Saras walked away from the hut, not stopping until she reached the large series of adjoining huts that made up the royal palace. Ephiny nodded and led her inside and to the large conference room. Although there no one else was around, Saras spoke quietly. "They both lost a great deal of blood. Eponin's wound should have been stitched up immediately." her words carried with them a bitter tone of anger. "I believe both will recover...." she hesitated, clearly wanting to say more.
"What? There's something you're not telling me." Ephiny said in her most authoritative tone.
"It...it's too early to tell, but I fear that some of the injuries will have permanent ramifications. The wounds were quite deep and the damage extensive. The muscles in Eponin's leg were almost completely severed."
Ephiny closed her eyes at the painful news. Fear for her friends, fear for Gabrielle, and even fear for the world in general if Xena was truly a warlord again filled her. "And Solari?"
"I'm more optimistic about her. Her injury was apparently made by a sword and not Xena's chakram. She's complaining of numbness in her fingers. Perhaps the feeling will return when she heals. The body is a mysterious thing, Ephiny. Miracles happen. We'll pray to Artemis for them."
Saras left to tend to her charges. Ilanna sat down at the table next to Ephiny. "What are you going to do?" the Carmelite Amazon asked. Ephiny rubbed her eyes, darkened from lack of sleep.
"I don't know, this just doesn't make any sense." she set her hands on the table and leaned back in her chair. "I know Xena's pretended to be a warlord again before, but this...this is totally different. Holding Gabrielle hostage, demanding a ransom, attacking two of our finest warriors? Ilanna, we can't afford for Xena to go back to her old ways. In the battle of Corinth she destroyed half the Centaur army before pulling out. Right now she can still be stopped. Without an army by her side, our warriors can defeat her."
"Then why haven't you dispatched a group of them to find her yet?" Ilanna asked the obvious question. "Surely you don't intend to pay the ransom, do you?" the pause she received concerned the royal guard. "Ephiny, she attacked two Amazons and is holding the queen hostage. How can you stand by and not do something about it? Xena must be captured and punished for her crimes, you know that."
"I know." Ephiny growled, standing up and walking over to the wall covered with ceremonial masks. "This isn't some nameless warlord we're talking about. This is Xena, a person I'm proud to call friend."
"In light of what's happened perhaps you should rethink that, Ephiny."
The blond Amazon turned around quickly, anger evident on her face. "This is the woman who delivered my son. The woman who saved us from a war with the Centaurs and helped us create a peace with them that we've never seen before. The woman that risked her own life to protect Gabrielle AND the village from Velasca. How can I turn my back on her now?" she put her hands on the back of the chair and leaned against it.
"I know you don't want to hear this, Ephiny, but this is also the woman that burned villages to the ground, killed countless men, women, and children, and at this moment is holding the leader of the Amazon nation as prisoner. What choice do you have?"
"I have the choice not to hunt her down like a dog." the regent exclaimed. "I don't know what happened, but somehow we have to get Gabrielle back to us safely AND do it without killing Xena."
"That may not be an option anymore, Ephiny. The whole village knows by now what happened to Solari and Eponin. How are you going to answer their calls for Xena's blood?"
The blond ruler bowed her head. "I don't know, Ilanna. I just don't know. I can't believe that Xena willingly would do all this. I wish there was a way to talk to Gabrielle and find out what's going on."
"If Gabrielle is still alive, Eph. Who knows what Xena did to her after Solari and Ep escaped." Ilanna said, regretting it instantly when she saw the look on Ephiny's face. She realized that she had made her point, but wondered if the cost was worth it. The blond ruler walked back over to the wall and stared at the masks of her foremothers as if she could draw strength from them. For several moments she said nothing. When she did speak, her words were laced with regret and pain.
"Find out from Solari when the exchange is supposed to take place. Then collect the best warrior and archers and have them make preparations."
"Right away." Ilanna headed for the door.
"Ilanna, I want it made clear that under no circumstances is anyone to try and take justice into their own hands. Xena is to be captured, not killed." Ephiny spoke in the tone reserved for official declarations and her body language made it clear that her words were not to be taken lightly.
"What if Xena leaves them no choice?"
"Let's try not to put her in that position, shall we? Remember that she and Gabrielle have a special bond together. You weren't there in the Hall of Ambrosia, you didn't see how they looked at each other when Xena was in that sarcophagus and opened her eyes. I did. How do you think our queen would feel if her own people killed the woman she loves?"
"If it was to save her life, I think she'd understand."
"That's because you don't know Gabrielle like I do." Ephiny said simply. She sighed and ran her fingers through her curly blond hair. "You have your orders, Ilanna." she waited for the dark Amazon to leave and returned to studying the masks and trying to ignore the pounding pain behind her eyes.
Athena knew something was wrong the instant she entered her realm and saw the table with the miniature version of Athens there. She hesitantly walked over to it, not looking forward at all to seeing what her sister thought of the latest events. She looked over the scaled down city, frowning at was she saw. Both the Acropolis and the Parthenon were destroyed as were all the statues devoted to her. "Tsk tsk tsk."
The Goddess of Wisdom turned to see Ares standing there, a self-satisfied grin on his face. He sauntered over to the table and casually glanced at the damage. "It seems that our dear Artemis is a bit upset with you."
"I still believe that their love will persevere." she said, not at all trusting her brother.
"Yes, well, believe what you want, Athena. Let me ask you this, do you think the Athenian army could withstand an attack from the Amazons?" he put two fingers down on the table and walked them through the streets of the city. "Hmm?"
"There won't be an attack on Athens by the Amazons, Ares. Even if Xena fails, Artemis isn't so mean spirited as to attack an innocent city." she said confidently, even though inside she feared exactly that. The Athenian army was good, but if the entire Amazon nation descended upon her beloved city, she didn't know if it could survive.
"Are you willing to take that chance?" he twirled one finger through the dust that once was a miniature statue of Athena. "I can have an army surround Athens in the blink of an eye, just say the word."
"No, Ares. We have an agreement."
