Following the cart tracks was easy enough for Xena. The bandits had made no attempt to hide them, not that it would have been easy, the warrior figured as she dismounted two hours later. It had not taken long for her to catch up to her quarry who had been impeded by the forest trail they had been following. After an hour of traveling the well-traveled path, the tracks had veered off onto the main road. Xena, however, had kept to the woods to better conceal her pursuit. When she had finally caught sight of the raiders, they were stopping for a mid-day meal.

The warrior snorted softly in disbelief. The bandits were either stupid or inexperienced. Not only had they moved onto the main road, but they had stopped where anyone could chance upon them. Xena settled onto a branch above and not far from their campsite. She noticed that a few of the women and children that had been captured were injured, although none seemed fatal. With keen ears, she listened as their captors bragged to each other the easy prey that Terlava had been.

The forty men, Xena observed, were fairly well-outfitted with weapons and armor, and all were young, none seemed to be over the age of thirty. A few had mounts, all of which seemed to be solid, healthy horseflesh. And as many warlords and petty tyrants that she knew, Xena could not place their insignia. She assumed that a new group had sprung up quickly, and that bothered her more than not recognizing their affiliation. Her attention was drawn when two men entered the forest below her to relieve themselves.

"I'm tellin' ya, Caspa, Atronos won't keep the kids. He'll sell them, I'm sure of it."

The taller of the two grunted as he undid his trousers. "You don't know shit, Larud. He'll keep them around. They do grow up. Besides," he continued after a sigh, "I hear rumors of Atronos' likes."

"You mean, the young ones?"

Caspa's mouth curled up into a cruel smile. "The younger the better. Don't matter what theys got between the legs, either."

Larud thought of the small boy he had left at home when he left to find his fortune. "Are you sure, Caspa," he asked, barely hiding his disgust.

The tall one merely shrugged as he refastened his trousers. "Does it matter, Larud? We get paid. Money is all that matters to me."

Larud nodded, although his worry began to etch itself upon his face. "How long until we reach the castle?"

"Near another day's travel."

Seeing the taller man's look of suspicion, Larud thought quickly so as to hide his feelings. He grabbed his crotch and grinned lewdly. "Damn shame that the prince won't let us have them pretty ones. I can't wait to find me some action," he replied.

His relief was evident to Xena as she observed their conversation. It had taken a great deal of self-control and many thoughts of Gabrielle and their child to stop her from putting the pinch on the two men. When she had heard Caspa hint that their employer would abuse the village children, she had seen red. She was tempered by the fact that none of the women and children were being assaulted before they reached their destination.

As soon as the men rounded up their captives and fell into formation around the carts into which they had been chained, Xena took to the trees, following her earlier steps to where she had left Argo. With a second look behind to see if anyone had backtracked to check for any trailers, the warrior spurred her warhorse and soon afterwards found the road where she was able to make up some time traveling back to Amazonia.


The sound of a horse galloping up the main trail pulled Wolf from her meal. Filtering out the cacophony of conversation going around inside the dining hall where a few small groups were enjoying a late lunch, the demi-god recognized the rhythm. "Gabrielle," she urged as she stood from her place at the right of the Queen.

Gabrielle accepted the guard's assistance and followed the small woman out of the hut to the square where Xena was just entering.

Wolf ran to the Consort and took Argo's reins as the tall warrior dismounted. "Go to Gabrielle, first, Xena. She's been anxious."

Nodding her agreement, the warrior crossed the space separating her from her wife in a few long strides. She had to bow slightly at the waist to accommodate the bard's swollen abdomen, but she relished the feel of their growing baby against the warmth of her leathers. "I'm fine," she assured the bard before Gabrielle could speak. "Come on," she urged as she pulled the Queen to the Council hut. "We need to talk. You'll have to call the elders."

Gabrielle turned to Ephiny who was following at her side. "Would you, Eph?"

"Sure, Gabrielle. Xena, I'll have someone bring you something to eat."

The warrior nodded her gratitude to both the Regent and Wolf who was in the process of leading Argo to the stables. "Make sure that they walk her a bit before brushing her down," she ordered.


"Atronos? Are you sure?"

Xena cocked a loaded brow to Ephiny.

"'re sure," the Regent responded.

"Do you know him, Xena?"

"No, Gabrielle. I've never heard of him, but something tells me that Ephiny has."

All eyes were on the blond Amazon as she squirmed in her seat. "When Phantes and I were traveling to Athens," she began, her voice breaking at the memory of her husband, "we ran across Atronos. He had been thrown from his horse, and Phantes helped to calm the animal down. When Phantes asked him about some bleeding on the horse's flanks, Atronos told us to mind our own business. After that, we never saw him again."

"And that's it," Xena asked, not surprised to hear the Amazon's story.

"Yeah, why?"

The Consort stood and began to pace the Council hut. "I don't understand why no one has heard anything about this *prince* until now. He's obviously wealthy and has quite a few men under his command."

"Maybe he's just kept a low profile until now," Gabrielle offered as her eyes followed her lover.

"Or perhaps he really did appear overnight," Wolf supplied, shrugging when Xena fixed her with an unreadable expression. "You know, like maybe he came into some money and just bought himself an army."

"Doesn't matter," Xena mumbled aloud. "I have to help those people," she said.


The tall warrior's icy gaze snapped to her wife. "No, Gabrielle. I can't just let that bastard have them."

"Then the Amazons will go with you."

Shaking her head in fierce denial, Xena tried to kill the suggestion. "It's not their fight, Gabrielle."

"Yes it is, Xena."

All eyes focused on Ephiny once again. "Terlava is under Amazon protection. It is our fault for not knowing of Atronos' threat, and for the village being destroyed. Now it's up to us to make it up to those women and children."

Xena glanced from Ephiny to Gabrielle. "Fine," she replied, throwing her arms up in surrender. "I'll need forty warriors and five archers."

"I'm going," Wolf announced as she stepped forward.

Turning to face the demi-god, Xena grabbed the guard by the arm and pulled the smaller woman away from the others. "No, Wolf. I want you to stay here with Gabrielle."



"Hades, Xena."

Seeing the defeated look on the guard's face, Ephiny stood. "If she isn't going, then I am."

"So am I."

It was Wolf's turn to quell the woman's words. "Eponin," she nearly growled. "May I speak with you?"

The Weaponsmaster followed her bondmate into a corner where curious eyes watched them whispering fiercely. "Don't try to stop me, woman," the Amazon warned.

"Pony, come on," the guard beseeched. "It's only been four months since the babies were born."

"And I'm back in shape," the Amazon argued. "I used to have a life, you know."

Wolf's eyes widened in surprise and then she lowered her head to hide her pain.

Eponin cursed herself softly and lowered her mouth to her bondmate's ear. "I'm sorry, honey. I didn't mean that the way it sounded. I'm just restless. I need to fight," she pointed out as she ran a comforting hand up Wolf's muscular arm. "Please?"

Taking a deep breath, Wolf conceded with a brief nod.

"I love you, Wolfdragon," Eponin vowed as she captured her bondmate in a quick hug.

