By Rachel Hahn

The usual disclaimers are in order here...If u are under 18 or live anywhere this is considered against the law, please page back at this time! Otherwise...(takes deep breath...) Xena, Gabrielle, Eve, Varia, Ephiny, Callisto, Solari, Eponin, and the rest of the characters in this story belong to StudiosUSA/MCA-Universal/RenPics (whatever it's called now hehe!) etc etc etc.(except the ones invented by me...) This is a non-for-profit product of my own imagination. Enjoy!

"But Queen Marga....please! You have to help us!!" Shayla dropped to her knees and raised folded hands in beseachment. "Pleeeeeeeease! Our bodies can't take much more abuse!" She quickly began showing the queen her numerous cuts and bruises from the "workouts", as Varia had called them.
Marga stood, folded her arms and began pacing in front of the blonde amazon recruit. "So, let me see if I have this correct Shayla..." She scratched her chin. "You want me to 'invent' some celebration and invite the princess from a sister tribe, all because you think Varia is going overboard with lessons?" She casually leaned against the hut wall, arms still crossed, and scrutinized her subject closely.
Shayla rolled her eyes and blew her bangs out of her way. "No! It's why she is going overboard my queen!" Realizing she was practically yelling, the little blonde cleared her throat and lowered her voice. "It's because Eve's not here. Because she's all pent up, so she takes it out on us!" She turned her best "pleading look" on her queen and was rewarded with a chuckle. She frowned.
"She's right you know." said a voice from the doorway. Marga nodded her admittance and watched as Weaponmaster Cassandra entered, striding purposefully across the hut floor and taking a seat next to Shayla. She pinned intense brown eyes on Marga, raised a long leg and draped it over the corner of the table. Pointing at a large and incredibly ugly purple and yellow bruise, she stated, "Look here..." Marga's eyes went wide at the sight. "Yeah, and if she's doing this to me, think of how it must be for them!" She dropped her leg back down to the floor, and with a thud of finality she said, "Something must be done."
The Queen nodded her head in agreement. "Understood Cassandra. I don't need an incapacitated army now, do I?" She laughed. "Very well, find Varia and tell her I wish to see her in my quarters in a half candlemark." She met Shayla's eyes and seeing the relieved look in them, she chuckled again.
"Yes my Queen." And with a flip of her ponytail the weaponmaster was out the door and sprinting across the village to the practice field.
"Thank you ever so much! The Amazon Nation is indebted to you!" said Shayla with a huge smile.
"My pleasure. My apologies for not seeing this pattern sooner, but as you know, the negotiations with the Cyrians were weighing heavy on my mind as of late..." Marga replied. "I hope you can forgive your most pre-occupied Queen?" A curly blonde head was shaken heartily. "Good because as soon as Varia leaves with the invitation, it will be YOUR job to make sure everyone in the village knows to pretend this festival happens on a regular basis." The blonde curls shook again. "I will take care of getting the real musicians together to play during the evening hours, but you must round up entrants for the amateur competition alright?"
"Indeed!" (Shayla actually LOVED organizing stuff) "You can count on me! I'll have it done quicker than you can shoe a centaur!" And with that she was dashing off to get the plan into motion.
"The Festival of the what???" Varia's face scrunched up in confusion. "I've never heard of that before."
Marga was trying real hard to look completely innocent at the moment. It was the best she could do in the short amount of time she had to prepare this little fiasco. "The Festival of The Muses! How could you have never heard of it? It only comes once every five years!" She raised an eyebrow. "Oh that's right, you have only been here four years." She patted her second's shoulder in mock sympathy. "That's alright though...you won't have to bother with the details since you will be making sure Princess Eve of Arboria is safe the whole time she is here."
Varia's eyes snapped up to meet the queen's. "Eve will be coming here?" she asked incredulously.
"She will be if she accepts our invitation to judge the music competition." replied Marga, a sly grin edging up the corner of her mouth as she picked up a rolled parchment and handed it to the amazon. "Take this to the Princess. You and Magdelena are to wait for her reply, and if she accepts you are to escort her back here for the festival."
Varia couldn't help the smile that was now plastering itself upon her face as she took the scroll. "Yes my Queen! We'll leave right now." She stood, bowed her head and exited the Queen's hut.
"So far, so good..." thought Marga as she leaned back in her chair. "Now I just have to prepare for a festival that didn't exist yesterday." She shook her head and chuckled as she mentally chose her 'volunteers' to help with the plans. "Things will go off without a hitch..." she told herself. "What could go wrong?"
(Author's Note: Murphy's Law - "If anything can go wrong, it will.")
Gabrielle watched from the doorway of the library as Eve slammed the book closed and snorted in exhasperation.
"What did that book ever do to you honey?" the bard asked with a hint of a smile in her voice.
Eve turned a frustrated gaze upon the bard. "Gabrielle....some of these laws really make no sense at all." She sighed. "And there's so many! How am I supposed to memorize all this?"
The bard crossed over to where Eve was sitting and took a seat next to her. "Don't try so hard. Just let it come. You'll be suprised when you find you know things later on that you didn't think you knew at all." She smiled at her heir.
"I know, I know..." said the brunette. "I just can't seem to concentrate lately." Sighing again, she laced her fingers together and laid them upon the book in front of her.
"Hmmmm, maybe you're missing someone huh?" She laid a hand on Eve's shoulder. "I have the same problem when Xena goes off on her little escapades alone. I get lonely."
Eve's eyes turned up to meet those of her Queen. "You do?" Gabrielle shook her head. "How do you get through it? I mean, all I can think about is Varia...like what's she doing now, is she thinking about me, does she miss me...you know...all that stuff."
Gabrielle nodded her head. "Well, I tend to try and occupy myself with my job here, since there is always something that needs my attention or whatnot. But when it gets really bad...." Here she leaned in close, "There's not much you can do except go down to the practice field and let off some pent up energy, if you know what I mean." She nudged her daughter.
Eve blushed crimson and nodded. "Yes I suppose you're right. I have been neglecting my sparring since I hit these books anyways." She pushed her chair back and stood up. "I don't suppose I could interest you in a trip down to the field with me hmmmmm??" She grinned devilishly at the bard.
"No...no. Your mother has already seen to it I can't shoot a bow for at least a week." She turned and displayed a large bruise on the back of her right shoulder.
Eve giggled. "Today?"
"Yes today...before the gods be damned birds were even awake." She huffed just a bit. "I swear to Artemis that if they could make chains that would hold Xena, I would chain her to the bed so just ONE morning I could sleep late!" She stamped her foot to emphasize her annoyance with the situation, but was suddenly overwhelmed by the vision of her warrior lying there...bound up and at her mercy.
Eve caught the strange smile that had come over the bard's features and didn't like it one bit. "Gabrielle...if you're thinking what I think you're thinking, you better stop it right now or I am going to be ill."
The bard blushed at having been caught in her little moment of fantasy. Clearing her throat she replied..."Oh my, I'm sorry!" She giggled just a bit at the serious look on Eve's face. "Honey, just because we're your parents doesn't mean we don't have the same types of illicit thoughts as the younger generation. We're just older...not dead!" Her eyes danced with playfulness. "I mean come on Eve, are you going to tell me you've never had an impure thought about Varia?"
Eve's eyebrows nearly shot clean off the planet. "Gabrielle!" Her hand went to her chest. "I can't believe you just asked me that!!"
"Why yes I did just ask you that. I heard the words, you heard the words, so why are you asking me if I just asked you what we both know I asked hmmmmmmmm???" The bard grinned a very silly grin as she watched Eve try to make sense of her last sentence. "So just answer the question sweetie. You know you can tell me anything..." Gabrielle wiggled her eyebrows up and down for effect.
Indeed, that slew of words had completely discombobulated poor Eve's train of thought, and she blurted out what she thought was a safe answer to whatever question it was she was supposed to be answering. "Yes?" She shrugged, hoping for the best.
"I knew it!" said the bard, slapping her knee with her hand. "After that little display you and Varia put on at the competition celebration last moon, I knew it was getting serious!" She leaned in close, looked around to make sure no sneaky amazons were evesdropping, (don't believe everything you hear...Amazons love to gossip...) and then she whispered..."So did you get to the 'good stuff' yet?"
This question left Eve totally dumbfounded. All she could do was stare at the queen. And Gabrielle just sat there, waiting patiently for the brunette to decide if she was going to answer. She felt a little guilty for prying into her daughter's private life, but the look on Eve's face was absolutely priceless, and worth every moment of it.
Poor Eve. Had one of her parents just asked her if she had had sex yet? Nooooooo, had to be a figment of her imagination! Wait, reality check...yes she did. 'Question is Eve, how do you answer that?' She frowned. She could just lie and say no, or she could be honest about her life. Truth was, she and her parents had never really talked about her past. Sure a few things here and there, but Xena respected her wishes to remain silent, because she understood. Now Gabrielle was another problem altogether, since she knew the bard would someday no longer be able to refrain from the curiosity she had kept in check for some months now. She sighed and looked the bard straight in the eye. "No Gabrielle. Varia and I haven't gotten to the 'good stuff' yet." The bard opened her mouth to say something but Eve held a quieting hand up. "Although that doesn't mean I haven't done the 'good stuff' in the past." She looked away, finding an interesting crack in the wall while she continued in a shy voice, "I just haven't done it with a woman before."
"You haven't?" asked the bard.
"Wow, now there's a shocker!" exclaimed the bard. "I would have thought..."
"I know." interrupted the brunette. "Everyone thinks that, and truth be told, I let em keep thinking it." She smiled. "I didn't want to do anything that would make them dislike me, so I just let them believe what they wanted to."
Gabrielle nodded her head in agreement. "Very wise daughter. I see I'm finally rubbing off on you huh?" She grinned.
"You always rub off on me Gabrielle." She smiled warmly. "And I'm grateful for that."
The bard flushed. "Awwwwwww, thank you. That really makes me feel good inside!" She gave her daughter a fierce hug. "You're great for the ego honey, I bet Varia feels like she's queen of the world when you're around her..."
Eve giggled, then took on a serious tone. "Varia is the queen of my world Gabrielle." She smiled. "I just hope she feels the same way."
"Oh I don't think there's any doubt about that. Especially after the way she kissed you that night."
Eve gasped. "You were spying???" She took on a semi-hurt look.
"It wasn't intentional dear, we just happened to be looking in your direction when it happened. Honest." She held up her fist in confirmation of that fact. (little did Eve know the bard had her fingers crossed behind her back) "Just for the record, your mom and I were both very happy it finally happened. The tension between you two was getting to near dangerous levels."
Eve smiled broadly. "Yeah, it was for sure one kiss that I will never forget either." She giggled.
"Yes, I know exactly what you mean dear daughter." Her mind drifted off, into a memory of suprisingly soft lips covering her own for the very first time. It had been like lightning prickling her skin with its' heat, it had been the single most intense moment in her life, it had been like nothing she had ever known. She sighed in contentment. "Well it's getting late dear. I can't spar with you today, but I know where I can find an old nag who owes me a favor..." She grinned. "Come on."
"Right behind you!" replied Eve. Catching up to the Queen she asked, "Do you think I can get her to use florentine style again?"
Gabrielle cringed. "Ooooh no honey, I don't think so. Remember what happened last time..."
"Oh yeah, you're right." said the brunette. "I nearly forgot about that!" She smirked. "Well I'm gonna ask her anyways just so I can watch her squirm."
"Eve, you are sooooo bad. You surely don't get that from me!" She laughed as they headed across the village. "That's definitely ALL from your birth mother!" A smirk. "No doubt!" They shared quite a few laughs at Xena's expense on the walk over, and had the Warrior Princess known....she would have joined right in with them. :)

"Wow..." breathed Magdelena, tucking a stray strand of hair behind her ear, "This is some really beautiful scenery down here..." She took a deep breath and let it out in a long sigh. "Warmer too." She eyed the pinkish tinge that was beginning to appear on her exposed skin.
Varia's eyes scanned the early morning horizon and back to their present surroundings. "Yeah, it's nice for sure." She slowed her mount as they approached the Arborian border. "We're here." They dismounted. "We proceed on foot until the patrol shows up."
"Fine with me, my backside was beginning to get blisters anyways." Grabbing her pony's reins, she fell in beside Varia. "I hope they have good food here, I'm famished."
Varia laughed heartily. "Oh you better believe they have good food! Queen Gabrielle demands quality in her diet, not to mention quantity." She grinned. "I once saw her polish off four helpings of venison, two plates of steamed vegetables and another two helpings of pickled croatia for desert. And that my friend, is no lie."
Mag's eyes grew larger with every added entree. "So the rumors are true then eh?" Varia shook her head affirmatively. "Holy mackerel, that's unbelievable! I gotta see this for myself!"
"You will, the Queen is quite the Hostess." Her smile was quickly erased by her "imposing warrior" look as the border patrol stepped into their path.
"Halt. State your affairs." commanded the Amazon at the head of the group.
Varia thumped her chest with her fist and bowed. "Princess Varia to see Princess Eve on behalf of Queen Marga of the Northern Tribes."
Realization suddenly lit up the Amazon's face and she bowed. "My apologies Princess, I didn't recognize you at first. It's been a long time." She smiled and held out her forearm.
Varia grinned. "No apologies neccessary Sarina." She soundly grasped the other woman's arm. "Indeed it has been a long time. Too long. How have you been?"
"Pretty good actually." replied the slim blonde, her long curls blowing in the breeze. "I haven't any complaints except the usual."
"Still can't find the right woman huh?"
Now it was Sarina's turn to smile. "Oh I found her, she's just interested in someone else I heard..." She chuckled.
