And Fair Truth
by: de Bonheur
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- DISCLAIMER: The characters of Xena and Gabrielle et. al. belong to MCA/Universal, and are used without intent for commercial profits. The author's copyright does not extend to said characters. NOTICE: The author retains all rights automatically attached to the creation of this work, and any and all independently created characters. WARNINGS: This is an alt. story, contains explicit mature contents and may be offensive to some readers. Please use discretion. AUTHOR'S NOTE: This story picks up where the LONG IS THE WAY series left off. While it is not necessary to read LITW to know what's going on, the Xenaverse would make more sense. This is inspired by Ludovico Ariosto's ORLANDO FURIOSO, one of the greatest work of Italian Renaissance. ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Gone were the rainy and blustery days of early Spring. Apollo, pleased with the warming weather, spent ever more time travelling across the sky in his magnificent chariot, drawing little forest animals out to play. In rich fields of green, pale blue flowers lifted their heads demurely, while white and golden blossoms beamed their welcome at the visiting butterflies. Beautiful birds heralded the season with their lovely songs.
It was a glorious time at the Amazon village as well. For the past couple of days, tributaries from allied states have started pouring in. The last envoy of Amazon warriors arrived the day before, bringing lavish gifts obtained from the markets of Athens. By the end of the week, makeshift tents would probably litter the entire surrounding forest. They had already run out of space to store the offerings; and Solari, in charge of record-keeping, fretted over the anticipated need for more room. However, even she decided to overlook her quandary and partake in the festivities.
This day marked the beginning of one of the happiest and most important events the tribe had seen for a too long while. The entire week would be devoted solely to feasting, music and dance. Fragrance of the season's first strawberries mixed with scent of sweet fine wine permeated the air. Drummers kept joyous tempo while groups of leather clad warriors danced before the honoured guests. In the background, lyrical soprano chants harmonised.
Despite the enthralling performance, the celebrants' attention was commanded by an even more enchanting sight. On the dais, the Amazon Queen, in full regalia, stood with her Regent to her left, and the Warrior Princess to her right. The Queen looked resplendent in the gold and russet ensemble which complimented the honey-gold of her hair. Upon her blonde head sat the feathered mask, lifted, revealing dazzling smiles which reached the sparkling jewels of her eyes. Ephiny wore her ceremonial outfit as well. The mask, which usually made her look stern and dangerous, could not hide the jubilant demeanor. Even the normally stoic Warrior beamed, her features brighter than the gleam of her polished weapons and armour.
Behind and towering over the trio, sat the chief priestess, Calandra. She wore a simple white silk tunic belted with a silver sash, and looked almost ethereal. All Amazons knew by her attire that on this very day, Calandra was not merely a channel to Artemis, but she would be the personification of the Goddess herself.
The music ended on a soft, elated note, as if born from the heavens; and the dancers dropped to the ground, prostrate before the dais. The priestess stood and addressed those before her, "Amazons, distinguished guests, we are happy to formally announce that our queen, Gabrielle, has chosen, Xena of Amphipolis, as her consort. The oracle decreed the joining ceremony be held at the end of this quarter cycle. Let the Goddess' will be done!"
"And let the celebrations continue!" Appended the Regent. At that, the entire village cheered; and loud, buoyant music resumed once again.
The brilliant midday light flooded her surroundings with such clarity and colours that Xena wished painting were one of her many skills. Then she would capture and commit the spectacle before her for posterity.
After the announcements, the priestess retired to the temple of Artemis, and the rest of them joined in the celebration. And at the table, sitting beside her was the young woman whose smiles captured and shone in her heart like a beacon, lighting her way. Many people in the warrior's past had helped and taught her, but it was Gabrielle who stuck by her through all the twists and turns, and shown her where the ultimate path led.
The Warrior Princess thought this love was a blessing from the gods, and always she doubted she deserved it, and sometimes even wondered if they would suddenly take it from her. She shook her dark head to chase away that thought, and focused on the bard. Gabrielle chose that moment to snuggle in closer and wrapped her arm about her warrior's waist. Xena made a mental note to have a small portrait done of her partner, one she could keep close to her on the times they had to be apart.
*And what a beautiful picture the two made,* the Regent mused to herself. The Warrior Princess had her arm protectively about Gabrielle, whose adoring gaze beheld her partner. *Gods, if anyone ever looked at me like that, I'll know I'm well loved.*
Ephiny was happy and relieved that Xena returned her Queen's feelings, and Gabrielle, the warrior's, in equal measure. At first she was worried that Xena would be too proud, the bard too shy, and both of them too afraid, to admit their attraction. Then, Ephiny feared how their relationship would endure through the toil and strain. However, looking at the pair, stealing kisses from each other when they thought no one was paying too close attention, their friend knew nothing could tear them asunder.
"Your Majesty," an Amazon approached their table, and bowed deeply to Gabrielle.
"Hello, Iona," the Queen returned the greeting, after taking seconds to recall her name. "Nice seeing you again, and please, call me Gabrielle."
The Warrior Princess remembered the raven-haired Amazon too well though. She was the same one who had blatantly flirted with the bard during their visit to her tribe a few moons ago.
"My queen sends her congratulations, Gabrielle, Xena," Iona held out her hand, and Xena took it in a warrior's clasp. Something passed between the two warriors as blue eyes locked with deep violets. The bard sensed a sudden tension in the body pressed against hers. Although she wasn't sure what the cause was, she leaned in instinctively, and felt the tightness dissipate in response.
