Oh dear, disclaimers. Okay, MCA owns Xena, Gabrielle, Ephiny and Eponin. (Oh yes, they own Argo too.) I'm not making any money out of writing about them but I can still dream. MCA doesn't own the Amazon Nation. We do. As for the rest of the characters and the story itself, I guess I'll take the blame.

Yes, there are scenes of two women making very consensual love together, in very excruciating detail on at least two occasions. If for some mad reason, you are offended by such scenes, find it illegal in your country or state or are simply under the age of consent, then do delete now because neither I nor the wonderful people who work so hard to put this web site together will take any responsibility if the law (or worse, your mother) gets upset when they find you have this story on your hard-drive.

Many thanks, as always to my hard working team of test reader and editor. I promise to always try to remember the rules of grammar you have worked so hard to thump into this particular writers head. I also have a special thank you for Debbie (of confessionals-R-Us fame) for giving me the idea that became the ending of this story. The idea was wicked, the ending more so.

Comments are always welcomed. Flames are always deleted. J. july 97


Anger Is My Shield 



Jamie Boughen

The Warrior-Bard


"Tell me again why we have travelled nearly half-way across Greece to get here," Xena said, feeling a little tired and saddle-sore.

Here just happened to be a day’s ride from the outskirts of the Amazon hunting grounds. The forest around them was sparse and made up more of rock outcroppings than trees. Those few trees which stood were twisted and warped by the strong sun and the windstorms that frequented the area.

The forest had slowly been thickening as water became more available, but most of it was underground and could not be reached by the two travelling women. They had been living out of their waterbags for the past three days, and those were nearly empty. It would be yet another day’s ride from the edge of the hunting grounds before they reached the Amazon village and their first chance to rest in over a moon.

The warrior glanced down and could see Gabrielle looked even more tired than she felt herself, having walked almost the entire distance. It was not often the compact little bard pushed the pace, but on this occasion she had pushed both of them to get to the Amazon lands as quickly as possible. In a way, Xena was surprised Gabrielle had managed to keep her sturdy legs moving day after long day to get to the village in time. They had taken the fastest and safest route there, over the mountains and along the lesser known trails, and the terrain had been anything but easy on the bard, not to mention herself.

Gabrielle looked up, irritably, before answering. "Ephiny is organising a festival to celebrate the first anniversary of my being made an Amazon Princess."

"Still can't see why they are making such a big deal out of it," The dark-haired woman muttered under her breath. Titles and positions didn't mean all that much to the tall warrior seated on the golden mare. She knew they didn't mean a lot to her travelling companion and lover either, so the rush to get to the Amazon Nation was a bit of a mystery to Xena.

"I heard that," Gabrielle said quickly. "Look, Xena, it's important to them, and that is why we have to be there. Most of them still think of me as their Queen, even though Ephiny has been more of a leader than I could ever be."

Xena sighed quietly to herself. "Don't underestimate yourself, Gabrielle. You've grown a lot over the past several seasons or so."

The bard couldn't help but blush at Xena's words. It was not often the warrior praised her for anything, which made the compliments all the sweeter when they did come out. Still blushing, she said, "It's only two more days and we'll be there. If we push it, we could probably do it in a day and a half."

"No," Xena replied. "The festival isn't for another several days, and it won't do either of us any good if we arrive exhausted. In fact," she said, glancing around and coming to a decision, "we stop and make camp now."

"B…but it's only mid-afternoon," Gabrielle stuttered.

The warrior peered down at the bard with an "I-know-that" expression on her face. She spoke gently. "Gabrielle, we have barely stopped for the past moon, and we could both do with a few candlemarks to get cleaned up and rested before we reach the hunting grounds."

Glancing down at her clothes, Gabrielle could see Xena was right. There was dust and travel stains all over her skirt and top because she hadn't wanted to take the time in washing them and then waiting for the leather to dry again. A good bath would probably go a long way towards making her feel a lot better too. Grit and dust from the road had worked its way into almost every crease and crevice on her body over the past few days, and it was starting to itch rather badly.

For a moment, she felt a little guilty. She had wanted to get to this festival so much she had forgotten about almost everything else. How did Xena feel with the same grit rubbing against her skin under those tight leathers and armour? "Okay. We stop and camp early tonight, if we can find a place with some water," Gabrielle said.

