Characters and backstory from Xena: Warrior Princess are property of MCA/Universal/Renaissance. No copyright infringement is intended.
This is an original work of alternative fan fiction. No profit will be gained from its production. This piece of fiction is copyright of the author.
There are depictions of love/sex between consenting adult persons of the same gender. If this is illegal where you live, you are underage, or this isn't your preference, then stop reading here and find something more appropriate to your tastes and/or laws.
There is violence depicted in this story.
Thank you for taking the time to read this.
Author's Note: This is the fourth and final installment in the Eternal Series. It takes place after "Eternal Bond."
Comments can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright August 23, 1998
Xena took one last look over her shoulder before she mounted Argo.
Gabrielle squeezed the arm that held her securely and smiled. "It will always be here, Xena," she reassured the warrior. "We can come back whenever we want to."
The warrior grinned in return and kissed the back of her wife's head. "Yeah, I know, but...."
"It's like saying that the honeymoon is over, huh," the bard guessed.
"Something like that," Xena admitted.
The bard chuckled and turned in the saddle so that she could see the taller woman behind her. "Trust me, Xena," she said with a quick kiss, "it will never be over."
"Hmm...," the warrior pondered softly. "I know," she whispered.
"Come on, love," Gabrielle urged with a gentle pat to Xena's leg. "We better get back before they come looking for us."
Nudging Argo to a slow walk, the warrior closed her eyes and pictured the idyllic clearing in which she and Gabrielle had spent their honeymoon. "Not if they know what's good for them," she growled low.
Hades watched from the deep shadows of the thick forest as the couple on the pale horse rode past. He had been willing to give them time to be alone, to enjoy their reunion, but things were beginning to get dicey and the world above desperately needed them. With a wave of his hand, he disappeared; he braced himself for the fight he knew he would face.
When he reappeared in his throne room, Xena was leaning against a statue looking thoroughly bored while Gabrielle was making kissing noises at Cerebus. Hades frowned when his usually fierce guard dog rolled over onto his back for a belly scratch. "You know you ruined him, don't you?"
Gabrielle looked up to find the God of the Underworld giving her a reproachful look. She shrugged nonchalantly as she gave the dog one last past and stood. "Nah, he's just a sweet little puppy that got a bad rap," she answered as she stood. She waited until the god was in front of her before she addressed him. "I assume that were here for a reason," she stated with a directness that was uncommon for her.
"There is a problem," he began hesitantly. "The world above is being ravaged by a warlord. I haven't seen so many new arrivals since...." He cast a glance to the warrior who had stood a little straighter when he began his explanation. "Well, any way," he continued after clearing his throat, "the warlord is under a spell of Ares."
"Who is this warlord," Xena asked as she stepped closer to her wife's side.
"Xenon of the centaurs."
Gabrielle and Xena looked at each other with alarm.
"Wait," the warrior said as she held up a hand. "Why Xenon?"
"It's a long story, but suffice it to say that Ares and Athena had a dispute and Artemis sided with Athena. Ares sought to punish Artemis and enchanted the centaur."
"He's attacking the Amazons," Gabrielle gasped in understanding. Instinctively, she reached for Xena's hand.
Squeezing the bard's hand, Xena narrowed her eyes at the god. "So what does this have to do with us being brought here," she asked, waving her free hand in a gesture to indicate Hades' throne room.
The god sucked in a breath and held it as he gathered his courage. "On behalf of Artemis, Athena, and myself, I am asking if you would consider stopping him. You are the only ones who can do it, Xena. You and emphasis, "time is short. Even as we speak, the centaur is sacking villages in Macedonia. He should be in Thrace within the next couple of days."
"What happened to Amazonia?"
Hades' gaze bore deep into Xena's eyes. "It was the first to be attacked. There were many deaths, but Queen Elia escaped and fled with forty warriors."
"We'll get back to you shortly," the warrior said tersely. "Return us to our hut," she ordered.
Not wanting to argue the politics and order of caste in the Underworld, the god complied.
"I just can't picture it, Xena. The last time I saw Xenon, he was a sweet little centaur boy. How could this have happened?"
The warrior turned from her position by the window to gaze lovingly at the bard. "He grew up, Gabrielle. When Tyldus passed on, Xenon was named leader of the centaurs. Considering the bloodiness of the past war between the centaurs and the Amazons, he was the logical choice for Ares. It's the perfect revenge."
"But it's so sad," the bard whispered. "Poor Ephiny."
"I assume she doesn't know," the warrior responded. "We would have heard about it by now if she did. That must be why Elia was talking to her."
"She had to deal with going to war with her brother," Gabrielle gasped. "No wonder she was so upset." The bard paused a moment as she bowed her head in thought. "We have to help her, Xena. She's out there, running for her life. We have to stop Xenon and restore the peace."
The warrior closed her eyes when she felt her wife's emotional entreaty tug at her heart. "Do you understand what could happen, Gabrielle? You've been here so long. Do you remember what pain feels like? You could get hurt or even die...again."
Gabrielle chuckled nervously. "Well, what's a little pain, huh? And I've already died. I'm not afraid to do so again."
"I know," Xena replied as she sat next to the smaller woman on the bed, "but I don't think that I could stand to see it happen to you. Not again."
"Have you forgotten about the greater good, Xena? They need our help. The Amazons, the innocent people whose only crime is to live in the wrong place. They all need our help."
Xena pulled her wife into a strong embrace and pressed her lips against golden hair. "I love you, you know."
"I know," the bard answered as she snuggled into the warm body of the warrior. "So we're going to help, then?"