Varia blushed and cleared her throat. "Well ummmm, what you heard is pretty much correct." Her tone lowered. "I'm sorry Sar.."
The blonde smiled back at her in such a way that Varia's fears of hurt feelings were thrown to the wayside. "Don't fret about it my friend." she said. "There will be others."
"Of that I have no doubt!" replied the brunette. "And how are your parents? Gabrielle said Ephiny was pregnant?"
"Yes she is. It's going to be nice to finally have a sibling to boss around and corrupt." She added a small snicker to the end of her sentence. "But I have to warn you, she's been mighty ornery lately so you might want to keep your distance, if you know what I mean..."
"That far along huh?" The blonde shook her head. "I'll try to stay clear of her then."
"Very smart move." replied Sarina. Squinting, she pointed ahead. "There's the gates. The Princess was down at the practice field beating up on old Pony last I heard. But that was before my shift started." She scratched her head. "But we'll try there first anyhow. Considering her mood lately, my bet is she's still there pounding away."
Varia's eyebrows scrunched together. "Her mood?"
Sarina's eyes sparkled and danced. "Oh yeah...it's been just unbearable for some of us that have to be around her all the time. Talking to her is like talking to the wall...it's like she isn't even listening!" She grinned and laid a hand on her old friend's shoulder. "But I think all that's about to change." Sarina pointed towards the now within sight practice grounds. "See? There she is, just as I suspected."
But Varia's attention had already been captured by the sight of one certain Amazon Princess who was beating the snot out of a very frazzled-looking retired Weaponmaster. Her face broke into a wide smile as her pace quickened. Already ahead of the group by quite a few steps, she turned (still walking...backwards mind you...) and blurted a quick apology, "Sar, you'll have to excuse me, I have a duty to the Nation to save that horse!" She turned tail and took off at full speed away from her friends.
"Yeeeeeeeeeaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhh..." sighed Magdelena as she watched her princess tear across the the ground at near blazing speed. "Ok you guys, I'm takin bets on whether they go at each other with swords, or just go at each other." She held out her hand. "Any comers?" They all laughed, then got quiet and watched in appreciation as Varia reduced her pace to a slow, sultry walk.
"How does she do that???" asked Sarina.
"Do what?" replied Mags.
"Strut like that!" She held her hand over her eyes and squinted into the distance. "It's a damn sin." She shook her head and whistled in appreciation.
Mags couldn't help but burst out laughing. "Quit looking at her ass! You pervert!" She playfully slapped Sarina on the back, catching her by suprise and nearly causing her to swallow her tongue. "Best not let Eve see you ogling her woman that way, or you'll end up how poor Pony is about to..."
But 'Poor Pony' didn't end up out cold on the ground like they thought she was going to be. Yes, Eve was bringing her sword down for the winning blow, but it was efficiently blocked by another sword that seemed to have come out of thin air.
"Hey there hot stuff. Why don't you pick on someone your own age?"
Eve's eyes snapped up and met those of the one person she had been needing to see so badly. "Varia..." She spoke the name softly.
The warrior lowered their swords and took a step closer. Her free hand slid up and tangled its' fingers in soft tresses. "I've missed you so much Eve." Senses tingled as she took in the scent of myrrh that always seemed to cling to the Princess. To Varia, it was intoxicating. Her stomach felt like it was being zapped mercilessly, her heart pounding in her chest as they stared into each other's eyes for a very long moment.
"Me too. I missed you too..." replied the princess, dropping her sword and wrapping her arms tightly around Varia's waist. Pulling their bodies together she whispered, "I can't believe you're here."
"Believe it." replied the warrior, leaning in and claiming Eve's lips with her own.
During this time, Eponin had been laying flat on the ground trying to catch her breath. She raised her head up and saw Eve in a pretty intense liplock with what looked like Varia from up north. "Thank the gods..." she mumbled to no one in particular, and proceeded to pass out from exhaustion, her head making a loud thunk as it fell back to the ground.
Lips slid apart as Varia turned to see where the sound had come from. She began giggling. "Sweet Artemis Eve, what did you do to the poor woman?? Don't you know you gotta take it easy on the old-timers?" More giggling.
"Better not let my mother hear you say that." Eve smiled dangerously. "She'll make you eat your words."
"Yeah, you're right." replied Varia. An image of Xena kicking her ass all over that bridge a few months ago flashed through her mind, and she grinned. "That wouldn't be pretty."
"Nope!" replied Eve. A thought ran through her head. "You hungry? It's a beautiful day, so maybe we can go have a picnic by the lake. What do you think?"
"I think it's a great idea, cause I'm starved!" Her stomach rumbled its' agreement with the statement. She grinned sheepishly. "Was a long ride..hehe."
Eve giggled. "Alright, meet me at the stables in a candlemark. I'll go pack us up something nice and have Torin ready a fresh mount for you. Nona will show you to my hut." A sly, sensuous smile slid across her face. "There's a private bath there you can use." Eve brushed her lips over Varia's as she turned and strode off towards the dining hall.
"Ok." the warrior barely managed to squeak out. She shook her head to clear it. "Wow." Nodding at Nona to proceed, she cleared her throat. "She's something else huh?"
"That she is." Nona gave her a wink. "This way Princess." Varia shook her head once more and quickly followed, each step bringing her closer to a nice hot bath and some clean clothes. Not to mention a rendezvous with one undeniably sexy woman she could not stop thinking about. She smiled as they walked along, completely absorbed in her thoughts.
Oh this was the best! Varia could practically feel the stiffness of the day's ride sliding right out of her. She sighed contentedly, stretching her arms out along the edge of the tub and letting her body sink lower into it's relaxing heat. Ever the warrior, her eyes took in her surroundings....'What's this?' Reaching out she snagged the small brown vial and unstoppered it. 'So this is how she does it!' Chuckling she put the vial of myrrh oil back in it's original place. She stretched out once again, leaning her head back, not meaning to close her eyes at all...really! The next thing she knew, she felt something soft touch her arm. It trailed up over her shoulder to her neck and pressed gently on her pulse point, making her breath catch. "I love it when you do that baby..." she breathed softly.
"Do ya now? I'll be sure to tell Eve to do it more often." came the reply.
Varia nearly threw her back out as she reflexively flung her body to the other side of the tub. "Xena!!" She frantically scanned the immediate area for a robe, a towel, a piece of parchment...heck anything would do right now! "What the Hades are you doing here???"
The warrior stood up from her kneeling position and crossed her arms. Raising an eyebrow, she replied, "I could ask you the same thing."
The amazon gulped. "It's not what it looks like Xena...honest!"
"Is that right?" Varia nodded her head up and down vehemently. "So...the fact that you're naked, in my daughter's private bath, and snoring loud enough to raise the Titans should be completely ignored...am I correct?"
"Well ok, you have me there...but I SWEAR I am only here for the bath!" replied the amazon, spying her towel just out of arm's reach.
"Uh-huh...let's go back a few moments in time shall we? To the point in the conversation where you made the, 'I love it when you do that baby...' comment." Xena stretched a long leg out, snagged Varia's towel on the toe of her boot, flipped it up into the air, grabbed it and smirked. "Bet you'd like to have that one back huh..." She glanced at the towel. "And this too." She chuckled.
The panic was evident on the amazon's face and Xena was enjoying every minute of it. On the outside, she appeared every bit the parent who has caught the suitor redhanded, but on the inside she was laughing hysterically as she watched the poor woman try to formulate an explanation. She nearly gave herself away as a chuckle rose in her throat, but she managed to stifle it.....barely. She then calmly watched Varia reject the first idea...try another, find that to be full of holes as well and finally shrug in helplessness. "Harpy got your tongue there oh mighty warrior?" Xena smirked as she slowly closed the distance between them.
('Oh no..' thought Varia, 'There's that damn eyebrow again! I'm toast!') "Ok!! Ok!!" she squeaked. "I thought it was just a dream!" She threw her arm out in defense. "Please don't kill me!" Varia covered her eyes with her other hand so she wouldn't see it coming.
All that greeted her was a hearty laugh, and her towel being tossed over her head. "Whaaa?"
"Get dressed you silly woman."
The amazon looked up in suprise. "You mean you're not going to kill me?"
Xena laughed again. "Varia, what you and my daughter do, or do not do, is really none of my business." Her eyes danced. "I was just giving you a hard time. It's my job. I'm a mother."
The brunette let out a loud sigh of relief. "Thank the gods! I thought I was dead for sure."
"Far from it." She smiled fondly at the young amazon. "Anyone who makes my daughter happy enough to skip all the way from the dining hall to the stables is ok in my book."
"She did that?" Varia blinked in amazement.
"Well, it's been nice chatting with you, but I heard there was a psychotic Regent running rampant through the village, terrorizing the cooks. I've been hired to take her out." She grinned and walked towards the door. As she passed through it she said over her shoulder..."Treat her right Varia." And she was gone.
The amazon was still sitting there a few moments later when Eve came crashing through the doorway. Varia's eyes flicked to meet those of the princess's, flicked down to where she was barely covered with the towel, flicked back to meet Eve's stare again, and promptly blushed.
"You're ok???" gasped Eve as she tried to catch her breath.
Varia looked perplexed. "Why are you asking me that? Of course I'm ok."
Eve took a moment to get her breathing under control before she answered. "Well, my mother just told me that some wild animal must have gotten into my hut because there were horrible growling noises coming from inside..." Her eyebrows knit together. "Waitaminute..."
Varia had to laugh at the look on Eve's face. "Wild animal huh?" she asked.
"Ummm yeah, that's what she said." replied Eve, raising her eyebrow.
"Well..." said the warrior with a wry grin, "That's a switch. I've been referred to as a female dog more times than I can count, but a wild animal?? Never!"
"Oh I don't know..." said Eve, flipping her hair back. "I've found, as of late, that I tend to be a bit partial to wild animals. Hence my entrance." She smiled seductively as she grabbed Varia's leathers and tossed them to her. "Best put these on before we leave...might attract attention if you don't." She smiled.
"What if I said I was only interested in your attention at the moment?" replied the warrior as she stood up and stepped out of the tub, allowing the towel to fall to the ground in front of her. The shock was clearly written across the other woman's face. "I see I have it." Her eyes never left Eve's as she slowly dressed, her every movement causing the Princess's heart rate to increase until it was thumping so loudly she thought it would burst right out of her chest.
"By the gods Varia..." she rasped, "Are you trying to kill me?"
The amazon smiled as she finished lacing her last boot. "You don't look very dead to me." She stood and closed the distance between them. "In fact, you look kinda flushed. Not the kind of look a dead person would be having about now." Running her tongue sensuously across Eve's lips she whispered against them, "But just to be sure.."
The princess closed her eyes as soft lips pressed against her own. Sliding her arms down Varia's back, she pulled her closer, intensifying the kiss and eliciting a soft moan from the warrior. How many lovers had she had in the past? Too many to count. But this woman...this Amazon, was making her feel things she had never known existed. Her head was spinning as she felt Varia leading them towards her pallet, inch by agonizingly slow inch. A small whimper escaped her as the exquisite kiss ended. Opening her eyes slowly, she found soft brown ones staring back at her.
"You....do things to me no one else ever has." Varia whispered. "I look at you, and I burn in here (she placed her hand on her stomach) and in here." (now she touched the spot above her heart) "I think I love you Eve."
"Y-y-y-you love me?"
"Yeah." Was the simple reply.
Eve smiled. "Wow." She pulled Varia in close again and teasingly ran her lips along a strong chin. The warrior shuddered from the sensation, Eve's breath caressing her ear as she spoke softly, "I love you too."
Varia's heart lurched as those words were repeated back to her. Never in her life could she have imagined that someday she would find a woman like this. Eve was the "one", the only one that would ever matter, as far as she was concerned. She was completely blown away. "Eve..."
The princess smiled. "Shhhhh, you don't need to say a thing." She wrapped her arms around Varia's neck and pulled her down to the pallet behind her. "Just love me."
"Oh I will." replied the warrior. "Forever."
****A little while later, across the village in the dining hall...****
Xena grunted as she plopped down into the chair next to Gabrielle.
"So did you find Ephiny?" inquired the bard.
"Yeah I found her..." replied Xena, struggling to remove a burr from her long dark locks. "Did you know she had poor Lisana on 24 hour kitchen duty the past two days??" She snorted.
Gabrielle's eyes went wide. "Nooooooooo! You're kidding me!!"
Xena shook her head in confirmation. "Yup." She smiled. "I took care of it though sweetheart." She reached out and affectionately ruffled the bard's freshly-cropped hair.
"Xeeeeeeeenaaaaa....." said the blonde, noticing the devious glint in her partner's eye, "Just how did you take care of it?"
The warrior snagged an apple from the basket on the table. "Easy..." she replied. "I just told her that if she didn't lighten up on the poor cooks, that Callisto might just somehow find out who REALLY put the sand in her leathers." Xena grinned. "Simple as that." She took a bite out of her apple and chewed contentedly.
Gabrielle's grinned broadly. "You are so bad!" She leaned over and nuzzled the warrior's cheek. "And soooooooo clever..." As she was about to explore her lover's earlobe more intimately, a long piercing wail split the air.
The bard's head snapped around. "What was that??"
"Oooooh, I wouldn't worry about it Gabrielle." the warrior commented offhandedly. "Mating season you know..."
"Yeah...in fact sometimes the forest creatures even wander into Princess's huts and fall asleep in their bathtubs." Xena's shoulders shook in quiet laughter.
"Huh??" Poor Gabrielle was lost. "Huts? Bathtubs? They do???"
Xena could control her amusement no longer. "Well not really..." She chuckled at the bard's completely confused look. "Seems Eve told Varia she could use her personal bath to clean up." She smirked. "I just happened to be walking by when I heard these loud noises coming from inside. Being the concerned mom, I decided to check it out."
