By B L Miller
Disclaimer 1: The characters Xena, Gabrielle, Argo, Hercules and Iolaus are owned by MCA/Universal and they own all rights to them. I only borrowed them for this story. The rest of the story is mine. Comments can be sent to me at IQ139@aol.com.
Disclaimer 2: This story contains explicit, graphic scenes of two women making love to each other. If this offends you, run, don't walk, away from this story. There is also scenes of physical and emotional violence. Just so you're warned.
Gabrielle's story, 'Poseidon and The Lovers', was used by permission and
can be found in the XWP fanfic story "Breaking Bread" by L.N. James
Please enjoy. This was my first attempt at Xena fiction.
"Well, at least the ground is dry and soft." Xena muttered as she laid out her bedroll. She shivered against the cool night air. "I hope it doesn't get much colder. I won't be able to sleep." She threw more logs onto the fire.
"Xena, I have an idea." Gabrielle said. "Why don't we sleep together? Our body heat will help to keep us warm." She stood and dragged her bedroll over next to Xena's.
"Why don't I just make the fire larger?" Xena said. She didn't feel comfortable being so close to Gabrielle lately.
"No need for that. Come on, let's get some sleep." Gabrielle laid down and patted the area next to her. Knowing there was no way to avoid it, Xena removed her armor and crawled in next to her.
Gabrielle quickly curled up around her and fell asleep. Xena laid there, wide awake, feeling her body react to the warm skin next to it. Her feelings toward the bard had changed over time, from being a protector to being a friend. Now she wasn't quite sure what her feelings were. The thought of losing Gabrielle was too much for her to bear, but she wasn't sure if she could contain her desires for much longer.
"Mmm." The bard murmured as she draped her arm across Xena's body. The warrior reached down and covered Gabrielle's hand with her own, gently stroking the storyteller's fingers. A now familiar ache began within Xena. Gabrielle squeezed tighter, pulling her body closer to her dark haired friend.
"Gabrielle, I think it's getting too warm. I'll go lay somewhere else." Xena said as she tried to move the bard's arm. The arm instantly stiffened, holding Xena still.
"No." Gabrielle said, raising her head to look at the warrior. "Stay with me. Don't be afraid." The bards fingers started to stroke Xena's belly through the thin material of the shift.
"I don't think this is a good idea, Gabrielle." Xena said, rolling her body out of reach of the bard. She stood up and headed for the fire, absently tossing sticks into the flame.
"Xena, did I do something wrong?" Gabrielle propped herself up on her elbows and looked at the warrior. How she longed to break down the walls that Xena had put up around herself.
"No. I have to tend to the fire. Go to sleep, Gabrielle." Xena's eyes never left the fire. The bard sighed and rolled over, realizing that this was going to be another night of Xena holding back.
They set out the next morning for Permious, a small village nearby. Xena rode on Argo while Gabrielle walked alongside.
"Gabrielle, I'd like to get there before sunset."
"You know I don't like to ride."
"I know, but we really don't want to lose any more time." Xena held her hand out, reaching for the bard. Reluctantly, Gabrielle allowed herself to be pulled up onto the horse. She settled in behind the warrior, wrapping her arms around Xena's waist for support. She noticed that Xena was sitting straight up, rigid. She wondered if the warrior was still sore from last week's battle.
It took all of Xena's willpower not to lean back against the bard. Her skin burned where the soft hands were wrapped around her. She was acutely aware of Gabrielle's thighs against hers, as well as the younger woman's stomach against her back. Thoughts that were uncommon to the warrior in the light of day surfaced. She tried to push them from her mind.
Permious was like many villages that they had passed through. The usual procedure was to wait for Xena to check out the tavern, then Gabrielle would wait there for Xena to return from stabling Argo. This time, however, Xena headed straight for the stable.
"Why aren't we going to the tavern first?" Gabrielle asked as she slid down from Argo's back.
"I don't want you left there alone." Xena turned and put her hand on the bard's shoulder. "Gabrielle, I want you to stay within my sight at all times while we're here, do you understand?" Gabrielle looked into the depths of Xena's blue eyes, searching for an answer. What she saw surprised the young bard. There was concern, of course, but there was also something else, something unreadable.
"Xena, you know I can take care of-"
"I mean it, Gabrielle." Xena's voice was stern, silencing any protests from her. Xena turned around and walked over to the stable boy to make arrangements for Argo. Gabrielle set about to remove their bedrolls and saddlebags from the war-horse.
Despite the appearance on the outside, the tavern was clean and well lit inside. Xena entered first, scanning the room for signs of trouble. Seeing none, she motioned for Gabrielle to enter.
"Get us a table, I'll make arrangements for dinner and a room."
"Okay." Gabrielle said as she made her way toward the back. She knew that Xena preferred to have her back to a wall so she could study the entire room. She settled down at a small table in the back and waited for Xena to join her.
"What's a purdy little thing like you doing out here all alone?" A large, stinking bulk of a man said lecherously to the bard. She almost lost her appetite at the smell of his breath. Instinctively, her hands wrapped around her staff, readying it for action. He reached out to grab at her, but a blur of motion wrapped his arm up behind his back.
"Say you're sorry for bothering her." The soft voice hissed. Gabrielle looked up, expecting Xena to be there. She was surprised to see another woman coming to her rescue. This woman was as tall as Xena, with a similar build. She had short, sandy brown hair and grey eyes.
"S-Sorry." He yelped at the woman pushed his arm up harder. With a satisfied grin, she let him go. He immediately took off toward the door. A soft hand rested on Gabrielle's shoulder. She didn't need to look up to know it was Xena.
"Thank you." The bard said, looking at the woman.
"You are welcome." The woman looked at Gabrielle, then at Xena. "I am Drax. I saw him lumbering over toward you and I thought you might need a hand."
"Thank you again, Drax. I am Gabrielle and this is-"
"Xena. It's been a long time." Drax said. From Gabrielle's vantage, she couldn't see the cold stare that Xena was giving the other woman.
"Drax." Xena coolly answered as she increased her grip on Gabrielle's shoulder.
"Well, if you will excuse me. It was nice meeting you, Gabrielle." Drax said as she straightened up. She nodded to Xena, then walked away.
"You know her?" Gabrielle asked as Xena sat down next to her. Xena took a large swallow of port before answering.
"I know her." Was all she said. Gabrielle knew from the tone in the warrior's voice that part of the conversation was over.
"Were you able to get us a room?"
"Yes, upstairs, end of the hall." Xena answered. A young woman brought the trays of food to their table. Gabrielle's eyes widened when she saw the loaf of nutbread.
"I knew you'd like that." Xena said. She smiled as she watched Gabrielle break off a large piece. It never ceased to amaze the warrior how Gabrielle reacted to the slightest act of kindness from her. "Try not to eat it all at once." She added, remembering how nutbread affects the bard. They ate in silence. Gabrielle was enjoying the food too much to notice that Xena's eyes were fixed on one person in the room, Drax.
"Xena, how do you know Drax?" Gabrielle asked as she was getting ready for bed. The room was small, just enough room for the pallet that they shared. Xena was already in bed. She propped herself up on one elbow and looked at the bard.
"I know her from before."
"You mean from when you were a warlord."
"Gabrielle, can't we talk about something else?" Xena didn't want this line of questioning to continue.
"Fine. Some strange woman comes to my rescue before you do and you don't want to talk about it. You hardly said two words all through dinner. You don't like her, do you?"
"No." Came the terse reply. "Gabrielle, come to bed. We'll talk about this more some other time." Xena rolled over, facing away from the bard.
"Sure we will." Gabrielle said sarcastically as she climbed into bed. She was asleep within minutes. Xena slept very little during the night. Her mind was on Gabrielle, and the warrior with the grey eyes.
"Gabrielle." Xena gently shook her shoulder. "Gabrielle, come on, it's time to get up." She shook harder.
"I'm up, I'm up." Gabrielle muttered as she rolled over.
"I have to go look in on Argo. I want you to stay here in the tavern. Do you understand? No roaming around the village."
"Why?" Gabrielle sat up, fully awake. Xena never forbid her to look around a village before.
"Gabrielle, I mean it. Stay here." Xena said in a commanding tone that had more anger to it than she meant.
"Fine, I'll stay here like a prisoner." Gabrielle muttered.
"You're not a prisoner. I just want you to stay here."
"Whatever you say, master."
"Gabrielle!" Xena's eyes narrowed slightly.
"Sorry." The bard mumbled. Xena turned, then left. As soon as the door closed, Gabrielle threw a pillow at it and yelled "You big dumb warrior." Xena chuckled all the way down the hall.
Gabrielle went downstairs and ordered breakfast. She headed toward the table in the back. A strong hand on her shoulder stopped her. Gripping her staff, the bard turned and saw Drax standing there.
"Would you care to join me for breakfast?" The warrior asked. Drax had already seen Xena leave earlier. "You appear to be alone. If you sit with me, I'm sure none of these thugs will even think of bothering you."
"Thank you." Gabrielle said as she allowed Drax to lead her to a table. "So how do you know Xena?" The bard asked as she sat down. Gabrielle was always curious about the people in Xena's past. There was so much that she didn't know about her traveling companion, so much that Xena couldn't or wouldn't tell her.
"Xena and I met years ago when we were in the same army."
"Were you friends?"
"I don't think that Xena has ever had any 'friends'. We knew each other, that's all. So tell me, what is a beautiful woman such as yourself doing riding around with a warlord?" Drax's eyes were traveling around the room, keeping an eye out for Xena.
"Xena is not a warlord anymore. I am a bard. I follow her and tell stories."
"Very interesting." Drax said. Gabrielle couldn't tell if the comment was directed at what she said. She suddenly felt uneasy.
"You are, bard." Drax said, letting her voice drop to a lower tone. "Would you like to go for a walk? I know some great sites around here."
"I'm sorry, I have to wait for Xena to return." Gabrielle said, silently grateful that Xena had instructed her to remain at the tavern.
"I thought you were an adult, capable of doing what you pleased." Drax taunted. "She saw fit to leave you here alone. She must trust you to take care of yourself."
"She trusts me to stay here until she returns." Gabrielle answered, refusing to pick up the bait that Drax had laid out for her.
"Suit yourself, little bard." Drax said as she stood. "Keep following that warlord around long enough and you'll see the truth."
"What do you mean?" Gabrielle rose and grabbed Drax's arm. "What truth?" The warrior turned and smiled at her. The smile was anything but friendly.
"I mean that you'll end up paying for her mistakes if you keep hanging around her." Drax turned and walked out the door, planning her next move.
Xena returned to the inn a short time later. "I'm glad you've finished your breakfast. Do you want to go purchase some supplies?"
"That sounds good." Gabrielle answered. "I need more ink and parchment." She decided not to mention her meeting with Drax.
As they walked around town, the grey eyes followed their every move. Xena felt a sense of danger, but was unable to pinpoint it. Reflexively, she entered every store first, looking for signs of trouble, before letting Gabrielle in.
"What's going on, Xena?" Gabrielle finally asked. "You're being more overprotective than usual. Is something bothering you?"
"No. I just want to make sure that you're safe, that's all. Sorry if it seems like I'm being too protective." Xena lied.
"Well you are. I am an adult, I can make my own decisions. You can trust me to take care of myself, Xena." Gabrielle was letting some of her anger through. She didn't know why the warrior felt it so necessary to protect her from the world.
"Fine, do what you want." Xena said quietly. She turned and walked away from Gabrielle, not allowing the young bard to see the hurt on her face.
"Fine, I will." Gabrielle muttered before heading back toward the tavern. The grey eyes watched the scene carefully, then headed into the tavern.
Gabrielle was sitting at the back table with a glass of cider in her hand. Drax strolled up next to her and sat down with two large mugs filled with port. "Good afternoon. Care to join me for a drink?" Drax said nicely.
"I don't usually drink port." Gabrielle answered.
"Because you don't like it or because Xena won't let you?" Drax taunted.
"I can do what I want."
"Well then, if you won't allow me the pleasure of your company for a drink, then at least take the drink as my apology for disturbing you." Drax said as she pushed the mug of port in front of the young bard. Gabrielle didn't really want the drink, but she also didn't want to get into an argument with this imposing woman.
"I suppose one drink won't hurt me." She said as she abandoned her cider and reached for the mug of port. Drax smiled inwardly as the coppery haired woman drank the laced port.
Drax had managed to talk Gabrielle into another mug of port, which she made sure to spike before giving it to her. She was convinced that the young bard was thoroughly drugged and was just about to put her plan into action when she felt the presence next to her. She didn't have to look up, she could feel the anger from the warrior's eyes bearing down at her.
"What did you do to her?" Xena seethed.
"Nothing. I merely asked her to join me for a drink. Does she need your permission for that?" Drax asked as she stood up to face Xena. Gabrielle was too drugged up to follow any of the conversation around her. She was doing all she could not to pass out at the table. The two warriors looked at each other, sizing each other up.
"Stay away from her, Drax." Xena said, anger and hatred dripping off of each word.
"I think it's up to the young bard to decide who she wants to be near, warlord. Unless you wish to make that decision for her?" Drax made no attempt to hide the offer of a battle.
"Gabrielle can make her own decisions, Drax. But for the sake of your health, stay away from her." Xena said, returning her own threat. She turned away from Drax and put a hand on Gabrielle's arm. "Gabrielle, let's go. You've had enough to drink for one day." She helped the bard up and headed upstairs to their room. Xena didn't have to look behind her to know that the grey eyes of Drax followed them.
"Where are we going?" Gabrielle said as her eyes slowly opened. She realized that it was just after sunrise. Xena had all their belongings packed.
"We have to leave this village. It's too dangerous." Xena said quietly. Gabrielle looked into Xena's eyes and realized that Xena was most likely understating the danger. She quickly sat up and got dressed. As she tied her boots, she said "Xena, this danger, it has to do with Drax, doesn't it?"
"Yes." was all that Xena would say. She couldn't tell Gabrielle just how much danger there was. She was exhausted from not sleeping. She had spent the entire night holding the young bard in her arms, afraid of letting go. She couldn't tell Gabrielle that she feared for her life.
They were in the stable. Xena was feeding Argo and Gabrielle was attaching the saddlebags. Xena sensed the danger too late. She turned around and saw Drax.
"Move and she dies, warlord." Drax said as she pointed the crossbow at Gabrielle's ear.
"Gabrielle, don't move." Xena warned. The bard remained still, her eyes full of fear. Xena knew that the fear was reflected in her own eyes as well. "Drax, let her go. The matter between us is none of her concern."
"Ah, but it is her concern, warlord." Drax pressed the point of the bow against Gabrielle's ear, causing small drops of blood to run. "She chose to be with you, to follow you. Now she will see what happens to people who dare to be near you."
"Drax, let her go. It's me you want." Xena was doing everything in her power to keep her dark side down and the fear out of her voice.
"No, I like it better this way. I believe that she means more to you than you admit. It will bring me great pleasure to watch you suffer, warlord." Her words dripped with venom. "If you try anything, I will kill her." With that, Drax wrapped a strong arm around Gabrielle's throat and roughly pulled her out of the stable, causing Gabrielle to drop her staff. Still holding the crossbow too close to Gabrielle for Xena to do anything, she forced the bard onto a horse. "Get on your horse, Xena. Ride alongside us. I'm sure you don't want to let your precious bard out of your sight." Drax laughed cruelly.
They arrived several hours later at a small castle. Drax continued to hold Gabrielle at bowpoint and led her inside, motioning for Xena to follow. As soon as they entered, several men surrounded Xena.
"Drop all your weapons, warlord."
"Let her go." Xena said, her hands never leaving her chakram. If only she could get Gabrielle away from Drax, but the weapon was too close. Drax moved the bow downward along the bard's face, drawing blood.
"Drop the weapons, warlord!" Drax commanded again. Slowly, Xena lowered her weapons. "Tie her up. I have plans for the both of them." Drax said as she pulled Gabrielle out of the room. The men tied Xena up carefully, making sure that the knots were strong. They took advantage of the situation and pummeled the warrior into unconsciousness.
Drax dumped a bucket of water on the warrior, bringing her back to consciousness. Xena opened her swollen eyes and looked in horror at her surroundings. Gabrielle was manacled to the wall, facing away from her, totally defenseless. Xena tried to pull free of her bonds, but she was tied tightly to the chair. She was helpless to protect Gabrielle.
"She chose to follow you, warlord. Now you can watch as she receives her punishment." Drax uncoiled a whip.
"NO!" Xena screamed, jerking against her bonds. Drax pulled her arm back and let loose a vicious crack of the whip. It landed squarely on Gabrielle's back, causing the young woman to scream. Gabrielle knew that Xena was behind her, but she couldn't see her. Drax struck again. The bard's body jerked at the impact of the whip. The pain on her back was unbearable. She struggled to not scream, but failed. She didn't want Xena to know just how afraid she really was. Drax continued to punish Gabrielle's back with the whip, reducing the bard to a whimpering, bloody mess. Xena's wrists were raw and bloodied from struggling against her bonds.
"Admit that you were wrong to follow her, bard!" Drax hissed. "Admit that the warlord Xena is beyond redemption."
"N-Never." The half-conscious woman replied. Gabrielle refused to give up on Xena, no matter how bad the situation was. Drax cursed and brought her fist up, connecting solidly with Gabrielle's face.
"Admit it!" Drax screamed. Gabrielle turned her head to look at Drax. Xena stared on, afraid that Gabrielle wouldn't be able to hold out much longer against such torture. The bard narrowed her eyes, let the blood pool in her mouth, then spit it directly into the face of her tormentor. Drax let out a curse and slammed the bard's head against the wall, sending the young woman into unconsciousness.
"Gabrielle!" Xena screamed. Drax turned her attention back to the warrior.
"Well, it seems as though the mighty Xena has a soft spot after all." She sneered. "Don't worry, she's not dead....yet." Drax pulled back the whip and struck Xena soundly across the face. "I intend to make you suffer, warlord. You and your little bard." She kicked Xena's chest with all her strength, sending the warrior and chair toppling over. Xena was sure that several of her ribs were cracked. As she fought to regain the air that had been knocked out of her lungs, Drax roughly lifted Xena and the chair back to an upright position. "You took what I loved, now I'll take what you love." Drax hissed before raising her arm up and striking Xena again and again until darkness fell over the warrior.
Hercules and Iolaus entered the village and headed for the stable. Both were exhausted after their last battle. As they entered the stable, Iolaus spotted the staff on the ground. "Herc, isn't this Gabrielle's staff?"
"It sure looks like it." Hercules said as he took it from Iolaus. He looked at the ground. "Here's Argo's tracks."
"Herc," He said with his voice full of concern. "She wouldn't leave her staff behind." Iolaus remounted his steed.
"Agreed, let's follow the tracks." Hercules said. They swiftly rode out of the village, both praying that their friends were all right.
