See Part1 for disclaimers
|This part is dedicated to the memory of Kristian Fischer, a fellow bard and Xenite. May you rest in peace.|
Gods, has it already been a year? Gabrielle sat on a rock by the riverbank and watched the crystal clear water flow smoothly down the narrow bed. When she thought back that time, she could not remember any particular moment from her solitary, like it never had happened. The first thing that she remembered after her heartbreaking decision to leave her soul mate, was the moment when she had stepped inside the inn and seen the raven haired warrior behind the desk. The past year felt like a dream, like someone else had been in control of her body. In a way that had been the case. Gabrielle wondered, whether she would still be wandering around aimlessly if she hadn't chosen to join Salmoneus on his journey to Amphipolis. Seeing Xena had been an awakening to her. Xena. How much she longed to be with the warrior right now. To hold her, to comfort her, to let her know how much she loved her. They both had changed so much during their separation but in the basic level their feelings for each other had not changed and in the end, it was all about basics.
"I thought that I might find you here." The voice of the Amazon regent said behind Gabrielle's back.
"I needed some time by myself." The bard turned to face Ephiny.
"That was some speech that you gave," Ephiny said. "I would have never believed that Cista would agree with you if I hadn't witnessed it myself."
"Cista is a smart and determined woman," Gabrielle commented. "And I actually agree with her. The Amazons deserve a queen who is dedicated to her people instead of one who is travelling around the world. Maybe I should give up my throne."
"Absolutely not!" Ephiny objected. "Without you, we probably still would be in war with the Centaurs. Not to mention all the other things that you've achieved. As far as I'm concerned, you're the best thing that has ever happened to the Amazons." The regent put her hand on the bard's shoulder.
"Thanks, I guess." Gabrielle smiled to her.
Ephiny seemed to debate with herself for a moment. Then she opened her mouth. "How are things "
" between Xena and me?" Gabrielle finished the question. "We I guess we're starting to work it out. We are in the beginning of a long road and we don't know where it will take us but at least we are going to take that road together."
"How is she doing?"
"She has gone through a lot lately and I can't help feeling at least partly responsible about that." The bard gazed in the distance. "If I had hard time during my solitary, hers has been a torment. I realize that now. Xena is also taking the losses that we suffered against Parseus, very hard. I don't know where she does get the strength to keep going."
Ephiny cast a smile at her. "I think I do. You are the source of her strength. She'd go through Tartarus for you. You miss her right now, don't you?" She asked.
"Yes." The answer was plain and simple but one could see easily how much emotion was hidden inside that word.
"Then go to her. I can take care of things here. We'll come right behind you."
"Really?" Gabrielle asked as if she wasn't sure that she had heard correctly, then she gave a big smile and a hug to the Amazon regent. "Thanks, Eph!"
"You're welcome, my queen," Ephiny answered. "But don't think that I would let you go without a proper escort. I'm going to ask someone to ride with you."
"Yes, mother," Gabrielle grimaced. That got a grin from the tall Amazon. Gabrielle stood up and they both headed back to village.
"You asked for me?" Annika said to Shanni when she entered the infirmary.
"Yes," the Amazon healer said tiredly. "You need to do something about Eponin. I can't get her to stay in bed. As if I didn't already have my hands full." Shanni sighed.
"I'll see what I can do," Annika said. "You look like you could use a break. I'll get someone to stand in for you."
"Thanks, I'd REALLY appreciate it," Shanni said.
Annika left the healer and head to the back of the infirmary. There she found the weapons master in a half-sitting position, her arms crossed.
"Shanni told me that you have been giving her and everybody else here a hard time," Annika said to her.
"Damned sure that I have!" Eponin said angrily. "I don't need to be here, I'm perfectly all right!"
"That is not what Shanni thinks."
"Well, what does she know?" Eponin asked.
"She is a healer. If she says that you need to stay in bed then you will stay in bed," Annika answered matter-of-factly.
Eponin cast a defiant look at the young Amazon. "Who is gonna make me, you?"
"In the matter of fact, yes. You see, Gabrielle put me in charge of the Amazons and in your current condition that includes you."
"What!" The weapons master shouted in disbelief.
"That's right," Annika confirmed. "And if I'm not enough to convince you, I can go get Xena." That suppressed the Amazon's defiance a bit.
"Very well." Eponin relented. "But there's still one issue, we need to discuss."
Annika had expected that the weapons master would bring this up. "If it's about Shiro, forget it. That's totally between him and me."
"No! It's between you and your people. You have responsibilities to your people." Eponin's tone was strict.
"Do you really think I don't know that?" The young Amazon's temper started to show. "Do you have any idea what is going inside right now? Besides how come our queen gets to travel around the country and nobody is complaining about that!"
"Ah, well Gabrielle wasn't born as an Amazon " Eponin started.
