The Mist Of Pieria Series by Annmaray

mist

The Mist Of Pieria

by Annmaray

Summary: Another telling of the aftermath of Ides of March.

Prologue: Death in the Snow

Cradling my head softly in her hands I heard Xena call my name. Following the voice, I found myself dissolving into the most beautiful blue eyes I’ve ever seen. Eyes that belonged to the one I love so dearly. Only Xena could claim my love at so deep a level. I smile and take hold of Xena’s hands. As I caress her hands between mine she acknowledges my love for her with a smile. Within a moment of time, time that you could not distinguish in candlemarks or shooting stars I feel the communion between our souls.

Words need not pass between us. I can feel the love and strength of her spirit as it merges with my own. Our death appears as an abstract, distant and left with history. Our spirits bonding become everything. She had promised on many occasions that even in death she would never leave me. I believed her then and I believe her now. I love my soulmate fully.

Gabrielle holds my heart; everything within me is hers. She is so very gentle with me. Her tenderness circles around me and in the promise of her smile she can and is melting my desire to challenge our death. With all my strength as a warrior I could not save my precious bard from this vision.

The vision we now seem to be floating spiritually within. I do not want my soulmate to look upon our bodies as they lay against the crosses. I want to keep her from the sadness this phantom would bring. She gently squeezes my hands bringing me back to submerge happily within soft green eyes. Yes, we are one. Yes, we will go on. Through whatever awaits us together. I love my bard so completely. Intuitively my spirit enters her realm of love while the light surrounding us appears to bless our bonding.

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Chapter One
In Caesar’s arrogance he directed that the bodies of Xena and Gabrielle be returned to Rome, where they would be placed on display for all to see. Caesar wanted to gloat, to show Rome that the Warrior Princess who had openly taunted and challenged him in front of his empire on many occasions had died by his command. Caesar did not count on the betrayal of Brutus.

After the death of Caesar, Brutus returned to the prison. Knowing he would be too late, he sent a messenger instructing that their bodies should be delivered to the Roman occupied-temple located five candlemarks southwest of the prison. When the bodies of the women he had come to admire and respect were brought to the temple, Brutus had to call upon all his strength in character to maintain composure — to silence his unanswered questions. It was after all a loss to war. They were Greeks, enemies of Rome. Still the honorable man in Brutus, the makeup in his personality that Xena had counted on and Gabrielle had trusted, felt loss, disappointed and sad at his inability to keep his promise of protection from Caesar’s crosses.

Brutus ordered that their bodies be cleaned with the purest of soaps, sprinkled with the most exotic of perfumes, dressed in finest robe. Brutus instructed that their bodies lay side by side in a joint sarcophagus. He was not completely sure why he ordered this to be done; he just did and felt it was not necessary to question the reason behind his decision. When the task was complete, Brutus would return Xena and Gabrielle to the Amazons.

Brutus turned away from the bodies struggling in his walk to regain composure in front of his soldiers when he heard the agonizing scream piercing the air.

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In their haste to leave the prison grounds, Amarice did not see Gabrielle pick up the sword. She did not realize Xena became paralyzed. With Eli pushing her through the gates she thought the fight was over. Surprised and horrified at her own fear over the crosses she kept running with Eli and his followers. Amarice then attempted to justify her fear with what she sees now as an excuse; Eli was weak and would need her protection. How wrong she was. She hoped that Xena and Gabrielle would follow.

Amarice was not sure exactly at what point she realized they would not be following the group. Her instincts screaming that she waited too long. Amarice had to go back. The snowfall made it difficult to retrace her steps and Amarice realized the group escaped without thought of their direction. She had to stop numerous times to take shelter from the blinding winds caused by the snow. At one point, she even hid among the horse stables of a Roman outpost to rest and warm up. She left before daybreak relieving one Roman horse of its blanket, and several apples, figuring the Romans owe her. By the time Amarice arrived at the prison Xena and Gabrielle were being removed from the crosses. She was too late.

She had failed not only the warrior she hoped would be her mentor but also her Queen, the one the warrior told her to protect, the one the warrior told her in confidence was considered Artemis’ Chosen One. Hidden in the snow-covered granite outcropping surrounding the crosses Amarice quietly demanded * Where are you now Artemis! What kind of god are you to abandon your Chosen One.* Tears started to warm her eyes and she became aware of the cold. She hated Artemis for being a weak god, hated her Queen for wanting peace and hated Xena for being breakable. All Amarice’s heroes fell from the mountaintop. Lastly, as she slowly followed from a distance behind the wagon carrying the bodies of her companions, she hated herself most of all for failing.

The Roman wagon brought the bodies of Xena and Gabrielle to a temple located outside of an extensive Roman encampment. At this point, Amarice’s attempt to blend with the crowd was successful. Most of them seem to be from a peasant class, many appeared homeless. Either way these citizens or more than likely what she considered slaves of Rome were preoccupied in the news of Caesar’s death and the stories surrounding it. She heard many debates over whether Caesar’s death would bring freedom to their land. No one really paid attention to the Greek Amazon hooded in a Roman horse blanket. Thus far blending in allowed her to watch the bodies being carried into the temple. Before she could plan further soldiers were pushing the people aside.
Amarice recognized Brutus and a handful of Roman soldiers entering the temple. *What are you doing Brutus.* Amarice decided she must get into the temple and find out. She noticed several elderly men entering the temple and quickly jumped the marble steps three at a time to fall in behind them. In her haste or as Xena would have said a lack of patience and preparation, Amarice entered the front hall unconsciously dropping the blanket from around her head and shoulders exposing her Amazon feathers.
That was all the two Roman soldiers needed to see and they expertly grabbed her from behind. Internally she questioned *Is it because my body is so cold that I am too stiff to fight or did I loose hope.* Either way it did not matter because the Romans had her. Going against every fiber of her inner belief she surrendered.

Upon hearing the soldiers taunting laughter Amarice snapped. Somewhere deep within her spirit she scream in emotional pain “FOR EPHINYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY!!!”

Ephiny’s name thundered through the marble halls of the temple bouncing off the various internal structures causing the participants within to cover their ears. Brutus did not cover his. He recognized only too well the Amazon name of Ephiny. The one he killed.

Brutus bolted to the source of the sound to see the soldiers pinning the Amazon face down to the marble floor. “Stand back!” This would be the only command that came from Brutus. Amarice lifted her head and glared in the eyes of Brutus. What was she seeing *He looks confused, no lost. Yes, the mighty Roman looks lost.*

The soldiers let Amarice go and she stood defiant closing the distance between herself and Brutus. Brutus held his hand up to the Romans indicating they are not to touch Amarice. “You PROMISED” screamed Amarice, tears again betraying her feeling of failure. “I know,” Brutus replied softly, realizing he would never have an answer that she would be satisfied with. Brutus placed his hand on her shoulder applying enough pressure for Amarice to realize she needed to obey. “Come with me,” is all Brutus would say. Amarice followed.

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The light carried Xena and Gabrielle settling them gently on a rock foundation surrounded by what Gabrielle would later call an ocean of belief. To Xena it looked like calm blue water. Xena looked to Gabrielle and squeezed her hand tighter. Gabrielle felt Xena was trying to reassure and protect. “Xena, together, we do this together. I love you.” Xena would see a tear roll down the softness of Gabrielle’s cheek. Reaching in time, Xena caught the tear on her fingers. She bent over and delicately kissed the path the tear had left on the other half of her soul. “I love you my Bard.”

“The honor and devotion to your paths has touched the Creator.” Both women watched as an apparition of questionable form approached them across the vast ocean. It moved swiftly not really touching any visible surface circling around them until finally settling itself in front of the couple without actually touching the rock formation the women were standing upon. “You are the one who spoke?” Gabrielle quickly asked, then wish she had not questioned so quickly. She did not wish to show disrespect to this apparition in front of them in case it was of a cruel god. Gabrielle sensed Xena’s body deciding if this creature was looking for a battle, as she moved slightly in front of Gabrielle in protection. How she loved the Warrior.

“It is selfless love, is it not Gabrielle,” came a statement more than a question from the apparition.

Xena let a small growl escape her throat glaring into the eyes of the apparition *I may be dead but I can still do damage.* It smiled at Xena and she found her defenses melting away with the warmth of that smile.

“First things first,” spoke the apparition. “Is that not what you express quite often Warrior.”

Again, a statement rather than a question. *I’m not so sure I am comfortable with this.* Then as if her partner read her thoughts, Xena felt Gabrielle move alongside, raising Xena’s arm so it would slip over her shoulder. Smiling Xena pulled her Bard close to her. The apparition appeared in human form but was not a solid entity. Its coloring reminded Xena of rainbows that might partner with each other. Xena struggled with internal questions, thoughts and emotions ending when Gabrielle spoke. *Her woman of words, how easily they flowed from lips she longed to reach out for.* The Warrior began drifting to happier thoughts of her lover and did not hear Gabrielle’s question.

“I am called Carrier and I am here to place you both back on your path,” the apparition paused long enough to observe the puzzling reaction from the two women it was instructed to return to what humans referred to as life. Carrier found humans intriguing and was always willing to carry out the directions the Creator unfolded. The apparition would take on different shapes to please as well as ease any fear humans might have. This situation was rather unique. Had it just been the warrior, Carrier would have appeared as one, the Bard, then a poet would have been appropriate. For them Carrier appeared as a spirit filled with the colors of the rainbow, not naked and yet not clothed. The apparition mused, *It suits them,* and then continued speaking to both women.

” Your paths show……..,” pausing then bowing toward Xena, “you, as a warrior,” then winking an eye to Gabrielle “and you a path of ….peace.” Gabrielle could feel Xena tighten the hold on her shoulder. Looking into Xena’s eyes Gabrielle could feel the love radiating from her. “I love you my Warrior.” Carrier glowed at the love and support that passed between the two women. Love that was caught and bounced within the invisible circle surrounding them. Witnessing the bonding of their souls. Carrier sighed slightly and smiled at the reactions received from the women. The little one started to giggle at hearing the apparition sigh and the warrior gave a u-uh and smiled. Although not typical, Carrier had to ask, “Are you two always this distracting to those around you?”

“To some more than others,” Xena replied with a smirk and a sense of satisfaction. “There are some who found us a terrible threat.”

“Aaaah, yes, I can think of five,” Carrier nodded before listing the names off, “Caesar, Callisto, Ares, Hope and most of all Dahok.”

Xena gave a disapproving glare at Carrier’s mention of the names. *What is wrong with you, don’t mention those names around Gabrielle, they hurt her too much.* Facing Gabrielle, she was right, tears had already left her eyes burning a trail down her face. She pulled Gabrielle to her chest holding her tightly. “It will be okay, they will never hurt us again, please don’t cry.” But as Xena attempted to calm her Bard, she could feel the tears releasing from her own eyes. Soon she felt Gabrielle increase the strength of her hold on Xena. Her Bard had sensed the grief she was also feeling.

Carrier encircled both women reaching into their heart. Capturing their attention once again, the apparition released the hold.

“There is a place within both of you which holds love, truth, light and peace. This bonds you together. Your desires do not rely on the results your actions will bring; rather you act without consideration of what is good or what is bad for yourself. Repeatedly you have both acted selflessly — without consideration of the pain or horror realized on to your soul. Do you stumble? Sure, that is a part of walking the path. When one does not stay attached to the outcome one becomes free. And freedom will allow you to return to the path you are traveling.”

Pausing, Carrier closed the distance once again and placed a gentle kiss upon the forehead of the warrior. “Xena, your path of the Warrior is your freedom, it is the right way for you. Caesar and Callisto interfered in a plan much greater than they imagined. The Creator is not pleased.”

Gabrielle could no longer stay silent. “Who is this Creator, is he a god?” *My path was not warrior, yet I killed………….* Before Gabrielle could finish her thought Carrier interrupted.

Bending over to add a kiss to Gabrielle’s forehead Carrier smiled. “What a thinker you are Gabrielle. The Creator is the One above all that ever was, is….. or will be. The Creator is the Master behind love, a concept I know you have heard before.” Cupping one hand under Gabrielle’s chin, “Yes, you did kill, out of the selfless love you have for your friend.”

“Neither of you will find immediate answers to your questions. What would be the point of life, if it came without discovery. Remember do not be afraid of being either weak or strong. Embrace each lesson.”

Carrier stepped back. “Enough said. Your karma is to learn, embrace and pass on the teachings of your chosen path. I will take you both to a place within your homeland. Build a small and respectable altar at this place and retreat there to rest and gather strength as needed. I will come to you only when it is time to move to the next level of your joint destiny.”

Xena raised her eyebrows forcing her forehead to wrinkle with puzzlement, “Are you giving us our life back?”

“Whatever is has already been. There is season for every activity and your season is for living.”

Xena and Gabrielle could feel Carrier’s force embracing and lifting them from the rock foundation. Feeling a tremendous amount of exhaustion no questions were asked by them. Gabrielle drifted off to a sleeping state almost as soon as Carrier embraced her. *They would get their life back, or a life to continue* mused Xena, and she wondered if they would return to the same bodies. She was grateful to be allowed to continue down her path as a warrior, to continue her journey with her soulmate, whose hand she was still holding. With that Xena too gave in to the sleep of Carrier’s rainbow.

Carrier laid them down gently in the soft grass in front of the entrance to a cave dedicated to the women. They would remain under protection until they awoke and gained strength back into their physical bodies. Carrier left food and drink for them, as well as clothing, weapons and several other human desires. Carrier mused, *The Creator will be proud, they will be devoted soldiers throughout destiny.*

Touching the Warrior and the Bard, Carrier imbedded an imprint on the left hip of each woman. “Always remember your source.” With that being said to each of their souls Carrier was gone.

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Amarice found herself on a Roman horse heading for home. With her Amarice held a treaty of peace between Rome and the Amazon Nation. The treaty Gabrielle had desired so desperately. Brutus did not share a real conversation with her, which was okay with Amarice as it gave her the opportunity to tell him that he and his Roman’s were animals among a few other chosen words. Brutus surprisingly allowed Amarice to bellow, yell, scream and slander him and Rome. For her words of hate, Brutus gave her food, warm clothing, passage through Roman-occupied territory and the Treaty of Peace. Brutus also told Amarice that she should never go to Rome. As the Roman camp faded into the distant, she did not look back, deciding she still hated Brutus and Rome.

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Chapter Two
A shadow crossed over Xena’s body forcing her to instinctively respond by jumping from a laying position to her feet. The figure casting the shadow could smell the adrenaline surging from the Warrior before she was upright and thus the shadow swiftly fled into the surrounding woods seeking protection. Xena relaxed her battle stance and considered the fleeing doe that had so innocently startled her to a waking state. Stepping from the blanket she had been laying on prior to the interruption Xena felt the grass snake between her toes. The Warrior felt physically awkward then quickly realized her body was tired and stiff. *I am alive,* she questioned while rubbing and squeezing her hands over her arms and shoulders.

Xena glanced down at her feet and then held out her hands. The holes that had pierced her hands and feet with such pain were gone. Surveying the hands who had killed and healed so many she found the calluses caused by years of sword fighting and practice were still visible. Instantly the Warrior realized she was standing. *My spine….I can move…but it was………….* Tears flooded the Warrior’s eyes when she realized the miracle that had taken place.

“Gabrielle,” Xena quickly turned to find her partner curled up on the blanket. Xena knelt next to Gabrielle noticing that her breathing was smooth, even and calm. From what Xena could see without touching her friend, Gabrielle was also without the physical scars. The nails that caused her Bard so much pain. Xena remembered the screams exploding from Gabrielle as the Roman’s pounded the nails into her yielding flesh. She was convinced the soldiers caused the Bard more pain than was necessary after they heard Gabrielle say that she loved Xena. *Her last words to me were of total devotion to our bond.*

Wanting to wake her and hold her closely, Xena decided instead to take her tears to the surrounding forest. *Gabrielle needs the rest and I need to gather strength so I can be there for her when she wakes.* As she stepped away she smiled, raising her face to the sun, “….and knowing my Bard…she will be hungry.”

“Might as well gather some wood while I’m out here,” talking to no one in particular Xena focused her attention on her surroundings. Dressed in a dark blue tunic held by a braided leather belt, Xena wondered if she would ever wear leather again. By tuning into her ability to listen to sounds around her and the feel of the mountain wind, she decided they must be somewhere in the northlands, higher in the mountains. Heading back to the area she would turn into a camp Xena noticed the location of the sun.

It had to be late in the day. Xena could hear a small stream off to the north and the music of several different types of birds. Satisfied that the forest was quiet, she finally arrived upon the grassy clearing and her sleeping friend, and she wondered why she did not previously see the cave with its back to the setting sun. Xena thought about entering the cave and then decided to wait until Gabrielle could explore it with her. *It is more enjoyable watching Gabrielle’ excitement when discovering new things.* Xena noted several bundles at the cave entrance. Deciding she was thirsty, the Warrior allowed her self to examine the bundles hoping there would be at least a filled waterbag among those items.

Her wonderful sense of smell, especially for food, caused Gabrielle to open her eyes. Sitting cross-legged next to her was Xena.

“About time you woke up sleepy head.”

Her beautiful Warrior was smiling at her. Gabrielle pondered about how spellbinding Xena’s smile really was. Before Gabrielle could say anything Xena offered her a cup of hot tea. Gabrielle pushed herself into a sitting position and accepted the hot drink from her soulmate noticing that Xena had a campfire burning and what smelled like rabbit stew slowly cooking.

“Mmmm…….you added honey.” Gabrielle sipped at the tea never taking her eyes off of Xena. “Was it real Xena? Tell me it was not a dream. Tell me Carrier was really there.”

*Thank the gods you said Carrier’s name first.* Hearing Gabrielle speak Carrier’s name out loud helped Xena bend from the warrior state of mind to one of acceptance. No, the Furies had not again dealt her an unfair hand, Carrier was way above what the Furies could ever even imagine.

“Yes, Carrier was real.”

The Bard’s eyes peaked over the rim of the cup she was drinking from and smiled devilishly as Xena answered. Removing the cup from her lips Gabrielle sighed eagerly at her soulmate.

Sensing that Gabrielle would also feel the physical weakness Xena pointed to the tea, “You should really drink up all the tea, it will help.”

Suddenly the sight of Xena sitting hit Gabrielle like an explosion. “XENA…….by the gods….you’re sitting…but your spine…..it’s…..” she could not finish her sentence. Placing the hot cup down she crawled quickly behind Xena. “I have to see…..feel…” Xena smiled at the tenderness and care her friend always showed her. *I’m touching her in the same place the chakram broke her back, yet the bones are connected and the muscles feel strong around it.* It was then that Gabrielle noticed her hands and the missing punctures caused by the nails.

Xena sensing Gabrielle’s discovery turned and pulled the Bard to her lap. Together they renewed the bond and the communication between their souls. Words did not seem appropriate, so they continued to hold one another while the sun began slipping below the horizon. They were going to be fine.

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“You DARE come before me and state their bodies are gone!”

The temple priest thought Brutus would think him mad, but surely he would not believe the priest would make up such a tale. Brutus must know the he realizes death would soon follow, if his words proved to be a lie.

“This is absurd!” Brutus paced the dirt floor of stables his hands covering his eyes. How could they be gone. It is not like they could walk away. The bodies have been well guarded he personally made sure of that. He did not want anyone left who might still maintain loyalty to Caesar to steal the women.

Attempting to organize rational thought, “Well I know that pretentious little Amazon did not take them. So my most trusted priest who did?”

Falling to the sandy floor on his knees and bowing his head with the utmost respect and certainly fear at this point, what the priest would say did not come easily.

“I swear upon the name of Jupiter, I finished laying the bodies into the joint sarcophagus, as requested and walked to the altar to retrieve the broken chakram so that it may lay with the warrior woman. The time was not more than several blinks of the eye,” the dryness in his throat was threatening to overtake the old man, “and….they were gone.” The priest then laid the broken chakram at the feet of Brutus.

“Get off your knees old man and leave me.” Brutus turned away from the priest, but could hear him stumbling and shuffling. “Old man,” Brutus growled and then paused long enough for the priest to find his bodily functions betraying him and burning a path down his legs. “I believe you, mention this to no one or you will find yourself on the block.”

Once the priest was gone, Brutus picked up the broken chakram. *What gods have you both so charmed and gained so much favor of that they would risk the wrath of my Roman gods by crossing over the boundaries of their rule.* The chakram took on an eerie glow and crumbled instantly between his fingers sprinkling royal purple particles into the air. At that moment, Brutus realized the Warrior and her Bard now had more freedom than he a mighty Roman could ever hope for.

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Over dinner each took turns speaking of the meeting with Carrier and the words passed on to them. The women were in harmony as they discovered both had interpreted Carrier’s words the same way. Neither spoke of their death or events prior to it. For now that time was best left unsaid. Both knew that when the time was right, they would share their thoughts and feelings.

After eating several portions of stew, they decided to leave the cave exploration until tomorrow. There was a small stream less than a quarter candlemark northeast of the camp and Gabrielle wanted to clean the pot and bowls. Xena thought the cleaning could wait until morning, but she allowed herself to indulge in Gabrielle’s apparent need to move. The walk might do them both some good. The full moon seemed bright enough to light a path for them, so Xena walked with Gabrielle carrying a towel and the lemon scented soap she found among the bundles left behind. Both had already assumed Carrier had provided their needs for them. Xena did not feel that either of them needed to bathe in fact she felt like she had been scrubbed cleaner than ever. *Probably a result of the spiritual encounter with Carrier* mused Xena.

“The stew was really very good Xena,” Gabrielle beamed, as Xena filled her face with soap.

“I did do a pretty good job of cooking, didn’t I,” a statement of self-satisfaction escaped Xena. “However, don’t get comfortable with my cooking, I still enjoy your meals much more than my own. You think you could maybe make those little things with the red inside.”

Gabrielle moved closer to join Xena. Splashing the cool stream water on her face. “Mmmm….sure, for you anything.” She loved when Xena requested a favor from her; spoiling Xena was a prime objective for her and since Xena never really asked for much, she found she would jump at the chance when the Warrior did ask.

Both were quiet on the way back to camp, Gabrielle noted how nicely the dark blue tunic complemented the beautiful body that was under it. Gabrielle could not help but smile at the wonders the Warrior’s body always unfolded for her. She felt a slight flush rise throughout her own body and wondered how long she could hold back from touching her Warrior. Events over the past few moons interrupted their lives so uncaringly. They had not been able to go much beyond kissing, hugging and cuddling since the celebration of her birthday in Amphipolis. Gabrielle remembered how Xena could hardly wait for the celebrants to turn in for the night so that she could have the Bard all to herself. “Mmmm….oh yes…..,” Gabrielle did not realize she moaned those reminiscing pleasures out loud and almost tripped into camp.

*What my dear Bard has you moaning so seductively.* Xena glanced at Gabrielle giving her a slightly wicked smirk and a raise of an eyebrow. Gabrielle’s eyes instantly gave away her desire. Silently thanking whatever gods set Gabrielle in her path Xena opened her arms to her Bard.

Gabrielle watched Xena’s expression undressing her body and recognized the same familiar and all to overwhelming desire in the eyes of her Warrior. *How I love her* And with that Gabrielle needed no further encouragement and stepped into Xena’s embrace. Circling her hands around her lover’s neck, she let her lips brush with Xena’s and whispered softly into the Warrior’s lips, “Never leave me Warrior.”

Xena deepened the kiss and slipped her tongue into the warmth of her lover. Gabrielle responded with a passion that would match and go beyond all of Xena’s dreams. Gabrielle’s legs buckled from under her with her need for Xena. Sensing Gabrielle’s weakness and becoming all too aware of her own weakening state, Xena guided Gabrielle to the blanket. The recent events of their death and rebirth became lost in the moment. Xena slipped Gabrielle’s tunic off her shoulders and slowly let her lips trail into the tender spot that she knew would bring moans of love from her Bard. Xena was not disappointed. For a split second Xena mused, *what was it Carrier said…a season for every activity…..* Xena lost her train of thought as she fell into the heart of her soulmate.

Not far off in the forest a single doe watched and guarded the camp.

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Chapter Three
Two days had passed since Xena and Gabrielle experienced their awakening to the life of the living. The second day they stayed close to camp and decided to put off exploring the cave for another day. Neither one was willing to let the other one out of their sight and this togetherness led way to expressions verbal and physical of love, trust and a chance to continue life together. Between the closeness the lovers filled the day looking through the bundles left by Carrier, short walks to collect wood, several naps, eating and washing in the stream. Carrier had been more than generous with the supplies left for them, which led both to assume they would remain within the camp for several days.

The third day passed similar to the second and by that evening both could feel their physical and emotional strength increasing.

As both women stretched out on the blanket to gaze at the cluster of stars in the heavens, Gabrielle rolled on to her side lifting her self up with her arm so she could look at Xena’s face. Slowly Gabrielle ran her fingers teasingly through Xena’s bangs. “Xena.”

“Yesssss,” Xena smiled at her most favorite person in the universe.

“Did you notice my mendhi is gone?”

“Yes…….mmmm, how could I not notice,” Xena purred at her lover.

Gabrielle sat up with a very serious look across her face. “We both have it you know.”

Xena sat up alongside of Gabrielle and pulled her closer, “I know.” Xena cupped Gabrielle’s face in her hands protectively. “The tattoos represent our bond to each other and to our source.”

Gabrielle closed the space between them leaning in to steal a small kiss. Wrapping her arms around Xena and settling her head into the base of her Warriors neck Gabrielle spoke delicately, “I think I knew that, I guess….I just……”

Realizing she was totally, helplessly in love with a bard, Xena tilted Gabrielle’s head with one hand so she could see into her eyes. “Gabrielle, I am totally devoted to you, to our path, don’t you feel the intensity of my commitment?”

“Yes, I do and……..” pausing Gabrielle looked into Xena’s tear-filled eyes, “Make love with me Warrior.”

Xena did not need any further encouragement.

And so as the third day came to an end, the doe stretched her neck arching her head to the heavens and remained on watch as the pair dedicated their love to the stars.

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Amarice rode the Roman horse hard for two days; silently wishing the animal would drop to its death under her. Feeling the overwhelming need to lash out at anything Roman the horse did not mistake the tone in Amarice’s voice as she yelled, “Maybe I will just slit your throat when I’m done with you.”

In her darken mood she failed to notice that she crossed on to Amazon territory and was abruptly knocked from her horse by the staff of an Amazon sentry. Attempting to regain her breath, Amarice was immediately surrounded by four Amazons. Rolling gingerly off her back to a sitting position Amarice raised her arms over her head offering the Amazon signal of peace.

“I have a message for Queen Shulaba.”

“Oh really,” the tallest Amazon commented sarcastically. “You enter our land on a Roman horse, pass the warning of our boundary symbols, and expect us to take you to our Queen.”

The four Amazons chuckled among themselves while noticing the Amazon garb this petite fierce personality wore, and allowed Amarice to stand.

“Do you have a name child,” asked the tall Amazon.

Amarice had very little patience at this time; she was angry, tired, dirty and hungry. She realized, however, that she needed to see Shulaba and decided to respond without a battle.

“I am Amarice and I have a Treaty of Peace from Rome and word of Queen Gabrielle and Xena.”

“Wait a minute,” the tall Amazon’s eyes opened wide, “I remember you, the one with the…….in my tribe…..attitude. You left with our Queen and Xena.”

With that being said the tall Amazon hoisted Amarice on her horse and jumped up behind her. Since the Roman horse had already fled the area, Amarice accepted the ride musing *Smart horse, knew I would kill you for sure.*

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By the fifth day Xena and Gabrielle found themselves totally emerged in turning the interior of the cave into a home. The previous day’s discovery uncovered a cave much larger than either anticipated, holding seven chambers. The cave entrance was wide enough for two people to walk side by side and Xena, happily, did not have to duck her head to enter. Once through the entrance the cave opened to the left exposing a space large enough to board, what Xena believed at least two or three horses.
However, if one walked straight in from the entrance for about 10 paces the ground sloped upward mildly for about 12 paces before leveling out to a flat surface that exposed a semi-circle shaped living area. A circular stone hearth already graced the center of the semi-circle and a small opening in the rocks directly above would allow smoke to escape. Gracing the back wall of the living area was one additional passage leading to the remaining five chambers. A few paces into this passage and a V-shape split occurred in the path. To the left were three small closet-sized chambers suitable for storing supplies. The right pathway from the V-split led to two separate chambers. The first cavity excited both women tremendously, as it turned out to be a shallow pool fed by a warm underground spring. On the far wall what appeared to be a miniature waterfall cascaded from a fissure.

The chamber beyond the water although not as large as the main living area also held a circular hearth in the center. It too had an opening in the rocks above to allow the smoke to escape; however, the ceiling of this chamber was much lower to the ground. Both women agreed that this would be where they would build the altar Carrier had spoke of.

Out of habits grown from their years of traveling together each fell into a routine sharing the chores, building a pallet to sleep on, collecting wood, unpacking Carrier’s bundles and moving several rocks to construct a proper altar. Whether intentional or not, by the time both were ready for an evening meal the cave began to have the appeal of permanence — of a home.

With a warm meal settling comfortably in her stomach Gabrielle sat cross-legged leaning back against a small boulder. She ran her fingers over the unmarked scroll that lay in her lap remembering the last scroll she completed detailing the zealot Najara. No matter how much Najara wanted and tried to convince her that she changed, Gabrielle knew without question her path would always be with Xena. The Bard continued to ponder the recent events in their life. Neither one of them was ready to speak of their death, although both knew it would inevitably become a conversation they would have to exchange and share. Closing her eyes in an attempt to hold back any tears, Gabrielle could feel the emotions running throughout her soul finally settling on one particularly deep, sadness peeking out from her heart. *Ephiny……yes, I should scribe the tale of Ephiny.*

Sitting on a flat rock across the fire from Gabrielle, Xena attended to the sword left by Carrier. Xena had not touched the sword when first finding it and was not sure she ever wanted to touch a sword again. Gabrielle was the one who brought the sword to her placing it tenderly on her lap. “My Warrior,” she said, “do that sharpening thing, will you.” Xena studied the temper of the blade reflecting at Gabrielle’s choice of words. *So, my sweet little one because of you, here I sit falling back into a familiar rhythm.* Sliding the whetstone down the edge of the sword Xena found her thoughts drifting to how far they have come. *Yes, we need time to heal, time to start walking our path without guilt and sorrow.* Without breaking the rhythm of her sword sharpening, Xena lifted her eyes peeking over to where Gabrielle was sitting. Thoughts of how precious Gabrielle is to her filled her heart and she did not realize a small, pleasant laughter escaped her, *Gabrielle, you really know how to read what is in my heart.*

Xena’s laughter caught Gabrielle’s attention, “What my dear Warrior do you find so amusing?”

“Are you going to write in that scroll, or just run your fingers over it,” Xena teased, realizing she had been caught with her thoughts.

“Xena do you have any idea just how…. how…enchanting you are right now,” Gabrielle giggled at her choice of words, *that should get her juices going.*

Raising both eyebrows at Gabrielle, “Enchanting? Gabrielle I’m sharpening a sword.”

Tossing the scroll to the side Gabrielle stretched her legs out in front of her and leaned back into the boulder placing her arms behind her head to act as a pillow. “Yea…..I’m almost jealous of the sword.”

Watching Xena’s expression change to pure seduction made Gabrielle shiver slightly, * Yup, that should do the trick.*

It did, within seconds Gabrielle found herself in Xena’s arms, being carried to their newly-made bed. Xena set her down on the bed with gentle ease. After removing her own tunic she helped Gabrielle remove hers. Gabrielle gazed upon the tan muscular body of her lover and still could not believe Xena wanted only her. Xena met the Bard’s precious lips with such softness that Gabrielle was not sure she could hold on. Pulling Xena’s body to her with an extreme desire, she could hear Xena gasp when their bodies melted together. Gabrielle’s appetite for Xena was tremendously uncontrollable so she gently pushed Xena over to her back, sliding herself on top.

As Gabrielle settled her body over Xena, she could hear Xena’s tender, demanding plea, “Don’t go.” This only fueled her hunger and Gabrielle knew this desire would consume all of her.

Probing with her tongue over, under and around the curves of her lover’s sensitive body the Bard could not resist tasting every bit of her Warrior. Claiming a succulent breast in her hand, she fondled and teased the nipple gently, while her tongue and lips firmly suckled the other breast eliciting deep moans from the Warrior. The Bard began rubbing her leg back and forth on Xena’s center of pleasure and could feel the heated wetness she had caused to flow from the deep caverns of her lover’s core.

Xena’s thoughts were no longer cooperating, as her desires claimed control. She began arching her hips to meet with the pressure the Bard was producing and released her hold on Gabrielle’s golden hair to grab the blankets beneath her. Gabrielle could feel her own wetness sliding over Xena’s leg, and let a hot gasping sigh erupt pass her lips that sent a flood of heated breath to surround the nipple she still had claim upon. Releasing her hold on Xena’s breast, her Warrior cried a gasp of disappointment.

Gazing into the deep blue of her lover, “My Warrior, I WILL possess all of you….I promise.”

The lust and domination dripping in those words sent Xena into a mini-orgasm. This did not go unnoticed by the Bard, as she continued to massage and stroke Xena with her hands, tease with her fingers, and caress with her tongue. Gabrielle inched down Xena’s responding body, stopping only long enough to spread the Warriors thighs so she could taste the treasure that would only be devoured by her. Hearing a deep throaty plea from her soulmate, the bard pushed and circled her tongue between the velvet folds offered by the Warrior. Licking the spicy-sweet mixture offered so generously, Gabrielle could not help but smile as she heard Xena scream her love for the Bard. Gabrielle was sure that this was an addiction she would never give up.

Xena felt Gabrielle replace her tongue with those fleshy, luscious lips, rolling, sucking and mixing with air, hot and cold throughout her overheated mound. The Warrior could hear the desire and joy in Gabrielle’s moans, and again found herself surrendering and unable to concentrate on anything but her lover. Fevered, sweating and overwhelmed with Gabrielle’s love for her, Xena felt the last of her control slipping while pounding sensations overtook her body.

Increasing the pressure of her tongue Gabrielle held on to Xena as she started to lift off the bed. Gently Gabrielle entered Xena’s treasure with two then three fingers rubbing the satin walls, sliding through the juices while increasing the speed of her tongue finding the one spot she knew would please her lover, driving her to the stars and back. Xena’s breathing was gasping and rushed while her body was shaking with small tremors. “Oh…yes….gods…yeesssss,” was all Gabrielle needed to hear as she brought her Xena, yes her Xena to the edge, over and back into her embrace. As Xena collapsed to the bed, Gabrielle could hear light whimpers coming from her soulmate.

Raising herself from her lover’s sumptuous body, Gabrielle saw Xena’s hands over her eyes and her chest was rising and falling rapidly. “Xena, what, what happened, are you okay?” Quickly Gabrielle moved to grasp Xena’s hands. Lifting them from Xena’s face the Bard began kissing the fallen tears. “Sssshhh, its okay, I love you so much.”

Wrapping her arms around Xena, Gabrielle slid on her back pulling Xena over so she could cradle her closely. Gabrielle asked again, “Sssh, talk to me Warrior. Did I hurt you….Xena, please talk to me.”

Xena’s tears subsided and she realized she might have scared Gabrielle with her reaction to the love she had just received. Raising her body enough to look into those beautiful emerald eyes Xena saw the confusion in Gabrielle’s face.

“Wh…what did I ever do to deserve the love you share with me….my warlord ways, your death, my death…and….and then…..the gift of this home. By the Gods I am so in love with everything about you, my Bard.” The Warrior lowered her lips to Gabrielle, claiming them gently. The kiss was meant to be tender and sweet a symbol of her devotion to Gabrielle. Xena could feel the radiance in the Bard’s return kiss. The Warrior pulled back and in Gabrielle she found the understanding she had hoped for.

With a huge smile, a soft giggle, tears glazing her eyes and the deliciously salty taste of Xena’s tears on her lips the Bard responded, “I love you, my devoted Warrior.” Gabrielle began tracing Xena’s lips with her finger, which sent warm vibrations pouring throughout her body. Aware of the importance of Xena’s words to her Gabrielle continued, “I too want this to be our home, our sanctuary…I….I want to grow old with you my warlord.” Gabrielle paused collecting her words. “I have absolutely no regrets with everything that is you — the good, the unpleasant, even our death. We are soulmates for a reason and I would not want that bond with anyone else but you.”

As the fire in the hearth settled to several warm embers, two dancing hearts splashing their shadows on the walls of a mystical cave in the mountains of Greece could be seen once again.

And the doe, loyal to her charges, stood as keeper of the night mindful to the love that was now decorating a home.

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Chapter Four
*I just can’t get over how beautiful she is.* Xena sighed quietly, as she lay on her side watching the woman she loved more than anyone scamper about the cave rekindling the fire and preparing a modest breakfast. Xena allowed her thoughts to wander over the memories the two of them had created together. Accepting that fate may not always hold evil, Xena reflected on the head strong young girl who followed her relentlessly from Poteidaia, the selfless courage she always shared with people….never looking for a reward in return, and the unquestionable faith and loyalty she held for a stubborn warlord. Xena also remember the times of pain the Bard had suffered, particularly with the Warrior’s return to Chin, the betrayal of Hope and…. *Solan…my heart still misses you, but how you would have loved Gabrielle.*

Xena could not help but recall how she dragged Gabrielle from the Amazon camp trying to kill her. Gabrielle had been the only person in Xena’s life that remained honestly vulnerable around the warlord and Xena in her rage pointed the finger of blame directly at her best friend for the death of her son. She was amazed that Gabrielle had survived the violent drag and still managed to have enough fire in her to kick Xena in the head forcing her to drop the Amazon Queen. Gabrielle never brought the incident up, never threw it at Xena.

Wiping a tear from her eye Xena remembered Gabrielle’s words to her not long after their renewal through Illusia, as she lay dying from the poison that invaded her body, as a result of a Persian arrow. “A long time ago, I accepted the consequences of our life together. That it might one day come to this….it has. I’m not afraid…..” Gabrielle had totally accepted her lifestyle with Xena. And to Xena that meant Gabrielle also valued their relationship above all others.

*You did die, my lover, not then, but your acceptance of our life did bring death to your door.*

Silently reprimanding herself for her inability to verbalize her regret over the pain she had caused and the love she held so deeply for Gabrielle, Xena opted for action. *I will not disappoint you my soulmate, I will not allow you to ever regret that you and I share a destiny through time.*

Pushing the tears away with the back of her arm Xena sat up and noticed the tunic that Gabrielle had obviously left so lovingly for her. Grabbing it she slipped it over her warlord frame and stood up.

Gabrielle could not help but notice the movement of her soulmate. She sensed Xena’s eyes penetrating her being and realized the Warrior was deep in thought. Gabrielle instinctively accepted Xena’s need, and stayed busy preparing a breakfast for the two of them. But now Xena was moving, so Gabrielle in her most playful voice greeted her Warrior. “Good morning lazy bones.”

The Warrior knew she had to respond to the little nickname Gabrielle created for her. Figuring action was her best weapon she calmly strolled over to Gabrielle, embraced her in a warm hug and began nibbling the soft earlobe of her lover. She could feel Gabrielle’s body immediately respond, with a manner of ‘yes do anything you want to me Warrior’ groan of pleasure. That was what Xena waited for and she began tickling the Bard around her waist, knowing she could produce a squeal or two. The Warrior was not disappointed.

“XENA!” Gabrielle erupted with laughter as she tried to squirm out of Xena’s grasp.

Replying with a huge smile, “Call me lazy bones will ya.,” and she let go of Gabrielle.

Still giggling, Gabrielle pounced right back at Xena wrapping her arms around the Warrior’s waist. “Good morning, you hungry? I made those little pastry things with the red inside.”

*Gods….she’s good,* was Xena’s most immediate thought. Smiling down at her Bard, “Thank you, I love you, do you know that.”

“Yea, sure do, let’s eat….and by the way, I love you right back.”

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Queen Shulaba and the Amazon tribe were delighted to see that Amarice was safe. Shulaba and the tribe elders secretly admired Amarice’s young, annoying insolence and her desire to fight for the Amazon way of life. They were sad to see Amarice leaving with Gabrielle and Xena, but knew that she would learn a great deal from both women.

*Ephiny, Gabrielle and Xena had all been willing to give the little hot-headed Amazon a chance and so would she,* mused Shulaba, as she began reading the Treaty of Peace.

The Amazon nation had already heard the horrible news about the painful death of their precious Queen and her Warrior. Xena’s reputation was so great throughout the countryside that the rumors and tales spread like evil locust. A full moon cycle had almost come to pass since the Ides of March, and the Amazon God, Artemis was so distraught and angry that she threw all her temple priests out, and posted guards asking not to be disturbed. Both Shulaba and the tribes’ shaman tried to visit Artemis, but she would have audience with no one. The new queen decided she would take the Treaty of Peace offered by Brutus to the temple. Maybe then Artemis would grant her an audience.

Eponin watched from the stables as Shulaba headed in the direction of Artemis’ temple. Shaking her head in bewilderment at no one in particular Eponin turned her attention back to Argo.

Hearing about the death of Ephiny and Solari was difficult enough and then to add the loss of her Queen and favorite, sparring partner was too much for Eponin. The combination of tragedies brought Eponin back to her home tribe. For several years she traveled across the hot sands in the exotic land of the pyramids discovering and learning her destiny — her path. While always planning to return home, she never anticipated the reason would be because of death.

While trusting in Gabrielle’s choice to appoint Shulaba as Queen in her absence, Eponin knew that with Gabrielle’s death no one could ever replace the Bard, especially in the eyes and heart of Artemis.

“Well girl, what do you think.” Eponin enjoyed talking to Argo. The warhorse always acted like she understood what Eponin was talking about, which helped her understand why the Warrior was so possessive of the old calvary horse. Argo gave a short whinny and shook her head back and forth. “Yeah, I know girl, I miss that old Warrior too.”

When Eponin returned to the Amazon village, Shulaba requested that Eponin accompany herself and several members of the Royal Guard to both Poteidaia and Amphipolis. Shulaba believed Gabrielle’s and Xena’s families probably already heard about the deaths of their daughter’s, but tradition and loyalty to both women drove Shulaba to seek out the families just in case news of the tragedy slipped by them. Eponin remembered how neither she or Shulaba slept much during that awful journey.

Tradition demanded they travel to Poteidaia first, birth home of their Queen. Eponin was only too aware of the dislike Gabrielle’s family held for Xena, particularly her father. The Amazon women never even made it on to the land owned by Gabrielle’s father. He saw them coming across the fields, grabbing an ax as he ran at them full force screaming words of hatred. Shulaba had the group stop at the perimeter of the old man’s field. Realizing that Gabrielle’s father had no intentions of stopping and looked very much like he was going to use the ax to secure blood, Eponin boldly commanded a retreat. She found no argument from Shulaba and the Amazons turned their horses commanding them into an all out gallop. Without conversation all realized Gabrielle’s family had heard of her horrible death.

Two days later they arrived in Amphipolis. The greeting they received there was the difference between night and day. Xena’s mother, Cyrene welcomed the women with open arms. She found rooms for them at her inn, fed them, allowed them to bathe, and encouraged them to stay for the week. Most importantly, Cyrene listened to them, talked with them and cried with them over the loss of both Xena and Gabrielle. Although not surprised, Cyrene was deeply disturbed that the attempted goodwill visit to Poteidaia might have become another tragedy.

Eponin remembered Cyrene’s words to Shulaba and herself. “The way that man treated Gabrielle, he has no right to declare himself her father.” Cyrene immediately realized what she let slip out and covered her mouth so hard with her hand that a red imprint was left.

Eponin knew she could not let this go unnoticed and begged Cyrene to explain her words. After a few minutes Cyrene decided to share Gabrielle’s secret with the two Amazon women. She trusted them, and while she knew Eponin, Cyrene also knew Gabrielle would not have chosen Shulaba as Queen, if she could not trust her. Making both women swear upon Artemis; Cyrene was no dummy, she told them about the time three years ago, when she accidentally walked in on Gabrielle bathing and found her breast and then her hips with painful bruises.

Eponin remembered Cyrene’s tearful words. “Gabrielle begged me not to tell Xena or anyone and that she would be okay. She did not want Xena to get mad at her.”

Shulaba asked if Cyrene knew who hurt Gabrielle. “Not at first, I was so shocked that someone could hurt this beautiful young woman that I just asked Gabrielle to let me treat her bruises.”

Eponin could feel herself battle internal rage, but had to know everything, so she asked Cyrene to continue her story. “As I treated her bruises she cried, oh did she cry, and I asked her why someone could hurt her.”

Pausing a moment Cyrene continued, “Gabrielle’s lips were quivering so hard from crying that she could barely get the words out and when she did all she said was – I’m different, father said I’m wicked, he hates when I tell stories and…..I shame him because I am not a son.”

Wrenching herself from her thoughts, Eponin tossed the horsebrush aside, saddled Argo and headed out of the Amazon village. She roused Argo into a solid gallop as soon as they reached the fields surrounding the eastern region of Amazon territory. Needing Argo to take the lead, Eponin returned her thoughts to Cyrene and the visit at Amphipolis.

“Hey Argo!” The horse gave a few sputtering grunts and slowed to a walk. “Cyrene never told Xena about Gabrielle’s father hurting her. Do you think Xena knew?”

Eponin turned Argo to the west and watched as the sun started to sink under the horizon. The Amazon Warrior responded to her own question, “No I suppose Xena never knew; she should have been told, I would have wanted to know.”

Eponin recalled Cyrene’s story of how Argo had wandered into Amphipolis. Cyrene always figured that horse was half human or possessed, and when she found Argo outside of her inn that one morning, she not only sensed Xena was lost to her, but also to Argo. Ever since then Cyrene kept Argo in the stables. When the Amazons came for their visit, Cyrene believed Argo would be much happier with someone better able to take care of her. So, Eponin inherited Argo.

“ONLY FOR NOW WARRIOR” Eponin screeched at the setting sun then permitted sobbing to again take over her body. “Only for now………….”

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By midday Xena and Gabrielle managed to hike up the mountain southwest of the cave stopping when they found a break in the timberline. Looking out over the forest valley below, the women could see several more mountain ranges running north and south. There was also a good size river to the southeast.

Handing Xena the waterbag and a slice of jerky Gabrielle sat down on the warm surface of rocks below her feet. “Xena, do you recognize any of the landmarks?”

Pointing to the river, “We’re up pretty high, but I think the river is Haliacmon.”

“Mmmm, Haliacmon,” Gabrielle closed her eyes hoping it would improve her concentration. “Isn’t that above Thessalyia?”

“Yes it is….and over the last few nights I’ve been watching the stars, so we are probably somewhere in the Pieria Mountains.”

Xena looked down at her Bard, who was already in a yoga position, eyes closed, breathing was smooth. “Are you going to mediate for awhile?”

Gabrielle peeked out of one eye, “No, just resting for a bit.”

Xena sat down next to her soulmate; leaning over she placed a sweet kiss on the Bard’s cheek.

The Bard opened both eyes and scooted closer to her lover. Xena protectively placed her arm around Gabrielle pulling her closer so that Gabrielle could lean up against her.

“Xena, how much time do you think has really passed since….well since…you know?”

Taking a deep breath Xena realized she really had no idea and felt a little loss because she did not have an answer for her soulmate. “I really do not know. The ground seems warmer than before, I can see the change in the greenery, and I’ve noticed several baby birds in the trees.” Xena spoke reassuringly for Gabrielle, as much as herself. “I’m not sure about days; I do know this is our sixth day since we awoke outside the cave.”

Gabrielle stood up pulling Xena with her. “I wonder if our families…” pausing for the right words Xena finished her sentence.

“I imagine they have already heard.” Xena pulled the Bard in front of her so she could wrap her arms around Gabrielle and breathe in the heaven scent smell of patchouli and almonds that was always her lover. “As long as Amarice got away, I know she would return to the Amazon village to tell Shulaba. As an Amazon she is bound by her loyalty to her new Queen. And Shulaba is bound to tradition…..” pausing only seconds, “Shulaba will send word to our families.”

Gabrielle circled around until she could lay her head on the breast of her soulmate. She listened to Xena’s heart beating and the steady rate of her breath. “We should tell them we are okay.”

The Warrior slipped her hand under Gabrielle’s chin, lifting her head so she could claim the soft mauve tinted lips of her lover. As always, Gabrielle never turned Xena away and responded with an urgency that met with the Warriors.

Xena reluctantly pull away from the kiss, “Let’s rest one more day and then we will leave.”

Grabbing the front of Xena’s tunic she pulled the Warrior back into a kiss. “You taste so good, I must have more of you.”

“By the gods, Gabrielle do you have any idea what you do to me.”

Gabrielle increased the passion of her kiss; cutting off any further words Xena would utter. Xena felt herself walking backwards while Gabrielle’s tongue feverishly sucked hers. Not entirely sure when the tree stopped her from moving further, she only knew the Bard had already managed to find the wetness of Xena’s desire for her lover.

Gabrielle continued pressing and sliding her body down her lover, pulling Xena’s breeches off on the way. “Mmmm…..you are so-so wet….” Before she could finish her statement Gabrielle directed her tongue and lost herself in her soulmate’s wetness.

Xena knew she could not help the gutturally moans and groans of pleasure that escaped through her lips as the Bard quickly took away the strength in her legs and the breath out of her lungs. Never would she imagine this young farm girl was capable of bringing her to such staggering orgasms.

It did not take long until Gabrielle felt Xena releasing the last tremor of her climax along with the inability to remain standing. Licking the spicy-sweet juices from her lips, Gabrielle helped Xena to the ground.

