Disclaimer: The characters Xena and Gabrielle are property of Universal MCA. This story was not meant to infringe on any copyrights. This is a love story between women. It contains adult themes, nudity and violence (some heads get banged around a little, some unfortunate souls who were dumb enough to go up against Xena and Gabrielle get what they deserve, and a battle is included).
This is my second story, comments are welcome.
If you are under the age of 18 go no further, this story was not meant for you.
Synopsis: Xena and Gabrielle discover the lost scrolls and inadvertently release the spirit of a fierce Amazon warrior.
The Lost Scrolls of the Amazons
By Allyson Heisey
Gabrielle and Xena walked through the forest just outside the boundary of the Amazons. They wove through the tangle of forest and mountain rock that rose into the late summer sunlight. The foliage was lush and green, the birds sang, and squirrels darted across their path flicking their tails in play. The suns rays filtered down through the trees which warmed the soft earth and gave the air a fresh earthly scent.
Gabrielle walked beside Xena with her buff colored mare, Argo, in tow. Xena held the reins loosely in her hand. Pine needles and fallen leaves crunched underfoot as they walked. Gabrielle glanced over at the Warrior Princess and her thoughts wandered to the time when she decided to accompany the legendary warrior. She had heard stories about her then, but never dreamed that she would actually witness Xena's legendary fighting skills with her own eyes. When she first saw Xena fight in combat she was excited and fascinated. Since that time Gabrielle has seen the Warrior Princess release the dark fury that lurked beneath the surface on many occasions. But there was also another side of Xena that was just as passionate. It was a side of Xena that only Gabrielle was allowed to see. The side that exposed her intense loyalty and her capacity for love. Gabrielle's discovery of Xena's love for her after these few years together still astonished her.
When Gabrielle shook herself out of her silent musings she spotted a group of colorful wild flowers over on the other side of the path. Smiling, Gabrielle moved off the path towards them intending to admire their beauty. Xena grinned as she watched Gabrielle make a beeline for them. Just as Gabrielle was within reach of the flowers the ground gave way beneath her. With a sickening feeling Gabrielle fell, her heart pounded in her chest from the sensation. Her staff came to rest, flattened across the opening above. Gabrielle dangled precariously with one hand firmly grasping her staff. She reached up with her other hand and grasped the other end. Her breath came in ragged gasps as she looked down into the darkness below then back up to the opening above.
"Gabrielle!" Xena called out in alarm as she dropped Argo's reins. Xena ran quickly to where Gabrielle had disappeared.
Xena knelt down at the opening and met Gabrielle's wide eyes. Xena's hands quickly grasped Gabrielle's wrists and pulled her up and over the lip of whatever she had fallen through. Back on solid ground Gabrielle rearranged her top, took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. She looked up to see Xena raise an eyebrow in amusement. Gabrielle smirked at her.
"Gabrielle, are you all right?" Xena placed her hands on the young woman's shoulders and looked into her face with concern.
Gabrielle snorted. "Couldn't be better."
They both turned and looked down at what Gabrielle had almost fallen through. Xena knelt back down at the opening and brushed away the foliage revealing the remains of a trap door. Xena grasped the iron loop and pulled, only to have it give way in her hand. Gabrielle leaned on her staff behind Xena and watched as Xena stretched her lean form down on the ground to peer down into the dark cavity. Gabrielle smiled and chuckled at the sight of Xena's wriggling derriere. Xena turned her head to look at her and when she realized what Gabrielle was laughing at she rolled her eyes and shook her head.
"There are steps leading down." Xena got up and brushed the dirt from her hands and thighs.
"Well, we could continue on to Macower where we could get some torches and then come back and investigate." Gabrielle offered and drummed her fingers on her chin.
"My thoughts exactly, it's not far. We're going to find out what's down there." Xena replied as she turned and walked towards Argo.
"Curious now aren't we?" Mumbled Gabrielle to herself.
"Yes." Xena replied over her shoulder.
Gabrielle snorted to Xena's back.
They went on to Macower and when they entered the small town Xena looked over at Gabrielle and smiled. "Are you hungry?"
As if on cue her stomach growled. As Gabrielle grimaced Xena chuckled. "I take it that means a yes. Come on, let's go get dinner." She led the way over to small building that had two clinking mugs on its sign overhead.
Gabrielle followed Xena into the small tavern which was almost packed with a dinner crowd, their voices were loud and boisterous. Candles and a brightly lit candelabra that was suspended from the ceiling gave the tavern a cheerful and warm glow. Gabrielle dodged a few groping hands and ignored leering patrons as Xena moved farther and farther ahead of her.
"Hey!" Gabrielle shouted angrily and her eyes flashed as she spun to look at the man who had grasped her bottom from under her skirt.
"Ooh, better watch out Boris, that pretty little redhead's a little feisty." One grizzly man said as he laughed.
Hearing Gabrielle's exclamation, she knew someone went too far since the bard generally ignored the hands and comments from tavern patrons or artfully steered around them. Xena narrowed her eyes when she made her way back to where Gabrielle had stopped.
Out of the corner of her eye Gabrielle saw Xena turn back and approach the two men quickly. Her lips were pressed together in a grim line and her eyes glittered in warning.
"Boys, that feisty little redhead happens to be MINE." Xena said quietly, her eyes widened to emphasize the last word, and her hard gaze drilled through them.
Almost abruptly the conversation in the tavern ceased as heads turned in her direction.
When the men continued their bantering, Xena's hands shot out, grasped both of the men by the hair on their heads, and slammed their heads forward on the table. Their heads bounced once then rolled back to rest.
Gabrielle looked from Xena to the unconscious men, and chewed on the corner of her bottom lip momentarily feeling a brief flash of pity for them.
"All right golden fleece, move it!"
Taking Gabrielle's arm, Xena shoved Gabrielle in front of her and steered her to an empty table in the back row.
"Huh? Golden fleece? Oh! That's funny Xena, very funny!" Gabrielle said as she turned to Xena with raised eyebrows and a hand on her hip.
"Keep moving Gabrielle." Xena turned Gabrielle back around and gave her another not to gentle shove towards the table.
Shortly after the barkeep set down their dinner the two men that Xena had rendered unconscious glared at Xena as they staggered out of the tavern. When Xena turned slightly to watch them exit, Gabrielle scooped a large portion of Xena's uneaten stew into her bowl. When Xena turned back she glanced back down at her bowl. She gave Gabrielle a sideways glance through narrowed eyes which Gabrielle pointedly ignored as she continued eating.
"Here Gabrielle, you might as well have the rest of it." She slid the bowl in Gabrielle's direction.
"Why thank you." Gabrielle said sweetly.
"Don't mention it." Xena said with mock sarcasm.
The barkeep returned to their table and set down another mug of port in front of Xena.
"Anything else?" He inquired as he wiped his hands on his apron.
"Um, could you bring back some more bread and butter? Oh, and some of that soft cheese too. It was really good." Gabrielle asked around a mouthful of stew.
"Uh, huh. Anything else?" He asked again and looked at her with a curious expression.
"Um, no, I think that'll do." She replied casually as she spooned another portion of stew.
Xena chuckled softly into her mug of port.
After they ate their meal they walked on over to the trading post where they purchased torches and other supplies. When they were putting their supplies into the packs on Argo, the two men from the tavern and their comrades approached Gabrielle and Xena. They calmly unsheathed their swords and wicked grins appeared on their faces.
"Xena, how did we attract these idiots?" Gabrielle said with exasperation. She looked over at Xena as she leveled her staff and took her fighting stance.
Xena looked back at Gabrielle, lifted her hand with her thumb and index finger close together and said humorously, "I think I made them just...a little mad." She grinned with a devilish gleam in her eyes and turned back to the men. She unsheathed her sword and said gleefully, "All right boys, lets play!"
When one man lunged to grab Gabrielle, she swung her staff with a crack to his jaw that spun him around and sent him face down in the dirt. She pivoted, crouched and swung the staff across her back and knocked the legs out from under the next one. He crashed down on his back. The wind was knocked out of him as she brought the staff whistling down onto his chest.
Xena delivered a round house kick across the faces of two men which sent them sprawling. She flipped up into the air over another pair and cried out "AY-YI-YI-YI!" as she landed behind them. When they spun around to face her she jumped and kicked out, the heels of her feet connecting solidly with their faces. They flew backwards and crashed into the wall. They slid down the wall with their chins resting on their chests.
Gabrielle ran her hand through her red-gold hair, looked around at the men sprawled out on the ground and sighed with relief that it was over.
"Come on Gabrielle, it will be dark soon." Xena said as she sheathed her sword.
"Show's over. Go home." Xena said to the crowd that had gathered. When Gabrielle and Xena turned and walked towards Argo the small crowd slowly dispersed.
Xena mounted Argo, wrapped the strap of her scabbard around the saddle horn and extended her arm down to Gabrielle. Gabrielle smiled up at Xena and grasped the proffered arm. Settling down behind Xena, Gabrielle wrapped her arm around Xena's waist. She laid her head on Xena's back. The long silky raven hair brushed her face. Argo nickered and Xena spurred the horse into a comfortable cantor back into the forest.
When they approached the trapdoor Xena knelt down and brushed away more of the foliage. She pulled away the rotted planks and tossed them aside. When they peered down in to the darkness they could see the dim outline of stone steps. With lit torches in hand they descended.