Wolf caught the Amazon's eyes with her own. She let their color burn itself into her memory. "And I will always love you, my noble Amazon."

"Well, if that's settled, I want to get moving as soon as possible," Xena announced as she unrolled a map onto the table. "When I left them, they had broken camp here," she said as she pointed to the parchment.

"This looks like the most probable sight for a stronghold," Eponin suggested as she rejoined the group.

As the gathered women debated their course of action, only Wolf hung back. Gabrielle watched as the demi-god's face lost its usual cheerfulness. The queen's brow puckered in thought when the guard's eyes began to mist, when Wolf turned and walked out of the hut.


"You'll watch out for her, won't you?"

Wolf craned her neck to find Xena standing over her. She plucked at another blade of grass and stood. "Yeah," she answered, her gaze falling to the warrior's boots. "Do the same for Pony, will you?"

Xena's eyes narrowed. "Wolf?"

"Just look out for her, Xena. And you be careful, too."

The warrior nodded and shook off the feeling that something wasn't right. "I will."

"You're leaving now?"

"Yeah. We should be fine. Darkness and Amazons seem to mix well," Xena replied, trying to lighten the mood.

"I'll go say good-bye then."

Xena watched as the demi-god made her way down the slight hill that overlooked the village. The small woman almost carried herself with a defeated gait. *Well, she didn't get to go along, and her wife did,* Xena thought, assuming that Wolf was upset at not being included.

"You'll be careful, right?"

Xena turned and gathered Gabrielle into her arms. Kissing the top of the bard's head, the warrior inhaled deeply of her wife personal essence. "For you and the little one."

"Come back to me, Xena."

"In one piece," the warrior promised, repeating the words that they had begun to share recently before battle.



Eponin stood from her weapon's locker and set aside a couple of daggers. "What?"

"Please be careful with Atronos, huh? I don't like the idea of fighting an unknown enemy."

The Amazon stood and embraced her bondmate. "You worry too much."

Wolf buried her face into Eponin's neck and opened her senses. She allowed her lover's being to overwhelm her. She wanted to remember the smallest thing, from the rhythm of her heart and breathing, to the slightly floral scent of her skin. "Zasha and Peran will miss you."

Chuckling, Eponin turned Wolf's face up to hers. "And you won't?"

"With all my heart," the demi-god answered with conviction, determined not to lose control. She cupped Eponin's face gently in her callused hands and pulled the taller woman down for a long, sweet kiss. "I love you, Eponin."

"I love you, too."

Wolf walked over to the twin's crib and gathered each of them into an arm. She sat on the edge of the bed and watched as the Weaponsmaster readied herself for battle. When the Amazon was finished, she presented a breathtaking spectacle of power and strength.

"I expect you to be waiting in that bed when I get back," Eponin hinted with a lewd wink.

"You bet," Wolf whispered as she nuzzled Zasha's fine dark head.

"Good, now give me another kiss and see me off to battle properly," the Amazon ordered.

With a sad smile, Wolf complied. When Eponin bowed her head to kiss the twins, the demi-god took a deep breath. "Good luck."

"He'll never know what hit him."


"Are the babies all right?"

Wolf tore her gaze from surveying the square to answer the queen. "Triva has them."

"She'll spoil them, you know," Gabrielle said with a sparkle in her eye.

"Rotten," Wolf agreed.

When the guard's face remained strained, Gabrielle began to worry. "They'll be all right, Wolf. You'll see. Xena's the greatest leader I've ever known."

"I know, Gabrielle. I've been under her command."

"But you're still worried."

Wolf shrugged. It was as much for the Queen's benefit as it was her own. She had seen. She knew what the outcome would be. She reminded herself of the lesson of the greater good that Xena and Gabrielle taught her. She heard it every time the bard told a story. The world was a cruel place, populated by some ruthless people. And sacrifices had to be given for the greater good. "There's no law against that, now is there?"

Gabrielle grinned despite her own misgivings about the battle that had taken her wife. "I'll have to check on that one. Knowing the Amazons, it just might be possible." The Queen was satisfied by the wry grin on the guard's face. "Tell you what, if we have to wait for them to get back, why don't we do it in the dining hall. I'm really craving some porridge about now."

Wolf's face wrinkled in distaste. "Porridge? And I thought that pressure point messed up your sense of taste."

"Not even close to pregnancy," Gabrielle finished as she looped her arm through Wolf's.

The demi-god allowed the Queen to lead her across the compound. She said a silent prayer, asking Artemis to guide the Amazons in battle.


Xena peered over the top of the hill behind which she and Eponin had hidden. Things did not look good. What they had thought to be a stronghold was actually a fortified castle. And the forty men that she had seen in the forest were only part of Atronos' forces. There were at least eighty of them camped along the outer walls, and there was no way of guessing how many were inside.

"Not good," Eponin mumbled as she voiced the tall warrior's fears. "Any ideas?"

Contemplating their limited options, Xena steeled her reserve with a firm nod of her head. "I'm going in to see what the castle's defenses are. If I'm not back in two hours, I want you to wait until the soldiers go to sleep, and then I want you to lead an attack against them."

"Isn't that just a bit underhanded?"

"And sacking Terlava wasn't," the tall warrior responded with a growl.

Eponin raised her hands in appeasement. "Okay."

"Okay, what," Ephiny asked as she joined them. "Tartarus," she whispered in awe at the scene below them.

Xena took a brief moment to outline her plan before she slipped into the shadows of night to do her part. She jogged silently on dew-kissed ground, crouching low to hide herself in the tall grasses along the treeline. Within a quarter hour, she found herself at the far southern corner of the wall. "Well, there's no daggers to help me scale this one," she muttered to herself as she found purchase along the rough-hewn stone. After a few laboring minutes, she found herself at the top of the wall.

She stepped back into the shadows of a tower as a pair of sentries walked past, talking between themselves of the early morning's capture. With experienced eyes, she found all of the positions of the permanent sentries and the routes of those who walked the wall. Figuring her best chances of going undetected, she set about disabling them one by one. A few quiet scuffles and disabling blows later, she came upon the last man. With lightning-fast motions, she jabbed at his neck. "I've just cut off the flow of blood to your brain," she said automatically. "You'll be dead in thirty seconds unless you tell me what I want to know."

When the sentry nodded vehemently, she bent lower to fix him with a withering glare. "Where are the women and children being held?"

Through gasps of pain, the sentry forced the word's out of his mouth. "They're in the pit," he answered.

"The pit?"

Nodding once more, the sentry pointed to a large hole in the ground that Xena had missed upon earlier inspection. "In there."

Xena snarled as she released the pinch. With a satisfied grunt, she knocked him unconscious with punch to the side of his head. She crouched down and studied the layout below. There was only one guard watching over the captives, but she saw several others milling about in conversation and two engaged in a game of dice. "I'm getting too old for this," she mumbled as she made her way along the wall to the side closest to the pit.

She threw a dagger that she had taken from the last sentry to land with a clutter into the darkest shadows far enough from the pit to warrant the guard's attention. When the man moved to investigate, she dropped silently to the ground and then dropped herself into the pit. At first, the frightened prisoners shied away from her sudden appearance, but her calming sounds soothed them. "I'm here to help," she whispered.

