The Mist Of Pieria Series pt. 2 by Annmaray

Building Our World

Chapter One

Pondering whom her mighty Warrior could be thinking of the feisty redhead was not too sure she liked this little game of questions. Smiling across the table at the woman who captured her heart the first day they met, the young warrior asked the next question. “Is it someone you fought in battle?”

“No, we never fought.”

Picking at the food left on her plate Amarice was ready to give up. *Stupid game. Why do we have to play this anyway, I never get any of the answers right!*

Eponin smiled at her young lover. “Are you going to finish the food on your plate?”

Shaking her head no the dark hair Warrior reached over and picked up Amarice’s plate dumping the contents on to her own. Tossing a piece of fruit in her mouth Eponin chuckled softly at her partner. “You really should eat. Keeping you healthy is important.” Xena suggested this little game would be one way to help build her relationship with Amarice. Eponin remembers asking Xena if she really liked this game or was it because Gabrielle enjoyed it. The Warrior told her that at first it was only because of Gabrielle but now she actually enjoyed the silly game. So Eponin introduced the game on their way back to the Amazon Village after Xena and Gabrielle’s wedding.

“Was it someone you made love too.”

The Warrior almost choked on her food. “What kind of questions is that?”

Before Amarice could pursue the question further a lone sentry came bolting into the dining hut screaming at the top of her lungs. “AMAZONS — TROUBLE ON THE WESTERN BORDERS.” Without questions or hesitation the dining hut emptied into the compound in front of the Queen’s newly built hut. The Regent Shulaba was already standing on the small platform located to the left of the hut. The only thought entering Eponin was that the Romans changed their minds and would no longer honor the peace treaty. Climbing the platform to stand next to her Regent and Teklai the Warrior could see the concern marking Shulaba’s face. Within moments every Amazon available was in the compound waiting for their Regent to speak.

“Immediately any Amazon under the age of sixteen winters will be pulled from the surrounding borders. I want absolutely no young Amazon on the perimeters. No exceptions will be entertained.” This command drew several questions from the crowd and even Eponin was slightly surprised. Currently, the young Amazon’s patrolling the borders were considered the best in the age class and the most prepared. “Furthermore no one may travel outside of our territory without proper escort. Absolutely NO ONE will travel alone. Captain Teklai is to be informed of anyone who wishes to travel.” The whispering and mumbling between the women increased and Shulaba understood she would need to explain her reasons. “Listen — Amazons! We have a sniper on our western boundaries taking shots at our sentries. So far no one has been killed but last night there were three Amazon’s injured.
They are being brought back to the village, as we speak. Teklai and Eponin will organize a party to find the sniper and they will also ask several of you to begin patrolling our perimeters.” A random question was shouted from the crowd and Shulaba responded. “I do not know how many snipers are out there. For now it appears to be only one and he or she are using arrows. At present the arrows do not appear to be poisonous.” Finding she needed to say no more the Regent dismissed the crowd and like many times before the women of the village understood the responsibilities necessary to keep their home safe.

“Shulaba, is this something random?” Eponin still was not pleased with Shulaba’s facial expressions. They’ve had snipers before and neither the Regent or the Queen had pulled the young ones off the patrols.

“Let’s talk in my hut.” Once again Shulaba led her friends to her own hut rather than the Queen’s hut. She still refused to use the hut in Gabrielle’s absence. Once inside Shulaba turned to Eponin and Amarice. “Here read this.” The Regent handed Eponin a folded piece of parchment. Opening the note Amarice leaned in to read the message.

Your Amazons will begin to die one by one. The injured are the first warning. Soon the warnings will stop. The killings can only stop once your nation delivers to me Queen Gabrielle. Anytime you dispatch a messenger in hopes of reasoning or appealing to my human side I will kill that woman. Deliver the Queen to me or suffer death.

The four Amazons could do nothing more than stare at each other and reread the note several times. Finally Eponin looked at her friends. “It has to be Maris.”

“That is what I was afraid you might say.” The Regent and Teklai came to the same assumption. They thought that if Eponin also believed it to be Maris, then it probably was. “She is crazy. Let’s talk to Stella and Pippa. Maybe one of them might know where Maris could be hiding.”

“Shouldn’t we send word to Gabrielle and Xena? They don’t need to walk into this.” The young redhead could feel her anxiety rise over the thought of once again loosing her Queen.

“No, not yet. Let’s talk to the prisoners and try and find Maris and whoever is helping her. I do not want to pull them away from the cave and their time together celebrating their marriage until I have no other choice.”

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On the sixth day after their wedding, Xena and Gabrielle were surprised to find Argo and the chestnut mare stabled in the section near the front of the cave. The Warrior always believed it to be a perfect area to stable several horses and had thought maybe one day this would actually become a reality. That morning as the newly-weds laid wrapped in each other’s arms the sound of the horse’s whinnies caught the attention of the Warrior’s ears. At first, Xena thought someone had stumbled on to the cave and she quickly bolted to her feet grabbing her sword. Her lover was right behind her staff poised ready to do battle.

After investigating the source of the noise the two horses were discovered. Assuming that Artemis probably had them transported the women greeted the horses with soft conversation and two apples. Over a morning meal Xena told Gabrielle that there must be an easier trail out of the mountain than the one they followed the last time. Artemis would never have left the horses, if riding them out of the mountains were not possible. So far the eastern side beyond the stream had not been thoroughly explored by the pair. In fact since they arrived the majority of their time was spent in each other’s arms. Therefore, Gabrielle agreed with her soulmate and the lovers decided to venture outside of the cave for the day.

The decision to walk over riding was easily made and the lovers followed the stream north for over a candlemark until the water dumped into a small mountain lake. On the opposite side of the shore they were standing on, a rocky profile jutted straight from the water to a height neither was able to guess at. Surveying the area Xena realized they could circle around the lake and get closer to this strange cliff-like formation.

“Look!” The Warrior pointed to a trail between the rock formation and the mountain. Sure enough there was a small pathway that would allow one horse, at a time, to pass through. The women followed the trail for less than a candlemark on foot and found it opening into rolling hills and the valley below. Taking this trail would allow the women to ride the horses. “The trail will take us out through a northern route. We will probably be closer to Amazon territory this way.” Pleased with their discovery the women went back to the lake deciding a swim and some food would be wonderful.

The lake water was cool and loaded with fish. This fact alone made the Warrior happy. The lovers spent time swimming and playing in the water. For no other reason than honing her skills Xena caught several fish by hand and released them immediately. Swimming to shore where Gabrielle had been watching the Warrior could see the smile across her face. “Are you happy my little Bard?” Xena plopped her wet body next to her lover’s dry one and pulled her into a hug.

Without any complaints Gabrielle slid onto Xena’s lap and pushed her to the blanket. “Yes, I’m very happy. I love you Xena.” There was no way the Warrior would escape or wanted to escape from the kisses Gabrielle began planting all over her face and neck. Abruptly the Bard sat straight up while fiddling with the beautiful ring her Warrior gave her at their wedding. The inscription read ‘Hold My Heart’ and Gabrielle understood the significance those simple words held. “Do you have any idea how much I treasure your love for me.”

A smile flashed across Xena’s face and she remembered how Gabrielle’s tears would not stop on their wedding night after reading the inside of her band. Her Bard finally tugged on Xena’s ring and the Warrior slipped it off to find Gabrielle had the words ‘All of Me is Yours’ engraved. Her blue eyes produced tears immediately upon reading those words from Gabrielle’s heart. Now reflecting back at that wonderful day and night the Warrior understood the power of their love; it was unstoppable. Breaking her away from her musings quiet kisses, from the only lips the Warrior ever wanted touching her intimately, were once again smothering her face and neck. “Mmm, you are so easy to love Gabrielle. No one has ever loved me like you.” Xena wrapped her arms around her lover and was soon lost in the unconditional passion Gabrielle gave her so willingly.

The remainder of the day was spent at the lake falling in love with each other all over again.

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“Shulaba!” Abruptly interrupting the Regents evening meal Amarice was all out of breath. “A seventh woman has been hit with an arrow. The healer does not think she’ll survive.” Leaving her meal Shulaba and Teklai followed Amarice to the healer’s hut. Two more days had passed since the first attack. Maris had been ruthless and wasted no time injuring some of her best Amazons. She also seemed to attack from different parts of the territory. Shulaba assumed there was more than just one sniper.

The healer, Lillioka, just finished tending to the wound and upon seeing Shulaba enter she just shook her head sadly. The young Amazon was just eighteen winters and the arrow came too close to the heart and the girl lost too much blood. Placing her hand on the Regent’s shoulder Lillioka whispered. “She never regained consciousness. She will be dead before the sun sets.”

“Okay…let’s send word to Gabrielle. Send two guards to inform Artemis. The Goddess will be able to contact our Queen.” The Regent was not pleased with this. First it had only been nine days since the wedding and Shulaba wanted to give the lovers time together. She had hoped this incident might be settled before dragging her Queen into danger but now Maris was fulfilling her promise to kill the Amazons. The scouts had absolutely no luck in tracking the rebel. With great expertise Maris hid among the trees and on the ground leaving no tracks. This made things even more difficult, as Shulaba was reluctant to send out scouts too far for fear they would be killed.

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Leandra sharpened her sword listening to Scorpios argue with Maris about his needs to take one or two Amazons for his own sexual pleasure. “Maris…part of the reason I agreed to this little escapade of yours was so I could have a little fun with some of these women. I’m tired of waiting. The next one I shoot is mine.”

Lacking fear and only determination Maris glared the archer down. “You my little man will do as I say and when I say it. You will get your opportunity but not until I say so. Gabrielle has yet to arrive in the village. For now I want death to draw her here. Knowing that little bitch, she will not be able to resist helping her Amazons. I do not want her killed until we have our fun with her.” The rebel’s laughter was straight from depths deeper than Tartarus. “Then I will let her death be slow and painful. Caesar will look like a grandmother compared to what I have planned.”

Satisfied for the moment Scorpios sat down across the fire from Leandra and continued shaping the obsidian he found close to the Amazon territory. Chipping at the obsidian with his hammerstone this killer was known for creating dangerous arrowheads.

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Storms covered the mountains that evening after Xena and Gabrielle returned from the lake. There were several periods of time, when the lighting and thunder became so severe that controlling Argo and the chestnut became formidable. Eventually Xena decided to let them loose and the horses could choose where they would feel safest. Much to her satisfaction both horses elected to stay under the shelter. Gabrielle brewed some hot tea and encouraged Xena to leave the horses and sit with her before the fire.
With a few kisses the Warrior was easily persuaded. As the rain continued to fall, the thunder rolled through the valley below and into the mountains while the lovers snuggled in front of the fire drinking their tea. Eventually Gabrielle placed her cup to the side and curled up between Xena’s legs so she could burrow her face into her soulmate’s neck. To Xena this was heaven; there was nothing more she delighted in than when Gabrielle cuddled with her. Chuckling silently she stroked the beautiful blonde hair fiddling with the several braids that her Bard liked to wear.

“Xena?”

“Yesss baby?”

*Oooo…another mushy word. This one sounds sexy.* Lifting her head to smile at her soulmate the Bard quickly kissed her Warrior under the chin. “How long can we stay here?”

Looking into eyes of green Xena smiled realizing the kiss was acceptance of the new little word she used describing her lover.
“Well, forever is okay with me but I know we promised Artemis we would say our vows in front of the Amazons. And, there is the matter of Stella and Pippa. And, we have to get to Iason’s before the summer solitise and we need to visit your mothers grave and there is a small matter of your father.” Knowing full well that she was pushing the limit with her ‘ands’ the Warrior decided to slip the topics in to see what kind of response she would get. On and off since they found out Hecuba had died the Warrior helped Gabrielle deal with her shock and grief. However, the time was coming where Gabrielle would need to visit the grave and hopefully complete the cycle of grief she would need to go through in order to move forward.

Her father was a separate issue and the Warrior had not pushed her about him before now. Lila had informed Xena that Gabrielle did not want her to know anything about the abuse and the Warrior had left the topic alone. Since they married, every time Xena made love to her soulmate, sadness would pass through her heart for a brief moment over the possibility that anyone could harm Gabrielle physically. The thought that Gabrielle’s father abused her only continued to anger the Warrior. The message sent by Herodotus also replayed over and over in Xena’s mind. Herodotus seems to indicate that Gabrielle may not be his true daughter. If not, why tell her now and then why not tell her who is.

Quickly her emotions turned to sorrow. The loss of her mother had devastated Gabrielle bringing with it a great deal of guilt. She felt somewhat responsible for her mother’s death and when the message from her father was received, he had managed to increase her guilt with his accusations. While she wanted to visit her mother’s grave, Gabrielle was also afraid of running into her father. At least the man she believed to be her father. Knowing Xena would protect her from harm the Bard was also fearful that her Warrior would lose her temper and strike out at the man. “Our promise to Artemis is important. Let’s go there.”

“Gabrielle…..” As she thought, her soulmate had no intentions of responding to her comments about returning to Poteidaia. Before she could go any further Gabrielle kissed her quickly on the lips and stood.

“I think I’m going to turn in. I’m tired and have a small headache. The rain makes me sleepy and….well, I don’t want to talk about any of this.”

Scooting to her knees the Warrior observed her soulmate slip off her tunic, slide into a nightshirt and crawl under the blankets. The last time Gabrielle went to bed without Xena was the night the Warrior got drunk with Hercules and Iolaus. Silently cursing herself for mentioning Poteidaia, the Warrior decided to check on the horses one last time before joining her soulmate. “Argo, I blew it. Had to open my big mouth about her mother and father. I don’t know what to do anymore. She has to face this or it will only fester inside and cause bigger problems for her.”

“Well Warrior, you’ll just have to take her there.”

As far as Xena was aware, Argo had not learned to talk so she quickly spun around to see Ephiny standing behind her. “Ephiny! Ease dropping again?” Stretching her arm out to greet her spirit friend the Regent accepted.

“You have to take her to Poteidaia. Tell her you are going and she can either choose to come or not. Gabrielle is just scared. The reality of her mother’s death will become very real, when she visits the grave. Herodotus is a whole other issue. Just don’t kill him Xena.”

“Yea, I thought of telling her that I was going to visit the grave. But what if she says – fine go, I will wait for you to return. Then what do I do? I can’t tie her up and force her.” Crossing her arms Xena gazed outside the entrance into the rain and darkness. “By the way does Artemis know you are here?”

“No, she gives me more freedom to float around. Anyway she is busy teaching Solari those wonderful do and don’t rules spirits have to follow.”

The Warrior and her Amazon friend talked awhile longer until Ephiny heard her name being called and had to leave. Returning to the interior of her home, Xena noticed Gabrielle was missing from bed. Walking toward the back she found her lover meditating in the altar room. The desire to join her tugged at the Warrior’s heart. Rather than distracting Gabrielle, Xena sat down behind her soulmate and closed her eyes. Her success at visualizing peace within was more difficult alone than when she had her soulmate guiding her active mind to a state of calmness.

Unsure how much time passed the Warrior opened her eyes and realized she actually had some success silencing her thoughts. While they were not completely quiet, they were at least peaceful. Her soulmate was still sitting in front of her only her head was lowered and her arms were relaxed. “Sweetie…you okay?” Her body started to tremble slightly and the Warrior could hear the sobs escaping from her lover. Quickly Xena hustled up behind Gabrielle squeezing her into an embrace. “Sssssh….hey — baby. Oh, we’ll get through this, okay. I won’t let anything happen to you.” The Warrior held her allowing Gabrielle to cry. Finally encouraging her to stand Xena lifted her and carried her to bed.

That night was filled with dreams for the Bard. Almost impossible to stay sleeping Gabrielle would wake frequently screaming for her mother or crying in fear from the memories of her father’s abuse. It was a mixture of fear and sadness for Gabrielle and a combination of anger and sorrow for the Warrior. *Tomorrow my love we will have to talk about going to Poteidaia. My God I ask for your help with this.* A sudden unexplained calm spread through her body and she continued holding a now sleeping soulmate.

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The flames that lit up the night sky over Poteidaia brought the villagers from their home with buckets of water in an attempt to squelch the fire consuming the barn and house. The chief elder of the village council eventually stopped the people from their battle. It was too powerful and he did not want anyone getting injured. As chief elder, Vanaska surveyed the flames leaping high into the sky with several of his council members. “No one as seen Herodotus. Think he might have gotten trapped in the house?”

Not especially fond of Herodotus, the elder still hoped the old man was not trapped. “Hard to say. We’ll have to wait until the fire dies down and cools off before we can search. I have an odd feeling that we will not find him in there.” Vanaska wiped the soot from his face on the back of his sleeve. “Silias, send several of the men to search the perimeters of the land. Maybe Herodotus is lying somewhere out there. If they come back empty handed, we will just have to wait until daylight.”

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The following morning the rain continued to drizzle and the mountain was blanketed in a mist. Hesitating about getting out of bed, the Warrior did not want to leave Gabrielle. She had finally fallen asleep less than two candlemarks ago and had gripped tightly to Xena. Now that she was asleep her grip relaxed. Unfortunately her body functions won the battle and the Warrior slipped out of bed. Dashing out of the cave, she was quick and returned without stopping to pet either horse. Tossing several pieces of wood on the burning embers the fire was quickly re-ignited and the Warrior was startled by her soulmate wrapping her arms around her waist from behind. Spinning around Xena held Gabrielle tightly. “Did I wake you. I’m sorry…why don’t you go back and get some sleep.”

“No. I’m awake. Anyway sleeping is not very enjoyable right now.”

The couple stood next to the fire for a short time holding each other. “How about some tea and a few biscuits?” Concerned that her soulmate would stop eating the Warrior was pleased, when Gabrielle agreed. Although they ate in relative silence the Bard smiled, when Xena spoke about the horses and then about her mother and that awful betting. She retold the story of how Cyrene won the bet about Eponin and Amarice. “By the way, my beautiful Bard, how was it my mother won our bet and you did not?”

Gabrielle placed her teacup down and crawled over to Xena’s lap avoiding the question. “Make love to me Xena. Don’t stop…just keep loving me.”

While normally Xena would have been immediately aroused and more than willing to take her young lover, there was a desperation in Gabrielle’s voice and a despondency in her eyes. *She is loosing hope. I can’t let her mask that with physical love.* Running her long fingers through the beautiful blonde hair the Warrior kissed her soulmate on the nose. “Is that what you really want or are you hoping it will help you forget?”

Gabrielle became instantly irritated and pulled away from Xena’s embrace. Standing up she went to the chest, which was added to their cave since their wedding. Artemis had all their belongs waiting for them at the cave. Pulling out the new leathers she purchased in Amphipolis the Bard spread them out on the bed. The Warrior was extremely pleased with this new outfit Gabrielle had purchased. The skirt was made from deerskin and the soft brown coloring gave one the impression that the body underneath was just as soft.

While Xena knew her lover was extremely soft to touch and love, the muscles in her small frame had become quite lethal over the past few seasons. Even Xena did not wish to fight her. Like the Bard’s previous wrap around, it allowed her thighs exposure to everyone’s eyesight, when she walked, knelt or sat down. This skirt was also shorter in length. Held in place by a wide leather sash that tied in the front with leather strips, the Bard now carried two small daggers opposite each other and almost to the back.
This allowed Gabrielle to either reach directly back with her hands or else cross her arms over her waist to reach the daggers.
Either way the positioning of her new weapons could be easily accessed. Xena was not pleased with the fact that her soulmate was carrying daggers but she decided not to argue the point. Things had changed since their rebirth and the Warrior understood that Gabrielle would no longer run from a fight. After she killed the Romans trying to protect Xena, the dark hair beauty accepted that her peaceful Gabrielle bloomed into the best friend she could ever hope to have. Looking back up from her musings Xena watched, as Gabrielle pulled the halter-top over her athletic frame. *By the gods you are a beauty.*

Her new top was a soft leather and fit snugly over her breasts. The straps were about the same width, however the front of the halter crisscrossed at the breasts and clipped to the sides almost under her arms. Unwilling to wear armor Gabrielle agreed to wear leather guards on her wrists. Around her neck she wore a thin leather choker adorned with one ivory bead engraved with the symbol indicating her status, as Queen. Covering her feet were brown leather boots that laced up the side. Slipped outside her left boot a small pouch holding four streamlined darts was easily available. In the Warrior’s mind this also made her soulmate an extremely dangerous adversary. For now Gabrielle refused to carry a sword and Xena was grateful. Her chosen weapon continued to be her staff.

Completely caught up in the vision of her lover the Warrior almost forgot Gabrielle pulled away irritated from her arms. Quickly she stood and placed herself closely behind Gabrielle blocking the entrance. There was no way she could get by Xena without acknowledging her and the Warrior decided to force the issue. “Where are you going?”

Spinning around to face her soulmate Gabrielle was visibly upset. “It’s time for us to leave. I’m going to the Amazon Village. What are you planning to do?” As soon as the words came out of her mouth, Gabrielle regretted the harshness of them. Covering her eyes with her hands she took a deep breath and felt Xena’s arms wrap around her firmly.

“Honey, don’t be angry with me. I’m on your side, remember?” Xena bent down hoping her soulmate would look at her. Instead Gabrielle buried her face into Xena’s chest slipping her arms around the Warrior’s waist.

“I know. I’m sorry Xena. I’m just scared and confused. I know I have to go back to Poteidaia. I’m just not ready.”

Loading the top of Gabrielle’s head with kisses Xena rubbed her back. “Listen, why don’t we go to the Amazons, make Artemis happy and then we go to Poteidaia. I will be with you through everything. I promise not to leave your side.” Xena tilted Gabrielle’s head and gently kissed her Bard’s sensuous lips. “Mmmm….there is no way I will ever let you go. And…”

Unclipping Gabrielle’s halter top the Warrior placed tender nibbles along her lover’s neck. “Mmmm…whenever you want me to make love to you….don’t put your clothes on.” A number of quick, soft moans slid easily from her Bard’s lips and the urgency in Xena to taste her wife increased rapidly. With the halter gone the Warrior shoved Gabrielle gently onto the bed and latched on to her exposed breasts. The nipples were already hard and firm waiting for the Warrior’s tongue and lips. Within a matter of moments the skirt and boots were gone and Gabrielle squirmed under the sophisticated touch of her lover.

No one could ever compete with Xena is this arena. The young Amazon Queen was convinced that she married the best lover in the universe. This woman fulfilled all her fantasies and Gabrielle had no curiosity or desire to seek love from anyone else. Slowing her pace the Warrior made love to her soulmate gently, exotically and completely. By the time both had exhausted the other it was midday and the rain had stopped. Snuggling in Xena’s protective arms Gabrielle found a more contented sleep. This time Xena did not move, musing that they would not be leaving today. No further than a few winks of an eye passed, when the Warrior joined her lover in the land of Morpheus.

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It took until late the following day before the village council could enter the burnt out home of Herodotus. Searching through the ruins most everything was destroyed. The fire burned fast, although not as hot as other fires Vanaska had seen. There was not much remaining; a few pieces of metal objects that did not melt but otherwise most everything looked lost. Since Hecuba died the place went to shambles and Vanaska wondered if the fire was started carelessly. The council was pleased that no bodies lay among the ruins. After checking the barn it was just as empty.

“Vanaska!” The elder’s friend, Silias, advanced as he left the skeleton of what was once a home. “There is no sign of the old man. Do you want to continue searching?”

“No, it is probably better that he is gone. We will send word to Lila in Amphipolis and let her decide what she wants to do with the rubble and the property. It is hers to sell, as long as the old man is not around.”

Silias agreed, as did the remaining council members. “What of Gabrielle? Should we send word to the Amazons?”

The elder council member nodded his head in agreement and added that it would be the proper and respectful thing to do. “Silias, let them both know that we did search for their father.”

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Late that evening the two Amazons were snuggling under the blankets listening to the rain that started once again. The redhead glanced up to see that the eyes of her strong Warrior were closed and her heart melted easily at the thought that Eponin finally surrendered to her love. Amarice’s thoughts moved to Gabrielle. Accepting her Queen’s suggestions about encouraging a warrior’s surrender was perfect. They had all worked and Amarice would have to remember to thank Gabrielle once again. “Eponin, shouldn’t we at least ride out to the edge of the territory and escort Gabrielle and Xena to the village.”

Holding her young lover in her arms Eponin ran her fingers through the long red hair that she found extremely seductive and soft. “Mmm…no. Artemis will send Ephiny and Solari for them. We don’t need to move.”

Since they returned to the village Amarice had not yet moved her few possessions in with Eponin. Instead she left them in the communal hut she shared with five other young Amazons. Her mighty Warrior never asked her to share a hut so Amarice decided not to say anything. Her biggest fear was that Eponin would tire of her after a while. This caused Amarice to cry at the worse times. Several times Eponin caught her crying and was shaken by her tears. When asked why, Amarice made up some excuse like a headache or she was thinking about her adopted mom and how she missed her. Her Warrior never pushed her or questioned whether she was being truthful. Even though several days had passed since they were interrupted from playing that stupid question game, Amarice could not help but remember the last question. ‘Eponin, was it someone you made love too?’

The Warrior choked on the food in her mouth and the young redhead did not miss that. Instead Eponin responded in turn by asking Amarice what kind of question that was. *Are you hiding something my strong Warrior. I know it would be foolish of me to believe you never had lovers but was it someone special enough for you to choke on your food.* Understanding that she was feeling a bit insecure and jealous Amarice decided to pursue the question once again. Before doing so she lifted her body on top of the Warrior’s and kissed her deeply eliciting several wonderful groans from her lover. “Oh, Eponin…do you remember the game we were playing and I asked you if that person you were thinking of was an old lover? Well I’m still waiting for my answer.”

*Hades, I guess there is no pretending I’m asleep now.* Caressing Amarice’s cheek with her hand the Amazon looked into the flirtatious hazel eyes of her partner. “Why do you ask me a question like that? I’m with you…I’m not interested in anyone else. Leave the past alone. Okay. And no I’m not thinking of a previous lover.” By the end of her statement, Eponin was annoyed and pushed Amarice back gently, as she jumped out of bed. She began to put her clothes on and the young redhead once again questioned her.

“Where are you going — it is pouring rain out there!”

“To check the village perimeters. Don’t wait up for me I’ll be back……..whenever!” Knocking two chairs over, as she bolted through the door, Eponin wondered what in Hades was wrong with her. *I wonder if Xena went through these feelings of guilt with Gabrielle.* Stomping through the mud puddles across the compound toward the sentry tower on the south end of the village, Eponin reflected back over the question that Amarice just asked her. Yes, the Warrior had many lovers over the course of her life. Some were exciting most were not. Either way, none were as loyal and arousing as Amarice. She gave her body and heart completely to Eponin and it melted this old Warrior into nothing. That feisty little redhead owned Eponin heart and soul, the Warrior was just not ready to let her know that yet. As she climbed the tower to relieve the sentry posted, she wished Xena were around to talk with.

Amarice was crushed over Eponin’s reaction. Quickly getting dressed the young Amazon slipped out the door into the rain and headed to the stables. Saddling her horse she galloped out heading west. Her tears were falling as heavy as the rain and she prayed her horse would keep its footing and just take her away. This late at night the stables were unattended and no one saw the heartbroken young Amazon.

By the time Eponin reached the tower platform and argued with the sentry to stand down Amarice was already out of the village and lost in the darkness and rain.

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The woman standing before Maris with her arms crossed would never consider grasping forearms in greeting. Elmira had no qualms about ending a life and it did not matter if that life belonged to a woman, man or child. Although her preference was only to injure and then rob that victim of all their possessions, Elmira would kill, if the victim fought. What made her unique was her knowledge of pressure points. This talent would allow Maris to match Xena at her own game. The renegade realized the Warrior would not be willing to give up her precious Gabrielle that easily thus bringing Elmira in, as a combatant opponent, would keep Xena occupied.

“Well Maris, I’ve come a long way. Your message said the Queen is the target.”

Raising her mug of ale to her lips, Maris would delay her response, as a show of authority. Waving to the barmaid for a refill the rebel tapped her fingers on the table until she had a full mug in front of her. “The Queen is the target, I however, want you to take care of Xena. She will not be willing to let Gabrielle walk into danger. You my comrade will sneak into the village and take the Warrior out before she has a chance to move.”

“Are they in the village?”

Maris peered into the blue eyes of the woman sitting across from her. Not much taller than Maris, this woman wore her black hair in a single braid that hung down her back to her waist. Wearing billowy robes rather than tighter clothing for battle, Elmira believed it concealed her own pressure points making it difficult for any opponent to accurately strike the first time. Under her left eye she wore a tattoo of a badger. Maris mused that this woman would indeed be capable of killing the Warrior Princess. “No, not yet. They will be soon. I plan on killing a few more Amazon’s tonight. With this weather they will not venture far beyond the village perimeter. I plan on sending in Leandra and Scorpios to take at least two more lives.”

“Leandra…..hmm, interesting choice.” A smile crossed Elmira’s face, as she remembered the last time she rode with the tall and lean Leandra. “Is she still as evil?” About four seasons ago, the pair helped the warlord Hexis take several villages on the Island of Crete. Elmira remembered how Leandra ruthlessly executed a number of women after raping each. Although Elmira was disgusted by the evil in this woman, she knew better than to cross her and did nothing to stop the torture.

“Yes, she is still without a soul.”

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

“Scorpios are you absolutely out of your mind! Do you have any idea who you just tied to that tree?” Leandra was angry at the young man’s boldness in taking the young Amazon. While she could care less that the man wanted to relieve his sexual needs with an Amazon or two, she agreed with Maris that prisoners would be too much of a burden and any good Amazon left alive would only slow their movement around the territory.

Running his tongue up and down the cheek of the young Amazon, the assassin fondled her breasts until Leandra slapped him in the back of the head. Stepping away he winked at the Amazon who only spit in his face. Filled instantly with rage he punched her, which only served to knock her unconscious. “Bitch! I will teach you how to respect someone like me.”

Shaking her head Leandra was frustrated. Grabbing Scorpios from behind the rebel held a knife to his throat. “Touch her again and I will kill you myself. Do you understand me?”

Laughing in spite of the knife Scorpios pushed Leandra’s hand away and turned to face her. “Oh come on Le — you can’t tell me you actually plan on following through with Maris’ plans? And anyway, she is just one puny Amazon, what do you care. I’ll share her with you when I’m done.”

This statement caused the Amazon rebel to snicker. “Yeah, well you’re wrong there. I have every intentions of killing the Queen.” With that being said Leandra walked over to the young Amazon.

“Who is she Leandra?”

Checking the ropes to make sure the prisoner was tied securely to the tree Leandra smiled at Scorpios. “Her name is Amarice. All I know is she is one of the Queen’s favorites. Wonder what she was doing wandering around in the rain and dark.” Realizing it did not matter, Leandra returned to the small burning ember they started due to the cold and rain. Rethinking the situation the rebel began to wonder if the young redhead might actually come in handy, as bait.

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

Deciding to stay a few more days at the cave the newly married couple wanted to get the horses out for some exercise. The downpour of rain turned to sprinkles and both were anxious for some fresh air. Gabrielle did not yet have a saddle and Xena cursed her foolishness for not thinking of it sooner. The extra rein in Argo’s saddlebag allowed Gabrielle to at least control the chestnut mare easier. “Gabrielle ride with me okay. It’s too muddy out there. If that horse slips you could fall and get hurt.”

Grabbing her Warrior by the cheeks Gabrielle gave her a huge kiss. “You worry too much. And if you’ll remember, the horse was your idea. Anyway my legs are strong enough to hang on.”

“Oh yea…don’t I know what it’s like to have those powerful legs wrapped around my…..”

The Bard slapped her Warrior in the shoulder before she could finish the statement. “Yea well you’d better just remember that the next time you’re in……mmmm……that position.” With an extremely seductive smile Gabrielle jumped onto her horse, pulled her cape over her head and led the mare out of the cave.

Mounting Argo, the Warrior draped her cape over her shoulders and head and growled lovingly. “Don’t expect to stay on that horse too long.” Xena had every intentions of testing those leg muscles out soon. *Me and my big mouth — should have never talked her into that horse.*

Riding the horses cut their travel time to the lake and the small hidden trail behind the towering rocky face. As the Bard turned the mare around to head back to the lake, the Warrior brought Argo alongside. Xena had enough of this solo riding and catching her soulmate off guard lifted her from the mare and sat her in front on Argo. “Told you not to expect to stay on your horse for too long.”

Gabrielle spun around in the saddle facing her lover playfully kissing her until the heat increased and two sets of lips became one. Deciding she would take lead of their lovemaking on the top of Argo, Gabrielle slid her arms under the Warrior cape and started unfastening the leather shoulder straps. She wanted to taste the firm breasts of her soulmate. Just as Gabrielle tilted her head to capture a harden nipple the Warrior pushed her away roughly. “What are you doing Xena?” The Warrior was smiling at someone and Gabrielle looked over her shoulder to see Artemis.

Both women almost fell off Argo and Artemis had to call upon all her resources to stop from laughing. Once both were standing on the ground Artemis cleared her throat and approached the soulmates. “Having a good time I see. Sorry to interrupt.”

“My Goddess, is something wrong?” Not too sure why Artemis would appear to them, as she typically did not, Gabrielle intuitively realized there was a problem. “Are the Amazon’s okay?”

“My little Chosen One, there is danger. I must transport you back to the village.” Artemis placed her hand on Gabrielle’s shoulder intentionally ignoring the Warrior.

“Not without Xena you won’t.”

*Oh, baby — be careful. You don’t want to anger Artemis.* Concerned over her soulmates defensive stance with a goddess, Xena flashed her best smile at Artemis. Hoping that Artemis would not retaliate in anger the Warrior loved it, when Gabrielle became her protector. As she hoped, Artemis was all hot air. Gabrielle could probably do anything to Artemis and the Goddess would find a way to accept her actions.

“Hmpf…okay Gabrielle, she can come too. Might need her help anyway.” Artemis was secretly pleased with her Chosen One’s boldness. It was a trait Gabrielle would need to defeat enemies and protect a nation. The goddess had decided Gabrielle would have to handle this situation without her help. While Artemis could step in and easily destroy the source, she would not interfere. Her Chosen One had to deal with this and her bond with Xena was a part of her strength.

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

It was not until midday, when the sun chased away the rain clouds that Eponin left her post. Hoping Amarice would forgive her for running out, the Warrior was amused that she was willing to crawl and beg, if necessary. A sudden flash of light filled the center of the Amazon Village. As the women rushed to see the source of this phenomenon, they discovered the Queen, her Warrior and their horses.

“Hades, I hate it when she does that. She’s been hanging around Aphrodite too long.” Nothing irritated Xena more than a god who showed off. Hearing her soulmate giggle she shot Gabrielle a raised eyebrow and a sly smirk.

“Oh…is that a promise for later, my love.” Knowing full well that Artemis’ display of godhood was to annoy her Warrior, Gabrielle could not resist teasing her a bit.

As the Amazons surrounded the soulmates with greetings and cheers, both women realized this was the first time many of them had seen their Queen alive since they returned to life. While some had attended the reunion celebration in Amphipolis, the majority of the women had only heard the stories. Jumping off of Argo, Xena held out her arms for Gabrielle knowing full well that her partner was capable of dismounting alone. This had just become a routine over the past season and Xena had no intentions of changing it. It gave her one more opportunity to touch and hold her lover.

Sliding off of the chestnut and into her lover’s embrace was always easy for Gabrielle. Intentionally keeping her arms around the Warrior’s neck, she smiled sensually into blue eyes and kissed her Warrior passionately without concern for the watching eyes around them. This pleased the Amazons who roared and howled encouraging the kiss to continue.

Attempting to gain some composure before she seduced Gabrielle in front of everyone, Xena pulled her lips away. With a smile and a few random kisses on Gabrielle’s lips the Warrior pressed her forehead to her soulmates. “You my love are very good at centering the attention around me, when I am at my weakest.” Receiving raised eyebrows and a sensual smile from her soulmate, the Warrior tugged on Gabrielle’s arms causing them to release from her neck. “Later…you and me….Queen’s hut.” Inclining her head to peer into the already glazed over green eyes, Xena smiled knowing that not only did Gabrielle have control of her but she also had Gabrielle at her mercy.

With that one inviting sexual promise of the evening to come Gabrielle’s knees became weak and if it wasn’t for Shulaba grabbing her from behind in a big hug the Bard would have collapsed. Xena was an expert in seduction and on many occasions Gabrielle would get beat at her own game, as the Warrior would turn the tables and become the pursuer. Anything Xena wanted from her, Gabrielle would give her. *Oh, the games…yes my Warrior…how I love to play.*

“Thank Artemis you are both here!” The Queen spun around to face Shulaba giving her a hug in return. “I’m so sorry we had to interrupt your….well, you know.” The Regent blushed slightly, as she noticed the smile across Gabrielle’s lips and the one raised eyebrow and half smirk crossing Xena’s face. Without hesitation Shulaba handed her Queen the note sent several days sooner. The Warrior wrapped one arm around Gabrielle and leaned over her shoulder to read the message.

Handing the parchment to Xena, the Queen rubbed her temples and closed her eyes. Only a moment passed, when she spoke to her Regent. “How many Shulaba…how many are hurt or…”

“Ten have been injured and will survive. Two have been killed.”

Eponin patted Xena on the shoulder and the Warrior spun around to greet her friend with a hug. “Xena, why don’t we go into the council hut and talk about this.” Everyone agreed with Eponin’s suggestion and the group politely left the Amazons who were huddling around their Queen. For the next candlemark Shulaba and Eponin filled the soulmates in on the details of what they knew about the threat, who had been injured and killed, along with the procedures they have been following to ensure safety.

“Shulaba….” Just as Gabrielle was about to question her Regent, the Captain of the Royal Guard, Teklai bolted through the front door out of breath.

“My Queen…welcome home.” Nodding her head respectfully to Xena, the Amazon handed a small piece of parchment to Gabrielle. “It was left pinned to a tree with this dart. No one saw who left it.” Teklai handed the dart to Xena. “It had to happen, when everyone was welcoming you home, my Queen.”

Opening the folded parchment Gabrielle read the contents to her friends. ‘Amarice is ours. We will trade. Bring Queen Gabrielle to the Point. We will give you Amarice, alive. We know she is in the village. If we do not have the Queen by sundown tomorrow the Amazon dies.’

Before the message was completely read, Eponin bolted through the door knocking over an undetermined number of Amazons on her way to check her hut for the redhead. That was the last place she saw Amarice, when she left last night.

“Follow her Teklai, make sure she does not leave the village.” Gabrielle was quick issuing this order.

“I know who this dart belongs too.” The Warrior twirled the dart between her fingers. Moving over to stand by her soulmate Xena squeezed Gabrielle’s shoulder. “An assassin named Scorpios. He is extremely dangerous and very accurate with both darts and arrows. He is your sniper. We take him out and we have a chance to beat Maris.”

Slipping one arm around Xena’s waist Gabrielle laid her head on the strong shoulder of her soulmate. “I won’t risk your life Xena and I won’t risk Amarice. We will make the trade.”

Both Xena and Shulaba shouted together. “NO.”

Spinning her soulmate around so she could look her directly in the eyes the Warrior would never allow Gabrielle to become a target like that. “No, Gabrielle, we can figure a way out of this. You will not risk your life and that is the end of this conversation. Do not argue with me.” Realizing that she would never win the argument Gabrielle relented and instead hugged her soulmate.

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

Laughing unbelievably, Maris was actually pleased, when she discovered Amarice tied to a tree and heard the demand that Scorpios and Leandra sent to the Queen. “This is actually beautiful.” Standing close to Amarice she yanked on the red hair. “You my little one will not only deliver the Queen to me, you will bring me Xena and probably the Regent.”

“They will never come Maris. You’re wasting your time.” The young redhead was frightened but she was also angry with herself for running out into the darkness without thinking. If that horse had not slipped on the muddy ground, she would not have fallen and hit her head.

Maris would do nothing more than laugh at her captive. “We move her tonight, when it is dark. Stake her to the ground at the Point. She can lay there until her heroes come along.” Her voice dripped with sarcasm, as her companions joined Maris in laughter. “Then we split up and take them all.”

“What about killing a few more Amazons tonight?” Elmira was quick in reminding Maris of her earlier promise.

“No, they will not wander from the village tonight. They know we have the redhead. They will be much more alert. We will focus on moving to the Point and then I will explain the changes to my plan.”

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

The fair-haired Stella who’s home is the prison within the Amazon village, was not unaware of the events that transpired. Although she was kept separate from Pippa, the two were allowed four candlemarks each day to spend with each other. Over that time frame, Stella told her daughter the truth. At first Pippa refused to believe her, until Stella began explaining certain events and people in Pippa’s life. Eventually the young girl believed and was now attempting to accept Stella, as her mother. The Queen did nothing to hide the most recent message, as Xena thought it might be a good idea to spread the word and see if there were any additional traitors hiding in the village.

“Stella, you asked to see me?” The Warrior walked through the prison door to find Stella looking through the bars of her window.

“Yes, Xena thank you for coming.” Stella approached the Warrior extended her hand in friendship. Xena accepted. “I have an idea that might save both the Queen and the young Amarice. Will you hear me out?”

The thought that this woman appeared concerned had Xena’s curiosity. At this point, since she was not yet sure what she would do, so decided to listen.

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

Teklai was able to stop Eponin from leaving the compound, when she told her it would only be foolish. She would only place Amarice in more danger. Deciding she would find Xena, the Amazon saw the Warrior leaving the prison and ran to catch up with her. “Xena….what do we do?” Both anxiety and anger was apparent in Eponin and the Warrior understood the helpless feeling her friend was having. So often Gabrielle had been in trouble and the pain cut through Xena like a knife.

“I’ve been talking with Stella. She actually has a plan that just might work. Let’s find Gabrielle and Shulaba. The two Warriors found the women in the dining hut consuming a loaf of nutbread the cook baked, when she heard the Queen was in the village. Sitting down next to her lover, Gabrielle was happy to see her and gave Xena a sweet kiss. “Mmm, you taste like nutbread.”

“Are you complaining?”

Grabbing Gabrielle by the waist Xena guided her to her lap. “No, not at all. In fact I think I might just like to taste that ag……” Before she could finish her request the Queen locked her lips to Xena’s and the game of who was in charge began.

After several moments of heated kissing, Eponin slammed her fist on the table. “Look you two, the woman I love is out there some where, do you mind concentrating on how we are going to get to her!!” The Warrior would not normally react so poorly and so boldly with the Queen, in front of a dining hut filled with Amazons, but at this point, she cared for no one but Amarice.

Both women stared at Eponin and could see the fear and the tears pooling in the large brown eyes. Xena spoke before Gabrielle had an opportunity. “Sorry Eponin. Okay, I spoke with Stella, who actually came up with a plan that might work.” As the Warrior told her friends the plans, all the women agreed it actually might work.