"Please relate to your queen our deepest gratitude for her gifts," said Gabrielle to the visiting warrior, "We trust all's been well since our last visit?"
"Yes, Gabrielle, by Artemis' grace, all has been well since our queen's coronation; things could not have been better," Iona answered. Reaching into her top, the Amazon drew out a small satchel. "Please accept this token of my esteem," she presented it to the bard.
A necklace with a green jewel fell out, "Oh, this is exquisite! Thank you, Iona!" Exclaimed the bard. "Isn't this beautiful, Love?" The Warrior Princess smiled her reply.
"It's emerald, your majesty," Iona offered, "For constancy. May I help you put it on?" Without waiting for an answer, she picked up the jewel from Gabrielle's palm. The bard straightened up, while the Amazon moved behind her; she lifted the honey-blonde tresses and swiftly put the necklace on, "There." Stepping around once more, "It becomes you, Gabrielle," she commented appreciatively.
"Thank you," the fair queen blushed graciously, fingering the green bauble, "I love it."
"Well, your majesty, I've taken too much of your time already, I will go rejoin my sisters," Iona bowed to the queen. "Xena," she nodded at the Warrior Princess.
As soon as the Amazon warrior left, Xena drew Gabrielle back into her arms, closing the distance between them. The bard happily relaxed against the strong shoulders, and surrendered her earlobe to her partner's gentle ministrations. And giggled, when she caught several Amazons' envious looks.
"Why is it," she teased her warrior, "that I feel many here would kill to swap places with me, and not because I'm queen?"
"Why is it," Xena observed dryly, "that your admirers are more forward with their affection?"
"Huh? What are you talking about?" Then she realized what the warrior was referring to, "Hey," Gabrielle swung around to face her partner, "You're not jealous, are you?"
The Warrior Princess winked at her bard mischievously.
Leaning up, Gabrielle kissed the warrior softly on her lips, "Don't be, Love. You know I love only you." She whispered, sending a wave of warmth down Xena's spine.
Pulling her partner closer, she nuzzled the fair hair, and breathed in her ear, "Prove it," sending a ripple of shivers through Gabrielle.
"Scoundrel!" The bard chastised her partner weakly, without much conviction.
"Prove it," the warrior insisted, following-up with a slow twirl of her tongue.
"Damn you," Gabrielle muttered, bringing the warrior's lips down to hers.
Ephiny and many other Amazons looked on with much pleasure and amusement.
"You are incorrigible!" Gabrielle admonished her partner as the door to their hut closed after them. Since the next day began at sundown, and Xena had to spend this and the following night and their subsequent mornings going through Amazon purification rituals, they left the celebrations early. It was only mid-afternoon, and her warrior would not be expected at the temple of Artemis for a few more candle marks yet, but to Gabrielle they couldn't be alone soon enough.
"It's not my fault that you're so delectable, my bard," the Warrior Princess answered, capturing her partner in a mock pounce.
Laughter bubbled up her throat, "Beast!" Still chuckling, Gabrielle rested her fair head against her warrior's chest, and began tugging at clasps and laces.
Xena stilled impatient hands and let bits and pieces of armour drop to the floor. She lifted her bard's chin, and said with a slow smile, "Prove it."
Locking gaze with her partner, Gabrielle brought her hand up to caress her sun-kissed cheek. With a soft sigh, she twirled her fingers through dark tresses, closed her eyes, and reached up to the warrior.
Soft, velvety tongue insinuated itself into her mouth to stroke hers. As the kiss deepened, Xena thought she had never known such a wonderful feeling as desire spread through her. Gabrielle loved and needed her, she knew that. Had always known, even when fallen barriers temporarily rebuilt themselves, she knew she could not keep her heart away from the bard. And without fail, their love only became stronger afterwards. Nothing had really changed in the recent past, and she had not expected anything to do so in the near future. But then in a way things would never be the same again in less than seven days, and the warrior admitted with surprise realization that she liked it. With much effort, she broke away from the passionate embrace.
"Xena?" Gabrielle blinked, and tried once more to capture her partner's lips. The warrior gently kept their distance, and Gabrielle protested, "Xena!"
"Sweet," the Warrior Princess nibble behind her bard's ear as she turned them around to face the mirror, her stormy blue eyes captured and beheld Gabrielle's in the reflection.
"Next time, I want to watch them put all these on you," Xena softly declared as she unclasped the shoulder pauldrons and the arm cuffs. She slowly lifted Gabrielle's arms and slipped the gloved vambraces off her fingers, then brought the left palm up to her lips for a lingering kiss, which drew a gasp from the bard.
Looking at the mirror, her attention alternated between her warrior and herself. Gabrielle was mesmerized by the vision before her. Xena had told the bard many times how much she had liked the queen's regalia. She thought the dark russet complimented her colouring, and liked the way the suede hugged her trim compact body. Gabrielle had always maintained that her warrior was the one who was ravishing. However, she had also to agree that the young woman staring back at her was quite beautiful. Gone without a trace was the awkward, insecure little girl from Poteidaia; and she wondered how much of the change had to do with the outfit and adornments. Returning to the warrior's gaze, she realized her happiness probably was the biggest source of her loveliness and confidence. And she reached up to her partner.
