Copyright: The characters of Xena, Gabrielle, Argo, etc. are owned by MCA/Universal. I only borrowed them for a little while. No infringement was intended. The rest of the story is mine and I hold the copyright to it. Do not use any part of this story without my written permission. I may be contacted at IQ139@aol.com.
Sex: This story contains scenes of two women making love. <smile> If this offends you, please don’t read my story. There are plenty of other wonderful stories out there.
Violence: There are scenes of violence within this story.
by B L Miller
Ilanna opened the door and poked her head in. "They're here."
"Good, show them in." Ephiny replied, quickly rolling up the scroll she had been studying. She smiled and nodded to the trio as they entered the room. "I am Ephiny, Queen of the Amazons. Welcome...please have a seat." she motioned at the empty chairs before resuming her seat at the head of the rectangular table. The man sat to the left of the blond ruler while the two women sat to the right. Ilanna took her position at the door, standing guard over the meeting.
"Well, let's get down to business." the man said. "I am Marto, mayor of Cypresta, and this is Krana," he indicated the middle aged woman directly across from him. "and Susa. Krana is our keeper of the scrolls and is quite familiar with your laws and customs." the grey haired woman smiled slightly at Ephiny. "Susa is our chief trade negotiator."
"Yes, we've met before." the blond Amazon replied. "You were here last summer when the crops were delivered."
"Yes I was. How good of you to remember." the dark haired woman replied.
"Yes, well...as you know, Queen Ephiny, the treaty between our village and your nation is about to expire." Marto said, drawing the blond ruler's attention back to the matter at hand.
"I am quite aware of that. I was reviewing the treaty just before you arrived. It seems to have been working out well for the last fifty summers and I see no reason why we shouldn't renew it for another fifty." she unrolled the scroll and glanced at the agreements made so long ago. "In exchange for allowing your families to live on our land and receive the protection of the Amazon nation, your people agree to provide us with ten percent of your crops each year just after the harvest. Seems fair enough to me."
"It would." Susa said snidely, causing Ephiny to look over at her in surprise. "Our people have lived and worked the soil of Cypresta for fifty summers, and every summer we have to give your people wagon loads of our food."
"Need I remind you that Cypresta is Amazon land?"
"In name only." the dark haired visitor replied. "Not one Amazon has stepped foot in Cypresta for at least two generations."
"Am I to assume that you wish to alter the terms of the treaty?" Ephiny queried, assuming that renegotiation of the treaty might be required to settle the matter.
"No, not alter it, eliminate it." Susa said firmly. "We want the Amazon nation to give up their claim to Cypresta. It's no longer a small farming community, we've grown to a full fledged city with customs, traditions, and our own working government. This treaty was signed when there were only four families living there. We now have close to a hundred families and more than four hundred residents. Cypresta cannot continue to provide food for the Amazons in return for nothing summer after summer."
"Nothing? Susa, the land belongs to the Amazon nation. When we first discovered your people living there we could have chosen to run them off but we didn't. We made this agreement..." she touched the old scroll. "...and it has worked out so far. If it's a matter of the payment each summer I'm sure we can negotiate that. Don't forget that the Amazons have sworn to protect Cypresta with our warriors."
"Cypresta is nestled in a valley surrounded by mountains, we're completely isolated and it serves no use to any warlords. You can offer your protection because you know that we don't need it. Not once has there been a need to request help from your people."
"Nevertheless it has always been there." Ephiny replied coolly, not at all happy with the unexpected turn of events. This was supposed to be a simple renewal of an old treaty, now it was turning into something far more complicated.
"It has." Marto agreed. "However, it makes no difference at this point. We have no intention of subjecting the citizens of Cypresta to another fifty summers of payments to the Amazons. We insist that you relinquish all claims to the land and acknowledge our independence."
"Just like that? Give up an entire valley of fertile land and minerals?" Ephiny shook her head.
"Ah yes, we were wondering when you'd bring that up." he said. "The silver that runs through the mountains would no doubt be worth quite a few dinars. Of course the treaty specifically states that the Amazons aren't allowed to mine it and we have no intention of allowing anyone else to do so. The runoff feeds the land and helps to provide us with rich crops. If mines were set up it would disrupt the delicate balance and severely affect our ability to grow enough food for our own people much less for trade with neighboring villages." Marto looked at Susa, who nodded in agreement. "We want a new treaty, one which give us complete control over the land and which the Amazons give up their claim. Nothing else will be acceptable." he rose to his feet. "The treaty ends at the next full moon, that's only six days away. We need to settle this matter before then."
"Yes we do." Ephiny agreed. "Until then you are welcome to stay with the Centaurs across the river." she looked at the two women. "We have guest huts that you may use if you like. Ilanna will see to your arrangements." she gathered up her copy of the treaty and left the room.
"It's simple, don't renew the treaty and just force them off the land." Darbo said, receiving murmurs of agreement from some of the other council members. Ephiny discretely rubbed her temples, knowing full well that it would do nothing to alleviate her headache. The council meeting should have ended a candlemark ago but the developments with Cypresta were now threatening to drag it out long after dark.