The women gathered the children to them and crowded around the warrior, effectively hiding her from the guard's view as he returned, flipping a dagger in his hand. "There is an Amazon army waiting outside. But they won't move until I'm missing for another...," she glanced up to the stars, "hour or so. When they attack, the castle guard will discover that their sentries are incapacitated. Hopefully, that will draw them out enough so that I can take care of them. When everything in here is taken care of, we'll get you out of here, all right?"

Many doubtful glances were flashed to the warrior princess, but she heeded them no attention. She accepted a cloak from one of them, as it concealed her armor which was glowing dully with the torchlight that flickered above them. And, one by one, she saw to the injured as the women continued to huddle around her, hiding her among their numbers.


As she had predicted, the castle guards were roused by the sound of clashing swords outside of the walls. When they realized that the sentries had not shouted warning, they climbed to the walls themselves. Xena watched as they discovered the unconscious men, as they called to one guarding the main entrance to the castle itself. After hearing of their circumstances, the man at the door slipped inside immediately. Seeing her chance, Xena threw off the cloak and bounded out of the pit.

Grabbing the nearest man, she disabled him quickly. With a feral grin, she realized her fortune. Borrowing the guard's crossbow and quiver, she loaded the weapon and began to eliminate the guards along the walls, one by one. When her supply of bolts ran out, she threw the weapon aside and unsheathed her sword.

She felt her battlelust surge as she faced the guards one at a time and in groups. It didn't matter to her. She licked the beads of sweat that had begun to form on her upper lip. A good fight was a good fight. It didn't matter to her how many were involved. With studied movements, she began to lead her adversaries away from the pit and towards the main gate. When all were temporarily incapacitated, she took a moment to raise the beam that locked the massive wooden doors. With a vicious laugh, she opened the gates to allow the Amazons a way in, and her a way out.

Knocking a few more men unconscious and running one particularly stubborn one through with her sword, she made her way back to the pit. Seeing a ladder at the bottom of the near wall, she shouted a warning and kicked it into the hole. She watched the soldiers who were beginning to rise as she heard the first woman ascend the ladder. "Get them all out and head for the main gate. Once you're free of the castle, find cover among the trees and travel east. You should be safe in the woods. With this moonless dark, even the soldiers will be reluctant to follow. Now...GO," she ordered.

As one woman, who was braver than the rest, helped the injured up the ladder, Xena continued to battle the guards, drawing attention to herself and away from the villagers. She looked up in satisfaction as she caught a glimpse of the first Amazons come through the main gate. When several warriors joined the villagers and melted into the darkness, the tall warrior was partially relieved. She knew that the women and children were safe, but she wasn't so sure about the rest of them. It seemed as if there was a never-ending stream of men rushing from inside the castle.


Wolf heard the Queen gasp and turned her attention away from the fire that she had been studying. Her quick eyes found the group of weary women and a handful of Amazons entering the village.

"Chalia, Darlea," Gabrielle called, "help those women. Genna, go fetch the Nagla."

The Amazons moved to obey their Queen, whose eyes were scanning the trickle of bodies for any sight of her wife. When she found Ephiny instead, she tried to stand.

"Wait, Gabrielle, she's coming this way," Wolf advised, her voice flat.

"My Queen," Ephiny gasped as she accepted a waterskin from Wolf. "We succeeded."

"Ephiny, where's Xena?"

Ephiny spared a pained glance to Wolf and then looked into the Queen's eyes. "She was taken." Taking the guard's hand into her own, the Regent bowed her head. "Wolf...."

"I know, Eph. If you'll excuse me," Wolf asked on a whisper before she moved through the crowd to find her own hut.


The Regent looked to Gabrielle and tears began to fall from her face. "Eponin is dead."

"Oh gods, no," the bard cried softly as she felt the guilt settle upon her shoulders. "It's all my fault."

"No, Gabrielle. Ep died doing what she was meant to do. It was her destiny. Nothing you could have done...or not...would have prevented that."

Gabrielle considered the blond Amazon's words. While it still hurt, she knew that it was the truth. Many Amazons died defending the Nation and those under its protection. It was the most noble of sacrifices for them. "Wolf knew," she revealed, finally realizing why the demi-god had been so quiet all night.

Ephiny nodded. "Ep told me that she had visions every so often."

Gabrielle's hands flew to her face. "My gods, Ephiny. What about the babies?"

The Regent laid her hand upon the young queen's knee. "The Nation will help Wolf care for them. It is our way."

When Solari approached them, she made her report. Fifteen injured with three serious, twelve confirmed dead, and four missing and assumed dead.

Realizing that Xena was among those who were still missing, Gabrielle struggled to her feet. "I'm going after her." She was spun on her heel by a restraining hand.

"Be serious, Gabrielle. You're seven months pregnant. What are *you* going to do?"

When the bard went to open her mouth to respond, her words were stolen by the sight of Wolf.

"She's not going to do anything. I am."

Ephiny had forgotten what the demi-god looked like in her old leather and armor. Since vowing allegiance to the Amazon Nation, the small woman had opted to wear the common two-piece skirt and top. But with the urgency of the situation, it was if she had been taken back in time.

Gabrielle remembered what the woman had looked like just before the battle with Dahok. Wolf had the same determined look in her eyes, which were practically glowing behind her blue and yellow face paint. Her leathers trousers were snug along her muscled thighs and her armor glinted dully in the torchlight. The swirling dragon pattern reminded everyone just how deadly she could be when she chose.

The bard shivered when she recognized the look in Wolf's eyes. The only thing she could compare it to was Xena's face after she had discovered Solon dead. Gabrielle feared for her friend, but said nothing. Nodding her acceptance of Wolf's unspoken plan, she watched as the demi-god adjusted the swords on her back. In one fluid motion, she mounted Beast who had been led out by one of the younger warriors.

"Keep an eye on the girls until I get back."

Without waiting for a response, the small warrior spun her warhorse around with a nudge of her knee and galloped out of the village. Using her preternatural senses, Wolf guided Beast down the main road to Atronos' castle. She knew where it was. She had seen it a dozen times in her dreams. She knew that when she arrived, she would find her bondmate's body crumpled over that of a soldier whom she had run through with her sword. Wolf reminded herself to watch for the arrow that had pierced Eponin clean through the chest. In her nightmares, when she turned the woman over, it would rip a great deal of flesh, marring her beautiful breasts. She would remember to be more careful so that the Amazon's body would not be damaged any further for her spirit's passing.

Xena, Wolf knew, was alive. She wasn't doing so good, but she was strong, and would survive. *Just like she always does,* the demi-god thought with a slight grin. Knowing exactly where each guard would be when she arrived, Wolf halted her warhorse along the tree line and crept silently across the field. Her dark armor concealed her movements in the tall grass. She kneeled a short distance from the castle and watched as the men were gathering their injured from the field and carrying them inside. She knew that she would have only a moment's chance when all of their eyes were diverted from the main gate.