The deep blue in Xena’s eyes was still glazed over, when she heard Gabrielle speaking to her.

“When we see your mother, remind me to thank her for creating such a delicious daughter.”

Hearing the playfulness in Gabrielle’s voice, Xena responded, “Don’t you dare little one or I might have to find a way to torture you.”

The Bard wrinkled her forehead in thought before responding, “I think I might thoroughly enjoy any torture you might come up with.” Pausing a moment, she brought Xena’s hand to her lips, giving the palm a long stroke with her tongue and then impishly added, “Can we use warm oil with my torture.”

Several seconds later Gabrielle found herself pinned to the ground, smelling the aroma of fallen pine needles encircling her. Not much longer after that Gabrielle was now the one proclaiming sounds of ecstasy to the mountain and its valleys.

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Cyrene sat near the front window of her inn with a mug of port that she was not really that interested in drinking. Watching as the rain clouds began to claim the sky Xena’s mother released a big sigh, as she ventured through the memories of her Xena. *Why must such cruelty be allowed to happen. You worked so hard to rectify the wrongs you so foolishly brought upon others.*

Hearing the thunder in the distant clouds pounding and bellowing their warning of approach, Cyrene remembered Xena once telling her, “The dead can hear our thoughts.”

“Xena, I really miss you my beautiful daughter. I am so very, very proud of you.” Cyrene tilted her head slightly and a smile shaped her mouth. “I remember the time you wanted to travel to Athens. You had to be only six seasons or so, and you wanted to do it alone. When I told you no, oh did that temper of yours catch on fire. You grabbed the bow and several arrows that Uncle Ortis made for you and stomped out the door, threatening to never come back. You did come back though and in time for dinner, all muddy, claiming Athens was wonderful and you might go again tomorrow.” Cyrene found herself chuckling slightly, but soon it turned back to the reflection she could only imagine of her daughter nailed to a Roman cross.

The visit by the Amazon’s helped Cyrene to work through her initial grief over the death of her daughter and Gabrielle. She also knew it eased the pain for the Amazons, especially Eponin. Cyrene knew that while Ephiny was always a favorite of Gabrielle’s, it was Eponin whom Xena favored. *I was right to give Argo to Eponin,* mused Cyrene.

Cyrene, like most of Greece was pleased to hear of Caesar’s demise. However, Cyrene mused, *I would gladly have a hundred Caesar’s plundering this land, if it would bring you back to me my daughter……..and my Gabrielle.*

Gabrielle had affectionately nicknamed her “Warrior Mom” shortly after the Bard confided in Cyrene about the abuse she suffered at the hands of her father. Laying her hands palm down on the rough wooden table she noticed age claiming the once smooth skin and reflected back to the times her father would take a wooden stick across the backs as a means of punishing Cyrene for her occasional bouts of independence. As Cyrene became an adult, she held firm to the belief that no child should ever suffer abuse at the hands of a parent.

After that first confrontation with Gabrielle, the Bard only shared her injuries produced by her father two more times. And both times were because Cyrene had cornered the Bard after she knew Gabrielle had just returned from a visit with her family. After that, Gabrielle became much more inventive at hiding her wounds and made sure someone was always around so Warrior Mom could not confront her. Cyrene was certain that Gabrielle never shared her pain with Xena. Her Warrior daughter would not have stood by for that.

Expressing her musing openly, “Xena, I am so pleased that you finally chose to tell Gabrielle how much you loved her.” Cyrene thought back to the season when her daughter finally accepted that she was worthy of love and that her love was worth sharing. It amused Cyrene to watch both her daughter and Gabrielle try to hide their feelings for each other, then all of a sudden one day they showed up holding hands. After that she could not imagine how Gabrielle hid any marks her father left on her. But knowing Gabrielle, if caught, she probably blamed them very convincingly on another cause.

Ripping Cyrene from her dreams she jumped as a bolt of brilliant lightening disturbed the sky and was promptly followed by thunder rolling across the heavens.

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The Warrior and her Bard just barely made it to the cave as the heavens opened sending sheets of rain, flashes of lightening and pounding thunder through the mountain and valley.

Both stood close to the entrance and watched the rain for a few minutes, each lost in their own daydream. Xena placed her hand on Gabrielle’s shoulder and mischievously proclaimed, “I’m hungry, what did you plan for us?”

Gabrielle shook her head giggling at how animated her partner has been over the past several days. *Not that she wasn’t before, but there was something different.* Gabrielle paused in her thoughts, * No wrong choice of words, she is still very animated. Her spirit just seems happier.*

“Okay, my wild Warrior woman, you start the fire and I’ll whip up something that will make you drooling for more.”

“Mmmmm…..” Xena could feel a sudden wetness coating her breeches. Turning to face Gabrielle she arched her eyebrow and pressed her fingers to the Bard’s lips. In a most tempting tone she whispered, “I’ll save the drooling part for desert.” Giving Gabrielle a quick wink, Xena spun around and headed to the hearth.

It took Gabrielle a second to compose herself, “Ohhh, very funny Warrior Princess, very funny indeed.” With a big smile on her face and throbbing pressure between her legs, Gabrielle proceeded to cook an evening meal for them.

After their meal, both women retreated to the chamber dedicated to the Creator. While on their trek up and back down the mountain each collected various items for the altar. Objects they believed the Creator would be pleased with. The previous day the Warrior placed several candles on the altar, signifying the gift of the light they each received. Gabrielle placed a scroll, which spoke of Carrier’s message to them from the Creator.

Today as a couple they would offer substances of the earth. Pine cones and needles, a variety of colorful pebbles, and a medley of seeds from trees and flowers. After placing their offerings on the altar the Warrior and the Bard settled into yoga. Positions created jointly to first show respect for their Creator and second an arrangement to announce their joining as soulmates.

Gabrielle fell into meditation much quicker than the Warrior did. Xena always enjoyed a few minutes to ponder her love for Gabrielle. Remembering the time she told Gabrielle how she liked to wait a few minutes and watch, Gabrielle reasoned that Xena was, “Making a quick reality check.” She was right, of course, mused Xena as she gazed lovingly at the Bard, *Looks like, feels like, sounds like…….then it must be.* As Xena began clearing her mind to meditate, she understood she had to ask Gabrielle to enter into a marriage.

Later that night, as darkness took over the light, the rain and thunder ended their control. The fires in the cave continued to burn protectively as the two lovers embraced and drifted to the land of Morpheus.

At the edge of the forest a single doe watched. Tomorrow my friends……….tomorrow.

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Chapter Five
The Warrior awoke before her soulmate and allowed herself a few minutes to recall their passion last night. Brushing several golden locks from Gabrielle’s eyes Xena remembered how Gabrielle attained the short cute cut. Xena really did like the style, but she also missed brushing and braiding her lover’s hair. *Any excuse to touch the little Amazon,* the Warrior smiled inwardly. Xena, however, was secretly pleased when Gabrielle told her she was planning to let it grow long again. The Warrior mused that by the end of the next moon Gabrielle’s silky golden fleece should be on her shoulders. Xena brushed her lips on her soulmates forehead and slipped out of bed. As she moved to re-light the embers left over from the night Xena wondered how her mother might view her return to life. Xena could feel the warm glow in her heart as she imagined her mother would be shocked and totally joyful at the same time. *Yes, it would probably be a mixed bag of emotions for everyone for a while.*

As Xena was brewing the tea, she heard movement coming from the bed. She looked up to see her soulmate with her feet planted on the ground pulling her sea green tunic over that scrumptious body. As her head popped through the top of the tunic, Gabrielle gave Xena a silly grin.

“Good morning beautiful.” The Bard came over grabbing the hairbrush on the way, knelt down behind Xena and with a caressing kiss to the side of the Warrior’s neck, Gabrielle started brushing the long, silky raven hair of her partner. “Would you like a few braids?”

“Sure, whatever your heart desires my love.” Xena relaxed, as she absorbed the attention she was receiving.

Brushing Xena’s hair was one of Gabrielle’s favorite activities and was actually one of the earliest forms of touch in which the old stuffy warlord would allow her to be this close. So the Bard kept the joy of this activity near and dear to her heart.

When Gabrielle finished, she sat down next to Xena and joined her for a light breakfast. Since they would be traveling, neither wanted to overeat. Over their meal, Xena shared with her soulmate what she felt was the best route to Poteidaia.

“Xena, let’s go to Amphipolis first or to the Amazon village. Then we can send a messenger to Poteidaia.” Gabrielle really did not relish the idea of facing her father, but did not want Xena to figure that out.

“Well, you sure?” Xena found Gabrielle nodding her head yes, but there were no words to emphasize the nod. “Okay, if you are really sure, why don’t we go to the Amazon village.” Again all Xena witnessed was a nod, so she continued, “The Amazon’s can send messengers to both our families, then we can decide whom we will see first.”

Gabrielle moved from Xena’s side and started packing for the trip. No words were exchanged, but in the Warrior’s mind, she sensed Gabrielle was much too quiet. *No, I can’t let this go, something is wrong.* Just as Xena started to approach Gabrielle she felt a presence in the cave with them. Quickly Xena turned to see the doe standing at the edge of the semi-circle of their living area.

Xena whispered, “Psssst, Gabrielle, turn slowly.”

The Bard turned as instructed and saw the most beautiful fawn colored doe she has ever seen.

“Xena, is that the doe you’ve been telling me about. The one you’ve seen around the perimeter of our camp?”

The Warrior nodded her head yes.

For what seemed like an eternity the Warrior and Bard teamed together in an attempt to understand the doe. Abruptly the doe turned and ran from the cave. Both Xena and Gabrielle instinctively were at her heels, but the doe was much faster and was into the forest by the time the two got outside the cave.

The air was heavy with a misty fog left over from the rainstorm. The mist clung closely to the ground making it difficult to see much of anything. Xena and Gabrielle moved away from the cave following the tracks left by the doe.

“Gabrielle, give me your hand, I don’t want us to get separated by the mist.”

Gabrielle shivered slightly and held tightly to Xena’s hand. The Warrior sensed her partner’s uneasiness, “You okay sweetie, we can go back.”

*Sweetie?* Gabrielle smiled at Xena’s use of the endearing word. *She must be worried, never heard sweetie before. Hmm, I think I actually like that.*

Xena stopped and Gabrielle almost ran her over. “Hey, Gabrielle, are you with me. Do you want to go back to the cave?”

“Ummm, sorry. No I’m okay, as long as you don’t let go of me.”

Xena returned her attention to the impressions left by the doe in the damp soil. They moved several more paces until Xena stopped once again.

“Gabrielle, you better take a look at this.” Xena pointed to the tracks stamped into the ground.

The Bard circled her arm around Xena’s waist and together they looked at the tracks. “Xena, they are human footprints!” Gabrielle started to stumble over her words, “But, but we saw the doe running this way….and….Xena what is going on?”

Sure enough the tracks left by the doe abruptly turned into human footprints. The Warrior felt her skin crawling and decided they should get back to the cave where she can at least put up a defense to protect Gabrielle, if necessary. Just as she started to turn them around the Warrior heard movement.

“Gabrielle, ssssh — listen.”

Stepping through the mist from the edge of the forest the doe emerged cautiously. Xena pushed Gabrielle behind her for protection and took a battle stance in preparation for a fight.

The doe stopped once it reached the outer edge of the forest. Time seemed to stand still for the Warrior and her Bard.

Then they heard the voice…… “Do not fear me, I am your sentry and my duty is to protect you both. Do you not recognize me.” With that final statement the doe approached the women and with each carefully placed step the doe started to change shape.

As they watched the doe changing shape and closing the distance between them, shock was registering in both women. Xena relaxed her battle stance and her mouth dropped open, her eyes became huge with surprise. Gabrielle moved alongside of her soulmate and covered her mouth with both hands as tears flooded her eyes.

Before either woman could react further, a sentry was standing only arms length away and she spoke with laughter, “Hey, close your mouths, you trying to catch the flies that hover around Ares.”

“Ephiny ?” Xena questioned and yet she knew the answer. Gabrielle was not capable of speaking and rushed to Ephiny almost knocking her to the ground, as she wrapped her arms around the Amazon with a hug so tight, Ephiny thought she was going to be crushed. If it was possible, to crush a spirit.

Xena soon followed wrapping both Ephiny and her Bard in a huge bear hug. Together the three women began crying and laughing at the same time.

Ephiny broke the hug first and asked Xena and Gabrielle to listen to her. “I am not of this world anymore. I’m in..” Ephiny paused and waved her hand around in the air at no place in particular. “I guess it is a spirit world of sorts. When I died, Artemis came to me and gave me a choice. I could rest in the Amazon afterlife, or stay around and help her out.” Ephiny reached out with her hand and wiped the tears from Gabrielle’s face. “So, here I am.”

“Ephiny,” Xena had to clarify what was going on, “Gabrielle and I both died at Caesar’s hand. A God or Creator higher than Artemis or even Zeus returned us to this life. How did you or Artemis become involved?”

“Xena, I’m an Amazon, I follow the rule of Artemis and do not ask anymore questions than I have too.” Ephiny shrugged her shoulders and struggled for the right explanation, “Look all I know is there are things that go on in this universe that we are not suppose to know about. We just act as if.”

“Faith.”

Xena and Ephiny both looked at Gabrielle, who spoke so softly they almost did not hear her. “That’s it, that’s the secret…..we…we must live by faith ….and we must believe through our faith.”

Sweeping Gabrielle into her arms Xena could not resist tasting the soft lips that spoke such words of wisdom. Her love for the Bard was so overwhelming.

“Look, you two,” placing her hands on her hips, acting as if she was impatient, Ephiny continued to speak, “Smooch later, I can not stay, some spirit-world rule or something.”

Both lovers blushed as they turned to face their friend. Out of the mist that surrounded them, Ephiny presented Gabrielle with her Amazon staff. Observing Gabrielle’s surprised expression, Ephiny acknowledged her Amazon Queen, “Yes, it is the same one I gave you as a gift so long ago, and the same staff you threw into the river. It is time for you to take the staff once again.

“….and Xena, I believe this is yours.” Ephiny placed Xena’s chakram in her hands. The Warrior felt like thunderbolts had penetrated her soul. She tried to find the proper words, but none would come. Finally Xena realized just how important faith was playing in her destiny.

Stepping back away from her friends, “Your home is on this mountain. The cave will always remain protected and here for you both, return often.” Bowing her head in respect Ephiny turned and ran to the forest before either woman could speak. As she broke the forest edge the Warrior and the Bard watched, as Ephiny became the doe once again.

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Xena and Gabrielle found themselves drained emotionally after the meeting with Ephiny. They agreed to wait one more day before traveling. One of the beautiful aspects of their bonding was they discovered at times like this each one could read the emotions in their soulmate. From this built-in connection they found they could nurture one another equally.

The Warrior threw a log on the still burning fire and then accepted the cup of hot tea offered by her lover. “Thank you,” Xena spoke quietly, as she detected the warmth coming from Gabrielle’s hands while accepting the cup. “Come sit by me….please, I….I need to have you close.” Xena tossed a blanket on the ground in front of flat rock she sat on during the times she sharpened her sword. Then leaning against the rock she patted the ground in front of her inviting Gabrielle to share the blanket. The Bard needed no further encouragement, as she too wanted the closeness with Xena.

Pulling Gabrielle in tightly, both continued sipping the tea. Kissing the top of Gabrielle’s head, she murmured, “Mmmm…wonderful choice, you added mint.” Xena was pleased with the added flavor and was proud that Gabrielle knowingly chose the mint to boost their spirits a bit.

After a few more sips, Gabrielle put her cup to the side and turned her body so she could snuggle with her favorite Warrior. Within a few minutes she was sleeping. Xena smiled at how absolutely wonderful Gabrielle could always make her feel. Placing her cup to the side, the Warrior wrapped her arms around her whole world and soon, she too fell asleep.

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Over lunch, Shulaba shared with Epinon how she had absolutely no success in gaining entrance to Artemis’ temple. The Goddess just flatly refused to see anyone, including her new Queen with a Treaty of Peace. Eponin knew how special Gabrielle had been to the Goddess, so suggested Shulaba give her some more time to grieve. What no one in the Amazon village realized, was that Artemis was not at the temple anyway.

Suddenly, interrupting without permission to sit at the same table with the Queen, Amarice plopped her self onto the bench next to Epinon. “Excuse you,” Epinon remarked in a scolding fashion.

Amarice stood up quickly, “Oh….sorry. May I join your table for lunch my Queen.”

Shulaba nodded in agreement and then snickered to herself. *You still need some work with those manners young pup.* Pausing, Shulaba could not help notice the glare of admiration darting out of Amarice’s eyes, and it seemed to be directed towards Epinon. *Yea, maybe being Queen might have a few fun aspects.*

Using her official queen-like tone Shulaba addressed the two of them. “Epinon, it would please me greatly if you took Amarice under your wing, and Amarice pay close attention to your mentor.”

Epinon glared at Shulaba. “WHAT !!! This….this…….. KID !!!”

Shulaba stood up, smiled at Epinon and walked away without further comment. *Hmmm, I’m beginning to like this queen stuff.*

Epinon slammed her mug of port on the table, spilling most of its contents. Pushing herself away from the table she bent over to glare directly into Amarice’s eyes. “I DO NOT LIKE TO REPEAT MYSELF.” And with that being said Epinon left the lunch area with Amarice happily trailing behind, trying her best to keep up with the lengthy strides of her new mentor.

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Xena left her dreamstate, when she realized there were tiny, delicate, soft kisses being placed all over her face.

“Wake up my beautiful Warrior.” Gabrielle kept pouring kisses over her soulmate. “Time to play.”

Immediately, no warning given, the heat between Xena’s legs began to rise, throb and swell. *What is it with her, she can say the most innocent, sweetest thing and I loose total control.*
Just as Xena opened her eyes, Gabrielle moved away and stood above the Warrior. Very playfully, very seductively Gabrielle began removing her tunic letting is slink down over perfectly firm breasts, catching only for a second on her already harden pink nipples. Pulling the tunic to uncover her tight abs, Gabrielle rotated her hips erotically forcing the tunic to expose her tattoo. The emerald clothing eventually slipped across the curves of her hips and fell to the ground. Xena was caught in a trance, one she did not want to end. Gabrielle stepped away from the fallen tunic watching Xena’s reaction and she was not disappointed.

The Bard enjoyed pleasing and fulfilling Xena’s many sexual fantasies. Moving away from the Warrior so she was outside of arms reach, but still facing her, Gabrielle placed her left hand on a breast and began squeezing and fondling the nipple causing the skin to redden. Surprising herself, she let a small sigh of satisfaction escape. While attention was being given to her breast she licked her fingers on her right hand and began to trace her lower lip allowing a kiss to touch her fingers. Gabrielle slid her fingers between her lips sucking them for a moment.

The Bard found she could not stop her self at this point, and she was very aware of the excitement it was causing for Xena. The Amazon intentionally let her fingers slip from her mouth dripping with wetness. With the heat now consuming her body she darted her tongue licking between her fingers slowly and then faster forcing herself to pant slightly. Gabrielle could hear Xena’s groaning praises to Aphrodite. Sensually Gabrielle dropped her wet fingers dragging them down her body. Arching her head back and letting the excitement in her breath escape, she moved her hand from her breast around to grab and manipulate her buttocks.
Her right hand and wet fingers kept sliding down her body, allowing them to creep under her breeches stopping only once she reached her center of pleasure. Feeling herself become very hot and very wet she let a few moans and a few ‘yes’s’ slip through her lips, before sliding her breeches off to the ground.

Xena could not take anymore she wanted, no NEEDED to have Gabrielle. By the time Xena’s mind sent the message to her mushy muscles, weakened from her lover’s seduction, Gabrielle had already bolted to the back of the cave. Stripping her tunic off as she followed, the Warrior could hear her lover splashing in the warm spring water of the pool.

Xena slid into the warm water and was welcomed into open arms by her lover. “Turn around Xena, let me wash your hair.” The Warrior and Bard intimately washed each other’s hair and scrubbed each other’s backs. They splashed water at each other, giggled, hugged and kissed each other playfully finally calming down until they were both just holding each other.

Finally, Xena pulled away from their embrace so she could look into the emerald eyes of her soulmate. “Gabrielle.”

The Bard knew the tone. Tilting her head slightly she asked, “Everything okay Xena.”

“Gabrielle, I want to be with you always…..forever…and I know our destiny is to be that way.” Pausing for a moment, feeling as if she would never be able to express verbally want she wanted to say Xena inhaled deeply, placing her fingers lightly over the Bards lips and asked, “Gabrielle will you bond with me….marry me?”

Feeling like Xena stopped the world just for her, Gabrielle knew there was no way to stop her tears so she let them go. Gabrielle knew the expression on Xena’s face was one of total surrender to their bond, to their love. Cupping Xena’s face in her hands the Bard knew the only word necessary to complete the circle was, “Yes.”

As Gabrielle’s arms glided around Xena’s neck, the Warrior lifted her into strong arms and carried her to their bed. Never has Xena loved anyone like she loved this young woman from Poteidaia, and she had every intentions of not only finding someone to marry them, but to show through her actions exactly how much she treasured Gabrielle’s love for her.

Claiming Gabrielle’s yielding lips, the memory of the Bards earlier strip tease act came to mind. As their tongues sought out to possess the other, Xena was jolted when she felt Gabrielle slide one hand between the folds of her wetness. “Ah…uh…oh no you don’t, my love,” whispered Xena, as she secured both of Gabrielle’s arms, lifting them over the Amazon’s head pinning them to the bed. The Warrior nipped lightly at a tender earlobe, evoking a pleasurable groan from her lover, as well as a slight tug from her hands. “My Bard, I will have my way with you first.” Peering down at Gabrielle, Xena licked her tongue over her lips showing the Bard just exactly what she had in mind.

“Ohhhh, Xe…thi….is, is..is tor…turrrre…” the Bard found she could not form complete words and stopped fighting for the dominance.

Xena cupped both of the Bard’s breasts in her hands, squeezing, nibbling, and sucking rapidly. The Warrior found herself extremely excited by the texture and firmness of her lover’s breast. She had always been very turned on by Gabrielle’s breasts, and even before they became lovers Xena found herself fantasizing about touching and sucking them frequently. In fact a lot of perimeter checks took place because of those bountiful mounds.

The groaning and occasional squeals of please and yes coming from Gabrielle only further increased Xena’s desire to take her instantly. The Warrior began her descent touching, licking, teasing and memorizing every curve and valley of her soulmate. Gabrielle willingly spread her legs for Xena’s heated tongue and the Warrior aggressively buried her nose and lips into the golden curls protecting the Bard’s center of pleasure. Xena hissed lovingly, “Mmmmm…you smell so sweet, so-so ready to eat.”

Her lover’s words sent Gabrielle’s body into heated tremors and shivers and she lost control, finding herself releasing animalistic moans and eventually screams of ecstasy coming from her heart.

Not being able to wait much longer herself, Xena let her tongue travel feverishly among the soft folds and petals, darting in and out, circling around, stroking up and down, all the while consuming every drop of sweet nectar Gabrielle could offer.

Gabrielle’s breath became extremely short and fast, her hips lifted from the bed and began shaking uncontrollably. Xena kept her tongue, lips and mouth sucking and licking, until finally centering on the small target that she knew would give Gabrielle her release. As soon as Xena began sucking the swollen nub, Gabrielle began her climax. Xena heard her soulmate beg “Xe…..pleaseeee…..come with meeee.” The Warrior was already so close to an orgasm just from listening to the Bard’s reactions and rubbing her own mound on the bed that she had no trouble agreeing to her lover’s request. While keeping her tongue securely to Gabrielle, Xena quickly took her free hand and rubbed vigorously on her own center with her thumb while plunging her remaining fingers in her swollen shaft.

Seconds later both women could be heard broadcasting their love and devotion to the universe. Collapsing next to Gabrielle, Xena quickly pulled her close, as both attempted to regain their breath and will the muscles in the body’s to stop quivering.

Rolling over to snuggle in closer, Gabrielle closed her eyes, kissing whatever part of Xena’s skin she could touch and whispered in a rather hoarse voice, “I really do want to marry you my Warrior, can that be our first adventure when we leave here?”

Xena squeezed her little Amazon Queen tightly and kissed her forehead. But before closing her eyes she replied, “Get some sleep my love, because tomorrow we will set out on that adventure.”

As the Warrior and the Bard drifted off to sleep, a comet blazed across the night sky. At the edge of the forest, the doe smiled and spoke to her friend, “Nice comet, don’t you agree.”

Artemis smiled at Ephiny and then raising her arms to the night sky she thanked the universe for bringing back her Chosen One and the Queen’s Champion.

The End

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A Journey Of Love And Home
by Annmaray

Copyright © June 1999: Annmaray

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CHAPTER 1

“GABRIELLE!” The Warrior watched with panic, as her soulmate lost her footing and began sliding down the loose gravel covering the downhill trail. Frantically Xena slid down the trail trying to stop Gabrielle’s descent. By the time she was close enough to grab Gabrielle’s tunic, the Bard had already coasted to a stop. It all happened so quickly.

“Owww, stupid … stupid … AUGH!” Xena could hear Gabrielle scolding herself for falling. The grading of the trail dropped rapidly and the Bard had been looking back at Xena who was following her. The rapid drop startled the Bard and subsequently she slipped on the loose pebbles mixed with coarse dirt still wet from the morning dew.

The Warrior sat down next to Gabrielle who was rubbing her hands in an attempt to remove the imbedded dirt coating her skin. “Here, let me look, you’ll only hurt yourself more.” Xena knew as soon as the words came out, that Gabrielle would take them the wrong way. She had hurt herself because she had not been paying attention and as usual Gabrielle was tough on herself. *Hades, why didn’t I just ask her if she was okay.*

Very determined to show her soulmate that she was not hurt, even though she was, Gabrielle swallowed the tears she felt surfacing and tugged her hands away from Xena. The Bard consumed in her conversation with Xena had not been paying attention to the trail and subsequently slipped. Quickly she pushed her stinging body to a stand. “I’m FINE, XENA. You don’t have to baby me. It was just a stupid mistake. I slipped … don’t make such a big deal about it, okay!” The Bard took a few steps back up the trail to retrieve her satchel and staff, both of which were pulled from her grip, as she was sliding. Her thoughts quickly jumped to her reaction to Xena’s comments, *Oh gods, what’s wrong with me. Why am I reacting like this.* Quickly with her staff and satchel back in her possession the Bard with her eyes focusing on the trail endeavored to pass by Xena, when she was stopped.

Xena kept her eyes riveted to Gabrielle’s body noticing the pain in her walk and the abrasions on her right arm and elbow. Understanding that the Bard had a tendency to be hard on herself the Warrior made a decision to confront her. Before the feisty blonde could pass her, Xena grabbed her uninjured arm. “Gabrielle, let me help.” Tilting her head down to look directly into the beautiful green eyes of her soulmate Xena could see Gabrielle’s distress. “Hey, it’s me, remember. I love you. Let me look … please.”

Without a word Gabrielle allowed her partner in life to inspect her injuries. While they looked worse than they actually were Xena knew the abrasions probably burned. “Come here and sit down. I want to treat these.”

The Bard relinquished the false pride currently holding her emotions, giving into her soulmate’s request and sat down where Xena indicated. While the Warrior searched through her satchel for the hollyhock root Gabrielle tried to remain strong and held back the tears pooling in her eyes. She understood that if she spoke, the tears would soon follow her words. Finally finding the root, Xena crushed a few fibers of the hollyhock between her fingers and mixed the powder with a small portion of water to form a paste-like poultice. Well aware of why the Bard was quiet Xena’s heart saddened for the emotional and physical ache her lover was feeling. *Okay, I have to say something to her. Try to cheer her up.*

“Gabrielle, hold out your arms so I can clean them.” The Warrior instantly reprimand herself. *Oh, good going Warrior Princess, those words will surely cheer her up…..Hades.* Xena could see her soulmate’s lips quivering slightly, as she tried to remain strong. Placing her hands on the Bard’s knee she spoke tenderly. “I really love you….and I want to take care of you. Can you let me do that?”

For the time being, Gabrielle knew she could only speak one word. In a low whisper she said, “yes.”

Happy for any type of response Xena picked up the waterbag and guided the cool liquid over the abrasions rinsing the dirt away. Not wishing to cause Gabrielle anymore discomfort than necessary she placed the poultice gingerly and delicately covering each and every abrasion. “There, this should help take the sting away. I don’t think they need to be wrapped.”

A weak thank you was all Gabrielle was capable of voicing and she stood up immediately. Once standing Gabrielle could feel the throbbing in her lower back. Placing pressure with her hand on her hip, she was lost momentarily in the soreness and did not intend to let a small groan of discomfort slip through her lips. Her groan did not go unnoticed.

“You probably bruised your hip.” Xena moved to stand somewhat behind Gabrielle placing her hand lightly over the Bards, whose hand was still covering the sore area. Before Xena could assess the damage Gabrielle spun around to face her. Gazing into the depths of Xena’s blue eyes was all it took to send the small blonde over the emotional edge she was already dangling from. With tears streaming down her cheeks Gabrielle fell into Xena’s waiting arms sputtering pleas to forgive her foolishness. Rocking her gently the Warrior remembered once again why she loved Gabrielle so deeply. “I know you did not mean to yell, you’re just tired. Let’s try to find a place to camp for the night. We’ve been pushing ourselves too hard down this mountain.” With her head still buried in Xena chest, the Warrior could feel Gabrielle nodding in agreement. Kissing the top of Gabrielle’s head and murmuring sounds of ‘ssshhh and I love you’ Xena was able to calm her soulmate’s heart.

The pair continued down the mountain trail at a slower pace in relative silence until Xena finally spoke up. “I’m thinking of someone…” She peeked back at Gabrielle to see, if her statement might coax the Bard into a game of twenty questions. It had been a long time since the two played the game and Xena found she actually missed listening to Gabrielle’s attempts at solving the riddle.

Amused by Xena’s suggestion Gabrielle agreed. “YOU want to play a game. Okay I’ll bite. Is it a warlord?”

“Nope.”

As the trail continued to wind down the mountain, the two women found the game made the next candlemark go by quicker. The trail eventually dropped into a shallow stone ridden stream. Looking across the Warrior could see level ground on the opposite side revealing a clearing surrounded by a combination of trees, ferns and odd shaped rocks. Pointing to the clearing Xena relayed her thoughts to Gabrielle. “That looks like a good place to camp.”

Playing the question game with Xena help to lift the Bard’s spirits and she was beginning to feel a little better. “Looks soft and comfortable to me.”

“Soft … comfortable?” Xena chuckled at her lover’s description of what looked to her like hard rocky ground.

“Yea, it should be plenty soft for me.” Gabrielle paused glancing flirtatiously up at Xena. “I plan on using you, as my pillow.”

Xena held her hand out for her lover to take. “Feeling better my Bard, your humor sure seems to be back.”

Accepting Xena’s hand with a giggle the women crossed hopping the larger rocks peeking through the water.

Once on land Xena insisted Gabrielle rest while she collected wood and started a campfire. Gabrielle, however, could not sit still and laid the blankets on the ground close to the fire. Over a shared meal of olives, cheese and hot tea the women spoke of their journey down the mountainside. It had taken them three days to reach the stream from their mountaintop home and the fast pace was starting to take its toll on them physically. Believing the stream would flow into the Haliacmon River, the Warrior estimated they could be in the Port of Therma within two days.

“Xena, I know this may be selfish but I miss the cave. I felt so safe there.”

Moving over to sit behind Gabrielle the Warrior massaged the knots and tension from her soulmates shoulders. Fully aware of her soulmates uneasiness she too felt the confusion within her own spirit. Xena was starting to believe they might have left too soon. “I miss our home too. We’ll go back soon, I promise. I would like us to take something from Amphipolis, Poteidaia and the Amazon Village to add on the altar. Would you like that?”

“Mmmmm….your hands are like magic Warrior. And yes, I would like to take good memories back home.” As the tension and fear slipped away removed by Xena’s hands and words of love, the stars began filling the night sky. The Warrior reapplied the hollyhock poultice to Gabrielle’s abrasions and the Bard remarked that they were feeling much better.

Please with Gabrielle’s healing the Warrior ordered, “Good … NOW let’s take your tunic off. I want to see that hip you bruised.”

While Gabrielle was removing her tunic Xena could not help but notice the curves of her lover’s body. A smile crossed her face and a warm glow filled her body. The Warrior was still awed by the fact that this woman was not only beautiful but that Gabrielle was truly devoted and in love with her. *By your grace, my Creator, you allow this beautiful woman to stay in my life. I will not disappoint you or her.*

Xena was pulled from her musings by the Bard’s smooth voice asking a simple question. “Is this someone male or female?”

“What?” Baffled by the Bard’s question for a brief moment, Xena shook her head and grinned realizing Gabrielle was asking her one of her twenty questions. “Female. Now lay on your stomach so I can spread this poultice on.”

Lying on her stomach, Gabrielle thoroughly enjoyed the warmth radiating from Xena’s hands, as she applied a poultice to the bruised area. “Carrier sure left enough medicinal herbs and roots for us.”

“Yes, a very generous spirit.” Pausing Xena contemplated how Carrier brought them back to life, giving them a place to heal physically and emotionally. “On our next visit home, we will have to find an easier trail.”

Pleased to hear Xena reaffirm her opinion of the cave as a home, Gabrielle sighed happily, “Mmmm, home. I like the sound of that.”

“Close your eyes, sweetie. Try and get some sleep.”

*There’s that word for a second time. Once in our home and now. Mmmmm….I love it, when you talk mushy, my Warrior.* It was easy to close her eyes. Gabrielle was already exhausted and with her Warrior massaging her body…well, it only serve to relax her more.

Since Gabrielle was in apparent need of the massage and just so she could continue to touch her lover, Xena decided she would rub Gabrielle’s back until she fell asleep. Being able to appreciate Gabrielle’s well-developed muscles surrounded by the softness of her skin Xena started to hum a tender song of love.

Before the end of the song the Bard drifted off to sleep with the full awareness of Xena’s love for her.

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Standing proudly on the Queen’s platform was Shulaba. Both Eponin and Amarice were at her side. Again the same four Amazon’s who had been challenging the new Queen’s decision to accept Brutus’ offer of peace were once again voicing their disapproval.

“Shulaba you are foolish believing Brutus will honor the peace treaty between his Roman world and ours? I demand you guarantee our freedom!” Maris considered herself leader of this small band of Amazon women. She did not like Shulaba as Queen, but then she did not like that pesky little blonde before her either. She hated the Roman’s even more … so this ‘challenge’ suited her needs. *Mmpf, get rid of them all.*

Queen Shulaba tired quickly of the constant demand coming from these women for a guarantee of freedom.

Not immediately providing them with an answer Shulaba stepped down from the platform to face the women on level ground. Eponin and Amarice were right behind her, hands on their swords. Shulaba walked directly to Maris, trying to remember Gabrielle’s advice ‘think what Ephiny would do’. Shulaba was quickly running out of patience. *I do not have time to deal with this impertinence. And I do not need them to stir up trouble while this village is trying to rebuild.*

Stopping two arm lengths away Shulaba crossed her arms to indicate her irritation. “For the past three days you women have shown disrespect to this nation with your demands for a guarantee and each day you refuse to accept my answer.” The Queen boldly took two steps forward closing the distance speaking harshly, “My answer is no different today than yesterday.”
Turning to walk away, Shulaba did not wait for the leader to respond. “This meeting is over Amazon!”

“Yea, the gate’s over there, don’t let it…….OUCH!” Tilting her head to look at her attacker, Amarice rubbed her ear. Eponin was glaring at her. “Well….you didn’t have to HIT ME. Why do you have to be so, so….”

With one stride of her long, muscular legs Eponin was in front of Amarice peering down into her eyes. “KID, YOU NEED TO LEARN HOW TO BEHAVE.”

Amarice smiled at Eponin. *Mmmm, tall dark and very, very lovely, when you’re mad.*

Angered by her dismissal Maris shouted, “WATCH YOURSELF MY QUEEN, NOT EVERYONE IS YOUR FRIEND.”

With unquestionable accuracy and precision Eponin charged Maris landing a jump kick to her chest, forcing her to the ground several paces away. Pulling her sword ready to cut anyone who threatened her Queen, the dark haired Amazon was joined by several of the Royal Guard….and Amarice.

Shulaba who had also drawn her sword pushed her way through the guards to stand firmly in front of Eponin and Amarice. “Maris, you and your friends are no longer welcomed.” The Queen pointed to the front entrance of the village. “Leave … NOW.”

The very young, feisty redheaded Amazon inched closer to Eponin and whispered, “See, told ya.”

*By the gods, sweet Artemis, why me, why her. Can’t you help me with this one.* Rolling her eyes Eponin’s continue to watch the small band of women mount their horses and withdraw from the village.

“Thank you Eponin.” Shulaba placed her hand on the dark haired Amazon.

Eponin smiled at her Queen. She knew Shulaba was learning how to rule under hard circumstances and wished either Gabrielle or Ephiny were here to help and teach her. “I’m going to get something to eat, would you care to join me Shulaba?”

“No, I think I’m going to read a few of the scrolls Gabrielle left behind. I’ll catch up with you later.”

The Amazon Warrior kept her attention on her Queen until she walked through the front entrance of her hut. Shulaba refused to move her personal items into the Queen’s hut. In her mind and heart the hut was still Gabrielle’s. *My Queen, I know you pray at the temple daily for Gabrielle’s return. But, I don’t….* Interrupted from her thoughts, Eponin felt the breath of some little irritating bug on her bare shoulder. *Ohhhh, never a moments rest.*

“Hey … tall, dark and beautiful, I’m hungry, I will join you.” Amarice did not wait for a rebuttal and gave Eponin’s arm a tug.

Shaking her head and eventually dropping it in frustration Eponin followed Amarice to the dining hut. *Please…someone, what did I do wrong.*

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Just as Xena hoped, the stream poured right into the Haliacmon River. Several tributaries later and with the help of a friendly fisherman, the pair managed to secure a boat ride to the Port of Therma. Arriving a day sooner than anticipated, the boat ride was a blessing. It saved them a full day of walking and allowed them both to rest. Gabrielle was especially appreciative because it gave her bruised hip a chance to heal quicker.

By nightfall Xena and Gabrielle secured one room in a well-kept inn. Over a hot plate of food and cool mugs of ale the two lovers enjoyed being with each other. Xena reflected on the habits she still maintained even after returning from death. She still insisted on entering the building first and chose a table that would keep her back to the wall. Smiling with self satisfaction Xena mused, *Path of the Warrior.*

Both women were sitting on a bench rather than chairs so Gabrielle took the opportunity to scoot closer to Xena until their thighs and hips were touching. Gabrielle did not really care what other patrons would think of her desire to express her love for the Warrior. Picking up a handful of grapes Gabrielle began happily tossing them in her mouth one at a time. Xena could not resist and reached across to capture Gabrielle’s grape-filled hand bringing it to her own lips. Tenderly with one kiss, Xena slid her tongue between her lover’s fingers forcing them apart. Teasing Gabrielle with an enchanting sigh of pleasure, Xena seized a grape with her tongue. The Warrior was reward with a sensual moan and a sly flirtatious grin from Gabrielle. They both discovered since their rebirth that these sensorial teasing moments were not just sexually arousing but a way to express their deep love for each other.

The Bard placed a second grape between her lips and held it there, musing *Yes, my Warrior, let’s play.* The Warrior knew Gabrielle was challenging her. She watched the Bard roll the grape between her soft pliable lips causing both the grape and her lips to become wet and extremely tempting.

With a half sided grin and a raised eyebrow Xena responded, “Gabrielle, you are so naughty. You know I can’t refuse this offer.” Xena was only a breath away from claiming both the grape and the delicious lips holding them, when Gabrielle slid the grape in her mouth and with a smile chomped down on it.

“Ohhhh…you’ll pay for that one my dear Bard.” With a wickedly seductive look in her eyes Xena decided to take her lover’s lips anyway. Gabrielle welcomed her lover passionately.

A loud thud echoed across the room startling the women, which pulled them apart. A young man jumped onto a table, while the innkeeper placed a chair on the table for the young man to sit.

“Xena, a bard! Can we stay awhile and listen?”

The Warrior let her arm glide around Gabrielle’s waist. She heard the excitement in Gabrielle’s voice and wanted her to be happy. “Sure, for awhile.”

She was rewarded with a loving squeeze on her thigh and a gentle kiss on the cheek. From the bench the couple was sitting on the raven-haired beauty leaned back against the wall keeping her arm around Gabrielle’s waist. The storyteller began his tale of Ulysses. *Mmpf, he was a mistake. I still can’t believe I almost lost Gabrielle because of my fascination with him,* Xena mused.

As the storyteller rattled on, Gabrielle leaned up against Xena pulling the Warrior’s arms completely around her. Xena was delighted with her soulmate’s need to cuddle. She heard Gabrielle whisper softly. “I love you Xena.” The Warrior nuzzled her nose into Gabrielle’s silky blonde hair, “Mmmm..you’ll always be mine, never forget that.” She then gave herself permission to doze off while relaxing into her lover’s warmth.

Less than a candlemark passed and Xena awoke to the applause of the audience. Evidently it had been a good story. “How was he Gabrielle?”

“Hey, sleepyhead. He’s a good storyteller but he obviously knows nothing about the real Ulysses.”

Xena chuckled a little and followed it with a yawn.

“Tired my Warrior?”

“Just a little, but we can stay for another story, if you like.”

The storyteller announced his next tale, “I now sing a song of Xena the Warrior Princess…….”

Gabrielle began giggling, “Okay Warrior Princess, let’s call it a night. I don’t think I can stand listening to him mess this story up too.”

Xena allowed her tired body to be pulled from the bench. Gabrielle led the way to the rented room with Xena following close behind. Peeking through her sleepy eyes she could not help but admire the sway of Gabrielle’s walk. *Well, maybe I’m not that tired.*

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

“XENA!!!!” Cyrene strained to open her eyes. Breathing short and fast she was again dreaming of her lost daughter. Trying to restrain from weeping Cyrene tossed the blanket off while placing her feet on the cool wooden floor. “I’ve got to shake this. Xena would want me to move on.”

The innkeeper moved to the window in her bedroom. Gazing into the night sky overloaded with the weight of the stars Cyrene pictured the deep blue of her daughters eyes, the contagious laughter in her voice and the loyal and strong spirit of her raven-haired child’s love for her….and Gabrielle. A long time ago Cyrene recognized Gabrielle, as a second daughter. And over the years, she watched with amazement, as the young woman captured the heart of her wild daughter.

Speaking with the belief that she would be heard Cyrene directed her thoughts and words to both women. “I will watch over her. Lila is my responsibility now. I will not let either of you down. I promise.”

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Maris, along with the three Amazons who insisted on taking their leaders position, drove their horses hard into the night. The dark-haired, well-tanned Amazon with eyes as black as coal knew Shulaba would spread the word of their banishment from the Amazon village. Maris was not stupid nor did she have a tendency to become careless. *I must strike before the word can be spread.*

The darkness that follows the setting of the sun soon made the forest too unsafe for the riders to continue without the possibility of injury. Maris needed all three of the women who rode with her to carry out her plan. Reining back on her horse, “Let’s stop here for the night.”

Her companions were well aware of Maris’ reputation for her temper and chose for tonight anyway, not to question her decision. Quickly the women built a small campfire and consumed what little food and drink they had with them.

“Maris,” Pippa, the youngest of the group, just barely fourteen summers in age and also the most inquisitive of the group spoke up. “Where are we heading….I mean, we have no food or shelter….”

Before Pippa could finish her question Maris struck her across the face with a closed fist, sending the young girl to her back.

“Cut it out Maris, you don’t have to kill the kid, she’s just scared.” Stella was the same age as Maris, thirty-one summers. Both Amazons grew up together and seemed to have a love-hate relationship. The fair-haired Stella often wondered why she put up with Maris but she never cared enough to walk away or change the relationship.

Maris glared at Stella, “Just keep her out of my way and make sure she does what she’s told.” Suddenly the angry Amazon front flipped landing in a straddle position over the fallen child. “Cause, if you don’t listen to me…..I will personally kill you.”

The fourth Amazon remained quiet and observed the game being played. Leandra was not pleased with the situation and not extremely happy with Maris’ outburst at the village. Tall and lean Leandra sported scars of repeated whippings on her back, shoulders and arms. The Amazon’s desires for friendship or companionship were non-existent. She did not discriminate…she hated everyone. Leandra was cold, calculating and had in the past hired her services out as everything from a scout to an assassin. Stella would tell her on many occasions that she had no soul. It never bothered her.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

“Oh….yes-yes Gabr….don’t stop…oh…that feels so right….” Hearing herself moaning in ecstasy caused the Warrior to open her eyes. *Hades, I hate when that happens!* Looking toward the source of the light flooding the room Xena could see the sun shining brightly through the window. *Mmm, another dream. Oh my sweet Bard how you manage to invade my dreams with your love amazes me. You really do have a power over me … and I love every bit of it.*

Gabrielle was on her side with her back curled up into Xena’s chest. One knee was draped and tangled in the blanket while the other was entwined with the Warrior’s legs. Xena notice the abrasion’s on her arms and hands were healing nicely and wondered if the Creators gift of rebirth and the climb up their individual karma’s contributed to what seemed to be Gabrielle’s ability to heal faster than normal. A low groan from Gabrielle pulled Xena from her thoughts causing her to reflect on their night of passion and lovemaking. Xena smiled, *This just feels so right and no one will ever be able to tell me different.* Amused by her thoughts Xena circled the Bard’s ear with her tongue finally settling on the precious tender earlobe she always enjoyed sucking on.

“Mmmm…..Warrior…” Feeling the wet tongue consuming her earlobe Gabrielle smiled and pulled Xena’s hand to her lips kissing each fingertip. Not in a hurry to move and thoroughly enjoying the attention she was receiving, Gabrielle rolled over on her back to seize Xena’s lush red lips.

Their tongues and lips twisted and played together in a knowing and understanding dance of love. Neither one pushed the other. The kiss was sweet and tender, one of continuing discovery and one of commitment. A loud knocking on the door startled both women. The Warrior was instantly on her feet grabbing her sword on the way to the door.

“Xena … wait.” Gabrielle threw a blanket to Xena indicating she should at least cover up her naked body before opening the door and shocking some poor soul on the other side. “Warrior, I think you are absolutely gorgeous and I’m sure whoever is on the other side of the door will agree with me. I however, do not want any competition.”

“Really…..you’re not worried are you.” The Bard’s statement baffled the Warrior just a bit.

Gabrielle fell back to the bed crossing her arms behind her head, grinned and simply answered, “No.”

The knock on the door came once again. Xena answered the door to find a young boy about sixteen summers gawking at her from the other side of the entrance.

“Yesss…can I help you?”

The boy had seen many women come and go through his father’s inn but never had he seen a woman as mystifying and beautiful as the one now standing half-naked before him.

“WHAT do you want!” Xena could hear Gabrielle giggling in the background.

“Oh….sss..sorry madam.”

The Warrior could now hear the Bard laughing uncontrollably. *She’s going to get it. I swear….*

Xena dropped her ready-to-do-battle stance, lowered her sword and tried once again. “The name is Xena, now what do you want.”

“Xena! The famous Warrior Princess … that Xena!” The young boy was now completely and totally in awe of the woman standing before him. “I heard, I mean everyone said you were dead.”

“Yea, yea yea…well I’m not.” Xena could hear Gabrielle pounding her fists on the bed in an attempt to control her laughter now accompanied by chants of ‘he’s got the warrior princess haze’.

The young boy adjusted his pants, lifted his head high and decided to deliver his message. “Father said the horse you asked for his tied out front at the hitching post. The mare is saddled and ready. Father said it will cost you 100 dinars.”

“WHAT … 100 dinars!”

The boy quickly stepped back fidgeting and wringing his hands nervously. Xena was well aware they had the money; Carrier had generously left them 2000 dinars. The Warrior just was not willing to give in so easily.

“Xena, stop torturing the boy … 100 dinars is fair.” Gabrielle was putting on her emerald green tunic as she spoke. “Boy, tell your father we will pay him, after we see the horse.”

With that the young boy abruptly turned running down the hallway. Xena slammed the door and turned to face her giggling partner. “And just WHAT did you find so amusing?”

Trying to control her giggling the Bard decided to change the subject. “Is it Minya?”

Dropping her shoulder and looking to the ceiling in total confusion, “What are you talking about Gabrielle?”

The Bard knew full well that she had the advantage, for the moment. “Don’t act like you don’t know what I’m talking about. Is it Minya?”

“Aughhhh……” Xena was again caught off guard by Gabrielle. Placing her sword back in its sheath the Warrior intentionally let the blanket drop exposing a fully well defined naked Warrior. “NO, it is not Minya. Now you only have two guesses left.”

Very well aware of her lover’s naked body moving across the room towards her like a wild, black panther ready to claim its victim, Gabrielle knew she had absolutely no defenses. The Bard found herself hypnotized and bewitched by her Warrior. *How does she do that … I’mmm….oh well, she has me.*

Gabrielle soon lost all perception of whether she was standing or lying down. Xena had removed her tunic swiftly and was now in full command of the Bard’s breasts. The Warrior tickled and nipped lightly at her lover’s breasts alternating with wide licks of her tongue in-between, over and around the two exotic, soft mounds and hard pink nipples. “Ohhh, yes….gods yesssss…….”