"But still you would be willing to give your life for her!" Annika interrupted her. "This isn't about my responsibilities as an Amazon. You have been picking on me since the first day I arrived to your village! What is it that you have against me?"
Eponin didn't answer. She knew perfectly well what it was but now was neither the time nor the place to tell it.
When Annika realized that the older woman wasn't going to continue the conversation, she turned and walked away. As she stepped out of the infirmary she saw the warrior princess walking towards her. Annika walked to meet her.
"Annika, you and your group up for a little chore?" Xena went straight to the point.
"Sure, you name it," Annika answered.
"Well," the warrior started. "Even if Gabrielle manages to get some reinforcements, we'd still be outnumbered. That's why I have been playing with an idea that would even up the odds a bit." Xena grinned but Annika could see that the grin didn't reach the eyes.
"I'm listening "
"Is this what you had in mind, my queen?" Hesia asked as she passed a pendant to Gabrielle.
Gabrielle took a look at the pendant between her fingers. The blue opal that she had bought from Salmoneus was now inside a silvery gold ring. The ring had carvings that were exactly like the ones on Xena's chakram. The jewel hung from a golden chain. Gabrielle smiled approvingly. "This exactly what I wanted. You truly are a master at your work, Hesia," the bard said to the jeweler. "What do I owe you?"
"Oh, I couldn't dream of charging you, my queen. Besides, I can see who you had in mind. I just hope you two will be happy together," Hesia said.
"Thank you, I certainly hope so too," Gabrielle said and slid ten dinaars on the counter. Hesia didn't touch them but Gabrielle knew that as soon as she was gone the jeweler would put the money into her purse.
Xena put her shovel on the ground and wiped the sweat from her forehead. She looked at the small group of Amazons that were gathering their tools together. It had taken them several candlemarks but now everything was ready. The warrior took a glance at the top of the hill where the setting sun gave a color of gold to the trees. The color reminded her of her beloved bard. Xena wondered if Gabrielle had managed to convince the council. If she had failed, then all this work had been done in vain. Surprisingly enough, Xena didn't find herself being too worried about that. If there were someone who could pull that through, it would be the honey haired bard. Xena found herself smiling when she thought about her soul mate. Maybe there still was hope for them after all.
Xena heard footsteps and she turned to face Annika as the newly appointed Amazon leader came to her.
"Well, what do you think?" Annika asked as she turned to watch their accomplishment.
Also Xena let her eyes rest on the result of their work before she answered. "It'll do. Now it's up to Gabrielle to fill her part."
"Do you think she can do it?"
"I hope for the sake of us all that she can." Xena cast a glance to the distance. "Anyway, we've done all there is to be done here. We might as well head back to town."
Every one picked up their tools and started their walk to Amphipolis. No words were exchanged during the short walk. After they had left their tools in the warehouse and were heading towards the inn, Xena opened her mouth. "I don't know about you but I sure as Hades am in for a hot bath and a decent meal."
"You took the words right out of my mouth", Annika grinned. "Lead on, oh fearless leader!"
"Be careful now, will you?" Ephiny hugged Gabrielle tightly.
"Sure", the bard assured her. "When will you follow?" She asked.
"Pretty soon", the regent answered. "I think we should be on our way before midnight."
"Then you should reach Amphipolis at noon. How about the warriors from the other villages?"
"No sooner than late tomorrow evening."
"All right. That should leave at least one night before Parseus attacks." Gabrielle mounted her stallion. "Now, who have you chosen to be my escort?"
"That would be her", Ephiny pointed at the gate.
Gabrielle turned to look at the gate and saw Cista standing there in full gear with her horse. The bard gave an asking look to the Amazon regent.
"Well, she volunteered", Ephiny said. "But you don't have to worry about her. She has accepted her defeat and I think you convinced her well enough."
"I guess I have to be going then", Gabrielle said to the regent.
"May Artemis enlighten your path." Ephiny brushed the horse's mane.
"And yours too." Gabrielle spurred the stallion to a slow gait.
The moon cast its pale light over a small opening as Gabrielle dismounted her stallion. "Let's rest here for a while", the bard said and stifled a yawn. They had been riding for several candlemarks now and Gabrielle felt like she would fall from her saddle if they rode a verst more.
"Very well. I'll build a small fire", Cista complied and started picking small pieces of wood.
"Cista, I hope you don't mind me asking but why did you offer to be my escort?" Gabrielle asked the Amazon who was building the fire.
Cista looked up at the bard and grinned. "No, I don't mind. I was wondering when you'd bring the subject up", she said. They had not been talking much during the ride. "To be honest, I wanted to learn to know you better. The way Ephiny praises you, one would think you're nearly a goddess."
Gabrielle smiled condescendingly at the remark. "I'm very human - with all the humanly weaknesses you can think of." She opened her bedroll.
