Characters and backstory from Xena: Warrior Princess are property of MCA/Universal/Renaissance. No copyright infringement is intended.
This is an original (I hope) work of alternative fan fiction. No profit will be gained from its production. This piece of fiction is copyright of the author.
There are depictions of love/sex between consenting adult persons of the same gender. If this is illegal where you live, you are underage, or this isn't your preference, then stop reading here and find something more appropriate to your tastes and/or laws.
There is violence depicted in this story.
Author's Note: This is a sequel and takes place immediately after "The Way of the Child" in The Way of Life series. As this is a series that I began before the end of the third season, I do not take into account what happened in Sacrifice. We can't keep up with the Xenastaff at every turn.
Comments can be sent to email@example.com
The Way of the Mother
Copyright June 27, 1998
"It's only a name, Gabrielle." Xena sighed as she sat up to fluff the pillow behind her.
"But, Xena," the bard explained with exasperation, "a name proclaims to the world who you are."
"A name is nothing. A person creates who they are through their actions," the warrior argued with a dismissive wave of her hand.
Gabrielle narrowed her eyes and pursed her lips. Sometimes, the warrior really irritated her. She believed at times like now, that the woman had no sense for verbal aesthetics. "Please, Xena, can you just work with me on this one?"
Xena sighed when she realized that they would repeat this argument in about four and a half months, when her child would be born. "Okay, Gabrielle. Get your scroll," she groaned, rolling her eyes. She glanced out the window and gauged the time of day, knowing that now that the bard had trapped her in their hut, they wouldn't be leaving any time soon.
Ephiny whistled cheerily as she passed the Queen's hut. She stopped suddenly when she heard the muted arguing from within. Her curiosity moving her feet of their own accord, she listened as the Xena made a comment about someone being beat up by the puniest of bards, and the Queen's retort that she was a small bard and that she could take the Warrior Princess at that moment, considering how angry she was. When the warrior began to chuckle, the Regent knew that there was no danger involved and moved on to her original destination - Solari's hut.
Wolf watched as Ephiny entered her lover's hut and shook her head in disbelief. For as long as the two women had known each other, they had not seen the love in each other's eyes. "Love," she sighed before she bent her head to make funny faces at the twins who were snuggled in her arms.
She looked up again when the Queen stomped out of her hut and paced for a few moments. Running a hand through her hair and straightening her braids, Gabrielle took a deep breath and entered into the battle once more.
"I personally think that Wolf would be a nice name for the princess," the demi-god commented. "What do you think," she asked Zasha and Peran. She chuckled when Zasha stared at her quietly and Peran waved her arms excitedly. "Guess no one'll have problems telling you two apart."
When no further excitement seemed to be making its presence known in the square, the guard shifted the twins in her arms and walked into the woods. "Did I ever tell you two about the time that your mommy and I fell out of a tree and into a pile of horse dung? Hmm? No? Well, it was like this...."
"I like Ezbith."
"It sounds like a harlot's name."
"You would know."
"I'm not the one who had the room at Meg's place."
"I did not."
"How about Felicity."
"Oh, yeah. Umm...Gretta?"
"An old woman's name."
"I hate you."
"No you don't."
"Yes I...oh gods, Xena."
"So, did you two finally settle on a name, yet?"
Xena finished chewing her food before she answered the woman who took the seat beside her. "It's taken us a while, but I think we finally chose Larin."
"Nice, strong name," Wolf commented. "Doesn't sound like any harlot, demon, or crone," she joked.
"You heard, huh?"
"What don't I hear?"
Taking a sip of water, the tall warrior smirked. "Well, you're a freak, even among Amazons."
"Hmm...someone isn't getting any," the demi-god teased.
Xena grunted before she took another bowl of stew from her wife. Nodding to their baby, she explained, "The little one has been having trouble sleeping through the night. We never know when she'll end up in bed with us."
"Have you tried putting her on a schedule?"
"She isn't a soldier in one of Xena's armies."
"Not like that, Gabrielle. You've already got her on an eating schedule, right? Just start a routine for her bedtime. You know, like bathing her and telling her stories, and then putting her to bed. Eventually, she'll learn what to expect and she'll go along with it. It wouldn't hurt to shorten her naps in the afternoon, either," the guard advised.
Wanting to let loose a sharp retort, the bard relented, realizing that Wolf had twice the experience at mothering, and yet none of the sleepless nights. "Sure, sounds like a good idea," she agreed, looking to Xena for her opinion.
"Anything sounds good to me at this point," the warrior explained. "Hey, did I eat all that," she asked surprised as she found the bottom of her bowl.
Gabrielle shook her head in disbelief and rose to get another serving.
"Wait, I can get it myself," the warrior said as she stood and tugged at her long tunic.
When Xena was safely out of earshot, the Queen turned to her guard and smiled. "Thanks, Wolf. Taking Xena's clothes out another inch really helped," she whispered. "I don't know what I'm going to do next, though. There isn't much more material to work with."
"Try telling her the truth, that she really is gaining weight."
Her eyes widening and her head moving slowly back and forth, Gabrielle disregarded that plan. "Wolf, have you ever, EVER heard Xena whine about how she's getting fat?"
"Yeah, every night. Can't help it, you know," she reminded the bard, tapping an ear.
"Well, then, I suppose you know that we haven't made love for three nights now."
The demi-god couldn't help but laugh at the frustrated Queen. "Such a long time," she stated with gentle sarcasm.
"For us, it is," the Queen hissed as Xena returned to the table, her arms loaded down with platters of cheese and bread, as well as another bowl of stew.
The warrior glanced to Wolf and then her bowl of stew. "Hmm," she asked as she took a mouthful.
"If it's all right with you, I thought maybe I'd take the princess for the evening. Gabrielle can bring her over after she's been fed."
Schooling her surprise at the suggestion, Gabrielle's eyes pleaded with the warrior.
"Sure, sounds like a great idea," she mumbled around a large chunk of venison. "But you're not going to get any sleep, you know."
Wolf shrugged. The way she figured, either the baby or her mothers would be making enough noise to keep her up, so it didn't matter either way. But if it made her friends happy, then it was definitely worth it. "I'll live."
Under the table, Gabrielle squeezed her wife's thigh. The warrior smiled to herself and began to formulate a plan of seduction that included some fruit and honey. She knew that her appetite was going to find her larger than their hut by the time she gave birth, but she also knew that Gabrielle loved all of her, even to the point of letting out her tunics several times already, which endeared her to the warrior even more.
Ephiny cleared her throat and raised her hands for silence. When all eyes were on her, she addressed the crowd. "Tonight begins the Festival of Promise, when the newest members of the Nation are named and blessed by the Goddess. May those who wish to present their daughters step forth."
In preference for her caste, the mothers gathered allowed the Queen and Consort to approach Ephiny first.
"What name do you give this child," the Regent asked.
"We name her Larin," the Queen replied.
Ephiny smiled warmly, glad that the two of them had finally settled on a name. The priestess stepped forward and laid her hand on the head of the baby and whispered a blessing. When she finished, the Regent took the child and raised her for all to see. "To the Amazon Nation, I present Princess Larin."
The crowd erupted into great cheers that scared several of the babies to fitful cries. Once the introduction was finished, Ephiny handed the Princess back to Gabrielle. When the warrior and the Queen moved aside, the Regent repeated the process with the next mother, and so on, until all nine children were named. "May these children bring peace and prosperity to the Nation," Ephiny said in closing as she raised a silver goblet high and drank deeply from it. "Amazons," she shouted, smiling when it was returned many times louder.
It was such an unusual sight, one that awed the multitude of Amazons close enough to observe. But the Queen merely tapped her fingers as she watch her wife keep pace with, and then surpass her own legendary appetite. Xena had explained to her that each pregnancy was different, and that her first one had not created such a hunger within her.
Gabrielle's eyes widened when she witnessed another bowl of fruit sacrificed to the warrior's ravenous cravings. She was sure that if Xena had been this way while carrying Solon, the Warrior Princess would have left riches behind in exchange for a defeated town's food supply.