Sighing quietly, Xena nodded and squeezed Gabrielle a little harder. "Yeah, we'll help." She kissed the bard again and pushed her away so that she could see her face. "You know that when you ask so nice like that, I can't resist."
The bard's crooked grin spread into a blinding smile. "I'll be sure to keep that in mind."
"You do that," Xena retorted with a laugh. "I suppose we should tell Hades right away."
Gabrielle nodded slowly and took a deep breath. "Close your eyes."
The warrior complied, trusting her bard implicitly. After a shift of air and smells, she opened her eyes and found that Gabrielle had delivered them to the throne room. Hades stood and approached them. Anxiety was written plainly on his face.
Gabrielle clutched Xena's hand and stood straighter. "We'll do it."
"Great," the god replied with a relieved sigh. "Is there any thing special that you would like for your new life?"
The bard and warrior looked at each other and shared a silent conversation. "We'll need my staff, Argo, and some basic supplies."
"Done," Hades replied with a clap of his hands. "Anything else?"
"No, that'll do it," Xena answered.
"Wait," Gabrielle said as she looked up to the warrior. "Would you tell everyone where we went? I don't want them to worry."
"I can do that for you," Hades replied. "Ready now?"
The couple closed their eyes instinctively when Hades stepped close to them and raised his hands to their heads. There was a brief moment of disorientation and nausea that passed before either were affected by it. When they opened their eyes, they discovered that they were alone with Argo in a small clearing.
Xena released the bard's hand and crouched to examine the goods with which Hades had supplied them. "Everything looks good," she announced. "There's even some trail rations in here."
"Good," Gabrielle said with relief, "because I think I'm getting hunger pains."
The warrior stood and regarded her wife with sober eyes. "Sweetheart, those are going to be minor if we get caught in the middle of a war."
Gabrielle rode behind Xena, nibbling on a strip of dried venison. Since there were still a few hours of light left, the warrior had decided to scout the area for a clue as to where Hades had left them. After half an hour of riding due east, she finally pulled Argo to a halt.
"There," she said, pointing to a stand of boulders in the distance.
"What is it?"
The bard pulled back and blushed in confusion. "Huh?"
Xena chuckled dryly and patted her wife's thigh. "Anteres was a warlord who plundered this valley about forty years ago...I think." Her brows narrowed in thought for a moment; she wondered how much time had passed since she had died. "Anyway," she continued, "he met another warlord on that hill and their armies battled for control of the valley."
"Who was the other warlord?"
Xena's eyes narrowed in contemplative thought and a shadow of dark memory clouded her features.
"Oh," the bard whispered. "Never mind."
"No, it's all right. I was just thinking about how it got its name," she said as she nodded towards the formation.
Gabrielle's imagination painted a vivid picture that she would rather forget. "I don't want to know," she said as she shook her head. "Did you...?" Gabrielle cursed her morbid curiosity.
The warrior smirked and raised her brow. "Not his, no. One of his own soldiers did it. I just moved out of the way."
"Well then...who won?"
Xena nudged Argo to a slow trot and held Gabrielle's free arm to keep her from falling. "I did. It wasn't long after that I took my army south to...Cirra." A comforting squeeze around her middle pushed bad memories back into a mental trunk.
"At least we know where we are now," Gabrielle reflected as she glanced anxiously around the open landscape that surrounded them. "Maybe we should head back to the clearing," she suggested.
Turning in the saddle, Xena looked down at her wife and smiled. "Paranoid?"
Gabrielle snorted and gripped her staff tighter. "Nah," she answered, "just out of practice."
"Yeah, well, that's what happens when you die," Xena stated wryly as she reined Argo around. "You're right, though," she admitted. "We should get some real food in our bodies."
"Not to mention sleep," Gabrielle grunted through a yawn. "I didn't get much the past few days."
Xena laughed with genuine amusement. "Well gee, Gabrielle, I wonder why," she mocked with a dry grin.
Xena's long fingers played idly with Gabrielle's hair. The fire's light danced among the strawberry-blonde locks and the warrior could not resist the urge to try and capture it. When the bard snorted softly in her sleep and rolled to her side, Xena sighed. She did not mind when her wife used her thigh for a pillow. She did grimaced in discomfort, however. Reaching between her legs, she wiped away a trail of wetness. "Gabrielle, honey, wake up," she urged as she shifted her weight and pulled the bard into her arms.
"What? Is it dawn already," the sleeping woman mumbled.
"No, but you are drooling on my leg again," Xena answered as she placed the bard on their bedroll.
"Hmm...cherries," the bard sighed as she continued to sleep despite being rearranged on the furs.
Xena shook her head in amusement and covered Gabrielle with a light blanket. "Have some for me," she whispered as she bent to kiss her wife's nose. Sure that the bard would not wake, the warrior settled once more against the log she had been using as a backrest. Pulling her sword from its scabbard and a sharpening stone from her bag, she fell back into the old habit of caring for her weapons. Puckering her brow, she considered several plans to stop Xenon and to end Ares' curse.
The next morning, Xena and Gabrielle broke camp. Rediscovering a routine that had been established many years before, they were ready to move out within an hour.
Declining the offer to ride for the time being, the bard was content to walk beside the warrior who rode her warhorse. She listened carefully to the plans that Xena had come up with the night before while her eyes constantly scanned the treeline for any sign of movement.
"So how far are we from Thrace?"
"If both of us ride with few stops, we could be in there in a few days."
"I'll take that as a suggestion that I join you, then," Gabrielle chuckled.
"Yep," the mounted warrior replied as she offered her arm.
"Oh, Hades," the bard mumbled in reply. "I still don't like heights, you know."
"I won't let you fall," Xena assured her with a warm smile.
