong woman that was more than capable of leading a nation of warriors.

So caught up in the duality that a subtle change of moonlight cast upon her companion Xena missed what was being said to her.

“I’m sorry Gabrielle what did you say?”

“I said that I hoped I could convince you to give me a tour of the gardens before I leave.”

“I’m sure that can be arranged.”

Before the conversation could continue one of the palace guards approached the two women. “Forgive my intrusion Lord Conqueror but Lord Falsted has asked if you would be willing to come and see him.”

Xena’s temper rose at the mention of the man’s name Gabrielle felt the tension that was rolling of off the ruler’s body and placed a calming hand on the small of her back.

The guard was shocked by the gesture he knew that no one touched the volatile woman without permission he was even more surprised when the ruler not only allowed the contact but seemed to be grounded by it.

“Tell Falsted that I’ll see him tomorrow.”

Before the guard got too far away Xena called to him. “And see to it that food trays are delivered to the rooms that are being occupied by the Amazon escorts and their Queen.”

“By your will Lord Conqueror.” The guard bowed and left the two women alone just a little bewildered by what he had witnessed.

Xena reached behind her and took the small hand within her own and started walking them back into the palace in the direction of the Queen’s rooms.

When they reached Gabrielle’s door a moment of strained silence enveloped them then Xena cleared her throat.

“Gabrielle I have some business that I need to attend to if it’s all right with you I’ll bid you a goodnight.”

The blonde woman was a little disappointed that their visit was over but knew that there would be time to get to know this woman later.

“I understand Xena after all you do have all of Greece to rule.” She lowered her head slightly and just stood there what she was waiting for she didn’t know she just knew that something was being left unfinished.

She then felt her hand being lifted and when she looked up she was greeted by smiling blue eyes the taller woman raised Gabrielle’s hand to her lips and gave it a soft kiss.

Xena desperately wanted to kiss the smaller woman’s lips but she held herself back not sure if it would be reciprocated.

“Until tomorrow then?”

Gabrielle smiled and nodded her head Xena released the hand that she was holding and turned to walk away leaving the other woman standing at her door.

A knowing smile crossed Gabrielle’s face as she entered the dimly lit room. “Oh my Gabrielle I think you might be smitten by the ruthless one” she said out loud as she entered the bathing chamber.

*******

That night Gabrielle dreamed of a life she hadn’t thought of in many many seasons…….

She and a few of the girls from her village were out picking berries for the pies they were going to sell at the fall harvest festival the young men in the village were going to bid on the pies and the winner would spend an evening with the girl that had baked it.

As Gabrielle picked the berries she found her mind drifting off thinking about the predicament that she was in.

The young blonde was reluctant to participate because she knew that out of respect no one would attempt to out bid Perdicus her betrothed.

She liked Perdicus even loved him but as nothing more than a friend she had shared a few stolen kisses and brief embraces with the young man but she knew that her heart wasn’t meant for him.

When she was much younger a traveling oracle had told the girl not to give her heart away until it was reunited with its mate.

When the blonde girl asked how she would know that she had met her hearts mate the oracle said.

“Once you make contact with your hearts desire the ache that you will feel in your chest when they are absent will tell you who it is.”

The oracle also told her that when she found her true love her purpose would be revealed to her and they would set out on a path together that would change the world.

Gabrielle told her parents about the oracle’s prediction hoping they would change the arrangement that had been made with Perdicus’ parents but that didn’t happen.

They couldn’t imagine that Gabrielle a peasant girl from a small farming village would ever do anything to change the world so… she remained betrothed.

But the aspiring bard didn’t let the situation keep her down she now knew that being a farmer’s wife was not her destiny.

She wanted to tell stories and travel the land experiencing life and write about what she saw she wanted adventure and to explore life outside of tiny Potidaea.

Gabrielle knew that she couldn’t put off the inevitable for much longer it was by some tiny miracle that she had been able to stall for two summers.

Now that she was eighteen summers old way past the normal age of marriage it was just a matter of time before she would be forced to honor the contract.

She glanced up at her sister at sixteen Lila was already being fitted for a wedding garment in anticipation of her marriage to the stable owner’s son Tylissus and she couldn’t wait to be joined with the young man.

Gabrielle smiled at the thought of her younger sister being married off before her and knew that the ceremony would only serve to light a fire under her father to force into her own wedding.

Gabrielle’s musings were interrupted by the sound of quickly approaching hoof beats in the distance the village girls raised their heads at the sound and found themselves greeted by a nightmare.

Several men had surrounded the small clearing some on horses some on foot but what frightened them the most was the cage that was mounted on the back of the only wagon in their possession its presence left no doubt as to their identity they were slave traders.

The young women were circled and forced into a tight group before they knew it. As the leader approached them Gabrielle stepped forward and stopped his progress.

“Take me and leave the others.”

The band of slavers laughed before their leader spoke. “We’ll take you and the rest of ‘em too.”

After forcing the girls into the cage the men set off intending to set-up camp for the night in a place as far away from the small village as they could get the captured girls were frightened especially after hearing the men talk about the many ways that they planned on using the village maidens for their evening entertainment.

As the sun began to set the slavers found a spot away from the road deep in the woods to rest for the night they pulled the girls from the cage and lined them up for a better look.

The leader walked down the line of panicked girls and pulled each one to him roughly the man smelled awful. His dirty clothes were stained with the food and drink he had consumed over the past several days and it was obvious that he hadn‘t bothered to wash during that time.

When he pulled the girls against him his huge belly pressed into them causing them to try and pull away this action only made him laugh.

When he reached Gabrielle and pulled her close she met him with unwavering green eyes he knew immediately that she would be his pick he loved to break down the defiant ones.

As he stared down into her face he smiled showing a row rotting teeth. “I’ll have you for the night I think you’ll be a wild one.”

The laugh that followed caused his rancid breath to fill the blonde woman’s nostrils when she turned her head in an effort to take in a clean breath he mistook the move as her showing the beginnings of fear.

He wrapped a beefy hand around her wrist and started to pull her away from the group the other men took this as their signal to grab one of the remaining prisoners for themselves.

Gabrielle started to resist as soon as the man began pulling her away from the group the action caused her to fall to the ground that was when the other captives seemed to come out of their haze and started to resist also.

Their actions caused the men to punch and slap them into submission the leader backhanded Gabrielle and knocked her further into the dirt.

“You can make this easy or you can make this hard it’s your choice.”

Then he bent over and breathed his horrible breath on her again. “I’m hoping you pick the hard way it’ll be more fun for me.”

Gabrielle’s mind started racing trying to think of a way out of this but nothing was coming to her just as she was about to reconcile herself to her fate her hand came upon a thick branch that was to be used in the fire.

She wrapped her hand around it and as she stood up she swung it around and hit the man on the side of his head making contact just below his ear.

He dropped to his knees and the small woman started to back away with the intentions of attacking the other men in an effort to free the other girls.

When the men heard the blow and saw their leader go down they were temporarily paralyzed in shock before any of them could regain their senses the camp was swarmed with masked women screaming and brandishing swords there were only five of them but they fought like they were an army.

But the women were out numbered two to one and eventually started to waver in their attack so Gabrielle did what she could by using her branch to get in a few well placed hits.

As she was about to deliver a blow to the back of one of the captor’s head her eyes drifted across the camp site to a man holding a crossbow that was aimed at the female fighter that was slightly behind her.

Without thought she dropped her weapon and ran towards the woman she reached her just as the bolt sunk into her chest when Gabrielle made contact with the woman her momentum carried them both to the ground.

Gabrielle saw right-a-way how grave the situation was the bolt was embedded deep in the woman’s chest and with each breath that she took blood poured out of the wound Gabrielle knew there was nothing that could be done for her.

With shacking hands Gabrielle pulled the mask from the woman’s face and looked into pain filled brown eyes she reached down and stripped a piece of material from her skirt and tried to slow the bleeding.

The other woman held her wrist in a surprisingly strong grip Gabrielle looked at her and pleaded.

“Please let me help you.”

The woman spoke with shallow breaths. “It’s too late for me.” She pulled in a painful breath. “What is your name?”

“G…. Gabrielle.”

“Gabrielle I am Terreis what you just did were the actions worthy of an Amazon.”

In the background the fighting was coming to an end there were six men dead including the leader and the others were scrambling trying to retreat to the woods.

Two of the women saw their injured sister and ran to her side the first woman pulled off her mask to reveal soft blonde curls she picked up the injured woman’s free hand and started to rub it.

“Terreis hold on we’ll get you back to Euboreas and Malaga will tend to your wounds.” The injured woman looked at her and smiled knowingly.

“We both know that’s not going to happen Ephiny.” She turned her dimming eyes back to Gabrielle.

“Gabrielle I want you to take my right-of-caste.”

Ephiny’s head jerked up and she looked at Solari. “Terreis this village girl isn’t an Amazon you can’t do that.”

Terreis was becoming more impaired. “She has the heart of an Amazon please Ephiny I’m growing weaker don’t make me argue with you.”

Hazel eyes dropped in shame as Terreis addressed the small village woman. “Gabrielle will you accept my right-of-caste?”

The blonde woman had no idea what the dying woman was offering her but if it eased her mind in her final moments she would accept the gift.

“O…. okay.”

A small smile pulled at the corners of the dying woman’s lips. “Then it is done.”

Terreis exhaled her last breath and it was over Solari reached across the body of her friend and closed unseeing eyes Ephiny brushed her hand through her own unruly curls and closed her eyes.

“How are we going to explain this to Queen Melosa?”

Part 7

Early the next morning Gabrielle was awakened by the sound of clashing swords she got out of bed and pulled on her robe as she went out on the balcony to see what was going on.

In the distance she saw the Conqueror’s soldiers on the practice field being drilled by the ruler the tall woman seemed to be making easy work of them as one by one they fell under her blade.

After quickly dispatching her final attackers the tall woman was about to leave the grounds when the handsome General of her Royal Guard approached her ready to spar with the legendary warrior.

The roughish smile that covered his face was contagious. “Ready for a challenge Lord Conqueror?”

Xena’s even white teeth appeared from behind sensuous lips as she started to twirl her sword. “You think you’re man enough Palaemon?”

The General pulled his own sword and mirrored the Conqueror’s moves. “Only one way to find out.”

Xena started fighting him with the same laid back style she had used with the others but Palaemon proved to be a formidable opponent.

After he had gotten around her defenses a few times she kicked up her attack a notch still the General met her blow for blow.

When he had Xena retreating Gabrielle thought that the ruler had met her match in the blonde man but then right before her eyes the fight shifted.

Xena planted her feet and her powerful wrist started moving her sword in a flurry of moves so fast that the Queen could hardly see the blade’s progression.

Palaemon started backing up no longer on the attack but now trying to save his life by blocking the blows that were coming at him faster than he had ever seen.

Then as if she had grown tired of the game Xena sprang into the air and flipped over the man’s head.

She turned in mid-air and when she landed behind him she quickly kicked the man in the middle of his broad back sending him face first into the dirt she then used one of her booted feet to turn him over as she placed her sword at his throat.

The scene was so intense that Gabrielle thought the tall woman was going to run the man through she found herself releasing a held breath when the Conqueror’s face split into a smile and she held her hand out offering to help the man up.

When Palaemon was on his feet she patted him on his back as she walked with him. “Good match General I am once again reminded why you lead my Royal Guard.”

Palaemon smiled like a small boy that had been praised by his hero just then Xena felt a prickly sensation on the back of her neck as the hairs started to rise.

She swung around looking for an adversary before her eyes tracked above her to the balcony that faced the practice field what she saw caused the strength to drain from her body and it took all of her willpower to continue to stand.

There stood the Amazon Queen wrapped in a white robe as a gentle breeze lightly blew her golden tresses behind her.

The two women’s eyes connected and held then totally without her permission Xena smiled and raised her hand to wave at the vision that stood above her.

Gabrielle’s heart started to pound in her chest as she returned the greeting the bard was still trying to understand her reaction to the dark woman she knew that the answers rested somewhere in the recesses of her mind she just was wasn’t ready to bring them forward for examination.

When Xena heard her General laugh under his breath the spell was broken she turned and started to walk away.

“Be careful not to go too far Palaemon I would hate to have to train a new General to lead my Royal Guard.”

The humor left the man immediately there were times when he had to remind himself just who this woman was and how dangerous she could be this was one of those times.

“My apologies my Liege please excuse the slip.”

*******

When Xena walked out of sight with the blonde man beside her Gabrielle walked back into her room and sat on the side of the bed as she rubbed her face.

“What in the name of Artemis am I going to do?”

Before her thoughts could go any further there was a knock at her door.

“Come in.”

Two servants entered and started to set the table with her morning meal after completing their duties they left the room to return to the kitchen never saying a word.

While savoring the first bite of her morning meal Gabrielle thought to herself. ‘I really need to talk to our cooks when we return home.’

After watching the Conqueror workout with her soldiers on the practice field it gave Gabrielle the idea to do the same.

‘When this meal is over I’m gonna gather the warriors and maybe we can work out some kinks too.’

*******

Xena was sitting behind her desk in her private study when her thoughts were interrupted by a knock at the door.

“Come!” she yelled.

Tellus entered with caution as he got closer Xena could see the dark bruises that circled his throat it was a sight that pleased the dark woman.

“What do you want Tellus?”

The advisor cleared his throat before he spoke but it didn’t help the gravely sound that was now his voice.

“Forgive the intrusion Majesty but I was wondering if you wanted to postpone the public judgments until the Amazons left the Capital?”

Xena raised a dark brow. “Why would I want to do that?”

“I… I just thought that your plan centered on using your time with the Amazon Queen… um… as a way of building her trust if she were to witness the public judgments there is the possibility that her defenses would rise causing her to become suspicious of your motives.”

The dark ruler was truly confused. “What are you talking about Tellus?”

“If the Queen thinks she’s building a friendship with you…. she will not be expecting the attack when it comes so they will be caught off guard. but if she witnesses the public judgments she may be reminded of your…. Methods and go on the defense.”

Any other time the advisor’s assumption would be correct but this time…. this time the theory didn’t sit well with the ruler.

The reason for the Amazon’s visit had been temporarily forgotten by the tall woman she realized that she had some decisions to make.

“Yes Tellus cancel the judgments until after the Amazon party leaves.” Xena leaned back in her chair and asked where their guest were.

“At the moment the Amazons are on the practice field.”

This information piqued the Conqueror’s interest. “Is that a fact is it just the escorts or did their Queen join them as well?”

“All five of the women are down there sparring your Majesty.”

The tall woman pushed aside the scrolls she had been reading and stood-up abruptly as she walked towards the door she told the advisor that if she were needed she would be out on the east field.

The older man smiled to himself as he rubbed his still sore throat it raised his confidence level to think that the Conqueror was still taking his advice.

As he closed the door to the study he headed in the direction of the room that Falsted was being held in after his meeting with Xena he knew that they had much to discuss.

*******

Xena leaned against the wall that surrounded the sparring arena watching the Amazons practice she knew from experience that the female warriors were formidable fighters.

The exhibition that was now taking place had caught the attention of many of the soldiers that were nearby and now they were scattered around the area watching the women practice with various weapons.

As Meslena and Tara finished their match Xena was surprised to see the Queen enter the field followed by her dark haired muscular escort.

At first the two women stood facing each other then the Conqueror was shocked when the dark Amazon pulled her sword and started attacking her Queen without warning.

She was even more startled when the small woman ducked and then swiftly reached down and pulled a pair of sais from the sides of her boots…. Xena was excited to see what the out come would be.

Gabrielle readied her weapons to deflect the blow from Eponin’s sword as the long blade cut through the air the blonde woman met the edge with her smaller knives preventing contact.

Then she quickly flipped them in her hands and struck the stocky woman twice in the torso with the pommels of the weapons before flipping them back into the attack position as she was backing off.

Xena was amazed by the Queens proficiency with the small weapons she had seen them used before but never by a Grecian native and rarely with such skill.

As the match progressed Gabrielle positioned herself so that she was inside of Eponin’s defenses making it impossible for her to use the full length of her sword during their match.

Gabrielle was able to meet each parry lower on her opponent’s weapon preventing the muscular Amazon from getting the correct angle needed to place a death blow.

The smaller woman met the swords attack with such force that the dark Amazon found herself stumbling backwards from the contact.

It was then that Xena took notice of the Queen’s small but powerful body her calf and thigh muscles bulged with each movement and her sturdy back and shoulder muscles rippled as her weapon met with that of her opponent.

Xena was so caught up in her appreciation of the Queen’s body that she almost missed the move that ended the match.

Eponin spun away from the smaller woman to put some distance between them she raised her sword high over her head and brought down her blade in an arc.

Gabrielle anticipated the move and turned her back to her opponent as the blade descended the Queen raised her weapons in the air and caught the edge of the other woman’s blade in-between the hilt of her sais and the prongs that ran parallel to the blades.

Before Eponin could react Gabrielle did a short somersault into the air and dislodging the blade from the escort’s hand leaving her without a weapon.

As the Queen rolled in the air she used her sais to toss the sword skyward before it came down Gabrielle had landed re-sheathed her sais in their boot holders and raised her hand in time to catch her opponent’s blade and place the tip to her escort’s throat.

Eponin raised her hands in defeat at the sound of applause reverberating from around the arena.

“Well done my Queen.”

Gabrielle dropped the sharp edge from Eponin’s neck and returned her weapon to her both women turned as they heard approaching foot steps.

The Conqueror stood in front of the smaller woman and couldn’t stop her cheerful mood from showing in her blue eyes.

“Very impressive Queen Gabrielle.”

Green eyes twinkled as the blonde woman titled her head to the side.

“I thought we agreed on just Gabrielle.”

“Gabrielle it is then.” Xena looked around the practice field in hopes of hiding the amused smile that tugged at her lips.

“Gabrielle are you as proficient with the sword as you are with the sais?”

“Xena I don’t like swords you see I choose not to kill… and a sword would only make me a target to those that are in the killing business.”

“You can’t expect to always get close enough to an enemy for the sais to consistently be effective.”

Gabrielle stared into the blue depths above her. “My weapon of choice is the staff.”

Xena thought about this for a moment the staff was an excellent choice of protection for a woman that didn’t want to kill.

A playful look entered the ruler’s eyes before she spoke. “Could I interest you in a staff match… that is if you’re not too tired.”

Gabrielle gave a challenging smile of her own. “I’m barely breathing hard Xena please retrieve your weapon.”

Xena turned to her soldiers. “Vercinix get me a staff.”

The man retrieved one of Xena’s personal staves from the weapons rack and quickly placed it in the Conqueror’s hands.

Eponin stood at the Queen’s side waiting with Gabrielle’s own fighting staff both women twirled their staves in their hands weighing and balancing them.

Xena decided that she would approach this match the same way that the escort had she started attacking the small Queen without hesitation or warning.

The first blow was so powerful it nearly buckled Gabrielle’s knees it was only through sheer willpower that she remained standing. ‘Okay this is going to be more difficult than I thought’ she said to herself.

After absorbing the blow she took a step back in order to regain her composure she then slowly twirled her staff as she circled the tall woman.

“Your staff is heavier than I’m used to defending against.”

Xena followed the other woman’s movements. “I’m sure it is the usual weight doesn’t settle comfortably in my hands.”

A few more blows were exchanged before Xena spoke again. “While you’re here visiting maybe I’ll let you hold my sword it’s heavier than normal also.”

The Conqueror was confused for a moment as she thought to herself. ‘Am I insane no one touches my sword… ever!’

Her smaller opponent used the laps in concentration to mount an attack of combinations so quick that Xena had to defend herself as if she were in a real battle.

The Amazon Queen slowed her advances and responded to the tall woman’s offer. “I’d like that.”

Xena swung high and then swiftly reversed her movement to take the Queen’s legs out from under her but Gabrielle was prepared and jumped over the length of the wood as she landed on the ground she raised her weapon over her head stopping the attack coming from above.

Both women backed off in order to re-group. “You’re very good Gabrielle.”

The blonde smiled her appreciation. “Coming from you that’s truly a compliment.”

The longer the women sparred the more frequently they found themselves with their weapons braced against one other putting their faces so close that they could feel the heat from each other’s breaths blowing on their faces.

They were both having a very difficult time pushing down the reactions that their bodies were experiencing every time they came into close proximity. The combination of their mutual attraction and the primal urges that sparring raised in them was causing a problem with their concentration.

As both women stood in the middle of the practice field trading blows the only sound that could be heard was the echo of the wood as the weapons continuously connected end to end.

They came together again the staves braced against each other forming an X as their eyes held each other through the opening at the top of the weapons Xena knew that this time… this time she wasn’t going to stop herself she was going to give in to her need and kiss the pink lips that were only inches away from her own.

As their labored breaths mingled the taller woman started to lean forward Gabrielle saw the intent clearly in the blue eyes that were getting closer and to her surprise she realized that she wanted the contact with the other woman.

The blonde Amazon Queen found herself moving forward to meet the Conqueror’s approaching lips the first touch was soft and hesitant then they moved closer to each other and made a firmer connection.

The reaction was immediate their heart beats increased and they tried to pull as much air into their lungs as they could through their flaring nostrils.

When the smaller woman opened her mouth and invited the tall ruler in it was as if all of the air around them had been sucked away and they were in a vacuum where the only thing that existed was the two of them and the only air that circulated was the breaths that they shared.

When their warm tongues reached out and touched both women moaned the sound being swallowed up by their connected mouths when the need to breathe was no longer being satisfied through their noses they finally came apart.

Both sets of knuckles had turned white from gripping the weapons that held them upright their faces were only a breath apart and they were breathing in one another’s exhaled air.

As they stared at one another Xena spoke first. “I think we need to talk.”

Gabrielle nodded mutely. “I’d say that was an understatement.”

The two rulers stood tall and stepped back a few paces from each other before they looked at the people standing around the field.

Most of the men were trying to look anywhere but at the two women except Palaemon he stood their with a silly grin on his face.

And the Amazons well…… their looks ranged from Tara looking dreamy-eyed to Eponin showing no emotion at all.

The one thing that couldn’t be denied or ignored by anyone that was present was the energy that surrounded the two rulers. The heat that they shared was so intense that soldiers and Amazons alike felt like if they had moved closer to women as they kissed they would have been burned.

“Gabrielle may I come to your rooms later to…. to speak with you about what just happened?”

“Of course Xena I think that would be the best course of action.”

They stood a few moments just staring into each other’s eyes and then Xena forced herself to look away she cleared her throat and started walking towards the palace.

Gabrielle walked to where her escorts were waiting and looked at each one of them in the eye.

“Not a word not one word from any of you.”

She walked passed the small group and headed to her rooms when she was out of hearing distance the four women released the laughter that they were holding in.

As they followed their Queen Eponin looked at Solari. “I would have never thought in a million lifetimes that Xena Destroyer of Nations Warrior Princess Conqueror of Greece would show an interest in our Queen.

Solari just shrugged her shoulders. “I would have never thought that the first woman our Queen decided to kiss would be Xena the Conqueror.”

Tara shook her head from side to side. “I know a few Amazons that are gonna be real disappointed by this news.”

Meslena piped in. “It just goes to show you can’t assume to know the knitting of the fates loom.”

*******

Xena had to put aside her swirling emotions regarding the blonde Queen in order to prepare for her meeting with Falsted.

As the ruler approached the closed door the two guards stepped aside to let her enter when she entered the dim room she was assaulted by the smell of the un-emptied chamber pot.

Xena waved her hand in front of her face trying to move the air around. “My my Falsted….. what did you eat last night?”

Then she placed a long finger against her temple as if she were trying to remember something.

“Oh that’s right I forgot you were sent to bed without dinner last night.”

The noble tried to stare holes into the vulgar woman he wasn’t going to speak unless necessary.

Xena opened the door and told one of the guards to remove the rancid smelling pot when they were alone again she faced the angry man.

“So Lord Falsted what have you got to say for yourself?”

The man straightened his back and used his hands to press out as many wrinkles as her could from the robe he still wore from the previous night.

“I don’t know what you want to hear Lord Conqueror.”

Xena clasped her hands behind her back and started pacing back and forth.

“Well let’s start with why you thought it necessary to insult a guest in my palace.”

“I didn’t realize that you considered the harlo….”

Xena cut him off by waving her index finger from side to side. “Uh uh uh…. there will be no derogatory name calling when referring to the Amazon Queen so let’s try again.”

Falsted was turning red from trying to remain respectful to the capricious woman. “I didn’t realize that you considered the woman a true guest.”

“Okay since when do you decide who is or isn’t a TRUE guest within these walls?”

The older man lowered his eyes so that Xena couldn’t see the contempt in them. “If what I said offended you then I was mistaken Lord Conqueror.”

“Oh it wasn’t me that you offended Falsted it was Queen Gabrielle and that is why you will go to her bow down before her and then beg her pardon.”

That was it the noble had dealt with all the humiliation he was willing to put up with this is where he drew the line.

“I will do no such thing there is no way in Zeus’ green world that I will bow to that savage!”

Xena crossed her arms over her broad chest. “Is that your final word?”

Falsted raised his head in defiance. “It is.”

Xena strolled to door preparing to leave the small room. “If that’s how you want it that’s how it will be.”

When the door closed behind her Falsted sat on the narrow cot and rested his face in his hands as he thought.

‘What is that crazy bitch going to do now?’

Part 8

Gabrielle was exiting the bathing chamber wrapped in a silk robe drying the last bit of moisture from her hair with a thick towel when someone knocked on her door.

“Come in.”

She thought it would be one of the palace servants bringing the mid-day meal so she was shocked when the tall form of the Conqueror entered her rooms.

“Oh Xena I um… I wasn’t expecting you until this evening.”

Xena stepped in and closed the door behind her but didn’t come any further into the room. “If you would rather I came back later…. I can do that.”

“No no please have a seat I just hope you don’t mind me being… underdressed.”

As the tall woman sat on one of the comfortable chairs in the room all she could think was that a wet Gabrielle was just as beautiful as a dry one.”

The blonde Queen walked over to her travel bag and retrieved a hair brush she then took a seat at the dressing table that was in the room and stared at her refection in the mirror.

“Xena I hope you don’t mind if I brush my hair while we speak.”

She turned to look at the other woman. “If I don’t brush it right a way it tangles and then it takes me several marks to loosen it again.”

The tall woman was so entranced by the beauty before her that she didn’t respond immediately.

Gabrielle couldn’t stop the blush that started up neck when she noticed the look in the other woman’s eyes.

“Uhm Xena did you hear me?”

The Conqueror felt the heat burning her ears when she realized that Gabrielle had caught her staring.

“I’m…. I’m sorry Gabrielle by all means please continue with your normal routine I would hate for you to have knots in your hair because of me.”

Gabrielle turned her attention back to the mirror and tossed her thick hair to one side as she started to brush out the tangles.

Xena’s sudden presence in her room was throwing Gabrielle a little off balance she decided that she would concentrate on each stroke of the brush as it passed through her hair and try to block out the other woman’s nearness until she could regain her footing.

When Gabrielle finished one side and flipped her hair over the opposite shoulder the move exposed the right side of her neck exposing skin from the top of her shoulder up to her small ear.

Xena was mesmerized everything every speech every move every word that she had planned to use in her bid to win over the small Queen was forgotten with that one move.

What was seated before her was a vision and the siren song that Gabrielle was emitting called to Xena and she was helpless to resist it.

Before she even realized what she doing Xena had risen from her chair and found herself walking across the room towards her destiny.

Gabrielle was so immersed in her mission to think about anything other than the tall beautiful woman behind her that she didn’t notice Xena’s approach.

When she felt the weight of the strong hands resting on her shoulders she paused momentarily in her brushing as a shiver coursed through her body.

‘When did she move from her seat?’ Gabrielle thought as she waited to see what the ruler’s next course of action would be.

The heat that was radiating from the Queen’s shoulders sent warmth throughout the Conqueror’s body leaving her almost lightheaded in its wake.

Letting her heart take control of her actions Xena leaned down and gently kissed the exposed skin of the elegant neck that called to her.

Gabrielle inhaled sharply at the contact and released her hold on the brush that was still in her hand then she relaxed enjoying the soft moist lips on her skin. She had never felt anything like this before in her life.

When Xena wasn’t met with any resistance from the other woman she extended her tongue and used the tip to lightly taste the smooth skin that her lips were gliding across. Gabrielle had the sweetest skin that she had ever tasted and she knew that the addiction was immediate.

The move caused Gabrielle’s eyes to close and a moan to rise from her chest then as if it were the most natural thing in the world for her to do she reached up with her hand and buried her fingers in the dark tresses of the tall ruler holding her in place.

All of Xena’s senses became overloaded the small sounds that were coming from the other woman and the strong grip in her hair sent her mind spiraling.

She moved her hands from the strong shoulders and slid her fingers a little closer to the pounding pulse point in the Amazon’s throat.

As her lips grazed across a soft ear and her teeth gently nibbled on the sweet flesh of Gabrielle’s pink lobe Xena repeated one word over and over into the warm skin under her mouth.

“Gabrielle…. Gabrielle…. Gabrielle.”

Gabrielle tightened her grip in Xena’s hair and pulled the moist lips from her neck so that she could take possession of them with her own.

They both wanted more contact so without breaking the kiss Xena pulled Gabrielle out of the chair that she was sitting in and pulled her into an embrace.

The shorter woman’s arms immediately went around Xena’s neck and she pulled herself closer to the taller woman.

Xena moaned as her lips pressed into the shorter woman’s mouth and she dropped her hands to rest on Gabrielle’s hips.

The kiss deepened when the Amazon opened her mouth and asked Xena to enter the Conqueror didn’t hesitate to accept the invitation.

Gabrielle had no idea what had come over her never in her life had she felt this way she knew that she was spiraling out of control and it scared her a little but she couldn’t stop this just felt too good.

Just as she thought it couldn’t get any better large hands dropped from her hips and held her rear end in a firm grip.

To Gabrielle’s shock and surprise the strength that she felt coursing through those hands caused a bit of moisture to run down her inner thighs.

Her body was assaulted by a need that she never knew existed and just as she started to press herself into the other woman’s body to make firmer contact Xena stopped.

The tall woman rested her forehead against the shorter woman’s and tried to catch her breath.

“Gabrielle I think we should slow this down and talk.”

Gabrielle let out a frustrated breath and attempted to recapture the other woman’s lips.

“I don’t want to talk Xena I’m tired of always evaluating everything that I do I just want to live in this moment and deal with the consequences later.”

When Xena tried to take a step back she realized that she was still holding Gabrielle’s round backside and pulled her hands away immediately.

She raised her hands and held both of Gabrielle’s together in an attempt to get her full attention when the smaller woman dropped her head and pulled in a long breath Xena knew that she was trying to center herself.

After a moment frustrated green eyes raised up to stare into patient blue. “Okay Xena I’m ready let’s talk.”

When Xena started walking towards the sitting area Gabrielle tugged her hand and pulled her in the opposite direction so that they could sit on her large bed.

“All right Lord Conqueror what is it that you think is so vital that we needed to stop what we were doing and talk?”

Xena suddenly felt a wave of self-consciousness flow over her and again it dawned on her that never in her life had she ever felt so unsure of herself as she did when she was around this small woman.

While Gabrielle sat patiently waiting for the silent woman to speak Xena was attempting to pinpoint the source of her anxiety.

The answer that came to the perplexed ruler bewildered her even more. ‘I don’t want to disappoint her.’

Xena couldn’t believe what she was about to say she held the aspiring bard’s small hands in her own and looked into her vibrant green eyes.

“Gabrielle it has been several seasons since I’ve…. well…. since I’ve shared intimacies with anyone and I can only imagine what living in the Amazon Nation must be like for you I mean not only are you their ruler but the sex that you have been exposed to must have been…. well… memorable.

Gabrielle looked at Xena with confusion. “I’m not following you here Xena.”

The Conqueror straightened her shoulders and pressed on. “What I’m trying to say…. quite terribly I must add is that I don’t know if I can live up to what you are used to in the bedchamber.”

There it was out she had said it Xena Conqueror of Greece rumored to have the skills of Aphrodite was now unsure of her abilities to please this small Amazon in the bedchamber.

The tall woman wasn’t sure how she should react when the blonde Queen fell backwards on the bed overtaken by a bout of belly laughs.

Xena was warring with herself about whether to stay leave or take the small woman by her shoulders and shake her until she was quiet.

When Gabrielle regained some composure she sat back up and saw a storm raging behind intense blue eyes that had gone pale with what ever emotions the ruler was dealing with at the time.

Knowing that she was the reason for the woman’s mood Gabrielle stopped her giggling and grasped Xena’s biceps.

Xena I’m so sorry I’m not laughing at you…. honest.”

The gentle touch on her arm calmed the raging sea that was starting to roil inside of the dark woman and the soft words made her feel less foolish.

“Then what’s so funny Gabrielle why are you laughing?”

The bard rose up and sat on her knees as she faced the other woman then she cupped Xena’s face in her hands.

“Xena you could never disappoint me in the bedchamber…. or anyplace else.”

She had to take a moment to allow the red tint that had suddenly crawled up her neck fade away before she continued she cleared her throat and spoke so softly that Xena could hardly hear her.

“I’ve uhm…. you see…. I’ve uhm never been with anyone before.”

When Gabrielle raised her head and looked at Xena she thought the woman’s eyes were going to jump out of her head and roll across the floor.

“Xena…. Xena are you alright?”

The Conqueror couldn’t move or say a word all she could do was repeat two words over and over in her head.

‘She’s untouched she’s untouched she’s untouched.’

Gabrielle felt the taller woman start to pull away from her but held her tighter. “Xena don’t please don’t withdraw from me.”

It was in that moment as Xena looked into Gabrielle’s pleading green eyes that she knew with absolute certainty.

‘Whatever Gabrielle wants I will move mountains to make sure she gets it.’

When the ruler stopped her retreat Gabrielle relaxed her hold on the muscular arm but didn’t release it.

“Xena I know that you have been with more people than I can imagine and I can’t for the life of me understand why you would be remotely interested a village girl turned Amazon Queen but I want you I’ve never wanted anyone…. ever…. but I want you.”