Xena's eyes were so swollen that she couldn't see, but she could still hear the piercing screams from Gabrielle as Drax continued to whip her. Each time, Drax would whip Gabrielle to near unconsciousness, then order her to admit that she was wrong to follow Xena. Each time, Gabrielle refused. The bard believed in her love for Xena, and Xena's love for her. She knew that to say that she was wrong to follow would break Xena's heart. That's what Drax wanted and Gabrielle would go to Hades before she'd say it. She loved Xena too much to hurt her like that, despite the tremendous pain she was in.
Hercules tapped the sentry on the shoulder. When he turned around, the sentry was greeted by the demi-god's fist. "One down, fifty more to go." Hercules said as he worked his way into the castle. Iolaus had spotted Argo tied to a tree nearby. Hercules only hoped that he was in time.
Gabrielle had been whipped so much that her clothes had been torn away. Her body was covered with red criss cross marks where the whip had torn away her flesh. Between the blows that Xena received and the lack of food or water, the warrior was utterly defenseless. Drax had been right that torturing Gabrielle would bring Xena to her knees. After three days, Xena's will had been broken and she started to beg for Gabrielle's life.
"Please..." Xena's voice was weak and raspy. "Let her go...she can't take any more...please."
"How the mighty have fallen." Drax said with an air of victory to her voice. "I suppose you think I'm going to just let her walk out of here? That's not my plan, warlord. My husband died because of you. Now you can watch the bard die!" Drax pulled back the whip, readying it for another attack on Gabrielle's raw back. "Ahhh!" Drax screamed as an arrow entered her arm, forcing her to drop the whip. Iolaus was crouched at the window and smiled when he saw that his aim was true. Drax called for her guards, but realized from the noise outside that they were all too busy in a battle to come to her aid. The window was too small for Iolaus to squeeze through. Drax grabbed her whip with her good arm and readied it for another attack. Hercules broke through the door, causing her to turn around to face the new threat. At the same time, Iolaus released his arrow, piercing Drax through the heart. She was dead before she hit the floor.
Iolaus ran around the building and entered the cell. He stood there, nauseated, as he took in the scene. From his vantage at the window, he was unable to see the bloodied mess that was Gabrielle. Now he saw just how brutally she was whipped. Xena looked as though she had been in a fight with a titan and lost. Both eyes were swollen shut, blood streamed from her mouth, and several bones appeared to be broken. She appeared to be unaware of the rescue. Iolaus couldn't control his stomach anymore and ran to a corner.
"Iolaus, give me your shirt." Hercules said as he pulled his own off and tore it into strips. Iolaus slowly regained his composure and handed over his shirt.
"Gab..." Xena mumbled. "Please...no more..." Hercules walked over to her.
"Xena, it's me, Hercules. Don't worry, Iolaus and I will get you and Gabrielle out of here." He reached over and removed the bonds that held Xena to the chair and grabbed her as she slumped forward toward the ground. "Easy now, I've got you." He helped her to the floor. "Keep an eye on her." He said to Iolaus. The young man nodded as Herc walked over to Gabrielle. He reached up and tore the chains from the wall. The semi-conscious girl cried out from the pain of both the release of the restraints and the pressure on her back when she fell into his arms. Immediately Xena tried to crawl over to where she had heard the cries.
"Got..to help...Gabrielle..." She said as she tried to move closer. Hercules took Iolaus's shirt and wrapped it around Gabrielle, using it as both a bandage and a cover. Gabrielle cried out again before passing out from the pain.
"Well, at least she won't feel anything for a while." Hercules said as he passed the unconscious bard into Iolaus's arms. "Take her out and put her across my horse. I'll bring Xena." He reached down and picked up the wounded warrior. "Well, this is one way to get you back into my arms." He said, trying to lighten the deep mood. She didn't know whose arms she was in and started to weakly struggle. "Xena, I'm not fighting with you all the way to safety." He said before raising his fist and gently knocking her unconscious. "I'm sorry, Xena. It will be easier this way."
Outside, Hercules noticed that Iolaus had secured Gabrielle to the horse. Herc laid Xena across Argo's back and used the strips of his shirt to secure her to the horse.
"Where are we taking them?" Iolaus asked as he mounted his horse.
"Up to my camp. They'll be safest there." Hercules said as he grabbed the reins of both his horse and Argo. "If we travel all night, we can reach it by late tomorrow. I don't think either of them are going to mind."
"Should we stop in a village and see a healer?"
"No, I'm sure there's more of Drax's men at the village. There's medicine at the cabin. I don't think one more day is going to hurt them anymore than they already are. We need to get there before the first snow."
"Okay." Iolaus readied his bow and took the lead. Hercules walked behind him, carrying the reins of the horses that held the fallen women.
They arrived at the cabin around midday. Xena had regained consciousness briefly and had tried to get off of Argo, but Hercules tapped her again. He knew that both women's bodies need time to rest and heal and he didn't feel like fighting with Xena about where they were headed. Hercules carried both women in and set them down on the large pallet. Iolaus carried in the saddlebags.
"What do we do now?" Iolaus asked as he headed for a large chair to sit down.
"Well, the first thing we need to do is find out the complete extent of their injuries. I'm nowhere near as good a healer as Xena, but I know enough. Despite the condition of Gabrielle's back, I think Xena took a worse beating. From what I can tell, she has several cracked ribs as well as a broken leg. I can set them, but she's going to need some time to heal. That's why I brought them up here."
"Xe-Xena?" Gabrielle's raspy voice interrupted them. Both men immediately went to her side.
"Gabrielle? It's me, Hercules. Iolaus is here too. How are you feeling?"
"Um." She shook her head to clear her thoughts. Her eyes focused on the dark haired warrior lying next to her.
"It's okay, Gabrielle, she's just resting." Iolaus said. "You two have been through a rough time of it."
"She looks so helpless." The bard cried.
"Gabrielle, you need food and drink. Do you think you can sit up?" Hercules went over to the saddlebags and came back with a wineskin. Gabrielle winced and pulled herself into a sitting position, her eyes never leaving Xena. As she drank, Iolaus heated up some food for them. While they ate, Hercules and Iolaus filled her in on what they knew of what had happened. Xena woke up later on in the evening, but could do little more than take a few spoonfuls of soup from Gabrielle before falling back to unconsciousness again.
"There, that should do it. Not as good as Xena's stitches, but they'll do the job." Iolaus said as he finished sewing up the wounds on Gabrielle's back. She pulled on the clean shift and turned around to look at him.
"Iolaus, I want to thank you and Hercules for all your help. You know we never-"
"Don't worry about it. Just remember that you both owe us a favor."
"Gabrielle, do you think we can talk for a moment?" Hercules said as he entered the cabin.
"Sure." She said. The three of them sat around the table.
"Gabrielle, we need to get going soon. Once the snows start, you'll be stuck up here for the next four moons. Iolaus will go down to the village and get the supplies that you need if you can make him a list. There's enough hay and oats in the stable to keep Argo happy for at least five moons, so concentrate on what the two of you need." It didn't take too long for Gabrielle to come up with a list of items. She handed Iolaus the last of their dinars along with the list. Iolaus nodded and went out to the stable. Hercules followed him.
"Iolaus, hang on." Herc walked over to a back wall and pulled away a board, revealing several bags of dinars. He pulled two bags out and handed them to Iolaus. "Let me see what she has on the list." Iolaus handed Herc the list and he studied it for a moment. "She made a very practical list. How many dinars did she give you?"
"That's why. Get three times whatever she has on this list, as well as a few more things." He proceeded to run off a litany of other things for Iolaus to pick up.
"Herc! With all that stuff, I'll need two horses and I still won't have any room to ride."
"That's okay, you could use the exercise." Hercules said, gently swatting the younger man on the rump. "Take Argo and my horse. They'll be able to handle all the extra weight."
"Okay, but why this other stuff? They don't need these things to survive."
"Iolaus, they've both been through a very traumatic experience. They're going to be stuck with each other for the next four moons up here. I think the other items will end up coming in rather handy." He gave the blonde man a wink.
"I hope you know what you're doing." Iolaus said as he climbed up on Argo. "I'm not sure I want to be around when Xena realizes that she's stuck in one place for four moons."
"Me either." Hercules mumbled as he watched his friend ride away.
"When will Iolaus be back?" Gabrielle asked as Hercules entered the cabin.
"He should be back sometime tomorrow. Let's talk for a while." Hercules motioned for her to join him at the table. "Gabrielle, this is my hunting cabin. The stable is on the other side of the wall with the fireplace. It stays good and warm there. This cabin is in a very isolated part of Greece. There are no chances of marauders or anyone else coming here to bother you."
"That's good. We both need some time to heal." She grimaced as she tried to straighten out her back.
"You'll certainly have plenty of that. Have you had a chance to look at Xena's wounds?"
"Yes, you did a good job stitching them. How long before her broken bones heal?"
"It varies from person to person, but I think she'll be all right in about a moon or so."
"But we can't leave here until spring?"
"Not a chance. There will be too much snow for Argo to successfully navigate the road. Think of it as a long vacation, a chance for the two of you to spend some time together and not worry about the next battle or attack. Now, let's get some dinner going. I know I'm starving and I'm sure you are too."
"I'll make soup. I think it will be easier for Xena to eat."
"Fine." Hercules looked at the bard for a moment. Such dedication, such loyalty. Xena needs this woman in her life. He knew how many times he had to depend on Iolaus to help him out. He was glad to see that Xena had someone to look out for her too.
Xena was strong enough on the third day to sit up in bed. Hercules and Iolaus said their good-byes and left. No one had told Xena just how long they were going to be there. Gabrielle was busy putting the supplies away when Xena spoke.
"What is it?" The bard asked as she walked over and sat down next to Xena on the bed. "Do you need something?"
"No. I just wanted to see how you were." Visions of the beatings that Gabrielle took flooded through Xena's mind.
"Xena, I'm going to be fine, so are you. Drax is dead. We don't need to talk about it any more if you don't want to." Gabrielle was all too familiar with Xena's stoic nature. She stood up and headed back over to the fireplace to start some water for tea.
"Gabrielle, I'm sorry."
"For what?" Gabrielle said, not bothering to turn around.
"For what Drax did to you. You were hurt only because of me. If you weren't with me, if I had found a way to keep you safe-"
"Xena, stop it." Gabrielle turned to face her. Xena saw the anger in the blue-green eyes. "You had no way of knowing what she was up to. You did everything in your power to protect me."
"She would have stopped hurting you if you had just told her that you were wrong for staying with me."
"I couldn't do that, Xena. I could never have hurt you like that. Drax was trying to break you by using me. Even if I had done what she wanted, she still would have tried to kill me."
"It broke my heart to see you in such pain." Xena quietly admitted. Gabrielle moved over and took Xena's hand in hers.
"Xena, listen to me. I'm fine now. It will take some time to heal the wounds, but I'm alive and so are you. That's all that matters. Understand this, you big dumb warrior, I'm not walking away from you, so you might as well get used to having me around." Gabrielle ruffled Xena's dark mane and stood up. "Now, do you need anything? We have plenty of supplies. You name it, we have it."
"Why are there so many supplies?" Xena looked around and saw the boxes. "Gabrielle, what is going on?"
"Um, well, you see-"
"Gabrielle." Xena said sternly. The bard could tell from the look that Xena gave that she had better tell her the truth, and quickly.
"We're stuck in Hercules' cabin for the next four moons."
"We're stuck in Hercules' cabin for the next four moons." She said quickly, stepping back out of reach of the warrior.
"Xena, we have no choice now. The snow has already started to fall. There's no way back until the spring." Without realizing it, Gabrielle stepped back. "Consider it a forced vacation."
"Four moons? We're stuck here for the next FOUR MOONS?" She hated the idea of being in any one place too long.
"You can't even walk yet, so where do you think you would go?" Gabrielle tried to appeal to Xena's practical side.
"I don't like the idea of being in the same place for any length of time. What about Argo?"
"What about her? She's in the stable, she's warm, and Hercules said there was plenty of food and hay for her." Realizing that she had just defeated Xena's last possible argument, Gabrielle felt a surge of confidence flow through her. "Face it, Xena, you're stuck here with me whether you like it or not. Now let's take a quick look at your wounds and see how they're doing."
Xena laid back and allowed Gabrielle to examine the wounds, scowling all the while. She paid great attention, making sure she understood the extent of her injuries. At one point, Gabrielle turned around to look at Xena's legs. The warrior saw the red criss cross marks through the thin shift that the bard was wearing. "Oh Gabrielle, your back." She said sadly. Xena knew that the beatings that Gabrielle suffered through were bad, but it still startled her to see the true damage.
"I'm fine, Xena." Gabrielle said as she turned around. Her back still felt like it was on fire, but she didn't want Xena to worry.
"Gabrielle, let me take a look at them."
"Xena, I'll be fine. They're not as bad as they seem."
"Gabrielle, let me see." Xena said sternly. Sighing, the bard turned around and removed her shift slowly. She heard the sharp intake of air as Xena saw the extent of the damage close up. "Gabrielle, I'm so sorry." Her voice cracked.
"Xena, it's not your fault." Gabrielle said as she turned to look at her. She saw the flash of fear and concern in Xena's blue eyes before the warrior changed her expression back to a stoic look.
"You need to put more salve on it." She said matter-of-factly.
"I can't reach all the areas myself."
"I'll do it. Bring me the salve." Xena sat up, fighting a wave of nausea. Gabrielle put her hands on Xena's shoulders and pushed her back down gently.
"Xena, it can wait until after I take care of you. Now just lay back down and let me get everything I need." Gabrielle stood up and put her shift back on.
"Let me know if I'm hurting you, okay?" Gabrielle said as she slowly removed some of the bandages from the warrior's body. Despite the gentleness that the bard used, Xena was still in tremendous pain. She closed her eyes and clenched her teeth to keep the sounds inside. It seemed like candlemarks before Gabrielle was done changing the dressings, when in fact it had only been a few moments. "All done." Gabrielle said as she finished applying the last bandage. It still amazed her how Xena was strong enough to survive all the attacks that she had been through.
"Now it's your turn." Xena said as she sat up, gritting her teeth from the pain. Gabrielle handed her the salve, then sat next to her and exposed her back. "I promise to be gentle."
"I know you will." Gabrielle replied. She braced herself for the pain that she knew would be coming. Xena started by gently rubbing her shoulders while applying the ointment. She waited until she felt the bard's muscles relax before she continued. She took her time, working her way downward until all the whip marks were covered with the salve. Gabrielle marveled at how fierce Xena could be with an enemy, yet be so soft and gentle with her. It actually hurt far less than the bard had anticipated.
"You can put your shift back on." Xena said as she wiped her hands. Every mark had fueled her anger and hatred, but had also filled her heart with a deep pride at the young woman. She withstood torture that would have brought most people to their knees. Even Xena herself had succumbed, but Gabrielle had still found the strength to survive. "When did you stop being a helpless girl and turn into this fine woman?" Xena said, not realizing that she had spoken aloud.
"What did you say?"
"Nothing." Xena's face went stoic, angry at herself for inadvertently speaking her thoughts. "I'm proud of you, you know."
"Xena." Gabrielle turned and sat next to the warrior. She knew how hard it was for Xena to give compliments, and this was by far the largest one she had ever bestowed on the young bard. "I only did what I thought you would want me to do."
"Gabrielle, you stood up to Drax, despite the pain. You refused to take the easy way out." Xena lowered her head and looked away, trying not to let Gabrielle see the moisture forming in her eyes. "You wouldn't let her break you. She broke me." She quietly admitted.
"Xena, look at me." Gabrielle put her hand under the warrior's chin and turned her face. "What are you talking about?"
"I don't want to talk about it right now." She said as she wiped her eyes. Gabrielle watched as Xena's emotions exited her eyes. The mask is back on, the bard thought.
"Xena, it's okay to talk about it. I don't remember too much about what happened. I just knew that I couldn't, wouldn't say the things that she wanted me to. I couldn't do that to you." She released her grip on the warrior's chin, unsure of how far to push Xena. "Look, we can talk about this some other time. Right now, I'm going to make some nutbread." She stood up and walked back over to the fireplace, giving them both some time to sort out their thoughts.
"I'm not real thrilled with this." Xena said as Gabrielle helped her back to bed from the chamber pot.
"Well, you could use some humbling, my dear warrior." Gabrielle said. She was rewarded with a playful toss of the pillow. "Do you want me to wash you? I need to change some of your dressings anyway."
"I suppose that would be a good idea. I can still smell the odors from the cell on my body."
"Well, Hercules was a little uncomfortable with the thought of washing you and Iolaus was terrified of what you would do to him." Gabrielle giggled at the thought of Iolaus trying to wash Xena. She could still see his poor hands shaking at the mention of washing the warrior. She was still chuckling to herself when she put the two buckets of water on the fire.
"Gabrielle, I can do this myself." Xena said as she watched Gabrielle bring over the buckets of water.
"Just sit back and relax." The bard said. She started with Xena's neck and back, taking the time to do a thorough, gentle cleaning. Xena melted into the gentle touch of the bard, letting her massage the muscles while she cleaned. It was only when Gabrielle brought the cloth around to the front and started to wash her stomach that Xena stiffened.
"I can get the rest, Gabrielle." She said, taking the cloth. She quickly washed the rest of her body before giving the cloth back to the bard. Gabrielle wondered what had panicked Xena when she moved the cloth around to the front. A brief thought passed through the young bard's mind. She shook her head quickly.
"There, all finished. Now I am going to take a nice, long, hot bath." She said as she went to get some fresh water. "After that, we'll have some nutbread and talk." She added before heading outside to get some more snow to melt. Xena sat back and thought about the washing. Gabrielle's touches were gentle, caressing, far more enjoyable than she dared to admit. It was hard enough not to stare at Gabrielle when she was getting dressed or undressed. Her body had developed so much over the last couple of summers. She was no longer the young, scared girl that Xena had first met. Her Gabrielle was now an Amazon Queen and pretty good with that staff. She had grown into a beautiful young woman.
Gabrielle thought to herself while she packed the buckets with snow. She thought back to when she first met Xena and started to follow her on the road. Xena was cool, aloof, hard to live with back then. Now there were times when Gabrielle felt really close to the warrior. She seemed to have a way of bringing out Xena's best side. The compliments from the older woman were increasing too. Gabrielle cherished every kind word, every nice gesture, and she was well aware of the increased attention that Xena was giving her recently. Xena had always been overprotective, but within the last few moons, it had increased. Gabrielle used to be able to go to the taverns alone, now Xena insisted on entering first to make sure it was safe for the bard to enter. Gabrielle knew that was closer to Xena than she was to anyone else in her young life. She didn't know what she would ever do without her. Pushing that last thought out of her mind, Gabrielle picked up the buckets and headed inside.
Xena turned her head to look at the fireplace, but she was watching Gabrielle out of the corner of her eye. Gabrielle was humming along, oblivious to the voyeurism. Xena felt her breathing increase as she watched the soapy water slide down Gabrielle's back. When Gabrielle turned in her direction, Xena stared at the fireplace, not looking away until she knew Gabrielle was finished with her bath and back into her shift.