They stood at the bottom of the steps and looked down a corridor that stretched out before them. The shadows flickered around the light of their torches and bounced across the stone walls. Xena and Gabrielle moved forward cautiously. They lit torches that were affixed to the walls as they moved along. They stopped near a shadowed doorway on one side. Xena cautiously peered around the corner, swinging her torch in front of her. She motioned for Gabrielle to follow. They stepped into a small cavern and heard the sound of gurgling water. The light from their torches reflected sparkling winks of light from the walls of the cavern. Gabrielle's breath caught at the beautiful sight. She turned slowly in a circle with a wonder in her eyes. Xena took the torches and set them into the brackets affixed to the wall and then moved around the cavern to light the other two torches. There was a light steam that rose from a natural hot spring that bubbled lightly. Piles of pelts were placed at! intervals over wooden planks that were laid down over the stone floor and simple wooden benches were placed in one corner.
"Hmm, this is nice." Gabrielle murmured and suddenly felt intoxicated by the erotic setting.
Xena turned to Gabrielle and smiled ever so slightly. "I'm going to go up and get our packs. We'll rest here." Xena turned around and went back up the stairs.
The air in the cavern was warm and slightly moist. Gabrielle watched the light mist from the spring curl and rise before it evaporated near the top of the cavern. She padded over to the softly bubbling spring and peered down. In the subdued lighting she could not see how deep the spring was but could see a ledge on the one side. Gabrielle undressed quickly in anticipation and stepped down cautiously onto the ledge. The water was soft and comfortably warm. She sank down to a sitting position and sighed with pleasure. She leaned back and rested her head against the wall reveling in the tranquillity that descended over her.
Her thoughts drifted to the woman warrior she accompanied on their daily travels. She thought about Xena's extreme temperament and about the dark past behind the warrior. How she enjoyed the moments when Xena would open up and express her feelings, or discuss events from her past, which would give Gabrielle a rare glimpse of the woman behind the warrior. A very dark past indeed. A past filled with so much violence and death. When Gabrielle would inquire about it, she was often met by a wall of stony silence. Gabrielle had resigned herself to allowing Xena to expose the dark shadows of her past in her own way. Slowly Gabrielle began to accept Xena's dark side as her understanding of its origins grew.
Xena returned with their packs and set them down on one of the small benches. Gabrielle broke from her silent thoughts and watched as Xena took out several candles and set them into the alcoves on the wall. She lit the candles and a light scent of cinnamon permeated the air. Xena removed her sword and chakram followed by her breastplate and settled them on the bench as well. Gabrielle continued to stare as Xena removed her bracers, sliding them from strong arms. She bent forward and stepped out of her boots, her long raven hair falling forward and obscuring her face. When she stood back up, she looked over at Gabrielle with a slightly sly smile and hooded eyes. She unlaced her tunic and let it fall. Xena glided forward and stepped into the spring. The water swirled when she sank down into the water submerging herself completely.
Gabrielle inhaled deeply when Xena resurfaced. Her blue eyes, now an even more intense blue, looked directly into Gabrielle's. Gabrielle stared back, the result of Xena's teasing was evident in her green eyes. Gabrielle refused to give in the succulent charm. She reached out and took the soap and sponge from Xena's hand. She sponged down Xena's shoulders and arms as Xena stood in front of her. The water droplets glistened on her bare skin.
"You know, I think someone used to live here." Gabrielle traveled along the curve of Xena's shoulders with the sponge.
"Yeah, it looks like it hasn't been occupied for some time." Xena answered, her eyes moved slowly around the room.
"For some reason the story about an Amazon Priestess named Adelle keeps popping into my head. Have you heard of the story?" Gabrielle asked as she squeezed the sponge, and watched as the water cascaded down over Xena's shoulders.
"No." Xena replied. She turned and tilted her head back as Gabrielle lathered the sweet smelling soap into her hair.
"Adelle was the High Priestess of the Amazons over fifty years ago." Gabrielle squeezed the sponge again and then brushed the sponge along Xena's hair to rinse out the soap.
"Hmm." Xena took the soap and moved behind Gabrielle. She lathered Gabrielle's hair, her fingers massaging and soothing to the bard.
"Well, she disappeared." Slowly Gabrielle tilted her head back and closed her eyes.
"Interesting." Xena moved the sponge down Gabrielle's back then up to her shoulders. A light frown appeared on her forehead.
"What I heard from Kilma, the amazon archivist and seer, is that she was writing about the history of the Amazon Nation." Gabrielle let her head fall forward as warm water cascaded over her shoulders.
"Really?" Xena paused with a hint of curiosity in her voice.
"Uh huh, and no one knows where she went or what happened to her writings." Gabrielle mused.
Xena bent Gabrielle's head back into the water and gently sifted her fingers through Gabrielle's hair to rinse out the lather. Gabrielle moved onto Xena's lap and laid back. Gabrielle's head rested on Xena's soft breasts which were floating just above the gurgling water. Xena wrapped her arms around Gabrielle's waist and they languished lazily in the warm water. Their eyes were closed in the companionable silence. Gabrielle felt Xena relax which was something she nearly never did.
Suddenly Xena sat up and pushed Gabrielle from her lap.
"What is it?" Startled, Gabrielle reached for her staff.
"Shh!" Xena whispered.
The faint sound of boots crunching on the stone steps filtered into the room.
Xena soundlessly climbed out of the spring to the bench and slid her sword out of its sheath. She moved stealthily towards the entrance and extended her sword directly in front of her with both hands. As a shadowy figure stepped into the dim light he was met by the tip of Xena's sword pointed at his throat. The startled man's eyes were wide and his arms came up quickly in surrender. As his eyes moved down the length of Xena's sword, his mouth dropped open, and he stared at Xena's nakedness, the water glistening and dripping from her body.
Xena prodded him with the sword and looked at him expectantly.
"I...I...was passing through and...uh...saw this entrance...and thought I would...ah..." he stammered.
"I don't think so." Xena said in warning.
The man glanced over at Gabrielle with her hand resting on her staff and then back to Xena's sword.
"Right." He answered quickly as he backed up and ran back up the stairs.
Xena turned and ran her fingers through her wet hair. She walked back over to the bench and resheathed her sword.
"Do you think he will be back?" Gabrielle asked with concern in her voice.
"I doubt it. He's harmless." Xena replied with a quick shake of her head.
When Gabrielle climbed out of the spring Xena wrapped one of the thick pelts around Gabrielle's wet body. Gabrielle looked up into Xena's face and smiled. She opened the pelt and wrapped it around Xena so it would enclose them both. They stood there for a while letting their body heat warm their wet skin. As Gabrielle rested her head on Xena's soft breast she felt Xena's lips brush across her hair.
"It's getting late, let's get some rest." Xena whispered and pulled back slightly. She lifted Gabrielle up into her arms and carried her over to the pelts She knelt and laid Gabrielle down gently. In doing so the pelt around Gabrielle fell away and Xena's eyes lingered on Gabrielle's nakedness. She brought her gaze up to Gabrielle's open face. Gabrielle looked into Xena's blue eyes, eyes that told her what she did not need to say. As Xena lowered herself over her, Gabrielle wrapped her arms around Xena, and felt her heart beat quicken.
"Comfortable?" Xena brushed Gabrielle's hair from her face and her fingertips brushed lightly along Gabrielle's jaw.
"Mmm hmm." Gabrielle murmured and slid her hands down Xena's back.
"Good." Xena's eyes moved to Gabrielle's mouth as she lowered her face and kissed Gabrielle softly.
Xena pulled back slightly and rested on her forearms and her hands stroked Gabrielle's hair. When she looked into Gabrielle's eyes she sighed and shook her head slightly.
"Xena?" Gabrielle whispered. She placed her palms on either side of Xena's face and gazed into troubled eyes.
Xena tilted her head and said "I don't deserve you."
"What!?" Gabrielle's voice rose in mild shock.
"What did I do to deserve you?" Xena whispered. Her eyes questioning.
"Xena..." Gabrielle's eyes searched Xena's face with concern.
"Gabrielle, do you know what it is like to have your dreams haunted by nameless faces? Faces belonging to those who are dead because of me?" She dropped her forehead onto Gabrielle's chest. Gabrielle wrapped her arms around Xena tightly.
"Xena...you've changed, you're not like that anymore. We both know that you can't change your past, but what's important is your future, our future." Gabrielle shrugged Xena's head back up. "Think about all of the people you have helped, the lives you have saved. That's what matters right now, here, in the present."
"Thank you, Gabrielle." Xena whispered and her eyes glistened with unshed tears. Gabrielle pressed her fingertips against Xena's lips, then cradled Xena's face in her hands. Gabrielle looked deeply into Xena's eyes as she pulled her down and kissed her.
When Gabrielle awoke the next morning, she found herself snuggled securely in Xena's arms. Gabrielle moaned into Xena's hair and heard Xena's throaty chuckle. When Gabrielle's stomach began to grumble she moaned again and pressed further into the comfort of Xena's nakedness, still reluctant to wake fully.
"Sounds like someone's hungry for breakfast." Xena brushed the hair from Gabrielle's eyes.
Gabrielle looked up in to Xena's smiling face and gave her a sly smile.