The dark woman could see the truth of the statement in the clear eyes that stared back at her her dark brows dropped over her nose in bewilderment as she asked her next question.

“Why me Gabrielle you’ve known me a day and you’ve known about me and how I rule for the last three springs why would you want to give something so precious to me?”

The short woman stood up and started pacing in front of the seated woman she tried to run her hands through her hair until she met with resistance then she remembered that she hadn’t finished brushing it out.

“On my way here I was ready to encounter Xena Conqueror of Greece Destroyer of Nations a woman rumored to eat small children at banquets.”

The Queen let an incredulous laugh slip out at that last description.

“And then I was ushered into your throne room and was greeted by the gentlest most compassionate blue eyes I have ever seen.”

She stopped walking and moved to stand between the seated woman’s parted knees she raised her hand and brushed her thumb across the tanned woman’s high cheekbone.

“And when I looked into those endless pools of blue I knew…. I just knew that everything that was being said about you…. just couldn’t be true.”

Xena covered the hand that was caressing her face with her own and then turned it over to place a kiss on the palm before she released it.

“That’s where you’re wrong Gabrielle I am that monster that you have heard about most of the things that you have heard about me are true.”

Gabrielle raised a fair brow before she spoke. “So you do feast on small children at banquets?”

Xena couldn’t stop the laughter that escaped her mouth. “No Little Queen I insist that we use small boar in their place.”

The humor broke the tension in the room and both women relaxed a little.

Gabrielle placed her hands on Xena’s shoulders and looked her in the eye. “I know that you have done things that I can only imagine in a nightmare but for reasons that I can’t explain I don’t believe that’s the real you.”

Before the Conqueror could dispute the other woman’s opinion Gabrielle leaned down and captured her lips once again. “No more talking.”

Without her permission Xena’s hands gripped the small waist in front of her and held on as once again the sweetest lips she had ever kissed took possession of her own.

When a demanding tongue asked for entrance the Ruler of Greece was helpless to deny the request she opened her mouth and accepted the warm muscle.

She felt herself being pushed back onto the bed and did nothing to stop the small woman from climbing on top of her.

Her hands started a journey up the sides of the woman’s cloth covered waist and she felt like the hands belonged to someone else it all seemed like a very pleasant dream.

But when determined smaller hands started to unbutton the silk shirt that she wore all of her senses returned and she threw caution to the wind and became a full participant in the dance.

With every button now released her upper body was exposed and the blonde woman sat up and straddled the body beneath her so that she could look upon the Conqueror’s bare chest.

She took note that the skin under the clothes was as tan as the skin that was exposed to the sun it took only a heart beat to realize how that was possible and then she inhaled sharply at the thought of laying out in the fields of Euboreas with a naked Conqueror beside her.

The Conqueror was exquisite she had seen many naked women in the Amazon village but not one of them compared to what her eyes feasted on now.

She was surprised by the fullness of the dark tipped breast for some reason she thought that the muscular body would be less feminine under her clothes.

As her eyes traveled down to the firm stomach she felt a wave a desire run through her like she had never known as the taunt muscles flexed under her gaze.

Without thought she slid back a little and lowered her head to kiss the rippling muscles this move elicited a groan from the prone woman.

After that all restraint was lost for both of them before either woman could stop and allow an argument to enter their mind as to why they shouldn’t they found themselves naked with Xena’s long body resting on top of a naked Amazon Queen.

The first touch of skin on skin filled them both with such desire that a flood of moisture soaked the sheets beneath them.

All Xena wanted to do was devoir the blonde woman a need that she had never known before took control of her mind and body and she had to feed it.

Gabrielle wanted the dark woman she wanted her more than she had ever wanted anything in her twenty-three summers and she was determined to have her.

They moved against each other their bodies already acting as if they familiar with the dance Xena’s hot mouth suckled on a neck that was strained by arousal when she pulled in the soft skin she knew that she was leaving a mark but there was no protest or indication of pain.

Gabrielle’s hands ran up and down the powerful back that her fingers were pressed into and when the tall woman sucked on her neck blunt nails left a red trail down the tanned skin as she moaned with pleasure.

When Xena moved from the smooth skin under the small ear she worked her way down to the pink tipped nipples she held their weight on one large hand as she took the soft mound into her mouth.

After satisfying that urge she pulled back a little to lick the hard points using just the tip of her tongue to make a small swipe but her bedmate had other ideas and before she realized what was happening the tall woman’s opened mouth was forced to swallow more of the pale flesh.

Gabrielle could hardly form coherent speech she never knew that this kind of pleasure existed when she felt long fingers brush through her wet curls she almost lost her control.

The few times that she had felt the need to touch herself never felt like this if this is what being with another person was like maybe she should have tried it sooner.

As soon as the thought entered her mind she knew that it would have never been like this with anyone else her heart knew that only Xena could make her feel this way.

When she felt the dampness of the ruler’s passion rest on her thigh she was overcome with need the need to touch Xena the way that she was being touched.

She reached down and ran her fingers across lips that were swollen with desire and the sound that escaped from the dark woman’s throat was something between a moan and a growl.

The two bodies started to move against each other and soon they fell into a rhythm the giving and the taking being equally shared.

Xena moved up from the now moist breast and rested her head beside the smaller woman’s ear.

“Gabrielle I want to feel you I want to feel you wrap yourself around my fingers.”

It only took a moment before the novice realized what her lover’s request meant and the knowledge of the plea made her even wetter.

She pulled back so that she could look into Xena’s blue eyes they had turned a deep indigo it was a color that she had come recognize as desire.

“Yes Xena but I want to feel you too.”

With a slight nod from the tall woman they continued to hold each others gaze as their hands slowly approached their mutual goal.

Xena leisurely circled the Queen’s opening and then gently entered her with one finger tip she kept her stokes slow as she gradually entered more of the warm opening.

Gabrielle shuddered at the first feel of being entered and then had to concentrate as she mirrored the other woman’s actions.

By now they were both lost panting and writhing against each other Xena held the green eyes with her own as she pushed further into the unexplored depths of the woman beneath her.

Passion rushed through their veins making their nerve endings sing and their bodies strain for release the desire that they both felt was creating an energy that could not be contained much longer.

When Xena’s finger met with resistance she asked if Gabrielle was sure when the blonde woman nodded her head giving permission a long finger entered her fully.

It took all of her effort for Gabrielle not to close her eyes the momentary sting she felt when the thin veil was pierced was immediately followed by a feeling of pleasure that she had never known.

Following her partner’s lead the blonde entered the other woman and felt her finger squeezed by the tight muscles that engulfed them.

Never losing eye contact Xena added a second finger and soon felt another added to her pleasure as Gabrielle moved against the long fingers that were buried in her she felt the heel of the ruler’s palm press against her sensitive nub.

All was lost as she closed her eyes and started to ride out her desire when she felt Xena press herself firmly against her hand and start to move her hips faster she started to fall.

The release of all the built up energy was so great that Gabrielle saw flashes of blue and green lights swirl behind her eyes and then the colors joined together to became one.

At the same moment Xena followed the bard over the edge she had the same vision and felt her desire mount never had she experienced anything like this.

Somewhere far away they heard a chorus of screams neither seemed to realize that the sounds were coming from their mouths as they were gently returned to earth the Queens door sprung open and Eponin stood there in shock.

*******

The Weapon’s Master had been walking down the hallway with the other escorts with the intentions of seeing if their Queen wanted to tour the palace when she heard two voices scream out she was close enough to the Queens quarters to determine that was where the sound was coming from.

Without hesitation or forethought she threw open the door expecting to find the Queen in harms way to her shock when she rushed in she was met with a scene that she hadn’t anticipated.

Her Queen was in bed naked with a just as naked Conqueror on top of her by this time the escorts had been joined by a few Palace Guards and Palaemon all of them standing in the open door.

Xena pulled the wrinkled sheets up trying to cover the now completely flushed woman beneath her as well as herself she turned her head and blue fire sparked from her eyes.

“LEAVE… NOW!”

The threat in the powerfully delivered order didn’t go unnoticed by the military trained fighters from both sides so they backed out of the room closing the door behind them without a word.

Both women hadn’t enough time to catch their breaths before the intrusion and were now lying beside each other trying to pull in as much air as possible.

Xena reached over and pushed sweat dampened bangs away from her lover’s forehead knowing that this wasn’t the perfect ending to their first encounter that she had hoped.

“I’m sorry about that Gabrielle they couldn’t have picked a worse time to enter without knocking.”

Finally feeling the embarrassment leave her Gabrielle decided to see the humor in the incident instead of shame.

“Well I guess this just means that the Nation will know that their Queen is not only experienced in the art of negotiating but she now has first hand knowledge of things more carnal in nature.

Gabrielle ran her hand down the saturated skin of her lover’s face before she moved to leave the bed.

Xena reached out a hand to stop the woman’s movements. “Where are you going?”

Gabrielle leaned in and kissed the soft lips below her. “If you stop and listen you’ll hear voices still in the hallway I have to talk to my warriors and let them know that all is well.”

Xena looked at her lover with concern. “Is all well Gabrielle?”

The Amazon Queen stroked the other woman’s jaw lovingly. “Yes My Conqueror all is well.”

The ruler watched her lover leave the bed and wrap a sheet around her body as she headed for the door it took all of her self restraint to stay in the bed and let Gabrielle handle the group that waited on the other side of the door.

*******

On Mount Olympus in the observation hall Aphrodite Artemis and Athena stood around the pedestal that held the reflecting waters gazing down into the bowl they witnessed the coupling of the Conqueror and the Amazon Queen.

At the moment of their release the Goddess of Love glowed with a bright white light until the mortal’s bodies calmed and settled down then she looked to her sisters.

“It has begun.”

*******

Palaemon and Eponin were the first to notice the door opening and everyone that was in the hallway dropped their heads and blushed at the sight of the small blonde covered with nothing but a sheet.

“Eponin as you can see I am not in any way being harmed so you and the other escorts can continue on with what ever your intended destination was.”

The stocky Amazon was calling forth every bit of discipline that she had in an effort not to laugh at the sight of her Queen.

If they hadn’t rushed in on the Queen’s activities her appearance alone would have made it obvious as to what she had been doing behind closed doors.

“As you wish my Queen but we were going to ask if you wanted to join us in a tour of the palace.”

Eponin couldn’t hold it in any longer and laughed outright at the sight of the disheveled little woman.

“But it seems that you have found more interesting things to explore than the decor of the Royal Residence.”

Gabrielle refused to be embarrassed in front of her escorts and called upon every bit of dignity that she could muster as she dismissed them to go on their way.

Eponin bowed to her ruler before she took her leave but she insisted that an Amazon stand guard now that the Conqueror was in her quarters.

“Fine leave one person and the rest of you be on your way.”

Meslena volunteered and was secretly pleased when Palaemon chose to stand guard with her in protection of his Liege.

Gabrielle closed the door to the sounds of her escorts muted laughter before she returned to the woman waiting in her bed.

“Well that’s going to be memorable.”

She snuggled up to the warm body that was resting in the bed and kissed the soft skin of the dark woman’s shoulder before resting her head on the muscled area.

“Meslena and Palaemon are now standing guard at the door I only hope that they don’t hear anything more than they already have.”

Xena pulled the fair Queen on top of her and purred into a delicate ear.

“It’s always good to have hope.”

Part 9

After many candle marks of sharing their passion Gabrielle propped herself up on her elbow and rested her face in her hand as she slowly brushed the fingers of her free hand across her lover’s bare chest as she made a request.

“Xena tell me about yourself.”

The ruler turned her head and was once again pulled into the clear green pools of her lover’s eyes knowing that she would do anything that the honey-blonde asked of her.

“What do you want to know?”

Gabrielle leaned forward and placed a soft kiss on the slightly swollen lips beneath her.

“I don’t know… anything…. tell me about your life.”

The Conqueror repositioned herself on the bed so that her back was propped against the headboard then she opened her arms in an invitation for the other woman to rest on her.

Gabrielle immediately moved into the offered space and laid her arm across the tall woman’s waist while she rested her head on a broad shoulder.

“Let’s see where do I begin…. Twenty-six winters ago I was born in a small village named Amphipolis.”

Gabrielle remembered the name as being the location where Xena had her mead shipped from but she didn’t interrupt the other woman’s story.

“My mother ran or I guess I should say still runs the inn/tavern there.”

Another piece of the puzzle fell into place still she remained silent.

“I don’t remember my father he left when I was still very young I had two brothers one older and one younger when I was sixteen winters old a warlord attacked our village I convinced the people that we should defend ourselves against them

when we did a lot of men and boys lost their lives including my younger brother my mother blamed me for his death and turned her back on me.”

Gabrielle saw the pain reflected in the woman’s eyes and told her that it wasn’t necessary for her to continue but Xena kissed the top of her golden head and told her that she was okay.

“That night I packed what little I owned and left my home for good an angry and lonely girl as I walked away I decided that even if the people of my village didn’t want me around I would still make sure that they were protected.

I patrolled the boarders of Amphipolis and fought anyone that set his mind on attacking it.”

The woman disappeared into herself the further along she got into her story.

“It was amazing the men that I defeated didn’t leave instead they became allies in my mission after a while I was being followed by not only the men that had been my enemies but random people started to join us

word of mouth got around and suddenly we were given a ship to patrol the waterways it was during the time that we were sailing the Ionian sea protecting Greece’s western shore that my men captured a Roman.”

Xena’s eyes went pale Gabrielle had learned fairly quickly to associate that color with intense anger Xena felt a soft hand rubbing her cheek and leaned into its warmth.

“Xena I see what this is doing to you it’s not important you don’t need to go on.”

The ruler pulled the small woman closer to her and released a frustrated breath.

“No I want you to know I’ve…. I’ve never felt the need to tell anyone about my life.”

She captured Gabrielle’s eyes with her own. “I trust you.”

Gabrielle could feel the sting of tears at the back of her eyes this fierce warrior was willing to lay herself bare before her the magnitude of the gift that was being given to her was overwhelming.

“Okay love go on.”

The endearment took the ruler by surprise. “Am…. am I your love Gabrielle?”

Gabrielle had spoken without thought but now that she examined her words she knew them to be the truth.

“Yes Xena you are my love.”

A brilliant childlike smile broke out on the Conqueror’s face as she kissed the other woman’s lips. “Good cause you’re my love too” she said with glee.

Xena allowed herself one more kiss before she proceeded to tell the Amazon Queen about how she was crucified and had her legs broken by Caesar’s order her meeting Borias and the short reprieve that Lao Ma offered.

When she got to the part of the story where Borias wanted to go to Jappa and rescue a noble’s daughter from her kidnaper’s only to try and ransom her themselves night had fallen.

Both women left the bed after acknowledging their hunger and need to bathe they shared a long hot bath and then consumed the evening meal that had been delivered to the room.

“So you didn’t want to travel further east and let Borias leave on his own?”

Xena placed a piece of soft cheese on a thick slice of bread and took a bite before answering.

“Yep after he left I boarded the first ship that I could find back to Greece and never saw him again.”

A deep sadness filled the Conqueror’s blue eyes before she spoke again.

“Upon my return I was given my second chance at redemption but just as I had done with Lao Ma…. I turned it away and chose violence instead.”

Gabrielle didn’t need to ask Xena what happened next her betrayal of Queen Cyan was well known among the Amazons.

They had all heard the story of how after the kind Queen had taught her their fighting skills and tree maneuvers Xena had chosen to kill all of the northern leaders.

She also knew of Xena’s association with the evil shamaness Alti what she didn’t know was why she had parted ways with the former Amazon witch.

The Queen moved her food around her plate trying to think of a way to broach the subject without sounding like she was judging the woman.

Xena could tell that her companion had something on her mind and decided to ask her what it was so she reached over and stopped the hand that was moving the food around the plate.

“Gabrielle is there something that you want to ask of me?”

When the small blonde looked at her Xena could see the war that was being waged behind the green eyes.

“Trust me when I say that you can ask me anything.”

Gabrielle dropped her utensil and leaned back in her chair she decided to throw caution to the wind ask the question that was on her mind.

“Why did you end your association with Alti?”

Xena was only mildly surprised that the Queen knew about Alti after all she was an Amazon Xena’s history with them had to be recorded somewhere.

“Welll…. Alti always relayed vague premonitions to me and when something would happen I made myself find a part of her predictions in whatever the event was after all she had foreseen that I was to be The Destroyer of Nations.”

The title was spoken with a bit of venom laced in the delivery.

“After fighting many battles and coming no closer to ruling Greece I started to question her abilities the end of our…. liaison came about when I knew without a doubt that she was a fraud.”

The Conqueror laughed with disgust before she spoke again.

“She came to me in my tent on night and told me that I was with child.”

Gabrielle tilted a curious head at the statement and Xena laughed at the Queen’s expression before she continued.

“Gabrielle by this time I was only interested in sharing my bed with women her apprentice being the last one before she was killed during a battle so you see there was no way that I could have been carrying a child.”

Gabrielle was confused. “Uhm Xena I don’t mean to sound vulgar but your sexual conquest are well known throughout Greece.”

The bard was a bit taken aback when the dark woman let loose with a loud laugh when Xena calmed and noted the mild irritation on the Amazon’s face she proceeded to explain her reaction.

“Gabrielle in my twenty-six winters I have had six bed mates and one lover.”

Gabrielle wasn’t sure that she liked the distinction between bed mates and lover who would standout as a lover in Xena’s mind?

When Xena realized that Gabrielle wasn’t going to say anything she pressed on.

“Before I left my village I shared myself for the first time with my childhood friend Sebella after her there was Caesar Borias Lao Ma Alti’s apprentice and a woman in a tavern the night before my army marched into Corinth.”

Gabrielle was even more confused by the admission. “But…. but it’s common knowledge that you bed the men and women that are in your army.”

Xena saw the seriousness in her lover’s face and knew that she had to explain the rumors.

“Gabrielle what kind of leader would bed her troops?”

Gabrielle still looked unsure.

“Okay let me explain it another way. I worked too hard fought and defeated more men and women than I can count in one sitting in order to build the most formidable army Greece has ever seen.

Why would I risk loosing the reputation I had so meticulously built as a strategist leader and fierce fighter by bedding the very people that I had trained to see me not as a woman but as their supreme commander?”

A dark shadow covered her features. “When Caesar bedded me then betrayed me he taught me a valuable lesson… One that I’ll never forget.

Sex and aspirations of world domination don’t make for compatible bedfellows. I only needed one demonstration before the lesson was driven home permanently.”

The blonde took a moment to let the truth of the statement wash over her and saw the logic of it.

“Then why does everyone think that you have bedded half of Greece?”

Xena reached across the table and covered the bard’s hand. “Gabrielle not too far from here there is a village in that village there is a tavern…. well more of a brothel

working in that brothel is a woman that looks exactly like me her name is Meg when I heard of her existence I didn’t believe it

so one evening I went to the establishment to see for myself and let’s just say that I was shocked when I came face to face with my mirror image I thought that everything about her was exactly like me that is until she opened her mouth.”

Xena rolled her eyes. “When she spoke I wanted to cringe she had the most annoying voice that I had ever heard and…. well she wasn’t the sharpest spear in the arsenal.”

Gabrielle smiled at the Conqueror’s description of her double.

“We went to a private room and she thanked me for the huge profit that she had turned it seems that quite a few of my troops and many of the villagers were seeking out her company because she looked so much like me it seems that she was somehow fulfilling some fantasy they all had about bedding the legendary Xena.”

Gabrielle couldn’t stop her mouth from dropping open in surprise. “Xena you want me to believe that there is someone that looks so much like you that people brag that they have spent an evening with the Conqueror?”

Xena threw her hands in the air in exasperation. “It’s true if you don’t believe me ask Glaphyra from what I’ve heard she’s spent time with the woman…. more than once.”

Then and there Gabrielle decided that she would find the General and question her about the existence of this…. Meg herself.

Wanting to save this conversation for another time Gabrielle decided to change the subject and ask Xena something that had piqued her interest after the dark woman had said it.

She couldn’t believe that she was about to ask the next question but her curiosity got the best of her she had to know who Xena had considered a lover and not just a bed partner.

“Okay I want to change subjects for a moment that is if you don’t mind.”

The ruler was more than happy to move away from her supposedly notorious sex life. “Fine.”

Gabrielle steeled her nerves and pushed forward. “You said that you have had six bed mates and one lover…. I want to know who it was that you considered a lover.”

There it was out maybe she could find out what qualities it took in a person to make Xena consider them special.

The Ruler of all of Greece stood up and rounded the table that separated them when she was standing in front of the small Queen she dropped to her knees and pulled the other woman’s hands into her own.

“Why Gabrielle I would have thought that you had figured that out on your own.”

Then she saw it the Conqueror’s eyes were now a deep blue…. and from that moment on she would always associate that color with the woman’s deep unbridled love.

She swallowed but her mouth had gone dry and only a clicking sound was emitted from her throat she knew Xena’s answer before she gave it voice.

“Gabrielle you are the only lover that I’ve ever had.”

‘Oh my…. she said it…. oh my gods it’s me.’

The Conqueror pushed the seated woman’s chair from under the table and turned it to face her her next move shocked the Amazon Queen Xena laid her head in the bard’s lap and wrapped her arms around the woman’s small waist.

As she tightened her hold on the woman she spoke into her lap it had only been a short while but she knew they both knew this was what they had been waiting for…. they were each other’s destiny.

“Gabrielle no one has ever touched me the way that you do you make me feel like summers long ago when everything seemed possible and days went by slow.”

She raised her head and tried to communicate her feelings through her eyes before she spoke again.

“Can’t you see all that you do for me being with you is like finally being…. free.”

The tears couldn’t be stopped they flowed freely down the bard’s cheeks unchecked the words that were spoken were not coming from the parsonage of The Conqueror or The Destroyer of Nations.

These words were being spoken by a village girl that wanted to be who she might have been if fate hadn’t stepped in and changed her course.

After Xena spoke her heart she laid her head back down on her lover’s lap dwelling in the only place that she would ever feel truly free.

Gabrielle ran her hands through the dark hair that covered the bowed head and tried to communicate through her finger tips that she felt the same way.

After a few moments the seated woman found her voice and spoke from her heart.

“I think of myself as a bard I use words to paint a picture hoping that I can bring people into the world that I see.”

She shifted her hands and raised Xena’s face so that she could look into the damp blue eyes of the other woman.

“But you my love have composed a story that I haven’t even begun to write…. when I looked into your eyes on our first meeting I felt something stir within me that I couldn’t get a hold of …. now I know that it was a love so deep that it cannot be defined.”

The bard reached down and wiped away the tears that were cascading down Xena’s cheeks.

“You have touched my heart in a way that makes me feel like I could soar as high as the birds in the sky.”

*******

The new lovers were lying in bed wrapped around each other when Xena awakened suddenly remembering something.

She gently removed herself from Gabrielle’s embrace and covered her nude lover’s body with a quilt before she left the bed.

She wrapped herself in a sheet and hurried to the door of the bed chamber where she knew the General of her Royal Guard was standing post with one of the Amazon escorts.

The unexpected opening of the door immediately put Palaemon and Meslena on alert when the tall man realized that it was Xena he relaxed his stance.

He took in the sheet covered ruler’s appearance and suppressed the smile that wanted to make itself known.

“Is there a problem My Liege?”

Xena didn’t miss the easy companionship that the two guards shared but chose to address that at a later time she stepped into the corridor and walked a few paces away from the tall blonde Amazon so that she could speak to her General in private.

Xena had been aroused from sleep in a slight panic today marked the ninth day of the Amazon Emissary’s departure from Corinth and Xena had just remembered her order to attack the Amazon Nation ten days from that date.

Glaphyra being the disciplined soldier that she was would without question lead her troops to Euboreas and attack them following the ruler’s orders.

“Palaemon I need you to find Glaphyra and tell her that the planned invasion of the Amazons has been called off.”

Palaemon wasn’t surprised by the ruler’s order he had known from the moment that the two leaders met that there would be no action taken he was only shocked that it had taken so long for the Conqueror to change her orders.

But once he looked at the barely dressed and obviously well loved ruler he understood how she could have forgotten her previous command.

“And Palaemon I want you to find her and tell her personally that this is my order.”

“By your will My Liege.”

The General of the Royal Guard bowed and hurried down the corridor with thoughts of returning as soon as possible to continue his talk with the tall Amazon.

Xena made her way back to the chamber door and just before she entered the room she made a comment to Meslena.

“He’s a good man treat him well.” Then she closed the door leaving the escort bewildered.

“Artemis help me the woman must be a seer.”

Part 10

On the fifth day of the Amazon contingents visit the Queen received an urgent message from her regent.

Gabrielle opened the scroll as she sat with Xena in the ruler’s outer chamber having their morning meal her things had been moved into Xena’s rooms after their first night together and she had spent every evening with the ruler since.

The Queen had been enjoying every luxury that the Conqueror’s chambers offered from the sunken marble tub in the bath chamber to the huge canopied bed she blushed just remembering how she had been spending her nights in that bed…. and her mornings…. and her midday…. there was no doubt the tall ruler had awakened something in her that she never knew existed.

As Gabrielle read the scroll her brow furrowed a little.

A wave of protectiveness washed over Xena at the bard’s expression.

“What’s wrong Gabrielle?”

The blonde woman finished reading the communication before she answered.

“Well it seems that Delium has been under constant attack for the past five moons and their resources are nearly depleted causing the village to be near demise.”

“Why are they contacting you?”

Gabrielle continued to eat as she spoke. “Delium is one of the villages near Euboreas that is populated by women and children and they want to know if we will negotiate with them the way that we did with Tanagra and make them a part of the nation.”

For just a half of a heartbeat Xena felt challenged and then it was gone she knew that Gabrielle had no desire to rule Greece.

Xena knew that she had only accepted the Queen’s Mask to prevent an unorthodox Amazon named Velasca from taking over.

What she didn’t know was that after the Amazon and her followers had been banished Gabrielle had tried to give the mask to her regent but the woman wouldn’t take it saying she was a fighter not a ruler.

She looked at the small woman that had been sharing her rooms for the past four days and knew that Gabrielle would never do anything to purposefully harm her.

“What are you going to do?”

“I guess I’ll have to return to Euboreas sit down with my advisors and discuss what to do I’m sure I’ll end up making a trip to Delium to see what has been going on.”

Xena didn’t like the sound of that she didn’t want Gabrielle going to a village that had been under constant attack just the thought of the blonde woman being harmed caused a rage to rise in her that was almost palpable.

Gabrielle saw the change in the ruler and reached across the table to place a gentle hand on the tense arm.

“What’s wrong love?”

The soft touch reminded her that Gabrielle was still there and wasn’t in any danger she pulled herself together and asked a question.

“Are you going to take your warriors with you?”

The question was perplexing. “Yes a few why?”

“Because you shouldn’t go into a village that has come to the attention of a warlord unprotected you never know when they might return.”

Gabrielle wondered if this was something that Xena knew from experience but she knew now was not the time to ask.

The fair head tilted to the side in mischief. “Are you worried about me Xena?”

The ruler popped a piece of fruit into her mouth and took on an air of indifference.

“Nah just curious.” As hard as she tried she couldn’t stop the smile from twitching at the corner of her mouth.

“Uh huh if you say so Lord Conqueror.” The Queen replied with a smirk of her own.

As Xena was about to ask her next question she felt an unfamiliar panic seize her heart but didn’t let it show.

“When will you be leaving?”

Xena wasn’t very successful in hiding her anxiety Gabrielle heard the trepidation in her voice.

“I think that I should leave as soon as possible like tomorrow considering how much they need our help.”

She immediately saw the sadness that shadowed the blue eyes she got up and sat on the tall woman’s lap and rested her head on her shoulder.

“You know I don’t want to leave you right?”

She felt Xena nod her head.

“And you know I’ll come back to you as soon as I can right?”

Another nod.

She placed a soft kiss on the long neck that she was snuggled against. “So what do you say we worry about tomorrow tomorrow and enjoy today.”

Without a word Xena stood from her chair and carried a very willing Queen back into her bedchambers she knew exactly how she wanted to spend what time she had left with her love and she wasn’t going to waste a moment.

Part 11

The Amazon’s had their packs ready and their horses waiting it was time to leave. There were sad good-byes being shared all around by soldiers and warriors alike.

As the leaders looked about seeing Palaemon and Meslena share a long embrace didn’t come as a surprise but when Solari and Glaphyra shared a personal farewell the two rulers were shocked.

Xena stood with Gabrielle beside her horse as they observed the two female fighters and Gabrielle tilted her head in their direction.

“When did that happen?”

Xena could only laugh. “Your guess is as good as mine.”

They stood silently looking into each others eyes their tearful good-byes had already been shared in the palace and they both knew that the time had come for them to part. The Amazons were on their horses waiting for their Queen to join them.

“Well I guess it’s time.”

Gabrielle turned prepared to mount her horse when she felt a warm hand on her shoulder stopping her movement.

Xena turned her back around and bent her head covering the willing mouth with her own sharing on last kiss that made them both feel like they never wanted it to end. When she pulled back the ruler held the small woman in a tight embrace and whispered in her ear.

“I love you Gabrielle come back to me soon.”

Gabrielle rested her head on the broad chest in front of her and spoke from her heart.

“Not even death could keep me away from you.”

She then pulled away from the other woman and looked into her eyes one last time.

“I love you Xena never forget that.”

She quickly mounted her horse and road off surrounded by her escorts as the ride put more and more distance between the Queen and the Conqueror Gabrielle’s heart started to feel like it was breaking.

It was then that she remembered the seer’s words and she knew that she was leaving her heart’s desire behind.

*******

Ares sat in his temple trying to control his rage everything that he had worked for was now on a path of destruction.

The God of War knew that he had to come up with a plan even if the prophecy was starting to unfold he had to do something to try and change it.

Xena had conquered Greece in his name and he would not allow that power to be threatened without a challenge.

A sinister smile graced his dark features as a plan came to mind. “Yes that’s what I’ll do it’s a risk but I will not let my rule be taken away without a fight.”

Then he laughed out loud. “After all…. that is what I do.”

*******

When the Amazons returned to the territory Gabrielle knew that she only had a very short time before she would need to visit Delium.

After a nights rest she called a meeting of the elders in the council hall she sat at the head of the table surrounded by Ephiny Solari Neela Serita and the others that made up the Amazon Elders.

Mysia was also present although she wasn’t an elder she was the leader of Artemis’ Protectors so her input was very much needed for the negotiations.

The woman had been around longer than any of them could remember but she still had a youthful appearance. Her long body was very muscular her hair was a color so light that it was almost white and her eyes were as blue as the Aegean but they held an ancient wisdom that was in total contrast to her appearance.

For a couple of centuries long before Gabrielle’s mother’s mother was a glint in her father’s eye Artemis’ followers were guarded by the protectors.

Mysia and her defenders had been a presence in the Amazon Nation long before the Queen had been born she and fifty of her shape changers had lived with the Amazons for more seasons than she could count.

She was not only their leader but she was also the goddess’ most favored the shape changers had fought in many battles side by side with the Amazons and Mysia’s opinions were well respected.

Gabrielle banged the wooden paddle on the table. “Okay this meeting is officially called to order. Early tomorrow we will be traveling to Delium to meet with the villagers we know what the situation is so there is no need to discuss that topic what I want is suggestions on how we should handle the problem.”

Neela spoke first. “My Queen I think upon arrival someone should scout the area and see if there are really no men in residence if it is truly populated by only women and children then we need to find out how many and if any have fighting skills.”

The suggestion was met with positive murmurs around the table.

“All right it sounds like everyone agrees with that point.” Every head nodded.

“At least fifty warriors and ten protectors should be taken along” Serita added.

Gabrielle felt a warmth spread through her when Serita suggested the same thoughts that Xena had expressed and she took a moment to think about her lover.

‘Xena I miss you so.’

Then she had to mentally shake loose her thoughts of the tall beauty and continue with the meeting.

“Are there any other ideas before we leave in the morning?”

Part 12

The day that Gabrielle left the capital Tellus informed Xena that court would be held after the midday meal he knew that with the Conqueror’s attention being dominated by the visiting Queen Falsted’s punishment would not been given much thought until the Amazons left Corinth.

He hoped that after going so many springs without physical pleasure that the ruler had been softened by the blonde woman’s attentions and she would free the noble.

Because court had not been held for so long the dungeons were full so the judgments had to take place outside in the town square instead of the Great Hall allowing more citizens than usual to witness the Conqueror‘s decisions.

The Conqueror sat high on her dais wearing a dark blue robe and a golden headdress the first criminals that were presented were thieves.

Most of them were poor and stole just so they could feed their families Xena sentenced them with time served and left them with a warning to never do it again.

Xena’s actions filled Tellus with the confidence that Falsted would be set free the brutal woman had never let a crime go unpunished in the past so her change of heart was encouraging.

The ruler’s mind started to drift and she was trying to fight her boredom but her thoughts continuously drifted down one path and it always led to one thing…. Gabrielle.

Her musings were interrupted when Dimitri the junior advisor announced that Lord Falsted was the next to be judged Xena sat up straight and a wicked smile crossed her face. She had every intention of freeing the arrogant man but subjecting him to a little public humiliation first couldn’t hurt

“Ah now it gets interesting.”

As Dimitri read the charges against the noble out loud Tellus stood beside the ruler with an air of confidence surrounding him it took all of his breeding and discipline not to show his excitement soon their plan would be back on track.

“Lord Falsted you have been charged with speaking against the Realm how do you plead?”

The charge shocked both Tellus and Falsted.

“I plead not guilty I never spoke against the Realm.”

Tellus leaned down and whispered in Xena’s ear.

“Lord Conqueror there must be some mistake Lord Falsted never spoke in that manner.”

Xena waved the man away and addressed the accused.

“So you don’t think you’re guilty ay?”

Falsted stood in the dirt below the Conqueror looking up at the demon as she stared at him with arrogance. His time in confinement had not tempered his outrage it only caused his anger to grow.

He was tired dirty and he still wore the clothes that he had on the night of the banquet to say that he was seething was an understatement he looked at her with fire in his eyes.

“Yes as I just stated I plead not guilty” he said in a voice loud enough to carry across the large crowd.