"Good. Can't have your Amazon sisters thinking I don't know how to take care of you," Xena replied, already dismounting from Argo. "I know just the place too." The warrior was leading the honey-coated mare off the road and through a small stand of saplings, deeper into the sparse forest.

"Hrump," Gabrielle grumped. "You planned this," she said to Xena's rapidly retreating back as the taller woman and her mount disappeared into the trees.

Xena's selective deafness chose that moment to kick in.


Almost groaning with pleasure, Gabrielle lay back in the shallow water at the edge of the little pond. "Xena, this is bliss." The water, warmed by the afternoon sun, was just the right temperature, not too cold for bathing but cool enough to take the heat of the day from her skin. "How do you know about this place?" the bard asked, barely lifting her head.

"I have…" Xena started.

"Many skills," Gabrielle laughed, finishing one of the warrior's favourite sayings for her. The bard was starting to think stopping early was a very good idea indeed. Xena seemed to have a real knack for finding the best campsites, no matter where they were. She let her mind wander a bit. "Remember when we were trying to cross the Plains of Sorrow?" she said quietly, gearing up for a little story-telling now that she felt clean and relaxed for the first time in a couple of seven-days. Gabrielle could feel the little waves around her body as Xena moved up next to her.

"Shhh. I hear something," The warrior whispered into Gabrielle's ear, as she moved passed the reclining bard. Xena was slipping silently out of the water, picking up her sword as she reached dry land again. She hadn't expected problems this close to the Amazon hunting grounds, but years of habit, and trouble, had made her leave her sword and chakram close to the bank, just in case.

Gabrielle was also quietly leaving the pond and picking up her own fighting staff. For a moment, she wondered which imp of the perverse decided to interrupt them this time. Seemed just when she was getting comfortable, something always happened to make her uncomfortable again. And standing there naked and dripping definitely came under the heading of uncomfortable and embarrassing. Gabrielle didn't have any problems being naked in front of Xena. After all, they had been lovers for almost an entire cycle of seasons now, but being seen the same way by anyone else was enough to set her face flaming with self-consciousness.

The raven-haired warrior wasn't the least bit concerned with her state of dress at that moment, so long as she had her sword in her hand. Xena silently hand-signalled for Gabrielle to move more towards the right while she started stalking around to the left of the little clearing surrounding the waterhole. The warrior's bare feet never made a whisper in the leaf litter as she slowly walked closer to the sounds she had heard from the water. Raking her eyes along the tree-line, Xena tried to find the maker of the faint noises her sharp ears had picked up. She spotted a small movement high in the trees ahead of her and quickly tossed her weapon to the ground. Clutching her hands over her head, she hissed at Gabrielle to do the same.

The bard saw what Xena was doing but didn't drop her staff. She simply stood straight and tall with her feet planted firmly apart, one end of her staff on the ground, waiting almost defiantly. As a Princess and a former Queen, she didn't have to worry about how she would be treated by the warriors of the Amazon Nation.

Suddenly, out of the trees dropped several Amazons. All were dressed in a similar fashion as Gabrielle. Their faces were covered by a mask, their weapons strapped across their backs. They rapidly approached the waiting bard, for the moment ignoring the tall warrior, and most knelt before Gabrielle. The one left standing came closer and lifted the mask from her face to identify herself to her Queen.

"Eponin!" Gabrielle screamed in delight and jumped into a strong embrace with the unmasked warrior, no longer caring about her unclothed body or the embarrassment of being seen naked by strangers.


"And so, Queen Ephiny has been sending out scouting parties for the past seven-day so we could escort you and Xena in. We didn't know which direction you would come from so we've had parties covering all the roads and watering spots along the border. One of us had to find you sooner or later," Eponin explained around a mouthful of jerked deer meat. "I'm glad it was my party that found you, though," she said almost shyly.

Gabrielle sat, feeling Xena's thigh tensing slightly against hers. "I don't think we really need an escort. I mean, Xena and I could have found our way to the village without any problems. It isn't exactly our first visit there, after all," Gabrielle replied, trying to be diplomatic about her answer.

"Queen Ephiny insisted that someone escort you in, Gabrielle," Eponin said quietly, still unaccustomed to the informality of the Amazon princess, even after all this time.