"Yeah, I know," Gabrielle answered as she wrapped her arms tightly around the warrior's waist. "But I still don't like heights."
"So close your eyes."
Gabrielle did as she was advised and found herself relaxing against her wife's broad back. In no time, her body picked up the rhythm of Argo's gait, and the three of them moved as one across the Macedonian landscape.
The bard was later wakened by Argo's changed gait. She lifted her head and rubbed the blurry sleep from her eyes. When she saw why Xena had slowed their progress, she regretted leaving Morpheus' realm.
She put a hand over her mouth in an attempt to quell sickness that began to churn in her stomach. The stench of burnt flesh was acrid in the air. The smoke that still billowed from a few hot spots did nothing to hide the charred bodies of those who could not escape the flames.
Xena stopped Argo and calmed the warhorse that had begun to prance nervously. She studied the hoof prints in the road's dust and scowled. "Centaurs," she muttered as she raised her eyes to study the gutted husks of cottages that were ready to collapse. "About two days, I'd guess," she said a little louder. "We're not too far behind them."
Feeling the warrior's thighs tense, Gabrielle tightened her arms instinctively.
Unable to fall asleep for fear of revisited the horror they were leaving, the bard felt every bone-jarring jolt when Xena urged Argo to speed. Clenching her teeth so that she would not bite her tongue, she sent a swift prayer to Artemis for their safety and the souls that had been sacrificed to Ares' anger.
They had ridden until Argo's coat was lathered with exertion's sweat. Xena uttered words of gratitude and comfort into the horse's ear as she walked the mare in circles. Once the warhorse's breathing had evened and she had been divested of all her tack, the warrior brushed her down with sweet grass.
Gabrielle used the moment of rest to refill their waterskins in a spring nearby. Faint lines of worry marred her pleasant features. She was disheartened by what Ares had done to Xenon. Innocent people were losing their lives and a past memory of a sweet little centaur prince was shattered. Most importantly, though, Xena's peace in the Elysian Fields had been disturbed. Even in death, the war god had managed to aggravate the warrior.
"Come on, Gabrielle," Xena urged as she finished saddling Argo. "She's not rested, but we have to keep moving." Rubbing the mare's nose, the warrior promised Argo a long rest after everything was taken care of.
Gabrielle capped the last waterskin and returned to Xena. She watched silently as the warrior took the skins and tied them to Argo's saddlehorn.
Xena mounted swiftly and held her arm down so that she could pull Gabrielle up behind her, but the bard's gaze had gone distant. The warrior's heart constricted at the worry that was evident on her wife's expressive features. She reached down to stroke Gabrielle's cheek and asked softly, "Hey, you all right?"
Raising her troubled green eyes to the warrior, the bard smiled despite her worries. Her distress was evident, though, in the way that her chin trembled. Thinning her lips to still their traitorous movement, Gabrielle squared her shoulders. "Yeah," she answered shortly, "but I'll be better when this is all over."
"That's my girl," Xena whispered as she lifted Gabrielle easily into the saddle. "Together, we'll get through this. We'll finish what Ares started, and then we'll take some time to enjoy life again. How's that sound?"
Gabrielle quirked a brow and smiled impishly when Xena turned in the saddle to look her in the face. "The Warrior Princess...stopping to enjoy life? I'll believe it when I see it," she retorted with her good humor returned. "We'd better get going," she said finally, reminding Xena of the urgency of their mission. "The sooner it's over the better."
"Yes, my Queen."
"Oh, please, Xena. I'm nobody's queen anymore."
Xena squeezed her wife's arms and nudged her heels to Argo's sides. "Not true, my love," the warrior replied. "You've reigned in my heart for as long as I can remember."
Gabrielle's derisive snort of disbelief was softened as she kissed the back of Xena's neck. "I'm glad I'm high up here and not down there," she said. "The dung is getting pretty deep."
Laughter erupted from the both of them as they continued slowly but steadily towards Thrace.
They came upon two more destroyed villages as they traveled east. Xena's mood became dark and brooding while Gabrielle began to worry about the cruelty of the centaur army. If not for the warrior's presence, the bard believed that she would have begged for Hades to take her back to the Fields. Steeling her courage, she resolved to see their mission through to the end.
When evening began to fall, Xena pulled off the main road and found a suitable clearing deep in the surrounded forest. Gabrielle slid from Argo's back, eager to be back on the ground. When she stumbled on exhausted legs, Xena caught her around the waist.
"Sit down and relax," the warrior whispered into her wife's ear. "I can set up camp."
"Xena, I'm all right. I can do it," Gabrielle argued.
Pulling back to study the weary lines on the bard's face, Xena sighed. "Okay, but don't overwork yourself," she warned. "I'll go check the perimeter and catch something to eat."
Gabrielle nodded and relaxed from the rigid posture she had taken when an argument seemed imminent. She watched Xena's back until the other woman disappeared into the darkened shadows of the trees. With a tired groan, she began to clear the debris from the campsite.
When Xena returned half an hour later, the bard was struggling to remove Argo's saddle. Glancing quickly around their camp, she saw that Gabrielle had already started a fire and had laid out their bedroll. "Here," she said, startling her wife who was concentrating on her task. "I can do this."
Gabrielle nodded gratefully and accepted the dressed rabbit from the warrior's outstretched hand. Pulling the taller woman down for a quick kiss, she left Xena alone with her warhorse.
As she removed Argo's tack, Xena cast furtive glances to her wife who was sprinkling herbs over the rabbit. Gabrielle's shoulders were slumped and the bard tried unsuccessfully to cover the yawns that left tears gathering in the corners of her bleary eyes. It had been a long time since they had seen such circumstances and Xena's protective nature rose to forefront. As the bard fought sleep, the warrior battled her desire to force her wife to just surrender to the calling of Morpheus. Doing so, she realized, would only anger the bard who wanted to do her share of the nightly chores.