His obvious defiance made the people gasp in surprise.

Xena leaned forward and met the man’s combative stare with eyes that had lost their color in her fury. This wasn’t going the way that she had planned the idiot was supposed to acknowledge his mistake apologize and she could move on to the next criminal.

Instead he chose to challenge her in front of the citizenry thereby guaranteeing that he receive a punishment of some kind.

“What is your defense Falsted?” She asked as venom dripped with each word.

Tellus noticed the danger right away and hoped that Falsted did as well but many days spent in squalid surroundings made the noble oblivious to anything except his continued humiliation.

“I am being judged because I spoke the truth about a savage whore nowhere could that be seen as inappropriate the Amazon Queen is no more than a commoner amongst the nobles of Greece so punishment is unwarranted.”

As soon as the words left the condemned man’s mouth Tellus started looking around in hopes of finding a new ally in Falsted’s absence he had witnessed the ruler’s affection towards the small Queen and knew that the statement had sealed the noble’s fate.

His gaze fell upon Dimitri and then he dismissed the thought the man was as loyal to Xena as her troops were when his eyes caught a brief glimpse of a familiar face in the crowd new plans started to form in his head while he listened with half an ear to his former cohort’s judgment.

Falsted’s words angered Xena and they cut her deeper than they had the night that he had made a similar statement. Things were different now she was in love and this fool had just insulted the most important person in the world to her in front of a huge section of the population.

“So that’s how you see it Falsted you only spoke the truth?”

He raised his head in defiance after all what could Xena do he was a valued citizen of Greece. His family were members of the Royal Court long before this barbarian’s ancestors had the ability to raise themselves out of the pig sty that he was sure they evolved from.

He knew that the families that held power in Corinth would never allow this beast to take his life of that he had no doubt so he stood there with his head held high waiting for her to do her worst.

The Conqueror stood and walked down the steps of the dais when she reached the last rise she bent down and held the man’s unflinching eyes with her own.

“The woman you spoke against not once but twice is a part of me so when you spoke against her you spoke against me and as know… I am the Realm. That alone gives me the right to take your life and we both know there would be nothing that your friends could do about but I‘ll spare you… this time.”

An insolent smile tugged at the corner’s of his mouth when she turned away from him ‘I knew that bitch didn’t have the guts to kill me not in front of all of these people’ he thought.

She walked away from him heading back to her throne and without turning around waved her hand in the air as she gave the order.

“Cut out his tongue!”

Guards were immediately at his sides prepared to gladly take him to the executioner’s platform like their leader they had also grown found of the gentle Queen.

During her stay in the palace the beautiful blonde had started each morning out on the practice field working out with the Conqueror and her escorts while out there the soldiers had grown to respect the skills she showed as a warrior and later were just as impressed when she would stand in the dining hall and entertain them with a story after she finished her meal. Those things endeared the Amazon Queen to the Soldiers of the Realm but the thing that garnered their loyalty to her was the balance that she bought to their leader’s life.

Most of them had known Xena from the beginning of her quest to rule the country and they knew her well as a fierce fighter and brilliant strategist but to finally see her share her heart with someone was something they never thought would happen so taking the self-important weasel to the hot coals would be a pleasure.

As they pulled Falsted away the closer he got to the executioner’s platform and could see the smoke rising from the coals the more frantic he became and started to struggle trying to free himself from their grasp as he loosened an arm he turned to the dark woman and yelled out to her.

“What have I done wrong?”

Xena sat on her throne and gave him a predatory smile.

“You spoke.”

Part 13

When the Amazon’s reached Delium they were greeted by two portly women they bowed before Gabrielle assuming that her regal bearing meant that she was the Queen. The older of the two spoke first. “Thank you for acknowledging our plea.”

Gabrielle never being comfortable with people acting subservient around her insisted that they rise and stand tall.

“Please don’t bow to me we are all equals here.”

The women stood erect and gazed upon the blonde beauty before them she radiated a kindness and gentility that was a rare trait in a ruler and they were instantly put at ease.

“I would appreciate it if you would call me Gabrielle.”

Then she swept her hands behind her. “And these are the warriors of the Amazon Nation.”

As the new arrivals looked around they noticed that the streets were filled with woman ranging in age from the very young to the crones. Gabrielle gave a hand signal for the scouts to leave and seek out any men that may be in hiding.

The visitors were led to a large hut that would serve as the meeting hall it held a large table with many chairs surrounding it and extras placed down the side walls.

When everyone was seated someone was sent out to bring in refreshments the journey had taken a day and a half of hard riding and the women were thirsty and hungry from their trip.

The older woman addressed the Queen after everyone had been served with a drink and a plate of food.

“Queen Gabrielle I am Eustess it was decided that Stasha and I would handle the negotiations when you arrived.”

Gabrielle smiled at the older woman and then acknowledged the shorter woman beside her.

“After your meal we would like to escort you and your warriors to your huts so that you may rest from your journey.”

The small Queen had to admit that a full stomach and a soft bed was just what she needed.

“If you are willing we think that it is best that you have a good nights sleep and then we can start our talks in the morning.”

From the sounds that the Amazons were making Gabrielle thought that the woman must be reading their minds and agreed with the plan without hesitation.

“Eustess we accept your generous offer and will be more than happy to meet you and the other villagers tomorrow.”

As the women were led to their huts Gabrielle noticed that a few of the women’s stomachs showed the signs of being in the early stages of pregnancy.

‘That’s odd I thought that there were no men in this village I’ll have to ask Eustess about that tomorrow.’

When Gabrielle entered the hut that she would be sleeping in she was grateful to see a pitcher of water and a wash basin.

After being left alone she undressed and washed the road grim from her body when she was done with that she slipped into a sleeping shift then took a moment to inhale the scent that the material held she had taken one of Xena’s sleeping shifts before she left Corinth so she would feel like the woman was with her even when they were apart.

Feeling more refreshed she moved to the only table and chair in the room and sat down she grabbed her travel pack and pulled out one of the scrolls that she had brought with her and started working on the negotiation that would make Delium a part of Euboreas.

It had been decided that the terms would be the same as the treaty with Tanagra in exchange for a portion of the crops meat from the annual slaughter and access to their hunting grounds the Amazon Nation would provide twenty warriors to patrol the interior and exterior boarders of the village in the day and Mysia would provide four protectors to patrol the outer boarders in wolf form at night.

Of course no one would be told that the four women were shape changers it still amazed Gabrielle that after a couple of centuries no one knew of the existence of Artemis’ guardians living in a nation of women that secret being kept was a small miracle.

Shaking those thoughts from her head Gabrielle continued to write out the document that would not only protect the women and children of Delium but would also increase the lands of the Amazon nation.

*******

As the sun began to set Gabrielle had to light a lamp so that she could continue working on the scroll she placed the quill to the parchment and let her mind wondered for a moment with thoughts of her love.

A small wave of unease flowed through her and she spoke out loud. “Xena please don’t do anything foolish while we are apart.”

Then she had to remind herself. “She has ruled Greece for three springs without your help don’t think that she is going to do anything any differently just because you’re in her life now.”

She went back to working on the scroll just before she started to write she sent out her love to her absent partner.

“I love you Xena please be safe.”

Part 14

The Conqueror was once again having a sleepless night without the Queen she had to do something this couldn’t go on she needed to see Gabrielle.

She rose from her bed and put on a robe she went into her outer room opened the door to the hallway and was impressed when the guards on duty stood at attention.

“Is there something I can do for you my Liege?” One of them asked.

“Go find Palaemon.”

The order was barely given before he was on the move.

*******

When the knock came at the door her plan was ready to be set into action. “Enter.”

The blonde general came in trying his best not to look like he had just woken up. “You sent for me my Liege?”

“Yes I want you to find Glaphyra and tell her to gather one hundred soldiers and have them ready to leave at first light.”

The request took the tall man by surprise. “Are you going somewhere Conqueror?”

“Yes general we will be leaving for Delium with the rising of the sun.”

Palaemon was nervous the Amazon Queen had left Corinth six days before and the volatile ruler had been very unpredictable after having Falsted’s tongue removed she had ordered that two convicted rapist have their manhood carved off with a dull blade and sent out into the wilderness to live or die on their own.

She had always been ruthless but her punishments of late were particularly brutal the only criminals that had escaped her wrath were the ones that were sentenced before Falsted.

After him everyone had paid a high price for their infractions. “My Liege is there any… uhm reason that you are leading troops into Delium?”

Xena’s irritation showed in her hand gestures as she spoke. “If you must know Palaemon Gabrielle was supposed to take a few warriors into Delium while she worked out a policy with them to join the nation I just want to go and make sure that everything is going smoothly”

The General of the Royal Guard breathed a sigh of relief this was just a way for Xena to see the blonde Queen again under the pretense of helping.

“Lord Conqueror I request permission to gather twenty of the Royal Guard to accompany you on your journey.”

Xena smiled to herself she knew that Palaemon always put her safety first but this time she thought that maybe a tall blonde Amazon escort might be a motivating factor in his request to travel with her.

After pretending to think about it Xena told the general that it was a good idea. “Make it so.”

A broad smile covered the man’s face as he turned to leave.

“By your will my Liege.”

Part 15

After a restful nights sleep Gabrielle was awakened by a knock at the door she left the bed wearing only her oversized sleep shift to see who was there.

When she opened the door she was pleased to see a girl of about fourteen standing there holding a tray of food.

“Please forgive my intrusion your Majesty but I was told to bring you your morning meal.”

Gabrielle stepped aside and invited the shy girl inside as she placed the tray on the edge of table the girl carefully moved the scattered scrolls to one side so that she could make room for the food.

The Queen noticed that shy gray eyes would sneak peaks at her when the girl thought she wasn’t looking. Reaching out to help with the food Gabrielle decided to introduce herself.

“Hi my name is Gabrielle what’s yours?”

The girl was taller than Gabrielle with dark red hair and when the Queen addressed her she blushed immediately.

“M… my name is Alset Queen Gabrielle.”

Gabrielle raised a blonde brow in an attempt to mimic her lover’s favorite facial expression.

“I’m sorry I mean Gabrielle.”

“That’s more like it Alset would you like to share a mug of juice with me?”

“Oh no Gabrielle I couldn’t do that you are royalty and I would never insult you with my company.”

Gabrielle exhaled and dropped her head. “Alset it’s true that I am Queen of the Amazons but five summers ago I was just like you a regular village girl so please join me for a mug of juice.”

Looking around the room Gabrielle realized that there was only one chair so she suggested that they pull the table over to the bed and she would sit there while Alset sat in the chair.

After rearranging the furniture the blonde woman tucked into her food and started to question the girl while she ate.

“So Alset how long have the men been absent from your village?”

The redhead sipped her juice and answered the question without looking up.

“About three winters now.”

Gabrielle remembered seeing the pregnant women and wasn’t sure that she believed the girl something wasn’t right.

She nonchalantly bit into a fig and casually asked her next question. “That’s strange because when we arrived yesterday I saw a few women that were obviously with child how do you explain that?”

When the girl’s head snapped up there was an enormous amount of pain in her gray eyes.

Gabrielle stopped eating and touched Alset’s hand. “What’s wrong?”

Alset’s eyes started to tear up and her voice was choked. “One of the women you saw was my mother.”

She tried to pull herself together before she spoke again. “The first time the raiders came it was a nightmare there looked to be at least one hundred of them we didn’t even have a chance to try and defend ourselves.”

She sipped more of her juice before she started again. “The village was filled with them before we heard orders being given to take all the food and weapons that could be found my mother became frightened because she didn’t know what their intentions were.”

She looked into Gabrielle’s green eyes. “After all we are a village of women and children so she grabbed me and my younger sister and hid us under the hay in the barn.

They stayed for two days during that time our mother would sneak into the barn and feed us. When she came her face and arms were bruised as if she had been beaten.”

Alset wiped a few stray tears from her face. “When the men left our mother came and got us and took us back home… it wasn’t until a moon later that our mother and a few other of the women realized that they were with child.”

The girl’s strength gave out as she sobbed uncontrollably Gabrielle went to hold her in her arms trying to comfort her.

When there were no more tears the small blonde went to the wash basin and soaked a cloth in the water before using it to wipe Alset’s face.

“Gabrielle when you and the Amazons leave will you take me with you?”

The Queen was shocked she couldn’t believe that Alset would leave her mother and sister behind then she saw a steel determination enter into the girl’s gray eyes.

“They have been attacking us for five moons and our mothers hide us every time the next time they come I want to know how to fight so that I can protect my mother from more abuse.”

Now she understood the girl wasn’t abandoning her family looking out for her own safety she wanted to learn how to defend them.

“Alset I’m going to introduce you to two members of my Royal Guard their names are Chilapa and Amarice while we are here I’m going to have them train you and anyone else that’s interested in learning how to defend yourselves.”

A squeak came from the girl’s throat. “And then if you decide to leave with us I’ll ask your mother for permission.”

For the first time in a long time Alset’s face broke out in a wide smile she jumped up from her seat and almost danced in place.

“I know at least five of us that would be more than willing to learn… all we want to do is protect our village and make it safe again.”

While the girl celebrated the prospect of learning to fight Gabrielle’s thoughts went to a certain tall dark ruler and couldn’t help but wonder.

‘Is this how it started for you Xena is this how you became the Destroyer of Nations?’

*******

Glaphyra approached the tall ruler with caution she was acting in a way that the general wasn’t accustomed to she was almost… excited.

“Conqueror the troops are ready to pull out whenever you give the word.”

Xena stood beside her golden palomino and looked out at the men and women ready to follow wherever she led.

“Let’s not waist any more time Glaphyra give the order.”

They all mounted their horses ready for their two day trip to Delium.

Part 16

It was the second day of negotiations when Stasha suggested that it was time to break for the midday meal.
Gabrielle was more than willing to stop and fill her empty stomach pleased with the progress that had been made.

The day before the mothers of the five girls were happy to give their consent to let the girls learn how to defend themselves and after a few marks of testing Chilapa Amarice and Eponin were very pleased with the young women’s potential and felt confident in their ability to learn quickly.

Unlike Euboreas Delium didn’t have a communal eating hut so large tables were set up in the village square to serve food to their guest.

Everyone was enjoying their meal when an alarm rang out four women about twenty summers in age ran into the square announcing the raiders approach.

Eponin and Mysia gave the order to gather there fighters for battle and when the intruders entered the village they were surprised by the warriors that awaited them… the shock cost them fifty fighters in short order.

Most of the downed men were not the best fighters so their loss wasn’t detrimental to the raiders fighting numbers. There were at least one hundred and seventy five skilled fighters that swarmed into the village and they were starting to take their toll.

*******

Xena and her army were in their second day of travel and Delium was just over the next ridge she couldn’t wait to see her love maybe have a hot bath and then… who knows.

When the small army reached the crest she was met by a sight that sent chills down her spine there appeared to be about sixty amazons and what looked like four very large dogs engaging a group of more than one hundred men in battle.

Fear coursed through her soul when she saw what was very obviously Gabrielle’s blonde head in the midst of the fighting and for the first time in years she knew true fear.

*******

On Mount Olympus the goddess Artemis was with her sisters when the battle started in Delium with the arrival of the Conqueror and her troops the goddess’ body glowed with a deep green hue like that of the forest when she was released she looked to Athena and Aphrodite.

“They will be tested.”

*******

She was defending herself against a sword wielding solider while using her fighting staff the small Queen was desperately looking for an opening so that she could disable him.

Before the opportunity could present itself Gabrielle became aware of another man approaching from the side and quickly took a step back to give herself more room to fight two opponents.

Before the second man could land his first blow a battle cry sounded throughout the village that she had only read about in the Amazon history scrolls but had never heard for herself at this moment it was the sweetest sound she had never heard.

The second man continued his forward movement but was stopped dead in his tracks when Xena’s chakram seemed to magically appear in the center of his chest.

The sudden arrival of the Conqueror distracted the first man long enough for Gabrielle to take his legs out from under him with her staff.

*******

When Xena saw her beloved in harms way the darkness filled her and she let her chakram loose even before it hit its mark she and her army were rushing into the melee.

As she galloped into the center of the village she vaulted off of her horse landing beside the small Queen immediately becoming engaged by in a sword fight.

Her opponent seemed to be the only woman in the army of raiders she was almost as tall as Xena but much skinnier she had wild blonde hair and crazed brown eyes with fighting skills that matched those of the Conqueror.

“Ah Xena the Conqueror” she purred. “I’m so happy that you’ve joined the party.”

They exchanged blows as the strange woman continued her dialog. “I knew that if I made myself a big enough nuisance you would eventually make an appearance.”

Xena pressed forward and forced the slim woman back a few steps. “I’m afraid you have me at a disadvantage you know who I am but your identity is a mystery.”

The woman’s smile seemed odd it looked like she was only pulling her lips back to reveal her teeth leaving her dark eyes empty but dangerous making her insanity obvious.

“Weeell we can’t have that now can we?”

Xena had to admit although she seemed quite unbalanced the woman was a fighting skills were undeniable and she was being challenged in a way that was exhilarating in dangerous sort of way.

“I think that a person as formidable on the battlefield as you are should know the name of the warrior that ended your evil life.”

“Many have tried but as you can see none have succeeded.”

“That’s because they didn’t have the incentive that I do I am going to make you pay for the destruction of an entire village Xena and then I’ll take your place on the throne.”

Xena laughed out right at the declaration and started her attack full force. “Then stop talking and come and get some.”

The scream that came from the women was primitive and it seemed to empower her her strokes were coming faster and harder causing Xena to back up.

But the dark woman was more than just a skilled fighter she was a smart one her opponent was fighting with her anger and that would always leave an opening in a person’s defenses.

When that opening showed itself Xena smiled. “It’s been fun but I have better things to do say hello to Hades for me.”

Her blade was coming around in a half circle she knew that the blow would sever the woman’s head from her shoulders and she would be rid of this lunatic.

“Do you remember Cirra Xena?”

The long sword stopped before it reached its target and Xena stood motionless it had been many seasons since she had heard that name her army had gone into the village without her permission and burned it to the ground killing everyone even the women and children.

“Ah it does ring a bell for you huh? Well it should. The death and destruction that your army left in its wake will live in my memories forever.”

For a brief moment the woman could still hear the cries of agony and smell the stench of burning flesh as the home and the people she had known her entire life died around her.

“My name is Callisto the only survivor of that massacre and this day all of those lost souls will finally be avenged.” She raised her weapon to make the death blow.

*******

Gabrielle was relieved when her lover landed beside her joining in the fight she didn’t know how she got there and with a small army no less but she thanked Artemis.

The battle was now turning in their favor and the raiders were falling one by one she never looked to her left because she was busy with an attacker but she could see Xena’s movements in her periphery.

When the warrior suddenly stopped moving Gabrielle saw it from the corner of her eye Xena was just standing there with her sword held in mid air as if she were waiting for the blonde woman to take her life with no intentions of blocking her attempt.

Gabrielle stepped to the side and slammed her adversary in the side of the head knocking him unconscious her intention was to go and assist her lover but another raider attacked before she could get to her.

The Queen watched in horror as the warlord screamed like a banshee and raised her sword up over her head bringing it down in a motion meant to split the Conqueror in two.

There was no time to think with her head so Gabrielle’s heart took over and she quickly reached down and pulled one of her sais from her boot and sent it flying.

*******

Callisto’s joy over the dark woman’s impending death was short lived. Her head tilted to one side and she looked truly confused. Her downward stroke suddenly stopped midway and she didn’t understand why.

She dropped her weapon as pain started to throb in her upper body that’s when she saw it a small sword of some sort was buried deep in her chest up to its tiny hilt.

Her eyes softened and a smile parted her lips ‘finally it’s over sweet release’ she thought as her body hit the hard dirt.

Before death took her her mind filled with images of her family and the love she felt for them. ‘Now we can be together again.’

*******

The fighting came to an end when the surviving members of Callisto’s army were taken into custody and put in the meeting hut with guards from both Euboreas and the Realm watching them.

Xena made her way to Gabrielle’s side as quickly as she could the vacant look in her lover’s eyes worried her the bard had given orders on how things should be handled but there was an air of disconnect attached to each instruction.

Xena embraced her in a tight hug and rested her cheek on top of the damp blonde head. “I was terrified I thought that you were going to be killed.”

Gabrielle’s face was pressed into Xena’s chest making her response sound muffled. “I am so happy to see you.”

Something wasn’t right the words had no emotion behind them she held Gabrielle at arms length and tried to make eye contact.

When she was finally able to see the green eyes her heart broke it was then that she remembered that the compassionate Queen had never taken a life because she didn’t believe in killing.

‘Here’s another life I’ve ruined first I’m confronted by a victim that survived one of my raids during my warlord days and now the love of my life has killed another human being in my defense.’

She spotted the muscular escort and motioned her over. “What’s your name warrior?”

Eponin bristled from the commanding tone then answered. “Eponin Conqueror Weapons Master of Euboreas.”

“Eponin where are your Queens quarters she’s in need of rest.”

It was the first time that Eponin noticed Gabrielle’s quiet state she pointed in the direction of the small hut that Gabrielle had been assigned to and called over Chilapa and Amarice.

“After the Conqueror gets the Queen settled see to it that food is sent to her hut and post two guards outside.”

The women rushed off to carry out their orders as Xena led Gabrielle towards her sleeping quarters. Both women remained silent as Xena undressed Gabrielle washed the grime off of her and put a clean shift on her.

A meal tray had been delivered for them but they were sitting across from each other just picking over their food. Xena couldn’t take the silence any longer so she took a deep breath before she started to speak.

“Gabrielle I’m so sorry that you had to go against your principles because I froze up in the middle of a fight.”

Hearing the sorrow and pain laced with regret in the powerful woman’s deep voice brought the Queen back to herself.

She covered the large battle scarred hand with her own and gently rubbed her thumb across the bruised knuckles.

“Xena you have nothing to feel sorry about when in battle choices have to be made I made mine end of story.”

The dark warrior knew better the blonde Queen was trying to relieve her of her guilt she said the right words but her eyes told a different story.

Gabrielle knew that she wasn’t convincing Xena but it was the best that she could until she came to terms with taking a life.

Part 17

As the Amazon Queen struggled with not only accepting her actions but trying to understand how she could have gone against everything that she believed and taken a life without hesitation… once again a goddess began to glow on Mount Olympus.

Athena the goddess of wisdom was illuminated with a bright blue light while Aphrodite and Artemis waited patiently for their sister to be released from the force.

“I have been called.”

*******

Both women sat in silent despair each overcome with guilt for actions that were not the fault of either one if they didn’t come to terms with the days events their destiny could be altered.

All of a sudden the room crackled with energy and Xena grabbed her sword as three women appeared in the small hut.

“Drop your weapon warrior we have a purpose” Athena said.

Xena’s only experience with the gods was with the God of War and if he and his tactics were a representation of their … purpose she didn’t want anything to do with them.

Artemis read her thoughts and tried to put her at ease. “Not all of us are like our brother Conqueror some of us serve a purpose that’s not so… destructive.

Aphrodite walked over to Gabrielle and caressed her cheek in an effort to relax her and convey to her that there was no harmful intent.

“Don’t worry little one things aren’t always as they seem.”

The appearance of the goddess left Gabrielle speechless before her stood the Amazon’s patron Artemis and if she was seeing correctly the goddess was smiling at her.

Xena moved closer to Gabrielle and stood between her and the immortals ready to protect her love. “What do you want?”

“As I said Xena we have a purpose.” The Goddess of Wisdom ignored the warrior and approached the seated bard.

“You suffer unnecessarily Gabrielle I have come to ease your troubled mind.”

Gabrielle looked at the goddess in bewilderment. “I’ve taken a life. How can you help me understand that?”

Intelligent gray eyes looked into pained green. “Gabrielle I’m here to give you the gift of knowledge and the first thing that you must accept is life is about balance.”

Feeling a bit insulted Gabrielle sat up straight and held Athena’s gaze. “I understand balance perfectly. For every action there is an opposite and equal reaction.”

The goddess smiled at the miffed Queen indulgently. “You’re partially right Gabrielle but balance comes in threes not twos.”

The Queen bowed her head ready for her reprimand. “I don’t understand.”

Athena reached out to lift the blonde head as Xena stepped forward to stop any harm that might befall the small woman.

“Stand down warrior. I told you I don’t mean either of you any harm.”

She turned her attention back to Gabrielle and spoke to her in soft tones. “I want to make this easy for you so listen well” The Goddess of Wisdom said.

“Okay” was Gabrielle’s only response.

“I’m going to ask you three questions and I want you to answer them honestly.”

Gabrielle felt excitement well up in her chest she knew something very important was about to be imparted to her… From the Goddess of Wisdom herself.

Athena began “Do you believe that there are things worth living for?”

The blonde head nodded yes.

“Do you believe that there are things worth dying for?”

The Queen looked at Xena and her heart was filled with the love that she felt for the tall woman as she whispered her answer.

“Yes.”

Athena Artemis and Aphrodite formed a circle around the women before the goddess spoke again.

“Do you know what my third question will be?”

They saw the battle that was being waged behind the clear green eyes and waited until the small Queen could sort out her thoughts.

“I always thought there could only be two options. Once an action had been met by a responding counteraction things should then reach their natural conclusion” Gabrielle said in a voice filled with wonder.

“No little one just because two opposing views are debated doesn’t mean that a balanced conclusion has been achieved… not until the third component is introduced… wisdom” Aphrodite added.

Artemis approached her Queen. “Gabrielle if you were in a battle and were seriously wounded during the fight if Xena begged you to stay alive would you try?”

She answered without hesitation. “Yes.”

“If Xena were about to be impaled by an enemy’s arrow would you throw yourself in its path to stop it from reaching its destination risking your own life to save hers?” Athena asked.

Just the thought of that happening made Gabrielle’s insides twist. “Without question I absolutely would.”

Artemis spoke again. “And if Xena were incapacitated and couldn’t defend herself would you kill someone if it were the only way to stop them from killing her?”

“Of course…!” She stopped talking mid-sentence.

Athena gentled her voice again. “Gabrielle if you are willing to live for her and willing to die for her then you must accept and understand that you are willing to kill for her… this is balance.”

“And what is the common thread in all of this?” Artemis asked.

Gabrielle’s first thought was Xena then she searched deeper and her eyes traveled over to where the Goddess of Love was standing.

“Love it would all be done for love.”

Xena had remained silent throughout the entire conversation but now she had a question.

“You said that you were here for a purpose what is it?”

Gray eyes turned to look upon her with a twinkle in their depths. “Patience Conqueror maybe we just wanted to help the Queen understand and accept her actions.”

The Goddess of Wisdom knew that Xena wouldn’t accept that explanation at face value and knew that she would only have to wait a breath before the sarcastic voice of the Conqueror was heard.

“Yeah right people have bouts of consciousness daily and they are never visited by one goddess let alone three.”

Aphrodite laughed “She’s got ya there sis.”

Athena rolled her eyes at her sister. “The two of you have a destiny to fulfill and Gabrielle must be strong in her convictions if you are to succeed.

Xena felt her hackles rise. “Gabrielle is the strongest woman I know.”

Artemis stepped in. “We know that and you know that.” She looked to her Queen searching her eyes for confirmation before she continued.

“And now she knows it too.”

Xena walked behind her seated mate and rested her hands on her shoulders. “I’m going to ask you again why are you three here and what is this destiny that we must fulfill?”

All eyes turned to the Goddess of Wisdom. “We are here because the two of you had to be balanced in mind body and soul before you could start on the path that will lead you to that destiny.”

Xena was at the end of her patience. “Why do the immortals always speak in riddles why can’t you just tell us what is going on?”

“Because Xena there are rules to this existence rules that we all must live by and sometimes those rules mean that one must go on faith and learn as they go along making the journey more meaningful instead of being told what the end will be one can travel the road smell the flowers or gaze up into a clear sky and when they reach the end they will understand the entire story not just how it started and how ended.”

Xena glared at Athena if she thought that they were going to put their faith in the word of the gods then she was sadly mistaken.

Athena you and your sisters have obviously mistaken me for one that follows blindly I wouldn’t be the ruler of Greece if I had believed everything that I was told.”

The three goddess smiled at each other. “We know that warrior but you are not in this alone and with Gabrielle‘s help you will come to understand the importance of… trust.”

Gabrielle stood up for the first time. “What makes you think that I would ever go against what Xena thinks is best?”

Aphrodite held both women in her gaze. “Do you love Xena Gabrielle?”

An incredulous twitch started at the Queen’s lips before she answered. “With all my heart.”

“Conqueror do you love Gabrielle?”

Loving eyes looked deeply into adoring green. “With everything that I am.”

The three of them stepped back as one but before they could speak Solari opened the door just in time to see tiny flashes of white blue and green lights disappear from the room.

The two women heard a faint voice before all went silent. “You are one soul and now that you are in sync it can no longer be one way or the other there will have to be balance.”

“What in Hades was that?” Solari asked while putting away her weapon.

Gabrielle turned and stepped into Xena’s arms. “Well that message was as clear as mud.”

Xena kissed the top of her mate’s head. “Yeah as clear as the gods would ever dare to be.”

They both turned to the Amazon waiting to hear her reason for intruding. “My Queen the villagers have gathered in the meeting hall waiting for you to tell them what our next move will be.”

Part 18

They spent another three days in Delium signing treaties and establishing an Amazon presence in the village. After the arrival of the warriors and protectors that would be left in the small community the Amazon warriors and the soldiers of the Realm left the small village heading for Euboreas.

The group was half a days ride from the Amazon Nation when Gabrielle turned in her saddle to face Xena before asking the question that had been on her mind since their journey back had begun.

“Xena how long will you be able to stay in the nation before you have to return to Corinth?”

It had only been five days and the Conqueror was in no hurry to leave her lover’s side to return to the Capital. She’d had a difficult time the last time they were separated and she wasn’t ready to repeat hat experience any time soon.

“I’ve sent word to Dimitri so he knows that I’ll be away until further notice. In other words you have me until I‘m needed elsewhere.”

The smile that lit up the Queen’s face made the dark ruler feel giddy after the despair that the blonde woman had shown after killing Callisto this look of joy felt like the warmth of the sun.

“Does that please you Gabrielle?”

“You know that it does Xena. There is so much that I want to show you when we reach Euboreas.”

*******

Ephiny met them as they entered the village she was momentarily shocked by the presence of the Conqueror and her army and was about to voice her objections when Eponin dismounted her horse and pulled her into an embrace.

“I’ve missed you love.”

All thoughts of confrontation evaporated when she felt the strong arms of her mate envelop her.

“I’ve missed you too.” She pulled back and looked into loving brown eyes. “But you are going to tell me what this is all about. Right?”

“In do time love in do time.”

*******

After settling the Conqueror’s male troops in a field outside of the village Gabrielle took Xena to the Queen’s Quarters.

A hot bath had been drawn in her bathing room and she started to remove her clothes as she walked towards the open door.

When she realized that she wasn’t being followed she stopped disrobing and turned to her lover with a question glance.

“Don’t you want to wash the road grime from your body?”

Xena hung her head and a pink tint started rise on her face. “I didn’t want to assume that I was welcome in your bath.”

Gabrielle released a frustrated breath. “Xena you are always welcome in my bath… just as I assume that I am always welcome in yours.”

“Of course I would never turn you away”

“Well now that we’ve settled that… get undressed and join me.”

The water temperature was just right and the small blonde sunk down in the large tub until the water rested beneath her chin.

“This feels wonderful.”

Xena’s back rested against the opposite wall of the tub and she stretched out her legs relieving the tension that had built up from the long ride.

“This is Elysium.”

Gabrielle floated towards the dark woman until she was almost straddling her lap and slowly ran her hands over the wet skin that covered the powerful woman’s broad chest.

Knowing that she was the only person that could take such liberties with the ruler filled her with a lust that she had never known.

She wrapped her legs around Xena’s slim hips and laid her head on her shoulder. “Being here with you like this makes me feel complete.”

Strong hands ran up and down the soft skin of the blonde woman’s back. “I’ve never felt this way before Gabrielle.”

The Amazon Queen buried her face in the crook of the other woman’s neck. “I love you so much.”

Moist lips started to lay a trail down the corded muscles of the Conqueror’s neck as a determined hand made its way to the dark curls that covered Xena’s womanhood.

“I want you I want you to make love to me right here right now.”

The thought of resisting her lover’s request never entered her mind. Xena pulled the smaller woman closer and took possession her lips as she lowered her fingers to the Queen’s need.

The slick wetness that she encountered only fueled her desire. Long fingers ran the length of the Amazon Queen’s sex before she centered her focus on the heated opening she pushed two fingers into the blonde and covered her mouth in a hard kiss.

They sat motionless for a moment then Gabrielle returned the favor. Movement started again and they were lost to their passion.

Water flowed over the sides of the tub as they thrust into each other the fire that had been stoked burst into a full flame when the coil of release started to swirl in their bellies.

“I’m so close Xena just a little longer.”

The warrior didn’t change her position she stayed with her lover as the small woman road her fingers squeezing her thighs together she trapped Gabrielle’s hand between her legs for more contact where she needed it most.

The pressure that Gabrielle’s hand relieved was quickly sending the tall woman to her destination. “Almost there just a little more.”

Their shared orgasms burst forth filling the bathing room with sounds of pleasure. Their voices reached the center of the village letting it be known that the rumors were true… the Amazon Queen did indeed have a lover.

Part 19

Gabrielle sat at her desk writing in her scrolls while Xena lounged on the big bed. After four days of being in the Amazon village the Conqueror was bored.

She got up and crossed the room until she was standing behind the blonde Queen. She ran her hands through Gabrielle’s hair and leaned down circling her tongue around an exposed ear.

Gabrielle swiped at her ear and continued to write. Xena refused to be ignored and wiggled her fingers under Gabrielle’s nose to get her attention.

Just before the tip of her finger entered the Queen’s nostril a quick hand stopped its progress. “What’s going on with you?”

The tall woman shrugged her shoulders. “I don’t know I guess I need something to do.”

Realizing that they hadn’t spent any real time outside of her hut since their arrival Gabrielle rolled up her scrolls and stored them in an empty case she then grabbed Xena by the hand and led her out the door.