"It's time for the nutbread." Gabrielle said happily as she brought the warm loaf over to the bed. She sat cross-legged next to Xena and pulled off a large piece for herself. "So...mmm...tell me, what happened in that cell?" The bard asked as she shoved the nutbread into her mouth. It always amused Xena just how much the bard could both eat and talk.
"I'm not sure I want to." She said as she looked into the blue-green eyes of the young bard.
"Xena, please tell me. I really need to know." Gabrielle passionately pleaded. "You said she broke you. How? What could she have possibly done to you that someone else hasn't already done?" Gabrielle was thinking of all the battles that Xena lived through during her warlord years. She knew the warrior had suffered even more severe injuries than this in previous battles.
"She hurt you." Xena said quietly as she looked down at her hands. "I would have done anything to make her stop."
"Oh, Xena." Gabrielle gasped in understanding. She knew she would have done the same if the positions had been reversed. She reached out and put her hand on the warrior's tanned thigh. Xena covered it with her own and gently squeezed.
"I begged her, Gabrielle. I begged and pleaded with her to stop hurting you. I would have done anything to spare you that pain." The image of Gabrielle's back passed through Xena's mind and caused her to shudder. The tears started to roll unchecked from the deep blue eyes. "I'm glad she beat me so bad that I couldn't see. But I could still hear. I heard you crying out and I, I couldn't, I-."
"Shh." Gabrielle said as she reached over to hold the sobbing woman. "I know you did everything in your power to protect me and I love you for it." She ran her arms up and down Xena's back in a comforting motion, careful of the cracked ribs. Xena buried her head into the bard's shoulder and allowed herself to feel the pain. Gabrielle continued to stroke her hair and back while gently rocking her. "I know, I know." She said rhythmically, trying to gently calm the warrior down. In her weakened state, exhaustion came quickly to the tall warrior and it didn't take long for Gabrielle to get her to lay down and sleep. The bard moved close and curled up around her warrior.
Xena woke up early but didn't rise like she normally would. She found herself wrapped up in Gabrielle's arms and legs. She thought about squirming out but decided it felt too good to leave just yet. She allowed herself to lazily run her fingers in small circles along the bard's arm, enjoying the feel of the soft skin beneath her, for several minutes before finally working free of the appendages and getting up. She reached over for Gabrielle's staff and used it like a crutch to head to the chamber pot, wincing at the pain in her leg and ribs.
Gabrielle poked her head out from under the covers and sniffed the aroma of breakfast for opening her eyes. Xena was sitting on the floor near the fireplace, drinking a mug of tea. "I thought you were going to sleep all day." She said as she looked at the half-awake bard.
"How long have you been up?" Gabrielle said as she sat up and stretched. She noticed that Xena's eyes had not strayed from her, so she made a point of drawing out the stretching. Ideas were forming in the young bard's head. Ideas that she seriously wanted to pursue.
"About one and a half candlemarks." The warrior answered as she turned to look at the cooking food. "Are you hungry? What a silly question. My bard, not hungry?" Xena laughed. There was silence for a moment as both women realized the 'my bard' part of Xena's statement. Gabrielle smiled and broke the silence.
"Well, I'm famished. What did you whip up?" She said as she slipped off the bed and sat down next to the warrior. Xena silently thanked the gods that Gabrielle didn't say anything about her slip of the tongue.
"I thought you would enjoy some fish and bread." Xena said as she scooped the cooking fish from the fire and put it on two plates.
"Look at the size of that fish! I didn't know that they could get so large." Gabrielle beamed as she broke off a piece and ate it.
"Well, it wasn't my doing. I found a stack of frozen fish just outside the door."
"Iolaus or Hercules must have caught them for us before they left. I never bothered to look. How did you find them?"
"I took a quick look outside while you were sleeping. It's been a long time since I've seen this much snow."
"How did you get around with your broken leg?"
"I used your staff to lean against. I have to admit that my ribs are hurting a little bit now."
"They should be. You took a hades of a beating." There was silence again as neither one of the women wanted to talk about the incident with Drax. "Xena, I need to borrow your sword and dagger for a little while."
"Sure, what are you going to do?" Gabrielle never asked to borrow Xena's weapons, which made the warrior all the more curious.
"It's a surprise. Trust me. I'll check on Argo while I'm out."
"Okay, but be careful. I want you to remain within earshot."
"Yes mother." Gabrielle said sarcastically.
Gabrielle looked at several trees before she found what she was looking for. Smiling, she took the sword and started to hack off a long, thick branch. She was sweating freely by the time the limb broke from the tree. She dragged it back to the stable. "Hi Argo, how are you?" She said to the war-horse as she refilled the trough. She sat down in the corner opposite the horse and pulled the limb onto her lap. Pulling out the dagger, she started to remove the bark and excess wood. Xena was right about the dagger and sword being so sharp. By the time Gabrielle had finished, she had several small cuts on her hands and one on her belly from when the dagger had slipped. Once it was the right shape, Gabrielle kept checking the length. Xena was several inches taller than her, which made guessing about the correct height difficult. Every so often, she would pop her head back into the cabin to get some water and let Xena know she was okay. It was almost six candlemarks before she finished. Satisfied with her work, she left the stable and went back into the cabin, leaving her project just outside the door.
"Where have you been?" Xena looked at her when she returned. Gabrielle looked like she had been involved in intense physical labor. Her reddish-blond hair was stuck to her face and her hands were filthy. "What did you do, cut down every tree in the forest?" Xena teased.
"No, just one limb." Gabrielle said. She opened the door and brought her project in. "I made it for you. This way you don't have to keep using my staff. I made a curve on the top and a handle in the middle so you can use your hand to support yourself instead of putting more pressure on your ribs."
"Gabrielle." Xena said in surprise as she took the crutch from the bard. "It's beautiful. You must have worked on this all day." Gabrielle beamed at the compliment.
"I wasn't sure about the length. I can shorten it if it's too long."
"No, it's perfect." Xena said softly. She put it under her arm and tried it out. It was perfect. Gabrielle had managed to get both the length and the position of the handle correct for the tall woman. "Gabrielle, thank you so much. It's very special." She hobbled over and hugged the bard, who quickly returned the embrace. She knew that Xena was thrilled. It took so much to get the warrior to give her a compliment or a smile that getting them both with such flourish was almost overwhelming. She knew it was well worth the effort. As they broke the embrace, Xena noticed the dark reddish brown spot on Gabrielle's top. "Gabrielle, you've been hurt!"
"It's nothing, Xena. The dagger slipped, that's all." Gabrielle moved back a step. She hadn't meant for the warrior to see the cut.
"The dagger slipped? You didn't come in and have me look?" Xena slipped into her mothering voice. "Come over here and let me see."
"Xena, it's not a big deal. It's just a small cut."
"Gabrielle." Xena said in that 'I'm not going to argue about this' tone of voice. "Get over here." She pointed to the bed. Gabrielle sighed in defeat and went over to the bed. Xena put some water on to boil and reached for the saddlebags to get some herbs. She found that she was able to move around much better on the crutch that Gabrielle made as opposed to the staff. With her back to the bard, she couldn't see the ear to ear smile that formed on Gabrielle's face as she watched the warrior move about.
The wound was not as serious as Xena thought, but deeper than Gabrielle had realized. With gentle, soft touches, Xena cleaned the area thoroughly before placing a bandage on it. "There, all finished."
"Thanks." Gabrielle said as she sat up. She noticed the somber expression in Xena's blue eyes. "Xena, what's wrong?" The warrior's facial expression changed to the warrior mask. "Hey, don't shut me out." Gabrielle reached over and put her hand around Xena's wrist, forcing her to look at the bard. "Talk to me, Xena." She quietly pleaded.
"You're always getting hurt for me." Xena said quietly as she looked at the floor. "And you never complain."
"I don't complain because it's my choice to be with you. You act like all my injuries are your fault. They're not. You're not the one who hurts me, except..." Gabrielle let her voice trail off. She didn't want to express her deepest fear.
"Except what? Gabrielle, have I done something to hurt you?" The thought of hurting Gabrielle and not knowing about it filled Xena with a profound sadness that she had never felt before, not even when Marcus died. "Gabrielle, please tell me."
"It hurts when..." Gabrielle swallowed, reaching inside herself for the strength to speak the words. "When you talk about us going our own ways. Sometimes you seem to be so mad at me that I'm afraid that this will be the time that you leave me behind." Tears started to roll down the bard's cheeks. "Xena, I don't want to be left behind. I want to stay with you." Her voice was gone as the tears turned into sobs. Her biggest fear had been admitted to the person who mattered most to her. Xena put her arms around the bard and pulled her into a close embrace.
"Shh, I'm not going to leave you behind, no matter what. I promise." Xena gently rubbed Gabrielle's back, careful of the whip marks. "Gabrielle, I can't imagine what my life would be like without you. I'm not good with words, you know that." Xena quieted herself and blinked away the tears that were forming in her own eyes. "Listen, why don't you tell me a story and I'll get dinner ready. I know you haven't eaten all day, you must be starving. I'll make a deal with you. If it's a really good story then I'll even break down and make a loaf of nutbread. How does that sound?" Xena straightened up and looked at her young friend. Gabrielle wiped away her tears and smiled. She always loved it when Xena asked her to tell a story.
"It's a deal. What kind of a story do you want? Action, adventure, romance?"
"You decide. Anything is fine with me, as long as I'm not in it." She put her hand on Gabrielle's knee and gave it a gentle squeeze before getting up and hobbling over to the fireplace to start dinner. Gabrielle thought about what kind of story she would tell. It wasn't a hard choice. While she was working on the crutch, she had decided that the next story she told would be a steamy romance. She wanted to see what Xena's reaction would be. Gabrielle's suspicions about Xena's true feelings were getting stronger with each new touch, with each smile, with each kind word. She hoped she was right about the warrior's feelings because it was getting harder to contain her own with each passing day.
"I've decided that we've had too much action and adventure. It's time for a little romance." Gabrielle said. Xena turned around to look at her and arched one eyebrow.
"I mean the story, you big dumb warrior." Gabrielle teased. She smiled to herself because she had gotten just the reaction from Xena that she wanted. Xena couldn't figure it out, but there was something in that smile from Gabrielle that made her nervous.
"Okay, tell me the story." Xena said as she turned back to work on dinner. Gabrielle sat down behind her and in a soft voice relayed one of Sappho's better stories. Xena allowed herself to become entranced with the bard's soft voice, letting the words caress her mind like a soft touch. She closed her eyes and let Gabrielle's voice take her into the story. It was only the smell of burning food that brought Xena back to the present. "Hades!" Xena exclaimed as she tried valiantly to remove the burnt food from the fire.
"Don't worry about it." Gabrielle said as she tried to stifle a giggle. She had never seen Xena so preoccupied that she lost track of the cooking. Another question in Gabrielle's mind had been answered. Xena silently cursed herself for being so easily distracted as she prepared another piece of meat for cooking.
They ate their dinner and true to her word, they had nutbread for dessert. Gabrielle happily wolfed down the bread while Xena threw more logs on the fire. Once a comfortable fire was burning, Xena sat back, using the side of the bed as a backrest. Gabrielle sat next to her, a little closer than normal.
"Xena, can I ask you something personal?"
"You can ask, I'm not sure if I'll answer." Xena steeled herself for the question.
"Well, I was wondering..."
"Well, what it was like...to..." Gabrielle felt the heat rising from her neck to her ears and she was sure that Xena could see it.
"Gabrielle, out with it. I've never seen you at a loss for words before." Xena secretly wished that Gabrielle couldn't get the words out. If it was this difficult to ask the question, Xena wasn't sure if she wanted to hear it.
"Well," She tried again.
"You've said that already, several times." Xena said, slightly annoyed.
"What's sex like?" Gabrielle finally blurted out. Xena looked at her in the firelight and arched her eyebrow. This was not the type of question she had been expecting.
"Gabrielle, you've been married. Surely you and Perdicus..." Xena let the statement hang. She didn't want to think of Gabrielle in that position with anyone.
"Not really." Gabrielle admitted for the first time to anyone. "It was a long day and...well...he kinda got too...that is to say he couldn't wait...."
"Gabrielle, what are you trying to say?" Fear passed through Xena's mind as visions of Perdicus forcing himself on Gabrielle surfaced.
"I mean he never made it in me." Gabrielle's cheeks flushed with the admission. "He was too excited. Afterwards, he fell asleep."
"Oh Gabrielle." Xena said softly. "I'm sorry. I didn't know. You mean he never..." She tried to suppress a smirk.
"No. I'm a virgin widow." They both thought about the statement, then broke out into fits of laughter. It took several minutes for them to regain control. As Gabrielle wiped her eyes, she said "So answer my question."
"Um, what was it again?" Xena tried to remember what the question was that started them on this path.
"What's sex like?"
"Oh. That." Xena thought about it for a moment or two before answering. "It depends on who you are with and what you're looking for."
"I don't understand." Gabrielle said. She really had no clue what Xena was talking about.
"Do you need specifics, Gabrielle?" Xena asked as she raised her eyebrow.
"No." She answered quickly. "Well, yes. I want to know about kissing."
"What about it?" Xena inwardly breathed a sigh of relief. At least Gabrielle wasn't asking her about her sexual past, as vast as it was.
"Well, I kissed boys in the village when I was younger and that always seemed, well, sloppy. But I read stories that say that kissing should be pleasurable. I never found any pleasure in kissing."
"That's because you haven't found the right person yet." Xena said, smiling. "If the right person kisses you, then you can feel it deep into the center of your core."
"Have you ever kissed someone and felt like that?" Gabrielle asked. Xena looked at her for a moment, figuring out just how much she wanted to tell her.
"No? That's all you're going to say? Does that mean that it isn't real?" Gabrielle didn't want to believe that the magical kiss that she had read about so many times didn't exist.
"I don't know if it's real or not, Gabrielle. I just know that I've never felt it." Xena hoped that the young bard would drop this line of questioning. She often wondered if the magic would happen if she kissed Gabrielle.
"Oh." Was all that the bard said. She put another piece of nutbread in her mouth and chewed thoughtfully, leaving Xena to her thoughts. Inwardly, Gabrielle smiled. Everything was going just the way she wanted it.
Xena was quickly becoming unnerved by the way Gabrielle was acting toward her. It wasn't anything obvious that she could identify, it was more of a feeling. The looks were different than before, the conversations more personal. Xena was finding it harder and harder to keep the erotic thoughts about the bard under control and Gabrielle wasn't making it any easier with her constant closeness. It was almost as if the bard could read her thoughts.
Morning found Xena trying to squirm out from under the arms and leg that were draped over her body. The sleeping bard grumbled at the movement and rolled over, freeing Xena from her delicious captivity. The warrior laid on her side and studied the sleeping form for a while before nature finally forced her to reluctantly get out of bed, grab her crutch, and head for the chamber pot.
Xena spent the day polishing her armor and sword while Gabrielle was at the table, busily writing. Xena assumed that the bard was working on another story. She watched as Gabrielle's forehead crinkled in thought, then smoothed as she started to write again. She became so fascinated in Gabrielle's movements that she unknowingly stopped polishing her gear. She was just sitting there, staring at the storyteller for several moments before the blue-green eyes looked up and caught her. Xena immediately turned her head down and started to polish her armor again, not noticing the ear to ear grin that had spread across Gabrielle's face.
Gabrielle looked down at the parchment. If Xena could only see what the young woman was writing. It wasn't a story at all. Gabrielle was planning and plotting the ultimate battle with the warrior princess, the battle for her heart. She made a few more notes before folding the parchment up and putting in inside her shirt. She didn't want to take a chance of Xena seeing her little scheme before it had a chance to blossom.
After dinner, Gabrielle took a bath while Xena worked on the fire. The warrior deliberately kept her back to Gabrielle while the bard dried off and put a shift on.
"Xena, can you help me with my hair? It seems awfully tangled." Gabrielle asked, not mentioning that she deliberately tangled it.
"Sure, do you want it braided?" Xena asked as she moved back from the fire and leaned up against the bed.
"Sounds good." Gabrielle said as she sat down between Xena's outstretched legs and handed her the comb. Xena put her arm around Gabrielle's stomach and pulled her closer, supposedly to get a better reach on the coppery hair. She suppressed a shiver when she felt the bard's thighs touch against hers. Xena gently worked the tangled hair apart, first with her fingers, then with the comb. She took her time, enjoying the way the silky hair felt as she touched it. Gabrielle was ready for the next phase of her plan. "Xena, can you explain what battlelust is?" Xena almost dropped the comb in surprise. She quickly tried to come up with a short answer that wouldn't lead to further questions from the intriguing bard.
"It um, well, why do you ask?" Xena couldn't remember being more nervous than she was right now.
"Well, it's for a story that I'm working on. I've heard the term, but I'm not real clear on what the difference is between that and passionate sex." Gabrielle smirked as she felt the body behind her stiffen.
"Well, er um, battlelust is..."
"Yes?" Gabrielle asked with a tone that implied curiosity.
"It's more, um, more of a celebration." Xena finally said.
"A celebration? Of what?"
"Of living. Of surviving the battle. Sex has a different quality after a battle. It's almost like reminding yourself that you're still alive." Xena started to separate the strands of copper hair and start the braiding.
"Did you ever have battlelust?"
"Did you?" She wasn't going to let this one go.
"Yes, after every battle." Xena admitted, trying hard not to picture it.
"Even now?" Gabrielle asked, wondering if Xena had the courage to answer truthfully. She knew that Xena always spent some time alone, out of sight, after a battle. She imagined that she knew exactly what the warrior was doing.
"Sometimes." Xena lied. She always felt that battlelust, but she wasn't about to admit it to the object of her masturbatory fantasies.
"What do you do about it?" Gabrielle pushed.
"Gabrielle, can we talk about something other than my sex life, or lack thereof?" Xena said in an exasperated tone. These evening conversations were definitely getting too personal. The heat being generated from both bodies being so close didn't help matters in the least.
"I'm sorry, I was just wondering." Gabrielle put a hurt tone to her statement, playing on Xena's sympathy. It worked.
"I'm sorry, Gabrielle. I didn't mean to sound so gruff. It's just not a subject that I'm entirely comfortable with. It brings up many memories that I'd rather not relive." And thoughts that I'd rather not face, Xena thought to herself. Gabrielle knew the topic was closed for the night, which was fine with her. She had gotten just the reactions that she wanted and the information she needed to continue her battle. She decided to give Xena a break and changed the subject.
"Argo looks like she's gaining weight."
"She probably is. She's not getting enough exercise." Xena tied a thin strip of leather to the bottom of the braid. "There you go."
"Thanks." Gabrielle said as she reached back and felt the braid. She was still amazed at how well Xena could perform such a feminine task. Realizing that continuing to sit so close to Xena would cause a question, she stood up and walked over to the wineskin. "Would you like some wine?" She asked as she reached for two goblets.