After they ate breakfast, Gabrielle and Xena began the exploration of the rest of the mysterious cavern. They followed their silhouettes as they ventured further down the wide corridor. They stopped at another closed door off to the side. The door was of solid oak with rusted hinges and carved intricately with runes. Xena glanced at it momentarily then looked over at Gabrielle.
Shaking her head Gabrielle said, "I can't make it out. The writing seems familiar though."
Xena grasped the door handle and shoved it downward. The rusted hinges squealed loudly in protest when Xena pushed the door open. They stepped inside and moved their torches around. They saw several shelves that were filled with scrolls. Gabrielle, her eyes wide, moved towards the shelves and her mouth opened in wonder. Xena walked around the room and ignited the torches affixed to brackets in the walls.
Standing before the shelves, Gabrielle looked down on the scrolls that were layered with dust and yellowed with age. She brought her hand forward apprehensively and chose a scroll, lifting it gently. She held the scroll in her hand and blew off the layer of dust. She unrolled it carefully and began reading the faded but clear writing out loud.
"The time of King Edward was a peaceful time for the Amazon Nation. He was a fair king and treated his subjects with respect. He was also a very intelligent king, many conspiracies were discovered due to his uncanny ability to expose corrupt officials in his court."
"There was one incident where he discovered that his Regent was conspiring to seize Amazon territory. But, unfortunately, the discovery was not made before the Amazon Queen, Kirilla, was killed by a hired assassin."
"The lost scrolls?" Xena queried as she looked down over Gabrielle's shoulder.
Gabrielle continued to read from the scroll as she walked towards a table and sat down.
"Gabrielle, I'm going to go on down the corridor and see if there are any more rooms." Xena spoke over her shoulder and walked through the doorway.
Gabrielle was so engrossed in the scroll that she didn't even notice that Xena had left.
When Xena returned Gabrielle had already started reading from another scroll. "Gabrielle, there is a bedroom at the end of the hall."
Gabrielle heard Xena but didn't answer. Then she felt Xena's hand on her shoulder which brought her back to the present.
"Gabrielle?" Xena said softly.
"Xena, these ARE the missing scrolls!" Gabrielle cried excitedly.
"Gabrielle, you should probably tell Ephiny what we have discovered here. I will stay and...uh...guard the scrolls until you get back." Xena commented wryly. She looked over at the scrolls with a bemused expression on her face.
"Good idea." Gabrielle agreed.
As they made their way back, they stopped at the hot spring where Gabrielle could change into her Amazon garb. Gabrielle removed the Amazon staff head from a pack on the bench and attached it to her staff as they walked back up the steps. They blinked and squinted through the bright sunshine.
"I'll be back shortly." She smiled into Xena's face as her hand rested on Xena's forearm. Gabrielle turned and walked up the path that led to the Amazon village. She knew that she would be recognized and grinned as the bird calls echoed through the forest which signaled her arrival.
"Gabrielle!" Ephiny greeted her enthusiastically as Gabrielle approached the village.
"Ephiny!" Gabrielle smiled and hugged Ephiny tightly. Ephiny pulled back and held Gabrielle at arms length.
"So, how is Xena? Where is she?" Ephiny asked and looked behind Gabrielle with an anxious expression on her face.
Gabrielle reached out, touched her arm and said "Xena's fine. She's um...guarding something important right now." Gabrielle hid a grin.
At Ephiny's confused expression she chuckled. "I have something very important to tell you."
"Really?" Ephiny said curiously.
"Yep. Could you have Kilma meet with us?" Gabrielle said, just barely containing her excitement.
"Sure, come on." Ephiny steered Gabrielle towards her hut.
Once they were inside Ephiny's hut Gabrielle burst out, "I have something exciting to tell you!" she said to Ephiny and Kilma. "Yesterday Xena and I came across an underground dwelling just outside Amazon territory. In this dwelling I believe we may have discovered the lost scrolls of the Amazons." She grinned widely, excitement evident on her face.
Kilma, the amazon archivist and seer, gasped.
Jumping up, Kilma grasped Gabrielle's arms and asked "Where is it?" Her eyes were round with excitement and her voice quavered slightly.
"Wait! Before you go I'm assigning a few of the guards to accompany you!" Ephiny barked as they rushed out.
True to her word Xena guarded the scrolls. And she had unexpected visitors.
"The trail ends here. There! There's the horse!"
"Well, lookey here."
Xena heard them trampling around in the foliage above and was prepared for their approach. She leaned nonchalantly against the corridor wall with her arms crossed as they paraded noisily down the steps.
It was the two men from the tavern and their comrades. Again.
"Hello boys." She said smiling. "My, my, my. You boys sure make enough noise to wake the dead."
The men looked around the cavern anxiously.
"We came for a rematch." The one called Boris called out.
"You boys are really asking for it." Xena shook her head and chuckled.
"Hey, where's the cute feisty redhead?" One asked.
"Oh, she went to visit her Amazon friends. They'll be here soon." Xena answered. She glided from the wall and placed herself in the middle of the corridor.
"Yeah, right." Boris retorted.
Xena unsheathed her sword and said, "Fine. Let's get this over with."
Xena twirled her sword and deflected his stroke in mid air. She delivered a forward kick to his face where her foot met solidly with his chin. This sent him flying back into his comrades who stood behind him. Off balance, they fell backwards one by one like falling dominoes. Their armor and weapons clanked and jangled as they fell into a heap.
Before Boris could rise to his feet, Xena pinned him down with both feet planted on his shoulders. She brought her sword down and rested the tip of the blade under his chin.
"About had enough?" She asked and raised her eyebrows.
He brought his arms up in surrender and said quickly "Yeah, we've had enough."
"Glad to hear that." Xena lowered her sword and moved off to the side. "Now, go home."
The Amazons and Gabrielle were descending the stairs as the men were getting up and gathering their wits. First they stared at Gabrielle's Amazon garb, then to the Amazons behind her and then back at Xena.
"Told ya." Xena grinned with amusement.
The Amazons and Gabrielle moved back against the wall as the men hastily scurried by.
The dark haired amazon, Solari, moved forward.
"Good afternoon Xena." The dark haired woman smiled.
"Good afternoon to you too, Solari." Xena responded and returned the smile.
Gabrielle and Xena then led Kilma to the room where the scrolls were discovered. Kilma stood before the shelves and fingered the scrolls lovingly. She briefly read a few of them.
"Yes! Gabrielle, these are the scrolls written by our Priestess Adelle!" She exclaimed with excitement.
Xena and Solari walked back to the Amazon village while Gabrielle and Kilma spent most of the day examining the scrolls and interrupting each other with exciting discoveries.
"So...up for some practice?" Solari inquired.
"Yeah, I think I'd like that. I don't think I'll be seeing Gabrielle anytime soon. That is, not until dinner."
Solari chuckled and shook her head.
Later that day Gabrielle could no longer ignore the insistent rumblings from her stomach. When they realized it was almost time for dinner, Gabrielle and Kilma walked back to the village. The Royal Guards remained behind to keep watch on the underground dwelling.
The news of the discovery had reached the village and it was bustling with activity when Gabrielle and Kilma arrived.
"There will be a formal ceremony tonight in honor of Priestess Adelle." Ephiny said cheerfully as she greeted them.
"Sounds like fun!" Gabrielle grinned and thought of all the Amazons who would be watching Xena tonight. Gabrielle scanned the village and saw Xena, deep in conversation with Solari. Gabrielle grinned inwardly, observing Xena's tall lean form, her strong shoulders, and her soft full lips.
"Gabrielle?" Ephiny touched her arm lightly.
"Huh?" Gabrielle, distracted, turned to Ephiny.
"Gabrielle, I need your help to negotiate with the council members of Macower. We need for them to allow us to include Adelle's dwelling as part of our territory." Ephiny linked her arm in Gabrielle's as they walked to Ephiny's hut.
"O.K. I'll write up a request for a meeting." Gabrielle tilted her head thoughtfully. "I think it would be a nice touch if we all met at the underground dwelling." Gabrielle sat down at Ephiny's desk, wrote the note to the city council, sealed it and dispatched a messenger to Macower to deliver the request.
"We will probably need to negotiate a settlement in exchange, since the land belongs to them. What can we give them?" Gabrielle asked and looked up at Ephiny.
"Well, we can give them one-hundred horses at the most." She answered as she rested her chin in the palm of her hand.
Gabrielle grinned and her eyes sparkled. "Let's see who barters best. We'll get that land!"
After meeting with Ephiny, Gabrielle walked to the visitors hut and paused just inside the door. A fire was lit in the fireplace and the sunken tub was filled with bath water. Gabrielle looked up at the Amazon mask that was mounted on the wall.
"Gabrielle." A rich, smooth voice spoke from behind her.
Gabrielle jumped, spun around and brought her staff forward instantly. She felt the staff stop suddenly in mid-strike. Xena had grasped the butt end of Gabrielle's staff, and was smiling down at her, her eyebrows raised in amusement.
"Nice reflexes. You're improving." Xena said, her voice was almost a purr.