Xena glanced over to find Gabrielle watching her, chin cupped in hand. Scanning the crowd, she found Wolf with her twins and Larin. The warrior watched with pride the child who was part her and part the woman she loved above all. Even at only five months, she was a definite beauty. Her physical abilities were evident as she managed to keep up with Zasha and Peran who were scooting after each other for stuffed scraps of cloth.
Her appetite finally assuaged, the warrior arched her back and startled in surprise. A moment later, she felt her wife's hand settle on her swollen belly. Reaching down, she guided Gabrielle to the place where their child was kicking fiercely. Her own warm gaze mirrored the bard's as they enjoyed a quiet moment of peace, even among a village full of Amazons.
Not long after the Festival of Promise, her pregnancy had begun to show, and now, three and a half months later, only the blindest of fools would have missed the fact that the great Warrior Princess was undoubtedly with child, eight months gone, in fact. It had been a quick, sudden growth that had left Gabrielle scrambling to keep her clothes comfortable. But now that she was no longer allowed to spar (per the Queen's orders), she kept up with it herself fairly well on her own.
She had taken some gentle ribbing when she had retired her leathers temporarily, but a few well-sent glares from Gabrielle had quelled the jests. She had tried to reason with the bard, to make her see the humor of the situation...that the former Destroyer of Nations was waylaid by two children and a wife. In her heart, though, she knew why the bard was upset. She had finally found some peace in her mind and heart, and her wife did not want anything to spoil that. It was just one more thing to add to the ever-growing list of why she loved the woman.
Gabrielle, who was still concentrating on the baby's movements, startled when Xena belched above her head. "Was that necessary," she asked with mild reproach as she cocked a look at the warrior.
Xena grimaced in an effort to stifle another burp and smiled sheepishly. "What?"
"Don't play innocent with me," Gabrielle warned as she fought off a grin. When Xena made a move to stand, the bard jumped to her feet and offered a supportive hand.
"Gabrielle, I really do appreciate the gesture," the warrior said in gentle whisper, "but what'll they think? The Queen helping...."
"Her beautiful and very pregnant wife," the Queen finished. "What about it? They can all go smoke their leathers for all I care," she muttered, annoyed that Xena was more worried with appearances than her safety. But then, the bard rationalized, the warrior was still light on her feet considering the extra weight and size she was carrying. With a dejected sigh, Gabrielle surrendered her hold on the taller woman's arm and slumped back down into her seat.
"Hey, come on now," Xena said, cursing herself for her own disregard of the bard's protective nature. Taking her wife's hand, she urged the bard to her feet. "Let's go sit with Wolf and the twins," she suggested. "It's about Larin's feeding time, anyway."
Gabrielle's glowed with the reminder, noticing the slight twinge in her swelled breasts. Feeding their baby was still her most cherished times of the day. Even though Xena's own pregnancy now prevented the warrior from holding them, the warrior still laid along side them and shared the moments.
The Queen blushed slightly as she remembered last night's feeding. The warrior had given in to the urge to share their child's meal. It had been a heady beginning to a long night of love between them.
"Where are you going?"
Xena turned at the waist (as best she could) and gave the bard an innocent look. She had not wanted to alarm Gabrielle as the bard had been rubbing an aching tenseness out of her upper back, but her contractions were beginning to crowd one another. "I think I better go to our hut," she warned as she struggled to push her awkward form to a standing position. "Can you fetch Nagla?"
Gabrielle's face twisted into a caricature of amusement, shock, and then mild anger. "Wolf!"
The demi-god, who was never far from the Queen during her shift, trotted over and waited with a raised brow of question.
"Please go get the healer," she requested, "before my Consort drops her little bundle of joy at our very feet," she added in an aside to the tall warrior to whom she was shooting dismayed looks.
Wolf shook her head at Xena's stoic reserve and waved one of the younger guards over to stand watch. When she saw that the young Amazon had taken her position, the demi-god trotted the several yards through the village and found Nagla outside tending her herb garden. "Nagla, the Queen bids that you come. Xena's in labor," she explained as she helped the old woman to her feet and found her healer's kit, which was never far from the woman's side.
Nagla entered the Queen's hut without knocking and crossed to the warrior who was, at the time, on the wrong end of a verbal tongue lashing from her wife. From what the old woman could understand, the warrior was not far from delivering, and had just revealed to the Queen that she was in labor. With a smug snort, the healer motioned for the warrior to get into bed, where the Queen had already laid out extra linens for the birth. When Xena complied, the healer pushed her tunic up over her swollen belly and nodded when the warrior assumed the position, knees up and spread. With knowledgeable hands, she examined Xena's pelvis and vagina. Her eyes widened when she realized just how close the woman was to giving birth.
Twenty minutes later, Gabrielle was crying and Xena was studying the much too serious face of her newborn child. *Artemis must be pleased,* she thought, as she studied her daughter.
"The Goddess blesses her chosen people...another girl," Nagla spoke, giving voice to the warrior's thoughts.
Xena spared a glance to the old woman before she returned her concentration to the infant in her arms. The baby girl was just staring at her. She had made not a sound after the first initial wail after her birth, and her eyes held only a sleepy contemplation.
"Yep, she's yours all right. I'd have known it, even if I didn't see her come out myself," Wolf commented as she sat on the edge of the bed. "Damn, if it isn't going to be interesting around here in a few years," she muttered before she bestowed a gentle kiss on Xena's forehead. "Get some rest," she ordered.
Xena looked up at her old friend with an expression of amused shock twitching on her face. The demi-god had never before shown such affection towards her in the past. She watched as the guard pulled the still sobbing Queen into her arms and murmured quieting words before walking silently out of the hut. She smiled warmly as Gabrielle took a few deep breaths and dried her eyes with a clean scrap of cloth. Patting the side of the pallet, she invited her wife to join her. "So what sage advice did she have for you?"
Gabrielle ran a loving finger down the baby's arm before she turned her gaze to her consort. "She told me that when you are up to it, she's going to kick your ass on my behalf for pulling such a stupid stunt," the bard revealed.
The warrior was stunned for a moment before she began to chuckle softly. "Gabrielle, it wasn't as bad as you think. I knew how much time I had. Besides, I was enjoying your massage too much to interrupt it."
Shaking her head in disbelief, Gabrielle took Xena's hand in her own. "Sometimes, Xena, I don't know if I want to beat you over the head with my staff or...kiss you," she sighed with frustration. She nodded when Nagla said a few words of departure, leaving the couple alone with their newest addition. "Stubborn warrior," the bard chided gently.
"You still love me," Xena replied with assurance.
Gabrielle held her tongue, knowing that in her present state of mind, she was liable to say something that would hurt her wife. She sighed again. "I don't know why I let you surprise me," she mumbled. "After all the time we been together, I should have known that this wouldn't be a big deal for you."
Xena pulled the bard down to her side and kissed the fair woman's head. "I gave birth, Gabrielle. Women do it all the time."
Quirking a brow, the bard let an arm fall across the warrior's flattened stomach. "Not even a whimper, Xena. I'm beginning to think that you like pain," she joked as she smoothed away some non-existent wrinkles. "So, what are we going to name her," she asked with a devilish grin, knowing that the warrior had been dreading this moment ever since Larin had been born.
"This is punishment, right," Xena asked as she rolled her eyes to the ceiling. She closed her eyes when she felt the bard shake with sadistic humor, but then opened them when she felt the baby move restlessly in her arms.
When Xena moved to sit up against their pillows, Gabrielle lifted her head to discover the problem. Her eyes widened when she realized what Xena was doing. Never before had she ever imagined the warrior doing something so...maternal, so...natural, the bard realized, as she watched her wife lead their infant to her bared breast. The sight of the suckling babe caused a twinge in her own breast. She was already dreading the time that would come to wean Larin, and the bard knew that she would miss the bonding experience. But at the same time, she realized that she would get to share Xena's, and she smiled with contentment. She wrapped an arm around the child and mother as they began to form their instinctual bond.
"You know, we're going to have to expand the nursery," Ephiny predicted as she watched Wolf and Xena bouncing their children on their knees.
Gabrielle looked up from her charge and followed the Regent's line of sight. "Solari told me that there have never been so many little ones born in one year."
"Hmm...Aratha thinks it a good omen."
Casting a glance to her Regent, Gabrielle laughed. "I guess she'd know. She is the high priestess."