"Sounds good. How much do we have left?" Xena said, hiding her disappointment that Gabrielle had moved.
"Plenty. Hercules had a keg sitting here when we arrived and he had Iolaus purchase two more." Gabrielle said as she handed Xena her goblet before sitting down next to the warrior.
"Good." Xena said as she drained her glass. Gabrielle was sitting a respectable distance away from her but it was still close enough to interfere with the warrior's thoughts. Gabrielle didn't speak, she just continued to drink her wine and plot her next move. She decided that tomorrow's plan couldn't include questions about sex. That would tip Xena off and she didn't want that to happen just yet. Gabrielle smiled wickedly as she devised tomorrow's torment.
"I don't think I want to know what's going through your mind right now, judging from that grin." Xena said, forcing Gabrielle out of her revelry.
"Uh, I, um, was just thinking about a story."
"Uh huh." Xena said as she arched an eyebrow. She didn't believe a word of it but she wasn't sure she wanted to know exactly what Gabrielle was thinking about. "I'm going to need you to exercise Argo until my leg heals." She said, trying to change the subject.
"Are you sure we can't just let her get fat?" Gabrielle hated the thought of riding Argo.
"Gabrielle, you know that Argo needs exercise. Do you want me to try and ride her with my broken leg?"
"No. I'll do it, but I don't have to like it." Gabrielle said dejectedly.
"We all have to do things in life that we don't like, Gabrielle."
"Ah yes, but with any luck, we'll be rewarded for our actions." The bard quickly replied.
"And just what kind of reward do you want for exercising Argo?" Xena asked as she raised her eyebrow. She wanted to see just what kind of answer the bard would give, considering the nature of the recent conversations between them.
"Mmm, I'll have to think about that one." Gabrielle said as she quickly rose and climbed into bed. "I'll sleep on it and let you know tomorrow. Good night." She rolled over to cover her smile. Oh yes, Xena. Just wait until you see the reward I want, Gabrielle thought as she closed her eyes. Xena sat there on the floor for a few more minutes, trying to relax before giving up and crawling into bed next to the object of her dreams. It was getting harder and harder to keep her feelings in check. She had to fight the urge to wrap her strong arms around the soft body lying next to her. In frustration, Xena finally rolled over until her back was to the bard and stared at the fire. Do you have any idea what kind of passions are flaming inside me? Xena thought to herself as she settled into an uneasy sleep.
Gabrielle planned her actions carefully. She didn't want to arouse suspicions from the warrior. Talking about sex was not an option, but touching was. Xena was standing next to the fireplace, leaning on her crutch, and watching breakfast cook when she felt the small, delicate hands wrap around her waist and hug her tightly. "Good morning." Gabrielle said as she released the brief embrace. She had felt Xena's body stiffen at the touch. This was a good idea, the bard thought to herself.
"Morning." Xena answered as she forced her body to relax. "We're having rabbit stew for breakfast. We seem to be out of any other meats. Would you like some tea?" Xena hobbled over to where the mugs were lined up on the counter. She needed some space between her and the intoxicating presence of the bard.
"Tea sounds good. I figured I would take Argo over to the stream and see if I could catch us some more fish. How does that sound?" Gabrielle asked as she changed into her clothes. Xena kept her back to the storyteller.
"Sounds good, unless you go and fall in." She said in a playful tone as she poured the tea into a mug. Gabrielle walked over and took the mug from her. "Gabrielle, do me a favor and take my dagger with you." She held up her hand to stop the bard's protest. "Just in case. For me, please?" Gabrielle knew she couldn't argue with Xena, especially when she said 'please'.
"Okay. I'll tie it to my staff. Will that make you feel better?" She knew it would, but she wanted to make Xena say it.
"Yes. How's your back?"
"Good. Don't be gone too long. I don't like the idea of sitting here worrying about you."
"Worry about me? What kind of trouble could I possibly get into between the cabin and the stream?" Gabrielle asked with her most innocent voice. Both women looked at each other and laughed. "I'll be careful, Xena. I promise." With that, she gave Xena another quick hug, this time facing her, then left. Xena stared at the closed door for a few moments while her thoughts raced through her mind. What are you up to? I feel like you're scheming to do something, but I just don't know what it is. What's going on in that pretty little head of yours? Shaking the thoughts from her mind, Xena hobbled over to bed and started to do the painful exercises necessary to strengthen her leg.
It was two candlemarks before she heard Argo return. Gabrielle came in, proudly holding three half-frozen fish. "See? And I didn't even get wet." Her grin was rewarded with a smile from the warrior. Gabrielle changed out of her cold clothes and settled down near the fire while Xena cleaned the fish. Several times Gabrielle went over to see how Xena was doing and each time made a point of touching the warrior on the shoulder. Each time made the raven haired woman more and more aware of the bard's presence, as if she wasn't aware enough. Gabrielle relaxed and plotted her strategy for the evening.
After dinner they settled down on the floor, using the bed as a backrest. Gabrielle made it a point to sit very close, a point that wasn't missed by the warrior or the warrior's body. Gabrielle chatted idly about silly, inconsequencial matters before deciding to go to bed. She had made sure that her voice was soft as she spoke, lulling Xena into a semi-hypnotic trance several times. She went to sleep satisfied with her work for the day while the warrior went to sleep frustrated.
Gabrielle decided that this was going to be the night that she seduced Xena. She had waited long enough for the woman she loved to come around. All the little hints, looks, and teases didn't work. Now it was time for an all out assault. Gabrielle said little during the day, she was too busy planning the evening. Xena watched her as she walked around the cabin, lost in thought. The lack of conversation by the bard unsettled Xena. She was sure that Gabrielle was up to something, there was no doubt about that. It was the 'something' that had Xena so nervous.
Gabrielle went through one of the supply boxes until she found what she was looking for, a small bottle of perfumed oil. There was a wicked glint in her eyes as she thought about the possibilities this small bottle gave. She walked over and sat down next to the bed. "Xena, why don't you let me give you a backrub? I have some oil." She said temptingly. "Come on, you know how much you love a good backrub." Xena tensed at the thought of the beautiful young woman's hands running up and down her back, but the thought of the pleasure it would be overrode her senses.
"Okay, I'm game." Xena said as she set the crutch down and sat in front of the bard.
"Interesting choice of words, my big dumb warrior." Gabrielle said softly and affectionately. Gabrielle scooted closer until her legs were wrapped underneath the warrior's. She leaned over and whispered into Xena's ear. "Take off your shift." It was more of a command than a request. The warm breath and soft, commanding voice intoxicated and hypnotized the tall woman. She closed her blue eyes and complied without thought. "Now, I'm going to tell you a story while I rub your back." Gabrielle paused and poured some drops of oil on the tan shoulders. "I want you to listen close. Do you understand me, Xena?" She rubbed her hands softly over Xena's shoulders. "Listen very close." All Xena could do was nod in understanding. Gabrielle never moved her head and her warm breath continued to assault the older woman's ear. "I'm going to tell you a story about two lovers..." Xena was unable to suppress a soft moan. Gabrielle knew what effect that story had on her, that's why she chose it for this evening. As she spoke, she continued to drop oil onto Xena's back, causing shudders as it rolled downward. The backrub was a forgotten task. Gabrielle's hands roamed free, around the neck, down the arms, all over the back. She was doing more than caressing, she was feeling and learning Xena's body. Her hands and fingers trailed over every defined muscle, every scar, committing all to memory. The soft melodic voice, the sensuous hands, and the warm breath all served to entrance Xena into a lulled state of desire and relaxation. "...And every time the waves crash against the shore, the lovers come together." Gabrielle finished. Her own desires were raging now as she longed to feel more sensitive flesh beneath her fingers. Hesitantly, she wrapped her arms around Xena's stomach, whispered "Xena, I love you.", and kissed her earlobe.
Her breaths were coming quicker as she felt the bard's arms tighten around her. An electric shock passed from the sensitive earlobe down to the center of Xena's being when she felt the warm lips touch her. All her defenses broke when she heard those beautiful words. She opened her tear-filled blue eyes and turned her head to look at her beloved Gabrielle. She was greeted with blue-green eyes as moist as her own, filled with love and desire. "Gabrielle..." was all her husky voice could whisper. Gabrielle smiled and stood up.
"Come." The bard said as she held out her hand. Xena moved slowly, trying to believe that it wasn't a dream, as she reached out with her hand to grasp Gabrielle's. With a strength that Gabrielle didn't know she had, the bard lifted Xena to her feet and moved her to the bed. Xena stood there, balanced on her good leg and watched as Gabrielle removed her own shift. She gently pressed on the taller woman's shoulders, pushing them both down to the bed. Both women moaned in delight as flesh pressed against flesh. Gabrielle lifted herself long enough to let Xena straighten out on the bed before climbing back on top of her. This time the bard let herself down slowly, drinking in the sensations as their bodies pressed together while being careful of the still tender ribs. The contact sent shivers through both women. Xena let out a whimper when their breasts touched. In the pale firelight, they each saw the depths of their soulmate's love in their eyes. Xena reached up and placed a trembling hand on Gabrielle's cheek.
"Gods, look at me. I'm shaking like a leaf." Xena's equally shaky voice said. She moved her thumb to touch the edge of Gabrielle's mouth. Tears were freely flowing from both women. "I love you, Gabrielle. Aphrodite help me, I tried to fight it, but I couldn't. I love you." Gabrielle buried her face into the raven hair.
"I love you too." The bard cried as she pulled her head up to look into the blue depths that were Xena's eyes. "I can't live without you. I thought I would go crazy holding my feelings back. All I want to do is love you, be with you, give you all the love I have in my heart and then some. I want-." She was silenced by Xena's finger on her lips.
"Shh, my little bard. This is one time when actions speak louder than words." To prove her point, she wrapped her muscular arms around the smaller woman and pulled her lips closer. Xena reached up and brushed her lips against the storyteller's. Both women whimpered as the electric shock coursed through them. Gabrielle closed her eyes and brought her mouth down, feeling the softness of Xena's lips, feeling her own urges rising. Xena laid back and let the younger woman take control. Gabrielle continued to taste her. She kissed her lips, moving back and forth, occasionally bringing her tongue out to run across Xena's lower lip. This action caused more groans from the warrior's throat. Xena parted her lips as Gabrielle's tongue asked to be invited in. Their tongues touched, fanning their desires and passions beyond all reasonable thought. Gabrielle's tongue became more demanding, searching out all the tastes and textures of the warrior's mouth. Both were out of breath when Gabrielle finally pulled her mouth away.
"Right to the center of my core." Gabrielle murmured as she took deep breaths of air. Xena put her hands on the bard's shoulders, pressing against them to prevent another kiss.
"Mine too, but we need to talk." Xena's voice was husky and ragged, sounding like she had just returned from a war.
"You, the queen of quiet, want to talk?" Gabrielle said lightly, although she agreed that a pause was necessary, if only to catch their breaths. She rolled off of the dark haired woman and sat cross-legged next to her. Xena pulled herself up to a sitting position, leaning against the wall for support. Gabrielle sat quietly, waiting impatiently for Xena to speak.
"Gabrielle," Xena reached out and ran her finger along the bard's jawline and up to her chin. "I do love you. I can't find the words to express how I'm feeling right now."
"Try." Gabrielle urged gently. Xena knew the importance of words to her young bard, so she swallowed and tried again.
"I'm feeling many different things right now. Scared, happy beyond all belief, more nervous than a bride, all that and more. But what I feel most is that a great weight has been lifted off my shoulders. You don't know how many nights I've laid awake, tormenting myself trying to figure out what your feelings were. I was so scared that you would leave me again, I didn't want that to happen." She put her finger to Gabrielle's lip to keep her from interrupting. "I don't know why you love me, but I know that you do. I can see it in your beautiful eyes. It frightens me a little. Gabrielle, I've never felt this way about anyone before." Gabrielle put her finger to Xena's lips, asking her to be quiet for the first time in their relationship.
"Xena, I'm just as scared as you are. I can't explain when or how I fell in love. I just know that I do love you. I want to spend the rest of my life with you, sharing your life. I can't live anywhere but next to you." Gabrielle moved closer and straddled the warrior. "And right now I don't want to be anywhere else but right here, making sweet love to you. I don't know what to do, but I'm sure you'll show me." She said the last part with a grin as she removed her finger from Xena's lips and replaced it with her own mouth. The warrior wrapped her arms around the smaller woman and returned the kiss, probing with her tongue to taste the mouth of her love. Xena rolled the bard off of her and onto the bed. She gently kissed the copper-haired woman while her callused fingers explored the softness that was Gabrielle's throat.
"Mmm, gods, so soft." Xena murmured as she brought her mouth down to explore the area that her fingers just left. She brought her mouth up and pushed her way through the copper hair until she found Gabrielle's earlobe. She gently kissed, then suckled, then nibbled the soft flesh, extracting soft moans of pleasure from the storyteller. She went back to taste more of Gabrielle's mouth before traveling down between the soft mounds. Xena brought her hands up and cupped the breasts, capturing a soft nipple between her forefingers and thumbs. The nipples were hard and erect and begging to be sucked. Gabrielle's hands went into the raven hair and guided the warrior. Xena's tongue flicked out and lightly brushed against the aching left nipple. Gabrielle arched her back at the exquisite pleasure, begging without words for more. Xena took her time, sucking and licking each nipple and breast until she had her fill. Gabrielle's hips were rocking in the ancient motion of pure desire. Xena raised herself up, mindful of her broken leg, and separated Gabrielle's legs apart with her knee. "Sweet Aphrodite." She said when she felt the bard's leg press up against her sex.
Gabrielle gasped when she felt Xena's wetness press against her thigh. She instinctively pressed against it, causing the warrior to stop licking and start moaning. Xena's hips started moving up and down, soaking Gabrielle's thigh with juices. The blue eyes were shut tight, her mind lost to everything but the sensations between her legs. Gabrielle watched the expressions fly across the warrior's face. She reached up and cupped Xena's breasts with her hands, rubbing her thumbs across the sensitive nipples. Small cries were escaping Xena's lips, as well as low growls from her throat. Gabrielle felt the flood of juice roll down her thigh as Xena stiffened, then jerked her hips erratically before screaming out the bard's name in a voice loud enough to wake the forest. Gabrielle eased the pressure from her thigh and wrapped her arms around Xena as she fell against her. The bard held her, rubbing her back gently, until she felt Xena's breathing return to normal. "You okay?" Gabrielle asked softly. She felt the nod of the head and released her. Xena rolled onto her back and breathed deeply.
"Give me a minute, please?" She asked breathlessly. Gabrielle smiled and propped herself up on an elbow.
"You're loud." Gabrielle teased. Xena blushed slightly.
"Sorry, I guess I should have warned you. I can be a little...vocal sometimes."
"Mmm, I see that." The bard replied as she drew lazy figure eights across Xena's belly. "You're certainly nicer to the gods then."
"What do you mean?"
"I mean that you praised several of them, rather vocally, when you were..." Gabrielle giggled a little. "Let's just say that I'm sure that Aphrodite is pleased with your thoughts of her."
"Oh Gods!" Xena moaned as she hid her head beneath a pillow.
"See, that's what I mean." Gabrielle teased, sending Xena into a fit of silent laughter. She slowly brought her fingers down until she reached the damp curls. She twirled the black hair with her fingers, enjoying the texture and feel of the thick patch. She was caught completely off guard when six feet worth of arousal rolled on top of her, pinning her to the bed.
"Oh no, you don't get to have all the fun." Xena said as she worked her leg between Gabrielle's and pressed her thigh against the blond bush. "What do you want, Gabrielle? How do you want to me to love you?" Gabrielle was unable to speak, her desire had reduced her to soft moans and whimpers. "I can't believe I've finally caught the bard speechless." She arched one eyebrow. "I guess I'll just have to try different things and see if you like them." She said wickedly, much to the joy and delight of Gabrielle, who answered her with a unmistakable moan and hip movement.
Gabrielle squirmed and moaned under the ministrations of Xena's hands and tongue. The warrior moved downward and positioned herself between the bard's legs. She wrapped her arms underneath and around the strong thighs, spreading the lips apart with her callused fingers. The hips started to rock as Xena licked out the sweet honey that was Gabrielle's desire. The young woman's hips left the bed and she cried out her lover's name when the hot tongue came in contact with her virgin clit. Hearing Gabrielle's voice call out her name with such passion fueled her own. Gabrielle was an endless stream of moans, groans, beggings, and cries of Xena's name. Xena briefly thought of taking Gabrielle's virginity, but decided to wait. She didn't want there to be any regrets in the morning. Gabrielle's body started to tremble in the ancient warning of the impending climax. Her hands were pressing down on the warrior's head that Xena could barely breathe. She didn't care, she was willing to suffocate in her love's sea of pleasure. Gabrielle's body stiffened taut, her toes curled, and her thighs clamped around Xena's head, muffling the scream of ecstasy as the orgasm overtook her. Xena held on tight, drawing out the wave after wave until she felt her lover go limp. She slowly lowered Gabrielle's hips back to the bed, then moved up to hold her love in her arms. "I love you, Gabrielle." She murmured as she stroked and kissed the silky reddish-blonde hair. She held her love tight until she felt that the bard was ready to be released. Xena laid on her back and pulled Gabrielle close to her. The younger woman rested her head on the warrior's shoulder and draped her leg over her hips.
"Xena." She sighed as she kissed the closest piece of skin she could find.
"Shh, you rest now. We'll talk in the morning, I promise." Xena gently stroked the coppery hair that she loved as the young bard fell into a contented sleep.
Gabrielle opened her eyes and looked into the deep blue of her lover. One quick movement of her hand confirmed her memory. "It wasn't a dream." She looked to Xena for confirmation.
"No, love. It wasn't a dream."
"Good." She murmured and laid her head back down on Xena's chest. The warrior thought that Gabrielle was going back to sleep until she felt her soft lips and tongue start to stroll over her chest. "Xena?"
"What rights do I have?" She asked as she captured Xena's left nipple in her mouth.
"Uh, what do you mean? Mmm." She arched her back, pressing herself into the hungry mouth. Gabrielle pulled her mouth up slightly.
"Do I have lover's rights?" Her thumb lazily rolled back and forth across the erect nipple. "Do I have the right to touch you wherever I want?" She gently squeezed the tender flesh. "Do I have the right to ask you to touch me?" Her mouth hung just out of reach of the nipple. "Do I?" Her tongue flicked across it, then she blew softly, sending shivers throughout Xena's body.
"Yes." She breathlessly replied. "Gabrielle, please..." Her low, throaty voice was even huskier with desire. The rawness of her voice excited Gabrielle. She climbed on top of her warrior and looked into her eyes.
"You tell me if I do something you don't like." Gabrielle said. Xena nodded. "I'm sure you'll let me know when I do something that you do enjoy." She said with a wink, reminding Xena of last night's vocalizations.