"Any particular reason?" Xena asked cautiously. Ephiny's insistence on some kind of an escort had raised her own curiosity, especially considering the fact the Amazon Queen knew Xena could well take care of herself and anyone with her. Not that Gabrielle couldn't take care of herself. Xena just felt more comfortable being around the blonde-haired bard when there was a fight.

Eponin glanced at the other warriors sprawled around the fire in various positions of relaxation. Xena silently noted the tiny nods made by several of them and the way some tensed up immediately afterwards. Dropping her head, almost embarrassed at having to admit it, she said, "Seems we have a shade loose in the forest."

"A what!" Gabrielle whispered.

"A shade," Eponin repeated.

One eyebrow on Xena's face had risen to new heights at the information. "What makes you think you have a ghost running around here?" she asked, now more curious than ever.

"Because warriors have been disappearing, never leaving a trace behind. We haven't been able to find so much as a disturbed twig or turned over leaf. All we know is they disappear into thin air and no amount of searching is able to find them again," The red-faced woman explained quietly.

"How long has this being going on?" Gabrielle asked nervously as she tried to peer through the darkness surrounding them.

Eponin stopped and thought for a moment before answering. "Close to a moon now. Actually, when I think about it, it all started a day or so after we sent that message to you asking you both to come to the festival." The warrior scratched her head as though trying to loosen an answer from her hair. "How odd," she commented.

"How odd, indeed," Xena replied, a little sarcastically. "Just how many warriors have gone missing?"

Gabrielle had immediately noticed the change in Xena's wording from "disappeared"' to "missing." She unconsciously nodded with approval in Xena's tactic. "Missing" meant finding the warriors again. "Disappear" usually meant something far more sinister.

Carefully counting up the total in her head, Eponin answered, "About six, but we haven't been back to the village for the past few days so there might be one or two more gone by now."

"Hmmmm. A shade, or a god," Xena mumbled to herself, not realising she was thinking out loud.


The two weary travellers could hear the sound of the drums beating in the Amazon village long before they and their escort arrived. Xena glanced at Eponin when she picked up the first vibrations in the air, but the Amazon warrior merely shrugged her shoulders, indicating there was little she could do to stop the welcoming celebrations she knew were already under way. A runner had been sent ahead of them to let everyone know the travellers had arrived at last. Xena resigned herself to a very public and somewhat embarrassing welcome once they stepped out of the forest and into the village. She would have much preferred a quiet entrance and a chance to rest before meeting with the rest of the women.

For some reason, they insisted on accepting and treating her as though she was an honoured warrior, even though she had tried to explain, on several occasions, she was not an Amazon. Xena found the adoration from many of the women a little hard to deal with sometimes because she simply saw herself as someone trying to make good on the evil she had done in her past. She honestly didn't believe she deserved the position she found herself holding in Amazon society, but like Gabrielle, she had learned to tolerate it.

Thinking of Gabrielle, Xena looked over to her best and dearest friend, deep in conversation with several of the warriors who had met them just outside the hunting grounds. The blue-eyed woman could tell from Gabrielle's animated hand gestures that she was telling some tale to the fascinated women. Xena couldn't help smiling to herself. Knowing the bard, it was probably another story about their adventures together, though the bard always seemed to downplay her role in anything they may have done. Xena knew the bard was as courageous as any warrior, more so sometimes, and was just as skilled with her chosen weapons, the staff and her words, as Xena was with her sword and chakram. However, Gabrielle lived to her own code, one Xena was just starting to understand.

Through the trees ahead, Xena could just make out the first of the huts of the village and mentally steeled herself for the welcome she knew would be ahead. She really didn't like all the carry on, but as Gabrielle had said, it was important to the Amazon women, and that gave the warrior a grudging willingness to endure it, for a while anyway.

From the moment Xena and Gabrielle stepped from the covering trees, both could see the exhaustion and worry etched into the usually serene features of the Amazon Queen. Ephiny was standing straight and tall, watching the dancers below her platform, but Xena noticed the way her hands slowly clenched and unclenched at her sides, bunching the material of her skirt. The expression of sheer relief that flashed across her face was so evident when she spotted the two travellers, Gabrielle was left wishing they could have somehow gotten to the village sooner.