Xena sputtered violently as another bucket of rancid water was thrown in her face. She took slow stock of her injuries and bit back the groan that had tried to force its way past her lips. She was definitely chained to a wall, manacles dug deep into her wrists and ankles. Her face was beaten, and one eye was swollen completely. She tasted blood as it flowed freely from a laceration on her bottom lip. Taking a careful breath, she figured that she had at least three cracked ribs, and her left ankle felt as if it were sprained. Through one hooded eye, she watched as a tall man approached her.

"Ah, by the looks, I would say that I've captured the great Xena," he purred malevolently. "Please tell me it's true," he pleaded. When Xena answered by spitting blood in his face, he laughed violently, announcing the fact that his blow was coming. Not seeing it, Xena assumed that it was going to land on her blind side. In a split second, she reminded herself to relax and accept the wave of pain that was sure to come. She grunted with the contact of his meaty fist. *Well, now we know that he's as strong as he looks,* she mused as she forced her body to ignore the pain that was radiating from the new injury.

"I'll take that as a yes," Atronos snarled, wiping the spit with a rag one of the guards had supplied. "Leave us," he ordered, knowing that none would defy.

Xena watched as the prince moved to stand in front of her once again. He stood easily at six and a half feet. His long shaggy, brown hair and golden eyes prompted a vision of an exotic lion. When she saw his intentions, she closed her eyes and remembered Gabrielle. Her wife, her bard, her friend, the mother of her child. She lulled herself to numbness with visions of honey-gold hair and lively green eyes. She was feeling nothing. Her love's radiant smile lessened the pain caused by Atronos' forced entry and the blinding agony as the big man's fist connected with her head once more.


Wolf thanked Artemis as she made her way quietly through the halls of the castle. She knew the way to the dungeon as if she had designed the structure herself. With a choreographed precision, she ducked into shadows and behind cover as men occasionally passed. She was not surprised to see the heavy wooden door that led to the group of cells unguarded. It never was in her nightmares. Closing her heart against the fury that she knew would rise at the sight, she opened the door slightly and slipped in. Following the vulgar sounds coming from the last cell on the right, she gathered her courage and flung the door wide.

Atronos was leaning heavily against Xena's battered body as he was catching his breath. When he felt the draft along his naked backside, he turned his head to growl at the interruption. He was brought up short, however, by the sight of another female warrior. "Come to join the fun," he asked as he fastened his trousers.

Wolf willed her anger into the deep recesses of her soul. "Why don't you come out here and find out," she drawled suggestively.

Atronos grinned and watched as the small warrior backed out of the room. "I'm always up for a bit of light fun," he quipped.

Wolf's face turned vicious. "For what you've done to innocent women and children, I should kill you. But if you play nice and hand my friend over, I just might let you go."

The prince stared at the small woman with an expression that switched from astonishment to incredulity. "Do you think you can take me, little one?"

Wolf could feel her control slipping once again. Taking a deep calming breath, she exhaled, calm and more sure of herself and her purpose. "If you can look me in the eye and tell me straight that you want me to beat the shit out of you, I'd be happy to oblige," she taunted, drawing the man further out into the main room.

"Such big words, little one. Tell me, what sweet little treats are you hiding under all that, hmm?"

When Atronos made a move to reach for her armor, Wolf ducked and rolled out of his reach. "You know mister, I am not above playing dirty at this stage in the game," she warned as she unsheathed her twin swords.

"Ah...," the prince sighed. "I do so love a challenge."

Wolf watched as he reached behind for the sword that she knew was there. She really didn't want to kill an unarmed man, no matter how vile he was. When the long double-edged blade was revealed, the demi-god unleashed the maelstrom that had been building. All her life flashed past her eyes. She saw the fires of the Celts and heard their battle chants. She saw Master Lin as he taught her a tough lesson, she saw Eponin and their daughters.

And with a breath, she let it all go. She allowed herself to float, to become. Focusing her energy, she dropped her swords and grinned at the man's perplexed look. "Sorry, pal. I just don't have time for this," she snarled before she hurled an energy bolt. The force of the impact sent the large man crashing into the wall behind him with a sickening thud as his charred flesh stuck in places along the rough stone. "Well, that was gross," Wolf muttered as she resheathed her swords and found the manacle keys hanging on a hook by the door.


Wolf laid Xena gently to the ground and heaved a deep breath. "Damn, woman, you have really let yourself go," she gasped, noting with wry humor that the tall warrior was as fit and trim as ever.

"Maybe you just got lazy in your old age," a cracked voice whispered.

Falling to one knee, the demi-god pushed a few raven locks off Xena's forehead. "And you know it," she returned with a grin. "Can you walk?"

Xena tried to chuckle, but the pain in her ribs only caused her to grimace. "Just give a shoulder, and I'll make it."


When the couple reached Beast, Wolf made sure that Xena was comfortable with a waterskin before she trotted back to the castle. Along the outside of the far wall, she found her bondmate. With great care, she reached under and snapped off the arrowhead that was protruding from between her breasts. She carefully removed the deadly shaft. Cradling the Amazon's body, she made her way back to Xena. "There are two more out there," Wolf panted as she accepted the waterskin. "Is Argo around? Beast can probably carry two, and I'm sure yours can carry you plus another."

When Xena nodded, Wolf gave a low, shrill whistle. When there was no answering sound of hooves, she turned to her own warhorse. "Beast, go find Argo and bring her back," she ordered with a scratch behind the horse's ear. Beast snorted and nodded her head before taking off down the trail to the main road.

"She listens better than you do," Xena observed with dry humor. "I thought I told you to stay with Gabrielle."

Wolf smiled warmly, knowing that Xena was already feeling better. "The war party came back...and without you, I might add. She was ready to come after you herself."

Taking another deep drink of water, Xena watched as Wolf rolled Eponin into a confiscated bedroll. "I'm sorry, Wolf."

The demi-god sat back on her legs and hung her head. "There was nothing you could have done, Xena. Nothing anyone could have done. She died honorably." Wolf moved to sit next to her old friend. Taking the warrior's offered hand, she began to cry quietly. "I was so lucky to have found her. I thought that I would never know that kind of love again. And for five years, I was the happiest person alive. I'm better off for having known her."

"You're taking this a lot easier than I would."

Wolf turned to the tall warrior, her face suddenly serious. "I believe in destiny, Xena. Dying on this battlefield was hers, and mine is to continue on."

Xena remained silent as she contemplated the guard's words. She herself had come back from the dead to fulfill her destiny. She understood it, but it didn't mean that she always had to agree with it.

"Well, I'm going back before those soldiers find their bodies," Wolf announced as she stood once again. "You all right?"


The demi-god nodded and slipped away. She followed the scent that seemed to be unique to all Amazons - that of forest and earth - to another body. Her heart saddened when she recognized the woman. She was so young, but she had shown such promise and skill. Normally, she would not have been along for this battle, but with several other warriors retired temporarily by pregnancy, the young Amazon had been chosen to join. It was her first, and last, real-battle experience.