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

That night Maris, Leandra, Scorpios and Elmira dragged Amarice to the Point and staked her on her back to the ground. Falling back under the cover of the forest Maris told her rebels of the plan. Believing that the Amazons would never give up their Queen, Maris would leave Elmira and Scorpios behind tomorrow morning to kill whomever attempted to rescue Amarice and hopefully Xena would be with them. Then they could do what they wanted to the young redhead.

“So you really do not think Gabrielle will come?” Elmira was rather curious, as to why Maris would believe this.

The rebel chuckled believing she would outsmart the Queen and her Warrior. “They think I’m stupid. They will send a decoy. It might look like Gabrielle from a distance but it won’t be. And Xena will probably be with them to make it appear real. That’s when I want you to take her out.” Looking out at the stars in the sky Maris was grateful that the night was dry. “They will leave Gabrielle back in the village with her precious Captain of the Guards. Leandra and I will leave now, which will put us in place before sunrise. That’s when we will strike.”

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

Late that evening Stella was brought to the Queen’s hut. Immediately dropping to one knee showing respect for her Queen she heard the familiar gentle voice. “Please stand Stella.” The Amazon stood proudly. “Are you sure you want to do this?”

“Yes, my Queen. I am yours to command.” The plan was simple; Stella would stay in the Queen’s hut pretending to be Gabrielle. She believed that Maris and Leandra would use Amarice, as a decoy, and Maris was smart enough to predict Xena would never place Gabrielle in harms way and thus send out a decoy. The ex-rebel, Stella, felt Maris would circle back and strike the village early. It was just her style.

Eponin came into the hut. “Everything is ready. The guards are in position and the sentries are gathered throughout the treetops.” Xena approached Stella and offered her forearm in thanks. “Stella, as far as I’m concerned you’ve redeemed your honor in my eyes. Thank you.” The Amazon smiled. “Just catch them Xena.”

Gabrielle stood next to Xena and tenderly slipped her fingers into the hand of her Warrior. Without hesitation Xena squeezed her soulmate’s hand. They would travel through the night so they could be in position before midday. This would allow Xena to survey the area around the Point before the meeting. Teklai and Shulaba would remain behind with several well-trained royal guards. Eponin would accompany Gabrielle and Xena. If all went well, the fact that the Captain of the Royal Guard stayed behind would give Maris the impression that Gabrielle would still be in the village. Stella explained to Xena that Maris would never believe that the Warrior would bring Gabrielle on to a possible battlefield. The fair-haired Stella would wear Gabrielle’s clothing and stay in the Queen’s hut for the entire day and evening. By the time Maris realizes it is not Gabrielle it will be too late.

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

Riding in the dark was difficult without the aid of torches. The half moon was hidden by clouds, which also blocked most of the stars. Eponin insisted on leading and no one argued with her. Xena understood her need to keep busy and how difficult is was to not know what your lover might be going through. There were too many times, when Gabrielle was missing and the pain that drove through Xena’s heart was horrible. The trio rode single file, which allowed Eponin to choose the safest path. Gabrielle was placed between them on her chestnut mare. A saddle was given, as a gift, to Gabrielle by the seven Amazon blacksmiths of the village.

As usual, her soulmate was pleased and overwhelmed by the generosity of the women and her young Bard gave both tears and hugs to each Amazon. Rubbing her thumb over the ring Gabrielle had given her, the Warrior needed to touch her soulmate.
Guiding Argo alongside the chestnut mare caught the Queen’s attention and she smiled. All Xena had to do was reach out with her arms and Gabrielle allowed her Warrior’s strength to pull her onto Argo’s saddle. Choosing to ride sidesaddle in front of Xena, the Bard slipped one arm around the Warrior’s waist and laid her head on the muscular shoulder. Falling in behind Eponin, the Warrior held onto the chestnut’s rein and led the horse. Several kisses burned sweetly on her neck and the Warrior responded by kissing the top of Gabrielle’s head. Understanding that silence was important no words were exchanged or required.

A trip to the Point during daylight would only take about two candlemarks. It took the trio three candlemarks to reach the area Xena had planned. Stopping at the edge of the forest the women dismounted quietly. At sunrise Xena would be able to survey the field that separated them from the Point.

“Why wait until morning. Let me crawl out there and find Amarice.” The master of the staff was anxious and afraid for her lover.

Placing her hand on Eponin’s shoulder the Warrior understood. “My friend, no. They will anticipate a move like this. And we don’t know if Amarice is even out there. If you want to do something tie off the horses and then climb a tree and watch. We have about three to four candlemarks before sunrise.”

Reluctantly Eponin nodded her agreement and moved the horses to a secure area. Before climbing a tree, the Warrior handed Gabrielle a blanket. “You should get some rest, my Queen.”

Without warning Gabrielle wrapped her arms around Eponin and hugged her tightly. She was pleased, when she felt Eponin reciprocate the hug. “Amarice is strong. She will be okay. Just keep remembering that.” Moments later the dark hair Amazon was hidden among the treetops.

“She’s right Gabrielle. You should get some rest.” Taking the blanket the Warrior spread it out in front of a tree. Sitting on the blanket she motioned for Gabrielle to join her. Snuggling with Xena was one of the best feelings in the world. The Warrior’s arms were so strong that she was able to support Gabrielle easily. Xena also had an extremely warm body and as Gabrielle burrowed into her soulmates chest, the heat took away the chill of the night air. To Gabrielle cuddling with the Warrior was like a mini climax.

It always filled her heart and soul with an overwhelming feeling of being loved. Looking up into those absolutely gorgeous blue eyes Gabrielle found Xena’s lips. Always ready and willing to be kissed by Gabrielle, the Warrior demanded entry into the heated passion of the young woman and instantly found Gabrielle ready to explore and give as much love as she was receiving. Both understood they would not take their love further than the kiss so simultaneously broke the kiss before they could no longer control their desires.

Laying her head on the Warrior’s chest Gabrielle sighed with pleasure. “I love you Xena.”

Hugging her soulmate tighter, Xena rested her head on top of Gabrielle’s. “I love you too, baby. Gods, how I love you.”

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

During the night Maris and Leandra left the Point and circling around the field heading back to the Amazon Village. Their direction was one of constant coverage by the heavy forest, thus there would be no way they could possibly run into the trio camped on the eastern side of the field, which was more opened.

That morning the trio decided rather than play cat and mouse, they would ride out onto the field, yet stay out of arrow range. Xena’s knowledge of Scorpios and her experience at battle allowed her to determine what safe distance would be. Gabrielle would wear the mask of the Queen, when they rode out onto the field. Not knowing how many people Maris had under her command, Xena assumed that at least Scorpios would recognize Gabrielle, therefore the mask would give the trio a slight advantage. It would allow them to stall for time, hopefully giving the Warrior enough time to draw out everyone Maris may have left behind. Remembering Stella’s words regarding Maris, the rebel would already be on her way back to the village.

The Point was nothing more than an unusual conglomeration of boulders located on the far side of an open field. About two candlemarks after sunrise the women started across the field. Gabrielle rode between the Warrior and Eponin until they caught sight of the Point. They were not there long before they could see a body on the ground. At first, no one else was in view. Within moments a lone woman in robes stepped out from around the boulders.

Eponin was obviously ready to charge and the Warrior spoke firmly. “Eponin — don’t you dare bolt out there!”

“Hades, Xena that is Amarice on the ground.”

“I know and if you want to keep her alive you do as I tell you.”

Sliding off of Argo the Warrior started walking across the field. “Xena!”

Looking over her shoulder she understood the face under the mask and heard the fear in Gabrielle’s voice. Returning to her lover the Warrior rubbed Gabrielle’s leg, as she and Eponin remained on their horses. “Baby, it’ll be okay. I will be back for you. I love you.” Bringing Gabrielle’s hand to her lips Xena kissed it tenderly. Not giving the Bard a chance to react Xena ran into the field toward the boulders. As she got closer, it was obvious that Amarice was conscious and fearful. Xena did not recognize the woman standing next to her. “Amarice are you okay?”

“XENA. Watch it – this bitch is…” Elmira kicked Amarice in the chest pushing the air from her lungs. “I see you brought us the Queen?”

“Let Amarice go. That was the agreement.”

“Oh, no that was your agreement with Maris and she is not here. And anyway, we all know that the woman with the mask is not really your Queen.”

Xena raised her arm signaling Eponin and Gabrielle. The Amazon whispered to her Queen. “Rebels think you are a fake. Let’s go.” Slowly the pair jumped from their horses and walked toward Xena stopping about twenty paces behind.

“Oh….please, take that mask off.” Elmira moved away from Amarice so that her back was to the sun forcing the Warrior to look into the bright rays. “Just so you know there is an arrow pointing directly to the young redhead’s heart. Now please take that mask off. I already know you are not the Queen. In fact with any luck your precious Queen is being raped, as we speak.”

Just then the Warrior noticed Scorpios perched on top of one of the boulders. This placed him above and behind Xena, as well as directly over Amarice. The Warrior knew his aim would be accurate. “Come on Elmira get on with it. My hand is getting tired….I might decide to let go.”

“Shut up Scorpios!” Elmira was irritated that the stupid archer mentioned her name and the smirk that crossed Xena’s face told Elmira that the Warrior now knew who she was. Thus the element of surprise was taken away. Originally planning to provoke Xena into a physical fight, she would then force her finger into the Warrior’s heart killing her instantly. Drawing a short sword hidden among her robes Elmira screamed at the Queen. “I SAID REMOVE YOUR MASK!”

Xena nodded her head without looking back and Gabrielle lifted the mask dropping it to the ground. “Hades, Elmira, it is the Queen!!” Scorpios recognized the woman immediately and moved his aim from Amarice to Gabrielle. “You Amazon.” Motioning to Eponin. “On your knees.”

Unable to contain her anger any longer Eponin gave a warrior’s cry setting events in motion. Flipping across the distance between herself and Scorpios the assassin found his mark in her thigh. The chain of events caused Elmira to react and she charged directly toward Xena who ripped through the woman’s stomach with her chakram killing her instantly. Spinning around she watched Scorpios reload his bow and released her chakram severing the man’s head from his body. Gabrielle was already holding Eponin in her arms when Scorpios lost his head. Xena quickly released Amarice and helped the young woman to her feet. Ignoring the stiffness and pain from being slapped, punched and kicked she rushed to Eponin knocking her backwards. Lying on top of the injured Warrior, Amarice poured kisses, tears and hugs all over her lover. All Eponin could do was cry and embrace her little love one tightly.

Gabrielle moved back so the two Amazons could have some privacy and watched her Warrior scanning the surroundings for any other possible attackers. Musing that there were no others Xena approached Gabrielle whose eyes were focused directly at her.
Unable to stand still the young blonde ran to her soulmate’s waiting arms. The Warrior became instantly demanding and Gabrielle gave in to Xena’s need. In heated emotions the kiss turned fast, forceful and needy. Both became consumed and lost in each other. Eponin’s yell for someone to pull the arrow out of her leg broke the soulmates apart. Apologizing repeatedly Xena lifted Eponin and whistled for Argo. The mare stood still obediently, while Xena lifted Eponin on to the horse and retreated to the protection of the forest. Once safely hidden, the Warrior started a small fire and prepared to treat Eponin’s leg.

With great expertise and seasons of practice the Warrior removed the arrow, applied a poultice and a bandage was wrapped around the wound. While the Warrior did this, Gabrielle took care of the bumps, scratches and bruises that covered Amarice. The feisty redhead was fortunate and her injuries were only minor. With the young one on the move to be with Eponin, Gabrielle brewed some tea and added several medicinal herbs to help ease the pain for both her friends.

Amarice demanded that Eponin rest in her arms. While the tears slip from her soft hazel eyes she kissed her big old Warrior continuously. “Eponin, I’m so sorry I….”

“Ssshh little one. Everything is okay. I should never have left the hut.” Running her strong fingers through the red hair the Amazon Warrior smiled up at her young lover. “I sure would like it, if you would move into the hut with me.” Amarice kissed her Warrior tenderly whispering that she would. Pushing Amarice back gently the huge brown eyes of the Amazon darted over the beautiful sweet face of the young woman that captured her heart so easily. “There is no one in this world for me but you. Okay…so don’t ever think otherwise.”

The Warrior walked back out into the field to retrieve the Queen’s mask that was left on the ground. She found herself staring at the dead bodies and realized this was her first kill since rebirth. Normally Xena would have welcomed a battle but this time she refused to play the game and her kills were quick and swift. A warm hand touched her back and Gabrielle wrapped her arms around Xena’s waist. “You okay, Xena?”

Hugging her soulmate with one arm Xena kissed Gabrielle on the nose. “Yes, honey. I am doing okay. That one woman would have been a challenge. She knew pressure points. I recognized her name; a very dangerous woman.” Turning away the couple walked hand in hand back to the forest. “Gabrielle, I love you.”

“I know Xena. I love you too.”

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

Allowing Eponin and Amarice to rest for the majority of the day, the women returned to the Amazon village before sunset. Just outside the village a sentry party greeted them. The plan had worked and Maris walked right into the trap. She was now currently sitting in the village prison chained to the walls. Leandra managed to get away, as she never entered the village.

The entire village was electrified, as their Queen entered the village. Excited Amazons surrounded the four women before they could dismount. Quickly she ordered several of them to get Eponin to Lillioka’s hut so the healer may look at her leg, as well as Amarice’s injuries. The commotion brought the Regent and Teklai from the dining hut and hugs and laughter went all around.

“It worked. Maris walked right into the village carrying nothing more than a breast dagger. She claimed she had a message for the Queen from Herodotus……oh, Gabrielle…I’m sor…..” The excitement that had control over Shulaba was quickly squashed, when she realized what she was saying.

Instantly raising her hand, Gabrielle rubbed the side of Shulaba’s cheek. “It is okay Shulaba. I have to deal with that man soon. Please go on and tell us what happened.” Two strong arms came up behind Gabrielle and circled her waist pulling her to a warm body. Xena’s heart ached for her soulmate.

“Well, the guards let her in the door, as planned. Teklai and four others were hiding and grabbed Maris immediately. She was in such shock, when Stella spun around to face her that she was easily apprehended.”

“Did Leandra get away?” Xena was not pleased about this possibility because it meant the assassin was loose and eventually would be a threat.

“She never entered the village. I don’t think she was even near the village. The sentries posted in the trees never saw her. Stella said the two women fought all the time. Leandra thought all of Maris’ plans were stupid.”

Gabrielle leaned her head against Xena’s shoulder and could feel her Warrior’s lips brushing her hair. “Where is Stella? Was she hurt?”

“No, my Queen. She insisted on returning to her cell.” Shulaba lowered her eyes for a moment. “I tried to tell her she did not have too.”

“Shulaba, I want her brought to the dining hut. She will join me at my table.” The Regent smiled at her Queen with pride. “Oh, and bring Pippa too.” Spinning around to face her Warrior, she found tears in the blue eyes. “Are you okay Xena?”

Capturing Gabrielle’s face with her hands, Xena kissed her lover and whispered. “You overwhelm me baby. I can’t get enough of you.” With their arms wrapped around each other the couple made their way to the dining hut and eventually to the Queen’s table. Food and drinks were served immediately and the soulmates found they were hungry. Many of the Amazons stopped at the table to pay their respects to both Gabrielle and Xena. Straddling the bench the Warrior scooted close to her soulmate and kept her hand around Gabrielle’s waist. Totally in love with this young woman it amazed Xena how often she found herself falling in love all over again.

It was only a matter of time before Stella and Pippa were brought before Gabrielle. The Warrior stood immediately and offered her forearm in greeting and friendship. Stella accepted grateful for the friendship of the Warrior Princess. The Regent intuitively knew what her Queen was about to do and ordered that the hut quiet down. All eyes watched the Queen, as she moved from behind her table to stand next to Stella and Pippa. Her Warrior immediately stood by her side. Looking directly at Stella and no one else, Gabrielle placed her hand on the Amazon’s shoulder. “You have risked your life for your Queen and this nation. You are pardoned from all crimes anyone may accuse you of. I hope both you and your daughter, Pippa, will continue to live within this village and continue to live the way of an Amazon.”

Stella fell to her knees in tears and was quickly followed by her daughter. In her great love for people, Gabrielle followed Stella and embraced her in a hug. The Amazons began shouting their agreement of Gabrielle’s decision and soon all were once again laughing and celebrating the day. Teklai bent over placing her hand on Stella’s back. “I sure could use a good lieutenant. Interested in the job Stella?” The fair hair Amazon was overwhelmed by the love and kindness she was receiving and not only thanked her Queen but accepted Teklai’s offer. Before the evening was over, Pippa was enrolled as a warrior in training under the guidance of Eponin and both women would move into the community hut, until a private hut could be built. Gabrielle ordered several seasons ago that every mother and child should have a home of her own.

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

“The Warrior did an excellent job tending to your wound, Eponin.” Turning to Amarice the healer could only smile at the young redhead who was turning into a fine Amazon. “Your Warrior will need to be off that leg for awhile. Think you can handle that?” Lillioka had no doubt that the young Amazon would be able to keep Eponin on her back and had to chuckle slightly, when she saw the smirk cross Amarice’s face.

“Lillioka, I’m sure I will have no problems finding ways to keep my Warrior occupied while she is resting.” The seduction in Amarice’s voice sent fevered waves of passion through Eponin and she could feel the wetness between her legs.

*Oh..yea, my little one. I know what I need…..and it is you.* Allowing several Amazons to help her to her feet, the Warrior could not get to her hut fast enough. That night the only medicine that Eponin needed was to touch, taste and smell her lover.

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

As the festivities progressed, Xena and Gabrielle were inseparable. Any Amazon wanting the attention of their Queen was required to also spend the time with Xena. The Warrior would not move from her side and kept in constant physical touch with Gabrielle. The two women continued to share hugs, kisses and held hands. Xena became extremely protective and Gabrielle welcomed the security from her mate. Xena was just reaching in to capture Gabrielle’s willing lips once more, when she felt a hand on her shoulder. Ready to take off that hand, Xena glared over her shoulder at the intruder. “Yes Teklai?”

Teklai smiled, knowing all too well how Xena was feeling at that moment. There were so many times, when she had to stand to the side while the Regent spent time with the women of the village. In fact, she almost wanted to tell the Warrior to be prepared to feel that way all the time, when it meant she’d have to share her lover. Instead Teklai bent down to whisper in Xena’s ear. “It’s time you two leave. The Regent can handle anything that comes up. So go, make love to your soulmate.”

Out of respect for what the Bard termed “warrior bonding” she focused her attentions on the crowd while Teklai spoke with Xena. Soon she felt Xena pulling her close and kissing her cheek. With a slight tug on her hand Gabrielle allowed Xena to draw her away from the bench. The Bard knew what Xena wanted. She wanted this too, so she let the Warrior lead her through the crowd and out of the hut.

They walked with their arms around each other’s waist until they came to the door of the hut they shared. Xena looked at Gabrielle. “I can’t share you anymore tonight. Is that okay?”

Gabrielle reached up circling her arms around the Warrior’s neck. “Warrior, you are very demanding. I am Queen you know. I require a certain amount of attention. Think you are up for it?”

How she loved, when her soulmate wanted to play. Raising her eyebrows the Warrior let a smirk cross her lips and she picked Gabrielle off the ground. Kicking the door open with her foot she carried Gabrielle into their hut setting her down on the bed. The Warrior returned to close the door and immediately removed her sword and armor on the way. Sitting in the chair next to the bed Xena removed her boots. Gabrielle did nothing but watch her soulmate. Kneeling in front of Gabrielle, the Warrior decided to play the game. “My Queen, what is your wish?”

“Take my boots off Warrior.” Seductively Xena ran her fingers up Gabrielle’s legs and while her lips worked on the knees she pulled each boot off. The fact that Xena’s eyes were immediately drawn to Gabrielle’s muscular thighs exposed by the draping split of her leathers increased her need to take this woman quickly. Licking with her tongue up the firm and tender thighs of her soulmate Xena felt a hand holding her head from climbing further.

Passion dripped from Gabrielle’s voice and Xena could feel her mound throbbing with need. “Are you hungry Warrior? I have something you might like to taste.” The game was over. Xena growled with excitement and pushed Gabrielle back on the bed. Pulling Gabrielle’s leathers and undergarments off in one tug she spread the young blonde’s legs and latched on to the wet hot essences of her soulmate. This produced instant groaning and panting from Gabrielle and as Xena plunged her tongue into the fevered cavern of her lover, she licked and sucked furiously. There would be no simple caressing this time. Xena’s needs were too great. Within moments Gabrielle was shaking and reached the peak of her orgasm.

The Warrior would not let go and continued to suck and lick bringing her lover to a second and third climax. Eventually she could no longer contain her own need and pulled her lips from Gabrielle’s throbbing mound. Gabrielle understood her soulmate’s need and she quickly tugged the leathers off and pulled Xena up her own body until the Warrior was sitting over her face and probing tongue. As Xena rotated her hips, Gabrielle showed no mercy and forcefully and quickly took control of her Warrior. Eventually the Warrior could take no more and she collapsed on top of her soulmate. Together the two lovers cuddled and fondled each other until sleep came to both.

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Chapter Two
The following morning came quickly and the Warrior was not anxious to get out of bed. Some time in the early morning just prior to sunrise her soulmate woke up and began rubbing her hands over the Warrior’s body. Before Xena was fully awake Gabrielle was once again licking the essence between her thighs. *You are so wonderful my beautiful wife and so very passionate. Sometimes I think you have a fever the way you come after me.* Kissing Gabrielle on the forehead, the Warrior wanted to hold her longer and smell the scent that was only Gabrielle.

A loud knock reverberated on the door of the Queen’s hut startling Xena from her thoughts. The knock also served to scare Gabrielle awake jolting her from her cuddling position to sit straight up. Xena quickly grabbed her around the waist. “It’s okay, just a knock on the door.” Giving Gabrielle a smile and a quick kiss on the lips Xena got out of bed, grabbing a blanket to wrap around her, as she headed to the door. The Warrior glanced back to see her lover fall back down snatching the pillow Xena was laying on and pulling it tightly to her body. *Yes, definitely fevered.* Xena knew she loved this side of Gabrielle tremendously. Attempting to put her Warrior face on Xena opened the door.

Teklai and two additional guards stood respectfully and obviously on duty. Xena gave Teklai the ‘do you want me to kick your ass across the compound for this disruption’ look. Then in her sweetest voice she smiled at her friend. “Yes Teklai?”

“I’m sorry Xena.” Teklai paused fully aware of the Warrior’s glaring look and respectfully bowed her head to the Warrior. “I must speak with the Queen.”

The bow acknowledging her respect of the Warrior humored Xena, as she realized that if the two other guards were not present Teklai would not be so formal. Xena had a great deal of respect for Teklai and her position. “Gabr…I mean the Queen is not available at the moment, can it wait?”

Teklai knowing she may end up with Xena’s fist in her face bravely closed the distance between the two of them. “Xena, a message came for Gabrielle a few moments ago. It is from Poteidaia.”

“Has anyone read it yet?” Remembering the last message that was delivered from Poteidaia caused great concern in the Warrior, as it obviously had in Teklai. “Does anyone else know?”

“Only Shulaba knows of the message. It is still sealed, Xena. The messenger was a simple peasant and left almost as fast as he arrived. No one has read the contents. I just remember the last time Gabrielle received…..”

Xena was impressed with Teklai’s loyalty and ability to handle the situation and interrupted the Captain. “Yes, I know. Do you have the message with you?”

“Shulaba has it. She is in the council hut.”

“We will meet you there within a candlemark. Have Eponin and Amarice meet us also.” The Amazon departed and Xena tried to figure out how she was going to tell Gabrielle about the message. A chill ran up her spine, as she remembered the last message Herodotus had sent with a messenger that tried to kill her soulmate. *I won’t loose you Gabrielle, I promise you I will protect you and our love.*

Looking down at Gabrielle the Warrior ran her fingers through the blonde hair. “Mmmm…Xena come to bed.” The plea was soft and sensual, an invitation to make love.

Dropping her blanket Xena crawled under the covers and pulled Gabrielle close. “Sweetie, we have to get up. A message came for you. We need to meet with Shulaba.”

This caught Gabrielle’s attention and she leaned on her elbows attempting to focus extremely sleepy eyes at her soulmate. “What is the message about?”

“I don’t know. It is from Poteidaia.” Anticipating the worst, Gabrielle closed her eyes and buried her head into the pillow. Rolling to her side the Warrior rubbed Gabrielle’s back and shoulders. “Honey, it is safe. There is no messenger this time.” Hoping that if she got out of bed, Gabrielle might follow her did not work right away. The young woman was not willing to move extremely fast. While she pulled her boots on Xena glanced up to find that finally her soulmate was at least sitting on the edge of the bed. “Baby, it will be okay. We will get through this together.”

Watching Gabrielle slip the leather skirt around her waist Xena could not help but remember the gash on Gabrielle’s arm and the bruises she suffered in Amphipolis. Knowing she did not need an invitation the Warrior stood in front of Gabrielle and took the leather ties from her hands. Tying the leather sash that would hold the skirt in place, Xena was pleasantly surprised, when Gabrielle reached up and gave her a quick kiss. “I love you Xena. Always remember that.”

The Warrior wrapped her arms around Gabrielle’s waist and pulled her tightly to her chest. “Gabrielle, I love you too. Whatever is in that message I do not want you to keep it from me.”

Looking up into those deep baby blues Gabrielle saw the concern, the fear and the love Xena held for her. No, she would only hurt and scare Xena by not sharing the message. “I promise I will not keep anything from you my love.”

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

The Queen and her Warrior found the Regent, Teklai, Eponin and Amarice waiting for them in the council hut. Outside of the friendly greetings and questions, as to how Eponin and Amarice were doing, no one mentioned the message. Finally Gabrielle sat down next to Shulaba and the Regent pushed the sealed scroll in front of her Queen. Rolling the scroll back and forth between her hand and the table Gabrielle was not ready to open it.

“Is Maris talking at all about the attack on the Amazons?” Everyone knew Gabrielle was avoiding the scroll. Shulaba quickly looked past Gabrielle to Xena, who was sitting next to her. The Warrior smiled and nodded her head.

“No, she is not talking. She is demanding a trial.”

“I suppose that is the right thing to do. Set it for tomorrow at midday.” Continuing to stare at the scroll Gabrielle moved her hands away. “Who will represent her?”

“Normally the priestess Helena is willing to do this.” Shulaba placed her hand on Gabrielle’s back. “Are you going to read the message?”

Everyone could see the isolated tears slide down the Queen’s cheeks. With great gentleness Xena wrapped her arms around Gabrielle and kissed her on the cheek. “Gabrielle, I know this is hard but you have to look at it.”

Nodding her head weakly Gabrielle picked up the scroll and handed it to Xena. “You read it, I can’t.”

Without hesitation Xena broke the seal and opened the scroll reading the contents. Looking to her soulmate and then to her friends the Warrior read the contents.

‘Gabrielle, The Village Council of Poteidaia regrets to inform you that the house and barn owned by your parents burned to the ground in a mysterious fire. Your father was not in either building. We searched the grounds for Herodotus and regret that no one could find him. We can neither confirm he is alive or deceased. A message was also sent to Lila in Amphipolis. The property belongs to the both of you. Please let us know what your plans will be regarding the land.’

“Gabrielle, it is signed by Vanaska, Chief Council Elder. Do you know the man?” Making sure the message was not another ploy on Herodotus’ part, Xena had to be sure.

Simply nodding her head yes Gabrielle pushed her chair away from the table and stood. “I have to speak with Helena regarding Maris before the trial.”

A strong hand grabbed hers and the Bard knew it was Xena. “Shulaba can fill you in on the procedures for Maris. Why don’t…”

Jerking her hand away unexpectedly Gabrielle instantly became the Queen to hide her confusion and sorrow. “Xena, I must do this myself. I am the one who will have to determine her punishment.” Unable to look in the eyes of her soulmate, Gabrielle realized she would fall apart, if she accepted the tenderness Xena was offering. Authoritatively she looked at Teklai. “Captain have my horse saddled immediately and be ready to accompany me to the temple.” Without speaking or looking at anyone else Gabrielle walked quickly from the hut, followed by Teklai who was looking back and shrugging her shoulders with surprise.

Eponin grabbed Xena by the shoulders before she could chase after Gabrielle. “Let her go Xena.”

Yanking her shoulder away from Eponin the tears were apparent in the Warrior. “I can’t. She is hurting. This bastard of a man is slowly killing her. I have to go after her.”

The Regent stepped between the Warrior and the door. “Xena, with your permission, I am going to send a few scouts to Poteidaia to see if this message is true.”

Wiping the tears with the back of her hand the Warrior agreed to Shulaba’s idea and faced Eponin who was tugging on her arm. “She will be okay Xena. Gabrielle has you and you have her. Come, I will ride out with you to the temple.”

Xena tried to smile at her friend. “No, you need to take care of that leg. Shulaba can ride with me. I want both you and Amarice well enough to dance at our Amazon wedding.” Agreeing to Artemis’ wishes that they exchange vows in front of the Amazon nation was easy. Gabrielle had brought the best emotions out in Xena. Emotions the Warrior thought she would never be blessed with.

****

No words were necessary, as Gabrielle and Teklai rode from the Amazon village to Artemis’ temple. The young Queen had no desire to speak. Thankfully Teklai did not attempt to force a conversation. *I am so stupid! Oh, Xena….why does my father bring out the worst in me. I pushed you away and hurt your feelings. HADES!!! Sometimes I don’t think I deserve you my beautiful Warrior. * Glancing over at her riding companion and escort brought a smile to Gabrielle. “Teklai, I’m sorry, if I was a bit bossy back there.”

Unable to suppress a smile the Captain of the Royal Guard looked into the gorgeous green eyes of her Queen. “My Queen, you are suppose to be bossy. You are ruler of a nation.” A small giggle escaped Gabrielle so Teklai continued. “You should see how bossy Shulaba is, when you are not around. But don’t tell her I told you that.”

Several tears slipped from Gabrielle’s eyes. She understood that Teklai was attempting to make her feel better. “Thank you my friend.”

Teklai could hear the approaching horses and stopped her horse and Gabrielle’s in order to access whether the riders were friendly or foe. Both women quickly saw Xena and Shulaba heading directly towards them and waited. As the Warrior came up alongside of Gabrielle, she could see the redness in Xena’s eyes and the reality that her Warrior Princess had been crying struck a dagger through her heart. The Regent and Teklai guided the horses a respectful distance away giving their friend privacy.

“Xena, I’m sorry. My father just makes me crazy…I never meant to hurt you.” Argo and the chestnut somehow managed to move right next to each other and for a second Gabrielle wondered, if the two horses were talking. Extremely close to her soulmate, Gabrielle circled her hand around the base of the Warrior’s neck and stood in the stirrups to kiss Xena. As she hoped, Xena pulled her from the horse onto the front of Argo’s saddle and enthusiastically claimed Gabrielle’s lips. The kiss was a renewal, the kiss spoke of their love and the few purrs that escaped both women talked of their passion.

Aware of the desire running through her body, Xena pulled away, while Gabrielle continued to leave tiny kisses on her face. “Hey…we better get to the temple. I want this Maris incident over quickly. We have a wedding, remember?”

This caught Gabrielle’s attention and she looked into the blue eyes, which held her happily as a prisoner. “That’s right. Which means, we can have a second wedding night.”

Remembering the lustful fire that burned through them both on their wedding night caused Xena to shudder slightly. Her desires for Gabrielle caused a flame to build rapidly between her legs. Xena knew that soon it would be uncontrollable and she would take her lover on the back of Argo. “Uh…maybe you should ride the chestnut the rest of the way or we might not make the temple.”

Loving the thought that Xena was unable to resist her, she let her hand slide down and rubbed the dampness between her Warrior’s legs. This sneaky maneuver caused the Warrior to jump slightly, moan and then quickly regain her surroundings. “Oh no you don’t.” Xena grabbed Gabrielle’s hand tightly. “Tonight, my sweet wife, I will possess you until you scream.”

As each looked deeply into the eyes of the other, Gabrielle watched the eyebrows rise on her Warrior and could not help but giggle over the continuing game of love they enjoyed playing. Soon Xena joined her giggles with laughter and grabbing the reins of the chestnut mare she nudged Argo to catch up with Shulaba and Teklai.

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

“Lila, I don’t want you going to Poteidaia! I am firm about that.” The innkeeper was pacing the floor of her kitchen fairly rapidly. The message arrived yesterday and Cyrene was concerned that Herodotus was not found because he chose to hide. Ever since he sent Gabrielle that cruel message she refused to trust the man. “Look, I’m sure Vanaska would have sent a message to your sister. It probably went to the Amazons. Why don’t we take a trip there and see what Gabrielle has to say.”

The young brunette tapped her fingers on the table and watched, as the woman who took her into her home was pacing the floor and visibly concerned. “Cyrene, I want to go to Poteidaia. If my father is there, he won’t hurt me. It’s Gabby he hates.”

The innkeeper spun around and stared at the young brunette and wanted to slap her. While she was aware that Herodotus abused Gabrielle, Lila never indicated the problems with such harsh words before. “Hate is a powerful word Lila. Why? Why does your father hate her so much? And why and how can you possibly continue to love that man?”

Shrugging her shoulders Lila decided she said too much already. “Cyrene, I love you and I know you worry about me. But I need to go. If you want you can come with me. I have friends in Poteidaia, so I won’t be totally alone. I just need to see what is going on. I am not going to wait for my sister to make up her mind whether she wants to go or not.”

The innkeeper was not fooled by Lila’s sudden show of strength. Something else was going on and Lila was not going to tell her. “Okay, Lila. I will go with you but I’m also sending word to the Amazons.” Leaning onto the table and peering directly into the big brown eyes of the young woman, Cyrene wanted her to understand that whatever she was hiding would soon be discovered. “You, however, had better start telling me why your father hates Gabrielle so much. You may not know all the reasons but I have a feeling you have pieces that might help find answers. It’s time to grow up young lady and stop acting so fanciful. Your father has been extremely cruel to Gabrielle!”

Lila nodded her head and the innkeeper sat next to the younger sister of Gabrielle. For several candlemarks Lila spoke of a number of incidents where she was witness to the abuse. She had not been witness to all of them and was told by her father that Gabrielle had troubles with her mind. She was dangerous and needed to be controlled. The stories were one way she could control people — make them believe they were happy or sad.

“WAIT — you believed all of this crap? What did you mother say?” The innkeeper’s heart hurt horribly, as she heard the sickness that must have been running through Herodotus’ mind. “Lila, stories don’t control people.”

“No…well…maybe. I don’t know Cyrene. I just know, when Hope came and pretended to be Gabrielle and then that evil monster attacked our home…and..”

“And nothing! Lila….oh Lila….what am I going to do with you?” Shaking her head back and forth the innkeeper was exhausted just hearing about the foolishness of people.

“Mother loved Gabby a lot. I sometimes think Gabby was always her little girl and I was fathers.” The young brunette walked over to the window and stared at absolutely nothing. She just had to move. “Cyrene, I love Gabby more than anything….she just scares me sometimes. Our mother was just too weak to fight father. I can remember times, when she would beg father to stop hitting Gabby….and he would stop. Father loved mother and he would stop.”

Uncharacteristic of the innkeeper she became furious and with surprising strength lifted the table tipping it over. “ENOUGH!” Holding her hands out in front the innkeeper had enough of the sickness and insanity that Lila was willing to believe. “I will have Uncle Tensandi escort you to Poteidaia. When you are ready to return, I will still welcome you and love you.” Turning away from Lila who made no attempt to talk, Cyrene decided to find Tensandi.

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

The day spent with Helena at the temple was helpful for Gabrielle. It took her mind off of the message from Poteidaia and gave her an opportunity to learn more of Amazon history, culture and laws. In the late afternoon Artemis appeared and claimed the attention of her Chosen One until sunset. While Gabrielle was with Artemis the Warrior sent Shulaba and Teklai back to the village with the instructions from Helena to prepare Maris for her trial. Then the Warrior waited outside the temple for her soulmate.

“Warrior!” Jumping to her feet Xena spun around to see Artemis with her arm draped around Gabrielle’s shoulder. Xena was surprised to actually see Artemis smile at her. “You protect my Chosen One well. You better continue. She is happy with you, why I do not know. But as long as my little one is happy, then I will continue to be available for you both. I anticipate an Amazon wedding within a few days. Do we understand one another Warrior?”

*Goddess, they have such egos.* The Warrior boldly took the temple steps three at a time and grabbed Gabrielle’s hand pulling her from Artemis’ grasp. “Do not ever doubt my love for Gabrielle. And you know fully well that I will give my life to protect her. So, let’s stop all the cryptic chitchat. Once this Maris incident is over I will marry your Chosen One in Amazon tradition. And then we are leaving. We do have a life Artemis, that I would like us to live without the gods constantly interfering.”

Crossing her arms, acting as if she was irritated at the Warrior’s offensive position toward her, Artemis began laughing. “Warrior, remember my words to you. And do not forget to be at Iason’s before the summer solitise.”

“What exactly does Iason want…..” With a flash of light and a slight rumbling of the ground Artemis disappeared. She had no intentions of answering the Warrior. Looking around, as if she was not paying attention, Gabrielle tried to suppress her giggles. Wrapping her arms around her soulmate, the Warrior knew that Gabrielle found humor, when Xena argued with any of the gods. “Oh…so you think this is funny do you.”

“Yes, I do. And there isn’t a thing you can do about it.”

“Oh, isn’t there?” Lifting Gabrielle in her arms Xena hopped the temple steps passing right by Helena toward one of the back rooms. Before slipping through the beaded curtain separating this room from the main temple Xena glanced at the grinning priestess. “Excuse us Helena. Gabrielle issued a challenge….and well….”

With laughter shaking her body Helena held up her hand to stop the Warrior from speaking. “Say no more Warrior. You will not be disturbed.” As the stars filled the heavens, Helena was thankful for the door on her room. Kneeling at the small altar she lit the candles and prayed to a new God, one that Artemis instructed her to include. Normally Helena questioned Artemis about any new gods that were born but she did not question her about this God. Helena knew this one God was the most powerful one and it was also the one that brought Gabrielle and Xena back to life. Tonight Helena would pray to this God asking for guidance in her life and that of the Chosen One and her Warrior.

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

Early the next morning Helena accompanied Xena and Gabrielle back to the Amazon village. The Queen insisted that Helena ride her horse, while she rode double with Xena. “Does your horse have a name Gabrielle?” The priestess thought the chestnut was a beautiful color and was amazed to hear the horse was a gift from Hermes, as the god does not typically give gifts to anyone much less a mortal.

“No, not yet.” The Bard was sitting behind Xena and had her arms wrapped tightly around the Warrior. “I suppose I should name her. Just did not think I was going to keep her.” A warm hand squeezed hers and Gabrielle kissed an exposed shoulder.

“Are you ready for today my Queen?” The goddess knew that due to the nature of Maris’ crimes it would be hard for Gabrielle to do anything other than issue a punishment of death.

While she understood what Helena was referring too, Gabrielle spent most of the night awake, while Xena slept cuddling in her embrace. A sentence of death was what the law mandated and Gabrielle searched the scrolls trying to find a way around it. Protecting Xena and herself from death by killing was one thing but she did not know if she could order the death of another. The young Queen also listened to Artemis’ counsel, yet if she could find a way around this she would. It would depend a great deal on Maris. Realizing both Helena and probably Xena were waiting for her to answer the question, Gabrielle spoke honestly. “I am having a difficult time with this. I know what I will probably have to do…and I don’t know if I can do it. I stayed awake all night trying to figure a way around this.”

Unaware that her soulmate stayed awake all night disturbed the Warrior. She was just so exhausted from the past several days that she fell asleep quickly. Now her soulmate was again struggling with what would be right and wrong for her path of peace and Xena knew she could not give her the answer.

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

The trial was held in public view outside of the council hut. A small platform was built which would hold the Queen and the Regent. Helena would stand next to Maris and attempt to represent the rebel. The women of the village would form a half circle around the proceedings maintaining a respectable distance from the accused. At midday Maris was brought before the Queen and Regent in shackles. Two guards remained standing on either side of the prisoner. The rebel was rather lucky, as Gabrielle had ordered that the woman not be touched or beaten. Thus other than the several bruises she suffered during her capture the rebel was in good physical condition.

The Regent would take charge of the trial, as required by Amazon law. “Maris, do you understand the charges against you?”

Spitting on the ground in front of her, the rebel sarcastically responded. “Yeah, so what if there are a few dead Amazons around, who cares.”

“The priestess, Helena, is here to represent you and assure you a fair trial.”

Looking over at the priestess Maris spit in her face. “You can go to Tartarus bitch. I don’t want anyone to talk for me.”

Wiping the saliva from her cheek Helena smirked at the rebel and stepped to the side of the platform withdrawing her representation. This was extremely easy for the priestess to do, as she too had a difficult time sleeping last night. Silently Helena thanked the high God for guidance.

Shulaba unrolled the scroll listing the names of the dead Amazons, the injured Amazons, the kidnapping of Amarice, the injuries of Amarice, the injuries of Eponin and the attempts made on the Queen’s life. Basically Maris’ entire history from the day she was banished to her capture was retold in the scroll. Without emotion, Shulaba asked, if any Amazon could prove the charges were false. The silence in the village became the answer the Regent anticipated. “Maris, do you have anything to say in your defense about these charges?”

The rebel glared directly past the Regent to the Queen. “No, what could I possible say. You deserve to die my Queen.” The sarcasm dripped from Maris’ voice and Xena struggled to maintain control. She saw the deadly stare Maris was giving her soulmate and then she realized Eponin’s hand was on her shoulder.

Shulaba handed the scroll to Gabrielle. “My Queen, do you have any questions for the prisoner?”

Tossing the scroll to the ground Gabrielle stepped off the platform stopping only several paces away from Maris. Immediately Teklai and four guards surrounded the Queen in protection. “You’re pretty brave, when you have protection. Are you as brave, when you don’t?” Aware that Maris was challenging her, Gabrielle raised her hand and motioned for the guards to retreat. The Warrior hated it, when her soulmate accepted challenges like this. Thoughts of how Gabrielle ran out to give water to the Horde came flashing back through her mind.

Taking several steps forward, Gabrielle was within arm length of the prisoner. “Maris, do you regret any of the charges? Are you in the least bit sorry for any of them?”

The prisoner began chuckling. “You got to be kidding. You really want me to answer that?” Gabrielle simply nodded her head yes. Looking to the right and then the left, Maris then looked directly at Gabrielle and spit in her face.