Gabrielle finally caught on. "You just happened to be walking by huh?"
"Uh huh." replied the bard. "Go on..."
"So I cruised in and there was Varia, snoring away, naked as a baby's bottom in Eve's tub." Xena caught the reprimanding look in the bard's eyes. "Gabrielle, I just couldn't resist...you understand don't you?"
The blonde bard chuckled softly. "Yes Xena. I do."
The warrior smiled again. "Good! Because later I'm gonna..."
Gabrielle playfully socked Xena in the arm. "Noooooo...you are NOT!" She giggled as her wife grabbed her 'injured' arm and plastered a look of mock pain across her face.
"You're mean Gabrielle." Xena said, scrunching her eyebrows together. "I don't wanna play with you anymore." She stood up from the table, stuck her bottom lip out in a heart-wrenching pout and started to leave.
The bard rolled her eyes as she got up to follow the warrior. "Xena...wait...." She giggled.
Xena just pouted some more and headed for the door. As Gabrielle hurried to catch up to her, the warrior grinned devilishly, stuck her tongue out at the bard and made a mad dash into the crowd of people milling around outside the dining hall.
"Ooooooh...so you don't wanna play with me anymore huh?" said Gabrielle to no one in particular as she sprinted after her partner. "We'll see about that!" Her own evil grin spread over her face as she chased Xena across the village and back, through the stables, and out the front gates.
Solari nudged Eponin out of a loud snore. "Hey look at that..."
"Ugh...huh...what? Can't I ever get any sleep around here Soli?" She rubbed her eyes and glared at her partner. "First Gabrielle drags me out of bed this morning to spar with her furkin horny daughter, then I get the leather beat off my ass for four whole candlemarks, and now yer wakin me up AGAIN? For what?" Solari pointed out over the field and Pony's eyes went from irritation to amusement as she caught sight of Xena racing across the ground backwards, obviously teasing the bard, and Gabrielle struggling to catch up to her. Crossing her arms over her chest again, she resumed her previous comfortable position, with her head in the brunette's lap. "Awwwww, ain't you used to that yet?" She grinned as she looked up at her lover's profile. "I think it's part of their new daily workout routine."
"Yeah...well it's just that..." Her voice trailed off.
Eponin raised an inquiring eyebrow. "Just what?"
Solari blushed. "Well...I remember..." She paused and looked into Pony's eyes, noticing the crow's feet that now tugged at the corners of them. She sighed. "I remember when you used to chase me like that..."
Eponin's heart just melted. "Soli, hey..." She sat up and pulled the woman close to her. "It's ok." She tried to smile a comforting one. "If it makes you feel any better, I always think about chasing you like that."
"I miss that."
"Me too." Eponin thwapped her bad knee. "Wish this had never happened."
"Well it did." replied Solari, wrapping her arms around her wife. "And I should just be happy you're still here with me." She smiled. "It's just that sometimes I feel a little sad we can't do all the things we used to."
"I know how ya feel Soli. Believe me I understand completely." She squeezed her lover's arm gently. "Although..." (Solari didn't miss the look in Eponin's eyes) "We can always invent something else to take the place of those other things..." She wiggled her eyebrows a couple times as she laid back down.
The brunette's smile nearly reached from ear to ear. "I'm all for that darling."
Eponin grinned. "Ok...after my nap. I had a sorta rough day." And she closed her eyes and drifted back to sleep.
Solari just sighed, chuckled and leaned back against the tree, content to laze away the afternoon with the most annoyingly wonderful person on the entire face of the earth.
Chapter 2
"Damn!" yelped Shayla as the post lashings came loose once again. "Carenna, get your feathered butt over here and hold this for me will ya?"
"Sure thing." she replied shoving the post back into it's position. "Why are we doing this again?"
"Because I have a big mouth, that's why. So just shut up and grab that end there." replied the blonde, finally getting the knot tied securely. Blowing her bangs out of her eyes she continued, "How was I supposed to know it'd be this much work? There...it's done." She stepped back a few paces and admired the now neatly assembled stage.
"Well I sure hope this crazy plan of yours works, otherwise you are not going to be a very happy Amazon when half the village decides to skewer you." The redhead chuckled.
"It'll work...it'll work. Heck it HAS to work or we're all in major trouble." She frowned. "I don't know about you, but I've had enough of getting my backside whooped."
Carenna laughed. "Agreed. Do you think Eve will come to the festival?"
The blonde grinned knowingly. "Oh she'll come alright. I was there when Varia got the latest scroll from her, and let me tell you Car the look on her face spoke volumes. Those two are definitely hot for each other." She turned and put her hands on her hips. "C'mon, let's go round up the benches for the musicians."
"Ok." replied the redhead. As she was picking a piece of bark off her skirt, she caught sight of Cassandra walking towards them. "Uh oh...lookie there..." she pointed.
"Oh great, just what I needed right now." commented Shayla, her eyes following the weaponmaster's advance. "Another bossy Amazon telling me how to do things!" She snorted.
This caused Carenna to nearly bust out of her leather boustier with laughter. "Oh yeah! As if you weren't filling those boots already!"
Shayla took a moment to smack her friend in the arm. "You're asking for it." She grinned at the redhead as Cassandra finally reached them.
"How goes it Shayla?" inquired the auburn-haired vessel of intimidation.
Shayla squinted. "Not bad. Stage is done."
"Good...good." She casually wiped a bead of sweat off her forehead. "They should be back in two days, I think we'll be ready."
"I sure hope so." replied Shayla, reaching in and pulling a long strip of cloth from her belt pouch. "Here.." she handed it to Cassandra.
"Thanks." said the weaponmaster, taking the cloth and tying it around her head. She grinned at the duo. "So has the village been notified of our little plot?"
"Heck yeah!" replied Carenna. "We sent Tomasina on that mission."
"Tomasina?" Cassandra laughed heartily. "Well I have to give you credit, you picked the perfect person for the job."
Shayla smirked. "Who better than the biggest gossip in town? The choice was obvious."
"Indeed! Well done." She cast a glance skyward. "Time for my next class to start. Catch you guys later." She turned and strode off to the training field.
Carenna turned to face her friend. "That wasn't so bad." she said.
"Nope." replied Shayla. "Do you think I'll ever get my bandana back?"
"Nope." replied the redhead. "Not a chance."
Immersed in laughter, they headed off to the storage facility to round up the rest of the materials for the festival.
Varia's eyes dropped down to the plate of food in front of her. "I wish your parents would quit staring at us." she whispered out of the corner of her mouth.
"Yeah I know." replied Eve. She spiked a stray pea and stared at it.
"Do you think they know?"
Eve shook her head. "Oh yeah...they know." She glanced up only to find the aforementioned parents grinning back at her. "I feel like a two-eyed cyclops."
Varia caught the slight flush edging its' way onto the princess's features, and grinned at just how cute that was. "Don't worry." she said as her gaze ran around the table and it's occupants, "Not everyone is staring." Indeed, Magdelena's mouth was hanging agape as she bore witness to the Queen's voracious appetite. Varia had to laugh.
"What's so funny?" inquired Eve, laying a hand on Varia's arm.
"Oh nothing, just watching Mags' reaction to Gabrielle's eating habits." replied the warrior, giving Eve's hand a slight squeeze in return.
"Uh oh...Mother just noticed your friend staring at her wife." She grinned and nodded towards the other side of the table. "This won't be pretty.."
Varia shook her head sadly. "Oh well, it's not like I didn't warn her."
They sat there calmly and watched as Xena slowly reached out to the fruit plate, grabbed a nice ripe olive and examined it closely. She then nestled it between her thumb and middle finger and nonchalantly launched it in Magdelena's direction. Their eyes followed the path of the fruit through the air and watched amazingly as it landed square in the open mouth of a suprised Mags. The poor woman's face went quite pale as she tried to get air, so Varia reached a long arm out and whapped her soundly between her shoulder blades. The offending olive shot out and splattered harmlessly on the nearest wall.
Xena casually leaned back in her chair and draped a well-muscled arm around her precious bard as the table roared with laughter.
"That'll teach ya!" said Varia through fits of laughter.
Magdelena was now turning three shades of embarassed and wished she could just crawl into a corner and disappear. The laughter eventually quieted down, and soon she was able to look up again as the conversations resumed. Peering warily through her dark bangs, she stole a glance at the Warrior Princess. Doh! Xena was staring right back at her...a curious looking smile on her face. She grinned sheepishly and went back to finishing her meal.
Varia suddenly stopped chewing and spoke. "Eve! Oh my gods I forgot to tell you why I was here!" She laughed at herself as she pulled a scroll from the backpack at her feet and handed it to the princess.
"What's this?" inquired the brunette.
"An ivitation." Varia replied. "To the Festival of the Muses. Marga would like you to judge the music competition if you can get away."
Eve smiled warmly at her lover. "I wouldn't care if I was judging a horse manure gathering competition if it means I get to spend time with you."
"That could be arranged." Varia's hand slid under the table and squeezed Eve's gently.
"When do we leave?" inquired the princess.
"Well it starts in two days, so tomorrow would probably be good." She scratched her chin. "Afternoon." She grinned slyly.
Eve pondered the implications in her warrior's tone of voice and decided it was all fine with her. "Great! Do I need to bring anything special?"
"Nope." replied Varia. "I was given specific orders to attend to your every need."
"Really hmmmmmm..."
Varia smiled. "Yes." Noticing that most everyone had finished their meals, (except Gabrielle of course, but that shouldn't suprise any of you...) Varia nodded her head in the direction of the hall's doorway. "Wanna take off?" she asked coyly.
"I thought you'd never ask." replied Eve, allowing Varia to stand and offer her arm. She took it and they casually strolled outside, away from prying eyes.
The moon was bright overhead as they walked a while in silence. They took in each other's presence, carrying on a kind of conversation in which there was no need for words, no need for anything but the knowledge that they were there together.
It was Varia who finally broke the spell between them. "Were you serious today?" Eve glanced her way and raised an eyebrow in question. "You really were never with a woman before?"
The princess smiled. "I was serious." she replied with an endearing blush.
"Coulda fooled me." Varia chuckled as she wrapped her arm around Eve's shoulder.
"You're different." she replied.
"Different? How so?" was the honest inquiry.
"Well..." Eve blushed a little darker. "It just felt...oooooh I can't explain it except that when you kissed me that first time, I wouldn't have cared if you were a mule."
Varia couldn't contain herself and burst out laughing. And when she began adding some hearty 'hee-haws' in, Eve nearly fell to her knees.
A few moments passed while they composed themselves, holding their stomachs to try and make the pain of strained muscles dissipate faster. "I'm sorry, but that picture you painted was just too much!" commented Varia, wiping a tear from her face with the back of her hand.
Eve smiled. "I just speak the truth." A small yawn escaped her. "Wow, must be late..."
"You mean early." Varia glanced at the sky. "Ready to call it a night?"
"Yes." She yawned again. "It's been a tiring day."
Varia pulled her lover closer as they turned around and headed back towards the village. "Indeed it has." She leaned over and placed a soft kiss on Eve's cheek. "I love you."
Eve blushed and Varia thought it was once again 'just too cute' as they walked along the forest path arm in arm...in silence.
"And then, the cyclops says to the giant....'Now who left that slingshot there!!!' " The amazons gathered around the table burst into raucous laughter, causing many heads to turn in startlement. Ephiny laughed right along with them, since it was her favorite joke to tell after all. Suddenly, her eyes went wide and her hand went to her abdomen, feeling a very sharp pain there. "Uuummmmmm..." she managed as she felt a wetness down her legs. "Alloryn?"
The young amazon stepped closer. "Yes my Regent?"
"Go get Xena..." The recruit turned to leave. "HURRY!" yelped Ephiny as a new and different kind of pain overtook her senses. "Oh gods...." She leaned back against the wall and closed her eyes tight, a grimace coloring her noble features.
Not two shakes of a centaur's tail later, the Warrior Princess came barreling thru the door, throwing those unfortunate Amazons who just happened to be in her path to the wayside. She reached Ephiny and kneeled down next to her. "When."
"Just a few moments ago."
"Can you walk?"
"I-I don't know..." She gathered her strength and tried to stand, but to no avail. "Nope."
"You." said Xena, pointing to a slight, auburn haired young amazon. "Go find Callisto NOW, and tell her to meet me at the healer's hut." The young woman took off at a dead run. ('Gotta remember to make sure that one enters the foot races this year...' thought Xena idly as she scanned the gathered.) "You." She pointed again. "Go find Queen Gabrielle and tell her the same." The amazon shook her head. "MOVE!!!" Barked the warrior, and the poor girl took off at speeds only fear could drive a person to. She returned her attention to the Regent. "I'm gonna have to carry you Eph, so don't even bother trying to argue with me." This got a nod from the blonde. "Good." She reached down, grabbed Ephiny's arm and draped it over her own shoulder. Then she slipped an arm up underneath her load, followed by one below her knees. Xena grinned. "Up we go!" she said, lifting the regent with ease.
"Now I know how Gabrielle must feel when you sweep her off her feet Xena." Ephiny chuckled and wrapped her other arm around the warrior's neck. "You are just an incredible woman."
Xena blushed slightly as they made their way to the healer's. "Awwwwww..." she drawled, "I bet you say that to all the women who carry your pregnant butt all the way across the village." She smirked.