"We can't just force a hundred families off the land." Eponin countered. "Many of them were born there, it's their homes." she turned to the blond ruler. "Eph, are you sure they won't agree to some sort of compromise? Perhaps if we lessened the amount-"
"No, I tried that. They want free rule. They want us to give up our claim not only on Cypresta itself, but also on the mountains that surround it."
"Ephiny, I know you don't like the idea of forcing these people off our land, but think about it." Darbo said, brushing one sandy blond lock off her forehead. "With all the silver in those mountains we'd be able to rebuild our nation into the great and powerful people that we once were." she shot a condescending look at Eponin. "If we give into them then what's to stop the next village from demanding their independence and taking even more land away from us? I say we let the treaty expire then send a garrison of warriors in to reclaim Cypresta. If not for the land, Ephiny, then think of the silver and the good it can do us."
"And what kind of a message does that send to the other villages that have treaties with us?" the blond ruler snapped, her pounding headache only adding to the tension she felt. She swore in many ways Darbo was like Velasca was, power hungry, manipulative, cunning. Ephiny knew better than to trust her completely, but had no control over who was voted onto the ruling council.
"It tells them that the Amazon nation won't just roll over and play dead anymore!" the sandy blond growled, rising to her feet and pounding her fist onto the table. Eponin was on her feet in an instant, her hand resting on the hilt of the knife tucked in her belt. Darbo looked at her for a moment, silently daring her to make a move. The stocky warrior kept her hand on her weapon and returned the gaze, refusing to back down.
"You have a problem with the way I handle the warriors, Darbo?"
"No, of course not, Eponin." she turned and shot daggers from her eyes at Ephiny. "I just have a problem with the endless string of queens that insist on destroying the nation piece by piece." she slowly returned to her seat, her angry gaze still focused on the blond ruler. Eponin waited a heartbeat before settling back in her chair, her eyes never leaving the woman sitting across from her.
"I understand that you don't want this treaty renewed or these villagers to continue living there, Darbo." Ephiny said. "But there's more to consider here than just annual supplies of grain and vegetables. We're talking about over a hundred families that have settled in that valley, borne children, built homes."
"On our land, don't forget that."
"I haven't forgotten but it might just be time to rethink that."
"There's nothing to think about!" Darbo roared. "Cypresta belongs to the Amazons as do the mountains. I say we go in there, throw them out, and mine the silver."
"You want us to throw women and children out of their homes?" Eponin asked. "No. Absolutely not. I refuse to lead an army of warriors into Cypresta. We have to find a way to compromise with them."
"There's no room for compromise anymore. Because of that treaty we haven't been able to mine that silver. Without it we'll never be able to rebuild the nation into what it once was instead of a group of harmless women living off the land." she gave the stocky warrior a condescending look. "Of course we'll never be the nation we once were as long as we have a coward like you in charge of the warriors, afraid to fight for what rightfully belongs to us." it took every drop of energy in Eponin's body not to fly out of her chair and knock some sense into the hostile Amazon. Her hands gripped the arms of the chair so tightly that her knuckles were pure white against her tanned skin. Ephiny rose to her feet quickly, realizing that things could very easily get out of hand and probably already had.
"This isn't going to be settled tonight. We'll meet again in the morning." as soon as she finished speaking, Eponin stormed out of the room. "Darbo, I'd like to speak privately with you." Ephiny said evenly. The other women of the council quickly picked up their parchments and scurried out as quickly as they could.
"Is there a problem, Ephiny?" the sandy brown haired woman said casually, picking at a non-existent loose thread on her tunic.
"What the tartarus are you trying to do? Start a war with a group of villagers over a piece of land that neither one of us have ever been to?" she was on her feet and pacing, trying hard to keep her anger under control. "Or are you just looking for something to stir up trouble with? What's the matter, we haven't been at war with anyone for three summers so now you want to start something, now matter how many innocent people die? Not to mention the possible cost of the lives of some of your fellow sisters?"
"Are you accusing me of not caring about my fellow Amazons?"
"Are you accusing me?" Ephiny countered. "I care about our nation. I care about the future of it too."
"Then why are you willing to give it all up for people that mean nothing to us? Why are you willing to give up the silver that could help rebuild our nation?" Darbo moved until she was on the same side of the table as Ephiny and put her hand on the blond woman's shoulder. "They live on our land. They have nothing to bargain with. Ephiny, we can force them off with a minimum of violence. If they choose to try and fight then they deserve whatever they get."
"And what if it was your family?" she said, jerking her shoulder free. "We have to come to some kind of a peaceful solution."
"Even if that peaceful solution seals the fate of the Amazon nation?"
"It isn't that serious, Darbo, you can stop the melodramatics."
"Isn't that serious? How can you say that? Our nation is on the verge of extinction and the solution is in our grasp yet you won't take it. I'd say that's pretty serious."