"Ah yes, that little brat's life, I remember. Tell me, though..." he waved his hand over her scrying bowl, filling it with the vision of Gabrielle's battered face. "Already Xena has shown that she has no problem smacking that little queen around. Do you really think that Gabrielle will forgive her? Or trust her again?" he smiled at the concerned look on Athena's face. "You see, I win either way. If Xena fails, she comes back to me and returns to her rightful position at my side while Artemis sends her Amazons down on your city. Now your army may be able to defend Athens, perhaps even defeat those harlots. But what about the next army? And the one after that? Can your army protect Athens then? When Xena returns to me, I'll give her the biggest, most fearsome army the world has ever known. Just guess what the first city they'll attack will be." he grinned evilly. "If by some chance Xena passes this little challenge...well, can you see Gabrielle staying with her after all she's been through? The poor dear. Why, I wouldn't be surprised if she decides to stay with the Amazons. What will Xena do then? Why, without someone there to guide her, she'll fall back into my fold in a matter of days. So you see, either way I get Xena back and Athens falls."
"You bastard! You had this planned all along, didn't you?" she seethed. "I knew you were desperate to get Xena back but that was just the precursor, wasn't it? Your real goal was to destroy Athens." she said angrily, furious at being duped by his deceit and treachery.
"Let's not forget about the Amazons." he stroked his beard thoughtfully. "I just don't which I want to destroy first, your city or Artemis' precious harlots. Ah well, makes no difference. They'll both be crushed soon enough." he smirked in a most annoying fashion at his sister. "You know, for the Goddess of Wisdom, it sure took you long enough to figure it out." his laughter grew louder, echoing off the walls of her realm as he disappeared.
Athena walked over to her scrying bowl and looked down at the image. "Oh Gabrielle, I hope I haven't overestimated your love for her. Without you, there'll be no way to stop Ares from controlling her again and if that happens...." she couldn't finish her sentence, the thought of the Destroyer of Nations returning to the God of War was just too horrid. "Be strong, Gabrielle, be strong."
Xena sipped her tea and stared at the sleeping woman. In the light of early morning, the purple bruise that surrounded Gabrielle's eye stood out in sharp contrast to the rest of her face, save for the other bruises around her mouth and jaw. The warlord felt a tinge of regret for her treatment of the prisoner, especially after the way the young woman had so carefully stitched up her thigh the night before. There was something almost loving in the way Gabrielle had touched her. Xena shook her head. It made no sense. She had beaten the woman, attacked her compatriots, held her for ransom, even tried to kill her. Yet Gabrielle still tended to her wounds and spoke to her as if she were a friend. Xena rose and pulled some herbs out of her saddlebag, mixing them together in the pot and adding water from the skin. She set it on the fire to boil, then grabbed the soap and walked over to Argo. Gabrielle had unsaddled the horse last night, but it was too dark then to wash the blood off. Now in the light of day, Xena led Argo to the edge of the pond and began to gently clean her. After she finished, the warlord returned to the campsite and untied the sleeping woman. Xena finished her now cold cup of tea and waited for the blond woman to wake up.
For a moment, the bard forgot that she was being held hostage until she went to rub the sleep out of her eyes and felt the pain of her shiner and the rawness of her wrists. Now remembering the recent events, Gabrielle sat up and looked at Xena, trying to gauge her mood. The dark haired woman poured the hot liquid from the pot into a cup and handed it to her. "Drink this, it'll help ease the swelling." Gabrielle looked at the cup warily, unsure of its contents. Xena noticed and frowned. "It's not poison, Amazon. Drink." the bard drank it down as quickly as she could, not wanting to anger her captor and face the possibility of another attack. She was relieved when she recognized the different herbs in the drink as being helpful instead of harmful.
"Thank you." Gabrielle said as she set the empty cup down. The warlord grunted and started to pack up her bedroll and gear.
"We have to keep moving to avoid any rescue attempts." she looked at the mountain range in the distance, a good day's ride away. She knew the area well, having traveled through it several times over the summers with her army. Xena recalled several large caverns and caves that were easily camouflage and would make good hiding places for her until it was time to collect the ransom. She remembered a small village nearby that would serve as a good place to get more supplies. Even if the Amazons questioned people in the village and someone mentioned seeing her, there was still no way the women warriors would find her or their queen in the vast maze of caverns that cut through the mountain. She gave Gabrielle time to make a trip to the woods and to eat a meager breakfast before hoisting her onto Argo. Xena thought about tying the young woman's hands to the saddle horn again, but decided that it wasn't necessary. Besides, she was running out of rope and needed to conserve as much of it as she could. She fastened her scabbard to her hip and put on her cape before climbing up behind the blond and sending the horse into motion.
Xena kept to the road, her eyes searching constantly for any signs of Amazons. She knew better than to get caught within the forest. The women warriors were experts on using the trees to their advantage and the warlord wanted the odds to be in her favor, not theirs. Gabrielle sat quietly in front of her, well aware of the arm encircling her waist and the thighs pressed up against hers. Xena had never sat so close to her before and the contact of skin against skin flared up hidden feelings within the bard. With the silence, Gabrielle could pretend that it was her Xena that was touching her, that there was no danger or threat, that it was just the two of them riding along the countryside as they had done so many times before. She closed her eyes and concentrated on the warm hand against her belly, the soft muscular thighs touching hers, the feel of the woman she loved against her. There were so many times that Gabrielle had longed to tell Xena of her true feelings, of her need and desire. Sadly she realized that she might never get the chance. Whatever reason the gods had for doing this, she had lost her Xena, possibly forever. Her musings were interrupted by Xena's hand abruptly leaving her abdomen and pulling hard on the reins.
Standing in the road in front of them were seven well armed men, all leering at them. "Hello boys." Xena drawled.
"Looks like we might just have some fun today after all." the largest man said to the rest of his group as he rubbed his crotch suggestively. "Come on down off the horse ladies."
"I'll make it easy for you...you can move to the side and let us pass or you can spend the rest of the day picking up your guts from the ground. The choice is yours." Xena pulled the side of her cape back to reveal her sword and scabbard.
"Ooh, girlie has a sword." he jeered, causing the rest of the men to laugh uproariously. Gabrielle knew without turning around that Xena was grinning at the underestimation of her ability to handle her weapon. "You really think that you can handle all of us?"
"Do you really want to find out?" she dismounted and stood in front of Argo, sword drawn. Gabrielle reached down and pulled her staff out of the saddlebag, assembling it quickly. The seven men moved to try and encircle them as the bard climbed down and readied her staff for defense. The leader and two others charged at Xena while two tried for Gabrielle and two headed for Argo. A large strong horse like that would either fetch a good price in the village or make several meals for them. Just as the leader reached Xena, she let out a piercing yell and swung her sword out to meet his.
