The following is a bit of alternative fiction based on certain characters from the Xenaverse. It is not meant to infringe on anyone else's rights. If you don't agree or disapprove, please go read something else.
Xex Alert: Oh Boy Is There. .This is a Prurient Piece with a Bit of Kink (If you hear the crack of the whip then you'll be in the neighborhood) Proceed at your own risk. :)
"Are you sure this is what you want?" The man's rich tenor poured through her body and added to the trembling the strawberry blonde was already experiencing. She closed her hazel eyes and swallowed, then opened them again.
"No," she said quietly, as the firelight reflected off of her face, "No, this is not what I want. But it is what I need to do." Her expression took on an agony of sincerity, "She's out there. Alone." Not that alone was normally a bad thing, but it wasn't quite what she meant. Besides she wasn't really alone, more like surrounded by rabid wolves who would devour her with one mistake. But she wouldn't make one, of this the bard was sure. At least not the type that would send her through the gauntlet again. The strawberry blonde wondered if Xena remembered the gauntlet, but didn't know. She didn't know what Xena remembered, if anything. She didn't know if Xena was herself or if she was playing out some old warlord game. Her sense of humor struck at an odd angle, *Sheesh go away for one day to visit the family and what do you get?* Her heart skipped a beat. *Xena the not to be trifled with warlord. The one who would stand with an alliance of warlords on the outskirts of Athens in the not too distant future. Gods.* Gabrielle laid a trembling hand on her abdomen. She thought of what she was about to do and the reasons. There were so many. Some might even say reasons more pressing than the one she felt spurring her on. But saving the world did not compare to her own heart's motive. "She needs someone she can trust. I may not like what she's doing, but there's no one else," Her voice trailed off. Damn, she couldn't stop the trembling, "She's my best friend. I have to." She closed her eyes once more and took a dragging breath.
For this reason she didn't see the look that was exchanged between the dark man and his wife. Nor did she see the substitution of the awl. Nor did she see the poisoned tip of the first awl being covered very carefully by the tall woman. What she did experience was the touch of a needle's point to her earlobe and then a sharp piercing pain.
They were tough on her. Now that was an understatement. There were times that Gabrielle thought she was going to die. Not that she really would have. It was her pride they were breaking. That stupid impulse to argue that would most definitely get her killed. Xena the warlord was not one to tolerate insubordination at the wrong moment, though she appreciated a strong spirit. Otherwise they, Shasta and Rachis, would not still be here. There had to be subtly and Gabrielle had to learn it or lose her life.
Enough time had passed that she'd grown used to the weight of the golden rings on her ears and the sting of the small brand on her shoulder was gone. The brand marked her as one of Xena's. There was only one other mark that would have proved who she was, but Shasta and Rachis had refused to make it for two reasons. One, Xena would know it was false (she had an uncanny eye and had killed an impostor once) and two, it was not theirs to give. It was something they considered a gift. She didn't understand, but they promised her that it was a good thing and that if they were any judge of character, she would know what they meant soon enough. So, instead of giving her that third mark, they helped her develop a plausible story. That was what this whole thing was about, developing a plausible story that would allow her to stay near Xena without being sent away or killed.
Gabrielle had no idea what she was letting herself in for when she'd asked for their help. It had been pure chance to find them. They were tougher than Vidalis had ever been, more observant of her errors and they were brutal about correcting them. If Ephiny had known . . . well, she doubted the Amazon Regent Queen would have stopped her, but the blonde would have argued and maybe she would have interfered with the method of training. But this was stuff the bard needed to know.
In an odd way it was good. Her hand pressed against the knife at her side and she smiled at the acquisition of another skill. She could throw with the best of them. She only hoped she would never have to use the knife for other than food tasting. Gods that was a scary thought. But Rachis said the likelihood of her being called on to taste test Xena's food was very limited. Xena usually used that one on those needing some punishment, but not those deserving horsewhipping. It was meant to scare more than anything, though a soldier or two had paid with their lives.
She thought of the whip at her side. She might never use it, but they said she'd better know how. Her invented position required it. She was top of the food chain in slave terms. Shasta taught her with his body practically wrapped around hers (a not unpleasant sensation) and Rachis acted as the target, telling Gabrielle that she liked the sensation and that the bard was a natural. Gabrielle could hardly credit that statement until she learned for herself when Shasta told her she would have to build some stamina if she were to prove herself to Xena. It's funny what one can grow to like, if it's done right.
Then there were the other, Gabrielle blushed to herself, more personal lessons. Rachis and Shasta had debated quite vociferously about the amount of help they should give, wondering if Xena should be the first to do this or that, but finally deciding that since two years had obviously passed, then she would *think* she had. Those things they felt uncomfortable demonstrating, they talked about and they deliberately left out a few details, deciding that some things were worth learning by one's self.
So now here she was, riding a horse (one of her least favorite occupations, but a necessity), followed by a caravan of a sort (thank Artemis for loyal Amazons, even if they'd been very very upset to see their queen wearing slave earrings. Now there were five women who were loyal to her and they would be close by because of a the plausible story), into a very large camp of warriors. She sat up straight and proud, her expression impassive, her manner regal. Now there was an oddity. Rachis had insisted that Xena's slave would not slouch and that she would have a particular kind of proud attitude. It was another thing Gabrielle believed. When Rachis first told her the bard found herself unable to think of a time when Shasta or the tall woman had acted like what Gabrielle envisioned a slave would act. It confused her a little. But they were the ones who would know and she trusted them with her life.
Gabrielle was dressed in Amazon fashion, but the green halter was long gone (Shasta had torn it off as a demonstration of what to expect if she wasn't careful.) Now she was wearing something a little more flattering and a little sturdier. At least her trainers had let her keep her staff. They guessed (and Gabrielle trusted that they knew this personally) that Xena would allow the bard to have weapons, if Gabrielle really had been with her for two years. By that time a great deal of trust would have been built in the relationship. It was a unique situation. Gabrielle smiled at the memory of Shasta's tender handclasp with his wife and remembered how she'd marveled at their next words. "You aren't the only one to love her." The truth had rung through her like a bell.
Passing the front guards had been easy, but only because the next set of guards weren't. Gabrielle began her patter, using body language and a couple of carefully, exquisitely forged documents. Gabrielle thanked the Gods once again that Rachis had Xena's signature down, at least enough to fool guards. It was both fortunate and unfortunate that Xena was unavailable to verify Gabrielle's presence. It was fortunate because Gabrielle wouldn't have to lie to Xena, it was unfortunate because the bard didn't get to see the warlord so she could make an assessment of what was ahead. Still despite Xena's absence they allowed Gabrielle through (she was amazed at what the right amount of haughtiness mixed with pure threat could do) and she and her Amazons won half the battle.