Wiping the spit from her face Gabrielle turned around. Without warning and with total surprise to everyone the Queen swung around and backhanded Maris across the face so hard she sent her flying through the air landing at the perimeter of the Amazon circle. She did not look back and she did not look anywhere else. Instead Gabrielle took her place back on the platform. The women of the village started talking among themselves and Shulaba placed her hand on Gabrielle’s shoulder. “You okay?”

A simple nod of the head spoke volumes to Shulaba. Her Queen had taken a stand of power in front of her nation and anyone who would dare go against tradition. The Regent understood that Gabrielle’s actions were appropriate and would be highly respected by all Amazons but she also could see the pain in those green eyes at the need for violence. This was very difficult for her emotional Queen.

Looking past Gabrielle, the Regent could see the anxiety in Xena’s body and face. Eponin and Amarice both had a grip on the Warrior’s arms and Shulaba nodded her head at the Warrior hoping it would offer comfort.

The prisoner was forced to her feet and made to stand in the same spot she was just tossed from. Blood dripped from her mouth and she spit out several teeth. The power and hit startled the prisoner and this managed to subdue Maris for the first time in her life.

“My Queen, do you wish to announce the punishment now or later?”

So many thoughts and memories flashed through Gabrielle’s mind and heart at this very moment and it took all her concentration and will power to not break down in tears. Rubbing her eyes with her hands Gabrielle looked directly into the pure brown eyes of her Regent. “Now, there is no use putting it off.”

Raising her hand in the air without speaking the Regent drew the attention of the village and all were quiet. “Maris you have been found guilty of all charges.”

With that being announced Gabrielle stood by her Regent. “For the nature of your crimes Amazon law dictates death, as punishment. As Queen of the Amazon Nation, I will honor that law and sentence you to death. It is to be carried out at sunset today.” Incapable of saying anything more Gabrielle turned away and was caught by Shulaba. She understood that she did not mention the method of death. “Shulaba choose the appropriate method, I can do no more than I’ve already done.” Stepping off the platform an internally shaken young woman walked away toward the Queen’s hut escorted by Teklai and two other guards.

The Warrior wanted immediately to run to her but knew better. The show of power was necessary and she did not want to risk taking that away from her soulmate. Shulaba ordered her death by hanging. It would be quick and swift. Originally Shulaba wanted her to suffer a more painful death but knowing Gabrielle would have to be present to watch, she did not want her Queen to be subject to anymore guilt. Once the sentence was announced, Eponin and Amarice let go of Xena’s arms.

The hut Xena shared with her soulmate was dark. The shades had been pulled and it seemed too quiet. Adjusting her eyes to the lack of light, at first she wondered if Gabrielle actually returned to the hut. Then she heard the muffled crying. Racing across the room she found Gabrielle on the far side of the hut on the floor in a corner. In one fluid movement Xena swept Gabrielle in her arms and took her to their bed. Leaning against the headboard the Warrior embraced her tightly and tried to sooth the crying Queen.

Between rocking and telling Gabrielle that she loved her, the Bard cried for a long time before she eventually drifted off to sleep from exhaustion. Refusing to move Xena slid down the bed bringing her soulmate with her. Stroking and running her fingers through the blonde hair the Warrior finally allowed her own tears to flow. “Oh baby, everything will be okay. I’ll make sure you get through this. Please, please don’t blame yourself for any of this.” Kissing Gabrielle on the forehead several times, Xena closed her eyes and exhaustion claimed her body, heart and spirit.

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

Just before the sun was due to set a knock came to the Queen’s door. Sliding out from underneath Gabrielle, who was still sleeping, the Warrior answered the door. “Xena, it is time.” The Regent was standing with Teklai and both were obviously nervous.

“Come on in. I have to wake Gabrielle.” Returning to the bed, the Warrior sat on the edge and began rubbing Gabrielle’s back in hopes of waking her gently. After several moments and no movement from her soulmate, Xena bent over and kissed her several times on the cheek. “Hey, sweetie…it’s time.”

A few groans of discontent slipped from the Queen and she rolled over to her back looking directly into the sapphire blue eyes of her lover. “Xena…no, I can’t.”

Lifting her to a sitting position Xena kissed her gently on the lips. “Yes, you can. I will be right by you.”

Glancing toward the center of the room Gabrielle realized Shulaba and Teklai were there. She simply nodded and with Xena’s assistance she got out of bed. Attempting to straighten her clothing and hair she became frustrated and yelled a series of words that made no sense. It was very apparent to all that she was deeply stressed about the decision she was forced to make. The table next to the bed had her hairbrush and Gabrielle started running the brush through her hair. Finding a snarl she tugged at the hair and eventually screamed throwing the brush into the wall. Xena was up behind her immediately and spun her around. “Gabrielle, calm down. This is not good for you.”

“CALM DOWN, ARE YOU CRAZY. I’M ORDERING SOMEONE TO DIE AND….” Unable to complete her sentence the Queen realized it made no sense. Maris had in cold-blood killed and injured many. She held absolutely no remorse or regret for her actions. The woman was dangerous and needed to be stopped. Covering her face with her hands she began mumbling apologies and soon found she was pressed firmly against her Warrior.

Moment’s later Shulaba was brushing the snarls from her Queen’s hair. “You are only doing what the law dictates. Maris is an evil woman. She will not stop killing, if someone does not stop her.”

Gabrielle could hear the words from her Regent and knew deep down that Shulaba was right. Lifting her head to look into the blue eyes of her soulmate, Gabrielle could see the pain and fear her Warrior was feeling. “I am so selfish…Xena, are you okay? By the gods, I am so caught up in my pain that I failed to notice yours. I’m…..”

Placing her fingers to her lover’s lips the Warrior did not want Gabrielle to worry. “Ssshh…I am doing okay. I’m just so worried about you. Let me help you with all of this. Please…don’t push me away. Let me carry at least some of this burden.”

The love Xena had for her overwhelmed Gabrielle so frequently. She thought immediately to the engraving on her ring and the shared tattoo placed there by their God. “Okay…lets go and get this over with.” Standing on her toes Gabrielle quickly kissed Xena’s lips. “I want to marry you again in front of this nation.”

Together the four women left the Queen’s hut and walked to the oak tree just south of the village. A hangman’s noose was in position and Maris was sitting on a horse with her hands tied behind her back. It then dawned on Gabrielle that she had no idea the type of punishment that Shulaba had chosen until now. *This will probably be the quickest for you Maris. I know you probably desire worse.* Musing that her Regent made a wise choice Gabrielle took her position opposite the oak tree.

The Regent was to her right but stood a step behind the Queen. Teklai and Xena were behind the Regent. Eponin and Amarice soon joined the group and stood behind Gabrielle and off to the left. Without looking Gabrielle extended her arm and hand behind her hoping to find Xena. She immediately felt the warmth of her soulmate’s hand accepting hers. With a slight tug Xena was standing by her side. Whispering so only those close to the couple could hear the Bard circled her arm around Xena’s waist.

“Please stay close. I need you.” Easily Xena slipped her arm around Gabrielle’s shoulder pulling her close. Without a doubt the entire Amazon Nation knew that Xena was their Queen’s Champion in all ways. Even though Amazon law had not formally joined them, there was not one woman who would dare question or challenge any direction or command issued by Xena. The nation had come to depend and trust in this Warrior for too many seasons. Therefore, when the Queen commanded that Xena stand by her side, as an equal, the Warrior’s word was as good as the Queens.

The Amazon guard, who would be responsible for forcing the horse to run, asked Maris if she had any last words, before the sentence of death was fulfilled. Staring at no one else but Gabrielle the rebel’s laughter was pure evil. “I will haunt you Gabrielle! You little miss peace maker will be a murderer with my death. Oh and don’t forget Leandra is still out there.”

The Warrior could feel her soulmate’s body tremble over the command she must issue. *I can’t let you do this Gabrielle.* Standing by the side of the Queen meant the pair was as one under Amazon law and Xena depended on the women respecting this without question. The Warrior realized if she spoke to Gabrielle, it would be a sign of weakness in their oneness. Therefore without words, the Warrior gave Gabrielle’s shoulder a squeeze and raised her hand to the executioner. With absolutely no expression and a simple dropping of her hand the Amazon swatted the backside of the horse and before you could blow the flame of a candle out, the rebel was hanging at the end of the noose. Absolutely no one questioned Xena’s authority to issue the command.

Feeling as if she was frozen in place, the Warrior tugged at Gabrielle’s hand and without knowledge of where she was the Bard allowed her soulmate and friends to guide her back to her hut in a respectful manner. No one attempted to stop the Queen’s party, as Amazon law forbid speaking with the Queen after an execution of an Amazon. The nation believed that even the most evil of Amazons was at one time good. Out of respect for the ‘lost good’ the nation would remain silent for the next four candlemarks.

Once Gabrielle was in her hut she walked to the rear window and just stared out at what remained of the setting sun. Amarice stood behind her but said nothing. Eponin turned to Xena. “I’m going to order her tub to be filled. A nice hot bath may help her.”

Nodding her head in agreement Xena turned to Shulaba. “I think you should get Lillioka to brew something to help her sleep. And then I want the wedding preparations to start. We need to move from this quickly.” Rubbing Xena on the back, the Regent was in agreement.

In a matter of moments Xena and Gabrielle were alone. “Xena.”

Walking up and wrapping her arms around her soulmate from behind the Warrior burrowed her nose into the silky blonde hair. “Yes, Gabrielle?”

“Thank you for ordering her….” Covering her face with her hands, the Bard understood that her soulmate took a great deal of pain from her by commanding Maris’ death. “Will you just hold me.”

Increasing the embrace she already had on her soulmate, the two watched the sun disappear, as darkness conquered the sky. By the time the stars began to twinkle, the tub was filled and the Warrior guided her soulmate to the hot waters. After a hot bath and plenty of tender loving care from the Warrior, Gabrielle drank the tea the healer had delivered knowing full well that it would make her sleep. She did not care, as tonight Gabrielle did not want to dream. Not long after the tea was gone the Bard crawled into bed and cuddled with her Warrior. Sleep quickly claimed the Queen and the Warrior remained on guard.

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Chapter Three
Watching the inn for several days it was obvious to Herodotus that Xena was no where around. Only catching sight of Cyrene and Lila the old man decided he would venture into the inn today for a noon meal. He only wanted to talk with Lila and leave her with a few of her mother’s trinkets that had no meaning to him. The old man did not want to scare her in any way.

Returning to the small camp that he established just north of Amphipolis, he could not believe the rumors he had heard about the messenger trying to kill Gabrielle. He did not really want the woman dead, he just wanted to let Gabrielle know that she caused Hecuba’s death and he wanted to disown her. “Finally after all these years, I don’t have to pretend to be that harlots father anymore.” Packing what little belongings he had, Herodotus thought back about the fire he intentionally started on his property.
“Yes, Gabrielle — you shall have no memories of your mother.” Laughing with vengeance in his heart the unshaven man truly learned to hate his so-called blonde daughter over the years.

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

The day after the execution the preparations for Gabrielle and Xena’s Amazon joining moved quickly. The Warrior insisted they are married immediately and everyone agreed. Shulaba assigned various tasks to a number of willing Amazons. Eponin and Amarice adjusted the duty roster for all working areas of the village so everyone would have a chance to join in on the celebration. With Stella’s assistance, Teklai arranged the patrol schedules for the royal guards and sentries.

It would be important to all women that they be allowed to congratulate the Queen and her Warrior. The Regent spent most of the time with the priestess, Helena, who would perform the ceremony and who decided to stay in the village after the execution. Shulaba did not want any challenges arising to stop the marriage of her Queen thus the two women reviewed each and every tradition and law available regarding the marriage of an Amazon Queen.

The fact that Xena would not acknowledge being an Amazon did not matter. She was a proven warrior and quite capable of defending Gabrielle. Artemis had already approved of Xena, as the Queen’s mate in Amphipolis, so the women knew that would not be an issue.

“What if someone challenges Xena’s right to marry Gabrielle?” The Regent believed they pretty much covered all the laws but she was concerned that something might have been missed.

“Well, if someone is dumb enough to go up against Xena in a physical battle, the challenge has to be made prior to the ceremony. Otherwise it will not be recognized.” Helena took a sip of the tea Shulaba ordered for the both of them. “And once the ceremonial bathes begin no challenges may be issued.” The priestess looked across the table at her friend. “Are you worried someone might try and stop the joining?”

“No, not really. I just don’t want anything else to happen. They have both gone through so much this past season.”

Helena reached across and patted Shulaba’s hands. “Relax, I can’t imagine Artemis allowing anyone to interfere.”

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

When the Warrior awoke the following morning, she could hear the activity throughout the village and knew that the women were preparing for the marriage ceremony. Her soulmate was lying on her side facing away from Xena and although their bodies were spooned together the Warrior could not determine whether Gabrielle was awake or asleep. Running her hand up and down Gabrielle’s arms she felt a hand instantly capturing hers. “Good morning honey. How are you feeling?”

Not receiving any response Xena pulled on Gabrielle forcing her gently to lay on her back. Caressing her cheeks produced a small smile from Gabrielle. “I’m kind of numb. I need to center….pull myself back together.”

Desperately wanting to make love to Gabrielle, the Warrior understood that her lover probably needed to meditate. “Why don’t I have some food packed and take you to the waterfalls. We can spend the day there and maybe you can meditate for awhile.”

Sitting up Gabrielle ran her fingers through her hair. “Okay, sounds good.”

Jumping from the bed the Warrior opened the front door to find two guards standing a respectful distance away. Giving one of them instructions to saddle Argo and procure the food, Xena returned to find Gabrielle pulling out a soft tunic rather than her leathers. Deciding it might not be a bad idea to wear a soft tunic, Xena dressed in the dark blue one she favored. Just about the time they were clothed and ready to walk out the door a knock came. It was Eponin and Amarice.

“Oh, Gods — Eponin, I’m sorry. I…forgot…Hades.” Hitting the side of her head in self-anger, Gabrielle had been so caught up between the message from Poteidaia and Maris she realized she had ignored Eponin’s wound. “How is your leg?”

With only a small limp to her walk the Amazon Warrior approached her Queen. “I’m doing great. Xena did a good job patching me up. Listen we want to accompany the two of you out to the waterfalls today. You just can’t go unescorted Gabrielle. We promise to keep our distance and give you both privacy.”

Not giving Gabrielle a chance to refuse, Xena placed her arm around her soulmate’s shoulder and answered. “I agree. It is a fine idea.” Realizing there would be no opportunity to argue the point, Gabrielle conceded and the four friends headed for the stables. Only Argo was ready and the Bard grinned slightly, when Xena lifted her into the saddle. Mounting up behind the Bard, Xena grabbed the rein with one hand and wrapped her free arm around Gabrielle tightly. Feeling Gabrielle so close to her caused warm sensations to run throughout her body. “Giving you that horse was a bad idea. I like this much better.”

With a giggling Bard, the women rode out of the village heading to the waterfalls and a day of relaxation, meditation and Xena was sure plenty of love.

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

“Lila, Uncle Tensandi will escort you to Poteidaia tomorrow.” The innkeeper thought her earlier decision over about whether to accompany Lila or not. Still slightly irritated at Lila, the innkeeper decided it would be best, if Lila traveled alone. *Maybe she will grow up, when she hears the truth about her father from the locals.*

Before Lila could respond to Cyrene’s statement a man entered the inn and the young woman recognized him immediately. “Father?”

Cyrene picked up a broom and posed it ready to knock him in the head, if necessary. Glancing to her bartender, Adessa, she gestured that the woman should run for help.

Holding his hands straight out in front Herodotus spoke. “I’m not looking for trouble Cyrene. I just want to talk to Lila and then I will be on my way.”

Moving between Lila and Herodotus the innkeeper was visibly angry. “YOU are a monster and have no right talking with Lila. She is my responsibility now.” A gentle hand touched Cyrene’s shoulder.

“Cyrene, please. Let him speak.”

Before the man could utter a word, Tensandi and three villagers barreled through the door and surrounded Herodotus. Lila screamed to leave him alone and ran into her father’s arms. Cyrene’s heart went out to the poor young women; she actually loved her father. Nodding her head Tensandi and the men backed off.

“Okay Herodotus. You have managed to gain some time by Lila’s grace.” Closing the distance between them the innkeeper peered directly into the old man’s eyes. “You can sit at that table.” Pointing to an isolated table close to the door Herodotus sat with his back to the wall.

Not anticipating he would even get this far the old man could not help but smirk. He would have to be careful what he would say, as it was obvious Cyrene had no intentions of letting him be alone with Lila. “Father, why did you send that horrible message? That man tried to kill Gabby. And what happened to the house?”

Lowering his head in hopes of appearing somewhat sadden over all of the events, Herodotus could not find any love in his heart for Gabrielle. “The message is true. If your sister were not traipsing across the countryside, Caesar would have never caught her. And as far as the messenger goes, he was ordered not to harm Gabrielle.”

Tensandi was uninvited to the conversation but did not care; he too loved the little Bard. Standing behind Cyrene, he placed his hands on her shoulders. “Old man, your lies are not welcomed here.”

Glaring up into Tensandi’s eyes, Herodotus almost wished the big man would kill him right in front of Lila. “I’m not lying.” Pulling a small bundle out from his shirt Lila’s father placed it in front of her. “Here are several of your mother’s possessions. You should have them. Gabrielle has no right to any of them.”

“Why Herodotus. What has Gabrielle ever done to you? From the stories I hear Gabrielle should hate you.” The innkeeper was disgusted with the man sitting across from her pretending to be a loving father to Lila.

“Gabrielle is an embarrassment. She is not my daughter. For way too many years I just pretended she was. I burned the house and barn because it is mine to destroy. Gabrielle has no right to any of it.” Looking directly into Lila’s brown eyes the old man smiled. “You are my only child and have all the rights to it. Pulling a parchment from his shirt pocket he handed it to Lila. “This gives you the land. You do what you want to it.”

“Father….where will you go, what will you do?” It was obvious that Lila was being sucked right into the pity her father was attempting to portray.

“I am moving to Athens. I will write to you, when I get settled.”

Standing Herodotus tried to move from the table and Tensandi came around shoving him up against the wall. Lila tried to pull on his arm and Cyrene yanked the young girl back, sat her down and told her to be quiet. “You will explain to me why you insist Gabrielle is not yours.”

Laughter began to pour from Herodotus. “I owe you no explanations. But actually it might be more enjoyable knowing Gabrielle is suffering over the truth. I am not her natural father. Hecuba was pregnant with Gabrielle before we got married. I was always in love with Hecuba; she was such a beauty. However, Hecuba was in love with someone else.” Tensandi let go of Herodotus and stepped back. Straightening his shirt out, acting as if, the shop owner had really disrupted his clothing Herodotus continued. “The man did not love my Hecuba and raped her. Gabrielle is a bastard’s child. It was the only way Hecuba would marry me — she needed a father for that child. So as not to cause shame and to get what I wanted I married her, we moved to Poteidaia and I pretended Gabrielle was mine.”

“Who is Gabrielle’s father?” The old man was surprised to hear Lila ask the question.

“That is a secret I will take to my grave. I know he is still alive….and he knows Gabrielle is his daughter. He has always known.”

Shoving the man back up against the wall Tensandi had one more question. “Why the abuse? She was a child.”

“She was different. She has some type of power in her mind. Only demons and evil have powers like that. And from what I experienced with that demon daughter of hers, well I was right about Gabrielle. She is the monster, not me.” Herodotus grabbed Tensandi’s hand and pushed it away. “When she was small I watched her use the power. I punished her and continued to punish her. I finally made her stop using the power.” Laughing hysterically he walked toward the door. “Beating her was the only way to keep control over Gabrielle.”

Yanking the man back by the cuff of his shirt collar Tensandi was boiling and pinned Herodotus to the floor. Lila jumped from her chair and began pounding on Tensandi’s back. Cyrene wrapped her arms around Lila pulling her away. Angry about the cryptic game Herodotus was playing Uncle Tensandi jerked him to his feet and threw him to the wall. “You better explain your words, if you want to leave here walking on both legs.”

“Go ahead break them in front of Lila.”

Doing everything to contain her tears Cyrene raised her hand to stop Tensandi from blocking Herodotus’ way to the door. “Herodotus, next time you enter my inn, be prepared to die. Lila will not be able to protect you.”

Brushing the pretend dirt off his shoulders Herodotus left the inn. Lila ran to her room in tears and Cyrene could not yet find it in her heart to follow the young woman. Her body was weary, as she found a chair to sit on. Tensandi sat next to her. “I can go after him Cyrene. Make the man talk.”

Grabbing the man’s large hands the innkeeper smiled at her friend. “No, let him go. We do not need his blood on our hands. We would then be doing everything I’ve been telling Xena not to do.” Thanking Adessa for the tea the innkeeper glanced toward the hallway Lila went running down. “I will talk to Lila and then I will send a message to Xena.”

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Chapter Four
“Hey! Can I get out of this water before my body shrivels up and Gabrielle does not recognize me?”

Eponin and Teklai found humor in Xena’s irritation over all the little traditions a champion must complete before bonding with an Amazon Queen. “No Xena. Not until the candle of purging is gone.”

Sitting in what started out, as extremely hot water, was now turning rather cool. The tub was a comfortable size allowing Xena to stretch her legs and was filled with jasmine and several floating candles. One candle burned on the edge of the tub and this one cylinder of wax had to burn completely before Xena could dry off. Eponin explained that the candle represented Xena’s willingness to cleanse any doubt from her mind regarding her bonding with Gabrielle or as it was bluntly stated.

“Now is the time to change your mind, if you do not want to bond with our Queen.” Laying her head back against the side of the tub Xena reflected back to the wedding in Amphipolis. With a huge smile crossing her face the Warrior remembered how beautiful Gabrielle looked and how she was barefoot during the ceremony. For Xena, this symbolism meant the world to the Warrior to have the young woman from Poteidaia so devoted in her love. Interrupting her thoughts the Warrior’s face was splashed with water.

“Time’s up Warrior. Out you come and on to the next step.” Both Amazon’s seemed to be enjoying this small prenuptial tradition and Xena made a mental note to come back and torture Eponin and Teklai, when they decided to bond.

“Why do I have a feeling Gabrielle does not have to go through all of this.” Drying her body off, Eponin threw Xena’s bonding garments at her.

“My friend, your young bride has to go through quite a lot to join with a non-Amazon.” Helping herself to some of the food left for the Warrior, Teklai plopped in a chair by the table. Eponin who was leaning against the wall drained a mug of ale and joined Teklai at the table. Both women observed the naked Warrior standing in front of them slip the dark green tunic over her body. Silently both Amazons knew Gabrielle was extremely lucky to have a woman like Xena to make love with.

“Oh, yes, Warrior Babe, you look delicious!”

Xena turned frantically to see Aphrodite winking seductively at her. Relaxing her body she went to the table and grabbed her hairbrush. “What do you want Aphrodite?”

Aphrodite moved behind Xena and helped her with several braids. “You have such gorgeous hair Xena. It feels so sexy…..makes me want to run my fingers through those raven strands.” The Amazons began to chuckle over the goddess’ attempt at seduction. Aphrodite giggled charmingly and Xena just shook her head. “Listen Warrior Babe, I’m here because of something called love. I would not miss this joining between you and that little blonde for the world. And anyway Artemis invited me.”

Xena faced Aphrodite. “Look, you are not going to make me appear with sparkles and all that crap.” Glancing over at her Amazon friends, both appeared amused.

Aphrodite danced casually making a circle around Xena and stopped in front of her. Placing her hands on her hips the Goddess of Love smiled. “I like you Xena. I know Ares is not happy about that, but who cares what he thinks anyway.”

“Yea, yea, yea….your point.” Xena found herself uneasy at the mention of Ares name.

“Warrior Babe, you look so fantastically hot in the color green. Yes very sexy. Your little blonde can not help but notice.”

“Stop — she has a name.” Xena spoke up defensively.

“Oh — protective of her too. That is very good.” The Goddess ran her fingers up and down the muscles in Xena’s forearm. “Do you know her passion for you almost has me jealous.” Xena raised an eyebrow at the Goddess of Love’s last comment. “Trust in your love for her and then….” The Goddess paused to move within inches of Xena. “…don’t ever let go of her.” With a wink goodbye Aphrodite disappeared.

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

The night was warm and the torches surrounding the center of the village lit up the darkness in a magical fashion. Everyone was wearing festive clothing and had already begun celebrating even before the ceremony. Gabrielle requested the women form a circle around Xena and herself, as they exchanged their vows. Tradition stated that the Warrior would escort the Queen from her hut to the joining circle; Helena would be waiting. As the drums of the Amazon nation began to beat in a slow rhythm, Xena stood before the door of the Queen’s hut. Eponin and Teklai were standing guard outside and opened the door. Amarice came out first followed by the Regent. They each took a position, which would lead the Queen and her Warrior to the joining circle.

*Why am I so nervous. I’ve already married her once. Heck, are my hands too sweaty.* Rubbing the palms of her hands on her tunic, Xena was feeling a bit heated. *Oh by the gods….. *

Suddenly Gabrielle emerged from the hut. Dressed, as only a Queen should be, Gabrielle was wearing the finest silk garment the Warrior had ever seen. Every shade of blue grabbed and shaped around her curvaceous and muscular frame. A split in the gown over her left side from her feet to her upper thigh teased Xena, as well as anyone else, who desired the Queen as a lover. The gown was without shoulders and clung tightly to her breast, exposing much more than Xena would have liked.

Knowing full well that Gabrielle would not be out of her sight tonight, she could not help but notice the wetness building between her legs at the thought of her lips claiming the soft breasts peeking through the clothing. Bowing her head with a sensual smile across her face, the Warrior offered her strong hands to the Amazon Queen.

Accepting the powerful hands of her Warrior, Gabrielle almost fell to her knees at the sight of the sexy tall dark woman standing before her. *By the gods, I can’t believe you want me. Of all the people in the world you could have, you want me. Oh how I love you Xena.* To Gabrielle the woman standing before her, the Warrior, her friend, her lover was the most gorgeous person to ever exist. Squeezing Xena’s hands several tears pooled in Gabrielle’s eyes. For only a moment the world stood still for Gabrielle to enjoy the beauty of her Warrior.

A whispering voice of the Regent encouraged the couple to walk. “It’s time my friends.”

Offering Gabrielle her left arm the Warrior smiled noticing the delicate bare feet of her lover. “By the gods Gabrielle…you…oh baby, I love you.” Pausing for a moment Xena kissed one of the Queens hands and whispered. “Artemis must have had a fit over this.”

“Mmmm…yes. Artemis was not happy but I convinced her otherwise.” Gabrielle’s response was playful and this playfulness in her voice captured Xena’s spirit totally.

As the pair walked toward the circle, the drumbeat maintained a steady and sensual rhythm. Once they were standing before Helena the drums stopped. “Xena of Amphipolis, Warrior Princess, you have asked to join with the Amazon Queen, as her mate for life. What words and symbol do you have to offer our Queen?”

Having already exchanged rings and vows in Amphipolis the lovers both knew the vows they said today would still be from their hearts but also filled with Amazon tradition, which was required, when one wished to marry a Queen. For the physical symbol both still wore the rings and believed it would be difficult to find another token to express their love so deeply. After spending a great deal of time talking, while they were at the waterfalls, both eventually agreed that they would offer a part of their path.

Turning to face Gabrielle, the Warrior took her hands. Knowing she was required to make certain statements, Xena had no difficulty with any of them. “My Queen. I swear to protect you with my life. I will also care for you, clothe you, provide food and shelter for you. When you are sick I will never leave your side. I devote my life for all eternity to only you.”

Noticing both Artemis and Aphrodite standing several paces behind Gabrielle, Xena decided to break the boundaries of tradition. Bringing Gabrielle’s hands to her lips, the Warrior kissed them tenderly and was pleased, when Artemis shook her head in frustration. “Gabrielle I love you deeply and with all my heart and soul. Please continue to be my friend, my lover and my mate.”
Just then Eponin came up behind the Warrior and handed Xena her symbol. Raising it in the air for all to see, Xena smiled at Gabrielle. “I give you my chakram, as a symbol of my devotion to our love, as a symbol of protection that I bring to our bond. This is the path I have chosen and will use it to defend your honor always.”

Aphrodite nudged Artemis in the ribs and whispered. “Oooo, you go Warrior Babe. Gotta be impressed with that one, right Art?” The Goddess of the Hunt and the Amazon Nation just smirked and nodded her approval.

Helena turned to Gabrielle who was completely lost in the blue eyes of her Warrior. “My Queen have you any words and symbols to offer the Warrior?” There was no immediate response from the Queen, as her eyes were locked and held prisoner by the Warrior’s penetrating gaze of love. Gently Helena touched Gabrielle’s arm and whispered so only the couple could hear. “My Queen…it’s your turn.”

The Warrior’s smile broke the hypnotic trance Gabrielle was lost in, which caused the Bard to giggle slightly. Returning the kisses to her Warrior’s hand Gabrielle looked directly into the tempting eyes of her lover. “My Warrior, my life without you is incomplete. I will never love another and will always remain loyal to you. Death will not separate us. I will fight for you, protect you and care for you through the good and the bad. My love, my heart, my spirit are faithfully bonded to no one but you.”
Reaching up to wipe the tears from Xena’s eyes, Gabrielle moved closer to her soulmate. “Xena, I love you more than anyone. I am yours to command. Can you find a place for me in your heart.” The Regent in turn approached her Queen, handing her the symbol she would use. As the Warrior, Gabrielle raised it for all to see. “Xena I give you this scroll, as a symbol of my abiding belief in the power of our love. The contents within this scroll describe the path of peace that I pray may enter our life.”

Placing one hand on each soulmate, the priestess looked to Artemis who gave a nod of approval. Extremely proud of her Queen and the Warrior the priestess raised her arms and recited several prayers in an ancient language unrecognized to all but the gods and a chosen few. As Helena said the words, they caught Gabrielle’s attention and she jerked her head suddenly to look at the priestess. Gabrielle recognized several words that she knew no one had ever taught her. Xena noticed Gabrielle’s surprised and squeezed her hands slightly hoping her Bard was okay. Completing her prayers Helena glanced at Gabrielle and smiled. She then turned her attention to Xena. “You are both of one heart and one soul. Blessings on you both.”

Xena knew what came next and she could not wait any longer. Pulling Gabrielle tightly to her body the Warrior found her soulmate eagerly waiting to be kissed. With nothing but pure love Xena tenderly claimed Gabrielle’s lips and the Amazons began to yell and scream with excitement. Just as Xena demanded entry into Gabrielle’s warm and welcoming mouth the overly anxious Amazons pulled them apart raising them off the ground. Riding on the shoulders of many friends, the couple never touched the ground between the circle and the dining hut for the formal part of the celebration. The Warrior was placed first on the ground in front of the hut and politely pushed her way to Gabrielle. Taking the Queen in her arms off the shoulders of two Amazon warriors Xena carried Gabrielle to their table to the delight of the villagers.

“I don’t plan on sharing you with anyone my beautiful Queen.” Sitting next to Gabrielle the Warrior kept her arm wrapped around the waist of her soulmate.

The Regent and Teklai joined the couple, sitting to Gabrielle’s right, while Eponin and Amarice sat to the left of Xena. Immediately, in the same manner as she did in Amphipolis, Amarice handed Gabrielle footwear. Gabrielle smiled at her friend and slipped the sandals on her feet. “Artemis?”

Amarice giggled. “No — me. Don’t want anyone stepping on my Queen’s little toes.”

While the two women giggled and hugged, food and drinks were served to all. The Amazons began to pass by the table to congratulate the Queen and her Warrior. No one was sure how much time went by until the Regent demanded quiet and order within the hut. Standing she offered a toast wishing the couple happiness and love, which was loudly accepted and applauded by the women of the Amazon Nations. A rowdy and happy group continued to laugh, talk and enjoy the celebration. Too much sadness had covered the nation recently starting with the death of Ephiny and many other women. Thus this marriage of the Queen was welcomed, as a rebuilding of their nation. Hope once again filled the lives of the Amazons.

For several candlemarks Gabrielle and Xena respectfully held small conversations with the women stopping at the table. Finally the Warrior had her fill; she was not much of a talker to start with and began to feel a bit closed in by the surrounding Amazons. Unsure what triggered the sensation the Warrior decided some fresh air might help. Leaning over to whisper in Gabrielle’s ear she could not help but kiss the soft cheek and nibble slightly on the tempting earlobe of her lover. “Hey, I have to get some fresh air.
All this talking is starting to bother me.” Moving away from the bench Gabrielle grabbed Xena’s hand. Looking into the emerald eyes smiling back at her. *I think you are feeling a bit playful.* Knowing how Gabrielle’s eyes always gave away her moods, Xena mused that her lover was having a wonderful time talking with so many women. *You need to feel happy. Too much sorrow has claimed you unfairly over these past several moons.* Bending to kiss Gabrielle lightly on the lips the Warrior wondered what was really going through the mind of her soulmate. “Will you be okay, if I get some fresh air or would you rather have me stay?”

“You go ahead Xena. I know all this attention is difficult.” Returning the kiss Gabrielle did not want Xena to feel smothered by the Amazons, tradition or her. “Come back when you are ready.”

Not quite sure she wanted to leave Gabrielle behind, Xena was pleased that her Bard knew her well enough to give her some leeway in order to find a comfort level in which she could deal with all the attention. “Are you sure?” All of the Warrior’s heart wanted Gabrielle to be comfortable. Xena understood that as Queen, Gabrielle was expected to perform certain functions.

Looking over at the crowd and noticing that Eponin and Teklai stood behind Xena planning on accompanying her, the Bard smiled tenderly. “I would much rather be with you….but I’ll be okay. Shulaba and Amarice are here.” Tugging on Xena’s hands the Warrior bent down knowing Gabrielle wanted to whisper in her ear. “Don’t be long. I love you.” With a quick kiss on the lips Xena and her two companions walked out the back doorway of the hut in search of some fresh air and hopefully no clinging Amazons.

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In Cyrene’s opinion the stars in the sky appeared to fill the sky more than normal this evening. “Where are you my wonderful daughter. I imagine you are probably with the Amazons. I’m worried about Gabrielle. What will I say to either of you when…….”

“Cyrene.”

A familiar voice pulled the innkeeper from her conversation with the stars and she glanced to her right and found Ephiny sitting by her. “Ephiny…..oh child. What brings you here? Is Xena okay?”

“Yes, yes…they are both doing well. In fact they were just married in Amazon tradition. Although your daughter is not too wild about all those crazy women demanding the attentions of Gabrielle.” Ephiny reached out slowly and was happy, when she was able to touch Cyrene’s hand physically and could sense the strength behind this amazing woman. She knew her training, as a spirit, was almost complete. Touching was the part she had the most difficulty with. At first, Ephiny was only able to remain in physical contact for brief periods. Now she was getting the hang of this whole spirit world and was actually proud of herself.
Artemis had been challenging her, as she learned the ‘dos and don’ts’ of this spiritual world and once she completed them, Ephiny would only need to develop them to a higher level. “I’m worried about you Cyrene. I know Herodotus was here and I know about the disruption he caused.”

Squeezing the hand of a woman she missed terribly the innkeeper smiled at the curly head Regent. “How did you know? Wait, don’t tell me — a spirit thing, right?”

This brought a chuckle to Ephiny and the innkeeper soon joined her in laughter. “Yes and no. Believe it or not, Artemis has me watching over you. I try not to interfere but I could hear your conversation with that old man and also with Lila, so in a manner of speaking I was present.”

“Why on earth would Artemis have you watching over me?” This actually puzzled Cyrene. The gods were a crazy bunch and this made absolutely no sense at all to the innkeeper.

“Because she likes you Cyrene. I have learned not to ask a lot of questions.” Standing the spirit offered Cyrene her hand. “Walk a bit with me.”

“Ephiny, do you know the missing pieces about Gabrielle’s past. Do you know who her real father is or even if Herodotus is telling the truth. And what is this power he spoke of?” Realizing she had many more questions than would probably be answered the innkeeper still needed to voice them. Lila still insisted on going to Poteidaia and Cyrene tired of arguing with her. Uncle Tensandi would accompany her to the village and Lila would stay with her best friend, Marlana, until she was ready to return to Amphipolis.

“No, I do not know who Gabrielle’s real father is. Nor do I know about the power he referred too. I’m afraid I’m not very much help.” Ephiny stopped in the village square and looked up into the heavens at the stars that filled the sky. “I did ask Artemis. She said a higher God told her not to interfere. Ever since Gabrielle’s rebirth Artemis has been acting somewhat different. In fact all of the gods have. No one has seen Ares.”

“Really….well a missing Ares has to be a plus.” Cyrene and Ephiny giggled over the thought of someone finally getting the better of Ares.

Walking Cyrene back to her inn the Regent put her arm around the woman and gave her a hug. “You need to tell Xena and Gabrielle what you know. I will keep searching for answers. I will be away for awhile.”

“Is something wrong Ephiny?” The innkeeper was concerned for Ephiny even though she was a spirit and now evidently her guardian.

“Yeah…I have to meet Iason and prepare for Xena and Gabrielle’s arrival to the temple in another moon.”

“Ephiny, what is that all about?”

Smiling at the feisty little innkeeper Ephiny anticipated Cyrene’s question. “I can’t tell you. But it will make you happy. I have to go. See you soon.” Kissing the Warrior Mom on the cheek the spirit Regent vanished, as quickly as she came.

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Catching a ship to the Island of Lesbos the rebel without a soul mused about the fate of her partner for so many years. *I told you that stupid plan would not work. Walking into the village was ignorant. We should have waited until Gabrielle came out. She would have to leave eventually.* Deciding to hide for a while Leandra would come back for the Amazon Queen. Now it was a matter of finishing a job. The young Queen managed to have all the luck in the world but Leandra knew one day Gabrielle would slip up and she would be waiting to rape and kill her. The Island of Lesbos was the perfect place to hide out for awhile.

There were many smaller islands and plenty of caves she could run too, if necessary. For now she would mingle in with the common villagers. The word of Maris’ execution was inevitable. Hearing the rumors through the bordering village, a small part of Leandra was actually glad to be rid of Maris. Watching the people on the dock get smaller, as the ship she was on moved out to sea, the rebel began to form a plan to kidnap the Amazon Queen.

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By the time Xena and her friends returned to the dining hut they discovered the music had started, many of the tables removed and the center of the hut was packed with dancing Amazons. In the center of the crowd were Amarice and Shulaba, as well as her lover, who also had a line of overly anxious Amazon’s waiting to dance with their Queen. Jealousy began to consume the Warrior’s heart but she just stood still and tried to control it. The beat of the music was fast and no one appeared to be touching Gabrielle.

Eponin who was still too new to this whole relationship thing raced across the floor and shoved through the crowd to pull an overly affectionate Amazon away from Amarice. Claiming the young redhead, Xena and Shulaba chuckled, as Eponin led a willing Amarice to a corner and proceeded to pin her to the wall with obvious sexual intentions. Soon the rhythm of the music changed to a slower pace and both Xena and Shulaba made their way quickly through the bodies of sweating Amazons to their partners.

There was no way the Warrior would allow any woman to rub up against her soulmate. Just moments away from reaching Gabrielle, an Amazon Xena recognized as a sentry, grabbed on her soulmate’s hips jerking her close. Gabrielle attempted to push away from the embrace but the woman was too strong. From behind, Xena yanked the sentry from her soulmate and threw her into a crowd of Amazons.

Pulling her soulmate into her arms Xena could feel Gabrielle’s body shaking. “Baby, hey, it’s okay. No one will hurt you.”

Screaming voices disrupted the embrace and the Warrior quickly spun around placing Gabrielle behind her in protection. The sentry started to charge at Xena and just prior to reaching her Stella jumped in between and her fist made contact with the sentry. Not only did she knock her several paces away; she broke the Amazon’s nose. Lillioka swiftly attended to the fallen Amazon to discover the woman was extremely drunk.

“She’s pretty drunk Xena. I don’t think she meant any harm.” The healer did not have much empathy for women who drank too much, however, she also knew the Amazon and the woman had a good reputation.

“Fine. Someone take her back to her hut. Make sure she sleeps this off.” The Warrior snap orders not giving Gabrielle an opportunity. Several friends of the fallen woman offered apologies and obeyed Xena’s directions. Once the woman was carried away, the music began and Xena wrapped her arms around Gabrielle. “I’m sorry for interfering…I just will not allow…”

Rubbing her fingers over Xena’s full and tender lips Gabrielle was proud of her soulmate. “Sweetheart, I love you for protecting me and you have every right, to bark orders.”

Swaying slowly to the music Xena raised her eyebrows puzzled. “Bark! I don’t bark — do I?”

Resting her head on Xena’s shoulders and sliding her arms around the Warrior’s waist Gabrielle gave Xena’s butt a seductive squeeze and began caressing her hips. “Mmmm, yes you bark my love.”

*Ohhh…you’re not playing fair Gabrielle.* The sensation running through the Warrior, as her soulmate caressed her body, heightened her desires for the young woman. Figuring two could play this game Xena maneuvered her thigh so it would rub against Gabrielle’s mound with each beat of the music. Sliding her hands down and over her lover’s hips a surprised awaited the dark hair Warrior, as she fondled the rotating hips. Her young wife was without undergarments.

Smiling up at her Warrior’s discovery, Gabrielle was affected by this sly little play of bodies and decided quickly that she would make things a little bit tougher for her soulmate. One of the advantages of being a head shorter than Xena was she had better access to the Warriors breasts. Without warning Gabrielle nibbled at the top of Xena’s exposed breasts and expertly darted her tongue in the fevered valley between the voluptuous mounds.

“Aaaah…Gabri…no fair.” Eliciting the reaction she had hoped for the Bard continued spreading kisses and pressing her tongue against the Warrior. A strong hand grabbed her by the chin and lifted the teasing blonde giving Gabrielle no time to pull back. Sucking on her top lip, Xena quickly slid her tongue into Gabrielle’s open mouth and danced with her lover’s pink tongue. Wrapping both arms around Gabrielle, she continued to move slowly with the music not releasing her soulmates lips or tongue.

Just to make things a bit more of a challenge Gabrielle, who was loosing control of her own body, slid one hand up Xena’s inner thigh quickly capturing the wet mound. The thick wetness surprised Gabrielle and a groan escaped her throat. The Warrior matched Gabrielle’s groan with her own and released Gabrielle’s lips “Ohhh…no. That’s it. We are out of here.” Grabbing her lover’s wandering hand Xena looked into the glazed over eyes of her bride. *Yes….there they are, my favorite color; your surrender.*

Doing whatever she pleased with no one to stop her, Xena lifted Gabrielle in her arms and pushed her way through the crowd who eventually saw the couple and graciously formed a path for their departure. With animal whistles and wolf calls the Amazons went crazy, as the Warrior asserted her control over the Amazon Queen.