Gabrielle swung her staff with ease, quickly pulling the legs out from under one of them and swinging it back to catch the other one in the midsection. Argo danced in circles, keeping her reins out of reach of the two frustrated men. "Dammit, stand still." one of them yelled. This horse would never make it to market, he decided as he drew his sword. Xena heard the blade being removed from its sheath and without looking released her chakram. It careened off his head and ricocheted into a nearby tree, the wood weakened by parasites living within the tall cypress. Xena frowned at the momentary loss of her weapon. The distraction almost cost her dearly as the leader swung his sword in a vicious arc. She brought her sword up at the last heartbeat to block the blow. With her attention divided between the three men in front of her, the warlord couldn't see the one man give up on catching the horse and concentrate on slipping up behind her. Gabrielle knocked out the last of her attackers just in time to see the man heading for the otherwise occupied Xena. "Behind you!" she yelled. Without looking, the dark haired woman brought her foot back and connected with his chest, sending him sprawling to the ground. Within moments it was over. Four of the men were dead, the other three unconscious. Xena walked over to the leader and untied the wineskin from his belt. She opened the stopper and sniffed it carefully before taking a sip. Satisfied, she tied it to the saddlehorn and retrieved her chakram from the tree. When she returned to Argo's side, she found that Gabrielle had already disassembled her staff and put it back in the saddlebag.
"Do you always help those that are holding you captive?" Xena asked as she helped Gabrielle up before climbing up behind her. The bard thought carefully before answering.
"I'd rather be your prisoner than theirs."
"Don't be too sure about that, Amazon." the warlord said before wrapping her arm around Gabrielle's waist and sending Argo into motion.
Ephiny walked onto the field to survey the preparations. One team was busy using flat edged spades to cut squares in the grass as long as an average warrior was tall. Another group was carefully pulling away the patch of grass so a third group could move in with shovels and dig out pits for the archers to hide in. On the edge of the field, an assembly line of women were busy making box frames to set inside the pits with hinged roofs to attach the grass to. If everything worked out correctly, three dozen archers would be hidden in the pits, which were set in a circular pattern around the center of the field. The blond ruler walked up behind Ilanna, who was supervising the operation. "Are you sure she won't see the pits?"
"No, great care will be given to groom the field so the cut lines aren't visible. We're lucky that the grass is as tall as it is. That will help to conceal them." Ilanna replied. "By the time she realizes that they're there, it will be far too late for her to escape. Ephiny nodded in understanding.
"Where will the scouts be positioned?"
"There'll be four in the trees on the road and six others throughout the nearby forest in case she tries to sneak past them."
"No, there'll be no need for them. She has Gabrielle as a shield. There's no reason for her to hide. She'll know that we're watching her." Ephiny took the map from Ilanna and noted the positions of the scouts. "Move these two over here, they'll be able further down the road. Which pits will also hold warriors?"
"Every third one will also contain a warrior." the ebony guard explained.
"No, you're underestimating her. Ilanna, her arm was dislocated and her solution was to bash her shoulder against a rock wall to put it back in place. Twelve warriors, even with archers as backups, won't be able to handle her if she gets into a rage. I've only seen her in a real battle once, against Krykus, but I've heard stories about her exploits from Gabrielle." Ephiny remembered a story she was told about Xena being in a prison and jerking the chains free with just her brute strength. "I have to go see the smithy. Make those changes and meet me at Saras' hut. I'll see Solari and Eponin when I'm through."
Gryne was hard at work in her shop forging a new sword for Eponin when Ephiny arrived. Her grey hair was cut less than the width of a finger away from her head. Her powerful forearms, broad, muscular chest, and larger than average height made her the perfect blacksmith for the village. She did more than just fashion blades and arrows, Gryne was also an accomplished sculptor with granite and had assisted in the repairs to Artemis' temple after Velasca's rampage desecrated it. If anyone could handle the task Ephiny was about to give, it would be Gryne.
She looked up from her task and smiled at the blond ruler. "What can I do for you today, Ephiny?"
"I need you to fashion manacles and chains so strong that Hercules himself couldn't break them. They must be linked to granite slabs so heavy that ten Amazons couldn't lift them." she stopped, momentarily alarmed by her own coldness toward a woman that she called friend. Gryne set the blade back in the coals, sending hot ash rising skyward. Ephiny looked at the orange glow that quickly worked its way up the metal and remembered why the sword was being made in the first place. Eponin's sword had been given to her by her mother, passed down six generations from mother to daughter. It was her friend's prized possession. She made a mental note to send someone to Minos to try and locate the weapon, despite the knowledge that a sword of that quality and craftsmanship was most likely long gone. Ephiny took a deep breath and pushed all thoughts of friendship aside. She didn't need to hold Xena, the warrior friend of the queen, she needed to keep the animal that attacked her friends and was holding Gabrielle hostage from escaping. When she looked at Gryne again, Ephiny's jaw was set, her eyes narrowed with intensity. "I want you to make sure that Xena won't be able to escape, no matter what."
Gryne nodded grimly. She had been thinking all morning about what happened to Eponin and Solari. "She won't escape, Ephiny. I swear to Artemis." the smithy said firmly.
Saras met the blond ruler at the door of the hut and filled her in on both women's conditions. Solari was alert and doing much better, reporting tingling feelings in her fingers, a sure sign of healing. Eponin was not as lucky. The strong, quiet warrior had been reduced to tears several times from the intense pain caused by the chakram wound. Saras gave her as much pain medicine as she dared and it didn't seem to even touch the agony the stocky Amazon was in. Eponin was talking out of her head when Ephiny entered. The blond woman wanted to stay and be there for her friend but there were too many matters that had to be attended to first. She pressed Solari for every detail of their meeting with Xena, urging her to hold nothing back. At first the tall dark haired Amazon was reluctant to tell her everything, especially the condition of Gabrielle's face. But the more she talked about what happened and the more she listened to her friend crying out in pain, the more angry Solari became. She held nothing back, not even when she saw Ephiny visibly wince at some of her more graphic descriptions. The dark haired Amazon made every detail excruciatingly clear to the blond ruler. By the time Ephiny left the healer's hut, she was convinced that she had been right to insist on the extra warriors and restraints. She swore to Artemis that she would capture Xena or die trying.