Gabrielle started with soft, feather-light kisses, covering every inch of the warrior's face. Her bold tongue entered Xena's mouth with a passion that surprised them both. The kisses intoxicated the warrior beyond all reason and she surrendered herself to the will of another person for the first time. She trusted Gabrielle to love her and keep her safe so she could take the time to be vulnerable. She pressed the bard down on top of her, treasuring the feel of the smaller woman's weight. Gabrielle understood the surrender and started to work her way down Xena's body. She kissed up the jawline, stopping when she reached the ear to suck and nip the lobe. "I love you." She murmured into Xena's ear. She worked her way back around to the other ear. "and I'm going to make love to you."
Gabrielle's soft voice was boosting the pleasures that her mouth was giving. Xena was helpless to do anything but sigh and moan. Gabrielle worked her way down Xena's arms, sucking at the biceps, until she reached the warrior's hands. She took each finger into her mouth and lightly licked and sucked the tips. Xena never realized how sensitive her fingertips were until she felt the soft tongue of her bard send electric shocks through her body. She felt herself getting damper by the moment. She didn't know how much more of this glorious agony she could stand. Her hands clasped and unclasped the bed as Gabrielle's mouth found her nipples. Xena's thighs willingly parted when she felt the soft hand press against her curly triangle.
Gabrielle groaned in delight against the nipple that her mouth held hostage as she slipped her finger between Xena's folds. "Sweet Athena." The warrior sighed she felt the slim finger feel it's way around. She gasped when Gabrielle's finger passed across her clit.
"Well, what do we have here?" The bard said wickedly. Her face had the look of a child who has discovered something they shouldn't be playing with. She brushed her finger against it again, watching the hips bounce up off the bed and come down again. "Looks like I've found your evil spot." She said, grinning. She flicked it again, then rubbed her finger gently across it, watching in amazement at the different reactions from the older woman. She slipped another finger between the folds and placed one on either side of the sensitive nub. She brought her fingers together, lightly pinching the clit.
"Gods, Gabrielle!" Xena cried as her urges became more demanding. Gabrielle went back to flicking and rubbing the clit with one finger while she brought her other hand around to continue exploring. She placed her finger on the outer edge of Xena's hole and looked up to the blue eyes for approval. The look of pure desire gave her the answer she needed. She slowly pushed her finger inside, marveling at the warmth, softness, and wetness that surrounded her digit. Xena's hips arched in the ancient rhythm as the bard's finger moved in and out slowly while her other hand continued it's ministrations on the clit. "More..." Xena begged. Gabrielle pulled her hand back and placed another finger at the opening. Seeing the nod, she pressed both fingers in. She felt Xena's muscles squeeze around her fingers.
Xena's mind and soul were focused on Gabrielle's actions. Her hips moved of their own volition, meeting the ever enthusiastic bard stroke for stroke. Xena felt her juices running out of her and down her body and onto the bed. "Oh yes!" She cried when Gabrielle slid a third finger deep within her. They fell into a pattern, Xena meeting Gabrielle thrust for thrust.
Gabrielle's fingers became a blur as she felt Xena spiraling toward a climax. When she felt her lover tremble, the bard focused on Xena's face. "Look at me, Xena. I want you to see me when the moment comes." Her voice was low and commanding, a tone that Xena had never heard from her before. A tone that she had no choice but to obey. She opened her eyes and locked on to the blue-green eyes of her soulmate.
"Gods!" Xena cried as her hips moved frantically. "Gabrielle, I can't take much more...oh...please...oh...oh..." She reached up and wrapped her arms around Gabrielle's neck, needing to touch her lover at the moment of release. "GABRIELLE!"
Gabrielle plunged her fingers deep into Xena as she heard her name cried out. The body beneath her stiffened and drew tight as the powerful orgasm rocked Xena's body. Gabrielle felt every wave pulsating though the muscles that still held her fingers tight. She pulled her upper hand away and was starting to remove her fingers when she felt Xena's larger hand come down and press against hers.
"Please? Not yet." Xena barely whispered as she closed her eyes and let the aftershocks ripple through her body. When she moved her hand, Gabrielle slowly removed her reluctant fingers. She held her arm out and the bard happily scooted up to rest her head against Xena's rapidly beating chest.
"I take it that you enjoyed that?" Gabrielle said playfully. "You praised the gods, mmm, let's see, at least three times that I can think of." She reached over and started to draw figure eights on Xena's stomach again.
"No, I can't take any more." Xena said as she grabbed the bard's wrist. Gabrielle smiled as she pulled her arm back.
"Wore ya out huh?" She teased as she brought her hand up to caress the warrior's cheek. "I guess that means that you liked it." She was answered with a playful growl and a fierce hug that she gladly accepted. "I love you, Xena."
"I love you, Gabrielle. Gods, it feels so good to finally say it."
"Yes, it does." The bard replied. They held each other for a few moments before Gabrielle's stomach growled to announce that it was awake.
"I guess that means I have to feed you." Xena joked as she sat up and pulled on her shift. "I'll make us tea and get breakfast started." She reached for her crutch, although her leg was feeling somewhat better. She knew that she was somehow blessed with the ability to heal quickly.
"Okay, I'll go wash up." Gabrielle said as she rolled off the bed and headed to the chamber pot. The cabin was soon filled with the smell of sizzling meat and brewing tea.
"What's this?" Xena asked as she picked up the folded piece of parchment.
"Nothing." Gabrielle said as she tried to quickly grab at it. The warrior was too fast, however. Xena arched her eyebrow and looked at Gabrielle turning red. A crooked smile came to her lips as she unfolded the parchment. She looked down at the familiar penmanship and quickly read. Gabrielle stood there, frozen in fear of Xena's reaction to the seduction scheme. "Xena...now give me a chance to explain..." She slowly backed up as the warrior approached, losing her towel in the process. "I had to be sure...that is, I had to be certain that you'd..." She stopped when she felt the hard wall against her back. Xena stood in front of her, rested the crutch against the wall, and pinned Gabrielle's hands with her own. "Xena...now think about this..."
"Oh, I am thinking about this, my little bard." Xena said wickedly, but there was no hint of malice in her voice. "So you thought that you'd seduce me, mmm? Thought you could tease me, drive me half out of my mind with desire for you, for days on end? Oh, I'm going to have to work hard to think up an appropriate punishment for you." The playfulness was obvious in her blue eyes.
"Xena, now I'm sure we can work something out." Gabrielle smiled as she watched the warrior's eyes gaze up and down her body freely, no longer having to steal glances. Xena loved this new freedom and was taking advantage of the situation to enjoy it.
"Oh, I'm sure we will." Xena said seductively as her gaze settled on the bard's breasts. She studied the freckles, the pink nipples that were hardening under her stare, the soft swelling of the mounds themselves. She drank the image in before moving her gaze downward. "You can tell me a story. I know just which story I want to hear." She stared at the soft patch of fur and longed to bury her mouth there. "And how I want to hear you tell it." She added with a soft growl. The smell of the meat interrupted their playing. "Later, first we eat and regain our strength." Xena picked up her crutch again. "You're gonna need all the strength you have." She added wickedly before turning her attention to the fire. Gabrielle giggled with anticipation and delight as she pulled her shift on.
Gabrielle laid on her back, staring at the ceiling. A contented Xena was snoozing next to her. The bard's thoughts replayed their lovemaking over and over. As enjoyable as it was, Gabrielle felt that there was something missing. It was gentle, loving, drawn out. Isn't that what she wanted? She wanted Xena to love her, to take her body and make love over and over, and she had. So what was missing? Gabrielle thought about her own erotic fantasies, the ones she had before they had ever made love. A smile crept over her face as the answer appeared. Xena was being too gentle, too soft with her. She had first been drawn to Xena by the warrior's dark side. Gabrielle had seen Xena's passion many times in the heat of battle. She realized that it was this passion that she needed to see in their bed. She rolled onto her side and gently kissed Xena's cheek.
"Mmm" The warrior sighed as she reached out her arms to embrace her love. Gabrielle's hands moved downward, claiming the soft breasts, renewing the desire within Xena. "Gabrielle..." She moaned. The storyteller moved her head until her lips were next to Xena's ear. She spoke in a soft, husky voice full of desire and need.
"Xena, I need you. I need you to take me...I need to feel your passion...your desire...I want to lose myself with you...don't be gentle." She said the last words in a more commanding tone, a tone that Xena found hard to resist. The warrior pushed Gabrielle down on the bed and turned her head to look into her eyes.
"What are you asking me to do?" Xena asked softly. Her loins were fully awake with feelings created by Gabrielle's words, but the warrior needed to be certain just what her lover wanted. "Gabrielle, I...I don't want to hurt you. I don't want to be too...rough." That's exactly how she wanted to be at the moment. Xena wanted to consume the bard's body and soul. She wanted to ravish Gabrielle until she begged for release, then ravish her some more. Xena didn't realize that she was pressing her hips against Gabrielle, running her fingers through her coppery hair forcefully, subconsciously expressing her own desires.
"You won't hurt me..." Gabrielle's voice was raspy with need. "...and I want...rough. Take me, Xena...take me with all that you have...make me your woman." Gabrielle's hand captured Xena's wrist and forced the warrior's hand down to meet the bard's wet sex. Xena groaned when her fingers met the flood and she brought her mouth down hard against Gabrielle's. She didn't ask for entry into the bard's mouth, she took it. Her free hand roughly grabbed at Gabrielle's beast, the forefinger and thumb squeezing the pink nipple. Gabrielle's hands frantically wrapped around Xena's back, pulling her closer. Xena's finger was lightly stoking across Gabrielle' clit, each movement causing the bard's hips to rise involuntarily. The warrior tore her mouth away, kissing and nibbling her way up the jawline until she reached Gabrielle's ear. She sucked and nipped on the lobe as her lover writhed beneath her. Her voice in the bard's ear was a low growl.
"I'm going to take you, Gabrielle." Her fingers moved to press gently against the edge of Gabrielle's coral opening, causing more sighs and moans from the excited bard. "Yes..." She nipped at the sensitive area on Gabrielle's neck. "You want this, don't you?...Tell me, my bard." She moved her fingers up and wiggled them hard against the clit while her other hand moved to brand the other nipple. She pinched hard, smiling when she felt Gabrielle's back arch and heard more volume in her cries. "Tell me, Gabrielle...tell me what you want." Xena was fighting hard to control her passion. It threatened to consume her too soon. Her words had the desired effect on Gabrielle.
"I...I want...oh..." She tried to make the words, but the activity on her breast and clit were taking away all rational thought.
"Speechless, bard?" Xena taunted as she moved her mouth down to claim the hard pink nipple. She raked her teeth over it and moved her fingers back to the edge of Gabrielle's womanhood. She held the nipple with her teeth while her tongue flicked back and forth across it.
"Take me...go...inside...now" Gabrielle's whispered pleas were firm commands to Xena. She slid two fingers deep into Gabrielle, removing the last vestige of her virginity. The bard cried out at the brief pain, but her sounds were silenced by Xena's hungry mouth reclaiming hers. She held her fingers still, waiting for a signal from Gabrielle to proceed, while her thumb continued to stimulate the bard's swollen clit. After a few heartbeats, Xena felt Gabrielle respond to the kiss and move her hips in the ancient rhythm. The warrior curled her fingers deep inside and found a soft, smooth place which she rubbed her fingers back and forth across. Her ministrations inside matched the pace her thumb set outside. Xena felt her own wetness increasing, burning within her for release. Ignoring the pain in her mending leg, she straddled Gabrielle's thigh and quickly rocked back and forth. Gabrielle's thrusts picked up pace and quickly exceeded the speed of Xena's motions, but only for a moment before the warrior realized and increased the speed of her thrusts. She couldn't believe the amount of liquid that was pouring from her bard. Gabrielle's body went on instinct, ferociously craving a release that only the warrior could provide. "Arggh...Xena...more." She grunted through clenched teeth.
Xena pulled her fingers back until they were at the entrance and paused the movements of her thumb. She placed a third finger in, just up to the first knuckle, moaning at the sweet pressure that surrounded it. She moved her fingers in and out, increasing the depth on each stroke. Xena knew that Gabrielle's insides were stretched as much as possible and reveled in the knowledge that she was the only one to ever touch the bard's inner walls, to ever make her feel this way, to ever possess her. Gabrielle matched her, thrust for thrust, taking all that the warrior could give her. Xena's rocking against the bard's thigh was at a frantic pace. The tight wetness around her hand and the hot friction against Gabrielle's thigh sent Xena over the edge. She threw her head back and made an animalistic sound as her orgasm overtook her. "Gabrielle...oh...mmm...oh goddess...GABRIELLE" Xena's body shook and trembled with her orgasm.
Gabrielle had no control over her body. Her hips were bucking frantically, her breath coming out in short gasps of pleasure, her arms were wrapped around Xena, holding her tight as the warrior's body shuddered. Her body arched one final time and Xena used all of her energy to send Gabrielle over the top. Sweet nectar flooded over her hand while the fingers were being squeezed by the inner muscles. One final 'oh' and then Xena heard the bard yell her name in a tone louder and more hoarse than she had ever heard come from her beloved.
Xena slowly removed her fingers and crawled up to hold the young bard as her body continued to shudder with aftershocks. She kissed Gabrielle's forehead, cheek, and lips as she murmured endearments over and over.
"Wow." Gabrielle breathed, not yet opening her eyes.
"Caught your tongue again?" Xena chuckled in a low, throaty voice. Gabrielle slowly opened her eyes and focused on her warrior. She brought her hand up to caress Xena's cheek.
"I know, love. Shh." Xena held her close, never wanting the moment to end. Both women fell into a blissful sleep within moments.
The rest of the moon was spent healing their minds as well as their bodies. Although Xena was still less than forthcoming about her personal feelings, she did make it a point to tell Gabrielle daily of her love. Gabrielle was quickly adjusting to their new depth of their relationship and couldn't be happier. The age old fear of Xena leaving her behind was quickly fading with each new touch, kiss, and murmur of love between them.
Gabrielle's back was to Xena as she pulled her shift on. She felt the strong hands of her warrior on her shoulders, then down her back. "There's going to be some scars." Xena said quietly as her finger trailed over some of the more severe whip marks. At one time, they would have been a daily reminder of Xena's failure to protect the bard. Now they were a daily reminder of Gabrielle's love and devotion to her. This change in feeling wasn't caused within Xena. Gabrielle forced her to talk about the deep gashes and what they meant. Until their talk, Xena was convinced that they were a punishment to her for letting Gabrielle get hurt. It took many candlemarks of talking by Gabrielle to change her mind. She was brought back to the present by the feeling of the bard turning around in her arms.
"I love you, Xena." She said those words knowing how much Xena needed to hear them and she made a point to say them as often as she could. She forced herself to be content with the occasional returns by her love. Gabrielle realized how much effort it took for Xena to express her feelings, no matter how strong they were.
"I love you. I just wish you didn't have to suffer because of that love." She brought her hand up to cup Gabrielle's face. It was that face she wanted to wake up to each morning and go to sleep by each night. It was the face of the other half of her soul.
"I would only suffer if you took that love away." Gabrielle said sincerely. They moved closer, preparing to seal their love with a kiss.
"It took you two long enough." Both women turned to see the owner of the melodic voice. A shimmering glow settled into the grace and beauty of the Goddess Athena.
"Athena." Gabrielle said quietly and lowered to her knees. Xena controlled a smirk and remained standing.
"Rise, child." Athena said as she waved her hand in an upward motion. Gabrielle rose and put her arm around Xena's waist, partly for comfort, partly for support in the company of a goddess.
"What can we do for you, Athena?" Xena asked in the most civilized tone possible. She hated when any of the gods interfered in their lives. It was almost always trouble and she was sure that this time would be no exception.
"So untrusting, my little warrior." Athena's silvery voice chimed. "I should ask what do you want of me? Especially after all the times I've heard my name screamed from your lips recently." A smile went across Athena's face as she watched Xena turn beet red.
"I wasn't really calling you. I was..." Xena stopped, realizing that she was only digging a deeper hole for herself. Gabrielle was no longer able to suppress her giggle. Xena shot her a look before returning a stoic gaze toward the goddess. "Never mind."
"Well, I am glad to see that you finally opened your heart to someone, Xena." Athena said quietly and in a tone that the proud warrior didn't expect. Before more words could be said, a golden mist appeared next to Athena. "Ah, I see we have company."
"Wonderful. What is this, a hangout for the gods?" Xena grumbled, receiving a gentle jab in the stomach from the bard, who was still intimidated about being in the presence of one god and now being faced with the addition of another.
"Who is it?" She whispered to her warrior.
"Ah, my dear Gabrielle." Aphrodite's form materialized from the mist. "There is a glow that surrounds your heart. Your love is pure and undivided. You have no idea how blessed you truly are." Gabrielle went crimson and looked down at her feet as she listened to the praise from the Goddess of Love.
"Thank...thank you." Gabrielle stammered.
"And you..." Aphrodite moved closer and faced Xena. "You struggle with the truth that lies within your heart. You fear your dark side will come back and overpower your love. That is a powerful battle, Xena. Share the struggle with the one who would help you willingly. All you have to do is ask her. You have yet to realize the depths of her love for you or your love for her." A smirk came to the face of the goddess. "I appreciate your remembrance of me from time to time." The immediate understanding caused another blush to creep up the warrior's face. A white owl flew down the chimney and fluttered to a stop between Athena and Gabrielle.
"I know I never said your name." Xena protested as the owl changed into the goddess Artemis.
"Aren't we a little jumpy?" Artemis teased. She looked at Gabrielle. "My queen, I thought by now you would have used up all of her excess energy."
"I..." Gabrielle didn't know what kind of answer to give the goddess. "I try." She said as she stared at the ground. The three goddesses broke into an uproarious fit of laughter. Gabrielle quickly joined and Xena quickly wished she was anywhere but in that cabin at the moment.
"Is there a reason for this visit other than to embarrass me?" Xena asked in a bored tone. The other women slowly returned to seriousness.
"Someday you will learn some respect, mortal." Artemis growled, although she knew that she would never hurt Xena or allow any other god to. The pain it would cause her beloved Amazon Queen would be too much. "But this is not the time for that conversation." She turned and put her hands on Gabrielle's arms. A warm glow passed through the bard, healing all her wounds, relieving all her aches and pains. When Artemis released her, Gabrielle stumbled slightly and was quickly caught and supported by Xena's strong hands. She looked at Xena to thank her, then turned her gaze back to the Moon Goddess. "Gabrielle, there is a great danger to my Amazons. They need your presence to guide them through this troubled time. Without you, I fear they will perish. I have healed your wounds. It is my gift to you as you start this new quest."
"What if she doesn't want to go? If there's trouble, she could get hurt." Xena protested.
"I am not obligated to give you an answer, warrior, but I will anyway. She accepted the title of queen. As such, she accepts all that comes with that title." Artemis' tone had a touch of anger to it.