Ephiny continued to watch the two warriors with their children and cleared her throat. "So...how's Wolf been?"
Gabrielle shrugged. "You know how she is. She laughs and jokes, but if you look real deep into her eyes, you can see the pain."
Musing for a long moment, the Regent looked down to watch the baby in the Queen's arms. "I think it pleased her that you and Xena named the baby after Ep."
The bard studied the little girl that was nestled comfortably in sleep. "She was happy to see something good come of that battle," she whispered. "By the way, how are the villagers faring?"
Ephiny stretched back on the bench and watched as the clouds above drifted lazily on a languid breeze. "Those that settled with the Centaurs are adjusting, so much as Tyldus says."
"How is Xenon," the Queen asked.
"Getting bigger every day," Ephiny beamed proudly.
"Why don't you and Solari take some time and visit...maybe a week or two," the Queen suggested.
"You mean like a vacation?"
Gabrielle smirked. "Why not? It's not exactly exciting around here these days," she pointed out with a nod of her head towards the sleepy village.
Ephiny cocked her head and grinned. "Maybe because two of our meanest, baddest warriors are busy playing mommy."
Letting a warm gaze settle on Xena and Larin playing in the tall grass, the bard nodded. "You would never have figured six years ago," she joked, remembering the battle against Dahok, when the two warriors practically defeated the evil god's army by themselves. "Nope...couldn't have imagined it then."
Wolf knocked discretely on the hut's door frame before sticking her head inside the dwelling. "Hey," she called softly to the warrior who was feeding one child while cradling the other.
Xena looked up and nodded a welcome. She indicated with a tilt of her head for the demi-god to take Larin from her. "Put her in her crib, will you," she asked as she stretched the nursing baby along her torso so that she could burp her.
After settling the Princess down, the demi-god crossed the room to sit cross-legged at the bottom of the bed. "Gabrielle still in council?"
"Ever since Eph went to visit Xenon, she's been busy," the warrior replied with an edge to her voice.
"That bothers you?"
The warrior waggled her hand and shrugged her free shoulder. "I know she has responsibilities, but there are times I know she thinks that she is missing too much of the children. And what bothers her...."
"Bothers you," the guard finished. Wolf braced her elbows on her knees and lowered her chin to her palm. "I know how she's feeling, then," she sighed. "Remember when that delegation came in from Lesbos?" When Xena nodded, she continued. "I was pulling double duty. I think the girls saw Triva more than they saw me."
"Do you regret it?"
"No, accepting Captain," Xena elaborated.
"Sometimes. But...I need to feel like I'm contributing somehow...." Wolf's words trailed off as she realized that the only thing that bound her to the Amazon Nation was a vow that she took more than five years ago.
"I seem to remember one stubborn warrior lecturing me some night ago about one's duty to family," Xena said as she rubbed the baby's back with a soothing hand, lulling the infant to sleep.
"Hmm...what did she say," Wolf asked as she remembered the last night of the Festival of Life when she had nearly pushed her old friend over the edge of anger to rage.
"Something along the lines that it was the most important thing there was, and that should always be a first priority."
"She said that, huh?"
"Sounds like you've been keeping company with a classier bunch," the demi-god grinned with a wink.
"You could say that," Xena replied as she heard her wife's addressing the guard outside their hut.
Wolf nodded, understanding that the couple would want to be alone. "Well, I'd better get going. I just wanted to stop by and see how you and Little Ep were doing."
"See me on the practice field tomorrow," the reclining warrior asked.
"You bet. Wouldn't miss it for the world," the demi-god promised.
Wolf was breathing heavy. They had been at it for over an hour, and Xena still refused to break. "I guess I shouldn't have made that comment about the spillage," she managed between pants.
The tall warrior, who wasn't faring much better after so many months of inactivity, nodded her head with a feral grin. She wasn't really angry at her friend. The demi-god had simply made the observation that her breasts were no longer contained by her armor, as they had grown quite considerably during her pregnancy and while nursing Little Ep. At the time, it had seemed like a good thing over which to challenge her to a match. But now...the warrior berated her own stubborn nature. She still would not quit.
"If you two are finished," Gabrielle called to them, "Eppy needs to be fed."
Both warriors sighed audibly with relief and then grinned at each other. They bowed to one another and called it a draw as they crossed the practice field to their families who were under the watchful eyes of the Queen and Triva.
The warrior glanced down to the bard who was helping her remove her armor and loosen her laces so that she could free a breast for the baby. "Yes?"
"Let's go out for a picnic this afternoon," Gabrielle suggested.
Xena pondered the request as Little Ep found purchase on a nipple and turned her attention to her wife. "It's a beautiful day, I don't see why not."
Gabrielle rolled her eyes. If she had thought that Xena was frustrating to have a conversation with, she reconsidered when she included her Royal Guard. "Would you like to come along?"
Wolf raised her head and looked to Xena, who accepted the invitation with a slight nod. "Sure, why not."
The nursemaid looked over to the small demi-god and smiled. "I have nothing else planned for the day," she stated. "That's if the Queen doesn't mind."
"No, of course not," Gabrielle replied, curious about the looks that the young Amazon kept giving Wolf when the guard was not looking.
They sat in silence mostly. Gabrielle watched Triva, who was watching Wolf, who was watching the twins play with their stuffed toys. Xena was lost to the sensations of Eppy nursing. She had given up Solan shortly after his birth, and had not had the quality time with him that she made sure that she experienced with her second child. She was determined to do right by her daughters, to not fail them as she still believed she had her son. When she felt the baby slacken in her feeding, she opened her eyes to gauge by the sun, the time of day.
"Well, if we are going to have this picnic, we'd better get back and warn the cooks. If they are going to pack enough for you two," Xena explained with a nod in the two smaller women's directions, "they are going to need plenty of advance warning."
Gabrielle smacked her consort playfully on the ankle. "Shall I remind you who was eating the village clean out a few months ago?"
"Not if you value your life," Xena joked as she handed the baby over to Gabrielle for her burping.
Wolf collapsed back into the grass and smothered a chortle. Ever since Ephiny and Solari had returned from visiting Xenon the evening before, things between her two friends had returned to a more normal existence. With the Regent around to handle the more mundane tasks involved with ruling the Amazon Nation, the Queen was able to spend more time with her family. Which, Wolf realized, was incredibly important. There was a bond between the two women and their daughters that went beyond the usual. It was if they were four spirits that were fated to spend a lifetime together.
"You know, we aren't going anywhere unless we actually get up and start moving," the demi-god pointed out to the other women who were still laughing amongst themselves.
"Leave it to her to ruin a lazy day," Xena moan good-naturedly as she stood and replaced her armor.
Wolf jumped to her feet and accepted each of the twins into her arms as Triva situated them comfortably. It would have been unusual to see the three of them otherwise. Ducking her head to kiss both their heads, the demi-god inhaled their baby-sweet smell and grinned when Zasha leaned into the caress and Peran started to voice her pleasure with gurgles of glee.
"They," Xena laughed, "are definitely spoiled."
"Are not," Wolf argued, knowing that the warrior was right, but wanting to disagree for Tartarus' sake.
"Are so," the taller warrior returned as she coddled Larin.
Wolf let her old friend get in the last word, this once. She figured that she had to let Xena win sometimes, or else the warrior might not want to spar verbally anymore...and Wolf so loved a good argument almost as much as invigorating physical combat.
"This is going to be a great day," Gabrielle proclaimed in a regal tone. "I can just feel it," she said as she raised her head to feel the sun upon it.
Ephiny and Solari were just exiting the dining hall when a scout rushed up to them.
"Ephiny," she shouted breathlessly as she skidded to a stop in front of the pair. "Raiders were spotted in the eastern field, near the lake."
Grabbing the scout by her halter, the Regent growled. "Where did you say?"
"The eastern field," the young Amazon stuttered.
Solari saw her lover's stricken face and gasped. "The Queen...the children!"
"Solari, organize a party and go out to the lake. I'm not taking any chances. Xena and Wolf may be our best warriors, but they'll be distracted by the little ones. Do it...NOW!"
The lieutenant nodded and rushed to the dining hall where her call for warriors was met with alarm. Within five minutes, Amazons were scrambling for mounts and were receiving instructions from their Regent.