The Warrior released her mouth from her lover’s breast unexpectedly only to hear Gabrielle’s disapproval, “Ohhh, Xena….please…don’t stop….”

She stared directly into Gabrielle’s glazed over green eyes and with a devilish grin, “Is that a question, my love? If it is, then the answer is I don’t plan on stopping….and you only have one question left.”

“Oh no you don’t Warrior Princess…you know full well that was NOT a question.” Gabrielle wrapped her arms around Xena’ neck pulling her down so she could taunt the lips of her soulmate. Slowly brushing Xena’s lips with her tongue the Bard whispered between licks, “That was a plea for you to take me.”

Helpless once again over her lover’s seductive powers, the Warrior aggressively took what she knew belonged to only her……and she found that Gabrielle’s lips were open, willing and ready.

A second intrusion startled the lover’s causing Xena to storm to the door with fists closed in anger. Gabrielle had no time to tell her to cover her body. Grabbing the door and flinging it back causing it to bounce off the wall and back into her hand, which already reacted to stop it, was the innkeeper’s wife.

“WHAT NOW !!!”

The woman’s eyes grew as big as tomatoes and her hands were now covering her mouth in shock at viewing the naked Warrior in front of her. She had not anticipated this, when she knocked. Gabrielle was quick on her feet throwing a blanket over Xena’s shoulders so she could cover herself. Tugging on Xena’s arms to step back, the Bard also wearing a blanket stepped between Xena and the woman.

“I’m sorry for my partner’s,” she glanced back at Xena, “temper. She means you no harm.”

“That’s … that’s okay.” Upon hearing from her son that Xena was upstairs in their establishment – the warrior woman who fought Roman rule – she wanted to do something nice. “I just wanted to let you know that I have some food for you both downstairs.” The innkeeper’s wife crossed her arms hoping it would help her to stop shaking. “….It’s free…no charge…excuse me I should….I…..” The woman knew there was no way she could complete her sentence and sound intelligent, so she curtsied respectfully and fled down the hall.

Gabrielle closed the door and shook her head. “Xena, let’s go before the innkeeper himself comes up.” The Bard went to grab her clothes, “Or…maybe a daughter or uncle or brother or someone else SHOWS UP!”

Xena smiled, happy to see her Bard was just as upset about the intrusion, as she was.

In less than a candlemark both women were packed and ready to leave. Xena observed Gabrielle paying the innkeeper for the horse and then thanking his wife for the food. Xena was actually quite pleased with the mare. She wasn’t Argo, but the horse was young, spirited and strong. *Yes, she will do nicely….until I can find Argo.*

By mid morning, repeating a pattern the pair had done for so many years, the Warrior rode the mare and the little one happily walked along side, occasionally giving her staff a twirl.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Breaking to rest the horses Maris and her small rebel band stopped outside of the Port of Therma.

“Why Maris? What are we doing … Gabrielle is dead, remember.” Stella was rather aggravated that Maris insisted on traveling to Poteidaia. What could she possibly want in this stinking little village?

Pippa and Leandra consumed a small meal of cheese while listening to Maris and Stella bickering back and forth. Maris had wanted to travel to Gabrielle’s home village. Stella wanted to head south to Athens.

Maris stepped closer to Stella, “Gabrielle has a sister … Lilo, Lina or ……”

Pippa interrupted, “Lila.” Then quickly gazed back into the fire hoping Maris wouldn’t hit her.

“Yessss, thank you Pippa.” Although bothered by Pippa’s boldness and interruption, she knew the accuracy of the name was important.

“Why is Lila important, Maris?”

“Because, Stella, she is our precious dead Queen’s sister.”

Leandra finally reached a point where she could take no more of the guessing game. “HADES, just tell us your plan Maris…..if you really have one.”

Maris had no intentions of challenging Leandra, although she did not want Leandra to know that. So Maris decided an explanation would be appropriate. “It is simple. We take Lila, we let Shulaba know we have Lila … then we kill Lila, dump her on Amazon land and blame her death on the Amazons.” Maris began strutting around her companions, extremely pleased with her plan. “How do you think poor father and mother will take the news. They never did like the Amazons.”

“Mmpf…you’re hoping for a war.” Stella spat the words out with disgust.

A huge smirk of self-satisfaction crossed her face. “We will get them all.”

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

The lover’s headed northeast at a comfortable pace. The day was warming up nicely which made traveling pleasant and comfortable. Soon the land formations, trees, streams and boulders became familiar to the pair as they came closer to their homelands. Many times the two traveled this path on their way to other territories in Greece. Xena was aware that in less than a candlemark they would meet the crossroads requiring the couple to make a decision. They would either travel southeast to Poteidaia or northeast to Amphipolis. The Warrior decided the Amazon village would not be an option. Xena tossed the reasoning over and over in her thoughts and still came up with the same conclusion. *It is more important for our families to know we are okay. The Amazons can be sent a message, and then we will travel there later.*

Xena’s biggest challenge at the crossroads would be convincing Gabrielle that they should journey to Poteidaia first. Remembering Gabrielle’s reaction several nights ago while they were still at the cave, *She really did a great job of avoiding my question about traveling to her parents first.*

Xena stopped the horse and glanced back at Gabrielle who was dawdling. Not because she was slow, but because she was twirling and jabbing and smacking plants and rocks with her staff, as they were walking. The Warrior was delighted that her lover agreed to accept the staff Ephiny again presented to her. *Okay my love, what is going on through that pretty little blonde head of yours?*

“You’re still good with the staff Gabrielle. Doesn’t look like you’ve lost any of your speed or accuracy.” Xena was really very proud of her Bard. She remembered how Eponin was ordered to train the Bard. *Poor, Eponin, burdened with a little farm girl.* Xena was extremely fond of Eponin and missed her when they visited the Amazon village. But the Warrior understood Eponin’s desire to find her path in life. Looking into the bright sun, *I hope you found your destiny, my friend. I hope we will meet again.*

“I GOT IT.” Gabrielle shrieked and ran up to the side of Xena patting her on the leg. “Cyrene … right!!!”

Bending down to give her Bard a little kiss on the head the Warrior responded. “No. Only one more chance and then I win…..again.”

Gabrielle let out a sigh of exasperation and leaned her body into her staff to rest.

At the mention of Xena’s mother, the Warrior mused, *A perfect opening for me to bring up the subject of which home to go to first.* The Warrior reached her hand out for Gabrielle to take. “Come on, ride with me.”

The Bard settled in behind her Warrior and wrapped her arms around her lover’s waist. Soon she was snuggling into the blue tunic covering her Warrior. “Mmmmm, it feels so good to hold you Xena.”

Urging the horse to continue at a walk Xena brought up her concern. “Gabrielle, you realize the crossroads are coming up and we should consider turning south for Poteidaia.”

“Xena, I thought we agreed the Amazon’s would be our first stop.”

“Well, no not exactly. We were interrupted by Ephiny, remember?”

Gabrielle dreaded this moment, when a decision would need to be made and her thoughts instantly screamed, *Xena, please don’t do this, I’m not ready to go to Poteidaia yet. But how do I tell you I’m afraid of my father. He will blame you for my death. And he will again blame me for HIS PAIN and then…father will….* Before Gabrielle could finish her thoughts she heard Xena speaking.

“Gabrielle, are you ignoring me?”

“Uh, no, just thinking. I’m sorry.”

Xena could feel the tension and stiffness in Gabrielle’s body and halted the horse to confront her soulmate.

“Uh, Xena….I have to find a bush…you know.” The Bard slid off the horse and ran for the bushes several lengths away. *I have to regroup, have to think.*

Patiently waiting, Xena knew Gabrielle was again trying to avoid the conversation. *I have to pin her down … she has to talk to me. WAIT, that’s it…ha ha, yes!* The Warrior jumped from the horse and waited for Gabrielle to return. As soon as she came out of the bushes, the Bard could see Xena waiting for her. Trying to be nonchalant Gabrielle approached her, as if nothing was wrong, stopping an arm length from Xena. The Warrior peered into Gabrielle’s eyes and a half-sided smirk crossed her face. The only thing the Bard could think was *Oh-no.*

With accurate precision and speed of which the Warrior was famous for Gabrielle found herself flat on her back with her arms stretched over her head, held by only one of Xena’s hands. *How does she move so fast….* The Bard started to wiggle and yell, “XENA, let me go…what are you doing.” Xena’s intentions were not to kiss Gabrielle, but suddenly she considered the squirming voluptuous body below her. The Warrior was instantly aroused and lowered her lips to her lover’s. Gabrielle’s first thought was to fight the kiss but as soon as she felt the warm breath and the tender weight of the Warrior’s lips pressing on hers, the Bard relaxed and surrendered to her lover.

Xena released her grip on Gabrielle’s hands so she could lean her weight on one elbow and wrap her other hand affectionately around her soulmate’s neck. She could feel the Bard bring her arms up and dig them deeply into her hair. The lover’s deepened the kiss passionately and then without warning the kiss changed. Gabrielle let a low whimper slip through her lips and abruptly took control of the kiss with desperation. Concern caused the Warrior to pull her lips away. Looking directly into Gabrielle green eyes the same eyes that always captivated Xena; the Warrior saw an indescribable fear. One she did not recognize.

“Gabrielle, what are you afraid of?” A reply never came. “Gabrielle, you have to know that I will always be here for you. Whatever is going on in that precious little Amazon head of yours….well, tell me. Let’s go through this together, okay?”

Looking up into the Warriors face, Gabrielle let her fingers trace an outline across her soulmate’s lips and chin. “I love you so much Xena, but I have to go home alone.”

Although Xena was not convinced this was a complete answer she decided to play it out. “But why, we’ve been through so much together.” The Warrior stood up helping Gabrielle stand with her. She was well aware that Gabrielle’s father did not like her.

Gabrielle wrapped her arms around the Warriors’ waist. “Xena, please. My father…..” Gabrielle paused searching for words that would prevent Xena from following her home. “After Hope and her child…..well, it only made him angrier. I don’t want you to get hurt.”

“Gabrielle, I’m quite capable of defending myself.” Failure began to consume Xena’s emotions. She wanted to fix whatever was wrong and Gabrielle would not let her. Frustrated the Warrior wanted to push her away but instead her love and bonding for this woman commanded her to stand still.

“That’s not what this is about, Xena. I know you can defend yourself.”

Something about Gabrielle’s words bothered Xena. *What is really going on Gabrielle?* The Warrior tenderly lifted Gabrielle’s chin in hopes that the expressions on her face might reveal what was really bothering her Bard. Xena mused about how she loved touching, kissing and just watching Gabrielle’s face. Holding her chin the Warrior let her thumb slip to the Bard’s always tempting lips. Slowly she let her thumb glide over the velvety soft lips, memorizing the texture. *Mmmm, this must be what it is like to float on a cloud.* Gazing into Gabrielle’s green eyes that changed hue depending on her mood. The Warrior remembered the deep glazed-over green, when Gabrielle was surrendering her body to the Warrior. She has seen the emerald green reflecting excitement or challenge and the deep sea green hue of playfulness. When Gabrielle was hurt, in pain or confused her eyes would turn cloudy, as the green mixed with tears. Smiling internally Xena was also familiar with the green-eyed monster that would possess her lover when she was jealous.

Xena also knew the relaxing, calm meditative green glow in Gabrielle’s eyes when she was at peace, happy and contended. There were so many hues and personalities to those captivating eyes and Xena loved everyone one of them. At this moment, however, the only message Gabrielle’s eyes conveyed were peaceful love for the Warrior. *You my love are getting better at masking your emotions. In the short time I just spent dreaming of you … you managed to regroup. Who is the warrior … me or you.*

Well aware of the Warrior’s motives to examine her eyes for an answer, the Bard quickly buried all emotions except her love of Xena. That is what her eyes would show Xena. *No, my Warrior I won’t tell you more so stop trying.*

Holding the Bard by the shoulders Xena gently pushed her backwards to look directly into Gabrielle’s eyes. She needed a truthful answer, therefore spoke firmly, “Gabrielle, look at me. If you can honestly tell me from your heart, that you want to go home without me….well then you better come up with a better explanation than your father’s dislike for me.”

Xena now managed to limit the Bard’s options and it angered her slightly. “No, my love it is not what I truly want….I would rather not go to Poteidaia at all….I’m not ready.” Gabrielle stepped back removing Xena’s hands from her shoulders. “I will send word to my mother, Lila and my father when I reach Amphipolis.” Gabrielle walked over and picked her staff off the ground and continued heading down the path towards Amphipolis. Suddenly stopping, she did not look back at Xena, however she did raise her voice in a tone that she hoped would end any further exploration. She was not ready to tell Xena about her father’s abuse and if she could prevent it, Xena would never know. “My Warrior, I love you more than anyone. My heart belongs only to you … completely. I miss you terribly when you are gone. And this conversation about Poteidaia is OVER.”

Thrown off guard by Gabrielle’s response Xena realized she was not going to get her soulmate to share that indescribable fear she had witnessed in the Bard’s eyes earlier. *Okay my little one, I will step back from this buried fear of yours…..but only for now.* With those thoughts in mind Xena jumped up into the saddle and nudged the mare into a trot to catch up with Gabrielle. Stopping the mare slightly ahead of Gabrielle in order to block her path the Warrior extended her hand praying her soulmate would take it.

Fully in tune to what the Warrior was offering and what she realized Xena needed from her – Gabrielle accepted her hand. Before she could blink an eye Xena pulled her up on the mare so she was sitting in front. The Bard swung her leg over so she was not sitting sidesaddle and slid her staff into the leather strips that would hold it in place on the saddle.

Keeping one hand in control of the reins Xena glided her free hand and arm around Gabrielle’s waist. “I just need to hold you…,” the Warrior hesitated then added, “…if you’ll still have me.”

The Warriors words penetrated Gabrielle’s heart and soul. “I love you, my Warrior…and I want you more than I will ever be able to tell you in words.” Passionately Gabrielle entangled her fingers with the long strong fingers of her Warrior. Leaning back into her lover, the Bard knew she selfishly wanted to feel Xena’s breasts rub up against her back and feel her warm breath tickle her ears. Gabrielle could not help feeling flirtatious and wasted no time conveying her enjoyment of the Warrior’s body. “You know Xena, I find there is a real advantage to you not wearing the armor….and I think I like it a lot.”

Feeling the heat rise between her legs Xena could feel her nipples harden as they pressed up against the athletic curves of Gabrielle’s back. Add in the continuous rubbing of Gabrielle’s thighs against hers as they rode close together and Xena knew it would only be a matter of time before she would have to seduce her soulmate. Nuzzling into her Bard’s windblown hair the Warrior pushed the mare into a canter with the intentions of stopping only when they reached that small waterfall Gabrielle loved so much.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Shulaba was not comfortable with just letting Maris and her companions stroll out of the Amazon village. There was something about that woman and Shulaba’s instincts told her Maris could be dangerous. The evening following Maris’ banishment from the village the new Queen set out in search of Eponin. She had a pretty fair idea that Eponin could be found in the stables and she wanted to speak with the Amazon regarding her concerns. As Shulaba’s got closer to the stables she could hear the banging of a staff over wood. Puzzled by the tone of the sound Shulaba thought Eponin was probably tormenting Amarice again. *Ha, or maybe it’s the other way around.* The Queen made the time since Amarice’s return to the village to drop in occasionally, as well as observed from a distance the interplay between Eponin and the feisty young redhead. Pleased with her decision to assign Amarice’s training to the finely built dark-hair Amazon she found herself chuckling, as to whom was actually training whom. Talking out loud she prayed Xena would hear her words, “Xena, why do I have a feeling only you would understand Eponin’s frustration at this moment……oh….no offense meant Gabrielle.”

As Shulaba entered the stables, she witnessed a very furious Eponin striking, whacking and swinging a staff rapidly between two wooded beams holding up part of the hayloft. Off to the right sitting casually on a bail of hay chewing on a piece of straw was a very amused Amarice. The Queen directed her attention to the young redhead. “Okay, Amarice, what did you do this time.”

The young Amazon dropped her straw and jumped up from the bail of hay. “Oh….umm…my Queen…I did nothing, really.”

“Yeah, right!” Shulaba raised her eyebrow and glared at Amarice with a slight frown. “Talk young Amazon … NOW.”

Eponin heard Shulaba raised voice and stopped beating on the wood beams. Out of breath she moved over to join the two women and stopped just short of Amarice. With the amazing strength she jammed the staff into the ground forcing it to stand on its own. Grouchy and now tired she stared at Amarice and stated, “YOU…YOU…..don’t you ever, ever do that again.”

The Queen was now doing everything possible to suppress a grin over Amarice’s smile in answer to the Eponin’s anger. Gently shoving Eponin back with her hand Shulaba looked at Amarice. “I am running out of patience Amarice, you better tell me what you did to outrage by best warrior.”

“Oh….it was nothing.” Amarice kicked some dirt with her foot. “Well, she was brushing down Argo and talking to her. I…I just thought she looked cute and kissed her on the cheek.”

“YOU DID WHAT !”

Almost in a whisper, “I kissed her on the….”

Before Amarice could continue Shulaba was bellowing with laughter, bending over holding her waist with one hand and leaning into a bail of hay with the other to keep her balance.

“Oh, very funny Shulaba, thanks a lot.” Eponin yanked the staff out of the ground and walked back over to Argo.

By now Shulaba had tears rolling down her cheeks and she was completely leaning against the bail of hay to keep from falling over. Her laughter only got worse and soon she had Amarice joining her.

“BUNCH OF GIGGLING GIRLS … YOU’RE NOT AMAZONS.” Knowing she was totally outnumbered she said a quick goodbye to Argo and stormed out of the stables. Every Amazon between the stables and the hot springs had to leap out of the way in order to avoid the charging and very angry Amazon Warrior.

It took Shulaba a half candlemark to calm down, dry her eyes and stand back up. “Come on Amarice, I have to talk with Eponin.” The two left the stables and with the help of several confused Amazon villagers Shulaba was able to learn that Eponin’s direction was the hot springs. Just before the springs Shulaba turned to face Amarice. “You really are fond of that big dumb warrior, aren’t you.” The young redhead just nodded in agreement. “Well, this reminds me of another big dumb warrior and a beautiful little blonde. But that’s another story. I want you to get some rest. Tomorrow I’m sending you and Eponin out of the village. I have something I want you both to do, but I will tell Eponin. Right now I’m going to try and calm Eponin down so she doesn’t kill you tomorrow out on the road.”

Amarice thanked Shulaba and quickly retreated to find some place to think rather than rest.

It did not take long for Shulaba to find Eponin, she was right where everyone said she’d be. “Hey, sure you need the HOT springs. Don’t you think the COLD stream outside of the village would suit your needs more.”

“Oh, very funny my Queen.” Eponin splashed enough water at Shulaba for her to decide to strip and join the dark hair Amazon. “Hades…that girl. She is going to kill me yet.”

“Mmmm…reminds me of….”

“Don’t go there Shulaba…..Amarice is nothing like Gabrielle.”

“Oh really……” Deciding to leave some teasing for later Shulaba needed to get down to business. The Queen explained her concerns over Maris and requested that Eponin and Amarice track the women down and find out what they were up too. According to sentry reports after the women were banished Maris and her companions headed southeast.

“You’re concerned they will head for Poteidaia. You’re worried about Gabrielle’s sister.” Eponin was pleased with her Queen’s wisdom and it was something she herself was considering. “I’ll leave in the morning. You realized Gabrielle’s family will not want to see us.”

“Follow anyway. Use your own judgment, don’t let Maris see you, unless you have no choice.” Shulaba wet her hair and grabbed the soap left in a container on the side of the springs. “Do me a favor, don’t kill Amarice….she just has a crush.”

“Mmpf….I’ll give her a crush!”

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

It was late in the day when the couple reached the crossroads. A light mist was filling the air and the Warrior wanted to get to the waterfalls before dark. First she had to ask Gabrielle once more about going to Poteidaia. Xena slowed the mare down allowing it to graze for a bit. However, still cuddling neither woman wanted to move. “I have to ask once more Gabrielle. Are you sure about putting off….”

Gabrielle twisted her body around in the saddle so she could look directly into Xena’s eyes. “Yes, my Warrior, I am sure. I’m just not ready to go to my parents house.”

The Warrior leaned forward to kiss her lover but seeing the worry in her eyes she held back from taking Gabrielle’s lips completely. Instead Xena just brushed Gabrielle’s top lip with a light kiss. The Bard would have nothing to do with a small peck on the lips and moved one hand behind Xena’s neck pulling her down. Before their kiss deepened Xena heard Gabrielle whisper, “Please, don’t be angry with me.” Xena responded to Gabrielle’s plea with tenderness and pressed her lips deeper into Gabrielle’s, letting her know that she was not angry … just in love with her and concerned. The Warrior did not want to release the full luscious lips of the woman she wanted to marry and her tongue slipped through to caress her lover’s top lip. Dropping the reins Xena slid her hand to capture and tease the already firm nipples of Gabrielle’s ample breasts. This touch elicited a purr from Gabrielle. The Bard moved Xena’s hand down between her legs to feel her wetness and invite her to explore. The mare provided an unwarned interruption by shaking her mane and swishing her tail so it slapped Xena in the back. Startled from her exploration the Warrior grinned, “I guess we should move off this saddle.”

“Mmmm….” Was the only response Xena would receive from Gabrielle…and there it was…the eyes…the ‘take me now Warrior’ look that always captured Xena’s heart.

“Not here, my love. I know a place we can camp just north of the crossroads. Then tomorrow we’ll travel to Amphipolis.” Nothing else needed to be said and with a kick to the mare’s flanks, Xena guided the horse towards the waterfalls.

When Gabrielle realized where Xena was planning to camp, she was excited. It had been a long time since they camped near the falls. The last time was over ten moons ago and to Gabrielle it was very memorable. They had just left Joxer at his grandmothers and were happy to be alone without him constantly interrupting their desire to make love. *Poor Joxer, he is clueless. Even when I told him my heart belonged to Xena … he still gave that duh puzzled look and thought I was joking.*

The mist moved over the countryside faster than Xena would like but she mused that it would offer a veil of protection for them. She wanted Gabrielle all to herself tonight especially after all the interruptions of the day between the innkeeper’s family and then this mare. Xena picked out an area close enough to the waterfalls, yet far enough away so they would not feel the spray of the rushing water. Behind them was a wall of rock along with scattered boulders and trees making up the boundaries that would offer them privacy. After a light meal and some hot tea Xena retreated to a log in order to sharpen and clean her new sword. Over the past days she had become use to the grip, weight and temper of the metal and decided Carrier made an excellent choice.

Pulling out her scroll she had hoped to write some more about Ephiny, but listening to Xena’s whetstone slide across the steel of her blade drove the Bard into a fantasy of the Warrior’s hand gliding and caressing over her thighs. Tossing her scroll to the side the Bard mused, *Oh well, sorry Ephiny.* She then focused all her attention on the movement of the Warrior’s long sleek fingers gripping the whetstone and her powerful hands expertly holding the sword. *Warrior you need to be over here with me rubbing your fingers over my skin – touching my breasts. Oh yes warrior, put your sword down and look at me, because her I come.*

Xena’s attention was lost in the sharpening of her sword until out of the corner of her eye she caught pure seduction crawling towards her like a wild uncontrollable animal. Chills ran up Xena’s body as this wild creature undressed her with shimmering dangerous emerald gems for eyes. Xena stopped sharpening the sword and watched this hungry woman crawling directly to her – licking her lips wetting them in preparation for attack. The Warrior could feel the heat rising in her and the wetness of her passion coating her thighs. She was trapped under this bewitching woman’s spell and knew this was a battle worth losing. Gabrielle was kneeling in front of Xena much quicker than the Warrior could react too. Taking Xena’s sword and whetstone, Gabrielle dropped the stone and gingerly held the sword upright sliding the grip between her thighs. While still on her knees she lifted herself slightly and started slowly and sensually grinding her mound against the ribbed handle.

At the same time, with the tip of her tongue she licked the flat part of the polished blade carnally. Xena’s eyebrows raised *oh gods, Gabrielle you have way too much knowledge in seduction.* The Warrior could not help the deep-throated moan that slipped, as she witnessed her lover play an inviting game. Pleased with the response; the sword was placed to the side and Gabrielle ran her fingers teasingly up Xena’s thigh’s stopping just short of her destination eliciting a groan from her lover. Dragging her nails lightly down the powerful thighs on the dark-hair woman the Bard removed each of Xena’s boots. Xena was already working on the belt of her tunic.

In an arousing growl Gabrielle demanded “…come to me Warrior … now.” Taking her hands the Bard led Xena to the blanket. Slipping her soulmate’s tunic off to reveal the tall tanned firm body Gabrielle guided her to the blanket. After removing her own boots, Gabrielle rested on her knees straddling her lover and stripped her tunic away. Licking her lips the Bard lowered her body to meet with Xena’s. The Warrior opened her mouth immediately needing Gabrielle’s tongue to explore. Finding herself close to orgasm just from teasing, Gabrielle entered her tongue deeply into Xena. The Warrior responded and slid her fingers past Gabrielle’s earlobes until she could lace them through the soft blonde hair.

Fondling and rubbing Xena’s breast Gabrielle required more and dragged her tongue and lips from the warm mouth of her lover settling on the firm dark nipples. “Oh, yes…yes Gabrielle….please..now.”

The Bard recognized the moans coming from her lover. She was pleading for Gabrielle to bring her to climax quickly. Obeying her lover she slid her hand between Xena’s hot trembling thighs and cupped her soulmate’s center of pleasure. As she began rubbing in circular motions, she slipped her fingers in and out of the hot channel. Leaving a breast to the cool misty air Gabrielle asked “Warrior, do you belong to only me?”

“Oh gods…yes..all …yours.”

Licking the Warriors stomach her tongue went directly to the tattoo only she and Xena shared. Circling the design on the Warrior’s left hip she was reminded of what this tattoo signified. With a satisfying grin and several nibbles to the hip Gabrielle commanded her tongue and lips to join her active fingers and she buried herself in the tasty wetness that was only her lover. “You taste so good my Warrior…scream for me…let me know you want this.” The licking and twisting and flicking of her center drove Xena mad and she did indeed scream, as her hips increased rotation to keep up with the love her Bard was giving. As her orgasm took over her body, the forest echoed with a warrior’s cry of surrender.

Gabrielle held on to her lover until the tremors stopped. “I love you Xena.”

“My Bard, you are so … so very dangerous.” The Warrior was beginning to reclaim her breath. “Come here.”

Her comment brought giggles from Gabrielle, which were soon muffled with Xena’s lips. “Mmmm…it is my turn now.”

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Eponin and Amarice were able to follow the trail left by Maris to the crossroads. A heavy mist was covering the land at a fairly rapid speed and Eponin realized she would not be able to follow the already fading tracks for much longer. Deciding they should camp for the evening and attempt to pick up the trail tomorrow the Amazon chose a site just east of the crossroads situated among the trees. Although there was not any running water or lake close by both the waterbags were full along with the extra bag Amarice carried on her horse. Feeling tired and a bit grumpy Amarice was all too happy to stop for the night.

“Amarice start a fire and pull out something for us to eat. I know you have some cheese and dried meat in your saddlebag. Oh, and heat up some water, I’d like a hot cup of tea.”

Slamming her bedroll on the ground Amarice was in no mood to be ordered around. “And just my mighty warrior what will you do?”

The brown-eyed Amazon turned to look at the young redhead. “I’m going to collect some more wood and check the perimeter. Just do what I asked. Oh…and I’m not your mighty warrior. GOT IT.” Before Amarice could respond Eponin disappeared into the trees.

After consuming a meal in silence Amarice drifted off to sleep and Eponin stood watch. If she slept at all that would be okay but she would sleep sitting up. There was just something about the mist that crawled through her warrior instincts. The Amazon watched the moon rising in the night sky and eventually it became hidden by the treetops. Glancing down at the young woman sleeping next to the dwindling fire Eponin wondered. *What possesses you to wander redhead. And what do you see in me that leads you to follow me.* A disturbance about fifty paces from the camp interrupted Eponin’s thoughts and brought her to her feet. As an animal ready to protect its territory, Eponin pulled her sword and cautiously moved toward the noise. She dropped her sword when a doe popped her head up from the bushes. “Oh…by the gods, you startled me.” Sheathing her sword she turned around to retreat to the campfire. “You should consider yourself fortunate that I am not in the mood for deer meat.”

“No, you should consider yourself fortunate that I don’t beat the amazon attitude out of you.”

Not sure whether she was dreaming or Amarice had finally drove her insane. Eponin rapidly turned around and saw her friend. “Ephiny??”

“Yes you old dumb warrior … it’s me. Didn’t think you’d get rid of me that easy.”

“But……but….how you…di….YOU DIED!!!” Ephiny moved closer to Eponin and offered her hand in friendship. Eponin however was not sure she wanted to touch an obvious spirit. “Can..can I touch you?”

“Of course, for a while it is okay.” Ephiny and Eponin clasped each other’s hands. “It is good to see you Eponin.”

“Ephiny, why aren’t you in……”

“That seems to be a popular question.” Ephiny paused for a moment before answering deciding the full story was not necessary. “Artemis needed to me hang around…..so here I am.” Backing away slightly Ephiny rested her hands on her hips. “I need you to go to Amphipolis. Don’t ask me why just go. You will understand once you are there.”

“Okay … but Shulaba ordered me to trail….”

“I know, Maris and her so called friends. Yea, go to Amphipolis anyway.” The curly-hair Amazon turned to leave and just as she slipped out of sight Eponin heard her last words. “Go my friend, everything will come full circle and you will understand.”

With the mist thickening Eponin returned to the campfire while she could still see it’s light to guide her. Not waking Amarice, she would do as Ephiny instructed. She would change their direction in the morning and head to Amphipolis.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

CHAPTER 2
The lovers traveled all day stopping only to eat and rest the mare. Gabrielle walked most of the way until about midday, when Xena insisted Gabrielle double up with her on the mare. The Warrior was determined to make Amphipolis by nightfall. The crescent moon was high in the night sky when Xena and Gabrielle rode into Amphipolis. Most of the homes and businesses were dark and Xena noticed only old man Alexos tavern still had the fires burning with the hard core drinkers keeping him in business. *Some things never change.* The Warrior smirked and realized not that much time had actually passed since she was last home. *It seems so long since we celebrated Gabrielle’s birthday.* The couple soon found they were in front of Cyrene’s. A low light glimmered through the front window of the inn.

Gabrielle riding behind Xena gave her Warrior a firm hug. “You okay Xena?”

The Warrior nodded yes and halted the mare in front of the inn. She jumped down and reached up to help her soulmate off the mare. At the front door, the Warrior paused, taking several deep breaths to steady her heart rate and slow her pulse. Closing her eyes she gave a sincere thank you to her Creator. Grabbing the handle on the front door Xena felt like time had stopped and she was moving in slow motion. Stepping over the threshold into the inn both women found the main room dark except for the burning embers in the fireplace. Looking to the back Xena saw a warm glow coming from the kitchen. “Mother must still be up.” Taking her sword she placed it on a table and reached for Gabrielle hand.

“You go … I’ll wait by the fire.” Gabrielle firmly believed this reunion between mother and daughter should be private and sacred.

“Are you sure…I….”

Reaching up to lightly kiss her Warrior on the lips, “Sssshhh…yes, take your time. I’ll be here, when you are ready.”

Xena bent over kissing her soulmate gently, “I love you Gabrielle.”

“I know. Now go.” Gabrielle watched, as her soulmate moved cautiously to the kitchen. Then she retreated to the warm fire and the cozy oversized rocking chair sitting next to it.

Xena stopped in the doorway to observe her mother looking out the rear kitchen window. Cyrene seemed to have her eyes closed and her head raised as if she was reaching to the stars. Little did Xena know that Cyrene was deep in prayer and thoughts about the little girl she lost to the Romans. Almost in a whisper Xena called out, “Mother.”

Cyrene heard the voice and at first though she was dreaming. Turning to the voice the innkeeper’s heart rate picked up rapidly, her body began to tremble and she collapsed to her knees. “Xena? Is….is it really you?”

The Warrior raced across the kitchen to her mother joining her on the floor. She forcefully and protectively held onto her mother’s shoulder looking into her eyes. With tears now streaming down Cyrene’s face all her little girl could say was, “Hi mom.”

Tears now pooled in the Warrior’s eyes and she pulled her mother in tightly. For over a half candlemark mother and daughter sat on the floor and could do nothing more than cry, kiss, hug and rock one another. Eventually Cyrene with her face still buried in her daughter’s shoulders asked, “Xena what happened…did you really die?”

“Yes mother, but I’m back now.” Backing away from her mother’s hold, the Warrior wiped her tears with the back of her hand and then began wiping her mothers. “Come on, let’s sit and I’ll explain.” Xena helped her mother to stand but she could tell Cyrene was jumpy and nervous. *I have to remember to be careful what I say. I don’t want to hurt her.* This was all Xena could think about. She would have to choose her words carefully … especially around the horrors of being nailed to the cross. Protecting her mother became extremely important to the Warrior.

Cyrene walked over to the stove nervous and afraid this was just a cruel dream … and yet knowing it was not. “How about a nice hot cup of tea. I’ll add some lemon. You always did love lemon in your tea. Do you remember Xena, when you were five or six summers old and you tried to convince me lemon in tea was your favorite!” Cyrene placed a pot of water on the stove to boil, and chuckled quietly. “I found out later, you just like to suck on the lemons so you could make your cheeks and lips pucker horribly. Then you use to chase poor little Lyceus around telling him you were possessed and would eat him, if he didn’t run.”

The Warrior smiled warmly at her mother. “Yes mom…and lemon is still my favorite.” Xena did not miss that her mother’s hands were still trembling from the shock and Cyrene began to babble bouncing between Xena’s childhood stories and events in the village. The Warrior approached her mother. “Mom, slow down, I’m really here and I’m not leaving. Now, you sit down and I’ll finish up the tea.” The innkeeper gave her daughter’s hands a squeeze and sat down. While the water was heating Xena began her story starting with Ephiny’s death. Even though Cyrene already knew about the loss of Ephiny from Shulaba and Eponin’s visit, she did not wish to stop her daughter from talking. She just needed to hear Xena’s voice. Two candlemarks flew by as the two sipped on lemon tea and Xena relayed the tale of Caesar, their capture and death. She purposely toned down their death on the cross trying to spare her mother and she was not over anxious to talk about that herself. The Warrior told her about their spiritual encounter and how an apparition put both her and Gabrielle back on their paths.

Just then it hit Cyrene and she felt ashamed for not asking sooner. “Xena, where is Gabrielle?”

“She’s with me, mother. Gabrielle is in the main room.”

“Is she okay? I mean does she know…..has she been to Poteidaia yet?” The innkeeper was extremely worried and frightened for the young blonde whom she considered a second daughter.

“No mom, she hasn’t. What’s going on?”

“Lila is living with me. I gave her Toris’ old room upstairs in the back.”

Xena shook her head not fully understanding why Lila was living here and what was it Gabrielle obviously did not know. “Mom, why? Can you tell me?”

Reaching for her daughter’s hand across the table Xena felt her mother tighten her grip. “Lila came to me five days ago. Her mother had been so distraught after hearing about Gabrielle’s death..,” Cyrene paused to organize her words, “…well you already know Gabrielle’s father loved the ale…unfortunately to make matter worse Herodotus began drinking heavier and heavier spitting out horrible words of hatred and vengeance. He stopped working the farm and spent all their dinars on drink.” Then pausing again Cyrene knew what she would tell Xena would anger the Warrior. “Herodotus started yelling words of disgust about Gabrielle…and Hecuba could not take the way he was slandering Gabrielle’s memories. He hit her hard with his fist sending her into the wall. Lila jumped between them to stop her father…and he started slapping her. Evidently Hecuba managed to get up and jumped between Lila and Herodotus, but he just struck her again in anger.” Cyrene paused to take a sip of her tea. “Lila said her father went charging out the door and….”

The Warrior was visibly shaken by what she was hearing and stopped her mother to ask, “Where is Hecuba…is..is she okay?”

“No, Xena. She died two days after the fight. The healer said her heart just gave up and stopped. Nothing could be done.” Cyrene watched as her daughter’s eyes filled with fear and pain. “Lila buried her mother the next day and came to me. Poor girl said her father kicked her out. Said it would be best, if she did not stay. Xena as sick as that man is Herodotus had enough sense to send Lila away before he hurt her. Lila did not know where to go – so she came here.”

At that moment, the Warrior felt like someone reached down inside of her and ripped her heart out. She began to shake with fear and anger at Herodotus. *There was no way Gabrielle could have known of the death of her mother.* Trying to hold back the tears Xena stood and held her hand out for her mother to take. Together mother and daughter walked hand in hand to the main room. They could see Gabrielle sitting with one leg curled up under her in the big old rocking chair next to the fireplace. The warm red embers and occasional flickering flame bounced and danced off of Gabrielle’ profile. Both women witness the Bard deep in sleep. Her head resting back and slightly tilted to the side, her arms draped loosely over the arms of the chair and her hands open and relaxed. Xena did not want to wake her knowing her young life would again change so drastically.

Cyrene sat in the rocking chair opposite Gabrielle. Xena knelt down on one knee next to her soulmate. Mother and daughter did not disturb the Bard … they let her sleep for just a bit longer. Finally unable to hold her hands in place Xena reached up lightly brushing the bangs from Gabrielle’s face. “I love her so much mother.”

“I know you do, dear.”

Smiling at her lover’s peaceful face, “I asked her to marry me, mother.”

“It is about time, dear. I suppose I don’t have to ask what her response was.” The innkeeper reached out and patted Xena on the shoulder. “Would you like me to leave you two alone.”

The expression on Xena’s face was sheer heartache. “Please stay mother. I think she would want you here….and so do I.” Cyrene simply nodded understanding her daughter’s needs. The innkeeper had experienced many tragedies in her life. Many were dropped in and mixed among happy times. In wisdom grown from living life for so long, Cyrene knew this death would be hard on the two young women she loved so deeply. The Warrior delicately picked up Gabrielle’s hand intricately weaving their fingers together. This action caused the Bard to stir slightly. Bringing their intertwined fingers to her lips the Warrior gently kissed each of Gabrielle’s fingers. “Gabrielle, wake up.”

A huge smile crossed the Bard’s face and her eyes barely peeked through her eyelids. “Mmmm, is it time to get up already?” Not hearing a response Gabrielle opened her eyes to find Cyrene sitting across from her while Xena was kissing her fingers. Being Gabrielle, the playfulness in her voice was apparent, “Hello, Warrior Mom……we’re back.”

The innkeeper smiled back at the amazing innocence that at times radiated from Gabrielle. “Welcome home sweetheart. I missed you.”

Not wanting to break the moment and yet knowing it would only be worse if she waited, Xena squeezed Gabrielle’s hand. “I have something to tell you.” Xena lowered her head to catch her breath and then looked at her soulmate. “It is not good.”

Lying with her head against the back of the chair Gabrielle shook her head lightly. “What is it Xena.”

Briefly closing her eyes and taking a deep breath the Warrior looked straight into Gabrielle’s questioning eyes. “You’re…..you’re mother passed away seven days ago. Her heart just stopped.”

Gabrielle made absolutely no sound or motion. She just stared with out reaction or expression directly at Xena, as if she did not hear what was said.

Xena moved closer taking both Gabrielle’s hands. “Gabrielle, did you hear me?”

Gabrielle heard clearly what the Warrior was telling her but she found her voice could not form words properly. Feeling the increase rate of her heart beating the Bard asked, “Wh….where is Lila?”

Cyrene spoke up, wanting desperately to help. “Lila is with me Gabrielle. She came after your mother was buried. She is doing okay. Gabrielle I am going to take care of her.”

Gabrielle could not move. She could not even respond to the love and concern she heard in Cyrene. The Bard became afraid to physically move from the chair. If she did … that would be it, she would fall apart. The chair was safe right now. After a few moments which felt to Xena and Cyrene like an eternity the women heard Gabrielle mutter a single question. “Did he kill her?”

Although Gabrielle would need to know the whole story, both mother and daughter glanced to each other and without words nodded in agreement that now was not the time. “No, Gabrielle. Her heart was just weak.”

“Yes he did….he killed her.” After speaking Gabrielle did something that could not have been predicted. Xena and Cyrene anticipated the Bard would collapse in tears. Tears she would need to shed in order to begin healing. But Gabrielle did not cry. Instead Gabrielle shocked both mother and daughter. She let go of Xena’s hands and stood up. With her eyes staring straight ahead, as if she was blind, Gabrielle mumbled, “I’m really tired, I….I’m……I’m going to bed.”

Gabrielle staggered without emotion away from the two women. Xena froze in place feeling helpless and scared. “Mom, what do I do….what….”

“Let her go to bed and give her some time. She is denying what she heard.” The innkeeper hoped her advice would help both women. “Xena, the loss will eventually hurt too much for her to pretend nothing happened. And then you and I will both be here for her.”

The Warrior could do nothing but watch her soulmate drift into the back area of the inn, where they shared a room Cyrene kept for them. Her mother wrapped her arm around Xena’s waist and the two stood there for sometime in silence before Cyrene suggested another cup of tea. The Warrior would give her soulmate a little more time alone and then she would join her. For now she would listen to her mother and the two women returned to the kitchen. With a hot cup of tea in front of them, mother and daughter talked about the bitter sweetness that reunions sometime brought. This night in Amphipolis both happiness and sadness entered the inn simultaneously. In the morning Gabrielle would have to face Lila. The thought frightened Xena. She hated this helpless feeling, she was a warrior … strength and having the solutions to win battles were all valued gifts for a warrior to possess. If this new warrior path meant feeling helpless, then Xena feared the journey might already be over before it could begin.

Without thought Xena spoke, “I refuse to remain helpless!”

The innkeeper’s bond with Xena enabled her to just about read her daughter’s thoughts. Now, Xena verbalized the unmentionable. Her beautiful, strong, loving child thought she was a helpless warrior unable to help her soulmate heal. “Xena….you are thinking too much. You’re tired.”

“Mother, I’m suppose to know what to do…how to help…I’m a warrior!”

Moving around the table to hug her daughter Cyrene searched her long years on this earth to answer her daughter, “Xena, you told me a wonderful story about a power that brought you back to life with the sole purpose of letting you walk your chosen path. Don’t question yourself when tragedy strikes. Instead draw on what you know…listen to that warrior spirit … stay on your path.”

“Mother, you are so wise.” A few unshed tears fell from the Warrior’s eyes.

Cyrene laughed lightly and squeezed her daughter’s hands. “Go to bed, Xena. Go to your soulmate. I’ll talk to Lila when she gets up in the morning.”

One candle was still burning when Xena entered the bedroom. She could see Gabrielle’s figure lying in bed facing the wall. Quietly the Warrior removed her tunic noticing that Gabrielle had left her some cool clean water, some soap and a towel. *My Bard, you still think of doing the little things for me…even now.* Xena knew Gabrielle was probably trying to stay in a routine to help keep control over her emotions. When she was done washing, the Warrior slipped on a short nightgown. Her mother always left little things in the room for the women in case they should ever visit.

Blowing out the candle the Warrior slipped under the blanket. She was careful not to touch Gabrielle right away. Unsure about what her Bard’s needs would be at this point Xena did not want to scare her. A small part of Xena’s heart dreaded that her Bard might not want to be touched. The Warrior listened for the pattern of Gabrielle’s breathing to determine if she was asleep or awake. All of a sudden Gabrielle rolled over moving closer to Xena. She whispered, “Hold me…please. Don’t let go, just hold me.” That was a request Xena had no trouble with and had actually hoped for. Pulling her in tightly the Warrior kissed Gabrielle many times on the top of her head. “I love you, Gabrielle. I promise I will never let go.”

A good candlemark passed before either woman drifted off to sleep. A sleep brought on by emotional exhaustion.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

“MARIS STOP HITTING THE POOR KID.” Stella was loosing patience with the constant threat and slaps Maris was dishing out to Pippa. “She is telling the truth. I heard the same rumor in the tavern that Pippa heard in the stables.

Leandra could no longer contain her humor and began laughing. “This is really rather ironic don’t you think Maris. How could it get any better.”

“I still can’t believe they cheated death!” Maris sat down in front of the campfire. “Well this just changes plans a bit. Actually it may even be sweeter.” The black-eyed Amazon rebel pointed her finger at Pippa in a threatening manner. “You’d better hope that blacksmith in Therma was telling the truth or I will kill you for his lie!!”

“Maris I’m assuming we are now going after Gabrielle?”

With evil laughter filling the night air like a demon Maris answered the question. “Oh yes Leandra our destination is to kill one Amazon Queen. We will see how well she can cheat death this time.” Maris threw her dagger into Pippa’s bedroll. “You my child better get some sleep because tomorrow we look for tracks. Gabrielle will only go one of two places … home or Amphipolis.” Retrieving her dagger Maris added, “Tomorrow we split up. Leandra and I will go to Poteidaia and Stella you take the brat and check out Amphipolis. We meet at the crossroads tomorrow night. I don’t care how hard you have to ride … you just be at the crossroads.”

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

The following day the sound of movement in the room was enough to wake Xena. Instantly the Warrior sensed the empty space next to her and scanned the room to find an already clothed Gabrielle on a chair tugging at her boots. It appeared to be pass midday and well into late afternoon when Xena realized they slept through most of the day. Wanting to say something caring and loving to Gabrielle but not sure of how she would react Xena blurted out, “Are you hungry?” Instantly regretting her choice of words *Great going warrior … are you hungry … sure that’ll show her you care.*

“No, not really. Sorry if I woke you.”

There was absolutely no hint in the tone of Gabrielle’s voice to indicate anger, sadness or love. She just simply answered Xena’s question. With her boots on the Bard walked toward the bedroom door, opened it and walked out of the room. No final ‘see ya later’ or ‘come with me’ and no kiss or hug. She just left. A horrifying weight punctured the Warrior’s spirit. This sensation terrified Xena and she was unsure which hurt more, watching Gabrielle physically die or watching her emotionally die. The Warrior slumped back on the bed pulling Gabrielle’s pillow over her face and sobbed.

Gabrielle found Lila and Cyrene in the kitchen with two of the innkeeper’s employees who cooked meals, cleaned rooms, served customers and tended bar. When Lila came to Cyrene, the innkeeper without hesitation offered her a job. She prayed her decision would inspire independence in the young brunette and help her heal from the deaths of her mother, Gabrielle and the abuse of her father. Cyrene was pleased, when Lila agreed. Deep down inside Cyrene welcomed the freshness youth could bring to a home. Now that Gabrielle was alive Cyrene mused it could only help Lila’s healing. When Gabrielle emerged into the kitchen Cyrene quickly shooed her employees out to give the two sisters privacy. Before leaving them alone the Warrior Mom watched them embrace furiously. Xena came up behind her and placed her hand on Cyrene’s shoulder.

Turning to wrap her arm around her daughter’s waist the innkeeper whispered, “I explained everything to Lila. She wanted to wake Gabrielle up but I convinced her to wait.”

Xena’s body language was clearly sad. Also obvious to Cyrene was that she had been crying and her daughter did nothing to hide her emotions from her mother. “I’m afraid mom. Afraid I will loose her….she won’t talk.”

Before leading her daughter from the kitchen both women could not help but notice, as Lila was rapidly sputtering the events that transpired with their parents and then suddenly she would switch to her happiness over Gabrielle’s rebirth. Alternating between the two topics without a pattern Lila was clinging desperately to her older sister. Lila cried as her voice ranged up and down in varying tones. What saddened both Xena and Cyrene was that Gabrielle said absolutely nothing. She held Lila like a small child occasionally wiping Lila’s tears. But the Bards face was without expression and without tears. Lila’s older sister was totally detached from all emotions. The passion, innocence and excitement of Gabrielle’s personality were missing. Leaving the young girls together Cyrene took her daughter’s hand and led her to the garden in back of the inn. “Let’s sit on the bench Xena. I’m worried about you.”

“Mom, I will be okay, as soon as Gabrielle is okay.”

As they sat close to each other, Cyrene pulled her daughter’s head to her shoulder and began rubbing her back. “Hmm…..I suppose this is the ‘soulmate’ bond you two have. Sounds like a very big obligation.”

Not sure quite how to read her mother’s statement the Warrior sat up straight feeling she needed to clarify her bond with Gabrielle. “Mother this is an obligation that both of us agreed too. I know we will go through times when we are sad or hurt, as well as arguments.” Pausing for a moment the Warrior kissed her mom on the cheek. As they journeyed to Amphipolis, her guilt kept pointing the finger at her heart. She blamed herself for Gabrielle’s death and every time the inner voice would come up, Xena masked it with fear and denial. They should have stayed longer at the cave. They should have given themselves more time to heal. Tears were running down Xena’s face, as if the dam broke.

Cyrene guided her daughter’s body so she could cradle Xena. “Oh, my child I know you are suffering with memories that are hard to share. When you are ready remember that I am always here to listen.” Fully aware of the suffering and pain Xena and Gabrielle experienced at the hands of the Romans, she realized that her daughter was unaware of the horrible stories that drifted through Greece concerning their deaths. The innkeeper did not want to bring the topic up until her daughter was ready. There was, however, another matter, which Cyrene knew in her heart that she had to tell Xena. Cursing herself for not telling her sooner the innkeeper decided it would be best, at this time if Xena heard about Gabrielle’s abuse from her. “Xena, I must tell you something that I should have told you years ago. Please forgive my dreadful timing and please forgive me for not telling you sooner.” The no-nonsense seriousness of her mother’s voice caught the Warriors attention. Her tears stopped and the Warrior sat up. “My daughter, I had hoped Gabrielle would tell you and a part of me prayed you would see the bruises once you became intimate with her but….”