Who leaned into the tender caress, and smiled at the reflection. Gabrielle felt her heartbeat quickened as large hands slid up to fondle her round breasts. Curiously and shyly, she watched as the warrior's palms knead her covered flesh, teasing her nipples into aching points straining against the soft suede. She craved to feel the battle-roughened fingers against her bare flesh. As if reading her partner's need from darkening green orbs, Xena made quick work of her top, and to the bard's delight, her skirt as well.
She was torn between closing her eyes to savour the sensation, and watching her partner love her with her hands. Gabrielle sighed deeply, and focused on the deep blues in the reflection, twin oceans she found herself drowning in as strong, gentle hands swept feeling of thick hot honey over her body.
Hand pressed its way down the bard's taut abdomen; then long fingers hovered at red-golden curls. Gabrielle bit her lips with need, raised herself on tiptoes and arched into the caress. The warrior chuckled deeply, while her skilful digits teased the bard. Until she could bear no more and twisted around to face her tormentor.
And captured her partner's lips in a fierce kiss, while her hands tore at laces and leather. Ravenous mouth drifted down tanned throat and clavicle, then seized a tempting nipple as the tunic gave way. Xena felt a tingling sensation raced through her as Gabrielle drew upon her flesh, and refused to release it, as garments puddled onto the floor.
"Gabrielle," she hugged the smaller body close, feeling the swell of her partner's soft breasts pressed against her abdomen. And she reached up to twine her fingers into silken hair, which looked so fiery in the bright afternoon sun that she half expected it to be hot. She cupped the bard's fair cheeks in her palms, and lifted her away from her chest.
A small gurgle of complaint escaped Gabrielle's throat. But opening her eyes, she found the warrior looking at her with a mixture of love, adoration, and desire. She felt her heart fluttered. And the bard shuddered a second time when a long finger traced along her cheek, her lips, her jaw, and down her throat.
With a groan, she dropped her head back in Xena's chest. Then searching, needful mouth travelled downwards, leaving a trail of liquid fire down her partner's stomach, her sides, her hips, and down her thighs until she reached the warrior's boots. Near frantic fingers tugged at the laces until Xena could step out of them.
And when she did, Gabrielle acted as if she were going to take her right then and there. But then Xena reminded her anxious bard that she still had her boots on. So, it was the warrior's turn to kiss down the bard's body, making wet sucking noises as she licked and nibbled on heated flesh. Gabrielle tried hard not to melt into her partner's touch while her bootlaces were being painfully slowly untied.
Finally, Xena retraced her earlier paths, and paused near sensitive breasts. Gabrielle anticipated her partner's warm lips upon her once again.
And was surprised when Xena spoke, "For constancy, huh?" She drew the emerald into her mouth with a swirl of her tongue, and sucked on it, branding it, before she undid the clasp. Gabrielle whimpered when the moist hot jewel hit her skin.
And with an almost anguished grunt, she pushed her partner towards the bed, until they both fell into it. And she pressed against the warrior, feeling the need to surround the larger body with her smaller form.
Xena drew her into her arms, and kissed her with a passion that stole her reason. Their lips remained together, as large hands roamed her backside, kneading, caressing, with an ardour that left her faint.
She struggled to regain her senses, so as to resume her assault on her warrior. And almost screamed her defeat as her partner's muscled thigh pressed between hers.
"Please," she pleaded breathlessly, her pulse beating wildly. "Let me love you."
"Prove it," she demanded huskily.
Gabrielle captured Xena's face between her hands and brought her head down, her mouth consumed hers in a passionate kiss. Then, gasping, she tore her mouth away, flung back her head, then lowered her mouth again, blazing a trail of kisses and lingering in the sensitive hollow of her partner's throat.
Before she could reach her goal, however, Xena rolled them over, pinning her underneath.
"No," she sobbed with frustration.
"Yes, my bard," she lowered her mouth to capture a nipple, "Yes!"
Her hammering heart and the corresponding ache within prevailed, and soon, all that mattered were her warrior's hands caressing her thighs, her buttocks... Her taut nipple pressing against her and getting smeared with her wetness as her partner's lips moved across her body.
Her demanding tongue dipped and twirled around her navel, licked downwards to flick at engorged flesh. Involuntarily, Gabrielle jerked at the contact, and screamed her pleasure when on the return thrust she found herself impaled by her partner. Who loved and teased her until she thought she would go mad with passion.
On the brink of release, she caught her partner's dark head with frantic but insistent fingers and guided her upwards. And shifted until full breasts swayed over her mouth.
"Yes," she breathed, and latched onto one of them, and to her delight, tasted herself. She nursed at the succulent breast as her fingers drove in and out the warrior's body, as the warrior's drove in and out her own.
"I love you, Gabrielle!"
"Yes, my warrior, yes!"
And they cried aloud as waves of deep pleasure crashed through and over them.
Xena woke up from her brief dozing. Sprawling atop her bard, she contemplated the safe and peaceful feeling and the lulling rhythm beneath her ears. And noticed with contentment that once again their breathing and heartbeats were in synch with each others. For a long while the Warrior Princess lay in quiet repose, then, dark head shifted, as lips encircled a pink nipple.
"Mmmm..." Gabrielle murmured sleepily. Her hand began a slow caress of her warrior's shoulders. And gasped loudly when hot mouth began suckling in earnest, setting her blood aboil. Blunt fingernails dug in firm back in reflex, leaving halfmoon-shaped marks.