"She didn't accept getting herself killed!" Xena retorted.
"Yes I did." Gabrielle said firmly. "I accept what ever comes with it." Her look went straight to Xena, telling her without words that this was not a subject that was up for discussion.
"Why did the three of you have to come to deliver that message?" Xena asked as she turned her attention back to the other two goddesses.
"You ask a lot of questions for someone who couldn't say three little words only a moon ago." Aphrodite teased. "I was beginning to doubt my abilities with you two."
"Actually, this is Hercules' cabin." Gabrielle said shyly. "It was his decision to have us stay up here."
"Gabrielle, you're arguing with a goddess." Xena leaned over and reminded her. The bard's mouth stopped and she looked at the floor again. "Sorry."
"So innocent." Aphrodite laughed. "I understand why she's one of your most favored, Athena." She turned to look at the moon goddess. "And your chosen." She turned and caught the shocked expression on Xena's normally stoic face. "Ah yes, warrior, your little bard is favored by more than the gods you see here. She is blessed by many. You would do well to always remember just how special she really is."
"Enough of this idle chatter." Athena broke in. She was not especially pleased with Aphrodite's loose tongue. There were many times that the goddess wanted to take Gabrielle and make her one of her vestal virgins. The only thing that held her back was the knowledge that Xena wouldn't survive her struggle for redemption without the young woman. At the moment that Gabrielle had given herself to the warrior, Athena felt a sense of loss that she had not felt in eons.
"You are needed at the amazon village." Artemis looked at Gabrielle. "As for you, Xena," Her attention shifted to the tall warrior. "I can only assume that you would go where ever she goes."
"Always!" Xena answered vehemently.
"Good." Artemis smiled with satisfaction. "I'm sure your skills will be quite useful."
"Excuse me?" Gabrielle timidly interrupted. "I'm more than willing to go back to the amazon village and do what I can to help, but I don't understand why it took all three of you to tell me." She repeated Xena's earlier question. Unlike the time that Xena asked it, the goddesses willingly answered.
"I came, of course, because you are the queen of my amazons and I had to give you the gift of healing." Artemis answered.
"Thank you." Gabrielle replied.
"I actually came to help you, Xena." Athena said as she approached the confused warrior. "You won't be of much use to Gabrielle if you're still healing from your injuries. You have shown great promise and progress in your quest to find redemption. This battle will require all of your strength and many of your skills if you are to become victorious. Your dark side may tempt you, your fear may overshadow your rational thoughts. Be strong, Xena. This may be your toughest battle." She placed her hands on Xena's shoulders and repeated the healing process that Artemis had performed on Gabrielle. The warrior looked over at Aphrodite and arched her eyebrow, waiting for the goddess of love to answer the question.
"I came because the strength of the love between you two is something special and should be treasured. I merely wanted to see it for myself. I give the two of you my blessing on your love. May it be the guiding force that leads both your lives." Both mortals smiled and nodded their appreciation at the blessing of the mighty goddess. There was no way to deny their love now, it had been blessed by the goddess of love herself.
"There will be an unseasonable thaw in four sunrises. You must leave then and head to the village." Athena said.
"How will we know what the trouble is?" Gabrielle asked.
"We'll know, Gabrielle." Xena said dryly
"Remember, four sunrises." Artemis said as she shimmered and returned to the form of a white owl. Gabrielle and Xena watched her go back up the chimney. When they turned around, they realized that the other two goddesses were also gone.
"Xena, what do you think Aphrodite meant?" She asked as they sat down at the table.
"About what?" She hated the way the gods talked in circles. It always gave her a headache. As if to ward one off, Xena started to rub her temples.
"About my being my being favored by more gods."
"Don't let it go to your head, Gabrielle." Xena sighed. "I've found that some of the favors that the gods bestow aren't really favors at all, more like curses." She unconsciously shuddered at the thought of her relationship with the god of war. It was only the strength of Gabrielle's faith in her that kept Xena from returning to his intoxicating presence. Gabrielle knew immediately what Xena was thinking about. She put a firm hand on her warrior's shoulder, bringing Xena back to the present.
"I won't. Although I do think it's a good sign that Aphrodite blessed us." She ran a finger down Xena's jawline, ending at the chin. "I've never heard any bad things about her. I'm going to take it as a good thing." She smiled, triumphant with her decision.
"I think that the fact that all three of them showed up is a good sign that whatever we're getting into, it's going to be one hades of a battle." Their mouths went quiet at they gazed into each others eyes. Since their first night of lovemaking, the unspoken fear of loss had weighed on each of their hearts. The knowledge that a battle was most likely coming soon pushed the fear to the foreground. Unable to keep her emotions in check, Gabrielle let the tears roll down her face. Without saying a word, Xena pulled her into a tight embrace and scooped the little bard into her arms. She laid her down on the bed and held her, letting Gabrielle release all the sobs and tears that expressed her fears. The warrior stared at the empty fireplace, absently stroking Gabrielle's hair. The bard couldn't see the tears that filled the blue eyes of her warrior. They laid there quietly, involved in their own thoughts, until both fell into an uneasy, restless slumber.
As expected, a warm thaw occurred on the fourth sunrise. They worked their way quickly down the mountainside, careful of the icy patches that still appeared on the road. They both walked, using Argo's strength to carry more food and gear than normal. It would take the better part of a week to reach the amazon village and they didn't want to waste time by stopping at inns to eat. Breaking only for lunch, they traveled quickly, stopping only when it became too dark to continue. Xena hated traveling at night. It was much more difficult to avoid ambushes or other unpleasantries. After waking up and repacking their gear, they would head out again, eating breakfast while they walked. Gabrielle filled the time by reciting her endless list of stories and prose. Xena tried to listen to every word, but found herself drifting off again and again, her mind worrying about the warnings given by Athena. Gabrielle sensed that her audience wasn't listening, but rather than be upset by it, she understood that Xena had something important on her mind. They walked along in silence for several moments before Xena realized that the bard had stopped talking. Realizing that she had been caught not listening, the warrior looked at her love with a sheepish grin. "I'm sorry, Gabrielle. I guess I just have some things on my mind right now." She reached out and caressed the bard's cheek. "You know I love you." It was more of a question than a statement. Gabrielle responded by pulling the warrior close and kissing her.
"I know you do. I understand." Gabrielle's blue-green eyes sparkled. They walked on in companionable silence for the rest of the day.
They arrived on the edges of the amazon village before nightfall on the fourth day. Xena thought about setting up a camp and entering the village in the morning, but the thought of a hearty meal and a warm bed gave them the needed energy to continue on. They were met at the gate by Ephiny and a royal guard. As they walked to the palace, Xena briefly explained that they had been attacked by Drax and were recovering at Hercules' cabin when the three goddesses appeared and told them to come to the village. Ephiny listened quite intensely to the story, visibly shaken when she heard of Gabrielle's whipping.
"I will see to it that you both get warm meals and hot baths." Ephiny said. "Queen Gabrielle, your room is just as you left it. I'll have one of the servants prepare a room for you, Xena."
"That won't be necessary." Gabrielle said quickly. The three of them exchanged glances as understanding formed on Ephiny's face.
"Very well, then. As you wish, my queen." Ephiny's tone was civil, polite. The amazon hid her own feelings well. Although Gabrielle failed to catch the change in the amazon's tone, it was not missed by the warrior, nor was the look that Ephiny gave her as she left.
"Xena, from what Ephiny says, there hasn't been any problems since we were last here. Why do you think Artemis wanted us to come back?" They were walking over to the food hut, where a feast had been laid out in honor of their returning queen. The amazons were well aware of their queen's ravenous appetite and had outdone themselves with both the quantity and variety of food. Xena couldn't resist a chuckle when she saw Gabrielle's eyes widen as she took in the sight.
"Try to leave some for the other people." Xena teased. She was rewarded with a playful elbow in the ribs. Xena's eyes locked with Ephiny's, who was standing at the other side of the room. "Gabrielle, will you be all right for a little while? I have to go talk to someone."
"Sure how much trouble could I possibly get into?" Gabrielle asked innocently before breaking out into laughter. Xena chuckled and put her hand on the bard's shoulder.
"Try not to find any. I'll be back in a few minutes." With that, she turned and walked out, knowing that Ephiny would soon follow.
Xena walked over to the fountain and waited. Within seconds she heard Ephiny's footsteps. She turned to face an emotional amazon.
"She's given you her heart." The pain and hurt in Ephiny's voice was clear. Xena only nodded. Unable to control her feeling of loss and anger, the amazon moved closer and spoke in a low angry voice. "She deserves better than you. She deserves a home, a place where people love and respect her. She deserves to be kept safe from harm, not thrown into it just because you want to redeem yourself. How long do you think it will be before someone decides to do to her what you've done countless times to innocent villagers? How long before someone decides to exact revenge on her for your crimes? How long before she loses her blood innocence? She belongs here, Xena. She belongs with the Amazons."
"With you?" Xena countered.
"Yes, with..." The amazon caught herself. "With the amazons. She made the wrong choice."
"It was her choice to make." The warrior growled back. Ephiny sighed and looked at the night sky. Neither spoke for several heartbeats.
"She is so beautiful." The amazon said wistfully. "She has no idea just how many hearts she touches."
"No, she doesn't." Xena quietly agreed. Ephiny spun around and glared at the warrior.
"Is she just another conquest for-." Her words were cut off as Xena's hands wrapped around her throat while the warrior's right leg moved forward and swept the amazon's feet out from under, pinning her to the ground.
"Don't...ever...say...that!" Xena hissed through clenched teeth as she looked down at the furious amazon. With a grunt, she pushed herself off of Ephiny and stepped back a few paces. She ran her fingers through her hair in frustration. Ephiny slowly rose to her feet, trying to maintain a defensive stance around the irate warrior. Xena kept her back to the amazon. "You know it's more than that." She said evenly.
"I know." Ephiny admitted. "Do you understand that I would give anything to have her in my life?" She sighed. "Xena, I'm sorry. When I found out...well...it's hard to watch dreams die." Her admission struck a chord in Xena. She turned to face the amazon.
"I know." She walked over and put a hand on Ephiny's shoulder. "I swear I will do everything in my power to protect her. But it is her life. It was her choice." Ephiny started to walk away, then turned and faced Xena.
"If you ever to anything to hurt her, I swear I'll hunt you down and kill you." It wasn't a threat, it was a promise. Ephiny tensed, expecting another physical reaction from the warrior.
"Ephiny, if I ever intentionally hurt her, I hope you do come and kill me." Xena turned and walked to the stables. Ephiny watched her walk away, then headed back to her room at the palace, deep in her feelings of loss.
On her way back to the palace, Gabrielle found herself drawn to a group of young women gathered around a fire. They were giggling and laughing while passing around a wineskin. "May I join you?" She asked as she approached them. Several recognized her immediately and moved as if to leave. "No, please stay. I only wish to join you."
"Of course you are welcome to join us." A girl not much younger than Gabrielle stood and motioned for Gabrielle to join her on the log.
"My Queen..." The royal guardswoman protested.
"Oh, you can go back to the palace if you like. I'll be fine here." Gabrielle said quickly as she took a turn at the wineskin. It was smooth and strong and she took several gulps before passing it on. She frowned when she saw that the guard had not moved. "Return to the palace." Unable to violate a direct command from the queen, the guard nodded meekly and headed to the palace, hoping that she wouldn't get six moons guard duty at the south wall for leaving the queen alone.
Gabrielle quickly settled in and eagerly joined the chatter, as well as taking turns with the wine. Several amazons passed the group, smiling at the sight of six animated young women all trying to talk at once.
"So you ride with Xena?"
"What's she like?"
"As queen, do you get to decide what chores to do?"
"Can you make that sound she makes? You know, that yi yi sound?"
"Whoa!" Gabrielle put her hands out to stop the barrage of questions. She found the wineskin being put back in her hand again. She took a swallow as she heard two of the girls talking quietly about the tailor and the smithy. "What did you hear?" Gabrielle asked in a conspiratory manner.
"Well..." Dyna said quietly as she moved closer to the fire. All the others also moved closer, eager to hear the latest piece of gossip.
Xena walked back across the village to find several giggling girls surrounding a dying fire. From the wineskin that she saw being passed back and forth between the silhouetted amazons, she realized that they were probably very intoxicated.
"No! While on a saddle? Wouldn't that be...well...awkward?" Xena groaned at the familiarity of the voice while the drunken group burst into more fits of laughter.
"Gabrielle." Xena's voice boomed as she quickly strode closer to the group. There were several muffled giggles and the warrior's hearing picked up on the 'Shh' sound being made by the bard. "Gabrielle, I know you're up there. Come over here." She was greeted with more giggles.
"Uh...Gabrielle's not here." The bard said, sending herself and the rest of the group into another fit of laughter. Her laughter stopped when she felt the six foot warrior looming over her. "Uh oh." The other girls quieted down immediately, either in awe or in fear of Xena. Gabrielle turned her head up and looked up. "Uh, hi Xena."
"Hi." Xena said evenly while she tried to keep a grin from appearing on her face. Even drunk, Gabrielle still looked cute.
"Uh...we were just talking."
"Yeah, talking." Dyna said, then looking at the wineskin in her hand, she held it up proudly. "And drinking." The group giggled uncontrollably. Gabrielle leaned back against Xena's legs for support. The warrior rolled her eyes.
"Yeah, and drinking." Gabrielle chimed in. "But I only had a little." She held her forefinger and thumb out to illustrate.
"Yeah right!" Dyna teased as she elbowed the queen. Just then, several angry looking amazons walked over to the group.
"Dyna! Aris! What are you two doing out here so late?" Dyna quickly passed the wineskin to Gabrielle. The bard tried to take a sip, but the skin was quickly removed by the warrior.
"Mother!" Dyna stood up, wobbling for moment before finding her balance. Aris and two other girls also stood up as they saw their mothers heading for them. "We were just having some fun."
"I hope you didn't get into your aunt's private stock again." Dyna's mother said as she pointed her wagging finger at her drunken daughter.
"Okay, Gabrielle. I think it's time for you to go to bed too." Xena said as she bent down and scooped the bard up in her arms. The warrior looked up when she heard the gasp from one of the mothers.
"Oh my goddess. It's the queen herself." Dyna's mother said, astonished. "I'm sorry my daughter got her in that condition." She slapped her daughter on the back of the head.
"Don't worry about it." Xena chuckled. "Gabrielle doesn't need any help to get into trouble." The mother nodded and walked away, scolding her daughter the entire time. Xena looked down quickly when she felt Gabrielle's hand cup her breast.
"Hi Xena." The queen said seductively, her words slurred.
"I'm drunk." She said matter-of-factly.
"Yes, you are." Xena agreed as she kissed the top of Gabrielle's head. Despite the bard's playful teases, Xena knew that Gabrielle would be fast asleep once she was in bed. She was right.
Morning found a very hung over Gabrielle trying to stop the pounding in her head. "I'm never going to drink that much again." She moaned as they entered the food hut. Xena looked around and saw an equally hung over Dyna sitting at a far table, propping her head up with her hands.
"Looks like your new friend is in the same condition you are." The warrior chuckled. Gabrielle caught sight of Dyna and waved. The young amazon waved back, happy that the queen wasn't mad at her for getting her so drunk the night before. "What do you want to eat?"
"Something that isn't going to make me sick." Gabrielle replied as she passed by a tray of some kind of creamed meat. The faint sound of a warning horn caught their attention as well as the attention of the rest of the room. Without saying a word, Xena and Gabrielle ran toward the village entrance.
They arrived to see a young amazon warrior hanging on to her horse, her left arm bleeding. Two women went over and helped her off of the horse. With her long legs, Xena reached the woman before the queen. "What happened?" She asked as she looked for more injuries.
"Raiders. They're coming this way. At least a hundred of them." The alert was sounding throughout the village. Xena turned and looked at her lover.
"Gabrielle, you have to go back to the palace. Ephiny will stay with you."
"Xena, are you trying to leave me behind again? Because if you are, I thought we already talked about this." Gabrielle tried to keep the frustration out of her voice, but failed. Xena sighed. Just once she would like the bard to listen to her and not argue.
"Gabrielle, this isn't a case of my trying to protect you. You are Queen of the Amazons. You're needed here, in the village. Let your warriors and archers handle this, that's what they're trained for." She paused. "Gabrielle, please?"
"I don't like it." Gabrielle said angrily. She hated when Xena was right.
"There's no time to argue." Xena said quickly as she saw the quickly formed groups of warriors heading to the north gate. "I'll go help them all that I can." She started to head away, but Gabrielle grabbed her arm.
"I guess this is the battle that Athena warned us about." She looked up into the blue eyes that she loved so much. "Xena, be careful. I don't want to be a widow again." She put her head on the warrior's chest, listening to the strong heartbeat of her soulmate. Xena reached down and put her hand on the bard's chin, turning her head upward.
"I swear I'll be careful." She said as she brought her mouth down for a final kiss before heading off to join the amazon warriors. Gabrielle wiped her eyes, then reluctantly headed back to the palace.
Ephiny nodded as Gabrielle walked in. "What can I do?" The young queen asked as she moved over to look at the map that was sprawled out on the table.
"There isn't too much more that can be done." Ephiny replied. "We've sent our best troops to cover the north gate. Hopefully they can overpower the raiders without sustaining too many injuries."
"What about the south gate?" Gabrielle asked thoughtfully.
"We have a standard compliment of archers and warriors covering it. Our main concern is the north gate. That's where the raiders are."
"Uh huh." The bard mumbled. "Ephiny, why would anyone try to attack from the north? After all, that gate is easier to defend than the south one. Besides, we have the added advantage of the north woods. It would be easy for our warriors to circle around and surround them if necessary. It doesn't make sense..." Gabrielle's eyes grew wide. "It's a trick!" She yelped. "Ephiny, what's the best way to get our warriors away from our weakest point of entry?" The amazon's mouth opened as she realized the point that the young queen was trying to make.
"By distracting them!" Ephiny quickly ran over to one of the guards. "Get every woman who's capable of fighting and get them to the south gate immediately." The guard quickly took off to sound the alarm. Gabrielle grabbed her staff and headed for the door. "Where do you think you're going?"
"To help defend the south gate." Gabrielle said defiantly.
"My Queen, I can't take the chance of you getting hurt."
"Ephiny!" Gabrielle's eyes flashed with fury. "There is no way I am going to ask the women of this village to risk their lives guarding the south gate while I stay hidden. All of our best warriors are at the north gate. We need every available person to protect the south entrance. I am going." Her tone was similar to the one that Xena used when she wanted no argument. "This is not open for discussion." Gabrielle stormed out of the palace, Ephiny right behind her.
They quickly reached the small group of women that were forming at the south gate. Gabrielle recognized several members of the royal guard. They were easy to pick out because of their distinctive blue tunics. Several other women were getting into different types of armor while others were testing the tension on their bowstrings. One of the guards walked over to them. "My Queen, please take this for your protection." She handed Gabrielle chain mail. The bard looked at her quizzically. "It will help protect you from arrows." The amazon explained. Gabrielle smiled and let Ephiny help her don the armor.