“Bruises? Mom what are you talking about?”

The determined look in her mom’s face told the Warrior that she needed to listen attentively. Cyrene related the story to her daughter how she accidentally discovered the bruises on Gabrielle several years ago. How the Bard had cried and how she begged Cyrene not to say anything. She then continued by relating Lila’s stories of how Gabrielle was abused repeated through her childhood right up until she left Poteidaia to chase after Xena. After that the abuse was not as frequent. The Warrior’s anger began to take control and the innkeeper saw the change. “Xena, don’t do this to yourself.”

“How could anyone……I…I…” Xena started slamming her fists repeatedly into the stone bench. “How could I have missed this……I must be blind!” Then the pieces fell into place and the Warrior spoke in a murmur not conscious that her mother heard “She was afraid her father would beat her….that was the look I saw in her eyes – that indescribable fear.”

Standing in front of her daughter Cyrene grabbed her fists preventing her from slamming them into the stone bench. “XENA, listen to me!! Don’t be angry with you or with her. Gabrielle is going to need you more than ever….and YOU MY DEAR WARRIOR DAUGHTER will need her just as much to heal through your own pain.”

Standing up the Warrior wiped her tears of anger, sadness and frustration away. “I will kill that man, if he ever comes near Gabrielle. Mother, I swear…….”

“NO XENA. He is still her father. You do not need to be the one to take that away from her. Control your anger Xena or it will destroy you……please. I am begging you Xena….I CAN NOT BEAR to see you once again become that ruthless warlord you once were.”

Looking at the fear in her mother’s eyes the Warrior remembered how she became a madwoman with the death of Lyceus. She knew her mom was right. Anger would only destroy her and it would also destroy the woman she loved so dearly.

Unannounced and grinning ear to ear Lila came bursting through the back door stumbling into the garden stopping short of the Warrior. “Xena, thank you … it feels so good to have Gabrielle back. I’ve missed her so badly….and, well thank you.”

The fading yellow bruises surrounding Lila’s left eye and various areas of her arms were more apparent now, than when she saw Lila standing in the kitchen. The Warrior approached Lila intending on giving her a hug. Lila did not wait and threw her arms around Xena. Excited and happy Lila realized she was also pleased that Xena was okay. “I’m glad to see you too. I was so unhappy when I heard about…well, the Roman’s……and, anyway I love your mom……she has been so good to me.”

The Warrior chuckled. *Typical Lila, can’t string one thought together without jumping to another.* But Xena was pleased that Lila was receptive because she could remember back to a time when Lila was jealous of her relationship with Gabrielle. “Lila where is Gabrielle?”

“Oh, I have some chores to do before the evening crowd shows up, so Gabby went shopping. Probably just as well, I did all the crying and talking anyway. I think she was getting tired of listening.”

In unison both mother and daughter questioned. “SHOPPING?”

Totally naïve Lila added, “Yea, she grabbed her staff and said something about steel and leather.”

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Racing out of the inn, Xena knew Gabrielle’s comment of ‘steel and leather’ meant she was shopping for a sword and clothing only a warrior would wear. The Bard had no need for either item unless she was planning to go into battle or kill someone. There was only one shop in Amphipolis where weapons could be purchased and several shops for clothing. Xena would try the weapons shop first. Her Uncle Tensandi owned the shop so Xena decided to warn her Uncle not to sell anything to the Bard. Xena was almost to the shop when she saw a crowd gathering in the village square. Just then her Uncle rushed out of his shop and headed toward the commotion in the square. Uncle Tensandi would never leave anyone alone in his shop unattended so Xena followed the growing crowd in the square.

The Warrior pushed and nudged her way though the crowds to find Gabrielle shoving her staff into the body of some poor soul that must have made her Bard angry. Moving to stop Gabrielle before she hurt this poor individual the Warrior felt the pressure of an extremely strong tug on her arm. Turing around to decide whether she would kick this person in the face Xena was shocked to find Eponin.

“Eponin? What’s going on…..”

Eponin chuckled lightly and gave Xena a hard but friendly pat on the back. “Good to see you, my friend. You sure don’t like staying dead do you.” Laughing at her own attempt at humor Eponin pointed to the body underneath the Bard’s staff. “Unfortunately Gabrielle was not too happy to see Amarice.”

Xena looked again and saw that the person her Bard had pinned to the ground was indeed Amarice. “Well, I see she got away from the Romans. They probably threw her out in hopes that some unfortunate soul would claim her.”

The Amazon rolled her eyes, “Yea, no kidding. I was the unfortunate soul. Shulaba’s idea of humor.”

Suddenly both warriors heard a plea of help from Amarice. “Uhhh, someone want to get peace-lover off of me.”

Problem was at that moment, no one understood that Gabrielle no longer felt at peace and that she was teetering on a dangerous emotional edge. It was becoming too difficult to hold her anger and pain especially after spending time with Lila. At this point, she understood that she was loosing control and it was not going to take much to send her over the edge one way or the other.

“Hello……Eponin…..come on this woman is crazy.” Amarice began to feel fear of death creep into her heart. She could see only too well that the once peace-loving woman with her staff to Amarice’s heart had lost complete control.

With the wisdom borne from years of battle Xena and Eponin moved swiftly and without hesitation. The Amazon kicked the staff away from Amarice’s heart while the Warrior grabbed her lover from behind forcing her arms down and causing the staff to fly from her hands. The sudden force overpowering Gabrielle from behind acted as a catalyst and the Bard found her voice. “PUT ME DOWN!”

Eponin helped Amarice to her feet and Xena gently released Gabrielle. Uncle Tensandi began dispersing the crowd and Xena acknowledged his help with a smile and a nod. Once to her feet the redheaded Amazon quickly moved to hide behind Eponin. No one spoke, as Gabrielle withdrew pushing her way through the remaining crowd and headed in the direction of the beach.

Eponin grabbed Xena’s arm before she could follow Gabrielle. “Amarice pick up Gabrielle’s staff and follow her.”

“ARE YOU CRAZY SHE JUST TRIED TO KILL ME.”

The dark hair Amazon was in no mood for disobedience. “You heard me Amarice. Follow her just don’t get close. If she attacks…..then run. If she leaves the village area, follow her and send back a message.” Forcing a puff of air through her lungs to show her irritation Amarice grabbed the staff and jogged to catch up with the Bard.

The Warrior turned to Eponin. “Listen, thanks for the help, and it is great to see you…..but I have to go after Gabrielle.”

“No my friend, give her some time. Amarice is capable of looking out after her. First you tell me what in Hades is going on! I thought you were dead. And what’s with Gabrielle I’ve never seen her like that.”

With the knowledge that Amarice was following her Bard, Xena relinquished her need to chase Gabrielle. Together Xena and Eponin walked to the inn. The Warrior explained their deaths as well as their rebirth and new mountain home. Xena did not mention Ephiny. By the time Xena began telling Eponin about what she knew of Gabrielle’s abuse Cyrene had joined them. Although Eponin already knew about the some of the abuse, she thought it would be best to let her friend talk. For a good candlemark Eponin and Cyrene listened as Xena pour out her heart, her hopes, her fears and her dreams.

With the setting sun Amarice came through the front door of the inn still holding Gabrielle’s staff. The Warrior, Amazon and Cyrene were seated at the bar. Out of breath from running she told Eponin, “Listen, I’m hungry. I have to eat.”

“I thought I told you….”

Amarice interrupted Eponin before she could scold her any further. “Yea, yea. She’s down on the beach meditating. I figured it would be safe to come back for something to DRINK and EAT. I’m starving.”

Cyrene not really wanting to debate Eponin’s reasoning decided to speak up to ease the atmosphere. “Amarice, I don’t think we’ve met. Come on into the kitchen and I’ll get you some food. In fact you can meet Lila, I think you are the same age.”

The Warrior found humor in Shulaba’s wisdom to match Eponin and Amarice together and decided to rub that in a little bit. “Wow, Shulaba sure learned fast how to be Queen.”

Placing her hand on Xena’s shoulder Eponin lowered her head and sighed. “Xena, I’m disappointed. I thought you would take my side.”

“Eponin, I need to go to her.” The Warrior stood up reaching her arm out offering a warrior’s handshake, which was immediately accepted. “Thank you for listening to me. I never thought talking would be for me…but somehow it has eased some of the hurt”

It was not difficult to find Gabrielle. The lover’s had a favorite spot on the beach tucked among several sand dunes. Rocky cliffs bordered to the north and the sea was in front. The waves slapping the shore were far enough so the tide never poised a threat on the nights the couple decided to sleep on the warm beach under the stars. Hoping she would find Gabrielle in this spot the Warrior was not disappointed. The Bard was in a simple yoga position crossed legs, back straight and arms resting on her knees. The Warrior located herself closely behind Gabrielle and waited. Her wait was not long.

Gabrielle opened her eyes unable to focus properly for meditation. Her thoughts were tumbling and she was unable to stop them. As subtle as the Warrior could be, Gabrielle knew Xena was behind her. “Xena, I’m sorry. I know you wanted to help and I pushed you away. I’ve hurt you and ignored you. I’ve ruined your reunion with Cyrene. I’ve shamed you in front of your village. I’ve lied to you about Poteidaia and my father. I even was ready to leave you in order to kill my father. I do not deserve you Xena. I betrayed our promise to always work things through together.”

Her voice was low … almost a whisper, it was soft and concerning and the Warrior understood her soulmates sorrow. From behind the Warrior moved closer until she was only a breath away and paused momentarily hoping Gabrielle would not push her away. Slowly she wrapped her arms around her soulmate pulling her out of the yoga position until she rested completely and securely within her grasp. At first the Bard’s body stiffened but she did not reject the affection Xena was offering. Not sure whether to be serious or add some humor the Warrior decided to try both. Nuzzling into Gabrielle’s hair and tempting close to her earlobe the Warrior whispered tenderly. “You are not going to get out of our marriage that easy.”

Physically feeling Gabrielle relax she continued. “First … you did not ruin my reunion with mom and you did not embarrass me. You are everything I desire Gabrielle and I don’t know how I would have reacted, if the situation were reversed. I know when Lyceus died I turned to hate. Thank the gods that you have not. I know it will not be easy for you to heal the pain your father has caused or the death of your mother but I will ALWAYS be here for you. Please…please don’t lock me out. I love you and we need to go through this together.” They sat without conversation under the stars.

Breaking the silence Gabrielle turned her head looking up into the Warrior’s sculptured face. To Gabrielle she possessed the face of a god … complete beauty. Softly and in a shy whisper Gabrielle made a request of her soulmate. “Xena…would you sing for me?” With a smile the Warrior continued holding and protecting her lover and the Bard allowed her too. As the stars danced through the night sky a voice pure and mesmerizing sang a song of love and faith to her soulmate. The moon was high overhead before Xena suggested they go back to the inn.

“Gabrielle, have you had anything to eat since we arrived at mom’s?”

“No, I’ve not been hungry.”

Standing the Warrior pulled her Bard up into her arms giving her a delicate kiss on the head. “Well, let’s go, I’m sure mom will have some nutbread hiding in a cupboard for you. Promise me you’ll at least try to eat.” Gabrielle agreed and accepted the hand her soulmate offered.

Watching the couple leave from her position in the shadows at the top of the cliff, a lone Amazon stood guard. “Thank you Ephiny for trusting in me.”

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Maris and Leandra made good time to Poteidaia arriving by mid afternoon. With stern orders to the stable boy to rub down and feed the horses the women ventured to the local tavern. Typically the best place to hear rumors and find answers to questions. Neither woman was disappointed. In fact just about every drunk and harlot in the place was talking about how Xena beat Caesar. Both women were into their third mug of ale before they heard the news of Hecuba’s death and Lila’s move to Amphipolis. The stories of Xena and her sidekick, the hometown bard, eventually turned to gossip. That was when Maris smiled at what she felt was bonus information. Gabrielle’s father had been abusive. Maris would find a way to use this bit of information against Gabrielle. After a fourth ale, the banished Amazons retrieved their horses riding hard and fast back to the crossroads.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Gabrielle slept on and off the rest of the night. For the most part she had not been sleeping soundly or peacefully since hearing of her mother’s death. Adding to her anxiety was Lila going on and on about their father. The Bard understood that Lila needed to talk – the problem came when Lila explained that after Gabrielle left Poteidaia their father started beating their mother, as a replacement for Gabrielle. The tender emotional Bard began to blame herself for her mother’s suffering. And young naïve Lila, did not have enough experience in life to include Gabrielle in her mourning. Instead she would talk and relive the events without stopping long enough to realize her sister also needed support. So every time Gabrielle was near Lila all of her sister’s words would haunt the Bard…..and the guilt was becoming overwhelming. A small murmur came from her sleeping Warrior pulling Gabrielle from her musings. She did not want to wake Xena.

In her emotional needs she was drawn to Xena and could not stop herself from running her fingers casually through the long silky raven hair. Last night after agreeing with Xena to eat, the Bard found food did not really have any taste to it and only consumed an apple. The Warrior made no further demands and when they came to bed, Xena just held her giving her several kisses on the top of the head until she fell asleep. It was not much longer after that, when Gabrielle woke to find their positions reversed. Xena needed to be held. Drifting on and off between the dreamworld and life Gabrielle never moved and instead increased her hold securely around her soulmate. Unrealistically believing she had caused further pain to Xena and had neglected the Warriors needs, Gabrielle began scolding herself and withdrew emotionally without realizing what she was doing. Tragedy does strange things to people.

The Warrior awoke to the feeling of her soulmates fingers fondling her hair. Rather than moving she relaxed soaking in the love she was receiving. Gabrielle was always generous and mushy with her feelings for the Warrior but with the death of Gabrielle’s mother – her Bard seemed to lose the ability to express her feelings until last night on the beach and at this very moment. Reality set in quickly and she realized once again that they both slept in. Xena decided to move. The Warrior wanted to get Gabrielle back into a routine hoping it would help her to talk about her grief. Leaning up to rest on her arm Xena smiled to find her soulmate’s eyes looking back at her. “Ready to get up. I could use a hot bath and someone to wash my hair and scrub my back. Interested in the job?” With a faint smile the Bard only nodded her head.

Running her finger over the lips she wanted to kiss Xena decided to hold back. She did not want to force Gabrielle into anything she would not be ready for. “Would you like to go shopping later? I sure would like to get back into some leathers.” Hoping Gabrielle would agree and then kiss her, the Bard gave an even weaker nod of her head in agreement. Outside of holding hands, a few comforting kisses on the cheek or head and of course, the cuddling, Gabrielle did not make any attempt at intimacy. Gabrielle was always finding a reason to kiss the Warrior and she always kissed Xena when they awoke. The Bard’s apparent decision to hold back only confirmed the Warrior’s fears that Gabrielle was not emotionally ready. *Okay my love, I will not push you. What is most important now is that you talk about your pain and loss…maybe once you can cry then…..* The Warrior was pulled from her musing by a Bard crawling out of bed.

Several moments later the pair headed for the bathhouse connected to inn. Before they reached the end of the hallway Lila came strolling towards them. “Good afternoon. Boy you two are sleepyheads.” Giving Gabrielle a kiss on the cheek, she then whispered something in her ear. Quickly turning to face Xena the young brunette patted her on the arm and dropped two towels over the Warrior’s shoulder. “Bath is nice and hot. Your mom thought you might be waking up.” Tuning quickly to face her sister. “Gabby you feeling okay?”

“Yes, I’m fine Lila. How are you feeling?” Gabrielle squeezed Lila’s hand and returned the kiss on her sister’s cheek.

Quickly Lila giggled like a small child, “I feel wonderful. It really helped to talk with you yesterday about mom’s death. And maybe we can talk some more later. Hades, and thanks Gabby for taking most of…well you know….the bea…..” Lila abruptly stopped talking. She had almost forgotten that Gabrielle told her not too talk about father around Xena. “Well….I have chores to do, see you both later.”

The Warrior did not miss how Lila dropped the subject nervously. Glancing at Gabrielle for a reaction, the Warrior found none. The wall was already built and Xena did not like Gabrielle hiding secrets. She mused that her beautiful soulmate was Herodotus’ target and release for his anger. This only fueled the Warrior’s anger.

As the women continued toward the bathhouse Gabrielle slyly offered her hand to Xena. “I have to thank your mom for taking Lila in.” Pleased that Gabrielle reached out to hold her hand the Warrior squeezed it tightly and thought. *Hang in there Gabrielle we can get through this together.*
PART 2
Eponin and Cyrene were having a nice cup of tea when Amarice walked in and plopped her self in the chair next to the Amazon Warrior. Refusing tea the young redhead would only accept water from Cyrene. With one elbow on the table and her head leaning into her hand Amarice watched Eponin.

“Amarice will you go find something to do. Go take care of the horses.”

“Already did.”

“Well then go chop some wood for Cyrene.”

“Done.”

“Okay … go sharpen your sword.”

“Taken care of.”

Cyrene was enjoying this exchange immensely. *Oh my Amazon friend, this young pup is not going to let you get off that easy.* Clearing her throat to stop from laughing only gained a raised eyebrow from Eponin.

“Amarice go help Lila with her chores.”

“Chores are done. Eponin, are you trying to get rid of me?” The innocence of Amarice’s question sent Cyrene over the edge and she started laughing under her breath.

Eponin could not miss the shaking shoulders of the innkeeper and her strain at keeping her lips sealed together. “Cyrene this is really not very funny … you know that, right?”

The innkeeper could do nothing but close her eyes, nod her head and continue suppressing her laughter that now included several squeaks slipping from her lips.

“OKAY … I’M OUT OF HERE.” Eponin knocked the chair to the floor as she attempted to stand. Turning around to pick up the chair she slammed her shins into the chair legs. “HADES … Amarice find something to do in a place where I will not be!!!” With that being said the Amazon stormed out of the kitchen.

At that point, Cyrene was in tears and the laughter no longer needed to be suppressed. “Oh my sweet young child, that Warrior will definitely be a challenge for you.”

Amarice was also amused. Taking Cyrene’s hands in hers and with a big smile she asked, “Do you think I stand a chance? I mean was Xena this bad?”

“Oh yes my dear … you sure do stand a chance. And yes, Xena was horribly confused and clumsy and flustered before she admitted her love to Gabrielle.”

The young Amazon kissed Cyrene’s hands and got up to leave.

“Where are you going Amarice?” Cyrene could not let her leave without knowing.

Blowing the older woman a kiss as she ran out of the kitchen, the young woman shouted back, “I’m going to find my Amazon.”

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

The bath was uneventful compared to many others the couple had taken together. Gabrielle washed Xena’s hair and scrubbed her back. She also allowed Xena to reciprocate but then quickly took the sponge, washed her body and stepped out of the tub. The normal soak, cuddle and play that often accompanied their bath time were missing. The Warrior made a promise to herself that she would give her soulmate another day before she would confront Gabrielle about the loss of her mother. She was starting to worry that pushing her might be the only way Gabrielle would grieve.

Walking toward the kitchen hoping her mom would take pity and cook something for the two of them Xena offered, “You still have one more question left.”

Gabrielle knew she had been too quiet and upon hearing the uncertainty in her lover’s voice Gabrielle went along with the game they had started days ago. “Okay…does this person…this female have anything at all to do with family?”

“Well….yea…sort of.”

“Xena, yes or no is all you can say. You can’t tell me sort of.”

While she was thinking how to answer, the Warrior tilted her head back and forth pretending to concentrate eventually flashing a smile at Gabrielle. “Yes, this female is family.”

Gabrielle was stumped. She had hoped Xena would have said no … but she said yes. Before Gabrielle could think any deeper Amarice was shouting at them from the opened front door. “Xena, Gabrielle come out here!”

Eponin was thrilled with the impact registering in Xena’s face, as she stepped through the front door to see her pale warhorse.

“ARGO!!!” The Warrior rushed to the mare swinging her arms around Argo’s neck hugging, patting and rubbing the horse. She was rewarded with a few warm whinnies and a shake of the head. “Oh..girl I’ve missed you so much.”

Xena could hear Gabrielle, “Oh, no….that’s it, isn’t it Xena…the answer is Argo.” The Warrior answered her soulmate with a laugh and a grin. Gabrielle shook her head in submission that her Warrior once again won the game. She would have never guessed it was Argo without this reunion. The Bard joined her partner giving Argo a couple of strong pats on the neck and nose. She had to admit she too missed the horse. But right now, Gabrielle was contented to see Xena so very happy and childlike. Somewhere tucked away in her heart Gabrielle was afraid her inability to share her sorrow would become a burden. And with that burden her Warrior would leave.

On the rooftop of the inn an owl perched observing and listening to the inner voice of her Chosen One. “My beautiful Amazon Queen your pain is breeding a mask of deception and unrealistic fears.” Leaving the rooftop for the blue sky Artemis prayed to a greater god that the Warrior would stay strong and protect her Chosen One.

The Warrior turned to Eponin who quickly explained that the horse came to Cyrene and she in turned asked Eponin to care for Argo. Both women soon became recipients of powerful hugs and thanks. Returning to Argo with a tremendous amount of excitement, “Come on girl you want to go for a ride?” Not waiting or expecting an answer Xena jumped onto Argo’s back with a single leap and then the thought hit her like a battle-ax. Xena did not want to leave Gabrielle and therefore she reached out for the Bard to take her hand. Gabrielle rested her hands on the Warrior’s knee and lovingly massaged the knee and leg tenderly. Xena did not miss this display of affection and instantly melted into the Gabrielle’s eyes. Bending down from the saddle to get closer to her soulmate the Warrior said, “Come with me Gabrielle.”

“Not this time Warrior. You go on and enjoy your time with Argo.”

Xena’s heart sank slightly, “But, I want….” Unexpectedly the Warrior was pulled into a kiss, which was sensitive and sweet. Sooner than she desired the Bard also ended the kiss and whispered, “Go, my Warrior. You can take me for a ride later.”

Staying upright in the saddle was proving to be difficult. The kiss and Gabrielle’s tenderness made Xena’s muscles feel like mush. “Okay, but I’m going to keep you to that promise. I won’t be gone long.” The dark-hair Warrior tugged on Argo’s rein and with untamed laughter she kicked Argo’s flanks directing the horse in a full canter out of the village. Cyrene just sighed aware that she would probably owe several villagers who were now vaulting out of Xena’s way, an apology.

Once Xena was out of view the women entered the inn. From the window of Alexos Tavern, Stella absorbed every unvoiced gesture and every face surrounding the Queen. She also took note that Eponin and Amarice were in Amphipolis. *Umpf….I wonder what they are up too. No matter Amazons you can not stop the fate of your Queen.*

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Lila laid claim on her sister as soon as they entered the inn. There were only a few customers at the bar and for the most part the inn was quiet, thus making Lila believe that Cyrene would not mind if she spent time with Gabrielle.

“Eponin, can I see you in the kitchen.” Both women headed toward the kitchen with a tail behind them.

The Amazon stopped abruptly forcing the little redhead into her back. Without turning around she said, “Amarice, I did not hear your name mentioned. Go practice being nice to Gabrielle and Lila.”

The innkeeper did everything in her power to suppress the grin creeping up to her face. *Very interesting Eponin….you fight her too hard.* Continuing on into the kitchen with Eponin by her side the temptation to pursue this was too great. “You like her, don’t you Eponin?” There was no response, which only confirmed what Cyrene believed. Internally smiling she mused, *Looks like denial to me. And it reminds me of some other warrior I know…who was just as stubborn.*

Once in the kitchen Cyrene motioned for Eponin to sit. Pouring the Amazon a mug of ale and one for herself Cyrene sat across from her warrior friend. “Eponin, be honest with me, why are you and Amarice in Amphipolis? And why did you follow Xena to the beach? Oh, and how did you hear about Xena and Gabrielle being alive?” Pausing to take a sip of her ale the Warrior Mom added, “…and don’t beat around the bush. I know when someone is avoiding the truth.”

Admiring her spunk Eponin explained the incident at the Amazon village, Maris’ threat and Shulaba’s instructions to track and spy on Maris and her little group. At first she hesitated telling Cyrene about her meeting with Ephiny in the mist but quickly agreed that the truth would be important, so she relayed her encounter with the doe and Ephiny.

“What did Maris mean with her threat to Shulaba?”

“We are not sure. That is why I was tracking her until Ephiny told me to come here. I had no idea Xena and Gabrielle were alive until Gabrielle knocked Amarice to her back.” Emptying her mug of ale the Amazon stated. “I have not told Xena about Maris yet.”

Refilling Eponin’s mug Cyrene’s curiosity asked, “Before we talk further, just why did Gabrielle knock that pretty young girl down?”

The Amazon started to laugh. “Cyrene, that pretty girl is not that helpless. I suppose it is not really that funny but when Gabrielle saw Amarice, she attacked her mumbling something about her being a coward and running.” Eponin reached across the table to affectionately pat the innkeeper’s hand. “Cyrene I will tell Xena about Maris when she returns and then I will let her decide whether Gabrielle needs to know.” The Amazon noticed Cyrene’s mug of ale was almost empty and she reciprocated pouring the innkeeper another mug. “I have already sent word to Shulaba about Gabrielle and Xena being alive. Shulaba is a good woman and she will want to know.”

Before either woman could finish their ale Amarice was standing by the table. Playing with one of the feathers in her hair, the Amazon was apparently frustrated. “What’s wrong my child.” Intentionally Cyrene sounded motherly.

Amarice liked Xena’s mom so she allowed the reference to the word ‘child’. “Look, I tried … okay! But Lila talks way too much. And she never stays on one topic … she bounces all over the place … and I think she’s driving Gabrielle crazy. All that peasant rambles on about is how her father beat up on Gabrielle and how Gabrielle took Lila’s beatings for her…..and when Gabrielle left, her mother stepped in to take the abuse so Lila would not have too.” Amarice started waving her arms around to emphasis her point and irritation. “I think Lila is a spoiled brat.”

Sitting back in her chair desperately holding her temper over what she was hearing, Eponin refilled her mug again. “Amarice, go back out there and talk to Gabrielle. Interrupt Lila if you have too. Talk about the Amazons. You do have that in common with Gabrielle. Maybe Lila will calm down once she knows you are talking to her sister.”

Just as Eponin was bringing the mug to her lips Amarice grabbed it from her hand causing some of the ale to spill over Eponin’s hand. Taking a drink from the same mug that touched Eponin’s lips was exactly what Amarice wanted. “Can’t talk to Gabrielle now, she’s gone.”

Fear struck deeply into Cyrene’s heart. “What do you mean she is gone………where!!!!”

The dark-hair Amazon was out of her seat in lightening speed and almost knocked Lila over on the way into the main room. Grabbing a disheveled Lila by the shoulders Eponin sternly questioned. “Where did your sister go?”

“She said she was tired and was going to lay down.”

Eponin, Cyrene and Amarice bolted down the hallway towards the bedroom. Stopping just short of ramming into the door the trio piled up on each other. Cyrene knocked on the door. Not hearing a response she opened it slowly. Gabrielle was not there.

“HADES, where could she have gone.” Eponin slammed her fist into the wall. “Cyrene check the grounds around the building. Amarice check the beach and the eastern side of the village, I’ll cover the remaining area.” Everyone was in agreement and each set out in search of the Bard.

In their haste to get out of the inn Eponin and Amarice found themselves competing, as to whom would get through the door of the inn first. Eponin won and Amarice found herself flat on her back. Xena was just entering the village when she witnessed the struggle through the door of her mother’s inn. *Yes my friend, you have it bad for that little redhead.* Xena dismounted from Argo and as she got closer to Eponin, she could see the concern in the dark brown eyes of her friend.

“Xena, we are looking for Gabrielle have you seen her.”

Xena knew her soulmate was faltering on the edge of collapsing and immediately cursed herself for not insisting the Bard ride Argo with her. The mare was quickly abandoned, as the Warrior bolted into the inn. A quick check of their bedroom confirmed Amarice’s echoes that Gabrielle was not in there. Breathing hard just to keep up with her increasing heart rate the Warrior halted when she reached the garden and saw Gabrielle sitting under a tree with her mom close by. Cyrene immediately saw Xena. Before the Warrior could get to them both women were standing and walking to her.

Cyrene forced the conversation so Xena would have a moment to calm down. “Xena, did you have a good time with Argo. Gabrielle and I were just having a little conversation about Lila.” The innkeeper gave Gabrielle a motherly hug around her shoulders.

The Warrior took one of Gabrielle’s hands. “Hey, you okay? Everything okay with Lila?”

The Bard merely nodded her head and offered Xena a weak but pleasant smile. “Xena, I’m kind of tired. I…..I guess everything is just catching up with me.” The Bard’s face was pale and began to perspire. Xena could feel Gabrielle’s hand tremble ever so lightly, her voice was lacking in strength and her eyes began to roll back. The Warrior realized her soulmate was in trouble just in time to catch her, as she lost consciousness.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

CHAPTER 3
Gabrielle slept through the remainder of the day and evening, waking only occasionally, when Xena massaged her body with a cool wet cloth or attempted to get her to drink fluids. The Bard really had no clue what was going on and would quickly fall back into a deep state of sleep. The Warrior refused to sleep that night. Instead she paced the floor and spent time talking with her mother and Eponin who took turns keeping her company and tried to reassure her that Gabrielle would be okay. Eponin was able to tell Xena about the banished Amazons, which unfortunately only added to the Warrior’s concerns. Lila stopped in to see her sister only twice. Both times she was brief and tearful. Xena could not bring herself to ask Lila any questions.

Before dawn the Warrior finally fell asleep with her arms wrapped around Gabrielle. Waking by late afternoon Xena placed a light kiss to her lover’s lips and left Gabrielle to sleep a little longer. The Warrior went in search of her mother. Departing the inn she was thoroughly amused to find Amarice helping Lila wait on tables and serving meals to the late afternoon crowd. Cyrene was found sitting on the bench outside the inn with Eponin, as her companion. The innkeeper and the Amazon were happy to see Xena. In spite of the fact that she still appeared tired, there was something about the way she held her muscular frame that told the women the Warrior was up to something. “What my dear warrior daughter is running through that beautiful head of yours?”

“A celebration! Mom, I want us to have a private celebration right here at the inn. Invite only close family and friends … basically people who will be supportive and uplifting … no talk of death. I want lots of food and drink, music, dancing, story telling…the whole works!”

“Xena, do you really think this is a good idea. Gabrielle needs to face her grief. Aren’t you worried this, ‘small private celebration’ might help her cover her grief up.”

Falling to her knees Xena held on to her mother’s hands. “Mother, don’t you see. Gabrielle can’t shake this numbness that has taken over. She won’t talk about it, she eats extremely little and she passed out because she is shutting down. Look how long she’s been sleeping. Mother, she avoids anything intimate beyond a simple kiss on the cheek. That woman walking around in Gabrielle’s body is not my need-to-touch and feel sentimental Bard.”

Laughing loudly at Xena’s last statement the dark hair Amazon interjected, “Gee Xena that kiss she gave you yesterday when you were on Argo looked pretty intimate and inviting.”

Xena found herself blushing slightly. “Don’t you see, that was the only time since she heard of her mother’s death that she even acted remotely intimate with me and then she backed away. Hades … we are suppose to get married and its like…” Both Cyrene and Eponin could hear the fear of loss in the Warrior’s voice. Xena was desperately trying to hold on to Gabrielle and herself. Without a need to converse the women glanced toward each other and their eyes agreed that there has been too many drastic events over the recent moons. “….I need to shake her up without hurting her. If she can at least focus on the good in her life, then maybe it will help. Right how it is like nothing matters to her anymore. And anyway by the time Gabrielle and I get back…….”

“Where are you going Xena?”

“Mother, I am taking my future wife to the temple overlooking Kolpos Bluff.”

“Xena, that is one of Aphrodite’s temple. Why there?” Cyrene’s motherly instinct took over and she needed to know what her daughter was up too.

“Mom, trust me. What better place can I possible take Gabrielle than a temple devoted to love.” Xena took her mother’s hand and placed her other reassuringly on Eponin’s shoulder. “Look, I can’t explain why I need to do this. When I was sitting on Argo this white owl took a dive at me. It almost knocked me out of the saddle. Then the thought came to me about taking Gabrielle to a temple. I’m praying that without distractions, especially from Lila – I just might get Gabrielle to talk to me.”

A huge smile crossed the brown-eyed Amazon’s face and she uttered a single word. “Artemis!”

The Warrior laughed, “Yes, that is what I thought also. Aphrodite’s temple is the closest and somehow I can’t imagine Artemis being upset with love. And the celebration … well I’m hoping it will ease her back into life. You both know how she loves parties and people. I want to give her something she likes.”

“Okay Xena, okay. I will help you on one condition.” Cyrene agreed somewhat with her daughter but was not entirely convinced this would work. “You have to tell Gabrielle why you are doing this.” Xena’s face had the look of rebellion. Shaking her finger at her daughter in a scolding manner. “Don’t you give me that look. I’m your mother. You do as I asked.”

Eponin was attempting to look distracted and actually started to whistle, as if she was no longer a part of the conversation. Xena reached over and slapped Eponin in the side of the head. “YOU my friend get those Amazons in here. They are always loud and they love parties. I want this celebration in four days.”

“And what will we tell everyone we are celebrating?” Cyrene had to ask if for no other reason than to see what Xena would say.

Xena gave her mother a big hug and sloppy wet kiss on the cheek. “Make something up mother. I don’t care what we celebrate. I just want my Bard to be happy….I want her to heal.” As the Warrior was leaving to go after Gabrielle, she turned back to her mother and friend. “Have Amarice saddle up Argo for me and have Lila pack some food and drink for us.”

Eponin jumped to her feet and stopped Xena. “My friend, I hate to say this but Maris is out there roaming around. With the threat to Shulaba, if she hears Gabrielle is alive…..and I’m sure she will just like the rest of Greece, then Gabrielle is no longer safe.”

The innkeeper understood Eponin’s concern and was not pleased that Xena and Gabrielle would ride alone. The temple was a good two candlemarks away, therefore the Warrior Mom sternly stated, “Eponin … you and Amarice need to escort my daughter and Gabrielle. I will not loose either one of them again.” Looking to her raven-hair daughter who grew into a wise beautiful woman she concluded her demand with, “….and you will not argue Xena. They can camp outside the temple!”

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

The first messenger arrived in the Amazon village late in the day. The sentries escorted the messenger directly to the Queen. Hearing that Eponin sent the messenger from Amphipolis Shulaba anxiously broke the seal on the scroll and began dancing with any member of her royal guard that she could catch. Calling an immediate meeting of the village Shulaba announced the news of their Queen’s rebirth and that of her Warrior. The rest of the day the Amazon’s celebrated the wonderful news. Shulaba ordered that early the next morning an Amazon party would leave for Amphipolis to greet their lost Queen.

Teklai, Captain of the Royal Guard, caught Shulaba before she retired to her hut. “My Queen…are you okay with the news of Queen Gabrielle?”

Shulaba was indeed pleased and she wasted no time in telling her childhood friend. “My beautiful Teklai I am so happy to have Gabrielle back. She has always been the rightful Queen and Artemis’ Chosen One. If she would have me as Regent I would be honored but the choice must be hers. Teklai my duty and loyalty has always belonged to Gabrielle.”

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

“Breath Xena…come on you are a Warrior. You can do this. You are stronger than she is. You love her. This is for her own good.”

Amarice heard Xena standing outside her bedroom door talking to herself. “Xena, Argo is saddled and Eponin and I are ready.” The Warrior simply nodded her head thanks. The young redhead was entertained by Xena’s fear of Gabrielle. *Just like Eponin … you big tough warrior-types always fall to us little ones.* Shaking her head and chuckling Amarice left Xena alone.

Wasting no more time Xena opened the door and knew she had to be quick yet gentle. She did not want to hurt Gabrielle and she also did not want to give her a chance to fight. With a quick prayer *Artemis help me see this through,* the Warrior approached the bed. Gabrielle did not stir as the Warrior took her in her arms. Very cautiously she carried her soulmate through the inn to a waiting Argo and friends. Carefully Eponin took Gabrielle so Xena could get up on Argo. Once settled in the saddle, Eponin lifted the Bard to Xena’s waiting arms. Through all the movement the young blonde did nothing more than mumble a few indistinguishable words.

The journey to Aphrodite’s temple took slightly longer than two candlemarks. Xena kept the pace slower than normal. Partly because she did not want Gabrielle to wake up scared and because she needed more time to think about how she would convince her soulmate to open up about her sorrow. Through the entire ride Eponin and Amarice acted as royal guards to their Queen and her companion. There was no sign of trouble and they met no one along the way. This particular temple of Aphrodite’s was a smaller temple situated tightly in the cliffs overlooking the sea. The tight location was accessible only by horse or foot and was easily protected. Finally back on foot, Xena entered the temple carrying her Bard. It was agreed that Eponin and Amarice would not disturb them unless there was danger.

Once inside the temple the Warrior heard an all too familiar voice. “Warrior!” Xena turned to find herself face to face with both Artemis and Aphrodite. The Goddess of the Amazons motioned for Xena to place Gabrielle on a pallet covered with plush blankets and furs. Xena obeyed and discovered the Bard was starting to moan indicating she was beginning to wake. Artemis moved closer to the Warrior peering directly into her eyes. “Do not disappoint me Xena. You will not be pleased with my temper should Gabrielle…..”

“Yea, yea, yea…come on Art lighten up – Warrior Babe will take care of blondie.” Over time Aphrodite grew fond of the couple and she could trust and depend on both Xena and Gabrielle for assistance. Artemis was just being a little too demanding and she was not shy telling her. “You know she loves Gabrielle now leave her alone. I agreed you could use my temple….not run it!!”

Calming down somewhat Artemis advanced closer to the Warrior. “Don’t wait too long to marry my Chosen One. I might get tired of waiting and find her another warrior.” White light surrounded the Goddess and she disappeared.

“Gee … get a grip Art!” Aphrodite flashed one of her many flirtatious grins at Xena. “You are protected Xena as long as you are in my temple. Now … if you don’t mind I’m out of here. Looks like I can have a tiny bit of fun with your two Amazon friends waiting outside.” The Goddess of Love strolled toward the entrance disappearing before she hit the door. Xena could hear her giggling about her new challenge of love camping outside her temple. The Warrior could only think, *Good luck Eponin…you are going to need it.*

Focusing all her attention back to her precious soulmate the Warrior knelt down next to Gabrielle and whispered softly, “Gabrielle, wake up….it’s time to wake up.” All Xena received were several murmurs of words she could not understand. Kissing her gently on the lips, “Come on Gabrielle, wake up…I need you to open your eyes.” She wanted to get the Bard’s eyes opened and looking at her before she did anything more. Placing several more kisses on Gabrielle’s lips and eyes her soulmate began waking.

Struggling to open her eyes the Bard tried to focus and felt Xena holding her. “Xena?”

That was the recognition the Warrior needed to hear and countered it, “I love you Gabrielle. No matter what happens, I love you.”

Not fully awake or comprehending her location Gabrielle’s heart intuitively forced her to concentrated on the words of love she heard from her soulmate. Looking up she saw the penetrating blue eyes that belonged only to Xena. With fear so close to her heart Gabrielle also noticed the strange surrounding and immediately lost focus on Xena. Feeling trapped she bolted to a sitting position and attempted to stand. Xena was there to stop her from running. “Gabrielle, sit back down.” Reaching for the waterbag Xena was able to get Gabrielle to drink.

“Xena, where are we and what is going on.”

The Warrior knew this was her opportunity and she acted. “We are in a temple outside of Amphipolis. Here drink some more water.”

Gabrielle pushed the waterbag away. “I don’t want anymore. Why are we here.”

“You have to talk to me about your mom.”

Boiling under the surface of the young woman was a monster that had been growing. The monster fed off of all the emotional losses the Bard experienced over a short period of time. Xena’s paralysis by Callisto, Xena’s death on the cross, fear of Xena abandoning her when the Warrior found out about the abuse, the death of her mother and her own guilt over her mother’s death. Gabrielle was no longer able to control the monster and the hidden beast came out. “MY MOTHER IS DEAD. THERE IS NOTHING TO TALK ABOUT.” Unexpectedly the Bard shoved Xena back causing her to loose her balance and fall backwards.

The Warrior was quick to stand and grabbed a now running Gabrielle by the upper arms. “Oh, no…you are going to talk to me. You have to get this out before it kills you.”

Green eyes scowled directly into the Warrior’s. “LET ME GO!” For reasons unknown to Xena, she released her grip. The Bard turned her back to Xena.

“You must talk about this Gabrielle….you can’t go on like this….I don’t want to loos…..” Before Xena could complete her plea Gabrielle swung around with her fist aiming for the Warrior’s face. True to her nature the Warrior captured the angry fist before it struck. That’s when her soulmate snapped. Those same green eyes so enraged a moment ago began filling with tears, the luscious pink lips began quivering, her fingers reached out to touch the cheek she was ready to strike and the words “please forgive me” emerged from the depths of her soul. Collapsing in tears that were held back for days Gabrielle felt Xena’s protective arms catching her, holding her, comforting her and loving her. The Warrior took Gabrielle back to the blankets and together the real healing process began. The tears continued for close to a candlemark before Gabrielle could calm down enough to string more than a few words together. Xena released her hold on the Bard to retrieve the waterbag for both women to drink. Joining her lover back on the blankets the two women sat so they could look into each other’s eyes.

Xena caressed Gabrielle’s cheek tenderly. “Can you talk to me.”

“I don’t know where to start.”

Pausing to search for the best words the Warrior drew upon her experiences when tragedy struck. “Tell me how you feel right now….only for right now.” Xena remembered saying similar words to Gabrielle when the two of them were striving for reconciliation and healing in Illusia. Gabrielle also recognized the words and between tears and moments of being unable to get her voice to speak the Bard told Xena how she was feeling over the loss of her mother and the guilt associated with it. To Xena’s surprise Gabrielle also spoke to the loss she felt when Xena was hurt, watching her Warrior’s suffer in pain and die.

Nothing was mentioned about the extent or history of Gabrielle’s abuse by her father other than she was afraid Xena would think she was shameful and her fears of loosing the Warrior’s love. The raven-hair Warrior encouraged her soulmate to voice everything that needed to be said, even if it only meant a few words. Hidden in-between the words and occasionally drink of water Xena made sure she was physically touching Gabrielle at all times. Xena craved this contact and hoped it would ease the pain her soulmate was feeling. Eventually Gabrielle came to a point where she could not talk anymore and she closed her eyes which were now stinging from the constant tears.

The healer in Xena came from the warrior body. “Your eyes burning?” The Bard sighed and nodded her head. Xena went to her satchel to remove a soft piece of fabric and poured water onto the cloth soaking it. Returning to Gabrielle, she tilted the young woman’s head and dabbed the cool cloth on her eyes. After a few seconds Xena softly asked. “How does that feel?” Before Gabrielle could respond Xena’s desire to reassure her of her devotion came out. “Gabrielle, I want you to listen to me. There is nothing in this life that could ever make me be ashamed of you or hate you or want to leave you. I love you sweetie….I want..” The biggest grin crossed Gabrielle’s face prompting Xena to stop speaking. “What’s so funny?”

Gabrielle pulled the wet cloth from her eyes. “You called me sweetie. Do you realize what you are saying?”

“Aaaa…I…I didn’t think you noticed.” The Warrior had intentionally called her sweetie on a few occasions. It was just how she was feeling and she actually enjoyed the mushy little word. “Would you rather I did not?”

Gabrielle inched closer so she could crawl into Xena’s lap. The Warrior welcomed her and placed several tender kisses on her head. “I love when you say all those mushy words.” Gabrielle looked up into the deep blue eyes that told her of the Warrior’s love and the Warrior’s needs. Slowly the Bard reached up sliding her hands around Xena’s neck and let her lips caress the Warrior’s.

Backing away from the lips she wanted so desperately Xena asked. “Are you sure?”

“Mmmm….yes … I need to show you how much I love you. I want you to let me touch you and make love to you.” Gabrielle nibbled Xena’s lower lip and was pleased with the soft needy moan she received.

Keeping hold of her thoughts for anything other than Gabrielle’s passion was soon going to be impossible for Xena and she had to tell her soulmate one thing. “I want to marry you, Gabrielle. I don’t want to wait much longer. I don’t want us leaving Amphipolis without…..”

Placing her fingers to Xena’ lips she knew exactly what her soulmate was asking. “I love you Warrior and I will marry you before we leave. Now kiss me.”

After candlemarks of tears and words, touching and healing, the magic that makes up the bond between the Warrior and the Bard found renewal. Exhaustion was unimportant, as the soulmates were consumed by their passion for one another and their deep need to feel alive. Unknown to Xena and Gabrielle two goddesses stood witness to the healing and the beginnings of the passion. “Okay Aphrodite, time for us to leave them alone.”

“Oh come on Art … just a little bit longer.”

Artemis grabbed Aphrodite by the ear. “No … they don’t need your help or mine in this area. I think they know exactly what to do and I might add they do it wonderfully.”

Aphrodite gave a squeal of delight. As the two goddesses left the temple Aphrodite told Artemis of an old temple priest who lived in the mountains north of Amphipolis. Artemis’ laughter roared in agreement with Aphrodite’s wise choice.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

After Xena, Gabrielle and the Amazons left for Aphrodite’s temple Cyrene and Lila kept themselves busy coordinating and planning Xena’s demand for a private celebration. Laughing to herself Cyrene knew her daughter’s demand was actually a plea for help and was for her as much as it was for Gabrielle. Uncle Tensandi’s son knew several musicians and they agreed to play for all the free ale they could consume at the celebration. Cyrene sent a second messenger to Shulaba instructing her to bring the Amazons for a celebration. While Eponin had already sent a messenger out about finding Xena and Gabrielle, Cyrene did not think a second message could hurt. The innkeeper also sent out messengers to close friends of the soulmates. Locally Cyrene’s list of close friends and family members grew beyond the ‘private celebration’ Xena had envisioned.

“Cyrene don’t you think forty-two villagers, six messages, and the gods only know how many Amazons is a little more than Xena wanted?” Lila was slightly concerned that the innkeeper was asking too many people.

“Yes, Lila I am sure it is much more than Xena anticipates. But, she put me in charge and I’m her mom. She won’t get too mad.” The innkeeper laughed devilishly. The more she went around the village looking for messengers, ordering food and drink the more her friends would ask her what the celebration was for. Well, one thing led to another…how could she ask Aunt Petrina without including her children and their families. Then the village healer Memnos overheard and….well he tended to Xena’s illnesses throughout her childhood. So eventually the list grew from small and private to large and private. Enlisting the help of her employee’s and the various businesses donating food and drink, Cyrene was confident that everything would be ready in time.

By the end of the day both women were exhausted. Cyrene eventually settled into her favorite rocking chair in front of the fire with a hot cup of tea. Shortly after Lila joined her.

“Cyrene, what does Xena want really want to celebrate?”

Cyrene pointed to the footstool inviting Lila to sit closer. “Lila, trust my daughter. She loves your sister so very much. Xena hoped this little party would help Gabrielle.”

Lila crossed her arms and leaned on her already bent knees. “Gabby is really happy with Xena, isn’t she?”

“Does that bother you dear?”

“Well…at first it did. But now….” Lila paused for a moment trying to find the right words. “As long as no one else hurts my sister I am fine with whoever she chooses. And I really do like Xena, although I use to be jealous of her.”

Cyrene reached for Lila’s hands pulling the young brunette to her lap. Lila rested her head in Cyrene’s lap accepting the love this innkeeper was so willing to give. “Lila, why don’t we just celebrate life and love. What do you think?”

“Yea, I like that idea.”

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Stella and Pippa arrived at the crossroads close to midnight. Maris was pleased with the information they were able to gather while in Amphipolis. The rebel explained to her companions how she watched as Xena and Gabrielle left the village with the Amazons and how she stayed behind to follow the old woman that seemed to be making demands of the Warrior.

Maris was irritated that Stella did not follow Gabrielle and interrupted Stella. “Are you STUPID … why didn’t you follow them!!!”

At that point Stella thought about killing Maris rather than Gabrielle. “I had every reason to believe the foursome would return because Gabrielle seemed to be sick or something and their horses were not packed for a journey. Turns out I was SMART to stay. The old woman is Xena’s mother and in less than four days they are throwing a celebration. This is our opportunity to strike undercover.”

The leader of the rebel Amazons was pleased with this information. They would set out for Amphipolis tomorrow in order to scout the village and prepare for the assassination of the Amazon Queen.

That night as Pippa laid in her bedroll, she could not sleep because her thoughts troubled her greatly. Rubbing the recent bruise on her cheek Pippa wondered if this is the life that she really wanted to live.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

The rumors about Xena and Gabrielle being seen alive trickled throughout Greece. First because they appeared to have cheated death at the hands of the mighty Caesar and second because it was Xena … her reputation, as being a cruel warlord turn good, was news worth following for any Greek citizen. It did not take long for Poteidaia to also hear of the news. The village elder almost broke the door of the tavern down trying to reached Herodotus’ farm.

After the elder left, Herodotus entered his now empty home. The house began to deteriorate after his wife’s death and Lila’s departure. Angry and drunk he assumed Lila would seek out Cyrene or Minya. Herodotus was convinced Xena took his entire family away from him. The insanity controlling his mind continued to deny that he was solely responsible for his own loss. If he had been honest with himself, the old man would realize that Gabrielle was lost to him ages ago, when she was just a little girl of three or four.