Twenty minutes out of the village, the squad of warriors led by Solari were brought up short by two straggling figures covered in blood, carrying a third. Their distinctive builds and clothing identified Wolf and Xena, and height determined for them that the injured woman was not the Queen. Xena handed Triva up to one of the warriors and moved to commandeer a horse, but Solari stopped her.
"Xena, come on. You need to get back to the village and have your wounds seen to," she urged.
"None of this is mine," the warrior replied with a muted growl. "So get out of my way."
"Wait!" The Amazon lieutenant shuddered when piercing blue eyes trapped her cold. "Take my horse...she's faster."
Xena nodded in gratitude and swiftly mounted. She waited a moment until Wolf accepted a mount from another warrior. As the demi-god vaulted into the saddle, the Warrior Princess allowed a cold rage to settle over her heart. She would get her family back...or die trying. Having a demi-god, who also happened to be a good friend and a great warrior at her side boosted her confidence. With a clear purpose, she pushed the Amazon warhorse ruthlessly in an effort to catch up to the men who had taken everyone who meant everything to her.
Wolf did her best to maintain her position behind Xena. Although her mount was not as fast as Solari's, her horse was carrying less weight, so things evened out a bit. With the raging warrior tracking, the demi-god allowed herself to run through the time earlier, right before the two of them had lost their children.
After a pleasant meal, they had taken the girls down to the lake to watch the fish swimming lazily in the shadows of some overhanging trees. One practical joke (Xena had caught one of those fish and had thrown it into her face) had led to both warriors treading water. An insult later, they were both trying to dunk each other. As their attention was occupied with their play, they did not sense the raiders as they snuck up behind the other two women who were keeping an eye on the little ones.
Gabrielle had seen them at the last minute, and had tried to fend off their overwhelming numbers, but the combination of their superior skills and the children behind her forcing an offensive attack that was more exhausting than a defensive stand, wore her down quickly. She and Xena had gotten to the shore and their weapons as fast as humanly possible, but as they were reducing the raiders' numbers, Triva had been overwhelmed and the children had been taken.
Seeing the white-knuckled grip Xena had on her mounts reins, the demi-god actually felt a shiver of fear for those who had the effrontery to do such a thing. It had been stupid. Accosting those who could defend themselves would have resulted in some minor wounds to be shared around a late campfire. Taking Gabrielle alone would have served the raiders with permanent disfigurement. But to take the Warrior Princess' children was downright insane. Lives would be forfeited. And if any injury had come to the princesses, then that death would be most horrific and painful.
Wolf spared a moment for a quick prayer to Artemis and a request of guidance from Eponin's spirit. And then she begged of any god above who would listen, that the Queen and the children were unharmed. Wolf pulled up hard on her mount when Xena did likewise. Bringing her borrowed warhorse abreast with Solari's, she saw the reason. "They're going through an awful lot of trouble here," she observed as Xena circled the tracks that separated into six different directions. She could see the warrior's mounting frustration.
Out of the corner of her eye, Xena saw Wolf crouching to gain her balance on the unfamiliar horse. "What are you doing," she demanded.
"I'm gonna go up and take a look," Wolf explained.
Xena ground her teeth in frustration. "Make sure they don't see you and...no light displays. Understood?"
Wolf nodded and raised her eyes to the sky. With a powerful lunge, she jumped high and changed to her dragon form in mid-air.
"Bet those bastards didn't count on that," Xena snarled as she watched Wolfdragon climb higher above the trees.
She had only waited for a few minutes when Wolf returned.
"Come on," the dragon urged, holding out her arms so that she could take the tall warrior in them. "They've taken refuge in some caves up in the Blue Hills," she explained. When Xena denied her request, she grew impatient. "What?"
"Xena, we'll get there faster without the horses. The trail isn't the greatest."
"I wasn't talking about the horse," Xena clarified.
A wisp of smoke swirled lazily from Wolfdragon's nose when she snorted. "Now I'm reduced to this," she mumbled as she kneeled so the warrior could climb onto her back. "Just watch the wings," she advised. "We don't want to test our falling skills today," she muttered as she took to the air once again.
Xena did not have the desire to appreciate the spectacular view of the forest and plains below. Her mind was focused wholly on her family and the scum that had abducted them. She should have known that something like this would happen. She had assumed that things could be normal for her, that she could have a family like everyone else. Obviously, she had been wrong.
"Hey, you wanna lay off the neck up there? Those thighs of yours could crack boulders, you know."
Wolf's complaining grumble snaked into Xena's self-deriding rage. With a pat of apology, she loosened her stranglehold on the dragon's serpentine neck.
"We're almost there," Wolf rumbled. "We'll be coming up from behind," she explained.
"There," Xena ordered as she pointed to a spot sheltered from view of any sentries.
Wolfdragon curled the edges of her wings and pulled up slow to land. "Not too bad of a landing," she whispered as Xena slipped off and she morphed back to her human form, "considering the load I was carrying."
"Save it for later, Wolf," Xena hissed as she unsheathed her sword. "I count eight sentries."
"Two above, one down the slope, and five patrolling the mouth of the cave," Wolf elaborated.
Xena edged around the rock-face and spied the two above. She freed her chakram and with a flick of her wrist, rendered them unconscious.
"You really have to teach me how to do that," Wolf whispered. When Xena flashed her a warning look, the demi-god held up her hands. "Okay...later," she mumbled guiltily as she pulled her twin swords free. With a nod to show that she was ready, she followed Xena's example and approached the cave from the left side.
Although Xena had lost a beat with her fighting skills, her stealth was as astounding as ever. When the sentries came into view, the two warriors found them lax in their duties, as they were crouched in a circle tossing a pair of dice. With a quick hand signal, Xena ordered Wolf to take the two on the right.
Before any of the five men could look up from the last roll, they were rendered unconscious. Wolf let Xena disarm them as she approached the edge of the small cliff to find the lower sentry. With a flick of her finger, she sent enough energy at him to knock him out cold for the rest of the day. Nodding to her friend that the last man had been incapacitated, Wolf adjusted her swords in her grasp and stepped over the prone sentries.
Together, they followed their senses deeper into the cave where they found another group of men taking turns with a wineskin. When Xena went to move forward, Wolf grabbed her by the leather at her back. Holding up a finger, the demi-god urged the anxious warrior to hold a moment.
Xena complied reluctantly, but was relieved that she had done so as three more men entered the chamber. She assumed that one of them was the leader by the way that the two who had been drinking, snapped to attention. Willing her heart to pump slower so that she could focus on their words, she trained her ears on their conversation.
"Those Amazon bitches will regret the day they ever attacked my brother," the tall blond cursed.
Wolf and Xena looked at each other and shrugged. It could be anyone, they assumed, for the Nation was always defending its borders against some petty warlord or another.
"Atronos will be avenged," one of the soldiers answered dutifully, as if on cue.
The leader nodded and snarled, "As long as we have their Queen and those brats, they won't try anything funny."
Xena did not hear anything else. They had been attacked because of Gabrielle's position...not because of something she had done as a warlord. It relieved her somewhat, that her past was not coming back to haunt her again, but then she realized that with the position that her wife held, the woman would always be in danger. She cast a glance to the guard beside her and felt a stab of first anger, then compassion. Wolf prided herself on the exceptional performance of her duty as Captain of the Guard. To have the Queen and princesses abducted right from under her nose probably hurt the woman more than any wound.
Wolf turned her eyes to her friend when Xena laid a comforting hand on her back. She could almost read the warrior's thoughts in her expressive blue eyes. Shrugging, the small woman gave her a grim smile. She did not have time to lose herself to her own failure. She had a job to do now, and the lives of the Amazon royal family depended on her...and the most formidable warrior she had ever met.
The two warriors broke their gaze when the leader and his the two men accompanying him moved in their direction. Ducking back into the deepest shadows of the cavern entrance, the women remained undetected.
Putting her mouth close to Wolf's ear, Xena instructed her in the barest of whispers, to take care of the two in the cavern and find Gabrielle and the little ones, while she doubled back and handled the three who would soon discover that their sentries had been incapacitated.