"You have no real say in the matter." Ephiny said angrily. "I'm the queen so long as Gabrielle's away and I'm not going to approve attacking the residents of Cypresta. The matter is closed." she turned and walked purposefully out of the room. Darbo stared at the door for a moment before growling in frustration and storming out.
Xena scanned the road ahead, now finally seeing the warning markers that indicated Amazon land. "We're almost there." she whispered to the sleeping woman in her arms. Gabrielle stirred slightly, burying her head deeper into her lover's chest and sighing contentedly. "Uh huh, and I thought you didn't like riding on Argo." she placed a kiss on the reddish-blond hair and guided the war-horse off the road and into the forest. They traveled only a few more moments before Xena's keen hearing picked up the sounds of boots traveling across the upper branches. "Gabrielle...Gabrielle, come on, wake up now." she moved her hands across the bard's waist until she reached the extremely ticklish sides.
"Yeow...what the...?" Gabrielle bolted upright and looked around, trying to get her bearings. It took only a heartbeat for her to realize what had happened. "Xena..." she turned in the seat to look up at her tall lover. "I can't believe you tickled me awake...you know I hate that." she growled while trying to wipe the sleep out of her eyes.
"Would you rather be woken up by a pack of Amazons dropping down on you?" the warrior chuckled.
"We're here already?"
"Yup." Xena looked down at the kissable lips and couldn't resist.
"Mmm...Xena...mmm...do they know mmm...we're here?" Gabrielle said against the kiss.
"I'm sure they do. I think they're just waiting to see what I do to you." she replied as her lips found an extremely sexy earlobe to play with.
"D-do to me?" her eyes fluttered shut under the pleasurable assault to her senses.
"Mmm-hmm...they've been watching us for the last few moments." she gave the bard one last breathtaking kiss before straightening up in her seat. "You ready?"
"After a kiss like that? You've got to be kidding." the bard replied only half-jokingly. Xena chuckled and slid down from the saddle before helping Gabrielle down. They stepped away from Argo and waited. Six warriors rappelled down from the trees and surrounded them. Gabrielle laid her staff against her body and clasped her hands above her head in a sign of peace. Xena sank the tip of her sword into the soft earth and assumed the same position. The masked warriors moved in front of them and bowed to their queen.
"We are honored with your presence, Queen Gabrielle." Darbo said from behind her mask. She had heard Xena addressing the young queen when they first entered the forest but probably would have figured out who they were just from looking at the leather-clad warrior. Her appearance was unmistakable and even without her sword looked to be quite formidable. "I beg your pardon but we were not informed of your arrival."
"It was unexpected." Gabrielle said as she motioned for them to rise. "Is Ephiny around?"
"I'll take you to her right away, my queen. She'll be most surprised to see you, I'm sure." Darbo said, glad that her mask covered her face and thus her smile at the unexpected turn of events. 'And you didn't think I could do anything to stop you, huh Ephiny?' she thought to herself. She couldn't wait to see the blond ruler's face when she saw Gabrielle.
"What is it? Can't you see I'm busy?" Ephiny growled without looking up from the scroll she was reading.
"Well, if that's the way you're going to be." Gabrielle said, feigning hurt. "Humph, I'll just-"
"Gabrielle!" she practically squealed as she jumped up from her seat. Xena leaned against the doorway while the two friends hugged. "What are you doing here?"
"Well, you know how it is..." the bard began while pulling out a chair to sit down in while the blond Amazon returned to her own seat. "One adventure after another with Xena and writing them all down does tend to fill up the scrolls. We were in the area and decided to stop by and drop them off." she noted the dark circles under Ephiny's eyes. "Eph, is something wrong? Did we come at a bad time?"
"Is there such a thing as a good time?" the blond ruler sighed before spending the better part of the next candlemark explaining the layer upon layer of problems related to the expiring treaty. "I'm willing to give up the claim on Cypresta, despite the loss of the silver and the food because I think it's the right thing to do."
"Well, I agree that we can't go in there and throw them off the land they've worked so hard on." the bard pulled the treaty over and quickly scanned it. "Do we need the food they give us each harvest?"
"We could expand our own farming area to make up the loss but then we'd need women to tend the fields. The land would have to be cleared, the crops planted, cared for, harvested. That's a lot of work. It could end up requiring us to have the young girls help or even the warriors. Even then it'll be a full cycle of seasons before we'd see anything. The treaty expires before the harvest." Ephiny put her fingers to her temples and rubbed vigorously.
"So that means no shipment of food and grain for the winter. Can we purchase what we need?"
"The treasury doesn't have that kind of dinars, Gabrielle. That's the other problem." Ephiny looked down at the table. "I honestly didn't think about this treaty expiring until I received word that a delegation was on their way here." in a quiet voice she added "Even then I assumed they'd just renew it, perhaps at worst want to modify it slightly. I never thought they'd try for severance."
"You can't blame yourself for this Eph."