"I'll take care of your mount, Xena," One of the warriors who had escorted them said quietly, as the reins were gently taken from the tall woman's hand. "Ephiny will want to see you right away. Argo will be fine with me."

Xena glanced at the woman now holding Argo's reins. The warrior could see the look of pure appreciation in the other woman's eyes and knew her beloved mare would be more than well cared for. Argo would most likely end up being positively spoiled. "I know she will, Evdokia. By the way, she really likes apples," Xena whispered back.

The woman nodded before leading the mare off to the stables on the other side of the compound. Their gear would be stripped from Argo's back and would appear, almost magically, in one of the rooms in the Queen's palace. Xena would have preferred somewhere a little more open, such as one of the huts near the edge of the village, but Gabrielle had once accepted the mask of Queen and she had to stay with Ephiny when they came to visit the Amazons. So, wherever the bard slept, Xena slept also. Neither woman would have had it any other way.

Gabrielle stepped up beside Xena and whispered to her. "Ready to be treated like a demi-god?" she asked, her lips twitching to keep from smiling.

"Ready to be spanked for impertinence by the same demi-god?" the tall warrior whispered back just as quietly. Catching the signal from Eponin, Xena started striding across the compound towards Ephiny's platform, the bard a bare half-step behind her.

Gabrielle was still blushing as they approached the Queen's platform, but she had managed to stop spluttering long before Ephiny could have noticed. Xena really did have a wicked sense of humour sometimes, Gabrielle thought to herself.

Thankfully for Xena's small store of patience with such events, the greetings and welcoming ceremony were mercifully short. In less than a candlemark, Gabrielle and Xena found themselves inside the palace and being escorted to their rooms. The young girl showing them the way was obviously a little dazzled by Xena's close proximity and was almost babbling in consequence.

"New rooms were set up for you both when you come and visit. If you need anything, all you have to do is ask the guard at the door for it and they will get anything you want. We piped hot water into the bathing room from the hot spring so you could bathe without having everyone standing around. Once I have shown you to your room, I'll get something for you to eat. The Queen made sure I understood you were to eat as soon as you were settled. We made fresh nutbread this morning, even though we weren't sure if you would be here today, and there's a really nice deer stew as well," the girl said all in one breath.

Xena rolled her eyes to the ceiling. Hopefully, not everyone was going to behave like this around her. She could feel Gabrielle fighting to hold her laughter in to avoid further inciting their awe-struck escort. The young girl finally stopped to open a door for them, still talking so fast neither woman could have gotten a word in edgeways if they had tried. Xena sighed with relief when Gabrielle finally closed the door behind them, after letting the still babbling girl know they would like to eat just as soon as they had bathed, though the bard found herself having to try to talk over the girl's high pitched voice. Gabrielle doubted the girl had heard a word she'd said anyway.

"Get used to it, Xena. Most of the younger girls are like that here," Gabrielle giggled, as she leant against the door.

"Uh huh! You'd think I'd be used to overly chatty young women by now," Xena replied as she saw their saddle-bags had arrived ahead of them.

"Meaning??" Gabrielle asked, her green eyes flashing a little.

Wrapping her strong arms around her lover, Xena answered, "Not a thing, Gabrielle. Not a thing." Feeling Gabrielle's body relaxing into the embrace, Xena leaned down and gently kissed the woman. She had only meant it as a single soft kiss but was not surprised when it deepened into something far more passionate. Only the sound of someone knocking at the door broke them apart. "That was fast. Must be the nutbread we were told about," Xena said quietly. "And we both know how much you love that stuff." Xena grinned wickedly as Gabrielle slapped playfully at the taller woman's breast armour.

"You're no slouch in the appetite department either, I've noticed." Gabrielle said as she opened the door.

Two women from the kitchens walked quickly through the open door and placed a couple of trays on the small table by the window. A short bow to both Xena and Gabrielle and the women were gone again. The two travellers could smell the deer stew steaming invitingly as well the nutty odour of the bread.

"Mmmm, I think I'll eat before I have a wash." Gabrielle said. Her eyes were feasting over the assortment of goodies brought from the kitchen. Someone had even remembered that the bard liked to drink cider and that Xena preferred port.

"You'd rather eat before doing just about anything else I can think of," Xena said as she reached for the dates.