A sweet feeling of pride rippled through Gabrielle at Xena's praise. When Xena stepped around from behind Gabrielle, a slow, sly grin appeared on her face. Gabrielle looked at Xena with suspicion and wondered what she was up to. After Gabrielle leaned her staff on the wall just inside the door her mouth dropped open in surprise. Xena approached and assumed the role of the Queens Consort by unlacing Gabrielle's amazon tunic. Xena removed Gabrielle's tunic, bracers, and boots. She then turned Gabrielle around and gave her a gentle shove towards the tub. Gabrielle stepped into the tub and sank down gratefully into the warm water. Gabrielle reached over for the wine jug and filled the two cups that were sitting on the ledge. As Gabrielle brought the wine to her lips she watched as Xena removed her armor and tunic. Xena glided gracefully to the tub. When Xena sat down Gabrielle handed her a cup of wine. Gabrielle moved across Xena, straddled her legs, sat down on her lap and put he! r arms around Xena's neck. Xena set her wine down and cupped Gabrielle's face in her hands. Gabrielle looked into sparkling blue eyes that displayed hidden emotions swimming in their depths. Outside the drums began their rhythmic beat to the staccato of beat sticks. Their thrumming pulsated through the sounds of the forest. The accompaniment of the staccato sticks beat through the air. Xena pulled Gabrielle's face to hers. As they kissed, Gabrielle's hands moved across Xena's wide shoulders and then down her powerful arms.
When they parted Xena sighed, "You are so beautiful." Gabrielle blushed slightly, snorted and looked away shyly.
"I love it when you do that." Xena smiled and her eyes twinkled.
"When I do what?" Gabrielle said puzzled.
Xena laughed and wrapped her arms around Gabrielle. She slid from the ledge and dunked both of them under the water. Sputtering, Gabrielle splashed at her. Xena laughed again and put her hands up defensively to ward off the water. Gabrielle was happy to see this side of Xena, carefree, happy, and playful. It was in times like this that Gabrielle felt the closeness, the intimacy, and saw the woman behind the warrior. Warmth spread through Gabrielle as she gazed at the beautiful woman without her warrior mask.
A knock sounded at the door. "Enter!" Gabrielle called out and quickly became serious.
The door opened and an amazon sentry poked her head in. "We are almost ready, my Queen." She bowed and left closing the door behind her.
Naked, Xena dressed Gabrielle in her ceremonial Amazon garb. Gabrielle trembled when Xena's fingers grazed Gabrielle's skin while lacing the amazon tunic. Xena brought the amazon necklace over Gabrielle's head, clasped it and let her hands move across Gabrielle's shoulders and stroked her hair. Padding barefoot over to the wall she brought down the Amazon mask that indicated Gabrielle's status as Queen of the Amazons. Gabrielle took it from Xena's hands and fitted it over her face as Xena handed her the staff.
Gabrielle watched as Xena dressed, not in her armor and leather, but in her Amazon garb befitting her status as the Queen's Consort and Champion. Xena walked over to the door and bowed her head slightly as she opened it. As Gabrielle stepped out from the hut the drums slowly ceased to beat and the Amazons knelt. Gabrielle walked up to the platform where Ephiny was waiting. She took her place in front Ephiny and thunked her staff on the platform soon after Xena walked behind her and stood across from Ephiny.
Ephiny's voice broke the silence. "We are gathered here tonight to celebrate the discovery of Priestess Adelle's scrolls which most of you already know were found by our Queen Gabrielle and her Consort."
The dancers came forward and began the ritual dance. They moved rhythmically to the slow beat of the drums and swayed in unison. At the end of the dance the dancers knelt, their heads touched the ground, and their arms were stretched out in front of them toward the platform on which their Queen stood.
Gabrielle removed her Amazon mask and shouted "Let the festivities begin!" A cheer went up, food was brought out and the music began again.
Gabrielle sat down at the table and watched as Xena brought back the food. She handed Gabrielle a plate that had the largest portion and grinned. When she had eaten her fill, Gabrielle joined Ephiny and the other dancing Amazons. Xena remained at the table where she drank her port and conversed with Solari. Every now and then Xena would look up and watch as Gabrielle danced. Each time she did this Gabrielle would smile inwardly. She saw the gleam in Xena's eyes. She saw Xena swallow with some effort. Gabrielle also noticed that the Amazons were staring openly at Xena. Xena pretended to be oblivious to their looks, but Gabrielle knew otherwise.
After the ceremony Gabrielle and Xena walked back to the underground dwelling hand in hand. They passed the Royal Guards that were dispersed along the path holding lit torches. The flickering light cast an orange glow about them in the dark night. When they approached the underground dwelling the two Royal Guards at the entrance bowed. Gabrielle and Xena descended the stairs and walked down the corridor to the bedroom.
A fire burned in the hearth and bathed the room with its warm glow. Xena's armor and leather tunic were laid out on a chair as well as Gabrielle's traditional amazon garb.
Xena stood before Gabrielle and leaned forward. Their lips met. They sank down onto the soft pelts, enfolded in each others arms. Heady with wine, Gabrielle giggled.
"You looked like you were having a good time." Xena's face broke out in a sly grin.
"Mmm hmm," was Gabrielle's mumbled reply as she hugged Xena. "You had quite a few admirers tonight." Gabrielle grinned impishly.
"Really? I hadn't noticed." Xena replied casually.
"Hmph! Right." Gabrielle playfully backhanded Xena on the stomach.
The next morning Gabrielle met with Kilma and they were trying to decipher a scroll in which the ink had faded and was nearly unreadable. Gabrielle looked up as Xena entered the room. She broke off at mid-sentence in her conversation with Kilma and stared at Xena. Xena leaned against the wall, crossed her arms, and smiled coyly. Kilma's eyes darted between the two of them and she suppressed a grin. Kilma gathered up the scrolls that she was reading and placed them back on the shelves.
"I'm going back to the village to get lunch." Kilma said a bemused expression on her face. She smiled at Xena as she walked out of the room.
Xena uncrossed her arms closed the door without moving from the wall. Gabrielle raised an eyebrow in amusement. Xena approached Gabrielle with twinkling eyes and a lopsided grin. Gabrielle got up and walked backwards around the table trying to keep some distance between them.
"Xena, what are you doing?" Gabrielle raised an arm to try to keep Xena back.
"We need to talk about this meeting with the Macower City Council." Suddenly Xena had Gabrielle pinned against the table. Xena leaned forward on her arms which were on either side of Gabrielle's shoulders. She moved between Gabrielle's legs and leaned down further. Gabrielle raised her eyebrows in surprise when Xena placed her hands under Gabrielle's hips and pulled her forward. Xena leaned forward even more and pushed Gabrielle down onto her back.
Gabrielle smirked and said in mock annoyance "Enjoying this aren't you?"
The door creaked open and the messenger that Gabrielle dispatched earlier to Macower entered. Gabrielle and Xena's heads swung around to look at her.
"Um...I'll come back in a candlemark." The amazon grinned and closed the door.
Gabrielle and Xena looked at each other and laughed.
Ephiny, Gabrielle, and Kilma sat at the table in the room of scrolls waiting for the city council members from Macower to arrive. When the door creaked and opened, Xena stepped through. She was followed by three men and a woman. Gabrielle was absently rubbing the table with the palm of her hand. Gabrielle looked up at Xena and she could see that Xena was definitely in her warrior mode. Her face was stoic and there was a trace of the darkness behind her mask. Sometimes that look still frightened her, but Gabrielle has come to understand the unnatural power that emanated from the warrior. She no longer cringed from Xena's harsh words or from the hard and comfortless eyes. Gabrielle had grown into a woman who could stand up against the warrior's glowering and unbridled temperament.
A slight smile tugged at the corners of Xena's mouth briefly when she saw Gabrielle caress the polished surface of the oak table.
As the city council approached, four of the Royal Guards moved around from behind them and stood behind Ephiny, Gabrielle, and Kilma. Xena remained standing by the door, tall, proud, and of course just a bit intimidating.
"I am Queen Gabrielle." Gabrielle said and nodded slightly to the visitors. She looked over to Ephiny on her right and said "This is Ephiny, who is the Queen Regent." Then she looked over to her left "And this is Kilma, the archivist and seer."
The tall man in the center spoke "I am Cherov, head of the council." He smiled and bowed his head. He looked to the man on his right who was scowling. "This is Zabuto." He glanced to his left at a portly man who inclined his head "This is Demant." He then Leaned forward to look at the young woman at the end "And this is Amia." who smiled and bowed her head also.
"Let's be seated." Gabrielle said and she smiled warmly as she spread her arms to indicate their seats.
After the fruit and wine was brought out, Gabrielle placed her hands on the table and said "The reason why I have requested this meeting is because we have discovered this underground dwelling which belonged to an Amazon ancestor. This dwelling is on your land. We would like to acquire this land from you and we are willing to discuss any issues that you may have." She said and looked at each of them in turn.
"Why should we let you have this land?" Zabuto hissed, his eyes narrowed and he leaned forward.
Gabrielle raised an eyebrow.
"Zabuto! We have already discussed this!" Cherov looked sharply at Zabuto and silenced him with a stony look.
Cherov frowned. "Please forgive Zabuto, he means no disrespect. He is just...um...not used to negotiating with...ah...women...Amazons."
"They don't bite." Xena growled from behind them.
"Xena!" Gabrielle barked sharply.
"Ah, Xena, the Warrior Princess." Zabuto said sarcastically.
Gabrielle shot Xena an irritated look and held her gaze, "we are here to negotiate." Then she glanced back at Zabuto, "not to intimidate."