It was nightfall by the time Xena found the cave she was looking for. The opening was barely wide enough for the reluctant Argo to squeeze through but the cave itself had plenty of room for them. There was evidence of previous occupants, most likely Xena's army when they had passed through there summers ago. A small ring of stones marked the location of a long dead fire and a small pile of dried wood was gathered at the far end of the cave. Xena started the fire while keeping one eye on her unrestrained prisoner. The warlord was certain that she wouldn't try to escape, especially when Gabrielle unloaded the saddlebags and bedrolls and started to set up camp. Xena watched with great interest at the speed and ease at which the Amazon laid everything out, as if she did it all the time. Once the fire was going, the warlord unsaddled Argo and brushed her down before bringing the wineskin and saddle over near the fire. She sat down and used the saddle as a backrest. Gabrielle had finished laying out the bedrolls on opposite sides of the fire and had already started water to boil for tea. Xena unstoppered the wineskin and took a deep draught before holding it out to the Amazon. "Go ahead, you fought them as much as I did." the warlord said when Gabrielle seemed reluctant to take the skin. The warlord watched her take a small swallow before trying to return it. Xena refused. "What's the matter, Gabrielle? I know you Amazons like good wine."
"Well...I'm not much of a drinker, I guess." she said. Despite the civil treatment she had received that day, the bard was still wary and wanted to keep her senses as alert as possible. Xena leaned forward and took the wineskin. She took another drink and handed it back to her prisoner. This time Gabrielle got the message and took a decent swallow. Apparently Xena was trying to be sociable and the bard wasn't about to do anything that might cause the leather clad woman to become angry again. They passed the wineskin back and forth, slowly draining it, the pot on the fire forgotten. Indeed, Gabrielle only remembered it when all the water had boiled away. She looked at Xena apologetically. "I'm sorry. I'll get some more."
"Don't bother." the warlord replied as she took another drink. "I'm not in the mood for tea anyway." She removed her armor and sprawled out on her side, propped up on one elbow. She went to pass the skin back to Gabrielle but couldn't reach. "Move closer." the bard hesitated for only a moment before grabbing her bedroll and moving around the fire until she was within arms reach of the leather clad woman. She adopted the same relaxed position as Xena and took the wineskin. The orange glow of the flames flickered off her well-developed abdomen, highlighting the muscles for Xena to see. The warlord openly gazed at Gabrielle, her eyes traveling up and down the bard's body. By the gods, this woman is beautiful, Xena thought to herself. She took the almost empty skin back and finished it off, tossing the empty sack behind her. "You must be anxious to get back to your village, to your lover."
"Um..." Gabrielle noticed the frank examination and the hunger in Xena's eyes and swallowed nervously. "I don't have a lover."
"As queen I would think you could have anyone you chose." the warlord replied, rolling onto her stomach. The move put just that much closer to the young blond.
"I...well, there was someone that I wanted, but...." she looked into the fire, the conversation and closeness combined with the wine was making it hard for her to think clearly.
"Your friend? The one you said I reminded you of?"
"Yes." Gabrielle admitted. "She's the only one I ever wanted."
"Why didn't you become lovers?" she pulled herself closer to the bard, her own desire heightening when she heard Gabrielle's breathing quicken. "Did she want someone else?"
"N-no, not that I know of." her heart beat faster when she looked up from the fire and caught the blue eyes staring at her cleavage. "I guess she didn't find me...desirable." the emotions were getting too strong for Gabrielle and she stood up, intent on returning her bedroll to the far side of the fire and away from the powerful presence. Xena rose and wrapped one long arm around Gabrielle's waist, pulling her close.
"That's too bad." the dark haired woman said huskily. "Because you are a very desirable woman." she pulled the bard closer, until bare skin connected with soft leather. Gabrielle's hands went to Xena's upper chest, intent on pushing herself away. This wasn't her Xena, this was a warlord holding her prisoner, she kept telling herself. Her body told her a different story as her hands slid up to wrap around the taller woman's neck. The unique scent of leather and Xena filled Gabrielle's nostrils, making it hard for her to concentrate.
"We shouldn't..." she made the mistake of looking up into the blue eyes, dark with desire. "I-I never..." she was silenced by the pressure of Xena's lips on hers. The warlord's tongue pushed past the bard's lips and demanded entry to her mouth while one strong hand reached between them to undo the laces of Gabrielle's top. The young woman whimpered when tongues collided and dueled within her mouth. Xena's hands became more insistent, one deftly undoing her top and the other cupping and squeezing her firm rear. Gabrielle felt her knees go weak under the oral onslaught and she tightened her hold around the taller woman's neck.
The warlord smiled at the surrender and guided them to her bedroll. As she lowered Gabrielle down, she pulled the lace free, causing the green top to open and expose the hidden treasures within. Xena's tongue blazed a trail down the bard's throat and chest until her lips wrapped around one pink nipple. Gabrielle gasped and her back arched involuntarily at the delicious contact. She tried to think of a reason why she shouldn't allow it to continue but with each flick of Xena's tongue Gabrielle's reasoning skills dissipated. Her fingers buried themselves in the raven hair and she had no control over the sighs and moans escaping from her lips. Xena brought her hand up to knead and fondle the other breast, capturing the nipple between her thumb and forefinger and squeezing firmly. "Oh sweet gods...." Gabrielle cried when the warlord switched the position of her mouth and hand. Xena couldn't remember the last time she had felt someone so responsive to her. It was as if the young queen's body was meant for her to enjoy. The soft moans and cries only served to drive Xena further. She slipped one powerful thigh between Gabrielle's legs and pressed against her, eliciting a deep groan.
Xena propped herself up on one elbow and looked down at the face flushed with desire. "Open your eyes, Gabrielle." she commanded. The warlord held her gaze while she slipped her hand down to unfasten the belt. "So beautiful." she murmured as the leather fell away and her fingers hooked around the edge of the bard's skirt. "You want this."
"Yes" came the breathless reply. Skilled fingers unwrapped the folds of material, revealing the golden triangle of curly hair. Xena's hand slipped between Gabrielle's thighs.
"You need this." she urged, her fingers pressing against the wet folds but not entering.
"Yes." the bard replied breathlessly, her hips arching on their own. One lone finger slid between and was soaked instantly with Gabrielle's passion.
"You need me." Xena commanded as another finger joined the first, both resting just outside the young woman's opening. The bard's hips rocked, trying to draw the warlord in.
"Tell me." she brought her thumb in, resting just to the side of Gabrielle's clit.
"Please." the bard begged, reaching down to capture Xena's wrist. The warlord held fast, refusing to give in.
"Tell me, Gabrielle." she wiggled her thumb, sending a jolt of pleasure though the young woman.