Ephiny couldn't help her laughter. "Since you are the only one who has ever done it, then I would have to say 'Yes I do.' And I am enjoying every minute of it." Her mirth was cut short as another contraction wracked her body. "Gods! Hurry Xena!" she half-grunted out, unwittingly tightening her grip around Xena's neck. "Ack! Ephiny!" yelped a startled warrior as her air flow began to quickly lessen. This made her decide that running might be a pretty good idea right now, so she took off at a fast clip, making sure not to jostle her precious cargo too much. They rounded the corner to the healer's and Xena burst through the door, hurrying to deposit the Regent onto one of the pallets. Standing, she tried to rub the soreness out of her neck as she began to bark out orders. "No one is to enter this hut except Queen Gabrielle. When Callisto shows up, come in and get me." The two guards saluted and went outside to guard the doorway. No sooner had Xena turned around to tend to Ephiny, than she heard voices being raised outside. "Oh oh.." she said to Ephiny. "I may have seriously underestimated Cal's reaction to this moment.." She grimaced as two bright bolts of light flashed outside the hut window, followed with a tousled-looking blonde goddess storming into the room, a bard hot on her heels. "Eph!" said her lover. "Are you ok?"
Ephiny smiled as Callisto kneeled next to her, taking her hand. "I'm ok." She felt another pain coming on. "Mostly." She grimaced.
"I'm here...I'm here. I am not going anywhere, I don't care what Xena says either." She turned around and shot a defiant stare towards the warrior princess. Xena held her hands up in defeat. "Nooooo problem here. Right Gabrielle?" Xena nudged the bard gently.
Gabrielle looked up, startled a bit out of her interest in the situation before her. (Births never ceased to amaze her, the wondrous beauty of it all. She had tried once to put the feeling down on paper, but it was never good enough...there seemed to be no human words to describe the emotions one felt inside when bringing another life into the world.) "Right." she answered. She whispered to her warrior, "Maybe we should wait outside Xena."
She surveyed the situation and decided the bard was right. "Yeah. We'll just hang around in case of emergency." She cleared her throat, got Callisto's attention, pointed to herself and Gabrielle, then to the door. Cal shook her head in understanding, and the bard and warrior slipped quietly out.
"Now we wait." Xena said, taking a seat on the bench just outside the entrance. Gabrielle smiled and took a seat next to her, snuggling up close as the warrior draped a long arm around her shoulders. "Shouldn't be too much longer..."
It was dark now...and twelve candlemarks since they had come to sit on this bench. Xena's eyebrows furrowed as yet another cry of pain, followed by two grunts reached her sensitive hearing. Her gaze dropped to the snoring blonde head that was currently drooling all over her shoulder. How could Gabrielle sleep through all this??? She shook her head, stifling a chuckle. Callisto's soft words of comfort floated through the air. Callisto. Wow, what a turnaround. She once again lowered her gaze to her bard's lovely features. "You are amazing Gabrielle." She smiled and placed a small kiss on the blonde's forehead. Gabrielle stirred a bit but didn't awake. She heard the regent cry out in pain, and then...the sound of a baby crying. She smiled. Life was good. She nuzzled the lump on her shoulder and was rewarded with one sea-green eye peeling open slowly. Gabrielle gazed up at her groggily. "Did she..." Xena stopped her with a soft kiss. "Yes." she said between smooches. "Just a few moments ago." Gabrielle's other eye finally shot open. "Wow!" she exclaimed. The blonde tried to rise from her seated position, but found herself firmly rooted by a pair of very strong arms. "You aren't going anywhere my inquisitive little bard. Give them some time will ya?"
"But Xena!"
"No buts Gabrielle....how would you feel if everyone and their sisters had barged in on us?" replied Xena with a slight grin.
Gabrielle huffed a bit. "They did Xena." She grinned. "Or did we forget about the whole Zeus episode?"
This got a playful slap on the tummy from the warrior. "Point taken Gabrielle." grinned Xena. "But I would really like us to give them time to get aquainted...alone."
Gabrielle pouted and crossed her arms. "Alright." She certainly didn't like being made to wait, especially when she was just absolutely DYING to meet the newest aquisition to her tribe. How could Xena defy her Queen like that? She spared a glance into those impossibly blue eyes and melted where she sat. 'That's how.' she thought.
Xena was just about to ask her bard what she was thinking about to make her flush that way when the door opened and Callisto's head popped out. Bard and warrior turned anxiously to her for the news.
Callisto was all smiles as she stepped outside. "It's a girl." She said beaming from ear to ear.
Gabrielle could restrain herself no longer and jumped up to enfold the goddess in a bone-crunching embrace. "I'm so happy for you both!" she cooed as she hugged the thin blonde. "Can I..."
Callisto caught Xena's wry grin. "Sure Gabrielle...go on in. Ephiny's been expecting you for the last five minutes." She and Xena joined in a good laugh as the bard disappeared through the doorway. She turned towards Xena. "How did you keep her out so long?" she inquired.
The warrior grinned. "Weeeeell..." she drawled, "I really didn't have to. Old Morpheus did the work for me." She stretched long, tanned legs. "And I was never one to expend extra energy when a god is willing to do the work for free."
"Remind me to send him a thank you letter." replied Callisto with lopsided grin. "Why don't you come in and see our new addition?"
"Certainly." replied the warrior, stepping through the doorway and into the birthing room. Her eyes nearly teared up at the sight before her. There was her bard, cradling the newborn baby like it was her very own. She looked exquisitely radiant, her blonde locks cascading down her shoulders as she traced a finger along the baby's small arm.
"Xena!" said Ephiny. "Come...meet our daughter."
The warrior crossed the room to kneel beside Gabrielle and the baby. Slipping her arm around the bard's waist she whispered softly into her ear..."Is this what you've been wanting to talk to me about for the last three weeks Gabrielle?"
The bard flushed as she turned her head and met the eyes of her beloved friend. "Yes." she whispered back softly. "I just..." She couldn't tear her eyes from the squirming little bundle in her arms.
"Gabrielle..." purred the warrior, her breath brushing gently across the bard's ear, "I've been thinking about it too."
Gabrielle's face looked nearly shocked for a moment. "Really?"
Xena smiled warmly. "Yes...really."
"Alright." The bard replied. "Then you had better get used to this again Warrior Princess..." Turning slowly she laid the baby gently in Xena's arms. Studying the picture in front of her, she decided it was definitely cute. It had been so long since they had a child of their own, and unbeknownst to Xena, (so the bard had thought at the time anyways) she had been longing for it more than anything.
Callisto's voice interrupted her musings. "We have chosen a name for her. Would you like to hear it?" Two heads shook up and down enthusiastically. The goddess glanced toward her wife and smiled. An identical one answered her. "Her name is...Sarina."
"That's a lovely name." replied the bard.
"Thank you." replied Ephiny. Little Sarina chose this moment to begin wailing relentlessly, making small talk impossible. Ephiny smiled. "Give her here Xena, she's probably quite hungry."
Xena grinned sheepishly as she handed the squirming baby over to her mother. "Yes of course." said the warrior, feeling a pang of sadness at having to give back the warm bundle. She sighed. 'Well mighty warrior...soon you will be cursing the moment you thought these thoughts.' She chuckled slightly. "We're going to take off and leave you to your new family." She smiled at the happy couple. "Besides..." she nodded to her bard. "We need to get working on one of our own." She turned herself and the bard towards the door, grinning broadly as she watched the shock register on Gabrielle's face.
"You are definitely a very bad girl." said the bard once they were out of the hut, "Now the whole village is going to know we're trying!"
Xena smiled slyly. "So?"
The bard's smile lit up the darkness. "You aren't the the Queen everyone is going to be nagging until it happens Xena." She slid her hand down from the small of Xena's back to let it rest on her butt. She squeezed it. "But that's alright, I'll deal."
Xena's eyebrow raised as she felt the pressure. 'Well.' she thought, 'Things can't get any better than this!' She pulled the bard closer, and they headed off to the Temple of Artemis to leave their token.
"You know, I'll never get used to all this bravado." commented Eve, her eyes scanning the fully decked out royal guard that surrounded them as they rode along.
"You do get used to it." Varia cast a sidelong glance at the brunette. "Pretty soon you learn to just tune them out." She smiled as their eyes met.
Eve was completely blown away as she stared deeply into her lover's eyes. She tried to sort out all the feelings that were going on inside her...admiration, appreciation, lust, nervousness, love. Yes definitely love. Her eyes swept over the Amazon slowly, taking in every single detail and allowing them to be imprinted forever in her mind. The way she sat in the saddle, holding the reins in her right hand, her left draped casually over a muscular thigh...how her hair blew back in the gentle summer breeze. Her eyes traveled back up to meet Varia's and she freely fell into the penetrating gaze of her lover. "You are so incredibly beautiful." tumbled from her lips before she even knew she said it. "But I'm sure I'm not the first one who has told you that."
Varia blushed a deep crimson. "Thank you." She smiled shyly now. "Coming from them, it meant nothing. Coming from you, it means the world."
Eve smiled and turned her eyes back to the dusty road ahead of them. "I was wondering..." she began, "If you weren't busy tomorrow night if you would be interested in being my escort to the festival?"
"Have you forgotten already that I am your personal guard? I thought it was a given I'd be escorting you." Varia's brow furrowed in confusion.
"Well yes, I know but..." Eve fiddled with the saddlehorn as she tried to explain, "I was hoping you would go as my date, not as my bodyguard."
Varia chuckled. "Your date huh?" Eve shook her head. "I would be honored Princess." She dipped her head for effect, a sly grin on her face. "Besides, I think you're in pretty safe company when you're surrounded by a couple hundred Amazon warriors."
"That's what I keep telling Gabrielle, but she insists on having someone keeping a watch on me all the time. It's annoying to say the least." Eve flipped her hair back with a toss of her head.
Varia knew exactly how she felt. She hated it too, but she had finally accepted that this was how it was always going to be, and just bitten the bit. "You look so cute when you do that hair flip thing, you know that?" Varia smiled at the ensuing blush. Lowering her voice, she said, "Wanna do something crazy?"
Eve's eyebrow went up in interest. "Such as?"
Varia grinned hugely. "Follow my lead..." Moving her horse a bodylength away from Eve's she yelled "RACE YA!" at the top of her lungs, kneed her horse and shot ahead down the straightaway towards a far off stand of trees.
"Oh no you don't!" giggled Eve as her mount surged forward in answer to the challenge. They sped off down the road, leaving nothing but a trail of dust and five grumbling Amazon warriors behind them.
Sarina smiled to herself as she observed the two women ahead of her. They rode close together as they talked, barely a hairsbreadth apart. Varia seemed to utterly adore Eve, her eyes never left her, and a permanent smile graced her features. She looked radiant. A soft sigh of regret escaped Sarina as she watched Varia reach over and brush a stray strand of Eve's hair away from her face. The slim brunette basked in the attention, leaning her head into the hand of the warrior that so obviously owned her heart. She had to admit...they were a perfect fit.
"The look on your face was priceless when Ephiny handed you the baby Varia." Eve giggled a bit. "I wish you could have seen it!"
Varia frowned as she blushed. "It's not funny you meanie. I'm just not so great with kids, and that took me completely by suprise!" She put a gauntleted hand on her hip. "Was TOTALLY unfair of her!" A pout began to form.
"Sweetheart, come on now. Aren't you being a little hard on yourself about that whole thing?" Eve questioned. "I mean, it wasn't you that made the baby cry, she probably was hungry or had a wet diaper or something." She smiled encouragingly at her lover. "I'm sure that when the time comes, you'll make a great mom."
Varia glanced up from where her head had been hanging in despondency. "You really think I would?"
"No." replied Eve. "I know you would."
Varia smiled as she gazed at the woman. "Has anyone ever told you that you're great for the ego?"
Now it was Eve's turn to smile as she remembered a certain conversation with a pretty cool bard she knew. "As a matter of fact, someone has, but I much prefer feeding your ego rather than Gabrielle's."
They enjoyed a short laugh before Varia sensed something amiss. Her head whipped from side to side, scanning the area with her senses...willing the out of place to be shown.
"What is it?" whispered Eve.
Varia's nose caught it...the slight puff of air out of the ordinary, and it carried the scent of..."Smoke!" She cried. "North!!!" She glanced quickly at Eve. "My village..."
Eve's eyebrows shot up in alarm as it registered. 'Oh no...' she thought sadly. "Arm up! We ride!!" She gathered her guard together and motioned for Magdalena and Varia to join up. Her stallion pranced in anticipation as the other horses formed on either side of her. Raising her sword above her head she spurred her mount and let out her battle cry. They surged forward as one, the fear gripping their hearts nearly tangible in the air. They rode fast and hard, an army of seven, deadly, leather-clad amazons and foaming horseflesh tearing across the countryside. Eve and Varia were the first to crest the last rise that led down into the amazon valley, and the sight that they beheld made them reign their horses in violently. Varia's horse reared in annoyance.
"Oh my gods..." she said softly.
Her eyes swept over what was left of her village. Curls of smoke rose from nearly every building, creating a surreal aura of peacefulness that seemed to stifle her ability to breath. She heard a gasp and turned to see Eve's hand rise to cover her mouth in shock. A tear formed and slid slowly down Varia's cheek as their eyes met.
Eve's eyes narrowed to become mere slits as her gaze traveled back to rest on the destroyed village. Turning in the saddle, she addressed the other five women in the party. "Alright, we're going down there. Be on your guard." Glancing to her lover she asked, "Ready?"
Varia took a deep breath and nodded her head. "Ready. Heeeyaaaaa!" She slapped the reins down hard on her horse's neck and he took off like a rocket, flying down the hill at breakneck speed.