It did not take long for Xena to have her soulmate in their hut and on the bed. Gliding her hands up through the side split of Gabrielle’s dress the Warrior quickly verified what she found earlier, that her lover was without undergarments of any kind. Growls of passion escaped through Xena’s lungs and she pulled Gabrielle into a sitting position. “You, my love, are sexually dangerous. Do you know that?”

The soft tanned shoulders invited Xena’s lips for a taste. As she nibbled and licked the neck and shoulders of her moaning lover, Xena slipped the garment off of Gabrielle. Shoving her gently to her back Xena crawled on top and feasted with great appetite on the alluring breasts and harden nipples begging for the Warrior’s attention. “Ohhh…yes Xena. Love me please…love me madly.”
Pleading with hunger to be taken Xena released her grasp to see the disappointment in Gabrielle’s eyes. Removing her tunic and throwing it to the side, Xena quickly pulled her boots off. Crawling next to her lover, Xena rubbed her hand over Gabrielle’s breasts and down her body stopping once she covered the wet and fevered mound of her bride. After seasons of making love to Gabrielle, the Warrior knew what pleased her. With her fingers she expertly rubbed the throbbing folds in a circular fashion and watched, as Gabrielle could no longer keep her eyes open. Her breath became rapid, as Xena increased the stroking. “Pleaseeee…Xe…take me pleasee.”

“You are so wet Gabrielle…is this all for me?” Knowing full well that the deepness of her voice had an affect on Gabrielle, she was not disappointed. Gabrielle’s words no longer made any sense, as they were mixed with sounds dripping of pure ecstasy. Slowly Xena commanded the lips of her lover and slid her fingers into the deep heated shaft of paradise. Once again her soulmate surprised her and swiftly held Xena’s head with her hands demanding a more forceful kiss.

Gabrielle’s hips started to rotate with Xena’s hand and she was soon unable to continue kissing her Warrior. Feeling somewhat playful Xena removed her fingers suddenly causing Gabrielle to cry out. Running her tongue across the Bard’s lips and into her ear the Warrior whispered her demand. “You…did not answer me.” Bringing her fingers covered with Gabrielle’s wet juices to her lips Xena sucked each finger exotically driving Gabrielle into madness. “Is this all for me? No one else…..just me?”

“Ohhhhhh…ye…ye..pleaaass..” Well aware the Warrior had complete command of her heart and body Gabrielle began to shake and grind her mound on Xena’s thigh. “Pleasse….Xen…”

Trusting that she tortured her soulmate enough, the Warrior scaled down Gabrielle’s body and quickly took possession of the treasure belonging only to Xena. The sweetness and bitterness of Gabrielle’s wet essence almost drove Xena to a climax. Within moments she had Gabrielle climbing and reaching an orgasm that made her body buckle and shake uncontrollably. In all their moments of love making Xena realized that at this very moment Gabrielle gave her body to Xena one hundred percent. The young woman’s orgasm was extremely powerful and overwhelming and she cried Xena’s name repeatedly. Eventually the Bard collapsed to the bed and the Warrior quickly was by her side wiping the tears that took over her soulmates body. “Hey, baby…you okay?”

Unable to speak Gabrielle curled on her side and Xena held her tightly allowing her lover to cry. “Sssshh…go ahead sweetie, you cry as long as you need too. I’m here for you.” Understanding that too many emotions flooded her young wife, Xena held and soothed her soulmate for some time before the crying stopped. Jumping from bed she poured Gabrielle a cup of water and brought it to her. “Baby, drink this okay.”

Accepting the water Gabrielle drank it completely and gave the cup back to Xena. “I’m sorry…I don’t know what happened.”

Xena hopped on the bed next to her soulmate and pulled her tightly to her body. “Mmmm, I do. Too many things fill our life right now. You know what I want to do?”

Wiping the remainder of the tears from her eyes Gabrielle leaned on her elbow to look into the blue eyes of her soulmate. “What do you want, Xena?”

“After we visit Iason, our next commitment isn’t until the winter solitise, when Tara asked us to be at her wedding. So between visits, why don’t you and I visit the Island of Lesbos and spend the warm months there?” The Warrior knew Gabrielle had never been to the island and had wanted to visit it many times. It was just an island that loved to party constantly. While celebrations were okay, she tired of them quickly and Xena anticipated that the women of this island, particularly Sappho would demand a lot of attention from her. A part of Xena was also afraid they would demand time from Gabrielle and she did not really want to share the Bard.

Thinking back to several seasons ago, when Aphrodite put a spell on Gabrielle, Joxer and herself, Xena remembered how Gabrielle accused her of staying at the lake so she would not have any competition. At the time, Xena denied it but now thinking back, she had to admit Gabrielle was right. Running her fingers over Gabrielle’s shoulder the Warrior was willing to spend time on Lesbos, if it would make her soulmate happy.

“Xena…you don’t have to do that for me. I know….” Before she could finish her words Xena pulled her in for a kiss. Pressing her lips firmly against her lover the Warrior would do this for her soulmate.

“Don’t argue with me baby. All I want is for you to be happy.”

Slipping her fingers through the long dark hair, Gabrielle kissed Xena on the nose and each eye finally settling on the soft full red lips of her soulmate. Licking and sucking first on the top and then on the bottom, the Bard teased Xena until the Warrior began growling with passion. Slipping her tongue into the Warrior’s opening mouth amazed the young Bard. So many men and women had kissed these succulent lips and yet Xena wanted no one but Gabrielle to ever touch them again.

This overwhelmed the young Amazon Queen and thus kissing her Warrior melted her soul each and every time. It wasn’t long before Gabrielle moved her body to the Warrior’s ever tempting breasts. Circling her tongue around the harden nipples Xena’s moaning became slightly louder causing Gabrielle to suck faster. Sliding her hand down Xena’s side the young Queen fondled the dark curly hair of the Warrior’s pleasure. This was familiar territory to Gabrielle and she knew by heart every fold and tender spot that would make her Warrior scream her name.

Dragging her tongue firmly over Xena’s body, Gabrielle spent a moment circling her tongue in and out of Xena’s navel and then to their shared tattoo before spreading Xena’ thighs. Brushing her nose, eyes and face through the dark curly hairs of passion, Gabrielle took several large licks over and through the folds of Xena’s silky mound. Causing the Warrior to moan her name and gyrate her hips the Bard would enjoy this moment as long as possible. Sensually Gabrielle tugged on the throbbing wetness and growled when the flavor of her Warrior slid through her lips. “Xena….spread your legs wider. I’m going to crawl right inside of you.”

“Ohhhhhhh…….Gab…” The fact that Xena knew she had absolutely no control or strength to stop her lover drove the Warrior beyond the brink of sanity. Gabrielle would devour her and Xena believed she was capable of crawling right inside of her center of passion. “Yess…harder, faster….pleasssee.” Begging her lover to fulfill her cries of need, the Amazon Queen with moons of experience behind her, knew exactly which direction to lick, which nub to suck on, how much pressure to apply. As Gabrielle darted her tongue in and out of the Warrior heated cavern, alternating with her fingers and spreading them wide, Xena’s body began to shake and sweat uncontrollably. Lifting her hips off the bed, Gabrielle followed her and sucked madly on her swollen and throbbing center. The spasms and climax racing through Xena’s veins exploded and she reached several peaks before collapsing in her lover’s arms.

Gabrielle was immediately by her side holding Xena tightly. “I love you my Warrior. I love you so much.”

Attempting to catch her breath and open her eyes, the Warrior gave up and could only nod her head and smile. Allowing her Bard to embrace her tightly it took a while before the tremors stopped and Xena could speak. “Oh, baby…you are amazing.”

Giggling over Xena’s words, Gabrielle burrowed her head under her wife’s chin and crawled partly on top of Xena. “Mmmm…caught your breath yet?”

Rubbing her hands over the muscular back of her soulmate, Xena kissed Gabrielle’s blonde head. “No, you really wore me out that time.”

Slipping her hands back between Xena’s legs, the Warrior jumped slightly at the touch that still caused tingling to run through her body. “Good….because I’m not done tasting you yet.” Propping herself up so she could look into the sexiest blue eyes in the world, Gabrielle began once again to stroke the softness of her lover. Purring with pure animal seduction the Amazon Queen planned to possess the Warrior all night long. “Mmmm….here I come Warrior, I want more of you…I want ALL of you.”

Rolling her eyes at the sensations Gabrielle was creating with just her fingers, Xena smiled and soon lost all ability to speak. She intuitively knew her young bride would exhaust her tonight and the Warrior planned on enjoying every single bit of it.

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Chapter Five
Four days after the Amazon wedding the Warrior found her soulmate with Shulaba in the council chambers. Both women had been in there since sunrise and it was already close to the evening meal. Spending the day with Eponin and Amarice training new Amazon recruits, the Warrior missed her lover. Earlier in the day the scouts that were sent to Poteidaia had returned to inform Xena that the message regarding the fire was true. The upsetting part for Xena was when, the scouts reported that Lila arrived and was staying with some young girl named Marlana. Walking into the council hut to lay claim to her partner she found Gabrielle in the mist of a scroll regarding treaties.

She did not see her Warrior come up behind her until strong hands rubbed her shoulders. “Hi, I missed you.”

Bending over to kiss her lover, the Warrior glanced over at the Regent. “Shulaba, I’ve come to claim my wife.”

“Good, she needs to get away from all of this. In fact all of this can wait for quite some time.” Pushing back from the table Shulaba stretched and yawned before bidding the couple a goodnight.

Pulling Gabrielle by the hand the Warrior led her soulmate out of the hut. “I’ve ordered us a nice hot tub of water and some food to be brought to our hut. I need to hold you and talk to you for a while.”

“Mmm…you really want to talk?” Gabrielle was pleased that Xena had missed her all day and wanting nothing more than to rest in her strong protective arms but Xena wanted to talk — that was unusual.

Once inside the hut the couple found the food ready and waiting along with a full tub of water that was still a bit too hot to climb into. Deciding they would eat first and bathe later the Bard wasted no time stuffing small pieces of rabbit meat into her mouth.

“Gabrielle, I sent scouts to Poteidaia to check on the fire?”

“You did what?” Instantly loosing her appetite the Bard could not understand why Xena would do that.

“Don’t be mad; I had to know if it was true or just a lie. Evidently the house and the barn are gone and your father is no where to be found. The villagers all seem to think he is alive. Several of Herodotus’ drinking buddies claim he was threatening to burn the buildings and give the land to Lila.”

Moving from the table Gabrielle started to take her clothes off, not caring if the water was too hot.

Following her soulmate, Xena stripped and tested the waters before letting her lover get in. The water was hot but comfortable enough to bathe in. Sitting in the tub Xena held her hand out which Gabrielle accepted. Within moments the Bard was sitting in front of her soulmate allowing Xena to wash her hair and back. “Gabrielle, there is one more thing. Lila is staying with some young girl named Marlana. Do you know her?”

“Yes. She and Lila are good friends. They grew up together. Lila will be safe with her.” Rinsing the soap from her hair the Bard took the sponge and washed the remainder of her body. Spinning around to face Xena she could see the concern across the tanned sculptured face of her Warrior. “Okay, let’s go. I can visit my mother’s grave and see what Lila is up too.”

Indicating Xena should turn around so Gabrielle could wash her back and hair the Warrior complied. “Honey, are you sure? I really believe you need to face this, but I have mixed emotions about pushing you too fast. You know I love you.” Turning around to search for the green eyes that would give Xena her answer, she discovered them serious yet accepting.

“Xena, you are not pushing me. You’re absolutely right – I have to put closure to this. Let’s leave tomorrow.” Quickly Gabrielle found she once again being held by the most protective arms in the universe. “I love you Xena.”

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“I’m so sorry Hecuba….I’m so sorry about all of this. It could have been so different had I known you were carrying our child.” An older man dressed in the leather clothing of a warlord laid a bouquet of wildflowers over the grave of Gabrielle’s mother.
Bending down on one knee the white haired man bowed his head in respect. “I loved you so much Hecuba. By the gods…I still love you so dearly.” Memories flooded back to the warlord, as he thought of the young blonde he fell so deeply in love with so many winters ago. The first night he declared his love for Hecuba was still fresh in his heart. They made love only once and it resulted in pregnancy. Having no idea Hecuba was pregnant the man, who at that time was only a young warrior, ran off to fight invading barbarians from the north. When he returned to the village of Korca, his love was gone.

According to his mother, Hecuba married Herodotus, was pregnant and moved east to Poteidaia. Following her, the warlord discovered he had a young daughter whom Hecuba named Gabrielle, after his mother. Herodotus was furious and the two fought until Hecuba stepped between them. The warlord had no intentions of harming his love and left in anger and in pain over his loss.
From that time on he watched from a distance, while his beautiful blonde hair daughter grew. Had he known of the abuse, which Herodotus had hidden so well, the warlord would have claimed his child immediately. Never approaching Gabrielle and telling her who he was, the warlord regretted his lack of actions. “I should have taken Gabrielle and raised her. Hecuba why….why didn’t you tell me she was being beaten. I could have protected her.” The warlord was unable to stop the tears that flowed from his forest green eyes. “I would willingly give up my land, my riches and my home to do this all over again.”

“Excuse me…do I know you?”

The Warlord was startled by a soft voice and jumped to his feet spinning around to see two young girls standing before him. He immediately recognized the young brunette as Gabrielle’s half sister, Lila. “Uh…no, I don’t think so.”

Lila and Marlana observed the old man standing in front of them. He appeared to be harmless even though he carried a sword on his side and wore the typical leather and armor of a warrior. A peculiar design was tattooed on the back of his left hand and for some reason the pattern looked familiar to Lila. “Did you know my mother?”

“What?” Just then Lila pointed to the grave. “Oh, yes, Hecuba. Was she your mother?”

“Yes….but how do you know her? Do you know my father?” Not too sure what to make of this strange man, Lila glanced over at Marlana who just shook her head and had no idea who the man was.

“Well…it’s a long story and best if left unsaid. We knew each other a long time ago. I was just in the area and heard of the tragedy.” The warlord moved away from the grave. “I meant no disrespect young lady.” Bowing politely the warlord walked away rather abruptly and vaulted onto a beautiful black stallion. Looking back at Lila, the man smiled. “You look a great deal like your father?”

This Lila took as a compliment and giggled easily. “Thank you. My sister actually looks like my mother.”

Without saying a word the old man smiled. *Yes she does young one. And she has the same beauty.* Kicking the stallion in the flanks the warlord rode away from the village of Poteidaia.

“That was strange. Do you recognize him Lila?” The strange man intrigued the young peasant girl who was a life long playmate of Lila’s. “Did you see how fine his clothing was. He had to be more than just a warrior.”

Lila glanced down at the flowers left by the stranger and then looked up in time to see him slip into the cover of the surrounding forest. “No, I did not recognize him. But, that tattoo on his hand looks familiar — like I’ve seen it someplace before.”

“Maybe Gabrielle knows him?”

Kneeling in front of her mother’s grave Lila shook her head. “Hmm….maybe. I’ll have to ask her next time I see her.”
Chapter Six
Riding her chestnut mare onto the land of her father was uncomfortable for Gabrielle. From the edge of the property both women could see the house and barn were no longer standing. Although the message from Poteidaia’s village council indicated her father was missing, the young Bard could not help but believe Herodotus might jump out any moment.

The day was almost over and both women were exhausted from riding all day. The closer Gabrielle got to Poteidaia the grumpier she became and the quicker she wanted to get this all over with. Thus she pushed her horse and she pushed Xena. For the time, the Warrior did not push back and attempted to let her partner lead the way and make the decisions of, when they would stop and rest.

Less than a candlemark from Poteidaia the Warrior finally suggested they camp for the night and enter the village in the morning, when they were fresh. Gabrielle would not listen. In fact they argued rather heatedly over that one decision. With tears filling her eyes, the Bard told Xena to camp if she liked, but she planned on going all the way into the village. There would be no way the Warrior would let her travel on alone, therefore she relented and followed.

At the beginning of the path that would lead to the burned out house, the young blonde slid off the mare. Gabrielle grabbed the reins and began walking. The Warrior jumped from Argo and joined her soulmate. Stopping only a short distance down the path Gabrielle let go of the reins. Lowering her head she took several deep breaths in an attempt to try and slow down her increasing heart rate. A warm hand began rubbing her back and she heard a tender, familiar voice. “Honey, maybe we should rest for tonight and come back tomorrow.”

Understanding that she had been very difficult to live with these past few days Gabrielle wanted to go on before she changed her mind. “No, lets go. I want us to be gone tomorrow.”

Xena was concerned deeply for her soulmate. “Gabrielle….you are too tired for this right now. Let’s get a warm meal, a bath and find a nice cozy…….”

Without warning the Bard spun around and with tears sliding down her cheeks she stared at the Warrior. “STOP XENA….JUST STOP.” Pushing into the Warrior’s shoulder Gabrielle shoved her soulmate to the side and vaulted onto the mare. Kicking the mare roughly in the side she galloped passed the Warrior toward the ruins of the house.

Not at all pleased with her soulmates gruff reaction Xena quickly mounted Argo and chased after her soulmate. By the time she caught up with Gabrielle the young blonde was staring at the remains of what once was her home. With her hands covering her face she sobbed. Before Xena could say anything, her soulmate jumped off the mare and ran into the fields behind the house.

The Warrior realized her soulmate was filled with rage and needed to run the anger off. “I’m going to give her a few moments Argo, then…..NO! What am I saying – I’m not giving her any time. I’m staying right with her.” Suddenly an outcry filled the air sending fear through Xena’s heart. Kicking Argo demandingly the mare bolted toward Gabrielle’s direction. Flipping off of Argo, Xena was immediately by the side of her soulmate who was kneeling at the grave of her mother.

Her crying was now uncontrollable. Quickly dropping to her knees behind Gabrielle, the Warrior wrapped her arms around the Bard’s waist and pulled her backward into her chest. The young Amazon Queen did not fight and collapsed into the protective love of her Warrior. Rocking Gabrielle back and forth, Xena felt helpless. Doing everything possible to comfort her soulmate, the Warrior could no longer control her own tears. Together they cried. Unsure of how much time passed, Xena released her hold and returned to Argo for the waterbag. Accepting the water, Gabrielle drank a great deal and quickly reached for the comfort of Xena’s body. “I’m here Gabrielle….baby I’m here.”

Gabrielle continued to cry but the tears were not violently controlling her body, as they were earlier. Praying for a way to help ease her soulmate’s pain, Xena started to hum softly. The beauty of Xena’s voice penetrated the pain in Gabrielle’s heart and she allowed the music to take control of her sadness. The sun was setting, when Gabrielle gently pushed away from her Warrior. Diving into the deep blue eyes of her soulmate, Gabrielle could see the uncertainty, worry and the Warrior’s own sorrow. “I’m so sorry Xena, what is wrong with me? I’ve treated you horrible.”

Grabbing Gabrielle’s chin, the Warrior kissed her lightly on the lips. “Hey, nothing is wrong with you. We are here together. Remember — we are bonded, as one. Everything we do, both the happy and sad times — we do them together. I love you.”

“I…I need to get away from here.” Tenderly holding Xena’s face in her hands, she kissed the sadden eyelids of her soulmate. “I need to be with you.”

Grabbing Gabrielle by the waist Xena helped her to stand. She whistled for Argo who came quickly with the chestnut mare following close behind. Lifting Gabrielle onto to Argo, Xena vaulted up behind her lover. “Let’s get a room in town. After you eat and have a nice warm bath, then we can decide what to do next.”

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

Poteidaia had one inn and a tavern. Realizing it was late, Xena hoped they could still find a room for the night. If not, she would take Gabrielle back out of town to camp. Believing that the inn would be a better choice and much quieter the couple stopped there first. “You stay on Argo, I’ll check and see if we can get a room.” Gabrielle was completely exhausted and had no intentions of arguing anymore with her soulmate. The sight of her mother’s grave was too much of a shock; it made it all too real.
Within moments Xena came back out. “Come on, I’ve ordered a bath and we have a room for the night. If you want to stay longer we can.” Realizing they were in Poteidaia, a village that was not completely tolerant of the Warrior Princess or Amazons, Gabrielle slid off Argo rather than wait for Xena to help. “Hey, you go on in and I’m going to take the horses to the stables. I’ll be right up okay?” Wanting desperately to kiss her soulmate, Xena knew better than to show her affection so openly in Poteidaia.
There were still several places throughout Greece where the couple ran into prejudice and she did not want to upset Gabrielle tonight. The Warrior knew she would be able to hold and kiss her Bard later behind closed doors. As she grabbed onto to the reins of both horses, Gabrielle surprised her and reached up kissing Xena directly on the lips. Although the kiss was quick, the Warrior could not help but drop the reins and place her hands on Gabrielle’s hips. This caught the attention of several men standing outside the inn and they protested loudly making derogatory comments.

Less than a heartbeat went by, when the innkeeper came racing out the door throwing Xena’s dinars to the ground. The Warrior looked at her soulmate and her heart broke at the sadness she saw in Gabrielle’s eyes. It would appear her hometown had completely disowned the young Bard. Gabrielle reached over with tears rolling down her cheeks and picked up the dinars.

Meeting the blue eyes of her soulmate, Gabrielle could see the distress take over the brave face of her Warrior. Their bond meant the world to Xena and to discover people hating them for their love hurt her spirit and Gabrielle knew this. “Sweetheart I’m sorry. I should have known better. I just had to touch you…let you know I love you so much. You have been so good to me…putting up with all my…..”

Moving both sets of reins into one hand the Warrior wrapped her arm around Gabrielle’s shoulders. “No…why are you sorry….for loving me. For not caring what anyone says and loving me. You have nothing to be sorry about. I’m glad you kissed me.” To prove her words and to show up the jerks slandering them Xena kissed her soulmate tenderly. As always, Gabrielle reciprocated willingly.

“GABRILLE!”

From a small shop close by Lila came running out to greet her sister and Xena. Quickly wrapping her arms around her older sister the young brunette began to babble endlessly. Gabrielle firmly placed her hand over Lila’s mouth. “Lila, stop. I’m tired and not in the mood to talk.”

“Sorry Gabby. Do you have a place to stay?” Just then Gabrielle recognized Marlana standing behind Lila and she said hello and introduced Xena.

“No, not yet. I’m actually thinking it might be better to camp in the forest.”

“Gabrielle…no, please you can stay with us. We have room, if you don’t mind sleeping on the floor in front of the fireplace. Please consider staying. It is only my mom and Lila and of course, myself.”

Gabrielle realized if she accepted this offer, then she might not be able to cuddle with Xena. Right now she needed to be close to her Warrior and she had the feeling that Xena needed to be close to her. This loss was also affecting her soulmate. “Look, Marlana, thank you…but.”

“No but’s Gabrielle. Marlana and her mother know you and Xena are married. I told them.”

Marlana stepped right into the conversation. “Gabrielle, as far as we are concerned, if people don’t like the love you have for each other….well then they are blind!” The two women giggled and then together turned to the men in front of the inn and stuck their tongues out.

Impressed with the strength and loyalty of the young women regarding their relationship, Xena smiled and turned to her soulmate. “Gabrielle, let’s accept.”

Trusting completely in her soulmate’s decision, Gabrielle followed Lila into the house, while Marlana showed Xena the barn where she could leave the horses. By the time Xena got back to the house her Bard was already curled up on the floor in front of the fire and asleep. Marlana’s mother, Jolenta, was a pleasant woman and was quite pleased to have both Gabrielle and the famous Warrior Princess staying in her home. Handing Xena a few extra blankets the Warrior spread them on the floor and gently rolled her soulmate onto the thicker padding. Lost in a deep sleep the Warrior was careful not to wake her.

Jolenta whispered that she had some hot tea brewing and raisin bread for the Warrior. Thanking the old woman, Xena indicated she would join her in a moment. Once alone with Gabrielle she removed the Bard’s boots and the daggers from her belt. Gently the Warrior also unfastened the Amazon choker and her wrist guards. Kneeling beside her lover she brushed the blonde bangs to the side and kissed the tear stained cheeks. After pulling a blanket over her soulmate, Xena joined the three women in the kitchen.

“Thank you for allowing us in your home.”

“You are most welcomed Xena. I always liked Gabrielle…poor child has put up with too much in her young life.” The woman set a cup of tea in front of her guest. “Marlana and Lila grew up together. Couple of little rascals.” Jolenta slapped a giggling Marlana on the arm, who right along with Lila instantly remembered the mischief the two would get into. “Ever since that day Gabrielle chased off those wolves and saved my Marlana, I’ve been grateful.”

“Really….I had not heard that story.” In fact the longer Xena knew Gabrielle she discovered that there was not a lot about her Bard’s childhood that she did know.

Jolenta proceeded to tell Xena how Marlana and Lila ran into some thickets filled with thorns to hide from two wolves roaming the area. Gabrielle was out collecting wood and heard the girls crying. Bravely she picked up several stones throwing them at the wolves who turned and faced Gabrielle. Then something odd happened. Taking a sip of her tea the old woman’s face turned extremely serious. “My husband, who was alive at the time, had been out hunting and came up on the girls having heard the screaming. Gabrielle was standing in front of the wolves and it looked to him as if she was somehow controlling them. Suddenly she waved her hands and the wolves ran away.”

This story left the Warrior with her mouth hanging open. “WHAT?”

“Oh yes…amazing I would say. Gabrielle had to be only about six or seven winters then. The girls were about five, I think.” Both nodded in agreement.

“What happened then?” The Warrior was extremely proud of her soulmate but was filled with questions.

“Well, the girls had a number of cuts and scratches from the thorns and had to be treated. By the end of the day the whole village heard the story.” Suddenly Jolenta lowered her head, as if to gather her thoughts. Finally what seemed like candlemarks to Xena but was only moments, the woman looked directly into the Warrior’s eyes. “We did not see much of Gabrielle after that. Herodotus must have kept her in the house.” Glancing over to the two friends Jolenta shrugged her shoulders. “I imagine it was several moons before we saw Gabrielle again.”

Xena jerked her head toward Lila demanding an explanation. “Talk Lila. Enough of this silence.”

Hesitating, the young brunette did not want to talk about the strange things in her home. She was both ashamed and embarrassed. Ashamed because she never helped to protect Gabrielle and embarrassed because she loved her father and his behavior with Gabrielle disturbed her.

A voice came unexpectedly from behind the women startling all of them. “Xena, please don’t do this.”

Pushing away from the table the Warrior reached her soulmate in only three strides. “Hey, how are you feeling?” Without waiting for an answer Xena led Gabrielle to the table.

Jolenta was slightly unnerved that Gabrielle must have overheard them. She did not want to cause the young blonde any further pain. Slipping away from the table she poured a cup of tea adding an herb to help Gabrielle sleep. *I just won’t tell her I put them in.* Returning to the table she observed a once dangerous Warrior appearing tender and concerned over the young Bard. This touched the old woman’s heart and if she had any reluctance about this union between the two, it was now chased away.

Xena accepted the tea from Jolenta and smiled a thank you. Her senses could immediately smell the herb that was added. Hoping Gabrielle might be too exhausted to notice the added property to her tea, Xena handed the cup to her soulmate. “Here…drink this.”

Trusting her lover completely Gabrielle sipped at the tea and within several sips could taste the added herb. Glancing with droopy green eyes to her soulmate she placed the cup on the table. The Warrior lifted the cup once again and brought it to her lips. Leaning closely in order to whisper gently to her soulmate Xena could not resist and quickly kissed her cheek. “Come on…you need to rest. Please finish this. Jolenta is only trying to help.” The fear in Gabrielle’s eyes was apparent to the Warrior. “I promise I will not leave you.” The last statement seemed to help and Gabrielle complied and drank the tea. Putting the cup down Xena scooted her chair closer so her Bard could lean up against her shoulder and chest.

“You saw mother’s grave, didn’t you Gabby?” Concern over her sister’s current state, Lila at first did not realize that while she had the opportunity to see her mother before her death, helped to bury her and then grieve over the loss, Gabrielle did not have the same chances. Anxious to change the topic Lila began to tell Gabrielle that she wanted them to keep the land. “Vanaska said the land is ours Gabby. We can build it back up.”

“Lila, you do what you want with the land. I don’t want anything to do with it.” Gabrielle laid her head back on the strong protective shoulder of her partner. “I just can’t make any decisions about this right now.” The room became suddenly quiet and Gabrielle knew it was because of her. Xena wanted information about her childhood and apparently Jolenta was willing to tell her what she knew…at least until she entered the room. Confusion coupled with exhaustion made it difficult for Gabrielle to think straight. A small voice started talking in Gabrielle’s head. ‘Why do you hide your childhood and pain from your soulmate.

Hasn’t she told you so many things about her past – the evil deeds, the killings and the betrayals? It is time you shared your life completely with the woman you love and who would give her life to protect you.’ Whoever was invading her thoughts at that moment brought a bit of sanity to the confusion within her spirit. Feeling the warmth of Xena’s body so close to her own, she closed her eyes in order to soak in the love that was radiating from her protective Warrior. *Maybe I can share my life. Maybe she will still love me even after she has heard.*

A deep whispering voice filled Gabrielle’s ears and she recognized it immediately, as her soulmate. “I love you Gabrielle. There is nothing you can tell me that will chase me away.”

This statement startled Gabrielle and she tilted her head to look in the sapphire eyes. “How did you know what I was thinking?” Suddenly the Bard realized the two of them were alone. Evidently when she closed her eyes, the three women quietly left the room. “Xena, I….”

Rubbing her fingers across Gabrielle’s tender lips Xena understood the hesitation and fear. She had been in this position many times, debating whether to tell Gabrielle a bit of her history or leave it alone. Eventually over time Gabrielle heard a great deal about Xena. “Ssshh. You do not have to say anything. I know how you are feeling because many times I was afraid to tell you things about myself – afraid you would hate me and leave. Now I know that you would never leave me. I will never leave you Gabrielle.” The Warrior kissed Gabrielle several times over her eyes. “Right now I think we both need some sleep. Tomorrow we can talk a bit. I just need to know what you are going through. I love you Gabrielle and I want to help. Don’t shut me out….please.”

Securing the smile she had hoped for Xena helped Gabrielle to stand and together hand in hand they returned to the makeshift bed of blankets in front of the glowing embers. Removing her armor and boots Xena laid down and guided her lover into a familiar cuddling position. Kissing her repeated on the forehead, Xena was delighted, when Gabrielle caught her lips and welcomed a deeper kiss. The kiss was comforting and they both craved the security it would bring. For several moments they licked, nibbled and probed each other’s mouth and lips with guarded passion. Knowing they could not take their needs further the kissing helped to satisfy the desires and reassure their bond. The sleeping herb in the tea took hold of Gabrielle fairly quickly and the comfort of her Warrior’s love guided her into a land without dreams. Soon after the Warrior joined her soulmate.

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

The next morning Xena was up early and rather than let Gabrielle sleep she woke her. The Warrior did not want her soulmate waking alone and possibly getting scared because Xena was not there. Surprisingly it only took several kisses to wake Gabrielle who instantly smiled up at her lover and circled her arms around the Warrior’s neck. “I’m going to check on the horses. Want to come with me?” Immediately indicating that she wanted to be with Xena the couple was up, put their boots on, folded the blankets neatly and slipped out of the small cottage. As the couple strolled casually toward the barn behind the house, Gabrielle slid her hand into Xena’s causing the Warrior’s heart to soften. “How are you feeling this morning?”

Gabrielle could feel the protective hand of her lover accept and squeeze tightly. This small response spoke loudly to the Bard of how greatly Xena loved her. “You know, Xena….I really love you. I’m tired and a bit numb but I have you……..and you are the most important person in my life.” Leaning into the Warrior’s arm, Gabrielle wrapped her free hand around Xena’s forearm and kissed her bare arm. “How are you feeling?”

This caused the Warrior to chuckle and she quickly pulled Gabrielle closer, as they both attempted to walk without tripping each other. “I am totally in love with you and doing okay.”

In silence the couple entered the barn to find both horses fairly happy to see them. Falling into a normal routine of brushing and feeding the horses the women talked very little, each consumed in their own thoughts of the other.

Fairly soon after the couple completed brushing the horses and cleaning the stalls, Lila came rushing in to find the women. “Jolenta had the tub filled for you both and when you are done, she will make you both a hot morning meal.”

“She is a good woman. I will have to find a way to repay her.” Grabbing her young Bard by the hand, Lila followed closely, as the couple walked back to the house.

Jolenta insisted on spoiling her visitors and would not accept dinars or chores in exchange. Chasing the young couple into the back room where they could take a secluded bath, she indicated she would have a hot meal waiting for them.

The water felt wonderful and Xena settled back against the side immediately and closed her eyes. Familiar hands were soon sliding up her legs, passed her hips and now fondling her breasts. Within moments the lips Xena could never get enough of were pressing against her own. Sliding her hands through the long blonde hair Xena let her tongue caress Gabrielle’s top lip and the groan she hoped for escaped Gabrielle. *Oh yes…my love…oh yes.*

The kiss turned to fevered desires and Xena lowered her hand to Gabrielle’s center of pleasure. Rubbing her fingers sensually over her Bard, the Warrior jumped suddenly, when she felt Gabrielle’s fingers enter her heated shaft. “Oh, yea….you are sneaky.”

“Do you want me to stop?” Questioning her Warrior humorously, knowing full well Xena would say no, Gabrielle did not wait for a response and captured the red lips with gentle force. The kisses turned greedy and lustful, as each continued to stroke and tease the other until they both reached powerful peaks. Crossing over the lovers held on to each other tightly, as they shook and trembled filled with each other.

Attempting to catch her breath Xena looked at the glazed covered eyes of her lover. “By the gods, I love that when we come together.”

“Mmmm…me too. Let’s do it again.” With urgency Gabrielle darted her tongue in to capture Xena’s and began sucking the pink muscle with a fevered passion.

The Warrior loved it, when Gabrielle talked seductively and made sexual demands on her. Within moments both women were once again trembling and breathing heavily, as they each fell in love all over again.

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

“I understand.” From his knees the long hair man bowed and kissed the ground. His human form still continued to betray his spirit on many occasions throughout his travels. Once again a voice from the air rang through his ears and penetrated his spirit. Leaving his followers by the stream Eli wandered into the forest to find a place of solitude, a place to listen and be still. Now with a renewed word from the one he called Abba, the Devi, returned to the few men and women who had been traveling with him for a few days.

As he approached the stream he thought of his two friends, Xena and his precious Gabrielle. Eli had been crushed by their deaths and for a few moons walked alone, refusing to speak with anyone. The Devi was angry with Abba, angry at destiny and angry with Caesar for taking the lives of his two friends. Struggling with the emotions of betrayal, the young Devi, questioned his faith for many days.

Why did he not return with Amarice to find the women? Eli also questioned his value as a man. He should have fought for them…..but then he would go against everything he believed in. The news of their rebirth gave Eli hope but he still believed he betrayed their trust, especially Gabrielle’s. Eli was aware that she looked to him for guidance, for hope and in his weakness he led her to a cruel death. Over time, the Devi tossed his emotions and the facts back and forth through his heart and spirit and ended up without complete answers. Their loyalty to him was overwhelming because they accepted and helped him move from a life of magic and question, to one of love.

Finally the time had come and Eli heard Abba’s guidance loud and clear. While the message was puzzling on many fronts, it also directed Eli to seek out his two friends.

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

Deciding to leave Poteidaia before the end of the day came as a surprise to Lila. While both were appreciative of Jolenta’s invitation to stay longer, Gabrielle needed to leave. Xena was happy to hear that Herodotus was not in the village because at this point, she probably would have killed the man.

Lila could not bring herself to tell Gabrielle that she saw their father in Amphipolis. As they were saying their good-byes, Marlana spoke without thinking. “Oh Lila, did you tell Gabrielle about that strange man visiting your mother’s…….” Lila slapped her hand over Marlana’s mouth but it was already too late.

The soulmates looked at each other puzzled over Marlana’s announcement. The Warrior questioned the young girl. “What stranger? Who are you talking about?”

Jolenta swatted Lila on the butt and scolded her. “You promised me you would tell Gabrielle. Lila — you have to start thinking girl!”

Apologizing to her sister Lila explained how they discovered the strange man at Hecuba’s graveside. “The strange part was he had tears rolling down his cheeks. He was crying for our mother.”

“Did he tell you his name or where he was from?” Gabrielle allowed her soulmate to question Lila further, as she was at the moment speechless.

“He said he knew mother a long time ago and then he left fairly fast. Rode a beautiful horse. He did however, have a tattoo on his hand and the symbol looked familiar.” Realizing she would now have to explain her father’s visit to Amphipolis, Lila pulled a bracelet from the pocket of her dress and handed it to Gabrielle. “This engraving was the design on his hand.”

Gabrielle took the bracelet recognizing the piece immediately. Looking over her shoulder at Xena who had her hand on Gabrielle’s waist in a reassuring manner, the Bard showed it to her. “Mother use to wear this bracelet all the time. Where did you get it Lila. The house was destroyed.”

“I know.” Lila shrugged her shoulders and felt Jolenta’s arm slide around her waist. “I knew it looked familiar.” Anticipating the next question the young brunette told her sister and Xena about Herodotus’ visit to Amphipolis. She decided to leave out a lot of the details and just said that he was leaving the bundle for the girls and was moving to Athens. She mentioned nothing of Herodotus’ cruel words for Gabrielle. “You should keep it Gabrielle. Would you like to see the other items father left.”

Shaking her head no the Bard did not really want to see any of it right now. “Maybe some other time….but I will hang on to this, if you don’t mind.”

“Wait — Lila…did your father say anything about that messenger?” The Warrior’s anger was starting to get the better of her and she was not willing to let Lila off the hook just yet.

The young woman hesitated for a moment before answering. She did not want to lie but then she also did not want to hurt Gabrielle. “He said that man was not suppose to kill Gabrielle. He….just….oh Gabby, father is just upset right now about moth………”

“NO — Lila, do not fill your head or try to fill mine with excuses.” The Bard was visibly shaken by her sisters need to defend their father. Covering her eyes with her hands, the warmth and strength coming from her soulmate’s grip around her waist helped to center her. “Lila, that man spoiled you and I can accept that you love him. But he was cruel and…….” Shoving her hands out in front to stop Lila from interrupting, Gabrielle continued. “I don’t want us to quarrel over this Lila, it will only push us apart. You better decide whom you are going to stand by. If it is father, than I will respect your choice and will always love you. But I can not be by your side supporting your belief in him.”

Suddenly Lila grabbed her sister and hugged her, as if her life depended on it. “I love you Gabrielle. I have to stay here and try to build a new home. I’m sorry father was so mean to you. I just……..”

As the young woman’s tears began to fall freely, Gabrielle held her young sister and allowed her to cry. “I know, I know. Just please don’t let him hurt you. Okay. I love you Lila.” A hand came around and rubbed the Bard’s back. She instantly knew it was not Xena’s.

“She can stay as long as she likes, so don’t worry about her Gabrielle.” Jolenta was pleased, when Gabrielle smiled and nodded her appreciation. “Gabrielle, I never trusted your father very much…so I will watch over her closely.”

The Warrior still agitated over the whole incident of Herodutus’ message was proud of her soulmate for finally standing up to her sister and also voicing her opinion so strongly. Still immediately suspicious about the stranger, she thought it would be best to ask questions of Lila now before any important details were forgotten. “Lila, did the man say anything more to indicate how he knew your mother?”

Lila wiped the tears from her eyes and looked over at Marlana, as if this would help to trigger her memories. Suddenly her eyes grew big. “Yes…when we first came up behind the man, he was mumbling something about…..wanting to do things over again. And something about giving up land…..ah…stuff like that.”

Marlana smiled. “Yea, in fact he even left flowers. Gabrielle he had the richest green eyes I’ve ever seen on a man.”

Quickly Lila nodded her agreement with Marlana’s assessment of his appearance. “He was a very handsome man and he knew father too. He said I looked a great deal like father.”

“Yes, in fact Lila, do you remember…you said that Gabrielle looked like your mother.” Marlana added this tiny bit of information that Xena found intriguing.

“Did he respond or say anything about Gabrielle?” Both girls shook their heads no and told the Warrior that the man just smiled and rode off abruptly.

Just as Xena was about to ask a few more questions, she felt the pressure of Gabrielle’s hand squeezing her forearm. “No more questions….please, let’s go Xena.” Gabrielle tucked the bracelet between her breasts and hugged the three women goodbye. Mounting the chestnut mare, the Warrior whispered words to Jolenta, which Gabrielle did not hear and quickly jumped, on Argo. Together the couple left the village of Poteidaia and headed north towards the forest. Although Gabrielle did not really know where they were headed, she trusted her soulmate and knew it would be someplace safe.

Xena recalled the conversation over and over in her mind and decided Amphipolis would be a good stop before they went on to Iason temple. *Is it possible that this man might know who Gabrielle’s father could be…..or maybe this man is her father. I have to get a better look at that bracelet.*

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

“Pack a bag my little Amazon!” Grabbing her young lover from behind Eponin targeted the tender earlobe of the Amazon who commanded all of her attention.

“Mmm….” Enjoying the tender kisses she was receiving, the young redhead closed her eyes. “Why…where am I going?”

Spinning Amarice around Eponin lifted the young woman’s chin to find the familiar look of wonder in her beautiful eyes. “I’m taking you home. Just for a visit. Is that okay? I’d like to meet your mother.”

The young woman pulled away from her lover. It had been three winters since she last saw her mother and it was not under the best circumstances. “Eponin….I don’t know. Mother wasn’t too pleased with me, when I left.”

Not too surprised, as the Warrior understood how Amarice had quite an attitude, when she first met her, she decided to ask why. “My little peanut, what….”

“PEANUT!” The redhead started to giggle over the endearing little name the big Warrior just used. “Peanut? Really Eponin and just what does that mean?”

Walking over to the bed and removing her boots the Amazon would have punched Xena had her friend been standing there. *Thanks a lot Xena. ‘Use little cute names on Amarice ~ she’ll like that. It always makes Gabrielle feel good.’ Hmpf!*

Just as the last boot dropped to the floor, Amarice tackled the staff master forcing her to fall backwards on the bed. “Yes, why peanut?” Secretly this little mushy word meant everything to Amarice, as she understood that it would take a lot of love for Eponin to use a charming term like that. Pressing light kisses all over her Amazon Warrior the young redhead was completely in love with this woman.

“Hey…slow down will you.” Actually enjoying the kisses, Eponin still tried to keep a tough warrior demeanor whenever possible. Occasionally she slipped and showed the soft side of her heart but a part of her was still afraid she’d get hurt. That Amarice would tire of her and find some young woman or young buck to love. “I won’t call you that, if you don’t like it.”

“Oh no you don’t. I LOVE IT. In fact…I love you.”