By the time that Xena finished caring for Argo, the succulent smells of their dinner cooking over the fire were making her mouth water. Her stomach growled in appreciation. With a slight grin of embarrassment, the warrior replaced Argo's brushes in a saddlebag. When she turned her focus to the savory dinner, she found Gabrielle watching her with a brow that rose lazily in question.
"You bet," Xena responded as she crossed to the fire and accepted the empty seat that her wife indicated with a soft pat. "Smells good."
"Thanks. It's just about done."
"I'll just go clean up, then. I won't be long."
Gabrielle nodded and watched the tall warrior unfold her body to stand. Looking up the length of her wife's body, the bard was trapped by hypnotic blue eyes.
"Keep my seat warm for me," Xena asked with a slight hint of amusement in her voice.
"Uh, yeah. Sure, I can do that," the bard answered after she managed to gain control of her emotions.
Xena smiled brightly before she left the camp to wash her hands in the nearby stream.
Gabrielle followed the warrior until she was out of sight and then sighed. She still could not believe her fortune. After a life's time wait, she had been reunited Xena. Together in death, they had discovered that which they had secreted in life. They had revealed hidden feelings and desires. They had bonded in a ceremony before all their friends and family. Now, they were getting the chance to live life once more the way that they should have before death had separated them long ago.
The gentle bard was learning the hard way that life was just as cruel as it had been before in her previous lifetime. It was a painful lesson, but she was sure that with Xena at her side, the bad would be interspersed with times of happiness. Such was the way she remembered.
The life of a hero was not easy. She figured, though, she and Xena would get each other through it all. Both of them would take advantage of their second opportunity and see life to its full conclusion. Provided, of course, that they found a way and succeeding in stopping Ares and his plans of revenge.
Gabrielle's lips thinned in thought and her shoulders straightened. She refused to let herself worry about the impending confrontation with Xenon. They had been through worse in the past and would be in the future. She trusted Xena's ability, as well as her own, to find a way to succeed. They would beat Ares.
The bard turned her thoughts to the possibilities of future adventures with her warrior. She was optimistic once more and it showed on the soft smile that lingered as she imagined foiling the evil and preserving the good.
Xena was stopped, breathless with awe, as she watched the transformation on the bard's face. The flickering flames of the campfire highlighted the gentle curves of Gabrielle's face, making her enigmatic smile sweet, yet alluring. Xena's heart swelled with love even as her more primal desires claimed the rest of her body. She would die for her bard. She would fight to live for the woman she loved. She wanted nothing more to simply be with her. Remembering their mission, though, she forced her needs deep into her own soul. Silently, she promised to show Gabrielle how important this new life was with the bard at her side as wife and lover. First, though, they needed to end a reign of terror.
Clearing her throat so as not to startle Gabrielle, the warrior stepped into the ring of light cast by their fire. Her eyes misted at the loving smile she received from the other woman. She cleared her throat again to dislodge the lump that had formed and she found her seat. "I'm back," she said lightly.
"Just in time for dinner," the bard stated as she began to carefully break apart the meat. After filling their plates, she handed Xena her and settled with her own.
They ate quietly, enjoying the comfortable presence of each other. When the rabbit was finished, Xena disposed of the remains and returned to camp to find Gabrielle stretched out nude and asleep on their bedroll. With a wry smile, she shook her head and removed her armor. Placing her sword at the edge of their furs, she snuggled against her wife. After a moment, the bard turned in her sleep and claimed the warrior's left breast for her pillow.
Xena laid awake for an hour staring at the star-lit sky before Gabrielle's even breath warm against her chest lulled her to sleep. Even in her dreams, though, her subconscious worked through the problem at hand.
Xena opened her eyes to mere slits. She could hear several people moving about their campsite. She tried to nudge the bard off of her body so that she could defend them, but the bard was sprawled unceremoniously across her entire upper body. With a mental sigh, the warrior hoped that the invaders were friendly. The soft sounds their boots made revealed that they were not centaurs, so there was the possibility.
A figure stopped as it reached their side and Xena could see the glow of dying embers reflecting off the blade of a short sword. Opening her eyes fully, she realized that the Amazons had found them. "There's no need to point that sword at us," she said casually, revealing that she was awake. "We're here to help you."
Her sharp ears caught the soft gasp of the woman standing over her and she smiled with relief. "I'm glad to see that you are safe, Elia."
The Amazon stepped back when she recognized the familiar voice. "Kera feed that fire, now," she ordered.
Hearing the disbelief in their queen's voice, the other Amazons abandoned their search of the campsite and gathered around the bedroll. When the fire was once more burning enough to shed light to see by in the early dawn, several warriors raised their swords.
"Put those away," Elia hissed as she sheathed her own weapon. Kneeling down to Xena's side, she reached out a hand to clasp the older woman's offered hand.
"My Queen," a guard cried as she stepped forward, "you don't know who she is."
Elia chuckled when the warmth of Xena's hand enclosed hers. "Oh, I know all right. This is definitely Xena," she revealed as she gazed into the familiar eyes of her mentor.
"It could be a trick of Ares," Mora warned as she hovered over her wife's body in a protective and intimidating stance.
Xena laughed softly and shook her head. "Try Hades," she answered. "He sent us to help the Amazons. We're here to stop Xenon."
Queen Elia squeezed Xena's hand tighter. "Thank Artemis," she whispered.
"Yeah, you could say that." Xena swiveled her head around and counted thirty warriors gathered around their pallet. "If you ladies wouldn't mind, I've got to get something off my chest."