Wolf nodded her understanding and moved stealthy along the damp wall. She looked back once to see Xena creeping towards the mouth of the cave and then turned back to her two targets. Sheathing her swords, she strode boldly into the cavern. "Hey, boys," she called in a cheery voice. "Wanna have some fun?"
Both men looked at each other and then at Wolf in question.
"I must be letting myself go to pot if you aren't interested," she mumbled to herself. "Oh well," she said louder for their benefit, "You know what they say, don't you? Hades has no wrath like a woman scorned," she warned before she tossed out a couple of small bolts of energy. "I guess this is one of those times that I have to use that," she justified, arguing with herself. She spared a quick glance back to the front of the cave where she could hear swords clashing before she trotted down the tunnel from which the leader had come.
There were several smaller caverns off of the tunnel, but none yielded anything more than a few crude cots. Finally, she reached the last room from which fitful wails could be heard. Training her ears to determine her odds, she grit her teeth in fury.
"Shut those brats up, you slut," one deep voice warned.
Wolf saw red when she heard a meaty hand connect with flesh. She calmed herself, knowing that she could not rush into the room without knowing with what she was dealing. Crouching low, she made her way slowly to the entrance. Peering around the edge of the cavern entrance, Wolf saw that only two men were guarding their prisoners. Atronos' brother obviously had not considered Xena's reputation, or he was not privy to the facts of the Amazon Queen's marriage to the most feared woman of all Greece.
Gabrielle, whose eyes strayed every so often to the tunnel with hope that Xena would come charging through, was just as relieved to see Wolf. She tried to shush Little Ep, who was crying for her mother, but her own fear had taken hold of the children. Only Zasha seemed unafraid as she watched the man who was looming over them.
The demi-god's eyes raked over the prisoners. Aside from the minor cuts and abrasions on Gabrielle, the little ones were only dealing with unfamiliar surroundings and the loud voice of the guard. Peran seemed to be berating the men in her own baby way, gurgling loudly and swinging her arms. But Zasha was as quiet as usual. Wolf smiled when she saw the composure of the little one. Her child was studying the men, as if waiting for something.
The demi-god looked around the cavern and tunnel in an attempt to eliminate her options. When her fingers brushed across a hard object sticking out of the dirt, she grinned. It was one of the oldest tricks in the book. Wolf picked up the small rock and tossed it silently into the air. With a prayer, she threw it into the far corner of the cavern. When both guards turned their heads to find the source of the noise, she made her move.
Gabrielle gasped and gathered the girls closer, shielding them with her body, as Wolf somersaulted and landed feet-first into the chest of the man who had been threatening them. When they crashed to the floor of the cave, Wolf used her momentum to drive a knee into the man's face, rendering him blind as his eyes watered from a broken nose. With two quick jabs, he was out. Spinning on one knee, the demi-god then kicked up and knocked the other man's sword from his hand. As he watched it sail across the room, she dove for him.
The guard could feel the air under his feet. He gasped with disbelief that the small woman could do such a thing as lift him, as he was almost twice her size. It was his last thought as Wolf drove him into the hard wall. When his head made forceful contact, he saw bright lights and then was enveloped in darkness.
"Are you all right," Wolf asked as she picked up Zasha and hugged the little girl as tight as she dared.
"Where's Xena," Gabrielle asked as she tucked Eponin into the crook of her arm and then gathered Larin into the other.
Wolf gave a tilt of her head and pulled Peran into her shoulder. "She out there...."
"I'm right here," the tall warrior answered as she ran to her family and checked them for injury.
Ignoring the blood that dripped off her wife's sword, Gabrielle began to sob in relief. After a moment, she allowed Xena to dry her tears, and she looked down at the floor in shame. "Some queen I am," she mumbled thickly.
"Hey," Xena called, urging her to lift her head. "You did everything you could. So don't start down that road."
Wolf caught a meaningful look from the taller warrior. She took a deep breath and smiled, willing herself not to fall on her knees and beg Gabrielle's forgiveness. "Come on, we'd better get out of here."
They made it outside without any incident, although Xena had to rush the bard past the leader's body before any morbid curiosity took hold. She had been more than vicious with the man, had spared him no mercy, and she wanted to make sure that Gabrielle did not have that as a memory of her time in captivity.
"Xena, over here," Wolf called as she adjusted the twins in her arms.
Xena led Gabrielle who was still holding both of their children. Eppy had stopped fussing when she heard her mother's deep, soothing voice, so it was not as difficult as it had been earlier.
"Where are your horses," the bard asked as Wolf handed Xena her daughters and began to strip one horse of its saddle and bridle.
"On the other side of the forest," the tall warrior replied. When Wolf mounted and gave a couple of test nudges with her knees, and then grunted with approval, Xena handed her Zasha and Peran.
Gabrielle looked across the wide plane to the forest that was a green, misty blur. "How did you get here so fast?"
"Have wings, will rescue," Wolf replied as she secured the babies to her with discarded reins.
"Come on, Gabrielle, before any of them wake up," Xena urged, nodding to the unconscious guards.
Gabrielle let Xena take their daughters and mounted the horse that the warrior had chosen for them. Once she was settled, she took Larin and Little Ep. Xena mounted behind her and helped to cradle the babies with one arm as she guided their horse carefully down the rocky trail.
On the other side of the forest, they met up with the squad of Amazons who were racing across the plain. Pulling up, Solari waited until the two families reached them. "Everyone all right," she asked as her eyes raked over the rescued Queen and children.
"We're fine," Xena answered as she drew abreast, "but we better get the little ones back to the village. I think a couple of them are hungry."
"And wet," the bard added as she adjusted Larin on her damp thigh.
Solari nodded and ordered her squad to form rank around the three women and their children as they made their way back to the village. It was a quiet procession broken only by the occasional whimper by uncomfortable children and the sounds of the horses' hooves.
Ephiny was at the head of the group that rushed to meet them when they first entered the square. Gabrielle put her at ease quickly so that Xena could take Little Ep to their hut and feed her. "Really, Ephiny, we're fine," the Queen assured her regent.
"What about the people who did this?"
Wolf handed her daughters to another guard and dismounted. "It was Atronos' brother...and I don't think that any of us have to worry about him any more," she explained soberly.
Nodding her head in understanding, Ephiny allowed the Queen and Consort to pass.
"I'm sure she'll tell you all about it later," Wolf said as she gather the twins in her arms and turned to go to her hut. She stopped suddenly and turned back to the Regent. "Eph, how's Triva doing?"
"Nagla says that she'll be fine with a little rest," the Amazon informed the guard.
The demi-god sighed with relief. "Thank you," she whispered as she gave her leave and entered her hut.
When Xena and Gabrielle were alone in the Royal Hut with their children, the warrior scrubbed herself free of blood and traded her leathers for a long tunic. The bard began examining the babies for any sign of injury.
Xena paced the wooden floor as she let her anxiety melt away. The sound of the bard clucking her tongue captured the warrior's focus. "What is it? Are they all right?"
"They're fine, Xena, but you aren't," Gabrielle replied reproachfully. With a gentle ease, the bard examined a shallow cut along the warrior's bicep.
"It's just a scratch, Gabrielle."
"I know, but it still needs a bandage." Noting Little Ep's fussy cries, she nodded towards the bed. "Why don't you feed Eponin and I'll change Larin and then take care of your arm. How's that sound?"
"Yes, my Queen," Xena mumbled as she complied with her wife's thinly veiled orders.
"Please, Xena, just let me take care of you for once, huh?"
The warrior quirked a brow and smirked. "You get kidnapped, and I'm the one who ends up in bed."
Gabrielle shrugged nonchalantly and grinned. "I'm used to it. Time once was that if I wasn't kidnapped or held at knife point at least once a week, I thought something was wrong. So don't worry about me. I'm fine."
Xena's face turned serious and her sharp eyes took in every detail of the bard's posture. "Are you sure? It must have been pretty scary for you up there."
After tucking Larin into her crib, Gabrielle crossed the room and began to wash. After she finished, she sat on the edge of their pallet. "Xena, I'm fine, really. I was scared a little...mostly for the babies. But I knew that you and Wolf would come. I figured half the Amazon Nation would be there. But as usual, you two were plenty enough for those amateurs."