"Please, Xena, please." she cried. All of her senses were concentrated on the burning need between her legs. "I need you."
With those words spoken out of pure desire, Xena brought her head down and captured a nipple between her teeth at the same time she plunged her fingers deep within Gabrielle's core. "Oh gods!" she screamed as her hips came off the blanket, trying to draw more of Xena into her. The warlord began pumping her fingers in and out while her thumb went to work on its task. She brought her head up and watched Gabrielle's face as she increased the rhythm of her strokes. The green eyes were shut tight, unintelligible grunts and cries came from her mouth and her arms flailed about helplessly until they found purchase in the long tresses of raven hair. With a strength born of passion, she pulled Xena's face down for a kiss.
"So responsive." the warlord growled before hungrily claiming her mouth. She pulled her fingers all the way back until only the very tips remained inside the bard, then added a third finger and sank them back in as deep as she could go. Xena buried her face in Gabrielle's hair and increased the speed and force of her strokes. Coherent speech was impossible for the bard as her body took over and her hips bucked frantically against the warlord's questing fingers. Xena groaned at the damp tightness that gripped her fingers and wished she had removed her own clothes as the dampness between her legs increased. Gabrielle's hips met the warlord stroke for stroke and the series of 'oh gods' and 'yes Xena, more' increased in volume. The raven haired woman sat up and brought her other hand down through the golden curls until she reached Gabrielle's clit. The frantic rocking made it hard for her to maintain contact with the sensitive nub and Xena resorted to flattening her fingers against it and rubbing back and forth rapidly. Gabrielle's fingers dug into the warlord's upper arm and she gritted her teeth as she felt herself lose control. Xena felt the spasms begin deep within the young woman and gave her one last deep plunge. Gabrielle's body arched and stiffened as she climaxed and a scream of pleasure was torn from her lungs. She collapsed weakly back to the ground, the warlord's fingers still inside her. Only when Gabrielle's inner muscles stopped twitching with aftershocks did Xena slowly remove them, the action drawing another moan from the near unconscious woman.
The warlord stood and quickly removed her clothes before laying down against the still recovering woman. She ran the back of one long finger against the soft skin of bard's cheek. "You're so beautiful, Gabrielle." she murmured. She took the smaller hand in hers and brought it to her mouth. Xena took one of Gabrielle's fingers into her mouth and nibbled and sucked on the tip. Once it was thoroughly wet, she brought it down to circle her own dark nipple, sighing at the feeling. "Touch me." she groaned, pressing Gabrielle's hand firmly against her breast. Xena's legs wrapped around the bard's thigh and pulled it against her aching sex. Gabrielle opened her eyes and watched her best friend's face as Xena rocked against her. She squeezed the breast beneath her hand and felt the hard nipple press into her palm. The knowledge of what she was about to do hit her and Gabrielle withdrew her hand.
"What's wrong?" Xena asked when she felt the break in contact. The bard couldn't meet her gaze, choosing instead to look down between them. Gabrielle mumbled something unintelligible. The raven haired woman put her fingers beneath the bard's chin and tilted her head up until they could make eye contact. "Tell me." she said, wanting to straighten out whatever was obviously making the Amazon uncomfortable so they could go back to what they were doing.
"I don't know what to do." she whispered. "I've never been with a woman before."
Xena released her grip and looked at her in disbelief. "You've never slept with a woman before?"
"No." her cheeks flushed slightly with embarrassment. "I've only been with one person before, my husband, and that was only for one night."
"You've only had sex once?"
"Well you don't have to say it like it's a bad thing, you know." she shot back, now clearly uncomfortable. This was not how she dreamed her first time with Xena would be.
"Hey...look at me." she gently turned the bard's attention back to her instead of the fire. "I didn't know. I thought you were...experienced." she took Gabrielle's hand and put it back on her breast. "Like this." Xena put her hand on the bard's generous breast and gently kneaded the warm, soft flesh. Gabrielle mimicked the warlord's actions and soon found herself squeezing and fondling Xena's erect nipple. She smiled when she saw the blue eyes close and the full lips form a small smile. Gabrielle went on instinct after that, taking her cues from the older woman's body language and soft groans. Xena soon resumed her rocking motion against the bard's thigh, soaking it with her wetness. She rolled onto her back, pulling Gabrielle on top of her. She guided the bard's mouth to her breast. "Suck me, Gabrielle...mmm, yes, like that." she moaned. The young woman experimented, learning what pleased Xena and what didn't and how much was too much. It only took a couple of ouches from the warlord for her to learn the limits and stay within them. She brought her hand up on her own and began squeezing and pinching the other nipple, causing Xena's hips to rock beneath her. The warlord could take only so much of Gabrielle's exploration before she needed more. She shifted the young woman off of her and guided the smaller woman's hand between her legs. "Touch me, Gabrielle." she kept her hand on top of the bard's, guiding her between the folds. "Go inside." she croaked, her voice thick with need. Worried about hurting her, Gabrielle slowly entered with one finger, marveling at the texture and feeling of actually being inside Xena. "More..." she added a second finger, feeling the slight pressure of the inner walls surrounding her fingers. "More." Gabrielle added a third and finally a fourth finger, slowly stretching the wet skin around them. Xena reached down and tried to reach the bard's sex, frustrated to find it beyond the reach of her hand. She grabbed Gabrielle's thigh and guided her to a kneeling position, the bard's upper body laying across her torso. "Move your knees apart." she commanded, smiling at the speed at which the young woman complied. She slipped two fingers in deep, pleased at the renewed wetness against her fingers. Gabrielle moaned and pressed deeper with her own hand, drawing a similar response from the warlord beneath her. They worked each other, meeting stroke for stroke as both fell into the spell of passion. Xena added a third finger, stretching the young woman as far as she felt comfortable, and began pumping her with the same enthusiasm as before. Gabrielle gripped the warlord's thigh and cried out at the sudden change in tempo. She increased the motion and speed of her own hand within the older woman, unsure if she would be able to continue as she felt herself rising again. She rocked back and forth, meeting the long fingers thrust for thrust, blindly seeking the impending release. She buried her head into Xena's hip and her hand stilled as a violent orgasm ripped through her body. She collapsed against the warlord's body, shuddering when she felt the fingers slowly pull out of her. Gabrielle began moving her hand again, refusing to succumb to her need to recover in her quest to bring the woman she loved the same pleasure she had received. She laid there, slowly pulling in and out until she felt enough of her strength return to move. She shifted her position and knelt next to Xena's thigh, giving herself better leverage. Gabrielle increased her motions in an attempt to match the pace of the older woman's hips. "Harder." Xena cried, her hips bucking frantically. Gabrielle gritted her teeth and pumped as fast and hard as she could, amazed by the amount of fluid flowing out and covering her hand. With a mighty yell Xena arched up and stayed suspended in the air, her inner muscles spasming around Gabrielle's fingers. The bard went to pull out but was stopped by Xena's hand around her wrist, keeping her inside. "Wait." she gasped. After a few heartbeats, she lowered her hips back to the ground and released her grip on Gabrielle's wrist. The bard slowly pulled out and rubbed the aching muscles in her arm. Xena laid there, eyes closed, letting herself slowly come back to earth. When she finally opened them, she saw Gabrielle looking down at her, a mixture of emotions on her face. Xena held her arm out to the side, silently inviting the young woman in. Gabrielle smiled and scooted up to lay her head against the raven haired woman's broad shoulder. The feel of Xena against her and the steady heartbeat beneath her ear served to quickly lull the bard to sleep.