“Where are we going?”

She picked up her staff and pulled the confused leader behind her. “We’re going for a walk.

*******

After they left the compound Gabrielle took Xena on a tour of the Amazon lands. The Conqueror was impressed by the tranquil atmosphere and the feeling of oneness that the women had cultivated as part of their land.

They sat on the shores that lined the eastern banks of the nation and relaxed just taking in the surroundings.

“Why did the Amazons call their lands Euboreas?”

“There are a few reasons one of them being the constant breeze that blows during the spring and fall seasons.”

Gabrielle laid back on the cool sand and looked up into the clear sky as she inhaled the perfume of the flowers and the olive trees.

“It makes the wheat fields sway like golden dancers and when the weather allows I sit in the fields and write some of my most inspired poetry.

But there are strategic reasons also. The village is located north of our hunting grounds and when the wind blows it prevents our prey from smelling our presence but it also allows us to pick up the scent of any intruders that may be laying in wait.”

She turned and looked at her companion. “The winds are truly good to us… hence the name… Euboreas meaning good winds”

*******

Their days were spent taking long walks getting to know each other making their bond stronger. Xena had been away from Corinth for a fortnight when Gabrielle decided to take her on a tour of the forest.

Xena was about to ask her escort what was the purpose of the walk when a strong hand stopped them and held her in place.

“When you look around you Xena what do you see?”

The dark head turned and her blue eyes scanned the scenery. “I see trees and foliage that make a forest.”

Gabrielle released a long breath. If the conqueror of Greece didn’t see what was right in front of her face then surely their enemies wouldn’t notice the obvious change in the tree’s structure.

“Four summers ago I approached our best landscapers and challenged them to create tree dwellings that would be undetectable to the eye.”

Xena looked skyward but still didn’t see anything that was out of the ordinary. “I guess they were successful because all I see is a forest of trees.”

Gabrielle walked around the back of the tree that they were standing in front of and pulled out a vine that was cleverly concealed in the deep crease of the tree trunk.

She grabbed a hold of the climbing plant and then proceeded to move upwards with great expertise. Not waiting for an invitation Xena followed close behind the agile Queen so close in fact that she had the opportunity to give a few quick pinches to the firm backside that was hovering above her.

Gabrielle reached back and swatted the large hands that were tormenting her. “Stop or I’ll cut you off.”

Xena didn’t need an explanation. She understood the threat and continued to follow her lover while keeping her hands to herself.

“If you behave yourself I’ll show you a whole other world.”

The Conqueror followed the Amazon Queen up into the tree without further incidence. Knowing that the threat was real she also knew that and after spending every night in the Queen’s bed it was a sentence that she couldn’t serve.

When they came to a stop she was surprised to see Gabrielle slide a hidden board to the side and climb into a spacious room.

After entering the small dwelling blue eyes took in the room. There was a pallet a small fireplace for cooking and warmth and the top was covered with a roof that stood just high enough for a tall Conqueror to stand in.

Xena looked out of the small window and realized that she was faced with a small village that existed high above the ground.

There were large branches that extended from one tree to the other that were obviously being used as a walkway that connected each small hut to the other.

Placed in the center of the tree dwelling was a dais whose purpose was likely used for a large gathering when needed.

She turned to her lover in question with wide eyes. “How?”

Gabrielle laughed. She was proud that Xena was not only impressed but bewildered by their small hidden township.

“We smoothed down the tops of the large branches and rigged walk lines so that we could travel from one hut to the other.”

After climbing down looking back up even though she knew it was there Xena still couldn’t see the huts or walkways.

Xena was amazed. None of this could be seen from the ground and she wondered who possessed the strategic mind that could come up with such an extraordinary plan.

“Who envisioned such a place as this? I could never imagine anything so brilliantly deceptive as a village in the sky.”

“Over the years the Amazon landscapers have taken young branches and twined them together so that their growth would create a natural camouflage.”

Gabrielle felt shame for the next words that she would speak but hoped that Xena would understand the reason behind them.

“The plan was if we were ever under attack and the villagers were scattered there would be a sanctuary for the young and the very old to escape to.”

Xena tilted her head in wonder. “Gabrielle the Amazons are protected by fierce mighty warriors. There aren’t many that could invade this land without detection. Why take such desperate measures?”

Solemn green eyes tracked confused blue until realization dawned on the tall ruler. “The person that created this place did it to protect the helpless from me. Right?”

Visions of Callisto and her indictment that her army had destroyed her village filled Xena’s mind and she felt unworthy to be in the presence of the gentle Queen. She dropped her head and spoke softly but Gabrielle heard the one word.

“Cirra.”

The blonde woman didn’t hesitate as she reached out to the forlorn leader. “Xena no. I mean… Yes. We knew of the destruction of Cirra but I had this built long before I knew you.”

Xena moved away from her lover feeling like she was tainting the golden woman with her presence. “I’m a monster Gabrielle. There’s no getting around that. You shouldn’t be with me.”

The small woman grabbed her powerful lover by her biceps and forced the sorrowful blue eyes to look at her.

“The person that did those things was a Xena that I don’t know. The woman that I know now would never allow such an atrocity to go unpunished.”

“Are you sure Gabrielle? You don’t know what I have done since your absence from Corinth.”

The Amazon Queen rubbed her hands up and down the regretful sovereign’s arms. “You are a different person. You could never again sit by while such an act of violence was committed.”

Xena shook her head from side to side in agony. “That’s not true.”

Mournfully she held her lover’s sympathetic green eyes as she told her about having Falsted’s tongue removed and the castration of the rapists during the public judgment.

Gabrielle was mortified by what she had heard but there was no place for those feelings now. Now she had to bring her lover back to the person that she was when they were together.

She had to make Xena see that she was more than the barbarian that she had let rule her actions for the last ten winters.

“Was every ruling as harsh as the ones that you have told me about?”

A glimmer of hope shined in the blue eyes before she answered. “Well… No. Before Falsted came before me I… I tried to be as lenient as I could with the accused…

But when he refused to acknowledge his mistake… Well I… I couldn’t tolerate it and I sentenced him to a punishment that I thought was worthy of his actions.”

Gabrielle stroked the dark locks as she spoke to the confused woman. “What were his actions Xena?”

Clear blue eyes basked in understanding green before she answered. “He continued to disrespect your status and I couldn’t allow that.”

She fell to her knees and held the understanding woman’s hands in her own. “You are a part of me Gabrielle. I tried to make him see that but he wouldn’t. When his stubbornness made him continue to speak out against you… I had to silence him.”

Xena inhaled deeply and decided to take a leap of faith. “You see I had decided to ask you to become my Queen.

And if by some divine intervention you found it in your heart to accept my proposal… I couldn’t have someone in my court that wouldn’t show you the respect that you deserved.”

The Conqueror’s words left the bard lightheaded. She couldn’t believe that the ruler of Greece wanted her to be her Queen.

“Xena. Are you asking me to marry you?”

The potentate of all of Greece bowed her head and humbled herself to ask the Amazon Queen if she would become her wife.

“If you will have me Gabrielle. Yes I am asking you to take my hand and become the Queen of all of Greece.”

Gabrielle took Xena’s hand started walking back towards the village. “Know what’s funny?”

Very aware that she hadn’t received an answer Xena nervously shook her head from side to side afraid that if she tried to speak the sound would never leave her throat.

“I was going to ask you if you would consider being my consort but it seems you’ve beat me to dais on this one… mmph.”

Her mouth was captured mid sentence and cut off the rest of her statement. Instead of pulling away she gave in to the sensation wrapping her arms around her lover’s neck pulling them closer together just before she parted her lips and added her tongue to the gentle exploration.

Finally pulling apart Gabrielle stared into shimmering blue eyes that were about to spill over with tears of joy.

“So I’m guessing your answer is yes. Right?”

“You bet. My answer is yes.”

The tall woman lifted the smaller woman up and swung her around before placing her back on the ground.

Let’s stop in at the Brewer’s Hut when we get back. I think a celebratory mug of ale is in order” Xena suggested as they walked back to the village hand in hand.

*******

As the newly betrothed couple entered the village they heard the sound of raised voices. When Gabrielle saw who the participants were she rolled her eyes.

“Not again” she said as she approached the three tall women that were standing in a tight circle.

The arguing abruptly stopped when they saw Gabrielle walking in their direction. One of the women with a head of silver hair stopped the Queen from advancing by meeting her halfway.

“Greetings My Queen.”

“Good day Hyalo. What seems to be the problem?”

Eyes that matched the silver colored hair dropped before the woman spoke.

“The same as always Your Majesty. Stria played a trick on Nodus and she failed to see the humor of her actions.”

A very wet and angry Nodus decided it was time to explain her state of annoyance. “What’s so funny about sneaking up behind me and dowsing me with a bucket of water?”

Xena couldn’t help but smile when she saw an auburn-haired woman that appeared to be the youngest of the three almost double over with laughter when she looked at her soaked friend.

Then something struck Xena as odd. Not only were the women equal in height nearly as tall as Xena but their hair color and eye shade matched perfectly.

Hyalo had silver hair and eyes Nodus who appeared to be the oldest of the three had black hair and eyes that were just as dark and the prankster Stria had auburn colored eyes that were an exact duplicate of her hair.

“Come on Queen Gabrielle. You know how stuffy Nodus can be.” Stria paused for effect. Then shrugged her shoulders. “I just wanted to loosen her up a bit.”

It took every ounce of restraint that Stria possessed not to laugh hysterically at the dark woman when she turned fiery black eyes in her direction.

Hyalo gave the younger woman a visual reprimand before addressing the Queen again. “Don’t worry yourself with these two adolescence My Queen. I have everything under control.”

Gabrielle nodded her head and took Xena by the hand bypassing the Brewer’s Hut and going to her own quarters instead.

When the door closed behind them Gabrielle broke out in a gale of laughter. “Those three will never change. Stria will always find ways to torment Nordus and Hyalo will continue to try and keep the peace.”

Xena took a seat at the table and started to pull off her bracers. “Gabrielle who are those women?” There is something very unusual about them.”

The Queen stopped her laughter and joined her lover at the table. She poured two mugs of juice from a pitcher that had been left for her and began her story.

“Well it’s like this…” She went on to tell the ruler about Artemis’ centuries old arrangement with the alchemist Lycos to create a race of part human part wolf protectors for her Amazons.

The dark woman leaned back in her chair with an audible thud. “Are you telling me that they are the decedents of Lycos’ race of mix breeds?”

“Yes.”

Gabrielle stared at her bewildered lover. “This shocks you doesn’t it?”

A dark brow rose in question. “It shouldn’t? Up until now I thought that the stories that I heard about shape changers were just cradle tales told for children’s amusement. But to find out that the myth is true is… it kinda throws me off balance a little.”

The blonde reached across the table and held the confused woman’s hand. At first touch blue eyes went wide as a thought entered her head.

“In Delium those weren’t dogs attacking the marauders. It was them. Right?”

“Not them exactly but a few of their sisters.”

“How many are there?”

“I couldn’t begin to tell you. I mean after I don’t know how many centuries their numbers are probably quite high. There are clusters of them living amongst other Amazon tribes but their commander lives in this village with us.”

“Why is that so special?”

Gabrielle leaned in conspiratorially and lowered her voice. “Mysia. That’s her name is the most favored of her kind” Gabrielle paused for a moment smiling as her original thought changed its course.

“Let me rephrase that she is the most favored of all kind by our patron goddess. It’s said that the protector’s ability to regenerate is a gift that was first given to Mysia after Artemis convinced Athena to heal her after a fatal injury.”

Xena held a large hand to stop the bard-Queen from talking. “Are you telling me that not only can they change form but the can grow new parts?”

“That’s what I’m saying. I would never have believed it if I hadn’t witnessed it for myself.”

“By the gods. If I had followed through with my plan to invade Euboreas my army would have been met by a nearly unstoppable force.”

Realizing that she had spoken her thoughts out loud Xena turned apologetic blue eyes in her future bride‘s direction.

“I’m sorry Gabrielle. I never wanted you to find out about that.”

The giggle that filled the room made the remorseful ruler smile. “Don’t be silly Xena. Do you really think that we had no clue as to your plans of invasion?”

“Huh?”

The golden woman walked around the table and planted a kiss on top of her lover’s dark head before heading for the bathing chamber.

A leather halter was thrown out of the door opening landing on Xena’s head blocking her view. When a matching skirt joined the discarded top a sultry voice broke the Conqueror’s paralysis.

“Are you waiting for and invitation? Or should I get started without you?”

Needing no more encouragement. Xena started swiftly shedding her own leathers and shift as she answered the Queen’s question.

“Nope. That won’t be necessary.”

She entered the steamy chamber just in time to her lover submerge her body into the hot water. “If you knew what I had planned why didn’t you tell me?”

Gabrielle started rubbing soap into a sponge while slowly making her way across the tub. “The moment I looked into those beautiful blue eyes I saw everything. I knew that there was nothing to fear.”

Xena relieved her bath mate of her now foamy sponge and turned her around so that she could clean the smaller woman’s back.

She leaned down and whispered in a pink ear. “What did you see?”

Gabrielle closed her eyes and reached behind her grabbing a hand full of sable colored hair pulling her companion’s face around so that she could look into those blue eyes again.

“I saw my own reflection.”

*******

Early the following day Gabrielle and Xena left the Queen’s quarter’s to share the morning meal with Ephiny Eponin and Mysia in the dinning hut.

Xena took the opportunity to observe the chieftain of the protectors. She was tall just like Hyalo Stria and
Nordus but unlike them her blonde nearly white hair was different than her eyes.

Her eyes were a blue the likes of which Xena had never seen. The color was rich and deep appearing to be molten liquid instead of solid orbs.

When looking into them Xena could have sworn she saw swirling currents in their depths that quickly regained their firmness after only a few heartbeats of being scrutinized.

She was a very attractive woman and had the look of one too young to lead. Then she remembered who the Queen of these warriors were and had to change the direction of her thinking.

Mysia didn’t miss the ruler’s subtle inspection of her and chose to open the door to a discussion.

“Is there something you would like to ask me Conqueror?”

“Now that you mention it yes.”

The table became silent. No one knowing where this particular exchange would lead. Although Mysia was soft spoken and avoided confrontation whenever possible they also knew that when she reached her limit they all took cover and if anyone could raise her ire they knew it was the capricious ruler of Greece.

Xena chewed on a piece of fried pork fat and laid her arm across the back of Gabrielle’s chair. “How long have you been the shape changers leader?”

Attempts at muffling the sound of snickers could be heard all around but were unsuccessful and Xena wondered what was going on and said as much.

“Don’t be annoyed Conqueror. They aren’t laughing at you. They are laughing because my answer will surprise you.”

Still a little heated Xena waited for her answer. Gabrielle could see how close to the surface her lover’s temper was so she leaned over and kissed her sweetly on the cheek.

“Be nice.”

That was all it took. Xena’s mood changed in the blink of an eye and she was now waiting patiently for the protector to respond.

“I have led this particular troop of fighters for the last eighty or so springs.”

Xena opened her mouth prepared to challenge the answer when loud click-clack noises started to sound throughout the village.

The entire room started to empty out and they all followed Gabrielle to village center. A runner reached the Queen out of breath and delivered the message.

“My Queen one of the Conqueror’s female carriers is approaching our boarders.”

Without hesitation Gabrielle gave the signal to let the woman enter. More click-clack sounds were made and Gabrielle told the crowd to disperse and go about their daily routine.

“Gabrielle what were those sounds?”

Distractedly the small woman answered. “That’s how we signal one another from our boarders and outer lands. The click-clack sound is so close to that of the tree peckers that our enemies never pay it any attention.”

Xena was stunned. She was sure that the Amazons used a series of distinctive whistles for their non-verbal communication.

Her lover saw the confusion on Xena’s face and answered her unasked question. “Two summers ago Esponza joined our nation.

She is from the Pyrenees region between Iberia and Gaul. She is what’s referred to as a Basque. When she arrived she was malnourished and in very poor condition. She spoke a language that none of us understood and communicating with her was difficult.

After many moons we were finally able to understand a few words and phrases. Eventually she was able to tell us about her land and some of her culture.

One of the things she showed us was what she called ‘castaneas’ she said they were used for entertainment but after hearing it’s tone and cadence I came up with the idea to use them instead of whistles to alert us of outside intruders.”

Walking towards the meeting hut Gabrielle pulled the tool she was speaking of from her belt and showed Xena how it worked.

She held what looked like two hollowed out seashells that were made of wood. Two holes had been tooled into the top of each shell with a string running through them joining the two sides together.

Gabrielle held them in the palm of her hand then she hooked the string around her thumb. Bringing the two halves together she started to produce a rapid series of clicks and rhythmic accents that did indeed replicate the sounds that were heard in the woods.

The hut was filling up as the council members took their seats waiting for the messenger to arrive. So the Queen leaned closer to her lover and lowered her voice as she finished telling Xena the last bit of recent Amazon history.

“Over the seasons our adversaries have figured out a way to decipher the messages in our whistles so I thought it was time for a change.”

Xena nodded her understanding. She was one of the outsiders that had broken the whistle code and once again the small woman impressed the ruler with her insights and forethought. The more time she spent with Gabrielle the more she was convinced that this woman was meant to rule by her side.

Simply put she was brilliant. Couple that with her compassion fighting skills and well… obvious beauty made her the perfect match for the unpredictable sovereign.

The room quieted down as a woman was led into the hut by two Amazon escorts. When she saw the tall ruler sitting among the women fighters as if she belonged there Rebia knew that the hushed words that were spoken in private amongst the servants was true… the Conqueror was indeed in love with the Amazon Queen.

Xena looked to Gabrielle for permission before she questioned the woman. Gabrielle nodded her approval pleased that her lover had shown her the proper respect in front of her Amazons.

“What brings you this far from Corinth Rebia?”

“Forgive the intrusion My Liege but I bring word from Dimitri.”

Xena accepted the scroll that was handed to her and quickly scanned the parchment. After absorbing it’s meaning she handed the message to Gabrielle.

The Queen read it and informed the council that it was of no concern to the nation and they could go about their other duties. The room cleared and Xena headed for Gabrielle’s quarters.

Gabrielle had to jog for a few paces to catch up with her lover before the taller woman reached the Queen’s hut. Upon entering Xena started to pack a travel bag so Gabrielle followed suit.

When Xena realized what Gabrielle was doing she stopped shoving clothes into her bag. “What are you doing?”

“I’m coming with you.”

Green eyes held a look of determination that Xena had come to accept as her own defeat she knew that there would be no changing Gabrielle’s mind at this point.

“Fine but hurry. We are leaving in the next four marks.”

*******

Ephiny sent word that along with Tara Eponin Solari and Meslena she would be joining them on this trip with a small contingent of Amazon warriors leaving Chilapa behind to act as their temporary regent.

Seeing Hyalo Nodus and Stria waiting for them in the middle of the village didn’t surprise Gabrielle she’d had a feeling that Mysia would see to it that a few protectors accompanied the Queen on her journey.

When Xena spotted the three bickering shape changers waiting to leave with them she bent her head and whispered into Gabrielle’s ear.

“If we run into trouble are they going to be of any use to us?”

Remembering Xena’s first meeting with the women she understood the ruler’s trepidation. “Believe it or not they are the best that the protectors have to offer and if that doesn’t make you feel better I see a few other protectors in the group that will be joining us.”

“How many are there exactly?”

“As a race we have no idea they have been around for many centuries but in this tribe counting the ten that patrol Tanagra and the ten we left in Delium I’d say there are a little over seventy.”

Xena couldn’t help but feel thankful that her heart was lost to the small Queen the moment she entered the throne room because if she had invaded Euboreas the casualties would have been great… for the Realm.

Part 20

The trip back to Corinth was uneventful until they reached the palace gates. Word was sent that the Conqueror had returned and they were surrounded by a whirlwind of activity.

The Amazon’s and their protectors had to be settled into their rooms Xena made arrangements for Gabrielle’s bags to be taken to her private chambers and word was sent to Dimitri that they would receive him after a short rest and a light meal.

After they bathed and shared a simple meal Xena summoned Dimitri to her outer chamber. “What’s been going on in my absence Dimitri?”

The young man stood tall as he related the changes that had occurred while the ruler was away from the Capital.

“I’m sorry to have called you back from your trip Lord Conqueror but as I stated in the message something is amiss.”

Xena waited patiently for the junior advisor to continue. “The nobles have been behaving strangely during your time away. They are acting as if they are in charge.

Public judgments have been held with at least one of them presiding over the sentencing saying that they speak for you.”

Xena stood abruptly and the Conqueror in her came out in full force filling the room with a dark energy that made the advisor take a step back.

“Who has appointed themselves as my voice in my absence?”

Dimitri steeled his nerves and gave the woman the information that she requested. After listening carefully to his words Xena dismissed him and started to pace around the room.

“So they think the time is drawing near to overthrow me? That is the only reason they would be so bold as to take punishments into their own hands.”

Gabrielle had remained silent throughout but now she felt it was time to speak her thoughts.

“So you think they have been planning a coup?”

Xena sat beside her lover and rested her arm across the Queen‘s shoulders. “I know they have I just didn’t do anything about it hoping to catch everyone involved.

But they are forcing my hand. Whatever plan they have conceived will be halted. I’m sure they didn’t think far enough ahead. They must have thought that my time spent in Euboreas gave them the perfect opportunity to take control but they were sadly mistaken.”

For the first time since they met Gabrielle felt fear for her lover’s safety and wanted to let her know that she had the support of the entire Amazon Nation.

“I am here for you Xena. Just tell me what you want from me and it’s yours. The Amazon Nation is at your disposal”

The goddess’ words rang out in her mind and she knew that she needed to be strong if they were going to defeat whatever force threatened their future.

*******

On Mount Olympus Athena Aphrodite and Artemis smiled at one another at the blonde woman’s words just before appearing before the Conqueror and the Amazon Queen.

*******

Multicolored lights twinkled in the Conqueror’s outer chamber moments before three immortals stood in front of the couple.

Xena threw her hands up and growled at their presence. “What do you want now?!”

Athena spoke for her sisters. “You can’t stay in Corinth Conqueror.”

“Why?”

“Because the battle that awaits you is not in the Capital City Xena. Your path lays further north.”

“I don’t have time for your double speak.” An evil glint entered her eyes. “There are nobles to be dealt with.”

Gabrielle stood and focused her attention on the goddess as she placed her hands on her hips. “This is the second time you’ve come to us. If you have no intentions of giving us clearer answers then leave us alone.”

Athena was pleased by the united front that the couple exhibited.

“Relax little one. All will be revealed in due time” Aphrodite said.

Xena had reached her limit. “One of you had better start talking or your manipulations will have been for naught.”

Artemis’ anger was evident as she moved towards the tall ruler with malice. No mortal should be allowed to speak to a god with such disrespect even if that mortal was half of the key needed to maintain balance in the world.

Athena stopped her sister with one word. “Later.”

The Amazon patron acquiesced to her sibling’s wisdom in this matter and stepped back waiting for her to inform the women of their journey.

“We know of the intrigue that abounds in your house Xena but that issue will resolve itself after your odyssey” Athena said.

Gabrielle stood beside Xena and wrapped her arms around the taller woman’s waist. “What is this odyssey that you speak of?”

The Goddess of Wisdom continued “You must set out in three days time for Mount Althos. There you will find a cave and be faced with your destiny. If you pay attention along the way you will be given signs showing you that we speak the truth. The threat to your rule is very real Xena but its genesis wasn’t born in the minds of the nobles that you so despise and the challenge will not be made in Corinth.”

The dark woman still didn’t trust the immortal’s words but she had to acknowledge the fact that although the gods were manipulative they didn’t lie.

“Why three days? Why can’t we address the current situation now and put an end to it before leaving the capital?”

“Because to wait any longer would delay your confrontation with your true enemy. One that will not only take control of Corinth but all of Greece.”

As much as she hated to admit it Xena knew that she had no choice. They would have to set out for Mount Althos with Palaemon and Glaphyra leaving Darnel and Meleager in charge to deal with the coup.

After much contemplation she finally agreed. She felt confident that Dimitri could guide the two generals if anything of a diplomatic nature came about.

“Fine I’ll gather a trusted number of soldiers to accompany us then we’ll head out in three days.”

She looked to her partner for confirmation when the blonde head nodded in agreement the goddess disappeared without another word.

Gabrielle turned in her lover’s arms and gave her a full body hug. “Why do I feel like this is going to be a long and dangerous undertaking?”

Xena kissed the top of her mate’s head before answering “Because if the gods are involved it most likely will be.”

Part 21

A feral glint entered Xena’s eyes when her senior advisor crossed the threshold of her private sitting area. The man had been bold in her absence and she couldn’t wait to hear the reasons he had concocted to justify the noble’s actions.

“You requested my presence Lord Conqueror?”

Tellus looked nervous. He knew that their decision to move on their plans to takeover court proceedings in the Conqueror’s absence was a dangerous move

but he had agreed to the choice believing that he could talk his way out of any situation that the unpredictable woman put before him.

His eyes quickly shifted to the small woman sitting in one of the cushioned chairs behind Xena’s pacing form and had to control the muscles in his face to stop the sneer that was twitching at his lips from making an appearance on his face.

“Yes Tellus. I did call for you. I need you to explain to me why the nobles have been presiding over public judgments without my permission.”

The advisor cleared his throat and started to repeat a speech that he had been practicing for the last seven days.

“They or should I saw we felt like there wasn’t a choice. In your absence crime and disorder began to rise so a meeting was called where the nobles decided that it was prudent to hold court in a show of support and loyalty to your reign.”

Feeling confident that his explanation sounded valid he stood silent waiting for the Conqueror to express her reaction to his reasoning.

Xena stopped her pacing and stood in front of the shorter man with her hands behind her back. “So you and the upper crust thought it was in the best interest of the Realm to take my laws into your own hands and mead out my punishments?”

“Yes Lord Conqueror. We felt it best to show the citizens that even without your presence they should know that your power still rang supreme.”

Xena could see that Tellus thought his little speech had fooled her but it hadn’t. She knew that the nobles were a conniving pack of vermin but somewhat intelligent.

But they lacked one quality that would always lead to their defeat. They weren’t ruthless. They had no idea what it took to become the one ruler of Greece.

Sure they played the games of intrigue and espionage ready to sit on the dais and hand down punishments that she had set into place but when it came time for a more hands on approach to ruling when you had to hold a man up by his hair and cut his throat in front of the populace to pay for his crimes she knew that they didn’t have the testicular fortitude to follow through… But she did.

“Ah I see. This was done in deference to me as a way to show that even if I‘m not here… my methods would still be used to keep them in line.”

“Yes My Lord. They needed to be made to understand that.”

The tall woman walked to a side door and stepped aside as Darnel Meleager and Dimitri entered the chamber.

The shock that appeared on the Senior Advisor’s face didn’t go unnoticed. “I’m going to reward your preemptive measures to keep the peace Tellus” Xena said.

“Because of your hard work and loyalty to the throne I’m going to honor you with a vacation.”

Tellus opened his mouth to protest but Xena raised her hand to stop him. “No let me finish. Starting this very day you are relieved of your duties and before you voice any concerns about the vacant Senior Advisor seat let me help put your worries aside.”

She motioned the Junior Advisor forward and placed her hand on his shoulder. “Dimitri I am promoting you you are now the Realm’s Senior Advisor.”

The young man was overjoyed and confused all at once. “Th… Thank you Lord Conqueror. I hope to serve you well.”

“I have no doubt in your abilities. See Tellus. I have taken the necessary steps to ensure your peace of mind during your sabbatical now you can mingle and plot with the nobles without fear of neglecting your duties.”

She then addressed her two generals and her new Senior Advisor as Tellus stood in muted surprise.

“I will be leaving Corinth in three days to address an important matter that has come to my attention in the north. While I am away I will be leaving the three of you in charge.”

She looked at each of them before she spoke again “When I return I expect things to be as I left them do you understand?”

They all spoke as one “Yes Lord Conqueror.”

“Good. You are dismissed.”

As the room emptied Xena noticed the hate filled eyes of her former advisor and gave him her most innocent smile.

“Not even a thank you Tellus? I’m giving you all the free time that you need and you can’t show me the proper appreciation?”

He bowed his head and through gritted teeth he forced out his gratitude. “My apologies. Thank you My Liege for your interest in my wellbeing.”

When the door shut behind him Gabrielle leaned forward in the chair that she was sitting in and broke out in laughter.

“That was cruel my love but much deserved.”

Xena kneeled down in front of the golden Queen and laid her head in her lap. “I may have just put us in more danger” Then she chuckled a little. “Who knows now that he was nothing else to do he may come after me himself.”

Love filled green stared into sorrowful blue. “No worries my heart come what may we’ll see it through together.

*******

Tellus shoved people to the side as he quickly made his way back to his rooms. After satisfying his rage by throwing every item he could get his hands on across the room he sat on the side of the bed breathing heavily.

“If I ever felt any remorse for what we have planned for that evil bitch it’s gone now. How dare she replace me with that ass kissing upstart.”

Then an idea came to him that made him walk swiftly towards the exit. He grabbed a hooded cloak from a peg and slammed the door behind him.

*******

Navigated his way through the seeder side of Corinth in search of the man he called his ‘equalizer’ Tellus repeated the information that he knew to be true.

“She’ll be leaving in three days. That gives me plenty of time to set things into motion” he said out loud.

His pace picked up a bit when he thought about the extra bonus that had been handed to him. “Having that arrogant little Savage Queen with her when the time comes will only add to her misery. I only wish that I could be there at the end.”

On the day Falsted had been maimed he thought that a temporary end had come to their plans until he spotted the familiar face in the crowd.

He had heard many rumors about the man’s skills and thought it must have been divine intervention when he had showed up to witness the public judgments.

From that day on he had been in constant contact with the man. Now he stood knocking on the door of a rundown shack waiting for someone to answer.

When the worn wood was pulled open the two men stood staring at one another in silence. “What do you want?” the man asked without warmth.

Tellus pushed his way passed the man and ordered him to close the door. “Our plans have been changed but in a good way.

She will be leaving soon on a mission in the north. This will give you several opportunities to catch her off guard.”

The man returned to his seat at the small table and finished his mug of ale. “This sudden change will cost you extra.”

Tellus loosened a bag of coins from his belt and threw it on the table. “That should be satisfactory compensation.”

The man picked up the small sack and judged its weight in his hand before dropping it back on the wooden surface. “That will do.”

They sat and hatched out the time frame and logistics that would be necessary long into the night before they felt confident that they had covered all the possible variables.

The mercenary escorted Tellus to the door and closed it with a thud behind him before pulling a knife from his tunic and twirling it around.

“This is going to be the easiest coin I’ve ever made. Not to mention the added thrill of being able to exact revenge on the one person responsible for the death of my father” he thought out loud.

Jett tapped his cheek with the point of his blade. “I’ll get you Xena and your little blonde too but the best part is you’ll never see it coming.”

*******

Ares sat on his throne and called the meeting to order. Kal and Seth didn’t care for their placement at the foot of the Grecian War God but now was not the time for protest. There were more important issues at hand.

“If you think that the threat to our power grows closer when do we start? My patience is growing thin” Kal said.

Ares smiled at the Etrurian War God. He knew that he could count on him to execute his part exactly as planned it was Seth the Egyptian God of Chaos that had him worried.

The immortal was unpredictable but he was the only Egyptian God willing to work with a foreign deity and his ability to influence Cleopatra to send her navy was needed if this was going to work.

Kal was all set to start planting the seed of invasion in Caesar’s mind so it was just a matter of finding the right time to implement their planned actions.

Ares’ plan was simple. Have Roman and Egypt join in talks to attack Greek’s western boarder. This would be done while Xena was preoccupied with her trek to Mount Althos. It would give him the time needed to gather an army and train a replacement for the Conqueror.

Kal interrupted the dark god’s thoughts with mirth “I still can’t believe that you would allow a foreigner to rule Greece.”

“Well buddy desperate times call for desperate measures and these are desperate times.”

He turned to Seth to see if he was paying attention. The god had thrown his leg over the arm of his chair and had leaned his head back with a look of glee on his face.

Ares thought he was probably imagining all of the confusion he could cause during the battle but there was no time for second thoughts now.

“It’s already too late for me to stop what’s going to happen. Once the two of them met and consummated their bond the success of their mission was inevitable.

The only hope we have now is to make sure that the new ruler’s loyalty to us is so ingrained in his soul that any outside forces that try to sway him in another direction won’t be able to tempt him.”

Seth came out of his fantasies long enough to ask a question. “Why didn’t you just kill her after Caesar had her legs broken? She was defenseless then”

Ares stroked his beard and cocked his head to the side. “You wouldn’t understand. Xena has a fire in her that when coupled with her will makes her an awesome warrior. I knew that she could conqueror all of Greece in my name… and she did.”

Seth chuckled deep in his chest. “I see now. You trained her to be a fearsome fighter then you bedded her. If she’s good enough to make a god go against his best interest maybe I’ll take a poke at her before she dies.”

Ares quick anger shocked the other gods. Yes he had lusted after Xena even tried to charm her into his bed but the willful woman never gave in to his advances.

“You will not touch her!” he bellowed. “Xena has never been one of my conquests.”

His eyes narrowed as he looked at Seth. “Caesar saw to that. After he was done with her she never let anyone into her bed that could separate her emotions from her judgment.”

Then in a whisper he added “Until now.”

Seth was intrigued by the war god’s reaction and wondered out loud. “If you care so much for her why are you so willing to destroy her?”

Ares scrubbed his face with his hands. “The battles that she has won the fact that she rules Greece. None of it means a thing if I lose my influence over her. So I’m willing to place a lesser skilled fighter in her place in order to maintain my place among the most powerful of the Olympian Gods.”

Seth waved off his explanation and returned to his private thoughts thinking that the Grecian War God‘s infatuation with the Conqueror could be a source of fun after things got started but the conversation left Kal unsure of Ares’ commitment.

“So I am to believe that this threat is so formidable that you are willing to put your feelings aside destroy your greatest creation share your throne and your power with no remorse?”