Spitting on the floor he poured himself another mug of ale. Talking to his drink, “Well my precious little Gabrielle it would seem you cheated death. I wonder just what you would do, if you knew it was the news of your death that caused your mother to die. My dear daughter you will replace her even if I have to kill that warrior of yours. Then maybe, I will forgive you.” Staggering to the kitchen cupboard Herodotus pulled out a piece of parchment. Eventually finding a quill and some ink the angry old man sat down at his table to compose a letter to Gabrielle. Again talking to no one but his drink Herodotus laughed over the anguish he would cause his wayward daughter and the Warrior. “This should bring you home my daughter.”

Finishing his cruel task Herodotus set out to find a messenger that would deliver it into only Gabrielle’s hands. The old man wanted someone who would also deliver the parchment for free. It had to be someone who could enjoy bringing pain to the Warrior without a price. In his drunken stupor the old man still knew any pain he brought to Gabrielle would cause twice as much pain for Xena. Realizing it would take several days to find that type of messenger Herodotus shoved several dinars in his fist and headed to the tavern. He would wait there – after all he had all the time in the world.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Lightening broke the early morning sky followed by the clapping of thunder. The violence of the thunder startled the sleeping soulmates causing Gabrielle to bolt into a sitting position. The Warrior could see Gabrielle was visibly shaken and sat up to hold her. “Gabrielle it’s okay, just thunder.” Rubbing the Bard’s back hoping it would calm her down Xena suddenly remembered the two Amazons sitting out in the open. The bluff offered very little protection. “I have to tell Eponin and Amarice to get in the temple. They do not need to be out there in this storm.”

“Why are they here Xena. I thought only you and I were here?” The Bard looked puzzled and the Warrior knew she would have to explain about Maris and the group’s banishment by Shulaba.

“I’ll explain everything once I get them out of the storm.” Throwing a blanket over her shoulder the Warrior reached back down to give Gabrielle a quick kiss on the lips before leaving the temple.

Gabrielle wrapped a blanket around her body and decided she was actually hungry. It did not take long for the Warrior to return with Eponin and Amarice in tow. With a piece of nutbread in her hands the Bard greeted the two Amazons with a smile and a quick hello. Xena was pleased to see Gabrielle rummaging through the food Lila prepared for them and was not at all surprised nutbread was her first choice. Together the foursome consumed a morning meal, as the rain began to fall and the thunder rolled through the sky. As promised, the Warrior told Gabrielle why the Amazons had accompanied them to the temple and the story of Maris’ disrespect for the Amazon nation and her subsequent banishment.

Eponin also filled in the missing parts of how Amarice returned to the village, Brutus’ offer of peace and the grief of the nation and especially Artemis. The brown-eyed Amazon explained that the news of all their deaths triggered her return home from the land of the pyramids and sand. For the moment, Eponin did not tell Gabrielle of the visit to Poteidaia, which resulted in Herodotus’ attempted attack on the Amazons party. And no one talked about Hecuba’s death. When Xena had gone outside to bring Eponin and Amarice into the temple she mentioned to both that Gabrielle was finally able to talk about her grief over a number of topics, however she circled away from details surrounding her father’s abuse. Therefore although both warriors felt anger about the cruelty of Herodotus a quick glance between each other in an almost unwritten warrior code confirmed that the subject should not be brought up.

Unexpectedly Gabrielle stood up to move away from her three companions. She looked tired and on the verge of tears. Just before turning away she spoke, “Amarice … I….I just want you to know I’m sorry. I had no right to call you a coward and to attack you. I don’t know why I did that….please forgive me.”

“My Queen, I do not find fault with your actions or reasons. You actually did me a favor….I too thought I was a coward. I am so sorry for abandoning you and Xena. I only ask that both of you forgive me.” Amarice stood up and bowed her head respectfully. “Please excuse me, it sounds as if the storm has passed and I must see to the horses.” Before anyone could stop her, the young redhead was gone.

Eponin was extremely proud of the response Amarice gave Gabrielle. “Gee, maybe there is hope for her yet.” Looking to Xena and Gabrielle the Amazon smiled, “I think I will help her with the horses. When will we be leaving Xena?”

The Warrior looked to her soulmate who had already returned to the pallet and was getting dressed. “Eponin let’s leave later in the day so we can make Amphipolis before nightfall. I want to give Gabrielle a little more time.”

With a smirk playing across her face Eponin reminded the Warrior, “Xena, don’t forget to tell her about the celebration.”

“Oh…yeah. Well maybe later.”

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Eponin caught up with Amarice who was trying to regain the fierce little attitude she was becoming well known for. Although she was brushing her horse down after the rain, Eponin could tell she was not serious about the task. Going against the hard-nose warrior grain Eponin addressed her young companion. “Amarice are you okay?”

“Yea, sure I’m fine.” Not looking at Eponin was a struggle. She was so attracted to her and yet she knew Eponin was only acting like Shulaba ordered … a mentor. Had their relationship been different Amarice would have reached out in tears for Eponin. She was so tired of acting like a tough brat. Deep inside Amarice knew it was a charade.

“I’m proud of you Amarice. I know what you said took a lot of courage and…”

Partly fearing the affectionate words from Eponin and partly her own need to be loved she turned to face her mentor. “Let it go Eponin…it was no big deal.” Before the Amazon Warrior could react or reach out Amarice dropped the horsebrush and walked away. Eponin could not help but notice the redness in her eyes and not knowing what else to do she let her go.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Once Eponin left the temple Xena approached her soulmate. She could tell it was difficult for Gabrielle to focus on what Eponin was explaining. Xena believed it would be tough on her Bard for awhile but at least now she was talking. Standing behind Gabrielle the Warrior reached out placing her hand gently on the Bard’s shoulder. “Gabrielle … you okay? I know it is hard…”

Gabrielle turned around wiping the few tears that were falling. “Xena, I..I just feel so bad about attacking Amarice. And I feel horrible for how I’ve treated you.”

The Warrior would not let her finish and pulled her soulmate into a strong embrace. “No Gabrielle, don’t do this, okay. I love you through good and bad. Nothing can change that. You are my soulmate forever … in every life and in destiny. Too much has happened since your birthday and you are being much to tough on yourself.” Xena paused to kiss the tip of her lover’s nose. “If I remember we made a promise to follow our paths side by side. What I have seen over and over again is the beautiful emotional woman that I fell so deeply in love with. If you want to show me you care – then please don’t ever shut me out … deal?”

The Bard gazed into her lover’s blue eyes. They had the color of protection and love … the color of the bluest sky. “Xena, I love you and….yes it is a deal.”

The lover’s needed no words to show their commitment to each other. Together they shared a physical, emotional and spiritual love that penetrated and filled their souls and hearts. Accepting the need to grieve was the first step to healing. Xena knew Gabrielle had taken that step here in Aphrodite’s temple with her help. To the Warrior that trust Gabrielle gave to her meant the world to Xena. They would be okay.

“Gabrielle, would you like to try and meditate together?”

Normally it was Gabrielle trying to talk the Warrior into joint meditation so the Bard’s soul began to beat quickly at the offer. “Yes … I would like to try….it has been difficult for me to focus….but, yes I would like to try.”

The Warrior gave her soulmate a quick kiss and they moved to the center of the temple. “Gabrielle, think of our ocean … remember … the ocean of belief.”

“Yessss, I do remember. It was such a beautiful place and so peaceful.”

Like well-orchestrated music the soulmates clasped hands and slid into their complimentary positions. Their bodies created a meditative arrangement that spoke volumes of their spiritual and soulful bond. When both women were completely at peace their essence mingled and their souls mated as one. The peak reached with this joint meditation was the unexplainable power they could feel enter their spirits. Both women assumed it was from their Creator and a promised rainbow….and it felt as if they were receiving total unconditional love.

Later the women shared their physical love slowly and sensually. Eventually Gabrielle drifted off to sleep in her Warrior’s arms. Xena followed shortly after. When they woke the sun that popped out after the storm was now hanging low in the western sky. The couple packed their satchels between moments of kisses and comforting words and left the temple in search of the Amazons.

Eponin and Amarice were waiting for them on opposite sides of the temple grounds. The young redhead was standing on a boulder overlooking the sea and Eponin was sitting on a rock facing away from the temple. Xena could see Eponin throwing her dagger into the ground between her feet repeatedly. Observing the body language of both women Gabrielle asked her soulmate a question. “Xena…did I miss something?”

The Warrior wrapped her arm around Gabrielle’s waist pulling her close. “Looks familiar doesn’t it.”

Gabrielle reached up leaving a small kiss on the Warrior’s lips. “Yes, I guess it does. Any bets on how long it will take Amarice to wear Eponin down?”

“Bets?” Xena laughed, “Let’s hope Eponin does not have to die first to find out she’s hopelessly in love with Amarice.” Memories flooded back to both women about the time Xena kissed Gabrielle while in control of Autolycus’ body. Suddenly the Warrior reflected back to Gabrielle’s comment of taking bets. “My Bard … what do you mean when you say bets?”

Gabrielle giggled innocently before answering. “Ephiny, Solari, Eponin, Shulaba, Teklai, your mother and I all had bets on when you would fall my Warrior.” Surprising Xena with another kiss she continued, “When you would fall into my arms and surrender.”

Shock registered on Xena’s face. “MY MOTHER???”

Before Gabrielle could respond Eponin turned to see the lover’s on the temple steps and stood up quickly. This movement distracted Xena and she did not have a chance to question Gabrielle further on the bet or her mother. However, she made a mental note to speak with her later about this. The Warrior was not too sure she liked everyone betting on her day of surrender … even if it was for Gabrielle.

Consumed with her thoughts of Amarice the Amazon at first did not hear Xena and Gabrielle approach. When she faced them Eponin was visibly shaken. Xena took the opportunity to rib her friend. “Slipping Eponin. Must be pretty important. Could it possibly be someone has occupied your heart.” Walking right to the Amazon she added. “Normally a warrior only looses sight of their surrounding, when their heart is in control instead of their mind.”

Eponin blushed and could see Gabrielle’s attempt to stop giggling. “Oh, very funny. I’m just tired, that’s all.”

As Xena and Gabrielle walked passed Eponin toward Argo, Gabrielle could not resist joining in on the teasing. “Give it up Eponin … surrendering is so much more fun.”

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

By the time the foursome arrived in Amphipolis the sun was already asleep and the stars now took control of the heavens. Cyrene and Lila were extremely happy to see the women home and wasted no time showering Gabrielle was kisses, hugs and words of love. Quickly Cyrene shoved the women to the kitchen and began placing a great amount of food and drink in front of the four adventurers. No one mentioned Gabrielle’s pain over the last few days. Cyrene explained gently and motherly that Lila needed to let go and to give her sister a chance to heal. The innkeeper was pleased how well Lila responded. Both Xena and the Bard were grateful. Xena knew it would take time for her soulmate to work through the pain and over time it would lessen. While they were eating Lila blurted her excitement about the upcoming celebration.

“What celebration?” Totally in the dark about the celebration Gabrielle asked with curiosity.

“Xena … didn’t you tell Gabrielle about the celebration!” Shaking her head pretending to be irritated Cyrene slapped her daughter in the head.

Gabrielle looked to Xena for an answer. “I’m sorry…I meant too, I just…well we just…”

“Oh come on Warrior … you were a coward.” Eponin was now enjoying how the tables were turning. “I can’t believe this beautiful little blonde still scares you. I thought when you surrendered – the fear went away.”

Xena knew Eponin was thoroughly enjoying this whole situation. Turning to face Gabrielle, who was actually smiling Xena, decided to use charm. “Sweetie…I..”

“SWEETIE.” Everyone roared with laughter and surprise over the mighty Xena Warrior Princess Destroyer of Nations using the endearing term ‘sweetie’. Of course, between laughter Eponin could not let this opportunity go by. “Oh boy … does she have you around her little finger.”

Xena was dismayed to find everyone else laughing and agreeing with Eponin. Placing her elbows on the table and her hands up to cover her face the Warrior just shook her head not too sure what to do. Within seconds Gabrielle had her arm around her lover’s waist pulling her strong hands from her face. Kissing her on the cheek reassuringly the Bard looked at the four laughing women. Then decided quickly to focus on one Amazon Warrior. “Oh Eponin might I remind you of one tiny little thing.” Gabrielle was holding her fingers in a position to indicate the size of ‘tiny’. The Amazon’s laughter stopped abruptly and she knew this was the end. She was in big, big trouble now. She should have known Gabrielle would come to Xena’s rescue. Sitting back in her chair she closed her eyes waiting for the attack. With a huge smirk crossing her face Gabrielle said, “Eponin, keep one thing in mind … your dagger will not keep you warm at night.”

With that statement the eruption of laughter from the women became uncontrollable. Eponin’s eyes burst open wide! Looking at a smiling Gabrielle she began shaking her finger, as if threatening to get her back. The Amazon knew, however, she could never hope to out master a Bard with words and instead began to join the laugher. “Xena, you are indeed fortunate my friend…so when is the wedding?”

The Warrior looked to her soulmate. “As soon as I can find someone who will perform the marriage.”

Gabrielle took Xena’s hand to hold nodding her agreement about their marriage and then added, “Xena, I love you, but you are avoiding the original question. Why don’t I know about this celebration?”

“I thought a small private celebration might be helpful. We have so many people that care about us and rather than spend our time traveling all over Greece…well I thought bringing them here might be a good idea. You and I can use a celebration. Please don’t be mad…I was so worried about you.”

Gabrielle gave Xena a huge bear hug and a kiss on the cheek. “It’s okay Xena. I understand. So when is this celebration and who is coming?”

Cyrene took this opportunity to speak up. “The celebration is the day after tomorrow and since yesterday I think we are up to fifty-eight villagers, six messages were sent out and who knows how many Amazons will show up. Although I already know Toris, Hercules and Iolaus are too far away to make it in time. But they should be here in time for the wedding.”

“MOTHER … I said small … private.”

“Yes dear, and you also promised me to tell Gabrielle. So I guess we are now even.” Cyrene was rather pleased with her justification.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

CHAPTER 4
The day before the celebration the Amazons started to arrive. From Alexos Tavern, the four rebels, dressed in peasant clothes watched Shulaba leading the Amazons into Amphipolis. Leandra mused there must be at least fifty of them, including Teklai. Maris was not too concerned and felt they could easily mix in among the villagers, friends and family. They would not be looking for the rebels, especially dressed as peasants and Leandra added that because there were so many to protect Gabrielle and Shulaba they would get careless.

Shulaba and the Amazons were excited and loud when Gabrielle and Xena walked out of the inn to greet them. Both looked tired and while Gabrielle did not seem to be quite her normal playful self she took on the roll of a true Amazon Queen. While her soulmate went around to talk with each and every Amazon, Xena was able to pull both Shulaba and Teklai aside and fill them in on the death of Gabrielle’s mother and the abuse by her father. Even though Shulaba knew of the abuse she said nothing to the Warrior. She also briefly mentioned Caesar and their rebirth but did not expand on the events. Cyrene insisted Shulaba and Teklai stay at the inn while the rest of the Amazons would camp near the stable owned by the innkeeper. The villagers all came out of their shops and homes to watch the Amazons enter Amphipolis. Many stopped them to shake hands and welcome the women. The village was always supportive of the Amazons.

Amarice took it upon herself to follow Gabrielle around, as she spoke with the Amazons individually or in small groups. *You really are a good Queen. I really underestimated you Gabrielle.* The young redhead noted after several candlemarks of constant conversation and demands of the Amazons that her young Queen was appearing slightly shaken. While never close enough to hear the topics and certainly not close enough for Gabrielle to realize she was following her around, Amarice noticed the change in her Queen’s posture and her eyes seem to be having a difficult time focusing. Looking around she wondered where Xena was. It was obvious that Gabrielle would need rescuing any minute now. Suddenly Gabrielle appeared to loose her balance and Amarice bolted to her side taking her by the arm offering support. “My Queen…” looking directly into Gabrielle’s eyes Amarice continued without causing embarrassment to Gabrielle in front of the Amazons, “Cyrene said the noon meal is ready and she is looking for you.”

Knowing full well that this young redhead was aware of her weaken state, she simply answered. “Yes, thank you Amarice.” Turning to the women she was talking with, “You’ll have to excuse me, when Cyrene calls…well she’s a mom and means business.” The Amazons laughed and nodded respectfully as Amarice led Gabrielle away. Walking toward the inn Gabrielle thanked Amarice and asked her if she’d like to join several other Amazons and herself later on that afternoon. Amarice was receptive and thought it might give her a chance to talk to Gabrielle about Eponin. The Queen was happy that Amarice agreed and asked if she would not mine coming to get her, when the other Amazon’s were settled and had eaten a noon meal.

All the women except Xena began consuming much more ale than needed. Eventually the subject of Maris and her companions came up, as well as Shulaba’s request for Xena and Gabrielle to come to the Amazon village. Gabrielle needed to take her rightful place as Queen, in front of the nation. Xena agreed to do so but not until Gabrielle was feeling better and they were married. The Warrior wanted to give Gabrielle longer to rest and heal before facing the demands of an Amazon Queen. Here in Amphipolis the women would not demand the attention or bring problems to Gabrielle as they would, if on Amazon territory. Missing Gabrielle terribly and realizing that she had been outside with the Amazons in the heat for much too long the Warrior excused herself to find her lover. She was pleased that Amarice took the responsibility of watching out for her lover, as it was important for Xena to talk with Shulaba. In the process of moving to the door Gabrielle and Amarice came through the entrance. It was very apparent to Xena that Gabrielle was not feeling well and Amarice had a strong grip on her. Xena rushed to help Amarice and pulled her lover into an embrace.

“Gabrielle, what happened, you okay?” Xena was concerned and began to feel a bit guilty.

Allowing herself to fall into Xena’s embrace, she answered in a low voice. “Yes, I’m just tired and a bit hungry.” Looking over to Amarice she reached for the young woman’s hand. “Thank you Amarice. I owe you one.”

“No you don’t my Queen…for you I am here, always.” Amarice turned and walked out the door followed from a distance by Eponin. The Amazon Warrior needed to find a way to talk to Amarice….and so far her stubbornness would not allow her to surrender even a little bit.

Shulaba came up to Gabrielle and Xena. “So how is it going between the stubborn warrior and the little redhead? Have any bets been placed yet?”

Both women shook their heads and laughed. Gabrielle said, “Shulaba you are a wonderful Queen and no the bets have not been placed…..yet.”

“Mmmm, I think I’ll get the bets started. Oh and Gabrielle I might add you are the Queen … thank the gods!”

“Shulaba, I ….”

“No my Queen…do not refuse your destiny.”

“You will remain as Regent then…please.” Gabrielle was happy that Shulaba agreed and reached out to hug her. Returning her gaze to Xena. “Come on Warrior, help me to the kitchen I need to eat, spend time with you….and catch up on all the kisses and hugs I’ve missed over the past several candlemarks.” Xena had no problem with this request and led her lover to the kitchen.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

After sharing a midday meal with her soulmate along with tender displays of affection, Gabrielle regained her strength and was actually feeling better. Cyrene, Lila, employees and Amazons wandered in and out of the kitchen but no one disturbed the two lovers sitting at the corner table enjoying time spent without interruption. Cyrene was especially pleased that Gabrielle was pulling herself out of her sadness with the help of Xena. *That was all she needed…to talk about the pain.*

Eventually the peacefulness was disrupted by an arriving Joxer tripping through the entrance of the kitchen, followed by Minya and Autolycus. The Warrior and her Bard gladly greeted the trio of misfits and Xena focused the topic of conversation on their three friends. A protective Xena just did not want too many questions directed at Gabrielle. Since they returned from the temple her Bard mentioned nothing about her mother or father. Keeping her arm around Gabrielle’s waist the Warrior took joy in her soulmates happy reaction to their friends. *My sweet Gabrielle, be happy right now. I know we must visit the gravesite of your mother. I just need you too…* Just then Xena realized Joxer was pulling on Gabrielle’s arm in his typical Joxer-type outburst. Before she could do anything to stop Joxer someone grabbed him by his ear and pulled him back causing him to trip and fall.

The young redhead who had pulled Joxer by force looked at Xena. “What is that?”

Xena raised her eyebrows. “It’s a Joxer.”

Lila rushed to Joxer and helped him off the floor. As he was rubbing his ear screaming ouch, Lila was dragging him into the front room. She had such a crush on him. Thanking Amarice with a Warrior smile and nod of the head Xena asked, “Do you need to see me for something?”

“No.” Amarice turned her eyes to Gabrielle and extended her hand. “My Queen are you ready.”

Gabrielle turned to Xena giving her a hug and a kiss filled with promises to come. “See you later … okay!”

Xena hung on to Gabrielle’s tunic. “Whoa my Bard -just a minute. Where exactly are you going?”

“Staff practice. Some of the Amazons have been practicing and we thought a demonstration at the celebration might be fun.”

“Okay. I’ll find Eponin and we will watch.”

The Bard placed her hand out to stop the Warrior. “Oh no you don’t my love. This is a closed practice. I want it to be a surprise. Why don’t you go talk to Eponin about a certain little redhead.”

Not sure whether to be happy over the suggestion that she should torture Eponin for a while or jealous that her soulmate was spending time with a bunch of Amazons, the Warrior relinquished, “Well, since you won’t let me watch, I guess I’ll go grab Eponin for sword practice….and a bit of torture.” As Xena watched her soulmate skip off with Amarice, a part of her was contended that the two women appeared to be building a friendship. But most of the Warrior’s happiness was to see Gabrielle beginning to bounce back from sadness.

Minya interrupted the Warrior from her musing with a slap to the back. “See Xena…..I told you she was yours.”

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Before the sun rose over the village of Amphipolis the Warrior was awake. Not disturbing her soulmate she just wanted to soak in the warmth of Gabrielle’s body snuggling with her. Gabrielle had been very aggressive in their love making last night. Nothing cruel or forceful she just seemed to have an awful abundance of energy. *Just what did you do in that staff practice my Bard. You were very difficult to settle down last night…not that I minded.* Xena could not resist and slid her hand over the thigh Gabrielle had draped over the Warrior’s hip. Caressing the softness of the skin and the strength of Gabrielle’s muscles the craving within the Warrior beckoned her to crawl up her lover’s thighs to the treasure that always waited for her to claim.

Her hand reached around her lover’s waist gently pulling Gabrielle on top of her. Lifting Gabrielle’s head that was now resting just below the Warrior’s chin, she pressed her lips to her soulmates. The kiss caused Gabrielle to automatically respond and she opened her mouth slipping her tongue out for Xena to take. Deep sleepy groans slipped through Gabrielle, as her body started to respond before her eyes would open. The Warrior felt Gabrielle’s hands massage her breasts and Xena pulled her kiss away.

“Oh no my love….I want you and I won’t take no for an answer.” Gabrielle opened her eyes to find a very seductive pair of deep blue eyes digging deeply into her heart. Xena again claimed the lips of her soulmate with passion. She explored and tasted – feeling secure in the love they shared. Slowly Xena began to pull Gabrielle over her head stopping to give caressing attention to each breast. The same perfectly shaped mounds that use to drive her to perimeter checks years ago for want of tasting and holding them. Her sucking and licking caused several sharp gasps and cries of ecstasy from Gabrielle. Sliding underneath the athletic body of her lover Xena pushed Gabrielle upward until her curly golden center of pleasure was resting over Xena’s tongue.

The first lick caused uncontrollable shutters and tremors from Gabrielle. The Warrior had her heart and soul. Gabrielle with complete trust allowed Xena to own her. Xena increased the pattern and motion of her tongue and lips – pleasuring her future wife. The taste and wetness drove the Warrior mad with desire and she could feel her own need growing. Without asking Xena felt Gabrielle arch her back and slide her hands down to the Warriors wetness. Passionately the Bard rubbed her fingers in Xena’s velvet wetness causing the Warrior to rotate her hips to meet the dancing fingers and hand of her lover. Both were very close to the edge this morning and as Gabrielle increased the circular rubbing of Xena’s wet center, the Warrior increased the same motion with her tongue over Gabrielle’s swollen folds. The rotation of hips matched each other in speed and direction. The Bard cried out for Xena to take her and together they rode their orgasms as one body, one soul and one heart.

Collapsing in her lover’s arms the Bard peeked up at Xena. “I love it when you wake me up like that!” The soulmates giggled for awhile remembering all the mornings they shared together and all the different ways they woke each other up.

The knock on the door came sooner than they hoped. Cyrene’s voice bellowed good morning from the other side, as she passed by their room. “Mom sure likes to do that. Knock and leave.”

Deciding it was indeed time to get up both wanted to eat a morning meal and spend time with Cyrene before their guests started waking up for the celebration. The Warrior was pleased with the shopping they did yesterday after Gabrielle was finished with staff practice. Xena was able to pick out a black leather tunic similar to her last one. This time there was no metal clasps holding the shoulder straps. Instead leather ties held the straps in place. The tunic length was slightly longer but not by much. The leather ties holding the tunic together were now across her breasts. The Warrior also purchased upper arm and wrist bracers made of black leather stamped with circular designs reminding her of the chakram.

Over the top of her leathers she chose a gold breastplate similar to the last one only this plate lacked the shoulder guards. A sturdy leather strap fastened to the back of the plate allowing her to carry the sheathed sword, as before. Today, however, Xena would leave the sword behind. The black leather boots had upper side fasteners and pulled on fairly easy stopping just below her knees. For now she decided against the knee guards. Xena included a black leather belt around her waist with a hook for her chakram and a pouch for a small dagger. The chakram would also be left in her room for today’s celebration. The Warrior decided only the dagger would remain at her side.

“By the gods Gabrielle it feels so good to be back in leather!” Turning to face her soulmate the Warrior could not speak, as her eyes filled with so much of her soulmate. “GABRIELLE … there is no way I’m letting you out of this room until you put some clothes on!”

Totally pleased with the reaction she received Gabrielle responded. “Xena, I do have clothes on.”

Xena walked up to her Bard taking her by the arm and turning Gabrielle to face her. “Gabrielle, I’m serious. This was not the clothing we bought for you yesterday.”

“I know that. This is the new Amazon clothing Shulaba gave me as a gift. I need to wear it today. Especially since I’m the Queen. I don’t want to hurt Shulaba’s feelings or allow the Amazons to think I do not wish to be apart of their culture.”

“You don’t want their feelings hurt!!! Well what about mine?? I do not want everyone drooling all over you!!.”

Gabrielle pulled her arm away from Xena’s grasp. “Listen no one will touch me but you. I love you Xena, remember? I am marrying you … remember??? Now help me with the bracers.” The Warrior made no attempt to move so the Bard pulled on Xena’s arm and reached up to kiss her lover.

*I’m so weak…oh Gabrielle…how do you get me to cave in so easily.* Xena increased the passion of their kiss and in return could feel the love radiating from Gabrielle. The Warrior’s heart and soul told her inner fears to calm down … this Bard was indeed all hers.

Later in the morning Cyrene and Amarice helped Gabrielle braid portions of her hair with strips of leather, beads and owl feathers. Even after the passion of their kiss the soulmates got into a dispute over Gabrielle’s Amazon skirt and the Warrior eventually threw her arms in the air and left. Gabrielle had not seen her since. The Bard was angered by Xena’s jealousy and allowed her own temper to fuel the argument. Once Gabrielle calmed down she understood that it was not a lack of trust, rather it was Xena’s fear of loosing her soulmate. Death had damaged their self-confidence and Gabrielle realized her Warrior was still blaming herself for the pain Gabrielle went through and that her obsession with Caesar is what eventually killed the Bard.

“My Queen, did you hear what Cyrene just said? She asked if you would like some lemon tea.” Amarice noticed how suddenly Gabrielle drifted off and she also was aware there had been a small fight between the lovers. It did not take an oracle to read the Warrior’s anger, as she paced the kitchen earlier refusing to speak with anyone.

“Oh yes. I’m sorry Cyrene…my mind was just drifting.”

The innkeeper smiled at Gabrielle and set off to make the tea. Cyrene was amazed how this young Amazon Queen truly regulated the mood of those around her without even attempting to do so. Cyrene’s employees became suddenly formal around Gabrielle. When the blonde Amazon first entered the kitchen, Uncle Tensandi who agreed to help Cyrene tend bar bowed respectfully. The innkeeper smirked and whispered to Gabrielle that Uncle Tensandi never bowed for anyone. Upon hearing this Gabrielle immediately bowed her head acknowledging his sign of respect. Uncle Tensandi left the kitchen with a small bounce to his step and the three women broke apart with laughter.

By midday Gabrielle’s hair, which was now hanging just above her shoulders was completed. Cyrene and Amarice entered the main room followed by the Amazon Queen. Xena saw her immediately. The beauty and power illuminating from her soulmate brought tears to her eyes. The Warrior was not the only one who was captivated by Gabrielle. The inn was filled with several Amazons but the majority was villagers. Everyone stopped to watch this gorgeous woman enter. Whether it was just the mystique of her rank as Queen or the awe of the Queen being Gabrielle … either way it did not matter for she stopped everyone’s heart. The clothing she wore was made of deer hide and beaten until it was soft and pliable exposing every curve and muscle. The skirt was a short wrap-around with slits up the sides exposing more of Gabrielle’s muscular thighs than Xena wanted.

Even after Gabrielle reassured the Warrior of her love, they argued about the amount of thigh Gabrielle was exposing and Xena eventually stormed out of their room angry. Once she cooled off she was feeling rather foolish in her jealousy. When Xena decided to talk to her soulmate about her reoccurring underlying fear that Gabrielle would leave her, the Bard was already in the kitchen with her mother. Now as she observed her soulmate, Xena was relieved to see that several leather ties were in place stopping the slit where the Warrior had originally demanded … upper mid thighs. A beautiful leather belt composed of a complex design woven with various color beads wrapped around the Queen’s waist holding the skirt in place.

Thin strips of leather adorned with delicate seashells gracefully hung down from the belt dancing in front, as Gabrielle walked. Her top was a halter style with an extremely low cut held together by six tiny golden clasps. The halter very generously revealed Gabrielle’s tight abdomen, bewitching breasts and powerful shoulder blades. There was not a whole lot left to the imagination except the fantasy of bedding this beauty. On her wrists the Queen wore leather bracers to match her clothing. Her feet were protected with the finest brown leather boots. Each boot had leather ties half way above the ankle to secure the footwear to her calf with the length cutting just below the knees. Around her neck she wore the traditional rawhide necklace with a single bear tooth and several small sparrow feathers.

Gabrielle entered the room, slowing down when she realized everyone was watching her. There were numerous whistles and groans of appreciation, as she moved further into the room. She was searching for Xena and finally caught sight of her standing by the fireplace. Remembering their argument Gabrielle could instantly tell by the look on Xena’s face that her Warrior was feeling slightly overwhelmed and fearful of the type of attention she was receiving, as Amazon Queen.

The whistles increased in number and Gabrielle saw Xena lower her head. With complete control and pride Gabrielle instantly became the Amazon Queen. Her walk became determined and her eyes honed in on their target. People began moving out of the way, as Gabrielle made her way straight for Xena. Looking up just in time, the Warrior saw the emerald eyes of her lover. Gabrielle winked which instantly sent Xena a message. The Warrior reached down pulling Gabrielle up to meet her lips. In this single kiss Gabrielle allowed Xena to mark her territory, laying claim as the Queen’s Champion.

When the kiss ended, Xena led Gabrielle to a corner table where the patrons already sitting there moved quickly and respectfully leaving the table available for the Queen. The crowd followed the two women with their eyes. Xena sat down in a chair and motioned for Gabrielle to sit in the chair next to her. The Queen had other plans and instead sat on the Warrior’s lap straddling her thighs facing Xena. Interweaving her fingers with the long black raven hair Gabrielle pulled her Champion in for a passionate kiss. The kiss did what Gabrielle hoped for … the crowd quieted down and went back to private conversations.

The Warrior was consumed in the love her soulmate was pouring on her. Severing the kiss for the rich luscious skin within her reach Xena trailed her lips to Gabrielle’s neck sucking and biting lightly. The Queen’s breasts were right in front of her and the Warrior tilted her head to kiss the warm flesh. Running and sliding her tongue into the exposed cleavage elicited sensual moans from her Bard.

“Ahem…excuse me Xena.” With a slanted eyebrow and a smirk across her face Cyrene placed two mugs of ale in front of them, followed by plates of food. “You two need to calm down. Here EAT … please!”

Glancing at each other Gabrielle moved to the next chair and the soulmates laughed over Cyrene’s interference, as they enjoyed their meal. Eventually Eponin, Amarice, Shulaba and Teklai joined the couple and raved about the rumors spreading through the inn on how the Warrior conquered the Queen. Leaning over Xena whispered in her lover’s ear. “Sweetie … we both know it is you who conquered me. But thank you again for letting it look the other way.”

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

By late afternoon the celebration was in full swing and everyone was becoming anxious for the special Amazon staff demonstration. Knowing full well what the type of performance the people of Amphipolis were going to see Shulaba deferred her right to introduce the Amazons to the village council. After the council bickered, straws were drawn and Memnos, the village healer won the honor to introduce the women.

Memnos stepped up on the wooden platform constructed especially for this performance and addressed the participants of the celebration, which by now became the entire village. “Folks thanks to Cyrene,” Memnos bowed to the innkeeper, “we have a wonderful celebration today – a celebration about life. Thanks to Queen Gabrielle and Regent Shulaba our guests have a special Amazon drill team which will entertain us with a special staff demonstration. I’ve seen these beautiful women in practice…and…” Memnos wiped his brow, “…if any of you find your heart rate increasing – don’t bother me until after the performance.” This comment elicited a huge roar of laughter from the crowd.

Approximately two hundred paces away sitting outside of the inn were Xena, Eponin, Cyrene, Lila and Shulaba. Close by Autolycus, Minya and Joxer were mingling with the villagers and Amazons. Eponin was not too sure to liked what Memnos was insinuating and turned to Xena. “What exactly did he mean by that!!”

Xena shrugged her shoulder. Neither she nor Eponin were allowed into the private practice so they had no idea what style this demonstration would take on. “Don’t worry Eponin, the old man’s heart probably increases whenever he comes near an Amazon. After all it was only a staff demonstration.” Although the Warrior had not been happy with Gabrielle’s choice in clothing for the day, she assumed a staff demonstration was all business. Her Bard always took practice serious. Now, however, she began wondering what other mischief her little Bard might have created. Pulled from her thoughts by Gabrielle, Amarice and the Amazons stepping on the platform, the Warrior sighed at the sight of her lover looking so beautiful. Feeling proud that Gabrielle chose her above everyone else in the world Xena thanked the Creator first and then all the gods one by one.

Five Amazons began a steady slow pulsing thump on a deep bass drum reminding the audience of a heartbeat. Twelve Amazons, including Gabrielle, moved through various warm-up swings and stretches with their staffs. Next they formed three rows in offsetting positions so all twelve women could be seen. Matching the cadence of the drums the Amazons began to tap the end of their staffs to the wooden platform. Soon three more drums joined the rhythm adding a deeper tempo to the already arousing beat. Without warning the drill team began to slowly sway their hips and shoulders back and forth keeping pace with the drumbeats. This enticing movement from the scantly clothed Amazons sparked several howls of appreciation from both men and women in the audience.

Several metal drums joined causing the acceleration of the rhythm and giving the musical impression of lungs matching a heartbeat. Picking up their staffs the women took several pivotal steps forward before dropping to their knees. Above their heads the staffs were held high. Immediately four Amazons playing massie cymbals could be heard causing the pace of the drums to increase. From their knees the drill team performed a series of intricate revolutions and acrobatic maneuvers with the staffs. Abruptly all the music stopped. The Amazons jumped to their feet and paired off, giving the impression that a battle would follow. Each couple began executing complex jabs and thrusts against their partner.

All that the listeners could hear were the slapping and banging of wood against wood. Each timed to precision … not a beat was missed. From the silence the five bass drums emerged once again setting the cadence with a hypnotic deep thumping and pounding. The team maneuvered like wild animals’ back into their original rows. Everyone watching started to clap hands with the vibrating pulse of the drum. As before, the Amazons made repeated taps with their staffs to the platform floor.

This time more force was applied and the crowd could witness the strength and flexing of muscles on each Amazon body holding a staff. Slowly and intentionally each woman proceeded to rotate her hips sexually. Before the bellowing whistles from the crowd could die down each member of the drill team held their staff vertically with their body. The bottom tip of the staff touching the platform remained stationary, as each woman began lowering the top portion at an angle forcing them to seductively crawl, in small steps a determined path up the slanted staffs. At no time did their bodies actually touch the staff, however the suggestive gyration of their hips and the arching of their backs, shaking of their shoulders and closing of their eyes sent a seriously sexual messaged to the crowd watching.

To make the atmosphere more erotic the music turned very seductive forcing wolf howls and propositions from the audience to the Amazons on stage. The clapping crowd helped the drums keep cadence to the staff crawl. The drill team had total control of their audience – men and women. As the crawl ended team members dropped their staffs to the platform and continued to maintain a straddling position. The masse cymbals and all drums now joined together controlling the rhythm once again.

Each Amazon laced their fingers seductively through her hair and feathers shaking and rocking her head in coordination with the gyration of her hips and shoulders. In unison the team continued the dance of seduction adding in several slow hops to the steps and pelvis thrusts, as they backed down the length of the fallen staffs. Ultimately each Amazon picked up their staff pounding the end twice to the platform and the music abruptly stopped.

Villagers and non-performing Amazons were totally aroused and out of control with excitement and enthusiasm. Many shouted and screamed for the team to repeat the performance, several villagers rushed the platform. The drill team disbanded with laughter at the overwhelming acceptance they received. Gabrielle and Amarice almost fell to the ground while hugging each other like happy little girls. Everyone was so positive and the compliments, as well as propositions, became overwhelming for the drill team.

Clapping and whistling with fascination over the wonderful performance Shulaba, Cyrene and Lila turned to speak with Xena and Eponin. Both warriors stood frozen in place. Their mouths were dropped wide open and both had eyes as big as the moon. Cyrene knew her daughter well enough to realize this reaction was not good. * Well I have two choices. I can rub it in and tease Xena a bit or I can settle her down so she does not kill anyone.*

It only took a moment for the innkeeper to choose the first option. *Oh well, people around Xena will just have to duck, when her fist comes close to them.* The innkeeper positioned herself right in front of her daughter and Eponin. “Dear, the performance is over, you can close your mouth now.” Cyrene could not resist laughing at the reaction she was witnessing in both warriors. “Wasn’t it wonderful … Gabrielle and Amarice were just…..just so very…..sexy!” Cyrene knew full well she was stepping out on a limb and at that moment she did not care. This was just too much fun for the innkeeper.

Neither warrior could respond to Cyrene’s comments. They both heard her but neither could find a voice to answer. Xena could not believe what she saw. Her Gabrielle dancing seductively and erotically with a bunch of Amazons for all of Amphipolis to see…..and with a staff…..and everyone including her own mother thought it was perfectly okay. Men and women howled at her Bard and they offered Gabrielle a night of suggestive entertainment. Xena wanted to clobber Eponin for teaching Gabrielle the staff but when she looked at her friend, she was just as shocked.

Both Lila and Shulaba loved the demonstration and motioned for Cyrene to join them in congratulating all the women. Xena began to unfreeze and continued to look around at the reactions from the villagers and other Amazons. A short distance behind Xena was Joxer who had passed out and was now face down kissing the dirt. Seconds later Minya bolted by Xena mumbling something about staff lessons. Autolycus was right behind Minya and as he passed by Xena he quickly volunteered his services should Xena ever need anyone to father a child for Gabrielle. If the Warrior was not so shocked, so jealous, so angry…and if she could move faster she would have kill Autolycus for the suggestion.

Uncle Tensandi finally tapped Xena and Eponin on the shoulders. “Great performance … you two going to go congratulate them. I can’t believe they really pulled that off.”

The Warrior with teeth gritting turned to her uncle. “What do you mean pull it off.”

Laughing and a bit surprised at his niece’s reaction Tensandi explained. “I let them use my barn for practice, they swore me to secrecy. I thought the villagers might find it a bit too….well you know. But the council loved it. It would seem the whole village loved the performance!”

The two warriors stormed to the inn only to be greeted by the Captain of the Royal Guard who was blocking their entrance.

“Get out of the way Teklai!” Eponin ordered.

Teklai just grinned at the two warriors and crossed her arms. “Now if that was my woman on that platform dancing seductively, invitingly and I might add executing superb staff maneuvers, I would first be extremely proud that she was my woman. Second I would make sure I told her how proud I was and third I would be right at her side making sure no one else tried to claim her. And last but not least I would ask for a private performance. Let’s face it warriors….it can only get better! But a word of warning … don’t wait too long or your beds might be cold tonight….and probably for some time.”

Staring at the boldness of the Captain who dare cross rank to confront them, both immediately realized the wisdom in her words. Simultaneously they turned around to notice how the crowd was already swallowing Gabrielle and Amarice. The village musicians joined in with the Amazons to play what was now known as the Staff Song. Everyone began dancing, bumping and grinding … being silly, loud and having fun. No one cared who his or her partner was. Others began eating and drinking the food and ale donated by every business in town. The Warrior patted her friend on the back. “Teklai is right. And Gabrielle has been hurt enough. I sure don’t need to add to her pain by my own jealousy.”

Eponin was not sure she was in complete agreement and questioned the Warrior. “Xena, they seduced this village with their…..bodies….and…and…and…”

“You’re stuttering Eponin. Listen, if you want to loose a chance with Amarice then that is your business. I do not plan to loose Gabrielle.” The Warrior glanced at her friend who looked puzzled. “Come on Eponin, you’ll catch on after awhile. It took me two years to admit I love Gabrielle. Do Amarice a favor and yourself, move faster.”

Maris and Leandra were also amused with the performance. “Maris…before we kill Gabrielle … I want time with her.”

The rebel leader slapped her companion on the back confirming she had no trouble with that request. “When you are done … then I will also have a turn.”

Stella was already located among the crowd close to the inn preparing to cause a distraction for Xena and Eponin. Pippa was standing behind Maris and Leandra listening to them changing their plans. The problem now became larger. Not only were they going to murder this woman, they now planned to kidnap and rape the beautiful Queen. In her heart the good started to surface over the desire to be needed, which was the only reason, she stayed with Maris and her gang. The littlest Amazon decided she would find a way to warn Gabrielle.

The crowd of people around Gabrielle and Amarice were too many for Leandra to just stroll in and take the young blonde. Plus as long as Amarice stayed close, she for sure would recognize Leandra. No longer contended with just killing her, the assassin would need to make a few adjustments to the plan they spoke of earlier today.

After some pushing, shoving and hearing way too many suggestive comments about their women the two warriors finally stood face to face with Gabrielle and Amarice. Both were somewhat out of breath and appeared frustrated. The Warrior discovered that the closer she got to Gabrielle the more fear she had of loosing her to someone else. Now that she was standing in front of her soulmate Xena froze unable to touch her.

Gabrielle was extremely happy to see Xena. She began to worry, when Xena appeared to be walking away. The Bard actually grabbed Amarice and had intended on chasing after her. The last thing Gabrielle wished for was to have Xena mad at her for the demonstration. Now her lover was standing in front of her appearing to stop short, as if she was holding back from touching Gabrielle. It did not take long for Gabrielle to realize the Warrior seemed upset and confused. “Xena, what’s wrong?” Not getting any response, the Bard moved closer to her soulmate reached up and pulled Xena in for a kiss. The Warrior welcomed the warm and tender lips of her soulmate and sighed with relief. Gabrielle heard the sigh and she stopped the kiss allowing several groans of disapproval slip from Xena. “What is wrong Xena. Are you angry at me?”

“By the gods I love you. Don’t ever leave me.” Xena petitioned Gabrielle’s lips with force and the Bard reciprocated, as their bodies pressed tightly sealing any chance of even air coming between them.

Neither one was watching the interaction between Eponin and Amarice. Only Shulaba and Cyrene noticed, as the two stood and looked deeply into the other’s eyes. “They are both stubborn Cyrene…I don’t know about this.”

“Have faith Shulaba. Have faith.” Cyrene patted her Amazon friend on the shoulder and the two walked back to the inn for some food and drink.

About half way back Teklai came running up to them. “Shulaba where is Gabrielle. Maris is in the village.” The trio ran back to where they had just left the four women.

Calm and completely in control of her emotions, as only the Captain of the Royal Guard should be, Teklai nudged the Warrior on the shoulder interrupting a kiss. “Xena we have a problem. Maris is in the village, and we’ve captured two of the rebels.”

Not wanting to break away the Warrior looked down at her lover. “We better get back to the inn. You are not safe out here.” Gabrielle placed one more kiss on Xena’s lips and allowed her soulmate to lead her to safety. Eponin and Amarice followed closely behind. Eponin cursed slightly at the disruption because she was beginning to get brave enough to at least ask Amarice, if she could hold her hand.

At the inn, Pippa was sitting on a bench in the corner with her hands tied while four Amazons guarded the young rebel. Stella had ropes binding her wrists and ankles and was sitting on the floor outside of the kitchen surrounded by six Amazon guards and Uncle Tensandi. Teklai explained how Pippa came to the inn trying to find Gabrielle and she immediately recognized the young rebel and ordered her arrest. Soon after, Stella came rushing in only to see we already had hold of the little one. She tried to fight and Uncle Tensandi quickly took her down from the behind.

Being the tender emotional woman that made her a good Queen, Gabrielle walked over to the young rebel. The expression across this child’s face was fear and loss and the Bard saw these emotions. As Gabrielle sat down across from the child, she could see that her face was bruised, her arms and legs had marks from punches and scratches. And Gabrielle could relate to the fear, loss and the pain of abuse. As Gabrielle attempted to maintain control of her emotions, it was difficult for her not to react as the memories of her own pain began to creep back in. The Bard covered her face with her hands to hold back tears and regroup. Xena, Shulaba and Cyrene witnessed the emotional drain that swept over Gabrielle and they presumed her memories of abuse were flooding her heart. Without words the Warrior sat on the bench next to her soulmate and wrapped her arm around Gabrielle’s waist. Soon Shulaba sat on the opposite side and Cyrene sat next to her daughter. Symbolically the Bard understood the support she was receiving from the three women.

Lowering her hands she took a deep breath and searched for Xena’s free hand to hold hers. Once the Warrior had a tight grip on them Gabrielle spoke very softly to the young rebel. “Teklai tells me your name is Pippa. Do you know who I am?”

The young rebel nodded her head and said, “You’re…you’re the Queen. Everyone thought you were dead.”

Gabrielle smiled, “Well, I’m not, although a lot of people thought so. Can I ask you why you are with the woman tied up in the corner?”

“Stella … she’s not so bad. It is the other two … Maris and Leandra. They want to kill you and more.”

The Warrior and Shulaba were both ready to jump in and pull the information out of this little girl, but Cyrene had a grip on Xena’s tunic and Shulaba new intervention would only lead to a reprimand later. She had not yet become as bold around Gabrielle as Ephiny had been. Gabrielle paused only a moment and asked, “What do you mean Pippa, when you say more. Did they plan to kill others?”

The young rebel was beginning to feel comfortable with this Queen. She was soft and gentle, she was pretty and she did not hit her. “They talked about killing Shulaba too. And I think they still want too, but they wanted to hurt you more.”

The protective nature in the Warrior was now running out of patience and she spoke up without giving Gabrielle an opportunity to ask more. “Pippa … do you like your Queen?” Xena motioned to Gabrielle. The young girl nodded her head yes. “Then will you please tell us what we need to hear to help protect her and Shulaba.” The Warrior felt her soulmate squeeze her hand and even though she knew she spoke out of turn Gabrielle did not disapprove.

“They want to kidnap the Queen and they each want to….to…” Pippa lowered her head in shame. “I’m sorry my Queen…I never wanted you to be harmed. I never wanted Shulaba to be killed. I came to warn you. Even if they kill me….I had to tell you.”

Once again Gabrielle’s heart controlled her actions and she reached out and untied the ropes holding Pippa’s hands in place. No one questioned the mercy Gabrielle was showing the young rebel. “Pippa, no one will hurt you. I will make sure you are safe, okay. Do you trust me?” The young girl nodded her head yes. “Then please tell me everything. My friends can’t protect me or Shulaba, if you don’t tell them.” The Warrior tightened her hold on Gabrielle’s waist and pulled her closer.

Pippa took a second to organize her thoughts. “At first Maris and Leandra were after Lila. They were going to kill her and blame it on Shulaba. Then when they found out you were alive, my Queen, they decided to kill you and Shulaba.” The Regent handed the rebel a cup of water. After taking a long drink she nodded her thanks and continued her explanation. “Then, when we found out about the celebration Maris thought they could kill you both here and still get away by hiding in the crowd. But, when….when they saw you dance.” Pippa lowered her head and fiddled with her clothing. “Well…they both decided they would kidnap you and…and ra…rape you many times. And then when they were done….well, they would kill you.”

Shulaba excused herself and went over to relay the information to Eponin and Amarice who were attempting to question Stella. At first Gabrielle said absolutely nothing and then she asked Pippa, if she was hungry – which she was. The Queen directed the guard to isolate her and give her something to eat. Her orders included that the child was not to be harmed in any way. Once Pippa was led away Gabrielle turned to face Xena and Cyrene. “I’m really not ready to talk to the other rebel. I…I need some time to think.”