Xena watched as Wolf moved swiftly through the grasses, returning with one body and then crossing the field for the last one. When the demi-god had finally retrieved all the fallen Amazons, the two warhorses appeared. "There's rope in the front saddlebag," she said as she moved to help the small woman.

"Don't even think about it, Xena," Wolf called over her shoulder. "Gabrielle would never let me hear the end of it."

The warrior settled to the grass once more. "She doesn't have to know."

"But I would," Wolf emphasized as she tapped Beast's withers in command for the horse to kneel. With reverent movements, she tied two of the bodies to the animal and commanded the mare to rise. "Xena, would you mind carrying Eponin?"

"It would be an honor."

Wolf smiled in gratitude as Xena whistled for Argo to kneel as Beast had done. After Eponin's body was secure, Argo stood and Wolf helped the warrior mount. "Ready to go home and face the music?"

Xena snorted as she could already hear Gabrielle chastising her for her actions. "Don't remind me."


Apollo's first rays were just lighting the sky when Wolf and Xena returned to Amazonia. Their arrival was announced by sentries who had passed the word along. By the time that they reached the square, a small crowd was milling about, solemn murmurs filled the air. Wolf cast a glance to the warrior who was dismounting with stiff movements and grimaced. Xena looked like Hades' chariot had run her over a few times.

She watched as Gabrielle stepped from the crowd and raked her eyes over her wife. Without a word exchanged, the Queen led her consort to their hut, motioning for the Nagla to follow. Ephiny began calling out orders for a pyre detail and two more Amazons lowered their fallen sisters gently to the ground. Wolf raised a restraining hand when they approached Argo. "She's mine," she whispered as she untied her bondmate's body and carried her across the compound to their hut.


Gabrielle stood in the corner watching as the healer helped Xena to undress. Although used to seeing the warrior's body covered in bruises and minor cuts after a heavy battle, she was unprepared this time. Mentally, she chalked it up to hormones, but when she saw that her wife's body was battered all over, dark, large bruises nearly covered her upper torso, Gabrielle began to cry. And then she wept aloud.

Xena crossed the room and gathered the small woman into her arms and shook her head ruefully. She had been prepared for a reaction from the bard, but not one so dramatic. She expected a few veiled threats and a lame joke to cover the worry. The sobs which were beginning to escalate, took her by surprise. Xena sighed as she led Gabrielle to their bed. The warrior figured that the pregnancy had something to do with Gabrielle's reaction. It sure had played a number on her in various other ways - her ravenous appetite, her unpredictable libido, the easy tears that Xena had become accustomed to.

Laying along the length of the bed and propping herself up on the myriad of cushions and pillows, Xena allowed Nagla to clean her wounds as she held the Queen who was still sobbing quietly into her neck. When the healer moved to sew a wound high on her thigh, her eyes widened in horror.

Xena met the old woman's eyes with a slight shake of her head. Nodding her understanding, Nagla closed the wound and erased the evidence of Atronos' violence. Xena winced slightly when the cool cloth was passed between her legs. In the morning, she knew she would have to find the herbs she would need to end any conception that might have occurred.

When the healer finished rubbing salve into the heavy bruises on her torso, she wrapped the warrior's ribs tightly so that they would knit themselves. With the barest of nods, the old woman gathered her supplies and left the two women alone in the hut. Her shoulders sagging, she returned to the infirmary where others were waiting for her care.


Once Gabrielle had fallen asleep, Xena allowed herself to close her eyes. Her mind drifted over the battle of last night. Considering the situation, the outcome really had not been all that bad. Ephiny had led a squad into the walls of the castle to help her battle the endless numbers of soldiers streaming from within the castle, while Solari and Eponin led the fight outside of the walls. When she had realized that they were in more trouble than they could handle, she had ordered the Regent to withdraw her troops. She had kept the soldiers busy, allowing the others to retreat with few casualties.

With her usual stoicism, she considered the fact that she herself had been doing pretty good. She had finally buckled under the constant blows from fresh opponents and had been unable to escape. She flexed her jaw as she remembered the last blow she that she could. She had not known it at the time, but Atronos had entered the courtyard himself and had dealt it. His meaty fist had connected with the side of her face, and she had seen stars. She had vague memories of being bound and carried through the castle, of several guards taking the liberty of beating her further.

After she had been safely manacled to the dungeon wall and Atronos had revived her, she had to endure the tyrant's glorification of his victory. She had learned of his rise to power in one word - Ares. The God of War had taken a liking to his twisted soul and had gifted him with an army and had ordered him to ravage and draw blood. At some derogatory comment about the intrusive god, Atronos had knocked her unconscious again. *Guess he won't be around to fulfill his contract,* Xena figured with a smirk, remembering Wolf's blank-stared response to her question of the prince's whereabouts.

Xena allowed herself to drift along the edges of wakefulness. She was tired, beaten, and bruised. Gabrielle's gentle snoring lulled her deeper. It had been her thoughts of the bard and their child that had gotten her this far. She could not have just allowed her pain to overtake her, to sweep her into Celesta's arms. Knowing her wife, the small woman would have followed her to the Underworld and argued with Hades himself to have her returned. With a heavy sigh, Xena fell asleep, thoughts of Wolf and her loss caused her brow to pucker momentarily until Morpheus seduced her into his realm.


When Wolf returned to her hut, she deposited Eponin's body gently on the bed and removed the bedroll. Silent tears began to fall once again, as she cleaned and anointed the Amazon with sweet oils. She began to croon a haunting death chant as she brushed her bondmate's hair. When she finished preparing the body, she kissed the Amazon's cold, unresponsive lips one last time and wrapped it in a pristine white linen shroud. She looked over to the empty cribs, forgetting for a moment that the twins were with Triva.

Wiping the tears from her eyes, the demi-god walked from her hut and stared up at the moonless sky. With a muted growl from the depths of her aching soul, Wolf changed her shape and took to the sky. She exhausted herself, catching the gentle currents and flying as high as she dared, in an effort to escape the pain that refused to be left behind in her hut, on the battlefield. Inhaling deeply, her lungs exploded with a thunderous wail. She continued until her throat was raw and parched. When her wings could barely carry her dragon-body, she returned to the village and her hut where she fell into a deep sleep, curled up next to the woman who had brought meaning to her life, who was no more.


Ephiny poked her head into the Queen's hut and found Gabrielle alone in bed with a bowl of porridge and a tray of fruit. "Hey, how are you feeling?"

Gabrielle offered a brief smile and shrugged. "Fine, considering. Have you seen Wolf?"

"She's still sleeping," the Regent answered.

"Was that her last night?"

Ephiny nodded. "I think it was. I've never heard anything like it. It was so...."

"Mournful," the bard supplied.


"Do you think she'll be all right?"

Snagging a slice of apple from the tray, Ephiny sighed. "I hope so. Her daughters need her to be." Ephiny considered Xenon for a moment. It had only been a week since she had seen the Centaur prince last, but every time she had to leave her son, she missed him just a little more. "So, where's Xena?"

"She went for a walk," Gabrielle replied, her brow furrowed with disapproval.

"Warriors," the Regent mumbled.