"Xena, stop," she somehow managed, reluctantly, "We don't have much time." Stopping was the last thing she wanted her warrior to do, but she noticed the already setting sun, and Xena would be expected at the temple soon. Rather than heeding her command, however, hungry mouth only sucked harder, devouring. Dark green eyes flew open, and slammed shut again when long digits slipped into her already throbbing centre, drawing forth a needful, guttural moan from both.
Moments passed before her breathing returned to normal. And Gabrielle drew her partner's head up for a deep, lingering kiss, while beginning a slow exploration of her partner's body. She was about to roll them over when, to her dismay, Xena took hold of her hands and raised them above her head.
"I want you," the bard whispered, her eyes searching. Holding the bard's wrists captive with one hand, fingers dipped within dark curls and brought forth glistening moisture.
"And I want you to want me, Gabrielle," she purred, coating pink lips and allowing her partner to taste her. "But I have to go, Calandra is expecting me."
"But..." Xena silenced the protest with a tender, searching kiss.
"Tomorrow," she kissed the soft lips once again, "I promise."
"You're a wicked beast, you know that?" Gabrielle mumbled after another deep lingering kiss.
"Yeah," the warrior chuckled, "But I'm your wicked beast."
"Yeah," looking into the blue eyes dark against the waning sunlight, "Don't you ever forget that."
"I won't," she responded, in earnest. "I love you, my bard," she said low.
"And I love you, my warrior," she whispered, brushing wisps of dark bangs away. Then pulling her partner to her and kissed her passionately, her tongue tracing her lips, her mouth, as if committing them to memory.
Soon, Xena was dressed in her armour again, and Gabrielle in her sleep-shirt. She had decided against joining the rest of the village for dinner.
"I will see you after midday tomorrow."
"I'll miss you, my warrior."
"I'll miss you, too, my bard. Sweet dreams."
*Oh, boy, easier said that done,* Gabrielle thought to herself as the door closed behind the Warrior Princess. She hugged the large shirt about herself tighter.
They have been away from each other, and not sharing the same bedroll before. And often without the secure knowledge that her warrior was safe, as she would be this night. But no matter how hard she tried, the bard had never gotten used to the feeling of emptiness she inevitably felt without Xena near her. And she knew she would never want to get use to that feeling, or have to do so.
Still, Gabrielle took pleasure in the cause of her temporary anxiety. Not even in her wildest dreams had she thought the Warrior Princess would look at her as anything but a hero-worshipping pissant. And she had spent so many moons worrying at every turn that Xena would leave her, or order her to go home. Then as time passed, she grew up, and their relationship matured, those worries gradually became things of the past. And they finally mutually acknowledged their feelings for each other.
Getting the Warrior Princess to admit to both of them that she loved and needed Gabrielle had not been easy. Especially after all the other things that happened in-between, things the bard would rather not dwell upon or even remember. Even more difficult was to convince Xena that Gabrielle loved and needed her as well, and that she would never make the same mistakes again...
Running her fingers lovingly along the black and gold braid on her wrist, Gabrielle smiled, and whispered a prayer of gratitude to her goddess. Her heart exulted in the knowledge that by the end of quarter moon, they would be joined.
Knowing that sleep would likely elude her, the bard gathered her quill and parchments, grabbed a fruit from the tray on the table, and settled down at the desk. As she was seized with a sudden fancy to pen a poem for a certain dark warrior who had so completely captured her heart, body and soul. Besides, there were still stories about their adventures that she had yet to record. Munching on her dinner, the bard set out with her compositions.
"Have you come to praise my enemy to my face?"
"No, my Lord, I did not mean to offend," the proud warrior looked directly at her sovereign, "I was merely telling you what I thought."
"I don't care what you think," the warrior's superior laughed, "It doesn't matter. Tell me, what are you waiting for?"
"My Lord, I was able to get near her only today. Please give me more time," she entreated.
"You don't have much time. I've waited long enough for this. Two more days, you have two more days to bring me what is mine. And I want my revenge."
"But my Lord..."
"Two days, or you are released of all your duties right now. I can find someone more anxious to carry out my hatred, or I can just do it myself."
"Please, no, my Lord," the dark warrior appealed, "I will do as you bid," she pledged.
"Two days, don't forget."
"No, I won't, my Lord."
"Be gone!" With a wave of a hand, and a string of almost manic laughter, the warrior vanished.
Just as Gabrielle expected, she did not get much sleep the night before. She did, however, make some progress in recording their tales. It was not as much as the bard wanted though, as she spent much of the time thinking about the Warrior Princess, and what she might be doing in the temple.
They had been vague about telling her the purification rituals. She only knew that the chosen consorts of all their queens had to go through them, and each had been unlike all others depending on the Goddess' desire. Therefore, Xena's would be different as well. Guess she would just have to find out the details from her warrior.
Meanwhile, the Amazon Queen mused that their visits to the Amazons had truly helped her appreciate why the Warrior Princess preferred to keep to herself. Breakfast at the mess hut was a tiring affair, even with her Regent beside her, helping with much of the cordial conversations. Gabrielle looked forward to after the joining, when she and Xena would be alone again. Maybe they could find another nice deserted cave somewhere...
*If only the bad guys would leave us alone, too,* she smiled, remembering how they now fight side by side, and happy that she could hold her own with the staff. Reflectively, her attention turned to the chestnut-haired Amazon sitting beside Ephiny. Ever so observant, the bard noticed that Eponin had been exceptionally quiet and preoccupied; and she made a mental note to talk to the Amazon privately later.