“You do?”

“Oh…yes. Let me show you.” Not giving Eponin an opportunity to talk further Amarice took control of her Warrior’s heart once again.

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

Two days after leaving Poteidaia the warlord met his friends in Thessaly. Stabling his black stallion the man ventured to the tavern and found his companions enjoying an evening meal. Greeting four of the men with the traditional grasping of forearms, the fifth man he hugged fiercely.

“Father, did you…”

Grabbing his son playfully at the collar he smiled. “Yes, my son, I paid my respects.” The young blond hair man was his only son, and outside of Gabrielle was his only child. After loosing Hecuba, the warlord rode northeast unable to allow his heart to return to Korca. There he met a young woman similar in nature to Hecuba. The sad fate that followed the warlord drove him to never marry again. His son was born almost two winters after Gabrielle and his wife was immediately pregnant once again. The healer said it was much too soon and her body never had a chance to heal properly. Both she and the baby died in childbirth. While the warlord loved the mother of his son tremendously, he continued to cherish his lost love. He devoted his life to his son and continued to watch his daughter grow from a distance. Most of the time he sent in his closest friends to check on his daughter so he would not arouse suspicion or upset Hecuba. However, he was so secretive about this that the warlord was unaware of the physical abuse. He assumed the bumps and bruises were a result of normal childhood.

Nikolas could tell his father was lost in memories and quickly brought him back. “Father, did you see Gabrielle?” The young man had known of his half sister for several seasons now and was thrilled to hear he had a sister. A sensitive young man by nature, he enjoyed the idea of having a sibling of his own blood. Now the opportunity was there and he was anxious to meet her and be a part of her life.

“No, Nikolas. I did, however, run into Lila but she does not recognize me nor should she. I’m not sure letting Gabrielle know who I am is such a great idea.” The old man polished the food off his plate and indicated to the barmaid that he wanted another ale.
Ever since his daughter began traveling with the Warrior Princess he was concerned. But then from the stories he heard the man gained a new respect for Xena. When he discovered his daughter was the Amazon Queen, it took a great deal of restraint not to brag to the world how proud he was of her. Then the terrible news of her death by Caesar shook him horribly. With the rumors of their miraculous rebirth, the warlord wondered if this was his opportunity to correct a wrong and reunite with Gabrielle. What held him back was the thought that Gabrielle would reject him, as her true father.

“I understand that she married that Warrior.” Tomas, his most trusted friend had been listening to rumors and asking questions.

The warlord nodded his head indicating he had heard the same. “Xena will love and protect her. She will make a good mate and has my blessing — if it meant anything.” Pausing to finish his ale, the warlord wiped his lips with the back of his hand and looked at his best friend. “I want you to send a few scouts to find Herodotus. That man had to burn his own house down. Just remember — no one is to hurt the old man. He is mine to take care of.”

Young Nikolas was lost in his own thoughts about his sister and the Warrior. “Father, isn’t Xena from Amphipolis?”

“Yes. After I’ve attended to some business in Gevgelija, we will stop in Amphipolis on our way back home.” The Warlord also planned on meeting with his brother, who had recently seen his daughter.

“Will we finally get to see Gabrielle?”

Fully aware that his son was excited about meeting his sister, the old warlord was not yet convinced this would be the proper time, if indeed any time would be appropriate. Patting is son on the back lovingly he smiled. “We’ll see, my son. I’m not making any promises.”

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

Across the fire the Warrior sharpened her sword until she felt warm eyes watching her. Looking up she saw her soulmate staring at her. *What is going through that pretty blonde head?* Placing her sword to the side the Warrior stood and walked over to her lover.

*Caught again. Can’t help it my Warrior, you are just so beautiful.* The Bard found herself unable to look away from Xena’s deep blue eyes that seemed to be calling her name and were coming directly toward her.

Taking Gabrielle’s hands the Warrior knelt in front of her while gently kissing the small tender hands. Staring directly into the sea green eyes, words of love came easily. “You have me heart, body and soul. Do you know that?” Xena intentionally kept her voice gentle and low and could not help but smile, when she saw the tears fill Gabrielle’s eyes. “Don’t cry Gabrielle, I….” Lately her Bard cried quickly and the tears would always take a direct path to the Warrior’s heart.

Gabrielle moved her fingers to Xena’s lips, silencing any words of apology. “I love you, Xena. You are so good to me. I’ve been such an emotional wreck since we’ve returned to life.”

Sitting down by her soulmate Xena wrapped her arms around Gabrielle pulling her close. “None of this is your fault or mine. We are here for a reason and we will go on following the path and walking the words that our God wants us too. I think Carrier said stumbling was a part of our growth. We just have to get back up and continue walking.” Kissing her soulmate on the cheek produced a smile from the young blonde. “Honey, can I ask you some questions?”

“I’ve been waiting for this….I know you’ve heard too much.” Leaning her head against Xena’s shoulders the Bard decided to answer anything her lover would ask.

“First, what did you do to those wolves, when you were so young? And what did Herodotus do to you?”

Lowering her head Gabrielle began fiddling with her fingers until large warm hands covered hers stopping the movement. Sitting straight the Bard turned to face her soulmate. “I’m not sure what I did. At least, I don’t remember. Father said I was evil. I could speak with my mind and that was not right. When Hope came to Poteidaia last summer, well that convinced him I was a monster.
I really think that sent him over the edge.” Pausing to look into the blue eyes hoping to find them calm and unafraid, Gabrielle was pleased to find Xena’s eyes speak of nothing more than love. “Xena, this is more than just prophecy. I don’t know what it is
I was able to do….but after the incident with the wolves I tried hard to stop. I began telling stories instead to keep my mind busy.

I got in trouble for that too. Seems I could not do anything right.” Looking into the sky at the constellations the Bard suddenly remembered Helena’s words at their bonding ceremony. “Honey, do you remember when Helena spoke in a strange tongue at our bonding? I understood some of the words. Only a few….but some.” Rubbing her fingers across the muscles in Xena’s forearms the young Amazon Queen was confused. “What is happening to me?”

Caressing her soulmates cheek, Xena ran her fingers through Gabrielle’s hair enjoying the soft silky feeling it left on her fingers. “I don’t know baby. But whatever your gift is, it sounds beautiful to me. Tell me, why did you stop…I mean after the wolves.”

“He beat me terribly that night. Blamed me for the injuries Lila and Marlana received from the thorn bushes. It was my fault they were in trouble to start with. He said I was disobedient and would leave me deep in the woods, if I kept misbehaving.” The tears forming in Gabrielle’s eyes started sliding down her cheeks. “Can we stop talking about this for now?” Leaning forward the Warrior pulled her in the rest of the way and held Gabrielle tightly.

“Gabrielle, no…don’t run away from this. Tell me what happened?” Knowing she might be pushing too hard Xena could no longer sit by and not know what happened to Gabrielle. “Baby…there is nothing you can tell me that will chase me away.”

Hearing that once again helped and the young woman told her mate how her father broke several ribs and beat her so badly they had to smuggle her out to a healer in Thessaly or she would have died. Her father’s excuse to the healer was that a plow horse trampled her. “If it wasn’t for mother pleading for my life, I would have died then. After that he never beat me as bad….but he still…well, he continued to hit me.”

Looking into the young face of a woman that would hurt no one the Warrior’s soul was in deep pain. Squeezing Gabrielle tightly the Warrior could no longer hold back the tears gathering in her eyes. Within moments the pain became so extreme the tears turned into convulsive sobbing and their rolls reversed. Gabrielle held, rocked and comforted her Warrior. It took sometime before Xena could stop and when she did, she looked into her lover’s eyes and saw the strength of their bond beaming from Gabrielle’s eyes.

“Do you realize your father was wrong — your mother was wrong to let this happen. By the gods Gabrielle, you were an innocent child with a beautiful gift from the gods.” Kissing her lover on the forehead, Xena felt sick to her stomach and leaned up against a rock close by. “I love you so deeply Gabrielle. Promise me…promise me…you will never leave me.”

Maneuvering her body so she could look directly into Xena’s eyes, the young Bard was overwhelmed by the love this Warrior carried for her. “I will never leave you Xena. I need you and I think you need me. We are bonded for eternity.”

After a few moments of cuddling and watching the fire die down they decided they both needed to get some sleep. Removing their boots and weapons the couple slipped under the blankets. Holding her soulmate close, Xena rubbed Gabrielle’s back hoping it would ease her heart and help her sleep. In return she could feel the gentle hand of her partner running her fingers through her raven hair. They just needed to touch each other without it turning into passion. “Gabrielle, we are going to Amphipolis. Is that okay with you?”

In return, Gabrielle nodded her head and mumbled that she thought they would be heading there. It was okay with her, as she actually wanted to see Cyrene. Before she fell asleep she heard Xena humming softly. It was something that seemed to help them both center, when the world seemed to be upside down.

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

“Iolaus, you can wait at Cyrene’s, if you like, but you can not come to Iason’s temple.”

The curly headed man paced around the campfire. He was irritated with Hercules for not explaining why Iason wanted only him and the two women at his temple. “Herc — we’ve been friends a long time. What is going on?”

“Look, I can’t tell you. You will just have to trust me on this one.” The son of Zeus settled down on his blanket and closed his eyes. His heart ached that Iolaus was so upset but he understood that he could in no way tell his friend what was going on.

Grumbling and mumbling Iolaus finally decided that Hercules had no intentions of telling him anything so he too attempted to find sleep. *I hate that, when he says ‘trust me’. Maybe, Cyrene knows what the big deal is with Iason.*

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

Chapter Seven
“Well, what do we have here. Two women all snuggled up together.” Cursing herself for not being prepared Xena opened her eyes to find one sword at her throat and one pointing at Gabrielle’s back. The one thing that the Warrior always feared on the open road finally happened and she was caught off guard and unable to quickly defend them. The man pointing the sword at her throat smirked and kicked her in the ribs. “Get up — NOW!!!”

Backing away, the kick was powerful causing Xena to gasp for air. Moving to her knees she slowly stood up. Gabrielle was now lying on her stomach with a sword pushing on her back. “Leave her alone. You always go around hurting defenseless women.” Looking around the Warrior noted five men all with swords. Her comment did nothing but gain laughter from the ruffians.

“Oh…some how I don’t think you are very defenseless.” The man holding the sword over Gabrielle kicked her in the ribs causing the Bard to yell in pain.

“Leave her ALONE. You want to fight — then fight me.”

Three of the men circled around Xena but her eyes kept darting toward her soulmate. The man holding the sword now had his foot resting on her back to keep her pinned to the ground.

Turning her head to the side, Gabrielle saw both her daggers within arms reach from her head. *If I can get to just one of them….it might be enough of a distraction.* The movement of her head caused the man standing over her to yank her hair. This was all she needed because that meant he no longer had control of the sword. Without warning Gabrielle purposely screamed, as the man pulled her hair, which caused the three men surrounding Xena to look her way. Quickly Gabrielle reached over her head with her right hand grabbing the man’s hair and as she ripped it from his scalp she picked up the dagger with her left hand.

With a hand full of hair, of which most was still attached, she yanked him forward and rolled over tossing the dagger to Xena who caught it easily. Having already kicked one man behind her in the groin, she quickly positioned herself to defend, as the other two men attacked. Within seconds, Xena killed two of the men and the remaining three ran off into the woods. The Warrior chased them for a while until they mounted horses and escaped.

Quickly she returned to camp to find Gabrielle putting her boots on. “Gabrielle….you okay.” Without asking Xena abruptly knelt down in front of her soulmate and started checking her arms and body for injuries.

Grabbing the Warrior’s hands to keep them still, Gabrielle knew her few bruises would heal quickly. “Xena, I’m fine but you are not.” Just then Xena realized in the battle one of the men managed to cut her forearm above the wrist guard with his sword. She sat back and was actually stunned because she did not remember it happening. Quickly her soulmate retrieved the healer supplies and waterbag. “Sit still Xena.”

The Warrior did as she was asked and her soulmate cleaned the wound, which ended up needing four stitches. While Gabrielle applied the bandage, Xena looked everywhere else but directly at her soulmate. A small fear took space in her mind and she did not want to be caught by surprise again. “Gabrielle, we should get out of here in case they return.”

“In a minute. You took a nasty kick to the ribs and I want to check them.” Refusing to take no for an answer Gabrielle automatically unfastened Xena’s leathers. Throwing a blanket over her shoulder to hide her naked body from any possible intruders, the Bard pressed gently around to find severely bruised ribs on her left side. “I don’t think anything is broke….they feel in tact. How do they feel to you?”

“Just sore. I think you are right. They don’t feel broke. Come on, I have a bad feeling about those men. Let’s get out of here.”

Quickly the couple managed to pack everything in its proper place on the horses. As Xena placed her foot in the stirrup and lifted her leg over to settle in the saddle, she could feel sharp pains in her side. Grimacing at the unexpected sharpness she let out a small groan and this was caught immediately by her soulmate. Before she could completely settle, Gabrielle had her mare at Xena’s side. “Xena, is it your ribs? Let’s get you back down so I can look at them again.”

“No, I want to get us out of here. There are two dead bodies by the fire and their friends might return. I just don’t feel safe about this. You can look later; for now, let’s move.”

Completely trusting Xena’s instincts, Gabrielle knew better than to question her soulmate further. For now she would allow Xena to lead them to safety.

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

“Joxer, look I really want to do this. I’m going to ask Gabrielle. She is the Queen and I know she can help me with this.”

The bumbling warrior wandered around the camp kicking up the dirt. “Minya you can’t just walk in and tell her you want to be an Amazon!! It doesn’t work that way.” Joxer missed Gabrielle dearly. Missed traveling with her, talking with her and just being with her. After the wedding in Amphipolis, he traveled aimlessly for awhile and finally ran into Minya one day. She was out living off the land, attempting to toughen up. She wanted to be an Amazon. When she said something to Shulaba, the Regent explained she needed to go through a great deal of requirements to become an Amazon.

Minya shook her head at the man of many facial expressions. He had changed somewhat since Gabrielle’s death, rebirth and then marriage to Xena. It was like he lost a purpose in living. Minya didn’t mind traveling with Joxer or talking with him because he was a nice guy and had a great heart. “Well, Joxer I don’t know how you can say that. I’m sure Gabrielle will be more than happy to help me out….after all, we’re friends.”

Mumbling under his breath, Joxer stared out across the lake. “Yea, so were we….I thought.”

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

After riding for most of the morning, Gabrielle stopped the chestnut. Xena turned Argo around to see why her soulmate stopped. Gabrielle was rubbing her ribs where the man pointing the sword in her back had kicked her. *Hades — I knew I should…* Nudging Argo towards her lover, the mare stopped next to the chestnut horse and the Warrior reached her hand out to grab Gabrielle’s arm. “Your ribs are hurting you — let me look at them.”

“I’m just stiff and they are fine, just bruised. Your ribs are the ones that need checking.” Determination crossed the Bard’s face and Xena could not help but smile. “Oh…stop grinning at me and let me check the bleeding on your arm.” Xena had long ago given up on arguing with Gabrielle, when it came to injuries she suffered in battle. Gabrielle was relentless and refused to walk away or ignore Xena’s wounds once the threat of battle was over. Showing Gabrielle her arm, both were pleased to find the bleeding had stopped. “How are your ribs sweetheart?”

“They hurt but other than that I think I’m fine.” The sculptured face of the Warrior turned suddenly sad. “Gabrielle, we are almost to Amphipolis, let’s wait and then I promise to let you take care of me.”

Gabrielle reached across and caressed the side of her Warrior’s face softly. She knew her soulmate was blaming herself for the attack. “Xena, don’t…please don’t blame yourself.” Lowering her head the Warrior fiddled with the reins, as she did feel like it was her fault. Warm hands pulled the reins away. “Come here and kiss me Warrior.”

It was a command not a request and instantly it brought a smile to Xena’s face. Both leaned toward the other and their lips brushed gently at first until Gabrielle spread the Warrior’s lips with her tongue. Soon the familiar emotions took control and the couple entwined their tongues together, as lovers do. The horses pulled them apart causing both women to laugh at their apparent chaperones.

Within the next candlemark the couple were standing inside of Cyrene’s place receiving tender hugs and kisses from the innkeeper.

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

They were not home less than one candlemark, when Gabrielle insisted her Warrior strip so she could take a better look at her ribs. In the privacy of the bedroom Cyrene reserved exclusively for the couple, Gabrielle helped the Warrior remove her leathers. Taking complete charge Xena was on her back within moments, while her partner delicately prodded and inspected the bruised ribcage. Watching Gabrielle care so deeply always overwhelmed the Warrior and she reached out to rub her hand along the Bard’s cheek. “I love it, when you take care of me.”

Smiling back at her soulmate, she continued her probing. “Yes, well I love you and I will always take care of you.” Several of her touches, although delicate, produced a gasp from Xena. “They hurt pretty bad, don’t they?”

Not wishing to appear in too much pain, Xena tried to change the subject. “Well, if you move your hand up just a bit to the left…..no….up a bit further….oh…yeah you’re close….”

A smile began to cross Gabrielle’s face, when she realized Xena was directing her towards her breast. Deciding to play along for now the Bard followed instructions. “Oh…you mean here..” Slowly and tenderly Gabrielle took Xena’s breast in between her lips and nibbled lightly. With several swipes of her tongue circling the harden nipple she latched on suddenly and sucked firmly causing Xena to moan.

“Oh yes Gabrielle…heal me baby.” Wanting more the Warrior reached up and pulled Gabrielle’s lips from her breast demanding entry into the luscious mouth of her soulmate. Complying with her lover’s wishes was simple and the Bard slid on the bed next to Xena and pressed her lips to her soulmates. A knock on the door disrupted the lovers and Gabrielle almost back flipped off the bed. Quickly she threw a blanket over Xena and answered the door.

The innkeeper was on the other side with a cup of hot tea for her daughter and a huge smile across her face. “Gabrielle, exercising again — you’re face is flush.”

“Oh very funny mom…leave her alone.” The Warrior was now sitting with a blanket over her shoulders and shaking her head over Cyrene’s sense of humor.

Gabrielle started to giggle and Cyrene gave her a quick kiss on the cheek, as she entered the room. “Here my big bad Warrior daughter — drink up!”

Accepting the cup from her mother, she could smell the herbs that were added, as a pain reducer. “And what poison have you added my dear mother?”

“Never mind, just drink it!” Cyrene sat on the edge of the bed. “Are you going to let me see your bruises.” Not really anticipating her daughter to agree, she bent over and kissed her on the cheek.

“NO MOTHER. I’m not a little girl anymore.”

“Gabrielle?” Looking to the Bard for support, the mood of the three women was playful.

“Sorry mom, don’t look to me for help. She’ll barely let me look at her ribs.” Standing next to Xena and Cyrene the Bard reached out and ran her fingers through the soft bangs on her lover. “Mom, could you keep an eye on your daughter. I’m going to get Memnos to come over.”

Handing the cup to her mother the Warrior tugged the blanket around her shoulders and stood up. “Gabrielle, I’m okay.”

Gently pushing Xena back to the bed the Bard quickly kissed her on the lips. “Don’t argue with me Xena. Behave while I’m gone.”

Before Xena could protest further her soulmate was gone in search of the local healer. Cyrene placed her arm around her daughter and kissed her on the cheek. “She loves you a great deal. Don’t fight her.”

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

From his position on the top of a hill, a sober Warrior observed the six men on horseback crossing the lush valley below. Tossing several more sticks in the fire he was anxious and a bit nervous. He had not seen his brother since the man kicked him off the land for being so drunk over five summers ago. Since that time, Meleager did not communicate with his brother until he saw Gabrielle in Poteidaia over two summers ago. The old warrior was hired to save the village from a warlord. Meleager accepted the job because it was Poteidaia and because of Gabrielle. The meeting with his niece was purely accidental.

At the time, Meleager thought she was away traveling with Xena. The little chance meeting ended up helping him to give up the drink. From that point on, Meleager swore off drinking. The time he was sentenced to death for a murder he did not commit, Meleager almost told Gabrielle about her father. *It would have been selfish of me to tell you, my little one.* Had he known his niece was so abused over the years, Meleager would have stepped in sooner — drunk or not. When he received the invitation for Gabrielle’s marriage to the Warrior Princess, he was ecstatic. Since he sobered up, Meleager was amazed at what his eyes really saw. The love between them was obvious and the marriage was inevitable. The old man was pleased and made sure Hawk heard of the wedding.

“Meleager, it’s been awhile.” Hawk dismounted and approached his brother without hesitation. Extending his forearm to greet his brother, the man was surprised when Meleager pulled him in for an embrace. Patting the man on the back, Hawk was happy that his brother turned his life around.

“Thanks for meeting with me Hawk.” Nodding to Tomas and remaining companions, Meleager turned to his nephew. “You’ve grown boy and by the gods you look so much like your sister.”

“Tell father that. I want to meet her.”

As the men fell into routine of making camp, the three family members sat around the fire. “How is she Meleager? You saw her at the wedding…how is she?”

“Happy. Gabrielle is really in love with Xena.” Offering the hot tea he had brewing to both men, they accepted gratefully. “The Warrior adores Gabrielle. Xena is not the same warlord of the past.”

Holding up his hand to stop Meleager from defending Xena, the warlord smiled. “I know…you don’t have to convince me. I approve of the marriage.”

“Look, I know I’m just an old drunk but I think you should let Gabrielle know who you are. Especially now.”

The young Nikolas chuckled lightly and looked into the sky as if giving thanks to the gods. “Thank you Uncle, tell father this would be the right thing to do.”

Meleager looked directly into the forest green eyes of his brother and smiled. He saw Gabrielle in those eyes and he saw Nikolas also. “Hawk, she has a right to know you are her father. Herodotus has been extremely cruel to her and now that Hecuba is gone…”

A tear came to the big warlord’s eye and he lowered his head in order to collect his emotions. “I have to think about this Meleager. I know Nikolas is anxious and apparently so are you. I just don’t know, if walking into her life at this time is good for Gabrielle.”

Placing his hand lovingly on the shoulder of his younger brother, Meleager wanted to have the answer for Hawk, but understood Hawk would have to find his own way. “Listen, I stand behind you with whatever your decision is. In the meantime, I can check in on Gabrielle and she’ll never know the difference. Okay?”

Nodding his head in agreement, Hawk was okay with this solution for the time being. The remainder of the evening was spent catching up on the events in each other’s life. Hawk requested his brother return home and help him run the land. Meleager accepted the offer and found himself overwhelmed by what sobriety has given him.

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

The old healer was proud of Gabrielle’s stitching and Xena would be able to remove them in five days. Once Memnos left, the Warrior allowed the affects of the medicinal herbs to work and slept for several candlemarks. Gabrielle stayed by her side the entire time bouncing back and forth between meditation and writing in a scroll. Deciding that she would begin a journal of her childhood memories was a huge step. The problem was she could not get past the first few words. As she pondered over where to start, Xena started to mutter in her sleep. Before Gabrielle could get next to the bed, her soulmate started shouting and tossing, as if she was in a fight.

Dropping the scroll, she placed both hands on Xena’s shoulders and tried to wake her. “Xena….honey…wake up, you’re dreaming….wake up sweetie.”

Waking up with fright the Warrior was shaken and sat up abruptly. “What….where….oh gods.” She immediately felt Gabrielle holding and rocking her gently. Recognizing the soft gentle voice of her Bard, it took a few moments for Xena to realize she was dreaming.

“Ssshhh….honey…hey, I’m here. You’ll be okay. It’s just a dream.” Rubbing Xena’s back in hopes it would settle her, Gabrielle could feel the heat coming from Xena’s body. “You’re running a fever Xena. Come on, lay back down.”

Desperately the Warrior clung on to her mate. “No…don’t leave….please.”

Cupping Xena’s face in her hands, the Bard looked directly into redden eyes. “I just want to get you some water and a cool cloth. I promise to come back. I won’t be long — okay?” Kissing her several times over each eye and her cheeks and lips the Warrior released her hold and laid down.

Running to the door, Gabrielle shouted for Cyrene who was there in less than a heartbeat. “What’s wrong Gabrielle?” The Bard explained that Xena had a fever and would need water, and fever reducing herbs. The innkeeper rushed off to get what Gabrielle requested, while she returned to Xena who was watching the entire time.

Sitting on the bed next to her Warrior, she lifted her soulmate to hold and reassure her. “I’m back. Hey…I have to bring your fever down so don’t argue with me — okay.”

Xena could do nothing more than nod her head and allow her partner to take control. Soon, Cyrene was standing by her side with cool water and a cloth. Leaving it with Gabrielle, the innkeeper returned to the kitchen to check on the tea.

Gently Gabrielle dabbed the cool cloth over her soulmate’s face, neck and shoulders. As she continued to care for her soulmate, the Warrior reached up and grabbed a handful of Gabrielle’s tunic at the waist. Softly caressing her cheeks and applying the cool compresses Gabrielle smiled at her lover over the apparent need to touch her. “Hey baby, I’m here. I’m not going anywhere. I love you so much.” Kissing her on the forehead and lips produced a small half-sided grin from her Warrior.

It was not long before Cyrene returned with the fever-reducing beverage for her daughter. Gabrielle maneuvered behind Xena in order to hold her up, while Cyrene held the cup of liquid for the Warrior to sip on. The fever was higher than either woman wanted and while Xena finished the tea, the pair continued to apply the cool compresses to the Warrior. When the Bard tried to lay her soulmate back down, she protested. Xena wanted to be held and so Gabrielle complied happily with her wishes. She did not really want to let go either. Eventually the medicinal herbs took affect and the Warrior drifted off to sleep.

The Bard never moved and held her partially on her lap and in her arms. Together Gabrielle and Cyrene continued to spread the cool water over the Warrior’s body. The fever did not get any worse, however it lasted throughout the night and Xena was plagued with nightmares of which her lover was there soothing and talking her through them. By the time the sun began to rise the fever finally broke and Xena was sleeping soundly.

“Mom, why don’t you get some sleep. I think Xena is through the worst of it.” The young blonde massaged the innkeeper’s shoulders, as she sat in a chair by the bed. “If anything happens, I’ll call you. I promise.”

Stiff and exhausted the innkeeper stood and embraced her daughter-in-law tightly. “What about you? You should really get some rest too.”

“I will mom. I just want to be close.” Returning the hug was pleasurable for Gabrielle. Not having hugged her own mother or seen her since last summer, she almost forgot how good a mom’s hug felt.

The innkeeper left the soulmates alone and before going to bed ordered some food and tea to be sent to Gabrielle. She hoped the young Bard would try and eat before sleeping. As she sluggishly stumbled to her own bed, Cyrene stopped long enough to thank the one God and all other smaller gods for the bringing the women together and helping their bond grow so tightly. Just before closing her eyes, Cyrene looked up at the ceiling. “Ephiny, watch over them. Thank you my little spirit.”

Standing at the foot of the bed, in spirit form, the Regent smiled at her new charge. “Don’t worry Cyrene, I will take good care of them and of you.”

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

After Cyrene left, a knock on the door surprised the Bard and when she answered, Adessa was standing with a plate of food and hot tea for her. “Adessa, thank you so much. Could I ask to have some cool water sent in. I want to wash up a bit and I don’t really want to leave Xena.”

“Oh yes, I’ll be right back.” Adessa liked the young Bard and she absolutely adored Xena. Having been friends with Cyrene for a number of seasons, Adessa remembered when Xena was not so nice a person. She was pleased when Hercules turned her around and when the young Bard came into Xena’s life. Cyrene’s whole outlook on life turned positive and the inn really began to do business. The middle age woman remembers the day Cyrene asked her to come and work for her. Her past occupations made it difficult to obtain steady and dependable work, so she jumped at the chance, when the innkeeper offered.

Gabrielle was quite hungry and pretty much emptied her plate by the time Adessa returned with a cool pitcher of water for the basin. Thanking Adessa once again, the Bard washed up and then sponged the body of her Warrior, hoping it would feel good, even while she slept.

Sitting in the chair next to the bed, Gabrielle laid her head back and rested her hand on Xena’s shoulder. Her eyes burned and became too heavy to keep open; sleep came almost immediately.

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

Gabrielle awoke to a gentle kiss caressing her cheek. Recognizing the texture and sweetness of the lips she opened her eyes to find warm blue ones looking into hers. The Warrior was sitting with her long legs hanging over the side of the bed. Sitting straight the Bard groaned slightly at the stiffness in her neck and rubbed it. “Xena, how are you feeling?”

“Much better.” The Warrior smiled, removed Gabrielle’s hand and slipped her hands at the base of Gabrielle’s neck to massage the stiffness away from her soulmate. “How does that feel…better?” Tugging at the Bard, Xena wanted to hold her close and met with no resistance, when Gabrielle stood between her thighs resting her arms around Xena’s shoulders. Not asking for permission, the Warrior began kissing the upper softness of Gabrielle’s breast and through the material latched on to an already firm nipple. “Mmmm…I want you baby.”

“I’m all yours…..” Pulling Gabrielle’s tunic over her head the Warrior had her mouth wrapped around Gabrielle’s firm breasts quickly. Within moments the Bard was straddling her lover and the heat rising between them was familiar and sensual. Tugging at Xena’s nightshirt the Bard wanted skin next to hers. “Come on…honey…take this thing off.”

Propping herself on her elbows Gabrielle quickly had Xena’s nightshirt off and a knock came to the door. The Warrior fell back on the bed disappointed. “Remind me to post a guard outside our door.”

Also irritated, Gabrielle quickly slipped her tunic back on and tossed the blanket over her soulmate. Giving Xena a small kiss on the lips, she answered the door.

The healer, Memnos was smiling from the hallway. “Just wanted to check on your Warrior. I understand from Cyrene she was battling a fever last night.”

Surprised to find out Memnos knew of the fever the Bard wondered what time it was. She felt like she closed her eyes, only moments ago, before Xena woke her. Letting the healer in, Gabrielle could hear the noise coming from the main room. Looking up the hallway, her eye caught sight of Adessa and she called for the woman. Asking for the time, Gabrielle was shocked to hear it was already midday. Turning around the Bard went back in the room to join Xena and Memnos.

“Well, Xena…how are you feeling?” The old healer check her ribs and placed a fresh bandage on her arm, as he listened to the Warrior attempt to convince him she was doing great. When he was finished, he patted Xena on the head like a small child picked up his medical bag and headed for the door. “Xena, you need to rest for a few days. I think the danger of another fever is over but I still want you to rest.”

“Don’t worry Memnos, I’ll make sure she relaxes.”

The old man smiled and rubbed the side of Gabrielle’s cheek in a fatherly manner. “Hmmm, yes….well I do mean rest. Okay Gabrielle!”

This caused the Warrior to burst in laughter, as her soulmate watched with obvious shock over the man’s innuendoes, as he left the room chuckling. Unfortunately the laughter caused her ribs to hurt and several groans replaced the contagious humor of the Warrior.

Gabrielle was by her side quickly, when Xena grimaced at the pain. “Honey, lay back down.” As the Bard attempted to shove her Warrior back gently, she was grabbed and pulled down laying half on and half off the Warrior’s body.

“I’ll rest, if you stay with me. You look tired baby.” Embracing her soulmate and praying she would not protest, the Warrior kissed her on the forehead. “I’m betting you have not had much sleep.” Gabrielle could only agree and actually enjoyed the cuddling. Before long the women fell asleep in their favorite positions, wrapped in each other’s arms.

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

Chapter Eight
While Xena was on the mend from her injuries, the women helped Cyrene around the inn. Uncle Tensandi visited frequently and Gabrielle in particular enjoyed his stories of Xena, when she was small. Although Cyrene wanted to tell Xena about Herodotus’ visit, she also wanted to give the women a chance to settle in, make sure Xena was healing properly and putting some distance between their attack in the forest and the trip to Poteidaia. Then it just seemed, as if the days were filled with customers and friends popping in and out to say hi to her daughter and the little Amazon Queen. The lovers were inseparable until finally on the sixth evening after they were back, Cyrene managed to grab her daughter and told her quickly of Herodotus’ visit which lead into the sharing of information. Unfortunately the Bard walked in on their conversation and the silence that took over the room was unbearable.

Now that she was able to grab Xena, the young woman they were talking about walks into the middle of their anger over her father. This changed the situation and thus Cyrene hoped Gabrielle’s sudden appearance was a way to gently pull her in and get her to talk. “Gabrielle, why don’t you join us.”

Unwilling to take part in the topic, Gabrielle’s old defensive action took hold and she simply turned and walked away. Desperately wanting to forget her past, it was apparently going to be impossible. Writing in the scroll turned out to be a bad idea, she had not been able to place one memory down. The Warrior chased after her immediately but Gabrielle would have nothing to do with it and protested that she was tired.

“Why do you always run from this Gabrielle? You have to stop running okay!” Anger was already festering in Xena from listening to her mother talk about Herodotus’ visit and the level of abuse Lila had witnessed and shared. Without thinking Xena grabbed her soulmate’s arm roughly and spun her around. “Hades — you have to face this. You can not go on holding all of this inside!” As quickly as she grabbed her soulmate, she let go. “I’m sorry honey, I didn’t mean to…..”

Anticipating that Gabrielle would get angry over her roughness, her soulmate did just the opposite. “No, Xena, I’m sorry. I promised I would tell you anything you asked. I just hoped….it would all go away.” Placing her head against the Warrior’s chest, Gabrielle could sense the confusion in her spirit and it felt wonderful to have Xena wrap her arms around her. Xena promised she would never leave her and why should Gabrielle think different.

Arm in arm the couple that found rebirth and a higher God walked back to the kitchen to join Cyrene. They found the innkeeper wiping the tears from her eyes. Together the three of them hugged before sitting down at the table. The remainder of the night Gabrielle explained her childhood and filled in the pieces she could remember of the relationship between her mother, her father and even her sister. While Gabrielle could not talk about all of the abuse in great detail, as it was too difficult, enough was described to anger both Xena and Cyrene. Neither woman pushed Gabrielle for graphic details. Unspoken glances at each other indicated that in time the young woman might be able to share them. By the time the sun began to shine through the kitchen window Gabrielle realized her family was now in Amphipolis. Soon Cyrene’s employees began showing up for the day and the innkeeper suggested they all freshen up a bit and come back and share a morning meal together.

Back in their room Gabrielle was brushing her hair, while Xena was changing her tunic. “Honey, about that bracelet. Can I get a better look at it? I’d like to show mom.”

Taking the bracelet from her bag Gabrielle handed it to her soulmate. “Do you recognize the design Xena?”

“I wish I did but I do not. I was hoping mother might recognize it.” Kissing her lover on the lips, the Warrior handed the bracelet back to her lover. Happily strong arms circled around Xena’s waist and she returned the love that Gabrielle was sharing.

The couple returned to the kitchen to join Cyrene who was already waiting with three plates of hot food. The couple showed the bracelet to the innkeeper and retold the conversation they had with Lila about the strange man who appeared to be mourning Hecuba’s death. “I really don’t recognize this but it is very beautiful. You know who might know is your Uncle Tensandi.” Cyrene took a sip of tea and handed the bracelet back to Gabrielle. “If this man is some type of warlord or warrior, your uncle might know the design. He deals with so many men, especially in his line of work with weapons.”

With unconditional belief in the goodness centered in Xena’s heart, Gabrielle handed the bracelet to her mate. Leaning over Xena gave Gabrielle a kiss on the cheek. To the Warrior this simple act of handing her the bracelet told Xena how deeply her soulmate trusted her and loved her. “I’m going to go talk with him after we eat. Do you want to come sweetie?”

“No….I think I’m going to take a nap. I’m just really exhausted.”

Reaching to her lover, Xena tugged on Gabrielle’s arms and without need for words the Bard knew that her Warrior wanted her closer and allowed Xena to pull her onto her lap. “Do you want me to stay with you?”

Gabrielle ran her fingers through the long raven hair and kissed her partner on the lips. “You go on. I’ll be waiting for you, when you return.”

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

“Uncle!” The Warrior strolled into the weapons shop owned, as long as she could remember, by her favorite uncle. He was a good man and one of the few that stood by Xena, when she was a warlord. Tensandi was sad, when he heard about Xena’s return to Amphipolis, several seasons’ back. She was unwelcome by all, but the desire in her to change was so strong and so she fought Draco chasing him out of Amphipolis. At the time, the old man was on business in Athens and missed the whole event.

“Xena! My favorite niece! What brings you into my shop — need a new blade?” Holding the bracelet in her hand, the Warrior showed her uncle. Tensandi lifted the piece of jewelry. “Beautiful — where did you get it?”

“It belonged to Gabrielle’s mother. Do you recognize the design?”

Tensandi did not have to look at it a second time to know the owner behind the pattern. Giving the bracelet back to Xena, the shop owner motioned for his niece to follow. Leading her to the back room he pulled out a chair for her. “Sit down Xena.” Leaving her at the table he soon returned with two mugs of port. “Drink with me, please.”

“Uncle…what do you know?” Sipping at the port the Warrior tried to remain patient.

“It is actually a family crest. Belongs to a landowner north of the property I gave to you and Gabrielle. The man purchased the land, oh I’d say about twenty-one or two winters ago. He is a warlord, or was one. Good man from what I can tell and extremely generous. Very private, typically sends his men out to handle business.”

“Have you ever met him? Does he have a name?” Puzzled over what her uncle was explaining the Warrior drank her port fairly quick and soon found her mug refilled.

“Oh, gee…a long, long time ago — maybe eighteen winters or so. His wife died while pregnant with their second child. The baby died too, a very sad situation. He already had a son, who must be a good twenty winters by now. Everyone calls the man Hawk. Must be short for something, not sure what. If you look carefully at the design you can see the shape of a hawk and the claws entwined.”

The Warrior pulled the bracelet back out and as she turned it around the bird of prey came into view. A very clever impression turned powerful. “What does the man do?”

“A variety of things. I know he owns quite a few fishing boats and farms the land. He also has his own army.”

“WHAT — AN ARMY?” The thought of an ex-warlord with an army made Xena uneasy and she polished off her second mug of port.

Quickly Tensandi refilled his niece’s mug and his own. “Not like you think — he doesn’t attack villages. He actually uses this army to protect the locals in the area and he travels abroad, mercenary type work. Always for the greater good — never for evil.” Tensandi took several gulps of his port. “Hawk’s army fought against Caesar and managed to beat him back.”

“Well that is a plus, as far as I’m concerned.” Musing back to how often Xena went into battle of some sorts against Caesar, she realized that would be one man she would never have to fight again or take Gabrielle into danger over her obsession with.

“Xena, now that I think about it, your friend Meleager has this design on the handle of his sword.”

“Meleager?” Leaning back in her chair the Warrior thought back to the wedding in Amphipolis, when Meleager asked her so many questions. In fact they were questions a father might ask of the person getting ready to marry a daughter. Believing the old warrior was just being protective Xena did not think anything of it. Now she wondered.

“Xena…what is Gabrielle’s mother doing with the bracelet?” Tensandi’s curiosity was now at a high level.

“This man…Hawk, was seen mourning at Hecuba’s graveside.” The Warrior went on to tell her uncle the conversation Lila had with the warlord, the tattoo on his hand and how the man was apparently grieving.

“Do you think Hawk…could be….” Tensandi found himself feeling anxious and nervous.

Looking across the table at her uncle the Warrior finished her port and asked for another. “Yeah….I do think. Problem is how do I find out for sure. And then how do I tell Gabrielle?”

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

It took several days for the Amazon Warrior to convince her young lover that a visit to her mother was important. The young redhead had been abandoned at the age of six winters by her parents who could no longer care for her in such a harsh environment; she was the only girl in a household of seven. Her parents were at poverty level and her brothers took precedence.
They left her with the Amazons and Malissay raised her, as her own daughter. While Malissay had been fair she was also disciplined. As an elder Warrior of the tribe, she followed traditions with loyalty. Amarice was always a bit rebellious, causing mother and daughter to argue. Eventually Malissay suggested Amarice leave the tribe and find out what the real world was all about. Eponin realized this tough love was for Amarice’s own good, however the Warrior did not approve of sending this pretty young woman out alone. While Eponin was familiar with the Amazon tribe to the far northeast, she did not recognize any of the names Amarice spurted out.

“Hello — Amazon — anyone home!”

A playful voice interrupted Eponin’s thoughts and she found her young lover standing in her saddle waving at her. “Amarice, sit down before you fall off!!” Nudging her horse, the Warrior caught up with the ever-feisty redhead. The young woman had no intentions of sitting and Eponin pulled her into the saddle in front of her. “You my peanut are a trouble maker.”

A huge smile crossed Amarice’s face as she looked up into the big dark eyes of her Warrior. She was deeply in love with this woman and her desires always surfaced fast, when Eponin was mushy. The little term ‘peanut’ stuck and Amarice loved it dearly. *Just wait until I tell Gabrielle.* Excited about the change and softness in Eponin, the young woman realized the traits were always there — just well guarded. Yes, Eponin was a true warrior in all aspects.

Drawn immediately to the gorgeous red hair and the wild side of the petite Amazon, Eponin’s passions rose and she leaned in to claim the luscious tanned lips of the only woman that ever captured her heart. As always, Amarice responded willingly and slipped her tongue to explore and search for the Warrior’s. “Ohhh..sweet Artemis…you are so good little one….oh so good.”

“Mmmm, why don’t you let me show you…just…how…good…I can be.” Capturing Eponin’s face in her hands the redhead increased the demand of her kiss and the wetness between her thighs heated quickly. She had to have this strong Warrior now.

Nudging her mare off the trail, Eponin scanned the edge of the forest for a suitable and secure location. She did not want to place them in any danger. It was difficult for the Warrior to concentrate on her task, while the young one was pouring kisses all over her face and neck. Eventually Eponin led them in far enough where the trees were close together and mixed with bushes and boulders. Pushing her pursuer back, the Warrior dropped her gently to the ground and jumped off. Grabbing the reins of both horses, she tied them to a bush and tugged on Amarice’s hand leading her into deeper covering.

Pinning the young one to the closest tree, the Warrior reclaimed the full lips of her lover. Hands were exploring and squeezing with an urgency to touch skin. Lifting Amarice the young woman wrapped her legs around Eponin’s waist allowing the Warrior to push her back up against the tree. She opened her shirt so Eponin could suck on her breasts, which the Warrior did with great hunger. As she licked and twirled her tongue around the dark nipples Amarice started to rotate her hips into Eponin’s stomach.
With one free hand, the dark hair woman slipped her fingers between her young lover’s clothing and almost dropped her, as the juices covered her fingers. Amarice cried passionately, when Eponin entered her heated shaft and increased the grinding of her hips. As Eponin’s talented fingers stroked and penetrated her inner sanctuary the young woman quickly reached a climax and cried out her Warrior’s name.

“HELLO — Is that you Amarice?”