"You know, you have been a great curiosity to me since the first day I arrived to the village. It happened only shortly after your last visit." Cista got the fire going. "Everyone talked about all the good things that you had done for the Amazons." She opened her pack and took a few dried fruits from it. "After time went by, I became skeptical. How could someone who was absent most of the time have possibly have done all those things."
"Well, you could say that my visits to the Amazons have been mostly something else than rest and relaxation." Gabrielle took a dried date. "Almost every time Xena and I have come for a visit we have ended up settling a quarrel or conflict of some sort."
"Tell me more about Xena", Cista asked. "How did you two end up traveling together? I have a hard time trying to imagine you with her."
"Xena saved me from a fate worse than death a few summers ago", Gabrielle started. "At that time, Xena had just given up her old ways and wandered from one place to another." Gabrielle stopped there for a moment. That was precisely what she had been doing until only recently. Xena had been seeking her redemption the same way as she had hers.
"What happened then?" Cista interrupted the bard's thoughts.
"Then.." Gabrielle thought of the right words. "..she changed my life - and I changed hers. We've had our ups and downs but despite and because of all that has happened to us we've stayed together." Or at least returned to each other.
"You two live a very fascinating life", Cista commented. "Sometimes I envy you."
"Believe me, there's nothing to be envious of", Gabrielle laughed.
"You'd better get some sleep while we're here", Cista said. "I'll stand guard. We'll continue before dawn."
"Right. Wake me up when it's time." Gabrielle curled inside her blanket.
Again, Gabrielle ran through the dark maze. Again, it seemed endless. Again, she felt that something was chasing her. She knew that running wouldn't help so she stopped. She turned around and readied her staff.
Gabrielle waited and waited but no one ever came. She let her guard down a bit. Nothing. Not even a faintest sound. The silence was almost overwhelming.
"Come on! Show yourself! What are you waiting for?" Gabrielle shouted into the darkness. "I'm not afraid of you! Not anymore!" No one responded to the defiant calls. Instead Gabrielle noticed that something was shadowing the light behind her. She turned around and saw a dark figure closing her. Gabrielle gathered all her courage and readied herself to face the figure that one step after another came closer.
It would have been so easy to just run away but Gabrielle stayed in place. Besides, there was something familiar in that dark shape, something safe and comforting
"Xena?" The bard asked timidly.
"Yes, Gabrielle", the warrior answered with a calm voice and stepped into the light.
Gabrielle took a moment to look at the dark-haired warrior. Xena was in her leathers and armor but her sword was in the scabbard and her appearance was calm and peaceful. There was only love and affection in those sapphire blue eyes. She offered her arms to the bard who eagerly accepted the offer and closed herself in a warm embrace.
"Xena!" Gabrielle repeated with an excited tone and enjoyed every moment against that perfectly formed chest.
"Gabrielle", Xena said and shook her a bit.
"Yes, Xena?" Gabrielle said.
"Wake up, Gabrielle", Xena said and shook her again.
"Wake up?" The bard asked. Suddenly everything became blurry and she blinked her eyes a couple of times. The warrior princess was gone and in her place was Cista.
"Wake up, it's almost morning", the Amazon said. "We have to get going."
Gabrielle blinked her eyes a couple of times more and she was fully awake. "How long until we get to Amphipolis?" She asked.
"A few candlemark's ride", Cista answered. "We should be there before lunchtime."
Gabrielle stifled a yawn. She thought about her dream. It seemed to reflect the situation between Xena and her. Was this a good sign? Only time would tell. She turned to look at the young Amazon who was saddling her horse.
"Cista, I want to thank you", Gabrielle said to her.
"For riding with you?" Cista asked.
"That, and for believing in me."
"You're welcome, my princess."
Eponin walked slowly on the main street, trying not to moan on every step. She knew that she should still be in bed but the boredom was driving her nuts. She had managed to sneak out under Shanni's supervising eyes and was now trying to get her hands on a piece of bread and a wineskin. Why for Artemis' sake Gabrielle had to go and put Annika in charge? She thought angrily as she limped forward. Deep inside her sense told her that Annika had been the best choice but at the moment her pride did not accept any sensible thoughts.
Eponin had come behind Cyrene's inn. She walked silently to the back door and tried the handle. The door was unlocked. Eponin opened the door a little and slunk in. A moment later she came out with a wineskin and a piece of bread.
"Shouldn't you be in bed?" Eponin twitched at the dark voice behind her. She turned to face the raven-haired warrior.
"Don't you have something better to do than to sneak up on people, Xena?" Eponin said with an irritated tone.
"No, if they are stealing things from my mother's inn", Xena said and looked at the wineskin in Eponin's hand.
"Well, my stomach was growling and I needed a drink. There's not much chance of getting one in the infirmary", the Amazon said, still trying to sound irritated to cover her embarrassment.