When Gabrielle looked back, Xena had narrowed her eyes and Gabrielle clenched her jaw in response.
Gabrielle moved her eyes back to Zabuto. "We are willing to offer a trade for the land."
"Really?" Zabuto said as he leaned forward with newfound respect in his eyes. "Name it." he responded.
"Amazon horses." Gabrielle answered firmly.
Zabuto raised an eyebrow in appreciation. He crossed his arms, nodded and sat back in his chair.
"Are we in agreement?" Cherov looked at Zabuto, Demant and then to Amia. They nodded their consent.
"We are in agreement to a trade. One-hundred horses." He proposed.
Gabrielle countered with, "Fifty horses."
"Seventy-five horses." He countered back.
"Agreed." Gabrielle smiled, pleased.
They all gathered together negotiated, and wrote out a pact that transferred the small tract of land to the Amazons. When they were all satisfied with the content, the deed was signed and the council members stood up pleased with the outcome.
"The Amazon horses will be transferred to your village two moons from now." Ephiny informed them.
"Good." Cherov nodded and smiled.
Gabrielle looked up to where Xena was previously standing only to find that Xena was no longer there. Gabrielle frowned.
When the members of the city council departed Ephiny put her hand on Gabrielle's arm. "You stood up to her!" Ephiny said in surprise.
"Well, sometimes she does things that...well...that I feel she just shouldn't do." Gabrielle said quietly and looked up at Ephiny. Ephiny was taken aback by the sadness that was mirrored in Gabrielle's eyes.
"You have really grown." Ephiny said in admiration.
Gabrielle smiled softly then went to find Xena, and Gabrielle had a pretty good idea where she would find her.
As Xena walked to the practice grounds she mulled over in her mind the sharp rebuke she received from Gabrielle. Xena smiled and shook her head. She marveled about how the young woman had grown from a shy and tearful young girl to a strong and confident young woman. She knew Gabrielle's inner strength emerged during her stay with the amazons when Xena had died. Gabrielle may not be of Amazon blood or a leader by birth, but she had the strong character, courage and determination that is required to be accepted as a leader by the Amazons. Xena's smile widened, she was proud of her bard and loved her deeply. They had been through so much together and their bond was a strong one.
In the practice ring Xena was surrounded by six or seven Amazon warriors. Several of them were getting up from the ground limping and rubbing bruised areas. Gabrielle stood back from the ring and watched as Xena moved with fluidity and grace as she wielded the staff like an extension of her arms. Soon there were no more Amazon warriors left to challenge her. Gabrielle moved forward and the Amazons parted as Gabrielle strode into the ring. She gripped her staff tightly and had a determined expression on her face. She faced Xena and looked into glittering eyes.
"O.K. Xena, I think that's enough. Don't you think?" Silence. "OK, how about this?" Gabrielle moved instantly and swung the butt end of the staff down towards Xena's head. When Xena raised her staff and blocked Gabrielle's maneuver, their gazes met. Gabrielle glared into Xena's eyes and saw them soften and sparkle with amusement. When Xena brought the staff down and around to Gabrielle's side, Gabrielle shifted her hands and swung her staff down to block Xena's swing. Gabrielle's arms stung from the shock of her staff smacking against Xena's, but she continued to swing and block. She ignored the pain in her smarting hands. Gabrielle was thankful for the sparring practice Xena had given her over the last year because she now had the strength to withstand Xena's pounding blows. Xena wasn't pushing very hard but she was watching Gabrielle's moves warily and countered them. Suddenly Xena brought her staff across and instead of countering like she normally would, Gabrielle ducked a! nd crouched into a low stance. She flipped Xena's feet out from under her. Xena fell forward, tucked, rolled and jumped back onto her feet. She arched an eyebrow at Gabrielle.
"Feel better now?" Gabrielle said evenly. She was only inches from Xena's face. She had raised herself on her toes and had arched her eyebrows. Her nostrils flared.
Xena studied Gabrielle's face intently and noted a hint of hardness around the young woman's usually trusting expression. She was so cute when she was mad.
"You're getting better with that staff." Xena looked down into Gabrielle's eyes and smiled disarmingly.
Gabrielle's mouth dropped open in surprise and confusion.
"Gabrielle, close your mouth. That does not look queenly." Xena chuckled and guided Gabrielle out of the practice ring.
Gabrielle snapped her mouth shut and walked beside Xena. "The treaty with Macower went well. You know, that Zabuto fellow almost got the best of me." Gabrielle shook her head slowly.
"Oh, I think you handled yourself quite well." Xena commented with a quirky grin.
"You think so?" Gabrielle stopped and looked up into Xena's face.
"Gabrielle, you ARE the Amazon Queen." Xena's face went serious. Gabrielle smiled and as they walked back to the village, Xena wove her long fingers through Gabrielle's shorter ones.
Gabrielle and Kilma made many trips to the underground dwelling often over the next few days to read the scrolls and they continued to make many new discoveries. On this particular day Gabrielle came across a scroll with a red silk tassel attached to its wooden spool. She suspected that this scroll was special so she carried it over to the table and showed it to Kilma. As Kilma unrolled it carefully a glitter of light sparkled from a red crystal attached to another silk tassel that was tucked inside the scroll.
Gabrielle sat down next to Kilma and glanced over at the scroll Kilma held out between them. The script was very old and the language was of old Amazonia so Kilma spoke out loud as she translated.
"With your Queen goest thou, Red as blood is thy spirit, A warrior of loyalty to thy Queen and Nation, For thy life matters not.
Thou shall show no mercy, For those who oppose thy Queen and Nation. Traitorous hearts shall cease to beat, Loyal hearts shall swell with pride. Thou shall serve and guard Thy Queen and Nation.
A warrior thou must be, Red as blood is thy soul, Loyal to Queen and Nation Thou and Queen, Thy hearts shall beat as one."
"Whoa, that's deep." Gabrielle said quietly and laid her hand on Kilma's arm.
Kilma slowly placed the scroll on the table and stared off into space.
Gabrielle stood up and paced. She strummed her fingers on her chin, deep in thought, mulling over the Amazon scripture. She stopped when she noticed the unfocused look on Kilma's face.
"Kilma, what is it?" Suddenly concerned Gabrielle placed her hand back on Kilma's shoulder.
Slowly Kilma turned and faced Gabrielle somberly. "There is an old legend that has been passed down for several generations." Sighing she continued, "legend says that in a time of need, when our nation is in peril, an Amazon warrior like none we have ever seen will appear."
"Huh?" Gabrielle said perplexed.
"We have already exposed the crystal to the light and have spoken the words." Came Kilma's unexpected answer.
"Wait a minute...are you saying that this warrior will just...pop up?" Gabrielle said as a worried frown creased her forehead.
"I don't know. What I can say is this...she has been summoned." She said slowly, and a quiet look came over Kilma's face. "I didn't know, not until just now. I remember a little of the rest of the legend. It says that once the words of Artemis have been uttered, the warrior will be awakened."
"What!" Gabrielle exclaimed.
"The deed is done, Gabrielle." Kilma steepled her hands and pressed them under her chin.
"Kilma, is this warrior another immortal?" Gabrielle inquired uneasily.
"Oh, no, no, according to legend she is quite mortal, she was just simply suspended in time." Kilma answered and chewed her bottom lip.
"How?" Gabrielle wondered.
"That I do not know. Perhaps the answer lies somewhere in these scrolls. Perhaps it was the Goddess's will." She mused and pursed her lips.
"Why would the Goddess do this?" Gabrielle asked and spread her hands.
"Remember Gabrielle, we are her people, and you are her chosen one." Kilma spoke with pride. "She watches over us."
They both turned their heads as the door creaked open to admit one of the Amazon sentries.
"Queen Gabrielle, Ephiny is requesting your presence at the village."
"I'll go with you." Kilma said as she got up and rolled the scroll.
At Gabrielle's questioning look she said "Somehow, I think we were supposed to find this."
A chill crawled down Gabrielle's spine.
When they arrived at the village Ephiny was waiting for them along with Cherov, the councilman from Macower.
Gabrielle frowned when she saw his agitated state and moved forward to greet him. He bowed and then looked at Ephiny clasping and unclasping his hands.
"Gabrielle, Cherov tells me that there is a warlord advancing across the west. He has been destroying villages along the way. Cherov says that he is three days from this province." Ephiny spoke slowly with concern. "He will not just attack Macower but us as well."
"Does this warlord have a name?" Gabrielle asked more sharply than she intended, and tightened her grip on her staff.
"Craton." He said and trembled visibly.
Gabrielle recognized the name and inhaled sharply. She looked over at the sentry and ordered, "Find Xena and have her meet us in Ephiny's hut...quickly!"
"Yeah, I know Craton." Xena's face hardened. "Last I heard, Craton's army was several hundred strong. His army consists of bowmen, foot soldiers and warriors. If we surprise them by attacking first from the cover of the forest we have a good chance of defeating him. He won't be expecting us so soon." Her lip curled slightly.
Gabrielle paced up and down the side of the hut while Xena spoke. Xena smoothly walked over to her and gently put her hand on Gabrielle's shoulder. Gabrielle looked up into Xena's calm clear blue eyes and relaxed her taught nerves.
"Xena, we are vastly outnumbered." Gabrielle's voice quavered slightly.
"But you have a plan...right?" Gabrielle asked and her voice returned to a more normal tone.