"Are we ready?" Gabrielle asked as she moved her arms about, trying to get a feel for the strange armor before the battle.
"I still don't like the idea of you being in the middle of this." Ephiny said. "But yes, we're ready." Gabrielle ignored the comment made by the second in command.
"Let's go." She looked at the hastily assembled group of guards, farmers, and any other able bodied woman they could find. Raising her voice to a bardic level, she addressed the group. "My fellow amazons, I feel that a trap has been set. Our best warriors are trying to protect the north entrance. It is up to us to defend the south. Your safety is of the utmost importance. Don't try to be a hero. Our goal is to keep them from entering the village before our warriors can get here to help. We've already sent someone to warn them." She looked around one more time at each of the amazons before giving the signal to begin. The gate opened and they headed out, determined to protect their village or die trying.
They were just over a candlemark's walk from the south gate when the battle started. The amazons quickly took cover from the barrage of flying arrows. Ephiny and Gabrielle took cover behind a fallen log. "There's more than a hundred of them." Gabrielle said breathlessly. Ephiny nodded.
"You're right. It was a trick." The amazons started to return fire with the few arrows that they had. Gabrielle knew that her staff was no good unless she was up front, near the attackers. Using hand signals, she indicated to Ephiny her plan. The amazon shook her head frantically. "It's too dangerous."
"Is it any less dangerous than waiting for them to roll over us? My staff is useless back here." Ephiny reluctantly agreed. Catching the attention of a nearby archer, Ephiny used hand signals to indicate that she should provide cover. The archer nodded and started to fire random arrows as Gabrielle and Ephiny moved from the cover of the log. Gabrielle reached one soldier and quickly disarmed him before knocking him out. She turned and assumed a battle stance as another soldier approached her. He had obviously never battled a staff before and he quickly went down. With all the noise and commotion, Gabrielle never heard the whistling sound of the arrow before it embedded itself deep into her thigh. She fell to the ground, screaming in pain. Reaching with both hands, she pulled out the projectile.
"Do you think you can move?" Ephiny asked as she moved to protect the fallen queen. She ran her sword through an approaching soldier. To her dismay, several more were coming right for them.
"Go back, get reinforcements." Gabrielle croaked.
"I can't. There's too many of them." She ducked as more arrows flew through the air at them. Gabrielle looked around.
"We're cut off, aren't we?" She said quietly. Ephiny didn't answer, she was too busy fighting. Gabrielle leaned against the tree trunk and forced herself into a standing position, putting her weight on her good leg. She knocked three more men down before the loss of blood sent her sinking back to the ground. Ephiny backed up under the relentless attack. She backed up too far and fell down a deep ravine, landing on the ground with a sickening thud. Seeing their queen defenseless, several amazons moved forward to try to protect her. They never made it.
Xena and Eponin worked their way through the raiders troops. It was almost too easy. They easily outnumbered the raiders. Xena figured there were less than fifty. The amazons easily pushed the raiders back. Xena had spent too many years as a warlord not to notice that something was wrong. She quickly dispatched the man she had been fighting with and moved over to Eponin. "Something's wrong."
"What?" Eponin asked, never taking her eyes off of the enemy.
"They're not trying to advance. It's like they're trying to keep us busy..." Just then the retreat horn and the emergency horns were sounded. Realization hit Xena. "Eponin, the south gate! It's a trick!" She quickly somersaulted into the tree and moved from branch to branch, quickly working her way back to the north gate, the amazons right behind her. Xena noticed grimly that the raiders didn't follow them. It only confirmed her suspicions about the ruse.
Xena didn't bother to stop at the palace, especially when she no guards standing outside. She ran right to the south gate, quickly followed by amazons. Xena recognized Dyna standing at the gate, awkwardly holding a sword. When she saw Xena, she pointed at the south gate.
The amazon warriors arrived just in time to meet the raiders before they reached the gate. Unlike the troops they had faced in the north woods, these troops were massive in number and strength and intent on getting into the amazon village. Quick glances showed Xena no sign of Gabrielle. Her attention immediately changed as three raiders came at her with their swords raised. With a quick flick of the wrist, she sent her chakram flying, striking all three before returning to her hand. She ran and drop kicked another one before running her sword through yet another. The battle raged on as the amazons slowly gained control over the battle. No prisoners were taken. Too many amazon lives had been lost today.
Watching the shift in control of the battle, Garath realized that his men weren't going to be able to conquer and enslave the amazon village. He looked over and saw the slumped form of the amazon queen. Surely the amazons would pay a handsome ransom for their queen.
The carnage was enough to make the strongest amazons nauseous. They had finally stopped the raiders, pushing them back a half candlemark's distance before all were killed or retreated. Blood was caked to everyone's boots. Xena walked on, noticing grimly more bodies further ahead. Eponin ran over to her side. "I haven't found Ephiny or Gabrielle." The look on Xena's face told the amazon that she hadn't either. Behind them, the anguished cries of mothers and sisters filled the air. Xena's face went white as she spotted the blue tunics on some of the dead still ahead. Eponin noticed it too and they broke out into a dead run. Frantic searching confirmed that many of the dead were from the royal guard, but there was still no sign of either the queen or her second in command. Xena noticed a trail of blood leading to a ravine. She walked over and looked down. "Over here!" She yelled as she worked her way down the slope.
Ephiny's body was covered in blood. Several deep wounds on her arms and legs were testament to the battle she had been in. Her chain mail was all that kept her from being another casualty. Ephiny tried to focus on the strong woman that was picking her up, but the loss of blood made her too light-headed. She felt herself being handed over to two sets of arms as she was lifted out.
"Ephiny, it's all right now. I'm here." Eponin spoke in a soothing tone, despite the fact seeing Ephiny in such dire striates was tearing her up inside.
"What? Ephiny, what happened to Gabrielle?" Xena was standing there, trying to get an answer out of the semiconscious amazon. Ephiny turned her head to look at the warrior.
"I tried...we all tried..."
"Where is she?" Xena practically screamed, drawing a stern look from Eponin.
"Took her? Who took her? Where did they go?" Xena stopped when she realized that the amazon was unconscious. She looked at Eponin. "I'm going after them." She turned to head back to the village to get Argo.
"Xena!" Eponin's tone caused the warrior to turn around. "I know you want to go find her, but we need you here." Sensing that she had the warrior's attention, she continued. "There are too many injured women for Saras to take care of by herself. Think of how many amazons will die needlessly from lack of medical treatment if you leave." Eponin sent five amazon warriors to follow try and track the raiders. She watched as Xena battled the emotions within herself before the stoic look returned. Without saying a word, Xena walked over and knelt down in front of one of the dead guardswomen. Realizing that this woman had given her life trying to protect Gabrielle, Xena was unable to keep her tears in check. "Artemis, watch over this one. She deserves to be in the Elyssian Fields."
Garath cursed loudly as he dragged the unconscious woman onto his ship. He was supposed to conquer the city and bring all the young girls back as slaves. He had failed miserably, losing his entire army. All he had to show for his efforts was one woman who would probably die from blood loss before they even got to the King's land. The more he looked at her, the more he wasn't sure if she was the queen at all. Her hair color wasn't like the others and she was shorter than most of them as well. He kicked the bard in anger. One girl! He was sent to capture dozens of them and he was coming back with one! Leaving her on deck, he stormed inside to drown his sorrows with a keg of wine.
Gabrielle's eyes slowly opened. She kept her head still and looked around, trying to get her bearings without notifying anyone that she was awake. She realized that she was on a ship. The rocking motion and wood beneath her told her that much. It was daylight, she figured probably late afternoon. She noticed with relief that she wasn't bound in any way. Her leg throbbed painfully. She wasn't sure if she could even stand on it. Once she felt certain that no one was around her, Gabrielle sat up and looked at her thigh. The wound was impossible to see under all the blood. She knew that she had lost a great deal of it already. She pulled off the chain mail and stripped off her shirt. Putting the mail back on, she tore her shirt into rags and strips. She packed the rags into and on top of the wound, then wound the strips around to apply pressure. Rolling onto her knees, Gabrielle looked over the bow. Off in the far distance, she saw land. "What are you thinking of, Gabrielle?" She asked herself. "Even if you can stand and get off of this ship, there's no way you can swim all the way to shore. Even if you don't end up as fish food, the loss of blood will kill you." Gabrielle thought of the options that were available if she stayed. "Let's see, rape, torture, sold into slavery. Yeah, those sound like wonderful choices." She pulled herself over to the edge of the bow and said a quick prayer to Athena, Artemis, and Poseidon. Taking a deep breath, Gabrielle pushed herself up over the rail and dropped into the salty water.
Xena, the stoic warrior, didn't bother to wipe away her freely falling tears as she worked on the scores of wounded amazons. On the ground outside of Saras' hut, Xena had formed a triage of sorts. Her years of treating the men in her army had taught her well which injuries could wait to be treated and which ones required immediate attention. It also taught her when treatment could do no more than prolong the suffering. She tried to keep her mind busy with the numerous tasks at hand, but all she could think about was the blue-green eyes that belonged to her beloved Gabrielle. Torches were lit as darkness fell. Lanterns were brought over to help Xena see as she stitched wounds, set broken bones, and closed the eyes of those she couldn't save. She didn't realize how much time had passed until she felt Eponin's hand on her shoulder. In the back of her mind, Xena noted that she had not felt the amazon's approach. Without looking up, she spoke. "No sign."
"There were too many tracks. Xena, we'll send more troops out tomorrow." Eponin paused for a moment before continuing. "Xena, come inside. You need a bath, food, and rest." Xena looked over at Saras.
"Xena, go. I need you strong for tomorrow." The healer waved her arms, motioning for the warrior to go. Xena nodded, then slowly rose and followed Eponin back to the palace.
After scrubbing the blood and dirt off as best she could, Xena grabbed a clean tunic and laid back on the bed. She sat up quickly and wiped her eyes when she heard the soft knock at the door. "Come in."
Eponin entered, followed by a girl not much younger than Gabrielle. The girl stayed near the door. "Xena, this is Aris."
"You were one of the girls at the campfire last night." Xena said. Last night seemed a lifetime ago right now.
Aris looked nervously at Eponin. The amazon put a reassuring hand on the girl's shoulder. "Show her." Eponin said. Aris reached into the hall and pulled back Gabrielle's staff. Xena felt a stab of pain in her heart when she saw the blood covered weapon.
"I...found it over near the ravine." The girl started to cry. "I...I liked...I mean she..." Aris handed the staff to Eponin and ran out of the room. The amazon put the staff back in the hall, then walked over and sat on the bed next to the warrior. Xena stared at the wall.
"Everyone is taking it hard." Eponin looked down at her hands. "Aris' sister Joy was one of the royal guards." The warrior nodded in understanding.
"How is Ephiny?" Xena said quietly, still not making eye contact. She waited a moment for an answer. Hearing none, she looked over and saw the amazon shaking with silent sobs. "Not too good." Eponin said after a moment. She shook her head from side to side as the tears cascaded down her face. Needed to comfort as much as be comforted, Xena pulled the amazon close as her own tears started to fall.
The salt water burned Gabrielle's leg on the outside while her muscles burned from the inside. The dead weight of the chain mail made it almost impossible to keep her head above water. She seemed to gain only an inch on each stroke, but she believed that she was getting closer. The dimming light only allowed her to see the silhouette of the treetops. She focused in on them, pushed the burning pain from her mind, and pushed her way closer to home, to Xena.
She didn't know when she closed her eyes, rolled over, and started to float. She didn't know when she ended up striking land. She only realized that she felt something firm under her back. She felt the water lapping at her face. Groaning as she moved her leg, Gabrielle forced herself up on her knees and crawled until she no longer felt water beneath her. At that point all strength left her body and she collapsed on the soft sand. She never saw the white owl perched on a nearby branch.
Xena opened her eyes and sat up, fully alert. Her shoulders sagged slightly when she realized that it wasn't a nightmare. Gabrielle was really gone. She quickly donned her armor and started out the door.
Eponin stopped her before she could leave the palace. "Xena! Wait! I need you." Xena stopped, knowing her vow to always help those in need. "Please, let's talk in chambers." Xena allowed Eponin to lead her to the Queen's private office. The amazon reached up on the shelf and pulled down three scrolls. All had the seal of the Queen of the Amazon Nation. Both sat at the small table. "We have to find out who holds the power of Acting Queen."
"We?" Xena was confused. "Eponin, I'm not amazon. I have no say in who runs the nation."
"Xena, there are three scrolls here." She picked one up. "This one is Gabrielle's instructions as to who receives her right-of-caste in the event of her..." The amazon paused. Xena nodded, almost imperceptibly. Eponin took a deep breath and continued. She set that scroll down and picked up another. Xena immediately recognized her name, written in the bard's handwriting. "This one is a personal note to you." Eponin went to hand it to the warrior, but seeing no hand to receive it, set it down on the table. The amazon made no move to touch the last scroll. "That one is Ephiny's personal note to me. Depending on what Gabrielle's caste scroll says, we'll have to open one of the others."
"I guess there's no time to waste. The amazons need to know who their leader is." Xena's words sounded full of purpose, but her hands shook slightly as she broke the wax seal.
I, Gabrielle of Potodeia, Queen of the Amazon Nation as blessed by the Goddess Artemis, do claim that in the event of my death or inability to perform my duties as Queen, do hearby pass my Right-Of-Caste to my amazon sister Ephiny.
It was signed at the bottom. Xena passed it to Eponin, then took it back and reread it. Gabrielle had obviously written it in a hurry. Xena set the scroll down and reached for Ephiny's. "Let me." Eponin said as she reached out and took the scroll. Xena pulled her hand back and waited until the amazon finished reading the document. As expected, Ephiny passed her right to Eponin. Both women breathed a sigh of relief as the legal formality was out of the way. "Xena..." Eponin looked down at the remaining scroll.
"No!" Xena growled. "I won't. Not until we know for sure." Xena looked up at the ceiling. "I can't." Her voice was little more than a whisper. She picked up the scroll and put it back in place on the shelf. "I have to find her."
"Xena, please. We need you here. We lost five more last night. Every woman we could spare is out looking right now. They're following every trail, every track. They're not going to rest until they find her. You have my word as an Amazon." Eponin stood and looked out the window. "Xena, at least fifty women died yesterday. If you leave, we could lose another fifty. Saras worked all night long so you could sleep. She's exhausted." Eponin stopped talking. She said all that needed saying. Neither moved for a moment. The amazon hoped that she had not overestimated the warrior's compassion.
"Let me eat something first. I'm going to need all the energy I can get." Xena said as she pulled off her sword and scabbard. Eponin released a breath that she did not realize she had been holding.
"Artemis bless you, Xena." The warrior held back a scathing reply. Not knowing what happened to Gabrielle did nothing to improve her feelings for the Gods at the moment. She took deep breaths and steeled herself to the multitude of tasks that lay ahead of her. Tending to the sick and injured. Aiding in the locating and identifying of the dead. Building the funeral pyres. The most unwelcome task would be the carting of the bodies to the pyres. How many times had she sent people to the pyres on the end of her sword? How many widows had she made? As the day wore on, the screams of pain and cries of loss wore on her. She almost lost her lunch when she had to perform an amputation on one of the girls that Gabrielle had met at the campfire. They had run out of many pain killers early in the morning. Xena had been tempted to use her pressure points to relieve the pain, but knew that the pain that was released when the pressure was removed sometimes was too much to bear. It had been known to kill people if the pain was too great. The air burned with the stench of burning flesh after she cauterized the bleeding stump. Rising from the sobbing girl, Xena walked over and scrubbed her hands and arms in the basin, the water already a deep red from previous patients. With no time to rest or think, Xena walked over to another pallet and started on another patient. She would be the first of many to die that day.
Gabrielle sat up slowly and spit out the sand that found its way into her mouth. She turned to crawl and felt the throbbing in her leg. She cupped her hand into the water and took a handful. She went to take another when she remembered Xena's warning about salt water. She wet her hand again and wiped her face before slowly working her way to her feet. She took a moment to study area, trying to get her bearings. She wasn't sure which way to go. She wasn't even sure if she was in Greece. Gabrielle had no idea how long she had been unconscious or how long she had been on that boat. Leaning up against a tree for a moment, she studied the ground. It didn't take long to find the tracks that her captor had made getting here. All she had to do was follow the tracks backward and eventually she would find the amazon village! With a renewed sense of hope, Gabrielle moved forward, thinking only of Xena and not of the pain in her legs.
"Xena." The warrior looked down at the wounded amazon.
"Ephiny. It's good to see you. I have to change your bandages. This might hurt a bit." Xena turned her attention to the multitude of gashes and wounds that covered the amazon's body.
"Xena, you know I tried to protect her." The words came out in a raspy whisper. Xena reached over and picked up a cup of water. Putting her hand under Ephiny's head for support, she held the cup to the amazon's lips.
"Drink." Xena waited until the amazon finished the entire cup before letting her lay back down. She went back to changing the dressings. "I know you did. Thank you." The proud warrior said after a moment. Ephiny's eyes were closed, but she still knew that Xena was crying. There was a time when Ephiny thought that the warrior princess was incapable of redemption, of turning her life around, of being a woman instead of a warlord. She was glad that she was wrong, but also saddened because she knew that Gabrielle was the reason for the change. It was an unbreakable bond that Ephiny knew she would never have. She hoped that the loss of Gabrielle didn't send Xena back to her warlord days.
Gabrielle's mouth was parched and her stomach ached by the time she found a small creek. She laid down and dunked her head into the water, opening her mouth and sucking in the cool, clear liquid. She sat up and looked around, trying to pick up the trail. It wasn't hard to find. Her abductor hadn't made any effort to cover his tracks. She looked down at her thigh. The bandages were covered with both blood and dirt. She wanted to unwrap and clean it, but there was nothing else to wrap it in once it was cleaned. She was certain that an infection was starting. The area was hot to the touch. She realized how pale her skin was. She had already lost too much blood. Cleaning the wound would certainly cause it to bleed again. Not happy with either choice, she left the bandages alone. The sounds of a horse approaching reached her ear. Friend or foe? Licking her lips to wet them, Gabrielle let out a bird call. In her weakened state, it was raspy and didn't sound much like any bird she knew of. She tried again. She heard a dove call. She released a breath of joy. Amazon, friendly. She called out. "Help! Please!" She lost her voice as her dry throat let loose a series of coughs. An amazon followed the sound of a woman coughing and entered the clearing.
Ralla pulled the meager medical supplies she had out of her saddlebag and rushed over to the bard's side. She cut away the slimy bandage on the thigh and looked at the arrow wound. It was obvious that there was a raging infection. She didn't even have to touch it to feel the searing heat. She used one rag to wipe away the puss and blood before covering it with a clean cloth. She unstoppered her waterskin and forced some water between Gabrielle's lips. There was nothing more she could do until help arrived. The queen was too weak to ride by herself and Ralla couldn't hold her and control the horse through the thick forest. She heard the approaching horses and started her bird call. She received the answer she wanted and stood up as the horse and rider entered the clearing.