The Amazons gasped in surprise when Xena pushed the blankets off Gabrielle's head. Murmurs of appreciation began to buzz through the camp when Xena's youthful body was revealed.
"Gabrielle," Xena urged as she tucked a lock of golden hair behind the bard's ear. "Wake up, we have company."
The bard mumbled in her sleep and tried to pull the blanket back up over her head, but Xena's hands were there to stop her progress. Raising her head to complain to her wife for the early wake-up, Gabrielle saw a blurry boot out of the corner of her eye. "Huh?" She nearly jumped from Xena's body when sleep cleared quickly from her eyes.
Xena captured the bard in her arms and held her close. "Relax, they're Amazons," she whispered. "They aren't here to hurt us."
"Amazons? Our Amazons?"
"Yeah," Xena chuckled softly, "ours."
"Are you all right," Gabrielle asked as she sat up quickly and studied the women who had stepped back to see the young bard.
Xena smirked when she caught more than one set of eyes devouring her wife's fire-kissed beauty. Gabrielle had always been oblivious to the effect she had on people. "You better get dressed, Gabrielle."
"Gabrielle," Elia asked as she stepped closer to look into the bard's face. "THE Gabrielle," she repeated with emphasis as she looked to Xena for confirmation. When the warrior nodded slightly, the Amazon fell to her knee and bowed. "My Queen," she murmured respectfully.
Seeing their leader bowing to the strange blonde woman, the other Amazons looked at each other uncomfortably. When Mora did the same as her wife, the others shrugged and followed suit.
"Please, don't do that," Gabrielle begged as she stood, taking the blanket with her. Wrapping it securely around her shoulders, she knelt beside Elia. "Please, I'm not the queen anymore. You are."
Elia looked into emerald eyes that danced in the fire's light. She found the compassion and gentle nature for which the once-deceased Queen had been famous. "But I'm...you should be Queen."
Gabrielle took Elia's face in her hand and shook her own head. "No, Elia, you are the Amazon Queen. I am simply a bard."
"Give it up, Elia," Xena advised as she stood and began donning her armor. "Not too many people ever won an argument with Gabrielle. You'll quit long before she stops talking."
Gabrielle's only response to her wife's remark was a snort and an evil grin. Following Xena's example, she donned her clothes. "I'll get some water for tea," she said as she bent to collect the pot from their gear.
"Wait," Elia called. "Iva, Trice, please get some water for Qu...for Gabrielle."
The two Amazons hurried to do their queen's bidding.
Gabrielle rolled over in her bedroll and contemplated the form of the warrior who was crouched over several maps with three Amazons. She was exhausted after traveling the entire day. How Xena managed to remain alert as well as think clearly, was beyond her understanding. The warrior always had incredible stamina, but it seemed as if Xena was pushing herself even harder than usual.
Not wanting to embarrass her wife by demanding that she come to bed, the bard grumbled a few choice words and rolled back over to face the fire. Closing her eyes, she could hear the sentries posted in the trees around the perimeter of the camp. They made only the barest of sounds, but Gabrielle could feel them watching her. It made her nervous and she fidgeted.
"Find another rock?"
"Xena," the startled woman gasped. "Don't do that to me," she complained in a soft hiss.
"Sorry, sweetheart," the warrior said as she caressed the bard's face in apology.
"Are you done planning for tomorrow?" Gabrielle stretched to look around Xena's crouched figure to see that the Amazons had rolled up their maps.
Xena shrugged as she removed her weapons. "Thought I heard something about big, dumb warriors neglecting their beautiful wives."
Gabrielle's eyes widened in disbelief. "You heard that, huh?"
"Yep," the warrior answered dryly. "And I totally agree," she finished softly. "I didn't mean to keep you waiting. I just wanted to make sure that we were all on the same foot."
Glancing around at the thirty Amazons in various states of sleep throughout the clearing, Gabrielle said with wry humor, "Lots of feet here."
Xena chuckled at the joke and crawled under the fur to join the bard. "We'll need them all," she answered quietly. "Elia said that Xenon has about fifty men under his command. Twenty are centaurs."
Gabrielle's narrowed in thought. "Doesn't sound good."
"No, it doesn't," Xena confirmed. "But we've got sentries posted for the night, so there's no reason not to get a good night's sleep."
"Are we far behind?"
"About half a day. If we travel hard, we'll catch him at tomorrow's nightfall."
"How are we going to do that? The Amazons don't have that many horses with them."
Xena sighed and began to rub her wife's arm in a comforting gesture. "Half are going to ride, the others are going to run. We'll take breaks when needed, and then they'll switch."
"Gabrielle, honey, go to sleep. They know what they have to do to stop this war. They are determined, so don't try to convince them otherwise."
The bard grumbled unintelligibly for a few moments before she, too, sighed. "All right."
"Good," Xena answered. "Now give me a kiss and go to sleep."
Gabrielle complied and let her mouth linger wetly over the warrior's for a moment before she laid down to snuggle against Xena's body.
Xena understood the action and laughed quietly. "After this is over, my love, I promise to make it up to."
They rode steadily the next day. A squad of Amazons kept pace fairly well, considering that they were on foot. Their endurance was almost equaled to that of the legendary warrior that rode with them. When they stopped to rest at mid-day, Gabrielle made a point of praising the queen and the women she led.
When a lunch of trail rations had been consumed, the second squad of Amazons continued on foot while their exhausted sisters rode. Gabrielle kept a careful eye on all; she made sure that none were forcing their bodies to continue. They took another break several hours after lunch. A nearby stream quenched thirsts and provided cooling relief for riders and runners alike.