Ares exhaled his frustration. This conversation was taking a turn that he had not anticipated. Then he looked at the relaxing chaos god and knew its source. Seth‘s rebellious energy was making them a little agitated.

He didn’t answer right a way instead his thoughts went to finding the hinds tooth. If his plan didn’t work out he was willing to rule with Seth and Kal… for a while. After that he would eliminate them one by one.

“If that’s what it takes to maintain our power yes I’ll do it. The menace that we are about to face is so strong that egos have to be put aside.”

Kal was still apprehensive but he had to agree. If this move could make him powerful enough to leave Etruria he could take control of Rome from Mars and crown himself the new War God.

At that moment Seth was having similar thoughts. This would be his opportunity to regain his status amongst the Egyptian Gods and become the ’Chief God’ once again hearing the citizens of his country call him ‘His Majesty.’

That thought alone was enough to garner his help. The pandemonium that he could cause along the way was just another source of motivation.

Neither Kal nor Seth knew of Ares’ plan to have Caesar fall in battle. If it all worked out things would remain the same if not it didn‘t matter. If Caesar didn’t die in battle his new protégée would take over Ares was confident that he had covered all the possibilities and would remain on his throne as the one War God of Greece.

In the end if it meant sacrificing the only mortal that had ever been able to hold her own against his sword and ending the reign of the most skilled warrior that Greece would ever know… then so be it. His place on Olympus would not could not be threatened… damned the cost.

Part 22

On the morning of their departure Xena and Gabrielle had the leaders of their armies join them in Xena’s private chambers to break their fast together and go over their travel plans.

Palaemon and Glaphyra sat at the table surrounded by the Amazon Regent Ephiny her partner the weapons expert Eponin and Hyalo a strange woman that neither Glaphyra or Palaemon had been given any history on.

The only information that had been passed on to the Conqueror’s generals was that they were headed for Mount Althos on a mission from the gods.

As the meeting progressed Ephiny took notice of the way Xena didn’t seem to mind when Gabrielle would interrupt her and in some cases she would listen to Gabrielle’s suggestions and implement them.

Ephiny was relieved to see that the Amazon Queen had as much input into the decisions that would affect the Realm in this quest as Xena seemed to have on the issues that would affect the workings of Euboreas in their absence.

She leaned into her mate and whispered in Eponin’s ear. “It wasn’t until this moment that I genuinely believed that Xena The Conqueror was truly in love with our Queen.

The gods know the woman is incapable of respecting anyone’s opinion let alone listening to their advice and acting on it but I see that Gabrielle is obviously the exception to that personality flaw.”

Eponin pulled back and looked at her lover in question. Ephiny patted the weapon master’s thigh and held her gaze while reminding her about that first meeting with the leader.

“You didn’t see the carnage that she had presided over on my visit. The man’s blood was still staining the floor when I entered the throne room. It was brutal.

When she road in with Gabrielle from her visit to Delium I was dubious as to her reasons. That bloody scene was still fresh in my mind.

Even when we heard Gabrielle’s screams of passion I still wasn’t sure that it wasn’t a plot to infiltrate the nation but seeing Xena give Gabrielle an equal word in our mission lets me know that their bond is true because she would never allow another voice to carry authority in her kingdom.”

“That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you sweetness. As strange as it may seem Xena The Destroyer of Nations has been conquered by our bard-Queen and I have a feeling that when this all comes to an end Gabrielle will fill the library with scrolls that will tell the stories of this journey.”

Seeing Xena kiss the blonde woman before taking another bite of fruit reassured Ephiny that Eponin’s words were probably prophetic.

‘Maybe just maybe this is preordained and all will come out well’ the regent thought as she returned her attention to the conversations that going on around her.

*******

The troops were waiting to be given instructions to mount up and head out. Xena looked around one last time before settling herself on top of Argo.

She knew that it would be several moons before she saw the Capital again and exhaled with the hope that it would still be hers when or if she returned.

Holding her hand out to her beloved who sat beside her on her own horse she squeezed the small woman’s hand and smiled.

“Are you ready love?”

“I’m as ready as I’ll ever be” she said with as much confidence as she could muster. “Let’s get this over with we have a joining ceremony to plan and a life to live.”

Xena raised her free hand and signaled the troops to mount and head out.

“ONWARD!” she yelled motioning the entourage start on their journey.

*******

After two days travel the compliment of Amazons and soldiers stopped at a tavern to eat and rest for evening most of them ready to sleep indoors instead of in the tents and eat something that they hadn‘t killed and cooked themselves.

When they were settled a waitress came over to take their orders. When Gabrielle heard a whiny voice she looked up to see who was making the annoying sound. She was left motionless and speechless when she came face to face with her lover’s likeness.

“Hi ya doing Conqueror? Long time no see.”

Xena smirked at Gabrielle’s reaction and her lips twitched with a smile as she addressed the Queen. “Told ya Gabrielle.”

She savored the moment as she introduced her blonde companion to the waitress. “Gabrielle this is Meg.”

The tall waitress held out her hand and grasped Gabrielle’s limp appendage in greeting. “Glad to meet cha. What brings y’all to my place?”

Trying to give her mate time to recuperate Xena answered Meg’s question. “We’re on our way to the northern boarders and decided to stop for a rest.”

“Well I’m glad to have ya.”

Looking around the room she saw several familiar faces sitting around the tables that were occupied by soldiers and warriors alike. But one in particular caught her eye.

“How’s it going Glaphyra? I haven’t seen you since last spring.”

The general ducked her head and tried to block out the glare she was receiving from Solari and the laughter of her fellow soldier’s. “I’ve … um been kinda busy.”

Palaemon saw his lover turn in his direction and raised his hands up in a defensive gesture before Meslena could make an accusation.

“Hey don’t look at me like that I’ve never shared an evening with Meg. She looks so much like the Conqueror it makes my flesh quiver just thinking about it.”

Meg turned her attention back to her double and her mate and asked for their order. After giving it Xena asked about the tavern.

“You say this is your establishment?”

“Yeah I told ya I was saving my coins and after many… romantic appointments…” she lifted her arms and spread them out to her sides.

“This is what I bought with them. “What do ya think?”

The Conqueror laughed and placed her arm across the back of Gabrielle’s chair. “I think it’s wonderful.”

Meg nodded her head in appreciation before returning to the kitchen to place their orders. They could hear her yelling out them out as she entered the preparation area.

“By the gods Xena she looks exactly like you” Gabrielle said with astonishment.

“Now do you believe me?”

“Oh yeah. Without a doubt… I believe you.”

They were met with another shock a few moments later when Meg’s husband delivered the meal. Xena found herself speechless as Gabrielle held onto her arm for support.

“What is this doubles day?” The equally shocked Queen asked. “He is the mirror image of Jace.”

As Xena looked the man over Athena’s words came to her ‘along the way you will be given signs’ the man’s presence was a small confirmation and it was then that she decided to give in to their purpose fully… whatever it was.

“Here is your food Conqueror is there anything else that you require?” the man asked.

“No this will be all… but if you have a moment I’d like you to sit with us for a while” the ruler requested.

Overjoyed to have been invited to sit at the Conqueror’s table the man took a seat and without being asked started to ramble on about himself.

They learned that his name was Joxer and he was the son of a warlord before meeting and marrying Meg he had thought of himself as a fairly competent warrior.

Xena held up her hand to put an end to the non-stop monolog so that she could ask a question. “Do you have a brother? I ask this because I have an event planner in my employ that looks exactly you.”

“Please excuse my forgetfulness Lord Conqueror. I am one of three identical brothers. As I have stated before I am a warrior my brother Jett is… well he is an assassin and my other brother Jace…”

Here his face started to color and he dropped his eyes before continuing. “Jace is a… a… I guess you could call him a bit of a pansy.”

The Conqueror’s dark brows narrowed at the description. When he noticed the change in the ruler Joxer hurried to explain himself.

“Don’t get me wrong. I love Jace it’s just that he was always a little… delicate. He loved to sing and dance a lot while we were growing up. But that type of behavior had no place in a warlord’s household so when he was old enough he left and I haven’t seen him since.”

Gabrielle saw that her lover was still annoyed by Joxer’s description of Jace so she jumped into the conversation.

“Relax Joxer we understand.” She patted Xena’s strong thigh under the table while she informed the man of his brother’s whereabouts.

“Jace is a member of the Conqueror’s household. He serves as one of her entertainment organizers and does a commendable job.”

Joxer’s brown eyes lit up with joy. “So he’s okay?”

“Yes Jace is well and very happy. On my first visit to the palace he arranged a banquet in my honor that was the most fabulous that I’ve ever attended.”

Joxer couldn’t contain his happiness any longer he couldn’t wait to tell Meg the good news of his long missing brother.

He stood to take his leave and allow their visitor’s to enjoy their meal in peace. “I’ll leave you to your meal Lord Conqueror. If you have need of anything else please just inform one of the servers.”

Before a response could be given the man was gone. Gabrielle looked to her companion and tilted her head a bit.

“Is it just me or has the plot thickened?”

“No my love it’s not just you. Whatever is going on I just hope that we aren’t killed in the process.”

*******

After spending a pleasant night in their surprisingly comfortable room the couple sat in the tavern eating their morning meal before they rounded up their troops in preparation to leave.

As they were about to step out of the door Joxer came running up to them dressed in what could only be described as odd pieces of junk metal and kitchen tools put together to resemble body armor.

Xena raised a brow and put her hands on her hips. “Where do you think you’re going?”

“Forgive my presumptions Lord Conqueror but I woke up this morning with oddest feeling.”

Gabrielle was intrigued. “Go on.”

“Deep inside of me I felt like you may need my assistance on this campaign.”

“Oh really?” Xena asked. “What makes you think that this is a campaign and not a pleasure trip?”

The tavern owner bolstered all of his courage and stood tall before the sovereign before answering her.

“Seeing that you are being accompanied by not only a full compliment of soldiers from the Realm but there seems to be an impressive number of Amazon warriors with you.”

He continued “This leads me to believe that this trip is not a leisurely tour of your kingdom but something more something of great importance.”

The three of them stood in silence until Gabrielle broke the stand off. “Let him come love. Who knows he may be right. This whole journey is being made on faith. He could very well be a part of this.”

Xena ran the back of her hand over the Amazon Queen’s soft cheek and gave her a smile that was meant only for her.

“If it is your wish Gabrielle then so be it.”

Joxer was euphoric and couldn’t contain himself as he started to babble incessantly with joy over finally being able to prove his fighting prowess in front of the legendary Xena.

“You won’t regret your decision Lord Conqueror.” He stuck out his chest with pride. “I’ll serve you honorably.”

Joxer had already said his goodbyes to Meg and was ready to set out on what he knew would be the adventure of a life time.

Part 23

After ten days of travel they reached the secluded town of Pambra located at the foot of Mount Elnause. The first thing that they noticed was the air of tension that surrounded the small village and the citizens that walked about seemed to be subdued.

They entered a tavern that was located below an inn and made arrangements for the night. The fact that the place wasn’t filled with the sounds of laughter and drunken bawdiness was odd.

Adding to the bizarre mood was a bard telling his stories with a less than enthusiastic delivery. And instead of engaging his listeners his eyes constantly shifted towards the door as he sang the songs of the greatness of the Minotaur.

The town was located in the barren lands in a part of Greece where the legend of the Minotaur should not be known let alone regaled.

To Xena’s knowledge the Minotaur had never left Crete after escaping the labyrinth. But unbeknownst to the Conqueror the part man part bull had indeed left the island and now dwelled in Pambra.

Gabrielle was intrigued by the tales and thought it might be interesting to add the stories to her own list when she returned to Euboreas.

In her excitement she asked her lover if she had ever seen one of the creatures. Settling at their table Xena told the bard-Queen about her days as a warlord and her encounter with the fighters when she entered their labyrinth in an attempt to gain control of the island of Crete.

She explained how their physical strength and determination to never stop fighting caused her to call a retreat of her troops never attempting to take Crete again.

“Gabrielle if Minotaurs are in this village I think we should move on. We don’t have enough bodies to fight them if it comes to that.”

The bard found the confession to be out of character for her always battle ready lover but she trusted Xena’s instincts.

“Okay but let’s eat first and restock our supplies before moving on to the next town.”

*******

In the middle of their meal four Minotaurs entered the establishment and sat at the bar causing the storyteller to inject more excitement into his tale.

Soldiers and Amazon warriors gazed upon the new arrivals with shocked curiosity. None of them had ever seen the creatures before and were stunned by their appearance.

The Amazon protectors only gave them a momentary glance before continuing to eat their meal not at all surprised by their existence.

The visitors tried to consume their meals quickly so that they could take their leave of this strange and confusing place. But that was not to be.

After ingesting a few drinks the four Minotaurs started looking around the room and spotted the tables that were occupied by the newcomers.

It was then that their leader approached Xena and Gabrielle’s table singling them out as the obvious commanders of the group.

“Who are you?”

Xena was instantly angered by the disrespect shown to her in front of her troops. Seeing the change in the blue eyes that went from blue to silver Gabrielle intervened before her dark lover could start a brawl.

“We are just passing through on our way to…” She had to think for a moment before she could come up with an answer. “Potidaea.”

The man-beast looked at the small blonde with lustful eyes before he addressed her in a sensual voice. “You can stay as long as you like.”

Gabrielle felt monetarily disconcerted by the lascivious look that appeared on the face that looked so much like the bulls they had on her father’s farm.

The dark eyes were glazed over from the ale that he had consumed and his intentions were obvious to everyone in the room.

One of the other Minotaurs that was still seated at the bar called out to his friend. “Leoness leave those people alone and come have another tankard.”

“Shut up Heron can’t you see I’m trying to talk to this beautiful lady?”

Xena had reached her limit. There was no way she was going to let this… this abomination flirt with Gabrielle right in front of her.

“I suggest you go back and sit with your friends” she said between gritted teeth.

“And who are you to tell me what to do?” the inebriated creature responded.

Xena stood up and it was evident that she was in full Conqueror mode. “I am Xena Lord Conqueror of Greece and this is Gabrielle Queen of the Amazon Nation.”

A feral smile crossed her face as she spoke her next word. “And if you don’t leave right now… you won’t live to regret your error.”

Leoness waved the tall woman off with an action meant to show her insignificance to him. “Obviously Conqueror you don’t know where you are. Pambra is the home of the Minotaur and your word carries no authority here.”

As if to prove his point Leoness reached out to touch Gabrielle’s face. His hand was captured in a steel grip before he could make contact.

“My word carries authority throughout this land and if you try to touch her again I’ll break your arm.”

Ten tables of fighters rose up when the ruler made her threat and Gabrielle knew that she had to do something.

“Xena let’s leave. I’m full and our supplies have been replenished.”

“You’d better listen to your woman Conqueror” Leoness said with a sneer on his bristled lips. “If you think that this handful of fighters can protect you you have greatly misjudged the situation.”

Moisture could be seen gathering on Xena’s brow and her mouth twisted as her body became ready for battle.

Leoness continued “You are in the land of the Minotaur and we rule with impunity so save your threats for the cowards that so easily bow to your…”

He stopped to look her over. “Unimpressive non-intimidating bullying. No one here fears you.”

He returned his attention to Gabrielle and tried to grab her upper arm. “You will spend the night pleasuring me little Queen.”

Gabrielle reached for sais but before she could pull them out Xena took hold of Leoness’ wrist and bicep and twisted the limb quickly. A loud pop was heard throughout the silent tavern and the Minotaur held his broken arm as he backed away.

“You’ll pay for that.”

Without taking her eyes off of the beast Xena extended her hand to her mate and pulled Gabrielle from her seat.

“I’m sure you think so but I believe you are mistaken.”

She signaled the troops to follow her to the stairway deciding that it would be more strategic to stay the night instead of risking a moonlit ambush.

The fighters surrounded their leaders and protected their backs as Xena escorted Gabrielle to the room that had been secured for them. She wanted to wait for daylight knowing that it would give them a better chance to defend themselves when the attack came.

*******

Xena secured her weapons near the bed so that she would be ready if an intruder tried to enter their room during the night.

Gabrielle started to speak as she bent over to remove her boots. “I have to admit I’m a little off balance. Nothing seems to faze them it’s as if they have no concept of fear or retreat.”

Before Xena could respond a knock sounded at the door. Knowing that Palaemon and Meslena were standing guard she didn’t feel threatened but she was still cautious.

She grabbed her sword and stood behind the door with her hand on the hilt. “Who is it?”

She heard Palaemon’s voice. “A barmaid my Liege.”

Xena slowly opened the door and looked down the corridor in both directions before she let the girl in. She pulled the young woman into the room and closed the door.

“Who are you?”

“My name is Naomi Highness and I bring you refreshments to take with you in the morning.” Seeing the skeptical look in the tall woman’s blue eyes she quickly added. “Your guards have sampled my tray.”

Xena nodded her head and waited for the maid to put the platter down on the table. Naomi finished her task and turned to look upon the two strong women with fear in her eyes.

“You have made an awesome enemy Conqueror. The minotaur will not let this go especially after you broke Leoness’ arm.”

Xena waved off the warning and pulled off a piece of bread and cheese not waiting for the sun to rise before partaking of the unexpected treat. Gabrielle approached the young maid and touched her arm in a show of compassion.

“What are they doing here?” she asked.

Naomi began her sad story. “Several seasons ago they entered our village in the dead of night. They killed everyone that resisted them and their takeover was fast and bloody.”

Gabrielle didn’t miss the terror in the woman’s voice and poured her a cup of water. Naomi took a few sips before she continued.

“I wasn’t born then but the stories have been passed down in secret about how the man-bulls took control of Pambra and started to mate with the women by force. Now their numbers are great and their rule goes unchallenged.”

She went on to tell them a story so horrific that Gabrielle found herself wiping tears from her eyes a few times before the tale was over.

They talked with Naomi a little longer before she took her leave and as they lay in their bed Gabrielle expressed her desire to help these people if they could.

Xena was strung tight not only because of Leoness’ attempt to take her mate but also by the server’s words.

“Don’t worry love. When we complete our journey we will return to Pambra and free the citizens from the minotaur‘s rule.”

They fell asleep wrapped in each other’s arms knowing that the next part of their odyssey would be met with resistance from an opponent with a strength the likes they had never come up against before.

*******

They rose the next day and left Pambra quickly not even taking the time to allow the fighters to eat their morning meal. After three marks of traveling they heard the approach that they had been anticipating.

Xena turned to the troops as her voice carried down the path. “We were expecting this so ready your arms and prepare to fight.”

She looked at the men and women that were escorting them and prayed to any god that was listening to help them to survive.

Leoness with his army of Minotaurs and men rounded the bend and didn’t slow their approach their numbers didn’t match those of the Conqueror but their physical strength would make up the difference.

Amazon arrows dropped a few of their attackers before they got close enough to engage the small army but it didn’t slow their momentum.

The fighters that got passed the arrows pounced on the travelers without mercy. Xena cut down several of them with her sword as Gabrielle held off her attackers with her staff.

Only a few of the men that had joined the Minotaur lay dead on the road when an inhuman roar sounded above the fray.

The Conqueror was done she had reached her limit. It was time to do or die. The primal sound seemed to energize enemy and warriors alike as the sound of battle was carried on the morning breeze.

But just as it seemed that their defeat was imminent seven Amazon protectors changed form and became lycans.

This became the turn in the fight. Long teeth and razor sharp talons made quick work of the man-bulls. Their attack was flawless. Every swipe of their claws and tear of their teeth was fatal.

Before long thirty Minotaur and forty men lay dead at their feet. The silence that followed left Xena standing in the middle of the road amazed.

She was relieved to see that the members of their army were only wounded and none of them had been killed. Palaemon limped towards his leader and asked permission to tend to the wounded.

Xena still seemed a bit disconnected but was able to give the order. “Yes let’s set up camp in the woods and rest before we move on.”

“What about the bodies on the road?” Palaemon asked.

“Leave them for the buzzards.” Was the response he was given.

An Amazon grabbed seven bags from her horse and looped them over the protector’s heads before the shape changers disappeared into the forest to shift form and get cleaned up.

Noticing her mate’s stillness Gabrielle approached the statue like woman and ran her hand down Xena’s powerful arm.

“What’s wrong love?”

The soft voice broke through the haze that she was in and blue eyes tracked to green. “You said there were a little over ninety of them under your command right?”

Knowing that she was talking about the protectors Gabrielle didn’t need to ask. “Yes.”

Xena pulled the shorter woman to her side and laughed as they followed their troops into the woods. “I said it before and I’ll say it again…

I am so lucky that I fell in love with you instead of attacking Euboreas. I’ve never seen such a display of total annihilation executed by seven warriors…they were pure precession.

They eliminated the Minotaurs like it was nothing. They did what my entire army couldn’t do.”

Her next words were introspective. “The Amazons could have defeated me and taken over Greece.”

The small Queen wrapped her arm around the tall woman’s waist and leaned over to kiss an exposed bicep before smiling brightly.

“For all you know the Amazons may still take Greece over.”

If anyone else had made such a statement Xena would have immediately started plotting their death but having the words come from Gabrielle she saw the possibility and didn’t feel threatened.

On the contrary it made her feel hope. Hope that with this precious woman by her side maybe she could become a great and compassionate ruler.

She stopped their progress and turned to face the one person that she trusted above all others. “Who knows my love?”

She bent down and captured the blonde woman’s inviting lips. “You may be right.”

Part 24

It had been a little more than a moon since their journey had begun and Xena had kept in constant contact with Dimitri through messengers.

The new senior advisor reassured his leader that the Realm was running smoothly and the nobles had made no further attempts to carry out judgments in her absences.

What she didn’t know was that Tellus and his cohorts were laying low biding their time until they received word of her death.

Jett had also been in constant contact with the former advisor and kept him abreast of Xena’s actions informing Tellus of the Minotaur’s attack and the existence of the shape changers.

This new information disturbed the traitor but the assassin reassured him that their presence would not prevent him from carrying out their plan. He was the best at what he did and this assignment would be as successful as the others.

But he didn’t pass along all of the information he had gathered choosing to keep certain details to himself. He didn’t pass on the presence of his brother or his observations of the ruler’s devotion to the small Queen.

It wouldn’t be the first time he used a person’s love one to reach his goal. He knew without a doubt that the blonde woman was the key to bringing Xena down.

But after spending many days observing the blonde woman’s interactions with the men and women that followed them he realized that there was more to her than met the eye.

She was the leader of a nation of warriors and the lover of a heartless ruler but she was also an innocent. A person with a pure soul. A person that should have never been placed in a position where she would have to order the taking of a life or perhaps take one herself.

After much contemplation he knew that he could never harm her just because she had been unfortunate enough to get involved with the wrong woman.

Even a soul as dark as his couldn’t find a good enough reason to extinguish her light. So he decided that when the time came he would use her as a bargaining tool… nothing more.

The opportunity presented itself two days before the group reached Amphipolis. Gabrielle and Larissa one of her Amazon Guard left the campsite headed for the river to clean the dirty dishes after the evening meal.

Jett had already taken up a position in the woods hidden from sight so when the women knelt down on the riverbank and started a quiet conversation as they went about their task he ran from his hiding place with his crossbow at the ready.

Never slowing his pace on his path to Gabrielle he shot Larissa in the chest as she stood to defend her Queen.

Before Gabrielle could remove her sais from their boot straps he was upon her. To her shock and dismay she was once again met with the image of Jace and now Joxer. ‘This is getting ridiculous’ she thought to herself as she calmed in the man’s presence.

Looking at him she realized that this man wasn’t at all like the other two. His eyes didn’t have the compassion of Jace or the loyalty of Joxer. His dark eyes were filled with nothing but menace.

She was pulled from her observations when she heard Larissa moan in pain and it caused her to react without thought.

With the intentions of checking the guard’s wound the small woman was about to kneel down beside the Amazon to tend to her.

But their attacker grabbed her by the arm and turned her around placing her back against his chest pinning her arms behind her. His sweaty hand covered her mouth as he whispered in her ear.

“Shut up and start walking.”

She followed his instructions hoping Larissa could hold on until she could think of a way out their present circumstances.

She let herself be led back to their camp without resistance and when the firelight revealed her to the other occupants their greetings were cut short as another body appeared behind her obviously holding her captive.

Xena stood quickly with every intention of ending the life of the man that dared to touch her beloved. But when she was close enough to make out his face… she was stunned.

Her stupor only lasted a heart beat before she took more cautious steps forward. “Who are you and what do you want?”

Jett just smiled. He was almost disappointed when the powerful woman hesitated in her advance that one action proving that his theory was true. She would do anything to ensure the small woman’s safety. Her defeat would come too easy.

Jett released Gabrielle’s arms and dropped his hands to her waist in a more intimate hold. The change didn’t go unnoticed by Xena and the Conqueror in her began to stir causing her right hand to seek out her chakram.

Jett removed one hand and pulled out a dagger placing it at Gabrielle’s throat. “Now now Xena. Don’t be too hasty. I’d hate to accidentally leave a mark on her unscarred skin.”

Just to add to the dark woman’s displeasure Jett placed a delicate kiss on the side of Gabrielle’s head taking a moment to enjoy the sweet smelling hair that covered it.

And in that instant he wished that his life had been different if only to have had the opportunity to lie in this golden woman’s embrace.

Reading the man’s intentions the Amazons and the protectors moved forward ready to save their Queen at the first opening that was presented to them.

“Stay back or I’ll kill her” the assassin said as he pulled his prisoner closer. “I am aware of the wolf women that travel with you and if one of them tries anything your Queen will be dead before they can raise a claw.”

He looked around him and felt disgust when he recognized a few familiar faces. They were the same warriors that had fought by his father’s side in his attempt to defeat Xena The Destroyer of Nations.

Now they stood firm prepared to defend the one that had killed Thalamus willing to give their lives for her if necessary.

He zeroed in on one of the men and his lip curled with hatred. “Brygus I guess she made you an offer that you couldn’t refuse.”

Unwilling to be pulled into an argument with the assassin Brygus just shrugged his shoulders and gripped the hilt of his sword tighter.

The temporary paralysis that had set in when Joxer recognized his brother was lifted as the confused tavern keep stepped forward from the shadows to confront the assassin.

The dangerous glint in his brother’s eyes and the tension in his body alerted the tavern owner to the fine line that Jett walked and he didn’t want to make any sudden moves for fear of setting off the unpredictable nature that drove Jett. So he slowly moved into the assassin’s line of sight hoping to take the man’s focus off of his captive.

“Jett what are you doing?”

“Hello Joxer it’s been a long time. Under different circumstances I would say it was good to see you but considering the fact that you are traveling with the whore that killed our father…” He let the rest of his statement drift off knowing that Joxer understood his meaning.

“What are you talking about? Our Lord Conqueror didn’t kill Thalamus. His failed attempt at defeating her army ended his life.”

“You have always been short sighted little brother. If she had not been so set on taking over Greece our father would never have tried to stop her quest for dominance.

Things would have gone on as they were warlords claiming a parcel of land here and there without the interference of one person trying to rule us all.

But no. She wanted it all. It wasn’t enough for her to control the western waters and the lands east of it. She had to have it all and lord over the whole country.”

His words brought back memories of her youth and for a moment Xena recalled her bloodthirsty days and her single minded efforts to become the Destroyer of Nations not caring about the ruined lives that she left in her wake.

Gabrielle saw her lover’s focus go inward and knew that Xena was remembering her past and from the sadness that she witnessed in the pale blue eyes she knew that the memories were laced with regret but now wasn‘t the time she had to get Xena‘s head back in the game.

So she spoke quickly. “Joxer you are a warrior were you with Thalamus when he engaged Xena’s army?”

The man dropped his head in shame causing Jett to call up memories of the erstwhile fighter’s pain when he showed a lack of skill during battle.

“No Queen Gabrielle. Our father never thought me much of a fighter so long before he faced the Destroyer of Nations I had gone out on my own hoping to prove myself before returning.”

He raised his head and looked at his brother. “I was engaged in a few skirmishes along the way then I met Meg on one of my visits to a local brothel and fell for her.

After five seasons of sharing her company whenever I was in the area I asked her to marry me and we became a tavern owners four moons ago. After that I never looked back to the life that I had led… until now.”

He stood tall and held the gaze of eyes that looked so much like his own determined to make a connection with his sibling he spoke from his heart. “I’ve missed you Jett.”

Everyone saw the assassin’s hold on the Queen relax and prepared to attack whenever the opportunity presented itself for the small woman to make an escape.

Blue eyes that were now fully aware of the situation never lost contact with confident green. Xena knew that whenever she made her move Gabrielle would react in perfect synchronicity.

Joxer saw the difference in his brother’s body language and decided that the best chance for Jett’s survival was to continue filling his head with memories of their family.

“I hear that Jace is doing well.”

He winced when brown eyes went dark at the mention of Jace’s name. He had forgotten how just the thought of their brother could send Jett into a tirade.

“Don’t speak that weak sister’s name in my presence. Not only does he disgrace the family with the life that he has chosen to live he serves in this bitch’s court as nothing more than a well paid jester.”

His outburst brought the armed troops closer making him bring his knife closer to Gabrielle’s throat.

“Don’t come any closer. All of you turn around!”

Xena told her forces to hold and Gabrielle did the same with slight movements of her hand.

“Now I want all of you to start walking until I tell you to stop.”

Again their leaders told them to comply and the small army of soldiers and Amazons started to move forward.

Once the desired distance had been reached between Jett and the ruler‘s fighters he walked Gabrielle to Xena’s side and released her as he pulled a loaded crossbow from its shoulder harness.

“I want the two of you to walk no more than three paces ahead of me. I’ll tell you to stop when we reach the area that I’ve designated for your burial Xena.”

Feeling guilty about the turn of events Joxer tried one last time to reason with his rogue brother. “You know that you can’t walk away from this don’t you?”

“There goes that short sight again. Of course I know I won’t live through this but I will die knowing that I have made my father proud.”

Jett then motioned with his arm and told his sibling to join the women as they walked in front of him. Soldiers Amazons and Protectors walked ahead of their rulers frequently looking back to keep an eye on the assassin’s moves.

It was during one of these moments that Joxer turned to his brother and saw Jett raise his crossbow aiming it at the Conqueror’s back.

Everything happened in slow motion. Joxer saw his brother’s intentions and screamed “Nooo!” as he rushed to stop him.

The bow was released and the bolt lodged itself in the approaching man’s shoulder. Joxer’s momentum carried him forward causing his body to crash into the assassin’s taking them both down.

The yell made Xena turn around with her hand placed on her chakram ready to launch it but all movement ceased when she saw the tavern keeper tackle his brother and send them both to the ground.

The troops rushed forward and surrounded the prone bodies ready to defend any action that was directed towards their rulers.

Unfortunately for Jett one of the many knives that were hidden on his body had pierced his chest. The black leather vest that he wore was quickly being soaked with his blood as a feeble hand tried to dislodge the blade.

Gabrielle ran to them and rolled Joxer off of his brother as she tore cloth from her clothes pressing the material into the wound attempting to stop the flow of blood.

They all gathered around the man seeing the amount of blood that he was losing they knew that it was just a matter of time.

Dark brown eyes looked into sorrowful green as the assassin struggled for his next breath. His eyes then wondered over the small blonde’s shoulder and was surprised to see regret in the blue orbs that greeted him.

“I… I would think that you would have a look of triumph as you gaze down on me in victory.”

Gabrielle turned her head and looked at the despair on her lover’s face making her heart clench at the grief stricken sight. She knew that Xena took no pleasure in this man’s death.

The dark woman moved closer to the dying man and looked upon him with compassion. “No Jett. Your death will not be greeted with celebration but with remorse.

You felt justified in your actions. You thought that you were righting a wrong. I send your body to Hades with no ill will.”

The honesty that he saw in her eyes and heard in her voice prompted him to do one last noble act before he left the land of the living.

He pulled Gabrielle’s hand close to his chest and took a chance that she would believe him. “I… I would have never harmed you.”

The golden woman smiled at him in an effort to give him comfort. “Thank you for saying that.”

He looked around the circle of honorable warriors that surrounded him and let the part of him that he shared with Joxer and Jace reveal itself.

“I wish I had met you all sooner maybe things would have been different for me.”

His eyes settled on his brother and he was filled with remorse. Joxer’s wound was being tended to and brown eyes that were the mirror of his own glistened with unshed tears.

“Don’t be sad Joxer. All things serve the loom. Then his eyes sifted to address the Conqueror. “I must tell you who sent me on this mission.”

He then proceeded to tell Xena about Tellus and every noble that was behind this failed plot. As he finished they all heard the fluid as it filled his lungs making him cough.

The small clearing went quiet just before Jett spoke his last words. “Joxer tell Jace that my final thoughts were of him and that I was sorry for the distance that I created between us.”

As he took his last breath and gave his life over to the fates Xena reached into her purse and placed a coin in the dead man’s palm to pay for his passage.

“I’ll gladly pay your debt to Charon for your ride across the river Styx. Your last words were unselfish and will never be forgotten.”

Joxer became inconsolable and Gabrielle felt the need to comfort him. “Don’t be sorry Joxer.

She turned and swept her hands around the campsite. “All of us have a destiny to fulfill. That is why you followed us. Maybe this moment was predetermined. Maybe it was meant for you to be present when your brother took his last breath as a way to finalize the last chapter of his life with a family member present to witness his passing.”

Devastated brown eyes closed as the tavern keeper took in the Queen’s words. He wept over his brother’s body sending out a prayer to accompany his spirit as he crossed over.

They waited in silence as the assassin passed over. They buried his body and placed a marker on the grave before turning their attention back to journey at hand.

Every person present now realized that they were playing a part in a story that had been written centuries before their birth and prayed to the gods that they wouldn‘t meet the same end as the repentant assassin.

Part 25

When they were one days ride from Amphipolis Xena started to withdraw into herself. After they stopped for the evening the Conqueror’s tent was raised so they could settle in for what they knew would be an easy night.

As she changed into a sleep shift Gabrielle looked to her companion. Xena was sitting on the side of their bunk lost in her own thoughts.

“Xena what’s on your mind?”