"Yaaaaaa!" Eve followed suit, and her guard fell in behind her. Why did things always have to be like this? The Amazons had become a peaceful nation under Gabrielle's reign, resorting to violence in defense's name only. So who was behind this? Hmmmmm. They must have been watching the village for a long time, since they seemed to pick the perfect time to attack...during the festival preparations when perimeter guards were in fewer numbers. She shook her head to clear it. Well, she could think about that later, right now there were more pressing matters to attend to. The smoking village loomed ominously ahead, and Eve wished she could turn back time and start this day all over again. This was not going to be fun.
They rode solemnly through what was left of the village, looking for any signs of life, but the dead were everywhere. Varia willed the tears back, pursing her lips tight and raising her head high. She recognized some. Tasha...Elenis...Arnethia....they had all been her friends, and now they were gone. She spared a glance at Eve and their eyes met. Unable to hold it back anymore, her eyes brimmed and one single tear gained its freedom to fall silently down her cheek. In one quick movement, Eve had dismounted and was by her side, pulling her gently from the horse's back and into her arms. "I'm so sorry Varia." she said as a dark head burrowed itself in her shoulder. Wrapping her arms around the warrior, she held her tight until her sobs became only small sniffles. "Sshhhh..." she whispered. "It'll be alright sweetheart." Her attention was drawn to Magdalena, who was gesturing frantically at her from across the square. "Sarina, could you come here for a second?" The blonde came hurrying over. "Yes, what's up?"
"Would you sit here with Varia for a moment? There is something that needs my attention, and it can't wait. Make sure she drinks some water." Eve handed the waterskin to Sarina. "I'll be right back V, will you be ok?"
Varia shook her head. "Yeah. Just need a few moments to get myself together."
"Alright." Eve jumped on her horse and took off in the direction Mags had headed. She turned around a line of trees and entered a clearing, finding the girl standing in front of a large elm. Her eyes traveled upwards and she gasped out loud as she recognized the strung up body of Queen Marga. She quickly turned her eyes away as the sight was nearly too much for her stomach to handle, took a few deep breaths and calmed herself before she rode over to where Magdalena was standing.
"I didn't think it was a good idea for Varia to see this right now." said Mags from somewhere underneath her bangs.
"I agree." She gestured around her. "Any idea when all this happened?"
Mags shrugged. "Not really sure." She squinted at the sun's position in the sky. "My best guess is sometime this morning." She raised her eyes and pointed to where her queen was pinned to the tree. "This however...was more recent. Not more than a couple candlemarks ago."
Eve shook her head in acknowledgement. Sliding her hand to her waist, she pulled her dagger, reached up, carefully cut loose Queen Marga's feathered rank adornment and stuffed it into her belt pouch. "I have to get back to Varia, and aside from that I don't want to be separated from the group right now."
"Right. Let's go." replied Mags as she turned her mount back towards the village.
Her mind raced wildly. Attacking an Amazon village was one thing, but torturing and sacrificially murdering their queen AND THEN pinning her to a tree for display was altogether another! Her jaw moved as she considered some facts. One, an army of mounted and heavily armed soldiers had done this...and two, they had scouted the village for quite some time undetected. This fact alone was unsettling. 'Then why?' she asked herself. They turned the corner into the village and Eve kicked her horse into a gallop, hurrying to Varia's side. Dismounting and kneeling next to her lover, she placed a hand on her cheek as she spoke. "Hey...you doin ok?"
Varia sighed softly. "No, not really." She raised her eyes to meet Eve's. "So what was all that about?"
The brunette gulped silently. "Ummmmmm, was nothing really...just some prints."
Varia's eyes narrowed. "I'm a big girl Eve, you don't need to keep anything from me."
"Who says I am?"
"I can see it in your eyes. Tell me what you found."
Eve's gaze dropped to the ground. "I don't know how to tell you." She glanced up into clear brown eyes and exhaled. "Alright. Alright." Taking a deep breath, she continued..."They killed Marga."
Varia nearly bit through the bottom lip she had been nervously chewing on while Eve had been gone. She became rigid as Eve's words echoed in her mind. "Take me." was all she said.
Eve really didn't want to do this, but one look at the grim set of Varia's jaw told her she really had no choice in the matter. Sighing, she replied, "This way."
They rode the short distance to the tree in silence. Eve knew exactly how Varia was feeling. How many times had she been in this situation herself? Countless. And it never got any easier either. No matter how battle worn you thought you were, losing friends always got to you. Eve stopped them at the edge of the clearing and nodded ahead. She watched as the warrior sat sternly in the saddle, her eyes filling rapidly as she gazed upon the body of her beloved queen.
"I vow to avenge you Marga." said Varia so quietly that Eve almost couldn't hear the words. "Your legacy will not die." She wiped her eyes clear with her forearm and turned to Eve. "At least half the village is missing." She sniffed. "Since they killed our queen, they were not after material things...which in turn means the amazons that escaped are in the caves regrouping." She turned her eyes to the not so distant hills and nodded. "We find them, and then we worry about finding out what happened."
Eve shook her head. "Agreed." She looked over at her friend. "Varia?"
The warrior turned back to her. "Yeah?"
Eve dug into her belt pouch and pulled out the Queen's feathers. "These are yours now."
Varia looked at the feathers, then looked back to Eve. "I guess they are." She reached out and accepted the adornment from her lover. "It's not the way I expected them to be passed to me though, you know?" She stifled a sniffle.
"Yes....I know." It was killing her inside to see her soulmate in such agony. She reached over and brushed a stray dark lock behind the woman's ear. The warrior looked up once more and her shoulders began to shake ever so slightly. Eve slid their horses closer together and wrapped an arm around the warrior, lending silent support and comfort to the grieving new queen. She knew her course of action now. It was very clear as she pulled her lover tighter. Whoever did this to your tribe Varia, is as good as dead. She closed her eyes because she suddenly couldn't see through her tears.
Cassandra's head was pounding madly as she tried to turn over onto her back. Unfortunately, the manacles binding her wrists were making that a little hard at the present time, and she found her left eye wouldn't open due to some pretty nasty-feeling swelling. Damn! Can my day get any worse? Just then she heard a jangle of keys, the lock on her prison clicked and the door opened, its' hinges squeaking loudly in protest. I had to ask... She grunted in pain as she was roughly hauled to her feet by two very large, very ugly men who probably hadn't had a bath in the last three moons. They dragged her out the cell door and all the way across the large camp, the weaponmaster grimacing with every jolt to her battered and bruised frame. Hurrying her into a large tent, (Obviously the big cheese's abode by the looks of it she thought.) the pair unceremoniously dumped her face first onto the dirt floor. She heard footsteps approach and lifted her head in time to see a boot come crashing into her forehead. She yelped in pain, the force of the kick lifting her clean off the ground and sending her sailing a few feet away where she landed with a dull thud. Stars were swirling in front of her eyes and she couldn't contain the groan of agony that escaped her.
"Like that Amazon? There's more where that came from."
She cracked open her good eye and tried to focus on the two-headed beast before her. The images merged together after a few moments and resolved into the visage of her captor. He looked to be a rather tall man, about thirty summers old, fairly good looking and impeccably groomed. His sandy blonde hair was pulled back into a ponytail that hung nearly all the way down his back. Cassandra scrutinized the nuances of his face closely...piercing green eyes, high cheekbones, and a very evident long scar running from over his left eyebrow and halfway down his cheek. "What do you want with us?" she half whispered.
A harsh laugh cut the air. "It's not you I want." he replied. "You and your friends are merely the bait I am using to attain my true objective."
"Oh? and what might that be?"
"Why I'm suprised you haven't figured it out by now. I always thought Amazons were supposed to be so intellectually superior." He grinned as he stood and began to pace the floor slowly. "I guess that was also a myth, much like your fighting prowess, since it was so easy to destroy you."
Cassandra squirmed within her bonds and received a boot in her gut for her efforts. Raising her head, she glared at him. "You won't get away with this. My Queen will not rest until the lot of you are dead or worse."
He stopped pacing and kneeled down in front of her. Grabbing a handful of hair, he raised her head to look straight into her eyes. "Your Queeeeeen is dead I'm afraid." The weaponmaster's eyes went wide in shock. "Oh yes. Seems she managed to get herself stuck up in a tree...how sad." He let her hair go and her head fell to the floor with a loud smack. He stood again, crossed over to a chair and sat down, his eyes becoming cold and heartless. "She pleaded for all your miserable lives, said she would go with us willingly if I would just leave the village alone, but of course I had to turn her down."
"Y-you are a monster." hissed Cassandra through clenched teeth. "Your blood will stain the earth when Varia sees what has happened."
A psychotic smile appeared on the man's face. "Well let's hope for your sake she gets here soon eh? I have something special waiting just for her." He leaned back and crossed his arms. "But until she gets here, I have YOU...her little friend, to keep me occupied." That smile was back and Cassandra felt a cold chill run up her spine and back down again. This wasn't good at all...no no no. She ran through her options quickly and ultimately decided that she had none at the present time. She was just going to have to wait it out and watch for her chance. This is a fine mess you're in warrior. she thought as she watched him toy with a whip on the table next to him. Just how the heck are you going to get out of it? Her eyes fell to the ground as he stood and walked towards her. Have to get through this first tho... The whip came down upon her unprotected back, biting into her flesh and making her scream. Varia...please hurry...
Chapter 3
Varia glanced at the sun which was now low in the sky and sighed sadly. Having taken care of the pyres and gathered as many supplies as they could find that weren't burned, they were making their way slowly towards the caves to meet up with what was left of her tribe. Her senses seemed dulled, and she supposed it was because of what had happened, but it nagged her mercilessly that she couldn't concentrate completely on her surroundings. Eve on the other hand was having no such problem. Her eyes scanned the forest around them constantly, her ears hearing everything from the rabbit chewing on a berry twelve paces to the left, all the way to the trickling of a small waterfall as it cascaded over the rocks to a pristine pool below. Her vision picked up a glint ahead, something nearly hidden underneath a small bush. "Over here." she said as she made her way over to it. Dismounting, she reached down and picked up the item, a thin silver necklace laced with turquoise, and held it up in the light of the afternoon sun. Varia's eyes narrowed as she recognized the trinket. "That belongs to Deena. It's her joining necklace." She took the item from Eve and deposited it in her belt pouch. "At least we know they came this way." Eve nodded and the small group remounted and continued along the path.
Eve sidled her horse up next to Varia's as they rode along in near silence. "You know we're being followed...right?" she whispered.
"Yes, although I nearly missed it at first." She frowned. "Four to the right, four to the left and two trying to cut us off from behind."
"Course of action?"
Varia weighed her options carefully. "One prisoner. Kill the rest."
Eve smiled devilishly. "As you wish, one prisoner coming up." She casually dropped back and informed the rest of the small force of the plan, then rejoined Varia at the lead. "Done. Just say when."
A pause. "When."
Mags, Sarina and Varia quickly veered to the left...Tura, Alena and Vera to the right, while Eve charged headfirst into the bushes behind them for the last two. And there they were, suprised as all Hades when a very wild looking Amazon came barreling through the brush, screaming like a banshee and attacked them. The first barely had time to raise his sword in defense as Eve's blade sliced him open from shoulder to hip. All he could do was gurgle helplessly as he tried to reconcile that he was about to die. She bestowed a feral grin on the other man and watched in amusement as he turned tail and ran. Her warcry pierced the air as she pulled two daggers from her boots and let them fly, watching cooly as they embedded themselves neatly in the back of each of the man's legs, causing him to fall to the ground in a big, smelly heap. She slowly rode up to him. "Forgot something at home?" she snarled as she stood there and watched him STILL try to crawl away. She dismounted, walked over to him and brought the hilt of her sword down on his head. "Fool." she said to him as she retrieved her weapons. Shaking her head, she went back to her horse, grabbed a length of rope and securely tied it to his feet. She mounted and turned her horse back to the glade they had come from, dragging the poor sap behind her. I would have thought they would be more of a challenge than this. It seems just a bit too easy...hmmmmm... she thought as the man's head bounced off a stone in the road. "Ooops. Sorry about that." She chuckled as she sighted her friends ahead. Urging her horse into a canter, she reached them quickly, making sure when she reigned in her mount that the unconscious mess of a man slid to a halt in front of Varia. "Will this one do?"
"Oh yes." replied the Queen. "He'll do nicely." She strode over to the man and turned him over onto his back with her boot. "Mags...waterskin." Magdalena tossed her a full one, and she proceeded to pour it over the man's head until he woke up sputtering and cursing. Varia wasted no time at all in grabbing him by the hair and yanking back hard until she was looking him square in the eye. "Well well..." She fixed a cold angry glare on him. "What have we here?" He cowered in fear under her intense gaze. "Yes that's right, you best be afraid right now because after what I saw today I'm not sure I have the self control to not cut out your heart and show it to you as you die." Throwing him face first into the dirt she continued. "What is your name?"
Silence as he struggled to get to his feet.
"I asked your name swine."
"Maleus...my name is Maleus." he rasped as the pain of standing nearly made him black out.
Varia narrowed her eyes at him. "Well Maleus," she spat out in disgust, "Rule number one...you will show me respect if you have need of your life. Kneel."
"I kneel before no Amazon." he replied indignantly.
Eve circled around behind him and gave him a boot in one of his fresh dagger wounds. "You WILL kneel before the Queen." He fell to his knees in agony, hissing as a gray cloud blurred his vision.
"Now what were you saying?" She began to circle him like a hawk would circle its' prey before striking. "Oh yes, you were going to tell me why my village is burned to the ground...why my Queen has been assasinated.." She came to a stop in front of him and looked him dead in the eyes. "AND who did it."
He did his best to spit at her, but unfortunately he had no spittle left in his very dry mouth. Varia calmly whipped her hand out and struck him clean across the cheek without even looking. "That was an unwise move sir. Maybe you don't understand that it is we who are in control here and not you."