Gabrielle made her rounds among the Amazons, inquiring about their being and health. All assured her that they would be ready to go when the time to continue was called. The bard found herself concluding her survey as she met her wife who was sitting on the bank of the stream with Elia.
"Hey," she whispered as she sat down, "how are you doing?"
Xena turned soft blue eyes to her worried wife and smiled. "I'm fine Gabrielle. Never felt better."
Gabrielle accepted the warrior's assurance and cocked her head. "How far behind are we?"
"We've made good time," Xena said with a satisfied nod. "We should catch up to them by nightfall."
The bard's heart began to beat faster as she thought of the coming confrontation. Her mind reluctantly replayed instructions on how to down a centaur in battle; Ephiny had taught her so long ago. She had never considered that she would ever have to battle the centaurs. Even when Krykus had nearly started a war between the Amazons and centaurs, she had believed deep in her heart that Xena would fix everything. She always did.
Xenon, however, was not Tyldus. There would be no words of peace, no sensible treaty. The new centaur leader was cursed by Ares. Gabrielle could only predict bloodshed and loss of life...unless Xena had a plan to avoid the confrontation. "So, do you have a plan," she asked tentatively.
"Not yet," the warrior admitted quietly. "I need to see what we are facing first. The last time Elia saw the centaur army, they were only fifty strong. Xenon may have picked up more soldiers along the way. There are more than a few warriors out there who hold a grudge against the Amazons."
"Xena, we're ready to move on."
The warrior tilted her head back to see Elia standing over them. "All right, then, let's see what we find over the next ridge."
Xena, Elia, and Gabrielle studied the encampment from their vantage point on the ridge.
The centaur army was camped on the plain below; ten fires burned as the centaurs and the men they recruited sought meager comfort on the hard ground.
"Hades," Gabrielle whispered. "It's not going to be easy." She turned to face her wife when she felt a familiar warmth low on her back.
Xena rubbed the tenseness that began to build in the bard's muscles. "Well, we have an army behind us now," she replied. "That's better than the odds we figured when we got to this side."
"So what are we going to do," Elia asked as she crawled back from the ridge and sat.
"I'm going to go down there and check things out. See if they have any weaknesses. Maybe I can get to Xenon tonight and talk some sense into him."
"Xena, we have an army of capable warriors. We're not afraid of them. We can fight our way through that army."
The warrior laid a calming hand on the Amazon Queen's shoulder. "Elia, I want to do this and shed as little blood as possible. Do you want to see Xenon killed?"
The Amazon struggled with her duty to the Nation and her bond with her brother. "No," she whispered. "Not if it can be avoided."
Several other Amazons' voices rose in protest when the queen voiced her reluctance to kill the centaur leader.
"Wait," Gabrielle hissed as she tried to maintain order. "How many of you knew Xenon before Ares cursed him, huh?" The bard's eyes scanned the crowd; most of the warriors lowered their heads afraid to meet her knowing eyes. "Yeah, I thought so. Now, from what I've heard, he was an honorable centaur before Ares got a hold of him. He's the son of Ephiny, the brother of Elia. That makes him part of our family. We can't just kill him for being a pawn in some god's little game of revenge." The bard paused for dramatic effect. "I say we go with Xena's plan. I don't want those men to die unless it's absolutely necessary."
The small crowd of warriors mumbled among themselves. Several nodded their heads in agreement.
"Are we all following the plan," Elia asked. She smiled when Mora moved to her side in support of Xena's decision.
"We'll follow," one warrior answered for the group.
"Now that it's settled," Xena said as she checked her weapons, "I'm going in. Nobody is to go down there for any reason at all. You got that?"
Gabrielle blushed when the warrior looked her directly in the eye. "Yeah," she muttered.
"Good." She nodded to the Amazons who had begun to make a camp of their own. "I'll be back as soon as I can." She turned to the bard who was the only one left standing near the ridge. "I promise not to get into trouble," she whispered as she drew the smaller woman into her body.
"You better not. That's my job, remember?"
Xena chuckled before she capture Gabrielle's lips in a long, sensuous kiss. "How could I forget? Saving you was half the fun."
"Just don't make me come down there, Xena," the bard replied in part-jest.
"I won't. Promise you'll stay here?"
"Yes, I promise. Same to you...you'll come back safe, right?"
"I aid flat on her stomach in the tall grass. Pressing her ear against the tent's canvas, she listened as Xenon instructed his men.
"We'll be in Thrace by tomorrow. There is an Amazon village here twenty miles north of Amphipolis. That's where we strike next."
"What about the Amazons that escaped in Macedonia?"
"Oh, they're following us, rest assured. They're on foot, though, so we shouldn't have any problem turning around and defeating them after we take their village."
Xena strained as she heard the army's leaders rolling maps and clasping hands.
"We move at first light," Xenon advised as he shifted on his legs impatiently. "Be ready."
"Yes, sir," two men answered.
Xena relaxed as she listened to a centaur and a man exit the tent. She held her breath when they walked between the tents to enter their own behind the command tent. Once they had extinguished their torches, the warrior began the slow return back to the Amazon camp.
The Amazon sentries sent out the bird call of warning. Someone was approaching the camp. Elia returned a call acknowledging that the warriors were ready. She sighed when she received a call from a different direction. "Xena's returned," she whispered.
Gabrielle rushed past the queen and threw herself towards the warrior that melted from the darkness. "Gods, you were gone forever."
"I thought I told you to get some sleep," Xena chuckled as she returned the bard's embrace.
"That's my fault," Elia said as she pulled the warrior and her wife towards the central fire. "We kept her up telling us stories."
The bard shrugged and blushed. "It's been a while since I had a fresh audience," she explained.