Never wanting to keep anything from her lover Xena patted the side of the bed inviting Gabrielle to sit beside her.

“Tomorrow we will cross into Amphipolis.”

“I know” the blonde woman said. “That’s where your mead comes from.”

Xena became a little agitated before she spoke her next words. “That’s not all. The mead that is shipped from here is…”

She held Gabrielle’s hands before she continued. “Is brewed by the local innkeeper her name is Cyrene and… she’s my mother.”

The only indication that the information registered with the bard-Queen was the widening of her green eyes. Seeing that Xena didn’t know how to proceed with the new information Gabrielle asked her a question.

“When was the last time you spoke with your mother?”

The tall woman laid back on top of the covers and stared at the cloth covered ceiling of their tent. “I haven’t seen Cyrene since I was sixteen winters old.”

Gabrielle remembered her lover telling her why she had left her village ten seasons before and found it hard to believe that during all of her travels Xena had never found the time to go back to her home for a visit.

Even though her own father had turned his back on her over the last five seasons Gabrielle had made a few visits to Potidaea in an effort to maintain a connection with her family.

Knowing that it wasn’t the time to reflect on her own parental problems Gabrielle returned her attention to her troubled lover.

“Why so long love?”

Xena turned on the side and caressed the small woman’s thigh as she thought about her answer. “The last time I saw my mother she made it clear that she held me responsible for the death of my brother.

I left Amphipolis vowing to never return until I redeemed myself. Before I could accomplish my goal Caesar entered my life and everything became dark. And within a blink of an eye many seasons had passed and I had become… a monster only adding to my mother’s shame.”

“Xena you are no longer that person. I see the changes in you everyday that we spend together.”

The dark woman stood so abruptly from the bed that her mate was unprepared. “Gabrielle you have no idea of what I am capable of.”

The golden woman approached her tortured lover and pressed her body against the taller woman’s back as her arms circled her waist.

“Tell me love I want to hear the worst of it.”

The sting that Xena felt at the back of her eyes surprised her and when Gabrielle changed her position so that she could look into her mate’s face Xena pulled the woman closer and sobbed into her honey colored hair.

“I… I have had men drawn and quartered for disobeying my orders. I have lined the streets with the heads of my enemies staked on top of post just to put fear in the hearts of those that would defy me.”

A tear streaked face looked upon the only judge that could sentence her to eternal damnation. “I’ve sat silent as men demoralized women in every way possible for their own pleasure.”

Gabrielle tried to pull away from her lover’s embrace but Xena held her tight. “I didn’t know any better then. If it helps I’ll tell you that after the first incidence of a woman being treated with brutality I never sat silent again.

From that moment on I didn’t let the men that we came upon continue with their treatment of women. They were punished in a way that never allowed them to commit such acts again.”

The small woman released a breath and tried to regain some composure. The revelations were more than she had expected. She knew that Xena had a ruthless past but hearing the confessions from her lover’s own mouth was harder to take than she had ever imagined.

Taking Gabrielle‘s silence as condemnation the ruler bowed her head and folded her hands in her lap. “I’m so sorry my love… please don’t hate me.”

The Amazon Queen knew that she had to control of her reactions. If she made an incorrect move this moment could very well lead to a disastrous outcome changing their course once again.

“I understand my love. You did what you felt was necessary to maintain control. When you knew better you did better. “

Feeling a glimmer of hope start to shine in her heart Xena grabbed on to her lover with both hands. “Yes that’s true.”

She implored her lover’s understanding with pleading blue eyes. “Gabrielle I’m so sorry. I can’t tell you how sorry I am for what I’ve done in the past but I promise you from this day forward I’ll be better. Just please please don’t hate me.”

Unable to listen to her lover’s anguished pleas any longer Gabrielle tried to sooth the dark woman’s fears with gentle caresses.

“Never Xena. I will never hate you. I may become angry with you but hate will never be an emotion that comes between us.”

Feeling energized and needing reassurance Xena’s hands started to roam over her lover’s body in an expression of need that could only be satisfied by their coming together physically.

“I need to be close to you Gabrielle.”

The desire that she saw reflected in her mate’s blue eyes ignited the Amazon Queen’s own need and she welcomed the opportunity to reconnect with the lover that she had come to know. The blonde woman rose from the bed and started to remove her clothes.

“Your wish is my command Conqueror.”

The lust filled words moved Xena into action and with a few quick movements she stood naked. She then laid her long body out on the bed as the smaller woman came to rest on top of her.

Then they started to move together in a dance that had become very familiar. It wasn’t long before the campgrounds were filled with the cries of passionate release that sealed a bond that had become fortified by the revelations of a tortured soul’s repentance to her only confessor.

*******

The travelers entered Amphipolis hungry and tired. Gabrielle pulled her mount beside Xena’s and touched her lover’s arm.

“Are you okay my love?”

Xena didn’t answer verbally instead she nodded her head. Knowing that her mate needed some time to gain control of her emotions before seeing her mother for the first time in ten summers Gabrielle dismounted and instructed the troops to stable the horses and make arrangements at the inn.

“Can you do this Xena?”

Nervous blue eyes turned to gaze upon the only love that she had ever known. “With you by my side I can do anything.”

Gabrielle smiled. “Who knows maybe this will be the first steps to getting your family back.”

Xena captured her lover’s lips in a kiss of pure devotion. “You are my family Gabrielle. As long as I have you nothing else matters.”

*******

When they entered the inn it was filled to capacity so they headed to a table occupied by the Amazons where two seats were left vacant.

A server took their order and left them. When the food was delivered Xena was so caught up in the conversations that surrounded her she didn’t notice who placed the food in front of her.

“Conqueror I hope you find your meal adequate.”

Xena looked at her mother for the first time since she was a young girl and took note of the changes that had occurred over the seasons.

Her auburn hair held only a few strands of gray but her waist was a little thicker and her face looked tired from the seasons of hard work it took to run an inn.

She stared at the woman looking for the hurt and blame that was present in her eyes the last time she saw her but all she saw was a guarded expression and… regret?

Taking a chance she pushed her chair away from the table and stood to her full height looking down on the woman that had given her life.

Everyone in the room was shocked when the Conqueror of Greece bowed her in supplication to the innkeeper everyone except Gabrielle.

“I am not your Conqueror mother I’m your child.”

Meslena looked at Palaemon and whispered. “She has a mother?”

The general rolled his eyes at his lover and answered her sarcastically. “No… she was born of wolves. Of course she has a mother.”

Meslena responded with a little heat. “Don’t be a jester. You know what I mean.”

Palaemon understood Meslena’s reaction he just hated the fact that no one saw his leader’s humanity. Then his eyes tracked to the small blonde standing by her side. No one but her.

Cyrene was taken aback by Xena’s act of deference and her heart soared with the possibilities it may bring. She reached up and lifted the mature face so that she could see her clearly.

When the sad blue eyes became visible she took a step back. What she saw wasn’t possible. Those eyes the ones that had always looked at her with trust and love were the same.

Over time Cyrene had come to realize her error in blaming Xena for her younger brother’s death. She had gained a broader perspective on life and when Toris her oldest had returned she was finally able to understand that the sacrifice of few had saved the lives of many.

If Xena had run for the hills the way her older brother had Amphipolis would have been lost and the citizens would have been enslaved.

She knew of Xena’s exploits since leaving their village and more often than not she would wake up in the night hearing the sound of her hand hitting her daughter’s face in accusation wondering if her rejection had sat her on her path of destruction.

There were times that she thought to seek her daughter out and embrace her letting her know that all was forgiven but when Xena became the Conqueror she thought that it was too late.

But now standing in front of her was a lost child a child that needed her mother’s love and acceptance once again. But she didn’t know what to do. Seeing that the two women were at an impasse Gabrielle made her presence known by introducing herself.

“Hello Cyrene. I am Gabrielle Queen of the Amazon Nation.”

She then hooked her hand in Xena’s elbow. “And mate of our Lord Conqueror.”

The sweet sound of Gabrielle’s voice brought Xena back to herself and she looked lovingly into clear green eyes before officially introducing them.

“Forgive me my love.”

She removed Gabrielle’s hand from her elbow and kissed it before resting her arm across her mate’s shoulders.

“Gabrielle this is my mother Cyrene of Amphipolis. Mother this is Gabrielle Queen of the Amazons and future Queen of Greece.”

The title took Gabrielle by surprise. She never thought about the change in status that would come when she joined with Xena and to hear it said out loud was a bit of a shock.

Taking in the presence of the small blonde Cyrene felt the compassion that radiated from her. Instinctively she knew that this woman would guide Xena away from the path of darkness that she had unintentionally set her daughter on with her grief stricken words spoken so long ago.

Maybe… just maybe they would be given a second chance and mother and daughter could re-establish a relationship that had been severed before it was able to take took root.

“It is an honor to meet you Cyrene.”

“And you Queen Gabrielle.”

“Please just Gabrielle.”

This made the auburn haired woman smile. “Gabrielle it is.”

Noticing that Xena was now speechless Gabrielle invited Cyrene to join them. The other occupants sensed the need for privacy and excused themselves taking their chairs with them to join their comrades at another table.

The three women sat staring at one another before Gabrielle broke the silence. “I have had the pleasure of tasting the mead that you make and I must congratulate you. It is outstanding.”

Cyrene’s face showed her gratitude. “Thank you Qu… I mean Gabrielle. It is a recipe that I have used since Xena was in knaps.”

She turned to her daughter. “Do you remember the time I caught you and Lyceus sneaking a taste from the barrel?”

Blue eyes went soft in memory. “Yeah but the thing I remember most was the paddling you gave us afterwards.”

She addressed Gabrielle. “Mother told us if we were grown up enough to drink it then we were grown up enough to make a wage and pay for it.”

Gabrielle rested her cheek on her propped up hand. “Sounds reasonable.”

“It does except for the fact that we were five and eight respectively.”

Gabrielle laughed. “Well I guess that would make a difference.”

Xena was surprised that the memory didn’t lead to accusations. It only seemed to fill her mother’s features with melancholy.

“You know Gabrielle those two were inseparable. If Xena decided to go exploring he was right behind her. If she decided to campout in the woods he had his things packed before she could gather her own. No matter how many times I forbade him to follow her he would find a way. There was no stopping him.”

She turned to her daughter and hesitantly covered her large hands with her own as she looked into her pained blue eyes. “He made his own choices. Lyceus was determined to go his own way.”

Xena’s eyes went wide. “What are you saying?” she asked in strangled whisper.

“I’m saying that I was wrong daughter. I was wrong to blame you. I knew it then but by the time I was able to voice it it was too late. You were gone.”

Cyrene reached up and wiped away the tears that were flowing from her daughter’s eyes. “Xena can you forgive me? My harsh words and slap to your face were my grief speaking. If I had been thinking clearly I would never have done those things.”

She wiped tears from her own face. “And I would not have sent you out into the wilderness to make your own way. You were a young girl and should have never been put in that position. I…”

Xena stopped her mother’s words of self-deprecation. “No mother. It wasn’t your fault. I should never have left. You had a right to your grief. One son was dead and the other had run off. I should have stayed and helped you through it instead of leaving you alone.”

“You were a child Xena. I was the adult.”

She removed the last tears from her face and regained her composure. “Besides I haven’t been alone the entire time. A season after the attack Toris returned and has been helping me run this place ever since.”

Xena’s spirits were lifted. “Toris is here?”

“Yes daughter. He is in the cellar bringing up a barrel of that mead Gabrielle seems to like so much.”

Seeing an opportunity to lift the blanket of sadness that had fallen over them Gabrielle interjected some humor.

“I hope he’s quick about it I’m as dry as a bone.”

Everyone laughed. “Excuse her mother but Gabrielle has become a convert. The only mead she will drink now has to come from Amphipolis.”

Cyrene stood to take her leave. “Then I guess it’s a good thing she’s here where the supply is endless.”

The older woman looked down on her child and decided to take a chance by listening to her heart. She bent down and placed a kiss on the cheek of the most feared person in Greece.

“I’m so very glad to see you daughter. Never stay away this long again… welcome home.”

*******

Several days were spent in Amphipolis giving Joxer and Larissa time to heal from their injuries. On one of these days spent doing nothing the soldiers of the Realm and the Amazon warriors decided to have a weapon’s contest as a way to pass the time and practice their skills.

The Amazons had taunted the soldiers saying they were more ready for battle because they were trained from childhood to be proficient with not one weapon but two.

Hearing a challenge in their boasts it was decided that a contest would be held to determine whose skills were greater.

There would be no sparring instead different skills would be tested by accuracy. Throwing knives shooting arrows and dagger twirling to test dexterity.

Stations were set up in a field behind the inn to host the competition. Word spread of the activities and villagers started to gather placing blankets and bringing baskets of food to witness the competition.

The excitement was such that even Toris was anxious to witness the events. He had been angry with his sister for so long that when she returned he had made every effort to avoid her.

He glanced over at the blonde woman that was sitting beside his sister and felt a smile crease his face remembering the stern talking to the woman had given him not long after they arrived.

Seeing how her brother’s treatment was affecting Xena Gabrielle pulled Toris aside and asked him what his problem was.

*******

“I would think you’d be happy to have your sister come for a visit after all this time. But that’s not how you’re acting. What’s wrong with you?”

The tall man tried to walk away from the annoying woman but he was stopped in his tracks when she grabbed him by the arm.

“Let go of me.”

“No I won’t. Not until you tell me why you are treating her this way.”

Blue eyes that resembled her mate’s looked down on her and when he saw that she was expecting an answer he stopped trying to walk away and took in a deep breath.

“You wouldn’t understand.”

“Try me. I just might surprise you.”

“I doubt it. You could never understand what it’s like to watch your younger sister take on an invading warlord as you…”

He had to stop and gather himself before continuing. “As you ran for to safety.”

Ah now she got it. Toris wasn’t upset that Xena had talked the villagers into fighting he was upset that he had not done it himself.

She gentled her voice and patted the arm that she still held. “You don’t hate her for who she is you are angry because she makes you see who you are not.”

The impact of her words made his knees go weak. He wasn’t ready to face this. One sentence from this small woman had brought out all of his insecurities.

He felt tears sting his eyes as he spoke his shame. “When I came back to the village and it was still here. I…I was humiliated. Then I found out that my brother had been killed while fighting beside our sister and I couldn’t take it… so I left.”

Then word spread about her campaign to keep the village safe and I hated her. Now look at her. She rules the land.”

Gabrielle spoke her next words with caution. “Do you think that should have been you?”

Toris thought for a moment and pulled away from her touch. “Maybe at one point I thought that but over the seasons I have come to realize that Xena is one of a kind. I would have been long dead if I had tried to do what she has done.”

He saw forgivness in her eyes and he was finally able to forgive himself for his cowardice. “Don’t hold her strength against her Toris. See it for what it is. She was meant for greatness. Her path has been winding but with the love of those that know her she can find her way and become all that she was meant to be.”

*******

After that little intervention Toris made it a point to engage his sister and talk to her and after a time he was confronted with the village girl that he had known in his youth.

She still had that quirky sense of humor that would infuriate him when they were children. And after an evening spent drinking ale and talking about old times he had to admit that he missed the tomboy that he had grown up with.

Now seeing her playfully ruffle her mate’s blonde hair his smile became even bigger as Xena stood from her seat and got everyone’s attention.

“Since you knuckleheads think that you have something to prove I’m going to announce the start of this… these games of skill.”

She sat back down and Gabrielle squeezed her thigh. “Well done love.”

*******

Solari’s skills with the bow and arrow Eponin’s prowess with the crossbow Meslena’s experience with the labris and Minya’s undefeated usage of the battle axe won the events with ease.

Never one to concede defeat Xena suggested other forms of competition to test skills. Gabrielle raised a fair brow in question.

“Are you adding to the events?”

The smile on Xena’s face alerted the blonde Queen that her mate had something in mind.

“How about non-weapon events?”

“Like?” The Queen asked.

“Oh… I don’t know say a foot race or maybe a wrestling match or even a competition using the horses.”

“Okay. When do we start?”

Xena jumped from her chair with enthusiasm. “As soon as we can mark off a distance for running and build a few low fences for the horses to jump over. I’d say that shouldn’t take more than three marks.”

Gabrielle stood to make her way to her warriors. “Fine. I’ll tell the ladies about the new challenge and let them prepare.”

*******

When everyone was in place Xena once again called for the start of the games. It seemed as if more villagers were in attendance than before and the air was filled with excitement.

The first event was the wrestling competition. The stocky Amazon Minya crouched down in front of Lemar one of Xena’s strongest fighters in hand to hand combat.

For a few moments they just circled one another looking for an opening. Then suddenly Minya dropped to her knees and grabbed Lamar around his legs bringing the big man down with a thud.

The Amazons let out a yell of encouragement then became silent when Lamar reached back and grabbed her waist to reverse their position.

Minya was strong but didn’t have the lower body strength that Lamar did. After bucking her hips and twisting her body for several beats the Amazon had to relax her shoulders and give in to defeat.

The soldier’s voices raised up in victory as Xena announced the first event being won by the soldiers of the Realm.

She cut her eyes over to her mate with a smirk on her face. “Don’t look so smug Conqueror that was just the first event.”

Unfortunately for the Amazons it was a pattern that repeated itself in the following challenges. Palaemon’s strong strokes had no problem outdistancing Solari across the pond and back and when Meslena found herself looking at the back of Glaphyra’s head as the solider crossed the finish line two steps ahead of her in the foot race Xena could no longer hold back the smile that wanted to crease her face.

Gabrielle admitted defeat by smacking her lover’s leather covered stomach. “Okay so you have us three to zero but there is still the horse competition.”

Xena tried to look hopeful but it was a difficult task. She was an excellent equestrian and had taught her soldiers how to handle their mounts in battle so she had confidence in their victory.

Gabrielle sat and looked on in amazement as Roan maneuvered his horse around the field. The equine seemed to respond to the slightest of movement that he dictated.

She watched as the soldier made his horse sidestep kneel and rear up on his hind legs using his front hooves to swipe at the air as if the horse was boxing.

When it came time for the jumping events Gabrielle just covered her eyes and waited for the sound of triumph from Xena’s army to die down.

The Amazons were well trained in multiple weapons but the soldiers of the Realm were not only great fighters they were a group of well-rounded defenders. Then and there she decided that upon their return to Euboreas the Amazon warriors would start a regimen of training that included swimming running and horse maneuvers. There was no way she going to have her fighters be second best to anyone.

*******

After the competition was over the atmosphere became festive and barmaids brought out pitchers of ale for the participants.

The villagers were seated around the field relaxing on blankets and eating from baskets that had been brought from home. This gave Xena an idea.

The two rulers were resting on a blanket that had been laid out for them sharing a private moment as the festivities went on around them.

“I’ve been thinking” Xena said.

Green eyes rolled as the Queen took a sip of her mead. “That’s dangerous.”

“Ha-ha. But seriously. Look around. The people seem to have enjoyed today’s events… don’t you think?”

Gabrielle looked around at the happy faces and heard the laughter as the children played. “Yes it seems so.”

“I have an idea. What do you think about holding these types of competitions for the surrounding villages you know as a way to give them a constructive outlet for their physical abilities?”

The smile was immediate. This was an excellent idea. “Sounds good. Who knows maybe it will keep down the fighting.”

“My thoughts exactly.”

“How often will they be held?”

“I don’t know… maybe once a season that way the people that want to compete can have a full season to practice their skills and the villages can send their best competitors to participate.”

The fair haired woman’s face softened and her green eyes were filled with love for her dark mate. She wouldn’t tell her not yet but this was the first thing Xena had ever thought to do for the people’s pleasure.

It wasn’t a plot or an act of force to keep them in line it was something just for them a day of competition and celebration. She was proud of Xena and the kiss that she gave her showed it.

Xena looked confused. “What was that for?”

“Because I love you because I think you are remarkable and because your idea is just what the people need.”

*******

On the day of their departure Cyrene and Toris stood with then young rulers before they took their leave. “Here I made up a travel meal for the two of you so you don’t go hungry.” Cyrene said with sadness in her voice.

Xena accepted the food bag as she enveloped her mother in an embrace and kissed her cheek. “Thank you mother. Thank you for everything.”

Cyrene tried to stop the tears from falling but she was unsuccessful. “I’ll miss you daughter. Don’t be a stranger. This will always be your home.”

The heart felt words touched Xena in a place that had long been in need of healing but when her eyes fell upon her mate she knew that she had already found her home.

“Count on it mother. You’ll grow tired of me before all is said and done but know that the two of you will always be welcome if you decide to visit the palace.”

She gave her brother a warrior’s embrace then mounted her horse. She looked around her home village one last time before giving the signal to ride out. Their next destination… Potidaea.

“ONWARD!” she yelled then gave her mother a parting glance. ‘I will return mother. Never doubt it.’

Part 26

Gabrielle laid tucked under her lover’s chin as they waited for sleep to find them. They had left Amphipolis two days before and the bard-Queen was feeling unsure about her reception when she reached her parent’s home.

“I want you to promise me no matter what my father mat say you won’t react to it.”

The request stunned the naked woman. Gabrielle had never expressed the possibility of a negative encounter when she returned to the small farming village.

“Why would your father say something to insight me love? They are well aware of what your life has been since the slaver‘s failed attempt… aren‘t they?”

Gabrielle changed her position so that she could look into her lover’s eyes. “Yes but my father has been… shall I say less than accepting.”

“Why?”

Green eyes dropped in shame as the blonde woman told her lover about her father’s disappointment because she never returned to Potidaea to marry Perdicus.

“Every time I came to visit my father refused to see me. He said that I had abandoned the family leaving them in shame by choosing to live with the Amazons turning my back on the contract that he had made on my behalf.”

Xena understood. “Don’t worry love. If Cyrene and Toris can put my past behind them I’m sure that Herodotus can do the same. But on a lighter note. Aren‘t you excited to see Lila and your niece and nephew?”

The change was immediate. “Yes. Myron is four and Aspasia should have reached her second season by now.”

“Then I say let’s concentrate on your reunion with your sister and her offspring and deal with your father when the time comes.”

Gabrielle returned to her nest on Xena’s shoulder. “You always seem to make things better.”

Xena kissed the blonde head under her chin. “And it will always be so.”

*******

The caravan that entered Potidaea was met with curious stares. Gabrielle directed the entourage to the only inn in the small village and stood outside as Palaemon and Meslena made arraignments.

“Relax my love. Whatever happens know that I will never leave your side.” Xena said to her nervous companion.

She placed her hands on her mate’s slight shoulders and looked into her eyes. “Gabrielle do you want to go to your family’s farm now or do you want to wait until tomorrow when you’ve had time to rest?”

‘I’m always her main priority’ the Queen thought as she considered her options. “I want to get this over with. Let’s rest a little then take a small contingent out to the farm.”

Xena looped her future Queen’s hand into the crook of her elbow and walked them towards the inn. “As you wish.”

*******

Gabrielle stood motionless on the porch of her family home trying to gain the courage to knock on the door. Xena stood behind her hoping that her presence would give the small woman the strength that was needed to take this final step.

The Potidaean looked behind her and saw the men and women that waited ready willing and able to come to her defense if necessary. But it wasn’t their presence that steeled her resolve to move forward it was the wall of protection that pressed itself against her back filling her being with warmth and security that prompted her to take that last step.

She knocked on the door and waited for it to be opened. It was a pleasant surprise when Lila opened the door and stood motionless staring at her long absent sister.

“Gabrielle!!!” she shrieked before embracing the smaller woman in a heartfelt hug.

Ignoring the other people that filled the front yard Lila pulled her sister into their childhood home as she called for their mother.

“Mother come see. Gabrielle has come home!”

Hecuba couldn’t believe what she was hearing and excited the kitchen as she wiped away the flour from her hands.

When she saw that Lila spoke the truth she rushed to Gabrielle and pulled her close repeating words of thanks over and over.

It was then that Herodotus entered through the back door and questioned the number of horses in the front yard. “Why has my farm been overrun with soldiers?”

Xena stepped forward and for the first time Hecuba and Lila were aware of another presence. “That’s my fault sir. It seems that I can no longer travel without a phalanx of troops behind me.”

Herodotus knew who this woman was immediately and tensed at her presence. “Why are you here Conqueror?”

Hecuba and Lila were filled with apprehension when Herodotus addressed the ruler. They were well aware of his displeasure of her rule and feared that he would express his views only to bring the woman’s infamous wrath down on them.

“Don’t look so frightened Hecuba. This is still my house and a man should be able to speak his mind in his own home… she hasn’t taken that right away… yet.”

Before another word could be spoken two small children ran up and grabbed Lila around her legs. The older of the two spoke up and innocently dissipated the highly charged energy in the room.

“Mommy who are these people?”

Lila picked up the small boy and turned him to face her sister. “Don’t you remember your aunt Gabrielle? She has come for a visit.” Then she turned to Xena. “And this is her…”

She looked to Gabrielle for approval before continuing. “This is her friend Xena. She rules all of Greece. They have come to see you.”

The boy wiggled down from his mother’s arms and stood in front of his sister in a show of protection. Seeing such bravery in one so young made Xena think what a fine man Myron would one day become.

Then her thoughts stopped traveling along those lines and redirected themselves to the obvious. This child was protecting his sister from her… but why?

The one thing Myron’s grandfather had told him through stories since he could retain memory was how ruthless Xena the Conqueror was and if she was here to hurt them it was his job to keep Aspasia from the meanest person he had ever heard stories about.

He spread his legs apart and placed his small fists on his hips as he confronted the ruler. “Xena the Conqueror you will not harm my sister if you do I will kill you.”

Everyone in the room was shocked except for Herodotus. His chest stuck out a little in pride. He had trained the boy well.

Xena couldn’t believe that a boy not even fully trained to use a chamber pot on his own knew of her reputation and was ready to face her down if need be. Then she saw the twitch of a barely contained smug on Herodotus’ face and knew the source.

Gabrielle saw the despair on her lover’s face and interceded. “Hello Myron. The last time I saw you you were no older than your sister.”

She knelt down to gain his full attention. “This is my good friend Xena. I see you have heard of her but if you give me a chance I’ll tell you a story that you’ve never heard before.”

The small boy loved stories. He loved to hear them and he loved to make them up to entertain Aspasia so being offered the chance to learn a new one was very appealing.

He relaxed a little. “Okay.”

Gabrielle let the bard in her come forth and spun a tale to children about a brave and noble warrior that fought to save her village and then fought to protect her country. She told of how the warrior’s adventures took her to the highest heights and lowest of lows becoming the ruler of Greece but how in the end the brave warrior rediscovered her true self and set her foot on a path of redemption.

When she ended the tale Myron and Aspasia were so awestruck that all they could do was look up at the dark woman with a newness glowing in their eyes.

“Wow Xena you’re a hero” he said when his aunt stopped talking. Aspasia just nodded her head caught up in her older brother’s excitement. At two seasons old all of her reactions stemmed from her brother’s responses to the outside world.

Herodotus’ displeasure was expressed immediately the man slammed his fist down on the table in anger. “How dare you come here and fill my grandson’s head with lies. That demon is not a hero she is a blight on our lives. And if you are defending her you must be just as bad.”

Xena bristled at the accusation and was about to correct the man’s false statement but Gabrielle beat her to it.

“After all of these seasons you are still bitter. Why father? We have come in the spirit of family. Why can’t you be happy to see me?”

The man’s face turned so red they thought his head would pop off of his shoulders. “You stopped being a member of this family when you chose to live with those unnatural women in the woods.”

Hecuba spoke for the first time since her husband entered the house. “Can’t you forgive Herodotus? Haven’t these children have been through enough?”

Her plea was not only meant for their daughters but their grandchildren also. A season before Lila’s husband Tylissus had been killed when a horse that he was stabling became frightened in the stall and kicked the man in the head killing him instantly.

Myron loved both of his grandparents and hearing the distress in his grandmother’s voice prompted him to take action. Something told him that his aunt’s words were true and maybe Xena wasn’t as bad as he had been taught to believe.

The small boy walked up to the tall woman and tilted his head back so that he could look into her blue eyes. He was too young to know the words to define what he saw but his heart understood. She was sorry for all of the bad things that she had done. And it made him want to be nice to her.

“Grandfather said that you were bad but I think he is wrong.” He looked at the happiness in his aunt’s eyes.
“You make Aunt Gabrielle shine like the sun when she tells your story. No bad person could do that.”

He moved quickly and hugged her long legs. “You are good Xena the Conqueror.”

With those words the village girl from Amphipolis regained her nobility and it made her smile but the smile faded when she looked at Herodotus. Unlike his grandson Gabrielle’s father’s opinion of her had not changed. It made her sad that her future in-law would never accept her into his family.

Then the strategist in her reared up. She had come up against foes more sophisticated than Herodotus of Potidaea. A full frontal attack to make him see her in a different light would never work so she chose to bid her time and slowly reveal her true nature to the man. Then maybe just maybe he would come around.

*******

During their stay in Potidaea Gabrielle informed her family of her future status as Queen of Greece. Lila and Hecuba were happy for her but Herodotus became agitated.

The women had been allowed to stay on the property with their escorts and to everyone’s shock Lila formed an instant friendship with the Amazon Minya. The dark haired Amazon was stocky and her thickly muscled arms could swing a flanged mace with great accuracy.

The friendship seemed harmless enough especially when the other fighters unexpectedly walked into the barn catching Lila directing the oddly costumed Minya in what appeared to a play that the young Potidaean had written.

For marks after that Minya had to take the constant taunting from both the Amazons and the soldiers until Gabrielle brought an end to it with threats of two moons of boarder duty for the Amazons if the teasing didn’t stop.

When she saw the shape shifting prankster Stria headed in Minya’s direction she stopped her in her tracks. “That goes for you too fuzzy bottom.”

She walked away mumbling under her breath. “There is nothing to do here.”

Gabrielle yelled over her shoulder as she left the barn. “Try going hunting. We could use more meat on the table.”

As soon as the door closed behind the Queen the other shape changers started pelting their tall companion with hay and horse turds.

“Thanks a lot troublemaker now our nights have to be spent out in the woods looking for prey” Hyalo said.

Covering her head as best as she could Stria rolled into a ball. “If you guys don’t stop I’m…”

“What?” Nordus asked. “Run and tell on us?”

Stria let her fangs come out a little. “No I’ll just deliver one of you to the Queen’s table. I’m sure any four legged beastie will do.”

Nothing else was said. They knew she had a point.

*******

Xena had taken every opportunity she found to engage the farmer in conversation. Each encounter was used to expose a little more of her softer side.

She didn’t know it yet but Herodotus was slowly starting to gain a small amount of respect for her. When she asked him his thoughts on how much of season’s harvest should be left to the villages the man nearly swallowed his tongue.

He had heard the rumors of village elders going to Corinth and never returning because of a short count on the harvest’s profits. But having her ask him with nothing but honesty showing in those compelling blue eyes he thought that she was sincere.

*******

Days spent with the Conqueror of Greece working beside him in the fields getting as dirty and sweaty as he was started to have an affect on him. He knew that he could never truly open his heart to her but their time together showed him a more human side to the Lord Conqueror.

When she insisted that her soldiers help them in the backbreaking work he saw the potential in her to be a great a leader of the people. He just wasn’t able to reconcile the caring friendly woman that dug in the dirt every morning with the woman that had committed the atrocities of her past.

The answer came to him the night before their departure. While sitting at the table enjoying the evening meal Gabrielle accidentally cut her finger while slicing a piece of meat.

Before his daughter could tend to her injury Xena grabbed a cloth from the table and started to lightly dab at the cut. When the bleeding stopped she raised the digit to her lips and placed a healing kiss to the affected area seemingly unaware of the other people at the table.

“There it’s all better now” she said.

Gabrielle caressed the side of her face. “You fixed my boo boo.”

Xena blushed hard when she heard their table companion’s soft laughter. “Yeah well someone has to watch out for you.”

Herodotus knew that she was a ruthless dictator but in that moment all he saw was a young woman in love and realized just as Cyrene had earlier that Gabrielle was the key. With his daughter by her side to calm her volatile impulses they may all have a chance at happiness.

*******

The next morning they left Potidaea with promises of more visits and invited them to Corinth after the harvest was brought in. Feeling pleased by their ready acceptance of the invite the two rulers left the small village with a feeling of new beginnings.

Part 27

Over the weeks Larissa and Joxer slowly recovered from their injuries. Although she was still having problems breathing the Amazon insisted on continuing with the journey refusing to stay in Potidaea and wait for their return. Live or die she would do it at her Queen’s side.

When they reached the foot of Mount Althos and had set up camp. Xena addressed the troops. “When we reach the cave only a few of you will enter with us the rest will remain outside to keep our path clear. Get your rest tonight and be prepared to head out at first light.”

Knowing that her instructions would be carried out she turned to escort her lover into their tent. The couple were about to undress when three celestial beings appeared. Xena was livid.

“You can’t continue to come to us whenever you please.”

A lustful smirk pulled at her lips. “One of these times you may see something that is very private.”

Aphrodite waved away the protest. “Do you really believe that we’ve never seen the two of you go at it? The sounds alone peaks our curiosity.”

Gabrielle’s face flushed with embarrassment. “You… you’ve watched us?”

The goddess of love moved closer to the blonde woman. “Don’t be ashamed little one. What the two of you share is the essence of my existence.”

The words struck Gabrielle as odd but before she could question the goddess Artemis interrupted.

“There will be time for that later. Now we need to warn you of a threat that approaches.”

Xena rolled her eyes. “You’ve already warned us. We know that someone is trying to stop us.”

Athena stepped forward. “That is not the threat we speak of Xena. In the morning you will be challenged by a two people one is a stranger to you both the other is well known by Gabrielle.”

“More riddles” Xena said. She was growing tired. “Look we followed your instructions. We are here. Tomorrow we will go into the cave and hopefully bring an end to these pop-ins you three seem to thrive on. Are you here trying to have a last bit of fun with us before this journey comes to its completion? Because if you are I have to tell you I have grown very weary your games.”

“We aren’t playing games Xena. There really is a threat. It’s something that we didn’t anticipate but something that you will need to deal with swiftly before you can enter the cave.”