Suddenly a deafening roar that sounded like a tempestuous windstorm sent them to their feet. Xena dashed out first, the rest of them followed behind. They covered their faces with their arms against the dust and debris that whipped about. The wind howled and roared, pushing them backwards as they tried to walk. A harsh rumble shook the ground. When the winds slowly died down a tall figure materialized, untouched by the sudden windstorm. The winds howled once more then died away. The figure strode towards them through the settling whirlwind. She was tall and dressed in red leather amazon garb trimmed in black and gold. She carried a gleaming sword in one hand and several daggers were sheathed in her wide bracers laced with beaded fringes. As she came closer her red hair shone like fire in the sunlight and her green eyes sparkled with pride.
Xena stepped in front of Gabrielle and unsheathed her sword. The tall warrior in red raised her sword in return, her stride never faltering. Gabrielle sensed a fight brewing between the two, so she ran up to stand between them. She extended her arm, palm out to Xena and then pointed her staff at the newcomer and she shouted "No!" The newcomer paused momentarily, inclined her head in acknowledgment, and lowered her sword. Gabrielle stepped back to stand in front of Xena as the amazon in red continued to approach. The warrior then stopped before Gabrielle and knelt. She placed both hands on her sword with the tip in the ground in front of her.
"My Queen." She bowed her head and her long red hair cascaded forward across her shoulders.
When she looked back up at Gabrielle she captured the Queen's gaze with her clear brilliant emerald eyes. Gabrielle's eyes widened and she gasped softly in surprise.
The amazon smiled and said "I am Crystalis, I have come as commanded by Artemis."
Bewildered, Gabrielle glanced over at Kilma who sighed and closed her eyes.
When Gabrielle looked back into the emerald eyes of the woman before her, she felt a connection to the amazon warrior that she didn't understand. Puzzled, Gabrielle frowned, pondering this new awareness.
"Yes, we are as one." The amazon's voice answered with gentleness.
Xena cast a dark glance at the Amazon warrior, and looked back again at Gabrielle.
Turning back to the red clad warrior Gabrielle said " I am Gabrielle."
Crystalis stood and her eyes locked onto Gabrielle's. She sheathed her sword in one fluid motion and held out her other hand. Captivated by the intensity of her gaze Gabrielle placed her hand in the offered one and allowed the amazon warrior to lead her away. Xena watched the exchange through narrowed eyes. She was about to step forward when Kilma placed a hand on her arm and shook her head in warning.
The walked through the trees, hand in hand. The heat of the Amazon's touch burned through Gabrielle. The need for her began to grow anew within her. They slowed after a time, deep in the forest. When Gabrielle could finally shift her gaze from the amazon's face they were standing alone at the edge of a clearing. Crystalis sat down against a tree and shifted the scabbard on her back. She bade Gabrielle to sit next to her. Gabrielle was so mesmerized by the amazon that she was speechless, so Crystalis spoke.
"My life belongs to you and to the Amazon Nation. I have been summoned by Artemis in this time of greatest need for my people. You and I are as one. What you feel, I will feel. What I feel you will feel as well." She reached out and gently took Gabrielle's hand and placed the palm over her heart. Gabrielle felt the steady and strong beat vibrate through the warrior's soft warm skin.
Crystalis brought her hands to Gabrielle's face and cupped it gently. She kissed Gabrielle lightly on the lips. Gabrielle felt the new awareness surge through her. She raised her arms to encircle Crystalis as their kiss lingered. Images of Xena permeated through the exotic feelings and thoughts. Gabrielle pushed herself away from Crystalis gently.
Gabrielle breathed heavily and said "No, I cannot."
"Ah, you belong to another." Crystalis nodded in understanding.
"Yes." Gabrielle looked down at her hands that were clasped in her lap.
Tilting Gabrielle's face up with her finger Crystalis spoke softly "You are a beautiful woman Gabrielle." Pausing she ran her fingertip along Gabrielle's jaw. "You may not be of Amazon blood but you possess the courage and the wisdom befitting an Amazon Queen." Gabrielle's mouth opened slightly in surprise as Crystalis continued, "I once had a beautiful woman in my life. She captured my heart, and ignited my soul. Then one day she was no more. She died from an assassins arrow from which I failed to stop. I held her in my arms until she breathed her last breath. So intense was my grief for my Queen that I pledged my life to my Nation, just as I had pledged my life for my Queen as a young warrior. Artemis took pity on me and granted me peace by suspending me in time so that I could have another chance to regain my honor. And now that I have been summoned, I have my second chance to fulfill my pledge to my Queen, Gabrielle."
"You loved her." Gabrielle breathed dreamily.
"Yes, she was very much like you, Gabrielle. I can feel your passion and the love you have for your people and for your friend. You will do anything to ensure that they survive. Even if it means your life." Crystalis tilted her head and placed her hand on Gabrielle's arm. She asked in a quiet voice, "So, tell me about your friend."
Gabrielle took a deep breath. "Xena. She is a Warrior Princess. She was once a warlord and her past is dark one, a past that she is just beginning to share with me. Sometimes...sometimes I don't want to hear about it, but...it is a part of her. When we are alone she can be so open, so honest, and loving, but when she is embroiled in combat, she can be so dark, almost feral. It's frightening sometimes."
She took Gabrielle's hands in her own and said, "You are seeing both sides to her, Gabrielle. The lover and the warrior. Is that so hard to understand?" She tilted her head again and looked at Gabrielle inquiringly.
Gabrielle looked back at her with renewed understanding. "No."
Gabrielle broke her gaze from Crystalis's alluring eyes and looked up at Xena who had approached and was staring darkly at Crystalis. The hard eyes shifted to meet Gabrielle.
Crystalis rose and met Xena's steely gaze. She bowed her head to Xena and spoke firmly and slowly, "We both belong to her...but...she...belongs to you." She smiled and continued, "I could use some practice...Warrior Princess, its been a long time."
They unsheathed their swords and circled each other. They moved almost in unison as they tested one another, each thrust and parry became more intense than the last. They met blow for blow until Crystalis delivered an undercut with her fist to Xena's chin. Xena's head snapped back from the impact but she recovered quickly and delivered a roundhouse kick at Crystalis. Crystalis faltered ever so slightly but returned a thrust. Back and forth they volleyed. Gabrielle watched two of the greatest warriors locked in mock combat with reverence. One was a passionate fighter tempered by sorrow, the other was a seasoned warrior driven by darkness, and both were intensely loyal. Gabrielle sighed heavily and walked back to the village.
Later that day in Ephiny's hut they met with Solari and other amazon warriors to listen to Xena's strategy against Craton. "We will wait here, just inside the forest. The first wave will be the Amazon slingers who will be positioned here." Xena pointed to a location on the map that hung against the wall. "They will attack Craton's bowmen which will force them to drop their support for the foot soldiers and that will neutralize them. The second wave will be the Amazon archers positioned along here." Xena pointed to another location. "The archers will attack the foot soldiers, thus lowering their morale. Then, the warriors will move out into the open using the tortoise formation and will smite Craton's horsemen like this." Xena demonstrated with her hands on the map.
Crystalis stood quietly beside Xena. "Xena and I will lead the front wave of warriors who will be waiting here." Crystalis pointed to a fourth location within the forest outline. "The fighters and mercenaries from Macower will accompany us in this wave. I advise you all to wear mail armor if possible. Gabrielle, as Queen, and Ephiny as Queen Regent, you will remain here at the village. If Craton's men try to take the village the Royal Guards will be here to protect you."
"Crystalis, if I may make a suggestion?" Ephiny looked over at Kilma as she spoke. "I would much rather wait at the lookout point over the Amazon Hills."
"I suppose that means you too Gabrielle?" Xena spoke up.
Xena exhaled and said "All right."
Crystalis, Gabrielle and Xena walked back to their huts in silence after the short strategy session lost in their own thoughts.
Gabrielle shut the door and watched as Xena smoothly unbuckled her scabbard. Gabrielle set her staff against the wall and knelt down onto the fur pelts. Gabrielle knew Xena's skills as a warrior were exemplementary, but that didn't mean she wouldn't get hurt or killed. Gabrielle thought about the time when Xena had been mortally wounded and had died. The old emotions resurfaced and the familiar feeling of fear gripped her. Gabrielle clenched the pelt in her fists and willed these feelings to subside. Gabrielle looked up as Xena sat next to her, concern mirrored in her eyes. "Gabrielle, what's wrong?"
"Xena, I want you to promise that you will come back to me." Her eyes searched Xena's face intently and tried not to let the fear show in her face.
"Gabrielle..." Xena spoke quietly.
"Xena! Promise me!" Gabrielle commanded.
"Yes Gabrielle. I will come back for you. I'm not going anywhere." Xena stroked Gabrielle's face and gathered her into her arms. "Shh, sleep now. Yes, rest now." Xena spoke reassuringly and laid Gabrielle gently back down onto the pelts. Gabrielle's eyelids slowly drifted shut.
Xena sighed wearily and looked down at the young woman's face, peaceful in her slumber. She really didn't want to field Gabrielle's endless questions or pretend to be interested in conversation tonight. She could deal with that tomorrow after a good night of rest which she needed badly.