Xena laid there for a full candlemark listening to the steady breathing of the woman sleeping next to her. Never before had anyone elicited such a response from her. Usually Xena dictated all the actions, her own pleasure all that mattered. Yet tonight she wanted, no, needed to please Gabrielle, to take her over the edge, to watch her face the moment she sailed away to ecstasy. One touch of that soft skin, one taste of those lips was all Xena needed to surrender herself to the joy of giving pleasure to another, to give instead of just taking. She reached out and brushed away a lock of hair from Gabrielle's face and sighed. 'If only you weren't their queen,' Xena mused. 'I'd keep you with me, by my side as I conquered Greece. But you are their queen, aren't you? You control them, guide them, lead them into battle. They do what you tell them to.' the warlord thought about being in charge of a whole army of Amazons. Unlike the men she usually filled her armies with, the warrior women were strong of heart, not likely to betray their leader for a few dinars. 'With you at my side and your Amazons at our back, we could crush all those who oppose or defy us.' she thought about the two warriors she fought with at the tavern. That could pose a problem but she was sure that she could handle it. After all, she had convinced their queen to surrender to her. With their leader on her side, it was only a matter of time before they all became loyal to her. If one or two chose to oppose her, what difference would their lives make in the grand scheme of things? With thoughts of an army of well trained Amazons under her control and their queen in her bed, Xena slipped off to a comfortable slumber.
Solari was awakened by the sound of pottery smashing against the floor and a string of expletives. "Ep?" she got out of bed and knelt down on the floor next to the stocky warrior. She reached out her good arm to help Eponin up only to have it smacked away angrily.
"I don't need your help, Solari. I just wanted to get to the pot. Guess I can't even do that without help now." She said dejectedly. Saras came out of the back room where she slept when she had patients.
"What is going on here?" she held her torch out to see to two women on the floor. "Eponin, I told you to stay in your bed. Do you want to rip all your stitches?" she chastised.
"I don't care." she snapped back. "What difference does it make? I know. I can feel it. You may not want to tell me the truth but I know." she lowered her voice and looked at her bandaged thigh. "What good is a warrior who can't walk?"
"Eponin, that's not true." Solari said. "You just have to give yourself time to heal. You've been hurt before in battle and came through just fine." she looked at the healer. "Tell her, Saras, tell her that she'll be fine."
The healer looked down at them, truly not wanting to have this conversation. "Solari, you need to get back to bed. I'll get someone to help me with you, Eponin."
"Go to Hades, Saras. I don't need your help." she growled. She set the table she had knocked over back up and tried to pull herself up. Solari put her hand on the table to keep it from falling over again while Saras came over to help. Eponin used her good leg to push herself back into the bed before the healer could reach her.
"Ep, I know it seems bad right now, but you will get better."
"Save your words for someone who cares, Solari. I'm not buying them. I've seen enough injuries to know when one is permanent. I saw you wiggling your fingers earlier. You'll be okay. Be happy for yourself." every word was said with anger and rage and Solari's face showed the hurt at the words spoken by her best friend. Saras put her hand on the tall Amazon's shoulder.
"Go back to your bed, Solari, there's nothing that can be done tonight." the healer said softly.
"Yeah, go back to your bed, I don't need your pity."
"No, it looks like you have enough of your own, Ep." Solari shot back. Saras guided the tall Amazon to her bed.
"Be gentle on her, Solari." the healer whispered. "This is hard on her, you know that. Don't take what she says seriously."
"I've never seen her like this, Saras, it's like she's given up."
"Shh, you rest. Things will be better in the morning." the healer lied. She'd seen the cycle before and knew the worst was yet to come. Warriors were always the hardest to deal with when they were permanently injured. More than any other class of Amazons, the protectors of the village were the ones that took their positions as a reflection of who they were and when they could no longer be warriors because of an injury, many went through a period of self pity and depression. Most came through the other side just fine, finding another vocation that allowed them to work despite their limitations. Sadly, she had seen far too many that never came out of their depression. Most of them ended up falling on their own swords, unable to bear the thought of not being a warrior anymore. Looking over at Eponin, Saras prayed to Artemis that the stocky warrior would choose to be one of the former and not the latter. The healer went to her counter of medicines and picked out a mixture of pain and sleep herbs that she hoped would calm Eponin down and allow her to rest. She mixed them together and added water to make a potent drink.
"Trying to keep me drugged, Saras?" the stocky warrior said as she took the offered cup. "I suppose it's just as well. At least when I'm talking crazy I don't think about the fact that I won't be able to be a warrior anymore." the healer knew better than to try and argue with the depressed woman. Words would make no difference at this point. Saras knew she could only heal the physical wounds caused by the warlord. The emotional ones were beyond her reach.
"I don't understand. That isn't like Eponin. She's always been so strong." Ephiny sighed. Ilanna sat down in the chair next to her. Saras had just left after giving the blond ruler a report on her patients. Ephiny rubbed her eyes and thought again of their queen being held captive by the same person that did so much damage to her friend. She walked over to the wall of ceremonial masks, drawing strength from them. "May Artemis have mercy on your soul if you've done anything to harm Gabrielle, Xena, because I won't." she vowed. She left the conference room to go check on the progress in the jail, Ilanna close behind.