At the earliest opportunity, the queen excused herself, citing her warrior's anticipated return from the temple. Ephiny flashed her a knowing smile, to which the bard prettily blushed. Upon returning to the hut, she ordered a bath, and allowed only one attendant to help her. Gabrielle soaked happily in the hot, scented water, relaxing, while the Amazon scrubbed her back. A sweet, contented smile came unbidden to her lips as her mind inevitably turned to her partner.
"Gabrielle?" A small voice asked hesitantly.
"Yes, Alethea?" She responded warmly, turning to face the young woman.
"You really love Xena, don't you?"
"Yeah," she revealed, "I really do," her voice betraying a deep tenderness which touched the Amazon.
"And she loves you back," came the certain statement.
"Yes," the queen responded, "she does." Closing her eyes, and allowing that knowledge to warm her.
"How do you know you are in love?"
*How did you know you fell in love, Gabrielle?* The bard asked herself. *Was it the wild palpitations of your heart when she smiled at you, the goose pimples that ran up your body when she touched you?* She flushed. *Or was it the indescribable pain you felt when you thought you lost her for good...* her musing turned inwards.
The queen tilted her face towards the young woman, who had missed the throng of emotions which marched across her queen's features. Alethea was probably two or three summers younger than herself. Gabrielle had first met her during one of their visits a few seasons ago, when she had just joined their tribe from a neighbouring clan. Like the bard, she was smaller than most Amazons, and could have been her own younger sister; and in some ways, Gabrielle viewed her as such.
"I'm not sure how..." she spoke thoughtfully, "But I do know that when you love someone, you're willing to do anything, even give up your life, for them. And when they are not by your side, you think about them, and you miss them."
"What if you think they love someone else?"
"When you love someone, Alethea, you want them to be happy and you want what's best for them. I think you should let them know how you feel about them," *Boy, isn't that the truth. So many times I wished that she had, before...* "But in the end, the decision is theirs to make." *Guess that's what she was doing... and what I was going to do when she had met...* Reining in her thoughts and focusing once more on her young charge, "Why d'you ask, Alethea? Has someone captured your heart?" Gabrielle probed.
"Yeah, I think I fell in love with her the first time I saw her," the young woman replied dreamily, "She's the most beautiful person I've met. She's tall, and strong. Her long hair is dark like midnight. And she has deep mesmerizing eyes like amethysts and most befitting of her name." Alethea gushed. "And I heard she's one of the best warriors, too. Probably not as good as the Warrior Princess though," she added quickly.
Gabrielle looked at the beaming young face, with devotion plainly written all over, and smiled indulgently in response. *Gods, do I look and sound like that? I'm sure I do, probably worse. And more hopeless. Yup.* She encouraged Alethea to further express her feelings and concerns, and listened and advised. Eventually, the two blondes dissolved into bright laughter as they compared their respective warriors, almost like young girls giggling over their first crush.
Soon, time came for the queen to finish her bath. After helping Gabrielle dress, Alethea gave her an impulsive hug, then left with some of the bard's clothes for the wash.
Gabrielle turned to her parchment on the desk, and set about composing a letter to her warrior. The bard had kept letters addressed to the Warrior Princess, they were like journals which spoke of her love, her fears, her desires... And they had remained in her scroll case; maybe someday she would let her partner read them... One day.
It was past midday when the Warrior Princess left the temple. Having fasted all evening and morning, she was famished. However, even food of the gods could not detour her from her goal. She did not like being away from Gabrielle, and had missed the bard desperately. Having done nothing but reflected on their relationship, as she was ordered to, made the longing much worse...
Therefore, *First thing first.* And perhaps Gabrielle would even join her for the midday meal. On the other hand, knowing her bard, food would have been sent for and most likely already awaiting her return.
*Bard, food, bard... Hmmm...* The warrior grinned devilishly as she brisk-walked towards the hut, *Interesting dilemma...*
Her pleasant thoughts were interrupted by a tall figure sauntering towards her.
*Did she just come from our hut?* The Warrior Princess couldn't be sure. She kept her pace and wondered what the Amazon wanted. There was something about the dark warrior that she disliked and distrusted, and it went beyond simple jealousy.
When they passed each other, Iona met her gaze, staring deliberately, her deep violet eyes spoke with volume the message her lips did not, "I want her, too."
The Warrior Princess responded to the challenge as if her rival had declared one aloud. However, instead of flinching at the dangerous ice blue glare like most would, the Amazon simply smirked knowingly.
Suddenly, Xena felt extremely uncomfortable. Cold anger welled up inside her, and she struggled to quell the strong urge to throw the dark Amazon against a nearby tree, run her through with her blade, and gouge out her eyes afterwards. At the same time, a more pressing, more fundamental need drove her away and onwards. Certain that she would be watched, the Warrior Princess managed to keep a steady gait, and even smiled when she nodded at the guards, signalling their dismissal, before entering their hut.
The warrior had half expected the bard to fly into her arms as soon as the door closed; therefore, she was rather surprised to find Gabrielle curled up in bed. Whatever residual annoyance she felt against Iona disappeared then and there. *Poor baby, she must not have gotten much sleep either.*
As Xena predicted, a tray laden with food sat on the table. She picked up a slice of meat, some vegetables, and stuffed them into the bread pocket. Munching on the sandwich, she quietly moved towards the bed.
And was about to brush with gentle fingers stray strands of hair away from the beloved features when the bard set up and enveloped her in a fierce clasp, literally knocking the air out of the warrior's lungs.
