Disclaimer: The characters all belong to Renaissance Pictures, MCA/Universal Pictures and Xena Warrior

Princess. No copyright infringement is intended. There is absolutely no profit for me in this - I’m just having a good time. Any characters mentioned that are not in the syndicated television show are of my own creation, as is the story line. If you wish to borrow any of them, please let me know.

Content Warning: This story contains references and descriptions of intimate activity – we are in maintext folks. If you do not wish to read about this type of relationship or are under 18, please feel free to go elsewhere. There are plenty of wonderful and fascinating stories in the General Fiction category.

Violence: None. There is reference to abuse, however, nothing graphic.

Hurt/Comfort: Part of the healing process – there is a lot in here.

Spoiler Warning: Warrior/Bard fans should recognize references to various episodes.

NOTE: This story is the follow up/sequel to The Mist of Pieria. There are references to this fan fiction and you might enjoy this story more, if you read the first one.

I welcome comments and can be reached at annmaray@yahoo.com

A Journey of Love and Home

By Annmaray

June 1999

CHAPTER 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Nope."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Close your eyes, sweetie. Try and get some sleep."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stopping two arm lengths away Shulaba crossed her arms to indicate her irritation. "For the past three days you women have shown disrespect to this nation with your demands for a guarantee and each day you refuse to accept my answer." The Queen boldly took two steps forward closing the distance speaking harshly, "My answer is no different today than yesterday."

Turning to walk away, Shulaba did not wait for the leader to respond. "This meeting is over Amazon!"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Xena chuckled a little and followed it with a yawn.

"Tired my Warrior?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Yesss…can I help you?"

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

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

"Oh….sss..sorry madam."

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

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

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

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

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

"WHAT – 100 dinars!"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"WHAT NOW !!!"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maris stepped closer to Stella, "Gabrielle has a sister – Lilo, Lina or ……"

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

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

"Why is Lila important, Maris?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Gabrielle, are you ignoring me?"

"Uh, no, just thinking. I’m sorry."

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

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

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

With accurate precision and speed of which the Warrior was famous for Gabrielle found herself flat on her back with her arms stretched over her head, held by only one of Xena’s hands. *How does she move so fast….* The Bard started to wiggle and yell, "XENA, let me go…what are you doing." Xena’s intentions were not to kiss Gabrielle, but suddenly she considered the squirming voluptuous body below her. The Warrior was instantly aroused and lowered her lips to her lover’s. Gabrielle’s first thought was to fight the kiss but as soon as she felt the warm breath and the tender weight of the Warrior’s lips pressing on hers, the Bard relaxed and surrendered to her lover. Xena released her grip on Gabrielle’s hands so she could lean her weight on one elbow and wrap her other hand affectionately around her soulmate’s neck. She could feel the Bard bring her arms up and dig them deeply into her hair. The lover’s deepened the kiss passionately and then without warning the kiss changed. Gabrielle let a low whimper slip through her lips and abruptly took control of the kiss with desperation. Concern caused the Warrior to pull her lips away. Looking directly into Gabrielle green eyes the same eyes that always captivated Xena; the Warrior saw an indescribable fear. One she did not recognize.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Something about Gabrielle’s words bothered Xena. *What is really going on Gabrielle?* The Warrior tenderly lifted Gabrielle’s chin in hopes that the expressions on her face might reveal what was really bothering her Bard. Xena mused about how she loved touching, kissing and just watching Gabrielle’s face. Holding her chin the Warrior let her thumb slip to the Bard’s always tempting lips. Slowly she let her thumb glide over the velvety soft lips, memorizing the texture. *Mmmm, this must be what it is like to float on a cloud.* Gazing into Gabrielle’s green eyes that changed hue depending on her mood. The Warrior remembered the deep glazed-over green, when Gabrielle was surrendering her body to the Warrior. She has seen the emerald green reflecting excitement or challenge and the deep sea green hue of playfulness. When Gabrielle was hurt, in pain or confused her eyes would turn cloudy, as the green mixed with tears. Smiling internally Xena was also familiar with the green-eyed monster that would possess her lover when she was jealous. Xena also knew the relaxing, calm meditative green glow in Gabrielle’s eyes when she was at peace, happy and contended. There were so many hues and personalities to those captivating eyes and Xena loved everyone one of them. At this moment, however, the only message Gabrielle’s eyes conveyed were peaceful love for the Warrior. *You my love are getting better at masking your emotions. In the short time I just spent dreaming of you – you managed to regroup. Who is the warrior – me or you.*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"YOU DID WHAT !"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Mmmm…reminds me of…."

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

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

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

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

"Mmpf….I’ll give her a crush!"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Xena’s attention was lost in the sharpening of her sword until out of the corner of her eye she caught pure seduction crawling towards her like a wild uncontrollable animal. Chills ran up Xena’s body as this wild creature undressed her with shimmering dangerous emerald gems for eyes. Xena stopped sharpening the sword and watched this hungry woman crawling directly to her - licking her lips wetting them in preparation for attack. The Warrior could feel the heat rising in her and the wetness of her passion coating her thighs. She was trapped under this bewitching woman’s spell and knew this was a battle worth losing. Gabrielle was kneeling in front of Xena much quicker than the Warrior could react too. Taking Xena’s sword and whetstone, Gabrielle dropped the stone and gingerly held the sword upright sliding the grip between her thighs. While still on her knees she lifted herself slightly and started slowly and sensually grinding her mound against the ribbed handle. At the same time, with the tip of her tongue she licked the flat part of the polished blade carnally. Xena’s eyebrows raised *oh gods, Gabrielle you have way too much knowledge in seduction.* The Warrior could not help the deep-throated moan that slipped, as she witnessed her lover play an inviting game. Pleased with the response; the sword was placed to the side and Gabrielle ran her fingers teasingly up Xena’s thigh’s stopping just short of her destination eliciting a groan from her lover. Dragging her nails lightly down the powerful thighs on the dark-hair woman the Bard removed each of Xena’s boots. Xena was already working on the belt of her tunic.