Gryne slipped the last link through the cutout in the granite and sealed it with molten steel. "Hephaestus himself couldn't have done better." Ephiny said as she inspected the smithy's work. One large slab of granite anchored two thick chains drawn over pulleys. The manacles were designed more like gauntlets, tapered to be smaller at the wrist, making it impossible to wiggle out of. The leg manacles were fashioned similarly and had their own set of thick chains attached to the granite. Ephiny picked up one of the wrist manacles, ran her finger through the inside of it, and frowned. "Gryne, we don't torture our prisoners. Remove the burrs."
"Oh yes, we wouldn't want to make Xena uncomfortable, do we?" Gryne grumbled before picking up her rasp and file. "I don't know why we don't just put her on a rack or better yet just kill her on sight."
"Because we're Amazons, not animals!" Ephiny roared. All morning she had to listen to women complaining about her decision to capture rather than kill the warrior princess. "Something had to happen to cause Xena to change. We owe her a chance to explain herself before we pronounce sentence."
"What's to explain, Ephiny? You place too much trust in her because of what she did for you. She was a warlord, they don't change. Look what she did to Eponin and Solari."
Ephiny dropped the manacle. She was tired of defending her decision to every Amazon she came across. "Just make sure the insides are smooth. That's an order." she said firmly before storming out, the pounding in her head increasing.
Gabrielle opened her eyes and looked around. Her mouth tasted like something died in it and her head protested the sudden movement. The soreness between her legs and her nudity confirmed the fuzzy memory of the previous evening's events. There was no sign of Xena but Argo and the saddlebags were still there. The fire was heating up a pot of water so she knew that the tall woman would be returning soon, most likely only gone long enough to make a trip to the woods. Gabrielle laced her fingers behind her head and looked up at the cave ceiling. She couldn't help but smile at the memory of touching Xena intimately. The smile left when she allowed the reality of the situation to enter her thoughts. It wasn't her Xena. No matter how hard she tried to pretend that they had made love, Gabrielle knew that it didn't mean as much to the warlord as it did to her. There had been nothing gentle in Xena's touch. It had been raw, passionate, and exciting, but not loving. It had been enjoyable, most certainly, but it wasn't the way Gabrielle had pictured it would be. What would happen when Xena got her memory back? Would she remember what happened between them? Would she regret it? Her thoughts were interrupted by the sound of Xena returning.
Xena looked down at Gabrielle laying under the cover of the blanket. She had the pleasure of waking up over two candlemarks earlier and enjoying the sight of the beautiful naked woman lying sleeping next her. She had been tempted to wake the bard up and take her again but she knew there would be plenty of time for that. She watched as Gabrielle self-consciously wrapped the blanket around herself and reached for her clothes. The bard turned away from her to reach for her shirt. Xena knelt down behind her pulled the blanket away. Gabrielle leaned back against the leather-clad woman as long hands reached forward and cupped her breasts. "You're so beautiful, Gabrielle. I want you...now." she breathed into the bard's ear as her fingers found the rapidly hardening nipples.
Gabrielle moaned with pleasure but reached down to cover the larger hands with her own. She knew she couldn't handle another session like last night so soon. "Xena...I can't. I'm...a little sore." she shyly admitted. She was answered with a soft chuckle and the feeling of Xena's fingers resuming their task.
"You won't be for long. I'm sure I can make you forget all about that."
"I have a headache." Gabrielle said distractedly.
"I'll make you forget about that too." the warlord murmured into her ear before nibbling the soft flesh of Gabrielle's neck. Xena loved the effect her touch had on the young queen. She lowered her right hand until she reached the bard's soft curls. It took only the slightest pressure from her to get Gabrielle to spread her knees apart, opening herself to Xena's questing fingers. Like any well planned attack, Xena knew exactly what she was going to do and when she was going to do it. Her fingers explored, slipping between the folds and coating them with Gabrielle's warm wetness before bringing them up to lightly brush against the young queen's clit. Xena heard the soft gasp and smiled. So responsive, she thought to herself as her fingers continued to gently stroke the bard's most sensitive spot.
Gabrielle floated helplessly under Xena's touch. All rational thought was gone, as was her headache. She could no more stop the taller woman from touching her than she could stop breathing and she suspected that Xena knew it. She allowed herself to be guided onto her hands and knees and felt the warlord shift behind her. Xena kept up the pace against the clit with her right hand while her left hand slid down Gabrielle's buttocks and forward until her fingers found their goal. The bard let out a deep groan and her body jerked forward at the sudden invasion of two fingers but Xena held her fast, refusing to let her prize go. She played Gabrielle like a fine instrument, sending her higher and higher until she felt the young woman's body begin to stiffen. She stopped all movement of her fingers and grinned at the protesting moan from Gabrielle. Without warning, Xena flipped the bard onto her back and straddled one thigh. She wanted to see the young woman's face when she sent her over the edge. Gabrielle looked up at her with half-closed eyes, silently begging for her to continue. Xena grinned and kept her fingers still. "Please."
"Please what, Gabrielle?" she twitched the fingers still trapped inside the bard.
"Ungh...Xena, please..." she tried to move her hips but stopped when she felt the warlord start to pull out.
"No no no...please what?" the warlord taunted, this time moving her fingers against the clit slightly, drawing another sensual groan from the bard.
"Oh gods, Xena...I need...please..." Gabrielle's head moved from side to side, her hands were balled into fists and it was all she could do not to reach down and finish it herself. "Please...take me."
Xena smiled at her victory and leaned down until her lips were against the bard's ear. "Remember that I'm the only one who can make you feel this way, Gabrielle...only me." both sets of fingers began moving again, sending Gabrielle over the edge in a matter of heartbeats. The young queen's scream echoed off the cave walls as her body flooded Xena's hand with the passion she created.
Much later, after her own needs were taken care of by the willing bard, Xena laid back against the saddle, Gabrielle curled up in her arms. It was time for the warlord to put her plan into action. "You know, Gabrielle, I'm not some ruthless warlord out to destroy and conquer, I just want to make the world a better place." she felt the queen stiffen in her arms and increased her grip. "That's all your Amazons want, isn't it?"
"They just want to be left alone, to live as they see fit without interference from the outside world. They have no interest in conquering the world." Gabrielle said softly. Her mind raced to figure out where the taller woman was going with her comments.
"Gabrielle, that's all I want, a land free from bandits and warlords, a place where children can be raised in safety and peace. The only way to make that happen is to have a strong army, like yours. An army to protect and defend their homeland, to take back what is rightfully theirs from those who've come before and taken it away. Tell me, Gabrielle, do the Amazons control as much land now as they once did?"