Gabrielle focused her gaze on the Amazon and narrowed her eyes. "You *are* a warrior, Ephiny," she accused as she threw a pillow at her regent's head.


Wolf woke with a startle and felt to her side for the warm body of her bondmate, but was reminded of her loss by the linen-wrapped form she found. Unwilling to face the truth, she removed her armor and left the hut. In an attempt to avoid any sympathetic looks for just a while longer, she struck out for the forest, her short legs pumping automatically as she followed the trails she knew by heart.

Xena heard the demi-god before she saw her. The woman had thrown all thoughts of stealth out the proverbial window. She was making enough noise to scare away any game.

Xena contemplated her reason for being away from Gabrielle's side when all her body wanted to do was lose itself in her warmth. She was looking not for fauna, but for flora. Her keen eye found the plant that she was looking for the moment that Wolf stumbled to a halt on the path before her.

"Damn, woman, what are you doing out of bed," the demi-god asked as she took stock of the warrior's battered body.

"Had something to do," Xena replied as she cleaned the dirt from the root in her hand. When the tall warrior saw the guard's brow rise in comprehension, she braced herself for the protests that Wolf always seemed to keep handy. When all she heard were the morning birds calling to each other, she found the small woman dragging her toe through the packed dirt of the path.

Wolf looked up when she felt Xena's eyes on her. She wasn't as good as Gabrielle when it came to communicating with the warrior using only her eyes, so she tried the usual method. "You won't get any argument from me," she explained as she fell to sit upon a stump.

"I am pregnant, aren't I?"

Wolf's eyes saddened. "Yes."

"Well, Oracle," the dark warrior snarled, misdirecting her anger towards her old friend. "What do your visions show you of this pleasant surprise?"

"I don't know," Wolf mumbled. "It doesn't matter, Xena. This is your choice, and I have no right to interfere one way or another."

Xena wanted to scream, to lash out at anything in her way. In the past when she had been faced with similar circumstances, things had been much easier. She was her own person. But now...there was another who she thought would want a say. She knew that Gabrielle would be extremely pissed at her for not even telling her. And the thought of terminating the pregnancy, would probably make the bard furious considering her own condition. Xena sighed. "What should I do, Wolf?"

The demi-god shook her head. "Don't ask me, Xena. I can't give you an answer."

"You think I should tell Gabrielle," the warrior stated.

Wolf's shoulders lifted with a slight shrug.

Xena studied the pale root in her hands. It was an easy solution. It would end things...clean and simple. But since she had met Gabrielle, nothing was that easy anymore. She was not a singular person to make choices for herself anymore. She was part of something bigger - a couple. And even though she saw the unfortunate circumstances as more than simple to remedy, she still felt an obligation to discuss the situation with her wife. "Hades," she swore softly. She knew that she would just have to convince Gabrielle that her way was best.


Ephiny could feel the funeral drums pounding in time to her heart. She had lost a great friend to the battle with Atronos, but Wolf had lost part of herself. The regent looked on as the demi-god stood in front of the fire of her bondmate's pyre. Ever since Eponin had been killed, the small woman had opted to wear her dark leathers. In each arm, she held an infant. Zasha and Peran almost seemed to understand the gravity of the situation, for they remained quiet for the most part. When one or the other would fuss, Wolf would lower her head and whisper to them, soothing them.

Furtive glances were cast their way. The stories had already made the rounds along the grapevine, of the demi-god's suffering of the night before. Ever since, however, the woman was just stoic. It frightened Ephiny in a way. Wolf was not the type of warrior to close off her emotions at all Xena. The guard usually had a smile on her face and a mischievous glint in her eyes. The Regent prayed that Wolf's soul would heal.

Ephiny shifted her gaze from the demi-god to the Queen and Consort. Gabrielle was holding up fairly well. Sheltered by Xena's presence, the Queen had given the signal to light the pyres with the same dignity as she had shown in the past. Xena was staid as ever, in deference for the loss of Amazon life.

All Amazons were respectfully silent. At an unspoken time, they began to move away from the pyres and entered the dining hall. Wolf however, refused to budge. She gave the twins over to Triva's care, but she held her vigil over Eponin's body, even when the skies opened up to a dismal, fine mist of rain.


"She's beginning to lose weight," Gabrielle observed as they watched Wolf enter the dining hall. As usual, she had the babies with her, one in each arm. While the demi-god had remained sober and quiet the month since Eponin's death, she still showed the same affection for the twins, who were probably the only ones who saw the woman smile.

"Wish I was," Xena replied with a mock moan as she accepted a baby from Wolf who seated herself next to the Consort. The conversation with Gabrielle about what had happened to her at Atronos' castle, and its results, had gone better than the warrior had expected. She had guessed correctly, her wife's reaction to her plans of terminating the pregnancy. Even if she hadn't been influenced by raging hormones, the bard would have still chosen to preserve the potential life. And Xena, after hours of calm debate, had capitulated.

Gabrielle had used the most powerful argument possible - she had said 'please.' Xena mentally mocked her own weak nature when it came to Gabrielle. All it left her with now was the prospect of getting weird like her wife.

"Wish you were what," Wolf asked as she accepted a bowl of venison stew.

"Umm...about ready to deliver," Xena replied lamely.

The demi-god quirked a brow and snuck a look at her friend's still-lithe frame. "Gotta ways to go yet, Xena."

The warrior flashed a steely look to her friend and then laughed as Zasha, whom Wolf was holding, stuck out her tongue. "I think she's spending too much time with you," Xena commented.

"Nah, she just doesn't like her cereal," Wolf explained as she tried to get the baby to take a spoonful. "Not like Aunt Gabby, huh," the demi-god cooed.

"Please, don't remind me," the Queen asked. Gabrielle's face puckered up into a look of distaste. "I can't believe I ate that stuff for six months. I hate porridge."

"We could tell," Xena agreed wryly, ducking back as her wife took a swing at her.

"Hey, watch the baby," Wolf chastised with a grin.

"Yeah, watch the baby," the warrior repeated.

Gabrielle stare bored down on both of them until she smirked. "Okay. But when you get strange cravings, Warrior Princess, do not ask me to fulfill them."

Xena's eyes narrowed in playful seduction. "None of them," she asked.

Her hormones, which were raging already, suddenly flared, and Gabrielle sucked in a deep breath. Leaning in to her wife's ear, she exhaled hotly. "Maybe just one," she purred, her honey-sweet voice promising everything.

The two women were drawn out of their passionate study of each other by a loud gurgle. Both looked down to see Peran observing them with an intensity that shocked them both. For a second, Xena thought she could see Eponin in the child's eyes. The moment was broken when the baby sneezed and coated a bemused Xena with spittle. Accepting a napkin from Gabrielle, the warrior wiped her chest clean and dried the baby's chin. With a mental sigh, Xena realized that she couldn't wait for a second chance at motherhood.