"Hey, easy, Love, I missed you, too," the Warrior Princess chuckled and spoke gently against the bard's ear, while rubbing the slim back in a reassuring gesture, "I thought you were sleeping."
And was greatly alarmed when sensitive ears picked up a choked sob emanating from her partner. Lunch was quickly set aside and immediately forgotten.
"Gabrielle? Hey, did you miss me that much?" She asked lightly, keeping the smile in her voice. While trying tenderly to lift the bard's chin, to get green eyes to meet hers. And found herself only able to stroke the fair hair comfortingly in response, when her partner answered her attempt by burrowing deeper into her chest and grasping her harder.
*Damn! Iona had better not been the cause of this,* the warrior's heart clenched at the thought. Never one good at sensitive chats, Xena resigned to holding the bard closer and waiting for the faint tremors to stop.
Moments later, Gabrielle inhaled deeply, and extricated herself from the safe haven. Still misty green eyes captured hers, pulling her in, despite the lingering tightness in her chest. With fierceness and desperation that surprised the warrior, the bard kissed her.
"Gabrielle?" She managed, long breathless instants later. Xena wanted to know; she didn't like it when her bard hurt, no matter what or who was the cause.
"Shut up!" The bard growled in answer, "You promised!"
Insistent, hungry lips and hands swept over her larger form, demanding, exacting... and the warrior surrendered her good sense to their desire.
"Look who's talking?" The bard mumbled from her favourite spot, squeezing the warrior tighter, melding their bodies, and revelling in the warmth of their togetherness.
"Oh, I do believe you're jealous, my bard." Her partner chuckled, kissing the top of Gabrielle's head and running a gentle hand through the fair hair.
"Yes," she burrowed closer still, tucking herself securely within her partner's embrace. "Of every man and woman you've ever been with," she added ruefully.
"But I'm not getting joined with any of them," Xena responded sincerely.
"No, you're not," a small smile began to tug at the bard's lips.
"You haven't had a change of heart about the joining, have you?" She didn't want to ask, didn't really want to give Gabrielle a chance to back out, and hoped against hope that the answer would be negative.
"Of course not!" The bard lifted her head from her partner's shoulder, looked directly at her and responded most vehemently, "How can you think that?" The warrior remembered to breathe again. She inhaled deeply, relieved.
"I don't know," she truthfully replied. "Why don't you tell me what's bothering you?" She appealed, with tenderness and concern.
"Nothing is bothering me, Xena," her partner muttered, returning to her haven and realigning their bodies. "I've already told you that," her voice betraying a hint of frustration.
*Then, why am I not convinced?* "Are you regretting that you haven't had..." The warrior began again.
*WHAT AM I SAYING?!? How did this whole conversation start?* She had only meant to find out why her partner seemed so out of sort this afternoon, she certainly had not envisioned the dialogue to take such a turn. Anyway, the Warrior Princess didn't get to finish her sentence. She didn't need to, as the bard possessed a most uncanny ability to read her mind.
"Xena, if you're joking," she spoke, disbelief and exasperation apparent in her tone, "I'm not laughing."
"Gabrielle," the warrior tipped the fair head upwards with both hands. She articulated, earnestly, from her heart, "You KNOW... I would... never... ever... willingly... share you... EVER..." And punctuated every word with a firm kiss on her beloved's features to emphasized her point.
"Although I'm sure many people wished otherwise, and your dark Amazon friend is one of them," she added, half-jokingly. At the mention of Iona, the bard tensed. And the Warrior Princess knew for certain then who caused the bard's unease; now she'd only have to find out what the Amazon did.
"She was here, wasn't she?" *Damn! I should have gutted her when I first saw her... when she first laid eyes on you, my bard,* the warrior thought, as she held her partner's gaze. A silent fury began to rage.
"Yes, she was," the bard returned Xena's fixed look, "I asked her to come."
"You asked her," the warrior repeated, dumbfounded. "Yes," Gabrielle kissed her playfully on the nose, "to talk about Alethea."
"Alethea," she echoed, mildly bewildered.
"Yes," she rolled her eyes, "who has a giant crush on her."
"Oh, I see," *Ok, ok, breathe, Xena, breathe.* "She does?"
"Uh-huh," then green eyes narrowed as realisation dawned, "Why, what did you think?"
*I honestly don't know.* "I wasn't sure what to think..." the warrior responded, slightly flustered. A foible which only the bard could pick up, of course.
"Well," she pressed her lips to the warrior's. "Don't think," the tip of her tongue tickling her partner's mouth, luring forth the beginning of a slow smile.
"Sometimes... Warrior Princess... you... think... too... much..." She whispered, in between gentle nibbles, as her hands wandered about her betrothed's body.
Strong hands circled about trim waist and lifted the pliant body atop her own. As her fingers tangled in soft honey-blonde hair, all the warrior thought was how much she loved this beautiful woman who was more important to her than life.
"I love you, Xena," with boundless depth which the bard revealed as stormy greens held captive darkening blues.
"I love you, Gabrielle," the warrior returned, as she let herself fall into the inviting abyss.
In the temple, the Warrior Princess waited as the attendants filled the stone vessel with warm water. When they were finished, Calandra tested the temperature, added to it some dried herbs and a milk-coloured emulsion, then motioned Xena to climb in. The priestess and her assistants left shortly, when they were satisfied that the warrior had everything she needed for the ritual.