A familiar fear crept up Xena's spine and she struggled not to give it control over her words. "Gabrielle, this won't be a one-time thing. Your position, as well as my reputation, will make us and our families targets."
Gabrielle reached over and squeezed her wife's hand. "Xena, I know that. You warned me a long time ago when we first became lovers that my life would be in even greater danger than it had been when we were just friends. And I knew that danger would be pressed upon our children, also. That's one of the reasons why we settled, isn't it?" When the warrior could only nod, the Queen continued. "It was one episode, Xena. We learned of a weakness, and we will make steps to correct the problem. I'm sure that even as we speak, Ephiny, Solari, and Wolf are figuring out new patrol routes. We weren't expecting anything like that attack. We've grown soft and I guess now we'll keep our eyes and ears open."
As Xena was rubbing Little Eponin's back in an effort to put the baby to sleep, she fixed the wise bard with a proud smile. "Soft, huh?"
Gabrielle tilted her head and gave a shrug. "Well, maybe not you...but I know I've probably lost a step."
"Hmmm...I know Wolf was about ready to fall on her swords, she was so upset about what happened."
"She takes her job very seriously."
After a long time of silence, save for the occasional suckling of the baby, Xena kissed the Eppy's head and rose to tuck the infant into her crib. "She always did. She could turn a good joke with the best of them, but when it came time for work, she was all business. When we were coming after you, she cracked a couple of jokes...I knew it was bothering her."
"Like you said, she's probably trying to figure out how to close the gaps in our defense, and she'll probably plan on manning a lot of it herself."
"What about the babies?"
"I don't know. Triva should be released from Nagla's care in a few days. I doubt that Wolf would have any trouble finding someone else to keep an eye on the girls until then."
"Still," Gabrielle argued softly, "have you ever known her to let something else take away her time from the twins?"
Xena returned to the bed and allowed Gabrielle to finally look at her wound. "No."
"Hey, this isn't that bad," the bard said as she applied a salve to her wife's arm.
Fixing a baleful glare on the warrior, the smaller woman snorted. "Xena, you say that about practically every injury you receive. Dislocations, fractures, concussions...they're all just minor inconveniences to you."
Xena's gaze softened with a slow smile. "Gabrielle, if I didn't have such a great personal healer, I'd probably complain more...but looking at you just makes me forget about what hurts."
"Oh, really, warrior?"
"Why don't you tell me the truth, now. Just how much does that scratch hurt?"
Xena caught the playful and seductive glint in her lover's eyes. "Really, really bad," she moaned for good effect.
Gabrielle's fingers moved to the laces of her short top. "Oh, really?"
"Really," the warrior nodded with a believable wince.
"Hmm...guess I'll just have to distract you, then. We don't want you to be hurting now, do we?"
The warrior could only nod, for her mouth dried at the sight of her wife disrobing. When the bard finally stood, nude for her wife's appreciative gaze, Xena's eyes blazed a sultry path up to the smaller woman's face. "I'm feeling better all ready," she husked.
"That's good," the bard purred as she kneeled on the low mattress. "Are there any more injuries that need tending?"
Xena shift her weight around as she removed her tunic and lay stretched out on the bed, her legs slightly widened.
Gabrielle noted this with a wicked smile. With bold fingers, she found the evidence of her warrior's growing arousal. "Ooh, Xena, that's doesn't feel too good. Maybe I should take a better look."
As her breath came more rapid, Xena spread her legs wider and licked her lips in anticipation when Gabrielle moved between her outstretched legs and bowed her head in observation.
"I'm not sure I've ever seen anything like this, love, but this wound seems to be seeping." Gabrielle looked up and found herself trapped in a look of fierce blue lust. Swallowing hard, she closed her eyes and felt her own heat suffuse her entire body. "Maybe I should conduct an exploratory search."
"You don't have to be gentle," Xena gasped as Gabrielle's fingers found their place and immediately began a primal rhythm.
With an amused chuckle, Gabrielle leaned over her wife's twitching body. "Oh, really," she asked as she entered the warrior with more force.
Any answer was drowned by Xena's smothered moan. The feeling of the bard's fingers plunging into her and her talented tongue devouring her breasts, was enough to send her over the edge, but she held off her orgasm, not wanting the bard's loving to end. But the sweet death found her when Gabrielle attacked her mouth with an aggressiveness that Xena always found wildly exciting.
Not wanting the children to waken, Gabrielle swallowed the warrior's cry of release with a last passionate kiss. She rested her head on Xena's shoulder until the contractions along her entrenched fingers slowed to an occasional throb. "I love you, Xena," she whispered as she sprinkled soft kisses across her wife's collarbone.
"Love you, too, my Queen."
"I forgot to tell you about the injury I got while we were held captive."
The warrior rolled the small bard onto her back and chuckled. "Hmm...well, young lady, perhaps you should tell your healer exactly what hurts."
"Well, I think I got a nasty bruise right here," she whispered as she pointed to an erect nipple.
"Looks pretty serious," Xena agreed. "I want to try an experimental treatment here. Is that all right with you?" Without waiting for the obvious answer, Xena's lips latched onto the offered breast.
"Damn, Xena," Gabrielle gasped. "You can try any of your methods on me any time."
The warrior chuckled around the tempting mound of flesh before she pulled away and nuzzled her wife's ear. "Gabrielle," she rasped, "I just love it when you curse...it's so...."
The bard, inspired by the seductive groan of her warrior, smiled wickedly and began to utter soft obscenities as Xena moved even lower than before to continue her ministrations.
"So, we've sent a patrol of two squads into the valley and up into the hills to make sure that all of the raiders have left."
Gabrielle studied the map before her and pondered Ephiny's words. "Who is leading them?"
The Queen shook her head and tapped her fingers distractedly. "When she gets back, Eph, please have her sent to me. I need to talk to her."
"Of course, Gabrielle." The Amazon's eyes studied her friend's face. "Is something wrong?"
Gabrielle wrinkled her brow in thought and laid her palms flat on the smooth surface of the table. "This whole episode has me worried about Wolf, that's all. From what you told me this morning, she didn't get to bed last night, and she's out there now," the Queen said with a wave to the open window.
"Even after Solari and I left for our place last night, she was still here, going over the patrol routes," Ephiny stated with a weary nod of her head. "And I think that she's worried about Triva."
"We all are," Gabrielle agreed.
"So, you want to tell me what happened out there? Wolf won't say a word about it."
Sipping from a mug of juice, the Queen considered the events of the previous day. "We were having fun, watching Xena and Wolf horse around in the lake. None of us heard the raiders come up from behind us." Gabrielle sighed and stood to cross to the window where she could see several Amazons going about their daily chores. "It happened so fast, Ephiny. Before they could get out of the lake, I had been disarmed and Triva had been knocked unconscious. Xena and Wolf jumped in then, but a few of the men broke off their attack and took us with them." Gabrielle lowered her head. "Eph, I've never been so scared before in my life, and that's saying a lot considering who I've lived with for the past seven years."
The Regent crossed the room and gathered the Queen into a warm embrace. "You had the children to consider. You were worried about their safety. Danger to your child's life is the one thing that will bring the strongest, bravest mother to her knees in fear. I know what that's like. Do you remember when Callisto was after the children at the Centaur peace talks?"
Gabrielle nodded and closed her eyes with the painful memory. It had been the last time she had actually spoken to Hope before Xena had killed her.
"When I took the children to the Ixion Caves, all I could think of was saving Xenon. I prayed harder that day than I ever did in my life. If Xena hadn't come along...."
"I know," Gabrielle whispered. "Even through all her pain...she managed to stop Callisto."
Tears began to fall from the bard's sad green eyes, and Ephiny brushed them away with gentle fingers. "Hey," she whispered as she brought Gabrielle's face up to see hers, "that's the past, Gabrielle. You and Xena worked through your problems, and you have a family and a life here, now. Thinking about what was will only make you miserable."
"Like Wolf is now," the Queen said as she accepted a linen scrap from Ephiny. After wiping her eyes and blowing her nose, Gabrielle smiled gratefully. "I can't believe we survived that."
"Forgiveness and love go a long way, my Queen."
The Queen's face brightened and she wiped at her eyes once more. "Well...before we took that rocky road down memory lane, we were discussing Wolf."