"Well, you could have always asked", Xena said and grinned.
"Yeah, I suppose. Anyway, I needed to get out of the infirmary. Any more of that nursing and pampering and I would have freaked", Eponin said.
"Wait here while I fetch us a couple of mugs." The warrior opened the door and gave another grin to the weapons master. "Did you really think that I was going to let you drink all that wine by yourself."
Soon, Xena and Eponin were sitting on a rock at the outskirts of the town and sipping the cool wine. Not many words had been exchanged. The Amazon could sense that her dark companion was here only in flesh.
"Hasn't Gabrielle returned yet?" Eponin asked. She had been informed of the situation.
"What? Huh, no, no she hasn't", Xena answered. She had been so deep in her thoughts that the Amazon had surprised her.
"Don't worry. I'm sure she's alright", Eponin reassured the warrior. "Convincing the council must be taking her more time than she had predicted." She took another sip of her wine. "What if she doesn't succeed?"
"Then may the gods help us all." Xena emptied her mug. She was going to pour some more when she heard distant hoof beats. She looked down on the road and could see two riders coming. She looked more closely and could make out the form of her beloved bard. Instantaneously, Xena got on her feet and ran to the road, leaving the amazed Eponin sitting on the rock.
"Gabrielle!" Xena shouted when they were about hundred paces away from each other.
"Xena!" The bard answered almost simultaneously.
"Gabrielle!" Xena repeated and reached for the bard who quickly dismounted and landed on waiting arms of the warrior.
"Xena, I've missed you", Gabrielle said and wrapped her arms around the raven-haired woman.
"And I've missed you, my bard", Xena replied and placed a gentle kiss on her lover's lips.
"Mmm, I just love the taste of your lips." Gabrielle grinned impishly and kissed the warrior, this time a little longer. A warm sensation ran down through her spine.
"Mwwa, ah, aren't you going to introduce us?" Xena said and let slowly go of the bard when she realized that they had company.
"What, uh, sorry." Gabrielle blushed slightly. "Xena, meet Cista, member of the Amazon council."
"Pleased to meet you, Cista." The warrior shook hands with the Amazon.
"Likewise. On behalf of the Amazon council I would like to thank you for all the good that you have done to our nation. I also would like to say that the Amazons will fight on your side if you still want us."
"On behalf of the people of Amphipolis I thank you", Xena said. "We can use every possible hand."
"Don't thank me, thank your companion here." Cista looked at Gabrielle. "She convinced the whole council, including myself."
"Well, Cista. I wouldn't have expected to see you here", Eponin said coolly. She had joined the others.
"Expectations are sometimes hard to fulfill", Cista commented dryly.
The warrior and the bard could feel the tension between the two Amazons. Xena gave a questioning look to Gabrielle who formed the word 'later' in her lips.
"When will the rest of the Amazons arrive?" Xena asked to ease up the atmosphere.
"Later, in the afternoon. And some more from the other villages in the evening", Gabrielle answered.
"That won't leave us much time for preparations but I guess we'll have to live with that."
"We'll make it", the bard assured the warrior. "Right now I would be ready for some refreshments. It has been a long ride."
"Follow me. I'm sure that Cyrene has made something for lunch", Xena said and started to walk towards the inn.
"Well, my warrior, is it time for dessert?" Gabrielle said with a seducing voice when she closed the door of Xena's room behind her. She and Xena had finished the lunch quickly and excused themselves.
"Did you have something special in mind, my bard?" Xena asked back. Her low voice made the bard to blush slightly.
"Yes indeed. Something.. very.. special." Gabrielle kissed the warrior between each word.
"Mmm, can't wait", the warrior said. She took the bard's earlobe between her teeth and sucked the soft flesh.
"Ooh, that feels so good", Gabrielle murmured as she did her best to open the clips of Xena's breast plate.
"I promise you, it's going to feel a lot better", Xena said, her fingers opening the knots of Gabrielle's top, and revealing her breasts. Xena moved her lips over the erect nipple, getting an immediate response from the bard.
"Oh, Xxena, please!" Gabrielle moaned. Her whole body was trembling and she could feel the moist inside her breeches. One string after another she loosened Xena's leathers and pulled the shoulder straps down. She twirled her finger around the warrior's other nipple, making it even harder and more erect than it already was.
"Oh, I've wanted you so much", the warrior growled with a low voice. She opened the bard's skirt and pulled her almost soaking breeches down. While she was knelt down she took the opportunity to get a taste of her lover. Xena's tongue moved gently back and forth between Gabrielle's folds. She could feel how the spasms went through the bard's body.
"Xxenaaa " Gabrielle whined in pleasure. "Please take me, now!"
Xena removed the rest of her clothing and laid Gabrielle gently on the bed.
Continued in part8
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