Thunder rolled out of the sky in long peals, and lightning split the clouds from somewhere distant. The mist and gloom from the surrounding trees pressed in tightly. The shadows and mist swirled. The stillness was shattered by a howling wind that whipped her cloak about her. The demons broke from the mist, an army of lean, armored forms. Their faces were white with death. Their red eyes gleamed. Xena was frozen where she stood. Then the demon horde of dead men rushed forward.
Xena awoke with a violent jerk. Sweat beaded on her brow and her back and chest were damp with sweat. Her breath was ragged and her pulse raced. In the dim light she looked down at the still form next to her. Xena closed her eyes tightly and her face hardened with purpose.
Gabrielle awoke the next morning curled up in Xena's arms. Gabrielle looked up and smiled when she saw that Xena was still asleep. This was definitely a rarity, she almost never woke up before Xena did. Xena's face was peaceful and her silky raven hair splayed across her shoulder. Gabrielle raised her arm and placed her fingers at Xena's throat. She trailed them lightly down to Xena's cleavage. Suddenly Xena's hands grasped Gabrielle by the waist and lifted her up and over Xena's body. Gabrielle yelped in surprise. She sat straddled across Xena's hips, her hands on either side of Xena's head to support her upper torso. Xena opened her eyes and smiled. She pushed Gabrielle's hands further above her head so that Gabrielle's upper torso rested on hers. Xena stuck out her tongue and licked Gabrielle's nose. "Eeew!" Gabrielle grimaced and wiped at her nose. Gabrielle's hands were held tightly above Xena's head and she swung her head from side to side laughing and trying to avoid an! other nasty lick on the nose. "Xena! Stop! Please?" Xena chuckled and brought Gabrielle's arms down but pinned them behind her back. "Playful this morning aren't we?" Gabrielle laughed. "Mmm, just a little." Xena smiled mischievously.
As Gabrielle and Xena dressed, Gabrielle placed her hand on Xena's arm. "Xena, about last night..."
"Gabrielle, it's all right, I promise to come back for you." Xena placed her hand over Gabrielle's.
Gabrielle reached out and Xena gathered Gabrielle in her arms.
When they broke away Gabrielle smiled. She picked up her staff and they walked out of the hut into the morning sun and a brisk cool breeze fanned the warm humid air.
"Xena, did you and Crystalis work things out yesterday?"
"Yes. We seem to have a lot in common."
Gabrielle raised an eyebrow and opened her mouth to comment but thought better of it.
When they reached other side of the village they separated. Gabrielle met with Ephiny at the communal hut where they organized and oversaw the preparations for the village in anticipation of the wounded and Craton's men. Xena met with Solari and supervised the preparation of weapons, the restocking of stores, and checked the lookout points.
After Ephiny and Gabrielle were satisfied that everything was in order Gabrielle met up with Xena and they walked into the forest to the practice ring where the amazons were testing their weapons, the anticipation of the coming battle evident in their faces. As Gabrielle watched them, sadness overcame her as she realized that some of them would not return.
Crystalis walked up to her with a concerned expression on her face.
"Gabrielle, I know you feel sad. They will be missed, but not forgotten." Crystalis said consolingly.
Crystalis glanced over at Xena and then back to Gabrielle. She smiled mischievously and her eyes twinkled with mirth.
"Xena, I was expecting you here earlier. Did you sleep in?"
Gabrielle blushed and avoided both of their gazes.
After a long day, Gabrielle and Xena rested quietly together in the tub. Both were tired from the days activities. Xena's head rested against the tub wall, her arms were around the strawberry blond woman's waist. Gabrielle's head rose and fell to the motion of Xena's breathing.
"Gabrielle, do you miss the Academy in Athens?" Xena murmured softly, her eyes closed.
"Hmm, not really. Sometimes I miss the big city and the Academy. I mean, it was fun, you know, there wasn't the hardships of everyday life to deal with." Gabrielle shifted her head to look up at Xena.
"You haven't given a performance in a while."
"I know. Maybe in the next town we visit, if the patrons are willing, I'll give one."
"I'd like that. You tell good stories." Xena smiled slightly. She opened her eyes and looked down at Gabrielle.
"They're your stories Xena. You live them." Gabrielle smiled and Xena wrapped her arms tighter around her.
"So do you Gabrielle." Gabrielle smiled brightly at Xena's words.
"Xena, your plan for tomorrow...it's going to work isn't it?" Gabrielle chewed on her bottom lip.
"Yes, Gabrielle. I know Craton. I know his strategy and we will defeat him."
"Good." Gabrielle laid her head back down on Xena's chest.
"All right, my bard, I think it's time we got some rest. You were snoring lightly a little while ago.
"I was not!" Gabrielle said defiantly.
"Yes, you were."
Xena slipped her arms under Gabrielle's shoulders and lifted her up.
"You know Xena, I was comfortable." Gabrielle complained.
"Yes, I know."
Xena took Gabrielle's hand and led her to bed.
Gabrielle laid down next to Xena and she placed her head in the curve of Xena's shoulder. She draped her arm across Xena's ribcage and promptly fell asleep. Xena smiled down at Gabrielle and chuckled lightly at the sound of her snoring.
The next morning Xena woke early and checked on Argo. Then she returned to wake up a very sleepy Queen.
"Gabrielle, c'mon, wake up." Xena grabbed Gabrielle's foot and shook it forcefully.
Gabrielle was instantly alert once she realized what day this was. She got up from the bed and padded over to Xena and gave her a quick kiss on the cheek. She then padded over to where her clothes lay and got dressed.
A knock sounded at the door. Xena crossed over and opened the door to admit Crystalis who stepped in and bowed.
"Good morning my Queen." She smiled brightly.
Xena placed her hands on Gabrielle's arms and gazed deeply into her eyes. Gabrielle looked up into Xena's clear ones and smiled even though she was uneasy and worried. She reached up and circled her arms around Xena's neck and kissed her firmly, "Xena, please be careful."
Xena cradled Gabrielle's face in her hands tenderly.
"Aren't I always?" She smiled and Gabrielle leaned her face into the palm of Xena's hand.
Xena pulled her hands away from Gabrielle's face gently. Gabrielle walked over to Crystalis. She placed her hand on Crystalis's arm and kissed her lightly. Crystalis took Gabrielle's hand in hers and brought it to her lips.
"Xena will return to you." Crystalis whispered. She placed her fingers over Gabrielle's lips which stopped Gabrielle from asking questions. Gabrielle's eyes searched the amazon's face and felt frightened for her. "No, do not be frightened, Gabrielle. This is my destiny." Crystalis stepped back and smiled tenderly. She nodded at Xena, and walked to the door. Xena followed and stood aside as Gabrielle walked out into the soft light of the morning. Xena and Crystalis strode over to Solari and a group of amazons and spoke with them briefly. As the group rode off, Xena mounted Argo and Crystalis mounted one of the fine Amazon steeds. Gabrielle walked over to Xena and placed her hand on Xena's thigh. She looked up at the Warrior Princess, her raven hair fanned across her shoulders. Xena leaned down and stroked Gabrielle's hair. "I'll be back, Gabrielle." She said gently. Xena and Crystalis turned their mounts and galloped off into the forest. Gabrielle gripped her staff tightly as a! sense of trepidation swept through her.
Ephiny, Gabrielle, and Kilma climbed the Amazon hills to the lookout site that would allow them to overlook the battle that would soon be raging below. The Royal Guards were already at their posts when they arrived. They moved forward to a shelf of rock that jutted out from the hillside and overlooked the valley below. The large mass of soldiers that made up Craton's army moved across the plains and were quickly approaching the forest.
"Sweet Artemis! There are so many!" Ephiny whispered in awe.
Weapons and plating clanked, and the hooves of the horses thudded across the earth. They watched the first of the bowmen fall from the amazon slingers. Then dozens foot solders fell from the arrows of the Amazon archers. They saw the Amazon warriors ride their strong mounts from the cover of the forest and attack the flanks of Craton's army. Gabrielle heard Xena's battle cry as the next group of Amazon warriors attacked the soldiers head on. At the head of these warriors were and Crystalis and Xena, their swords arced and plunged into the bodies around them. Crystalis and Xena single-handedly cut down a large swath of Craton's men, dozens of broken bodies were sprawled out on the ground in their wake.
Gabrielle heard Xena's battle cry again as she charged into a group of footmen. Just as one was about to release his spear into her exposed back Gabrielle gasped and shouted "Xena!" Crystalis spun, slipped one of the daggers out of her bracer and flung it into the back of the footman. His spear fell from his limp hand. Crystalis turned back, flowed into a thrust, deflected it and continued to swing her sword at the men around her.
When Gabrielle breathed a sigh of relief she saw Xena feint from a vertical thrust while deflecting another that narrowly missed her side, but sliced her thigh instead. Xena's face contorted in rage from the assault and she viciously attacked the soldier who inflicted the wound. When Xena noticed that several soldiers had surrounded Solari, she removed the chakram from her belt and flung the shiny disc towards the amazon . The chakram whizzed in front of the Solari, gouged her attackers foreheads and spun them to the ground. During a parry Xena stretched out her arm, caught the chakram as it whizzed back, and placed it on her belt never missing a stroke. Both warriors fought fiercely, Xena with feral savagery and Crystalis with vicious fervor.