“This isn’t the time for debates love” Gabrielle said. “We are too close let’s listen to them and prepare ourselves so that this whole epical adventure can end.”

“Hear your mate well Conqueror” Artemis said. “Her words will never guide you in the wrong direction.”

Trusting Gabrielle’s instincts Xena stood silent as Athena quietly spoke to them.

*******

Early the next morning they broke camp and started on their last leg of a journey that had taken them away from their homes for moons.

“Gabrielle I’ve been thinking. Can we trust them? Maybe there is no mission. Maybe this is just a way for the gods to test us.”

“Yes I do trust them. I believe everything that they have said from the beginning including this last warning. What’s coming is a distraction. Our true purpose awaits us in the cave.”

Xena could see the opening of the cave just ahead of them and felt her confidence waiver. “Are you sure? We are almost there and we haven’t been confronted by anyone. Since we left Potidaea we haven‘t even run across a band of well organized villagers to challenge us let alone an army with enough skilled fighters to stop us.”

No sooner had the words left her mouth they found themselves under attack. A war cry that sounded very Amazonian in its cadence was heard and suddenly an army of what looked like Amazons and regular fighters were descending upon them.

Eponin, Ephiny, Glaphyra and Palaemon pushed their leaders forward as they formed a barrier between them and the intruders.

Xena pulled her sword and fell into a battle stance. Gabrielle looked towards the cave and was beckoned by a bright light.

She grabbed her lover’s arm and tried to pull her closer to the opening. Xena felt the tug on her arm and looked at her lover trying to understand her lack of a battle stance.

“Gabrielle what are you doing? We are under attack!”

“This isn’t our fight. We need to go forward.”

Just as Xena was about to follow her lover a voice rang out above the battle. “Run you spineless fraud! I always knew that you were not worthy of the mask!”

Gabrielle turned around and saw a face that she hadn’t seen since she took the Queen’s Mask… Velasca.

“Oh my gods.”

“What is it Gabrielle. Who is she?”

“She is an exiled Amazon that thought she should wear the mask.”

Gabrielle knew that there was no time to go into detail so she addressed the tall redhead. “Why are you here Velasca?”

Ignoring the fight around them the former Amazon moved closer to the Queen. “You know that you don’t deserve the mask Gabrielle. Only a true Amazon should be Queen.”

“I have the right of caste. If you were a true Amazon you would accept that.”

“Terreis was dying and Melosa was bereaved. You were never meant to be Queen.”

Then a blonde warrior wearing blue armor stepped up beside the exiled Amazon to address Xena. “I am Najara, and The Jin has sent me to end your barbaric rule, Conqueror. Today you will meet Hades.”

If the situation wasn’t so ridiculous Xena would have laughed. Imagine. Two women showing up at the same time to challenge both the Realm and the Amazon Nation’s rulers just before they entered a cave that the gods had led them to. The bards couldn’t have written a better story.

*******

Najara was unknown to the Greeks but Ares was well aware of her existence. She would have been next in line if her mind wasn’t fragmented by the voices she called the Jin.

Her moments of insight when the Jin spoke to her were inspiring but not clearly thought out making her unstable but still useful to the god of war.

He knew that once Xena and Gabrielle found each other he couldn’t stop them from entering the cave because of their destiny but he knew that he could cause a few diversions to give himself time to place Agnon at the head of a mighty army that would rule Greece in his name.

So he filtered his voice into that of Najara’s guides and told her to travel to Mount Althos where along the way she would join forces with a person that sought to right a wrong.

He also told her that when she reached her destination she would meet a kindred spirit that was being misled and manipulated and her purpose would be to rescue the light from the darkness.

When the strange woman stood beside Velasca and gazed upon Gabrielle she saw a glow and she knew that this golden woman was the one that would join her in her fight to bring mankind to the light.

*******

Xena didn’t like the way that this Najara was looking at her bard and attacked the woman without warning. Najara’s blade was met with a power like she had never come up against before.

But the Jin was guiding her actions so she countered each thrust with equal strength. She was eventually able to get passed Xena’s defenses and slice into her side feeling victorious she wasn’t prepared when Palaemon made his presence known.

When the general saw that his liege was in need of help he rushed to her aid and placed himself between the Conqueror and her attacker giving Xena enough time to regain her footing before pushing her towards the cave’s opening.

“Go Conqueror. And do what you must. We will hold the line!”

Xena grabbed Gabrielle with one hand and covered her injury with the other as she pulled the Queen into the dark portal.

After they crossed the threshold it was sealed immediately leaving them in dark silence. Then suddenly the room came to life with a light and energy that filled the cavern illuminating the room with a palpable force before a voice was heard.

“Welcome young guardians. Your journey is over. Your destiny will now be fulfilled.”

Part 28

Both women spun around and took a defensive stance with their weapons held at the ready.

“Put away your weapons there is nothing to fear in this place.”

Keeping her sword held high Xena spoke first. Where are you?”

There came a gentle laugh. “I am everywhere Conqueror.”

Gabrielle stood beside her lover and instructed her to lower her blade. “Who are you?”

“I thought you would have figured that out by now fair Queen.”

Gabrielle was at a loss. “I’m sorry but I don’t know you.

The light in the room changed and blinded them with the intensity of the sun before it took on the glow of a full moon before the voice spoke again. It was as if the light and the voice were one as it answered.

“I am Gaia. I created all from the void.”

The women were immediately humbled as they were filled with a myriad of emotions ranging from joy to sorrow from fear to awe.

The two rulers lowered their heads in reflex feeling honored to be in the presence of the Great Mother as the voice spoke in the first language.

“I am Sanay, Sanee and Sanah.” (past, present and future) In the blink of an eye there appeared a table laden with food two chairs and a bed.

“Eat and rest brave warrior and wise Queen. On the morrow we have much to discuss.”

In a haze the women ate their fill in silence and fell into the soft bed falling into a deep dreamless sleep.

*******

The next morning feeling well rested they awoke surrounded by calm. “Where are we?” Gabrielle asked.

“You are in the place where the creation of humans began” The voice said. “The place of human birth and rebirth. In this place the human soul is born and returns after death to ease the memories of a past life so that it can be filled with new possibilities for the next incarnation.”

“Why are we here?” Xena asked. “Why did the goddess’ lead us to this place?”

“Ah Conqueror I see that you waste no time when seeking answers.”

Xena remained quite waiting for the Great Mother to continue.

“I will answer your question by telling you a story.” As Gaia spoke the sound of her voice formed pictures in their minds.

“Long seasons past when the world was new all of life’s energies lived here. Mankind roamed free and all were welcome to visit this place.

It was if you will for lack of a better description a viewing place where people could come and witness the light energy of the orbs that drove their existence.

It was quite beautiful then. Even the black and purple orbs that represented man’s darkest emotions was an incredible sight to see.

Mortals visited the cave for many centuries without incident. Then their came the time of Atum. Atum was a simple man with simple desires. Unfortunately one of his desires was to love and be loved by a woman that didn’t return his affections.

Because of her rejection his love turned to hate causing him to embrace the darkness of the black and purple orbs. He then devised a plan to set out on a mission a mission that would end the influence of the love that had been denied to him. He thought that by destroying the orbs that fueled the love that he so desperately wanted could bring him peace.

His plan set in place he traveled to Mount Althos intent on separating the energies that was causing him the pain that was his constant companion.

He knew that he couldn’t end love’s power but he thought if he could split the orb in half maybe its power could be weakened giving him some relief.

His plan was to take one half and throw it into a lava pit causing an eternal parting. I was aware of this and took action to stop him.

I cloaked the energies that dwelled in the cave and chose to separate love’s influence myself by binding its energy with the soul of one that would become two. When he reached the cave and saw that it was dark and bare he became enraged.

I spoke to him trying to ease his hurt by telling him that it was too late I had already bound the energies to soul mates in an effort to join the orbs with mankind.

I thought that this information would cause him to retreat but I was wrong. Atum set out on a new path one that would lead to the death of many innocent people.

He dedicated his life to finding the souls that were the guardians of the orbs with the intentions of killing the carrier and dimming the force.

During his crusade he traveled the land seeking out the guardians. He killed many innocents but was successful a time or two in finding one of the guardians weakening love for a generation.

Before his death his only regret was never being able to find both guardians at the same time. When he died I summoned the three sisters Athena Artemis and Aphrodite giving them the task of leading the soul mates to Mount Althos so that the orbs could be returned to their home and reunited.

Now for the first time since their separation the one soul that became two has been born in the same place at the same time allowing the chance for a rejoining.”

Gabrielle spoke for the first time since the story began. “Are you saying that Xena and I carry the orbs within us?”

The gentle voice answered. “Yes young one. And because you have finally found one another lover’s power can be fully restored.”

Xena held up her hand bewildered. “Wait. I thought that the gods embodied those energies. “

“No Conqueror. The gods are a physical manifestation of those energies. They have powers and give mankind something to believe in and worship but they don’t carry the essence.”

“Why?” Gabrielle asked.

Gaia laughed. “Because wise Queen if I allowed the deities to posses the full power of their physical representations their would be chaos. You must understand a basic fact. Absolute power corrupts absolutely and I think there are more than a few Grecian gods that are corrupt enough.”

“If Xena and I carry love’s energy why has she taken such a dark path?” Green eyes turned lovingly to her tall mate as she patted her stomach offering comfort and letting her know that she wasn’t being judged.

“That is the dark influence that I spoke of while telling the tale of Atum. There is one that seeks to rule all of Olympus.”

Xena gritted her teeth. “Ares.”

“Yes Conqueror. Ares.”

The voice was soothing as it addressed the dark fighter. “Your journey has been a long and winding road Xena. You were born with certain gifts that made you a formidable fighter unfortunately that was why you caught the attention Ares.

He sought you out determined to make you his chosen. When he discovered that you were a guardian he devised a plan to turn your love into hate.”

Gabrielle whispered. “Just like Atum.”

Yes Gabrielle just like Atum.”

He used your love of your village to fight against the warlord that he sent to invade Amphipolis. He caused your brother’s death and the loss of your mother’s love to make you leave her home.

He then sent Caesar to your ship to use his betrayal to harden you heart bringing you closer to him. But love’s light didn’t go out until…”

Xena whispered. “M’Lila.”

“Yes M’Lila. When she sacrificed her life to save you it was then that Ares knew his time had come. It was his voice that sent young Xena to Borias and then on to Chin where Lao Ma could heal her without Athena’s blessing.”

Xena was confused. “I don’t understand Lao Ma tried to teach me a better way but I turned from her wisdom.”

“Lao Ma’s purpose was not to guide you to your destiny.”

“But if I had listened to her I could have changed.”

“That’s true but Lao Ma in all her wisdom and gentle guidance had the intentions of using your loyalty and your battle skills to lead her army in an effort to keep her lands under her control. That was not to be.

When you returned to Greece and met Queen Cyane her teachings were also true but again your abilities would have been used to empower her nation.”

Xena didn’t know what to believe. For seasons she had thought that she had thrown away every opportunity she’d had at redemption. Now she was being told that it was all just the result of her being manipulated into taking the long way around so that Ares’ could take control of her life.

Sensing Xena’s dilemma Gaia intervened. “Xena you have only one true path and it was always meant to be walked with Gabrielle. She is the only one that could have brought you to it.

Her love has the purity of the just. She desires nothing from you. Your love is all that she requires. It is that unselfish love that has led you both here. to realize your destiny.”

“And what is that destiny?” Xena asked.

“To the return the orbs back to their rightful place among the other energies and to use your amazing abilities to fight for what’s right for everyone not just the privileged or the strong but to be protector of the weak. To fight for the greater good.”

Gabrielle couldn’t help herself. She pulled Xena into a fierce hug. “Just the way you started out love.”

“Listen to her Conqueror. With Gabrielle by your side you will learn that there is more power to be held in uplifting people instead of crushing them with your will.”

Gaia’s words didn’t have the effect on Xena that she expected. Instead of showing acceptance and understanding the warrior became furious.

Gaia‘s spirit mentally rolled her eyes and not for the first time wondered why she had allowed mankind to have freewill.

“I don’t accept this!” Xena said. “I refuse to be a pawn in some game of hind and find the orb played amongst the gods!”

All went still and the energy that rose in the cave seemed to pulsate in anger. “Hold your tongue young guardian!”

Gaia’s voice filled every surface of the cavern. “Or you may well lose it. Lest you forget let me remind you. I am not a god and I don’t indulge in games played by children still wet behind the ears. I am all that is. I entrusted you with one of my greatest gifts don’t make me regret that choice.”

Gabrielle squeezed Xena’s arm as fear rolled through her. To her surprise she felt a slight tremor run through her mate’s body.

Gabrielle spoke softly. “I… I don’t think the Great Mother participates in the god’s pastime of how can the mortals entertain us.”

“Listen to your soul’s mate Xena she will never lead you wrong.”

Xena pulled in a calming breath and apologized to the creator. “Forgive me Gaia. Sometimes my emotions overpower my thoughts.”

A melodic laugh filled the room before Gaia spoke again. “Apology accepted strong ruler. Now the time has come to return that which is most precious to me. We must reunite the orb so that love’s power can never be weakened again.”

The two women were instructed to lie back on the bed that had been provided for them the day before. With the rejoining Xena’s half of the orb that had been dulled by Ares would be able to feed from its lighter mate in Gabrielle becoming healed and health.

As they laid on their backs they joined hands and felt an invisible blanket of warmth cover them. Then Gaia’s voice filled their minds.

“Fear not young guardians.” Words were spoken in a language that was unknown as Athena Artemis and Aphrodite appeared before them.

Xena felt helpless by her inability to move and her mind started to scream for release. Her eyes darted around the room before they finally came to rest in the calming green of her mate’s.

Her body relaxed and she smiled at the blonde woman as she spoke her heart. “You are the best thing that has ever happened to me Gabrielle.”

Love filled eyes smiled back at her as the small woman responded with four simple words spoken with conviction. “I love you Xena.”

Artemis moved aside as her sisters approached the reclining rulers. The goddesses tilted the women’s heads back and placed a cup to their lips. Filling their mouths with its contents.

The mixture was a combination of sweet and spicy herbs that immediately warmed them from the inside out as it traveled through their entire being.

They suddenly went into convulsions before slowly succumbing to darkness. Before totally giving in to oblivion their bodies instinctively sought each other out and their limbs intertwined together forming a barrier of protection.

Suddenly the cave was filled with voices singing a song of welcome. Sparks of light glittered all around as two spears slowly rose from the sleeping women’s bodies answering the call home.

When they were fully released from their bounds they bounced around the large room in an expression of long awaited freedom exploring every surface of their long missed home.

Finally they floated towards each other and hovered inches apart in what looked like a moment of silent communication. Then without warning an incredible amount of energy gathered around them just before the spheres came together with a force so great the walls began to crumble around them.

The two entities seemed to absorb one another as they became one. The orb started to stretch and pull to its limits as the blue and green colors reacquaint themselves by taking the time to mix and swirl in a dance of rediscovery.

Unexpectedly the colors snapped together forming one translucent circle of blue and green. The colors joined in a way that maintained their distinctive personalities of vibrant blue and tranquil green but was still able to radiate the oneness that their fusion had reestablished.

Aphrodite’s tears were expected but when the goddess of love saw the same emotional reaction from her sisters the tears flowed faster.

Xena and Gabrielle found themselves waking up to a light show that was astounding. They eased off of the bed and backed away from the anomaly so that they could observe the phenomenon from a distance.

“Xena it’s beautiful” Gabrielle said in awe.

The Conqueror pulled her mate closer to her and spoke in a voice that was little more than a whisper. “I can’t believe something so precious and pure lived inside of me.”

Gabrielle immediately felt the guilt and self loathing that had consumed her love and rose up to kiss her cheek.

“It doesn’t surprise me at all. Your capacity to love has always been there.”

Xena hung her head in disbelief. “I’m a monster Gabrielle. So much of my life has been spent doing evil. I… I don’t know how something so untainted could have survived inside of me.”

Gabrielle stood in front of the troubled woman and waited for her to raise her eyes. “You were manipulated love. Didn’t you hear anything that Gaia said?”

Xena tilted her head trusting… knowing that Gabrielle would help her to understand. The small woman raised her hand and pointed to the reunited orb.

“Ares used that great power against you.” She ran her hands through Xena’s dark tresses. “If he had found me first our roles may have reversed and you would be trying to make me see things in a different light.”

Xena tried to turn away in disbelief but Gabrielle held her in place. “Think back love. Think back to the beginning. Remember the light of your youth.”

Xena started to recall her childhood and as her mind remembered each pleasant memory the tension left her body.

Gabrielle looked into her eyes and saw the truth start to take root. “That’s it my heart see the you that was meant to be.”

Xena let go and released the guilt as she wept in the only arms that would ever give her permission to face the crimes she had committed against the love that lived inside of her without judgment.

When the tears stopped and the women settled their emotions the voice of the Great Mother spoke to them. “Forgive yourself Xena for I have already returned your spirit to its beginning. What you do from this day on will be your measure. It is your choice.”

“Thank you Mother. Your trust in me will not be forsaken I will set my path anew keeping your gift close to my heart.”

Gaia’s voice then spoke with warning. “Make hast in your return to Corinth Conqueror. There is a battle brewing. Ares has already chosen your replacement. But there is something that you must do. There is one that awaits your departure from this place. Her heart is true just misguided. When you leave the one called Najara will need to be convinced that her path lies with your Realm.”

This didn’t sit well with the dark woman and Gaia sensed it. “This woman is unstable Great Mother. She is guided by something she calls the Jin.”

“I know but she will play an important part in the threat that awaits you.”

“I don’t know” Xena said with trepidation. “From our last encounter I know that she hates me. How can I convince her to join with me?”

“You can’t. But Gabrielle can. Let your mate spend time with her. Najara already feels a kinship with the Amazon Queen it’s that perceived connection that will make her a powerful ally.”

Xena didn’t like the words but trusted in its source. “As you wish.”

“Now go and do as you must. If you are victorious your life will be filled with joy and laughter. If not your last moments will be filled with a love like no one has ever known.”

Before leaving Gabrielle whispers something into Xena’s ear. After hearing the request Xena smiles and nods her head in agreement. “You ask her” Xena says to her mate.

Gabrielle clears her throat and bows her head before she speaks. “Great Mother. Although we are not worthy we humbly request that if you could see in your heart to grant this wish we would be forever grateful.”

Already knowing what the blonde Queen had in mind Gaia waited for her desire to be voiced.

“We… Xena and I have already decided to commit ourselves to each other but… but if you could find it in your infinite grace to bless our union there could be no higher endorsement.”

The Great mother’s laughter was shared with those of the three goddesses. “It would be my pleasure young guardians. That is a small request. I would be honored to join the soul mates that delivered back to me that which has been absent.”

*******

The ceremony was short witnessed by the three goddesses in the place of birth and rebirth surrounded by the presence of the orbs of life this made it the most life affirming commitment that had ever been held.

Gaia joined them by speaking very simple but profound words. “Love is patient love is kind. It does not envy it does not boast it is not proud. It is not rude it is not self-seeking it is not easily angered it keeps no record of wrongs.

Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects always trust always hopes always preservers. This is a time for everything and a season for every activity. A time to be born and a time to die.

A time to plant and a time to uproot a time to kill and a time to heal a time to weep and a time to laugh a time for war and a time for peace. Go now and find your time. Together you are one and nothing shall come between you.”

As they joined hands and left the cave both Xena and Gabrielle knew that even in death they would never be apart. Now it was time to face the world.

They never heard the instructions that Gaia gave the three goddess there would be time for that later.

Part 29

Najara Velasca and their followers were subdued and bound when the couple emerged from the cave. Palaemon saw the difference immediately but chose the wiser road of keeping his mouth shut. His time with the Conqueror had taught him to respect her privacy and this seemed like one of those times.

He approached them and saluted his leader. “Report” Xena commanded.

“The prisoners have been restrained and under guard since yesterday. We await your orders My Liege.”

The rulers stood above the seated leaders of the attack. Gabrielle watched them with sad curiosity before she spoke.

“What did you hope to accomplish here Velasca?”

Wild gray eyes flashed on the small Queen as the tall Amazon fought against the ropes holding her hands together as she tried to stand and confront Gabrielle.

Xena kicked out a foot with negligent ease keeping the woman in place. “Don’t be in such a hurry to meet Hades. Because if you lay one feathered hand upon her your passage will be paid before you ever realize you are on Charon’s boat.”

Velasca glared at Xena. “You have no say in this Conqueror. This is Amazon business.”

A wicked gleam sparked in the sky blue eyes. “You see. That’s where you’re wrong.” She reached out and pulled Gabrielle to her side.

“We were joined not a quarter mark ago and just as Gabrielle has a voice in what happens in the Realm…”
She looked to her spouse for confirmation when the blonde head nodded with agreement she continued. “I now have an interest in the workings of the Amazon Nation.”

There was an audible intake of air from every person present. Xena smiled and looked to her troops. “This is your Queen.”

They bowed their heads in respect. Gabrielle turned to the Amazons. “And this is the nation’s Consort.”

The warriors placed their hands over their hearts in salute to their Queen’s mate. Palaemon shook his head. “I knew something was different.” Meslena asked her lover if he had said something. “No just thinking out loud.”

Xena turned her attention back to the rebel. But Velasca would not be deterred. “That changes nothing. You can’t be the consort to a bogus Queen.”

“What is she babbling about Gabrielle?”

“This is Velasca. She believes that because she was Queen Melosa’s adopted daughter and a true Amazon by birth she should be the Queen not me.”

Xena waved her hands in the air. “Pish posh. She has no rights here.”

Gabrielle smiled. “I know that but she refuses to accept the facts.”

“That’s right. I’m the rightful Queen of the Amazons. This village girl can’t lead us!”

Xena squatted down in front of the woman. “You see. That’s where you’re wrong again. Gabrielle does lead them. Has been leading them for many seasons. I advise you to let go of these thoughts and find yourself another cause one that you can win.”

She stood and turned away from the fuming woman with the intentions of questioning her silent cohort but was stopped by the woman’s next words.

“I demand a challenge!”

All went still until Xena‘s voice rose in anger. “You what!”

The woman’s face became smug. She clearly remembered the naïve village girl from summers before and knew that the small woman didn’t possess the skills necessary to defend the mask… but she did.

“I’m issuing a challenge to…” Her mouth twisted in disgust. “Queen Gabrielle.”

Xena leaned towards the woman with harmful intent before a voice stopped her. “I accept.”

Ephiny was by Gabrielle’s side before she knew it. “What are you doing? You can’t beat her.”

Gabrielle patted her friend’s arm. “Don’t worry. I’ve got it under control.”

Hazel eyes bore into green then she smiled with understanding. “You’re going to name a champion.”

Gabrielle smiled back. “No.”

Ephiny’s face fell. “No? Are you insane?”

Gabrielle gentled her voice. “It’s okay. I can handle this.”

“No you can’t! I won’t let this happen!”

“You have no choice.” Ephiny saw the determination in her Queen’s green eyes and lowered her head.

“Well I have a choice and I will not stand aside and watch you fight a warrior to the death Gabrielle.” Xena towered over her new spouse with an immovable determination that would not be challenged by anyone.

Anyone that is except the small blonde that stood looking up at her. Gabrielle took the large hands in her own and pulled her mate off to the side.

“I can do this love.”

Blue eyes became misty with worry. “I don’t want you to take that chance. I just found you. I can’t risk losing you.”

Xena was afraid. She was afraid of losing her spouse. She was afraid of missing out on the future they would have together and she was afraid of that whisper of Ares’ influence that still lived in her a whisper that could become a loud roar if her peace her heart her soul was taken away from her… she was afraid.

Gabrielle rose up on her toes and kissed her mate. “It’ll be okay. Trust me.” Then she smiled and tapped Xena’s waste where her chakram rested. “Besides if things get too out of control I have faith in your abilities to bring them back into perspective.”

Feeling like the sun had just broken through a cloudy sky the Conqueror’s face beamed with understanding. If Velasca worked her way into a position to deliver a death blow Xena had permission to intervene in whatever way she found necessary to keep the Queen alive.

The tall ruler turned to the troops sounding almost jubilant. “Make room. A challenge has been made.”

The Amazons didn’t know what had transpired between their Queen and her consort but if the Conqueror’s smile was any indication all was well. They suddenly found themselves filled with enthusiastic anticipation for the fight that was about to take place.

Velasca was freed and given her weapon a sharp sword that from its condition was obviously well use in battle. Xena almost changed her mind when she saw her small mate check the weight of the staff she intended to use in her defense then she remembered how effective the woman was with the weapon and stood on the sidelines with her hand on her hip ready to throw her chakram if the opportunity presented itself.

The first few rounds were spent gauging each other’s strengths and weaknesses but eventually they engaged each other in an all out battle.

The echo of blade against wood resonated all around them and more than once Xena’s fingers itched to dislodge her weapon and end the fight every time she saw her love’s knees buckle under the power of Velasca’s blows but Gabrielle’s skill and spirit would not be defeated.

The bard-Queen over powered her opponent with a flurry of quick well aimed maneuvers and had the rebel on her back with the tip of her staff placed at her throat. She held Velasca’s gray eyes and hardened her own.

“It ends here. I will not take your life but if you ever challenge me again I will show you no mercy.”

She pulled her tired body off of her opponent and with a weary smile tugging at her lips walked towards her spouse. When she saw Xena’s face contort into an angry sneer she didn’t need to turn around to know what was happening.

She closed her eyes and took in a deep breath as she stood still waiting to hear the thump that would signal the round disk lodging itself into the exiled Amazon’s body.

She had hoped that she was mistaken but she knew she knew without a doubt that when she turned her back on Velasca the woman would attack her from behind. But that was her choice. She had given the warrior every opportunity to leave with her life but she chose otherwise.

Xena saw the pain in her mate’s delicate features as she came closer but she also saw the strength in her stature the strength that ruler projected in times of battle and instead of pulling her love into a comforting embrace she extended her arm and greeted her like a warrior.

Before any words could be exchanged Eponin Meslena and Tara were by their side. “What should we do with her body My Queen?” Eponin asked with pride and respect.

“Build a pyre and send her to the afterlife as an Amazon sister.”

*******

The newly joined couple rested in the Conqueror’s tent relaxing after on a soft pallet after their bath. Gabrielle was using Xena’s body as a mattress. There was no need to discuss the fight it was in the past so they talked about what to do with Najara.

Xena ran her fingers through Gabrielle’s damp hair and waited for her spouse to respond to her question.

Gabrielle thought for a few heart beats. “Gaia said we would need her so we’ll have to find a way to convince her to help us instead of fighting us.” Gabrielle’s body rose with each intake of Xena’s breath. “The question is how? How do we get a zealot to change her mind and fight on the side of her perceived enemy?

Xena snorted. “Especially when that zealot follows the advice of voices that she can only hear.” Long fingers ran a path down a warm soft cheek. “This is no way to spend the night of our joining. I’m sorry Gabrielle. When I thought of how it would be I never envisioned this.”

The bard slid off of her lover’s body and laid on her side kissing the smooth skin of her wife’s neck. “You’ve thought about this night?”

“Since the day I asked you to join with me.”

Gabrielle snuggled closer to the long body pleased by the admission. “No worries love. We have a lifetime ahead of us for romantic notions. Now we must deal with the threat that approaches and after that…” She dropped her hand and ran her fingers through dark soft curls. “We’ll celebrate in every way that we have BOTH fantasized about.

Part 30

They rode into Corinth a little travel worn and ready for a few days of relaxation. On their way back they had settled things in Pambra ending the minotaur’s oppressive reign they left Joxer in Meg’s care after giving in to the tavern keep’s request that they include him when the time came to march into battle and Gabrielle had made it a point to sit and talk with Najara.

Every evening the two women would spend time around a small fire circle. Najara sharing what she believed to be her purpose. It all sounded so… plausible. until it came to the part where the woman thought the Jin could tell her who a true convert to the light was and who wasn’t those deemed to be false converts were executed Najara’s feeling being that they would go to the light either way. Her thoughts centering around the means justifying the ends as long it resulted in introducing a soul to the light. Needless to say there were many evenings when the Queen left the zealot feeling confused and disturbed by the woman‘s belief system.

Gabrielle had decide to stay in Corinth so she sent a messenger to Euboreas to alert the Amazons of the pending battle and instructed them to be prepared at a moments notice.

One of her reasons for wanting to stay in Corinth was so that she could familiarize herself with the palace staff and the court proceedings that she would now be apart of as Queen of the Realm.

Their arrival was met with relief by Dimitri and curious stares by some of the nobles. Xena took note of the men that reacted with surprise by her return and gave herself a mental slap on the back when her suspicions were confirmed as to who stood with Tellus… She had plans for them all.

*******

A week after their return Gabrielle watched Xena drill her army in mock battles. Seeing them train she realized that the Amazons would need to become familiar with Xena’s fighting strategies and sent for the warriors of Euboreas so that a relationship could be established between the Realm’s army and the warriors of the Amazon Nation forming an elite cohesive fighting force.

Five days later both Xena and Gabrielle were surprised when Mysia arrived with the warriors bringing a regiment of protectors that were unknown to Gabrielle.

When she was presented to the royal couple Mysia bowed before them in a manner of respect that she had never shown before. She then volunteered the services of a select group of shape changers that Artemis herself had trained.

Gabrielle stood in front of Artemis’ most favored and raised the woman’s fair head. “There is no need to bow to me Mysia. It is I who should bow to you.”

Mysia held Gabrielle’s hand in her own. “Artemis has told me of your success at Mount Althos and of Gaia’s blessing. I cannot call myself a true believer if I don’t make myself and our best fighters available to you…” Her swirling blue eyes then tracked to Xena. “And your mate. Especially at a time when we are needed the most.”

Gabrielle had to admit seeing the line of one hundred well trained protectors standing at the ready filled her with pride. “Then let me show you to your quarters in the palace where all of your needs will be met.”

*******

A moon had passed when a visitor was brought before the Conqueror and her Queen. The nobles grumbled about the Amazon’s presence on the dais beside the ruler but remained silent. A fortnight after returning to Corinth by Xena’s request Salmoneus and Jace had planned an elaborate wedding that was witnessed by all that chose to attend leaving no doubt to the outsider’s right to rule beside the dark menace.

A tall dark man with a roguish demeanor was escorted in by two of the Royal Guard and two Amazon Warriors.

“State your business.” Xena said.

The man had a cocky air about him and didn’t try to hide the fact that he found the Amazon Queen’s physical attributes appealing. He twirled the end of his dark mustache and gave her a rakish grin. “I am Autolycus King of Thieves and I bring you news of great importance.”

Xena didn’t like this man’s obvious attraction to her mate and as she stood from her throne she let her chakram loose in the large room.

After bouncing off of the walls the weapon sheared the hair that was held between the man’s fingers and his upper lip leaving him holding the remnants of an extremely close shave between his forefinger and thumb before returning to her hand.

“Do I have your full attention now?”

Autolycus quickly realized his mistake and addressed the annoyed ruler. “Yes Lord Conqueror. I have news of an impending battle.”

Xena looked bored by the information. “We know this. Tell me something I don’t know.”

Autolycus’ smug demeanor returned. “Do you know that Cleopatra and Caesar have joined forces to attack Greece? She has given the support of her navy to Roman.”

Xena leaned forward and her blue eyes went cold. “Tell me.”

Autolycus proceeded to tell the Conqueror of his dalliance with Cleopatra’s handmaiden and the pillow talk that followed informing him of the Queen’s plan to join Rome in its attack on Greece.

Xena was confused as to why the Egyptian Queen would betray her with the Romans. She thought that they had formed a peaceful relationship after Xena had met with the sovereign and reassured her that her sights were set on Greece and no other lands.

But now the thief was telling her that Cleopatra was choosing to join the Romans. How strange. Then she remembered hearing the rumors of Caesar fathering the Egyptian Queen’s child. She decided then and there if Greece was successful and won the battle Egypt and Rome would come under Grecian Rule… friendship be dammed.

Autolycus presented Xena with a map that his lover had copied for him showing the navy’s placement along the eastern seaboard. Xena was grateful for the man’s loyalty and asked him what he wanted in return.

His eyes tracked to Gabrielle but after seeing the Conqueror’s hand grab the weapon on her side he thought better. Instead he asked for a sack of gold with enough coins to support him in his travels as he roamed the land proving his boast as being the King of Thieves.

*******

After Autolycus’ departure the new information caused Xena to go into strategy mode. She called for Archimedes a mathematician sometimes inventor. Rumor had it that the old man had invented a device he called a ballista.

Supposedly the weapon could launch projectiles of a much lighter weight further than the boulders that the catapults were loaded with. If this were true she had a plan.

*******

The next morning she and Gabrielle were awakened by a knock on their door. Xena covered herself with a robe and opened the door to be greeted by Palaemon and the ever present Meslena by his side.

“Conqueror the inventor Archimedes has been brought to the palace and is waiting for you in the Throne Room.”

Xena was surprised by the early arrival but didn’t let it show. “I’ll be down after I’ve had my tea.”

“As you wish.” The blonde man bowed and waited for the door to close before leaving.

Xena entered the bed chamber just as Gabrielle was tying the belt on her robe. “Who was that?”

Xena walked over to the sleep rumpled woman and pulled her into an embrace. “Good morning my Queen.”

Gabrielle wrapped her arms around her spouse and exhaled just before kissing the skin left exposed at the tall woman’s throat. “Good morning my conqueror.” She raised her head and asked again. “Who was that?”

“That was Palaemon and Meslena informing me that the inventor had arrived.”

Gabrielle headed for the bathing chamber. “Where are you going?” Xena asked. She stopped in the doorway and dropped her robe. “You don’t think you’re meeting him alone do you?”

Looking at all of Gabrielle’s exposed creamy skin Xena had other plans. “It never crossed my mind.”

Xena followed her mate into the chamber tea was forgotten. By the time the royal couple were ready to meet with their guest Jace had served the man a morning meal to make up for the time that he had been left waiting.

*******

The morning was spent in private talks with the old man. His description of his ballista was intriguing. It sounded like the weapon was a giant crossbow and its use in battle would be something new. But when Archimedes told the Conqueror about his apprentice Kallinikos’ creative use of Greek fire the ruler’s heart started to pound.