Without hesitation the Warrior walked Gabrielle to their room. No sooner was the door closed and Gabrielle began to sob. Xena lifted her and carried her to the bed where she leaned her back against the headboard holding her soulmate on her lap. The Warrior knew exactly why Gabrielle was upset. It was partly for the pain Pippa had been through and the rest was for the horrible memories that were triggered by the young rebel’s abuse. Xena was angry with the rebels for threatening her lover with rape and death and the Warrior was angry with the Bard’s father. The pair stayed entwined until Gabrielle from shear exhaustion fell asleep. The Warrior refused to move and stayed holding her soulmate until there was a knock on the door. Sliding Gabrielle off her lap the Warrior discovered Eponin on the other side.

“Is Gabrielle all right? Xena, I know you don’t want to, but she is going to have to come and help us. The older rebel, Stella, is demanding to see her. She won’t talk to anyone else.”

In a concern voice the Warrior asked, “Eponin, did anyone beat her?”

Before Eponin could answer the Bard was standing next to Xena. “I will be extremely upset Eponin, if ANYONE beat that woman!”

The Amazon Warrior bowed respectfully to her Queen. “No … I made sure no one touched her. Any bruises she may have were not caused by any Amazon.”

The couple thanked Eponin and asked that she give them a moment to organize their thoughts. Once Eponin was gone the Warrior turned to find Gabrielle who was at the wash basin splashing cool water on her face. “Sweetie, why don’t you rest. I will talk to this rebel….and I promise no one will touch her.”

Doing only what comes natural for someone like Gabrielle, she slipped her wet arms around her soulmate and with a sweetness that tugged on Xena’s heart, Gabrielle pressed her lips to the woman she loved more than life. “Thank you my love – for holding me, protecting me and most of all for loving me so deeply. Let’s talk to this rebel together. The nap helped and you just being with me helped.”

Stella was moved to the storage room off the kitchen and the couple found she was still tied up sitting on the hard dirt floor. Standing tall and proud Gabrielle was still dressed in her Amazon leathers. The feathers from a white owl marking the wisdom of a queen were braided intricately in her blonde hair. Xena could not help but be proud of her soulmate. *You have come so far my love….so far.*

The fair-hair rebel raised her head to look up at the face of the Amazon Queen. “You are beautiful.”

Not at all happy with the forwardness of the rebel Xena stepped in front of Gabrielle with her hands balled tightly closed in anger. “Keep you tongue quiet or I am liable to cut it out!” The Warrior felt a soft small hand tugging on one fist. The gentleness caused Xena’s hand to open and instinctively the strong warlike fingers curled with the fingers of peace.

Not missing the physical exchange between the young woman and the harden warrior, Stella let smirk cross her face. She was well aware of Xena’s reputation and was amused by the power the Queen had over her. “I will speak to the Queen alone … Xena!”

Before Xena could object the Bard spoke up. “Then you have nothing to tell me.” Gabrielle turned to walk away.

“My Queen, I will talk to no one else.” Stella began to feel panic run through her veins.

Gabrielle heard fear and pain in Stella’s voice so she faced her once again. “Let’s get one thing clear rebel.” Squatting down at eye level with the fair-haired woman, Gabrielle continued. “I am in charge … not you. If I say Xena stays….then you better get use to it. Now do you still have something to tell me or not?”

Glaring up at Xena the rebel found the Warrior smiling proudly and tenderly at Gabrielle. Looking back at the Amazon Queen whose penetrating and commanding green eyes never left Stella, the rebel spoke. “Is Pippa okay?”

“Yes, she is being protected and fed. Who beat her?”

A small tear formed in Stella’s eyes taking both Gabrielle and Xena by surprise. “Maris mostly. I have never beaten or slapped her. I….I love her and I’m worried.”

It only took one look from Gabrielle to Xena and the Warrior knew what her lover was requesting. Xena bent over and untied the ropes from Stella’s hands and ankles. Shocked by this action Stella stayed on the ground and did not move. The next thing she could see was the Queen’s hand reaching out with an offer for Stella to accept. She hesitated and said, “My Queen, I can not accept your hand. I’ve betrayed you.”

“Didn’t I already tell you I was in charge.” Stella nodded her head. “Then take my hand Stella and tell me about this young child that you love.”

Once standing Xena offered Stella water, which she took with thanks. “Pippa is my daughter.”

“Stella, do you know about the murder attempt on the Queen and Regent.” Stella nodded yes so Xena continued. “And do you know Maris and Leandra planned to kidnap and rape Gabrielle before killing her.”

The Amazon rebel took two steps forward. She wanted to look directly into Xena’s eyes. It was important to Stella that the Warrior believes she would not lie. “I swear on the life of my daughter … no, I did not know of that plan. I only know they wanted to kill the Queen and I was to provide a distraction. Maris promised to let Pippa and I go when it was over.” Stella’s body slumped and she sat back on the ground with her hands covering her face. “I let my stupidity and stubbornness get in the way and….I only wanted to be with Pippa.” Several tears fell from Stella’s eyes. “You see…she…Pippa does not know I am her mother. I just so wanted to be with her….and make up for abandoning her….I was so young. I’m sorry my Queen for betraying you.”

Memories of Solan flooded the Warrior and she lowered her head. Quickly Gabrielle moved to stand in front of Xena wrapping her arms around the Warriors waist. The time spent in Illusia helped Xena heal the shame she felt for abandoning Solan. Now most of her sadness was caught up in scattered memories. Lifting Gabrielle’s chin the Warrior smiled and kissed her soulmates lips thanking her and softly whispered, “I’m okay…really. She just caught me off guard.” Xena focused her attention back to the rebel. “Stella … do you have any reason to think Maris and Leandra will stay around now that you’ve been captured?”

“No Xena. Maris is determined and Leandra is just an assassin. Their hate runs deep for the Amazons. They will do has they planned … it may just take them longer. They also believe that Amazon custom will execute any one of us that gets caught.”

Gabrielle reached over and patted Stella on the arm. “I have to hold you prisoner. You know that, don’t you.” Stella lowered her head and mumbled she understood. “I will arrange for you to see your daughter. Then I will have both of you taken back to the Amazon village. Stella, I can not guarantee the outcome of your trial, but I will do my best as long as you cooperate and do as I say.”

“Thank you my Queen.”

Gabrielle and Xena left the storage room to find Shulaba and Eponin. The first person to greet them was Cyrene. One look at Gabrielle’s face spoke volumes to Cyrene’s’ heart. She opened her arms hoping the Bard would accept her warmth and love. Gabrielle happily fell into them. At this moment, Gabrielle craved the love only a mom can give and she welcomed Warrior Mom’s offer to hold her and hug her. The Warrior stepped around behind her mother and ran her fingers through Gabrielle’s hair. “Gabrielle, I’m going to give instructions to Teklai about Stella and Pippa. Is that okay with you.”

Peeking up over Cyrene’s shoulder Gabrielle blew a friendly little kiss to Xena. “Yes please.” The innkeeper with Gabrielle in tow moved to the window seat and continued holding and hugging the young blonde for sometime.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Later that evening as the villagers and Amazons awoke from late afternoon naps, the celebration continued. The village musicians and the Amazons by now played and sounded beautiful together. The dancing and eating and drinking continued on pass the midnight candlemark. Xena sat on the bench in front of her mother’s inn with Gabrielle leaning up against her. The day’s activities finally caught up with Cyrene and bidding her daughters’ goodnight she shuffled off to bed. Joxer was passed out from consuming too much port and was laying somewhere under the platform where the Amazon’s performed earlier that day.

The couple could hear Minya deep in conversation with Shulaba and Teklai about becoming an Amazon. And no one knew where Autolycus was. Gabrielle assumed he found the company of several willing Amazons. After the capture of Stella and Pippa, members of the royal guard were sent throughout and around the boundaries of Amphipolis in search of Maris and Leandra. They came back with word that several villagers saw two women riding horses extremely fast out of the community stables almost running a child over. Sentry patrols were then sent out to pick up the trail. The trail eventually went cold, as the rebels headed into the mountains west of Amphipolis.

Completely enjoying the firm yet soft body she was cuddling up to the Bard realized that Eponin and Amarice had been missing for sometime now. “Xena, have you seen either Eponin or Amarice lately?”

With her eyes still closed the Warrior continued to soak in the pleasure of her lover’s body so close to her own. “Now that you mention it … no I have not seen either for awhile.”

The Bard sat up and looked to Xena. “Really……you think just maybe?”

Peeking through one eye Xena let her hand caress Gabrielle’s cheek. “After that performance the two of you gave…well let’s just say Eponin was extremely shocked and jealous. She definitely has it bad for Amarice.”

Feeling impish Gabrielle coyly asked. “Warrior, were you shocked and jealous?”

Clearing her throat it dawned on Xena that she just walked straight into a trap and with Gabrielle’s traps the only way out was honesty. “Well….yeah I guess I was surprised….and jealous.” Opening her eyes completely Xena smiled at her soulmate. “Listen once the shock wore off and I could move from my frozen state….well I was really proud of you, and….” Releasing a deep throaty growl of pleasure, “…and let’s just say your body stimulates poetry in my heart.”

“Really…mmmm…poetry?” The Bard was elated that not only did Xena notice, she even got a little bit jealous. Gabrielle would never admit that to Xena but it always made her spirit sparkle, when her Warrior became so possessive. *….And you are becoming so very mushy, my lover.*

Observing that her Bard suddenly got lost in thought Xena added to her response. “Yessss, I noticed and so did everyone else in the village!” Lifting Gabrielle’s hand to her lips the Warrior covered her hand with several tiny kisses and then sensually peered into those sea green eyes. *So, you are feeling a bit playful, my love.* Capturing the Bard’s face the Warrior pulled her close, as if she was going to kiss her soulmate but stopped short and whispered a seductive request. “But do you give private demonstrations?”

Gabrielle fell hopelessly into her lovers’ arms and the Warrior watched, as her soulmates playful eyes turned to that deep glazed-over green that meant Gabrielle was surrendering her body to Xena. “Mmmm…only for you my Warrior…only for you.”

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

CHAPTER 5
The day after the celebration the village was quiet. The Amazons were packing to return home with Stella and Pippa. Joxer left earlier with a horrible hangover mumbling something about visiting his grandmother for a cure. Cyrene managed to talk Minya into staying longer. The innkeeper openly admired the woman who not only stood up to Xena but continued to carry her daughter’s whip. Shulaba and Teklai decided to stay and wait for the wedding. Although Xena still had not found anyone to marry them, she knew once things settled down somewhat she would find someone. Everyone assumed Eponin and Amarice would stay although no one had seen them since last night. The only one left was Autolycus who was now sporting a black eye.

“Well Cyrene, once again thank you for an absolutely fantastic party.”

The innkeeper shoved away Autolycus’ offer to kiss her hand and pulled the King of Thieves into a big bear hug and kiss. “Don’t forget to come back for the wedding.”

“Aaaaah, yes. Well send out word. I won’t be too far.” The King of Thieves cautiously shook hands with Xena and tilted his head in respect to Gabrielle.

“Xena.”

Looking down into her lover’s smiling face Xena knew exactly what she was going to ask. “Yessss.”

“Who punched Autolycus in the right eye?”

Shulaba, Teklai, and Cyrene started giggling. Teklai could not resist squealing on the Warrior’s jealous temper. “Xena punched him. It was really a great hit too! Poor guy never saw it coming.” Giggles turned into laughter.

“And just when and why did you hit poor Autolycus?”

Realizing she was in big, big trouble Xena attempted to justify her reasoning. “Look – he had it coming. And I punched him, when you were with mom.” Xena could see Gabrielle’s raised eyebrow and that look. The look that told the Warrior she would be sleeping alone, if she did not explain. Xena turned and held her soulmates hands. “Gabrielle, after that dance … Autolycus was bold enough and stupid enough to tell me if I was ever looking for someone to be with you, so we could have children…well he wanted the job.”

“Children!” Gabrielle was caught off guard by the topic. Tenderly she slipped into the Warrior’s waiting arms and the giggling women stopped, realizing there would be no fireworks and left the couple alone. “Xena, you know we can’t have children without a man.”

“Gabrielle, I don’t care. Well … no, wait. I do care. We will just have to adopt or go on with our life without children.” The Warrior kissed Gabrielle on the lips tenderly. “I will not allow anyone else to touch you intimately and please don’t ask that of me!”

The thought of children never really crossed Gabrielle’s mind. After the loss of Solan and Hope, the Bard just assumed as long as they remained lovers – children would not be possible. Then after they died and were reborn Gabrielle understood that each of them would just move up the karmic ladder popping into different lives where the Creator destined them to be. She did not question the foolishness of her thoughts or the wisdom of the Creator. Gabrielle felt complete knowing she was Xena’s soulmate for all eternity. Memories of all the messengers, the various religious doctrines, the prophets and the gods came flooding back to Gabrielle. After four winters of trying to understand and find a place in her heart for all of them, Gabrielle finally concluded that there was indeed only one Creator running the show and the rest were all just a part of that Creator. Pulled from her thoughts she felt her soulmate running those strong fingers through her hair.

“Hey, where did you go Gabrielle? You okay?”

A smile grew over the Bard’s beautiful face. “Yes my Warrior. I will not ask you to do something that would cause you pain. When the time or desire comes for children … then we can decide. Right now more than anything I just want us to bond in front of people who love us.”

Relieved that she was not upset the Warrior led her soulmate outside. Pointing to the mountain north of Amphipolis Xena explained. “See the outcrop to the left of that mountain. Well there is an old temple priest up there. Before he retired he was the priest at Aphrodite’s temple … the one at Kolpos Bluff. I’m going to take Eponin and Shulaba with me and see if that old man will marry us.”

“Why can’t I go with you?”

Taking both of Gabrielle’s arms the Warrior bent over to look directly at Gabrielle. Xena did not want the Bard coming with her because she planned on making a special side trip to pick up a gift for her soulmate. It was something she ordered prior to their deaths and hoped that one day she would be able to give this to Gabrielle. A tender kiss grazed her lips pulling Xena from her thoughts. “Gabrielle, if you come with me, then there is no one left behind to monitor mother. You know in her excitement she will slowly twist out of control without even realizing. I want this marriage ceremony to be about you and me. Only people close to us will understand what we have.”

No longer able to contain her craving Gabrielle seized Xena’s lips in a forceful and searing kiss that only served to confirm that her soulmate was in full agreement. Demanding entrance into the warm moisture of her lover’s mouth Gabrielle could feel her body tremble, when the Warrior surrendered to her demands.

From the platform in the village Artemis, Aphrodite and Ephiny watched the interaction between the lovers. All three were privileged to both the conversation and thoughts exchanged between Xena and Gabrielle. Artemis placed her hand on Ephiny’s shoulder. “Well my Amazon, you better tell that old priest to pack a satchel. Oh and where exactly are Eponin and Amarice?”

The Goddess of Love looked to both Artemis and Ephiny. “Well I’m working on them. Eponin is pretty stubborn.” Almost immediately laughter broke out among the trio, as they remembered the stubbornness of one other particular Warrior.

THE END

——————
A Bonding Of Hearts
by Annmaray

Copyright © June 1999: Annmaray
——————

CHAPTER 1

Spitting on the ground outside of the rundown village tavern one man most people would run away from sniffed at the air surrounding the entrance. Obviously this was the tavern his comrade’s spoke of… said it would smell of pigs and sheep and was located on the south end of the Poteidaia. Pushing the door open the man entered the dark tavern pushing past several drunks to get to the bar.

“Who wanted a messenger?”

The barkeep glanced up at the gruff voice questioning him. A tall stranger he did not recognize stood at the bar. His head was shaven and covered with tattoos depicting demons and evil. The barkeep knew better than to anger the stranger. “Yea, the old man down the road about quarter candlemark. Can’t miss it – the crops are all dead and the house smells like sheep and death. The old man’s name is Herodotus.”

Not interested in drinking… only in delivering whatever pain possible to Xena, the stranger immediately set out to find the old man and farm of death. Musing to himself, *Umpf…a house that smells like death, I think I’m going to like this job.*

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Even though Gabrielle tried to smile, her eyes gave way to her sadness and that eventually led to tears. Saying goodbye to Gabrielle was difficult. I tried to convince both of us that it would be best, if she stayed in Amphipolis with mother, Amarice and Teklai to prepare for our upcoming marriage. I was beginning to doubt the wisdom of my decision. I actually had some concern about my mother’s excitement over our upcoming marriage and a part of me feared she would invite the entire village and half of Greece. Gabrielle would prevent that. We both desired a small intimate ceremony. My other reason to keep my soulmate behind was so I could stop in Mavrotha to collect the gift I had commissioned a craftsman to create for her prior to our deaths.

I had intended to ask Gabrielle to marry me after her birthday but our world fell apart much too soon. This would be my gift of commitment to her. This would be my symbol to Gabrielle that would represent my belief in our eternal bond, our marriage and most of all our love. My hopes were that she would only need look at it and understand my devotion to her without question. Looking off into the horizon peeking between the trees the Warrior watched the setting sun and left Argo to lead her safely along the mountain pass. *By the gods I miss you Gabrielle, so much.*

The dark-hair Amazon Warrior led the trio composed of herself, Xena and Shulaba into the mountains north of Amphipolis. Although her concentration should have been on the trail, she found her musings wandering to a certain young redhead Amazon. *Hades… this is too hard. I’m better off alone.* Eponin realized during the celebration in Amphipolis that she had falling hard for Amarice and as much as she tried not too, that little vixen managed to worm her way right into this Warrior’s heart. *Who am I trying to fool…….I can’t believe I’m in love with that girl.*

“HELLO UP FRONT… ANYONE AWAKE!!!!!” The Regent dragged both Xena and Eponin from their thoughts.

“What is it Shulaba!” Snapped Eponin and she pulled her mare to a halt. Xena gave Eponin the mare Gabrielle and she purchased for 100 dinars from a blacksmith in Therma. Although the Amazon insisted on paying for the horse Xena refused her offer. The Warrior explained to Eponin that it was a gift… the least she could do for taking care of Argo.

“Don’t get snippy with me Eponin just because you miss Amarice or did you screw that up!” Shulaba led her gray mare forward stopping alongside of both Warriors. “And you… Xena. Snap out of it. I realize you miss your partner but we are moving way too slow. Gabrielle will be an old woman by the time you get back to marry her.” Shulaba paused momentarily realizing what she was about to add would cause some teasing and ribbing from her two friends. “And…..I’d like to get back to Teklai before she forgets who I am.”

“WHAT???” The two warriors looked at each other and Shulaba could see the huge smirks crossing their faces, as they jerked their heads to peer into the Regents eyes.

*I should have kept my big mouth shut.* Shulaba shook her head and raised her hand to indicate that neither one of them had better start with her. It did not matter……there was no way Xena or Eponin were going to let this rest.

“So, Shulaba….and how long has this relationship been…..uh….let’s just say….” Xena tried hard to find the right words but found laughter interrupting her ability to speak. To make matters worse Eponin was thoroughly enjoying the question Xena was asking.

“Let’s just say … for awhile and leave it at that.” The Regent guided her horse in front of her two laughing companions. “Look you two we need to focus on the trip at hand. We are already into the second day and we are behind schedule.”

Knowing all too well that Xena was the source behind this journey she spoke up. “I’m sorry, if I’ve been preoccupied and you are right Shulaba. If we push the horses and eat in the saddle, we can make Rhea Pass by nightfall.” Without further need for discussion the trio nudged their horses and the pace was increased.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

As the second day came to a close, Cyrene found Gabrielle sitting on the bench in front of the inn gazing at the stars. Tears were noticeable as Cyrene joined her Amazon daughter pulling her into an embrace, which was happily accepted. “You miss her terribly, don’t you?”

Attempting to find her voice was difficult and Cyrene gladly gave her time. “Yes….I never thought it could hurt this much to miss someone.”

Cyrene turned to face Gabrielle and lifted her chin. “Honey, she will be back. She loves you so deeply. You’ve had too many losses lately. And it looks to me like you’ve not had very much sleep either.” Gabrielle inclined into Cyrene’s arms and her Warrior Mom just held her allowing her the freedom to cry. After awhile Gabrielle seem to calm down. “How would you like a nice hot cup of tea with an old woman like me. Come on, we can talk about the marriage…..I have a few ideas, if you would like to hear them.”

The Bard was indeed interested in hearing the innkeeper’s ideas and she also enjoyed spending time with her. A mixture of emotions filled Gabrielle’s heart as she followed the innkeeper. Ever since Cyrene held her a few days ago it has been hard for Gabrielle to be around Xena’s mother without missing her own mom terribly. She realized it would be necessary to travel to Poteidaia and visit her mom’s graveside. However, Gabrielle decided to put it off until she and Xena were married. There was not anything that could be done to bring her mother back to life, therefore Gabrielle hoped not rushing to the grave would give her longer to heal and grieve, thus making the journey easier. In the meantime, she would just have to find a means to enjoy the love Cyrene gave her so willingly and not confuse the innkeeper with her lost mother.

While Cyrene put the hot water on to boil, Gabrielle watch Lila and Amarice along with Cyrene’s two employees waiting on the evening crowd at the inn. Since the celebration the innkeeper discovered a new group of people enjoyed coming to her inn for a meal or drinks. She assumed the presence of the Amazons and especially Gabrielle kept the folks interested. She was very proud of Gabrielle, as the young woman always maintained a décor of respect and kindness to both her patrons and the villagers. After dropping several plates and mugs into the basin to be washed, Amarice came over to join Gabrielle. She saw the young Queen sitting alone and the sadness in her eyes. “Hi, you okay my Queen?”

“Amarice, please call me Gabrielle….especially since I’m not doing anything that requires rank.” Patting the seat next to her Amarice joined Gabrielle. “I’m okay Amarice. I’m lonely for Xena. I wish she would have taken me with her.” Pausing to reach for the young Amazon’s hand to squeeze, Gabrielle was pleased when Amarice did not pull away. “How are you and Eponin getting along?”

Observing Amarice sitting next to Gabrielle, Cyrene brought along a third cup of tea. The innkeeper was secretly hoping she would talk about Eponin. Everything seemed to remain a mystery regarding their disappearance after the celebration. Evidently neither Xena nor Gabrielle were able to catch one of the women in private to inquire about their relationship. Upon approaching the two lovesick puppies, Cyrene was please to find them gesturing for her to sit with them. She sat in the chair at the head of the table to the left of Gabrielle and immediately reached out to place her free hand over the top of her future daughter-in-law. The beautiful blonde with the ever-changing green eyes lifted her hand and placed a loving kiss on the back and then caressed it against her cheek. *You continually amaze me Gabrielle, it is no small wonder that my daughter is so in love with you.* Cyrene smiled and a tear slipped from her eye. The moment was interrupted, when Uncle Tensandi entering the kitchen in his normal boisterous manner.

“Aaaahhh…..my favorite women all sitting together!” Uncle Tensandi plopped himself in the chair opposite the three women.

“What do you need Tensandi?” The innkeeper was not fooled by Tensandi’s charm. She’s known him long enough to understand when he was fishing for a favor or information.

“Now, Cyrene….” Patting her on the shoulder, he realized that this was one sister-in-law he would never be able to fool. “I just wanted to talk about the marriage of your daughter and this gorgeous Amazon Queen sitting across from me.”

Gabrielle found herself blushing slightly remembering back to the very bold dance and outfit she wore a few days ago. Now that she thought about it further she was amazed by her own audacity. No wonder her Warrior was so upset. At the time, Gabrielle did not think beyond pleasing anyone else but Xena. While the outfit was indeed a gift from Shulaba, the performance was directed toward her Warrior – just a little harmless flirting and teasing. Obviously the Warrior saw it a bit differently. Smiling to herself Gabrielle lovingly remembered that night, when she gave her Warrior a private performance. Becoming aroused just with the thoughts, Gabrielle recalled how Xena possessed her heart, mind, soul and body that evening. *By the gods I miss you so much my Warrior….be safe and come back soon.*

“Gabrielle….did you hear Uncle Tensandi… isn’t it wonderful!!!!” Knowing full well Gabrielle had drifted off when the old man began speaking, Cyrene could not resist pulling her out of her musings that she assumed by the sensual smile crossing her face were about Xena. Caught not paying attention Gabrielle was at first embarrassed and then thankful when Cyrene bailed her out. “That land is absolutely beautiful and the location is perfect. The mountain range expands from the north and west and the sea is to the southeast. The fields are surrounded by forest and the ground is wonderful for raising and breeding horses. Gabrielle there is a gorgeous waterfall and a stream…..oh and isn’t there already a stone farm house Tensandi?” The old man just laughed and nodded his head. “That land is absolutely the most romantic place you could hope to settle down in and raise a family.”

The redhead was not totally clue less to the events that just transpired. She too saw her Queen drift off into memories. “Where is the land located Uncle?” Tensandi had accepted Amarice with open arms as a member of the family. Her spunk and loyalty to both Xena and Gabrielle was a quality he admired in women and men alike. The fact that she was such a cute young thing made him think of the daughter he lost so long ago. Therefore, prior to the celebration he insisted she call him Uncle.

“Well, my sweet Amarice, about three candlemarks north east of here. In fact it is just over the next range.” Turning his attention back to Gabrielle. “I hope you will consider accepting this as a wedding gift. I have no need of the land or the house. I remember when Xena was little, she loved that area and use to babble for candlemarks on end how she would love to raise horses.” Glancing over to Cyrene the old man flashed a quick smile and wink.

With tears forming in her eyes Gabrielle reached over to hold Uncle Tensandi’s big rough hands. “Your gift is more than I can accept, Uncle. And somehow I’m not sure that Xena and I will ever settle in one place for too long. Nor do I think we will ever have……children.” Gabrielle discovered she was becoming overwhelmed with the amount of love and support both her and Xena were receiving. She only wished it could have been this way with her own family. *Thank the gods at least Lila remained supportive.*

Happily standing Tensandi slammed his hands on the table. “Nonsense my little Amazon Queen. The land is yours and Xena’s. Please do not refuse an old man like me.” Gabrielle stood up and went into Uncle Tensandi’s waiting arms to thank him. She was not so sure Xena would be pleased with this but she refused to hurt this man’s feelings. Tensandi quickly hugged the young woman and left waving goodbye.

Cyrene turned her attention to Amarice to get the subject off of the land Tensandi just gave away. She heard loudly Gabrielle’s sadness over not settling in one place, as well as her comment regarding children. “Amarice…now why don’t you share with this old woman how the mighty Eponin is doing?”

Amarice shook her head and leaned back in her chair. “Are all the bets in yet?”

Both women replied in unison, “Yessssssss.”

The young Amazon stood, walked out to the bar and came back with a bottle of port. Cyrene was quick and had three mugs ready to be filled. “Are we celebrating?” Gabrielle questioned. She did not really want to drink the port. She found it bitter and it always gave her a terrible headache but she also did not want to hurt Amarice’s feelings, as it appeared she might have something to celebrate.

“Well, yes and no.” The young Amazon sat down across from Gabrielle with Cyrene to her right. “First the bet was that I could get Eponin to kiss me. Right?”

The innkeeper enjoyed these ‘Amazon’ bets and the women always included her in on as many as possible, especially when she knew the women the bets were about. She had won the bet over her daughter and Gabrielle in spite of the protests from the Amazons that she was privileged to information that none of them had, thus giving Cyrene better odds. But it was all done in good fun and the innkeeper thought she would stand a good chance at winning this bet too. “Now… Amarice, the kiss had to be intimate.”

“Yea..yea, I know.” Amarice took several sips of her port. “Well… she did not kiss me yet, but she was nice to me and she held my hand on the way back to Amphipolis.”

Gabrielle and Cyrene were screaming and giggling, squirming around in their seats and begging for the details. They both started firing questions at Amarice so fast she could not hear any of them. The words sounded like a bunch of jumbled up phrases and squeals. Without realizing it all three lifted their mugs in a toast and guzzled down the port. Gabrielle immediately regretted her actions but refused to spoil the moment for Amarice. She remembered all too well the first time Xena held her hand. These thoughts caused both a smile and a few tears. “Amarice, can you tell us what happened? You and Eponin were gone a long time.” The Bard was happy for the young redhead and decided she would probably cry the entire time Xena was gone, so she may as well get use to it.

Her tears did not go unnoticed by Cyrene or Amarice. “You okay, Gabrielle?” The young Amazon grew very fond of her Queen and hated to see her so sad. Too much had happened to her and Amarice was angry over most of it. When Gabrielle nodded her head to indicate she would be fine, the young Amazon explained. “It started after the situation with Stella and Pippa. Anyway, I was drinking some ale with a bunch of the local girls and one of them gave me big old hug and kiss right on the lips. She did not mean anything by it. We were just laughing and telling stories and this girl had too much ale. Well, apparently that big old warrior was watching. She came out of no where and pulled that girl by the hair to move her away from me. Then she asked if I’d like to go for a walk. And that is all we did.”

“Well where did you go and when did she take your hand?” The innkeeper was now pouring a third mug of port for herself and Amarice. She realized Gabrielle had not yet finished her second and decided not to push her.

“We walked up and down the shoreline, climbing the rocks and kicking sand. That was it. We sat under the stars, told stories and that was about it. Somewhere along the way we both fell asleep lying on the beach. The sunrise woke us both. As I was standing up she offered me her hand. I accepted figuring she would let go when I was standing……..well she never let go until we got outside of the village.”

The three women continued talking of love and crying over love until the early hours of the morning.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Herodotus’ orders were simple. Deliver the message to Amphipolis to a woman named Gabrielle. He could find her at an inn owned by a woman named Cyrene. Once he delivered his message the man would only need to sit back and watch the pain ferment in Xena until she erupted. The messenger was not to touch or harm Gabrielle but he could do whatever he pleased to the Warrior Princess.

Before the messenger mounted a second horse on the journey from Poteidaia to Amphipolis he made sure he lifted the dinars from the man he killed in order to take the horse. Driving his own horse to exhaustion he rode it until it died underneath him. With the parchment containing a message he could not read stuffed into his shirt, he really did not give a Tartarus what this old man Herodotus wanted. He would do as he pleased. Absolutely no one gave him orders. As he pushed this second horse through the night, his thoughts turned to his plans in destroying the Warrior Princess. This was his opportunity to step up in rank among his comrades, which were nothing more than a renegade band of assassins. As long as he did not stop to rest, the tattooed man knew he would arrive in Amphipolis by midday tomorrow.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

That second night Xena and her companions camped along Rhea Pass. All were exhausted from pushing the horses in order to make up for loss time. No one was in the mood to talk and as each warrior attempted to find some comfort on the hard ground, the stars filled the sky. Sleep soon overtook the Regent and Eponin. Left alone with her thoughts and the stars Xena could think of no one else but Gabrielle. Her thoughts brought her back to the last time they were separated.

Her obsession with Caesar cost her Gabrielle’s life, as well as her own. An owl hooting off in the forest reminded her of Artemis and she wondered if the goddess was close by. Sitting on the blanket Xena scanned the camp perimeter looking one last time for any signs of disturbance. Satisfied there was absolutely nothing out there but small forest creatures she laid down. Fondly Xena remembered how Ephiny appeared to them as a doe and she wondered how many other small animals out there were really spirits acting as guardians.

All of these musings brought the Warrior full circle and she once again focused on the love one young woman had for her. *How I love you my Bard. I can’t believe how being around you has changed me in so many ways. Your light has been such a wonder for me.*
From deep within she remembered Carrier’s words. ‘There is a place within both of you, which holds love, truth, light and peace. This bonds you together….do not be afraid of being either weak or strong.’ How true the apparition’s words were for Xena. Rolling on her side the Warrior felt a slight chill invade her body. Tugging the blanket over her shoulder she missed the warmth and love of Gabrielle. Several tears burned hot in her eyes. *Be safe my love….be safe.*

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Hercules and Iolaus were camping for the night on the beach outside of Iraklio. They elected to camp on the beach rather than in the village in order to save dinars.

“I still can’t believe Gabrielle agreed to marry Xena.”

“Iolaus… why. She is in love with Xena. You jealous?” Hercules was not at all surprised to receive the message from Cyrene that indicated the two men should come to Amphipolis. Cyrene realized the men would not be able to make the village celebration but she indicated that her daughter and Gabrielle would be married before the next moon. So she encouraged them to come.

“No I’m not jealous. Just…just surprised.” The husky blond sidekick threw a few more sticks on the campfire and sat on the sand.

Hercules was rather surprised at his friend’s reaction. “Why, because they are women.”

“Herc… I can’t believe you would think something like that would bother me. Actually my concern was because Xena is…well a warrior and Gabrielle is a bard. Hardly compatible.”

The son of Zeus laughed at his friends reasoning. “Look Iolaus, from what I heard Gabrielle was an excellent warrior and took out a number of Romans to protect Xena.”

For several more candlemarks the two friends chatted back and forth about a mixed marriage between a warrior and a bard. Hercules finally gave up and fell asleep. His buddy was just too old fashion.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Mavrotha was a small village nestled tightly in the mountains north of Amphipolis. It boasted of craftsmen and proved to have some of the best in all of Greece. The winter seasons were cruel for this village and the residents depended greatly on the trade during the warmer seasons in order to purchase food and supplies to last the cold snowfalls. There were many periods when Rhea Pass was covered with avalanches caused by ice and snow. Shulaba elected to secure them a room at the local inn while Eponin stabled the horses and Xena proceeded to find the craftsman and take possession of her gift.

The women would only stay the night and head out at first light for the temple. The Warrior estimated it would take at least one full day to get there and hopefully talking the priest into performing the marriage would be easy. If he refused, Xena did not know what she would do. She tried to be positive and assumed the priest would agree. Because he was an old man, the Warrior realized they could not travel as fast back to Amphipolis and the journey might take another four days. *I miss you Gabrielle. Never again will I leave you for so long.*

The shop the Warrior headed for belonged to an old man named Mikos. The man came highly recommended for the quality of his work, as well as the fairness of his prices and the honesty of how he obtained the gems, stones and other material he worked with. Mikos refused to deal with stolen goods or pirates. The traders and craftsmen he ordered and purchased his material from had to prove their honesty to this man. Many times Mikos would travel abroad to procure his supplies.

The Warrior saved dinars for over eight moons to purchase this gift. Xena insisted on paying up front when ordering the gift for Gabrielle. The craftsman was hesitant to accept her dinars but Xena convinced him otherwise. She did not want to carry that many dinars around and continue to hide them from Gabrielle. Mikos was impressed with her level of trust for a stranger and thus swore allegiance to Xena. He would craft the gift and keep it until she returned for it. As he sat on his stool with a chisel in his hand, the old man would twitched his gray mustache back and forth hiding the small grin crossing his lips, as he watched the Warrior enter his shop. “Xena…it is good to see you.”

“Mikos, I’ve come for Gabrielle’s gift. Sorry it took so long…I was delayed.”

“Mmmm, yes so I’ve heard.” Mikos like all of Greece heard of Xena’s death and sudden rebirth. He admired this warrior woman and was pleased that she would chose him above all other craftsmen in Greece to create a gift for the one she loved so deeply. “Your gift is ready my friend.” The Warrior followed Mikos to his back room where he kept a strong box under a hidden board.

Within a moment the box was sitting on a table and out of the box the craftsman pulled a leather pouch. The Warrior accepted the pouch, pulled the leather ties to open it and emptied the content into her hand. “Mikos……by the gods, it is beautiful. I don’t know what to say…..can I pay you more?”

The old craftsman laughed and patted the Warrior on the back. “No Xena. Please… I enjoyed creating it for you. Your young woman I’m sure will love it.”

Holding the ring to the light shining through the window the Warrior was indeed pleased. “Yes Mikos, yes I think she will….I think she will.” The band was pure silver and recessed with an inlay of gold. The front part of the band contained one gem, a blue sapphire surrounded on two sides by pearls. On the inside of the band the words ‘Hold My Heart’ were engraved. The ring was absolutely everything Xena had hoped it would be. The Warrior placed the ring back in the pouch and slid it between her breasts for safekeeping. Patting Mikos on the shoulder the Warrior gave him her best smile. “Thank you my friend.”

“Good luck Warrior.” And with that Mikos went back to his stool and chisel to complete his current project.

Eponin met Xena on the way back to the inn. “Well, you going to show me what you got for Gabrielle?”

The Warrior raised her eyebrows and smirked at her Amazon friend. “Nope… I want Gabrielle to be the first to see it.”

“You mean you’re not going to even show it to your mother!”

“That’s right. She has to wait just like everyone else.” The Warrior slapped her friend on the back, as they walked to the inn. “You may want to consider Mikos, when you need to give Amarice a gift.”

The two friends spoke of love on the way toward the inn. Eponin was having difficulty surrendering to Amarice completely and the Warrior assured her that surrendering was not all that bad. At the inn, Shulaba already had a table with hot food and three mugs of ale waiting. As the three women enjoyed the food, drink and company they continued conversing of love. The Regent finally shared that while Teklai and her grew up together they did not really find a romantic interest in each other until after Ephiny died. As the evening came to a close, both Eponin and Shulaba looked to Xena for some advice.

“Come on Xena, you’ve been doing this love-relationship thing longer. What is the secret… what can I tell Amarice to make her happy.” The Amazon was rather serious in her question. The longer she was away from the redhead the more concerned she became that she did not at least kiss her before leaving. “What if she finds someone else while I’m gone??”

Leaning her chair up against the wall the Warrior took a sip of her ale before answering. “Well, you got to tell her you love her. That is a must. Then of course, you better kiss her, when you see her again.” Xena pointed her finger directly at Eponin and then Shulaba. “And I mean really kiss her. Take her in your arms, but move slowly and be gentle. Just brush her lips lightly before taking them completely. Maybe let your tongue caress her lips a bit. If she moans…you got her.” Laying her head up against the wall Xena thought about her love for Gabrielle. “Oh yea…and talk mushy. Not a lot, just a little bit every now and then.”

“Yea, well what about talking… you know sharing your feelings.” Shulaba was having a hard time sharing her emotions and she figured Eponin was also.

“That’s tough.” Resting her chair back on the floor Xena finished her ale. “If it is in your heart and she is standing in front of you… well, let your heart talk. I use to be afraid Gabrielle would laugh at me or think I was weak. But I was wrong. I actually became a better warrior and a stronger warrior. And I make Gabrielle happy, when I tell her what is deep inside of me.”

For another candlemark the three friends shared their hopes and fears with one another. How people change, when love becomes the most important thing in the world.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

The sun peeked through the window shining unkindly into Cyrene’s eyes. Disrupted by the bright light she rolled over only to feel a slight pounding in her head. Suddenly startled by the presence of another body, the innkeeper pulled the covers back to see the tousled blonde hair. Memories of the last night flooded back. Gabrielle decided to go to bed before Amarice and the innkeeper. When Cyrene finally dragged herself toward her bedroom she spotted Gabrielle in the rocking chair by the fireplace. Unable to sleep for a number of reasons Cyrene smiled and ran her fingers through the soft blonde hair remembering Gabrielle’s’ words to her. “I dream too much…mixed up crazy dreams, I have a headache from the port, I’m lonely… I can’t seem to sleep well without her.” I offered Gabrielle my hand and demanded that she spend the night with me.

A knock on the door disrupted Cyrene’s thoughts and she assumed Lila was on the other side. “Yes, come in Lila.” The young brunette peeked into the bedroom before entering. She had a huge smile on her face and seemed happier than she had been for some time.

“Morning… oh hi Gabby.” Lila’s knocking awoke Gabrielle who bolted upright slightly disoriented. Realizing where she was the Bard fell back to the pillow and smiled. “It’s almost midday and it is beautiful outside. Teklai was looking for everyone so I thought I would wake you.”

Cyrene jumped from bed too quickly for her throbbing head. Groaning horribly she held it between her hands to stop the spinning. “Okay…Lila, thank you. I’ll be right there.” Turning to Gabrielle, she requested. “Next time you see me drink that much port… stop me… please!”

Pushing with her hands to sit upright, the Bard slid her legs off the bed and planted her feet firmly to the floor. Looking towards Cyrene with a grin Gabrielle slowly rose to a standing position. “Here is the trick mom… move slower.”

“Oh, very funny, my dear.”

Gabrielle walked over and gave Cyrene a kiss on the forehead. Continually amazed how much this woman loved her and supported her she wrapped her arms around the innkeeper giving her a hug. “Thank you for last night. I really love you…..mom.” Attempting to smile the innkeeper waved her hand in the air motioning that she understood. Her head just hurt too much to talk. Gabrielle backed away but not before whispering. “I’m going to bathe, I’ll have Lila heat up some tea for you.”

The Bard eventually joined Teklai, Cyrene and Amarice of which the latter two were both suffering from too much port. “Gee, my Queen what did you do to them?” Finding it humorous only because it did not affect her as badly and they both looked so ridiculously sad with their droopy faces the Bard just shrugged her shoulder and continued sipping her tea.

Lila rushed into the kitchen – fear was obvious in her face and all four women jumped to their feet. Hangovers were suddenly unimportant. “Gabby….there…there is a man out there and he asked to see only you.”

Teklai stood protectively in front of her Queen. Placing her hand on the Amazon’s shoulder Gabrielle had a calming affect on her. “Lila what does this man want?”

Her sister was trembling slightly and Cyrene moved over to hold the young woman. “He says he has a message and will deliver it only to you.”

Maybe it was because she felt safe in Cyrene’s home or possibly because Teklai and Amarice were there to protect her. Either way, she did not give thought of a messenger as someone who could be harmful. Yet, Lila seemed fearful of the stranger. “Oh no…….” Gabrielle’s thoughts immediately turned to Xena. Fear overrode her common sense and she pushed passed Lila and Cyrene to the main room. Her concern that something may have happened to Xena erased all fear she should have felt around this messenger. Approaching the man directly she abruptly questioned. “What do you want?”

The messenger was taken back slightly at the boldness of the young blonde standing only a few steps away. After seeing this young beauty his only regret was that he would not have the opportunity to rape her first. “Are you Gabrielle?”

“Yes.” The Bard began to notice how filthy the man was. He smelled foul and his body and clothing appeared stained with blood and dirt. A sword was strapped to his back and his belt held a dagger.

“I have a message for you.” He handed Gabrielle the folded up parchment.

Gabrielle opened the parchment to read the message. Cyrene, Lila, the Amazons and even the few patrons seated around the main room watched in horror at Gabrielle without warning collapsed to her knees crushing the parchment in her hands. Arching her back directing her closed eyes toward the ceiling Gabrielle began repeatedly screaming ‘no’ in agonizing pain at the top of her lungs. Tears streamed down her cheeks and her body recoiled into a ball on the floor. Everything happened too fast.

Abruptly and aggressively the messenger pulled his sword from his sheath and with three steps he held it posed and ready to lunge into Gabrielle’s back through her shoulder blades. Amarice’s reflexes were quick, as she picked up a chair and threw it at the man. The chair hit the sword causing him to drop it while forcing the man back several steps. The distraction was just enough to direct his attention at his assailant, which gave the Bard the time she needed. The messenger was an experienced killer and therefore quickly regrouped. Replacing his empty sword hand with the dagger from his belt.

Before anyone else could react, the young Amazon Queen from her position on the floor rolled forward crossing over the sword grasping it in her right hand, as she passed it. Coming up to her knees and with pure rage masking her fear she plunged the sword up through the messenger’s lower torso into his stomach and up through his chest. Shock raced through the killer causing his adrenaline to rise and he swung up and out cutting his attacker across the upper arm, as the sword was entering his body.
Screaming in terror Gabrielle pushed the sword through until it would move no more. This motion propelled her to stand. With her hands still clutching the grip she continued to push upward demanding the blade to do more. Teklai was the first to reach her Queen and from the side pried her hands away and pulled her back. In uncontrollable anger and strength Gabrielle turned around punching Teklai in the jaw sending her over two tables and several chairs. Spinning back around to face the stranger who was now on his knees, Gabrielle side kicked the butt end of the sword protruding from the body causing the already dead man to fall to his side.

Amarice stepped up to face her Queen and was forcefully shoved aside. Terror, concern and love caused Cyrene to move between Gabrielle and the dead man. The shock of Cyrene backhanding her across the face with such brut force confused Gabrielle ripping her from the fury that had a hold over her. Tears immediately clouded her vision and she placed her hands out to stop everyone from coming near her. Mumbling words of apologies she ran from the inn. She knew the way of peace was one she would never follow again and this terrified her.

It was impossible for anyone near the inn not to miss the adversity. Many villagers heard the fighting and screaming of more than just Gabrielle’s voice. Uncle Tensandi saw the man pass his shop and stood by the window watching his direction. When he entered the inn Tensandi sensed danger so he picked up his sword, as he went out the door. Cursing himself for not reacting quicker, Tensandi was almost to the door of the inn, when the Amazon Queen came racing outside. Clearly visible was the blood dripping from her arm. As he got closer, he noticed the blood splattered over her clothing and hands. Dropping his sword the big man grabbed her by the lower arms close to the elbows to stop her retreat. “Gabrielle, slow down.

What is going on………hey…stop it.” Gabrielle was attempting to fight him in an effort to get away. Realizing he could not let her run Tensandi grabbed her arms pinning them behind her back while pulling her tight to his large frame. He had to get her attention and rationalized that forcefully restraining her would help.

Amarice yelled at Tensandi to let Gabrielle go before he hurt her more than she already was. Cyrene knew better. She knew that if Gabrielle were not stopped, she would either hurt herself or become the monster she once watched Xena become. “NO – hang on to her Tensandi. She must calm down.” With the crumpled up parchment in her grasp she reached her trembling hand out to Amarice indicating she should read it. Teklai and Lila moved next to Amarice so the three of them could read the message. It smelled of ale and sweat and the words were calculating and cruel. ‘My dearest Gabrielle, I know you believe you are my daughter… you are not. You belong to another. How does it feel to murder your mother?’ It was simply signed, Herodotus.

“By the gods……” Teklai rubbed her jaw where Gabrielle punched her. “No wonder she went crazy.”

The innkeeper wiped her tears away and stepped up next to Tensandi and Gabrielle. Taking several deep breaths she spoke to Gabrielle in a low soothing voice. “Gabrielle….can you hear me?” Cyrene ran her fingers across the young woman’s cheek wiping away the tears and hoping the touch would get her attention. She was still struggling to free herself, however her strength was waning. How she wished Xena were here. “Sweetheart please look at me…..we can get through this.” Sliding around behind the distraught woman Cyrene clutched Gabrielle’s hands while Tensandi still had her arms pinned. The innkeeper pressed her small frame close to the back of Gabrielle. Looking directly at Tensandi she nodded her head and he slowly released his hold and slid his arms away from the Bard.

A tender voice managed to permeate her mind and soon reached her heart. The struggle stopped, when Gabrielle realized it was a friendly voice she was hearing and not the monster within her. As she became slowly aware of her surroundings, Gabrielle felt someone holding her hands firmly yet gently. Circling around to face Gabrielle, the innkeeper released her grip. Feeling like her world had just crumbled under her, Gabrielle was seriously afraid… she could not remember immediately where she was or what she was doing. Lowering her gaze to the ground Gabrielle felt the warm hands of unconditional love lift her head, wipe her tears and place a gentle kiss on her quivering lips. Words came from the older woman standing in front of her and at first they were difficult to hear. Trying her best to focus on the soft eyes in front of her, the words suddenly had sound to them and they were loving, caring and protective. Gabrielle could feel her legs giving way and before she lost consciousness the young woman could feel many hands and arms surrounding her to prevent her fall.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Just after midday, the Warrior felt an unusual ache throughout her body. Stopping Argo, she slid off to stretch her muscles and attempted to look at her left arm. “What’s wrong Xena?”

“Mmpf….I don’t know Shulaba. Just all of a sudden I felt really achy and my left arm is sore. I must have slept wrong or something. Don’t remember feeling like this earlier.”

Eponin dismounted and suggested they walk for awhile. It was possible that Xena’s muscles just cramped up and the walk might loosen them for her. The Warrior agreed, however, something else was wrong and she could not quite decide what it was.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

“Why do you spirits insist on disturbing me, when I am in prayer?” The old temple priest who was kneeling in prayer sat back on his heels. “Well, don’t just stand there looking at me like I’m some old crazy fool, help me up.”

Ephiny moved swiftly to assist Iason to his feet. “Sorry Iason, I’m here to take you to…….hey wait – how do you know I’m a spirit?”

Walking away from Ephiny to the altar, Iason bent over to kiss the top of the altar. “I know many things Amazon and I know you are Ephiny the Amazon Regent. I know I am to perform a marriage… among other small favors.”

“Yea, well there is also a small problem, so I am taking you……wait one candledrip.” Ephiny placed her hands on her hips, as if she was just taken on a bad bet. “How did you know who I am and about the marriage?.”

Iason turned to face the Amazon spirit. “What, you think only gods and spirits know things!!!!” Closing the distance between himself and Ephiny, the old man poked her in the shoulder. “You my new spirit have a lot to learn. Call it a mystic-priesthood thing. I’m old, older than you think Amazon.”

Not sure she really wanted to know the whole story, as she was still trying to get use to this ‘what you can do and can’t do’ spirit world, Ephiny decided to accept the priest, as he appeared. “Okay, well I still have to get you to….”

“Mavrotha. Yes, I know that your Queen is injured.” Iason walked over to his pallet located on the side of the small temple he was caretaker of and grabbed a small satchel and his staff.

“No…you need to help Gabrielle. I’m taking you to Amphipolis.”

“Hmmm, and did you make this decision all on your own?”

The Regent realized she was taking a chance by going against Artemis instructions to bring the old priest to meet up with Xena. Her hopes were that this old man might be able to help Gabrielle. “Iason, please. Gabrielle is hurt…….and she killed a man. She moved from her path.”

The old priest stood in front of Ephiny. “Let’s go Ephiny. I must trade places with the Queen’s Warrior Princess. You will take Xena back to Amphipolis.” Iason placed his hand on the Regent’s shoulder and smiled. “You must remember and learn that everyone falls from their path. Do not be so sure that this kill was not meant to be. I will explain on the way.”