Maleus glared at her through an already swelling eye. "I ain't tellin you Amazon bitches nuttin."
Varia spun around and backhanded him yet again. "You will...one way or another. Even if it means I have to carve you up piece by piece until you beg for what's left of your miserable carcass." She pulled her dagger to do just that, but as she raised it for the first slash her arm was grabbed and held back. Her head whipped around to find her lover staring at her intently. "What??"
"Allow me." said Eve. She stepped up to the still kneeling Maleus and looked at him. Her hands snapped out and effectively pinched the two main lifegiving nerves in his neck. "I've just cut off the flow of blood to your brain. You have thirty seconds to spill your guts or you're toast buddy."
Varia's eyes went wide at what had just occured in front of her. Only Xena knew "the pinch"! What the...? How the...? I didn't know she knew that! Eve stepped back and turned to face the Queen. "Better hurry honey, not much time left.." she purred, raising her hand to Varia's chin and gently pushing the woman's mouth shut.
"Yeah...ok." She shook her head to clear it. She kneeled down so she was face to face with Maleus. "Who burned my village?"
He struggled for a moment, but finally blurted it out. "A-a-Arinius."
Varia's eyes became mere slits at the name. "How many."
The man was by now struggling for every breath. "T-t-two l-legions."
"Where is his camp."
"Beyooond the t-twin hillsss." he wheezed.
"Release him."
Eve stepped forward and restored his life. "Pig!" she hissed. "You don't deserve to live." He fell over face first into the dirt at her feet, unconcious once again. Varia walked over to her and rested her elbow on Eve's shoulder. "Nice touch."
Eve merely raised her eyebrow in acknowledgment and cast her partner a sly grin. "C'mon, let's get to the caves." She turned to address her guard. "Tie him up and lash him to the back of my horse." She turned her gaze back to Varia. "Ready?"
"Yes. Let's go."
By the time dusk was upon them they were near the cave's entrance, and as it loomed ahead, Varia could not help but worry about what they would find inside. Were the survivors followed and slaughtered? She sighed. Well, it looked like she was about to find out.
It wasn't long before Varia heard the soft owl hoots used to signal approaching danger. She smiled at Eve. "They seem to be alright, that's a good sign."
"Yeah. Let them know we're coming in."
Varia brought her hands up to her mouth and cupped them, uttering a soft 'whoooooo....whoo whoo'. Suddenly three Amazons dropped from the trees around them.
The first threw down her mask and ran up to the now dismounting group. "Varia! By the gods you're here!" cried Shayla as she threw her arms around her friend. "I thought for sure they were going to ambush you or something!" She hugged fiercely. "I'm so glad you're alright. Did you find Queen Marga?"
The warrior smiled sadly as she hugged her best friend back. "We're fine. Nothing happened." She let Shayla go and stepped back a pace. "And yes we found the Queen." The blonde was about to speak but Varia cut her off. "We'll discuss the queen in a bit. Right now I need you to assemble the commanders as fast as you can."
Shayla's eyes dropped to the ground.
"What's wrong?"
Shayla swallowed hard. "They've been taken prisoner."
Varia's eyes went wide. "All of them??"
The little blonde nodded her head. "Yes. It seemed they were only interested in the commanders and the elders. When Queen Marga gave the signal to retreat, we grabbed as many of the injured as we could and beat it back here to regroup."
Varia shook her head. "I see." She turned to Eve, "This isn't what I expected. We better get inside and organized in a hurry." She frowned as she faced her friend again. "Have someone stable these horses in the big cave and meet me in the war room as soon as possible." She then nodded to the man strapped to the back of Eve's horse. "And take that piece of trash to the cave deepest in the mountain. I don't want to hear his whining until I'm ready to speak to him again."
"With pleasure." replied Shayla, casting a sneer the prisoner's way. "Messlina...Dulce...get these horses inside quickly." They scrambled to move.
Eve draped her arm around Varia as they walked inside. "So are you going to tell me about this Arinius guy?"
The Queen cast a sidelong glance at the brunette and sighed wearily. "Let's just say he was instrumental in my sister and I joining the Amazon nation."
"I'm not going to get any more out of you than that right now am I?" asked Eve.
"Nope." She nodded to a group of her sisters as they passed.
"Alright, but I want you to know I'm here for you." They turned the corner into a large, brightly lit cavern. Torches had been lashed to the rock outcroppings along the sloping walls, and a large wooden table had been set up in the center, many maps laying open upon its' surface. Eve drew Varia into a comforting embrace. "Don't shut me out ok?"
The warrior wrapped her arms around the strong, slim body of her lover. "I won't have you getting hurt because of me." She took a step back, studying her partner's face before she continued. "I don't want anything to happen to you, so I'm going to ask you to stay here."
Eve's eyes narrowed dangerously. "Don't start that with me Varia. We both know I am a perfectly capable warrior." She glared in annoyance. "And aside from that, I'm not going to sit here and worry over you the whole time you're out there fighting." The warrior began to speak but was interrupted. "Not another word. I'm not letting you out of my sight. Period."
Varia knew she couldn't win this battle. One thing she had figured out about Eve was that she possessed Gabrielle's unwavering stubborness and Xena's fierce determination. "Alright." she replied with a defeated look in her eyes. "But you have to promise me you won't do anything crazy...I couldn't bear it if anything happened to you."
Eve's glare disappeared. "Nothing will happen to me sweetheart." She took Varia's hand and led her over to the makeshift table. "Sit a few moments until Shayla gets back, you need to rest. I'll worry about the details right now." The Queen merely nodded her agreement, practically falling into the chair she was so weary. She watched as Eve slowly walked around the table and began to pour over the maps of the surrounding area. She placed a marker in one spot, one in another, and a third in between the two. Glancing up, she said, "Here are the twin hills..." She pointed to one marker. "Here is where we are." She pointed to the second one. "And here is the village." She tapped the last area with her index finger. "They came through the forest and hit hard and fast, counting on the fact that we would be pre-occupied with the festival." Varia shook her head. "They were right...but there is a way we can suprise them if we come around their left flank to the east. That way, we have the cover of the trees for as long as possible." She paused. "I'm just worried that our 'prisoner' was just a little too easy to catch."
"Hmmmm I see. I thought that as well, but we have to start somewhere and your plan of attack is sound at this moment." stated the Queen. "However, circumstances may change, and we need to be ready for the unexpected."
"Agreed." Eve began to pace nervously. After a moment she stopped and met Varia's gaze with a look so dark and foreboding it made the queen's stomach churn. "There is one thing still nagging me about this whole situation though..."
"What's that?"
Eve frowned. "How could they have known when to attack? Was it just dumb luck or was it something else?" She leaned over the table so her whisper would not be overheard. "And now, with the news that they captured only the elders and commanders, well it seems like they knew just a little too much than they should have."
Varia's eyebrows flew up in alarm. "A spy?"
Eve nodded.
"By the gods, this gets worse every damn minute. We have to find them quickly, Arinius is not a kind captor Eve."
Their conversation was cut short as Shayla entered. "The horses are lodged and the prisoner has been chained."
"Good...thank you." She gestured to a chair opposite herself. "You better sit down Shay, because I have some bad news."
The blonde sat down with a plop. "Oh great. Just what I needed to cap off a really rotten day." She blew out a breath. "Lay it on me."
Varia sighed sadly. "It's about Queen Marga."
Shayla squeezed her eyes closed tightly. "No, no Varia, don't say what I think you're going to say..."
"I wish I didn't have to."
Shayla hung her head and did her best to fight back the tears that were threatening to fall. "I surmised as much." she half whispered. "They killed her in cold blood didn't they? Those heartless bastards!" She brought her fist down on the tabletop and looked up, her eyes brimming with tears.
"Yes...and believe me when I say she will be avenged."
"I know you will make them pay my queen." The tears silently began falling, and Eve reached out to stroke the girl's mass of blonde curls. "We will. You can count on it."
Varia stood and spoke to her friend. "I want you to gather everyone in the main meeting room as soon as you can. They need to know what has happened."
The little blonde snuffled as she got up from her chair. "Ok, I'll go do that now." And she was gone.
Varia turned to Eve. "This is not going to be easy."
Her lover strode over to her and slipped her arms around Varia's waist. "I know." She placed a soft kiss on her forehead. "But we'll get through it together."
Varia couldn't stop shifting her weight from one foot to the other. Her palms were sweating and her knees began to feel wobbly. "Stop fidgeting." said Eve from over her shoulder. Varia craned her head to look behind her and cast a seriously annoyed glare her partner's way. "Easier said than done." she replied as she turned to look forward again. "I'm just a little nervous."
Now Eve just couldn't believe what she had heard. "You?? Nervous? You've got to be kidding!" She managed a sort of snorty laugh that made poor Varia turn crimson from her head to her toes.
"Geeeeeee, thanks for the pep talk sweetheart. I'm so happy to know that my insecurities are such great comic relief." She sighed.
Eve felt horrible, but she couldn't stifle the grin that still was plastered on her face. "Awwwwww honey come on now!" She slid her arms around her lover's waist and pulled her back against her. "I mean, who would have thought the great Varia, Amazon Queen, would be afraid of a little public speaking?" She nuzzled her partner's cheek with her own before placing a soft kiss upon it. "I didn't mean it to sound like I was mocking you. Really." She punctuated her words with a gentle tightening of her arms.
Varia sighed again and turned in her lover's arms, draping her own across the brunette's shoulders. "I know." she said softly. "I'm sorry I snapped at you." She raised her eyes and met a gaze of complete understanding.
"Don't worry about it." replied Eve. "Trust me, you'll know exactly what to say to them when you get out there. You're a born leader and you know what is right by the nation. You have integrity, intelligence and are wiser than most, and I for one, would follow you anywhere." She smiled and smoothed a stray lock of her lover's hair back behind her ear.
Varia looked at Eve in amazement. "How do you do that?" she asked.
"Do what?" replied the brunette.
"Make all my fears just disappear like that?" She hugged Eve fiercely. "I love you, ya know that?"
Eve smiled as she brought her lips close to Varia's. "I love you too." She was about to consumate her seemingly never-ending desire to kiss this woman when she spotted Shayla in the doorway with one arm over her eyes, and one waving frantically in the air as she tried to catch someone's attention. Sighing, she pulled back and nodded her head in the direction of the hall. "Looks like it's time to be Queen sweetheart."
Varia's gaze traveled in the direction her partner had nodded. "Yeah ok, I'm going..." She begrudgingly unwrapped herself from the warm body she had been pressing herself against. Slipping her hand inside Eve's she added, "But you're coming with me."
Eve let herself be led towards the doorway. "My my, aren't we the bossy one today?" She joked as they stopped and waited for the introduction to begin. This comment only got her an elbow in the ribs from her once again nervous girlfriend. "Keep it up Princess...just keep it up!" mumbled Varia through gritted teeth. Then she felt the soft touch of two hands beginning to knead out the knots in her neck and shoulders, and she leaned into the welcome distraction.
"Relax sweetheart." whispered Eve into her lover's ear. "You'll be fine." The introduction began and before Varia walked into the hall, she turned around and laid a soft kiss upon Eve's lips. "Thank you again. Wait here ok?" She smiled and disappeared through the doorway and into the crowded room.
Eve shook her head and moved to the doorway so she could get a better view of the meeting, watching proudly as Varia mounted the steps leading to a huge slab of stone that served as the speaking platform. The crowd shushed as she was announced, and she heard a collective gasp as people noticed she was wearing the queen's adornment. This could go either way. she thought. I sure hope it goes in the good way, because I'm really too tired to have to crack skulls right now... Varia reached the top and turned to face the crowd. Eve noticed the tension running just below the surface of her lover's calm expression. Her fists clenched and unclenched in response to Varia doing the same thing. Come on honey...you can do this. Varia's eyes turned to meet Eve's and at once she felt more relaxed. Then she began...
"Sisters! Hear me! For I bring news important to all." She paused. "Today our village was invaded and completely destroyed." Murmurs ran through the throng. "And today our queen was ruthlessly, and in cold blood....murdered." They went crazy, chairs turning over as their owners flung themselves to their feet in disbelief, and cries of "No, it can't be!" were repeated over and over. Her eyes scanned the crowd before she spoke again. "PEOPLE PLEASE take your seats! The details will be provided if you would just all quiet down." She waited patiently for them to do so, taking another quick glance in the direction of her lifeline standing in the doorway and finding the strength she so badly needed. She took a deep breath and continued..."Our village was invaded by a tyrant named Aurinius. He is a hard and cruel man and carries a vendetta against all of us my sisters." (More murmers) "He murdered Queen Marga and left her honorlessly pinned to the large tree in the east clearing. For this he shall pay with his life." (nods of agreement) "With the death of our beloved Queen, our great leader....(she swallowed back the tears) my adopted mother...I, Varia, Princess of the northern tribes, do at this time assume the throne and begin the assault that will avenge our fallen leader."
Eve's eyes ran over the gathered amazons closely, looking for any signs of dissent. Seeing none, she returned her attention to the podium.
"On our way in, Princess Eve of Arboria was nice enough to disable and capture a prisoner, whom we have interrogated and gotten information from." (Eve's eyes scanned the crowd again, and this time she thought she saw a slight smile on the face of one of the warriors near the back. Hmmmmm....I better file this bit of information for later analyzation. She heard Varia begin to speak again, but kept a close eye on that amazon in her peripheral vision.) "At this time I wish to present to you my chosen second, Princess Eve of Arboria." Eves eyes nearly popped out of her head! No, she wasn't expecting this. Or had she? Didn't matter now, since it was already announced, she could not refuse it...not that she wanted to anyhow. Where Varia went, she would follow. She gathered herself and strode purposefully onto the stage to stand just behind the queen's left shoulder. Varia continued, "Today she has shown that she is invaluable to me...as a warrior, as a confidante, and as my friend." She turned to face her lover. "Do you accept this honor?"