A voice in the distance shocked the lover’s back to reality and Eponin quickly let Amarice touch the ground. The young woman quickly straightened her skirt and fastened her shirt. “Who in Hades is that?”

Finding some humor in this situation, Eponin looked at Amarice and began to sensually lick the essence from the young redhead’s passion off her fingers. “By the gods…you taste so good.”

Amarice’s legs began to buckle and Eponin quickly caught her lover. “Eponin, I really love you. You won’t ever leave me, will you?”

The voice once again came from the distance. “Peanut, you better answer.”

As the Warrior grabbed the reins, Amarice tugged on her arm. “Are you avoiding my question?”

“No, I’m not.” Realizing that she was not stepping away from Amarice’s need to a commitment, the Warrior wondered why she was so hesitant to verbally let the woman know she could not live without her. Looking directly into the big round eyes of the young woman, she leaned down and kissed her quickly. “Peanut, I will never leave you….okay.” A huge smile crossed Amarice’s face and the Amazon understood that for now, her young lover was happy.

Walking toward the sound of the voice, Amarice called back that she heard him. As they broke through the trees and back on the trail, the women saw Eli standing several paces away.

“Eli?” Surprised to see the Devi, she walked up and offered her forearm in greeting. Eli accepted and his smile was infectious and the young redhead returned the grin. “It’s been a while.”

“Yes, it has. You look good.” The long hair man colorfully dressed in robes looked passed Amarice to the tall Amazon. “We’ve never met. I’m Eli.”

Eponin reached out in friendship and nodded her head. “Yes, I’ve heard of you. All good of course.” Not sure if Amarice wanted Eli to know of their intimacy, she kept her distance. Suddenly tender arms wrapped around her waist and she was relieved that this man would be accepting of their love. “What brings you to these parts?”

“A few things, one of them includes finding Gabrielle and Xena.”

Looking up into her Warrior’s eyes, Amarice was pleased to see Eponin reading her thoughts with a smile. “Would you like to travel with us. We are actually going right by Amphipolis. I know Gabrielle and Xena are suppose to stop by there before heading to Iason’s…….oh, sorry you probably don’t know Iason.”

A peaceful aura seemed to surround Eli and he smiled at the women. “Actually I do know Iason. And yes, I would love to travel with you. However, I must make a small side trip before going on to Amphipolis. So I will travel with you until the crossroads. You will of course, let them know I will be coming to see them.”

The trio started down the trail and Eponin wondered how Eli would know Iason, and then quickly dismissed it as one of those spiritual connections. Amarice however, was a little more inquisitive and asked Eli how he knew of Iason.

The Devi smiled at the young woman. “Amarice…it has to do with love not fighting. When you are ready, you will understand how I could know Iason.”

Rolling her eyes, she realized the Devi had no intentions of giving her a straight answer. Eponin was laughing and soon the conversations turned to Amazons, general topics about the weather and where they would stop for an evening meal.

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

It was late afternoon by the time Xena returned to the inn. Staggering into the front door, she almost knocked her mother over on the way to the kitchen. “H…Hi mom.” Sloppily the Warrior tugged on her mother for a hug.

“You’re drunk Xena. Why?” Not pleased with her daughter’s state of intoxication, Cyrene returned the hug and then stepped away. “Gabrielle is not going to be pleased.”

With her arm draped across Cyrene’s shoulder the Warrior scanned the room. “Yea, where is my, m….y, my beeeautiful wife?”

“She is in the garden meditating. You leave her alone for now.” Dragging her drunken child to a chair, the innkeeper decided to brew some of her special tea and hopefully take some of the edge off her daughter. “Xena, what did Tensandi say about the bracelet?” With her back to Xena, the innkeeper mused that after she attempted to sober Xena up, Cyrene planned to have a serious talk with both her daughter and Tensandi about this drinking episode.

Ignoring her mother completely a young dark hair woman entered the kitchen carrying some empty plates and caught Xena’s attention. The Warrior did not recognize the woman but admired the shapely figure fitting the peasant dress she wore. The woman quickly deposited the plates in the sink, winked at the Warrior and returned to the main room with an extremely seductive sway. Xena stood and decided to follow the attractive figure. By the time Cyrene turned around, Xena was gone.
Setting the tea on the table she headed to the main room wondering, if Xena wandered out there. She knew her daughter was very drunk and did not want her to get into trouble or cause any. It was too late. Xena was flirting with the new barmaid, Tifcana, whom Cyrene hired. What upset Cyrene even further was that the young woman was returning the attention and appeared to be pursuing her daughter.

Firmly the innkeeper grabbed her daughter’s tunic and yanked her back. In a low and demanding voice Cyrene glared at the barmaid. “Get out of here!” The woman left immediately and winked in a sexual manner at Xena who just smiled.

Unsure what happened, the drunken Warrior draped her arm around the innkeeper’s shoulder to lean on, as she was having a difficult time standing while the room was spinning. “Mom….stop….mov…moving.”

Adessa, who was witness to the whole affair and standing behind the bar, when Xena first came out, gestured to Cyrene to look behind her. As the innkeeper turned, with her intoxicated daughter hanging on she saw Gabrielle standing in the doorway between the kitchen and the bar room section. The tears were already sliding down her cheeks. The innkeeper was afraid of how much her daughter-in-law might have seen. Before Cyrene could say anything, Xena released her hold and went staggering towards Gabrielle.

“Theeree you are….my beauuutiful w, w, wife.” Reaching out to grab onto Gabrielle was tricky because the Bard kept moving backwards. “Stay still….pleasseeeeee.” Suddenly the Warrior felt her mother’s arms wrapped around her waist, leading her past Gabrielle to the table. Forcefully Cyrene pushed her into the chair and left.

Spinning around to face Gabrielle, the innkeeper rushed to collect a tearful and very hurt young woman in her arms. The Bard did not push her back and accepted the hug. “Honey…she’s drunk. Xena and Tensandi must have been drinking most of the day.”

Looking into the eyes of her Warrior Mom, the Bard was extremely crushed by Xena’s actions. “Cyrene, she was flirting with that woman. I’m not blind.”

Rubbing her fingers across the soft cheeks in an attempt to catch the tears, Cyrene knew that her daughter’s actions were inexcusable. “Gabrielle, you know in your heart how much Xena loves you. That little harlot I hired has a reputation and I thought I would give her a chance. I’m not trying to justify Xena’s actions, she is just…well she was wrong to drink so much. Please Gabrielle…for me – will you give Xena a chance to sober up, talk to her and THEN let her have Hades for flirting.”

“Excuse me, Gabrielle.” The women turned towards the whispering voice to find Adessa standing close by. “I know it is none of my business and I don’t want to….”

“Speak up Adessa, it’s okay.” The innkeeper prayed that her friend might be able to add something positive to the conversation to help Gabrielle.

Moving close to the women, Adessa took a deep breath before speaking. “The barmaid went right after Xena. When Xena came in the door, Tifcana, said she was going to….well the statement she said was ‘bed the Warrior Princess’ so she really was the source of the problem. It just all happened so fast, before I could stop her or say anything.”

All three women looked over at Xena who had her head between her legs in an attempt to stop the room from spinning. Gabrielle looked back at Cyrene. “And I’m suppose to forgive her flirting just because she was drunk? Is that what you are asking me to do?”

Slipping her arm around the Bard’s waist the innkeeper understood that if her mate flirted, she would be angry for quite some time and yet Cyrene wanted Gabrielle to be forgiving. “Well….yes, I guess I am asking you to forgive her.” Placing both hands on Gabrielle’s shoulders the innkeeper faced her. “Look — you know Xena loves you. The flirting is the old-warlord personality not your soulmate. Gabrielle, your wife, my daughter would never have given that woman a second, much less a first look, if she wasn’t so…so drunk.” Praying that Gabrielle would dig deep in her heart before reacting to this lousy situation, Cyrene kissed her on the cheek and an impish smirk crossed her face. “Of course, I wouldn’t let her off the hook that easily either. I’d make her work for your forgiveness.”

Whatever entered Gabrielle’s spirit at that moment was calming and she knew deep within that Xena would never intentionally hurt her. “Okay Cyrene. When she is sober, we will see how much she remembers. If she does not remember flirting — I’m not going to bring it up.”

“Well, you are then a lot more forgiving than I would be. Honey, Xena needs to know that she gets…well a bit out of hand when she drinks too much. She needs to learn a lesson.”

The women looked over to see Xena with her head on the table and apparently asleep. “Cyrene, I love her so much…how can I possibly stay mad.” Glancing toward Adessa, who remained in the kitchen, the young blonde smiled. “Adessa, can you help.”

The three women approached the Warrior and Gabrielle began brushing the raven hair that was falling over her face. “Xena, hey sweetie…come on wake up. You need to go to bed.”

Cyrene shook her head totally amazed at the young Bard. *Oh Xena…yes — you and I are going to have a little talk.*

Mumbling words no one could understand the Warrior had a silly smile across her face, when she looked up at Gabrielle.
Allowing her soulmate to tug and pull her into a standing position, Cyrene and Adessa came and surrounded Xena to keep her from falling. Together the three women managed to get a sleepy drunken Warrior to bed. Leaving Gabrielle alone with Xena, the two women retreated while the Bard pulled off Xena’s boots and rolled her into the center of the bed. Without warning Xena playfully grabbed Gabrielle by the arms and pulled her down so that she was lying on top. “Do you….lov…me?”

Trying to squirm out of Xena’s grasp gently, the Bard whispered. “Yes Xena, I love you. You need to sleep this off.”

Strong hands released their grip and foggy blue eyes looked directly into concerned green eyes. “I’m sor…sorry, sorry..sor…sorry…I love you.”

Placing her fingers to hush her Warrior, Gabrielle kissed her on the forehead. “We can talk later. Get some rest. I love you too.”
Rolling off of Xena to lay by her side, the young Bard decided to stay with her soulmate until she fell asleep. Lovingly she caressed the Warrior’s cheeks and within a wink of an eye Xena was sleeping. Sliding off of the bed, she bent over leaving a small kiss on Xena’s lips and covered the gorgeous muscular body.

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

That evening Hercules and Iolaus arrived in Amphipolis. The innkeeper was happy to see the men and quickly led them to a table with plates full of food. The inn was rather crowded and Hercules could see Cyrene’s normal help and then also Gabrielle. Looking at the innkeeper sitting across the table from him and next to his sidekick the son of Zeus wondered where the Warrior Princess was hiding. “Cyrene, where’s Xena. Don’t you have her helping?”

“Hmpf…sleeping off a drunk, I hope!” Even though Gabrielle was willing to forgive her soulmate, the innkeeper was rather angry with her daughter and still planned on giving Xena a piece or two of her mind.

Iolaus started to chuckle and Cyrene swatted him, which quickly quieted the curly hair blonde. “Sorry Cyrene, what happened?”

Knowing she could trust the two men sitting before her the innkeeper relayed the story of the bracelet and then how Xena and Tensandi ended up spending the day drinking. She did not tell the men that her daughter flirted with her new barmaid. That was too private for this conversation.

Hercules leaned back in his chair and watched Gabrielle as she waited on tables with a cheerful smile and apparently pleasant conversation with all of Cyrene’s customers. The big man really liked Gabrielle and believed she was the best person in the world for Xena. “So what did Tensandi say to Xena?”

Throwing her arms in the air with frustration the innkeeper shook her head. “Who knows. Xena has been passed out since she returned. I checked on Tensandi and he was in bad shape too.”

Hercules continued to keep his eyes focused on Gabrielle, as she moved about the room. It was only moments before the Bard spotted her friends and approached. Happy to see both men she hugged each fiercely and Hercules pulled her down to sit next to him. “How are you doing little one?”

The tone in Hercules voice was one of concern. Not knowing exactly what Cyrene told the men, she looked at her mother-in-law. “What have you been telling them mom?”

“They asked where Xena was…I told them she drank too much and is sleeping it off. I was telling them about your mother’s bracelet. Do you have it?”

“No, Xena still has it. So, Hercules, Iolaus what brings you to Amphipolis?” Not really wanting to talk about her mother or father or for that matter her soulmate’s drunken state, Gabrielle changed the subject.

Jumping in at the chance to find out what was going on, Iolaus spoke. “Why don’t you tell us Gabrielle. It seems the big guy plans on joining the two of you to see Iason.”

“Iolaus, honestly — I have no idea what Iason wants us there for. I did not even know Hercules was coming.”

“Oh really?” The curly hair man looked at his friend. “Okay Herc, what is going on?”

“I can’t tell any of you, so please do not ask. You’ll just have to have faith.” Suddenly, as if a miracle appeared to bail the son of Zeus out of the limelight, the Warrior was cautiously approaching the table. “Xena! Hey good to see you.”

Everyone looked up to see Xena standing a few strides away, unsure if she was going to be welcomed or yelled at. Her hair was tousled, she was barefoot and her tunic was in disarray. “Hi Herc. Iolaus.” She then glanced at her mother to find a rather scolding expression across her face. “Hi mom, guess I’m in trouble.” Finally the person she was the most concerned about the Warrior looked directly at and then quickly lowered her eyes and fiddled with her hands. “Gabrielle, I….I…can I talk with you?”

The Bard’s heart ached for the guilt she knew Xena must have been feeling. Not wishing to embarrass her lover or make her feel any worse Gabrielle walked to Xena reaching for her hand. Without words she squeezed the large hand, tugged and Xena followed. Figuring they would get the most privacy in their room Gabrielle led her partner there. Closing the door and locking it Gabrielle sat in a chair. “Okay, Xena what would you like to talk about.” Remembering Cyrene’s words, the Bard decided she was not going to make things too easy for her soulmate.

Pulling a chair in front of her Bard, the Warrior sat and leaned forward on her knees. Unable to look directly into Gabrielle’s eyes, she felt ashamed for her actions. Somehow Xena understood she had to apologize for getting drunk and then find a way for it to never happen again. A part of the Warrior was scared her soulmate would leave her. Wanting desperately to touch Gabrielle, she did not reach out. “Gabrielle, I’m sorry…I — HADES! I know I messed up and…..” Glancing up into her lover’s eyes hoping they would give her a clue, the Warrior found sadness. Hating herself immediately, Xena fell to her knees grabbing Gabrielle’s hands.

Kissing them repeatedly, Xena could not look into Gabrielle’s eyes. Xena would beg, plead and do whatever Gabrielle wanted to keep her Bard from walking out. Before she could speak any further the tears took control and the Warrior began to cry. Strong hands tugged on Xena’s and soon Gabrielle cupped her hands around Xena’s face.

“Xena, I love you — okay. Come here.” It only took a single breath before Xena had her arms wrapped around Gabrielle and her head buried into her soulmate’s breasts. Rubbing Xena’s back, the tears pooled in green eyes. “Honey, love is not about pain — it is about trust. Sssshhh…Xena, it’s okay. Talk to me…please.”

Pulling herself back Xena remained on her knees and looked into the green eyes of the most beautiful woman in the world. To the Warrior, her soulmate was the part that made her life complete and she desperately did not want to cause Gabrielle any pain. “I’m so sorry Gabrielle…I was so stupid to get so drunk. I never meant to hurt you.”

Wondering what the Warrior thought or remembered doing, she knew Xena would give her an honest answer. “Xena, what is it you think you did to hurt me?”

Rubbing the warm soft hands in hers Xena tried to remember what happened. “I imagine I embarrassed you like I did when I was drinking with Hercules. You know…attempt to seduce you in front of everyone.”

*She doesn’t remember flirting with the barmaid.* Kissing Xena’s hands, she smiled at her lover. “Honey, what happened, can you remember anything?”

Looking into the understanding eyes of her soulmate, Xena attempted to remember the events. “Well, Uncle Tensandi and I talked about the bracelet and we started drinking port. Then we talked about the land he gave to us, as a wedding gift. We just kept drinking and I’m not sure what happened.” Taking Gabrielle’s hands and holding them to her heart made Xena feel safe because her lover did not pull away. “I’m not sure how I ended up back here but I remember mother being mad, I remember looking for you….then the next thing I knew, I was in bed.”

Gabrielle ran her fingers through the silky tousled hair. “You did nothing wrong Xena. Why don’t you wash up and get something to eat.”

Pushing her chair back the Bard stood up and was followed by Xena. “Gabrielle…what can I do to make things right?”

Circling her arms around the powerful shoulders of her soulmate, she pulled Xena down to kiss her on the lips. “Just watch how much you drink. Know when to stop.”

The Warrior accepted the invitation and was quickly lost in the love Gabrielle was offering. The kiss was gentle and reassuring for Xena. Tasting the succulent lips of her soulmate the Warrior wanted more but knew this was not the time. Feeling dirty from being drunk she wanted to clean up before making love to Gabrielle.

To Gabrielle it did not matter that her soulmate tasted of port. She was in love with this woman and nothing would ever keep them apart. Believing that Xena did not remember flirting, Gabrielle was willing to forgive and not bring up the subject. Desiring much more than a simple kiss, she pushed Xena backwards until the bed caught the Warrior by the legs and she dropped to the bed pulling the Bard with her. As she tore Xena’s tunic away from her body the Warrior protested. “Xena…I want you now…I do not want to wait any longer.” Quickly moving her lips to capture the voluptuous breasts of her mate, the Warrior stopped fighting and with heavy moans gave in to the love Gabrielle was covering her heart, body and soul with.

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

“Iason, what do you want with me?” The Goddess sworn to protect the Amazons scanned the temple and the adjacent rooms. The old priest summoned her and as usual, Artemis made a quiet entrance. In fact the only time she’d add on the light, thunder and sparkles was when she was trying to make Xena mad. Then it was fun to enter and exit like many other gods enjoyed doing.

The old priest rose from his knees after spending a great deal of time meditating in prayer. “Artemis, no wonder your young spirits have attitudes.” With his back still to Artemis the priest went to the altar and kissed the surface before facing the goddess.

“And just what does that mean?” Crossing her arms with annoyance, Artemis wanted an answer.

Chuckling at just the right tone, which only caused Artemis to become a bit more irritable, Iason smiled at her. “They are just like you — impatient and always interrupting a man when he is trying to pray.”

Shaking her head at the old man, Artemis learned over two hundred seasons ago not to underestimate this priest. However, she was still determined not to let him get the best of her. “What Aphrodite sees in you is way beyond me!”

“HEY — my ears are burning baby!” With her normal sparkles and flashes the Goddess of Love appeared and stood next to Iason. “Art, you’re not making fun of my priest are you?” Walking towards Artemis, she spun around and held out her hands gesturing back at Iason. “Come on Art, look at him. Isn’t he the cutest thing you’ve ever seen.”

“Whatever. Look I’ve got things to do, so let’s get on with it. Why am I here? The summer solitise is still several days away.” Neither Artemis or Aphrodite completely understood what Iason was planning for the women and thus thought it might have to do with their rebirth or bestowing some special powers to them. They realized Iason asked them each a special question but neither knew what the question was or the answer.

Sitting on the pillow he was previously kneeling on, Iason smiled at the goddesses. “Artemis, did you train Ephiny like I requested?”

“Yes, why?”

“And how is Solari coming along?”

“Good, she is a quick learner.”

Getting impatient Aphrodite started tapping her foot to show Iason her frustration. “Come on Iason, what gives!”

“Have Solari go to Gabrielle and Xena. Tell them to go into Cyrene’s garden at the midnight mark before the summer solitise day. They are to form a circle of flower petals similar to the circle they were married in. When the circle is complete, they are to stand in the center and hold hands. Artemis I want you to bring them to me.”

Artemis nodded her head in understanding and glanced to Aphrodite who seemed to calm down.

“Aphrodite, sometime during the day I want you to bring your brother, Hercules to the temple. Once he is here, we will complete what is necessary.” Looking back at Artemis, the old priest wanted to complete his instructions for her. “Artemis, you are to have Ephiny here before you go after Gabrielle and Xena.”

“Iason, can you please tell us what is going on?” Although Artemis trusted Iason completely, she needed to know what he had planned. This was her Chosen One that he was talking about and Artemis would protect her at all costs, even if it meant her godhood.

“Yes…come, let’s go outside and look at the stars.” With that both goddess’ followed the old priest who had become more than either ever imagined.
Chapter Thirteen
Arriving at Iason’s temple was rather simple with the help of Artemis. The goddess for the first time did not torment the Warrior and was rather pleasant. The temple was isolated and set back in the rocky shelves and cliffs about the timberline. Unreachable by horse, one would have to climb through several rugged paths before reaching the temple. Xena thought the location was always rather odd, since access to temples was a priority for many Greeks. A small altar decorated the main room and the Warrior could tell from the bedding off to the side that Iason must make this home. Behind the altar were three smaller rooms each containing pallets covered with furs and blankets. The temple was void of a great deal of furnishing and seemed simple in design. The third room appeared to be a kitchen.

“Okay Artemis, now what. Where is Iason?” The Warrior was somewhat impatient, as she did not like the fact that she did not know why they were here.

“Calm down Xena.” A familiar voice from behind forced the women to turn and find Hercules’ friendly smile. Standing beside the son of Zeus was the temple priest. Quickly Aphrodite, Ephiny and Solari joined the two men and Artemis.

“Xena, Gabrielle…welcome.” The old temple priest smiled at the couple and extended his hands, which both women accepted happily. Pulling them closer he smiled at the soulmates. “Do you remember your wedding vows and your wishes for the other?”

“Yes, Iason, of course we remember.” The Warrior stepped back from the priest. “What is going on.”

Before Iason could respond a familiar greeting came from behind the couple. The soulmates turned to find the bright friendly face of the young Devi. Gabrielle immediately ran into his arms, which she found familiar in spiritual strength. For a moment the Devi held the young woman in his arms and silently thanked his God for her rebirth and that of Xena’s. Soon the Warrior joined them and she too found the predictable strength of the man called Eli. Words of friendship and gratitude were passed among the three friends along with several tears of happiness from Gabrielle.

As the trio was renewing their friendship, they failed to notice the temple priest had moved to the altar and began whispering prayers in an unknown language. This whispering caught Xena’s attention, thus breaking the trio apart. All eyes in the temple focused on Iason’s strange words and movement of his hands and arms. Darkness took over the temple turning quickly into a haze of mixed colors of blues and purples until a strange blue globe appeared over the altar. As the eyes of all widened at this mystical globe, it grew in size until it was larger than the altar. Iason stepped backward in fluid almost dance like movement beckoning the globe to settle in front of the altar. With calming dominance the temple priest turned to the surrounding faces and began explaining the purpose of the globe.

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Not sure where he was, the tall dark warrior surveyed the room. He appeared to be trapped or maybe he was being protected in a hazy blue globe of some sort. Reaching out the globe had a soft feel that did not appear threatening. Turning around he could see people standing outside the globe, however the haze surrounding the sphere made it difficult to distinguish faces. A man approached the sphere surrounding him and gently touched the outer surface. Before the warrior understood what was happening the man entered through the outer shell and was standing before him.

“I am Iason. Do not be frightened.”

“Don’t insult me old man, I’m not. What is this place? What do you want with me?”

Iason cautiously took the man by the arm and turned him to his right. The power the warrior felt penetrating his body was calming. “Look at the woman standing before you.”

Suddenly the warrior could see clearly a tall woman, with beautiful skin and long raven hair. He looked directly into the sapphire eyes and was completely captivated by the warmth and the danger within them. Something felt familiar to him but he was not sure why or what it could have been. “Do I know this woman?”

“Yes, in a manner of speaking you know her.” Iason stepped closely to the man. “This is Xena. This woman is your future. This woman is you.”

“WHAT!!!” The warrior stepped back slightly and looked back and forth between Iason and Xena. “What are you talking about. Look at me!” The warrior pounded his chest in an attempt to show Iason that he was real and she could not be him. Neither Iason nor the woman moved and the warrior wondered if he was talking to the wind or a dream of some sorts.

“You are not dreaming my friend. This warrior woman is your future many, many years from you present. Your soul, your essence is reborn in her.”

The old man turned the warrior around and he now saw a young blonde woman standing before him. “Isobel, how, what — how — old man — what is my wife doing here! What kind of magic are you performing, what demons have you brought into….”

Iason placed his hand firmly on the warrior’s shoulder. “Stop Niko. This woman is not your wife in this time. Your wife, Isobel, her soul has also been reborn into the woman you see before you.”

“But…but how…why?” The warrior was confused and shook his head indicating his hesitation to believe in what he was seeing.

“You and Isobel are soulmates. But you know this. When you pass from the life you are in, both your wife and you will find your souls in these two young women. Occasionally the gods have a sense of humor and the body becomes the same. Your wife, Isobel, essence is pure and good, as is the young woman you see. Her name is Gabrielle. And the warrior woman and Gabrielle are bonded — their souls — your souls in the future are bonded. They do not completely understand what is taking place, however their willingness to belief in a faith unseen has allowed them this gift.”

Glancing back and forth between Xena and Gabrielle, the man was not sure what to believe. Yes, he knew Isobel and he were soulmates and the gods promised this through eternity. “Why are you showing me this old man….umm….Iason. What do you need from me?”

“You and Xena must blend and become one. Then your soul must make love to Gabrielle. They desire children and the gods’ wish for them to have children. The warrior woman is extremely stubborn. Xena will not allow anyone to be with Gabrielle. Will not allow anyone to touch her. However, since you and she are one in the same, well….your joining will allow her to bring children to Gabrielle. The seed will be hers.”

“Does she…me…Xena…this is confusing. Will I remember any of this?”

“No. All memories will be erased. You will go back into your time and only Xena, Gabrielle and the members in this temple will remember. Your destiny can not be changed….however, you have been allowed to come to us for this purpose. You see your soul…the soul of your wife is favored greatly by many powers and gods…both your souls have a destiny that goes way beyond human reasoning.” Iason looked into the sapphire eyes of the man standing before him and saw some level of unknown acceptance. Yes the warrior would help them based on his great faith and nothing more. “Will you agree to help us?”

“Can — well — will I realize I’m making love to Isobel – I mean Gabrielle?”

“No….Xena’s personality will be predominate once your souls blend. Xena needs your body, which is really her body to plant the seed. Your soul is her soul and the mixture with Gabrielle’s soul, which is your wife’s soul…..”

Niko held up his hand to stop the priest from rambling. “Okay — okay, stop with all the cryptic stuff. I understand what you are telling me.”

Iason chuckled lightly and was amazed how similar in attitude’s Niko and Xena were. “I can promise you the children will be healthy.”

“Children? You mean more…”

“Yes. Gabrielle will give birth to twins, one boy and one girl. However, she nor Xena will know this until the time is right.”

Niko covered his face with his hands and with a deep breath, slumped his shoulders. “This is just so hard to believe — but yes — yes I will help — only because it is my soul and that of my wife’s. And…it is the will of the Gods.”

Iason left the globe and entered the temple. Looking at Xena, Gabrielle, Hercules, the goddesses and spirits he smiled. “The warrior has agreed.”

Xena approached Gabrielle and wrapped her arms around her waist. “Are you ready for this? Are you sure this is okay with you?”

“Yes.” Still attempting to comprehend and sort through all Iason explained to them, Gabrielle found that her desires to carry Xena’s children were overwhelming. To her, this was a miracle of the one God — the one spirit that she would forever devote her life too. Gabrielle wrapped her arms around Xena’s waist and laid her head on the shoulder of the woman she loved more than life. “Yes, I want your children. I need to know if you okay with this?”

The Warrior Princess hugged her soulmate tightly and whispered tenderly. “Yes, my wife….I can agree to this miracle. I love you.”

As the blue globe continued to stay in place, Iason positioned everyone inside the temple. Hercules would switch places with Niko in the globe. Because the son of Zeus was half god, he was therefore capable of withstanding the force within the globe. The physical entity was similar, thus the space in time would not become empty thus causing a possible death or warping of the zone and forever imprisoning Niko in this time. If that happened either Niko or Xena would die. The same soul could not continually inhabit the same time for long. Aphrodite and Artemis would help Iason blend the souls of Xena and Niko together into the body of the male warrior. Ephiny would enter the physical form of Xena to keep her heart beating and breathing and Solari would stand guard over her form. Eli would keep the spirit of the globe whole for Niko’s eventual return. And Gabrielle only needed to allow her Warrior to love her.

From behind Gabrielle felt Ephiny’s hands on her shoulders. “Come my Queen, let’s make you comfortable.” Ephiny led Gabrielle to a small room behind the altar.

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

High on an isolated mountainside in the Moldavia Range, a lone Warrior perched high in the treetops watching with humor, as a rare black puma paced the ground below. *Yes, my friend….see if you can find me.*

As the puma, circled the area it occasionally lifted her head to the night sky, the moon glistened and sparkled off her pure jet-black coat. Yes, she knew the scent of this human — the familiar touch of her master. Once again the woman she would remain loyal too was testing her skills as a predator, helping her to grow and become a skilled hunter and protector. This woman was a mystery to the young puma. This woman was not of her kind. This woman would always belong to the puma, as much as the puma would belong to the woman.

The afternoon was spent in training mixed with many moments of playful antics between the Warrior and her puma. By the end of the day, as the solitise moon filled the sky, the Warrior threw several sticks into the campfire and turned to her companion. “Thais…tomorrow we travel south.”

The puma recognized her name immediately and continued to lie on her belly close to her master. The only sure thing Thais understood was that this woman was somehow connected in a way that was not typical, a bonding of sorts. Thais purred slightly, admiring the woman called Aleka. Whatever this Warrior would ask, Thais would obey.

“We must find Xena. She will lead us to the Amazon’s Chosen One, Gabrielle.” Aleka laid back on her bedroll, curling up close to Thais. “Yes, my friend, Gabrielle…she is the answer. We must lead her to the portal.” The dark Warrior rubbed her fingers through the fur of her friend. “Yes…..Gabrielle is the key.”

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

The candles and their warmth filled the room Gabrielle was led to by Ephiny. Immediately Gabrielle could not help but notice the exquisite furs that draped the pallet. *Yes, this is warm, soft….. *

Ephiny interrupted Gabrielle’s thoughts. “My Queen, here drink this.”

Gabrielle accepted the goblet from the spirit. “What is it Ephiny?”

“Iason said it will relax you.”

“No, I do not need this. We are talking about Xena. I want to feel everything.” Gabrielle handed the goblet back to Ephiny. “Tell Iason, thanks but no thanks.”

Ephiny snickered and set the goblet on the small table close to the doorway. “Okay, but it is here, if you should change your mind.” The spirit Regent hugged her friend. “I must go….your Warrior will be here soon enough.”

Without further need for words, Ephiny left the room, leaving Gabrielle alone to her thoughts of this tremendous phenomenon that was taking place. *A baby….I….we are going to have a baby. Who would have ever believed that Xena and I would be able to have a baby — our baby.* Shaking her head in ironic disbelief that the possibility was very real Gabrielle became slightly nervous and overwhelmed. Intuitively she took a meditative pose in an attempt to quiet her emotions and to also thank the Creator for this blessing.

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

“Gabrielle.” The voice was strange but the love behind it was the same. Gabrielle opened her eyes to see the tall, dark strong Warrior from the blue globe standing a few steps from her. “It’s me baby….I…I….Hades, this is strange and yet somehow this body feels familiar.”

Holding her hands out for the Warrior to accept, Gabrielle felt comforting warmth, when the Warrior enclosed her small hands in his. “It is you….isn’t it Xena?”

“Yes, it is me. Can I hold you?”

Gabrielle nodded her head yes and drew the Warrior to her body. Looking up into the Warrior’s eyes, the Bard saw the same glow of love and devotion coming from this pair of blue eyes, as she did when she looked into Xena’s. *Yes, this is my soulmate.* Without further need for hesitation or question Gabrielle leaned up to claim the lips of her soulmate. Iason had warned them both that their time would only be during the solstice moon and while it was high in the sky. Gabrielle had no intentions of allowing this once in a lifetime miracle to pass them by. She would make love with her wife, with her Warrior Princess, with her soulmate and together they would bring into the world a wonderful child…..their child.

Xena responded deeply and emotionally to the love she was feeling from Gabrielle. As the kiss intensified, the Warrior would question the wisdom behind this exchange no more. Xena was indeed feeling the touch and love of her soulmate completely and it was obvious that Gabrielle only saw her and not Niko.

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

Chapter Fourteen

“HEY…….” Blue eyes opened abruptly and scanned the room. “We’re back….home.” Cuddling in her arms was Gabrielle, who appeared to be sleeping peacefully. *Was this all a dream?* Unable to go on wondering Xena nudged her soulmate. “Gabrielle, wake up honey….I need to talk with you.”

A few moans of disruption ended quickly and Gabrielle physically bolted up in bed. “XENA…what happened? Did you — we — did……”

“Yes my friends, everything you remember actually happened.” The soulmates turned toward the peaceful voice and found Artemis in the form of an owl perched on their windowsill. “Congratulations, in nine moons you will be parents.” With that final statement Artemis flew off into the night sky.

“Then it wasn’t a dream.” Xena muttered and looked at Gabrielle. Gently placing her hand on the stomach of her soulmate. “Gabrielle….a baby. OUR BABY.”

The Bard smiled tenderly at her soulmate and without the need for permission wrapped her arms around her Warrior pulling her close. “Xena….I love you. Now come here and make love to the mother of your child.”

From the treetops behind the inn two guardians stood watch over the home of their Queen and her Warrior. “Ephiny, when will they know?”

Ephiny wrapped her arms around her lover. “My sweet spirit lover, not for a while. Once the heart starts to beat, then Xena will notice two heartbeats not one.”

“Can we be there…I’m dying to see the look on Xena’s face, when she hears two heartbeats.”

The spirit Regent laughed softly and pulled her soulmate in tighter. “No Solari, we can’t be there….that time belongs only to them.” Kissing the neck of her lover, Ephiny had also wondered about Xena’s reaction to twins. *Maybe…nay…it is their time. No one else should be there but them.* Pulling Ephiny from her musings were the tender lips of her soulmate.

THE END
Building Our World: Birth and Death

By Annmaray
annmaray@yahoo.com

May 2000

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Preface
Anxious to begin their life as husband and wife, the wedding of Tara and Andros moved from winter solitise to the beginning of the autumn harvest. Tara was much too excited to wait any longer and Andros could not refuse the woman he loved so dearly. Thus word was sent to Xena and Gabrielle in Amphipolis and together with Autolycus the trio ventured east into the land of hot sand to attend the marriage. Despite the apparent morning sickness that seemed to overtake the Bard from time to time, Xena and Gabrielle journeyed to Tara’s homeland, as promised, without difficulty or interruptions from the common thief or murderer. Together they reminisced about the days spent convincing the village that dancing was not sinful.

The ceremony and celebrations that followed were breathtaking and wonderful. Tara was a picture perfect bride and Andros the most handsome of grooms. With Autolycus’ constant entertainment and humor, along with the insistence from the village youth that Xena still owed them a lesson or two on self-protection the trio decided to stay through the winter solitise.

Through the winter season the Warrior watched protectively, as Gabrielle bloom with child. Immediately after the solitise Xena insisted they must venture home in order to beat the harsh north winters of their mountain cave, which is where the Bard wanted to be when she gave birth. Plagued with sleepiness, the Warrior teased that she never thought Gabrielle could enjoy sleeping more than she already did. Therefore, rather than go by land, which would be tiring for Gabrielle, the Warrior decided it might be easier and indeed quicker, if they traveled from land by sea and then they could make a stop on the Isle of Lesbos before heading to the cave. Both women estimated that the baby could be born within two moons. While Xena promised to take Gabrielle to the cave, she made her preference known that it would be best to stay around Amphipolis and the Amazon Village until after the baby was born. The Bard, however, being just who she is and in one of her finer moments of stubbornness refused and wished to give birth on the mountain in their cave of rebirth.

Leaving the hot desert sand behind, the couple boarded the ship that would take them to Lesbos. Xena watched the Bard intently, as the ship’s Captain doted over having a pregnant woman on board. Over an evening meal, shared in the company of the Captain, the Warrior was proud of Gabrielle’s ability to capture an audience with her tales of days long gone.

“Oh yes Captain, Xena did defeat the entire Trojan army with the use of pressure points. I imagine there to be well over 400 men.”

The Captain, First Mate, ship’s physician and the two other passengers on board, both traders in fur, roared with laughter. The Captain found the Bard’s stories to be comical in nature. Although he was aware of Xena’s reputation, he was not ready to believe she drove 400 Trojan’s away. “Now my sweet young Bard, the next thing you will be trying to tell us is that Xena helped Ulysses win his island back and string his bow!!!!” The men once again roared with laughter.

Gabrielle looked to Xena with a smile. “Well…..actually…….”

The Warrior quickly interrupted. “Gabrielle……I think there has been enough story telling for one night. It is time to turn in.”

“Xena!!!” The ship’s physician bellowed with enthusiasm. “Let her tell more tales….she is an excellent Bard.”

Reaching for Gabrielle’s hand, the Warrior smirked and was indeed proud of her soulmates ability. “Maybe tomorrow gentlemen. For now she needs to rest.”

Goodnights were exchanged with promises of tales to come. As the couple maneuvered their way to their cabin, Xena swatted Gabrielle on the behind.

“Ouch….” Although Xena did not hurt the Bard, she reacted and exposed a pouting lower lip. “What was that for?”

“My little Bard, I think you might be embellishing that story just a bit. 400 men and only with pressure points?”

Giggling followed until the soulmates arrived at their cabin. In less than a candlemark the pair were snuggling under a warm blanket. The Bard fell asleep quickly and Xena took this moment to reflected back to one of her wife’s more persuasive moments. Over time Xena discovered that she was at her weakest, when Gabrielle was snuggling within her arms…..and Gabrielle was well aware of this weakness.

“Xena, the baby should be born at our cave of rebirth.”

“No.”

“NO? What do you mean NO?”

“It is too dangerous and if there are any complications….well….”

The Bard cuddled up into Xena’s arms. “Oh..but.. honey….you will be there….everything will be okay.”

Xena rolled her eyes, feeling defeat settling in. Determined to keep both Gabrielle and their child safe, the Warrior knew she had to remain firm. “No Gabrielle. It will be during the coldest time of the season, the wild wolves and other predators will be in search of easy prey…..no….I won’t allow it. NO – and that IS FINAL.”

Silence ensued and Xena wondered if she was too harsh. Gabrielle was always a softy emotionally and the pregnancy made her more sensitive.

Without tears or anger, the Bard snuggled deeper into her soulmates arms and began kissing the exposed neck of the dark hair Warrior. “Xena.”

The Warrior braced for whatever Gabrielle was up too. The Bard was kissing her neck and Xena could feel Gabrielle’s breast pressing up against her. Although very pregnant, Gabrielle remained extremely sensual and seductive to Xena. Slowly the Warrior felt her control slipping, as she responded to the passionate kisses traveling over her neck. Quickly Xena’s body betrayed her and when her hands moved to cup the Bard’s breasts, the Warrior knew it was all over. Gabrielle will get what Gabrielle wants.

Gently crawling up to reach the Warrior’s earlobe, Gabrielle at first sucked gently and then whispered into her soulmates ear. “If we need help I’m sure Ephiny and Solari will be close by…..AND Artemis is surely not going to allow anything to happen to the Amazon’s Queen heir apparent.” Sure enough the young Bard was sneaky and quickly followed her reasoning with several hungry kisses preventing Xena from speaking. The strong Warrior soon caved to her wife’s wishes and soon forgot why they were even talking.

Now tucked away warm and safely within the confines of the ship’s small cabin, Gabrielle slept soundly in Xena’s arms. The Warrior kissed the blonde head allowing her hand to slide down to the ever-growing pregnancy. *Our child.* With a smile and an overwhelming rush of pride Xena continued to relive the experience they shared, the miracle at Iason’s temple. Not caring whether the child was a boy or a girl, the dark hair woman found she was continual caught up in the emotions of a parent to be. An emotion she once swore she would never allow herself after the death of Solan. Xena discovered there was no sense in battling or controlling these emotions, as it only caused her to relive painful memories. Therefore, eventually she surrendered to the wave of emotions and became grateful for the chance to once again be a mother. Thus they shared this pregnancy on a deeper level. Chuckling softly, Xena mused, *Hmpf, I’m glad, however, that I did not get the physical symptoms my sweet wife. Especially when you were going through all that morning sickness.* Unable to suppress the humor she found in this, her body reacted and shook slightly, as she laughed. The movement was enough to awaken the Bard, who only proceeded to roll slightly so Xena’s hand was more completely touching her belly.

“What my Warrior do you find so funny?”

Xena glanced down to green eyes sparkling up at her. There was a special glow about Gabrielle that Xena found irresistible. “You are funny my love.” Bending down to kiss her gently on the lips, the Bard responded willingly.

Within moments the passion shared by the two women increased and they each fell deeply into the arms, body and love of the other. As the ship kept pace with the westerly wind and the rocking helped calm all aboard, the soulmates renewed their commitment and love for the other.

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Chapter 1

The ship docked in the Port of Lesbos by midmorning. Over a morning meal Gabrielle entertained the crew with several more stories, thus when they departed the ship and bid their farewell, the atmosphere was jolly and promising of a good day ahead for all. It did not take Xena long to secured a room at one of the local inns. The Captain assured the Warrior that she could depend on the safe reputation of Bydder’s Inn because it was overseen by one of the island elders. After a mid-day meal of lamb stew, bread and hot tea the couple ventured to their room for the Bard to rest. Gabrielle wanted to shop and see Lesbos however, the Warrior insisted she rest a while and promised to take Gabrielle exploring later.

As soon as they were in the room, Gabrielle rolled on to the bed and her eyes were closed before a single breath could be released. Deciding a warm bath and some fruit might be good for both of them, Xena removed Gabrielle’s boots and left with the intentions of securing both.

The innkeeper was a young woman and in conversation learned she was the first daughter of the elder Yuozes. With an order for both fruit and a bath to be sent to their room in two candlemarks, Xena ventured to the town square in search of a messenger. The Warrior wished to send word to an old friend located on the other side of the island. It had been a long time since Xena saw Neoma and she wanted Gabrielle to know the woman who had befriended her so many seasons ago.

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The rebel Leandra heard about the arrival of the Amazon Queen and was overwhelmed with her good fortune. Like a wild dog stalking its prey, the rebel watched from a distance, moving in and out of the shadows, as Xena and Gabrielle entered the inn. Hiring a peasant in the street, Leandra paid the beggar handsomely to enter the inn seeking information. The old woman did not disappoint the rebel. With her opportunity to finally fulfill the vengeance she so desperately desired the pot was only richer, when the old beggar informed Leandra what she thought she had seen – that the blonde was with child.