Gabrielle stared at the thatch ceiling of her hut. Squeezing her eyes shut, she tried to will away the urge to relieve herself, but its calling was too strong. It was hours before dawn, and she hadn't slept a wink since retiring. With a frustrated sigh, she scooted to the side of the pallet and pushed herself to a sitting position. Taking only a moment to cover her restless baby with both hands, she stood and moved behind a partition to the chamber pot. Her sigh was audible to the warrior, as was her gasp of surprise.

She had been worried, for the past seven months to be exact, that she would not know when the baby would be ready to be delivered. She had nightmares of being alone in a field with nobody around as she went into labor. She feared her ignorance. Hope's birth had been a freakish thing, so nothing from that would have been able to prepare her. But the moment that Gabrielle felt the little pop within her own body, and the liquid that was more than urine splash into the pot, she knew that her fears were unrecognized. With a calmness that surprised her, she stood and straightened her shift.

Xena was waiting for her when she stepped out from behind the partition. She almost laughed when she saw the warrior's face lit up with expectation. Smiling with a nod, Gabrielle moved closer stood on her toes to kiss the warrior's cheek. "So, do you want to do the honors, or are you going to get Nagla?"

Xena paced a moment in confusion before she remembered what she had to do. With a look to her wife who had moved to recline casually on the bed, she grinned and left the hut to fetch the healer.

The moment that Nagla heard the pounding on her door, she knew the reason. Quickly, she dressed herself and ran out to the square to ring a bell that was mounted atop a tower. The delivery of an Amazon princess was an important occasion. Sure that she had awakened enough people, the healer ran to the Queen's hut, where she was ushered inside by Darlea.

Xena had already stoked the fire and was in the process of pulling clean linens from a chest at the foot of the bed. Once she placed them on the pallet, she pulled the chest across the room so that the healer would have room to work. Nagla smiled in appreciation, but frowned when she realized that the warrior was working herself into a frantic state. She shuddered at the thought of having to order the woman out of the room. Fortunately for her, Wolf chose that moment to enter the hut.

"Well, its about time," she shouted as she strode over to the bed. Sitting next to the Queen, she offered a supportive smile. "You ready for this," she asked, her voice heavy with concern.

"Yes," Gabrielle assured her with a gentle pat on her arm. "I don't think she is, though," the bard commented with a nod of her head.

Wolf watched as the normally stoic warrior was wringing her hands and pacing back and forth. "Tell you what," Wolf began with a conspiratorial wink, "you hold off on squeezing out the princess, and I'll get that one to settle down a bit. Deal?"

"You got it," Gabrielle replied with a grimace as the first contraction seized her, working from her back around to her abdomen.

"Just relax and ride them out," Wolf advised as she stood and grasped Xena by the arm. "Come on," she ordered the warrior. "Let's go for a walk."


"No arguments, warrior. She promised to wait for you."

Xena cast a desperate look over her shoulder to her wife, who merely smiled and waved goodbye. Realizing that she was the pawn in some plan of theirs, she conceded and let the smaller woman lead her out of the hut. Five minutes later, she found herself on the outskirts of the village, seated upon a rock and guzzling from a wineskin.

"Just enough to take the edge off," Wolf chuckled as she confiscated the skin. "You want to be aware of your daughter being born, right?"

"Oh, it'll take more than a little wine to dull my senses," Xena replied. It was a good plan, she figured. By removing her from the Queen's hut, Wolf had given her the time and place to calm herself. "Okay, I'm better."

"Ready to do this?"

The warrior smiled nervously. "Sure. I mean, it's not like I've never seen her give birth before."

Wolf nodded as she stood and clasped her friend's forearm. "Wasn't your child then."

"True." Xena forced her breathing to a steady, schooled rhythm. "Almost like going into battle," she admitted.

"Just wait until she gets a hold of you," Wolf warned. "You'd better tie your hair up and put your breast plate on. If she latches onto either, you'll be sorry."

Xena flashed her a disbelieving glance and then remembered how Wolf had flexed her injured hands after Eponin's birthing. "Good idea," she mumbled, nodding her head.


Ten hours later, Gabrielle was cursing, in vivid detail, the warrior's lineage. Xena had tied up her hair, but had foregone the breastplate for the bard's comfort, as the woman was leaning back against her. She ignored the steady stream of insults coming from her wife, for the most part. Some particularly ribald comments about her hands, though, had caused her to smirk deviously.

Ephiny and Solari had been chosen as witnesses to the event, and Wolf had appointed herself the go-between for the hut and the expectant villagers who had gathered outside. The demi-god's brows rose in surprise when she saw that tables were already being set up for the celebrations that would follow the birth.

When the healer finally gave Gabrielle permission to push, the Queen took a deep breath and focused on the chore. Xena was surprised at yet another display of the woman's courage. Not once had the bard cried out in pain, even though the warrior had encouraged it. But, in her usual pique of stubborn denial, Gabrielle swore through clenched teeth that the pain was not that bad. Xena had merely chuckled and offered her steady strength by supporting her wife and helping her to push.

Collapsing for a moment, Gabrielle heaved several deep breaths. "It's not so bad," she gasped as another hard contraction seized her. Squeezing her eyes shut, she tried to ride the waves as Wolf had told her, but her impatience to get it over with, dissolved her focus.

"One more, my Queen," Nagla encouraged after she turned the baby's shoulders.

Gabrielle opened her eyes and nearly burned the healer on the spot with one look. "DO NOT CALL ME QUEEN," she growled. Taking a deep breath, she grabbed Xena's hands and bore down on against the pain. With a great yell, she forced the baby the rest of the way out of the birth canal. Whimpering, she collapsed into Xena's arms, where she was showered with kisses and murmurs of love and pride.

"Look Gabrielle, she's beautiful," Xena said, her voice full of awe.

The Queen forced open her eyes heavy with fatigue and found her heart swelled with love for the little bundle that was laid on her chest. Ducking her head, she studied the infant's face. Although a vivid red from the birth, the child was beautiful. She had Xena's hair; dark locks adorned her crown.

"I think she takes after you," Xena whispered as she realized that the infant was already beginning to fall asleep. "I can't blame her though, I can't imagine anyone's arms that feel better than yours," she added as she nuzzled Gabrielle's sweaty neck.

The bard grunted in discomfort as the healer manually expelled the afterbirth and began to clean her. "I'm afraid that you beat me there, Xena. I like yours much better."

"Is that all," the warrior asked the two Amazons who had been watching the birth from a corner.

Ephiny and Solari both smiled brightly. "We'll go let them know," the Regent said as she put her hand to Solari's back and pushed.

When the two women finally exited the hut, Xena sighed. "Finally, some...."

A great cheer erupted from outside that shook the walls. "Peace and quiet," the warrior finished.

Gabrielle grinned through a yawn and shrugged her shoulders. "They are Amazons," she mumbled before she fell into an exhausted sleep.

Xena heard the muted sounds of casks of wine being opened and grinned. "A damn good excuse for a party," she said as the healer patted her congratulations and left the hut. Scooting out from behind her wife, Xena laid her length along Gabrielle's side and caressed both mother and child. Allowing a light slumber to overtake her, she gasped when the baby's hand instinctively clutched at her finger.