That statement earned Xena a slap on the shoulder. "And whose stomach was rumbling all the way through the forest? Or was I merely hearing the sound of distant thunder?" the bard replied, trying to be serious, the laughter lighting up her sea-green eyes.

"Distant thunder," Xena stated firmly before popping a date into her mouth. It tasted so sweet she couldn't resist feeding one to Gabrielle as well.

The bard gave the taller warrior a narrow-eyed look before sitting down to enjoy her meal.


Xena had just finished running an oiled cloth over her leathers and boots when Gabrielle entered the room, a linen wrapped around her still damp body. The sight of the blonde woman's muscular curves silhouetted through the light material was enough to stay the breathing in Xena's chest for a moment. Reminding herself to breathe again, the warrior quietly approached the bard from behind before embracing her gently. Xena's lips nuzzling into the other woman's inviting neck were just starting to raise havoc with Gabrielle's heart rate when a knock sounded at the door.

"You answer it, Xena, while I get myself dressed again," Gabrielle said, making shooing motions with one hand. "I really must speak to someone about all these inconvenient interruptions," she muttered to herself as she headed back into the bathing room to put on her clothes.

Xena smiled at the bard's retreating and very shapely behind before turning to answer the door. Opening it, the tall warrior was surprised to see Ephiny standing there trying to look as though she popped into their rooms all the time. Moving the door wider, she silently invited the Amazon Queen to enter.

As Ephiny entered and tiredly sank into a chair, Xena noted the despondent look of the Amazon Queen, the dark circles under her eyes and the slight gauntness showing on her usually well-rounded cheekbones. Whatever had been going on around here for the past moon was having quite a noticeable effect on Ephiny.

A fully dressed Gabrielle bounced back into the room, the picture of vibrant health and joyful happiness. It served to make the Queen look even more exhausted than she really was.

"What's been going on around here, Ephiny?" Xena asked without fanfare. "You didn't look this bad when Valeska was here."

The Amazon Queen sighed deeply before answering. Taking a moment to organise her thoughts, she said, "At least with her, I knew who the enemy was. This time none of us have any idea what is going on. All we know for sure is that warriors are disappearing without a trace and nothing I do seems able to stop it. Even sending guards out in pairs or teams of three and four doesn't seem to help. Warriors still disappear." Ephiny looked as though she was about to burst into tears at any moment. Gabrielle quickly sat beside the unhappy woman and wrapped her arms about Ephiny to support her.

Xena thought there had to be a little more to all this. The way Ephiny would not quite make eye contact meant the Amazon Queen was not telling all there was. "What's the rest of the story?" she asked bluntly, not at all surprised at the sharp intake of breath made by the woman encircled by Gabrielle's arms.

"You always were good at getting to the truth, weren't you, Xena?" Ephiny replied, seemingly relieved at finally being able to the tell the two travellers the complete story. "Someone actually saw the shade two nights ago," she answered in a rush.

"Who?" Gabrielle questioned. "And where?" The bard knew these would be the first two questions Xena would ask herself anyway, and Gabrielle was just as curious as the warrior about the missing women.

"Kaliope," Ephiny replied. "She is one of the border guards on the mountain pass. Said she saw a faintly glowing shape flying across the ravine and when she went to investigate, she found the guard who should have been on the lookout point was gone. No sign of a struggle and no marks on the ground, as usual. She was pretty spooked by the time she got back here."

"I'd like to talk to her myself," Xena said, her eyes looking out the open window towards the nearby mountains.

"I'll see that it is arranged," Ephiny stated firmly. She was starting to feel a little better now that Gabrielle and Xena had arrived in the village. Maybe they would finally get some answers and find the missing women. Nothing she has done to date seemed to stop this shade from taking warriors as and when it pleased.

"Gabrielle?" Xena said.

"I know, I get to wander about the village and chat with whoever will talk to me." Gabrielle couldn't help smiling at her warrior lover. They each knew their own skills and trusted each other enough to allow their partner to use them to best advantage. It had taken time, lots of time, but they were well past the carer and the child routine from the early days they had spent together. This partnership was much more equal.

Ephiny glanced quickly at Xena before speaking to Gabrielle. "I'll organise a guard for you," she said.