“Are you saying that this man has found a way to… to project fire as one would and arrow?”

“Yes Conqueror but there is great danger in using fire in this manner.”

Xena raised a dark brow waiting for the man to continue. “If the pressure is too great the fire could reverse its path and incinerate the men at the pump station.”

Xena thought about this. “I want to see a demonstration.”

The man bowed his head. “As you wish.”

*******

The generals of Xena’s army the heads of the Amazon warriors and Mysia joined the rulers on their trip to the river where the demonstration would take place.

Xena was met by Archimedes and a man of about thirty seasons. He had long brown hair and intelligent dark eyes.

“Conqueror” Archimedes turned to Gabrielle. “Queen Gabrielle. This is Kallinikos.”

Xena nodded her head without speaking acknowledging the nervous man. Gabrielle smiled and held out her hand.

“I’m happy to meet you Kallinikos.”

The man’s dark eyes searched the landscape as if he were looking for an escape route. He had no intentions of shaking the Queen’s hand with familiarity especially with the Conqueror’s bright blue eyes staring holes into him. Deciding to take the hand offered to him in both of his own he bowed over them in respect.

“It is an honor My Queen.”

Gabrielle looked at her mate with a raised eyebrow. Xena shrugged her shoulders. “What can I say? It’s good to be Queen. “

Xena cleared the tension by asking the apprentice about his invention. This seemed to calm the young man.

“If you will follow me I’ll start the demonstration.”

They followed the man to a boat that was no more than a raft with a system of pump handles pipes and barrels mounted on it.

There were four men standing on the contraption waiting for their orders. When Kallinikos gave the word two of the men positioned on opposite sides of the raft started to paddle until the platform was about forty lengths from a wood pile that was sitting stationary in the middle of the river.

They waited for Kallinikos to give the word. The apprentice yelled. “Now!” and before they knew was happening the barrel mounted at the end of the long pipe was shooting out a stream of fire that was constant and so intense that when they stopped all that was left of then wood pile was a flaming pyre.

The display was so great that the well disciplined fighters from both nations released an audible gasp in response.

Xena was impressed as was her spouse. “Great Zeus!” Xena said out loud.

“My thoughts exactly” Gabrielle added.

Xena pointed to Kallinikos and Palaemon called the man over. “I am pleased” she said.

Kallinikos felt his bones turn into liquid by the praise but said nothing. Xena addressed Archimedes.

“Build two of your ballistas and two more fire vessels. We will use them when the time comes.”

The old man lowered his head so that the tall ruler couldn’t see the smile on his face. “The ballistas have already been built. We just need enough time to perfect the fire raft.”

“How long will that be?” Xena asked.

Archimedes looked to his apprentice for an answer. The young man fidgeted a little before giving a time. “Um… maybe… two moons.”

The Conqueror considered the time frame. “Two moons it is but if Caesar’s approach comes sooner you will have to make do.”

She mounted her horse and pulled Gabrielle up behind her. The troops followed their leaders back to the palace anticipating sharing their discovery with their comrades.

Part 31

Another moon passed with Autolycus sending several messages of the enemies approach. Each time his Egyptian connection informed him of Rome’s plans he sent word to Xena.

Nerves were on edge and Gabrielle couldn’t stand watching her lover’s pacing another moment. She grabbed her spouse around the waist making her still her motion.

“Take me for a walk through the gardens.”

Bewildered blue eyes squinted in question. “You want to take a walk?”

“Yes. I want you to take my hand and spend some time with me surrounded by the beauty of Gaia’s gift of nature.”

Looking into the green eyes that compelled her to do their bidding Xena gave in without further protest. They walked around the garden holding hands in silence. There were no words none were necessary. In this quite place of being its silent beauty was enough to speak the emotions that Gabrielle wanted to convey.

Xena broke the silence by voicing her concerns. “The time is upon us love. Soon we will go into battle.”

Gabrielle rested her head on the broad shoulder of her spouse. “I know.” She stopped their progress and stood looking up into concerned blue eyes.

“Xena are you afraid?”

The tall woman struggled with her answer. Admitting her fear had never been an option but looking into the haven of green that had brought down so many of her barriers she relented.

“Yes love. I am afraid.”

“What are you afraid of?”

The tall woman exhaled and let her fear of exposure drift away with the wind. “I am afraid of being separated from you.”

The blonde head tilted to the side. “You will never be separated from me.”

Xena struggled to find the words that would express her feelings. “If one of us should fall in this battle we would be separated.”

Gabrielle reached up and held her mate’s face between her hands making the dark woman focus on her. “I’ll always be with you Xena just as you will always be with me. Nothing can come between us. Even in death I will never leave you.”

The truth of her wife’s words was plain to see and Xena… believed. “By your word Queen Gabrielle. Nothing will ever come between us.”

*******

Ten days later they gathered the troops that would defend Greece and headed out for the western coast. Although Gabrielle felt like she had convinced Najara that they were fighting for the greater good she still had her suspicions about the woman’s loyalty.

Somewhere in the back of her mind she still fostered the notion that the zealot would turn on her lover during the battle succeeding where their enemy may fail. But there was no time for second guessing… now they had to move forward… “Gaia be with us” she thought.

Part 32

The trek to the western shores had been a long one. Many volunteers had been picked up along the way. After receiving word that a foreign enemy was approaching Greece intent on taking over their country the brave men and women from villages across the county side answered the call to arms determined to follow their leader into battle.

Xena may be a tyrant but better to live under the rule of one of their own than a non-Greek dictator. Their issues with Xena would have to be set aside until they were able to secure their boarders. Now was the time of unity.

Before heading out on the last leg of their journey Xena sat upon her mount and spoke to the large mass of fighters that were willing to follow her into battle.

“It fills me with pride to see the soldiers and warriors that have dedicated their lives to battle joined by the men and women free to make a choice.

I am pleased that the citizens of Greece have chosen to put aside our differences and take a stand against our enemy. Your loyalty will be rewarded!”

A roar went up in appreciation of the Conqueror’s acknowledgment.

“Hold tight to your convictions. The battle will not be an easy one. Many lives will be lost but know that their sacrifice will not be in vain. We will be triumphant!”

She turned and smiled at her Queen and in that moment Gabrielle knew what it felt like to believe in someone so much that you were willing to follow them to your death. This was why Xena was the Conqueror. She was a true leader and Gabrielle knew that she would ride into battle regardless of the outcome just from the dark woman’s call.

“ONWARD!” Xena yelled and the regiment headed out. The end was unknown but their determination was firmly in place so they followed.

Live or die they would do it fighting to protect the land that they loved.

Part 33

Tents were set up on a hilltop out of range of attack from land and water but allowing a view of the battlefield. Icos the Realm’s healer along with Malaga the Amazon healer stocked the hospice tent with cots and supplies.

A tent for Xena and Gabrielle was erected and by the Conqueror’s order a separate tent was raised for Mysia. Both rulers felt that the leader of the shape changers should be respected as a third voice in the campaign and wanted to treat her as such.

From their position the royal couple watched the enemy build their camp. When they saw Roman banners placed around the perimeter Xena and Gabrielle turned away returning to their temporary quarters.

Gabrielle spoke first. “Their numbers are great. Can they be defeated?”

Xena didn’t respond immediately. She wanted to give the question the thought that it deserved. “Yes. We have something that they don’t.”

Gabrielle was curious. “What Shape changers?”

Xena laughed. “Yes my love. That and something else. They have come to take our home from us. It’s almost like a thief trying to steal a baby from its mother’s arms.”

Xena’s mind went back to her warlord days. She could see vividly the determination and readiness to die when the mothers of a village thought that harm would come to their children in her troop’s efforts to take supplies.

“If the Romans win this battle they will be left with only soil to rule because most of the Greek citizens will choose to die before giving in to a foreign ruler.”

*******

Kal had been visiting Caesar telling him of Ares’ plan to remove Xena from power. He also told the Roman about the former lead god of the Egyptian deities Seth and how the chaos god would use his powers during the battle.

“Now I just need you to agree to join us and use your influence over Cleopatra to convince her to help us by providing the support of her navy during the battle.”

Caesar was reluctant to send his troops to Greece. Even with the support of the Egyptian navy he didn’t want any part of this campaign… it just didn’t feel right.

“Why don’t you gather an army in Etruria and send them out to defeat Xena if you are so certain of the outcome?”

This wasn’t going the way that Kal had planned. Ares had been very specific if this plan was going to work Caesar had to be involved.

“What’s wrong Caesar are you afraid of the Conqueror?”

The Roman slammed his hands down on his desk causing scrolls to scatter. “She is no Conqueror! She’s just an angry woman with a stubborn streak.”

“Then what’s the problem? Afraid she can separate your mind from your emotions?”

Realizing that his outburst was being used against him Caesar settled down and plucked a grape from a bowl of fruit giving off an air of indifference.

“Not at all. I don’t trust Ares.”

“I have his guarantee that he will not interfere during the attack and after it is over he will not protest Rome’s right to occupy Greece. That is as long as his new chosen is given shared authority.”

“And you believe him?”

Whether I believe him or not doesn’t matter. After Xena has been defeated and Roman troops are in place his chosen will meet with an… unfortunate accident leaving Ares powerless.”

The thought of getting the best of Xena was a tempting offer but still…

Kal saw that he was losing his argument so he pulled out his last weapon. “Well if you’re not interested I can always recruit Pompey. I’m sure he’ll jump at the chance to rule over a country.”

That was all it took. Caesar would go up against Ares on his own before he would watch that arrogant ass gain leadership as the sovereign of a nation in Rome‘s name.

“When do we start?”

*******

… Meanwhile Ares was having a sit-down with his new chosen Agnon.

“Lord Ares I don’t understand why we need the help of the Roman army and the Egyptian navy to remove Xena from power.”

The blue eyed blonde had not been surprised when the war god offered him the position of his chosen. In his mind it should have always been his… from birth.

He knew that Xena was an excellent fighter her skills were never in doubt. He just felt like he was better and now with this change he could prove it.

“When we win Caesar and Cleopatra will undoubtedly try to split Greece into two shared proveniences. Where will that leave us in this partnership Lord Ares?”

Ares sat patiently as the man voiced his opinions waiting for him to finish. “Don’t worry about Rome or Egypt. I have plans for them. They will never rule on Grecian soil.”

“Then why involve them?”

Ares’ handsome face broke out in a smile. “Because there is more at work here than you could ever understand. Let’s suffice it to say Xena has the help of three gods behind her and I need equal god power to combat their effect. I knew that there wasn’t a god on Olympus that would join me so I sought out others.”

Agnon looked skeptical. “Trust me chosen. I know what I’m doing. All you have to do is have the army that I assembled for you on the western shores ready for battle when the time comes.”

Feeling a rush of pride by the moniker the war god used Agnon was filled with confidence. “As you wish Lord Ares.”

Part 34

Caesar and Brutus were escorted into the Conqueror’s tent after the Roman’s request to talk to her was granted. Upon entering the tent he couldn’t help but notice the finery that surrounded his former conquest.

“Well Xena. It seems you’ve come a long way from being a ship’s captain.”

Seeing her nemesis for the first time in many seasons it took all of Xena’s willpower not to rush forward and tackle the man where he stood but with the help of a gentle touch on her arm she remained calm and stayed seated.

“Have a seat Caesar.” She looked to his second. “You too Brutus.”

The men joined the two women at the table Xena poured four mugs of wine then leaned back in her chair. “What do you want?”

“Now Xena there is no need for unpleasantness. I thought that we could sit down negotiate this before a war started that you can’t possibly win.”

He leaned forward and with a seductive smile softened his voice. “I know you. I know how you think. I know your anger…” He moaned “And I know your passion. Tell me; are you still as sweet as you were all those seasons ago? Because if I remember correctly you were an exquisite fuc…”

His words were cut short when a mug of wine stained a trunk just behind his head and Xena‘s small companion stood radiating fury. “You will watch your tongue Roman and show the respect that is demanded by her position!”

The room went still as everyone sat in shock. No one was more shocked than Xena. Gabrielle’s actions were out of character and her aggression was surprising.

Xena was now put in the position of calming Gabrielle‘s ire a position that she had never been in before but a position that filled her with pride.

“It’s okay love. He can’t use my past against me. I’m a different woman now.”

Seeing the love and respect in the Conqueror’s blue eyes Gabrielle’s anger drained away and she returned to her seat.

“Oh my. Who is your pretty defender?” Caesar asked.

“This is Gabrielle. Queen of the Amazon Nation.” Her spouses’ title as Queen of the Realm wasn’t information that Rome needed to have.

“Ah a beautiful ally. A strategy that I’ve used well in the past. From her spirited defense of your… virtues I’ll assume that she’s your latest bed warmer. I see you’ve moved up in the world. No longer bedding your troops?”

Feeling Gabrielle’s anger rise again from the false accusation Xena rubbed her lover’s back. “This is useless. Go back to your camp.”

Ignoring the dark woman Caesar continued. “Tell me Xena will you betray her and break her legs?”

Xena stood so abruptly her chair fell behind her. “Gather your men Caesar. Eat drink and be merry for tomorrow you shall die.”

The words were said with calm conviction and the Roman felt his heart constrict with fear. He could see it in her eyes. She meant every word.

But his belief in his destiny overcame his fears and as the escorts that she had called for led him out of the tent he spoke his own truth.

“Hold her close and love her well Xena. After tomorrow I’ll see to it that it is my bed that she shares until I tire of her.”

Part 35

The day of the battle dawned with the gentle rising of the sun. If not for the carnage that laid ahead it would have been a perfect day for a stroll along the shores of western Greece.

But that was not what this day was about. This day would end with bloodshed and mangled bodies. Xena dressed in her brown battle leathers and brass armor as Gabrielle covered herself in a red halter and battle skirt.

Xena checked her sword before sheathing it on her back and secured her chakram on her hip. Gabrielle placed her sais in their bootstraps and harnessed her staff on her back copying the way that Xena carried her sword.

“Are you ready love?” asked her mate.

Realizing that this could be the last time that they saw each other alive or uninjured Gabrielle wanted her words to have meaning.

“I’m ready my heart.” She molded her body to her spouses’ and tried to convey her feelings through her touch and with her words hoping that it would carry them into the afterlife if that became a reality.

“I love you Xena.”

That was all that was necessary. Those four words carried a strong eternal message.

Xena stared into the eyes of her savior. “You are the best thing in my life.”

Nothing else needed to be said. They walked out of their tent ready to seize the day. By nightfall they would know where their future lay. They only hoped that it would be a future where they would be together… in this life or the next.

Part 36

The troops were lined up ready to follow their leader’s battle cry. Xena and Gabrielle sat atop their mounts. Xena was prepared to give the speech that would fuel her troop’s courage into battle.

When the Conqueror raised her sword the fighters stood at attention. Those on foot raised their weapons knowing that they would be the first to encounter the enemy.

Gabrielle looked over the masses and saw a strange sight. Tellus and a group of nobles with their sons were covered in armor and pushed forward to stand at the front of the line.

She turned to her spouse in question. Xena smiled and explained their presence. “If they want to rule. They should know first hand what it takes. After today they will either respect my efforts and abide by my word or die knowing that they were ill-equipped to sit on the throne.”

Xena steered her horse and trotted back and forth making sure she had their full attention before she spoke. The soldiers on horseback pressed their knees into their mounts to hold them steady to listen to what could only be interpreted as a prayer.

“For all who have thought and have not thought. All we have to have said and have not said. All we have done and have not done. I pray thee to the gods for forgiveness.”

Xena was surprised but remained silent as Gabrielle joined in. “Lo there do I see my father lo there do I see my mother and my sister. Lo there do I see the line of my people back to the beginning. Lo do they call to me. They bid me take my place among them.”

Xena took up the strain. “In the halls of Mount Olympus where the brave are forever honored we send the warriors that may fall.”

The Conqueror of Greece then addressed the warriors that stood ready to fight. “Warriors of Greece the Amazon Nation. Sons and daughters of Lycos and the free citizens of the Realm. We are now faced with a challenge that can only be won by our uniting!

Today our homeland is being threatened by a force that is intent on enslaving us all. But we will not go into battle with the fear of the already defeated. No the courage of each one of us will be our strength.

This day we will send a message loud and clear to all that think we are weak that there is no force in the known world that is strong enough or powerful enough to take this land from us!

Hold in your hearts that we will fight with the wisdom of Athena the skill of Artemis and the compassion of Aphrodite.

This battle is larger than any one of us. When we fight today know that we are fighting for the greater good. Look to your sides and remember the faces of the men and women that you see because one day you will tell your sons and daughters that you fought with them side by side in the campaign that kept Greece free!”

The roar that went up was deafening. To the enemy it almost felt like a living thing and not a few of them wanted to turn tail and run.

As the battle began the warriors that fought that day swore with their dying breath that when they looked up to the sky they saw three translucent beings watching over them.

*******

The first attacker was brought down by the Conqueror’s sword. As he fell from his horse Gabrielle swung her staff and removed a second attacker from his perch.

Before Xena moved on she turned to her mate. “I love you and if I should fall know that I’ll see you on the other side.” Without speaking another word she galloped into the fray not knowing what the day would bring.

*******

As the battle raged thrust kicks slashes and moans were the only sounds on the battlefield. Eventually the horses were left to their own survival as the enemy swarmed.

Now they were fighting on foot warrior against warrior. Candle marks later a horn sounded signaling the end of the day.

Xena had come close to Caesar but never had the chance to engage him. Hopefully tomorrow would be a better day. Until then the evening would be spent removing the dead from the battlefield and preparing for the next day.

*******

Malaga guided the couple to a cot in the hospice to clean their wounds. “Let me tend to your wounds my Queen.” When Gabrielle raised her fair brow the healer realized her oversight.

“As well as yours Lord Conqueror.”

After having their cuts stitched and their scraps cleaned Xena and Gabrielle returned to their tent. Gabrielle joined her mate on their bed.

Seeing Tellus and the other nobles on the battlefield I was reminded of the lesson that I had learned after the fight at Delium. I realize that I lead a nation of warriors and although in the past I chose not to kill our survival is sustained by women that have no hesitation when killing is necessary. I feel like a hypocrite.”

Xena turned on her side. “I’m sorry I brought that into your life.”

“Don’t be. Life isn’t about just the light and dark of things. Those are the extremes. We live somewhere in between and sometimes decisions have to be made that pulls us to one side or the other. I can live with that.”

They snuggled close and let the day’s events wash away. Before falling asleep they wrapped themselves around each other and took comfort in their bond.

The next day was going to be a long one. Hopefully they would be victorious if not then come what may they would this.

Part 37

The fight started as it had the previous day but instead of depending on the ground troops to gain the advantage Caesar signaled what he thought would be a surprise attack calling on the Egyptian navy to launch their catapults.

Xena had placed Archimedes’ ballistas in position. When the giant flaming arrows were launched they unfortunately missed their mark by several lengths landing in the water never hitting a ship.

But she had a back up plan. During the night the fire platforms were secretly sent out to sea and strategically placed behind the six naval ships where they would go unnoticed.

The problem was having only three fire platforms to take out six ships. That meant that each raft would be responsible for two ships but it was a chance they would have to take.

Xena regrouped and the battle continued. The boulders were falling but the Conqueror ignored them. She had but one focus. Find Caesar.

Suddenly and without warning a strange energy filled the battlefield and the fighters became confused. They stopped fighting each other and started flailing at the air unable to defend themselves against their opponents. Chaos ruled.

Xena didn’t understand what was happening to the fighters. It took all of her willpower to resist the emptiness that tried to gain control of her senses. She tried to call her fighters to arms but they wouldn’t or couldn’t obey.

As Xena worked to get her troops’ heads back in the fight Seth sat unseen with Ares and Kal near the tree line. Pleased by the scene unfolding in front of him the chaos god was ecstatic.

“This is what I live for” he said.

Just as he was about to turn his focus on Xena a banshee yell went up followed by the sound of trumpets and he felt his influence on the fighters slipping away.

Without warning a woman holding a gold shield and covered by a gold breastplate stormed down from the mountains riding on the back of a light chariot.

Because of the flaming red hair and Keltic markings on her face Xena recognized her immediately. It was Boadicea. Suddenly the fighters regained their focus and started to lay down the enemy at will.

The tattooed warrior had left her chariot and found herself fighting beside Xena she smiled. “Bet I’m the last person you expected to see.”

Xena cut down an attacker as she responded. “What brings you?”

She only had a moment to acknowledge to herself that this was an odd conversation to be having in the midst of war.

“We got word about the invasion and I decided that I hated Rome more than I hated you. She sliced off her attackers head before continuing.

“And it’s a good thing I did. The chaos god Seth is here. We felt his presence long before we came in sight of the battlefield.

Lucky for you I always come prepared. If you look up on the hilltop you will see our druids sitting on a large rock.”

Xena took a quick moment to look in the direction the Kelts had come from and saw three druid priest leaned over the flat top of a boulder chanting and moving around their runes.”

Xena fought off her adversaries as she kept up her dialog with the Keltic Queen. “What dose that matter to me?”

“Sometimes you are so dense Xena. The runes have blocked his power now he has been rendered helpless.”

Before Xena could thank the woman for her help Boadicea disappeared into the mass of fighters and Xena found herself face to face with Caesar.

“Finally I have you where I want you.”

Xena’s predatory smile took over her features. “And where is that?”

“On a field of battle where I can show the world who is the supreme leader.”

Between sword stokes they antagonized each other with words meant to cut deep. “You were never supreme Caesar just more conning.”

Caesar laughed. “Conning enough ton defeat you once and I’ll do it again.”

Xena deflected his thrust and pushed him back with a flurry of swipes that were too fast to see.

“Ah I see you have been practicing.”

It was Xena‘s turn to laugh. “More than that. I have surpassed you.”

Caesar continued to defend himself feeling the power behind the dark woman’s attack he realized how formidable she had become and that surprised him but he still felt like he had the upper hand.

Seeing the hate in her eyes he knew that she was vulnerable. “Do you still miss M’Lila? After all she did give her life for you. Will the Amazon Queen meet the same fate?”

The anger rose in Xena so fast she couldn’t control it. Every emotion and regret that she felt over her friend’s death came rushing back to her as if it just happened yesterday and once again she wanted blood.

When she started to attack him with unfocused furry he saw his opportunity. He pushed he blade away and when an opening presented itself he moved in for the kill.

But just as he was about to end her life several loud explosions sounded out in the water. He turned to see all of the Egyptian navy going up in flames.

The crew was jumping ship in an attempt to save their lives. The distraction gave the Greeks the chance that they had been waiting for and they started to strike down the enemy at will.

“What the…”

That was all Caesar could say before her felt a blade puncture his chest. He looked down and saw a sword embedded in his armor.

Thinking that he would see Xena standing at the end of the weapon he was instead met with the presence of a blonde woman.

“I send you to the light” she said.

Before his knees hit the ground he saw the blonde woman’s eyes grow large as Brutus’ blade pierced her from behind.

They both fell to grown death only moments away. Xena ignored Caesar and knelt beside the fallen zealot.

“Why? Why did you don that? I could have killed him.”

Gasping for air Najara smiled as blood leaked from her mouth. “It wasn’t your destiny to kill him.”

Xena was beside herself. “I… I don’t understand!”

“The beginning has been rewritten. Now his part in your darkness has been eased. You are free to live your life.”

Gabrielle rushed to the scene and knelt down beside the dying woman. The battle around them was coming to an end. The Greeks were victorious.

Ephiny had Brutus in custody giving her Queen the chance to question her mate without fear of attack. “What happened here Xena?”

“She… she saved me.”

Gabrielle didn’t understand. During the battle she had been very aware of her lover’s standoff with Caesar. As she fought off her own attackers she had kept an eye on her partner’s progress and from what she saw Xena was only a sword’s thrust away from ending the Roman’s life.

“You had him. After the explosion he was open to your blade. Why did she intervene?”

The woman’s labored shallow breaths brought Gabrielle’s attention back to her. “I did it so that the guardians of love could live in the light.”

Gabrielle was confused. “What?!”

All around them bodies were being taken back to their camps and the shape changers were running off into the woods with their packs around their necks.

But none of this mattered to the small group that had gathered around the Conqueror. Palaemon and Eponin had assembled a group of fighters to stand guard around their sovereigns and they listened to the last words of a strange woman that had been forced to join them.

Najara held Gabrielle’s hand in a weak embrace. “Ares knew that if he could tap into the vengeance that had brought Xena to him he could have her again as his chosen. He knew that once love had been returned to the Great Mother Xena would be vulnerable. With her soul being cleansed there was now an opportunity to start again but this time there would be no hope of redemption.”

Gabrielle looked to her mate with tear filled eyes. The woman was in a state. Her lack of communication and the tears that fell unchecked down her cheeks were an obvious sign.

She turned Najara over to the Amazons and instructed them to take her to the hospice where she would be made as comfortable as possible.

She took her lover by the hand as they followed the warriors that carried the zealot back to their camp. Gabrielle stopped their progress before reaching their destination.

“What’s going on in your head?”

Xena had to physically shake herself to bring things back into perspective. “I was so close Gabrielle. I was so close to repeating the one act that caused the darkness to overtake me.”

Gabrielle watched as their escorts moved passed them but she wasn’t surprised by the ones that remained be it a few paces behind.

Palaemon Meslena Ephiny Eponin Solari Glaphyra and Tara made no attempts to hide their purpose. They stayed at a respectful distance but it was obvious that they had no intentions of leaving their leaders unguarded. The gesture filled the Queen with pride and security.

Gabrielle responded to her mate’s confession. “But it didn’t happen. Gaia saw the future that’s why she sent Najara to us. In the end all of our destinies were fulfilled. We returned the orbs Ares was defeated and Najara will live in the light that she dedicated her life to. All in all I’d say that this was a good day.”

Part 38

A moon after the battle Xena’s rule was looked upon with respect. The Conqueror had changed. True to her word the leader of Greece had allowed the populace to give voice to their grievances without reprimand.

The Queen that ruled by her side was regarded as a gods send to the citizens and they adored her. After long days of holding court without protest from the nobles court days went smoothly.

Tellus and his cohorts had died in battle along with their offspring. The remaining nobles had the good scene to see the positive changes in the Realm and gave their full support to the throne without challenge.

At the days end the Conqueror retired to her chambers leaving word that she and her Queen should not be disturbed unless the palace walls were coming down around them. After sharing a bath the royals settled down into the comfort of their bed.

Light touches slowly became firmer and as things progressed they found themselves sliding together with Xena lying on top of the smaller woman.

Xena’s sex was saturated and she raised Gabrielle’s legs high placing their sensitive flesh in more intimate contact. As they rubbed their velvet mounds together their juices intermingled.

Xena lowered her body so that they were in full body contact. Gabrielle’s legs wrapped around her mate’s waist bringing them even closer as they moved together in a dance they had danced many times before.

As their excitement mounted they were not aware of the three goddesses that witnessed their coupling. When they reached their climax and their essence joined the goddesses infused their fluids with the gift of life.

******

Later. After the women had fallen asleep Artemis Athena and Aphrodite stood at the foot of the bed watching them.

Aphrodite spoke first. “Their child will be compassionate.”

Athena and Artemis rolled their eyes. “She will be a great Amazon leader” Artemis said.

Athena was indignant. “Sorry to disappoint you but their daughter will be wise beyond her years.”

The goddesses looked at one another in bewilderment before speaking at the same time. “Gaia told me to gift them with a child!”

Athena couldn’t believe her ears. “Gaia said that WE should gift them with a child.”

He sisters agreed. “And we did” Artemis said.

Aphrodite giggled and it didn’t sit well with the goddess of wisdom. “What’s so funny?”

“I think that in nine moon’s time the little one will give birth to three children instead of one.”

Before they disappeared Artemis turned to Athena. “You’re the wise one. You should have told us that Gaia meant for us to make one child together not three separately.”

Athena shrugged her shoulders. “What’s done is done.”

Gabrielle mumbled still asleep. “Do you feel something strange?”

Xena pulled her closer. “No I think all is as it should be.”

Part 39

“… And that is how I met your mema and we were gifted with Solan Hope and Eve.”

The three children applauded happily as Hope’s voice sounded over the cheers. “Again mommy! Tell us again.”

They all turned when they heard a throaty laugh coming from the entrance to the royal gardens. Xena stood gazing at her family.

The children were now five winters old and they seemed to never tire of hearing their mother tell them of their beginning.

Solan jumped and ran to his mema. When the children were first learning to talk they couldn’t pronounce Xena so it came out mema and to them that’s who she would always be.

When the small boy jumped into her arms she was reminded not for the first time just how much the dark haired blued eyed boy looked like her.

She settled him on her hip and waited for Hope and Eve to join them. Hope’s green eyes and blonde hair made it obvious that the child was Gabrielle’s progeny and probably a gift from Artemis.

They had discussed their children’s origin many times and come to the conclusion that Solan was Aphrodite’s gift Hope was from Artemis and Eve with her chestnut hair and blue-green eyes was the product of. Athena’s influence.

Xena held a child on each hip with Eve attached to her leg as she made her way over to the Queen. When she reached the small blonde she leaned forward and placed a gentle kiss on her wife’s lips.

“I see you’re doing the bard thing.”

Gabrielle shrugged her shoulders. “It seems to keep them occupied for a few marks.”

Xena put the children down and kissed the tops of three little heads before patting them on their rears sending them off to play.

Sitting on the bench beside her mate Xena pulled the smaller woman onto her lap and kissed her neck. “How was your day love?”

“Uneventful. After sending a message to Ephiny informing her of our arrival I spent most of the morning packing for trip to Euboreas.”

It had been established early in their union that they would split their time between Corinth and Euboreas. The first half of the calendar would be spent at the palace the second half with the Amazons.

It all seemed to work out fine and because Xena and the children’s birthdays came during the winter festival season there was always a big celebration in the nation that usually ended with many of the Amazons their protectors and female soldiers of the Realm in need of headache powder the next day… life was good.

After the big war there had been a few mild skirmishes to deal with. Occasionally some warlord thought he or she would be the one to take over the Conqueror’s rule but with very little effort each uprising was put down without much incident.

Gabrielle pulled a little so that she could see Xena’s eyes. “I received word that Cyrene would be arriving this evening so that she can accompany us to the nation.”

The news pleased Xena. Her relationship with her mother and brother had grown strong over the seasons and she always looked forward to their visits.

Xena wiggled her eyebrows. “Will she be bringing barrels of mead?”

Gabrielle slapped the tall woman’s shoulder knowing that the comment was meant to tease her because of her love of the libation.

“Yes she is.” She leaned over and rubbed noses with the ruler. “Is that a problem?”

Xena snaked out her tongue and licked the soft lips that were so close to her own. “Not at all. It’s like I always say. Whatever Gabrielle wants Gabrielle gets.”

The golden woman lowered her voice to a sultry timbre and whispered into the dark woman‘s ear. “Right now Gabrielle wants her big bad warrior to take her upstairs and remind her why she is called the Conqueror.”

Needing no more prompting Xena stood with the Queen in her arms and made haste to their chambers informing the guards not to disturb them for several marks.

Epilogue

Gabrielle walked down the line inspecting each body before giving her approval. “Are all of you ready?” Each head nodded in unison.

“This is a very important day. It marks the beginning of a new reign not only for the Realm but for Euboreas as well as Rome and Egypt.” Again heads nodded.

She turned to her children and addressed them directly. “I know you realize how important it is that the three of you stand strong but make sure that you show your mema and me the proper respect.”

They responded as one. “Yes mom.”

She walked over to her spouse and swiped away an imaginary speck of lint from her proud shoulders. “And you Conqueror are you positive that you are ready to hand over power to your heirs?”

She looked at their three children standing tall and was filled with pride. “Absolutely.”

“Well then let’s get this ceremony under way!”

*******

The royal family stood on the dais high above the crowd. The grounds were filled with nobles citizens Amazons soldiers and anyone that could make the trip to Corinth to witness this historic event.

Xena and Gabrielle stepped forward and as Xena raised her hand the crowd fell silent. “Citizens of Greece and Euboreas. Today a new journey begins.”

She reached out and pulled Gabrielle closer. “The stewardship of our country will pass into the hands of a new generation.”

She looked to her mate and Gabrielle knew that it was her cue to finish it. Xena had decided that it would be her Queen’s voice that would usher in the change of leadership.

They had ruled Greece and Euboreas first separately and then together for a total of last twenty-five seasons and now twenty-one seasons after the birth of their children they felt like it was time step back and let them take the county in whatever direction they saw fit.

Gabrielle’s voice was loud and strong. “Today marks the beginning of great change. A new way of ruling starts now. The Amazon Nation will continue to have one ruler but no longer will Greece and our foreign holdings be governed by just one sovereign now there will be two.”

She and Xena moved sideways making enough room for their children to stand in between them. “I give you Solan Regent to Rome and Egypt.

Solan stepped forward his sable colored hair stopping just below his collar and his blue eyes shining with anticipation.

“Hope. The new Queen of the Amazons.”

Hope moved beside her brother golden strands of hair capturing the sunlight as green eyes glowed with pride.

“And Eve. The next ruler of Greece.”

Eve joined her siblings with confidence. Her chestnut hair cascading over her powerful shoulders and vibrant blue-green eyes lookin over the people with compassion.

Xena and Gabrielle moved forward flanking their offspring. As a warm summer breeze began to blow the gentle wind tossed five heads of hair back from their heads. Enhancing an already powerful picture.

Their regal stature filled the people with a sense of wellbeing. They trusted that with the continued leadership of this family their homeland would always be prosperous and protected.

The courtyard was filled with the deafening sounds of cheers and applause as they welcomed their new leaders.

*******

Xena and Gabrielle’s line would rule for the next century. Greek historians would always refer to that time as their county’s Golden Age.

All because the Conqueror met a blonde Amazon Queen and put all of her trust in their love setting them on a path to fulfill her destiny.

The End

The vows spoken in the cave are from I Corinthians 13:4-7 and Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 also the first six lines from the battle prayer in chapter 36 are from the 13th Warrior.

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