"No, but the land we have now is enough for us. There are other ways to live without wars and battles. The Amazons have made treaties with their neighbors, they've learned to make the land they have meet their needs." she didn't like the direction of the conversation and fully suspected that Xena was up to something.
"That's not enough, Gabrielle...they've learned to settle for what others will 'let' them have. How long do you think it will be before someone comes along and decides that they want more Amazon land? How will your people stop them?"
"We won't give up any more land. Our warriors protect the forest surrounding the village and the river at the other end is a natural barrier."
Xena shifted until she was face to face with the bard. "Gabrielle, you're no warrior. You have no understanding of what it takes to create and keep peace. I do. If you truly are their queen, you have to allow them to fight, to take back what is rightfully theirs. Together we could bring the Amazons back to what they once were, the most fearsome group of warriors ever assembled. They could have their land back...be free to live as they chose, without answering to anyone else." hearing no argument from the queen, Xena pressed what she thought was her advantage. "Gabrielle, when you were growing up, you watched the lands your mothers fought for taken away. Now you're their queen. Don't you want to do the right thing? Don't you want to make your goddess Artemis happy?"
Xena's last sentence set off the warning bells in Gabrielle's mind. There was no way that her Xena would ever reference the gods in such a manner. This was definitely the warlord talking. The bard thought fast, realizing that Xena had no memory of her and thus believing that she had grown up with the Amazons was something that Gabrielle could use to her own advantage. "Yes, I want to make my goddess happy." she said, not at all liking the direction the conversation seemed to be going.
"Then you must want to restore your Amazons to their former place of glory. I can help you with that, Gabrielle. I can help you become the greatest leader the Amazons have ever known."
"I want to be a great leader." she replied, sounding as if she was willing to accept whatever Xena offered. "I want to make my mother proud, goddess rest her soul."
"Then let me help you. Gabrielle, I'm a leader, I know how to bring your Amazons back to their true station in life. If you put me in charge of your warriors, I guarantee you that no one will ever dare speak of the Amazons as if they were a joke. Together we can reclaim all that has been lost and then some, proving to the rest of the world that we are a force to be reckoned with."
Gabrielle forced herself not to shudder at Xena's words. She made it sound so believable. The bard understood now how the warlord had been able to make so many people follow her blindly into battle. She also understood Xena's real intentions, to make the Amazons her own personal army. 'That's what you wanted all along, isn't it?' the bard thought to herself. 'You didn't want me, you wanted control over the Amazon army. Sleeping with me is just a way for you to get that control, isn't it?' Gabrielle believed that Ares was somehow involved in all this, that he was the one who had changed her Xena. Perhaps if she could get the warlord onto Amazon land, under the protection of Artemis, the spell could be broken. Yes, that's what she had to do, the bard thought. Ares wouldn't be able to touch Xena then. "It would be a great day for the Amazons if they were to return to their former glory." she said. "You're right, you do know more about leading them into battle than I do. Perhaps you should take control of the Amazon army."
"Yes, Gabrielle." the warlord tasted victory on her lips. "With you leading the people and me leading the army, the Amazons would be unstoppable." she reached over and fondled the bard's breast. "We would be unstoppable." she said huskily, claiming Gabrielle's mouth with a searing kiss. Xena's passion rose as it always did when she felt a plan falling into place. Gabrielle plotted and planned the series of lies she would have to tell Xena to keep her believing that she would gain control of the women warriors. The bard didn't want to think about what would happen if the spell wasn't broken once they reached Amazon land. The thought of ordering her sisters to capture the woman she loved was unbearable. 'Then again, you don't really love me, do you?' she thought as the warlord continued to touch her breast. 'This is all just another skill of yours, seduction. You don't find me desirable and when you get your memory back you still won't.' the pain of her thoughts was too much to bear. She needed to lose herself, to forget about wars and warlords and battles. She returned Xena's kiss with equal passion and soon both women forgot about trying to manipulate the other.
Ephiny watched the Amazons practicing on the training grounds. Every single warrior had signed up for extra sparring time, every archer for time on the practice field. No one wanted to take any chances with the warrior princess. If they weren't working on their skills, they were working on their armor. Gryne worked feverishly to provide chest armor to those that were assigned to the inner ring of fighters. Bows were restrung, arrows sharpened. They worked as if they were going into the most important battle of their lives. Saras prepared for heavy casualties, certain that the warlord would not be taken down without a fight. Litters were made, bandages rolled, supplies of herbs restocked. The preparations reminded her of the Centaur-Amazon wars of so long ago.
The blond ruler reviewed the plans with Ilanna again. Thirty-six pits had been dug, each to contain a warrior and archer. Another twenty warriors would be hiding in the trees that ringed the field. Saras and her assistants were positioned behind the trees closest to the village. Ephiny looked at the battle map again. Their plan would trap a small army with no problem. She was satisfied that it would prove successful against Xena. She didn't believe that every warrior would be necessary but there was no way she was going to take any chances. Better to overpower the warlord with sheer numbers than to underestimate and have her escape from their clutches. The other problem of keeping her warriors from taking matters into her own hands had been more difficult than Ephiny had planned. Already ten had been reassigned from the inner circle to the trees because she was uncertain of their ability to restrain themselves. The rings under her eyes from lack of sleep were testament to the internal struggle she faced. There had been no improvement in either Eponin's physical condition or her mental one. Solari was released and sent back to her hut, her prognosis much better than her friend's. Already the tall warrior was wiggling her fingers and complaining only of the residual ache in her shoulder. She still had to keep her arm in a sling for half a moon but was assured that there would be nothing more than a scar as a permanent reminder of her battle to protect her queen.
Saras was glad that Eponin was the only patient in her hut. She had to move all her supplies and anything breakable away from the sullen and angry Amazon. Although several friends came in and out during the day to visit the stocky warrior, none seemed able to raise Eponin's spirits, even Ephiny.
The only thing the stocky warrior thought about was Xena. She thought about the leather-clad woman all the time. The battle replayed itself over and over in Eponin's mind. She second guessed every movement, every action. Her dreams filled with visions of Xena helpless under her blade, begging for mercy. She fantasized about running the warlord through again and again with her sword. She thought about her sword, lost forever, a weapon handed down from generation to generation in her family. Xena would pay for that too, she swore.
Continued - Part 3