Eve looked solemnly into Varia's eyes. "Yes, I do."
Varia smiled and turned back to her people. "The princess accepts. You will give her the same respect as you do me. The following people shall report to my personal quarters in a half candlemark. Sarina, Shayla, Messlina, Magdalena, Deena, Aliana." (murmuring, murmuring and more murmuring) "Sisters, I hated having to be the bearer of bad news, but together we will avenge this wrong to our nation. Together we will vanquish the enemy that threatens our lands and peaceful existence." She thumped her chest with her fist. "To a strong Amazon Nation!" Eve did the same and the crowd followed suit in the reverant phrase. She bowed to her subjects and left the stage, with her new Second right behind her.
As they passed through the doorway, Eve caught up to her and slipped her arm into Varia's. "See? I knew you would do just fine."
The queen gave her a sideways sorta grin. "Oh and you knew that all along huh?"
"Glad someone did, because I sure didn't." chuckled Varia as they reached the Queens' quarters. "Well, let's tie up the tactically loose ends and get this over with, I'm really hungry."
Eve smiled at her. "Why don't I go get us something to eat while you finish drawing up the declaration of war. I can sign it when I get back hmmm?"
"Sounds good." replied Varia. "Just don't bring back any of that fermented-goat-whatever-it-is that Traina likes to shove down our throats. I swear I'll vomit if I even smell that stuff."
Eve smiled again as she walked to the door. "Little did I know what a picky eater my girlfriend would be. Alright...as you wish...no goat-whatever-it-is."
"Thanks." Varia smiled at her lover. "See you in a few."
"You betcha." replied the Princess as she exited.
Varia took a moment to let all this junk sink in. She poured a mug of water and let herself fall back into the comforting padding of her temporary throne. All the decisions she was going to have to make were going to affect a lot of her sisters in a lot of ways. Sometimes it sucks to be Queen she thought with a soft sigh. Marga...I wish you were here to guide me. I'm so unsure of what to do She began inscribing the parchment that would send her village into a war with more powerful opponent who now outnumbered them probably three to one. But hers and Eve's plan was a good one. At least it seemed that way at the moment. "I sure hope this is the right thing to do." she said aloud, and continued the task before her.
Cassandra awakened to a world of blinding agony. How long she had been unconcious, she had no idea. Her left arm felt the worst at the moment, and as she moved it she nearly passed out. She tried to get her legs to move, but they wouldn't listen. In fact, she couldn't feel them at all, and her head felt like it had been run over by a hundred centaurs. She took stock of her situation...One broken arm, a concussion, some broken ribs and a possible broken back. Not good, not good at all... she thought. Her left eye was swollen shut, and she could feel the dried blood crackling around her nose and mouth as she tested her facial muscles. She got her good eye open and tried to focus on her immediate surroundings. Another cage sat not ten paces from hers, and she could see her sisters huddled together trying to lend support to each other. She tried to take a deep breath and was immediately sorry as a coughing fit overtook her, causing her to temporarily black out again.
When next she awoke, she thought she heard someone calling her name. She managed to get her eye open again and glanced over at the other cage. It looked like a person there, but she wasn't sure since her ability to focus was shoddy at best.
"Cassandra...Cassandra, hey are you awake?" came the voice again.
She tried to crane her neck to see better but a bolt of pain reminded her she shouldn't be moving at all. Her voice was dry and hoarse as she spoke to the image. "Who's there?"
She heard a relieved sigh before the image spoke again. "It's me...Dahla." A pause. "Are you ok? We thought you were dead when they threw you in there."
She decided that right now she would probably feel much better if she were dead. "I'm alive if that's what you mean." She groaned as her head resumed it's horrible throbbing. "But I can't move my legs and my arm is probably broken." She carefully took a ragged breath. "Not to mention the busted ribs and concussion." She heard a small gasp. "But aside from that I'm fine."
"By the gods they will pay for this!" came the whispered curse. "As soon as we get out of here I mean."
"We will." whispered the weaponmaster. "Just as soon as Varia gets here."
"How do you know she'll get here?" came the voice from the other cage.
"Because she will. And I pray to the gods she brings that woman of hers with her." She paused to try and catch her breath. "Until then we have to stay alive or we won't be worth saving. Got me Dahla?"
"Yes. Understood." She watched as Cassandra's eye began to close again. "General...is there anything I can do for you?"
The eye slowly peeked itself back open. "Not unless you can get me some water. And I don't foresee that happening in the near future." She sighed as best she could given her circumstances. "Varia...will.....come soon..." Her voice trailed off as she once again slipped into unconciousness.
Dahla's face scrunched as her mind worked. She just had to get into that cage. "Guards! Guards!" she yelled, and four of the nasty brutes came scrambling over to see what the ruckus was about.
"What d'you want bitch?" asked the tallest and probably ugliest one.
She pointed to Cassandra's cage. "See that woman in there?"
"Yeah so what?" he replied.
"Well if she dies from those injuries, what good will she be to you then?" She took a deep breath while the slug pondered her comment. "I can at least keep her alive if you would let just me in there."
The four men stepped back a few paces to discuss her request, and she quickly sent up a prayer to Artemis they would see it her way.
The leader stepped forward again. "What do we care if she dies?"
Dahla swallowed hard and hoped she could be convincing enough. "Well you may not care if she dies, but I do." She paused. "Let me ask you something sir..." (she nearly gagged on the form of address) "Do you have a wife?"
The man seemed a bit suprised at the question, but answered it nonetheless. "Well yes I do."
"Then maybe you can understand it when I ask to be allowed to go to her." She willed the tears to come forth. "She is my bondmate, and I can't let her die alone."
The man's indifference seemed to shift a bit. "Well...alright, but no funny stuff."
Dahla's heart nearly stopped from shock. Now all she had to do was convince him to give her some water. "Thank you, thank you. May Artemis bless your kindness." She watched as the brute unlocked the door and escorted her to Cassandra's cage. "Would it be entirely too much to ask for a bit of water and a few rags so that I may clean her up?" She put on her best pleading look. "Please? She needs to be presentable when she steps onto Charon's boat."
"Alright, alright. I will get them for you in a bit." He unlocked Cassandra's door and shoved her in. "Remember...no funny stuff."
Dahla shook her head up and down vehemently. "No sir, not from me sir. Thank you from the both of us."
"Yeah yeah whatever." He mumbled as he strode off, presumably to get the supplies she requested.
As soon as they were out of sight, she rushed over to her friend. She was scared to move her, so she did a very careful once over to determine her commander's state of injury. Yep...broken arm, three broken ribs. She lifted Cassandra's eyelid open and checked her pupils, which were dilated and mostly unresponsive. Damn! Those bastards! Damn their eyes! She felt a shift and the weaponmaster's eye opened to peer at her. "Am I dead?"
Dahla smiled. "No...you're not dead. In fact I'm here to fix you up some."
Cassandra tried to move and groaned as the pain consumed her. "Oh gods. This is really bad." Then realization hit her. "How did you get in here?"
"Well..." replied Dahla, "It wasn't easy. I had to lie."
Cassandra almost chuckled before she remembered her ribs. "YOU? You lied? That's a first!" She did manage a small smile. "What did you say?"
"I sorta told them we were bondmates, played on their sense of family values a bit and they let me in. AND they are bringing some water and bandages so that I can make you presentable for Hades."
The weaponmaster's smile grew larger. "But I don't plan on dying."
"They don't know that."
"True. So how long have we been lovers?"
Dahla blushed profusely. "Ummmm...does it really matter? What matters is if we can get you in a more comfortable position. Can you move at all?"
"Far as I can tell, my right arm is the only thing I can move with not too much pain." replied Cassandra with a frown. "Anything else makes me black out."
Now it was Dahla's turn to frown. "Ok then, maybe that's the best way. I'm going to move your arm so I can try and roll you onto your back. I think you've probably had just about enough dirt for dinner eh?" She laid a comforting hand on her friend's shoulder. "If you begin to pass out, just go with it. It'll be easier to move you if you're not screaming bloody murder in my ear when I do it."
"Alright." said Cassandra. "Go for it."
"K, get ready..." she gently positioned her hands under the weaponmaster's wrist and elbow. Luckily for her it was enough to put Cassandra out, and she gingerly turned her over, laying her head and upper torso onto her own lap. She looked around the cage and spied a small piece of wood within reach. This will come in handy for a splint. Then her eyes narrowed...And possibly something else... Just then she heard footsteps approaching and looked up to see the tall man coming towards the prison. He unceremoniously tossed in a wad of rolled up dirty cloth, a small wrapped bundle of something and a full skin of water.
"Don't ask fer nothin else, cause you ain't gettin it." Hewatched as Dahla ripped off a piece of the cloth and saturated it with water from the skin. His eyes softened just a little bit as the amazon gently began to clean the dried dirt and blood from her 'lover's' face. "I'll be sayin a prayer fer her...but don't think I'm bein nice or anything." With that he walked away, leaving them completely alone.
"Well Cassie...may as well get that arm reset while you're out visiting with Morpheus." And with that she began her task.
Eve watched from her chair as the new commanders filed slowly out of the room. Kids. That's what they were. Mostly younger than twenty five winters and definitely a LOT green around the edges. To take an army of this caliber into a battle such as they would be encountering could be their death warrant, but the options were extremely limited to begin with. She crossed her arms as Varia crossed the floor and plopped down in the chair next to her.
"Dinar for your thoughts?" she asked.
Eve smiled wanly. "Well, I was thinking we are sorely outnumbered..."
"And that they lack the battle skills this situation calls for.."
"Yes again."
"I think we are in some major trouble here Var."
"Yes...we are. But do we have a choice?"
Eve dropped her eyes. "No...I guess not. Don't mean I gotta like it though." She looked again into the eyes of her best friend in the world. "They're going to be expecting a counter-attack for sure."
"So we give it to them. Just not the way they're expecting it." She sat back and crossed her arms. "Trick is figuring out how to do that and still stay alive."
"Yeah." Eve sighed. "I wish my mother was here, she always knows what to do."
"Well she isn't, and we don't have enough time to send for back-up." She slipped her arm around the brunette's shoulders. "We'll just have to make do."
"I know." Eve leaned her head back onto her lover's arm. "In for a dinar..."
Varia chuckled. "We'll get through this hon, and then you and I will begin our nice, QUIET life together alright?"
Eve smiled. "Oh I can't tell you how much I'm looking forward to that." She gave Varia's leg a pat as she rose from her chair. "Let's get some rest before we drop from exhaustion ok? We have a big day ahead of us tomorrow."
"Agreed." replied the queen as she accepted the held out hand, and was easily pulled to her feet. They walked arm in arm out the door and down the hallway to their sleeping quarters, never noticing the shadow that lingered just a few paces behind them...
Chapter 4
Varia's regiment moved silently through the trees. Her eyes scanned the forest ahead of them for any signs of an ambush and STILL found none. This is too easy...too darn easy she thought. By the time nightfall arrived, they would be in position on the rise north of Arinius' camp. At dawn, they would storm it, rush in and free enough captives to help add to their fighting numbers. Her brow furrowed as she wondered if there would BE any captives to free, but she had to be optimistic...keep her wits about her to keep morale up. She sighed softly, wishing she and Eve hadn't had to separate for the onslaught. A nagging churning in her gut made her wish she had been more adament about them keeping the whole force together, but Eve had insisted, stating that flanking them when they were busy with one regiment was a sound battle tactic. Well no time to be second guessing ourselves now She glanced skyward and sent up a silent prayer to Artemis for their safety.
Eve had been thinking the very same thing. But drastic times call for drastic measures, and trying to send the opposing force into disarray seemed the best option. Her peripheral vision caught movement out of the norm...What's this? She noticed one of the amazons in the rear slowly drop back, then disappear into the surrounding flora. Why am I not suprised? She spurred her mount and caught up to Sarina. "Xynara just slipped into the forest." she whispered to the blonde. "You are in command until I return." She glanced around to make sure no one was evesdropping. "If I don't make it back in time, proceed with the assault." Sarina gave a nearly imperceptible nod, and gave Eve's arm a slight squeeze. "Luck be with you." she whispered back, and before she could blink, the brunette was gone.
Eve was now completely positive that Xynara was the chink in their armor. She had been following the woman for almost a candlemark now, and by her calculations, they were heading directly towards the enemy camp. She slipped behind the nearest tree as Xynara stopped at the edge of a clearing and uttered what she was sure was some kind of signal. Her senses picked up movement behind her, and she caught a whiff of stinky leather. Drat! How could I have been so stupid? As her world went black, she noticed that Xynara was now looking right at her and laughing heartily. Her last coherent thought was that this woman was going to pay dearly for her treachery.
Varia lurched forward in her saddle as the pain shot through her head. Fortunately Mags witnessed this and reached out, catching her queen by the elbow before she fell off the horse.
"Varia! Are you alright?"
Varia shook her head. The feeling was beginning to subside already. "Yeah I think so. Wow that was strange."
"What happened? You looked like someone conked ya one."
"That's sure what it felt like." She gently probed the base of her skull.
"Let me take a look." replied Mags, and Varia leaned over for her. After a moment of careful observation, she decided there was nothing to see. "Nope. Not a scratch..."
Varia scrunched up her face. "Weird." She let her gaze travel to the horizon. "Another candlemark and we should be in position."
"Yup." agreed Mags. "Think this will work?"
"I sure hope so." replied Varia. "Otherwise...we're in deep centaur dung."