"No. I don't need one, and it might intimidate someone into not talking to me," the bard replied. "Besides, with this," and she picked up her staff, "I don't really need anyone else to help me, at least not here in the village anyway."

"But you're an Amazon Princess..." Ephiny started to say.

With a speed that amazed her, Gabrielle had spun behind Ephiny and lightly tapped her in the kidneys and then the back of her head. It certainly wasn't hard enough to hurt in the least, just a light tap to show what she could have done if she chose, but it was more than enough to demonstrate that Gabrielle had the speed and knowledge to use her favoured weapon very effectively indeed. Where had the bard learned to move so fast, Ephiny wondered to herself. Then again, Xena had been training Gabrielle somewhat, and even a little training from the Warrior Princess was worth days and days from any Amazon trainer here.

"Okay, no guard," Ephiny said, still stunned at Gabrielle's quick use of the staff. If any of her own guards had seen the moves the bard had just made, the blonde would have found herself on the end of a few arrows, abdicated Queen or not. But then again, maybe that is why she chose to do it here behind the privacy of closed doors. "And I know you don't need anyone else with you, Xena," the Queen said a little shakily.

Xena was still leaning against the wall, arms folded, an almost smug expression on her face. She had known what Gabrielle was doing because they had trained together for just this particular occasion. On every visit they made to the Amazon Nation, Gabrielle ended up having some kind an escort or guard placed on her simply because she had once been the Queen, even though she had happily abdicated that position in favour of Ephiny. Gabrielle had accept the title of Princess, but most of the village still thought of her as the Queen though they had learned to call her by her current title. She hated having any kind of escort when they came visiting and felt it got in the way of her getting to know the women of the village better. Being a former Queen, now princess, made starting a normal conversation hard enough. Having a guard or escort around made it almost impossible.

So she and Xena had hatched a quiet plot of their own for the next time they came to the village. It meant taking a small risk, but Xena knew she was fast enough to catch any arrows that might be headed in Gabrielle's direction if she had chosen to demonstrate her speed and accuracy somewhere a little more public. This had been perfect. A nicely closed door and Ephiny without a guard in sight. If nothing else, the Queen might listen now when Gabrielle said she didn't want an escort. Both Xena and Gabrielle knew the bard was safe in the village surrounded by Amazon warriors. And if that wasn't enough, the blonde woman really was as good with her staff as anyone Xena had seen in the past, other than herself.

"I'll organise with Kaliope to met with you, Xena," Ephiny said as she started to leave the room, the relief open on her face.

"Send her to the stables. I want to check that Argo is being as spoiled as I think she is. It's as good a place as any to talk," Xena replied. It is also about the most private place around, aside from our rooms, she thought to herself. No matter from what angle the tall woman approached the problem, there was something here that just wasn't quite adding up, and she was going to find out exactly what that was.


That night as the two women met up again in their rooms, they discussed any discoveries -- or lack of them -- they had made during the afternoon. Xena had been a little surprised when she met with Kaliope in the stables earlier in the day. She stood even taller than Xena herself, towering over the warrior in fact, and was considerably broader across the shoulders and chest. Muscle bulged with every movement the Amazon had made, legs and arms like oak branches with their corded tendons and the flesh beneath appearing to almost split the skin at times. Xena was still having trouble believing this mountain of a woman could be spooked by anything, including a glowing airborne shape in the darkness.

"So what did you think of Kaliope?" Gabrielle asked as she poured herself a second mug of cider.

"That she is quite a formidable Amazon," Xena replied. The warrior had tipped her chair onto its back legs and was leaning against the wall behind her. One booted foot was resting on the table edge beside her as she gently rocked the chair back and forth.

"She's adopted, you know," the bard supplied. At Xena's raised eyebrow, Gabrielle continued. "What? She didn't tell you that? I wonder why?" Gabrielle mused for a moment. "Almost as soon as I mentioned her name, my training partner told me."

"So that's where you spent the afternoon." The other woman smiled at the bard sitting across from her. "Wondered where you had gotten to."

Gabrielle laughed a little as she answered, "It's surprising how willing people are to talk when they have had a chance to beat the stuffing out of the Princess for a while."

"Didn't get hurt, did you?" Xena asked, a little concerned.