"Do you think if I made her take a vacation, that she'd see it as a reprimand?"
"Not if you tell her nicely," Ephiny replied.
Xena chuckled as she watched Wolf crawling around in the grass, chasing after Zasha, Peran, and Larin. After five days of forced vacation, the demi-god looked a lot better. The smaller woman's soft laughter floated on the warm air, and the warrior had to bite the inside of her cheek so as not to laugh at her comical play. A soft touch on her head stole her attention from the display. "Hey, there. I was wondering when you were going to finish those negotiations."
Gabrielle accepted a quick kiss and leaned against the strong shoulder of her warrior. "Sorry I missed lunch with you."
"Did you get to eat," Xena asked as she pulled the bard down to sit in the grass with her.
Plucking a blade of grass and twirling it between her fingers, Gabrielle smiled crookedly. "Yeah. You should have seen the look on Menara's face when Darlea brought in my lunch."
"Piled that high, huh?"
Shrugging, Gabrielle began to trail the blade of grass down Xena's bare thigh. "As usual."
"So, what is Menara going to do?"
"He's going to settle Terlava and rebuild. I've already sent a messenger to the Centaur village to let the survivors know that he returned and what he plans on doing. If they want to join him, they can."
Xena stared into the distance and considered what Atronos had done. With the exception of her baby, she could think of nothing good. He was the feared warlord that raped and pillaged. Just like she had been, but she had been so good at it, much more successful.
"What are you thinking?"
The ex-warlord forced herself to look her wife in the eye, knowing that the bard would see the pain and self-hatred written plainly on her face. "I was just wondering what it was like for Menara to come back from his military service to find his town destroyed...wondering how many men and women had been in the same position when I was destroying everything in my path."
Gabrielle moved closer to the warrior and took a callused hand in her own. "Xena, don't relive those times. You changed...you aren't a warlord anymore."
"I'm not so sure, Gabrielle. Sometimes, I sit and I think about all these towns and people that come to you, seeking help from one warlord or another, and I think about what I would do to counteract the defenses that you send to help them. Sometimes, it's like a game to me."
"No, Xena. The way you think...like that...is very valuable to giving effective help. Without your experience, we wouldn't come up with half the plans that we do. Your past makes you an effective leader and warrior, not a warlord."
"Is that what I am? A leader?"
"Yes," Gabrielle whispered emphatically. "I am the Queen. You are my Consort. You and I are one. Without you...I know that I wouldn't have been able to learn how to lead these people." Cupping her wife's face in a supportive hand, Gabrielle smiled gently. "And besides, not only are you a leader at my side, you are also my wife, my lover, my warrior, my best friend, and the mother of my children. What else could I possibly hope that you'd be?"
Her dark mood was beaten back with every word that fell from the sweet bard's lips, and Xena captured them with infinite love. "Well," she said as she pulled away, "I could try lightening up."
Gabrielle chuckled and fell into the grass as Xena began to tickle her. "Hey," she gasped as she tried to roll away from the hands that trapped her playfully. "You are setting a bad example for the children!"
Yelping when strong fingers found a more sensitive spot, the bard struggled even harder. "Yeah, it's not proper to tickle the Amazon Queen."
"Well, at least we know that a Warrior Princess still beats her."
Gabrielle took a deep breath and grasped the hands that had stilled against her bared abdomen. "That may be so, Princess, but this Queen can still make you cry for mercy, given the right weapon."
Running appreciative fingers across the still-firm planes of her wife's stomach, Xena licked her lips. "Oh, and you have so many at your disposal, my Queen."
"Umm...excuse me, I don't mean to break up this little seduction the two of you have going, but I've got a few girls here who'd like to see the inside of the dining hut."
Xena tore her gaze away from the bard's and squinted up into Wolf's smirking face. "Spoilsport," she muttered.
"Yeah, well, I think in my job description, it says something about making sure that the Queen is ravished only in the most private of places."
Gabrielle's eyes widened when she thought of all the times that she and Xena had snuck off for a little private time of their own, away from the village. "You mean to tell me that you follow us everywhere?"
"Hey, I'm a good little Amazon Guard," Wolf replied with a wicked grin.
"But...but...you didn't watch or anything, did you?"
The demi-god ran a tongue over her bared teeth and shook her head with a deep breath. "If I admit to that, then I'll have to tell you what I do while I'm watching."
Gabrielle blushed a deep crimson and turned to her wife who was staring at the small guard with an amused expression.
"Is it good," Xena asked, feeling the blood running hot at the thought that Wolf had witnessed more than a few furious lovemaking sessions.
Picking up the twins, Wolf nodded slowly. "Oh, Xena, it's always good." With a lewd smack of her lips, the guard left the couple with their daughter and made her way to dinner.
Gabrielle sputtered a few nonsensical sounds before she found herself pulled to her feet. "I can't believe...."
"Relax, Gabrielle," Xena soothed as she bounced Larin on her hip. "Be glad that it's someone who we love and trust."
The bard studied the warrior's face and her eyes narrowed in suspicion. "The thought of someone watching turns you on, doesn't it?"
Forcing a stony countenance, Xena refused to answer, but the hitch in her breathing was enough evidence for the Queen.
"Okay...." Gabrielle's thoughts turned inward, and she imagined someone...Wolf, actually...watching...or joining...the love that she shared for her warrior. It was not like the entire village did not know that the Queen made love to her Consort. Celebrations were often a time of ribbing for the couple who tended to be quite loud after a bit of wine and the privacy that they were granted when Wolf watched the princesses for them.
"We could ask her to join us," Xena said abruptly and quietly as they made their way to the dining hall.
Gabrielle stopped in her tracks and stared incredulously at the warrior. "Don't tell me, reading minds is one of your many skills?"
"Not minds, Gabrielle. But I could tell that those wheels in your head were spinning...and you started breathing faster, just like you do right before you drag me off to one of those private encounters that Wolf enjoys."
Gabrielle considered her wife's words as they were joined by several other Amazons on their way to dinner. "Can we discuss this later?"
The warrior failed to hide a slow smirk that shaped her lips. "If you'd like."
The dining hut was filled with the sounds of a multitude of voices raised in cheerful banter, and Gabrielle nodded to those who greeted them with enthusiasm. They found Wolf already seated at the head table with Triva and the twins, and she reflected on the earlier conversation. The demi-god had barely aged with the time that had passed since they had first met, and her body, if it was possible, was even better conditioned.
The Amazon Guard's leathers and armor highlighted each muscle and plane on the demi-god's body, and her dark tan highlighted the blond in her brown hair. It was no wonder that half of the village lusted after her, but the one who seemed affected the most was the woman who had been at her side even before Eponin's death.
Gabrielle sighed when she realized that any plans she and Xena might have made for the guard would hurt Triva. The Amazon was obviously in love with the guard, and Wolf, for some reason, did not see it.
"You're thinking again, my bard."
Shrugging as she accepted Larin from her wife's arms, Gabrielle watched as Darlea handed Little Ep to the tall warrior. "I'll tell you about it later."
"All right," Xena answered as she took her seat to the left of the Queen and smiled a thanks to the serving girl who delivered a tray of food for the couple and their children.
"It isn't that hard to understand, Gabrielle. Look how long it took for us to figure it out."
Gabrielle arched her back into the strong hands that were rubbing away the stiffness that hours of negotiations had caused. "Do you think that she's still mourning Ep?"
Xena shifted lower to sit on the smaller woman's thighs and grunted softly. "Considering Wolf's past relationships and the way that she felt about Eponin, I wouldn't be surprised if she mourned the rest of her life. Ep meant everything to Wolf."
"But that doesn't mean that she can't accept somebody else's love."
"Maybe Wolf thinks that if she did have something with Triva, she would be using her."
"What makes you say that? Oh, yeah, right there," the bard moaned in appreciation.
Digging her fingers harder into the knot of muscle she found, Xena answered, "I felt the same way when we first got together."
Turning her head to look at her warrior, Gabrielle's eyes widened in shock. "But, Xena, I loved you. How would you be using me?"