"No? Who am I supposed to blame? I'm the queen when you're not here. I should have planned for something like this to happen. Now no matter what I do we're in trouble. We can't force them to renew the treaty and I won't force them off the land."
"We'll work something out, Eph." she said, putting her hand on top of the upset Amazon's. "When are you supposed to meet with them again?"
"The two women are staying here in the village but Marto is over at the Centaur's. Since you were here last we've worked out an arrangement with Tyldus to provide a guest hut for any male visitors we may have."
"Can we meet with them tomorrow? Xena and I were planning on staying for a few days anyway, I don't see why I can't help with this."
"Oh you'll be doing more than helping." Xena piped in from her position of supporting the door frame. Ephiny looked at the warrior and nodded guiltily. "You're here now, Gabrielle. That means that you're in charge and it's up to you to handle this problem, not Eph."
"Oh." the bard said softly.
"Don't worry, Gabrielle." the blond Amazon said quickly. "I'll be right by your side to help in whatever way I can." she smiled as a thought came to her. "You know what we need to do right now? We need to have a party to celebrate your return. I'll arrange it for sundown tonight."
"I just love it that they always seem to have a party when we're here." Gabrielle said as they walked to her hut, left to her by Terreis with the right-of-caste.
"The Amazons have had parties just because the sun was shining." Xena said, receiving a light backhand to the belly. "Well they did." she protested.
"That was after ten days of continual rain, Xena, you know that."
"Gabrielle, I've never seen any group of people have as many parties and celebrations as the Amazons have. Any excuse will do." they reached the hut and the warrior opened the door. She was pleased to see that their saddlebags had already been delivered. Her eyes fell on the soft bed. Before Gabrielle could say a word Xena flopped down and laced her fingers behind her head. "Oh this is comfortable."
"Get your muddy boots off our bed." the bard scolded, reaching over and pulling on the warrior's long legs until the offending pieces of footwear were dangling over the edge. "Sometimes I swear you were raised in a barn." she continued to grumble while tugging on the laces. "If your mother was here right now-" she found herself yanked off her feet, dumped on the bed, and looking up into blue eyes filled with desire.
"Well, it's a good thing that Mother isn't here." she husked, brushing her lips over Gabrielle's. "I'm sure she'd be quite shocked by what she'd see." her right hand made quick work of the laces on the bard's top.
"Uh…she would, huh?" the small green top opened to reveal her creamy white breasts to the warrior's hungry eyes.
"Oh yeah, I'd guarantee it." Xena murmured as her fingers danced over the soft flesh. She smiled when she saw Gabrielle's eyes close and her breathing quicken. "I'm sure she wouldn't want to see this…" she bent down and thoroughly kissed the bard's right nipple. "…or this…" she lavished the left one with the same attention, enjoying the way the pebbly flesh hardened under her ministrations. Xena's hand wasn't idle, exploring the softness of Gabrielle's inner thigh and moving upward. "…and especially this." her long fingers pressed against the thin cloth that covered Gabrielle's sex, causing the young queen to moan and arch into the pleasurable touch.
"Mmm?" the warrior responded as her finger hooked the now damp cloth and slipped underneath, brushing against the soft wet curls.
"I'm glad she's not here."
"Me too." Xena replied before guiding her finger between the folds and effectively stopping any more intelligible conversation.
"We're late. I hate being late." Gabrielle said as they headed for the large table where Ephiny, Eponin, and Ilanna were sitting.
"It's not my fault." the warrior replied, receiving a sidelong glance from the bard. "Hey, you're the one who tried to climb over me to get out of bed, remember? I can't help it if you can't control your lust."
"Control my lust? Do I need to remind a certain warrior princess just exactly whose arms held whom in place?" she grinned.
"I didn't hear you complaining." Xena replied with a grin.
"I wasn't." Gabrielle said with a smile, wrapping her arm around the older woman's waist and squeezing slightly. The bard understood the need to keep their true relationship private around strangers and cherished the freedom that being in the Amazon village allowed them. Only there did the warrior feel safe enough to allow them to be seen as a couple. Instead of the occasional brush of hand against arm or stolen look they enjoyed hugs, kisses, and open expressions of their deep love for one another. Gabrielle took the memories of their time with the Amazons and kept it close to her heart to comfort her in those times when circumstances made it impossible for them to show their real feelings.
"About time you two joined us." Eponin said when they sat down. "I was beginning to wonder if Ephiny was just teasing us and inventing another excuse for a party." the stocky warrior grinned.
"I do not invent reasons for parties." the blond Amazon protested, receiving four pairs of eyes giving her 'the look'. "Okay, maybe once in a while." she admitted sheepishly. "But it's always for a good reason."
"Yeah, like sunset." Ilanna chirped in, sending all the women, save Ephiny, into laughter.
"Keep it up, Ilanna, keep it up." the blond Amazon threatened playfully. "I can put you on night duty for the next moon. I'm sure Ep would love that."
"Yeah, maybe I'd get some sleep." the stocky Amazon said with a fake yawn, earning her a playful shove from her dark-skinned lover.