Alone in the chamber, as the comfortable warmth of the water slowly penetrated her body, Xena allowed her mind to blank for a few long moments. Her senses then turned to the concoction she was steeping in. It had a peculiar yet delicate and pleasant scent, similar to the mixture they prepared for her the evening before, but different. And despite her knowledge of plants and minerals, the warrior could not figure out its contents. She had asked, but Calandra replied in oracular terms which merely left her more perplexed. Not knowing did not bother the warrior, however; she had accepted that there were things one simply was not meant to know. And she supposed this was one of them.
To Xena, the entire prejoining ritual had been enigmatic. She had expected there be trials, challenges, or at least some sort of atonement rites. Instead, the harshest requirement was fasting, which the warrior met without effort. Like the night before, Calandra provided for her a plain but comfortable robe to don after the relaxing bath, and a soft pallet to sit on. And again, she was to spend the remainder of the time thinking about her bard, and their relationship.
*Whatever Artemis desires, I guess,* the Warrior Princess mused. She would not have abided by the wishes of the gods, of any god, so agreeably.
*But she is the Amazon's and Gabrielle's god. And, therefore, my god as well,* she decided.
*Gabrielle.* At the thought of her bard, the warrior's regard drifted to the fading red marks on her shoulders. A warm, tender smile lit her face as she recalled their lovemaking earlier that afternoon.
The bard had been most fierce and determined in loving her. Soft lips and adept hands slid all over her torso, her hips, her legs, her feet, her buttocks, her back, her arms, her breasts, her face, her hands, leaving no place unkissed, untouched.
Wedging her slim body tightly against Xena's, Gabrielle explored each curve each dip each swell hungrily. Had caressed her passionately, kneading, gently and not-so-gently nipping at her flesh. With a need and an urgency that drove the warrior insane.
Her ardent partner had built up and drawn pleasure from her, over and over, until she thought she would scream. Until her bard's name gushed from her depths in a litany that reverberated outwards. Until she had to dredge up the last of her reserves to roll them over and pin the bard down, did her voracious partner still her assault. The Warrior Princess just about collapsed in exhaustion then.
But now, alone in the chamber, once again she ached for the presence of her bard. Sometimes this need scared her; and she felt helpless against it.
How many moons had it been since she fell in love with Gabrielle, and how many since they had expressed that love, she couldn't remember. The warrior at times thought with chagrin that they were like a couple of sex-crazed adolescents, completely satiated one moment and starved with yearning the very next. But she knew it was not simply about physical intimacy or need.
Part of her feared the power her partner had over her, yet a larger part wanted the bard to have and keep that power. And she rejoiced and delighted in the fact that Gabrielle returned her feelings in every regard.
"Am I who I am or am I who you made me?" The bard had asked, long ago. And Xena told her then that nobody made her who she was, that everything she was was already there.
*And how true it is.* Even now, after all the things that happened, Gabrielle was still Gabrielle, with her willingness to trust, her ability to fearlessly and unconditionally love unchanged.
*Oh, all the rotten things I've put you through, my bard...* Things they never talked about, things her partner never thought to blame her for, but things the warrior's guilty conscience would not let her forget. Time and again she vowed she would never let her pride or stubbornness harm her beloved. And everytime Gabrielle met her failure with gentle understanding and forgiveness.
*Rather than hating me, my bard, you want to spend your entire life with me... What have I done to deserve you?* The warrior chuckled and shook her head in disbelief.
*Guess, lucky for me, you don't hate as fiercely as you love, my bard* she smiled deeply, as her fingers caressed the marks her partner left on her skin.
And remembered that afternoon... Remembered what she saw when she was finally able to open her eyes. Xena was surprised to find her partner's green orbs filled with tears threatening to spill over. And they did, after the bard tenderly kissed where her teeth had nicked her skin.
She thought Gabrielle was feeling remorseful for hurting her, and had made some flippant little comment to brush it off and try to make her smile. But to her alarm and dismay, the bard only hugged her closer and sobbed harder.
It had been a while since the Warrior Princess had seen her partner like that. When they started travelling together, Gabrielle would break into tears over every little thing, leaving her companion impotent and nervous. Finally, one evening, having run out of ideas to make the bard smile, she just hugged the small form against her shoulder, and stroked her back until the tears passed. Somehow, they both felt strangely better afterwards; and it became a habit which the warrior welcomed.
Nevertheless, cradling the weeping girl had taken some getting used to. But that she did; and Xena took solace that she was finally free to hold the woman, free to shelter and comfort her, without needing to hide her caring from anyone. Still, that thought did not help the Warrior Princess from hurting along with the bard. And it was an eternity in Tartarus later when the tortured whimpers finally stopped.
With the warrior's gentle probing, the bard confessed how much she hated not having her partner nearby, how much she had missed her the evening before. And she was distraught over another night alone. Xena had understood that sentiment perfectly, and she wished there were something she could do... She wished they would never have to be apart...
However, as if on cue, Ephiny knocked on their door, and the warrior snarled her response. The Regent meekly explained that she wished to talk to her before she left for the temple.
*Gods, Ephiny, you always have the worst timing,* the Warrior Princess creased her brows in annoyance. *One of these days...* She promised, with a wicked glint. In retrospect, Xena was glad the Regent wanted to talk to her. To tell her how happy she was for them, and that she looked forward to the day the Warrior Princess would rule the Nation beside her Queen. This was certainly not the same hostile, avaricious Amazon warrior they first met. She had been an invaluable friend to both of them, especially to Gabrielle...