A nod of agreement from her general and the ride continued in silence with Varia losing herself in her thoughts. Arinius...the last person she ever wanted to see again. And this time she would make sure she never had to see him again.
Sarina glanced once more at the sun's position in the sky above. Eve had been gone nearly a candlemark now, and she was starting to worry. Her eyes scanned the forest for the umpteenth time, searching for any sign of the princess, and still found none. "Shayla." The young amazon's head turned, and Sarina motioned her to her side. "Yeah boss?"
"We have a problem."
Shayla cocked her head. "I'm assuming you mean other than the obvious."
"Indeed." the weaponmaster sighed. "Eve has been gone for a candlemark now and she hasn't come back."
"Where did she go?"
"To follow Xynara." (a pause) "That witch broke off from the group and Eve followed her."
Shayla's eyebrows nearly left her face. "And you let her go alone??? By the gods Sar, have you lost ALL the brains Artemis put in that skull of yours?"
"Obviously." huffed the weaponmaster. "I knew I should have gone with her, but she's the one in charge and I'm supposed to follow orders remember?" (A sigh) "Not like I had a choice you know."
"Yeah yeah, and when Varia finds out, you are sooooo going to wish you had kept an eye on her."
"I know." Sarina shrugged and scanned the trees again. "I haven't seen Xynara come back either...which means Eve was right, and the problem's been taken care of, OR Eve was right and she's in trouble. Doesn't leave too many options no matter which way you look at it, especially when we still have a battle ahead of us."
Shayla blew sweat-dampened bangs out of her eyes. "Yeah, so what are we gonna do?"
Sarina's brow creased and she frowned. "Launch the attack...as planned." She gave her sister amazon a very serious look. "Eve told me before she left, that if she didn't get back in time to follow through with the assault. And by Artemis, I will destroy them if they have laid a hand on her."
Shayla nodded in agreement and then chuckled as a thought crossed her mind.
"How can you laugh at a time like this Shayla??" inquired the weaponmaster incredulously.
The little blonde chuckled again. "Because it just occurred to me that I wouldn't want to be in Arinius' shoes when Xena hears about this."
Sarina's eyebrow arched underneath curly bangs. Then she chuckled as well. "You got that right."
A vicious kick to her abdomen and Eve was thrown backwards once again, her shoulders nearly yanked out of their sockets as the chains binding her wrists stopped her backwards momentum. Her head was swimming, the darkness threatening to take her to a place where pain was irrelevant. A fist collided with her jaw, jerking her head to the side and spraying blood along her right arm. A soft grunt escaped her.
"So you're conscious after all!" said a male voice directly in front of her. She felt a hand grab her by the back of her hair and lift her face up. "You sure this is the one?" he asked.
"Yes. I'm positive." said a female voice off to Eve's left. "That's Varia's tramp."
Rank breath nearly made her gag as the male voice whispered into her ear. "I've waited 4 years for this moment in time amazon..." He yanked her head further back...studying her. "And you are not going to ruin it for me." The hand let her go, and Eve's head thumped back down to her chest. "In fact, carving you to pieces in front of your lover will be the absolute MOST fun I've had in years!" Eve heard them move off a ways and managed to open her eyes. She took in her surroundings as best she could, since focusing seemed to be a bit of a problem at the moment. There! Cages containing the Amazons from Varia's village were lined up across the camp from her. She silently tested the strength of the chains binding her between two trees. Nope, not going anywhere soon.. Dusk was falling. The attack would begin shortly. Here she was, Princess of the Amazons...daughter of Xena, and she let herself get captured so easily. Mother would be upset with her for sure! She frowned. How would the Warrior Princess get out of this? Eve looked around once again. Dropping her gaze to the ground around her, she spied another set of chains with a key sticking out of the manacles. Hmmmm, here's hoping the smith was lazy... She slowly edged her foot towards the set of chains, but just as she got the toe of her boot under the links, they slipped off and fell back to the ground with a slight clank. She looked around quickly, hoping no one heard the sound. Satisfied her efforts were going unnoticed, she tried again. The chains slid off once more. Why does everything have to be such a pain in the butt? she thought as she tried yet again. Well, Gabrielle always says patience is a virtue. She nearly managed a chuckle, but her parched throat wouldn't allow it. I sure wish I had inherited more of that trait... Once again the chains slipped away from her. If at first you don't succeed...try, try again...
Varia rode slowly towards Arinius' camp. It had been a quarter candlemark since they had gotten the signal that the other regiment was in position along the north treeline. Now she hoped she could carry out her part of the plan. Her mind raced with what might happen if she failed...so much was riding on this. Eve's words from two evenings ago seemed to whisper along on the wind and pass by her ears..."You'll be a great Queen my love. And I for one would follow you anywhere. You're wise and courageous, strong and moral, and I love that about you. You'll do the right thing I just know." Eve always knew just the right words to say to her when she was feeling insecure. Her thoughts were interrupted by shouts from the sentries, announcing her approach. She rode into the camp and stopped her horse in the center.
"Show yourself Arinius!" she called. Soldiers began to surround her, and she couldn't stop the sudden feeling of fear that swept through her. She gathered herself for her best Xena tone. "Or are you afraid of one woman?" A slow, satisfying scrape escaped the scabbard as she drew her sword and allowed a feral half grin to edge onto her face. She snickered inwardly as she noticed most of the soldiers stop moving towards her.
"No need to take that nasty tone with me honey."
Varia's head snapped to the left, as her left hand reached for her dagger.
"Ah Ah Ah!" he reached into the tent behind him and dragged forth a weakly struggling Eve. Varia's eyes went wide, the dagger she was about to throw clattered noisily to the ground at her feet. "You rotten son of a bacchae..." she hissed through clenched teeth. "Let her go or I'll kill you where you stand."
He laughed maniacally. "Oh now that's precious. I don't think you realize who is holding the cards here." He glanced at a slumping Eve. "I have your little girlfriend...YOU will do as I say, or she dies. That simple."
"Your gripe is with me, not her. Let her go and we'll talk about this."
He laughed again. Then his tone became softer. He looked into her eyes. "Four years of searching for you...four YEARS of wondering if you were dead or alive....FOUR YEARS I spent wondering if I would ever see you again, only to find you shacked up with this....THIS WOMAN!!" He shook Eve's battered body in emphasis. "You drove a stake through my heart when you left me Varia. And now I'm going to do the same for you."
"We won't let you do that Arinius." replied the Queen softly.
"We?" he snickered. "Oh you mean the army you have there...(he pointed to the north woods) and there?" (he pointed this time to the east ridge) "They are of no consequence." he scoffed. "I have the most important thing right here in my hot little hands...the Princess of the entire Amazon Tribe, also known as Livia, Bitch of Rome. Did you know there is still quite a hefty price on her head?" He chuckled deviously. "You see Varia dear...as long as I have Evie here, you won't touch me. Nor will any of the rest of your little freak army. Don't think I don't know that."
Eve coughed and managed to catch Varia's eye. Trust me. she tried to convey to her lover.
Varia frowned back. No, don't do this...
Eve had managed to slip the manacle key out from it's hiding place in her gauntlet and had finally gotten them unlocked. In one swift motion she had her left hand loose and swung her right arm across her body, the still attached manacle acting like a flail and labeling Arinius squarely along the side of his right cheek. Bone cracked, and Eve wasted no time dropping low and taking his legs out from under him. It was then that all Hades broke loose as the Amazons poured from their hiding spots and into the camp.
Varia was immediately swarmed by a dozen soldiers, leaping from her horse, it was all she could do to keep them at bay as her eyes frantically searched the melee for her lover. Her nape hairs stood on end and she instinctively ducked, a blade wizzing by close enuff to take a lock of her hair with it. She jumped up and let loose a spinning heel kick to the jaw of the man who had given her the unwanted haircut, following it up with a backhanded slash across the left arm of the assailant behind her. "Eve!!" she yelled. She scanned the throng again. "Hades balls don't you swines know when to give up?" she spat as she gutted a man trying to slice her open from behind. Then her eyes found what they had been searching for. Varia punched the man in front of her and leaped over his falling body...straining to get past the last two soldiers before Arinius's sword arm came down.
Everything seemed to suddenly be moving in slow motion for her. She saw the evil grin on his face as his grip tightened on his sword for the killing blow, watched as his arm began it's downward descent. Then suddenly she was past the last man, and throwing herself headlong across the remaining distance between them. Her body slammed into him with such force that he flew backwards five feet, landing on the ground with a loud thud. Varia spun around just in time to catch Eve before she slumped to the ground.
"I'm here...I'm here. Take it easy there..." She carefully helped Eve to sit down against a rock. "Stay right here, I have some unfinished business to take care of and I'll be right back ok?" Eve wearily shook her head and squeezed her lover's arm.
"Thank you for being my hero." she whispered.
Varia blushed. "Fight now, talk later, alright hon?" I'll be back soon, stay out of sight." She rose and turned around to find Arinius just getting to his feet. "You my friend, are in for some SERIOUS asskicking now." she said as she walked toward him.
"Pfft!" he spat. "I'm not afraid of you! The last time I saw you, a squirrel could beat you up, so no...I don't think an asskicking is on my agenda for tonight my dear." He came at her with a flurry of movement, found he couldn't get through her parries and backed off. "I see these abominations of the human race have taught you a few new tricks Varia. But I know all those tricks you see..." He launched an attack designed to overpower her, but her smaller frame and greater agility enabled her to duck the swipe meant to take her head off. As he overbalanced, she reached down into her boot, drew her last dagger and held held it straight up in the air. His body dragged across the blade on it's way past, and he fell to the ground in an unmoving, bloody heap.
She sighed. Her army was just finishing their rout of the rest of the soldiers that served under Arinius, so she turned her attention to where she had left Eve. But Eve wasn't there....she turned back around to find a hand attaching itself to her throat and lifting her cleanly off the ground.
"Always make sure your enemy is dead before you leave them as such." He sneered. "Cuz you never know what might happen otherwise." She felt his fingers tighten and her air flow lessen. She struggled to breathe, and her world was beginning to go dark when she thought she saw movement behind him. The next thing she knew, the pressure released and she was falling to the ground. Another thump and Arinius fell to the ground beside her, his eyes staring blankly ahead. Coughing she got to her knees and looked up to find Eve standing over his body, looking very pissed off.
Varia stood slowly. "Eve?" she asked warily.
"Now you're my hero." She smiled.
The darkness on the Princess' features disappeared and a smile found it's way to her face. "Well he was messing with my woman...I had to do something you know." She held out her hand and Varia slipped her own into it.
"Well I'm glad you did. I thought I was done for." She frowned. "All I could think about was that I didn't get to say goodbye to you."
Eve snorted. "As if I would let anyone take you from me?" She smiled and drew Varia closer. "Never."
Their moment was interrupted by the sound of applause coming from the tree limb above them.
Eve rolled her eyes. "Mother! How long have you been there?"
Xena stepped off the branch, and with a lazy flip landed lightly on the ground. "Oh long enough." She put her hands on her hips as she looked up into the foliage above. "Well come on Gabrielle, I don't have all day you know." The bard dropped out of the tree and into the waiting arms of her consort. "Hi!" she waved at the two Amazons from the safety of her warrior safety net. Xena rolled her eyes and deposited the bard softly on the ground.
"Ok Mother...how is it you came to be here just now?" inquired Eve, arching a familiar eyebrow.
"Well...ya see, it all started back at the village. Gabrielle was having these "visions" yesterday..." Her sentence was cut short by a well placed elbow jab into her ribs.
"For the LAST time Xena, they were 'premonitions', NOT 'visions'. There is a difference you know!"
"Yeah yeah call it what you like bard, it's all the same." Xena leaned in close to her daughter and Varia and whispered loudly, "She's been having a lot of these episodes lately..." Another even harder jab connected with her ribs, forcing the air out of her lungs and causing her to cough loudly. She held her hand up in defeat..."Mercy great queen...mercy!" Gabrielle giggled and turned towards her daughter.
"I'm glad to see you were in good hands daughter. Your mother had to practically tie me down to keep me from coming to your aid."
Eve looked astonished. "You've been here that long?"
The bard smiled. "Of course. Darling we know when you are in trouble. And when both of us get that same feeling at the same time, well...we just go with it. And here we are."
"I'm glad you two didn't interfere Gabrielle. It would be hard to maintain the respect of the tribe if my mommy had to bail me out of everything I manage to get myself into." She chuckled. "But I'm glad to know I have you at my back Mom. Thanks."
"Anytime sweetheart. I'll always be there for you."
"You had a 'feeling' so you just came?" This was Varia's fourth mug of ale and she was feeling a bit bolder than usual. "Xena I know you have many skills, but that's just borderline creepy!"
The warrior shrugged and just stared into the fire.
Varia looked perplexed. "You're being serious aren't you?"
Xena nodded.
"I'm sorry I didn't believe you."
"No problem."
There was silence between them for a few moments. "Varia..."
"You put your life on the line for my daughter today. Thank you." Xena crossed her arms and leaned back against the tree.
Varia glanced over at Xena, then returned her gaze to the fire. "I love her."
"I know."
"I want to ask her to join with me."
An eyebrow went up. "Oh you do huh?" The brunette nodded. Xena calmly took a sip of her ale before she spoke again. "Well it's a long time coming for sure." She reached out and whacked Varia on the back.
"So does that mean {cough} that it's {cough cough} ok with you?"
Xena smiled. "Oh definitely. Welcome to the family Varia." She whacked the Amazon on the back one more time, just for good measure.
And the warrior princess chuckled as the big, bad Amazon warrior coughed and hacked from a teeny weeny little tap on the back. That's how she would tell it to Gabrielle anyways...
The End


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