Feeling up and down her ribs dramatically, Gabrielle replied, "Not in the least. After training with you, the warriors here are like molasses on a winter's morning. I mean, they're good, but you're something else again. I let them get the odd hit in just to make them feel better about working out with me, though. Nothing like clobbering Princess Gabrielle a few times to loosen their tongues." She laughed quietly.

Xena settled back into her chair again. "So Kaliope was adopted into the Nation. How long ago?" the tall woman asked.

"Hmmm, about three moons. She turned up on the edge of the hunting grounds asking to be an Amazon warrior. Apparently, her village had tossed her out because she was seen as too different to fit in. Wouldn't take a husband, that kind of thing," the bard explained. "I pity any man who might have tried taking her to his bed against her will. She could break his head open like a melon with those huge hands of hers. One of my training partners did tell me Kaliope isn't all that good with weapons, but she really doesn't need to be. Her sheer size alone is pretty intimidating to most people. Oh, and she actually volunteered to take the mountain pass lookout."

"She didn't tell me that, either," Xena said, wondering what other little tidbits the warrior had chosen not to reveal. "Think I might go and have a look at that mountain pass tomorrow. Want to come with me?" Xena asked, already knowing what the answer would be.

"Might take you up on that. A few candlemarks spent alone in the forest could be very relaxing, you know," Gabrielle replied, a wicked grin on her face, desire burning brightly in her sea-green eyes. Ever since they had been met by the Amazon escort, someone would come along and interrupt them whenever they wanted to be a little intimate with each other. As far as the bard was concerned, it was all getting to be a bit too much, even for an Amazon Princess.

The sound of chair legs thumping onto the floor drew Gabrielle's attention back to her warrior partner. "We're alone now," Xena said, already reaching out to pull the bard onto her lap. "First person to knock on that door will just have to deal with my sword."

Gabrielle found herself straddled across the tall warrior's lap, Xena's hands stroking their way up her back and tangling themselves in her blonde hair. Arching her back, the bard invited Xena to kiss her breasts through the material of her top. It was an invitation the warrior did not turn down.

The bard let her head fall forward against the other woman's shoulder as Xena's teeth and tongue quickly found the apex of her breasts through the cloth. "How about we get more comfortable on the bed?" she managed to get past her own clenched teeth.

"Too far away," Xena replied, moving her mouth away for a moment. Taking her hands out of Gabrielle's hair, she quickly untied the laces of the other woman's top and stripped it from her shoulders in one slow movement. The slightest sheen of moisture glistened in the candlelight where the warrior's wet kisses had soaked through the material.

"Your breasts are so beautiful, Gabrielle," the blue-eyed warrior whispered.

"Only for you, my Warrior Princess. Only for you," the bard said huskily. She could already feel her face flushing and her heart beating faster in her chest. Even after being lovers for almost a full cycle of seasons, Gabrielle still couldn't quite believe how truly exciting making love with this woman was to her. Every time was like the first -- pleasurable, slow, passionate. Sometimes Xena took the lead, sometimes Gabrielle, but the bard knew, deep in the core of her soul, that her Warrior Princess, her woman with such a dark past, would never knowingly hurt her or frighten her in any way. This knowledge alone gave her the courage to take chances with their lovemaking that she might never have tried otherwise.

Xena's sword-calloused hands were gently cupped around the soft globes of the bard's breasts as she kissed and fondled the sensitive flesh. Gabrielle had worked her fingers under the leather straps at Xena's shoulders and was slowly caressing the skin at the top of the warrior's back. She could feel the muscles jumping in response to the unhurried touch of her fingers. "Stand up a second, Gabrielle," Xena said.

The bard let herself be helped to her feet and watched as Xena stripped her leathers and underclothing in one swift movement down her body. Xena was still wearing her gauntlets, upper arm protectors and boots, but the raven-haired woman didn't bother removing those. Sometimes the bard liked the feel of cool metal against her burning skin as they made love together. Working her fingers under the belt of Gabrielle's skirt, the warrior exposed the other woman's bare skin just as quickly as she had her own. Gently pulling at the bard's hips, she urged Gabrielle to straddle her lap once more. Feeling Xena's bare thighs hot under her legs, the warrior's breasts brushing against hers, Gabrielle gave herself over to the passion she felt for this remarkable woman.

Continued - Part 2