The Amazon was somewhat puzzled by the old man’s words but accepted them for now. She was slightly nervous, as this would be the first time Artemis gave her permission to physically transport someone through the ethereal plain from one location to the next. Iason superior ‘know everything attitude’ wasn’t helping matters any. “What is wrong Ephiny? First time? Figures, Artemis and Aphrodite send me an amateur.”

“Now wait just one….”

Before Ephiny could object any further the old priest flashed a big smile at her. “Hold my staff Ephiny, I’ll show you how this is done.” As the two disappeared from the temple grounds, Iason’s laughter hung in the stale air of the temple.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

It was early evening by the time Xena, Eponin and Shulaba arrived at a particularly dangerous section of the mountain pass on their way to the temple. The trio agreed to camp for the night once they crossed over this section. A steep bend in the trail would allow only one person and horse to walk through. Xena led the way and cautiously followed the trail only to find an old man stood in their way. He appeared to be totally oblivious to their presence… lost in a trance or prayer. “Old man, are you hurt or lost?”

The old man looked up from his prayer and smiled at the Warrior. “No, I am not lost or hurt. You must be Xena. I am waiting for you.”

Shaking her head Xena glanced back at her companions who both shrugged their heads. Looking back to the old man she walked closer. “Do I know you old man?”

“The name is Iason … not old man.” The priest adjusted his posture to lean more on his staff. “I believe you need someone to marry you to a pretty young woman… Gabrielle isn’t it?”

As soon as the man said his name, Xena recognized that this was Aphrodite’s old temple priest. “Yes…but I thought we were….and how did you get here……and how….”

“You Warriors and Amazons are all alike. Interrupt when a man tries to pray and can never seem to get a complete sentence out.” Suddenly with a wave of his arm Ephiny appeared from nothing. By now Eponin and Shulaba had abandoned their horses to squeeze in behind Xena. This was the first time Shulaba had seen Ephiny’s spirit form since her death. With her hands covering her mouth in a mixture of excitement and sadness over the memories she held from the Regent’s death, Shulaba found tears running down her face.

The three women greeted Ephiny but Iason interrupted them all before they could enter into any type of conversation. “You women are wasting time. Warrior, I will take your place on that huge horse and you will go with this arrogant curly hair Amazon.”

“I don’t think I’ll be trading places with anyone without some explanation.” The Warrior stood firm and crossed her arms indicating she was determined to stand her ground until someone could give her a good reason to do different.
Iason moved closely to Xena and peered right into her eyes. “Feeling a bit stiff? Does your arm hurt? Oh and how is your jaw?” He raised his hand indicating she should not bother to answer and backed away. “There is a reason why you feel that ache in your body. You have a soulmate…..and your bond amazes even me. Now you will not ask me anymore questions.” The old priest motioned for Ephiny to step forward. “The Amazon will transport you to your soulmate and she will explain on the way.”

Eponin interjected. “Can you do that Ephiny……transport people?”

Laughter from the old priest filled the air. “Yes, she can at least get the Warrior closer than she is now.”

Without warning Ephiny reached over and grabbed onto Xena’s arm. A light surrounded the couple and just before they vanished, Ephiny stuck her tongue out at the old priest. This brought laugher to Eponin and Shulaba. Iason shook his head and questioned the two Amazons not really anticipating an answer. “Was she always this disrespectful and rebellious?” Both women continued laughing and decided this was going to be an interesting return trip to Amphipolis.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

The day of Gabrielle’s battle with the messenger passed quickly. It was well into the evening before she regained consciousness. Loyal friends stood by her during the day. These were the people who were now her family. Each took turns waiting by her side so she would not awaken to an empty room. As they cared for Gabrielle, she appeared to have several disturbing dreams and both Xena and her mother’s names were mentioned. Cyrene and Lila washed the blood from her body and destroyed the blue tunic Gabrielle had been wearing that day. Lila cleaned Gabrielle’s boots and both women washed the blood from her hair.

Amarice and Teklai helped Uncle Tensandi and several men bury the body and clean the main room bringing it back to its original appearance before the conflict. The old healer, Memnos, treated her injuries of which the worse was the dagger cut on her upper left arm just below the shoulder. It took five stitches on the muscle and eleven smaller stitches to close the skin to Memnos satisfaction. Gabrielle would regain full use but it would hurt for sometime. Memnos was pleased that he managed to treat the wound before infection had an opportunity to set in. Other injuries consisted of a bruised cheek and jaw where Cyrene backhanded her and several bruised fingers, as a result her punching Teklai.

The young woman also suffered with numerous bruises along her arms, breasts and ribs from the force Uncle Tensandi used, as he attempted to restrain her. Had she ceased her struggle the bruising would have been minimal, if any. Either way the old healer informed the women that Gabrielle would hurt for awhile. Before she could properly focus her eyes she sensed the presence of someone leaning over her and heard the gentle voice of the woman who she knew loved and cared for her. “Gabrielle, can you hear me….try and open your eyes, I want you to drink this.”

Forcing her eyes open Gabrielle found Cyrene partially supporting her from behind so she could tilt her head enough to drink whatever it was the innkeeper requested. Immediately Gabrielle could taste the warm tea flavored with honey to mask the slight bitterness of what she assumed with some type of drug. The innkeeper released her hold so the Bard could lay her head back on the pillow. The sensation of Cyrene’s fingers gently running through her bangs and hair was extremely comforting to the young woman. Although she said nothing, Gabrielle could see the worry, as well as the love in her Warrior Mom’s eyes.

Slowly the memories of what happened with the messenger came back and the more mentally aware Gabrielle became, the more the injuries she sustained started to hurt. Whatever drug was in her tea thankfully took control and as she began to slip into a state of rest, Gabrielle desperately needed to talk with Cyrene. Very faintly the words came. “I’m…I am so sorry…. I…”

Before she could finish her words Gabrielle heard her Warrior Mom reply. “Ssshhh, it is okay Gabrielle. Everything will be fine. You are safe and we all love you…..just rest, we can talk later.”

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Transporting humans from one place to another was a bit more complex than Ephiny originally thought. She decided she might owe Iason an apology. While she had been trained properly and learned quickly the spirit Regent realized it required a great deal of strength. Transporting Iason was not as difficult because he was not totally what people thought he was… therefore he helped Ephiny. But Xena was another matter entirely. She had managed to explain the events that took place with Gabrielle, including her injuries and her kill. As anticipated, Xena became extremely enraged at Gabrielle’s father and the messenger who tried to kill her soulmate.

These emotions then mixed with guilt for not protecting Gabrielle and surprise that it was her Bard who killed first in this new life. Sadness followed close behind over the pain, loss and guilt her soulmate must be going through. All of these factored into Ephiny’s ability to transport the Warrior. The more a human struggled emotionally, the more strength it required of the spirit moving the person between the invisible lines of time and space.

Unable to take Xena all the way to Amphipolis, Ephiny settled both herself and the Warrior in a field approximately two candlemarks northwest of Amphipolis. A lone horse without saddle or rein was racing through the field. It was a beautiful chestnut mare. The Warrior was amazed at the beauty, grace and strength this young horse displayed. Without words or gestures the mare settled and walked directly to Xena, lowering its head and nudging her shoulder.

“Xena, the horse is yours to take and keep. Consider it a wedding gift from Hermes. Now go… take care of Gabrielle. The old priest will see to it that Eponin and Shulaba return safely.”

With amazing strength Xena vaulted on the horse and grabbed the mane. Quickly she thanked Ephiny and kicked the horse commanding it into a gallop. As the spirit Regent watched her friend disappear, Artemis appeared by her side. Placing her arm around the Regent’s shoulder the Goddess helped her student regain her strength.

Ephiny smiled at Artemis. “What my Goddess are you training me for?”

The Goddess of the Amazons let a proud smile cross her face. “When the time is right. You will know.”

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
Chapter 2
Cleaning and changing the Bard’s injured arm was just enough of a disturbance to wake her up. Gabrielle found her eyes staring into the healer. He wanted to change the bandages and check for infection before he turned in for the night. While her arm had been warm and at other times hot to the touch no real infection seem to set in. Well aware of the green eyes watching him, the older healer smiled. “How are you feeling Gabrielle?”

Attempting to find her voice was a bit of a strain. “I’m okay….sore.” Gabrielle turned her head to look away and saw the woman sworn to protect her and the friend she had punched. The bruise on her cheek was very obvious. “Oh…gods, I’m so sorry Teklai. I never meant to hurt you.”

“My Queen… you pack quite a punch. I’m actually proud of your strength and ability.” Teklai flashed a lopsided grin. “Hey…I understand, it’s okay. Just get well, my Queen.”

“Memnos, I want to get up.” The old healer could not resist those sad green eyes and agreed, only if Gabrielle followed his terms and conditions. Memnos asked Teklai to get Cyrene.

By the time the innkeeper entered the bedroom Gabrielle was sitting on the edge of the bed. Amarice and Lila followed Cyrene and the Bard’s questioning green eyes immediately drew attention. Wasting no time, Cyrene sat on the bed next to the young blonde and cautiously draped her arm around Gabrielle’s shoulder. “So, you want to move around a bit?” The innkeeper looked to Memnos for an answer.

“You really need to rest Gabrielle but I suppose it is okay if you try to walk. For some unknown reasons you are healing at a rate much faster than you should be.” Pointing his finger directly at her the healer added. “But only to the outhouse and the kitchen. Maybe the walk will help ease the stiffness and a cup of hot tea will do you some good and try to eat… it will help you build your strength back.” With instructions to wake him if needed, the old healer bid goodnight to the women and left the inn destined for his home and a warm bed.

“I’m sorry for everything.” Gabrielle looked directly at Cyrene, Amarice, Lila and Teklai. “I just don’t know why I….I should know better and….oh gods…please forgive me.” The four women reassured Gabrielle over and over that she had nothing what so ever to feel sorry or bad about. The important thing would be that she heals.

Cyrene and Lila helped Gabrielle into a soft clean nightshirt, brushed her hair and led her to the outhouse and then the kitchen. It fatigued her somewhat but she insisted on continuing. Cyrene could tell the young woman was in pain, however, she denied it, when asked. Teklai brought the big rocking chair from the main dining room and placed it near the fireplace in the kitchen. Cyrene ordered the inn to close for the night.

The evening meals were well over with for Cyrene’s customers and she did not wish for any distractions or prying eyes from the drinking patrons for the village gossip circle. Cyrene was pleased that her customers accepted her early closing and left quietly. Teklai reheated some lamb stew for Gabrielle, as well as a cup of hot tea. Lila placed fresh sheets and blankets on Gabrielle’s bed. The young redhead scooted a chair next to her Queen. Gabrielle reached for her hand which Amarice willing gave her.
Together the two friends sat without conversation until Teklai brought them each a cup of tea. After accepting the tea Gabrielle looked at her young redheaded friend. “Thank you Amarice for throwing that chair. I…I owe you my life, do you realize that?”

Amarice did not think of it in those terms. After the incident, Cyrene and Teklai pointed out that her quick reflexes saved Gabrielle. The young feisty Amazon could only remember how she failed to protect her Queen from Caesar. “My Queen, I did not do enough and I am sorry.”

Placing her mug of tea on the floor, Gabrielle reached out to hug the young redhead who accepted the embrace. With her injuries and her head swimming over the events of the day, with her heart hurting terribly over the words her father wrote and the aching she felt from missing Xena, Gabrielle could still sense the Amazon’s overwhelming guilt. “You did more than enough, Amarice. Let go of the past. Okay.” All the young warrior could do was nod her head and allow Gabrielle to hold her for a while.

After a while Cyrene interrupted. “Gabrielle, you need to eat… remember, it was one of Memnos requirements.” The Bard was not hungry and she asked Cyrene if she could put it off awhile. The innkeeper relented for the time. Lila came in to say goodnight and the three remaining friends pulled chairs up close to Gabrielle and began talking about her upcoming marriage. They tried to keep it light and spent most of the time wondering which guests would be able to arrive on time. Gabrielle’s body was stiff but her arm was throbbing and hurt. For the most part she remained quiet and listened to the three women chatting. Occasionally Gabrielle would close her eyes and drift to sleep.

The three women never moved and continued talking. Several times Cyrene noted that Gabrielle was running a slight fever but did not feel it was necessary to call Memnos. She would just add a bit of the drug Memnos left in her tea before going back to bed so it would help fight the fever.

A little more than two candlemarks passed, when the Warrior came bolting through the front door of the inn and straight into the kitchen. The only thought running through her heart was to visibly see her soulmate. Gabrielle was overwhelmed to find Xena rushing across the room to greet her. The travelers were not anticipated back for several days so this became a wonderful and healing surprise.

Dropping to her knees in front of Gabrielle, the Warrior did not touch her at first. Other than the obvious bandage on her arm and the bruise across her cheek and jaw, Xena was not sure where her other injuries were, although she had a good idea. Not wishing to harm Gabrielle further the Warrior laid her head in her soulmates lap and was overtaken by sadness. She felt totally helpless once again over the pain her soulmate suffered.

As fast as the Warrior was reacting to Gabrielle, the young blonde could feel her lover’s anguish. Lifting Xena’s head gently from her lap, Gabrielle slowly circled her arms around Xena’s neck and scooted her body to the edge of the rocker so she could melt into the body of her soulmate. With tears sliding from her eyes all she could do was whisper to her lover. “You’re back…….I’ve missed you so much.”

Cyrene, Amarice and Teklai backed away to give the couple privacy. The smile and reaction Xena received from Gabrielle caused a wonderful fevered ache in her heart. “By the gods Gabrielle, do you have any idea how your smile and excitement for me conquers my heart… I love you so much.” Reflexes became automatic and Xena tenderly wrapped her arms around her lover’s waist pulling her tighter. At that point, Gabrielle let her left arm drop to cradle in Xena’s arm. “Your arms hurts, just keep it lowered. Gabrielle…..I am so sorry. I should have taken you with me….I….”

“Sssshhh, my Warrior. You can’t constantly protect me.” Gabrielle let her nose press up against Xena’s and she whispered. “Are you going to kiss me or talk to me?” Xena claimed her lover’s soft requesting lips brushing them gently with hers. Even with the pain running through her body Gabrielle could not help but feel the heat rising in her loins and a small moan of pleasure slipped through. Smiling to herself, Xena heightened the pressure and demand of the kiss until both became breathless and lost in each other.

Tapping her daughter on the shoulder the lover’s broke their embrace to find Cyrene, Amarice and Teklai standing next to them. “How my wonderful dear daughter did you get back so quickly. How did you know there was trouble? Where are Eponin and Shulaba? Who does that strange horse belong too? And maybe you can talk Gabrielle into eating.”

Raising her eyebrow flirtatiously, as only Xena could do, she looked at the three women standing next to her. “Mother, you have some questions?”

Warrior Mom slapped her daughter in the back of the head. “Don’t you get fresh with me young lady. Now talk.” Everyone including Gabrielle began laughing at the playful teasing between mother and daughter. Unfortunately laughter meant a body that would be shaking and that led to several twinges of pain. The pain produced a few tears and everyone promptly noticed them. Xena delicately kissed Gabrielle’s tears away.

Accepting the bowl of stew being handed to her by Amarice, the Warrior looked to Gabrielle, who was now leaning back in the chair. She looked exhausted and in pain. “Sweetie, eat some of this. It will help.” Suddenly just engulfed in emotions Gabrielle shook her head no. The Warrior refused to give in, however, and reached to brush her soulmates bangs from the front of her face.
“Honey, please. You have to eat something. Eat for me… okay?” Taking a chance that Gabrielle would not refuse that request Xena lifted a spoon full of the stew broth to the young woman’s lips. The Bard accepted the food and allowed Xena to give her two more spoons before she took the spoon in her own hand. Together… with Xena holding the bowl and cutting the meat and vegetables into smaller pieces the Bard was able to eat the majority. As she helped Gabrielle with the stew, Xena explained what happened and answered all of her mother’s questions. What amazed everyone the most was that Xena somehow felt the pain close to the time Gabrielle was battling with the messenger.

A candlemark passed, when Xena tenderly suggested that Gabrielle go back to bed and rest. She had felt the slight fever radiating from Gabrielle’s body. “Mom, could you brew up some…….”

Before Xena could finish her question Cyrene had the tea with the added fever-reducing drug ready for Gabrielle. “You carry her and I’ll follow with the tea.”

Flashing her mom a big smile, Xena turned to her soulmate. “Let’s go honey. I want you to rest.” Xena bent over to pick her lover up and saying goodnight to Amarice and Teklai, the women went back to their room. Leaving the tea on the table, Warrior Mom kissed both women goodnight leaving them alone.

Once behind closed doors Xena removed her armor and leathers, poured some cool water into the basin and washed. Gabrielle was sitting on top of the bed sipping at her tea and observing the body of her Warrior. “Do you know how beautiful you are Xena?” Completing her task Xena grabbed her nightshirt and slipped it over her lithe frame.

“Just drink your tea … all of it, and don’t think about my body.” A typical Warrior raised eyebrow and half-grin followed Xena’s comments. Finishing her tea immediately, the Warrior placed the cup on the table and sat on the bed next to her soulmate. “Will you let me see the rest of your bruises, please. I need to see all of them so I can take care of you.”

The Bard began to protest. “Xena, I was foolish to fight….” Pausing for a moment to sort the words she needed to say to Xena, she could feel her soulmates hand rubbing her back gently. “I killed him Xena.” Gabrielle lowered her head and the Warrior pulled it to her shoulder and stroked her blonde hair. “I don’t know what happened… I suddenly…..I wanted to kill my father for all the pain. Then I realized it was not my father and just a man delivering a message. When Amarice threw the chair and the sword fell; I just reacted. And then I got scared……like I fell into some type of abyss.”

“That man was a monster….he deserved….” The Warrior felt her heart race with rage and her muscles stiffened. She wanted to go dig up his body and kill him once again for the pain he brought not only Gabrielle but the entire family. “And, we will deal with your father. Tomorrow I want you to let me read that message.”

Not wishing to let her Warrior spin out of control the Bard tilted her head and lightly brushed her lips to Xena’s. “I’ve missed you terribly. Make love to me Xena.”

This was a request Xena could not refuse. Fairly quickly both had their nightshirts off. The Warrior noted the slight fever still running the length of Gabrielle’s naked body and stopped her kisses. Gabrielle groaned voicing her need for the Warrior to continue. Grabbing Xena’s face between her hands she told her lover not to stop. Against her better judgment the Warrior gave in to the desires of her lover. Xena knew that if the situation were reversed, she would not care how much pain she was in… she would want Gabrielle to make love to her.

Carefully she slowed down, staying away from the injured arm and silently cried, as she made love to Gabrielle witnessing the bruises from her battle. She gave extra attention to the shared tattoo on her Bard’s hip, as she was crawling down to the exotic smell and taste of her soulmate. The tattoo served to remind Xena of the special bond the Creator blessed them with. Her thoughts flashed back to the power of their rebirth. Instantly the Warrior was overtaken with a feeling of peace and love.
Releasing the inner anger gripping her heart she believed in the heavenly gift of their bond. Yes there was a plan for them and satisfied that questions need not be asked the Warrior continued her touching and tasting of Gabrielle. For now the women slowly and tenderly made love both giving and receiving. Both found this reunion to be arousing and emotionally bonding. Eventually the drugged tea took control of Gabrielle and she could no longer fight the affect. Gabrielle lay on her back while Xena burrowed her face sweetly into the young woman’s neck. With their legs twisted together, they held the other protectively and Gabrielle drifted off to sleep. A short time after Xena joined her soulmate and slept.

From the open window a doe lifted her head peeking over the sill. A white owl landed quietly on a tree branch that hung down close to the open window. “You don’t have to stand guard Ephiny. They will be okay.” The doe glanced up to the owl and returned her gaze to the sleeping couple. “I know, but I’m staying anyway.” Together the doe and the owl stood watch for the remainder of the night.

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The journey back down through the mountain pass actually went much faster than anticipated. The priest riding Argo actually led the group at quite a surprising fast pace. They traveled much further and longer then either Amazon thought they would. Iason insisted they eat their meals astride their animals and only stopped for short breaks to rest and water the beasts.

“Pssst…Shulaba, why is this priest pushing us so hard? You’d think he was a warrior not a priest.” While Eponin was anxious to get back and see Amarice, she just could not understand the old man’s logic.

“I don’t know. I just wish he would tell us why he sent Xena with Ephiny. Something is going on and it sounds like it has to do with Gabrielle. I hope Maris and Leandra did not return while we were gone.”

“Warriors must you whisper behind my back!” Eponin and Shulaba yelled apologies, and Iason continued. “I will explain everything tonight. Right now concentrate on staying on your horses.”

The old priest was true to his word.

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The tavern was located just north of Sounion, a port typically filled with mercenaries and pirates from all walks of life. If one was not ready to fight to the death, this seaport village was one to stay away from. Poseidon had a huge temple just south of Sounion and the god enjoyed sinking ships and boats off these shores. Leandra finished her second mug of ale and waited impatiently stabbing her knife into the wooden table. Still angry over the failed attempt on Gabrielle’s life, the rebel parted ways with Maris agreeing to contact several assassins to assist them in fulfilling their mission. As soon as possible, they would meet in the mountains west of the Amazon Village. Maris planned to draw Gabrielle back to Amazon land by attacking the sentries patrolling the region. By killing them off one by one the Queen would surely return and then both Maris and Leandra would have their fun.

Her musings almost cost Leandra a finger, as a dart pierced the table directly next to her sword hand. With a satisfying smirk the rebel Amazon looked up at the tormentor standing in front of her. “You’re late Scorpios. Surely you know how I hate that.” A man of averaged height and weight slammed his mug of ale on the tabletop and sat across from the Amazon. Leandra’s history with Scorpios was comprised of assassinations. While the young man had an attractive smile, a dimple in his chin and childlike blond hair, Leandra was aware of how dangerous he was. Scorpios’ green eyes peered across the table undressing the rebel. He was just too beautiful to be a killer. This was her key; this man would make her plans to capture Gabrielle happen. Scorpios was an expert not only with a bow but also with darts. Flagging the waitress for another ale, Leandra rubbed the scar crisscrossing her left arm. “Interested in the Amazons?”

The young assassin placed his bow on the table nodded his head and responded. “Amazons, what an interesting target.” Fully aware that these mysterious women enjoyed traveling among the trees, as well as on land, he ventured that this mission would meet many of his needs.

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The following day the village healer found his patient sitting at the kitchen table next to her partner with Cyrene and the two Amazons all eating a midday meal. “Well, Warrior glad to see you are back.” As he entered the kitchen, disrupting the conversation he went directly to the Bard. “Just came by to check on Gabrielle. You look a bit tired little one. Xena keeping you from resting?”

The women erupted with laughter. Xena was discovering that since her rebirth she had softened and allowing herself to become more vulnerable than ever before. Thus everyone took great joy in lovingly teasing the mighty Warrior Princess who at one time they would have shied away from. Her soulmate was attempting not to laugh too hard and Xena knew this uncovered side of her emotions was a result of the years she traveled with a certain Bard. That Bard had softened her up.

“I’d like to change your bandage.” The Warrior switched chairs with Memnos so he could change Gabrielle’s bandage. While he was tending to the wound, Gabrielle leaned up against her Warrior who moved closer in order to hold her around the waist. “How are the bruises, Gabrielle? Your jaw appears to be healing nicely.” Gabrielle just nodded and indicated that the bruises were disappearing. “Your fever seems to have disappeared little one. Might the Warrior be the cause of that cure?”

Tilting her head slightly so she could look into the blue eyes of her soulmate, Gabrielle responded with several soft sighs. “Yes, Memnos….she is quite a healer.” Quickly, so the Warrior would not protest, Gabrielle’s lips found Xena’s.

“Ahem….ladies….” The healer gave them a moment and interrupted. “I need your attention this way for another few candledrips.”

Memnos was pleased with the speed in which Gabrielle was recovering. The Warrior was rather anxious to see the damaged caused by the dagger but had not pushed to change the bandage, when they awoke. She assumed Memnos would be visiting and decided to wait. When Xena leaned over to see the cut, it became enough of a stimulus to make her boil internally. Believing she was able to hide this anger, her soulmate rested her head back on Xena’s shoulder. She knew Xena was upset. Tipping her head to the Warriors cheek she gave her a small kiss. “I’m okay. Please, don’t do this to yourself.” Xena returned Gabrielle’s soft kiss increasing the hold around her Bard’s waist so that the two women were almost one.

As the healer applied an ointment to assist the skin in healing, Cyrene broke the tension that was beginning to take over the room. “Xena… why don’t you take Gabrielle to the beach today. The sun and sand might do her some good.”

“Would you like that, honey?” No one laughed anymore when the Warrior spoke in an extra sensitive way and Gabrielle decided instantly that she liked this new mushy word, which the Warrior had already used the previous night. “Can I take her out of the house, Memnos.”

“Yes you can my friend. But not too much sun, Gabrielle is healing faster than I anticipated and I do not want any setbacks. I will leave you with some bandages and ointment. Her stitches need to come out in about five more days. I’d like to leave them in a bit longer since I had to stitch up the muscle.” Memnos wrapped a fresh bandage on Gabrielle’s arm. “I think Gabrielle is under the best care she could ever hope for.”

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“Hades, Hercules….who could have done this?” Iolaus covered his eyes with one hand and cursed the killer of the poor man on the ground drained of his life’s blood.

“I don’t know.” Hercules knelt by the middle-aged man feeling rather hopeless. “Look at how his throat is slit. A professional.” Not more than ten paces away a horse with its front legs broken lie dead. Still supporting a saddle minus personal belongings, the flies and insects were already claiming the horse as a source of nutrition.

It took three candlemarks to bury the man and burn the horse carcass. Grabbing his sidekick by the shoulders Hercules was disgusted and angry over what appeared to be a senseless killing. The man was unarmed and apparently never knew what hit him. “Iolaus, we’ll report this when we get to Amphipolis.”

The two best friends continued their journey walking in silence for the time being.

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The old Warrior was devastated when he heard the news of Gabrielle’s death by Caesar’s orders. Looking at the message in his hands the bearded old man allowed a few tears to burn a trail down his weathered face. Loosing Gabrielle almost drove Meleager back to drinking. A vice he had managed to conquer thanks to the young woman from Poteidaia. Kicking his horse in the flanks the old Warrior turned toward Amphipolis. While he had heard rumors that Gabrielle and Xena had both defeated death at the crosses he could not be sure until he received the message from Cyrene. The white hair old man already had the message memorized. ‘Meleager, Please attend the wedding of my daughter and Gabrielle. I know how fond Gabrielle is of you. Your adventures, when told by this beautiful Bard excite everyone. Although we have never met, I look forward to that day. Sincerely, Cyrene of Amphipolis’.

Like so many Meleager loved the young blonde Bard and he respected the dark hair Warrior. Memories of long ago flooded his heart and joy sprung from sorrow, as he thought of Gabrielle. He would be proud to be at the marriage of Gabrielle and Xena. Yelling in excitement at the top of his lungs Meleager thanked all the gods for bringing Gabrielle back.

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There was a fairly secluded spot located on the very eastern end of the beach. While it was not totally free from public view, it did offer shade from direct sunlight due to the surrounding rocks and boulders. Rather than walk Xena insisted they ride Argo. She agreed with Memnos about Gabrielle appearing tired and silently scolded herself for making love to her soulmate. It was just so difficult to refuse her partner, when she asked the Warrior to love her. The beach had several young children and mothers swimming in the surf and enjoying the sand. The couple did not go unnoticed and everyone remained respectful and simply greeted or waved to Xena and Gabrielle. Arriving at the spot Xena had in mind, she slid off the back of Argo and insisted on helping her soulmate to the ground. Collecting a blanket, the waterbag and the food Lila packed for them, Xena left Argo to graze and taking her lover’s hand the two made their way closer to the water’s edge. Spreading the blanket in front of a fairly large rock Xena sat down and took her boots off. Leaning up against the rock she smiled up at her lover. “Can I hold you?”

A huge smile spread across Gabrielle and she sat down in front of her partner, removed her boots and rested her back up against Xena’s chest. “I love you so much, Xena.” Wrapping her arms around Gabrielle she was happy when her soulmate squeezed her arms and let a sigh of contentment slip through. There did not seem to be any need for conversation, as the physical touching and cuddling was enough to satisfy both women. Within a few moments Xena could sense Gabrielle’s breathing slow down to a steady rhythm and she nestled her face into the soft blonde hair. Her soulmate had drifted off to sleep and Xena had no intentions of waking her. Allowing her thoughts to drift the Warrior decided she would stay awake and protect Gabrielle, as she slept.

It amazed Xena how so many simple things were now becoming more important than roaming the countryside attempting to right the wrongs she committed. On their trip to India, Xena had learned a great deal about her path as a Warrior. Before she died on Caesar’s cross the horrible burden of guilt she carried over her past exploits washed away. On her quest for atonement the Warrior managed to learn the concept of letting go. While realizing she would never be able to correct her deeds as a warlord, Xena welcomed the concept offered by many different people on her quest, that her willingness to correct her wrongs was the beginning of her freedom. Her deplorable past would always be a part of her and those demons would surely arise, however, now Xena had a way of accepting them. She prayed that her methods would be less destructive. Ares would never get her back. She now belonged to the Creator… the one god she could trust.

Tugged from her musings by her soulmate rolling to her side and burrowing her face under Xena’s neck, the Warrior could not help but kiss Gabrielle’s forehead and sleeping eyes. This caused a few sighs to escape from her Bard and soon those beautiful green eyes were searching for blue eyes. “Hi sleepyhead. Would you like something to eat?” Gabrielle inclined into Xena’s lips and kissed her softly. Responding to this beautiful woman was easy for the Warrior and she had absolutely no defense against her. The two lovers spent several moments lost in each other’s lips – teasing and tasting until the kissing became more playful and Gabrielle started to giggle. Soon both women were giggling over absolutely nothing more than the fact that they were in love with each other.

The day was spent exactly how both women had hoped. There was no need for painful conversation, talk of Gabrielle’s father or the man she killed. The day was a chance for them to just express their love for each other and talk about their upcoming marriage. Xena explained in greater detail about Iason and the chestnut mare. She wanted Gabrielle to take the mare, as her own horse but the Bard would not agree. When Xena asked her why, Gabrielle at first would not respond and just shrugged her shoulders.

“A second horse is a bigger expense for us and more to worry about.”

While this was partially true the Warrior sensed that something else was behind Gabrielle’s reasoning. Many times prior to their death, Xena tried to talk her Bard into getting a horse and Gabrielle always justified why they should not. “Gabrielle, I know you well enough to realize that there has to be more than what you are telling me.” Her soulmate looked into the sky at the seagulls flying over the shoreline. *Yup, she is avoiding me.* Xena scooted to her knees cutting off Gabrielle’s view of the birds. “Honey, what is it. Tell me, please.”

The vision she now had were the rays from the setting sun bouncing off her gorgeous Warrior giving her a glow, a softness so tempting that Gabrielle thought she was looking at a spirit. “By the gods I love you, Xena.” Receiving a small kiss on the lips, Gabrielle also saw the half-grin and wrinkles forming on Xena’s forehead from the determined look crossing her face. “Okay, but don’t laugh. If I have my own horse, then I won’t be able to ride with you.”

Sitting cross-legged in front of Gabrielle, she took her soulmates hands and kissed them. “Do you have any idea how good that makes me feel. You are so loving…..I’m not sure why or how the Creator saw fit to bring you into my life but I am so eternally grateful.” Pulling Gabrielle forward onto her lap, Xena wrapped her arms around her gently and laid her head on Gabrielle’s shoulder. “I guarantee you a second horse would never prevent you from riding with me. Please accept the horse from Hermes. If it doesn’t work out we can leave it with my mother.” As Xena reached up to capture her lover’s lips, she could hear Gabrielle whispering that she would use Hermes gift, but…..Gabrielle’s buts were soon extinguished by the passion of Xena’s kiss.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

When the soulmates arrived back at Cyrene’s inn, they discovered the four women together with Uncle Tensandi, Minya, Joxer and Salmoneus all sitting around the bar consuming ale and laughing over stories old and new. Minya and Joxer both decided to return realizing the wedding would happen soon and along the way ran into Salmoneus, who had also received an invitation from Cyrene. Oddly enough Joxer did not rush to Gabrielle, as he normally would.

“When is the big day, Xena??” Minya wasted no time asking questions of the Warrior before she even had a chance to sit down.

“Well, uh….” Xena turned to her partner and both women realized that while they talked about getting married, how they wanted to be married, who they wanted at the wedding and where they would go after; neither actually set a day. “We don’t know.”

Their entire group of friends all began talking at the same time questioning the Warrior and Gabrielle. As they surrounded the couple, everything became too loud and overwhelming for Gabrielle whose arm was hurting and whose emotions started interpreting the people closing in around her as a threat. She backed up close to Xena who was standing behind her and lowering her head she slammed her hands over her ears. Amarice rushed right to Gabrielle and began waving her hands in the air and yelling for everyone to shut up. Xena realized immediately what was happening and turned her Bard around so she could bury her face into the Warrior’s body for protection. Everyone became quiet and Xena spoke to her friends. “Look, as soon as the old priest gets here and has a chance to rest we will have the wedding.” Without apologies or justification Xena led her soulmate from the crowd and to their room. As she walked away, she called for Amarice.

“Listen, thank you. Please see that no one disturbs us until tomorrow.”

The young Amazon smiled and was ready to leave, when she felt Gabrielle grabbing her hand. Her friend and her teacher of peace leaned in and kissed her on the cheek. Amarice smiled and went back to the main room rubbing the small kiss into her skin so that it would never fall off.
Chapter 3

Late that evening as Hercules and Iolaus settled under the Grecian night sky, they agreed to stop arguing over who knew first about the love Xena and Gabrielle had for each other. Hercules was actually the one who saw the new love in Xena’s eyes, when they joined forces to free Prometheus almost four winters ago. Hercules had only kissed Xena out of friendship. In fact, when the two of them watched Iolaus kissing Gabrielle under the tree, the Warrior had to turn away and try hard to contain her anger. The big guy actually remembers telling Xena that her soulmate might be right in front of her. Unfortunately it took the stubborn woman a while to stop denying her feelings.

*Stubborn half-god!* The stocky, curly hair blond rolled over on his side trying to get comfortable. *Herc, you are so wrong about when Xena fell in love with Gabrielle. It was not until Xena died. With me standing right there, Gabrielle told Xena how she loved her.* Iolaus continued to toss back and forth for awhile wondering if this marriage between a warrior and a bard would work. True Gabrielle stepped up and protected Xena and true they seemed to be destined and favored by the gods but he was having a hard time believing that love would seal any difference in their beliefs. Before drifting off to sleep Iolaus decided he would pray hard for them, as he really did love both women.

Less than a half candlemark away Maris rested high in a tree. She followed Hercules and his stupid sidekick for most of the evening. Both were too busy arguing to pay any attention to their surroundings. Maris had no quarrel with Hercules nor did she wish too. Once the men stopped traveling and started a campfire she was careful not to be seen by either man and backed off settling in a tree for the night. Although she would sleep lightly tonight, Maris mused over the early arguments of the two men. So Xena was indeed marrying the Amazon Queen. While she had heard this mentioned before, Maris had not given it much attention or thought.

In Maris’ mind Gabrielle should have already been dead. That plan unfortunately went astray when that little brat Pippa squealed on them. *Umpf…Pippa, don’t get too comfortable in that Amazon jail cell. I will be coming for you.* At this point, Maris was not sure how much Stella talked when she was captured. Figuring the bitch probably spilled her guts to save that retched unwanted daughter of hers, Maris added Stella to her list of people she would kill. *You are so stupid, Stella, that brat has no idea you are her mother. Anyone who risks their life for a child deserves to die.*

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Chapter 4
Early the following morning Xena woke up and decided to let Gabrielle sleep longer. Giving her a delicate kiss on the top of her head, she pulled a tunic over her tanned body and remaining barefoot she slipped out of the room in search of her mother. Last night after Xena was finally able to calm Gabrielle’s fears down the Warrior spent some time thinking about their marriage, Gabrielle’s father and his abuse of her lover, along with the messenger that tried to kill Gabrielle. The inn was not yet open for the morning meal and so it was easy to find her mother sitting in front of the fireplace in the main room with a cup of tea. Xena approached her mother with a big smile and bent over giving her a kiss and hug good morning.

“How is Gabrielle doing? I am so sorry about last night everyone just was so excited. I forgot totally about how Gabrielle might be feeling.” Cyrene lowered her head to stare into the embers burning brightly.

Pulling a chair close to her mother, Xena reached out taking her mother’s hand. “She is okay, mom, just overtired and her arm was sore. No one is angry. You know how Gabrielle is, she does not want anyone to know she is hurting and she tries to hide it. Eventually her emotions catch up with her and she collapses. I want to talk with you mom about a few things. The wedding and I want to see the message. Gabrielle said she thought you might have it.”

Indeed the innkeeper had the parchment and she reached into her apron pocket and pulled it out. The parchment was quite crumbled and stained with a mixture of blood and sweat. The Warrior read the message for the first time. My dearest Gabrielle, I know you believe you are my daughter … you are not. You belong to another. How does it feel to murder your mother?’

Rage filled the Warriors spirit and she too crumbled the parchment in her hands. Ripping the chair she was sitting on from underneath her the Warrior threw it with tremendous force blindly across the room forcing several other chairs to spin off of their legs violently.

“XENA! LISTEN TO ME!!!” Cyrene was quickly to her feet throwing her body into her daughter’s chest and wrapping her arms around Xena’s waist. “Calm down Xena….this will not help Gabrielle nor will it help you. Please! Sit back down.”

The Warrior crumbled to her knees and Cyrene followed her daughter to the floor. Unable to control the overwhelming emotional pain she was feeling for her soulmate Xena broke down and sobbed without shame. All Cyrene could do was hang on to her daughter and rock her back and forth hoping the motion would calm her. The chairs crashing around the room brought Amarice, Teklai and Minya racing down the stairs to the main room.

The three women moved cautiously toward the crying Warrior and were soon joined by Gabrielle who bolted by them to her sobbing soulmate. With inviting arms the innkeeper opened up to allow Gabrielle to scoot in and hold Xena tightly to her chest. Cyrene then wrapped her arms around both women. Soon Lila joined the group of observers and together they sat at a distance holding hands waiting and guarding their friends. No one is sure how much time passed, when Xena’s sobbing slowed to sniffles.
Throughout the entire time Xena cried Gabrielle never let go. Eventually Cyrene pulled away leaving Gabrielle with a nurturing smile and kiss. Joining the other women she led them to the kitchen. Delicately Gabrielle lifted her lover’s chin to look into her red eyes and tear stained face. That was when she saw the crumbled up message clenched between Xena’s fist. Holding Xena with one arm Gabrielle caressed Xena’s cheek with her free hand. In her attempt to calm her soulmate Gabrielle pressed her lips lovingly to Xena’s.

A desperate hunger immediately consumed the Warrior. The kiss turned demanding and before Gabrielle could react she was pinned to the floor by the weight of her Warrior’s needy appetite. As quickly as the urgency took control of Xena it ended. Realization of her actions flooded the Warrior and she quickly lifted herself off Gabrielle. “I’m sorry.”

With Xena helping, Gabrielle stood. “Why are you telling me you are sorry? For needing me, for loving me…why?”

“For not protecting you. My craze over Caesar killed you. If I had taken you with me this Tartarus of a messenger….” Lowering her head, Xena paused to wipe the tears still seeping from her eyes. “You would not have killed. I’ve brought you so much darkness.” After several deep breaths Xena looked directly into Gabrielle eyes. “I should have protected you…I’m…I’m sorry.”

“Xena, you did nothing wrong. Please don’t take on a burden you had no control over.” Sliding her arms around her soulmate’s waist the Bard continued. “There are so many things you have taught me and because of them I can defend myself and now I can protect you too. Caesar was destiny … yours and mine. The messenger was a killer. Because of you and what you taught me I’m standing here alive. The darkness that you fear has helped us find our way to the light and goodness.”

Ever so gently the Warrior brushed several silky blonde strands of hair away from the Bard’s face. Xena saw so many things in Gabrielle’s eyes. Most of all she could see the love this young woman had for her. “I’m so overwhelmed with you. By the gods please never leave me.”

Gabrielle smiled at her lover. “Xena, we are together for a reason. Our rebirth brought us gifts we have yet to fully discover or understand. Look at how fast my body is healing … look how you felt my pain at the exact time it happened. Do you remember Carrier’s words to us? Do not fear being either weak or strong. Embrace each lesson.” Reaching up to wipe the continual tears falling from Xena’s eyes, Gabrielle smiled. “I will never leave you Xena, not even in death.” The Warrior let a huge smile cross her face. Gabrielle had used the same words on her that she told Gabrielle a few seasons ago after she was struck by the Persian arrow. Xena pulled her soulmate tightly to her body. “Xena, let me love you sweetheart…..let me love you.”

The Warrior laughed lightly and looked down into her lover’s smiling face and questioned. “Sweetheart?”

Her question of the term raised a seductive smile from Gabrielle. “Mmmmm….yes, Xena. To me you are the sweetness that captured my heart.” Several kisses later the couple decided to join Cyrene and their friends.

As they turned in the direction of the kitchen, they managed to catch the women peeking through the doorway. Glancing at each other both shook their heads, held hands and joined the women. As they crossed the threshold, the Warrior yelled out. “Okay mom, lets talk wedding plans!!” Over a morning meal, cups of tea, good friends, family and acceptance that at times the road is tough to travel, the conversation regarding the wedding of Xena and Gabrielle filled the kitchen.

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It was late afternoon, when Hercules and Iolaus bounced through the front door of the inn. Autolycus caught up with them just before Amphipolis so the three men came into the inn yelling for Cyrene and huge plates of food that they assumed she would feed them. Xena was extremely happy to see Hercules walk through the door and the big guy was the recipient of a huge hug. After reassuring Autolycus that she would not punch him in the eye again and saying hello to Iolaus the Warrior pulled Hercules off to the side.

“Thank you for coming. I owe you so much Herc.” Lila brought two mugs of ale along with several plates of food to the isolated table the two friends were sitting at. No one interrupted, as it was apparent that Xena wanted some time alone with Hercules. “I just don’t know where to begin to thank you.”

Shoving two pieces of lamb into his mouth, Hercules quickly chewed and swallowed. “Xena, where is Gabrielle?” Glancing around the room he noticed she seem to be missing.

“She’s taking a nap. I did something stupid this morning…..lost my temper and then I cried over…….”

The son of Zeus spit his ale across the table just barely missing Xena. “You WHAT … did you say you cried?”

Realizing her friend had only heard whatever rumors were floating around the country side about her death and rebirth, the Warrior decided to start at the beginning and take him up to the point of her tears early this morning. As Hercules ate, the Warrior talked and soon several candlemarks passed. By the time the conversation was complete, Xena also heard about the dead man and horse which Iolaus and he discovered. Both assumed the messenger was probably the cause due to the manner in which the poor man was killed.

“Xena, I am happy for you. Whatever part I played in your life was very small compared to what Gabrielle has helped you with. But, my friend I think even Gabrielle would tell you that you are the one walking the path and only you are responsible for your changes.” Accepting a fourth mug of ale from Lila who made sure both friends had plenty to drink and eat, Hercules continued. “When will you approach Herodotus?”

Finishing her current mug of ale, Xena thanked Lila and asked if Gabrielle was awake yet. The young brunette giggled, as she saw Hercules smile at her and responded that her sister was taking a bath. She then scooted off to wait on other customers filling the inn. The Warrior raised her mug in a toast and Hercules accepted it with laughter … he was proud of his friend.

“To answer your question about Herodotus, I’m not sure. I don’t want to push Gabrielle into something she is not ready for. However, I do have questions and I know she does too.”

Xena kept the parchment containing the message. Pulling it from the pocket of her tunic Xena allowed Hercules to read it and watched as the anger crossed his face. “What does he mean ‘I know you believe you are my daughter … you are not. You belong to another.’ Isn’t he Gabrielle’s father?”

“I asked Lila that same question. She just said that her father always treated her sister different. He had no patience with her and he always favored Lila.” The Warrior guzzled down her ale and waved to catch Lila’s attention for a fifth ale. “Lila told me she would not talk about Gabrielle’s beatings.”

The half-god waited until Lila refilled their mugs and left before speaking. “Why would she not talk about it?”

“Because Gabrielle told her not too. Evidently Gabrielle does not want me to know about it. There is something about this whole matter that bothers me. Obviously the abuse alone is hard but now … this message opens up other questions……..it just angers me. Hades, Gabrielle has already been through too much.” The Warrior reached over to take her friend’s hand. “I don’t know what to do.”

Accepting Xena’s hand he gave it a firm squeeze. “Yes you do Xena. Just love her and be with her, when Gabrielle is ready she will let you know.”

Before they could take the conversation any further Iolaus sat down next to his traveling companion with three mugs of ale. Placing them in front of his two friends he took a drink from his own mug and looked directly into the Warrior’s sapphire eyes. “Sorry, but I am tired of listening to Joxer whine about Gabrielle marrying you.” The son of Zeus slapped his sidekick on the back and the three burst into laughter over poor Joxer’s dismay. While normally they would not have laughed over Joxer’s continuing heartbreak for failing to win Gabrielle’s heart, the huge quantities of ale they were consuming began to take control.

Three more mugs of ale passed through each of them before Cyrene cut them off. Returning to the kitchen she went directly to Gabrielle. “Your Warrior is pretty drunk.”

“Why is she my Warrior when she is drunk and not your daughter?” Gabrielle grabbed Cyrene by the face and planted a big kiss on her forehead. Receiving a motherly slap on the butt the Bard added. “I suppose you want me to get her out of your dining area before she passes out.”

“Yes, and you better take Amarice and Teklai with you to help with Hercules and Iolaus. They are just as drunk, as your soulmate.”

As the three women entered the dining room they were surprised to see it so crowded but then Hercules was always quite an attraction. Cyrene would be extremely busy tonight. The Queen and her Amazons could hear the laughter all the way across the room. A concerned Teklai voiced her thoughts, as they approached the table. “We are never going to get them to move.” Before the three women could reach the table five local villagers joined the table. “Oh great! Gabrielle, now what do we do?”

“Well, I guess we will see just how drunk they are. I’m not going to fight them. If we can’t get them to come with us … we just leave them.” Although Gabrielle did not mind her Warrior drinking or even getting a little drunk, she did not want her getting totally intoxicated. However, she also refused to fight with her. Unfortunately the group of men who joined Xena, Hercules and Iolaus brought mugs of ale with them for the three friends. No one was paying attention and it took a moment between the laughter and boisterous talking for Xena to notice Gabrielle standing with her arms crossed. She was not smiling.

Iolaus slammed his hand to the table when he saw Gabrielle and the two Amazons at her side. He tried to speak but his words came out slurred between laughter. “Ohhh, rooks ike….someone…. has trouble.” Hercules punched his friend in the arm and the Amazons thought he told Iolaus to be quiet and no one would notice they were drunk. The three sober women shook their heads and exchanged looks indicating that Xena and her two friends were extremely drunk. A villager just about fell out of his chair so Gabrielle could get next to Xena.

Unexpectedly Gabrielle was pulled demandingly onto Xena’s lap. For the time she allowed the Warrior to hold her and she wrapped her arms around Xena’s neck. “You are drunk.” It was a statement of fact and the Warrior realized there was no need to deny it. Rather than talk Xena found having Gabrielle sitting on her lap was arousing and she slid one hand up the Bard’s thigh while burying her lips and teeth into Gabrielle’s neck. This action produced several howls and whistles from the men around the couple.

Gabrielle pushed Xena back and managed to squirm away from her prying hands. Without so much as one word or look the young blonde shoved her way through the crowd and back into the kitchen. Amarice and Teklai followed their friend after shouting several chosen words to the men howling and some warning looks directly at Xena. Iolaus made the mistake of telling the Warrior she would be sleeping alone tonight and Xena reached over the table punching him hard enough to send the drunk to the floor. The son of Zeus and surrounding villagers could do nothing but laugh. By the time everyone finished the ales, the whole incident was forgotten. The Warrior forgot Gabrielle was anywhere near her.

Joxer attempted to talk with an irate Bard, as she entered the kitchen. While her bruises had healed quickly, her arm was sore after pulling away from Xena and she could now feel a bite mark stinging her neck where the Warrior had been overly aggressive. “Gabby! I would never do that to you….why don’t….” The Mighty Joxer had no chance to duck and the Bard slugged him directly into the eye. His scarecrow-like body fell backwards and he tripped over a chair landing on the floor.

Amarice squatted down next to him. “That was really stupid Joxer. Really stupid.”

Deciding to say nothing and stay busy Lila and Minya grabbed several plates of food and returned to waiting on tables. Concern poured through Cyrene’s emotions and she approached Gabrielle who was rubbing her neck. “Honey, are you okay. I did not realize she was that drunk. I’m sorry.”

Attempting to bring a brave smile to her face Gabrielle gave her Warrior Mom a hug. “I’ve never seen her this drunk before. I’m not sure a like it.” The Bard covered her face with her hands for a moment. Dropping her hands to her side she patted Cyrene on the arm. “I’m going to see Memnos and have him change the bandage. I’ll be back later.”

Without asking Amarice joined Gabrielle, as she walked out of the kitchen and through the front door of the entrance. Cyrene was extremely angry with her daughter and planned on telling her once she was sober.