"Tyna, it's the queen." Ralla yelled as the amazon approached. Tyna dismounted quickly. "She's too weak to walk or ride by herself."
Ralla noted with dismay that the bard was bleeding through the bandages. Tyna noticed as well. "We don't have much time to lose, Ralla. Climb up on your horse and I'll hand her up to you. I'll take your reins and lead you back." Ralla quickly obeyed, settling herself in the saddle, then reaching down to help Tyna lift the weakened queen. Holding Gabrielle with both hands, Ralla indicated to Tyna to take the reins and start the trek home. Tyna reached up and grabbed the reins, noting grimly that the blood had soaked through the bandages enough to be flowing freely down the queen's leg. There wasn't a moment to lose.
Xena watched as Eponin lit the first of many funeral pyres. The thick black smoke filled the night air. The warrior needed some time away from the maddening aftermath of the bloody battle. She wandered over to a quiet patch of trees and sat down on the ground. As her eyes stared at the burning fire, she thought about how many times she had lit similar ones. How many men had died under her command? She lost count many years ago. Names blurred, faces blurred, nothing was clear except the vast devastation she had left in her wake. Now she was trying to change all that. She rubbed her shoulders, stiff and sore from the past days exertions. A warm memory of Gabrielle rubbing her shoulders came to mind. The bard always knew just where it hurt and just how to make the pain go away. "Oh, Gabrielle. If only you could make the pain in my heart go away." She cried out to the night sky. She no longer could control the steady flow of tears that cascaded down her face. She cried for the senselessness of the battle, for the loss of so many lives, for the death and destruction of war. Above all else, she cried for Gabrielle, the only light in her life.
It was slow going for Ralla and Tyna. The moon did little to help them in the thick underbrush. Had it been just the two of them, they would have taken a chance on the open road, pushing their horses to the limit. But with the injured queen, they couldn't afford to take such a chance. Tyna took the lead, holding her reins in one hand and Ralla's reins in the other. Ralla had her hands full just trying to keep the weakened bard on the saddle. For a while, Ralla had wrapped both of her arms around Gabrielle's stomach to keep her steady. After she felt the blood drip onto her own leg, Ralla was forced to hold Gabrielle with one arm and press another cloth against the wound with the other. Several times a shift by the horse almost caused Ralla to lose her grip on the young queen. Tyna briefly mentioned the possibility of setting up a camp for the night, but both dismissed the idea. Without saying it, both amazons were afraid that their queen couldn't take much more.
Eponin found Xena lying on the ground near a growth of trees. The first fingers of dawn were starting to appear over the horizon as Apollo began his daily journey. She was less than five paces away when Xena opened her eyes and looked at her, the unspoken question plain on her face. "There's been no word, but two of our riders didn't return last night. I sent additional scouts out in their general direction."
"Perhaps it's another attack." Xena said quietly as she rose and stood next to the acting queen. "We should put the village on alert, just in case." Eponin nodded in unhappy agreement.
"Xena, we lost four more last night."
"I figured we'd lose more. How's Ephiny?"
"Still feverish." Eponin's face showed the strain of the last couple of days. Her eyes had dark circles that betrayed her lack of sleep. She ran her fingers through her hair and tried to focus on the tasks at hand. "The death count is over ninety now. We lost our smith, the entire royal guard, half our archers, and fifty of our best warriors. If there was another attack, I don't think we would be able to put up much of a fight." Her voice betrayed the feeling of helplessness that pervaded her thoughts.
"I guess I better go get something to eat." Xena said quietly. She didn't feel like eating. She didn't feel anything except a painful numbness in her heart. A loud commotion at the south gate caught Xena's and Eponin's attention. They broke into a run and headed toward the gate.
Tyna dismounted and helped Ralla lower Gabrielle to the ground. Several amazons came running up to see what the frantic bird calls were all about. Gasps and murmurs were heard as the women realized that the queen had been found. Xena pushed her way through the crowd, Eponin right behind her. The inexpressible joy of seeing Gabrielle was quickly replaced by terror when Xena saw the bloodied leg. The bard had a ghastly pallor to her from the loss of blood. Her thigh was bright red under the bloody bandages, confirming a severe infection. The amazons stood back as Xena picked up her precious bard and gently carried her to the palace. The healer's hut was already overflowing with patients.
Removing the rusting chain mail, Xena was surprised to see that Gabrielle's shirt was missing. A quick check confirmed that the bard had not been attacked in any sexual way, for which Xena quietly said a prayer of thanks to whatever gods were listening. Working quickly, Xena checked for other injuries before removing the bandage and confirming her fears. Gabrielle indeed had a bad infection. There was no way that Xena could stitch the wound closed in its present condition. She looked closer. It was definitely an arrow wound, fairly deep as best she could tell. She had to find a way to remove the infection while still keeping as much of the healthy skin as she could. She was deep in thought when she heard the soft knock on the door. "Come in." She said quietly.
"I didn't mean to disturb you." Dyna said as she walked in. "I heard that Gabrielle had been found and I wanted to see if there was anything I could do." Xena turned and looked at the young woman. An idea flashed through the warrior's mind.
"Yes, there is. Can you stay with her while I go get something?" The young amazon nodded eagerly. Xena handed her a bowl of cool water and some clean rags. "Stay here and keep soaking her body with cool cloths. I'll be back as soon as I can." Xena grabbed her chakram and breast dagger. Her sword wouldn't be necessary for this task. She stopped at the doorway. "Dyna." The amazon turned to look at her. "Don't leave her alone. I'm trusting you to take care of her until I get back, do you understand?"
"Yes, Xena. I won't move until you return. You have my word." The warrior nodded in understanding. Quickly walking back over, Xena pressed her lips to the bard's burning forehead.
"I'll return soon, my love." Xena thought about what she had to do. "You won't like it much, but I swear it will make you feel better."
Xena walked through the forest, heading to where the carnage was the greatest during the battle. She came across a dead rabbit, another victim of the battle. Using her dagger, she poked at the dead animal until she was able to turn it over. There she saw what she was looking for. Using her chakram to separate the flesh from the animal, she carefully pulled away as many maggots as she could find and placed them in a small leather pouch then quickly headed back to the village.
She removed the bandages and carefully placed the maggots on the open wound, then bandaged it again. Now all she could do was wait and see if it worked. Gabrielle still hadn't regained consciousness and in a way, Xena was glad. She knew the bard's aversion to small critters and bugs and could just imagine Gabrielle's reaction to the maggots. After giving some instructions to Dyna, the warrior headed over to Saras' hut to help with the other victims.
It was dark before Xena was able to return. She brought two bowls of stew with her. Handing one to Dyna, she took the opportunity to thank the young girl for keeping an eye on Gabrielle. Xena settled back in a chair and quickly ate her stew, not bothering to taste it. She was only eating because she needed the energy. Dyna excused herself and promised to return in the morning to continue the vigil. Xena moved over and sat on the bed. She was tempted to check on the wound but knew that there would be little change yet. She curled up next to Gabrielle and quickly fell asleep, her arms wrapped around the bard's arm.
After a quick trip to the chamber pot, Xena checked on the wound. It was nowhere near as hot as it had been the previous day and much of the redness was gone. The warrior breathed a sigh of relief as she removed the maggots. They had done their job well, eating only the infected flesh and leaving the healthy skin alone. After thoroughly cleaning the area, she sewed it up with small, precise stitches. Dyna arrived and took over the vigil so Xena could go care for the other injured women.
Ephiny watched as Xena expertly changed her dressings. Although she had been told of Gabrielle's return, Xena hadn't mentioned it. Unable to bear the silence any more, the amazon spoke up. "Xena, how is she?"
"She lost too much blood." The warrior said quietly without looking up. "You're well on your way to mending. You should be able to get up and walk around in a few days."
"Xena, is there anything we can do?" She wasn't about to let her old friend change the subject. Like Gabrielle, Ephiny knew the warrior's tactics well.
"Nothing we can do but wait." Xena looked up and caught the amazon's eyes. "She'll be fine, Ephiny. I know she will. There are too many gods looking out for her."
"Artemis always did take care of her queens." The amazon agreed.
"She even has Aphrodite looking out for her."
"Aphrodite?" Ephiny questioned. Xena broke the gaze.
"She blessed us."
"I didn't know." The amazon said quietly. There was an awkward silence before Xena took a chance and spoke again.
"You know I love her, Ephiny. I would give my life for her." To the stoic warrior, this was an admission greater than any other.
"I know you would, Xena." Ephiny reached out and touched the warrior on the shoulder, more than a little surprised when Xena allowed her hand to stay. "I'm sorry about the way I reacted. You know I didn't mean what I said."
"I know what you meant." Xena said evenly. "It's in the past now. Let's concentrate on healing the wounds, not opening them up again." The amazon understood the double meaning of the words. Xena rose. "Now, you need to get your rest. I'll come back and check on you later."
Gabrielle opened her eyes slowly and focused on the most beautiful blue eyes she had ever seen. "Xena." She croaked, her mouth once again dry and parched.
"Shh." The warrior said as she reached for the waterskin. "Drink, it'll help." She pressed the skin up to Gabrielle's lips and waited as the bard slowly drank in the clean, cool water. "There you go." She eased Gabrielle's head back down. "How do you feel?"
"Everything aches." She said, grimacing as she shifted. "How are you?"
"Fine." Gabrielle didn't believe her big dumb warrior for a minute. The dark circles under her eyes and the tired appearance on her face told the bard just how worn out Xena was.
"How did you find me?" She had assumed that Xena was the one to rescue her. That was normally the case. She would get into trouble and Xena would come and save her. That's the way it always worked.
"I didn't. Eponin sent the amazons out to look for you. They found you and brought you back."
"You didn't look for me?" Gabrielle couldn't believe it. "Were you hurt?" She couldn't think of any other reason for Xena to not have looked for her. She was even more surprised when the warrior shook her head.
"I couldn't. There were too many casualties and injuries for Saras to handle. As much as I wanted to go look for you, I was needed here." She reached over and took the bard's smaller hand in her own. "Gabrielle, I had no choice. If I went off after you, too many amazons would have died. We've lost too many already."
"I know. You did the right thing." The queen took another sip of water. "How many?" Visions passed through the bard's mind. Scenes from the battle. Slumping to the ground, helpless, watching as one amazon after another went down under the hail of arrows and swords.
"We can talk about this later, Gabrielle. Right now you need your rest."
"No. Xena, tell me. How many of my sisters died?"
"Too many." Knowing that wasn't a good enough answer, Xena forced herself to think. "We lost sixty nine warriors and twenty archers during the battle. Another twenty eight died from their injuries the next day. Fifteen civilians were also killed."
"What about the royal guard?" Gabrielle knew the losses were heavy. She had seen most of the deaths first hand before she herself went down. Xena looked at the floor. "Xena? Tell me."
"They all died, Gabrielle. They did what they were trained for. Protect the queen at all costs." Xena thought of the funeral pyre the night before. The royal guards were given a special ceremony to honor them for their ultimate sacrifice. Xena felt Gabrielle's hand squeeze against hers.
"E-Ephiny?" The young queen choked on the word.
"She's alive." Xena left it at that. "Gabrielle, do you remember anything? The scouts said they found you over twenty leagues away."
"A little." Gabrielle forced herself to sit up, using the headboard for support. Xena scooted up and put her arms around her love. Gabrielle immediately responded by snuggling her head against her warrior's breast. "I remember thinking that it was a trap. We organized as many women as we could to hold them off until the warriors could arrive. Ephiny and I got separated from the rest and we were pinned down. I got hit with an arrow..." Her gaze went down to her bandaged thigh. Xena gripped her tighter, partly to comfort Gabrielle, but mostly to comfort herself. "We did the best we could, Xena, but there were just too many. I remember falling to the ground and hearing the battle going on around me. Two men picked me up and threw me on a horse. I'm sorry, I just didn't have the strength left to fight."
"Shh, it's okay." Xena waited until the tears subsided. "Go on."
"Well," She sniffled. "I woke up on a ship. I could barely see the shore off in the distance and I knew that I had to get back. I had to get to you. I don't know what I was thinking. I jumped overboard."
"Overboard? You jumped off a ship into the ocean? Gabrielle, do you have any idea how dangerous that was?" Visions of Poseidon's more exotic and deadly underwater creatures came to Xena's mind.
"I felt it was less dangerous than staying on that ship. I don't know how I made it to shore. I woke up there and started walking. I don't remember much else."
"Gabrielle, what happened to your shirt?" Despite the lack of evidence of an attack, Xena had to make certain.
"I used it to stop the bleeding." Gabrielle noticed with satisfaction the smile that crossed Xena's lips. Yes, that is exactly what she would have done, the bard thought.
"You lost a lot of blood. You did the right thing trying to stop it." Xena paused. "Gabrielle, I love you." The days of fear caught up with the warrior. She pulled Gabrielle close and hugged her tightly as tears flowed from her blue eyes.
"I love you too. Gods, Xena, I didn't know if I would see you again. All I could think about was trying to find my way back to you." They held each other tight, never wanting to let go. Xena waited until she heard the familiar rhythm of breathing that told her Gabrielle was asleep. She laid down next to her, stroking her hair, until she too fell into an deep slumber.
One hundred forty-seven amazons had died as a result of the battle with the raiders. The stone carver made a memorial to honor the fallen heroes. Gabrielle insisted on being present as the stone was placed near the south gate. Reluctantly, Xena allowed it, but made the young queen return to bed the minute the ceremony was finished. It had been over a week since she was found and Gabrielle was only beginning to show some color in her skin. Convinced that there were no more attacks coming, the amazons set about to restore their lives to some sort of normalcy. Five women entered training to become royal guards, while several others filled in as archers and warriors. Aris studied to replace the smithy. All the women pitched in to help out as much as they could, but the loss was still palpable. Ephiny was slowly healing and was one of the last ones to be released from Saras' care.
"Hmm?" The warrior was polishing her armor, something she hadn't done since the battle.
"Do you remember what Athena said about your dark side and fear threatening to overcome rational thought?" Xena stopped polishing and looked up at her love. "Well," Gabrielle continued. "I've been thinking about it. I think that staying here to help the injured was the right thing to do. Your dark side, the selfish part, wanted to go look for me, but the good side convinced you to stay and save all those lives."
"I didn't save everyone, Gabrielle. Twenty seven women died under my care. I've never had so many casualties from one battle before."
"But you saved how many others?" Gabrielle reached out and put her hand on the warrior's arm. "Xena, you did the right thing. You looked at the whole situation, not just how it affected you, but how it affected the whole amazon nation. You wouldn't have done that a few summers ago."
"I guess you're right." Xena said thoughtfully. It was true. In her warlord days she wouldn't have cared about anything else except her needs and desires. Those days were before Gabrielle, before the young woman broke the walls around the warrior's heart.
The sleeping lovers were curled up together, thoroughly exhausted after making love. Sensing the change in light, Xena awoke quickly and sat up, reaching for her sword. After realizing that the shimmering image wasn't a threat, she gently nudged the bard sleeping next to her. "Gabrielle, wake up." No response. "Gabrielle!"
"Gabrielle!" Xena pulled the blanket away.
"What?" Asked the grumpy queen. "It can't be morning yet." She rolled over and opened her eyes. "Oh." She said when she saw the reason for being woken up.
"You'll have to excuse her, she's not the most pleasant person when she's woken up." Xena said as she covered the naked bard with the blanket and reached for their shifts.
"How are you, my child?" Artemis asked as she looked at her queen, who was busy trying to wipe the sleep out of her eyes.
"I'm better, thank you." Gabrielle said groggily.
"So it would seem." The goddess said as she watched them quickly dress. Gabrielle blushed slightly. Xena growled softly. Ignoring the warrior, Artemis turned her attention back to the Queen. "You had quite a time of it." A playful smirk grew across Artemis' face. "Tell me, young one, what made you think that you could swim all the way from that ship to the shore?"
"Did you think that I would ignore a prayer from the queen of my amazons? I heard you, as did Athena and Poseidon. By the way, you really should visit his temple the next time you're in Athens. He likes it when mortals thank him for his help."
"His help?" Gabrielle asked, now thoroughly confused. Artemis laughed lightly, her silvery voice filling the room.
"My child, I have no power over the water. You passed out far from shore." Artemis paused as she watched the shocked expression on Xena's face. "Poseidon lifted you with one of his waves and gently placed you on the land." The goddess sighed. "I hate owing him favors." She smiled at the bard. "But I guess you're worth it, my child." Gabrielle blushed at the affection offered by the mighty goddess. Changing her attention back to more serious matters, the goddess looked at Xena. "I wasn't sure about you, Xena. I have to admit that I had serious misgivings about your ability to see the greater good over your own feelings. I am pleased to see that I was wrong."
"Who were those raiders, Artemis?" Xena asked flatly, ignoring the compliment from the goddess.
"I guess some things don't change." She sighed, causing a muffled giggle from Gabrielle. Xena gave her lover a look before turning her attention back to Artemis.
"Who were they?"
"Those men belonged to Garath." She watched with satisfaction as Xena's eyes registered recognition at the name. Turning her gaze to Gabrielle, she explained. "He is a ruthless man. His goal was to capture the amazon village and sell the girls into slavery. He took you when he saw the battle wasn't going his way." An evil smile crossed the goddess' lips. "You should have seen the look on his face when the tidal wave destroyed his ship." The smile left. "Only a fool would think that they could destroy so many of my children and get away with it." Artemis nodded as Xena silently thanked her. "Your work is done here, Gabrielle. You saved my children and my nation. Is there something that I can do for you?"
"No, goddess. I thank you and Poseidon for saving my life." Gabrielle said graciously. Xena smiled at the bard's humbleness.
"Actually, there is something I can do for you, my child. You two were supposed to be in Hercules' cabin for four moons. I took you away after only one and a half." Artemis smiled when she saw Gabrielle's eyes light up. "I believe that I owe you two and a half more moons. I'll tell you what, you did such a good job, why don't we make it three? Yes, three moons sounds like enough time."
"I don't know, Gabrielle. I was going stir crazy after one moon. I don't know if I can handle three moons."
"I'm sure I can find a way to keep you occupied." The queen said, her eyes twinkling. "There's still a few things that Hercules had Iolaus buy that I haven't had a chance to use, er um, I mean, show you." Gabrielle giggled as Xena's eyebrow arched.
An unusual snowstorm blanketed the mountainside, keeping it under snow cover for an additional moon. Somewhere deep in the hills, a bard was telling a tale to a most willing audience of one.
Author's Note: Well, that's it. All done. What did you think of it? Let me know. Comments can be sent to me at IQ139@aol.com.
Originally written 4-97
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