"Well, I guess it's a good think that you're all up, then."
All attention focused solely on the warrior. Kneeling to one knee, Xena pointed to a map that someone had drawn in the dirt. "The sentries are along this perimeter, paced every twenty steps. Xenon's tent is here, in the center. His commanders' are here, behind his. We have to engage tonight."
Gabrielle gasped. "You mean, we have to fight the entire army?"
"It's our best chance. Xenon knows he's being followed but he doesn't know that we are already here. If we strike now, we have a greater chance of taking them by surprise."
"Gabrielle, trust me, if I thought there was a better way...." The warrior sighed as she ran a hand through her hair. "Their camp is too orderly. There isn't even a single soldier snoring down there." Seeing the sadness in the bard's eyes, the warrior compromised. "Look, we won't kill unless we absolutely have to. Everybody understand?"
The Amazons nodded.
"First woman I see killing someone unnecessarily will have to deal with me, got it?" Seeing that the Amazons agreed, the warrior nodded. "Everybody bunk down. We're only getting a couple hours of sleep before we attack. I want this over with before the sun rises."
"Thank you," Gabrielle whispered as Xena joined her on their bedroll.
"Gabrielle, that wasn't a compromise. I don't see any reason why the centaurs should be killed. Right now, they're just blinded by Xenon's success."
"All of them?"
"No, not all of them." The warrior sighed as she considered telling the bard about what she had found scouting the trail earlier. She had come upon a dead centaur with an arrow in his back. The hoof prints all over the site determined that he had been killed by his own kind. With a mental shake of her head, she decided that now was not the time to share that bit of information. It would only make the bard nervous before the battle. "I'm sure there are some who are following him because they're afraid not to."
"Do you think they join us against Xenon when we attack?"
"Perhaps," Xena mumbled as she got comfortable against a fallen tree. "Get some sleep now. I'll wake you when it's time."
The bard nodded against Xena's thigh and fell into an uneasy slumber. In her dreams, she had trouble picturing the baby she had seen after birth as the ruthless centaur who was destroying one village after another.
"I'm awake, I said," the bard mumbled as Xena shook her harder.
"Come on, Gabrielle. You're going to be left behind unless you wake up."
"Is it always this hard," Elia asked with an amused grin.
"With this technique, yes it is," Xena answered as she bent closer to her wife.
The bard stirred when she felt warm lips tease her own. Her arms rose to circle around Xena's neck when the warrior slipped her tongue between them. She groaned as her body came alive. When Xena pulled away, she blinked in confusion. When she saw several Amazons hovering over her bedroll, she blushed and released the warrior.
"That technique, however, works every time," Xena explained with a dry chuckle. Pushing the bard's hair from her face, the warrior smiled gently at her wife. "We're getting ready to move out. Do you want some tea before we go?"
Gabrielle shook her head. "No, I'll be fine after a quick trip to the bushes."
"All right, then, up you go," Xena grunted as she pulled the bard to her feet. She watched with concern as the bard tended to nature's call. "Elia, I want you to assign a couple of warriors to keep an eye on her for me. I'll be able to concentrate on Xenon if I know that she's got someone watching her back."
"It's already done, Xena. Mora and I will fight with her."
"Good. Everyone ready," the warrior called softly. She nodded grimly when several grunts of acknowledgement reached her ears. When Gabrielle returned from the bushes, she walked to stand in the middle of the warriors.
"We need to move in quietly. We'll go in groups of two and three. We'll surround the sentries and take them all out at one time. On the owl's call, understand?"
"Yes," Elia answered.
"Once the sentries are incapacitated, we take the tents one at a time. No one is to be killed unless it you or him. I'll take Xenon's tent." The warrior nodded when she saw that the Amazons were in agreement. "Let's head out."
As they stood at the ridge, Xena gazed down at her wife. "You ready for this," she asked quietly.
"Got your staff?"
"Be careful and...I'll see you after the battle."
"I love you, Xena."
"I love you, too, Gabrielle."
They shared a brief kiss before the bard joined Elia and Mora.
Xena watched as the small groups of Amazons made their way towards the camp. When she was the last one on the ridge, she adjusted her weapons and began her own descent. She kept her target in her line of sight at all times; she was determined to end the battle as soon as possible. She paused half-way down the ridge when she saw that all the Amazons had reached their positions.
The sound of an owl echoed across the plains. Only a few grunts of surprise followed.
Xena nodded in approval before she continued towards Xenon's tent. She was almost there when a cry of alarm rent the early morning quiet. The warrior cursed profusely when the ruckus of men and centaurs erupted from the tents in the middle of the camp. Unsheathing her sword, she prepared herself to meet the centaur leader.
Xenon exited his tent with an inhuman roar. His blond curls had been hastily tied back with a leather thong. "Centaurs, engage the n's chest. "I guess that answers that question," she mumbled.
"They're running," Elia shouted as she signaled the Amazons to hold off any pursuit.
"Xenon fell," Xena said as she stood. She rolled her shoulders after pulling the bard to her feet. "Armies usually aren't much once their leader has fallen."
"Uh, Xena...I think he's coming around," Gabrielle warned as she stepped behind the tall warrior.
The warrior held her sword defensively as she kneeled at the centaur's head. She smacked his cheeks to hurry the process. When Xenon blinked in confusion, she smiled. "It's about time you came to your senses."
"What hit me," he groaned, raising a hand to feel the lump on the back of his head.
"A bard," the warrior replied. "How many fingers am I holding up," she asked.
Xenon squinted and concentrated on the dancing images of Xena's fingers. "I don't know, they won't stop moving," he complained.