Xena made her way through what remained of Craton's army, a small mass of struggling bodies, to confront Craton himself. They circled their horses around each other warily. Gabrielle could see that words were exchanged between the two and then Craton urged his mount forward and charged. Argo deftly sidestepped him and Xena plunged her blade through his back.
The blood and the screams from the wounded sickened her and Gabrielle was saddened by the loss of life. She would occasionally close her eyes and turn away when she could not bear to witness the sight before her.
Finally, the fighting came to an end. Some of Craton's men began surrendering when they saw their commander fall from Xena's sword.
Gabrielle leaned on her staff for support as a burning sensation spread down her side. Gabrielle grimaced in pain. She glanced down and saw that Crystalis was no longer on her mount. She had risen from the ground with her hand on her side and was parrying blows that pounded down on her from the men that had her surrounded. An underhand swing and then a slice downed one of her attackers. A backstab downed another one. A cross swing beheaded one more and a forward slice disemboweled another. Unable to move out of the way in time to avoid a thrust from behind she took a sword again in her side, but with both hands she was able to swing her sword backwards over her head, which split her attackers skull.
Gabrielle staggered as ice hot searing pain pierced her left side. Gabrielle gasped in pain and grasped her staff tightly and tried to keep herself upright. Ephiny and Kilma reached out and supported her with their arms as Gabrielle sank to the ground. When she looked out over the carnage below Gabrielle saw Xena make her way to the warrior in red who leaned weakly on her sword. When Xena reached Crystalis, she dismounted Argo quickly. She caught Crystalis in her arms and lowered her to the ground. Xena looked up to the ledge and her eyes glistened wetly.
The tears flowed freely as Gabrielle felt the amazon warrior's presence leave her.
"Oh, sweet Artemis." Gabrielle whispered in anguish, her head fell forward to rest on her arms.
Xena lifted the lifeless form that was Crystalis into her arms and strode quickly past the amazons who parted as she approached. Xena laid Crystalis's body on a flat boulder and ran up the hills.
Gradually Gabrielle's strength returned and she sat up. She raked her fingers through her hair and looked down again at the sight before her. So many have perished, both men and amazons.
"Gabrielle!" Xena ran towards Gabrielle and knelt by her side.
"Xena." Gabrielle whispered and reached out to Xena.
"Are you all right?" Xena said, her voice full of concern as she grasped Gabrielle's arms.
Gabrielle turned her face slowly from the battlefield below to gaze at Xena. Gabrielle's face reflected the pain and despair that she felt.
"Yes." Gabrielle said quietly.
Gabrielle pushed up on her staff and with Xena's help she stood and they walked back to the village where they stopped at the healers hut to tend to Xena's wound on her thigh.
When Gabrielle finished stitching the gash in Xena's thigh, Xena reached out and tilted Gabrielle's head up to meet her gaze. As Xena looked into Gabrielle's eyes, Gabrielle knew Xena could see the sadness.
"Oh, Gabrielle." Xena said softly and gathered Gabrielle into her arms. Gabrielle cried quietly into Xena's shoulder.
"Shh, it's over now. Everything is going to be all right." Xena whispered. She stroked Gabrielle's hair and rocked her gently.
Gabrielle looked back up into Xena's face and gazed into her eyes. Eyes full of concern and love. Gabrielle shifted slightly, circled her arms around Xena's neck, and kissed her as Xena held her tenderly.
When they broke apart the first of the wounded began to arrive. Gabrielle worked with Xena and Sera, the healer, as they delegated the wounded to specific locations. Gabrielle moved around the hut and tended to those she could help. For those amazons who were wounded, the presence of the Queen lifted their spirits. Gabrielle and Xena worked through the day and night to tend to the wounded.
Over thirty amazons perished in the battle. The funeral pyres were constructed and set up by the lake, the water shimmered golden in the setting sun. Gabrielle stood on the platform, the colorful banners waved gently in the wind and the decorative grasses shifted stiffly . She gathered her courage and spoke the rites in a strong voice. She paused when her voice began to quaver. Tears flowed down her face behind the ceremonial mask. Many of the amazons wept openly during her eulogy. When Gabrielle finished her tribute to Crystalis she turned to Xena, who's face glistened with tears. Gabrielle took a deep breath and reached out to take Xena's hand. Gabrielle's body shook with repressed grief. Hand in hand, Gabrielle led Xena quickly into the forest. When they were alone Gabrielle removed her mask. Xena reached out and cradled the young Queen's shaking form as she sank slowly to the ground. Gabrielle wept into Xena's shoulder, unable to hold back her sorrow. Xena rocked her gentl! y.
"I'm glad you came back." Gabrielle whispered in the sudden stillness.
"I couldn't leave you. You mean too much to me, Gabrielle." Xena replied huskily and embraced Gabrielle tightly.
At first it was a light breeze that whispered through the trees which broke the stillness in the air. Gabrielle and Xena looked around and watched as the winds became stronger. It moved through the trees like the waves in the ocean. The wind gusted, but nothing on the ground stirred. Gabrielle and Xena raced back to the village and skidded to a stop behind the Amazons that had gathered at the lake. Fascinated, they watched as a glowing form appeared over the water above the blazing pyres. Within the glowing light a figure solidified. Gasps where heard as the figure filled out into the form of Crystalis. Crystalis smiled, turned to Gabrielle and bowed. She then turned back to her amazons, brought her arm up, crossing her chest, and bowed her head again. When she looked back up over the amazons her smile widened, then as she inclined her head her spirit slowly winked out. The somber mood that had descended over the village during the funeral rites was lifted as renewed pride flo! wed through the amazons. The feast began with a different ambiance and the amazons celebrated their victory and honored those who had fallen.
The drummers began the slow rhythmic beat as everyone moved towards the table that was laden with food and the hubbub of their voices intensified.
"Wow!" Gabrielle breathed in awe, her eyes sparkled and her good spirits returned.
"Yeah." Xena smiled.
"Come on, I'm starved!"
Xena followed Gabrielle to the banquet table. She chuckled as Gabrielle reached out several times over the table to select a morsel from almost each platter. As they walked back to their table Gabrielle sampled several of the items on her heaping plate.
"Xena?" Gabrielle said as she sat down.
"Yeah?" Xena set down her plate and looked quizzically at Gabrielle.
"Thank you." Gabrielle said softly.
"For what?" Xena said in surprise.
"For being there." Gabrielle said honestly and looked into Xena's eyes.
"Gabrielle, I will always be there for you." Xena said reassuringly, and placed her hand on Gabrielle's face.
"Yeah, I know." Gabrielle responded solemnly.
Xena removed her hand and placed it around her mug as she picked up a slice of lamb.
"Gabrielle, did you want me to look over the deed that Cherov sent over?"
"No, it was written in simple terms, and it basically says that the land now belongs to the Amazons. The people of Macower were grateful to us for saving their town from Craton's army. This was their way of saying 'Thank You'. It was really a nice gesture." Gabrielle paused to take a bite of cheese.
"Oh! Xena, this morning Kilma found the scroll that contains the story about Crystalis and Kirilla." Gabrielle snatched a leg of lamb from Xena's plate.
"Yeah? Did you read it?" Xena looked sideways while she bit into her leg of lamb.
"Uh huh." Gabrielle mumbled and chewed on the juicy morsel.
"Gabrielle, tell me, why did Artemis suspend Crystalis in time?"
"Well, Crystalis was the Consort to Queen Kirilla. King Edward's Regent hired an assassin to kill the Amazon Queen so that he could seize the Amazon territory. Crystalis saw the assassin aim the crossbow at Queen Kirilla, but unfortunately, Crystalis couldn't get there in time to save her. Crystalis grieved for the Queen for many days. The Royal Guards had to restrain her when they took Queen Kirilla's body..."
"Crystalis loved her." Xena's face brightened in understanding.
"Yes. So, in failing to protect her Queen, as was her duty..."
"It was about honor, and she failed." Xena murmured.
"Yes. So the Goddess..."
"Granted Crystalis her wish." Xena finished for her.
"Yes! And I hate it when you do that!" Gabrielle said slightly annoyed.
"Sorry." Xena grinned playfully.
"Will you tell me the story sometime?" Xena smiled and touched Gabrielle's arm.
Startled, Gabrielle stopped chewing and swung her head around to gaze thoughtfully at Xena. She raised her eyebrows and said "OK." Xena smiled back, her eyes sparkled.
"Were you able to find out what happened to Priestess Adelle?" Xena inquired as she set down her mug of port.
"No. Maybe we will never know. But, then again that story may be in the scrolls too." Gabrielle fished out another leg of lamb followed by several pieces of sweet fruit.
Xena reached over and picked up the empty plate. She got up and took a few steps towards the banquet table where she stopped and waited for the sound of Gabrielle's voice.
"Xena?" Gabrielle munched on the sweet fruit.
"Yeah?" Xena answered expectantly and raised an eyebrow.
"Could you get some more of that wildberry bread and cream?"
"All right." Xena placed her hand on her hip and waited.
"Oh, and if they still have some, bring more of the roasted lamb."
Xena cocked her head and continued to wait.
"And...um...more of that sweet fruit too."
Xena continued to stand, her hand on her hip, with a knowing smile on her face. She waited for Gabrielle to continue.
"Uh...put some of the cherries on top, please? Thanks."
"You're welcome." Xena muttered humourously as she turned and walked up to the banquet table thinking of cherries, cream and Gabrielle.
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