The warrior shrugged as her hands began long, sweeping strokes. "You have to understand that I saw myself as the experienced, jaded ex-warlord and you as the young, innocent girl. I knew that I could seduce you, that I could make you fall in love with me. I wanted to make sure that I wasn't using you as a convenient lay while we were alone on the road."
"Convenient lay," Gabrielle repeated with a snort. "It was damn inconvenient for me. While you fought with yourself over whether or not to make love to me, I was going insane with wanting you." With a quick movement, the small bard bucked the warrior and rolled over to her back. "Do you have any idea what I did when you went hunting for our dinner?"
"Yeah, I do. You didn't always get a chance to wash your hands before I got back."
"So you know that being near you and not being able to touch you was driving me crazy?"
The warrior chuckled as she began to massage the firm thighs under her hands. "Do you have any idea of what I did when I went out to scout the perimeter after dinner?"
Gabrielle opened her mouth to reply, but a sudden thought, a memory of a particular night when she had followed the warrior into the dense woods around their camp, caused a heat to flow and gather. "Yeah, I do," she mumbled as she began to fidget against Xena's hands. "Did you love me back then?"
"Gabrielle, I've loved you since the day I met you," the warrior whispered earnestly.
"And you love me now?"
"More than ever."
"Good, because I need you to...." Gabrielle gasped as her need mounted higher.
Gabrielle grabbed a handful of the warrior's tunic and pulled her down so that she could whisper into her wife's ear.
Xena's eyes narrowed and her nostrils flared as they caught the scent of arousal from between her wife's legs. With a soft growl, she lowered her face until their mouths were a finger's width apart. "You can be so vulgar sometimes, my Queen."
The lovers groaned in unison when their bodies met violently. There was no gentleness nor care taken to share words of passion. Clothes were torn and strewn across the room, and the hut was filled with primal sounds of love and cries of pleasure.
"Have fun last night?"
Xena brought her sword up to parry a thrust of Wolf's left blade as she ducked to avoid the right. "Do you always listen?"
Wolf blocked a kick with her armored bracer and she grinned at the warrior's amused question. "Hey, you can't single me out on this one. Half the village heard."
Jumping to avoid a leg sweep, Xena hissed in challenge. "Half the village wasn't diddling with themselves at the time."
Grunting when the taller warrior landed a punch to her chest, Wolf jumped back out of reach and shook off the pain. "It was inspiring," she replied in defense of herself.
"Two squirrels are enough to inspire you, you little hormone factory."
"Well, not everyone has the most desired woman in the village in her bed," the demi-god retorted with a sly grin.
Xena renewed her sword attack and nodded with approval as her blade was deflected with every swing. "You need a woman, my friend."
Wolf's face froze and she raised her blade instinctively to stop Xena's before the other warrior could pull her swing. "I can't."
Lowering her sword and resting its tip in the hard-packed earth of the practice field, Xena smiled sadly. "Wolf, everybody needs love. Just because Eponin's gone does not mean that you are excluded."
The demi-god craned her head back and watched as gray clouds began to move on swift winds across the sky. "I can't love anybody else."
"Yes, you can." Xena resheathed her sword and reached out to grab the smaller woman by the shoulders. "Look, I know you think that you can't feel anything for anyone, but you can...if only a little."
"Who, Xena? Who would accept a paltry love from me, when all these women know what Pony meant to me...that part of me died on that battlefield with her?"
Xena saw the naked pain and loneliness in her friend's deep brown eyes. Her heart clenched in sympathy. "Triva."
Blinking with slow realization, Wolf lowered her head and studied the swords she still held in her hands. "She loves me."
"See...I told Gabrielle you weren't that dense. She loves you...and the twins like they were her own. You trust her with them. I think you should trust her love for you."
"And you think she would be happy for what little of that I could return?"
"I think you should at least ask her. Denying her the right to make that decision on her own would be unfair to both of you."
Wolf smiled fondly and patted her friend's chest. "The wise voice of experience speaks to me again."
"You can thank me by following Gabrielle and me at a discrete distance when we want to be alone."
"But what fun is that," Wolf asked with a wink as she returned her swords to their scabbards. "Looks like it's going to rain," she said conversationally as she studied the clouds above in the darkening sky.
"Great time to be alone with a loved one," Xena stated as they began to walk back to the village.
"Uh, huh. Good for conversation and whatever."
"Whatever," the guard mumbled. "If you'd want, I could take the kids so you and Gabrielle could have the afternoon to yourselves."
Xena shook her head in refusal. "Actually, I was thinking about borrowing Zash and Per. Larin loves to spend time with them."
"True," the demi-god nodded. "And I bet Triva would enjoy the free time."
"With you, maybe."
"Guess there's only one way to find out," Wolf whispered as she approached her hut to find the besotted Amazon and her daughters playing in a pile of sand. Studying the younger Amazon, Wolf mentally smiled in appreciation. Triva was tall and lanky, with soft green eyes and long blonde hair. She smiled, and Wolf could feel herself responding to the adoration obvious in her gaze.
"Good afternoon, Xena," the Amazon called in her gentle voice.
"It will be," Xena returned as she nudged the demi-god at her side. "I told Wolf that I would take the twins to play with Larin since the rain is going to keep us all inside."
"Oh, okay," Triva sighed as she stood the girls up and began to dust the sand off of Zasha's tunic. She blushed when Wolf knelt to do the same to Peran. When Xena had both girls in her arms, the Amazon stood and brushed her hands over her leather skirt. "Well, I guess I'll be going, then."
"Triva, wait," Wolf implored as she laid a callused hand upon the young woman's arm. The demi-god looked to the tall warrior who nodded for her to continue. "I'll see you later, Xena?"
Wolf nodded in confirmation and lowered her head, unsure of how to approach her admirer. "Um...Triva...would you like to try some of that wine that I picked up in Corinth last month?"
The Amazon blushed at the invitation and lowered her head shyly. "That sounds wonderful...Wolf."
A familiar shiver coursed through the demi-god's body. Triva's voice was like thick honey that poured over skin that had not felt another's loving touch in such a long time. With a gentle hand that hid her growing need, Wolf guided the younger woman to her hut and shut the door behind them.
Gabrielle leaned against the side of the bed and plucked a piece of fuzz off of the blanket upon which the children were playing. "So, I guess the three of us won't be happening then."
Xena rolled over onto her stomach and turned her head. From her position on the bed, she could look the bard in the eye with no effort. "You almost sound disappointed, Gabrielle."
Shrugging, the Queen smiled at Larin who was chewing on a wooden toy. "I guess you could say that the idea took root and started to grow."
"Well, you better nip that one now, because I think that Wolf is going to be busy for a while."
"Yeah, I guess." Gabrielle face brightened and she leaned over for a quick kiss. "You're woman enough for me, Xena. I don't think I could handle the both of you."
The warrior chuckled and quirked a brow. "Woman enough, huh?"
"Plenty," the bard drawled. "Your legs alone could wear me out...just thinking about them."
"Same goes here, my love."
"So...whose idea was it for us to take the girls this afternoon?"
"Feeling a bit randy, now, are we?" Xena's clear blue eyes sparkled with mirth.
"I am...Xena," Gabrielle whispered.
The warrior looked over to the children where Gabrielle was pointing and her eyes widened when Larin pulled herself up with some help from her crib, to stand on shaky legs. Seeing their younger peer do so, Zasha and Peran also stood and took a few steps towards the princess before falling on their padded rumps.
Xena chuckled then and shook her head with a vision. "Everybody better look out when those three are let loose on the village."
"Don't forget Little Ep. She won't be far behind."
"Artemis have mercy on us," Xena cried with a melodramatic sigh.
Gabrielle looked behind her on the bed where the baby was sound asleep. "What do you think it will be like when they are older, Xena? Do you think that they'll all be friends?"
"More like, they'll all be terrors," the warrior replied as she reached over and ran a tender finger across her daughter's hand.
"But they'll be our little terrors," Gabrielle corrected with a playful grin. "I think I'm going to enjoy being a mother," the bard stated with a sure nod of her head.
"Tell me that in ten years, Gabrielle, and I'll be sure to treat you to a vacation of your own."
"Better start choosing a spot, warrior, because it's all going to be so much fun."
Xena crooked another brow and gave the bard a lopsided smile. "We'll see, my Queen, we'll see."
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