"Yep, she tagged you good," Elia said as she inspected her brother's head.
"Elia?" Xenon looked around the battlefield to see Amazons standing over the bodies of centaurs and men. "What are you doing here...and where is here?"
"Is the curse lifted," Gabrielle asked as she, too, examined the centaur's injury.
"Yes, it is, my Chosen."
The bard gasped when Artemis materialized on the battlefield. "I'll have to remember that move. It seems to work on those affected by Ares."
Remembering another time in another place, the bard blushed. "She wasn't cursed at the time."
Artemis shrugged. "Does it matter? Xenon is free from Ares' influence."
"What now, my goddess," Elia asked as she bowed before her patron deity.
"Now, my daughter, you go home. Rebuild if you can. Know that I will be watching over you."
"And that you have friends if you ever need help," Gabrielle added as she took Xena's hand in her own.
Xenon interrupted the women's conversation when he cleared his throat. "Could someone please help me to my hooves? I must be laying on a thousand rocks."
Elia chuckled as she grabbed one arm; Mora took the other. Xena took up the challenge of the centaur's hind quarters.
"Xenon, geez, you grew since the last I saw you," the warrior grunted as she pushed him to his feet.
Elia hovered near her brother as he swayed unsteadily. "Are you going to be all right?"
"I feel like I was run over by a chariot," he mumbled in response. When his vision cleared, his brow furrowed in sorrow. "Elia, what happened here? Why are my people laying all over this field?"
The Amazon took her brother's hand. "It's a long story, brother. Let me get you home, and I'll tell you along the way."
"I get the feeling I'm not going to like it," he predicted.
"None of this was your fault, Xenon. Just remember that." She hugged his arm close and kissed his shoulder. "Remember, also, that I love you."
The centaur smiled softly at his sister and ruffled her hair. "Be gentle with me."
The Amazon Queen turned to her mentor and the former queen. "Would you two like to join us?"
Gabrielle shook her head and declined. "I think Xena and I need to keep moving. There are some things on this side you just can't find in the Underworld." She glanced up to the warrior and smiled softly. "We'll visit, soon, though. We promise."
Elia nodded and gathered Mora to her side. "Thank you. You've saved the Nation...again."
Xena waved farewell as the queen and her consort led the centaur leader from the field.
"Will they be all right," Xena asked the goddess who watched the siblings leave.
"Zeus has been advised of Ares' meddling. They will have the time they need to heal the damage between their nations." The goddess smiled at the two women who remained on the battlefield. "What of you two? You've won a second chance at life. What will you do?"
Xena shrugged and glance at her wife. "The same as usual."
"Yep," the bard agreed. "Just another day in the life."
Artemis chuckled. "Well, I must be going. I want to thank you for your help. I owe you a debt."
"I don't think so," Xena replied dryly.
"Xena," Gabrielle urged quietly, "we might need to call it in some day."
The warrior sighed as she faced the goddess. "We'll keep it in mind," she muttered.
Artemis nodded with a smile.
Xena and Gabrielle stared at the spot where she had stood after she disappeared. They turned in unison and studied the abandoned camp; many bodies still littered the field.
"What about them," Gabrielle asked with concern.
The warrior shrugged. "They'll wake up, eventually." She kissed the bard's head and lingered to inhale the heady scent of her hair. "Tell me something, Gabrielle," she said as she guided the younger woman towards the ridge where they had left Argo.
"What's here that we couldn't get on the Other Side?"
The bard chuckled and squeezed the warrior. "My dear wife, adventure, of course. The eternal struggle between good and evil."
"You haven't change at all, have you?"
Gabrielle shrugged as she leaned her head against Xena's shoulder. "Well, I'm a married woman, now. Does that count?"
"Oh, most definitely," Xena replied as she gathered the bard into her arms.
The bard squealed in surprise when her feet left the ground. "You aren't really going to carry me the whole way back to camp, are you?"
"Oh, yeah," Xena replied with a satisfied smirk. "I haven't been this young in years."
"Lotsa energy, huh?"
"Wanna find out?"
"We'd go faster if you'd let me run on my own two feet...ah, Xena!" Gabrielle clung to the warrior as if her life depended upon it, even though Xena's arms were strong as they cradled her.
Xena was panting slightly by the time they crested the ridge.
"So much for youth," the bard teased.
The warrior grinned mischievously. "Just wait until I get my second wind, bard."
Hours later, Gabrielle was wrapped in her wife's arms. She smiled drowsily as she watched the flames of their fire burn low. "Xena?"
"I guess it's back to life tomorrow, huh? A hero and her sidekick, righting the world's wrongs?"
"No, Gabrielle. You aren't a sidekick anymore," Xena whispered as she tightened her hold. "You are my partner and my wife. That's how we will greet the world tomorrow."
"A warrior and her wife," the bard whispered, liking the sound of it. "You know," she continued in a serious tone, "Ares won't be happy with us."
"So what's new. He was never happy with US," she said with emphasis. "You were the one thing that always pulled me away from him. He resents that." She shrugged with indifference. "It's nothing we haven't faced before."
"We'll be careful, though, right?"
Xena snorted in amusement. "I thought you were the impetuous one, here."
"I still am in some ways," she responded as she turned in her wife's arms. "For instance...."
"Gabrielle!" Xena gasped when her wife began fondling parts the warrior had thought well-used. A fire surged in her loins and she groaned when the bard's caress became slick.
"Where do you get all your...oh, gods...energy?"
"An advantage of youth," the bard chuckled as she kissed the warrior's breast. "Shall I show you some more?"
Xena inhaled a ragged breath as her hips began to keep time with the bard's busy fingers. "Sweetheart, you can show me for the rest of our lives."
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