All of a sudden the Warrior emerged from the inn and ventured into the town square alone. Leandra made the decision to trail Xena. Her thoughts became totally emerged in vengeance *Yes, my Queen. You will be mine totally. In fact so totally you will beg me for the sake of your child.* With an evil laugh that scared a few stray dogs and the beggar, Leandra observed Xena speaking to a young woman. Placing an object in the hand of this woman, Leandra realized Xena hired a messenger. Leandra hung back until the Warrior finished her instruction and returned toward the inn. Once she was out of sight Leandra turned to follow the messenger, as she left the village.

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“Sssshhh, Thais, we are almost there.” Knowing full well that the puma was not fond of ships, Aleka realized this was the only means to the island. Arriving too late in Tara’s village, she overheard a pompous thief bragging about his friendship with the Warrior and Gabrielle. In his bragging he mentioned they were on a journey to Lesbos.

“Soon, my friend. Soon we will have Gabrielle.” The master and the puma curled up together on the floor of the ship’s hole. The only section the captain was willing to allow the wild animal. Although Aleka managed to pay a generous sum of dinars for passage, she knew the fear Thais’ presence elicited. Most of the time she found humor in this fear and yet a part of her was grateful for the privacy.

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Looking down at the beautiful blonde curled up apparently lost in what appeared to be a pleasant dream Xena hated to wake her. Somehow the Bard managed to sleep through all the noise that accompanied the splashing water and even the one empty bucket that was accidentally dropped by the innkeeper’s helper. The Warrior thought for sure the banging would wake Gabrielle but it did not. Bending over so as not to startle her soulmate, the Warrior began kissing Gabrielle lightly and gently on the cheek. Gabrielle did not fail to please Xena in any way and she responded by moving her head slightly in order to capture the subtle lips of her lover. As the Warrior melted into the kiss, her thoughts of the tub vanished and were replaced with only devotion for the woman she was kissing.

“Mmmm….Xena.” Not really wanting to break away from the tender affections Xena was showing, Gabrielle realized the more she was kissing Xena the more her mind was waking. A dream was bothering her and while normally the Bard could toss it aside, when Xena was affectionate, this dream seemed to gnaw on her more than necessary.

“Yes my love.” Protectively holding on to Gabrielle, she realized intuitively that something was amiss.

“Just a dream Xena…..odd, I can’t seem to shake it.”

The Warrior sat up bringing Gabrielle with her. “Want to talk about it?”

Looking down at her protruding belly, Gabrielle placed her hands over her pregnancy. Xena wrapped one arm around Gabrielle’s shoulder and positioned her free hand gently over the top of Gabrielle’s. “Is everything okay? Is it the baby?”

Gabrielle shook her head no. Searching within her dream vision Gabrielle frowned slightly. “There is a black lion in my dream…..and……oh Xena……no…..”

“What? A black…..oh, I think the ancients call them puma’s.” Xena wondered why Gabrielle would dream of a black lion, especially since they never encountered any in their travels. The Warrior did not think Gabrielle knew this type of animal existed. “Do you know anything about pumas?”

“No…..are they evil?”

Xena smiled at the love of her life. “No, they are just an animal….a very dangerous animal.” Pausing long enough to give her wife a gentle kiss on the cheek, the Warrior wanted to hear more about the dream.

Scooting to the edge of the bed Gabrielle stood and was pleased to see the fruit and hot bath. “You, my Warrior are very sneaky.”

Assisting each other lovingly and without question the couple undressed and slowly slipped into the warm bath water. “Sweetheart, tell me about your dream.”

By now, Gabrielle realized the complexity of the dream….or was it a vision she was foreseeing. At this point, she was not too sure she wanted to share the vision, as it seemed incomplete. But her Warrior, as usual, was two steps ahead of her and Gabrielle understood that Xena would not be denied the truth. Allowing Xena to wash her back the Bard organized her thoughts before speaking.

“Gabrielle……..are you avoiding me?”

The Bard turned to face the Warrior. “The puma is hunting.”

“Yes, they are predators. What is he hunting?”

“It – is a she. And she is hunting me.”

Silence was first then fear of the unknown followed. The Warrior arose from the bath without saying a word. Gabrielle understood that Xena would now automatically prepare for battle…..or for the possibility of battle. Xena was shaken to her soul at the thought that something – this puma was hunting Gabrielle. The Warrior had no doubts about the Bard’s dream……she had proven so many times over that she was blessed or cursed with the ability of prophecy. Therefore, Xena knew all she could do was prepare and attempt to stop the vision from happening. If need be she would call for the Fates.

Xena glanced over at Gabrielle and chastised herself for leaving the Bard alone in the tub. Dropping her boots the dark hair woman returned to help the Bard.

“Honey….please, it will be okay, it is only a dream. Are these types of lions – pumas native to Lesbos?”

“No, and they are not native to our homeland either.”

“Then Xena, don’t worry about it. Not all my dreams are true…and maybe it means something else.”

*Maybe so my love, but I am not taking any chances.* While Xena assisted Gabrielle with her boots, as it was difficult for the Bard to bend over and lace them, she instinctively felt that this dream was not false. *I need to get you to Neoma’s where I know you will be safe. Then with only a few moons to go before the baby arrives, I think it would be best to stay there.* Kissing Gabrielle lightly on the lips, Xena smiled when the Bard wrapped her arms around the Warrior’s shoulders for a hug. *Now…the question is, how do I convince you.*

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Chapter 2

The Isle of Lesbos was an active island for traders both good and bad. Thus protecting the island from pirates thieves and murderers was constant. The Guard of Lesbos is comprised of women warriors, some Amazons and some just women with a sense of responsibility and adventure. For many it also fulfilled a need and a desire to live in a community that accepted them for not wanting to be tied to the patriarchal way of life. The Guard took on the duty of protecting the island, the scattered villages and farms – the people and a way of life. A position as a Guard was voluntary and each woman fit uniquely. If a woman was not one of physical strength, she was not refused. Instead the Guard would build off of each woman’s strength. From mapmakers to cooks, from soldier to teacher, each woman in the Guard carried their responsibility with pride and seriousness. And each woman would do whatever was necessary to protect her small island. In exchange they were each given a small parcel of land to build a small home or the option to live within the community stations surrounding the island. Men were not refused entry to Lesbos however they were looked at with a careful eye and must approve and accept the way of the island. In addition the male population was compelled by law to contribute to the community with a trade or skill. Included in this contribution ten-percent of their earnings were given to the Guard. Lesbos did not have a supreme ruler, but rather a board of seven elders governed the island. Neoma was one of those elders.

Neoma was extremely pleased to receive word that Xena was on the island and with the Amazon Queen. The elder had heard tales of this young queen and for moons had thought of journeying to the mainland requesting a council with the Amazon. And now, the Warrior she befriended so long ago, worried about, trained, cried and laughed with was planning to visit. The graying woman quickly responded handing the messenger a parchment with a reply that the Warrior and the young Amazon Queen were always welcomed within the boundaries of her land. “Please see that this gets to Xena and the Queen immediately. I am anxious to see them both.”

Leandra chuckled, as she left behind the wall of Neoma’s home. Tucking the parchment in her shirt, the rebel mounted the messenger’s horse commanding it to a gallop. *Stupid old woman! You will never see that young Queen…..at least not alive.*

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By the morning of the third day in their stay at Bydder’s Inn, Xena tired of waiting for the messenger to return and decided they would travel to Neoma’s. It was possible that her friend was traveling and not home. Knowing full well that she was always welcomed in the elders home, Xena would secure a small traveling cart and horse to carry the two across the island. The Warrior estimated if they left before midday, they should make it to Neoma’s home by sunset. After packing, Xena thought it might be best to leave Gabrielle at the inn while she secured their transportation. Here her soulmate might rest and have a small meal before they began the journey. She had hoped it would not take too long and the stable master, an old acquaintance of Xena’s would not begin rambling of old days. Plus the Warrior did not want to take any chances that the puma may be lurking in the area of the stables. Realizing immediately that her logic might be irrational, the Warrior quickly dismissed questioning her logic. Through her own rebirth Xena would take nothing for granted, no matter how silly or irrational it might seem. It would only take a blink of an eye for a predator like the puma to end Gabrielle’s life.

“Gabrielle, stay in the dining room, order something for yourself and I will bring the wagon.”

“XENA – I’m pregnant – not helpless!!!” Although Gabrielle understood Xena was trying to be protective, she knew full well that the Warrior was concerned about the dreams. Each time Gabrielle slept she saw the puma getting closer and the Bard realized she talked in her sleep.

“Don’t argue with me Gabrielle!” Stern but not yelling or loud, Xena hesitated before speaking further. Reaching out, Xena pulled the Bard in close wrapping her arms around her soulmate. “Sweetie, please….let me protect you. Please that is all I ask.”

Relinquishing any desire to argue with the Warrior, Gabrielle snuggled deeply within Xena’s arms. The couple drew strength and hope from each other without words. Then as if, each read the other, they separated. Gabrielle smiled, and headed toward the dining room in search of some milk. “I’ll wait for you my brave-hearted warrior.”

Only the gaze of blue eyes meeting green was necessary. Xena watched, as Gabrielle slipped into the dining room. Once she was safely within, the Warrior set herself in motion to secure their transportation to Neoma’s.

The stables were located close to the waterfront. The walk was pleasant and while the couple intentionally stayed rather isolated from the villagers, Xena noticed many of the women in town recognized her. Maintaining a polite but continual walk to the stables the Warrior soon observed the elder woman Yuozes approaching. Yuozes was a newer addition to the elders, filling the seat left behind by Xotus who was killed in battle, when a Roman party attempted to invade the island several seasons ago. The death of Caesar ended their invasion. Unfortunately not before a number of women had been killed.

As appropriate, the Warrior extended her arm in greeting to the elder. “Yuozes, good to see you.” Although Xena knew of Yuozes reputation and position with the elders, she did not meet the woman until yesterday when the elder invited the soulmates to share a meal. She liked the woman immediately.

“Ah Xena….you look rushed.” Yuozes admired the Warrior and the Amazon Queen. She was pleased to hear that the two bonded and were expecting a child. “I am on my way to see the puma, will you join me?”

Blue eyes grew wide and cold. “WHERE?”

Yuozes could not help but notice the instant change in Xena’s personality. The elder also recognized the fear and anxiety the word puma caused. “A woman and her puma arrived on the ship docked in the harbor. She….”

Before the elder could finish Xena bolted towards the docks. Frantic and searching desperately, the Warrior had chakram in hand ready to end the life of the puma and the woman with it. It only took a few moments for Xena to be standing in front of the ship. Her frantic state caused people to back away and stare. Suddenly the Warrior could feel the presence of danger and turned. The world around Xena suddenly moved in slow motion. The Warrior was not fast enough, as the puma landed squarely into her tall frame. The weight of the predator pulled the brave-hearted warrior to the dock, causing her to lose consciousness.

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“Excuse me my Queen.”

Gabrielle looked up from the scroll she was working on to see a young girl standing nervously before her. While in Tara’s village, the Bard decided to once again take quill to parchment and write of not only Ephiny and the Amazons, but also of spirits and visions. “Yes, can I help you?”

“Xena is out back. She…she said the horse is a bit spirited, so she does not want to leave it.” The young girl pointed to the rear door of the dining room.

“Thank you.” Gabrielle assumed that Xena already paid the young girl to deliver the message but handed her a dinar anyway. *Probably a bit too much, but why not…who makes these crazy rules about life anyway. The poor girl was nervous enough.* The Bard thought little of the girl’s jitters, as many young people stood in awe of the Warrior’s reputation and subsequently were nervous. Happy and pleased with herself for the moment, the Bard gathered her things, paid the waitress and proceeded out the back door. Sure enough the cart and horse were several steps away. Before she could call out for Xena the Bard’s world became black and disappeared, as she felt a terrible sharp pain striking the side of her neck.

Leandra grabbed Gabrielle before she could hit the ground. “Neat trick don’t you think my Queen. These little darts with a dab of dark potion do wonders.” Lifting and then setting Gabrielle onto the floor of the cart, Leandra removed the dart from the Bard’s neck and covered her with several blankets determined to hide the Queen.

Leaving behind the village rather quickly, Leandra noticed the commotion down by the docks. Not too sure what was going on, she assumed Xena was in the middle of it, which gave the rebel more time to place distance between the Warrior and herself.

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Chapter 3

Yuozes placed another cool cloth over the Warrior’s head. “She is going to have one Hades of a headache.” The elder did not anticipate a reply from the strange woman and sensed the woman and puma meant no harm to the Warrior. Whether it was instinct or knowledge gained through her seasons of training in the cold northland of Amazon’s, Yuozes was no ordinary woman. She had heard the legend told many times over the span of her life about the coming of a woman, a puma and the Onyx Talisman, which was split in two parts. One part was currently hanging from the neck of this woman warrior. Yuozes wondered if the woman had the second half or knew of its location. And if so, was this woman the Kleidi, the one chosen to join the halves or did she know who was.

“You are rather young for an elder.” Aleka spoke softly but firmly, as she stroked the fur of the watchful puma.

“And you are rather disrespectful for a warrior.”

Aleka smiled.

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The dream continued…….and Gabrielle found she was face to face with the puma. The animal wanted Gabrielle to follow. Uncertain how she knew the puma’s thoughts, the Amazon Queen decided to step into the dimension between sleeping, dreaming and life…….thus following the puma.

The puma led Gabrielle through empty darkness into a sudden bright flashing of white light that gave way to a cave entrance. Memorizing the characteristics of the entrance, the Queen followed the puma, as she continued into the heart of the cave. A fire seemed to burn in the center. The puma went to the far side of the fire stopping Gabrielle on the opposite side. Suddenly as dreams may go, the Queen realized the puma changed shapes. Across the fire appeared an old woman with hair the fire of a precious onyx gem. The woman motioned for Gabrielle to sit.

“You my child are the missing guardian….Kleidi. The waiting is over, the rebirth began with you.”

“Kleidi….what….rebirth…… oh….do you mean…….” Gabrielle paused, as a warming sensation surged through her body. The name Kleidi was familiar to the Bard, as she uncovered the legend while spending time in the vast library of Artemis’ palace.

“The Onyx Talisman is here.” The old woman pointed to the middle of the fire.

Gabrielle looked to the fire.

The old woman reached into the flames causing them to burn with more ferocity. “Amazon accept your providence and take of guardianship of the Talisman.” Gabrielle directed her attention from the fire back to the old woman and discovered eyes filled with the spirits of the ancients. “You are Kleidi.”

Leandra threw another log into the fire and continued to listen, as the Bard muttered broken patterns of words. The rebel recognized quickly the term Onyx Talisman and the name Kleidi. Suddenly the kidnapping of the Queen became more prosperous. Gabrielle could lead her to the source of a power that would allow the rebel to rule forever.

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Chapter 4

“Ohhhh….” The Warrior held her head between her hands. The pain in the back of her head throbbed and she felt a bit unsure of what happened.

“Stay still Xena.”

Recognizing a friendly voice the Warrior opened her eyes. At first blurry, the profiles of Neoma and then Yuozes came into focus. Reality quickly struck deep within her heart and she clumsily pushed her way out of bed to her feet. The room spun for a second, as her friends grabbed hold of her. The Warrior reluctantly sat back down.

“Where is Gabrielle? How long have I been like this?” Xena continued to shake her head slightly hoping the dizziness would wear off.

When Neoma’s gardener found the body of the messenger, Neoma immediately came to the village to warn Xena. By the time she arrived the Warrior was unconscious with Yuozes caring for her. Leaving Yuozes to care for Xena, the elder woman searched for Gabrielle and instead found a young girl frantically spending more dinars than she would normally have. With the help of several additional witnesses, including the stable hands, both elders concluded that the Queen had been kidnapped. But by whom and why……they hoped Xena would be able to answer that.

Before either could respond to Xena, Aleka stepped forward. “Xena…Thais and I mean you no harm.” Pointing to the now very awake and watchful puma, Aleka continued. “You must shake off any weakness now. I do not need some old weak Warrior at my side.”

The puma fascinated Xena and she tuned out completely what the woman was saying. Which was probably a good thing for Aleka. Quickly, however, she was drawn back to the woman, when she noticed the fire dancing from a peculiar onyx, which dangled from a leather strap close to her neck. Legends and memories from her shaman training flooded the Warrior. At first dismissing the onyx as the actual Talisman, experience instead directed Xena to believe her instinct. Musing to herself that possibly the legend was accurate, the Warrior’s thoughts came tumbling to a halt, as she realized this strange woman would also be a part of the legend……and thus she was not completely…….human.

“You are rather wise for an angry Warrior.” Aleka had the uncanny ability of hearing the puma’s thoughts, which in turn was listening to the Warrior’s internal questions and conflicts. The dark skin woman was aware of Xena’s reputation as someone with a quick temper. Unfortunately her isolation over the past several seasons left Aleka with somewhat distorted and old news.

Neoma stepped between, as she watched Xena stand in defense. “Aleka, you are too quick to judge and base your word on seasons long gone.”

“Perhaps.” The mysterious woman smiled at Xena and turned to kneel in front of the puma. “Where is Gabrielle?”

Before Xena could confront Aleka, Yuozes approached standing between the two Warriors. “Xena, you’ve been unconscious for two days now…..and Gabrielle has been kidnapped.”

“TWO DAYS!!!!” Angry with herself for not protecting her wife, the Warrior gathered her clothing haphazardly still feeling the affects of unconsciousness for so long.

“Get dressed Warrior. We have no time to lose.” Aleka led Thais from the room in a determined march. Xena, Neoma and Yuozes followed quickly.

Just as the foursome reached the dining room, they could hear a voice screaming for Xena from the village square. The Warrior’s eyes gleaned with ice blue hate, as she recognized the voice of Leandra. The Warrior quickly regained her coordination and bolted into the square. The rebel was astride a spirited black horse and shouted for Xena to stop in her tracks, if she dare hope to find Gabrielle alive.

Xena approached Leandra sternly and mindful of the words the rebel spoke. “Where is she Leandra? If you….”

“OH STOP BLOWING YOUR MOUTH XENA.” Leandra settled into the saddle a bit more relaxed, however not enough to be caught off guard. The rebel was no fool and had a crossbow aimed at the puma. After successfully kidnapping and hiding Gabrielle, she spent a day surveying the best location to deliver her demand to Xena. When Leandra first arrived back in the village, she quickly learned of Xena’s confrontation with the puma. This was all the rebel needed to hear……Gabrielle’s dreams were truth. Thus she waited until word spread from the inn that Xena was alive and moving about. Leandra knew the Warrior would not wait to find Gabrielle.

For the moment, Aleka kept Thais at bay allowing Xena to handle the situation, while villagers scattered in an attempt to find cover from danger. A large number of Guards surrounded Xena, her companions and the rebel. They were ready on command to apprehend and kill Leandra, if necessary. Many of the Guards also wondered which would be more dangerous…..Leandra or the puma, thus both caution and tension filled the air.

“Your precious Gabrielle is safe and all tucked away. You kill me and she will more than likely die before the sun sets…..along with that baby of yours.” Leandra lowered her crossbow realizing that Xena would not allow anything to happen to her until she knew Gabrielle’s location. “Warrior, I’m planning to take that wife of yours. I made her a promise long ago and I plan to keep it.” Feeling overconfident the rebel continued to speak to an all hearing and quiet audience. “The bitch can lead me to the power I deserve and YOU……” Leandra pointed to Aleka, “…..will quickly hand over that onyx you are wearing.”

“No.” Aleka answered simply and calmly, as she had no intentions of handing the Talisman over to Leandra. It was forbidden and she would not break her code of guardianship.

If the legend was accurate, Xena knew that Aleka could not be separated from her half of the Talisman. She had been charged with its protection until it could be joined with the apparent missing or hidden half. Unsure how much Leandra knew about the Talisman, Xena decided to be direct and prayed the idle conversation might give hints to where Gabrielle was being held. “Leandra, the Talisman is a legend – that is all. Now where is Gabrielle?”

“Maybe it is a legend – but I’m willing to take my chances and play this out. Your precious Gabrielle knows where the other half is. Which means she is Kleidi, the missing guardian. And THAT ONE standing behind you is guardian of the other half.” Leandra’s horse was quickly tiring of the crowd surrounding them and the agitation showed. “NOW GIVE ME THE TALISMAN!!!”

Aleka gripped the talisman with one hand and smiled.

Leandra quickly realized Aleka was not going to give up the Talisman and there would be no way to force it from her at this point. The rebel began planning how to trap and kill the woman in order to gain the Talisman. Suddenly Leandra caught her thoughts drifting. Learning from past mistakes, the rebel understood that Xena was stalling for time with her attempts at distraction. Leandra had to take stronger control of the situation before it was too late. “XENA, YOU HAVE UNTIL SUNSET TOMORROW….or Gabrielle and your baby will die!!!” Kicking the horse in the flanks unmercifully, the horse reared and bolted through the barricade of guards sending many of them diving to keep from getting hurt. Within moments Leandra was out of sight.

Xena was livid and stormed over to the elders determined to chastise them for not forcing the guards to stand their ground. Just as she was about to confront them with all the anger she had been storing and all the fear she felt over not protecting Gabrielle, the puma firmly but gently snatched Xena’s arm in her mouth. The dark hair Warrior instantly felt the power of the predator and froze in place. Looking directly into Thais eyes, Xena saw Gabrielle.

“Thais, where is she….you know, don’t you.” As Thais released her grip, Xena felt Aleka’s strong and firm hand on her shoulder. The puma settled in close to Xena and a respect was formed instantly. The Warriors looked directly into each other’s eyes and grasped forearms. “The legend is true?” Xena realized she did not need a response to her question. Searching her memory, Xena recalled the time she was living with the Momatyca Tribe in the far northeast. The legend was told by only the most senior of Amazon elders in the Ceremony of Light, held only once every sixty seasons.

The elder Chikasha appeared from the center flames of the ceremonial fire with brilliance and authority. For the past six seasons, the young dark hair Xena attempted to figure out the trick behind this entrance. She had witnessed Chikasha’s entrance before through the fire and remained skeptical. Her mentor Neoma, demanded respect for all elders, especially Chikasha, thus Xena never verbally questioned the old woman. Xena sat on the dirt floor of the cave among many other women, both young and old. By the end of tonight she realized a totem would be planted like a seed within her spirit. A number of other young women would also receive their totems but the young warrior did not care for anyone but herself. Neoma warned her of the sadness her uncontrollable arrogance and intolerance would bring, but Xena did not pay attention to Neoma’s warnings. For now the legend of the Onyx Talisman would be told and Xena was curious.

Chikasha surveyed quickly the women that sat before her. Her life-season was coming to an end and tonight was important for her, as it would be the last time she would tell of the legend that bound all women together. Closing her eyes for a moment, Chikasha settled her spirit among the flames.

“Of time – long ago – there existed a league of women that travel in the spirit world crossing seasons, as they pleased. When a woman of warrior or shaman status died before her time, the League decided her fate. Should she be returned to her previous life or a future one? In rare cases the woman’s strength was such that she became a member of the League in the spirit world.”

Xena noticed how Chikasha’s eyes penetrated the group listening and her voice commanded attention. Musing that the old woman’s power was unlimited, the young warrior desired that kind of power in order to destroy all around her. A sudden controlled explosion of flames pulled Xena from her thoughts.

With a piercing scream of betrayal the flames she was immersed in exploded sending sparks into the night sky. Chikasha continued her chronicle. “Darkness came into the League after many seasons. A cult of male shamans began to cast evil on all earthly women who became warriors. They infiltrated our league pulling several members to their evil teachings, thus destroying the purity within. This disruption of the spirit sent many of our warriors tumbling into an alternative land.”

The elder paused long enough to step from the flames changing from spirit form to physical. Many of the young women gasped with wonder……Xena however, just smirked. “To protect the League the eldest members chose one warrior and set her spirit in a space of fire, a talisman for all women. The Chosen Warrior was Eklego. One day Eklego will restore the League and those warriors who have been trapped. Our ancient elders then assigned Guardians to protect and hide the Talisman until Eklego could be safely brought…………..”

Neoma shook Xena by the shoulders. “HEY WARRIOR – SNAP OUT OF IT. BREATH XENA!!!”

Disrupted from the memories Xena discovered she was holding her breath. Quickly regaining air, she looked wide-eyed at her old mentor. “I always thought this was just a story told by an old cranky woman? I….I remember wanting her power…..to destroy…..I…”

“Xena, the legend is very real.” Aleka placed her hand on the tall Warriors arm. “If Leandra gets both halves or even one half, Leandra power over life and death will be unstoppable. The rebel can bring back evil and condemn good women. You must remember Eklego’s knowledge and fire of the spirit is trapped within the Talisman in a dormant state…and that state is innocence. If it is freed falsely, the woman who releases……well, the results would be catastrophic.” The dark skin woman heard clearly Xena’s desire for power, but chose to ignore this. *I remember you Xena. You, however, do not remember me. Soon…we will awaken your totem.*

Xena looked up to the sky and appeared to pray in silence. She then looked to the puma and then Aleka. “The Talisman was split into two pieces.” Xena reached for the half hanging from Aleka. The guardian did not stop the Warrior. “You obviously have one half…..who has the…..wait….you are saying Gabrielle has……”

“Too many of the Guardians were destroyed soon after the creation of the Talisman; something the League elders feared might happen. These women were wise and crafty and just before their banishment into the alternative land they broke the Talisman in two and transferred the portions to two Guardians. A warrior named Kleidi and….yes Xena…….myself. To confuse the evil overtaking the league, Kleidi was hidden in time. Gabrielle is Kleidi…..her rebirth ignited the spirits and set destiny in motion.” Aleka started to walk toward the stables.

All three women fell into stride with Aleka. Neoma had many questions and could no longer remain silent. “Aleka, the legend states there are many guardians. Where are the others?”

“The guardians were false trails for evil to follow. Unfortunately most were destroyed……by false gods, such as Ares and shamans, such as Alti. They have destroyed what they can not gain.”

“How many guardians are left? And how is it that you are unharmed?”

Aleka’s eyes penetrated the Warrior’s deep blue. “I am the last……and of course Kleidi.” The time was not right to reveal the origins of the puma so Aleka kept her answer brief. “Thais has been my protection and soon she will be a part of what the ancients call the Final Joining.”

“And who is Thais…..the….Joining?” Neoma declared with a slight questionable raise of her eyebrows. Only a select few knew of the Final Joining and Neoma, although aware of the legend surrounding this miracle, was not privy to its secrets.

The dark skinned woman smiled. At this point, Aleka’s secret of the puma would remain just that – a secret.

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Securing horses was not difficult and both elders insisted on traveling with Xena and Aleka, who easily picked up Leandra’s tracks. The first few candlemarks were confusing, as Leandra managed to backtrack and attempt to toss in false trails. Eventually the light of day faded and Xena knew they had to stop for the night. It was agreed upon that a fire would not be lit, as they did not wish to draw any unwanted attention. While the elders dozed into a deeper sleep, Xena remained on watch in the treetops. Before long, Aleka joined her.

“Where did you send the animal?”

“The ANIMAL has a name.”

“Yeah….well, I’m just…..” The Warrior paused to wipe a tear that was begging to fall from blue eyes. She missed Gabrielle and it hurt terribly. Wondering where her Bard was, and if she and the baby were okay, Xena found she could not speak.

The ability to feel the pain of a warrior was what Aleka sometimes called a curse. Yet she understood the love the Warrior and the Amazon Queen shared. “We will find her Xena. Thais is close by Gabrielle and will protect her.”

Hearing clearly that the puma knew where her soulmate was Xena reached out to Aleka grabbing her by the wrist. “If the puma…..Thais….knows where Gabrielle is then what in Hades are we doing here.”

“Warrior, we must choose our battles wisely. At this point, we may do more harm than good.”

“Don’t preach to me about battle tactics……we are talking about my wife and child.” While Xena attempted to remain patient she found it increasingly more difficult to do so.

“Yes, Xena.” Aleka began her descent from the tree. “I can see you still have a thread of that young arrogance. The same edge you had while with the Momatyca.”

“How…..” Watching Aleka slip from the treetop to the ground, Xena wondered how she knew of her stay with the Momatyca. There was only one person alive who knew of her training there – Neoma, and Xena was certain that Neoma would never reveal to anyone the Warrior’s days with the tribe. It was all too highly secretive, which was the nature of the tribe.

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

Hands immediately reached for the baby. *Thank you.* Silently thanking her Creator, Gabrielle slowly opened her eyes to find only darkness. Cautious not to move, as she did not know where she was, the Bard leaned on her elbows while adjusting her sight to the darkness. There was a slight sting in her neck and she quickly understood that the pain was from a sharp point. Slowly Gabrielle sat upright. As her eyes adjusted to the darkness, a voice came from somewhere above her.

“I wouldn’t recommend moving too much my Queen. You might fall.”

The rebel’s laughter bounced between the close walls that surrounded Gabrielle. The Bard had no difficulty recognizing the evil laughter or voice of her captor. “Leandra…..what do you want?”

“Many things…..but first you will take me to the Talisman.”

“I don’t know what you are talking about.”

Anticipating that the Queen would not be cooperative, Leandra dropped a lighted torch towards Gabrielle. Quickly the Bard scooted closer to the wall and the flame dropped next to her. With Amazon speed, the Bard picked up the torch and discovered she was on a rather small ledge next to a pit that appeared to have no bottom. Looking upward, Leandra was leaning over another ledge at least six horse-lengths high. The rebel definitely had her trapped. Being this far along in her pregnancy, Gabrielle understood the dangers of any careless maneuvers. For now, she was at the mercy of Leandra’s goodwill.

“Now that I have your attention my Queen, I will ask you nicely.” For the moment, the rebel felt generous and very much in control. Tossing a waterbag and several figs to Gabrielle, Leandra reminded herself that the Queen could be tricky, if she was not careful. “I will pull you out and you will…..pleasssssseeeee……take me to the Talisman.”

Gabrielle drank the water and ate the figs knowing that she must keep her strength, if for nothing else than for the baby. *Think…..think….how does she know about the Talisman? Hades Xena….where are you?*

Leandra was feeling extremely superior and decided to goad the Bard. “You are thinking – how does this rebel know about the Talisman? Well, I do know of the legend…..and you my mouthy Queen talk in your sleep.” Laugher once again echoed through Gabrielle’s prison. “You have until first light to decide or I will take your baby from your body and kill it in front of you. Do we understand one another?” The rebel did not anticipate an answer from Gabrielle and moved away from the ledge. “You think about it my Queen.”

Just then the haunting scream of a large predatory animal filled the night air. Leandra shuttered slightly wondering which spirit was prowling the night wind and decided the treetops might be the safest place to catch a candlemark of sleep.

In a soft whisper the Bard also heard the predator. “I’m here…….my baby and I are here.”

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Chapter 5

As the sun was rising, Xena and Aleka found the remnants of Leandra’s camp and the well that held Gabrielle prisoner. The Warrior backed away from the ledge noting the symbol engraved on the dirt ledge that held her soulmate.

“And the engraving is?” Aleka also noticed the symbol and was puzzled.

“Very good Aleka. Gabrielle must be tired or it would not be as obvious.” Wiping the dirt from her hands, the Warrior looked to the sky and the time of day.

“You are not going to tell me….are you.”

It was now Xena’s turn to smile. “They are heading towards the sea.” The Warrior feared that Leandra would force Gabrielle onto a ship, further distancing the woman she loved more than life itself.

Aleka mused that Xena’s instincts were extremely in tune and accurate, when she was focused.

Without further need of conversation the pair immediately picked up sight of the puma’s paw prints and confidently decided that tracking Thais would lead them to Gabrielle. The women moved swiftly up the path. Both counted on Gabrielle’s pregnancy slowing her down, and both were sure that the Amazon would use this to her advantage.

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

Neoma and Yuozes left behind by the warriors mused that is was probably for the best. Xena and Aleka could move swifter without the elders. Neoma knew this part of the island extremely well and speculated that Leandra would probably move Gabrielle north toward the sea. The traveling would be easier for the rebel to cover their tracks and the shore was riddled with caverns, fissures and sand dunes in which she might hide Gabrielle. If Xena were not careful, she could walk right by Gabrielle and never know.

Yuozes easily allowed Neoma to take the lead, as she would know the quickest route to the seashore. Along the way the elders spoke of the legend and the possible hiding places of the missing Talisman piece. Yuozes believed the Talisman to be on the island. Neoma disagreed.

Continuously curious Yuozes decided to question her friend further. “Neoma….were you ever a part of the Momatyca Tribe?”

For the moment Neoma could not see the harm in sharing at least some information. “I did have the chance to be with this tribe…..many seasons ago, when I was a young shaman.”

The friends paused, as they reached the beachfront. “Is that all you are going to say?”

Neoma looked to her companion. “My dear Yuozes, it is all I am allowed to say. Please – let us leave it at that.”

Unwilling to give up so easily, the younger of the two looked out to sea. “And the Final Joining that Aleka mentioned…..what will happen?”

As Neoma began walking, she picked up the pace. “Come, we will have time for this later. I fear Gabrielle will soon be in need of our medicine.”

Puzzled by the Neoma’s statement, Yuozes, a warrior by trade, shook her head and smiled. *Hmpf, must be a shaman-thing. Someday my friend I will learn how you know, when people need help.*

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Gabrielle knew where the Talisman was and at this point, it was important for her to let Leandra believe it was on the Island of Lesbos. The Bard’s thoughts drifted to that of her soulmate. *Xena…..please be safe. I can feel you following me and if you can hear my heart, watch out for Leandra…..I believe the woman has gone completely mad………I love you my……*

“AMAZON!”

Leandra’s harsh voice tore Gabrielle from her thoughts and angered the Bard. “YOU KNOW YOU ARE REALLY IRRITATING ME.”

The rebel pulled Gabrielle by the hair, yanking her to the ground, which caused her to land on her backside. Forcefully Leandra reached down slapping the Bard across the face with the back of a closed fist. The strength of the fall and the slap surprised Gabrielle.

In a sudden change, Leandra reached her hand out to help Gabrielle to her feet. “I really don’t give a Hades whether I am irritating you or not. You will do as I say or I will take your baby. Do we understand each other?”

The Amazon Queen chose not to acknowledge the rebel’s statement and instead ignored the offer of her hand and the comment. Struggling to her feet, Gabrielle felt the stinging in her cheek but refused to react to the pain. “OH!” Unexpectedly the Bard doubled over grabbing at her stomach and lowering to her knees. The fall had upset the baby and something felt very wrong.

“GET UP GABRIELLE, I WILL NOT FALL FOR YOUR TRICKS.” Leandra was angered at this turn of events. If Gabrielle were pretending, it would further delay them, giving Xena time to catch them. The rebel observed the Bard become pale and fearful. *HADES – she is not pretending.*

An Amazon cry of fear pierced the sky and the puma observing the interaction between the Queen and her captor understood the danger Gabrielle was facing. Knowing the time was at hand Thais retreated in search of Aleka and Xena. The Final Joining must happen now without ceremony or not only would the Talisman never be recovered, the Queen – Kleidi would die…..and with her the legend….the spirits would die. Aleka would never be strong enough to prevent evil from entering the world of women.

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

Lunging from the rocks above the puma pounded with all strength towards the approaching figures. Aleka saw the approaching puma and stopped. The time was now. “XENA – don’t question me. Run to Thais……don’t stop. Trust that in the doing will come the understanding.”

The dark-hair warrior paused to look back at Aleka. She too had seen the puma approaching and if she did not believe that Aleka had total control of this wild animal, the Warrior would have already released her chakram. Without question, puzzlement turned to answers of long ago questions. Generations of ancient teachings and languages flooded through Xena, as she turned to face the charging puma. The Warrior raced to meet the puma, while her total being was consumed with the fire and teaching of an ancient league of warriors. As their physical forms blended into one, Xena became the puma and together they became dangerous. Formidable and almost impossible to defeat, Xena felt the power of the ancients coarse through her veins burning its mark. Peering through the eyes of a wild predator, the Warrior allowed the puma in her surefootedness and speed to take her to Gabrielle. Hidden memories from the Ceremony of Light flooded every portion of her body. Flashes of Chikasha and Neoma entered her memories….her training and trials….the crossing of space and finally the one warrior Xena admired more than any, lost memories of Aleka came through. This was Xena’s Final Joining……her spirit with that of her totem……the puma. It all made sense to Xena….why her totem was never revealed….why she was banished from the tribe. She was not ready for the power her totem would hold. And yet the ancients….the elders believed in Xena and waited for her rebirth.

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

Doubled over in what Gabrielle feared to be contractions, the screaming Leandra did not help the situation. *No, no…it is too soon. Please my baby – settle back down. It is too early for you……..oh…..please…no.* Although Gabrielle attempted to listen to what Leandra was screaming, she could not concentrate. Gabrielle knew that if the baby were born, it would be too soon and would more than likely die. With tears flooding her eyes, the Bard looked up to Leandra who had raised her sword overhead.

Out of nowhere the ground beneath Gabrielle began to pound and shake. The distraction caused Leandra to look up from her deadly need to strike the Queen dead. As Gabrielle directed her sight to the sky, the passing force of the puma she had seen in her visions forced her to the ground. Then there was silence.

Shaken and in tears, Gabrielle felt the strength of her soulmate scooping her from the hard ground. Without words the Bard wrapped her arms around Xena allowing her tears to flow. Xena moved Gabrielle away from the death that now bled into the ground. Leandra was lying in a pool of her own blood. The puma had ripped into the rebel’s neck with her powerful canines bringing an end to a very evil woman. The rebel did not even have time to scream.

The puma circled the body of the dead woman twice then moved towards the Bard and the Warrior. The sky darkened, lighting struck nearby trees and thunder claimed the atmosphere, as Xena moved Gabrielle into a nearby cave with Thais guarding her Master and Queen closely.

“Baby….it will be okay. I need you to calm down…please.” Well aware that Gabrielle was having contractions, Xena needed to calm her down.

Within moments of entering the cave, Aleka, followed by Neoma and Yuozes from afar joined the couple. The elder shaman had predicted trouble correctly and in haste but together a potion she hoped would stop the contractions. Kneeling next to Xena, Neoma handed the potion to the Bard. “Here, Gabrielle take this…..it will help stop the baby from coming so soon.”

Gabrielle looked to Xena, who just nodded her approval and winked. “Thank you.” Pausing to drink the potion, Gabrielle leaned in against her Warrior. The potion reacted quickly with Gabrielle and within a candlemark the Bard slept peacefully and the contractions grew milder.

“Thank you Neoma.” Tears filled the now soft blue eyes of the Warrior. Thais positioned herself behind Xena so that the Warrior may lean up against her for support. Willingly, Xena accepted the offer and held on to her soulmate, allowing the puma to protect and support them both. With some comfort Xena allowed one hand to drift and settle behind one of Thais’ ears. Giving the puma a little scratch and rub, the Warrior looked up to Aleka.

Aleka raised her hand to stop Xena from speaking. “Rest my friend.” While Neoma and Yuozes gathered driftwood for a fire, Aleka smiled, as Xena drifted off to sleep.

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Chapter 6

Both Xena and Gabrielle slept through the night and by morning all signs of a baby arriving early in the world had passed. Once Neoma and Yuozes knew Gabrielle would be okay, they allowed sleep to claim them in the early morning hours. Thais slipped out of the cave early to join Aleka on the beach.

Nuzzling next to the woman Thais both respected and grew to love the puma realized their journey had come to an end. A quick friendly scratch behind the ear, Thais’ favorite place, caused the puma to purr playfully.

“Xena is a good warrior. You belong with her.” Aleka always knew this day would come, when Thais would join with Xena. “You are her totem…….and she is yours.” It still was sad for Aleka to see her companion of so many seasons leave.

“Aleka.”

The dark skin warrior turned facing her sister of long ago. “Xena, how is Gabrielle?”

“Sleeping…….doing wonderful.” The Warrior closed the distance between them. “Thank you Aleka.” Thais happy to see Xena began nuzzling the Warrior with her rather large head. “Hey Thais, thank you too.” Xena scratched behind both of the puma’s ears eliciting a few rather loud purrs of contentment. “Aleka, my memories became rather overload yesterday while I was joining with Thais. I have questions…..and I need answers.”

“Walk with me sister.”

Xena smirked slightly, as she joined Aleka, followed playfully by Thais. “When joining with Thais, I realized she was the totem that was kept from me………actually by you.”

“You were very angry….very brutal back then. You would only have abused the power of the puma. I could not let that happen. I had to believe the day would come, when your soul would be ready. Only then would you be able to join with your totem.”

Nodding her head in approval, Xena understood today that the right decision was made. “I remember being angry that you denied me the totem, although I did not realize it was a puma.”

“Xena?” Aleka stopped and faced the Warrior. “Do you know who I am? Yes…..I am one of the guardians, and you realize Gabrielle is the second. But do you know your place in all of this?”

Having spent the past few days mulling this over and attempting to put pieces of the puzzle together, the Warrior’s understanding increased dramatically, when she and the puma became one. She understood that Aleka was indeed her sister by blood many generations ago. In fact the memories of that generation were overwhelmingly clear to Xena. Since her rebirth the Warrior had discovered that she once was a man….a warrior in a past time, and now she knew generations before that she was also a warrior of the ancient Momatyca Tribe. When Neoma brought Xena to the tribe, the elder had hoped the young Xena was ready for her rebirth, ready to unite on a conscious level with her totem of so many generations ago. Ready to take responsibility for the Talisman. “Yes, Aleka…..you are my sister of long ago. But why Gabrielle? What do you want from us?”

“Yes, Aleka…..what?”

The warriors spun around to find Gabrielle approaching. Thais pounced gently to greet Gabrielle. The Bard comfortably scratched Thais on the head. Quickly Xena and Aleka moved to greet the young woman. Happily Gabrielle opened her arms to hug her soulmate.

“You are feeling well I trust?”

“Yes, thank you Aleka.”

With her arm draped protectively around the Bard, Xena desperately wanted to continue the conversation and Aleka sensed this. “Gabrielle, you are Kleidi……….do you remember anything of your past life?”

“Yes…….the second Talisman must be joined with Aleka’s half. The puma……well no, I know now it was Chikasha in my vision…………showed me the location.”

Just then the wind picked up off the ocean and the clouds turned dark and ominous. “We better get you to shelter.” With Gabrielle in her present state of pregnancy, Aleka wanted her to be safe. The trio moved back to the cave, where Neoma and Yuozes were sipping on some hot tea. Soon the group was huddled around the campfire consuming tea, berries and fish.

“When the storm lifts, we need to get you to my home Gabrielle. There is more protection and comfort there.”

Darkness consumed the light of day and the rain began to pound outside of the cave. The five women and Thais remained warm and dry, as long as they stayed within its confine and close to the fire. A strange, but warm breeze entered the cave and danced around the flames. Abruptly the flames increased with passion and power, causing the women to move back and away from the sudden ferocity. Gabrielle suddenly let go of Xena’s hand and stepped toward the dangerously dancing flames.