Not soon after, Nagla was kept busy delivering the children the resulted from the Festival of Life. In all, fourteen babies were delivered, nine girls and five boys, while two came into the world without life. The village took time to mourn the loss of those that had not survived, and then they began to prepare for the Festival of Promise.


"Okay, now. Explain this one to me," Gabrielle asked Solari as she sat in the shade of the trees with the other mothers and babies.

The Amazon kept a sharp eye on the practice field as she crouched down to answer her queen's question. "One month after the last mother from the Festival of Life delivers, we celebrate the Festival of Promise. It is when all of the children born in the between are named, and their lives are blessed by Artemis."

"And that's why Xena didn't want to name the baby...because we had to wait." When Solari nodded, Gabrielle shook her head. "I just thought that we were having trouble coming up with a name," she joked.

"You mean she never told you?"

Gabrielle shrugged. "We've been so busy with the baby, I never really bothered to ask her."

Solari smiled wistfully as she watched the mother and child.

"Whoa," Gabrielle exclaimed softly. "I think this one's hungry," she said as the baby rooted at her breast.

"From the looks of your warrior, I'd say so, too."

Gabrielle looked at Solari and then turned her head to see what the Amazon was talking about. With a swift twist of her wrist, Xena disarmed her opponent and then called for a rest. With eager strides, she crossed the field to where they were sitting and removed her weapons and armor. With a warm smile, she took her usual seat behind Gabrielle.

"I figured it was time to feed her," the warrior whispered into the bard's ear.

Gabrielle turned her head to kiss her wife and then moved their daughter so that Xena could unlace her tunic and pull it off her shoulders. When the infant found purchase on a nipple, the bard sighed in contentment and leaned back.

Xena knew the moment that Solari left them to their privacy, and she silently thanked the Amazon for the gesture. Feeding time was a moment that she felt absolute peace overcome her soul. To see her wife and child connect at the most intimate of levels gave her an exquisite warmth. At just over two months old, their child was a breathtaking combination of the both of them. Her hair was raven-dark and her eyes had already turned emerald green. She was growing quickly off her mother's milk, and was showing promise of being tall. Every day, she thanked Artemis and Aphrodite for her.

Motherhood had made Gabrielle even more beautiful. She regained the glow that she had lost in Britannia so long ago, and she smiled and laughed so easily. Xena was sure that she fell in love all over again each day. It was getting harder and harder to maintain her stoic front, when a goofy grin kept threatening to reveal itself. She felt the grin come along as she gazed down at her wife. The bard had regained her figure, and was just slightly rounder in all the nice places. *Such a comfortable bedmate,* Xena thought with a wicked grin.

Even though she herself was already halfway through her own pregnancy, there were still no outward signs she could see to indicate such, although Gabrielle swore that her breasts were larger. She had been frustrated for a while with her sparring partners because they had begun to take it easy on her, but the Queen had convinced them that anything outside of abdomen strikes was just fine with her. And so, Xena managed to keep her fighting form in spite of it. But she knew from experience that soon it would be uncomfortable to do the more acrobatic stunts, especially since she could already feel herself retaining water. It was only a matter of time before her ankles swelled up like melons.

"What's wrong?"


"You sighed," Gabrielle explained as she switched the baby over to her other breast. "I was just wondering what's wrong."

In a rare outburst of insecurity, Xena blurted, "I'm getting fat, aren't I?"

Gabrielle's brows rose as she tried to stifle a giggle. When she was sure that she had a handle on it, she turned and trapped her wife in her gaze. "I love you, Xena."

The warrior felt her chest contract and her heart swell almost painfully, as they always did when she heard those words said with such absolute conviction and promise. She lowered her head to catch Gabrielle's lips in a fiery embrace. She groaned when their tongues began to duel with each other. Wrapping her arms around both her and the baby, she gently squeezed and held them, her lips still ravaging her wife's.

They broke away slightly from each other to catch their breath.

"She's asleep," Gabrielle rasped, her need thick on her words.

Xena took the baby in one arm and waited for Gabrielle to tie her shirt. Once she was covered again, the warrior pulled the Queen to her feet and led the way to their hut.

Ephiny and Solari abruptly ended their discussion to watch the family walk off the field. For a moment, the Amazons' eyes held each other as they recognized similar feelings in themselves.

"Great to be Queen, huh?"

Ephiny snorted as she turned and shouted orders to a second-year class. "I guess you gotta get it when you can," she replied.

Solari smiled over her shoulder as she watched Triva taking Wolf's twins back to their hut for a nap. With a slight nod of her head, she silently asked the guard to take over the instruction. When the demi-god grinned, she caught the Regent by the elbow. "I guess now's your chance," she whispered as she led the other woman back to the village.

Wolf watched the two Amazons leave the field and she hid her pain behind the mask she assumed so easily. With shouted instructions, she selected a partner to demonstrate the same staff technique that had once earned her the attentions of the past Weaponsmaster.

On the outside, she was confident and secure in her standing within the Nation. On the inside, she felt a debilitating fear for the first time in her life. She mentally grimaced as her heart constricted, as her loss was still vividly sharp. Steeling her resolve, she spared a thought for the twins who were who were asleep in their cribs, whose contented cooing carried to her sharp ears. For her daughters, she would be strong. She would keep their mother's memory alive, for the joy the Amazon had brought into her life.


In the Queen's hut, a child's sleepy whimper was heard over the ragged breathing of two writhing figures.

"Leave her, she'll go back to sleep," Xena advised as she guided her wife's head lower.

When the baby whimpered again, Gabrielle smiled ruefully. "I guess this is motherhood, huh," she whispered.

Xena clutched the bedcovers in frustration. "Maybe she needs changed," the warrior suggested, eager to continue their lovemaking.

Gabrielle rose to check on the baby, but the warrior stopped her with a hand.


The bard cocked her head and heard the soft sounds of the baby suckling her own thumb. Within minutes, even that was quiet. Turning to her wife and licking her lips, Gabrielle bared her teeth. "Now where were we," she drawled suggestively as she settled between the warrior's powerful thighs.

In answer, Xena grabbed a pillow to muffle her cries of passion. She knew that Gabrielle could sense her pleasure simply by reading her body's language. And at the moment she found blinding rapture, the warrior's body promised eternity.

The End.


Return to The Bard's Corner

"2" FACE="Comic Sans MS">When the baby whimpered again, Gabrielle smiled ruefully. "I guess this is motherhood, huh," she whispered.

Xena clutched the bedcovers in frustration. "Maybe she needs changed," the warrior suggested, eager to continue their lovemaking.

Gabrielle rose to check on the baby, but the warrior stopped her with a hand.


The bard cocked her head and heard the soft sounds of the baby suckling her own thumb. Within minutes, even that was quiet. Turning to her wife and licking her lips, Gabrielle bared her teeth. "Now where were we," she drawled suggestively as she settled between the warrior's powerful thighs.

In answer, Xena grabbed a pillow to muffle her cries of passion. She knew that Gabrielle could sense her pleasure simply by reading her body's language. And at the moment she found blinding rapture, the warrior's body promised eternity.

The End.


Return to The Bard's Corner