"You weren't complaining about being tired last night." Ilanna reminded her. Eponin smiled and squeezed her hand.
"I'll never complain about loving you."
"Oh gods, they're going to get mushy on us." Ephiny quipped, drawing a chuckle from Xena and a playful glare from Eponin.
"I think it's sweet." Gabrielle said with a smile. The drums started beating and the group of friends turned to watch the Amazon dancers move about. Soon the music changed and couples began to fill up the dance area. Ilanna grabbed Eponin's wrist and soon they disappeared into the crowd of swaying pairs.
Despite the fact that it was common knowledge that the queen and Xena were a couple, there was no end to the number of women that approached their fair haired leader to ask her to dance. Gabrielle politely turned them all down and when one slightly intoxicated Amazon insisted, she found herself looking up into the stormy blue eyes of the formidable warrior princess, who had risen from her seat to come to her lover's rescue. The inebriated woman quickly decided that there was somewhere else she had to be at the moment and made a hasty retreat. Twinkling green eyes looked up at Xena with silent thanks. "Well, since I've seemed to have scared off all your possible dance partners will you allow me the pleasure?" the warrior said, holding out her hand.
"I can't think of anyone I'd rather have my arms wrapped around." Gabrielle replied, taking the offered hand and allowing herself to be led to the dance area.
Ephiny watched the couples move and sway to the music. Eponin and Ilanna were much more open about their affections for each other than the visiting couple but every so often the blond Amazon spotted Xena giving her lover a gentle kiss while they danced. Ephiny took another sip of her wine and sighed as she looked around the empty table.
On the other side of the dance area, Darbo and her comrades watched their queen with great interest. "I've heard that Queen Gabrielle is an excellent negotiator. Rumor is that she once talked a Cyclops out of eating her." Staina said. "Perhaps she'll be able to handle the problem with Cypresta."
"Mmm, I've heard that too. But I've also heard that she has a soft heart, just like Ephiny." Darbo replied, her eyes never leaving the dancing couple. "We'll see what she has to say tomorrow. I heard she's called for another meeting with them."
The dancing ended and everyone returned to their seats. Having been invited to join in the festivities, Susa and Krana milled about, smiling politely and watching the goings on until they ended up near Ephiny's table. Finally recognizing a familiar face, the two women approached and were immediately invited to join the group. Gabrielle, Ephiny, and the two Cyprestians quickly became engrossed in a discussion about the treaty and severance, leaving Xena, Eponin, and Ilanna to look at each other with bored expressions. After only half a candlemark of half-listening to the conversation about Cypresta and half-listening to the two warriors talk about some boring flanking maneuver and its benefits, Ilanna excused herself and went to talk to some friends at another table.
"So if you come in like this..." Xena moved three grapes on the table diagonally until they intercepted with two other grapes and surrounded four olives. "...you've cut off their only means of escape." she looked over at her lover for the hundredth time to find her still deeply involved in her conversation. "Ep..." she whispered conspiratorially. "Are you as bored as I am?"
"More." the stocky Amazon replied. "Got something better to do than sit here and discuss defense strategies?"
"Anything has to be better than sitting here." the leather-clad warrior replied. She tapped the bard on the shoulder and leaned in to whisper into her ear. "I'll be back in a little while." she said.
"Okay, we're probably going to be talking for a while anyway." Gabrielle replied, stealing a small kiss before the warrior stood up. Eponin was already on her feet with two full wineskins in hand.
The two warriors eventually found themselves at the training grounds. "Okay, we're away from the boring party, so now what do we do?" Xena said, taking the offered skin from the stocky warrior.
"Are you up for a little game?" Eponin asked with a wicked grin as she lit the torches on the edge of the field.
"Depends on the game." the tall warrior replied.
The Amazon reached in her boot and pulled out a knife, the blade gleaming in the moonlight. "How about the Amazon skills challenge with an added twist?" she tossed the knife to Xena, who caught it easily. "We take turns. You throw the knife at me. If I catch it, you have to take a drink. If I miss, I have to take a drink, got it?"
"Sounds fair to me." the leather-clad woman replied. "Twenty paces?"
"Did you find them?" the bard asked Ilanna. The party had ended almost a full candlemark ago and there was still no sign of Eponin or Xena.
"No, I've been through the village twice." the dark-skinned Amazon replied.
"Did you find them yet?" Ephiny called as she approached.
"No." Gabrielle said. "Did you look at the training grounds?"
"First place I looked." Ilanna replied. "Knowing the way those two are, I wouldn't put it past them to decide to spar in the dark. No sign of them."
"Well they couldn't have just gotten up and disappeared." the bard said worriedly. "Are you sure you checked everywhere?"
"Of course." Ephiny replied. "I looked everywhere except…" she rolled her eyes. "I know where they are."
"Now look, I've been stitching Amazons since before you were a glint in your momma's eye so you just sit there and be quiet." Saras said sternly.