“Chikasha.” The Amazon Queen called out.

The elder ancient suddenly appeared in the flames, just as Xena remembered that night of the ceremony, when she should have received her totem. The watchers of the flame sat respectfully around the elder. Without warning Chikasha stepped out of the flames from spirit to physical and embraced Gabrielle.

“My child.”

Gabrielle warmed within Chikasha’s embrace. “Grandmother……..I…”

“Hush child.” Chikasha pulled back slightly to look at the body her grandchild Kleidi possessed. “You are still my favorite, even after all these generations…..and finally with child……oh…my…”

Xena jumped to her feet, surprised and shocked by Chikasha’s announcement that Gabrielle was her grandchild.

The movement of the Warrior did not surprise Chikasha and she addressed it immediately. “Mmmm, still riding the edge Xena.” The elder liked Xena, but was not about ready to give the Warrior that advantage of knowing. “Warrior, I see you have finally gained the wisdom necessary to accept your totem.”

“What do you mean accept…..she was kept from me by Aleka.”

“Yes…well, not really. The totem was always yours, your inability to accept the gift made it a requirement for Aleka to keep it from you.” Chikasha keeping one arm around Gabrielle extended her hand for Xena to accept.

Hesitant at first, the puma nudged Xena on the leg. *Okay Thais, don’t push.* Ignoring her masters thoughts, Thais pushed again and this time forced the Warrior forward.

Chikasha laughed softly. “Hmm….I see we still have to work on your stubbornness. Kleidi I leave that to you.”

“Oh gee, thanks grandmother.” The Bard giggled, as she smiled at Xena. “Joining the Onyx Talisman will be much easier.” Neoma, Yuozes and Aleka joined in the laughter.

Xena shook her head pretending to be irritated but could not help but let a small laugh escape. Accepting Chikasha’s hand, the Warrior was slightly surprised when the elder rested it on Gabrielle’s stomach.

Keeping her hand over the top of Xena’s, the ancient shaman spoke clearly. “Xena feel with your spirit….with the strength of your totem…….tell us what you find.”

Throwing her normal caution to the wind, Xena closed her eyes drawing on the strength of the puma. Shock registered and she quickly opened her eyes. “No………” Then a smile began creeping across the chiseled face and Xena looked directly into Chikasha’s eyes. “REALLY?”

The shaman smiled and nodded her head.

Xena took Gabrielle’s hand in hers and gently placed it underneath so that she was touching her stomach. “Sweetheart, feel……….two heartbeats.”

The Bard felt them instantly and tears pooled in soft green eyes. “Two……..we are having twins.”

The noise level in the cave soon increased with laughter and congratulations, as Xena and Gabrielle held each other and laughed over their discovery…….blessed twice.

“Kleidi….” Chikasha knew her time was limited within this dimension. Gabrielle, Xena and the rest turned their attention to the elder. “After the babies are born, you will go to the Talisman. You must take it back to the Tribe for the joining of the onyx.”

“Grandmother will….” Before Gabrielle could finish her question Chikasha stepped back into the flames beseeching Aleka to join her.

Aleka obediently stepped into the flames. “Bring the Talisman to the Tribe. I will wait there for you.” Within a blink of an eye both were gone.

“Gabrielle…” The Warrior gently placed both hands on Gabrielle’s shoulders. “Sweetheart….did you feel anything else when…..well when we touched the hearts of our children?”

Indeed the Bard did discover a new memory of long ago. Chikasha allowed the couple to discover more than just the fact that the Gabrielle was carrying twins. “I love you Xena.” Time stood still, as Gabrielle reached up pulling Xena down for a kiss. The Warrior was not about ready to argue the desire and took her wife in her arms.

“Neoma….what else did Chikasha show them?” Yuozes was slightly puzzled and at the same time extremely overwhelmed by the occurrences of the past two days and the events she had been witness too.

Neoma chuckled softly. “Gabrielle and Xena were promised to each other generations ago. Xena lost her physical life in battle with the evil shamans. Before they could throw her into the alternative land, Chikasha and the elders hid her spirit in Thais, the puma. Kleidi was devastated and swore revenge. The elders worried that Kleidi’s strength and power would transfer to the evil shamans and thus pleaded to her wisdom. To make a long story short…..she was charged as guardian for the missing Talisman and cast into time.”

“So they were always….soulmates?” While believing in the philosophy of soulmates, Yuozes questioned on numerous occasions whether they truly existed or were just a form of human emotion caught up in wishful fantasy.

“Yes…..their rebirth…..marked the time for the Tribe to awaken the Talisman.”

“And your roll in all of this?” There was no way Yuozes was going to let Neoma get away without explanation.

“Hmmm…..well my friend, in due time…..in due time.” Neoma gave a half smile to Yuozes and began packing what little belongings they brought with them. “Right now….we need to get a very pregnant Amazon Queen to my home.”

Realizing that Neoma was not ready to share, the younger of the two elders chuckled softly. “Neoma….you always were a stubborn old woman. Are anyone of us what we appear to be now?” Yuozes realized during the course of events that Aleka was not as young as she appeared……and be it magic, miracles or illusion, the elder believed that life for her would never be boring again.

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Chapter 7

The journey to Neoma’s home took a day and a half for the four women. Thais fit into life with Xena and Gabrielle with ease, although the Warrior wondered how Argo would take to the puma, when they returned to the mainland. For now, Gabrielle needed a safe place to deliver the babies and when they were a few moons in age, Xena would help the Bard find the Talisman. With all the turn of events, the Warrior hoped this might be the time to talk her soulmate out of returning to their cave of rebirth and instead give birth in Amphipolis.

The first day of their arrival at Neoma’s home was spent eating, sleeping and generally enjoying each other. Over the course of the next several days Gabrielle learned more from Neoma about the Tribe and also about the young Xena. By the third day, the Bard noticed a pattern with her soulmate. Each time the topic of conversation drifted to the Momatyca Tribe the Warrior would slip outside. Sometimes she would state a reason for leaving, but more than not she just left. At first the Bard assumed her wife was just restless and needed a reason to politely leave the conversation, but after a while Gabrielle noticed that it was more than just that. There was something bothering Xena, and Gabrielle could not quite figure it out. The women had been gabbing about the upcoming birth of two babies and the conversation once again drifted to the Tribe.

“Xena’s hunger for learning the ways of a warrior……” Neoma continued her reflection of the days when she was first chosen to be the young Xena’s mentor.

As Gabrielle listened, she suddenly felt the tension build in Xena who had been standing next to the hearth with a cup of hot tea in her hand. The tension crept across the few paces that separated the soulmates and dropped heavily into Gabrielle’s heart. While attempting to focus on Neoma’s words, Gabrielle also understood that Xena would be leaving soon. *What in Neoma’s words has you so nervous…..?* Just as the Bard predicted the Warrior moved from the hearth to the kitchen table setting her cup down. Thais noticing the movement popped her head up waiting for her master’s command. Xena nodded her head and the puma immediately rose and joined Xena at her side. Neoma continued to ramble basically ignoring Xena’s movements. Within a blink of an eye, the Warrior and Thais were out of the room.

Gabrielle was not going to let this pass so easily. “Excuse me Neoma…..I don’t mean to interrupt, but….” The Bard did not look directly at Neoma, but rather at the door her soulmate just passed through.

“Let her go Gabrielle.” Both Neoma and Yuozes had also noticed a pattern in Xena’s sudden departures and sometimes-crazy excuses for leaving. “It is important for you to focus and understand the Tribe and each woman’s roll in the Tribe.” Neoma stood and approached the now-standing Bard. Immediately realizing the harshness in her tone she gently placed her hand on Gabrielle’s shoulder. “My child…Xena is resilient….she will be okay.”

Taking a few moments to debate internally whether she should follow Xena or stay, Gabrielle found her heart was extremely heavy. “Neoma…..I have to go to Xena. I have to know why she is hurting about this.”

Neoma smiled. *Xena, you are one lucky woman.* The old mentor nodded her head in understanding and watched Gabrielle depart in search of the Warrior.

Yuozes who carefully observed all the players involved approached her friend. “Neoma, what is going on with Xena?”

The old woman faced her younger friend. Yuozes was about 15 seasons younger, however her dark brown hair was already turning gray with age. Yuozes was and still is an extremely adept warrior and did the island proud during Caesar’s raids. Her specialty however, the skill that gained her the votes to become an elder was her ability and knowledge of the sky, the stars and architecture. Several moons ago Yuozes began mapping the heavens according to what she believed was there, not what the gods or rulers of the world wanted. She took a newer approach than many of the older stuffy scholars. She also understood what it took to build a village and construct a home that would withstand the storms. All in all, Neoma was very pleased that her choice was the one the elders agreed upon unanimously.

“Yuozes…” Neoma stretched her arm across Yuozes and squeezed her shoulder pulling her in closer. “I do believe this is something that one might consider a personal struggle.”

Yuozes stopped in her tracks and softly chuckled. “You mean it is none of my business.”

“You are very perceptive my friend.” Laughter filled the room, as the women crossed through the kitchen toward the library where Yuozes was designing a map of the universe.

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

By the time Gabrielle was able to get outdoors she discovered the puma waiting patiently outside of the stables across the courtyard. “Smart Xena…..not too sure Thais would be will accepted by the horses.” As the Bard approached, Thais greeted her hoping for a scratch behind the ears. She was not disappointed. “Hey Thais, is Xena inside? Sure she is. What is going on with her anyway.” Gabrielle did not anticipate an answer but believed that the puma had a way of understanding her words, therefore decided to voice them. “You wait here Thais.” With those final words Gabrielle entered the stables. It took her a moment to focus her eyes to the dim light. Before she could call out for the Warrior, the Bard felt strong, protective arms encircling her very pregnant body from behind. Sinking back into the embrace, Gabrielle sighed with delight.

“Shouldn’t you be inside listening to Neoma’s stories?”

“Xena….those stories are important.”

“Mmmm…..maybe.” Xena started to nibble on her soulmates ear. “Do you know how beautiful you are?”

Gabrielle turned to face the Warrior. “Honey….don’t change the subject. Why did you leave the room?”

Xena released her soulmate and stepped around to leave the stables. “Thais was getting restless.”

An Amazon hand quickly gripped the Warrior’s hand. “Not so fast my beautiful wife. You and I both know that is not why you left. What is going on Xena?”

The Warrior answered abruptly. “Look Gabrielle, I don’t appreciate being questioned. So let it go okay.”

Over the past three moons the Bard has been quick to tears, today would be no different and the Bard’s green eyes promptly filled with tears resulting from Xena’s reaction. Not wishing to argue with her soulmate, Gabrielle turned away covering her eyes.

The Warrior immediately chastised herself for being abrasive and before she could regroup and approach Gabrielle, the puma bumped Xena from behind sending the Warrior flying through the air causing her to land very awkwardly on the stable floor. The sound of Thais’ growling drew Gabrielle’s attention in time to see her soulmate flying through the air. Unsure whether to laugh or cry at the sudden turn of events, the Bard looked to Thais. The puma seemed to smile. “Oh Thais…..I’m not so sure that was a good thing.” By the time Gabrielle looked back to Xena the Warrior was standing and brushing the hay and dirt from her clothing. “Xena, you’re hurt.” The Bard could see several abrasions on the Warrior’s left knee and lower arm.

At first Xena wanted to strike back…..she felt foolish and the Warrior disliked that emotion terribly. Thais had protected Gabrielle, which is something the Warrior wondered if the puma would do, without being prompted. Part of her was pleased with Thais’ actions. The other half wanted to thrash that animal. Either way before Xena could assess which pleased her more Gabrielle was bending over in an attempt to look at the abrasion on her knee. Gently the Warrior reached down to direct the Bard to stand. “Baby….I’m okay. I deserved that.” Cupping a still tearful Amazon Queen under the chin, Xena looked directly into loving green eyes. “Sweetheart, I am sorry. Can you forgive me?” The Bard quickly nodded her acceptance and pulled the Warrior closer in order to kiss her. Xena needed no further encouragement and swallowed Gabrielle in passion.

After several moments of tender affection, the couple retreated to Neoma’s home in order to care for Xena’s injuries. Gabrielle never approached the subject of Xena’s departure when the topic of the Tribe came up. She decided that when Xena was ready, she would tell her.

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

Two days later, Xena felt the time was right to return to the mainland. Neoma and Yuozes would accompany them.

As the foursome and Thais boarded the ship, Gabrielle wondered how Xena managed to talk the Captain into allowing the puma aboard. That evening as the soulmates were watching the sunset over the horizon, Gabrielle asked. “Honey…..what did you do to the Captain? I was surprised he was so willing to allow Thais on board.”

Acting innocent and as if she was accused wrongfully, Xena chuckled. “Do…..me??? What makes you think I did anything?”

Thais gave a low growl and plopped her body onto the deck. Gabrielle giggled at the thought of Xena and Thais approaching the Captain. “Yes Xena….what did you do?”

“Oh….I…just demonstrated my ability with the chakram. You know….sliced up a few melons, parts of his clothing….the normal stuff.”

The Bard shook her head and laughed. “Oh my love…..you are a handful.”

“Yes….but I am your handful.”

“Come here Warrior.” The soulmates slipped into each others arms……arms and bodies becoming more and more familiar with the passing of time. Without words they walked entwined to their cabin. Thais followed but instead of entering remained posted outside the closed door. There would be no disturbing her master or Kleidi tonight.

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Chapter 8

The Warrior had purchased passage as far as Thessaly, knowing that while the journey at sea would be longer it would at least be safer than by land. She still had not spoken with Gabrielle about delivering, what would now be two babies, in Amphipolis rather than the cave. The ship docked before dawn after four days at sea.

While Yuozes stayed at the dock with Gabrielle, Neoma accompanied Xena and Thai in search of a wagon to transport them to Amphipolis.

“It will be good to see Cyrene again.” Neoma, much to Xena’s disapproval at the time, had the opportunity to spend several days with Cyrene after the young Warrior ventured to a life on the sea. Since then the women stayed in touch, which included Cyrene’s occasional visits with Neoma on Lesbos. The women found they had a great deal in common, including a love for one strong-willed warrior. Neoma was only a few seasons younger than Cyrene and thus enjoyed the bond formed between them. A number of times Neoma attempted to convince Cyrene to stay with her on Lesbos. The innkeeper, however, felt a strong attachment to Amphipolis and deep within always prayed that if she stayed in the village, one day Xena would return.

Aware of the relationship between her mother and Neoma, the Warrior did not want her mother to be hurt. “Look Neoma….don’t push mom. Okay.”

The elder smiled and patted Xena on the back. “Have no fear brave-hearted Warrior….I would just assume die than hurt Cyrene.”

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Before long the four women and one puma were on the road to Amphipolis. Having left Thessaly just as dawn broke, Gabrielle insisted that Xena push the horses without hurting them so that they could spend that night at the inn. The Warrior estimated that it would be after dark before they would arrive, but would do her best to get them there safely. Neoma worried that the constant jarring of the wagon over the sometimes-rough road might be an invitation for the babies to make an early entrance into the world. In her wisdom, however, she kept this concern to herself. Having had the experience in seeing twins born before, Neoma believed the Bard would be delivering those babies sooner than anticipated.

Good to her promise, Xena had the group more than halfway home by the time the sun was high overhead. Insisting they stop and rest, the Warrior chose a secluded area by a small stream where she would be able to catch fish for their meal.

With cool water up around her knees, Xena quickly caught several eels, which quickly ended up in Thais’ stomach before anyone else could retrieve them. Neoma and Yuozes had a small campfire burning to keep everyone warm in the cool winter season, as well as cook the fish. As they waited patiently for Xena to fill Thais’ belly, the elders made hot tea for all.

“Xena…..how much is Thais going to eat?” Gabrielle was sitting on a log wrapped in a blanket slightly humored by the puma’s appetite.

The Warrior’s legs and feet were starting to get pretty cold. “Well, this is it….after this she has to learn how to fish for herself.” Laughing over Thais’ appetite, Xena tossed one more eel her way and began searching for a tastier fish. Eel was okay….just a bit to rubbery for the Warrior’s liking.

Thais licked her muzzle and purred, as she finished off the last of the eel. The puma knew how to fish….a skill taught to her by Aleka, but as long as her master Warrior did not know…..Thais was not about ready to show her.

Before long, Xena managed to catch several trout and joined Gabrielle on the banks of the stream. Welcoming the warm blanket, Xena dried her feet and legs, put on her boots and followed the Bard back to the camp. Within a candlemark all four women had their fill, extinguished the fire and continued the journey.

Thus far the trip from Thessaly had been without interruption. The roadway was basically barren of travelers due to the cooler weather and distant threat of snow clouds hovering in the mountains to the north. Xena allowed Yuozes to lead the horses so she could snuggle up with Gabrielle under the blanket. Together they leaned up against Thais who on numerous occasions proved to be a wonderful pillow and support. Before long sleep claimed the soulmates and Neoma kept Yuozes company.

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Amphipolis was covered in a light snowfall by the time the foursome arrived. The village was quiet and appeared tucked away for the evening. As usual, lights burned brightly at Cyrene’s Inn, a friendly invitation to any weary traveler passing through. Something, however, was wrong……the Warrior’s keen senses could feel sadness in the village.

Gabrielle noticed the worry that crossed her soulmate’s beautiful face. Rubbing the Warrior’s hand softly, the Bard caught Xena’s attention. “What is it Xena?”

Xena brought Gabrielle’s hands to her lips and kissed them lovingly. “I’m not sure…..something is wrong.”

The wagon stopped in front of Cyrene’s, as if the horses knew exactly where to go. Xena jumped down and immediately helped the Bard to the ground. Thais jumped off the wagon and nuzzled her nose into the fresh fallen snow. “I think Thais wants to play.” Neoma chuckled at the huge predator acting like a small kitten.

“Not now Thais.” Xena with her arm around Gabrielle opened the front door. “Stay here Thais…..and stay out of trouble. Don’t hurt or scare anyone.”

Thais understanding the master Warrior’s directions jumped back into the wagon and burrowed under the blankets.

Upon entering the inn, the party was immediately recognized by several local patrons. Greetings were exchanged quickly and within a blink of an eye Cyrene was in her daughter’s embrace. Giving the typical motherly hugs, kisses and pats on the arms the innkeeper turned her attention to Gabrielle.

“Ohhhhhh……look at you…..the baby looks like it is ready now!!!” Cyrene and the Bard hugged and giggled.

“Babies…..my Warrior Mom….babies.” Gabrielle could not keep the news a secret and blurted it out rather quickly.

“W-H-A-T……..WHAT – TWO????” Cyrene stood back, her mouth agape with tears of joy filling her eyes.

Xena wrapped her arms around Gabrielle and kissed her tenderly on the forehead. The babies were moving and kicking up a storm and the Warrior could see the movement. “Mom….come here….feel.”

Cyrene let her hands gently follow the little feet and fists, as they pushed from the inside of their mommy’s warm and protective nest. “Oh….they are strong little ones.”

Just then Neoma and Yuozes came through the doorway and removing their hoods to expose their identity. Neoma smiled when she saw Cyrene. She could not help herself…..Cyrene was beautiful to Neoma. The innkeeper’s reaction did not disappoint Neoma.

Shocked to see a friend of long ago standing before her, the innkeeper’s memories flooded her mind and her heart. A smile covered Cyrene’s face, causing Xena’s eyebrows to raise. Promptly Gabrielle gave her soulmate a swift and firm swat on the behind and tugged at the Warrior’s coat. Moving further into the inn, closer to the fire, the soulmates were joined by Yuozes.

In a whisper the Bard observing Cyrene and Neoma embracing in a rather questionable hug wondered just what this relationship was. “Xena….are mom and Neoma…..”

The Warrior shook her head not sure she completely understood or approved. “At one time….I believe they were, but then again….I’m not sure. Mom would never talk about it and neither would Neoma.”

Yuozes removed her cape and took a seat by the fire to warm her feet. “Well it sure looks obvious to me…so what is wrong with the two of you?”

Refusing to acknowledge Yuozes comments, the Warrior took Gabrielle’s cape and mumbling under her breath headed to their room. Gabrielle on the other hand was interested in Yuozes observations and decided to join the elder in front of the fire and throw her two dinars into the wind.

By the time the Warrior returned the four women were sitting around the kitchen table conversing in a very low manner. On the way to the bedroom and back the Warrior still felt uneasiness in the air and decided to be direct in asking her mom if there was trouble in the village.

“Oh…honey…come sit by your wife and have a cup of hot tea.”

Hot tea and being close to Gabrielle sounded wonderful to the Warrior, thus, she joined the table of women. “Mom, I’m sensing that something is wrong – what is it?”

*Yesss, my daughter….your senses are accurate, but now how do I explain. More so, how do I explain this to Gabrielle.* Pouring tea for Xena, the innkeeper returned to her seat and began fiddling with her own tea cup.

Suddenly frantic screams severed the quiet night causing all five women to rush to the front of the inn along with the few patrons still sipping on their ale. The horses in a panic just about had the wagon tipped over and both elders rushed to calm the animals. Off to the right were scattered footprints of both human and puma leading towards the stables. Before the women could form an opinion of the situation shrieks from horses and people came from the stables. The Warrior bolted into a run, while Gabrielle, Cyrene and the elders followed, as quickly as possible. The building came into view quickly and Xena found Thais pacing the front entrance with two individuals yelling, throwing snow and screaming from the rooftop of the stables. Immediately recognizing the women the Warrior slowed her run to a casual walk.

“XENA…….GET AWAY QUICK!!!!”

The Warrior casually approached the puma who recognized the Warrior immediately. Abandoning her game of chase Thais welcomed the scratches Xena was giving her behind the ears. Soon the Warrior was joined with her spouse, mom and elders.

“Xena…what have you brought home this time?” Cyrene not too sure she trusted the animal watched with wonderment, as her daughter played with the predator. Before she could react the puma was next to her and Gabrielle.

“It’s okay mom. This is Thais, are newest family member.” The Bard proceeded to make the puma purr with happiness, as she rubbed the puma’s ears.

Ignoring the women on the rooftop the Warrior joined her soulmate. “My Queen, perhaps you should reconsider the bravery of your Amazon’s on the roof. Is it possible they should be cooks instead.”

“OH VERY FUNNY XENA.” Epinon and Amarice jumped down from the rooftop. “Just what we need, a Warrior with a sense of humor.”

The women all greeted each other and the Amazons met the elders for the first time. As the group walked back to the inn followed by Thais, Epinon addressed Gabrielle and Xena. “I’m glad you are back. We have trouble. Cyrene have you told them anything yet?”

“Actually, Epinon, I was about ready too when we heard the crying of these two little Amazon girls….and…”

“Cyrene….not you too. I thought you would at least side with us.” Laughter followed the party of women until they arrived back at the inn.

Xena bent over to speak directly with Thais. “Girl….stay out of trouble! I know the temptation to play is……”

“Xena….let Thais come in. She can stay in the kitchen or your room as long as she behaves.” Feeling particularly brave at the moment, Cyrene rubbed Thais behind the ear and the puma followed her new friend into the inn.

The Warrior watched in surprise at her mom’s newfound bravery. “I’m beginning to think that Thais is the master….not me.”

“Oh honey…..it’s okay…everyone but you knows that.” Gabrielle chuckled, joined by the elders and the Amazons, as they returned to the warmth of Cyrene’s inn.

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

That night Gabrielle could not sleep and found she had to battle tears over and over again. Once again the Warrior sat up in bed and pulled her soulmate into her arms. “Sweetheart…everything will work out. Trust me…okay?” The very pregnant Amazon Queen could do no more than cry and cling to the strength her Warrior shared.

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Chapter 9

The Gargarans have always been a closely watched threat for Amazon tribes located seventeen days west of Amphipolis. For moons several of the scattered tribes located in the foothills continued to keep the Gargarans at bay with trade and the birth of male children. Over time the Amazon’s fled the tribes in search of safer living conditions. According to Epinon the tribes in the west for the most part no longer exist. None of them have leaders, elders, shamans or warriors. Therefore the men now have their sites set on the Amazons northwest of Amphipolis. Shulapa lost her life, when she attempted to meet with the Gargaran’s leader for the sole purpose of establishing a treaty that would keep the Gargaran barbarians from capturing and moving Amazon’s eastward to foreign lands. Xena never fought against the Gargaran people, however they were considered unmerciful once they decided to kill. She did not approve of the Amazon’s agreeing to mate with a Gargaran man for the purpose of a son, however never involved herself enough to change their ways. Apparently with the death of Caesar and the retreat of the Romans, the barbarians found this a prime opportunity to kidnap and bring Amazon’s east to inhabit the abandoned camp’s in their territory.

Xena was unpleased with the timing of the Gargaran’s threat of invasion. The most practical action would be to grab Gabrielle and go into hiding until after the babies were born. She knew, however, that as Queen, Gabrielle would never allow this. With the death of the Regent, the Amazons needed a leader within the village. Gabrielle would have to be that leader until a new Regent could be selected. The Warrior stared off into space contemplating. *Maybe retreating to the cave might be a better idea…..it will offer more protection than out in the open from an invading army.*

Both Argo and Gabrielle’s horse had been stabled in Amphipolis during their journey to Tara’s homeland. Once again reunited with Xena, Argo was pleased to see the Warrior, however she was not thrilled with Thais.

“Argo, what do you think. I’m right….yes. I have to get Gabrielle to the cave.”

Thais lay patiently outside of Argo’s stall listening to the words of her master. The puma understood that Argo did not like or trust Thais. Horses were always skittish around the puma and never quite as smart as she was. Licking her paws contently, Thais instinctively realized that because this was her master’s horse she would attempt to befriend it rather than eat it.

“I think you are never going to get Gabrielle to the cave.”

The Warrior glanced over her shoulder to find Epinon observing her interaction. “And why is that Epinon?”

“You know darn well why. Because she is the Queen…..especially now. The Amazon’s need her.”

Tossing the horse brush to the ground Xena turned to face her friend. “Yea…well I need her too.”

Surprised by Xena’s admission of need Epinon closed the distance between them. “I know Xena. I do understand. I will help you get her to the cave and after that we will deal with the Gargarans.

As Xena started to thank her friend, a sudden whirlwind picked up inside the stable. Artemis was soon standing before them.

Thais growled intensely. Xena smiled at Epinon. “Smart animal, wouldn’t you say.”

“Warrior!” Artemis snapped at the sarcastic remark made by the soulmate of her Chosen One. “If it were not for Gabrielle you would no longer be standing. I will not tolerate insolence.”

“Oh come on Artemis….surely you do not wish to displease your Chosen One?” Neoma entered the stables to face down Artemis directly.

“Neoma…..it has been awhile. I see my words to you long ago have come back to haunt you.” Artemis displeased with the elder’s forward comments would not engage in a physical battle.

“No Artemis. Xena is the Warrior I always believed she could be. She has not disappointed me or the League.”

“Hmm, yes the League.” Artemis waved her hand in the air, as if to dismiss the topic. “For now my concern is the Amazons. I will deal with the League another time.”

At this point, Epinon was unaware of the events that transpired on Lesbos, and beyond meeting Neoma and Yuozes, she only knew the legend of the League and no more. “Xena, what are they talking about?”

Artemis would not have side conversations going on in her presence. She was mad about the Gargarans and Shulapa’s death. Unable to prevent it from happening Artemis wanted to protect her Amazons, as well as revenge the death of one of her leaders. This one time she would tolerate Epinon speaking out of turn. She would need Xena and Neoma’s help to protect her Amazons and was aware that Xena would call upon Epinon.

“Look Artemis, my concern is Gabrielle – not the Amazons.” No longer interested in Artemis’ thoughts or wants, the Warrior turned away and headed for the doorway.

Neoma snickered at Xena’s boldness and turned to face Artemis. “Let her go Artemis. Without Gabrielle, your Amazons and you will be gone – destroyed. Get the picture? Let Xena handle this battle in her own way and in her own time.”

Abruptly Artemis vanished leaving behind a wind strong enough to blow Neoma and Epinon off their feet.

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“GABRIELLE, GABRIELLE!” The Warrior began yelling for her soulmate as soon as she entered the inn. She discovered her wife in the kitchen with Amarice sipping on hot tea. “DIDN’T YOU HEAR ME CALLING YOU.”

“Whoa…….grumpy….what’s with you?” Cyrene approached her daughter directly blocking her path to the Bard. “YOU MY DAUGHTER BETTER SIT DOWN AND COOL OFF.”

Covering her face with her hands it was obvious to all, as Xena’s shoulders slumped in defeat that the dark hair woman was filled with frustration. “I’m sorry honey.”

Gabrielle patted the chair next to her and motioned for her soulmate to sit. Accepting the invitation, the Warrior was pleased, when the Bard reached over and kissed her tenderly on the cheek. “Honey, calm down….don’t you always tell me first things first?”

Returning the kiss Xena nodded her head in agreement. “Yes.” Pausing to take a sip of the tea her mother set down in front of her, the women were soon joined by Neoma and Epinon. “Gabrielle….we have to leave for the cave.”

“No Xena.”

“What do you mean no?”

Leaning over Gabrielle looked directly into the blue eyes that she so often falls into. “No, I’m staying here.”

At this point, attempting to stay patient was becoming more and more difficult for the Warrior. “Why Gabrielle? It is not safe for you here.”

Unexpectedly Cyrene slapped Xena behind the head. “How dare you insinuate that we can not protect Gabrielle.”

“No….mom…I just mean…”

Gabrielle gently placed her fingers across the sweet lips of her lover. “Ssssshhhh….Xena….Cyrene – please don’t argue.” Returning her gaze to her wife, the Bard smiled, as if she had something to hide.

“What?” Xena raised an eyebrow and wondered what her soulmate was up too.

“I’m not traveling Xena…..my labor has started.”

So startled over the sudden news Xena yelled incomprehensible words and stood so fast that the chair went flying across the room. “WHAT….WHO…WHY……..NOW…….YOU’RE KIDDING………..RIGHT?”

The women burst with laughter over Xena’s flustered state. Gabrielle stood up placing Xena’s hands over her belly. “The babies are ready…..it’s okay honey.”

“But but but but…..”

Epinon slapped the Warrior on the back. “Stuck Xena?” The laughter continued, as Yuozes brought the Warrior another chair.

“Gabrielle…..the babies are just a little early.”

“Oh Xena…calm down mighty Destroyer of Nations. It’s normal for a woman carrying more than one to deliver early. We just need to prepare for them.” Neoma was amused by Xena’s state of mind.

“But what? WHAT DO WE DO?” Xena never felt so helpless before and quickly thought it might indeed be better if they stayed in Amphipolis.

Over the course of the next few candlemarks the women prepared a room for Gabrielle to give birth along with special bedding for the babies. The shaman from the Amazon village was summoned, as well as the Memmos, the old village healer. Medicine, herbs and all the necessities of giving birth early were brought to Cyrene’s inn. Needless to say the word spread through town quickly that the Amazon Queen would give birth to twins in Amphipolis.

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Chapter 10

“Breathe sweetheart…..breathe slow and steady…..come on baby….in – out – in – out – in – out – in – ou………. OUCH!! WHY DID YOU DO THAT?” The Warrior rubbed her cheek with one hand, still holding Gabrielle with the weight of her body.

Sweating and panting the Bard backhanded her soulmate to get her to be quiet. Gabrielle knew Xena was only trying to help, but at this particular moment she just wanted everyone to stop coaching and be quiet. She would not allow the Warrior to apply pressure points and at this point so close to delivery had lost most of her patience. The contractions were extremely strong and Memmos announced he could see the crowning of the first child.

“X…ena….sorry…….qui….qui….I need qui…”

“Quite?” Xena kissed the top of Gabrielle’s head. “Sorry honey.”

Cyrene closed the inn to all business as soon as Gabrielle’s contractions increased, ensuring there were no interruptions to this wonderful event. The Bard insisted that only Xena and Memmos be present, along with the shaman, when and if she arrived. So desperately wishing she could give birth in their cave, she now became silently grateful that they were not alone. The fact that twins would be born made the danger increase and Gabrielle was appreciative for the presence and assistance of the village healer.

“Good Gabrielle, now start pushing…..that’s it, you are doing just fine.” The old healer spoke gently and reassuringly to Gabrielle.

Xena found she too was following the instructions of the doctor and could not help but feel herself pushing in support of her soulmate.

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

“What is taking so long? Gabrielle has been in there for over six candlemarks!!!” Amarice paced up and down the kitchen floor. Waving her hands in the air and appearing totally frustrated Epinon snickered over her lover’s apparent need for answers.

“Calm down Amarice. This is all a part of having a baby.” Cyrene sipped on her tea while attempting to maintain control. She too was nervous and anxious, but yet was all too aware that labor could go on forever. She prayed that it would not be too much longer for the Bard.

“If anything goes wrong….I’ll……..”

In unison Epinon, Cyrene, Neoma and Yuozes yelled. “AMARICE CALM DOWN!!!”

The puma, which Cyrene allowed in the kitchen, cautiously approached the overly excited Amarice causing the young Amazon to stop in her tracks.

“See….” Cyrene laughed, “Thais says to sit down.”

Laughter followed which also prompted Amarice to join in.

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Cleaning up the second born Memmos glanced up long enough to find two pair of anxious eyes focused directly on him. “Your second born is a very healthy boy. Sounds as if he has some great lungs.” The healer wrapped the tiny boy in a warm cloth and placed him alongside his sister on Gabrielle’s chest. The boy immediately stopped crying.

Xena looked down at the two tiny bundles with fingers stuffed in tiny mouths, apparently at peace and happy to be so close to their mom. Stroking Gabrielle’s hair tenderly Xena bent over to kiss her soulmate on the cheek.

The Bard looked up to her Warrior. “Lay down with me…..help me hold them…..please.”

The Warrior helped Gabrielle reposition for comfort before slipping under the blanket that now covered her soulmate. Together the women held the children, letting the tiny ones feel their hearts beating, lungs breathing and the love surrounding them.

Just then Memmos heard knocking on the door. Realizing the women needed to be alone for awhile, he decided to chase away the curiosity seekers……just a bit longer. Quickly he opened the door and slipped out, closing it behind him.

“Well?” Cyrene questioned him.

“Everyone is doing great.” Memmos smiled rather pleased with his roll in the birth. “Two very healthy babies….. a……”

“How is Gabrielle?” Amarice spoke up rather loudly interrupting the healer’s announcement. Feeling somewhat selfish, the young Amazon was not as concerned about the infants, as she was her Queen.

His attention drawn away from his announcement, the old man smiled at the young Amazon. Fully aware that this young woman would demand only a straightforward answer he would give her just that. “Gabrielle is resting, as is Xena. But young lady, she is doing remarkable well. Gabrielle is strong and recovery will be quick.”

Just then Cyrene poked the doctor in the ribs. “And……the babies are?????”

“Oh…..” Memmos chuckled softly. “A girl and a boy.”

Joy and excitement followed the announcement. With mixed conversations of celebrations and ceremonies.

Never having the opportunity to enjoy Solan, Cyrene had every intention of being 100% involved with her grandchildren. “When can we see them?”

The old man explained that they were sleeping and should be left alone for at least a candlemark, or until Xena and Gabrielle were ready to have visitors. Disappointment was obvious in the faces of the women, but they would respect their wishes. At least for now.

“Well Memmos, I suppose you could use a cup of port?” Cyrene quizzed the old healer.

“Yes….actually that would be wonderful Cyrene.” Together the party of supporters followed Cyrene and Memmos into the main dining area for a small celebration. If they had to wait…..they unanimously decided to have an enjoyable time while waiting.

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

“You have me totally overwhelmed sweetheart.” The Warrior with one arm wrapped around her soulmate and the other holding her infant son kissed Gabrielle on the forehead. Together the four of them cuddled as close as possible, without squashing anyone. “How are you feeling honey?”

“Mmmm….tired and……” Gabrielle paused momentarily to peer into the warm blue eyes of her soulmate. “…and very much in love with you.”

The Warrior found she never needed an invitation to kiss Gabrielle, as the Bard always welcomed the Warrior’s affections. Slowly and softly their lips found each other’s. As the infants slept, the soulmates enjoyed sinking into the love one had for the other and the kissing remained tender, affectionate and reassuring.

“Honey?” Gabrielle pulled back slightly.

“Yesssssss my most beautiful wife and mother of my children?” The Warrior was also beginning to feel the fatigue caused from the excitement of childbirth.

“Names?” Gabrielle gently stroked the fuzzy blonde hair of their infant son. “Any preferences on names?”

Both babies were fair skinned with peach-fuzz like blonde hair. The boy was slightly longer and weighed a little more but not by much. At this point, the soulmates could not decide who they would look like more. They were just still too tiny and it would probably be a few moons before they took on a similarity to either mom.

Suddenly Xena’s eyes popped wide open. “OH WAIT – GABRIELLE!” Sliding to a position that allowed her to lean against the headboard, neither baby stirred from their sleep.

“Xena what is wrong?” As Gabrielle lay on her side, still holding the baby girl, Xena removed the wrap surrounding the boy. “What are you doing Xena?”

“Counting…..wait….1, 2, 3, 4……”

The Bard burst with laughter while she watched her brave-hearted Warrior counting the toes and fingers of their son. “I suppose you will want to count…..”

Quickly re-bundling the boy, Xena traded babies before Gabrielle could finish her statement. Within a blink of an eye their daughter was stripped down to a point where the Warrior could count toes and fingers. A giggling Bard just shook her head admiring the woman she was so deeply in love with and devoted too. Finally satisfied that all toes and fingers were accounted for, Xena scooted down in bed with her daughter reclaiming her snuggling position with Gabrielle and their son.

“Now…names.” Xena had not forgotten Gabrielle’s question and had actually thought about what they would name their children. “Actually I did think of names…….ummm…..and you?”

“Yes.” Gabrielle spent a great deal of time thinking about names and often wondered if Xena was doing the same. The Bard was not sure why they never spoke about the topic.

“Well……are you going to tell me your choices?” Reluctant to tell Gabrielle her choices the Warrior hoped the Bard would speak first.

“Why do I have to go first?” Gabrielle had no difficulty with a name for a boy, but had trouble deciding on a girl’s name.

“Because….” Abruptly both babies awoke and began to whimper, which distracted the soulmates. “I think they are hungry.” With Xena’s help, Gabrielle managed to feed their son and daughter.

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

“No…you knock.” Epinon stepped back from the doorway and faced Amarice

“I’m not knocking….you’re the big bad Warrior – you knock.” Both Amazon’s were tasked by Cyrene to listen for any movement behind the door from Xena or Gabrielle.

“No way Amarice. You’re Gabrielle’s buddy – you knock.”

The young redhead crossed her arms determined not to be the one who disturbs the soulmates. “Yea….but you have a better chance against Xena when she starts swinging than I do.”

“Coward.” Epinon was aware that if they disturbed Xena and Gabrielle before they wanted to be, the Warrior would indeed be angry. The dark-hair Amazon had no desire to fight the Destroyer of Nations.

Amarice punched Epinon in the arm. “COWARD? Look who is talking!!! You’re a bigger coward than I am.”

Rubbing her arm where Amarice managed to make it sting with her knuckle punch, Epinon did not like being called a coward……even if it was her lover. “Watch it Amarice.”

“Or what old mighty Amazon.” Feisty and excited over the events of the day, plus the scare by the puma Amarice discovered too much had transpired over the past moon. Add in the death of Shulapa and threat to the Amazons, the young redheaded warrior found her emotions getting away from her. “You are just a coward Epinon.” Unsure why she reacted physically, Amarice once again moved to punch Epinon, who caught her hand and pinned her forcefully to the door.

Needless to say, the force caused the door to burst open and within a blink of an eye Amarice looked up from her position flat on her back to find one angry Warrior Princess poised with her sword ready for battle.

“Just what are you doing Amarice?” Xena calmed down fairly quickly when she saw Amarice under her feet. Moving to replace her sword by the nightstand Xena rejoined Gabrielle who was now sitting.

“S..ss….sorry Xena….Gabrielle.” The young redhead stood quickly. “OH BY THE GODS…..” Slowly Amarice moved toward the babies who were nestled next to their mothers. “Ooooo…..look how cuteeeeeeeeeeeee.” As the young Amazon cooed over the infants, Epinon joined her and all was forgotten about their early conflict.

Naturally because of the noise made by the two Amazons the bedroom was soon filled with the others. Cyrene quickly moved her way through the Amazons to hug both Xena and Gabrielle. Tears filled her eyes as she sat between the soulmates and they placed an infant in each arm. “Oh…..ohhhh…..thank you……..oh thank you.” Overwhelmed by her grandchildren, Cyrene silently promised she would always and forever be a part of their lives.

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

Outside the window two Amazon spirits looked on. “Solari…..this is why we are here.”

“I know Ephiny….I know.”

For the first time since they entered the odd world of spirits the two Amazons realized their purpose. Ephiny and Solari did not care whether the children were female or male. Holding each other tenderly they understood their responsibilities and accepted them thankfully.

“You know what this means Solari?”

Solari understood perfectly that as guardians to the children of Gabrielle and Xena they would go against all others but the Creator to watch over the children. This included defying Artemis and even the parents, if necessary.

Nodding her head, Solari smiled at her charge. “Why do you suppose I am guardian for the girl and you the boy?”

Ephiny wondered this also but had no answer.

Feeling impish Solari giggled. “Oh…I know…because you are stubborn.”

“What the Hades does that have to do with it? WAIT JUST A FLAME FLICKER! I’m not stubborn…..I’m just strong willed.” Ephiny attempted to suppress her grin. She would be Hades if she let Solari get away with that even though she knew it to be true.

“My point exactly…..STUBBORN.”

The spirits chuckled with ease and continued watching the celebration of their friends.

“Can we join them Ephiny?” Solari felt some sadness and even though she knew the answer, the Amazon had to ask.

“Not yet. The time is not right.” Ephiny pulled her spirit wife closer. “The day will soon come when the children will know us.”

Without warning Ephiny and Solari noticed Xena was watching them. In unison the Amazons smiled and mouthed their congratulations. With a deep respect for the two spirits the Warrior smiled and nodded her head in approval.

“She knows…..Ephiny…she knows – HOW?” Both spirits saw the Warrior’s approval of their guardianship in that simple smile and nod.

The curly blonde Amazon shook her head and chuckled slightly. “Who knows how Xena finds things out. But it is good that she does.”

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

On the edge of Amphipolis a man and his son steadied their spirited horses. He had waited a long time for this moment and decided moons ago that once his daughter returned he would wait no longer.

“Why are you stopping Father?” A brother anxious to meet his sister would not let his father back down now. It took a great deal of talking and sometimes pleading to get to this point.

Hawk looked to his son and prodded his horse to move forward. Together father and son set their direction towards the little inn located on the other side of the village square called Cyrene’s.

The End

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