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Later in the evening Cyrene was able to get Uncle Tensandi, Autolycus, Joxer and several friends to move the three drunks from the chairs to their beds. The drunken villagers were tossed out and forced to sleep where they landed or crawl home. Gabrielle stayed away with Amarice for the remainder of that day and evening. By the time they returned the Warrior was already sleeping off her drunken state. The Bard would not even enter the bedroom instead borrowed a nightshirt from Lila.

Very late that same night the two Amazons and Iason arrived in Amphipolis. Eponin took the three horses to the stables while Shulaba introduced Iason to Cyrene. Teklai wasted no time grabbing on to her lover, which left Iason with the innkeeper. The old priest remembered Cyrene from many moons ago and thus the two had an enjoyable time catching up on old and new gossip before retiring. The innkeeper put Iason in the small cabin located behind her flower garden. The old priest was extremely pleased with the woman’s generosity and knowledge that he required a certain amount of privacy. That night as he looked out the window from the cabin he nodded his head waved his hand and several rows of mixed flowers appeared in Cyrene’s garden.

When Eponin arrived inside the stables she was pleasantly surprised to find Amarice hauling bales of hay from one side of stable to the other. Quietly she observed Amarice until she realized that the young redhead was crying. Concern for the apparent dismay the young Amazon was in Eponin walked over to her. “Amarice … everything okay?”

The young Amazon was startled by Eponin’s presence and with tears streaming down her face she rushed into Eponin’s waiting arms. The dark hair Amazon embraced the young woman she had fallen in love with and tried to calm Amarice down. Something was wrong and the Amazon’s years of experience knew it had to be more than loneliness. “Ssssshhh….calm down, what is going on. It is so late, what are you doing out here?” The young woman tilted her head up to look into the big brown eyes she fell so in love with. At this point, Eponin believed she could not live without this woman and she bent her head to meet Amarice.

Their lips met softly, as they let the sensations and taste of the other run through their heart and soul. The young redhead moaned softly and reached up behind Eponin’s neck encouraging the kiss to deepen. By now it was too late for Eponin to change her mind. The Warrior was captured and surrendered to the young feisty redhead. As their passion increased, fears and worries dropped. Eponin pulled away from the kiss only long enough to wipe Amarice’s tears. “Is this okay with you?”

The young woman nodded her head pulling Eponin with her. Leading the Warrior to an empty horse stall, she grabbed a blanket resting over the half door and threw it on the ground. “Yes, Warrior … now teach me how to love you.”

*Oh … sweet Aphrodite, let me not disappoint this woman.* The Amazon who had spent so much of her life alone and in search of not only her way but her soulmate was coming home. With tenderness and a sweetness that makes one come back for more, Eponin taught Amarice how to love.

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Applying a cold compress to the Mighty Joxer’s eye the innkeeper brought the man a hot cup of tea and sat down next to him. “Why, my friend, don’t you let go of Gabrielle?”

Thanking Cyrene for the compress and tea the young man sipped at the tea collecting his thoughts. “Because I love her. Cyrene, I love Xena too … but, but she’s a warrior and that means trouble will always be there. Gabby could get hurt.”

The innkeeper was well aware of Joxer’s love for the young Bard. “Joxer … Gabrielle is in love with my daughter. You can’t change that. If you really love her, then let her go.”

“Hi Joxer, you okay?” The young brunette placed her hand on the misfit warrior’s shoulder and squeezed lovingly. “Can I help you?”

Before Joxer could respond Cyrene spoke up. “Why yes Lila. Come sit with Joxer and make sure he keeps that compress on for awhile. Oh, and get this man to finish his tea and eat some food.” Without hesitation the innkeeper left the couple together. She knew Lila was in love with Joxer and if the lionhearted man would just open his eyes, he might find love sitting next to him.

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Chapter 5
Purely accidentally Gabrielle and Lila discovered the sleeping lovers in Cyrene’s stables located behind the inn. Quietly giggling Lila slipped back out of the stables and ran to the kitchen. Gabrielle grabbed a rein and whispered into the ear of the chestnut mare. The horse followed her new owner out of the stables. Once outside Gabrielle fitted the mare with the reins jumped on and rode bareback out of the village. She had absolutely nothing with her except for the clothes on her back and the boots on her feet.

The innkeeper was just sitting down at the table for a midmorning cup of lemon tea when the young brunette came bursting through the back door trying to catch her breath between giggles. “Slow down child, what is the matter?”

Lila pulled on Cyrene’s arms and hands forcing her from her chair. The young woman was obviously very excited and it took the innkeeper a moment to settle her down from dancing and hopping around. “You won … you won. Cyrene YOU WON!!!!”

“I won???” Then it hit Cyrene like a raging bull and she threw her arms up in the air grabbing Lila in for a hug on the way down. “HA HA … I WON! YES YES YES … ONCE AGAIN THIS OLD WOMAN CALLS LOVE FOR WHAT IT IS.”

In the middle of her mother’s excitement Xena stumbled into the kitchen holding her head and groaning about her hangover. The innkeeper glared at her daughter and asked Lila to brew some tea with her homemade herbs to help Xena’s hangover. “Sit down Xena, you should take it easy or your head will pound all day.”

“Will you stop, please mother. I’m not sure what happened.” The Warrior directed her comments to her mother with some impatience.

“My daughter I have no sympathy for your pain. Oh and did you hear I won the bet.” Very smugly the innkeeper handed her daughter the specially brewed tea. “Drink and stop complaining.”

At that point, Shulaba and Teklai entered the kitchen followed quickly by Minya who asked. “Cyrene did you win the bet … the one about Eponin and Amarice?” The three women each intentionally shouted hello to Xena who only scowled at them while she sipped the tea.

The women joined Cyrene and Xena. The innkeeper was extremely proud of winning another bet and decided she would brag about this one too. “In the stables … first night back after a separation.”

“Tartarus! You women even call the location!!!” The Warrior was shaking her head and could not resist laughing. “By the way, Mother….you neglected to tell me who won the bet about my surrender.”

Feeling rather proud of her uncanny ability Cyrene spoke up. “Actually my beautiful daughter…….I won that bet too.”

“NO … impossible….we weren’t even around here……how…how…” The Warrior found herself completely astounded over the whole betting game. “And you even got the location??? But how did you know??” Realizing Gabrielle had to tell her mother, the Warrior raised her one eyebrow and pressed her lips together in concentration. Then it hit her. “Where is Gabrielle anyway, she wasn’t in bed this morning?”

“Or last night my drunken daughter. You managed to make quite a fool of yourself along with Hercules and Iolaus.” Before Xena could question her further, the Amazons and Minya were begging for information about the bets on Xena and Cyrene complied. “It was actually predictable. The last time I saw the two of them…..well Xena, I love you dearly but you were tripping and falling all over Gabrielle. Anyway, do you remember the visit? It was right before you went to the Amazon village to celebrate the new births?” Xena nodded her head yes and began on her second cup of tea. “Well, I gave my bet to Gabrielle and she submitted it to Ephiny and….”

Sitting back in her chair the Warrior raised her hand indicating she needed to ask a question. “You mean to tell me that you and Gabrielle talked about this?”

“Oh … no, Xena….we were not allowed to do that.” Cyrene reached across the table and patted Xena’s hands. “There are guidelines to this betting. It would be cheating if we talked. I just handed her a pouch with your names written on a piece of parchment and my guess at a time and location and told her it was a bet. Gabrielle knew what to do.”

The Warrior was surprised her mother’s secret brew was actually helping her head. Very aware that she still did not know where Gabrielle was Xena assumed she was probably angry. Starting to become concern that she stupidly got too drunk the Warrior asked once again. “WAIT … please. Where is Gabrielle?”

Placing several plates of food on the table Lila answered. “She slept with me last night and then rode off a while ago on that new horse.” This news even surprised Cyrene.

Before anyone could question Lila further Joxer came tripping through the entrance mumbling about Gabrielle riding bareback and directing the horse to gallop out of the village and she seemed to be heading northeast. From what he could tell she had absolutely no provisions, food or water with her and Gabrielle did not even carry her staff. The Warrior shoved the chair back sending it across the room and demanded Lila to tell her where Gabrielle rode off too.

“I don’t know. I didn’t even realize she left until I turned around and saw her leading that horse out of the stables.” The young brunette was getting irritated at her sister’s soulmate. “Gee the way you treated her yesterday I can’t say I’d want to be around you right now either.”

Rushing back to her room the Warrior tugged on her boots and grabbed her sword. She almost knocked her mother over leaving the room. “Was I that bad mother? Did I hurt her?”

“You were pretty drunk, dear. A bit too playful maybe….look just find her.” Xena bent down to kiss her mother accepting the waterbag and small bag of food she prepared. “I’m betting she rode out to the land Uncle Tensandi gave to the both of you as a wedding gift.” The Warrior bolted out the back door and ran to the stables. Apologizing to Eponin and Amarice for the disturbance Xena saddled Argo in record time and rode out of the stables. Cyrene was standing by the door and shouted as her daughter rode by. “Last night Iason said the ceremony would be tomorrow at sunset. You both need to go through some kind of purification separation before the wedding. You better get back here tonight.”

Watching her daughter ride out of town the innkeeper turned her attention to the Amazons in the stable. “Well, you two better get your things together. I have a lot for you both to do before the ceremony!!” Turning her back to them the innkeeper stopped suddenly and yelled back. “Oh and I won the bet!”

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Gabrielle made no attempt at hiding her tracks. She just needed to get away and breathe. Assuming Xena would sleep all day the Bard wanted to be alone. The events prior to their death and since they’ve been back had been extremely overwhelming. Wishing they had spent more time at the cave, Gabrielle was pleased when Xena suggested they go back right after their marriage. They could spend the time turning it into more of a home and this would allow them to explore the area and possibly find a more suitable trail to get in and out. Her arm was feeling much better and Memnos told her the stitches could actually come out today.
The old healer was unable to explain the amazing rate her body was healing and assumed it had something to do with her rebirth. Today on her way back to Amphipolis Gabrielle planned to stop by and have the stitches removed. The land was beautiful this way and the Bard found the horse to be high-spirited and willing to obey her every command. It was as if the mare was bred especially for her. Guessing she had been riding about two candlemarks Gabrielle decided to stop by a small stream running through the land and allow the mare to graze and drink. She was also thirsty and scolded herself for not at least bringing a waterbag. Not really planning on riding out here today the thought just jumped into her heart and she went with the flow.
Assuming Xena would not miss her and she would return in time before her soulmate awoke, Gabrielle rubbed the side of her neck to feel the bruised area caused by Xena’s overzealous need for attention. Kneeling down on the edge of the bank Gabrielle scooped the water with her hand and drank until it satisfied her thirst. Laying on the warm grass the young woman looked up through the treetops to the white puffy clouds in the sky. Through her mind ran the entire past moon and all the people good and bad that crossed their paths. Thinking about the man who tried to kill her the Bard found acceptance for her actions. Had she not defended herself the man would have murdered her in cold blood. Why her father … was he her father? Either way why he sent such a hateful note was beyond Gabrielle’s imagination.

Herodotus was a sick man and never really liked Gabrielle but he never disowned her before; or had he and she failed to notice. The thought that her mother’s death was her fault was overwhelming and that accusation sent her spinning out of control. The Bard was aware at a young age that her mother had a weak heart. These were her reasons for insisting that in her absence Lila should take on more responsibility. Don’t allow mother to fetch water and collect wood; it would always tire her too much. Now she was not sure why her mother really died. It would be something Gabrielle knew she would have to face. For now the young woman believed burying this pain away would be the best thing to do. After the wedding she would deal with it. The mare apparently decided her owner spent enough time daydreaming and came over nudging Gabrielle in the side.

“Okay … okay, I get the hint.” Grabbing both the rein and the horse’s brown mane she swung her leg upward jumping with ease on to the horse. With the slightest nudge of her knees and tug on the rein the horse obeyed and began walking away from the stream. Not much time passed, when Gabrielle heard a voice shouting her name. Stopping the mare she turned around to see her soulmate on Argo trotting toward her.

Even though she was scared that her lover was mad at her for getting so drunk, Xena did not like Gabrielle riding off without leaving word. Now that she had her in sight the Warrior was not sure whether to scold her soulmate or kiss her. And she was not positive how Gabrielle would accept her presence. As she got closer Xena could see the smile crossing her lover’s face. Stopping Argo right next to the mare the Warrior decided she better apologize right away. “Honey, I’m so sorry. I don’t know why I allowed myself to get so drunk. Can you ever forgive me?”

“I’m not mad at you anymore. I was a bit miffed last night but I can’t stay mad at you Xena. I love you too much.” The Warrior reached out and with amazing strength pulled her soulmate off the mare so she could sit sidesaddle in front of her. Gabrielle responded immediately by wrapping her arms around Xena claiming her inviting lips in a sensitive and reassuring kiss. Leaning back from her soulmate Gabrielle searched the deep blue eyes that were controlling her heart. “Come with me, I need to touch you.” Allowing Gabrielle to slid off Argo the Warrior jumped off and grabbed the rolled up blanket from the saddle. Taking her lover by the hand Gabrielle led her to some tall grass and with a fair amount of force pulled her to the ground.

Xena pushed her back gently and unrolled the blanket. Both women scooted on top. With a need to command their lovemaking Gabrielle began removing the tunic Xena wore. Allowing her lover to take the lead Xena helped her Bard remove the tunic exposing her voluminous breasts to her lover’s grasp and mouth. With unrestrained passion the young woman filled her mouth with Xena’s breasts, tugging and teasing. It only took moments for Xena to lay down and give up her heart and body to her soulmate. As the Amazon Queen slid down Xena’s body, she manipulated her tongue sensually around the tattoo on her Warrior’s hip.

Lately during their lovemaking each spent time licking, nipping and kissing the tattoo. It became a habit that each enjoyed. The tattoo signified their bonding and loving the skin it was under acknowledge the importance of their devotion. Lifting Xena’s thighs over her powerful shoulders Gabrielle attacked the wetness and treasure that Xena allowed her entrance too. “Oh, Gabrielle….yes, oh please yes….more….” Slipping her tongue like a dagger deeply inside of Xena’s fevered passage caused the Warrior to scream and her body began trembling, as she lifted from the ground. Refusing to let go of her lover the Bard scooted to her knees and raised Xena’s hips and legs with her shoulders and hands. Burying as much of her face as she could into the Warrior raven mound Gabrielle feasted aggressively has her lover cried with pleasure begging for more.

Quickly Gabrielle brought Xena to a number of tiny orgasms. Pulling her tongue away for a second to slip in several fingers the Bard sucked furiously with her mouth, licking with her tongue while the friction from her fingers inside Xena’s treasure caused unbridled vibrations to exploded throughout the Warrior’s entire body. As the final climax took over Xena’s body, her muscles collapsed and her soulmate lowered her to the blanket. At once Gabrielle crawled up to hold her lover tightly in her arms.

Catching her breath proved to be more difficult than Xena thought and for a moment her eyes would not focus correctly. “My sweet Gabrielle, oh how I love you.” Gabrielle increased her hold and Xena finally regained her breath and her strength. Without warning Gabrielle was soon without her tunic and that was when the Warrior noticed the bite mark on her neck. Silently cursing for not noticing sooner Xena immediately sat and tilted Gabrielle’s head to take a better look at the mark. It was small, bruised and the skin did not appear broken, however, the impression of at least one top and one bottom tooth was apparent. “I did this to you last night, didn’t I.” The Warrior was not looking for an answer because she already knew it had to be her. “What did I do to you. How badly does it hurt? Hades, why do I have to be such a monster.”

“NO, Xena….that is not true. You are not a monster and it was only because I pulled away. It was my own fault not yours. You were trying to kiss me and I was mad because you were drunk.” Although Gabrielle realized this was not completely true, she had no intentions of letting Xena feel bad over this. The Bard lifted Xena’s chin with her hand. “Now…my lover. I do have something I would like you to bite on.” No more needed to be said. With a slight growl from Xena and many moans and groans from Gabrielle the Warrior made love to her soulmate.

Numerous paces away Maris was well hidden among the treetops scanning the land and watching the lovers. She was actually impressed by how passionate they were with each other and it fueled her own needs. Biting on several leaves from the tree to muffle her screams Maris brought herself to three orgasms while watching the two women. Alone she had no chance in killing Gabrielle and beating Xena. Breathing deeply to calm her inner tremors Maris made a promise. *I can be patient Gabrielle. I guarantee you that I will have your body and your Warrior will be made to watch. Even if I have to break her legs and arms so she can not move. She will watch you scream in ecstasy when my tongue rides your body. Then I will kill you slowly so you can continue to scream and she can continue to watch your life slip away.*

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

The couple returned to the inn by early evening. Gabrielle was riding in front of Xena on Argo. The Warrior was emotionally bewildered and needed to keep in physical contact with her partner. While the women spent the day making love they also spent quality time talking about their deaths. It was the first time the topic went beyond a few words. Together they spoke of the events that took place those horrible few days. Time was also spent in joint meditation. Something Xena had come to enjoy. Partly because it tightened her bond with Gabrielle but there was also a comforting factor of unexplained power that would surge through her body. She knew it was not of this land or this time, however, Xena did not question this power; she accepted it.

Her Bard had a great deal more of acceptance regarding their destiny with Caesar than the Warrior had. It was difficult for Xena to let go of the guilt. Emotionally Gabrielle gave her more comfort and reassurance than the Warrior thought she deserved. Once again the young woman from Poteidaia amazed Xena with her ability to love so deeply.

As they rode into the village, it was impossible not to notice a great deal of commotion going on outside of the inn. Bypassing Memnos home the lovers went directly to the crowd and found as they got closer, the noise was of laughter and happiness. Lila greeted the women along with Shulaba and Teklai. Even though she knew Gabrielle was quite capable of getting off of Argo without her help, the Warrior still reached up placing her hands around her lover’s waist.

This was one habit the Warrior was not willing to give up. It meant she could hold Gabrielle. Prior to declaring her love, helping Gabrielle off Argo allowed her to touch her Bard without casting suspicion. As the Warrior hoped, her lover was true and as Gabrielle slid off Argo she wrapped her arms around Xena and brushed her lips to the Warrior. They suddenly found themselves surrounded by not only Lila and the Amazons but also a rather large assortment of villagers congratulating the pair.

Gabrielle let go of Xena and grabbed Lila’s hand. “Lila, what is going on?” Giggling the young brunette told them of Cyrene’s planned pre-wedding celebration. It was meant to be a surprise and it was. Shaking her head as if she knew there was no way to stop her mother from being in charge, Xena held Gabrielle’s hand and the lover’s attempted to make their way through the crowd of people and friends to get inside the inn. The level of the noise made it tough to understand what everyone was saying to them.
There was also music in the background adding to the confusion. Just past the front entrance the two were pulled apart by excited friends each demanding time to wish them happiness. Many of them spoke of homes and children, many spoke of wealth and prosperity, and others wished the couple for health and continued love. Eventually Xena’s mother stepped in front of her and grabbed on to her daughter’s arm pulling her to the bar. Iolaus and Autolycus were tending bar for Cyrene and each handed a mug of port to Cyrene and Xena. “Oh no mother…I’m not drinking. Not after yesterday.”

“Drink … it is only one and I want to toast my beautiful daughter. I am so extremely proud of you Xena.”

“So am I.”

Xena spun around to find her brother, Toris, with his arms stretched out waiting for his hug. Accepting her brother’s invitation for a hug Cyrene soon joined in. Cyrene and her two children along with Iolaus and Autolycus toasted the marriage of Xena and Gabrielle. Toris teased his sister about her surrendering to love and how he was not surprised his sister’s heart fell to the young Bard. “Did you bet on my surrender too?”

Toris busted with laughter and patted his sister on the shoulder. “No, but I understand mom is real good at that. And by the way, where is Gabrielle?”

Just as he finished his question, Joxer popped up behind them. “Gabby is way over on the other side surrounded by a bunch of young men all trying to get her to dance with them.”

Slamming her mug on the bar Xena spun around and started shoving politely through the crowd to find Gabrielle. Cyrene and Toris watched her go. “Mom, does she get jealous easy?”

His mother just shook her head and laughed. “You my son should ask Autolycus. And yes, Xena is rather possessive of Gabrielle.” Placing her arm around Toris she added. “I guess I would be too, if I had to go through what they have both been through. Let me bring you up to date on the news.” As mother and son headed toward the kitchen, Iolaus looked to Autolycus and questioned what the King of Thieves could have possibly done to make the Warrior Princess mad.”

It proved to be rather laborious to reach Gabrielle. The inn was packed and there was very little room to move comfortably. The closer she got to her Bard the louder the music became and people dancing made it impossible to slip in-between. Thus Xena searched for another way around. With a smirk on her face she stopped behind Eponin and Amarice. The Amazon Warrior had the little redhead pinned up against the wall and was aggressively running her hands and lips up and down the young woman’s body and neck. Unable to resist Xena tapped Eponin on the shoulder.

The Amazon released her hold on her young lover and turned to find Xena grinning at her. Eponin’s eyes were glazed over and the Warrior believed if she had not interrupted, her friend might have seduced the young redhead on the spot. Xena wondered if she looked that way, when Gabrielle had her sexually aroused. “Eponin, surrendering isn’t so bad, is it?”

“My friend….I have no words to explain how I’m feeling.” With a pat on the back the Warrior left the two lovers and proceeded to find Gabrielle. Witnessing Eponin pinning Amarice to the wall excited Xena and she could feel the heavy wetness between her legs. *Only one more day my love and you will be mine completely.* Suddenly she felt a tug on her arm. *Oh gods, not another interruption.* Turning to face the person demanding her attention she came face to face with Tara and Andros.

“Xena, congratulations. I already spoke with Gabrielle. Gods, does she love you.” Tara accepted a hug from the Warrior who helped her out of trouble on several occasions. Andros offered his hand to Xena and she happily accepted. “Andros and I are getting married before the winter solitise. You and Gabrielle will come won’t you?” Spending sometime talking with the young couple Xena assured them that both Gabrielle and she would be at their wedding.

Tara rushed through a series of questions about their death and rebirth and Xena tried to politely answer all of them. Finally Hercules came up behind Xena and assumed she might need rescuing. He had been observing the young men flirting with Gabrielle and watched as Xena tried to make her way over. For some time the son of Zeus found it entertaining until he saw several of the young men maneuver Gabrielle toward a corner. While they did not appear to be threatening Hercules did notice the Bard appeared uneasy.

“Excuse me, Xena I think you better follow me.” Thankful for the interruption the Warrior followed Hercules as he managed to move the people out of the way. Xena looked up to see Gabrielle pinned into a corner with three very drunken young men attempting to fondle her. Although the men were only touching her shoulders and arms, Gabrielle looked as if she froze.

Hercules grabbed two of the men by the shirt collar and lifted them from the floor. The Warrior moved between her soulmate and the third man and punched him in the stomach sending him to his knees. Moments later the three were apologizing to Gabrielle and were lost among the crowd. Xena thanked Hercules and turned to face her partner who remained leaning against the wall.
Suddenly seducing Gabrielle changed as she witnessed a slight fear in her soulmates eyes. “Hey, did they hurt you?” The words would not come out of Gabrielle so instead she wrapped her arms around Xena’s waist. The Warrior held her tightly and kissed her on the top of the head whispering words of comfort and love. The Amazon Queen could not explain her sudden fear over the three young men. She just suddenly felt trapped and fearful. Memories of long ago flooded her mind when the men surrounded her.

Shutting her eyes tightly Gabrielle willed the memories away; she refused to let the past haunt her life with Xena. Looking up into deep blue eyes she saw the concern. “I’m okay…just tired and I’m a bit hungry.” A strong hand titled her chin and she met the lips of her soulmate. *Thank you Creator for this beautiful Warrior.*

The festivities were disrupted by the appearance of Aphrodite in the middle of the room. Without her normal arrogance and flamboyance she flipped her delicate hand around indicating people should move out of the way. Hercules approached his sister. “What are you up to sis?”

The Goddess of Love giggled at her half brother and scooted over to Xena and Gabrielle who like everyone else watched Aphrodite. “Xena….tomorrow at sunrise you are coming with me. And Gabrielle….ooooo, wait one candledrip.” Bending her head to the side she rubbed the bite mark on the young woman’s neck. The Goddess smiled seductively at Xena. “Oh, Warrior…you are hot aren’t you.”

“Aphrodite what do you want.”

“You my sexy Warrior.” Aphrodite rubbed Xena’s arm playfully. “But since your heart belongs to another then I’m here to prepare you for your wedding to this very tempting blonde.” Winking at Gabrielle the thought of bedding both of these women was extremely exciting for the Goddess of Love. “Anyway, sweet thing let me take care of that nasty little bite.”

All it took was a wave of her hand and not only was the bite mark gone but so was the bandage, stitches and cut on her arm. “A bride must look gorgeous on her wedding day. The muscle in your arm still needs to mend, however, that scar had to go.” Aphrodite never ceased to amaze Xena. Clearing the crowd out of their way the Goddess of Love led the women toward the kitchen. Uncle Tensandi was standing by the doorway in front of the kitchen and was quite taken by the Goddess, as she passed by blowing him a kiss. “You big fella stand guard.” Hercules patted Tensandi on the back and together they pulled up a few chairs and guarded the entranceway.

The innkeeper chased out the majority of the people hanging around the kitchen and shoved her daughter and Gabrielle toward the small table in the back corner of the kitchen. The Goddess sat down with them and Cyrene brought over a huge plate of food and tea for the two women. While Xena and Gabrielle shared the food Aphrodite explained to them the formalities of the wedding ceremony. At sunrise tomorrow Aphrodite would come for Xena and Artemis would come for Gabrielle.

Surprised that the normal playful Goddess was actually taking this serious the couple gave her all their attention. Each of them would go through a purification bath and it was anticipated that each woman would prepare their own vows for the other. The vows were to be short and simple. “Iason will ask several questions before he will bless the joining. One will be outside your bonding circle and one will be inside. I am told Iason will also ask a question of both of you that is not commonly asked.”

Both women looked at Aphrodite with puzzlement. “The old fool will not tell me what he is planning to ask. He wants the answers to come directly from your hearts.” The Goddess continued and explained that if they had gifts for each other, they were expected to share them when they said their vows. The ceremony would take place at the location the two women requested, which was in Cyrene’s garden behind the inn. Hercules and Iolaus would make sure only invited guests were allowed.

“Oh, and one more thing. Artemis and I have the clothing each of you will wear. And I think you will both be pleased.” Just before disappearing the Goddess blew a friendly little kiss to both women. “The wedding will be at sunset tomorrow. Once you are with Artemis or me, you will be kept apart until the wedding. This is the time Iason chose.” Without warning the air around Aphrodite began to sparkle and she disappeared.

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“Mmmm……gods Xena. Do you have any clue how desirable you are? I can’t keep my hands off of you.” Tenderly kissing her Warrior repeatedly Gabrielle was obsessed with her soulmate. Unable and unwilling to stop her Bard from the immense display of affection, Xena discovered not only did she enjoy this attention from Gabrielle, she also encouraged it.

Observing Gabrielle straddling her daughter’s lap in the corner of the kitchen while spreading her with kisses, the innkeeper made sure everyone stayed away from the two soulmates. For no particular reason she just felt protective and wanted no one to upset either her daughter or Gabrielle so close to the wedding. Therefore Cyrene, as well as others moving in and out of the kitchen, dealt with an over-romantic Bard’s expressions of love for the Warrior Princess. Several times Cyrene threw an exasperated look over at her daughter, who would just smile and wink back. Both mother and daughter knew their exchanged looks were meant to be playful. Cyrene was pleased that Xena allowed Gabrielle to be so very physically emotional with her. *Hmpf…it is good for you my daughter to have Gabrielle love you so openly.* Returning to her cooking the innkeeper failed to see the man enter the kitchen.

“Glad to see you are surrendering Xena.” Both women turned quickly to see Meleager standing before them with a handful of flowers and a huge grin.

“MELEAGER!” Gabrielle sprang from Xena’s lap into the old man’s embrace. The laughter, excitement and happiness coming from Gabrielle pleased both Meleager and Xena. The old Warrior smiled at the Warrior Princess.

“Good to see you could make it Meleager.”

The Bard backed away. “It’s so good to see you.” Almost giddy with excitement Gabrielle accepted the flowers and skipped off to find a vase for them.

“Join us please.” Xena pulled up a chair and the old man sat. “I’m happy you received the invitation.”

“Do you love her that deeply Xena?”

“You know I do.” Xena thought his question was strange but realizing how much this old man loved Gabrielle, she allowed the question. Then a second question came.

“Will you protect her and provide a good life for her?”

“Yessss. She is my only priority. Whatever Gabrielle needs or wants I will provide for her.”

“Xena, will you remain loyal to her. Love only her; be there through all her pain and happiness?”

“You’re getting kind of personal Meleager. What is going on?”

“Just answer me please. That young pup means a great deal to me.” Sadness appeared in the old man’s eyes and Xena was not quite sure why.

“Meleager, I love Gabrielle more than anything. No one will ever get between us. She has my soul, my heart…..I truly love her.” The old Warrior extended his hand in thanks and Xena accepted.

Just then Gabrielle returned placing the flowers on the table. “What are you two talking about?”

Both hesitated and glanced at each other. In unison they replied. “You!”

Not sure she should believe them Gabrielle giggled and sat down between her lover and a man she admired tremendously. For reasons Gabrielle could not explain nor would she question, the Bard had a soft spot in her heart reserved for Meleager. The remainder of that evening they caught up on Meleager’s past adventures. Xena explained the battle with Caesar and their rebirth. Nothing was mentioned about Gabrielle’s mother or father.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

That evening as the lovers held each other, the Warrior asked Gabrielle one more time. “Gabrielle, will you marry me?”

Leaning on her elbows she looked into the beautiful blue eyes of her soulmate. “Xena, you already asked me if I would marry you. What is the matter?”

Circling her long fingers around Gabrielle’s neck and running her other hand up and down her Bard’s arm the Warrior tried to explain her thoughts. “This is forever, you know that. I desire no one but you and I will not share you with anyone else.”

Giggling softly the Bard claimed her Warriors heavenly lips. “Mmmm, Xena … yes I will marry you and it will be forever. Now stop talking and make love to me.” That night there was no sleeping for either woman. The time was spent slowly and sensually caressing and loving each other.

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Chapter 6
The garden was especially beautiful and Cyrene realized that there must have been some magic involved. In the middle of her garden there was a circle made of flower petals where her daughter and Gabrielle would stand, as they bonded. The guests were each given candles that would be lit through the entire ceremony. Everyone would stand to form a circle surrounding the couple.
As the sun began to set, the guests started to come into the garden. Iason was specific about the location each individual would stand. Cyrene did not question his reasoning which was unusual for the innkeeper. The last person to take their place was Hercules. The old priest lighted the first candle and handed it to Cyrene. She in turn lighted the candle next to her right, which was Gabrielle’s sister. Lila tipped her candle to Toris and the pattern repeated around the circle of friends until everyone was holding a candle with a small burning flame. With the ringing of what sounded like chimes and several colorful sparkles flying into the air Aphrodite appeared with Xena at her side. While the Warrior was absolutely gorgeous she also appeared nervous.
Cyrene beamed with pride, as she surveyed her daughter. Clinging seductively from her shapely frame the Warrior wore a majestic purple tunic made from the finest silks. A black leather belt wrapped around her waist and her polished chakram hung from the belt. Knee high black boots with several falcon feathers held by leather strips dangled down the outside. The innkeeper mused that Gabrielle would be delighted with Xena’s hair. The raven beauty’s hair flowed loosely, draping exotically around her shoulders with an occasional wisp dipping onto her breasts. Several braids adorned both sides and once again smaller falcon feathers were tied and slipped within her hair. Her lips were full with a dark red color that made anyone with a heartbeat desire kissing this woman.

Cyrene mused that Aphrodite must be especially full of herself today. She took a naturally beautiful woman and made her irresistible. Pulling away from her thoughts the innkeeper smiled and surveyed the expressions of the guests. All seemed to be drawn to her magnificent daughter. *Yes … Gabrielle will be pleased.* The Warrior stood outside of the circle, as she was instructed to do.

*I can’t believe how nervous I am. Mother you look so pretty in your new dress.* The Warrior attempted to calm her racing heartbeat. Rubbing the palms of her hands against the side of her tunic Xena believed she has never been as nervous as she was now. This was a huge commitment for her and she wanted nothing more than to be with Gabrielle forever.

Aphrodite slipped up next to her and whispered. “Calm down Warrior Babe. You’ll do fine. Smile at your mother.” Thankful that the Goddess of Love was so supportive Xena flashed a huge smile at her mother and was happy when Cyrene blew her a kiss and grinned back. No sooner did she glanced to Toris and winked when Artemis appeared with out all the glitter so typical of Aphrodite. Gabrielle was not with her. Artemis was dressed in formal Amazon attire befitting a Goddess. Xena mused that she was probably a lot tougher of Gabrielle than Aphrodite was on her.

Artemis glared directly into Xena’s eyes and was not disappointed. Her Queen will do well with this Warrior. She was devoted and in love with her young Amazon and this secretly pleased Artemis. Formalities being what they were Artemis agreed to this wedding as long as the two women would return to the Amazon Village and repeat their vows in traditional Amazon fashion. Both agreed that they would return immediately after spending time together at their mountain home. The Goddess stepped into the circle and waved her hand in the air. Gabrielle appeared to melt from nothing and stood next to the Artemis.

The Warrior could feel her legs suddenly weaken and believed she would collapse to her knees. The view before her radiated with a softness and purity she had never seen before. Gabrielle wore deerskin as pure as white snow, which fitted delicately across her breasts and around her hips. *By the Gods … Sweet Artemis she is beautiful.* A number of intricate braids different sizes with both beads and feathers from various birds decorated her shoulder length blonde hair.

In her right ear she wore the traditional feather earring of an Amazon. Eyes fell to the necklace made of jewels and beads, worn only by an Amazon Queen, as it elegantly fell between her breasts. With a sensual smile across her face Xena thought about how she would tenderly remove the necklace while nibbling on the honey coated breasts. A colorful beaded belt surrounded her waist with leather ties draping down the left side teasing the exposed muscular thigh.

She was barefoot and this sent a fevered desire to take Gabrielle and make love to her among the flowers. Around Gabrielle’s right ankle were a series of leather bracelets adorned with silver and gold loops. Undressing her beautiful Bard with her eyes the Warrior searched the curves and dips and stopped at the yielding pink lips smiling at her. Before their eyes could connect Iason came to stand between them.

The old priest glanced to the Warrior first and then the Bard. He smiled at both and extended his arms to the sky in silent prayer. After only a moment he turned to announce to all in attendance. “I have one question for each woman.” Turning to the Warrior first the old priest smiled and asked a simple question. “Is the woman called Gabrielle the one you wish to bond your soul with?”

Without hesitation the Warrior replied with strength in her voice. “Yes, this woman is my soulmate.”

Walking directly to Gabrielle without entering the circle the old priest asked. “Do you wish the woman standing outside of your circle to enter and bond for all eternity with you.”

Still able to control her tears of happiness, Gabrielle smiled looking past Iason directly at Xena. “Yes, for all eternity.”

Aphrodite gave Xena a slight nudge and together the two walked toward Gabrielle. As the Warrior stepped into the circle to join her soulmate, Artemis stepped out and with Aphrodite they stood on each side of Iason. Lifting his arms once again to the night sky the old priest closed his eyes and mumbled words in a tongue no one recognized. After several moments he lowered his arms and entered the circle with Xena and Gabrielle. “Xena and Gabrielle wish to be joined today under a custom called marriage. This marriage will blend their spirits and hearts. The soul of each woman will surround the other and seal their fate through all eternity. As each pass through life, one will never be without the other. The highest Creator blesses this joining as good and the bonding is favored by all the heavens.” Iason stepped back out of the circle and Xena realized he would ask her the next question. “Warrior, how do you wish to seal your commitment to Gabrielle?”

Taking a deep breath to stop her heart from stampeding through her chest, Xena took both of her soulmate’s hands. They were warm and soft and she could not resist bringing one hand to her lips. Iason did not stop her and allowed the tender show of affection. Never removing her gaze from the emerald green eyes penetrating her heart the Warrior took the ring she had tucked in her belt and slid it on the ring finger of Gabrielle’s right hand. The beauty of the ring and the symbolism it held overwhelmed the Amazon Queen and she had no way of controlling the tears sliding from her eyes. “Gabrielle, this ring represents my devotion and commitment to our love. Please wear it always. I will never leave you and I will always protect you. My love for you will always stand proud and strong through the good and the bad times. I ask humbly that you accept my love for all eternity.” Struggling against the desire to lift her Bard in her arms and carry her away the Warrior understood that the tears flowing freely from Gabrielle were for her acceptance of their love.

Placing her hands in front of her lips, as if she was in prayer, Gabrielle closed her eyes and the tears now became unstoppable. Iason, Xena and guests could see the young woman’s shoulders shake, as she attempted to control her crying. Unconcerned with ceremony Xena stepped forward pulling her bride into an embrace. From outside the circle the old priest laid his hand on Gabrielle’s back and rubbed in a circular fashion. This attention had a calming affect that assisted the Bard in regaining her composure and Xena stepped back. Opening her eyes she reached for her soulmate’s hands. The Warrior latched on tightly to them. “Xena….I accept your love completely.”

Responding to her Warrior’s question helped Gabrielle to silence her tears. Iason’s searched Gabrielle’s face and understood that she would be okay and he wanted to continue. With an extremely smooth voice the old priest addressed the young woman. “Gabrielle, how do you wish to express your devotion to Xena?”

Before their deaths Gabrielle had purchased a gift of love for Xena. The night of Gabrielle’s birthday celebration she left her gift with Cyrene to hold. If Gabrielle were to die, Cyrene was to give the gift to Xena. Now she removed the gift from a small pocket in her clothing and stepped even closer to the Warrior than she already was. Holding the Warrior’s hands brought back memories of how Xena could be firm and strong one moment and caressing and gentle the next. The Bard found it ironic that her soulmate chose a ring, as she too decided a ring would signify her devotion to Xena. As she slipped the ring on Xena’s finger, she discovered tears sliding from eyes of blue. “Xena, this ring expresses my faithfulness to our love. I will stand by your side always. I love you like no other. I will care for you, when you are sick and when you are sad. Without you I am nothing and with you I am everything. I am unconditionally yours forever. Will you accept me as I am, as your eternal soulmate.”

The ring from Gabrielle was exquisite. A silver band containing one emerald surrounded on each side by two small diamonds fit her finger perfectly. Feeling her Bard’s soft fingers wiping her tears, Xena’s heart melted into an unexplained softness. Not caring what Iason said or tradition of ceremony Xena cupped Gabrielle’s head in her hands and whispered. “I love you.”

Allowing Xena a moment, the old priest cleared his throat gaining the Warrior’s attention. “Do you accept Gabrielle as your eternal soulmate?”

“I desire only you Gabrielle. Yes, I accept you as my eternal soulmate with all my being.”

Unexpectedly a strange breeze kicked up in the air rustling the leaves in the surrounding trees. Strange warmth took over the air and all the flames on the candles blew out. Hovering close off the ground tracing the circle of flower petals was a stream of rainbow colors trapped in the warm breeze. Iason suddenly took on a peculiar softness to his old age and his smile touched the souls of both women. Holding his hand up to stop any oncoming questions Iason asked each woman. “What is your deepest dream for the other. No one else will hear of these dreams but I. Know that I only have the power to grant one and that one will be my choice. Do you both understand?” The soulmates nodded their heads yes. “Gabrielle tell me your dream for your Warrior.”

Looking at Iason and then to Xena the Bard knew immediately. “Please bring Solan back for my Warrior. I am willing to give my life in exchange, if necessary.”

The Warrior did everything in her power to not fall to her knees in tears. Completely astounded that of all the wishes in the world Gabrielle chose this one and was willing to die for her son to return. *My precious soulmate how I love you. To be willing to give yourself so I might be happy.* Grabbing Gabrielle’s hands Xena protested. “No, Gabrielle, I will not let you give your life.”

Iason placed his hand on Xena’s shoulder. “My child, would this be your choice for Gabrielle?”

His question surprised the Warrior. This was not the dream she had in mind for her soulmate. However, Xena would not let Gabrielle be taken from her and this became more important to her than anything. Long before her death the Warrior came to terms with the loss of her son and accepted it as fate. The gods needed Solan more than she did. Maybe it was selfishness on her part but Xena understood her heart could not go on without Gabrielle. While they would reunite in future lives this was the life their memories would link back too. Nothing else would matter to Xena, if Gabrielle were lost to her. Firmly she matched the authoritative stare from Iason. “Yes. I will not allow her to exchange her life nor give away her soul. Not even for Solan.”

The rainbow breeze invading the garden now entered the circle and danced among the women and Iason. “Come to my temple the first day of summer solitise and for now ask no more questions.” As quickly as it entered, the rainbow breeze left. All of the candles mysteriously held flames once again. There were sighs and laughter coming from the guests, as everyone was in awe of the magical breeze. The old priest spoke for the last time. “Xena and Gabrielle you are of one heart and one soul. Every law under mankind and gods will recognize this marriage between you both.” Pausing for only a moment Iason crossed his arms in joy staring directly at Xena. “What are you waiting for Warrior … kiss her.”

Looking directly into Gabrielle’s eyes Xena placed her hands on the young woman’s hips and could not help but fondle the curves that were always inviting. Finally sliding her hands around Gabrielle’s waist the Warrior pulled her close. Responding to Xena’s desires was simple for Gabrielle and she slid her arms around her Warrior’s neck. At first their lips tenderly touched, as if exploring each other for the first time, then Xena licked her soulmate’s top lip. A slight moan came from Gabrielle and the Warrior smiled. *Works every time.* Slowly Xena pressed her lips tighter to her Bard and they found themselves consumed in each others taste and needs. Neither would ever forget the kiss sealing their marriage. This marriage was everything they had hoped it would be and the family and friends around them ceased to exist.

Unable to restrain herself any longer, Cyrene rushed to the circle. Everyone followed her and the lover’s were once again pulled apart. Well-wishers bombarded both women with kisses and hugs. Amarice pushed her way past Hercules, Autolycus and Iolaus to grab Gabrielle. “Here, Artemis said you should wear these boots now that the ceremony is over.”

The Bard accepted the soft tan deerskin boots from her friend and gave her a big hug and kiss whispering in her ear. “How are things with Eponin?” The feisty young Amazon giggled and told Gabrielle that she had Eponin exactly where she wanted her.

Suddenly feeling a set of strong arms turning her around the Amazon Queen found her Warrior desiring more attention. “Honey, I think I may already know but why were you barefoot?”

Gazing into her soulmates deep blue sapphire eyes Gabrielle nibbled on the soft spot under her Warrior’s chin. Luring a sensual moan from Xena the Bard whispered. “My beautiful Warrior it tells you of my unconditional and total devotion to you. I will never dishonor you. Everything I am or will be is yours for the taking.”

“By the gods woman I love you.” As warm chills of excitement ran through her body, the Warrior ran her fingers through the silky blonde hair and captured Gabrielle’s enticing lips once again.

After Hercules congratulated the women he approached Iason. “Nice going old man!”

Shaking his head the priest smiled and led Hercules off to the side of the garden. “My friend of long ago, I see you are doing well. How is the sidekick?”

“Iolaus?” The son of Zeus smiled and crossed his arms. “Reminds me of you sometimes. I miss you my friend.”

Slapping Hercules on the arm Iason laughed. “Then I should like him. I have watched you occasionally to see how you are doing. Now, I need a favor from you old friend?” The big man tilted his head in curiosity. “Come to my temple at summer solitise.” Iason realized he could depend on no other but his old friend. As he explained his request, Hercules agreed and the two friends separated.

Artemis and Aphrodite slipped through the guests claiming the attention of Xena and Gabrielle for one last time. The Amazon Goddess lifted her Chosen One by the chin. “Little one, I will see you soon.” Glaring directly at Xena the Goddess stated. “Warrior…..I trust you with my Chosen One. Love her and hold her dear to your heart.”

“Yadda, yadda….come on Art get a grip!!!” The Warrior could not quite figure out why Artemis allowed Aphrodite to push her around so easily but then why not … Gabrielle had complete control over her. The Goddess of Love pulled Xena from her musings. “You’re beautiful and sexy Xena, as normal and Gabrielle….well, mmmmmm, if you ever tire of this Warrior Babe, let me know!” With a seductive wink and several giggles the Goddess was gone followed immediately by Artemis.

Gabrielle looked at her soulmate. “You don’t suppose they are lovers?” With her arms wrapped around her Bard the Warrior nodded her head yes, it was actually something Xena did think was possible.

Iason approached the women to bid farewell. As the old priest began to fade, the women heard him remind them of summer solitise. Lila came skipping up to Gabrielle. “You know such strange people.” The sisters embraced hugging and laughing.

The innkeeper dragged everyone inside for food and drinks. Xena wrapped her arm around her soulmate’s shoulders sitting exactly where her mother demanded. All the tables were pushed together to make one huge table. There were already large quantities of food ready to eat and mugs of ale and port went all around. Toris raised his mug to toast his sister and Gabrielle. “To you my sister. May this love you have with Gabrielle always remain pure and blessed. And Gabrielle, thank you for taming this Warrior.” The guests roared with laughter and the Bard turned her head to regard the expression on her lover’s face. Xena was already watching Gabrielle and leaned over kissing her. Their family and friends encouraged the kiss with howls, whistles and clapping. Minya started pounding her mug on the table and was joined by the Amazons. This action only fueled Xena’s desires for her lover and with amazing strength she pulled Gabrielle from her chair to her lap. The soulmates again had no concern with their surroundings and the kiss deepened invoking even more encouragement from their guests.

Cyrene was sitting to the left of Xena and reached over slapping her daughter in the back of the head pulling the women from the moment. Neither woman looked to Cyrene. At this point, it was impossible to look at anyone else but each other. The Warrior could feel trouble brewing; her Bard had that glazed over look and was probably brave enough to seduce Xena right in front of everyone. “Mom, I think it is time for us to leave.”

Leaning over she gave her daughter a kiss on the cheek. “I’m proud of you Xena. Don’t stay away long.” Cyrene then leaned over and kissed the top of Gabrielle’s head. She realized there was no chance in Tartarus of getting her attention, as she was prisoner in a lustful trance and was unable to release her gaze from Xena. Positioning her arms so she could carry her soulmate, the Warrior scooted the chair back and carried her kissing Bard to the garden while their wedding guest continued to clap and bellow with excitement. Once in the garden Xena set Gabrielle down so she could stand. Ephiny was waiting for them and this pulled Gabrielle from her urgent desires to seduce her lover among the flowers.

“Congratulations you two!”

Both thanked Ephiny. Xena already was aware that Ephiny was tasked with transporting them to their mountain home. “Can you actually get us both to the cave?”

“Oh, I brought a little help this time.” The space next to Ephiny began to warm and Solari appeared from nothing with a huge smile on her face. Gabrielle let go of Xena and rushed to her Amazon sister. Within moments all four friends were hugging and crying tears of happiness. The Bard began to ask too many questions to answer and Ephiny stopped her. “Listen, time for all of this later. To put it simply, I was allowed a spirit companion … and I chose Solari. Now lets go…..I’m sure you both would rather be making love than talking.” The Amazon spirits reached for their friends and from the edge of the garden Cyrene and Lila embraced, as they watched them disappear.

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Chapter 7
The newlyweds found themselves standing in front of the entrance to their cave. The Warrior immediately lifted her soulmate in her arms bringing her into their home. A fire was already burning softly. There was a small table and several chairs off to the side loaded with food and drink. Both remembered that the table was not there the last time. Xena let Gabrielle stand in front of her. They surveyed the interior of the cave finally focusing back on the table. Gabrielle walked up and popped a grape in her mouth. She soon felt Xena behind her rubbing her arms. “Are you hungry?”

Instantly Xena knew that was the wrong way to phrase that question. Turning around in Xena’s embrace Gabrielle rubbed her hands suggestively up and down the Warrior’s body eliciting several purrs. “My hunger is for you.” Tugging on Xena’s hands it did not take much coaxing to lead her lover to bed, which was now covered with heavy furs and blankets. Demanding Xena stand perfectly still Gabrielle began removing her Warriors clothing. The chakram was placed to the side and the belt slipped off rather easily.

Sensually Gabrielle ran her fingers between the valley of her lover’s breasts separating the purple silk until it slipped seductively off Xena’s shoulders and fell to the ground. “You are so beautiful Xena. I….I…oh gods I have to….” Unable to speak Gabrielle discovered her lips and tongue were drawn to the luscious breasts and firm nipples begging for her attention. Releasing her hold temporarily Gabrielle gently pushed Xena to the bed. Straddling her lap the Bard aggressively claimed the Warrior’s succulent lips driving her to lie on her back. Moment’s later Xena was incapable of anything but surrendering to her soulmate’s touch. As Gabrielle listened to her soulmate cry with pleasure, she was positive this raven hair woman was now totally hers.

On their wedding night the lovers would find that their newly formed bond added richness to their lovemaking. The permanence of their vows and the rings they wore in honor of that bond brought together the past seasons of travel completing one of many circles. The passion and devotion they shared became their destiny.

On the forest edge outside the cave two Amazon spirits reunited for the first time after death. In quiet celebration they exchanged their vows under the stars. As the spirits rediscovered the passion of their love, a comet with a rainbow tail raced across the heavens.

 

The End

To be continued in Building Our World

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