Still, Xena had desperately wanted to stay with her bard. But unfortunately, it was not an option: even if she let Ephiny rot outside their door, she would still have to be at the temple shortly. Reluctantly they unclasped each other so that she could dress...
*I promise, I will make it up to you, my bard,* the Warrior Princess reiterated her pledge, as she emerged from the water.
And when she was ready to join Ephiny, they shared a lingering kiss goodbye so soulful that the Regent had to turn away... Then clung onto each other like a couple of lovesick kids... And Xena could still taste the salty moisture which she licked away...
*Gods, what do I do with you, my Love,* the warrior smiled. Then felt a familiar ache in her own chest.
*What do I do with ME!* She shook her head in exasperation.
*Oh, but, my bard, what would I do without you?* Xena sobered, as she slipped on the robe and settled down on the pallet.
Apollo had finished his journey across the Northern sky long ago. And human subjects of the great gods had since retired to their safe shelters, leaving twilight creatures to reign in this dark moonless night. Even they, however, dared not encroach upon the cave so deep in the forest; very few did. And its existence had remained unbeknownst for centuries.
In a columned chamber at the inmost of the cavern, the dark warrior stood as she did the evening before. Her liege sprawled across the throne where a worthless idol once sat; the broken remains of the statue scattered about the floor.
"Bring me my revenge, and you may have what you want..." The potentate spoke coolly, "What's left of it anyway; such a pitiful excuse of a nation."
"But my Lord," the warrior began.
Dark eyebrow rose, challenging her to continue.
"My Lord... I..." She struggled to explain.
"What?" Dark brows furrowed, "Don't tell me you've fallen in love with her, too." Sharp pale eyes surveyed the proud emotionless features, "Oh, my! You have, haven't you?"
"Too bad she doesn't love you back!" The warrior winced internally at the vicious laughter which followed.
"Come now," her Lord sniggered, "You look so precious when you're pained." She only straightened her shoulders, stood taller and stared ahead in response.
Reaching up and running a cold hand through the woman's dark tresses, a malevolent idea struck, "Oh yes, this would be an even better revenge."
"I'm so glad I thought of it," the manic laughter which ensued chilled the warrior to the core. Then fierce mouth pressed upon hers possessively, "Oh yes, I can definitely grow to like this."
"Don't do anything. Just wait for my orders." With a careless toss of the chin, "Dismissed." Once again, the Amazon warrior found herself back in the village, her lips still smarting from the cruel kiss.
Still later that night, in the same village...
"Queen of my heart," the warrior implored, "please hear me out."
"Please, Eponin, I'm no queen," the object of her affection resisted. "Certainly not your heart's."
"I don't think I can live away from your loveliness any longer," the warrior expounded. "Your sparkling eyes are like peridots, and the glow of your fair hair against the firelight shines brighter than the sun to me."
"Surely you must be kidding, Eponin," the young woman suggested. "By the way, how did you come up with such asinine comparisons?"
"Do I sound like I'm kidding, Alethea?" The Amazon tried to hide her stricken look, and made a mental note to kill Solari.
"I'm very sorry Eponin," the blonde responded contritely, finally realising the warrior wasn't playing an awful joke on her, "I'm not for you."
"But I love you," the warrior continued, "I've loved you since the day you joined our tribe."
"Please, Eponin," Alethea explained, "You've been very kind to me, and I like you a lot, but my heart already belongs to another."
"The glow which radiated... I mean, I love you, Alethea." She revealed, "And the yearning will burn in my heart for a long time," using her own words, "Please let me know if you changed your mind."
Then the warrior retreated without giving the young woman a chance to refuse.
Sinking into her own bed, Alethea sighed deeply, and hugged herself close. She knew exactly what the poor warrior was feeling, for her own desires appeared to be unrequited as well. She wished she could return Eponin's love, but she must remain faithful and be true to her heart. Whether or not her constancy was appreciated.
There was nothing she wouldn't do for her beloved, if only she would love her back...
After several brief rituals at dawn, complete with yet another herbal cleansing afterwards, Xena's stay in the temple was finally over. When she next step foot in the structure, it would be with Gabrielle by her side, for their joining. The Warrior Princess looked forward to that day, very much so. But at the moment, she was simply relieved that she could be with her bard again, and be able to just hold her through the coming night.
Before the warrior left the temple, Calandra informed her that Gabrielle was busy with the wedding preparations and had sent word that she would not be waiting for Xena in their hut. Satisfied that the Queen and her Regent were probably fussing over things, the Warrior Princess elected to first take the midday meal. She would decide later whether to join the bard and Ephiny, or see if she could convince her partner to spend the remainder of the afternoon with her. Afterall, the warrior did have a promise to keep.
*That shouldn't be too hard,* Xena grinned to herself as she headed towards the mess hut.
"Fancy running into you, Xena," the Amazon greeted her smugly. The Warrior Princess cursed silently. She was in no mood to deal with Iona, especially not on an empty stomach. The warrior acknowledged her rival with a cold stare, and was going to walk on when the Amazon spoke again.
"I gotta commend you, Warrior Princess, I didn't realise you're the type who shares," she said with a leer, as the warrior passed her. Xena drew her sword, spun around and glowered at the Amazon, unable to hide the incredulous look fighting with fury for dominance on her darkened features.
Continued - Part 2