"You're not making them small enough." Xena said. "Look, if you'd just give me the needle-"
"I'll do no such thing. The last time I looked I was still the healer in this village." she pulled the thread though and shook her head. "I don't know what the two of you were thinking, playing games with knives…and drunk no less."
"I'm not 'hic' drunk." Eponin said from her chair. The two warriors looked at each other for a heartbeat before breaking into a fit of laughter.
"Now you just hold still, Xena." the grey haired healer admonished, gripping the warrior's wrist just a little tighter.
"Ow, I told you I could get it."
"You've told me that four times already and I'm telling you to be quiet. Your breath alone is enough to make a passerby drunk and there's no way in Gaia's green earth that I'm letting you try to stitch yourself." Saras turned her attention back to the short but deep gash on Xena's forearm. "Next time you two decide to play do it outside the village. Then you can sew yourselves up." she made a tsking noise and shook her head. "Grown women, you'd think you'd be smart enough to wear your armor."
"We didn't plan on getting hurt, Sssarasss." Eponin said, trying to come to her friend's rescue from the motherly admonishments of the village healer. "Besides, we caught most of em."
"Yeah…most of them." Xena agreed with a goofy grin. "Only missed one or two."
"Only one or two, huh?" the grey haired Amazon queried, holding up the warrior's long arm to show several little nicks and scratches in addition to the now stitched wound. She cut the end of the thread and let Xena's arm drop back down. "Do you two think you can make it to your own huts without help?"
"Oh, they'll have plenty of help." Gabrielle said from the doorway, Ilanna standing directly behind her, both with disapproving looks on their faces.
"Uh oh." the two warriors said simultaneously.
"Did you have fun?" the bard said as she sat the warrior down on the bed and began to untie the laces of Xena's boot. It had taken all of the warrior's concentration to make it from the healer's hut to theirs without swaying or leaning too much on Gabrielle for support. She thought she did rather well although the bard would have said otherwise, especially the two times that Xena leaned on her hard enough to make her almost lose her own balance.
"Actually I did." she replied with a grin. "I won, by the way."
"Congratulations." Gabrielle said sarcastically. "Remember that tomorrow when your arm is throbbing." she pulled the one boot off and went to work on the other. "I think I made some good progress tonight on the treaty with Cypresta."
"Hmm?" Xena was trying valiantly to keep her head from spinning and still focus on the conversation. She gave up trying to stay in a sitting position and laid back on the bed with a contented sigh.
"Yeah, I think they'll agree to continue the annual harvest payments for twenty-five more summers in exchange for severance. The sticking point is the silver mines and of course we still have to meet with Marto about it, but I think it'll work." she peeled the other boot off and swung the warrior's dangling legs onto the bed, straightening the drunken woman so there was room for both of them at the same time. "They've made it clear that they don't want any mining to go on because it might affect the runoff from the mountains."
"Uh huh." Xena mumbled, not completely following the conversation. She turned her head and saw something that did capture her attention. Gabrielle was getting ready for bed and had just removed her top.
"I'm hoping we can get everything settled quickly." the bard continued, unaware of the effect she was having on her warrior as she removed her belt and unwrapped her skirt. "We'll send a messenger in the morning for Marto and hopefully will be able to have a negotiating session by the time the sun is at it's highest point. Xena, get off the covers." she said as she tugged on the blanket. What she got was an aroused warrior pulling her down on the bed and smothering her with kisses.
"I love you." Xena murmured before moving to taste the bard's neck. Gabrielle took advantage of the warrior's movements to pull the blanket out from under her.
"Mmm, I know you do." she replied, pushing Xena onto her back. "Now go to sleep." she covered them with the now free blanket and snuggled close.
"Are you sure...?"
"I'm sure you'll be asleep before we could even get started." Gabrielle replied as she kissed the nearest flesh she could find. As she had expected, after a few moments of quiet she heard Xena's breathing slow and deepen. "Rest well, Xena, you'll have a tartarus of a headache come morning." she whispered before joining her lover in slumber.
"Absolutely not!" Marto said firmly, shaking his head. "We've been paying you for fifty summers and now you want another thirty? That's completely unacceptable."
"Look, continuing the harvest payments for thirty more summers is more than reasonable in exchange for such fertile land." Gabrielle said. "Up until this point your people were merely renting the land, this is a chance for you to own it."
"What about the mountains?" Krana asked. "I noticed that you've said nothing about them yet."
"I wanted to get this matter settled first before discussing that issue, but since you've brought it up, the mountains and the silver within them will remain the property of the Amazons."
"Unacceptable. You'll give us the land but ruin it by mining the silver." Marto said.
"We won't do anything that will interfere with the run-off. You have my word as an Amazon."
"We'll need that in writing, of course." Krana said matter-of-factly.
"And you'll have it. We'll agree not to open any mines on the sides of the mountains that face Cypresta but you'll have to agree to continue the harvest payments for thirty summers."