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

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

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

"Oh gods…yes..all …yours."

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

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

"My Bard, you are so – so very dangerous." The Warrior was beginning to reclaim her breath. "Come here."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Yes you old dumb warrior – it’s me. Didn’t think you’d get rid of me that easy."

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

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

"Ephiny, why aren’t you in……"

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

"Okay – but Shulaba ordered me to trail…."

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

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

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

CHAPTER 2

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

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

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

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

"Are you sure…I…."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"I know you do, dear."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Without thought Xena spoke, "I refuse to remain helpless!"

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

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

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

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

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

One candle was still burning when Xena entered the bedroom. She could see Gabrielle’s figure lying in bed facing the wall. Quietly the Warrior removed her tunic noticing that Gabrielle had left her some cool clean water, some soap and a towel. *My Bard, you still think of doing the little things for me…even now.* Xena knew Gabrielle was probably trying to stay in a routine to help keep control over her emotions. When she was done washing, the Warrior slipped on a short nightgown. Her mother always left little things in the room for the women in case they should ever visit. Blowing out the candle the Warrior slipped under the blanket. She was careful not to touch Gabrielle right away. Unsure about what her Bard’s needs would be at this point Xena did not want to scare her. A small part of Xena’s heart dreaded that her Bard might not want to be touched. The Warrior listened for the pattern of Gabrielle’s breathing to determine if she was asleep or awake. All of a sudden Gabrielle rolled over moving closer to Xena. She whispered, "Hold me…please. Don’t let go, just hold me." That was a request Xena had no trouble with and had actually hoped for. Pulling her in tightly the Warrior kissed Gabrielle many times on the top of her head. "I love you, Gabrielle. I promise I will never let go."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"No, not really. Sorry if I woke you."

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

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

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

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

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

"Mom, I will be okay, as soon as Gabrielle is okay."

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

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

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

"Bruises? Mom what are you talking about?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In unison both mother and daughter questioned. "SHOPPING?"

Totally na´ve Lila added, "Yea, she grabbed her staff and said something about steel and leather."

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

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

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

"Eponin? What’s going on….."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"ARE YOU CRAZY SHE JUST TRIED TO KILL ME."

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

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

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

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

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

"I thought I told you…."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Her voice was low – almost a whisper, it was soft and concerning and the Warrior understood her soulmates sorrow. From behind the Warrior moved closer until she was only a breath away and paused momentarily hoping Gabrielle would not push her away. Slowly she wrapped her arms around her soulmate pulling her out of the yoga position until she rested completely and securely within her grasp. At first the Bard’s body stiffened but she did not reject the affection Xena was offering. Not sure whether to be serious or add some humor the Warrior decided to try both. Nuzzling into Gabrielle’s hair and tempting close to her earlobe the Warrior whispered tenderly. "You are not going to get out of our marriage that easy." Physically feeling Gabrielle relax she continued. "First – you did not ruin my reunion with mom and you did not embarrass me. You are everything I desire Gabrielle and I don’t know how I would have reacted, if the situation were reversed. I know when Lyceus died I turned to hate. Thank the gods that you have not. I know it will not be easy for you to heal the pain your father has caused or the death of your mother but I will ALWAYS be here for you. Please…please don’t lock me out. I love you and we need to go through this together." They sat without conversation under the stars.

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

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

"No, I’ve not been hungry."

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

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

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

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Gabrielle slept on and off the rest of the night. For the most part she had not been sleeping soundly or peacefully since hearing of her mother’s death. Adding to her anxiety was Lila going on and on about their father. The Bard understood that Lila needed to talk - the problem came when Lila explained that after Gabrielle left Poteidaia their father started beating their mother, as a replacement for Gabrielle. The tender emotional Bard began to blame herself for her mother’s suffering. And young na´ve Lila, did not have enough experience in life to include Gabrielle in her mourning. Instead she would talk and relive the events without stopping long enough to realize her sister also needed support. So every time Gabrielle was near Lila all of her sister’s words would haunt the Bard…..and the guilt was becoming overwhelming. A small murmur came from her sleeping Warrior pulling Gabrielle from her musings. She did not want to wake Xena. In her emotional needs she was drawn to Xena and could not stop herself from running her fingers casually through the long silky raven hair. Last night after agreeing with Xena to eat, the Bard found food did not really have any taste to it and only consumed an apple. The Warrior made no further demands and when they came to bed, Xena just held her giving her several kisses on the top of the head until she fell asleep. It was not much longer after that, when Gabrielle woke to find their positions reversed. Xena needed to be held. Drifting on and off between the dreamworld and life Gabrielle never moved and instead increased her hold securely around her soulmate. Unrealistically believing she had caused further pain to Xena and had neglected the Warriors needs, Gabrielle began scolding herself and withdrew emotionally without realizing what she was doing. Tragedy does strange things to people.

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

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

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

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

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

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

As the women continued toward the bathhouse Gabrielle slyly offered her hand to Xena. "I have to thank your mom for taking Lila in." Pleased that Gabrielle reached out to hold her hand the Warrior squeezed it tightly and thought. *Hang in there Gabrielle we can get through this together.*

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Continued...part 2 (conclusion)


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