"Ten summers." Krana countered. Ephiny, who had been sitting quietly, looked up at Gabrielle and grinned. The bard had been expecting a counter-offer and no one was better at haggling than her.
"Thirty, we can't possibly accept any less. After all, you yourself talked of how fertile the land is, not to mention its natural protection by the mountains."
"Fifteen." the grey haired Cyprestian said. "You're gaining the ability to mine the silver."
"We'd be able to do that anyway in five days. You're gaining freedom from the Amazon nation as well as an agreement not to mine on the Cyprestian side. You realize of course that if we were to open mines that your village would reap the benefit of being the major supplier of goods and services for the miners. That can mean thousands of dinars per cycle of seasons for your village. Thirty." Gabrielle said firmly. The visitors looked at each other with silent questioning looks.
"Twenty." Krana said. "And that's our final offer."
Gabrielle decided it was time to flex her muscle. "I can have a hundred well trained, well armed warriors on Cypresta's doorstep the day after the treaty expires. I would much rather come to a peaceful solution for our problem. Twenty-five." she looked expectantly at Krana.
"You're a most excellent negotiator, Queen Gabrielle." the grey haired woman admitted. "But we'll need some time to confer and discuss this matter. Our people won't be happy with continued servitude to the Amazons."
"They'd be happier if the treaty expired and we moved them off 'our' land?" the bard asked, stressing who exactly owned the area in question.
"Twenty-five." Marto said, holding his hand up to stop Krana's protest. "We'd much rather work out a peaceful settlement as well."
"We'll have the treaty drawn up right away." Gabrielle said with a smile.
"Of course I'll need to look it over before we sign it." Krana said, glaring at the mayor for interfering.
"Of course." the bard agreed. "We'll have it ready for you by sundown tomorrow."
Word of the impending severance of Cypresta spread quickly. Darbo was in full fury by the time Staina arrived at her hut with the others. "Can you believe her? Not only is she giving away Amazon land but she's also agreeing not to mine on their side of the mountains." the sandy brown haired Amazon raged as she brought her fist down hard on the table. "Do you have any idea what that does to us?"
"But we can still mine the silver." Staina said, not understanding why her friend was so upset about land that none of them ever cared about.
"From the outside!" Darbo growled. "I've seen the reports that were made back when the silver was first discovered. It runs closer to the inside. It'll take summers to reach it. The nation could be extinct by then."
"If you don't like it why don't you challenge her?" Staina asked. "I'm sure you'd be able to defeat her in combat. I've heard she's only good with a staff."
"That won't work." the angry woman snapped. "She's got that goon of hers to be her champion, not to mention Eponin, Ephiny, and probably half a dozen other women who'd put their lives on the line for her. It wouldn't make a difference anyway. If I issue a challenge, she'd just sign the treaty beforehand. It'd make the challenge mute." she slumped into a chair and rubbed her eyes. "No, there has to be some way to stop her, but that's not it."
"Well what else is there?" Iphito asked as she brushed a curly lock of her dark hair from in front of her eyes. "You can't challenge her. Can you scare her into not signing?"
"And just what am I supposed to do? It's not like we can threaten her or anything." Darbo replied. "If only there was something…."
"We can't threaten her directly…" Staina thought out loud, drawing all eyes to her.
"What are you thinking?" the sandy brown haired woman demanded.
"Well…" she looked around nervously and lowered her voice. "…what if we threatened someone she loved? Like Xena?"
"And just how are we supposed to threaten the former Destroyer of Nations? She could take all of us with one hand tied behind her back." Darbo said, dismissing the idea.
"Not necessarily." Iphito chirped up. "Not if we could disable her, like with one of my darts."
"And just how do you suggest we do that? I've seen her. Xena has the keenest senses of anyone I've seen. You can't distract her or cause her to let her guard down. There's just no way." Darbo said. They sat there quietly for a moment while the sandy brown haired Amazon's brows knitted in thought. They all jumped when she slammed her fist down on the table and stood up excitedly. "I've got it! I've got the perfect answer!"
Xena ran into Eponin just outside the food hut. "You look like you were in a tartarus of a battle." the tall warrior quipped, noting the three different areas stitched up on the stocky warrior's forearms.
"Yeah." Eponin replied, looking at her arms. "I guess that's what I get for hanging out with you. You're a bad influence on me, you know." she grinned. "Was Gabrielle upset with you?"
"No, she was pretty good about it." Xena replied.
"Must be nice. Ilanna read me the riot act." a lecherous grin spread across the Amazon's face. "But she let me make it up to her this morning."
"Gabrielle had to go to that treaty negotiation." the leather-clad woman sighed.
"Hey, I heard she settled it, pretty good if you ask me. We still get the annual food supplies and we can now mine the silver. I'll tell you, I'm glad she's our queen." Eponin looked up at the sky. "I'd better get to work. I'll talk to you later." the stocky Amazon smiled and turned to head for the training grounds. Xena decided to go to the stables and spend some time with Argo.
The bright sunshine and warm breeze made it a perfect day for riding and the golden mare took advantage of the lack of the little human walking behind them to run full out across the fields. Xena held the reins loosely and let Argo set her own pace and direction, taking them a fair distance away from the village. Darbo and her companions watched her leave and set up their trap. Now it was just a matter of time.
After a full candlemark of exploring the countryside, Xena decided it was time to head back. As she approached a small grove of trees she sensed something wrong. She pulled on the reins and focused on her surroundings, instinctively knowing that there was danger. "Come on girl." she said softly as she patted the mare's neck. They moved forward slowly until they were almost at the trees. Four Amazons stepped out from behind the trunks of the large Cypresses and blocked her way. "Something tells me this isn't a social call." she said as she sized up the situation. One rather formidable looking Amazon stood in the front of the group holding a sword. Two others held staffs and the fourth twirled a pair of chobos in her hands. Xena knew she couldn't plow through them with Argo. With one staff wielder on each side there was no way she could prevent them from cutting her horse down as they passed.
"You got that right, Xena." Darbo said, drawing laughter from her comrades.
"What's the problem?" the leather clad warrior asked as she dismounted and sent Argo out of the way. Darbo twirled her sword in her hand.
"The problem is your little bed partner." she sneered. "She seems to think that it's a good idea to give Amazon land away for nothing." the women spread out slightly, forming a semi-circle around the warrior.
"You really don't want to get into this." Xena said as she drew her sword, her eyes darting from one woman to the other, waiting for one of them to make the first move. She kept her distance, trying not to let them get behind her.
"Tell me something," Darbo said as she moved forward, almost within striking distance. "How is our little queen anyway? I bet she's a real spitfire in bed." she taunted, drawing a murderous look from the warrior. "Oh yeah Xena, I bet you have a real good time with her."
"Someone should wash your mouth out with soap. Maybe I will when I'm done knocking you around." the raven haired warrior growled as she tried to back up away from the trees to give herself room to use her chakram. Darbo and company quickly turned to block her, cutting off any chance of escape.
"We'll see who knocks who around. In case you can't count, you're outnumbered."
"Are you gonna talk or fight?"
"Oh fight, most definitely fight." Darbo replied, sending her sword in a vicious arc at the warrior's head. Xena rolled out of the way and returned to a standing position.
"Is that the best you can do? My mother can swing a sword better than that." she turned just in time to block a swing from Staina's staff. The battle was on.
The four women made sure to keep their distance, never allowing Xena a chance to attack more than one of them at a time. From the safety of the trees, Iphito watched and waited for her opening. The small Amazon had been warned of Xena's keen sense of hearing and realized that she could easily catch or avoid one dart. As an added precaution, Iphito loaded two darts in her blowgun. It was an unusual thing to do since it required much more strength to blow two darts instead of one but the small Amazon knew she was capable of such a task and knew that anything less wouldn't work against the multi-skilled warrior.
Finally Xena got the break she was looking for. Staina, the woman with the chobos, and the other staff-wielder decided to attack at the same time. With a quick flick of her wrist, the leather-clad warrior released her chakram, striking both women in the temples and knocking them out cold. Just as her weapon came sailing back to her, Darbo yelled "Now!" Iphito put her mouth to the end of her weapon and blew as hard as she could, aiming at the middle of Xena's back.
With her sword in her right hand and her chakram heading for her left, Xena was left with few options. There was no time to somersault out of the way and just not enough hands to catch everything. She turned and held her sword out to intercept the round weapon at the same time her left hand shot out to catch what she thought was an arrow. As her fingers closed around the first dart, the second one found its mark, embedding itself into her wrist. Xena quickly dropped the first dart and switched her sword into her left hand, the chakram dangling loosely near the hilt.
Xena knew she was in trouble. She pulled the projectile out of her wrist and brought it to her nose, immediately recognizing the scent of a strong knockout drug. Letting the dart fall to the ground, she thought quickly about the best route of escape. Argo was now on the other side of the women and unable to help her. Xena felt the beginning effects of the poison as her vision blurred. When she shook her head in a vain attempt to clear it, Staina saw her chance and moved forward. "No." Darbo warned but it was too late. Staina took a swing with her staff only to have it caught and jerked out of her hands by the warrior. Xena dropped her own weapons and used both hands to twirl the longer weapon defensively around her weakening body, trying desperately to keep the women at bay while she continued to back up. Iphito took aim and blew another dart. With her senses rapidly dulling, Xena was unable to prevent the pointed missile from imbedding itself into her left bicep. The extra dart combined with the drug already running through her system was enough to do her in. Xena felt the dizziness wash over her and was on her knees before she realized it. As blackness descended on her, Xena felt her hair being grabbed and her head jerked up. She looked at Darbo with unfocused eyes, totally helpless, unable to even muster the strength to fight the painful grip on her hair.
"Now I think we'll be able to keep Gabrielle from signing that treaty." the Amazon said triumphantly as she let go of the raven tresses and Xena slumped to the ground.